Cover photo
Mike Stay
Attends University of Auckland
Lives in Mountain View, CA
2,120 followers|1,050,878 views


Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
I started graduate school rather later than most.  I took two years off of my undergraduate education, then worked for six years after graduation.  I was married with one son and another on the way when I started at the University of Auckland.  I had three sons by the time I finished.  In 2005, we moved to Riverside, California to attend UCR.  We earned so little---around $1500/month on a "fully funded" PhD program---that we qualified for welfare.

For my wife, filling out welfare forms was a part-time job.  She would spend easily twenty hours a week filling out paperwork.  We didn't have enough money to pay for rent ($500/mo once we got into married student housing), insurance ($500/mo), and food, so our credit card debt started mounting.  It was a constant source of stress for us, and our marriage really suffered for it.

It is impossible for a single wage earner on welfare to do all the paperwork that's required and hold a full-time job at the same time.  

Every decision to spend money on something more than a dollar is a major financial decision that consumes a limited supply of concentration.  Poor people literally don't have enough money to make good decisions, because they're constantly having to make decisions like whether to eat or pay rent.

This is a reason I would support a universal income---not to provide a comfortable life, but to provide enough support that a person can think far enough ahead to make sound investments in the future.
A radical new explanation from psychologists. Flannery O’Connor once described the contradictory desires that afflict all of us with characteristic simplicity. “Free will does not mean one will,” she wrote, “but many wills conflicting in one man.” The existence of appealing alternatives, after all, is what makes free will free: What would choice be without inner debate? We’re torn between staying ...
Joe Gibbs Politz's profile photoBoris Borcic's profile photo
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
From Thomas Jefferson's Autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is "a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion," an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
At one point I would have doubted that even if elected, a president with such policies would be able to implement them because they violate the constitution in so many ways.  Given Snowden's revelations, I'm no longer so confident.
The article is, unfortunately, exactly what it says on the label: Trump explained in an interview with Yahoo that "We’re going to have to do things that we never did before," that "security is going to rule" under him, and that "we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago." This apparently includes investigating and shutting down mosques, forcibly deporting all Muslim refugees, and unspecified further measures against Muslims in the US, including citizens. When asked point-blank, he refused to rule out creating a database registering all Muslims in the country, and requiring them to carry special identification at all times.

Combining this with his plan to forcibly deport 11 million people (about which I've written previously:, and I think it's fair to say that Trump has at this point openly advocated policies which are only associated with the Nazi party. There's no longer anything particularly metaphorical about it, nor is there any reason to distrust his honesty.

Some articles have referred to this as him going "full Godwin," but that's really not appropriate: Godwin's Law is about inappropriate metaphorical comparisons to Nazis, not people actually advocating National Socialism.

You can read the latest interview in full here:

h/t +Valdis Klētnieks for finding the story.
“We’re going to have to do things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
241 comments on original post
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
Most hospitals are out of coral snake venom; the last batch was supposed to expire in 2008 and the FDA has been extending the expiration date, but this year that seems to have ended.
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
My parents are headed to Germany in January for two years to direct the LDS Church's humanitarian aid efforts as regards the refugee crisis.  If anyone knows someone who's had any success in aiding refugees get settled, my parents would like to talk to them.  Please let me know below or write me at
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
"Annealing" is a process in metallurgy where a piece of metal like a sword blade is heated to a temperature high enough that the crystals start to merge, and then is cooled very gradually over the course of hours or days.  The process softens the metal so it's easier to grind into shape or engrave.  The soft state at the end of the annealing process is a low-energy state (in the sense of chemical potential) containing lots of large crystals.  A good sword, of course, needs to be hardened again after annealing, but that's a different process.

Now suppose you're trying to find the lowest point in some part of a mountain range.  You don't have a map; you can only pick a point and check the altitude.  If you pick a point and some others in a circle around it, you can tell which way is downhill.  You can follow that slope, but you may end up in a mountain lake without finding the deep valley several miles away.  A reasonable technique is to start out by spacing out your probes a lot; if there's a general lay of the land where you can distinguish highlands from lowlands, big steps will get you there quickly.  After that, you slowly reduce the distance between your probes, always probing next in the direction that appears to be "downhill".

This probing process is essentially what the sword is going through during annealing: the distance between probes is analogous to the temperature, while the altitude is analogous to the chemical potential.

Neural networks are built from layers of simple "neurons".  Each neuron is a function that multiplies each input by some weight, sums them up, and then applies a simple nonlinear function.  (One popular choice is a piecewise linear function that outputs the input itself if it's positive, but zero if the input is negative.)  The outputs of each layer of neurons then feed into the next layer.  

The input to the first layer is something like a bunch of pixels, and the output of the last layer tries to answer a question like "Is this a picture of a cat?"  The set of weights is very much like the state of the sword or the position in the mountain range: we're looking for the set of weights that does the best at identifying cats.  Instead of a chemical potential or an altitude, we have a yes/no answer about whether it's a cat; we can use the chain rule to find out "which direction we need to go"---that is, how we should adjust the weights---to do better at identifying this picture in the future.  Like the previous two examples, it works well to make large changes to the weights at first, and then lower that gradually over time.

Solving problems this way is called "simulated annealing", and this paper shows there's a surprising relationship between that technique and another one that makes solving certain problems much easier.  In particular, they write

We are able to tighten the temperature schedule for simulated annealing which gives an improved running time, reducing by square root of the dimension in certain instances. Second, we get an efficient randomized interior point method with an efficiently computable universal barrier for any convex set described by a membership oracle.
Abstract: This paper explores a surprising equivalence between two seemingly-distinct convex optimization methods. We show that simulated annealing, a well-studied random walk algorithms, is directly equivalent, in a certain sense, to the central path interior point algorithm for the the ...
David “” Tweed's profile photorif a. saurous's profile photoXxy Yyx's profile photoPradeep Banerjee's profile photo
I haven't read the paper at all, but the abstract is surprising because simulated annealing is generally used for non-convex problems [neural networks are of course non-convex], but this paper seems to be about applying it to convex problems.

Reading the paper a tiny bit, apparently the standard interior point polynomial algorithms for non-convex methods require a self-concordant barrier function, which standard problems have but if all you have is a membership oracle for your convex set then you can't use them. On the other hand newer random walk based methods are usable, and this paper is sort of about that.
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
A. K. Dewdney's book The Planiverse [1] is an exploration of what chemistry and life might look like in a two-dimensional universe.  Most animals on our world, from flatworms to flies to flamingos, are descended from tube-like worms.  In two dimensions, though, anything with a hole running the length of it falls apart!  Dewdney's creatures have zipper-like structures down their middles instead.

When packing irregular three-dimensional shapes together, there are inevitably gaps between them where air and liquid can flow.  Not so when packing two-dimensional shapes!  Each gap is disconnected from all the others, since any point of tangency between two shapes is a perfect seal.  Rain in the Planiverse causes floods that rush over the surface down to the sea.

We think of stone on Earth as being solid, but it usually has fissures and cracks, gaps between the grains where water can get in; and where there's water on Earth, there's life.

The microscopic organisms that live in stone are called "endoliths", and there are three main types:
- chasmoendoliths that live in cracks and fissures
- cryptoendoliths that live in the gaps of porous rock
- euendoliths that burrow into rocks or rock-like substances

There's a kind of euendolith that burrows into mussel shells and weakens them [2].  There's also some evidence [3] that fungal euendoliths may have contributed to the Cretaceous extinction of the dinosaurs!  A 2008 study of dinosaur eggshells found in China showed evidence of "needle-like, ribbon-like, and silk-like" fungal infections.

[3] Gong, YiMing, Ran Xu, and Bi Hu. "Endolithic fungi: A possible killer for the mass extinction of Cretaceous dinosaurs." Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences 51.6 (2008): 801-807.
Add a comment...
Have him in circles
2,120 people
Deloar Masud's profile photo
British School Sofia's profile photo
Julio Alonso Martinez's profile photo
Thu Nguyen Thi Hanh's profile photo
VARGHESE PAULOSE's profile photo
Filme Noi's profile photo
Uni fonix's profile photo
Abhinav Sharma's profile photo
frankking young's profile photo

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
Today marks the 100th anniversary of Einstein's submission of "The field equations of gravitation",
the culmination of eight years of work and papers from 1907-1915.

(Image from Interstellar)
Dave Clarke's profile photo
Pretty good turn around. Published 7 days later.
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
I think this lends support to the idea that radical Islam is westernized Islam.
Turns out the Paris attackers were all native Europeans. No Syrians. No refugees.
38 comments on original post
Joerg Fliege's profile photoJorge Ochoa-Lions's profile photoകുഞ്ഞായി kunjaai's profile photoAlok Tiwari's profile photo
+Mike Stay With regard to your comment about England and women, my impression (as someone not involved) is that quite a few people do hold views about women that align with St Paul's. I don't know what proportion flows from St Paul rather than finding a justification in them.
The key difference is that at most people go on TV to argue against it and leave for a different church.
My suspicion is that it's not anything simple and that it's more that Europe is currently the major source of disaffected people with familial links to the Muslim faith (so that's what they turn to when they want a world-change supporting document). If either of those were different we'd be discussing a different combination.
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
John Baez's profile photoAidan Stay's profile photoMike Stay's profile photoBob Calder's profile photo
+Aidan Stay Not only un-Christian, but un-Jewish, un-Islam, un-Hindu, un-Buddhist, and un-Secular-Humanist.  Just about every moral tradition claims to value caring for the poor and needy.

According to Genesis, that's the reason Sodom was destroyed: Eze 16:49-50 says, "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."  

The book of Jasher in the Apocrypha has a vivid story of the kind of wickedness in Sodom: Abraham's servant Eliezer was sent to check up on Lot and saw a rich man strip the clothes from a beggar who had come to ask for food.  When Eliezer objected, the rich man hit Eliezer in the head with a rock and then tried to charge him for bloodletting.  When Eliezer refused, the rich man took him to court, and the judge sided with the man of Sodom.  (In the story, Eliezer makes his own justice: he hits the judge in the head with a rock and said "Give what you owe me to him.")

Later, one of the daughters of Lot was caught feeding a beggar, so they burned her alive.


Some have gone so far as to call the governors that have suggested rejecting the refugees "Sodomites".
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
Twenty-four hours after an attack by Da'esh (the organization formerly known as ISIS [1]) on Paris left 129 dead and 352 wounded, the Internet and the airwaves alike have been filled with profound waves of self-serving nonsense and stupidity from left and right alike. Everyone seems to have found a way in which this situation justifies their position – protect the refugees! Exile the refugees! Bomb someone! Stop all bombing of anyone! – and magically, it seems that one of the most complex political situations of our time can be reduced to simple slogans.

Well, I've run out of patience with this, so let me seriously discuss what just happened here, and what it tells us. I'm going to talk about three things which have combined to lead to yesterday's massacre: the refugee crisis, Europe's Muslim population, and Da'esh. I'll then talk about a few things which I think have little or nothing to do with what we're seeing – most importantly, religion and oil – and a few things which do – such as food and water. And finally, we'll talk about what it's going to take to fix this, both in the short term and the long term.

Being entirely out of patience right now, forgive me for being particularly blunt. I suspect that, by the end of this, you will be thoroughly offended by my opinions, whether you are American, European, or Middle Eastern, left or right: nobody has behaved well in the lead-up to this.

The first thing to realize about the refugees streaming into Europe from Syria and its environs is that not only are they not, by and large, terrorists – they're people fleeing these exact terrorists. France was just hit by Da'esh, with over five hundred casualties; in Syria, people are surrounded by Da'esh on one side, and a bloodthirsty army on the other side, and have been seeing death on the scale of yesterday's attack every single day for the past four and a half years. [2] If you were living there, you would very likely be fleeing, too.

But the second thing to realize about the refugees is that there are, in fact, Da'esh members among them. It's clear that at least one of the attackers came in from Syria as part of October's refugee flood, and there's no reason at all not to believe that quite a few more are among them, working both at short- and long-term goals. (More on which in a moment)

Everyone seems to have simplistic solutions, here: kick out all the Muslims (as America's Ann Coulter and Donald Trump suggest), settle the refugees more permanently, build giant prison camps. These solutions tend to miss a few very basic points:

(1) When you have hundreds of thousands of people who are quite literally willing to risk not only their deaths, but the deaths of their families, in order to escape, your odds of being able to keep them out aren't actually great, unless your plan is to mobilize a giant army and start attacking inward until they're fleeing in the opposite direction.

(2) You do not have enough prison camp capacity to handle this many people, nor could you build it. Nor do you have enough housing and residential infrastructure capacity to easily settle this many people, because the flux you're seeing out of Syria is very far from the end of it. 

This is why large regional disasters quickly tend to spread into adjacent regions. This is why it's important not to let regional disasters get out of hand, no matter how politically appealing isolationism may appear.

The second thing to be aware of is that this didn't happen in a vacuum: Europe has a very large Muslim population, and it seems that most of the attackers were French or Belgian citizens. This started out with Europe's colonial ambitions, back in the day: France, for example, ruled over Algeria with a mind-bogglingly bloodthirsty approach [3] for decades, but now has a large population of people with a right to French residence who have been moving in to the country in search of a better economic situation. (Hardly surprising, when you leave behind a colony wracked by a horrifying civil war for decades) And France is far from alone in this.

Europe's Muslim population is both profoundly European and profoundly not European. They are European in that they have been living there, often for more than a generation; they work there, they pay taxes, they have become as assimilated as they can. They are not European in that Europe has been profoundly unwilling to allow them to assimilate. This is far from a historical anomaly: Europe has historically defined itself in terms of villages or cities and their local populations, which one can't really join very easily. Groups marked as outsiders – be they Jews, Romany, or Muslims – have been considered only marginally European. At times, there has been a high degree of apparent assimilation: for example, Jews were thoroughly integrated into European culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, intermarrying, forming friendships and professional associations across the board. As you may notice, "thorough integration" can be an awfully chancy business. 

Muslims in today's Europe, on the other hand, don't have anything close to this superficial level of integration; France has been routinely passing laws banning Muslims from dressing the way they did in their home countries in the past few years, which should tell you a great deal about local opinions of that population.

So you have a large population who finds it systematically hard to find work, impossible to be accepted, the regular target of police, and told every day that they should probably be kicked out of the country. I'm sure you will find it shocking that, if you do this to a few tens of millions of people for a few decades at a stretch, you will end up with a disillusioned and disenfranchised youth, some of which will combine this with the general hot-headedness and stupidity of being a young adult to become easy fodder for people who have shown up to recruit.

Lots of people seem to have half-assed solutions here, and they tend to be even more foolish than the solutions to the refugee crisis. "Send them back," the European right frequently cries: back to where? Most of the Muslim population is no longer fresh immigrants; they are second and third generation Europeans. They don't have homes anywhere else. The European left, on the other hand, preaches a mealymouthed combination of urging assimilation and unmistakeable racism. 

For some context, go back to the Charlie Hebdo attacks several months ago. There was a large outcry, saying that what the magazine (a notable left-wing satirical organ) had been doing was entirely in the bounds of proper satire, that the satire of religion was a hallowed European tradition. What this explanation glosses over is that nobody on the receiving end of the satire saw it as satire of religion, for the simple reason that religious affiliation, in Europe as in the Middle East, has little to do with what you believe and much to do with who you are. Charlie Hebdo's targets weren't simply religious extremists preaching from Saudi mosques; they were a portrayal of the French Muslim population as violent extremists, the dangerous other. And that's precisely the European left-wing line: Muslims are fine, so long as they become completely European, to the extent that we can forget that they were ever from someone else. Which, realistically, might mean they have to intermarry for a few generations and acquire blue eyes and blond hair, but that's OK, we welcome them!

The honest fact is this: neither the European left nor the right have ever made the large Muslim community into a full part of society. One side has covered it in nice words, while the other side has blared its xenophobia from the rooftops, but nobody on the receiving end of either of these has been fooled.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. What did you expect was going to happen?

And then we come over to our friends in the Middle East, the psychotically bloodthirsty bastards of Da'esh itself. It's a bit off to even refer to them as Islamist extremists in the mold of al-Qaeda; they've gone so far off the rails of Islam that the only clear ideology that often seems left is power and murder. Exhortations from theologians of any stripe aren't really going to have an effect on them.

But they seem to have realized that they are on an upswing of power, nobody having the resources or will to stop them, and have come up with the idea of spreading this worldwide, with attacks spreading to places like Russia and France – and, as soon as they can, everywhere else. Because as far as anyone can tell, they want to take over the world.

(Yes, this is a kind of screwy plan, and they barely even control chunks of land in the ass end of Syria and Iraq. But they've had enough luck with killing people that they seem to have convinced themselves that if they engage in even more killing people, it'll continue to work just as well. [4])

They seem to have one fairly simple strategic objective with these new attacks: drive a hard wedge between Muslim and infidel populations around the world, so that the Muslims will have no choice but to join them and become their army, overthrowing the local governments and establishing a world-wide Caliphate.

Unfortunately, political stupidity seems likely to help them. If the response to these attacks is to further isolate Muslim populations – both settled and refugee – then they will certainly have a far easier time recruiting among them. It's not actually going to lead to them taking over the world, but it will lead to bloodshed.

This recruitment tends to take a few forms. One is to recruit fighters to come and help in the bloodshed in existing battlefields; the second is to recruit suicide bombers and the like in other countries. These are somewhat disjoint processes, since the process of recruiting someone to commit suicide is rather different and targets different sorts of people, but there is also overlap: one strategy which al-Qaeda long favored was to recruit people to come to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Chechnya to fight, and later export trained fighters elsewhere.

One important thing about these tactics is that they seem to be realizing that surprisingly little training and planning is required. Yesterday's attack required some coordination among teams, but nothing spectacular; it did require practice in gunplay. But even this was fairly complex compared to the bare minimum required; consider the amount of chaos caused by the D.C. Sniper back in 2002.

Da'esh poses a particular danger because they seem to have latched onto the idea of exporting their violence to the rest of the world, but they're hardly the first or the last group to do this. If they were to be wiped out, I wouldn't bet any money that someone else wouldn't get the same idea soon after, much like al-Qaeda did before them. It's not even a particularly regional idea; the notion that if we kill enough people we can restructure the world to be perfectly {Aryan, Muslim, Democratic, Christian, Communist, etc.}, or to be the economic vassal states of the {X} empire, is frankly a cliché by now on pretty much every square kilometer of the planet.

So let's review where we are, for a moment. There's a large European Muslim population which is disillusioned, disenfranchised, underemployed, and generally treated as outsiders and fair political punching bags by the society as a whole. There's a giant stream of refugees pouring in to Europe, combining huge numbers of people running for their lives from bloodthirsty maniacs with small numbers of bloodthirsty maniacs looking to recruit. There's a factory of particularly bloodthirsty maniacs with a vision of taking over the world through (a) killing people and (b) convincing the rest of the world to treat Muslims even more like outsiders, who are actively trying to both create refugee streams and send out recruiters, to this end.

At this point, I expect to hear a chorus of voices blaming two things for this: religion (specifically, Islam), and oil (specifically, the West's insatiable need for it). To which my main response to both is "hogwash."

The reason I reject Islam as an explanation for this is that there's nothing particularly Muslim about any of it. The European Muslims which are being treated as second-class citizens aren't being treated that way because they pray on rugs facing Mecca, rather than in pews facing an altar; they're being treated this way because they're "dirty foreigners." (I'll spare you the actual terms used to describe them) Da'esh's plan to take over the world isn't rooted in a theological destiny of Muslims; it's rooted in an explicitly political vision of conquest. And quite frankly, the people being shot at the most are Muslims, too; remember who the refugees were running from?

More profoundly, people in the Middle East aren't systematically any more religious than people are in America. You have the same spectrum from the wholly secular to the crazed fundamentalist, with the former predominating in cities and the latter in the countryside. There's a tendency to assume (for example) that any woman wearing a headscarf must be extremely devout, or subject to domination and terror by some devout man; you have to back away and look at it in its local context, where sometimes it's a sign of devotion or a political statement, but it's also just what people wear; for many people, walking around with one's hair exposed is not done in much the same way people don't walk around in most of the US or Europe with their asses hanging out.

Oil is generally used as a proxy for "if only the Americans|Europeans never intervened in the Middle East, it would be peaceful there!" This bespeaks a rather curious innocence as to the history of the Middle East, combined with a reversed vision of (generally American) exceptionalism, that somehow our surpassing evil can corrupt otherwise noble savages. It's certainly true that without oil, most of the Middle East would be desperately poor – but as it happens, most of it is desperately poor anyway. Oil is not uniformly distributed, and Syria doesn't have that much of it to begin with.

There is one sense in which this is true, which is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq created a spectacular disaster. George W. Bush's belief that if we just created enough of a power vacuum, democracy would magically rush in to fill the void – the precise belief which his father didn't have, mind you, which is why GHWB made the explicit and deliberate decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power – proved to be exactly as unwise as it sounds when written so plainly. The result was a giant area of anarchy and civil war smack in the center of the Middle East, into which would-be fighters from all over the region (as well as other regions) swarmed: veterans of Chechnya and Bosnia found new employment in Iraq, as Sunnis and Shi'ites alike slaughtered one another. This anarchy, never resolved, has been the perfect factory of chaos which quite easily spilled over elsewhere.

But there's one profound factor which has driven the violence in the Middle East far more than oil ever could: water.

The entire Middle East has been in a water, and thus food, crisis for decades. In Egypt, for example, the Nile Valley has been drying out ever since the Aswan Dam was completed in 1970; as this once-fertile soil turned to desert, people have streamed into Cairo, doubling and tripling its population by forming tremendous shantytowns. Unemployment was extreme, as it's not like the cities suddenly had tens of millions of new jobs in them; the government kept order as well as it could by importing grain in tremendous quantities (the government's by-far largest annual expense) and selling bread cheaply. Unfortunately, a drought in Russia and Ukraine, Egypt's primary suppliers, caused those countries to cut off wheat exports in 2011 – and the government collapsed soon after.

Syria is a similar story: the lead-in to the collapse of Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship was steady droughts in the Syrian countryside driving people into the cities by the hundreds of thousands, leading to mass unemployment and unrest. People's livelihoods had simply disappeared. Stories like this repeat across the entire Middle East.

When we talk about the ultimate causes of the situation, this is the fact we tend to ignore: at the root of it, there isn't enough water, and there isn't enough food, and droughts have been hitting the area harder and harder for a decade. When there isn't enough food, people move from the countryside to the cities; and now you have giant groups of people who still don't have jobs or food, and that's a recipe for the collapse of governments as surely today as it was in Europe in the 1840's.

If you've ever wondered why I have often said that we need to be very actively worried about climate change, this is it. Changing climate breaks agriculture in various areas; the people who were farming there don't magically turn into factory workers or teleport to places which are (slowly) becoming more fertile; they become desperate former farmers, generally flooding into cities. 

So given all of this, what can we actually conclude? I think the most important thing is that you can't bury your head in the sand, and assume that problems in some other part of the world aren't your own. A drought or a civil war somewhere else can easily start to spill over in unexpected ways.

If you want to avoid terrible consequences, what you have to do is plan, and in particular never let kindling build up. For example:

(1) If you have a large, disenfranchised, population, this is trouble waiting to start. The only way to fix this problem is to enfranchise them: give them a full stake in your society. Yes, that means treating people who are very different from you like full equals. Yes, it also means that your society – that is, the set of people that you're responsible for – now includes a bunch of people who are a lot poorer than you are, and this is going to be expensive to fix. You're not going to like it. But you're going to like the alternative a whole lot less.

(2) If there's political instability, or worst of all, food supply instability somewhere else in the world, it doesn't matter how far away it seems: you need to get together with everyone else and have a serious plan to deal with it. Once masses of hundreds of thousands of people start streaming across the countryside, chaos will follow in their wake. 

(3) Climate change isn't an abstract fear for the future; it's a major political problem right now. You can't punt it away and talk about what to do about carbon emissions or its effect on the economy; you have to sit down and come up with serious strategic plans for what to do when agricultural productivity in critical breadbaskets drops sharply, or watersheds dry up. Contingency planning for any government needs to include anything from hurricanes to long-term droughts, and not just as one-offs, but what to do if these start happening a lot. The reason you need to plan for this is that it's not a goddamned hypothetical, you idiot.

What do we do in the short term? This is harder, because right now Da'esh has been sending agents across the planet to cause as much trouble as they can. One obvious prong of the solution is ordinary police work; that's proven far more effective than complex intelligence solutions at catching terrorists. Another prong is stopping their support system at the root. Because Da'esh's plans are so focused on actual conquest, a collapse of their regime back home is likely to have more of an effect on their satellite agents than the collapse of a more ideologically-oriented organization like al-Qaeda.

A third prong is to stabilize the situation in Syria: here the key isn't so much blowing anyone up as giving people a way to stop fighting. There are three key obstacles to this. One is Da'esh, which seems to be pretty committed to fighting for its own sake; this is unlikely fixable by any means short of straightforward military defeat. One is the underlying lack of food availability. The third is that quite a lot of people have reason to believe that they will be killed either if al-Assad regains power, or if he loses power. They need a serious guarantee of personal safety in any peace.

What this probably means is that a peace agreement will require very heavy international support: aid to rebuild the country, neutral military forces to guarantee cease-fires, and some way to deal with the underlying economic issues. That's going to require heavy international coordination of the profoundly unsexy sort: not deploying giant militaries to bomb targets and wave banners, or propping up regimes and helping them "suppress insurgencies," but working on the long-term realities of helping locals build a government that they're invested in – even when said government is unlikely to be either similar to Western norms, or friendly to Western aims. Military force to crush Da'esh is almost certainly needed as a precondition to this, but it's by far the smaller part of the game.

The short version is: if you want to fix problems, you're going to have to deal with some very serious, expensive, and unsexy solutions. Because life isn't simple, and you can't just bomb your way out of trouble.

[1] See this recent editorial for the argument for switching to the term Da'esh more broadly: [Thanks to +Lisa Straanger for finding this more in-depth discussion than the Boston Globe op-ed which I had earlier cited]

[2] cf, for example, this infographic:

[3] cf, for example, this obituary of a proud French torturer:

[4] cf
503 comments on original post
David “” Tweed's profile photo
+Yonatan Zunger​ 's piece is well written but like a lot of political writing the basic problem I have is how I can tell that it's the ascribed causalities are the actual ones rather than it being a "political just-so story".
Add a comment...

Mike Stay

Shared publicly  - 
Here's what my neighborhood would look like after a 4°C or 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, respectively.  In either case, Google and LinkedIn would be under water.  We're already 1°C above pre-industrial levels.
Stephen Paul King's profile photoTimothy Gowers's profile photoJohn Baez's profile photo
+Stephen Paul King - I don't think the people who are measuring and predicting sea level rises are the same people who are working on mitigation strategies, so I don't think work in one area limits work in the other.  On the contrary, we need the first to adequately do the second!

Remember, the 2007 IPCC report assumed that the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica would melt at a slow and more or less constant rate until 2100. Their conclusion was that about 75% of sea level rise until that time would be caused by the oceans expanding as they warmed.  The melting of small glaciers, ice caps and Greenland would account for most of the rest. The Antarctic, they believed, would actually provide a small net reduction in sea levels, with increases in snowfall more than enough to outweigh the effects of melting. They predicted an overall sea level rise of between 0.18 and 0.59 meters, with most of the uncertainty arising from different assumptions about what the world economy will do.

But already at that time, evidence was mounting that Greenland and Antarctica are melting at an accelerating rate.  A lot of the best work has been done using the GRACE satellite, which measures the amount of ice using the gravitational field of the Earth.  We now have graphs showing that the melt rate is increasing:

By fitting a line to satellite and atmospheric data, Eric Rignot found in 2011 that over the last 18 years, Greenland has been losing an average of 22 gigatonnes more ice each year. Antarctica has been losing an average of 14.5 gigatonnes more each year.

Subsequently, evidence started accumulating that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet may destabilize - that is, when enough melting occurs at the base of this sheet, it may tend to slide away from land.   This is not yet certain, though.

This is not hand-wringing: this is science, and it's very important.   In their new - that is, 2013 -  report, for high carbon emissions the IPCC now predicts a global sea level rise between 0.52 and 0.98 meters by 2100.  Even with aggressive emissions reductions, they predict a rise between 0.28 and 0.61 meters by that time.  These revised estimates give people a better idea of what needs to be done. 
Add a comment...
Have him in circles
2,120 people
Deloar Masud's profile photo
British School Sofia's profile photo
Julio Alonso Martinez's profile photo
Thu Nguyen Thi Hanh's profile photo
VARGHESE PAULOSE's profile photo
Filme Noi's profile photo
Uni fonix's profile photo
Abhinav Sharma's profile photo
frankking young's profile photo
Collections Mike is following
  • University of Auckland
    Computer Science, 2007 - present
  • University of Auckland
    Computer Science, 2004 - 2005
  • Brigham Young University
    Physics, 1992 - 1997
Basic Information
Other names
Michael Stay
Whenever I'm asked to describe myself, I immediately think of Gödel numbering and quines.
Partner, Biosimilarity, LLC
Category theory, computer programming, theoretical physics
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Mountain View, CA
Lindon, UT - Redford, MI - Amherst, OH - Provo, UT - Puerto San Jose, Guatemala - Jocotenango, Guatemala - Villa Nueva, Guatemala - Villa Hermosa, Guatemala - Colorado Springs, CO - Epsom, New Zealand - Riverside, CA
Other profiles