Tag Archives: Israel

The game is rigged and you can always win.

A few months ago, I wrote a rather depressing essay based on Nobel Laureate, Kenneth Arrow’s work, and the paradox of de Condorcet. It is mathematically shown that you can not make a fair election, even if you wanted to, and no one in power wants to. The game is rigged.

To make up for that insight, I’d like to show from the work of John Forbes Nash (A Beautiful Mind) that you, personally, can win, basically all the time, if you can get someone, anyone to coöperate by trade. Let’s begin with an example in Nash’s first major paper, “The Bargaining Problem,” the one Nash is working on in the movie— read the whole paper here.  Consider two people, each with a few durable good items. Person A has a bat, a ball, a book, a whip, and a box. Person B has a pen, a toy, a knife, and a hat. Since each item is worth a different amount (has a different utility) to the owner and to the other person, there are almost always sets of trades that benefit both. In our world, where there are many people and everyone has many durable items, it is inconceivable that there are not many trades a person can make to benefit him/her while benefiting the trade partner.

Figure 3, from Nash’s, “The bargaining problem.” U1 and U2 are the utilities of the items to the two people, and O is the current state. You can improve by barter so long as your current state is not on the boundary. The parallel lines are places one could reach if money trades as well.

Good trades are even more likely when money is involved or non-durables. A person may trade his or her time for money, that is work, and any half-normal person will have enough skill to be of some value to someone. If one trades some money for durables, particularly tools, one can become rich (slowly). If one trades this work for items to make them happy (food, entertainment) they can become happier. There are just two key skills: knowing what something is worth to you, and being willing to trade. It’s not that easy for most folks to figure out what their old sofa means to them, but it’s gotten easier with garage sales and eBay.

Let us now move to the problem of elections, e.g. in this year 2016. There are few people who find the person of their dreams running for president this year. The system has fundamental flaws, and has delivered two thoroughly disliked individuals. But you can vote for a generally positive result by splitting your ticket. American society generally elects a mix of Democrats and Republicans. This mix either delivers the outcome we want, or we vote out some of the bums. Americans are generally happy with the result.

A Stamp act stamp. The British used these to tax every transaction, making it impossible for the ordinary person to benefit by small trade.

A Stamp act stamp,. Used to tax every transaction, the British made it impossible for ordinary people to benefit by small trades.

The mix does not have to involve different people, it can involve different periods of time. One can elect a Democrat president this year, and an Republican four years later. Or take the problem of time management for college students. If a student had to make a one time choice, they’d discover that you can’t have good grades, good friends, and sleep. Instead, most college students figure out you can have everything if you do one or two of these now, and switch when you get bored. And this may be the most important thing they learn.

This is my solution to Israel’s classic identity dilemma. David Ben-Gurion famously noted that Israel had the following three choices: they could be a nation of Jews living in the land of Israel, but not democratic. They could be a democratic nation in the land of Israel, but not Jewish; or they could be Jewish and democratic, but not (for the most part) in Israel. This sounds horrible until you realize that Israel can elect politicians to deliver different pairs of the options, and can have different cities that cater to thee options too. Because Jerusalem does not have to look like Tel Aviv, Israel can achieve a balance that’s better than any pure solution.

Robert E. Buxbaum, July 17-22, 2016. Balance is all, and pure solutions are a doom. I’m running for water commissioner.

Why I don’t like the Iran deal

Treaties, I suspect, do not exist to create love between nations, but rather to preserve, in mummified form, the love that once existed between leaders. They are useful for display, and as a guide to the future, their main purpose is to allow a politician to help his friends while casting blame on someone else when problems show up. In the case of the US Iran-deal that seems certain to pass in a day or two with only Democratic-party support, and little popular support, I see no love between the nations. On a depressingly regular basis, Iranian leaders promise Death to America, and Death to America’s sometime-ally Israel. Iran has acted on these statements too, funding Hezbollah missiles and suicide bombers, and hanging its dissidents: practices that lead it to become something of a pariah among its neighbors. They also display the sort of nuclear factories and ICBMs (long-range rockets) that could make them much bigger threats if they choose to become bigger threats. The deal just signed by US Secretary of State and his counterpart in Iran (read in full here) seems to preserve this state. It releases to Iran $100,000,000,000 to $150,000,000,000 that it claims it will use against Israel, and Iran claims to have no interest in developing multi-point compression atom bombs. This is a tiny concession given that our atom bomb at Hiroshima was single-point compression, first generation, and killed 90,000 people.

Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile, several stories high, brought out during negotiations. Should easily deliver nuclear weapons far beyond Israel, and even to the USA.

Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile, new for 2015. Should easily deliver warheads far beyond Israel -even to the US.

The deal itself is about 170 pages long and semi-legalistic, but I found it easy to read. The print is large, Iran has few obligations, and the last 100 pages or so are a list companies that will no longer be sanctioned. The treaty asserts that we will defend Iran against attacks including military and cyber attacks, and sabotage –presumably from Israel, but gives no specifics. Also we are to help them with oil, naval, and fusion technology, while leaving them with 1500 kg of 20% enriched U235. That’s enough for quick conversion to 8 to 10 Hiroshima-size A-bombs (atom bombs) containing 25-30 kg each of 90% U235. The argument in favor of the bill seems to be that, by giving Iran the money and technology, and agreeing with their plans, Iran will come to like us. My sense is that this is wishful-thinking, and unlikely (as Jimmy Carter discovered). The unwritten contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

As currently written, Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. To the contrary, John Kerry has stated that a likely consequence is further attacks on Israel. Given Hezbollah’s current military budget is only about $150,000,000 and Hamas’s only about $15,000,000 (virtually all from Iran), we can expect a very significant increase in attacks once the money is released — unless Iran’s leaders prove to be cheapskates or traitors to their own revolution (unlikely). Given our president’s and Ms Clinton’s comments against Zionist racism, I assume that they hope to cow Israel into being less militant and less racist, i.e. less Jewish. I doubt it, but you never know. I also expect an arms race in the middle east to result. As for Iran’s statements that they seek to kill every Jew and wipe out the great satan, the USA: our leaders may come to regret hat they ignore such statements. I guess they hope that none of their friends or relatives will be among those killed.

Kerry on why we give Iran the ability to self-inspect.

Kerry on why we give Iran the ability to self-inspect.

I’d now like to turn to fusion technology, an area I know better than most. Nowhere does the treaty say what Iran will do with nuclear fusion technology, but it specifies we are to provide it, and there seem to be only two possibilities of what they might do with it: (1) Build a controlled fusion reactor like the TFTR at Princeton — a very complex, expensive option, or (2) develop a hydrogen fusion bomb of the sort that vaporized the island of Bimini: an H-bomb. I suspect Iran means to do the latter, while I imagine that, John Kerry is thinking the former. Controlled fusion is very difficult; uncontrolled fusion is a lot easier. With a little thought, you’ll see how to build a decent H-bomb.

My speculation of why Iran would want to make an H-bomb is this: they may not trust their A-bombs to win a war with Israel. As things stand, their A-bomb scientists are unlikely to coax more than 25 to 100 kilotons of explosive power out of each bomb, perhaps double that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But our WWII bombs “only” killed 70,000 to 90,000 people each, even with the radiation deaths. Used against Israel, such bombs could level the core of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. But most Israelis would survive, and they would strike back, hard.

To beat the Israelis, you’d need a Megaton-size, hydrogen bomb. Just one Megaton bomb would vaporize Jerusalem and it’s suburbs, kill a million inhabitants at a shot, level the hills, vaporize the artifacts in the jewish museum, and destroy anything we now associate with Israel. If Iran did that, while retaining a second bomb for Tel-Aviv, it is quite possible Israel would surrender. As for our aim, perhaps we hope Iran will attack Israel and leave us alone. Very bright people pushed for WWI on hopes like this.

Robert E. Buxbaum. September 9, 2015. Here’s a thought about why peace in the middle east is so hard to achieve,

Hong Kong and Palestine; what makes a country?

As I write this, Hong Kong protesters are battling for a degree of independence from China — something China seemed to have agreed to when taking over the province in 1997. While there is some sympathy for the protesters, not one country so far supports them. Meanwhile, by a vote of 138 to 9, the United Nations has accepted Palestine as an independent, observer state, the same status as the Vatican and Switzerland. A majority of nations have further stated that it is illegal for Israel to erect a wall between itself and Palestine as the wall implies a de-facto border. Why the differences, and what’s wrong with borders?

Distinctive dress, traditions, or physiology can justify a country's independence, as can a military tradition.

Britain has been shaved of many of its possessions since WWII, The possessions have demanded independent nation status based on their distinctive dress, language, history, traditions, or physiology.

Perhaps a good place to start is with British ownership of Hong Kong and Israel/Palestine. Britain acquired both by war, and both were possessions during World War II. Hong Kong island was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Nanking ending the first Opium War. British control of Israel/ Palestine was achieved by invasion in World War I and confirmed by the League of Nations. Following WWII, British Palestine was split into several nations: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia … Israel declared independence in 1948 — and was accepted to the United Nations in 1949 following its war of independence. Hong Kong did not fight any war, but was handed to China in 1997 in return for guarantees of autonomy. If Hong Kong had not been handed over, it would probably be independent today, like Ireland, Canada, Jamaica, Belize, Micronesia, Malaysia, Bali, Indonesia, etc.

Clearly part of the reason no one accepts Hong Kong as a country, while a majority of the UN accepts Palestine (and Israel?) as countries, is that both Arab Palestine and Israel have fought wars for independence, while Hong Kong has been a peaceful go-along. Another difference is related to how the world perceives China and Arab Palestine. China may be a semi-autocratic, one party oppressor of Inner Mongolia and Tibet, but its economic and military power helps insure that China is considered the respected, socialist owner of semi-democratic HK. Israel is much weaker, and much less-well regarded. It is viewed as a dispensable, European annoyance stuck improbably into the Middle east, and thus its claim on existence is weakened. The UN resolved in 1975 that Zionism is racism, and world leaders routinely called Israel a racist or apartheid occupier, as a state religion is considered anathema to freedom — they don’t have this problem with the state religions of the Vatican or Saudi Arabia. Ex-president Jimmy Carter calls Israel an occupier state, suggesting that Israel has no right to exist, and many western religious and academic groups agree or have voted to treat it as such. In 2013 alone, the UN passed 21 resolutions of protest against Israel, and only 3 against all other nations combined (A historical list is presented here). But disdained or not Israel goes on, in part by military might, in part by meeting the Montevideo requirements of 1933.

Comparison Hong Kong and Gaza

A map used to support Hong Kong Independence showing that Hong Kong is roughly 4 times the size of Gaza; and about twice the population. The government is more stable, and less divided too.

The UN’s grudging acceptance of Israel rests in part, on its meeting the four Montevideo conference (1933) requirements. A country must have: 1. a fixed population (more-or-less met) 2. fixed borders (war gains are an issue here, as is Palestine’s claim to all of Israel). 3. an internal government with internal control (here Israel exceeds Arab Palestine having a stable government. While Palestine manages to keep some law on a local level there are no unified elections, and only minimal education and healthcare. The two halves would likely shoot each other if they could shoot over Israel). The final Montevideo requirement, 4 is that a country must have the ability to make binding foreign treaties. This something Israel has, while neither Hong Kong nor Arab Palestine does. Both Palestine and Hong Kong are prevented from making treaties– with Israel and with China. Some in The United Nations have seen fit to waive this requirement for Palestine, but not Hong Kong.

While neither the Montevideo protocols nor the UN requires that a country must be democratic in any sense (most every country signing was a monarchy or dictatorship, and many still are (Jordan, Syria, Cuba, China….), there is a growing consensus that the age of kings is over, or ending. That a united Palestine would likely be a dictatorship, or kleptocracy thus runs afoul of another, uniquely American approach to state-hood — natural law, and the Rights of Man.

The United States, at its inception, appealed to the self-evident, Rights of Man, as a justification for its independence. That is to Justice, and to “Nature and Nature’s God.” We never claimed to have clear borders, or a fixed population, or any other Montevideo requirement. Instead we claimed nation-status by “the powers of the earth.” It was never clear what the legal limits of these powers were, not what Nature’s God demanded, but the idea is not mere poetry, but shows up throughout the policy speeches of Lincoln, Wilson, and Kennedy and Reagan. I’ve speculated that the poor reviews Lincoln got for his Gettysburg Address were due to the foreign-ness of these claims back in 1863, but 150 years later many thinkers seem to accept, at least as an ideal, that the legitimacy of a county rests on the will of its people, freely exercised. It’s a standard that hardly any country of the 19th century met, but that Israel meets, while Arab Palestine does not.

And that brings us back to the first and oldest basis of statehood: force of arms; self-preservation as a raison d’estat. If the people see death around them and are willing fight hard enough to keep out an enemy, they become a country. Even if they can not keep fixed borders, and even if they disband their army later, the fight for independence makes them so. (Micronesia has no army, but presumably would fight if they had to, and while Costa Rica had army once, the president disbanded it after he took over by military coup — it’s a threat to his life-long leadership). This view is the grim side of Nature’s law, that country is any organized horde who manage, by any means, to keep from being killed or disbanded. So long as the group survives, anywhere, it’s a nation. The Confederate States are not any sort of country, largely because the union has had such a stronger military that their army could operate against us, nor could the paramilitary remnant (the KKK) remain as an operational horde within our borders. China so over-matches Hong Kong that there can be no independent Hong Kong without China’s approval. Israel’s army, similarly, is strong enough to defeat any likely invasion or civil insurrection, though it might lose land, or gain it. It’s the dark version of natural law: the strong and vigorous survive at the expense of the weak and willing.

My observation is that neither Hong Kong nor Palestine is ready for independent statehood, via any of the justifications above, while Israel is a country by all of them. As for when to step in to create a state, my answer is only rarely; see my essay, when to enter a neighbor’s war.

Robert Buxbaum, December 4, 2014.

New mixed drink, the R°

Earlier this week, R__ turned 21, the drinking age in most of the USA. As a gift to her, I thought I might invent a new mixed drink that would suit her taste, and make her birthday more special. My requirements: that it should be kosher, that it’s made with widely available ingredients; that it should be relatively sophisticated, that it should be lower in alcohol (a fatherly concern), and that it should taste good to her and the general public.

The R___: gin tonic and grenadine

The R°: gin, tonic , ice, and grenadine

What I came up with, is something I call,The R°. It’s a modification of one of the great drinks of the western world, the gin and tonic. My modification is to use less gin, and to use grenadine instead of the traditional squeeze of lime. As she gets older, she may want to increase the gin content. The recipe: put 2/3 shot gin in a 10 oz straight-sided glass. Fill the glass 2/3 full of ice, near-fill with tonic water, and add a dash of grenadine, 1/4 shot or so (I used Rose’s). Stir slightly so the pink color stays mostly on the bottom. The result is slightly sweeter than the traditional gin and tonic, kosher in almost all places (you’ve got to check, but generally true), fairly sophisticated, good-tasting, and a reminder of Israel, a country where pomegranates grow all over. If you order one at a place with black lights and doesn’t stir much,you’ll discover that the tonic water glows electric-blue.

The verdict: R__ liked it. My hope is that you will enjoy it too. As a literary note, grenade is French for pomegranate; hand grenades got their name because of the shape. This drink is also suitable for talk like a pirate day (September 19).

Sept 14, 2014. My only previous gastronomic post was a recipe to make great lemonade. For a song by my daughter, go here, or here. For a joke about a neutron walking into a bar, go here.