Archive for February, 2011

The experiment requires that you continue

| Gabriel |

Two Libyan pilots defected to Malta rather than bomb protestors. Note that many others carried out their orders.

February 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Coals to Newcastle

| Gabriel |

NPR’s Planet Money notes that some of what’s driving the current North African / Mideast political struggles is commodity prices. Fair enough, but what shocked me is that “Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat.”

WTF? As any reader of the classics knows, in the ancient world Egypt was the world’s biggest exporter of wheat. The Roman revolution involved so many battles in and near Egypt because to control the Roman mob you needed to feed them and that required control of Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra were able to, in effect, besiege Octavian without leaving home just by cutting off Egyptian exports. Even earlier than that we see “all the world” (including Jacob’s sons) buying Egyptian grain in Genesis 41 & 42.

So we have this puzzle that somehow in the last two thousand years the breadbasket of the Mediterranean can no longer feed itself. I don’t know how this occurred but I have three speculations (which are not mutually exclusive):

  • Malthusian trap. The Egyptian population increased to consume the available grain
  • Mismanagement. A series of bad policies somehow crippled Egyptian grain production. (The Aswan Dam? Other aspects of Nasserism? Urban sprawl over prime delta farm land?)
  • Climate change. It’s no puzzle why Tunisia is not as agriculturally rich as was the Roman province of Africa — the Sahara has been growing. But AFAIK this has less of an impact on Egypt, which has always been more closely tied to the Nile than to other aspects of climate. Similarly, soil exhaustion shouldn’t be as much of an issue (as it would be in America) since the Nile floods replenish the soil.

I’m genuinely curious about this.

February 21, 2011 at 3:28 pm 1 comment

Telecommunications has broadcast your message into space!

| Gabriel |

I move a vote of thanks to one and all whose efforts made this possible!

Tomorrow (Saturday 2/12/11) @ 1pm Eastern Time, check your local listings.

[Update: Kathleen Kim is amazing as Madame Mao. Not only does she sing like nobody’s business but she totally owns a really creepy character. In Act II when she sings “I am the wife of Mao Zedong/ I speak according to the book” her face is saying “I could have all of you shot.” In Act III she is every bit as sexy as she was scary in Act II, reminding us that the wife of a tyrant was also an aging starlet.]

February 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm 2 comments

Escaped quotes and syntax highlighting

| Gabriel |

Quotes usually delimit where a string with embedded spaces begin, but sometimes you want the quote to be literal and this requires escaping it. To recycle an example I’ve used before, suppose you wanted to display:

Beavis said "Fire! Fire!"

To get Stata to display this, you would escape the quotes by encompassing them in left and right apostrophes (just like calling a local) so the command would be:

disp `"Beavis said "Fire! Fire!""'

This is a trivial example, but a more realistic application is you might want to put some things that involve quotes inside a local and since the content of the local is itself delimited by quotes you’ll need to escape them.

OK, easy enough, but the problem is that most external text editors don’t appreciate this nuance of Stata syntax and end up showing the rest of the document as quoted text, effectively making the syntax highlighting useless. (Stata’s internal editor doesn’t suffer this problem, but I’m in the habit of using TextMate since prior to Stata 11 the editor didn’t have highlighting and it still doesn’t do code-folding). The solution is to let two syntax-parsing wrongs make a right by putting a single quote in a comment, which Stata will ignore but which the text editor will parse as closing a previous hanging quote. It works like this:

disp `"Beavis said "Fire! Fire!""'
* " this line exists only to let the text editor's parser know that everything is back to normal
disp "see, it works. this quoted text should show up as quoted whereas the word 'disp' appears as a command"

February 7, 2011 at 5:05 am 5 comments

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