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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Unintelligent Response To Intelligence Proposal: A quick blip during an otherwise slow news cycle (time for President Bush to go on vacation for a month again, isn't it?) involved a twist on the future market, this time as a tool for intelligence gathering. The basic idea is that the markets as a whole are a useful tool to determine information and has been shown to be so even outside the usual economic context. For instance, it has been shown to be a good determinant of political campaigns. Thus, the Pentagon suggested that it be used to collect intelligence ... using financial incentives in a creative, and hopefully successful way. It was struck down as an immoral gambling of human lives. The level of moralistic holier than thou breast-beating involved was a tad sickening.

Various arguments made against it suggest that knee-jerk emotional appeals are as unwise as the term implies. First, the very moral horror at "gambling" is ridiculous given our basic financial system is based on such risk taking, including areas such as insurance and the basic well being of millions of people that surely at some level involves betting on human lives. I don't care what you call it, if "gambling" provides a service, name calling will not make it any less useful. Second, many suggest the information is not as open and verifiable as other markets offer ... but again, in economic and other markets, the information is often not "clean" and at times involves specialized information that means only a limited group can "bet" or "play." A related concern is that the people involved, let's say terrorists, are not rational actors. This is a dubious preposition (e.g. it is a timed honored falsehood that Saddam is an irrational actor and your average suicide bomber does not kill himself for no reason ... and experts in the field will tell you that) and the implication that other markets (e.g. political campaign strategy) do not have irrationality inherent to it is erroneous. All the same, markets have some value in such fields.

Next, some suggest that the market would benefit terrorists. As some note, an intelligent terrorist could benefit from the financial markets now ... for instance, some well timed investments pre-9/11, or how about if one knew a certain captain of industry would die in a car crash the next day? Second, do these critics suggest that any useful intelligence collection techniques be totally secret, and not open to public view? If not, any number of useful techniques has a potential to benefit terrorism ... the argument is that in the long run, openness will benefit the "good guys" more.

A related concern is that "successful" predictions would result in the U.S. stopping the event, and therefore there would be no "payoff." This could be factored in, so the predictions alone would benefit the investor. Likewise, the idea that terrorists or others can "fix" the system would suggest that any number of very important markets also is unwise. Again, the idea is that in the long run we will benefit more than we will suffer. Fear of some kind of foreign policy backlash also is raised ... but if the net result is less harm, I don't quite understand why this is a problem. Is the "this looks bad" factor that troubling to require a potentially useful tool not be used? And note that it is but "a" tool ... some criticism somehow seems to feel that it is misplaced use of money and effort better earmarked elsewhere, as if such alternatives will not be offered anyway. The distrust in this system alone would counsel policy makers not to put too many eggs in this one basket, and to have many other alternatives and even redundant sources of information for those loathe to rely on future markets such as this.

Finally, various other emotional appeals were raised. I will note two that suggest the misplaced concerns that contributed to the quick disposal of a potentially useful idea. Some see this as just one more unsavory technique offered by the Bush White House or the current bunch of intelligence types ... the same class of people who have been criticized for not thinking "outside of the box" or creatively enough to prevent harm ... as if the idea actually came from other fields such as economic theorists. Anyway, the whole concept seems comparable to "Game Theory" (the area John Nash of A Beautiful Mind helped originate), which has been around for around fifty years or more, and also is involved various decisions that affects life and death. One person suggested terrorism has "no demand" or even "negative demand," which is wrong, since obvious someone wants it! Experts, experts the country as a whole in some form pays for and is willing to "gamble" on as worth their salaries, spend their careers analyzing such demand.

The ultimate success of the process, dropped like a hot potato, is unclear, but it was worth trying. I would not be surprised if it is actually tried in some form, perhaps as an unofficial market or as an unpublicized field study of some sort. Putting aside largely misplaced moral concerns, the cost/benefits of potentially risky activities and procedures can only be determined if they are actually field tested. A country that accepted the rather controversial and potentially dangerous concept of pre-emptive war should not be so opposed to the use of a potentially valuable, and probably much less lethal, additional tool in the ongoing struggle against domestic and foreign insecurity.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Political Strategy and Perceptives: Recently, I discussed and took part in discussions about the appropriate winning strategy for the Democrats. First off, I responded to some conservative praise of Prime Minister Blair's speech to Congress. I think Blair put forth an eloquent speech with many Democratic themes, though the overall point of it all was really to support President Bush and his flawed Iraqi policy. This is why conservatives who in most cases don't think much of the Prime Minister's policies went out of their way to rave about his speech. A speech some demeaned as his "white man's burden" speech ... good intentions, but done so in an unsavory, almost colonialist way.

I added some two cents to a more general discussion on "values and arguments" here with some additional comments here (the response that took Dave Barry's quote seriously is amusing). An interesting article by Harmful To Minors author Judith Levine about the alternatives to marriage is found here. I support her general attempt to argue that in the current era there are many "marriage like" relationships that should not all be put into one box known as "marriage," but still receive some governmental sanction for various reasons, including care of children. I also talk about how the current administration is no fan of free trade in a somewhat amusing, though serious, case involving Vietnam and catfish.

While on the political theme, the NYT reports that the President has nominated two more for the DC Appeals Court, where Miguel Estrada is destined to go whenever the filibuster against him fails. There are various reasons why these nominees show yet again the I got to say slimy nature of the Bush judicial nomination process. One nominee is Janice R. Brown, a black conservative [who wrote a key anti-affirmative action decision] that has gotten some controversy, but though I'm not familiar with her record enough to make any conclusions, my tentative belief is she is likely just a conservative pick whose color helps smooth the way.

It is true that many Clinton picks were struck down for ideological reasons, so this is a factor, but it is the least of the problems in this case. First, the President is making three nominations to a key circuit court with openings largely because Republicans blocked Clinton nominees, and also argued there was no need for a full bench. Apparently, now they changed their mind.

Second, the other nominee is thirty-eight year old Brett M. Kavanaugh, an associate White House counsel, a key player in choosing other nominees to the federal bench. Thus, the Democrats in the Senate as well as others involved in the process would likely distrust him, not unjustly seeing him as an ideologue in a time when we need noncontroversial picks to the bench. His age is also a factor ... I do wonder if he is so qualified that it is justified to place someone so young on a federal appellate bench. Finally, guess what else he is known for? Yes! He was a key aide to Kenneth Starr, having a big role in the investigation of President Clinton and writing the infamous Starr Report. You [expletive deleted] got to be kidding me! How in the hell is this guy a good choice, especially to this court when Justice (in California) Brown alone is controversial for her views? It is this sort of thing that aggravates me to no end ... the arrogance, lack of desire to even try not to be divisive, and the lack of guts to even admit the fact half the time that makes by blood boil.

I am unsure who I support among those running for the Democratic nomination, but my basic belief is that many of them are acceptable choices because they share certain basic beliefs. All the same, perhaps my key requirement is someone who does not act like this. Someone with the moral integrity not only to cook evidence but also not have the gall to pervert the judicial nomination process, not willing to give an inch, but instead only inflaming the situation more. He has help, it is true ... the Republicans in the Senate cannot even resolve that a very controversial nominee such as William Pryor crosses some line ... can't throw that bone to the opposition, not even Sen. Spector, who has spoken of his misgivings, but voted with the rest to send his nomination out of the committee. The result? The Democrats might be forced to filibuster ... yes a whopping third of one for a hundred nominations ... thus inflaming things further. And, who is blamed? The Democrats, more often than not! Sigh.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

New Threat To The Universe: Apparently, there is new evidence of Dark Energy that is "wrenching the universe apart." A team of scientists has discovered what they called "the shadow of dark energy." This would add to "emerging consensus of a universe dominated by mysterious dark matter and even more mysterious dark energy" that "means that parallel lines drawn across the cosmos will not meet." Like duh.

"If we can just keep collecting a few more clues about it," Dr. Riess added, "we might actually be able to figure out what the heck it is." It is theorized, however, that " the passage of microwaves through the modern universe" might be involved here. Imagine if each had a burrito or worse yet a bag of microwavable popcorn! Or a microwave tiolet.

Anyway, clearly the "Dark Side" is involved and we can use "the force" to stop it.

It also apparently has something to do with credit cards: Dr. Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the University of Pennsylvania, compared the effect to racking up credit card debts in an inflationary era. "The payback is less than what is borrowed," Dr. Tegmark said. Sounds like an okay deal to me.

"Dr. Scranton, also in an e-mail message, said his team's work was important in validating the dark energy because it relied on sky survey data not available to other teams." They got it from the Brits.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

More Baseball and Stuff: The last couple nights gave us some chances to view the results of some recent baseball trades involving Mets personnel. Armando Benitez came on with a four run lead tonight and pitched two innings largely without incident, though he had a bit of trouble getting the third out. Yesterday, John Franco blew a hold opportunity in the ninth, taking the loss ... 3-2 vs. the Braves. Jeremy Burnitz made an error as a Dodgers, but redeemed himself later on with his bat and base running. Also, former Met Rickey Henderson got a home run tonight for the Dodgers, showing he still has something left.

Meanwhile, I saw Swimming Pool, the latest Charlotte Rampling film, an actress many might best remember as Paul Newman's love interest (in a matter of speaking) in The Verdict. This movie is mostly style with little point ... the leads are fine as is the setting ... there is nice eye candy in the form of a young nubile niece. All the same, you are left wondering, "um, will there be like something happening sometime?" Rampling's last movie with this director, Under the Sand, was largely stylistic as well, but there was more meat to it. This has a point, but drags on and on without much of a plot, so one wonders after around a half hour, what the point really is. It can be enjoyed for style alone, but I got bored after a while. It is a movie you can look back upon and admire, but still are left with the realization it really wasn't that enjoyable overall.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Baseball and Stuff: Good All Stars ... Dontrelle Willis [Clemens did w/o incident] should have got a chance to pitch, over either Woody Williams (2 runs) or Russ Ortiz, and it was sad in a way that the NL All Stars blew a 5-1, fifth inning lead, but it was all in all enjoyable. Armando Benitez, who probably couldn't have done worse in the eighth than Eric Gagne (who decided to give up his first save since last summer here ... WHEN IT COUNTS!!!), looked a bit lonely when he was introduced. He now is with the Yanks, for Jason Anderson (young kid, seems to have some potential from the little I saw of him) and two other prospects. Maybe, he will do good as a right handed set-up man ... does suggest the desperation of the Yanks though. They, as much as anyone other than the Braves and the Phillies, know his history. As to Gagne, he helped complete the AL come from behind effort that we saw in Game Six of the Series ... and probably shouldn't have faced two run homer/Blaylock. But then, Dusty Baker left pitchers in too long in the Series as well, didn't he?

I might have saw the first summer blockbluster that I actually fully enjoyed in a summer blockbuster way ... Pirates of the Caribbean, which is no prize in the plot department, but Johnny Depp is fun, as is the movie on the whole. As a fan of the British show Coupling, it was fun to see its "Chandler" sort character play an English naval captain. The movie needed at least one good naval set piece ... battle it had left something to be desired ... but its scale on the whole still was blockbuster worthy. I'm also a sucker for historical fiction, including the tongue in cheek kind.

The President is having a bit of trouble these days with some statements he made in regards to Iraq ... the implication being he defended the path to war based on flawed evidence. Meanwhile, economic numbers continue to look bad, conservatives are upset at his protectionalist moves in regards to free trade, and the administration continues to support big government that interferes with our lives. This led me to start a new series discussing why Republicans and conservatives should feel wary about the guy. One post (targeting doctors who talk about medicinal marijuana use with their patients) that links to my other post (international trade plus "ethics") suggests my overall strategy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Roger Clemens Too: Well, looks like the another "he shoulda have been an All Star" somehow got to be one ... though Barry Zito was perhaps the late one to know, it was announced the PTB decided he could not pitch, after pitching yesterday. So, suddenly there was a shot for a retiring/300 game winner (eventually). Meanwhile, Mets All Star Benitez decided to blow a save on the last game before the break. Jason Philips saved the day ... and pitch runner's Roger Cedeno's ass (a long double barely got him to third, after he twice stopped to make sure it wasn't caught) ... by hitting the winning RBI in the bottom of the inning. Thus, it was not surprising someone lost their job ... Jeremy Burnitz was traded to the LA Dodgers, probably one of the few teams who might have even a harder time to score runs than the Mets. Unless you count the White Sox, who recently loss a game 1-0 vs the Detroit Tigers. Robby Alomar doesn't seem to have put them over the hump.

Meanwhile, last weekend I caught some of the Degrassi marathon, including the well done date rape episode. The show itself harkens from Canada, is shown over here on the Noggin Network and is a sort of teenage soap opera.

I also recently finally found a book that was fairly enjoyable, Religious Liberty in American: Political Safeguards by Louis Fisher. The book argues that the political process is more important than the courts in protecting religious liberty and provides a history lesson from past to present to summarize how this was true over time. I think he somewhat overstates his case at times (and generally focuses on Free Exercise over the Establishment Clause), but it is a good rebuttal to those who put too much faith in the courts. It also is well written in a style accessible to both a general audience as well as those specifically interested in the field.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Dontrelle Willis Update: The Associated Press reported today that rookie sensation Dontrelle Willis will be on the All Star Game after all, replacing injuried All Star Kevin Brown. Meanwhile, Dodgers fans are gritting their teeth just a bit more, given how their inability to hit will be just that much worse now. The article notes that Willis was originally left off so Kerry Wood could play. As AP points out: "Wood is 9-6 with a 3.19 ERA, while Willis is 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA." The article also says that Dusty Baker apparently suggested at the time the reason why he did not pick DW was because "he had never seen him pitch." If you say so, Dusty.
Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines: Well, I saw the latest Terminator flick. On the whole, it was a bit lame. The movie really gave us nothing new (besides a female villian ... nothing special), had the intelligence level of your average Beavis and Butthead episode (especially removing the pretentious voiceovers), and less action than its predecessors. Claire Danes did not get much of a role as the love interest. She tricks John Connor early on (given his experiences thus far, it didn't take much), but soon enough she is whiny and scared for her life for half of the film. The ending was a blatant cliffhanger ... not even pretending to be the true end of the film, and left something to be desired (to not spoil anything by submitting plot details). Finally, the action level seemed a bit down and the FX did not show much signs of new twists. It went down fairly easily, wasn't boring or anything, and was basically fun ... unless you thought how a summer flick should be a bit better than this.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Open To Ideas, Including From Outside Our Usual Borders: "Americans' ability to draw on ideas from all around the world, synthesize them and integrate them into our lives and our institutions is one of the abiding features of American ingenuity and one of the abiding strengths of American [society]. Something tells we that we will survive the occasional citation of a European court." A few sound words concluding a criticism (citation in my discussion) of the suggestion that a reference to an European Court decision in the Supreme Court's homosexual sodomy opinion was somehow a threat to our sovereignty. It is but one of a line of often passionate criticisms of Supreme Court justices finding international judicial decisions of some relevance to our system. Others can be guided by us, but not us they ... how sadly parochial.

As I note in the linked piece, it is just a piece of an overall xenophobia. For instance, other nations who disagree with us on Iraq are not just mistaken ... they aren't worth our respect. The alternative is a threat to our "sovereignty" ... a "sovereign" is a king. Aren't we over that? Doesn't the Constitution bar titles of nobility partly because of that very fact? I might be stretching here, but the word continues to leave a bad taste in my mouth. It got my notice when a libertarian party candidate suggested removing sovereign immunity so governments too can be sue for wrongs. They would probably appreciate this too ... a piece (with personal commentary) on how blacks need to change directions in the fight for civil rights, including a good deal of personal effort to help build the necessary foundation for success. If Bob Herbert can listen to views libertarians might honor, we can admit that foreigners have something to teach us as well.

Baseball: Tonight was typical of the Mets ... these guys are not ten or so games below .500 for nothing. After coming from behind in the final game and thus sweeping the Reds (first sweep of the season), they lost the first two games vs. the Braves. No shock. Seo had his third bad game ... the game turned on a pair of three run homers (two pitches). The second game was slow water torture. Jason Roach (filling in for Leiter, who surely had the potential to pitch comparably given his year thus far) pitched six, coming within a batter of leaving with a very respectable 3-2 score. The Braves got the home run though, so it was 5-2. The Mets, on the other hand, missed opportunity after opportunity down to the eighth where an error assisted bases loaded situation (one that even upset the usually copacetic Braves pitching coach) ended with a f-ing pathetic grounder back to the pitcher. Bound to happen. Still, even the lowly Devil Rays and Brewers have their days. The Indians tonight one hit the Yanks. The Mets have so few days against good teams ... and not one truly exciting late inning result that I recall. Tonight would not be the first.

Monday, July 07, 2003

All Star Picks: The added edge of this year's All Star Game is that it will determine home court advantage in the World Series, which also will be the case next year as well. I really do not see this as mattering too much ... both teams generally play to win anyway, except in select moments, such as the somewhat noteworthy home run by Ripkin in his final appearance. On the other hand, I don't recall that being a nailbiter anyway. Also, overall, home team advantage is somewhat weaker in baseball ... it does matter to some degree, especially for certain stadiums. The picks also have been chosen differently in various ways: two more were added to help avoid another tie and allow for a bigger pool of players; also, managers, players, and the Internet all will have a new role this year. It is no big surprise, however, that the result was the same -- some dissatisfaction with the picks.

Some were upset that certain fan favorites, including Sosa, Clemens, and Mariano Rivera were not chosen, even though injuries and not too elite records factored into the equation. This is for the fans, after all, and they want some of these people. We aren't just talking about records here, which is why fans continued to pick Cal Ripkin, even when he past his prime. There is something to this, and my key criticism would be the absence of exciting rookie phenemom Dontrelle Willis . Though he just might get a spot through as an injury replacement or for some other reason, his absence from the first batch of players is annoying because there was really no reason why he could not be chosen, unlike some other picks perhaps mandated by the "every team gets a player" rule. After all, his numbers and record were as a whole more impressive than Braves Russ Ortiz, and that team surely had enough representatives. Also, since Dusty Baker is managing, including his ex-player smells of favoritism.

The need to pick a player from every team has received some criticism since it skewers the choices, but throwing bad teams a bone (usually, most bad teams have a good player anyhow) is not in my view a bad thing. We do have the unlikely (if given the alternatives, reasonable) pick of Armando Benitez as the Mets representative, but only because of the glut of good outfielders, and the injury to Mike Piazza. We also have the pick of Lance Carter, Tampa Bay's average closer, but the rule did not dictate this ... there were other people to pick, including a few decent pitchers. Also, I am not too upset that no Yankee pitcher was chosen ... the roster is still quite respectable, and the Seattle reliever chosen (perhaps over Rivera) actually is pitching lights out (ERA under .90). And, if the game is fairly close, and Benitez blows it in the seventh or eight inning (perhaps to one of the big bats from the Braves) ... Mets fans with a sense of humor can appreciate it.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Blogging Ecosystem Picks Me Up: I found out my little blog actually has web presence ... ok, it is only mentioned as one insignificant pick-up by the "Blogging Ecosystem" project, but it's a start.

Films: While I'm here, let me quickly note that I watched 1776 today, which is probably at least the sixth, if not more times I saw it in various media. For instance, this time was my first DVD experience, which not only has a few added scenes, but commentary from the director (and some other guy). I just love this sort of thing and enjoyed all but one ("Two Week's Notice," where the two stars goof off too much) of the commentaries I have heard so far. It is quite interesting if not fascinating to hear about the film from the director's (or for Crazy/Beautiful, the director and star) point of view. Of course, as they talk, you can only watch the film, which usually provides one with a special perspective. DVDs are so great for movie geeks like myself. For instance, the To Kill A Mockingbird DVD not only had a commentary track, but a full length documentary on the film. btw I also caught 1776 on Broadway, the revival that had Brent Spiner (Data) as John Adams. This too was fun to see, even though I already had seen the film a few times by then.

Well, since this has turned into movie night ... I found the films of the last two months (not counting this week's releases) to be rather lame, leading me to take in some foreign and documentary films instead. This allowed me to see some enjoyable films off the beaten path ... Respiro (mentally troubled Italian mother of three ... bad last third), Whale Rider (New Zealand fable), Jet Lag (comedy French trifle), The Weatherman, The Nazi Officer's Wife (Jew who becomes a wife of a Nazi during WWII), and Human Weapon/My Terrorist (terrorism and a Jewish terrorist victim who decides to speak for the man who shot her). The last three are docs, though second and last one would have made good feature movies.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

I summarized the 2002-3 Supreme Court Term here. As to baseball, it is nice that the Mets started on the road of cutting the waste ... Roberto Alomar can thrive or whatever over in Chicago, and hopefully those prospects are actually worth something. Kansas City actually picked up a decent reliever ... their relief staff is on par with the Red Sox these days (both teams also have some pretty good starters, bats, and a couple relievers it can generally trust ... most of the time). They are back on top of their division ... the AL Least ... and it's not like their competition is that dangerous.