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Comparing Obama's, Putin's 10-minute monologues

I was just listening to two recent monologues, a speech by Obama and answers by Putin during a press conference:

President Obama announces expanded sanctions on Russia in Uk

Vladimir Putin on US Sanctions and Ukraine – English Subs
The differences are striking. Putin is a calm, extraordinarily rational and pragmatic professional who doesn't really contribute anything to the escalation of the emotions and who seems aware of the major principles that underlie the Western values and the Western understanding of justice, too.

That's very different from Obama who only offers emotional, hypocritical, not reality reflecting, sometimes one-sided and sometimes downright untrue accusations of Russia and the Russian people and who is boasting about his desire to hurt that nation. Nothing that Obama says indicates that he is balanced, merciful, that he has some sensible or realistic plans in what direction he wants to push the world in the future, or that he understands anything nontrivial about the world of politics or the human society in general, for that matter.

Obama's speech is so superficial, cheap, and hateful that a positive person like myself just doesn't want to spend much time with discussing that rant. The speech is clearly addressed to low-brow voters for whom an announced threat and some clichés about the collective guilt and the need to fight against some "dragons" are enough. If there are really hundreds of millions of people in America who endorse this stuff, the American nation has deteriorated rather dramatically.

Putin's answers are much more interesting and, I would say, wise.

They ask him about the sanctions and his planned revenge. He makes it clear that he will still evaluate these things totally calmly – how many people in his role could do that? – and he doesn't seem to plan any direct revenge. He says exactly what I did some days ago: there is no need for additional sanctions because the sanctions that were already announced by Obama et al. hurt both sides, will damage American companies that would like to do business with Russia (that can lose their competitive edge etc.), and so on. So even if the sanctions are announced by one side, they hurt both sides more or less symmetrically, in the absolute sense, because of the "boomerang effect", as Putin puts it.

Putin makes it clear that he thinks that this is a development that he doesn't want and Russia doesn't want to see which is why he is not eager to escalate the situation. I find this attitude both "nicer" and much more "mature" than what we can hear from the White House and others these days. He also claims that more than anyone else, Russia is highly interested in the end to the conflict in Ukraine, something I have certain doubts about, but at least, it is plausible and it makes Putin a peacemaker that he tries to describe his wishes in this way.

A few sentences talk about the IMF or other money that are being lost or used for unplanned purposes (repression) in Ukraine.

Putin is also explaining that for a decade or a bit more (the period sort of agrees with Putin's tenure in top Russian politics), the American foreign policies have been very unprofessional. Every country that was touched by American interventions has sort of turned into mess, except for the countries where the sides opposing the American proteges won, like a general in Egypt – where it's OK, he thinks.

The unprofessionality is also reflected by the fact that they never learn from their previous mistakes. Instead, they prefer to mask them and pile up new mistakes on top of the older ones. So the top U.S. officials have messed up the situation in Libya, Syria, and recently Ukraine, and instead of noticing that and deducing consequences, they are adding new mistakes apparently to justify the previous mistakes, like the sanctions against Russia.

He also said that those who caused the conflicts etc. will always have blood on their hands. There is some slightly emotional part about the orphans and widows in Eastern Ukraine – but you know, these touching words really describe the sad reality in Eastern Ukraine that was partially forced upon them from abroad.

When it comes to some particular accidents (it's not MH17: they ask about a big public transportation accident in Moscow), he insists on the personal responsibility for the tragedies, quoting some examples that the law students are probably often told. (Two hunters shoot someone by accident. If you can't prove that one of them did it, you must make both of them free!) This is spectacularly refreshing because everything that Putin says would normally be viewed as the Western attitude to justice and guilt. Meanwhile, the politicians in the (geographically) Western countries make speeches that are all about collective guilt and "punishment" of the people according to their nationality.

As a Westerner, I am ashamed of the low-quality, unprofessional, superficial, hypocritical, non-analytical stuff that has gotten to the White House and the tips of the governments of many other (so far perhaps only geographically) Western countries. I am ashamed and I apologize to those Russians who are fed up with – or directly affected by – the unfair attitude of some powerful forces in the (geographically) Western countries. For example, I've heard about some Russian students in the U.S. who are just experiencing problems with their visas etc.

It is not really my fault that we have such low-quality leaders but I am still ashamed for that.

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reader Svik said...

North america is in rebellion. The president is a rebel from a rebel church in Chicago. The solution is in Joel 2:17. But they won't do it so it will get worse till they hit rock bottom.

Maybe its time to move to Russia and start a company. Or maybe Israel.

reader Eric said...

It seems Harvard Law School is beaten by the KGB. I wonder how other Harvard departments compare with the wisdom and cleverness of Russia.

reader Mikael said...

Lubos, I just showed that the probabilities are not equal because I think it is enough for our discussion. It is because they don't make equally good options for betting. You may extend the argument to get the actual probabilities by assigning different benefits to the options heads and tails and ask when a particular better should switch. This problem is not about buying stocks and you shouldn't make this stuff up. It is just about what the beauty should answer in the morning. From the very beginning i thought that the problem was probably not very interesting because it was slightly ill-defined and the argument was just about some implicit definitions and assumptions. I think I made a proposal to define the problem precisely though betting and I think it is good definition if not the preferred one. You may also have an ok definition in mind but it should be expressible in very simple terms as I just did.

reader Tom said...

To your [I am ashamed of the low-quality, unprofessional, superficial, hypocritical, non-analytical stuff that has gotten to the White House] I can only add [,outright lying, crony capitalist thieving,] somewhere in the list.

No doubt, close observation of Obama and Putin leaves me putting 100 to 1 odds on Putin in a chess match between the two, assuming of course Obama even knows how to play.

reader Billy said...

Right, surely the Monty Hall problem is different, very simple in fact, just obfuscated by the procedure. In the MH problem you are basically offered the choice between opening two doors and opening one. If you switch, you get to open two doors, if you don't, you just get to open one. If that's not clear let me try to explain. You choose one of three doors. Now, imagine that instead of Monty opening one (empty) door (there must always be at least one empty door) first and leaving the other (unknown) closed, and then asking if you want to switch, Monty simply offers you the (equivalent) choice to open _both_ other doors at once or stick with the one you've chosen. Of course you choose to open two, not one (which seems obviously equivalent to switching). Easy. Or have I missed something?

reader Curious George said...

Comrade Putin has already the highest Russian honour bestowed on him - vodka Putinka is named after him. There is no comparable honour in the West; how frequently do you think of Yasser Arafat, Barack Hussein Obama, Dr. Michael Mann, or other Nobel Peace Prize winners? But there might be a way to remind you each time you want to have a good time .. how about a Bourbon named Obamacare?

reader trook said...

Do you know that if you were living in Russia you should register your blog with the government? You really support rebirth of soviet way of thinking. I could say only one thing: in russian language there exists a interesting term that you should get to know - it could be translated into English as 'useful idiot'.

reader Uncle Al said...

Yes, certainly. What appears to be a 50:50 chance is not, and demonstrably so (Mythbusters). The Sleeping Beauty Problem contains no prior knowledge of one of the outcomes. It is an honest coin flip with no hidden footnote, albeit decorated with fashionable philosophical squishyness.

reader cynholt said...

It's an easy call to be on President Putin's side on this one. Ever since President Obama chose to put the LGBT issue over diplomacy by refusing to attending the Sochi Olympics, I've been disgusted by his adolescent behavior. Here you have Obama pushing gay rights and US imperialism versus Putin's support of traditional values and the defense of Russia from foreign aggression. The rabid dog USG corporate media cannot spin this debacle past thinking Americans this time.

reader Gene Day said...

Obama is almost always on stage as are almost all politicians. Like most politicians he is speaking mainly or even only to his constituency. He is also a pretty effective speaker, at least with Teleprompters.
Putin is unusual in that he is a rather poor public speaker. He would make a rotten demagog and analogies with Hitler are just asinine. But it is a serious error to attribute their differences to the two men themselves. Things are not so simple.
Anyone electable in the US would take, more or less, Obama’s position and replacing either Obama or Putin would, almost certainly, make things worse. Obama is cautious by nature and Putin is calm and reasonable, as you point out. Another American would likely be less cautious and another Russian less reasonable.
I do agree completely with Putin in his matter but the root of the problem lies in the warped American psyche vis-a-vis Russia (and the ex-Soviet Union) due the fact that Russia can threaten the US as no other nation has ever had the ability to do. Whether a conscience reaction or not, too many Americans are afraid of Russia’s military capability. The downing of a civilian airliner by a Russian missile compounds this fear, unfortunately.

reader Gene Day said...

Obama is smarter than you think.

reader charris208 said...

Obama isn't dishonest in the way of normal politicians. Many politicians will lie for advantage or political ends, but if they are sane they don't mistake that for reality, they are merely cynical and dishonest. Obama is different, he lives in an imaginary world of words and just says stuff that sounds good at the moment. Whether any of what he says is true, or even consistent with what he has said before, is irrelevant, it's the word picture that counts. Blaming his oddities on the American people is bizarre, the man is one of a kind.

reader Gordon said...

That seems hard to believe, Gene, listening to the vacuity and fatuousness of his speeches---contentless rhetoric punctuated by
manipulative buzzwords.

reader cynholt said...

Putin's big "crime" was ridding Russia of the Oligarchs - the corrupt, sleazy crooks who took advantage of Yeltsin's drunkenness to loot the country. We aided the Oligarchs; our US Treasury sent useful idiots to the post-Soviet Russia to charm them into letting the "private enterprise" do its magic. Oligarchs grabbed everything not nailed down. The Russian working class then went into a period of profound misery and financial suffering until Putin put the tip of his ex-KGB boot firmly up the hind ends of the Oligarchs. The Oligarchs are now in prison or living in the West where their corruptness has found a more natural home. Of course, the Oligarchs have a lot of control of our media; hence, we are being "instructed" regarding the evil of Mr. Putin.

reader BMWA1 said...

Is there really such a vodka (maybe I can pick some up duty free on Thursday morning coming off the aeroflot from NYC-Kennedy through SVO (enroute to Kiev)? Is it sold there (SVO)?

reader Uncle Al said...

Obama stuffed US governments' highest echelons with Blacks, Brown, and women who validate his social advocacy. Obama is a cheap Chicago pol saying populist anything, amoral, and befriending those who will befriend him later.
Everything but the conviction.

Putin stuffed Russian governments' highest echelons with Jews. Putin is an Old School snatch and grab imperialist. Vlad the Hammer! if you have two Putins, you have nuclear confrontation. Obama is a poltroon - red lines, sanctions, UN action, truces - no problem.

How is the Syrian optometrist doing under Russian tutelage and Obamunism's condemnation? Bashar al-Assad is a winner not a whiner. Russia has a new warm water port and staging area.

reader cynholt said...

What's funny is how US officials strut around and act as if they still run the world. In fact, the US regime has been outfoxed and marginalized in Europe, the Mideast and Asia. It's a good thing that America's corporate media still perpetuate the illusion that the US is a superpower, or Washington couldn't pull off this charade. Not only was the Ukraine debacle carried out as a ploy to get Europe to drop Russia as its gas provider so US oil companies could take over, but the process apparently cost the US taxpayers $5 billion. Still, that's not bad for a Washington rip-off. Usually it costs us tens or hundreds of billions of tax dollars to launch wars for the oil companies. Does that mean our government is becoming more efficient? ;~)

reader cynholt said...

The Politics of Fear requires a manufactured threat ('other') to mobilize the "in-group." Scapegoating external "others" (as well as internal others) is a great way to divert attention away from government tyranny, corruption and treason and mobilize support that would otherwise be lacking.

Years ago, we were fed constant loads of propaganda against the Reds, Bolsheviks, Soviets, Russians. We were told that they were devious, clever, sinister, and conspiring to take over the world. We were led to believe that nothing was good about the USSR, the men were brutal and the women were ugly. Of course this was nonsense.
It is easy to re-hash the old anti-Russian propaganda and make up new phony narratives to justify regime change and imperialism. Now that so-called Al Qaeda is now recognized as a CIA creation and asset, and that the US funds "Al-Qaeda" groups, they need a new bogeyman.

reader BMWA1 said...

OK, I went online to see, they DO stock it at one of the SVO's duty free shops, will pick-spme-up enroute (will make a nice 'joke') enroute, the price of flights to Kiev, even from US, is about 500 USD cheaper at the moment (hmm....I wonder why).

reader BMWA1 said...

Exactly, and this is what Ukraine actually needs (A 'Ukrainian Putin' after a fashion, as opposed to the Russian one in this case, to get its won house in order, but the birds of a feather flock together and look at Obama).

reader BMWA1 said...

I am unaware of such a composition of Putin's cabinet, but I assume Putin's main climate advisor Izrael Abramov of the RU Academy (the CZ Vaclav Bucha and son in Prague work along similar lines with respect to geo-magnetics) may be Jewish on the basis of name alone. He certainly advised Putin very well about Kyoto (part of the reason for his not signing that accord). Kyoto, I expect, was Putin's first 'black mark', which in Modern times means doing something sensible.

reader Linda Serena said...

Hi Lubos,

what do you think are chances that the black box data is or has now been manipulated ?

17 days after the fatal shoot down, there are still no voice recordings and radar screenshots from Kiev or Dnepropetrovsk and no surveillance data and satellite photos from the US. Egregious.

Then Kiev forces tried to disrupt or at least delay work on the crash site since day 1.

Then, 9 former US intelligence officers signed with their names, that according to information from their former colleagues, Kerry is not telling the truth.
"We are hearing indirectly from some of our former colleagues that what Secretary Kerry is peddling does not square with the real intelligence. "

Then, from the same source, we know that the Reagan administration has lied at the public about the shoot down of the Korean Airline over Siberia in 1983. They even altered the transcript of the intercepted communication and deleted everything exonerating the Soviets. And pressure is much higher this time to match the narrative, as a whole political and journalistic generation has already put their bets on one side.

Now, the Netherlands gave the back boxes away into the hands of the British, which is one of only 4 countries "entitled" to full cooperation and data sharing with the NSA, and which is the country on record with the fiercest prejudgment and call for sanctions and the most disgusting pressure from its media.

I would expect, that a transcript or last words should have been available in 1 or 2 days, but of course not, if something unusual is going on.

In my view, the Dutch prime minister has failed miserably against the relatives of the victims, when he gave the black boxes away under such well known circumstances.

reader mesocyclone said...

As a Westerner, I too am ashamed of our leaders. They are a bunch of weak fools. But... I'd take any one of them, even Obama, over Putin.

A rational monster is still a monster. Putin rationally has had his domestic enemies imprisoned and murdered. Can you find any Western leaders who have done that? Putin rationally censors the press of Russia. That doesn't happen in the West. Putin has rationally supported the expropriation of private property in Russia and given that over to his political allies. That doesn't happen in the West.

Putin is the guy who (perhaps rationally) violated a nuclear arms treaty to annex Crimea (1994 - Russian guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty in exchange for Ukraine's large supply of Soviet nuclear weapons). . No amount of ethnic twaddle justifies that. The good news about that is that Obama will never get any more nuclear arms reduction treaties through the Senate. Even our Democrat controlled Senate is smart enough to know that we can no longer trust the Russians as long as Putin is in charge.

Finally, don't be too sure of Putin's over-all rationality. He shows every sign of being a malignant-narcissist (megalomaniac), and they are not, at core, rational. That doesn't mean he isn't capable of rational thinking. It does mean he is likely to act irrationally in certain ways - ways that are usually quite evil. Putin may or may not be as evil as Saddam or Stalin or Mao or Hitler, but he has the same personality type.

reader mesocyclone said...

The Soviets were, in fact, devious, clever, sinister and conspiring to take over the world. Can you show otherwise?

This wasn't anti-Russian nonsense. It was an accurate reading of Communist motives and behavior, whether Russian or other Communists.

Nobody is trying to justify regime change in Russia.

Oh wait... I just read your last sentence. Never mind... I try not to argue with paranoid fantatists.

reader Luboš Motl said...

There is absolutely nothing Soviet or Soviet-like about the things that Putin says in that monologue, let alone in my blog post.

And it's also complete nonsense that people in Russia who approve of their leaders are normally "registering with the government". 85% of the population does so the government would clearly be overregistered.

Be sure that I know everything about the term "useful idiot" and its history.

reader mesocyclone said...

Obama is a complete tool and complete fool.

But, there is no way he is pushing "US imperialism." The guy is an anti-colonialst to his core (never mind that colonialism vanished decades ago). He sees the US (and any powerful country) as an automatic oppressor, and consistently acts against its interests wherever that perception appears. I think the primary reason he opposes Russia in the Ukraine is the same blindness - since Russia is powerful and Ukraine is weak, Russia is a de-facto colonialist/imperialist. Oddly, by accident, he's actually right for once.

reader mesocyclone said...

Nonsense. *Some* oligarchs are now in prison for only one reason: they were a threat to Putin's rule.

Putin simply replaced some of the original oligarchs with his own cronies, seizing the oligarchs assets and divvying them up among his favorites. Oligarchs who didn't oppose him still have plenty of goodies and aren't in prison.

Putin is just as corrupt as the oligarchs were.

reader Gene Day said...

I've been listening to claims of the declining power and influence of the US for more than five decades, Gordon.
Other countries are catching up but this century will be, primarily, an American century just like the last one.
We have done scads of stupid things but American exceptionalism is still quite real. China will play a bigger role than Japan did but its internal problems, primarily demographics, will prevent it from equalling our overall influence. Graduating high school students in Red Square will still be dancing to American popular music, just as they are today.

reader Luboš Motl said...

No, on the contrary, I think that your explanation is right and insightful.

It's not the same as in the sleeping beauty where she is thinking about the same coin and same coin toss the whole week (not two coins like "two doors") - whether she was woken up once or twice.

The Monty Hall counterpart of that would be that if he wants to choose the door #1, the contestant has to wave his hand twice while pointing to #1. To be sure, waving his hand twice won't double the probability that there is a prize beneath the door, will it? ;-)

reader Gene Day said...

I agree with you, my friend.

reader Luboš Motl said...

No, you haven't shown anything of the sort, Mikael. To do so, you would have to make a very stupid mistake of incorrectly identifying the probability that the coin is "heads" after a wakeup at a random time in the real world with the probability that it's "heads" after a random wakeup from a reweighted sample.

The calculation of costs-and-benefits from any bet is a way to calculate the probabilities of anything involved in the bets but one must do it right. When it's done right, the expectation value of both costs and benefits per week are equal to $50 for P=1/2.

reader ny-ktahn said...

N1993R Please! Choke on a pacifier, That Columbia shirt you are wearing does not define you what lies beneath your bald head. Life's to short to engage subpart humans. Have fun and eat cum (:!:)

reader Gordon said...

"American exceptionalism is still quite real."... in the minds of some Americans, Gene. Goldman, Morgan Stanley etc, the Fed are busy Zimbabwe-izing the US economy ( I have my hundred trillion dollar Zimbabwe bill--genuine currency). The CDO and derivative pyramid schemes are larger than they were pre- 2008, the US is cancelling major science projects and withdrawing from international collaborative ones. The general level of science literacy in the US is a disgrace. The US health care system is ranked 11th out of 11 industrialized countries in the rankings (Commonwealth Fund).
Yes, they still have exceptional individuals and institutions, but the country is being smothered in imo in cultural drivel and by a society where few are curious about natural phenomena, only about surface glitz. I pray (oh, yes, forgot religious claptrap) that I am wrong, but these days I feel like Jonathan Swift must have felt.

reader trook said...

Putin represents the soviet way of thinking. Now he has signed a bill that forces bloggers to register their blogs:

Putin has big support in society but this is a support of its lowest, less educated part. I'm sure that among people of science, support for president Putin is less than 15%. By the way, did you know that Grigory Perlman has moved to Sweden? I'm not suprised. I was there a few years ago. Altought I didnt like many things there, I must sadly admit that going to modern Russia after visiting Sweden is like going to zoo. Nothing to be proud of. There are so many problems with modern Russians. Most of them is even unable to understand a very basic fact ie that corruption is wrong. Many believe that bribes are good for economy. But this is not the worst. The worst thing is that so many Russians are unable to be proud of themselves as individuals, they know only soviet-like collective way of being proud. And the best way for them to be proud as a nation is to be feared. Sometimes I think that Russians need this sick pride more than bread. Major part of them if they only could sacrifice milion people from their own nation only to be more feared they would do it without hesitation. Yesterday there were a manifestation in Moscow, and the leader of it Dugin is a man that says openly that Europe should return to Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, so Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and baltic states should be annexed by Russia, and your country should be annexed by Germany. This man says it openly, and pro-Putin Russians in the buses say "this Dugin is so wise, he's not afraid to say aloud what everybody thinks". You support monsters and you, probably even don't known it.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Well, among people of science in the U.S., less than 15% support conservative values and policies. That surely doesn't make conservative values or policies flawed, does it?

reader Linda Serena said...

I think you got that wrong.

Your misunderstanding starts with what we now have in the West, which is - according to peer reviewed science - an oligarchy:

"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

Here, governments do not control the media, but oligarchs now control both governments and media at the expense of average citizens, and typically additionally supported by special interest groups.

Under Yeltsin, Russia had gone done the same path (with support from US oligarchs) and it was Putin's merit to end the political influence of these oligarchs and replace them with government control.

The difference now is that government control resembles much a monarchy with focus on the well being of the country and the people, while western oligarchies focus on the well being of the oligarchs. Another quite obvious result is that Russian media are government friendly but value truth, while western media are oligarch-government friendly and have to manipulate and lie to maintain that power structure.

reader trook said...

First of all Alexandr Dugin is surely not an anonymous random person. He is well known in Russia, and he is the voice of pro-war and anti-capitalist part of the Putin supporters. Now he is getting even more popular because many Russians, especially those less educated want war and want again to fight capitalism.
Moscow and St Petersburg can be really civilized - it's true, but they can be also more savage than some siberian villages. There are a lot of hooligan fans, a lot of neonazi skinheads, a lot of crime, fascist militias beating up everyone they dont like, destroying shops of people from Caucasus or Asians. Yes, if you visit Moscow to see nice things among nice people that you could be really charmed, but when you visit Moscow and live there on one of the many poor and big housing estate a little more far from the center you surely would change your mind quickly. Have you ever been on the road from Moscow to St Petersburg? This road is a joke, it's bad and it's extremely dangerous. They are building new road M11 and a lot of money is wasted there because of gigantic scale of corruption, and it's open secret - when Russian gets a big bribe he is often proud of it, but noone can condemn it in newspapers - we have so much freedom of speech. Did you follow anti-government protests some time ago? The way OMOH acted had nothing to do with freedom of speech.

Counting Ukrainians and Belarussians as Russians should be okey for me? But it isnt. Few years ago Ukrainians and Russians could be brothers, and now? Because of Russian politics they see us as enemies. Only to have Crimea? Or Donbass - a region rich only on paper because the ukrainian state had add money to payments of aggresive miners from taxes? Or Belarus. Now I think that they feel closer to polish Adam Mickiewicz than Russian Alexander Pushkin. I was in Minsk some time ago and they have even (I swear) some signs written in belarusian language with latin alphabet! This is the way in which our russian "love" works - the stronger we love somebody the stronger he disklikes us. Because when Russia loves it love like this girl from Warner Brothers cartoons.

You call me Russophobic fascist - this is so silly. Anton Czekhov who also saw all of theese problems was also a russophobic fascist? Wanting your country to be normal, secure, friendly ect is being fascists?? You are using some really screwed up logic here.

reader papertiger0 said...

Thomas Jefferson had a similar bout of stupid called the

See if any of this sounds familiar.

Widespread evasion of the maritime and inland trade restrictions by American merchants, as well as loopholes in the legislation, greatly reduced the impact of the embargo on the intended targets in Europe. British merchant marine appropriated the lucrative trade routes relinquished by U.S. shippers due to the embargo.[18] Demand for English goods rose in South America, offsetting losses suffered as a result of Non-Importation Acts.[2][16][21]

The embargo undermined national unity in the U.S., provoking bitter protests, especially in New England commercial centers.[21][22] The issue vastly increased support for the Federalist Party and led to huge gains in their representation in Congress and in the electoral college in 1808.[23] Thomas Jefferson's doctrinaire approach to enforcing the embargo violated a key Democratic-Republican precept: commitment to limited government.[3] Sectional interests and individual liberties were violated by his authorization of heavy-handed enforcement by federal authorities.[24]

The embargo had the pernicious effect of simultaneously undermining American citizens' faith that their government could execute its own laws fairly; and strengthened the conviction among America's enemies that her republican form of government was inept and ineffectual.[25] At the end of 15 months, the embargo was revoked on March 1, 1809, in the last days of Jefferson's presidency.[26]

reader Mikael said...

Hi Lubos, the historic roots of probability theory are in analyzing games of chance so going back to this in cases where the probability is not quite well defined is very natural. I think this is also what Prof. Polchinski meant with his remark on Sean Carrol's blog. Of course your way is not the only way to make the bets "operational" because I just showed you another way. I am fully aware that I am basically putting in by hand that each wake up has the same weight. But I think it is the most natural way to understand the problem and at least a possible way. I think you would have to come up with an argument that my way of understanding the problem is wrong which you haven't.

reader Anonymous said...

To say the same thing with different words...

I think everyone can agree with the following joint probability table (wakeup1 and wakeup2 because clearly wake up in monday is not the same event as in tuesday):
P(Monday, Heads, Wakeup1) = 0.25
P(Monday, Tails, Wakeup1) = 0.25
P(Tuesday, Heads, Wakeup2) = 0.25
P(Tuesday, Tails, Wakeup2) = 0
P(Monday, Heads, no Wakeup1) = 0
P(Monday, Tails, no Wakeup1) = 0
P(Tuesday, Heads, no Wakeup2) = 0
P(Tuesday, Tails, no Wakeup2) = 0.25

Now the required probability is: P(tails|wakeup1 or wakeup2) = P(tails and (wakeup1 or wakeup2))/P(wakeup1 or wakeup2) = P(Monday, Tails, Wakeup1)/P(wakeup1 or wakeup2)

So "thirders" are now saying that P(wakeup1 or wakeup2) = P(wakeup1)+P(wakeup2) = 0.5+0.25 = 0.75. But clearly this is not the case, as you point out, because the events
wakeup1 and wakeup2 are not mutually exclusive. Ie. P(wakeup1 and wakeup2) != 0, but instead it is just equal to P(wakeup2) (because wakeup1 happens always).

So P(tails|wakeup1 or wakeup2) = 0.25/(0.5+0.25-0.25) = 1/2.

reader AGreenhill said...

Nice article.

Not that it's about climate science - but I'm curious, if you think climate scientists are not the ones to ask about climate science, what group should be queried? I have always heard that climate scientists mostly agree on anthropic global warming. Do you disagree with the claim of consensus?

reader 2dogs said...

The correct answer is either 1/2 or 1/3 depending on the nature of the decision sleeping beauty wishes to make on reliance of the information that she is awake.

It is possible to formulate decisions she might make for which she should consider that the probability is 1/3.

reader Tom said...

I would bet that if you only sampled tenured physics professors, ones without consulting contracts with any connection to the AGW money stream, that you would get close to the exact opposite of percentages that Obama and crew drone on about. (Of course, I’m not talking about CO2 molecules acquiring internal energy from the earth’s radiation.)

reader John Archer said...

"Do you disagree with the claim of consensus?"

Are you asking if he disagrees that there exists a consensus (on CAGW), or if he disagrees with those who claim that such a consensus exists and with what they claim of it?

I can't speak for him but from what I know I can tell you the answer to both, conveniently, is yes. Unlike the consensus ecotards, that's only because he has the good fortune to be a member of that select group of people who have at least one fully functional neuron.

If you don't believe me, then check out a few of his links here on climate. They're among the reasons I like this blog.

I'm not sure if Luboš will answer you himself. He has strong thoughts on the subject and you might have upset him with your question. Haha!

Was that thunder I just heard in the distance? :)

reader ny-ktahn said...


and just for completion a visual rendition for thou rant

reader br said...

I can only see this question clearly from a phenomenalist point of view, where there is some consequence to a right or wrong answer. If her aim is to win the most money, she must bet 100% on heads and 0% on tails. So from her point of view, the best answer is P=0! I've no idea why this is not mentioned more in all the discussions, as it is easily shown.
The only other 'correct' answer I can see is that P=0.5, meaning that the coin is a fair coin. I can't understand what P=1/3 is supposed to mean - as Lubos points out, this just sounds messed up. What is she supposed to do with P=1/3? From a betting point of view, it will lose to P=0.

reader JP said...

Lubos, I was earlier arguing for the 'thirder' position, but I see I was wrong. What you say about SB is completely correct. Thanks for the Guantanamo example and a thorough discussion, it's great to learn new things.

About the betting argument: Let's say that SB1 is together with SB2 in the experiment, in the same room, and neither knows how the coin turned, or what day it is. Then SB2 suggests SB1 a bet: If coin came up head, SB2 pays SB1 2 euros, and if it came tails, SB1 pays SB2 3 euros. Now SB1 should accept a bet, but it does not mean that heads is more probable than tails. It means that SB1 understands that the expected number of such betting situations is higher if heads came up. (This depends a bit on how we model SB2:s stupid brain, but this works if we assume that amnesia is a complete reset, so that she behaves the same way on monday or tuesday).

reader JP said...

Hmm, I am not sure about the betting argument anymore, or my reasoning... What do you think, Lubos? Should SB1 take the bet or not, why, and what if anything it has to do with the probabilities in question?

reader br said...

Probably flogging a dead horse here, but tried to formulate my own clear statement of what SB knows and should say:
"I know the coin is fair so will come up heads in 1/2 of the trials. If I receive a euro for each correct guess to the question 'Is the coin I'm holding heads or tails?', then remembering the structure of the trial (=information!) I should always pick tails, 100:0, to maximise profit. However I won't be correct in all the guesses - with this strategy I believe 1/3 of the guesses will be wrong, averaged over many trials".

reader RSM said...


You did not present an exhaustive list of outcomes. If Wakeup1 and Wakeup2 are not mutually exclusive, as you claim, then if it were exhaustive, it should have probabilities summing to greater than one. Your post affirms that Wakeup2 implies Wakeup1. By this, I understand that Wakeup1 means "SB is awake at least one of the two days" and Wakeup2 means "SB is awake both days". There are three combinations of those two variables that are consistent with the definitions: "no Wakeup1", "Wakeup1 and no Wakeup2", and "Wakeup1 and Wakeup2", The conditions of the experiment exclude "no Wakeup1". Then the following is an exhaustive list of mutually exclusive outcomes allowed by the experiment:

P(Monday, Heads, Wakeup1 and Wakeup2) = 0.25
P(Monday, Tails, Wakeup1 and no Wakeup2) = 0.25
P(Tuesday, Heads, Wakeup1 and Wakeup2) = 0.25
P(Tuesday, Tails, Wakeup1 and no Wakeup2) = 0.25

If Beauty is awake, she can eliminate "Tuesday, Tails, Wakeup1 and no Wakeup2", leaving three equally probable cases, having these (prior) probabilities:

P(Monday, Heads, Wakeup1 and Wakeup2) = 0.25
P(Monday, Tails, Wakeup1 and no Wakeup2) = 0.25
P(Tuesday, Heads, Wakeup1 and Wakeup2) = 0.25

Conditioned on her being awake, she must conclude that P(Tails) = 0.25/0.75 = 1/3.