Sunday, December 24, 2006

Story of the Year

I was watching This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and realized his 'Story of the Year' question to his panel would be a great question for Theory Bloc. First, some guidelines: I concede that the post of the year and the short history of the blog is undoubtedly 'New Atheism'. Kudos to Ryan for prompting that discussion; the sheer quantity of responses would be noteworthy (I haven't checked but it must be a record for our little blog) but every response was a quality comment, too. That being said, the idea is to consider the story of the year on a world, national, or regional level. Personal or clique issues (my daughter was born in '06) should try to be disregarded (especially now that I have already thrown mine in surreptitiously). Also, comments for this post should be focused on providing the contributor's story of the year, and should not focus on providing counter-arguments to other contributors. Other than that, be as broad or specific as you want. All this is probably understood, but just in case...

The story of the year from this contributor's perspective is the mishandling of the Iraq War. The bumbling in Iraq sent shock waves through the world. First, the immediate ramifications are a potential for loss in Iraq. This could lead to a massive destabilization in the area if the parties involved plunge deeper into civil war. The military emphasis towards Iraq before Afghanistan was fully stabilized might lead to a similar result in a country and conflict that should have been won. This combined with the Israeli conflict in Lebanon severly weakened any political clout that might have been available with other southwest Asian and northeast African predominatly Muslim nations.

The consequences were felt in the U.S. also, with massive losses felt in the midterm elections. While not uncommon, these midterm losses resulted in the resignation/firing of the most polarizing figure in the 'War on Terror': Donald Rumsfeld. The balance of powere in the United States shifted due to the failure in Iraq. I would contend that many less moderate figures (especially in the Republican party) were scrutinized more thoroughly (see Kansas Board of Education) by the electorate due to the glaring mistakes made by President Bush in foreign relations. To be sure, the Iraq War mismanagement did not begin in 2006 and may not end this year, but the tangible ramifications of this mismanagement will surely be appreciated the most in 2006.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

When should I say, "I am running for president!"

Given that our election is just finished, it is natural that we begin debating the next one before our newly elected arrive in office. Of course the big question is: who's running? Who are we debating about, and how quickly can we discredit them?

I think pundits pre-emptively nominated Hillary so that they could open her up for attacks. Attacks that have convinced a lot of people she shouldn't run. I fear the same thing is happening to Mr. Obama. I've already seen Obama 2008 bumper stickers and with his trip to NH, it's on all the news stations. I should mention here that I've been a big Obama supporter since he ran in 2004.

So, when, politically speaking, should someone indicate their candidacy? I don't think Bush was ever really considered a forerunner until the end of the primaries. The early Democratic hopefulls ended up tarnished leaving Kerry, who I think announced well after Dean.

Have Mr. Obama's chances already been ruined? Are the extra months in the limelight worth announcing early for?

Friday, December 01, 2006

New Atheism

Given the recent wave of 'New Atheism' as people seem to be calling it, I figured I would start a controversy here.

First off lets give some background literature, but I think most of you are aware of these already. Wired Magazine's The Church of the Non-Believers article, Sam Harris (End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation), and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion).

Depending on your semantics I am either an agnostic or atheist. I personally agree with Dawkins' argument about the improbability of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic God or any other all-powerful, all-knowing being. Due to natural laws and processes (evolution), intelligence in a system occurs late. Therefore (I'm greatly simplifying his argument) it is unlikely that an intelligent designer caused the universe to begin.

While Dawkins' primary point is that God is very improbable, Sam Harris argues that we should challenge beliefs that have no evidence. By not questioning these beliefs people can undertake bizarre and even harmful behaviors because of them, such as terrorists killing themselves and others because they believe they are going to a better place.

So now to the highly offensive question of the year. If you do believe in a god, why? If not, why?

The second question: Should we challenge other people's beliefs that cannot be backed up by evidence? Is this a good policy for a society?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

The post is a day late, but I thought it would be good to share the things that we are thankful for. Thanksgiving is an excellent holiday because it reminds us to stop and remember what is good about life. Most of the times we are busy and forget about the things that are precious (cable tv, playstation, though many people think of family) until they are missed. So let us share the things that we are grateful for to remind ourselves and each other what we sometimes forget.

I am thankful for:
Family- healthy and happy so far, hoping for more of the same.
Lauren- I always thought it was lame to call your wife your best friend, but the further along I get into this marriage, the more I realize that she is the one person who I reveal the most to (breadth and depth). I guess that would be a best friend.
My friends- intelligent and open-minded, which makes for great conversations. (Now if only someone could provide a medium which would allow them to post these stimulating thoughts at any time for all to see... hmm, that will probably never happen, like a sub 4:00 mile or invisibility).
My job- I don't get paid much, but income stability is an important factor in happiness.

Please post or comment about something(s) you're thankful for.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How can something be famous if you just invented it?

KFC's Famous Bowls aren't really that famous. More famous than me I guess.

They come from a delicious mixture of mashed potatoes, corn and fried chicken, topped with succulent gravy and three different shredded cheeses. I can't even name three shredded cheeses!

At a paltry 700 Calories, I bet I could eat almost two of those a day and still lose (some) weight. And as a bonus, I'd make sure to get twice the healthy amount of sodium every day. Keep in mind, sodium can be good for you, like when replenishing your electrolytes after a marathon, for example.

You'd think it wouldn't be a nutritious way to live, and you'd be absolutely right, but you'd also be surprised to learn that the Famous Bowl contains a modest boost of vitamins A & C, as well as a good chunk of your daily Calcium and Iron.

KFC Famous Bowls: 40% fat, 100% delicious.

If you could be governed by one group of people...

EconLog was posting some libertarianist rhetoric (big surprise), but raised a brilliant question in the post script to the post:

William F. Buckley famously said that "I would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than by the 2000 members of the faculty of Harvard University". As for me, I would rather be governed by the current membership of the American Economic Association than by the millions of people who voted on Tuesday.
-EconLog

Suppose we were going to randomly pick a few hundred people to run the country, and you got to choose where we drew the sample from. Would you choose:
a) Ivy League Professors
b) the general populace
c) Economists
d) Politicians
e) Christians
f) the very wealthy
g) ...?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why I read Lifehacker

Lifehacker had at least two interesting stories today:
1) One Click DVD Rips
2) The Windows File Shredder

I guess with those tools, someone could copy a bunch of rented movies, then securely delete them when the feds came knocking on their door.

I'm, uh, not advocating that. Lifehacker's just an interesting site.

I've also been reading a lot of Get Rich Slowly these days, mostly out of curiousity, and a little amazement that they've been able to keep a blog about personal finance interesting all this time. The emphasis on Get Rich Slowly seems to be on sorta "hacking" your personal finance, and personal stories of financial success (or failure).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Crowdsourcing?

Ryan tipped me to the Netflix contest: they're offering a million dollars to the team that improves the reliability of their customer recommendations by 10%.

It's apparently a realistic goal, software recommendation programs have been improving dramatically, they're quite good now, and they're getting better all the time.

In less than 5 years (if it hasn't happened already), algorithms will be far more knowledgeable about human tastes than any human critic.

Eventually, the big wave in robot recs will be having AI anticipate life trends, so when the teenager who listens to punk is ready to make the switch to country or jazz in his twenties, the robot will already know ahead of time which crossover artists to use to ease the transition, and will automatically substitute Hank Williams for Henry Rollins. And the AI will be ready again when he switches to easy listening in his forties. The robot might also recommend appropriate changes in dress and select items from the IKEA catalogue to go along with his chosen aesthetic.

Will AI also soon be ready to predict what social policies we're most likely to adopt, or is politics somehow distinguishable from fashion?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

PandoraFM

We've debated the relative merits of Last.FM and Pandora before, and I was always waiting for some sort of best of both worlds hybrid.

Well, turns out I wasn't the only one.

Pandora.fm is apparently now officially supported by last.fm, so you can scrobble your new tracks from pandora to help build up your last.fm listener profile.

Amazing.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rentometer

Now that you've used the last post to make sure you're being paid the right amount, you can use this site to make sure that you aren't paying too much in rent.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Average Salary Data

This site is unimaginably cool.

Not only is it really useful for salary negotiations, but there are also all sorts of fun comparisons you can run. There are many samples on the site, but I tweaked one a bit to get this chart:
(scroll way down, something is wrong with the code in the chart, and I'm still tweaking it to find out what)






































Arabic $93,000

Gaelic $54,000

Sign Language $40,000

Hindi $35,000

Farsi $35,000

Japanese $33,000

Chinese $33,000

English $29,000

French $29,000

Spanish $28,000

Russian $27,000

Italian $26,000



View Larger Salary Graph





Arabic might be a political fad, so that bubble might burst in the next decade or so. But who wants to learn Gaelic?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Two Party System

Since we have entered election season, I was reflecting on my vote in 2004. For full disclosure purposes, I voted for Nader. I was thinking about the multiple complaints I received when telling people about my vote. The consensus was that voting for a 3rd party candidate was "wasting" a vote. The more I reflected recently, the more I wondered if they considered an abstention a wasted vote. Does the fact that Americans live in a two-party political system make them responsible to vote for the lesser of only two evils?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My Charts on Last.fm



This is just a test, to see if it works. But Last.fm makes it really easy for you to publish your recent tracks on a blog or website.

Sorry it's all off topic EP!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I Love Irony!

The reason for this pointless post is to fulfill my love of irony, and I'm fairly sure this is actual irony. The link is a Wiki on how to dissuade yourself from becoming a blogger, and I can sum it up in two points.

1: No one cares about your blog
2: You'll get bored after 3 days and quit.

I believe these are both valid points. While I've seen a few people stumble in here, mostly it's been just "us guys," (no offense to the females in our Bloc, I consider you guys too). Even though I'm sure if we decided to advertise and spent more time maintaining the blog we could get some respectable traffic, I have a feeling you, like me, post because you either A: are addicted to linking other stories, or B: just want to get your two (2) cents (don't know the code for the cents sign) out there.

-Engel

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Clone That Bird!




A little chicken savior has been born! This chicken-messiah has not merely two, but FOUR tasty drumsticks!

So here's a little advice for all the poultry colonels out there:

NO PRICE IS TOO HIGH!!!

Some say "urban legend," I say "market strategy."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Format Wars

Two camps are fighting over who will make the next big medium, the replacement for DVDs. One group (spearheaded by Sony) is pushing the Blu-Ray disc. The other camp (notably spearheaded by Microsoft, Toshiba and others)

Blu-Ray discs are 25 G / layer, which means discs will typically be 25 or 50 G. They have made an 8-layer Blu-Ray disc that's 200 G, however. HD DVD has 15 G per layer, and they can only handle up to 3 layers per disc so far, for a paltry 45 G, but HD DVD drives are supposed to be much cheaper.

Currently, it looks like Blu-Ray discs cost less $ per G, but the players are almost twice as expensive.

Will consumers go for the better value in the long run, the cheaper hardware, the larger storage, or just not give a damn?

Here's a news release on a combo drive from Samsung:
http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=28855

That might suggest both formats will survive, and consumers won't know the difference, like with DVD-R and DVD+R.

On the other hand, here's a news story from the very next day saying that such a drive is unlikely for a while:
http://news.com.com/A+DVD+combo+Dont+hold+your+breath/2100-1041_3-6024875.html

Maybe consumers will just stay out of the whole game completely, since it doesn't look like we'll have any $50 HD DVD or Blu-Ray players any time soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

World War 4?!?!? (and other tangents)

(Don't worry everything you'll read is open source material and my crazy opinions)
You might be thinking, damn did I miss one? Well it depends on how you consider wars. The cold war was a war of idealogies, that did cover the world. Granted the two powers never went overtly head-to-head, but everyone became their proxy. It seems to me, the rising conflict in the Middle East and terrorist acts around the world is the next round of idealogy wars.

We are not fight any specific nation state, like we have in previous wars, but we seems to be following a trend. During the cold war, we battled Russia and vice versus through nation states. This seems strikingly similar to state-funded terrorism we are seeing today....ok the analogy breaks down there...sort of. There are nation states out there that hate our way of life, similar to communism. They can not directly attack us, without be smashed flat, but rogue elements can pick at our sides.

So how does this lead to World War 4 (WWIV)? Iran/North Korea/Pakistan/Whoever decides they want to spread their idealogy, which is a direct affront to America. By funding and directing terrorist organizations to tie up our resources and split our attention, they have greater freedom. If we were not completely stuck in Iraq right now, do you think Iran would be so uppity? or North Korea? I will grant the Bush's policy of strike first probably scared the crap out of them, but the problem now is, we can't carry through on that threat. We have a straw man holding down the fortress and we can only extend so far.

So how do we actually get to WWIV? Escalation of the current conflict. Hezzbolah has remarkably survived an intense bombing campaign from Israel (long than any nation state in that area). If Hezzbolah is not removed/destroyed, there will be a grand new terrorist training ground from the popular support they receive by "beating" Israel. This inevitably will overflow into Iraq. Now with us tied up more so in Iraq, China/North Korea/India/Pakistan may starting getting jumpy. The tiger's tail is caught, now's the time to expand our reach. These mini-conflicts could start popping up everywhere and before you know it, North Korea/Iran are allies, China smashes Taiwan, Russia invades Georgia.

So how do we diffuse such a situation? I recommend we start doing the one thing we should have from the start. Fight the idealogical battle with words, not guns. Create centers dedicated to helping the disenfranchised Muslims, who are most likely to turn to terrorism. Prop up governments where Al-Qaida is trying to take over, fight them in small controlled battles. I think we made a huge mistake in trying to pin all of terrorism on a single nation. It is in the undercurrent of most societies, we should be spreading our resources widely and not be drawn into one stuck theatre. Of course if this were a perfect world we could do this.

So my question finally to all of you, A) is this a reasonable approach, B) if so, how do we extract ourself from our quagmire and apply this strategy?

Monday, July 24, 2006

410,000 lawyers in the ocean, a good start?

According to a Wired article, the ABA (American Bar Assoc.) is forming a task force to publicly denounce and challenge Bush's habit to add bill-signing statements to just about every law he signs. Next month at their annual meeting in Hawaii they will present this to the ABA policy makers to decide if they will peruse legal action.

The group claims that abusing this power violates the Constitution and jeopardizes the separation of powers. Which seems to make sense if it does give the President the power to "interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds." Normally I wouldn't think this would be a major concern (save for a few crucial laws), but Bush has signed over 800 statements (200 more than the grand total of every other presidency) in his term. While I would fear any President who would sign so many statements, I particularly fear this current administration's abuse of power.

The question is will the ABA decide to take action? There are a lot of heavy hitters on the offensive, but I would imagine there would be just as many whom oppose the ABA taking action. Furthermore, if the ABA does decide to take action, can they do anything? Is Bush breaking any laws? Does the spirit of the law count? I don't doubt that the ABA holds a lot of power, but it seems like little to nothing has been able to slow down the current powers.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Digital Distribution Is t3h r0xx0rz!!!

Yahoo is offering unrestricted mp3s that could be played and copied to and from any device. Right now, they have only one mp3 (that is, a file in the unrestricted mp3 format) for $2. Soon, there could be more at lower prices.

Apple's iPod only allows Apple DRM on its iPod, and a select few other formats, like mp3.* If other music stores want to offer something the teeming millions of iPod owners can use, they'll have to offer unrestricted content. So in some sense, Apple made this inevitable. There are only two questions: 1) will the labels let this happen, and 2) will consumers care?

If you own an iPod/iTunes, what would you pay per track to be allowed a few more rights. Would you pay anything more at all?

As much as I love open standards, it's important to remember that not all consumers are ideologues like myself. Maybe Apple has just locked itself in, and that's the way it's going to be. The only way other music stores can compete will be by offerring more eclectic selections, or subscription based models that make songs effectively cheaper. emusic, the number two player in the music store game, is doing just that.

*Using the Rockbox software, significantly more files can be played, but no more DRM formats, and few iPod users use such third party software.

--
Also, on the movies side, EP and I talk a lot about the imminent digital netflix. Netflix is awesome, but it'd be even awesomer if we cut out the needless cost of shipping.

That's slowly becoming a serious possibility, with download and burn services like these. Will the studios ever eventually let us subscribe to watch any movie ever made at our leisure?

Will our culture become entirely subscription based?

Smart Cars Get Smarter

Smart Cars are coming here and going electric, making the cars reportedly three times as efficient, dollar for dollar. The range is a bit of a trade off, though. It's effectively like driving a 180 mpg car with a quart-sized tank.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Consumers Use the Internet to Fight Back

Consumerist On Nightline





Father's Day

Perhaps African American boys are more affected than girls by the absence of fathers in their households... I am not going to try to solve such a major problem in this post, except to indicate that legalizing drugs would help African American young men... -Becker

The ellipses completely distort the paragraph, but I was skimming, and that's how I originally read it.

-Thomas

Friday, June 30, 2006

Cell phones cause accidents, new study fancifully pretends.


Wired has an article about cell phones being just as dangerous as alcohol, when it comes to traffic accidents. That's pretty scary, when you consider the fact I see people talking on the phone on every trip I make. I only see drunk drivers one in every two trips.

Luckily, it's all bullshit.

In the US, total highway fatalities have remained essentially the same, maybe declined slightly since 1982, even while cell phone use has grown dramatically.

Meanwhile, alcohol is responsible for about half of those fatalities, about 20,000 per year.

If cell phones are just as deadly, why hasn't the number of highway fatalities increased by 50%? Why haven't highway fatalities increased AT ALL?

Maybe they meant some new type of dangerous, one where no one actually gets hurt.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Going Yellow



"Our ethanol subsidy is... particulary disgraceful..., especially given the availability of much cheaper sugar-based Brazilian ethanol blocked by a high tariff from competing with the ethanol produced from our corn. It is possible though unproven that ethanol as a fuel involves a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to gasoline and so may help to limit global warming. I qualify with "unproven" because while ethanol is not a fossil fuel and so burning it does not emit carbon dioxide, its production requires fossil fuel. Even if ethanol as a fuel has definite advantages from the standpoint of controlling global warming, this is a poor argument for a subsidy of it, as the subsidy can distort the efficient choice of inputs into the manufacture of fuel. Better would be a tax on carbon dioxide emissions; this would give producers and consumers of fuels and of products utilizing fuels, such as cars and electricity, an incentive to search out the cheapest substitutes for fossil fuels, which might or not include ethanol."
- Judge Posner, The Becker-Posner Blog, on Agricultural Subsidies

So with Ethanol, Bush looks like he actually cares about global warming or our dependence on (foreign) oil, but actually just provides a fat disguised subsidy to corn farmers. I thought the Republican party was supposed to be against welfare. The worst bit is the repackaging of this agenda, as if he's too scared to just tell people where his interests lie (as if we haven't figured it out by now). Yellow, indeed.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mad USDA Disease

The USDA has threatened Creekstone Farms, a KS meatpacker, with prosecution. For unsafe handling of meat? No. For misleading labeling? No. The USDA is trying to prevent Creekstone from testing its beef for BSE, or mad cow disease.

Some isolated reports have appeared on this issue, on NPR
and in The Chicago Tribune.
MeatingPlace.com, a website for meat producers, had an article on the issue (mirrored here by OrganicConsumers.org).

BSE infected meat, when ingested by humans, can lead to vCJD: a horrible and irreversible disease of the brain that is inevitably fatal.

In other words, exactly the sort of contamination the USDA should be fighting before transmission.

The Agency insists that the restrictions in place (on feed, and on animal importation) already protect US beef from contamination, that testing would be unhelpful. This is despite three recent cases of BSE in America, and the Agency's own estimates of 4-7 unreported cases of BSE somewhere in the US. To be fair, this is a small number compared to the large population of cattle in the US. But the severity of the disease, its inability to be cooked out (BSE is not transmitted by microbe, but by a protein), along with the difficulty of detection by natural observation might leave some consumers wanting greater assurances.

Even if not all beef was required to be tested, is there any reason to prevent an individual beef supplier from testing its own beef to cater to its own consumers?

Creekstone is suing the Agency for its refusal to allow them to test their own beef. Creekstone's complaint has been filed in the DC Circuit. Review of Agency action is usually an uphill battle, however.

What can we do?

1) Stop eating beef until the USDA comes around. It's not a boycott if it's for your own protection.

2) Contribute some of your idle computing time to Folding@home. Folding@home is a distributed computer network (the second largest in the world). It uses your computer (but only when you are not) to run simulations to help scientists understand why proteins misfold (like in the case of BSE). The cost to you is negligible, as it only uses your computer when you aren't. But the contribution is positive: scientists have already published research using some of the data. Download it here.

Environmental Defense Fraud?

The science community should be a bastion of truth, an entity working for the greater good, but it has come to my attention recently that it is not, and has not. Organizations one would think worked towards scientific endeavors are in fact organisms themselves (concerned only in their own vitality). I say this after having read State of Fear, a new Michael Crichton novel which I highly recommend, if only to shake certain paradigms you might hold dear (Its like Da Vinci Code for environmental groups, only with an actual bibliography).

I decided to do some research on a particularly harrowing assertion in the book:

"(banning DDT is one of) the greatest tragedies of the 20th century".

Seemed like a stretch to me, since I had last heard that DDT was a carcinogenic pesticide. Apparently, this is an utter fabrication, as the Sweeney Committee noted:

"Extensive hearings on DDT before an EPA administrative law judge occurred during 1971-1972. The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that "DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man... DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man... The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife."

[Sweeney, EM. 1972. EPA Hearing Examiner's recommendations and findings concerning DDT hearings, April 25, 1972 (40 CFR 164.32, 113 pages). Summarized in Barrons (May 1, 1972) and Oregonian (April 26, 1972)]

Nevertheless, William Ruckelshaus, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who made the ultimate decision to ban DDT in 1972, was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ruckelshaus solicited donations for EDF on his personal stationery that read "EDF's scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won."

These environmental activists planned to defame scientists who defended DDT. In an uncontradicted deposition in a federal lawsuit, Victor Yannacone, a founder of the Environmental Defense Fund, testified that he attended a meeting in which Roland Clement of the Audubon Society and officials of the Environmental Defense Fund decided that University of California-Berkeley professor and DDT-supporter Thomas H. Jukes was to be muzzled by attacking his credibility.[21st Century, Spring 1992]

In addition, scientific journals have begun to issue directives to scientists requesting their journals be identified more often to increase their impact ratings (like Nielsens for scientific journals).

What is the solution? Double-blind funding for the sciences? Do we need change or is the natural state of scientific research and political meddling that will lead us (eventually) to the proper medium. I personally don't mind a ban on DDT, but what about the 300 million people per year that are affected by malaria?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bush-whacked?

I was thinking of something to post recently, when PL sent me a link to President Bush's speech to the 2006 West Point graduates. Having witnessed the speech in person, and not having any agenda (this time), I thought I would comment.

Bush's speech was a little disappointing. It focused so very little on the graduates themselves and seemed like an affirmation of his values. To me, West Point seemed like a poor place to pimp the War on Terror because these graduates were committed to serving the United States. West Point gives cadets plenty of reasons to drop out if my brother-in-law's stories are to be believed.

In addition, Bush compared himself to Harry Truman. Setting aside all of Marty Kaplan's conservative bashing rhetoric, his main point is true: that is a bit of a stretch from a policy standpoint. Not many similarities in the Bush and Truman Doctrines. American opponents were seen by civilians differently (nearly unanimously as liberators in France, with mixed reaction based on religion in Iraq). I cannot clearly say that money was not misspent in aid packages for the Marshall Plan, but I would be shocked to learn the corruption or money mismanagement was as bad as it is in reconstructing Iraq.

But these are all policy issues that I am critiquing. Bush has been reading Truman's biography, and he knows of similarities in their presidencies. Most people viewed Truman's presidency as an accident (indeed it was if you read about the Democratic National Convention of 1944 when Truman was nominated as Roosevelt's running mate). Clearly, the 2000 election would be viewed by some in the same way (and in a much harsher light but some bitter others). Truman was frequently mocked by the establishment as being unqualified for the presidency (their favorite term was "failed haberdasher"). They were also men of conviction.

As a whole, Bush's speech was too long and filled with stretches of the imagination. But I wouldn't expect a commencement address (especially what was essentially a policy speech) to focus on the less than favorable aspects that Truman and Bush shared. Also, no matter how much I disapprove of his handling of domestic or foreign issues, it was pretty cool to see the President, and his enormous security detail. It makes me much less pessimistic about the security of this country when I see the amount of planning going into making one man safe.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hint: The Long Tail

"Continuing a recent pattern for Hollywood blockbusters, "Da Vinci" appears to have done better in markets outside the United States. The film earned $147 million overseas, the biggest opening weekend ever, and $77 million in the United States, where it placed 13th."
-The NY Times

Assuming this "pattern" is real and lasting (a big assumption), what is its significance?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Breaking: Economists like Games.

Related to my last post, Bryan Caplan just finished a whole book on the subject: The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.

While announcing the completion of the book, he also outed himself as a gamer. It seems he'll be at GenCon this year.

PS: Read Dr. McNinja.
UPDATE: This extension can be helpful when reading Dr. McNinja in Firefox.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Posner on Democracy

In passing, Posner dissected democracy today. Here's the excellent quote:

What happens in a democracy is that if the party in power does not deliver what the people expect, they will vote for another party, regardless of their views of sound policy--on which they probably have no settled views. Democracy is not a deliberative process (as many academics believe), in the sense that voters examine and discuss issues and so formulate a thoughtful, knowledgeable opinion on what policies are right for the nation or for them. Voters have neither the time, the education, nor the inclination for such an activity, as intellectuals imagine. All they know is results. So if the Right fails to deliver on its promises, the Left takes over, whether or not it has better or even different policies.

This sorta explains my recent skepticism on political reform and alternative voting systems. If there is some alternative system where voters are somehow given time and motivation to actually learn anything before making a decision, then I'm all ears. If not, then I don't see how political reform is going to make any difference in our process whatsoever, excepting the huge expenses such reforms would incur. I would prefer devoting our limited exchequer towards areas where there will be more noticeable benefits, like police protection, education, and disaster readiness.

(Posner also takes a somewhat cheap swipe at Catholicism later in the post, but I'll leave that for another discussion.)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Finally, an Intellectual Property post!

(And it's about damn time.)

Arnold Kling (EconLog) writes:

My personal view is that intellectual property law has to be pragmatic. If you take an absolute view that is always in favor of intellectual property, then I think you end up defending too much--business process patents, for instance. If you take an absolute view that is always against intellectual property, then I think you have destroyed the incentive to undertake some valuable activities--pharmaceutical research, for instance.


That seems pretty reasonable to me. On the other hand, our laws currently seem to endorse an absolutist position that is always for intellectual property. So arguments that we should greatly reduce our IP protections seem more reasonable to me, as their current effect would only be to make our IP protections more moderate, more pragmatic.

Software patents are rife with examples that point to overprotection (Amazon's "click to buy" feature, for instance). Pharma usually provides examples that most intuitively support strong protections (though Becker and Posner have even weighed skeptically on the social utility of Pharma patents.)

As a result, most techies I know are skeptical of the utility of IP, and most medical/drug development people I know are skeptical of any assault on IP. Intractable disagreeement inevitably results.

Could we simply restrict software patents without affecting the drug patent system? Should both be reformed?

Comments please!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Best/Worst Idea for Press Secretary

As an improvement over Scott McClellan, the President has been looking for someone with the following qualities:

1) Breathing.
2) Not named "Scott McClellan."

Someone charismatic enough to appear on live tv, and who will doggedly put a positive spin on the administration no matter the circumstances would be a godsend.

In retrospect, the selection of a Fox News commentator seems obvious.

The Bureaucracy Post I Promised

All references are from James Q. Wilson's "The Rise of the Bureaucratic State" from Peter Woll's American Government Readings and Cases 15th edition.

A couple of reasons why bureaucracies need restructuring:

1. They are bloated-

"Bureaucracies grow due to Parkinson's Law (and William A. Niskanen's assertion that) bureaucrats maximize the total budget of their bureau during their tenure."

Imagine the Department of Defense, and try (just you try!) to argue that every single expenditure (or even a high percentage) have been justified in both price and practice.

Similarly, these institutions can employ too many people.

"The increase in the size of the executive branch of the federal government at this time was almost entirely the result of the increase in the size of the Post Office. From 1816 to 1861, federal civilian employment in the executive branch increased nearly eightfold (from 4,837 to 36,672), but 86% of this growth was the result of additions to the postal service. In New York alone, by 1894 there were nearly 3,000 postal employees, the same number required to run the entire federal government at the beginning of that century".

While this may have been in response to public need in the 19th century, the 21st century has internet access and privately run postal services like UPS, FedEx, and DHL. Do we really need the Post Office in its current representation?

2. The Military-Industrial Complex is lacking in oversight.

"The argument for the existence of an autonomous, bureaucratically led military-industrial complex is supported primarily by events since 1950. Not only has the U.S. assumed worldwide commitments that necessitate a larger military establishment, but the advent of new, high-technology weapons has created a vast indutrial machine with an interest in sustaining a high level of military expenditures. The development and purchase of weapons is sometimes made in a wasteful, even irrational, manner. And the allocation of funds among the several armed services is often dictated as much by inter-service rivalry as by strategic or political decisions."

This institution is the cause for most of my bureaucratic concern due to its apparent lack of control by ALL branches of government, and its lack of a humane product. Don't all bureaucracies have some sense of secrecy and elitism? Yes, by their nature agricultural, aerospace, and housing committees are going to set standards, regulate expenditures and dominate policy making usually with little public knowledge (on a mass media scale).

The problem is, the Future Farmers of America aren't going to send me to North Korea to get nuked in an effort to demonstrate their need for funding in soy research. The Defense Department might send me their as part of an agenda to promote the need for a missile defense system though. Without proper oversight, we send troops to foreign countries on bad intelligence. Shouldn't Americans die serving their country, not a bureaucratic agenda?

3. Agencies once created become next to impossible to change or dissolve.

"Most of the major new social programs of the United States were initially adopted by broad coalitions appealing to general standards of justice. But when a program supplies particular benefits to an existing or newly created interest, public or private, it creates a set of political relationships that make exceptionally difficult further alteration of that program by coalitions of the majority. What was created in the name of the common good is sustained in the name of the particular interest."

Think of the last institution to be forced to change against its will: FEMA. Michael Brown was forced out after months of slicing through government red tape. It was a national disaster that became a national embarrassment, and change still came slowly.

Bureaucracies are necessary. But we should not take a laissez-faire attitude towards them. It is important to make them at least somewhat responsive to the needs of the people. Otherwise the spectrum of the U.S. government will look less democratic and more oligarchical.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lean mean governing machine (not a Schwarzennegger post)

How effective is our government? There are varying views of its practical efficiency (a term here defined by me as an ability to process laws or govern at an acceptable rate), but my view is that it does a poor job. Part of this is due in part to keep corruption at a minimum through bureaucratic red tape, but part also is due in part to the changing political view of representation as a job rather than a service.

The political machine has become so bloated and complex that the average person has little time (with the average work week increasing in hours spent) to become thoroughly involved in the political process. So, does this lead us on the path to plutocracy? Are there other options? I would suggest trimming some fat. The first thing that can be done is to remove many laws from the book. Government is good. Government is necessary. But overlegislation only creates elitist conflicts in our legal-political system. Elitist conflicts should only take place in our educational or social systems. Of course that might be difficult if not impossible to do with the interrelationships between all systems, but a good start would be the simplification of our legal code. (As an aside there is a children's book that demonstrates strange but true laws from actual states- ie you cannot sneeze on a train in Nashville).

Cutting back on bureaucracy is another idea, but that is a delicate process. While some redundancy is necessary as a protection, there are some areas which could be cut in an effort to simplify government. That should be a topic for another day with more time to research.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Loony Toons

Their seems to be a large amount of discussion about a recent South Park episode showing a defecating Jesus and a "censored" image of Mohammed. For a more detailed explanation visit the Volokh Conspiracy.

The debate centers around the Muslim policy of never showing images of the prophet Mohammed. This infringes on the democratic principles of free speech, under which satirical images qualify. Compounding the problem is the threat of violence from extremists who are all too eager to claim their virgins. Americans loathe giving in to violent factions, so where and how do we draw the line?

Moderate factions of Islam apparently do not have the same issue with Mohammad's image as seen in this report on a truce with Jyllands-Posten (the Danish newspaper of original fame). So do we give in violent extremist wings out of fear/freedom of religion/respect of Islam? Do we demonstrate our belief in the freedom of the press and publish or broadcast what we wish? Do we adopt some sort of middle ground for visual media like an internationally accepted "Mohammad symbol"? (I think Prince is done using his...)

I think the best way to demonstrate our respect for Islam is to disrespect it just as much as Christianity and Judaism. Otherwise Muslims will be outsiders. But, considering this is a forum, I would like to hear your thoughts, also...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I'm not sure how coincidental it is that Easter is fast upon us and National Geographic reports that it has verified and translated a text dating from 300 A.D. stating that Judas betrayed Jesus upon Jesus' request. Its clearly a fascinating (heretical or otherwise) find.

The meat of what the link shows:

The text begins "the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot."

The key passage comes when Jesus tells Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothed me."

This indicates that Judas would help liberate the spiritual self by helping Jesus get rid of his physical flesh, the scholars said.

Thoughts and comments?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Am I Hot or Not: Immigrants

I've been reading some interesting posts on immigration like this one, and I got jealous. I figured we should start our own incredibly controversial thread on the topic.


Is Immigration Good or Bad for America?
It's possible immigrants take jobs Americans are eager to perform, increasing our unemployment. But this picture is incomplete. It only looks at Americans at work, and ignores them at the store.

Suppose open immigration meant 10,000 Americans lost their 25k/yr jobs. But prices decrease by $1 on some essential item, any product 50 million Americans buy at least once a month. The country's collective pocketbook has lost 250m in salaries, but saved 600m on an needed good.

If you're worried about moving money around from workers to consumers like this, we could tax the cheaper goods and provide better unemployment benefits. A fifty cent tax on these items would return the salaries to those Americans who lost their jobs while still putting cheaper food on their dinner table, and giving me a $50m bonus without anyone noticing.

Even if these numbers aren't realistic, I'm not sure we help anyone by insulating them from competition. Adam Smith pointed this folly out a long time ago.

How Should We Enforce Our Immigration Policy?
Whatever the democratic decision is on (1) after all the data is in, we should enforce our laws as if we believe in them. So while I support more open immigration policies (tied to better unemployment benefits), I'm not offended by some of the protectionists' ideas for tougher border controls.

I recommend we stop deportations back to Mexico, and begin deporting directly to Canada.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It's Just Not Cool Any More

With ETA proposing a permanent cease-fire, the Red Brigade not having shown up for a long time, HAMAS getting legitimacy... what is happening to traditional terrorist movements?

My guess is that for more moderate viewpoints - which excludes HAMAS - terrorism doesn't engender sympathy or funding like it may have in the past. There is certainly not the same precedent of negotiating demands. We might be seeing the end of the Cold War era terrorist groups.

Thoughts? Predictions? Disagreements with mine?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

State of the Blog

Its been six months since the inception of this blog, and as moderator I thought we should open the blog up for editorial comment. I ask all readers and contributors to please comment on the nature of Theory Bloc, and how you believe it should evolve from this point.

Initially, the idea was to have a forum where people could speak on a range of different social issues freely, without concern for flaming or other generally negative forms of discourse. Posting recently has been low, and several contributors have not posted nor commented at all. Are there any thoughts as to contributors and their contributions? Part of me wishes to trim the list of contributors down, but some people may not have had topics come up that they wish to comment upon. As per the design of Blogger, anyone can view and comment on Theory Bloc, so keep that in mind.

Please give your thoughts about how this blog should change, and things you wish to keep the same. As usual democracy rules, with exceptions being made for vocal minorities.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Not just another bull crap post

Japanese scientists have found a way to change cow dung into gasoline. Using heat and pressure, the scientists were able to change 3.5 ounces of cow dung into .042 ounces of gasoline. While this sounds like a tremendously low amount of gasoline, especially for a country with as little arable land as Japan, my wife and I have calculated (without doublechecking mind you) that this amounts to 1.6 gallons of gasoline per year just from Japanese cow waste.

While this would not help as an effective greenhouse gas alternative, It would create the ability for us to lower energy costs. Finally putting trash to actual use is a good first step! Thoughts?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Popularity contest

The February 24th edition of The Kansas City Star has an interesting note on Page 2:

"A coalition of former lawmakers launched a campaign Thursday to revamp the Electoral College system, saying winners should be determined by the nationwide popular vote. The Campaign for the National Popular Vote includes former Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana and John Anderson, the former representative and 1980 indy presidential candidate.

The group hopes to create a 'state electoral vote compact'. Basically, if Illinois passes this law, it wouldn't take effect until enough states (totaling 270 electoral votes) join the compact and pass the same law. It' a way around trying to amend the Constitution itself."

This brings up two questions: first do you like the idea, second (and more thought-provoking to me) is this feasible?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Georgia on my mind

I thought people might be getting tired of the hardcore posts that have been coming up, so for a change of pace, I decided to post on something I read from the Volokh Conspiracy. Apparently, the Georgia State Legislature has decided the higher education is exempt from sexual obscenity laws. Specifically:

Georgia's law banning the distribution and advertising of "obscene material" — including "[a]ny device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs," as well as hard-core porn of the sort that the law describes as "obscenity" — and found this exception:

(e) It is an affirmative defense under this Code section that dissemination of the material was restricted to:

(f) A person associated with an institution of higher learning, either as a member of the faculty or a matriculated student, teaching or pursuing a course of study related to such material

Now we know what and where to study for graduate work!

Be sure to read the comment posted by A. Nonymous-its as razor sharp as Twain.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

You're Putin U.S. in a difficult position!

Genius or insane? Russian leader Vladmir Putin has decided to recognize Hamas. Some think this is an attempt to position Russia as diplomatic mediator between the West and Islam. Others see it as a mere ploy to place Russia back near the center of international power. Either way, who is this good for? Will it help Western--Islamic relations? Will it help Jewish--Palestinian relations? Where does Iran fall in this discussion?

I'll offer my McLaughlin style interpretation (absolutely crazy, but with enough sense that you can't dismiss it out of hand):

Putin is reaching out to Hamas for one reason (with twofold benefit), to quell fundamentalist Islamic concerns. This is an excellent PR move for Russia (from a Muslim perspective) because it allies him closer with his most dangerous (immediacy) neighbor in the Muslim area to his south (Iran/Caucauses/Afghanistan). It also helps in the immediate Iranian nuclear dispute (Iran sees Russia as a maverick nation, rather than a powerful western puppet), allowing them leverage in uranium enrichment bargaining, immediately quelling EU and US concerns.

Sucks to be Israel right now.

Other thoughts?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Data Mining and Wiretaps

Bob Cringley has been astounding my world for more than a year now. I thought I should go trolling for comments here on a snippet from his most recent article.

http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20060202.html

The last part discusses using data mining techniques on massive traffic flows. If you check out the two previous articles he discusses this more indepth, but this one really touches on my point. When you have enough traffic you can find any pattern you want. It is a natural human tendency to look for patterns in chaos (not with a q).

I posit that with correct mathematical techniques and an understanding of the limitation of data mining, new information can be found. Computer science is hammering away in this field right now, but from the class work I've taken and research I've done, it still seems a limited field. From my experience, unless you already know what you are looking for it is difficult to find the correct patterns. I know this is not always the case, but in general I believe it is. Most people use traffic to justify a belief they already have, even though the traffic may not show that (WMD's in Iraq for example).

So should we be creeped out by the fact that people are looking for patterns that may not exist?

I'm worried that this is being passed off as a legitimate groundwork for starting possible criminal investigations.

Monday, February 06, 2006

D00d Nvidia Rox my Box

As you've all heard, and probally expected, companies are now hiring people to masquerade on message boards to build support for products. (title contains link)

I am actually a little upset about this. While I have no real love for the community, I have used message boards before for research, and have found useful information before. Of course there was a lot of posts that had to be filtered through (which is the price for open posting), but that took little effort.

What I'm interested in (and for the purpose of a light minded discussion):
-Is it possible to have an open peer only review system?
-How would someone with "complete" anonymity be able to gain validity and status in this situation?
-Can anyone give a positive review of anything again without being called a "plant?"
-How long until this evolves to sabotaging (negative reviews against competitors)?
-Will infiltration destroy the forums? If no one can trust anyone...
-Will I ever be able to post on here and not sound like a conspiracy theorist? (although it would let me change my name to Dark Engel... wait.. damn...)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Last.fm vs. Pandora

I've blogged about/pushed Pandora before, but I haven't mentioned Last.fm. This is odd, since I use Last.fm all the time, and rarely use Pandora. I'm just always reticent to recommend anything that requires any installation, as Last.fm does, no matter how unimaginably valuable I think it is.

Here's the breakdown:

With Pandora, you voluntarily submit artists/tracks you like or dislike. Pandora consults a bunch of data assembled by a staff of experts. It then recommends (and plays) music that the experts have determined to have similar properties as the songs you like.

Last.fm, on the other hand, has no experts, the expertise comes from the crowd. Last.fm's "audioscrobbler" determines what you like by monitoring your behavior, by continually monitoring what you actually listen to on your music player. It takes this data and blindly compares you to others who listen to the same tracks to determine some recommendations (and can also function as a personalized radio station).

I think the reason I prefer Last.fm is because "statistics will triumph over design, no matter how knowledgeable a group of musicologists you assemble." But there are definitely arguments in Pandora's favor. Steve Krause provides a pretty detailed analysis

A final thought: What Last.fm and Pandora do is hard, and the people who built these services deserve a lot of credit. Given the ambitious scope, it's easy to find examples where each of the services comes up short. However, it's worth considering what the yardstick should be. Should we expect spot-on recommendations like a pro bowler expects a strike every time? Or is this more like the baseball batter, who is happy to get a hit one in three times? Whatever the metaphor, the fact that these services do enough right to retain a substantial number of users is good news, because the features and quality will only get better.


The Long Tail* provides another breakdown of where they fit conceptually, along with Amazon and eBay ratings.

*The Long Tail is named for an interesting cultural theory, basically that as means of production improve, we naturally shift from generalized products to specialized ones... we move from newspapers to magazines. It might predict that the feasibility of personalizable radio stations sharply undermines the need for commercial radio stations.

UPDATE:
This is a test:
Get Songbird!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Partisan man

While reading the Kansas City Star this morning I noticed that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito managed to make it to President Bush's state of the Union. I read that it was the most hotly contested vote since Clarence Thomas (52-48), but even during the Justice Thomas vote, there was less partisanship (11 Democrats voted for Thomas, but only 4 Democrats voted for Alito). Are our political institutions becoming more partisan than ever before? The past five years would have yielded a strong "no" vote from me, but several issues have changed this to a gray area for me.

First, the catch-all argument: the Civil War. When someone mentions partisanship being worse than at anytime in our nation's history I point out the time that Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina used his cane to physically beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusettes to a bloody pulp in the Senate chamber. Nothing (I used to argue) would happen like that today, therefore politics couldn't nearly be as partisan. Unfortunately, this very incident occured (sans cane) in a Jackson County legislative meeting. Legislator Bob Stringfield rushed fellow legislator Dan Tarwater after the meeting and attacked him on public access television for nearly two minutes.

The second argument usually used: Presidential campaigns have been run with smear tactics from the very beginning of our countries existence. John Adams was painted as a loyalist to King George III by Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike, even though he almost single-handedly brought about recognition of the United States on a diplomatic level throughout Europe (according to noted historian David McCullough). In addition, the growing power of PACs and lobbyists has helped to keep the actual politicians from personally making attacks (as the PACs can now create their own messages of varying credibility), thereby decreasing the partisan tension between lawmakers. Is this happening though, or is malevolence on the rise due to PAC intervention?

I ask you for comments and evidence where possible.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Correlation and Causation

I just finished reading Freakonomics, http://www.freakonomics.com/, (Thanks Thomas for turning me onto it).

I have to highly recommend this book to everyone for a few reasons.
1) Change of perspective. The authors do an excellent job of looking at the world in a different way or posing questions in a unique manner.

2) Sound explanations. They do an excellent job of keeping the language simple while applying solid metrics. Their use of correlation and causation is amazing. They were always very explicit about what their data found.

Now onto my real point, a wonderful topic, abortion. Specifically the Levitt (the economist author) wrote a paper, detailing how abortion caused the drop in crime in the early 90's. The interesting point is that both the left and right decried this as horrible. The right's argument was naturally abortion couldn't have such a benefit, while the left was angered by the fact that he applied this metric to the poor and black segments of society.

From what I read I can't disagree with his assesment. The data backs up his argument. Now I am wondering is this because I am pro-choice and don't want to find flaw with his methodolgy? So what I am asking of other people is to look over this if they have the time and find a flaw I have missed.

If there is an error, what is it?

If there is not an error, what does this say about attempts to make abortion illegal?
Is there an alternative that is more palatable for people?
How about mass distribution of contraceptives? It seems that would generate the same effect. The core of the problem is children raised in "bad" environments are more likely to commit crime. Would a vaild anti-crime policy be to encourage the use of contraceptives?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Electronic Warfare

You can click the title or here to go to the article.

The above is a link to the BBC article talking about the US's plans to actively engage in electronic warfare. The
"Information Operations Roadmap", signed by Rummsy in 2003, states that not only will the pentagon create propaganda that will inevitably find it's way into American homes on a regular basis, but seeks to be able to control and shut down the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

One of the first things I thought of when I read this article is the Nazi propaganda and then to 1984. I know it's cliched and I don't think we're there yet, but it seems like we keep on moving in that direction. The current administration keeps on giving me the impression that it feels like it can do whatever they want and not have to answer to anyone (i.e. the Iraq war, Homeland Security, Wire-tapping American Citizens w/o warrants)
.

And now it seems like they feel like they have the right to control not only other's but also our own means of communications. The freedom of communication is the most valued freedom we Americans cherish. I find it infuriatingly ironic that this administration says everything it does (the Iraq war, Homeland Security, Wire-tapping American Citizens w/o warrants) is for "freedom."

How far can they go before someone finally tells them no? I may be a little melodramatic, but when it comes to restricting people's freedom of speech, it really pisses me off. Lack of information/intelligence (which is the result of poor communication) is the reason our country is how it is today.



-edit: the document can be found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/27_01_06_psyops.pdf

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Don't Be Evil?

This is a bit old, but Google has launched a Chinese search engine to allow the government to censor results.

One striking example:

Google Images Search for "Tiananmen Square"

The same search in China

(Thanks, /.)

UPDATE: Found a site that catalogues the differences more thoroughly. Thanks, BoingBoing!

I'd Like an Irony Sandwich with a Side of Irony and Irony on the Rocks to Drink

Uh, listening to the Doors' The End while reading about Hamas sweeping to victory in the Palestinian election. Seriously, can this be a good thing? I remember listening to a report on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer saying that Hamas was positioning itself to seem more moderate in the thoughts that they (Hamas) might become a larger part of the Palestinian parliament.

But that was before they rolled to victory. Now that they are the ruling majority, it is uncertain that they will "need" to moderate their tone. Even worse, President Abbas (the current leader working with Israel), said he would resign if not allowed to continue with the peace process. That means there is a high likelihood of a political party within and around Israel that would be very close to the current Iranian state.

McLaughlin style, I'm going to have to ask for "Predictions!"

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Unbiased News or the Holy Grail

A constant complaint from both sides of most issues is the media bias. In far too many cases, I think the complaint is justified. I thought it might be interesting to see the opinions of sources even the relatively homogenous population of this blog.

For me, I have relatively few pages I trust.

  • www.factcheck.org : Seems to hold itself accountable with a listing of sources accompanying each article.
  • news.google.com : I trust Google to be biased towards google news, but if an issue is up here, jumping to the full list of articles and reading from a variety of sources seems like a good procedure.

What biases do you recognize in media, internet or otherwise? Any recommendations? Discouragments?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

This isn't very academic...

...but I just had my first show on KJHK.

You can see my first set list here.

Domestic Eavesdropping

PBS's controversial/insightful tech analyst, Robert X. Cringely, weighs in on the recent wiretapping debate.

It doesn't offer a lot of profound new conclusions, but as a historical and legal introduction, the article is pretty solid.

Nod to /.

(Sorry I haven't been contributing much recently!)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Blood for wind?

I was watching the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and his two person panel was discussing Iranian nuclear research. Trita Parsi, a middle east specialist from John Hopkins University was noting that currently, the task of reigning in Iran has been outsourced to the European Union. Clearly, the EU would not want a theocracy like Iran to come into possession of nuclear weapons. Yet, Parsi feels that the only threat for which Iran needs nuclear weapons is the U.S. (he gives reasons on the show which I linked to above). Therefore, the only entity with an immediate vested interest (from a security standpoint) is the U.S.

I immediately questioned the relevance of our energy policy. Why do we rely on a natural resource that is highly concentrated in an area that is so anti-American? There are clearly other resources that can be used. Would we begin agitating our neighbors? Would Canada and Mexico go to war over offshore wind farming? Nuclear plants placed at the border? Hydroelectric dams on the Rio Grande?

Is part of the reason we rely on foreign oil, to keep the wars foreign also?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Specter of Alito

I was watching a snippet of the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Samuel Alito, and the section I was watching had Chairman Specter (R-Pennsylvania) grilling Justice Alito on abortion rights issues (For those who don't know, Specter is a "pro-choice" Republican). By no means was Specter's line of questioning harsh when compared to the Democrats (upholding the valiant position of the minority watchdog), but he wasn't sitting on his hands with regards to follow-up questions.

Senator Specter questioned Justice Alito on stare decisis (judicial principle of precedent), and asked if he agreed with the idea that overturning Roe v. Wade or Casey v. Planned Parenthood could undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. Supreme Court. Alito responded with the idea that the Court should be insulated from public opinion and focus on law, and that the Court would be undermined in ANY case in which it was swayed by public opinion.

Yet Democrats continue to pound away asking questions about abortion. Why? I have a couple of ideas, but would like to hear more.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Who still believes in democracy?

I was reading page 2 of the Kansas City Star (1/5/2006), and came across this nugget:

Former Washington mayor and now Councilman Marion Barry (yes that M. Barry) urged two young men who robbed him at gunpoint the other day to turn themselves in: "I don't even want you prosecuted, really. I love you. Give yourself up." Barry was held up in his kitchen. The thieves apparently knew Barry was a community leader, which he said made the crime "kind of hurt." Barry: "There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend".

Now, I am not one to agree with Newt Gingrich too often, but he made a statement which I now echo (albeit tied to the Jack Abramoff scandal, not the Barry comment):

"(We need) to rethink not just lobbying but the whole process of elections, incumbency protection and the way in which the system has evolved."

I agree. What fundamental changes or shifts would you make to the election processes in this country. Be sure to explain how this would make our democracy better. If you like the system, be sure to critique others' comments.

Just Listening to You is Torture

I haven't done any research on this yet, but I've noticed we needed a new topic. Over New Years, Thomas said, "The next topic is going to be torture." Now, I don't know if he meant that figuratively, propheticly, or simply informatively.

It did get me thinking about what I knew about the torture debate. One thing has stuck out in my mind. A while ago, John McCain was on the Daily Show around the time of his anti-torture legislation. He said that even the Israelis, with their constant need for the kind of intelligence that administration is talking about, that they have rejected the use of physical torture. They use "psychological techniques."

So here's the topic: Is psychological torture as bad as physical torture? What techniques is he referring to? Are they more effective? How can one draw the line between imprisonment and psychological torture? Is pain infliction without wounds physical or psychological torture?