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?