This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and DFER’s Alisha Searcy interview Harvard student Maya Shiloni. Ms. Shiloni discusses her Israeli upbringing, academic journey at Harvard, and experiences as a world-class dancer. She addresses leadership crises in higher education, religious toleration, and the impact of the October 2023 Hamas attacks on Israel. In closing, Shiloni also highlights her aim to bridge understanding on American campus issues and international conflicts.

Maya Shiloni is an Israeli-American student at Harvard College studying Government and Economics with a citation in Arabic. She is an opinion editor with The Crimson, Harvard’s leading student newspaper. In 2023, Maya interned for Knesset Member Meirav Cohen, and this summer, she will be working for Congressman Josh Gottheimer. She is also three-time gold medalist at the Dance World Cup, the largest international dance competition.

Back in the USSR

 

We are coming up on 33 years from the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 25th, 1991. That specific event merits an anniversary of sorts, even as it was the culmination of a long, drawn out denouement and thus the date would be entirely arbitrary as a landmark.  Decay and rot had accelerated through the decades leading to the 1990s, known in Russian parlance as the period of stagnation (zastoi).  Change thus occurred in the two ways well described by Mike Campbell in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: both gradually and then suddenly.

Some two decades earlier the dissident Andrei Amalrik had pondered whether the Soviet Union could survive until 1984.  His answer became known as the Amalrik paradox: “In order for the Soviet Union to survive it will need to change; but if it changes, it will no longer survive.”

This month, a rare event: a Pod-less pod, with Rob and Jonah taking sole command of the GLoP bridge. But there’s still plenty to talk about, including a big announcement for Rob, some thoughts about The Fall Guy, the boys have dinner in NYC, a little archeological rank punditry (yes, there is such a thing), get slightly scatological (again), and too off their heads rambling to list here.

Asymmetric Justice in Gaza

 

The political situation in Gaza has taken a not-unexpected turn for the worse. Israel is conducting operations in Rafah, where, contrary to widespread expectations, it has done much to overcome the logistical nightmare of evacuating and then feeding close to a million Palestinians in Gaza, supplying some 542,570 tons of aid and 28,255 aid trucks, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, Hamas does what it can to wreck that operation, and Egypt remains adamant in penning up the Palestinians in Rafah, which only increases the time, costs, and risks of military operations.

But conditions on the ground seem to have little effect on the political controversies that surround that action, coming from both the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and many Western governments, including—on and off—the Biden administration. In both cases, the basic message is the same. As to Hamas, the ICJ said in its order that it is “deeply troubling” that Hamas disregarded its call “for [the] immediate and unconditional release” of the hostages. Hamas will not do so at any time and is not under any diplomatic pressure to comply. So, it is the other half of the judgment that carries all the weight. The ICJ also ordered Israel to:

Trump Economy And Regular Americans

 

I keep seeing the media present the case that Trump only helped the 1% and did nothing to help regular Americans.  That assertion is demonstrably untrue.

Let’s look at real (inflation adjusted) median wages.   (Expressed in 1984 dollars.)

Boys Will Be Boys

 

Why do sharks take bites out of people? Standard Answer: sharks don’t eat people, silly! They just confuse those legs for seals.

How do we know? Do we run post-chomping interviews, like in a reality TV show, and ask the shark, “Gee, what were you thinking when you decided to sample Jennifer’s legs?”

Trump Defense Wraps Closing Arguments In NY Case

 

Donald Trump’s lead defense attorney Todd Blanche went first in Tuesday’s closing remarks in the election interference case brought by New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Hinging largely on the testimony of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, a convicted felon, Blanche took aim at Cohen’s dubious credibility. 

“Michael Cohen is the GLOAT. He’s literally the greatest liar of all time,” Blanche told jurors. 

The Human Race is Dying Out – Or Is It?

 

There are conservative podcasts and web sites I follow that have been sounding the alarm over the declining birth rate worldwide. For most of my life I’ve been hearing those sounding the alarm on overpopulation, and only recently have the alarmists turned the other direction.

The conservative sites that are sounding this alarm have a religious bent to them, often Catholic, like National Review and Daily Wire (their prominent podcasters include 2 Catholics, one Orthodox Jew, and one Christian who leans Catholic without being one).

Turn the Lights Back On

 

I’m notoriously non-musical. Sister Paulette, my 4th-grade music teacher, pulled me aside before one school performance and said, discreetly, “It’s okay if you just move your lips.” My oldest son has perfect pitch, an uncanny ability to precisely identify notes, singly or in combination with others, without an accompanying tonal reference. My daughter once pointed out to me that his pitch is so good that “he can stay on key even if you’re singing.”

Not surprisingly, music has rarely been important to me; on those occasions when I do care about it, it’s usually because of the accompanying lyrics.

Coming to America: Part I The Decision to Go

 

Jacob and Elisabeth Fast and their youngest daughter Katharina, about 1890, in Nebraska.

One hundred fifty years ago this summer, my great-great-grandparents, Jacob and Elisabeth Fast, left their village of Lichtfelde in the Russian Empire (now Hrushivka in occupied Ukraine) to board a train to Hamburg, Germany. In Hamburg they boarded the S.S. Teutonia, along with a thousand other emigrants, to sail to New York City. By October 1874, they had arrived on the American frontier near Henderson, Nebraska, where they quickly settled into railroad immigrant sheds for the winter.

What Actually Matters?

 

The Torah tells us of the ancestral burial place of the founders of Judaism is in the cave of Machpelah, in Hebron.

Does this look like a cave to you?

Memorial Day Specifics

 

Allow me to highlight the story of a WWII veteran from North Texas who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his fighter pilot exploits in the Pacific Theater.

Col. Neel Earnest Kearby was born in Wichita Falls in 1911, and graduated from Arlington High School in 1928. He began college at North Texas Agricultural College, now the University of Texas at Arlington, and finished his degree at the University of Texas at Austin before joining the Army Air Corps as a flying cadet. During World War II, he pioneered air combat tactics for the P-47 Thunderbolt, leading the 348th Fighter Squadron.

America, A Great Nation

 

If our children don’t know why America is a great country, they will not be willing to die for its principles. What should we be teaching the next generation about The United States?

Memorial Day weekend is the right time to consider an answer to the question.  There is one overwhelming reason why people want to live in America: people want to be free. In the U.S. we can think our own thoughts, make our own plans, and seek to fulfill our vocational calling, without government interference. In other countries, The State controls thought, beliefs, and work. In the U.S. we can control how we make money, keep money, and invest money. In other countries The State mandates prices, controls banks, and restricts investment. In the U.S. we can travel at will, cross state lines without checkpoints, and decide between a great many options of travel. In other countries, The State restricts the who, what, and where of travel. In the U.S. we have vast and varied options for food, an unrestricted diet, and access to many ways of cooking. In other countries, The State limits food supplies, hoards food supplies, doles out the barest amounts to the poor, saving the best food for the powerful. After hearing this brief list, is it any wonder why people outside of America want to live in America?

And do you know what allows America to be a great country? The Armed Forces of the U.S. military standing against all the bad guys in the world, maintaining American freedom. And this weekend is the perfect weekend to remind the next generation they should be willing to die for freedom. How? By taking young people to a military cemetery. Buried there are men and women who fought and died for the freedoms we have in the United States today.

Deeply Disturbing

 

Bill Ackman, who runs a private equity fund, put up a Memorial Day post at Twitter. It has an image of a woman stretched out on the ground over her husband’s grave at a military cemetery, with the words:

Let’s make sure to remember and honor the fallen on Monday. Many of us, myself included, enjoy the long weekend with our families without giving sufficient consideration to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can leave free. We owe them everything. Let’s never forget.

People-watching in The South of France

 

I’m on vacation with my family in The South of France.  I just love how that sounds.  In fact, when a local Frenchman asks where I live, I respond, “The South of Carolina.”  I think that sounds more sophisticated than South Carolina.  I’m not sure why.

Anyway, my wife and daughters are having a blast wandering around all these cute medieval French villages, shopping for, um, well, shopping for just all kinds of stuff.  Except shoes — apparently high-fashion French shoe stores do not carry size 14’s.  Which probably saved me some money.  But anyway, I’ll wander around with them for a while, marveling at the 1,000-year-old buildings which are still standing despite the absence of building codes 1,000 years ago.  But after a while, my wife will plant me in a café, pile some bags on the chair next to me, order me a glass of wine, and tell me to stay put.  Which I do.

Every so often one of them will swing by, drop off some more bags, pat me on the head like a loyal dog, and then disappear back into the chaos.  So I do my job.  I watch their bags, and I drink wine.  Which is fine with me.  The wine is yummy (although I know very little about it) and the people-watching here is outstanding — just top-notch.  Tourist season doesn’t start in earnest here for a few more weeks. I hear some English in the crowd, but it’s mostly French.  And I’ve had a great time trying to figure out who is who.  See if you think my stereotypes are accurate:

Today We Celebrate Memorial Day

 

The origin of Memorial Day is contested. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 25 cities that vie for credit as the first to celebrate the Americans who died in service of the United States Armed Forces.

In 1966, a Congressional resolution and proclamation by President Lyndon Johnson recognized Waterloo, New York, then holding its 100th celebration, crediting the town for starting the tradition.

Citizens of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claim their town to be earliest site to observe the holiday; pointing to Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Meyers, who met in October 1864 and shared a bouquet of flowers to decorate the graves of their fallen family members and friends.

Deep Time

 

Something that annoys me is when they say life must be common in the universe, because it happened on Earth so quickly. The Earth is four and a half billion years old, they remind us, and the bacteria that would later be fossilized as stromatolites were there by its 300 millionth birthday. Relatively speaking, that’s pretty darn fast! Why, as soon as the conditions are right for life, up it pops!

That is head-shakingly stupid. Abiogenesis, assuming it happened and happened here, is a chemical process. Chemical processes happen on millisecond and finer time scales. 300 million, 3 million years – they make no more difference to the chemistry than 3 minutes would.

Reading With the Wrong Language

 

Think of how strange – and hilarious – it would be to read a recipe as if it were poetry, or a computer program as if it were a fairy tale. But it can also shed a different, and intriguing, light on the material.

I am aware of the language of engineering. In simplest strokes: Requirements are written, specifications are formed, something is created, and then inspected for conformity with the specifications and underlying requirements. If they check out, they are signed-off as complete.

Sjoukje Dijkstra, RIP

 

Funny, sometimes, how the mind works.  Today’s Telegraph has an obituary for figure skater Sjoukje Dijkstra, who has died at the age of 82. It’s a name that–today–will likely trip lightly off the tongues only of those native to Holland, but I’m a geezer, and I know that it’s pronounced something on the order of “SHOU-kee DIKE-stra.”

Miss Dijkstra won the gold medal at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, the same year she also won both the European and the World Championships, making her one of a select group of very few skaters, male or female, who’ve accomplished that feat.  I remember her.

But when I read the news a little earlier today, my first thought wasn’t of figure skating at all. It was of a family funeral which was held at a church I didn’t frequent, and of which I’d been told that the family nickname for the organist was, “The Thumper.”  I quickly discovered why, at the outset of the first hymn.

Memorial Day, Memories

 

I wrote this on May 10, 2005.  It was only a day after the event.  I posted it here several years ago.  I hope no one minds the repeat post.  I think it’s appropriate for Memorial Day.  My unit, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines lost 50 men in Iraq that year, and well over a hundred were sent home wounded.  On this night six men were killed and many were wounded.  

VIVID

The compressor was making its high-pitched screech, but the rotor blades’ whomping, pulsating rotation bumped the screech and made the bird sound like a hyperactive, demented man with a grinding wheel attacking a piece of steel. It was pitch black outside but there was a glow from the cabin that made a curious blue X shape on the ground. My radio operators had just talked this bird onto the deck. They didn’t need my help, I was there just in case. We were waiting for the payload to come by and get loaded aboard. The payload had just roared by in a 7-ton truck a few minutes before the helo touched down. The truck went straight to the battalion aid station.

Parenting

 

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.—Frederick Douglass

To some of you who know me, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about “parenting,” since I’ve never been a parent. I’ve been reflecting on the choice to be childless; I think any good human beings who choose not to have children must sometimes contemplate their decisions.

Americans in the Riviera

 

By 1985 Andrew Kaplan successfully sold two thrillers. The first, Scorpion, sold well. Kaplan asked the question many writers ask after early success: do I quit the day job and write full time? A wife and two-year-old child made Kaplan reluctant to take that step. Then the day job quit Kaplan and he was unemployed.

Once Upon a Villa: Adventures on the French Riviera, published earlier this year, tells what happened next. Stuck at home, unable to drive due to a broken foot, Kaplan could not job hunt. He was frustrated. His wife Anne asked him what he would do if he could do anything. His dream was to move to the French Riviera for a year and write full time. Anne also wanted to live in France.

He had a severance package. He sent his literary agent an outline of a new thriller asking her if it was marketable. Using his sample chapters and the outline, his agent sold the book to a London publishing house. A sizeable advance along with his savings and selling his Southern California home, provided enough money to move to France and live for a year. All he had to do was write the novel.

They don’t want to get along with us

 

They don’t want to get along with us

Over the last few years, my views on geopolitics have definitely hardened. Russia’s Ukraine invasion and China’s growing belligerence in the Western Pacific have forced me to realize that America, and the West in general, simply won’t be able to reach a permanent accommodation with the two dictatorial states.

Quote of the Day – Theories

 

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong. – Richard Feynman

Science is supposed to be about following the facts as revealed by experimentation. If the facts revealed something contrary to your expectations and beliefs, you went with the facts. In 1911 Ernest Rutherford conducted an experiment firing alpha particles through gold foil. It was a test of the Thompson model of atomic structure.