Friday, July 30, 2004


An answer to an important question

Why do men have nipples? Answer (h/t winds of change)

Comments(97) |

Thursday, July 29, 2004


Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism.


In Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle's Footfall, aliens are coming towards Earth.  The U.S. governement, now having a very short time to prepare, assembles two intelligence teams, the Trust Team, and the Threat Team.  The Trust Team is supposed to brainstorm ideas on the aliens and how to deal with them on the assumption that they're peacefull.  Conversely, the Threat Team does the same, but assumes the aliens are hostile.  Since it's a novel of alien invasion, the aliens are hostile, and much exposition is provided by the Threat Team members debating.  Of extra special interest for sci fi geeks (roughly 75% of the people reading a Niven/Pournelle novel), is that the Threat team is composed of a large number of sci fi writers.  The governments reasoning - who else has thought a lot about aliens?

Mr. May wonders why the U.S. government doesn't do this for terrorism.  It makes sense - reformed hackers often go into computer security, and the FBI 'profiles' serial killers.

Not having read the 9/11 commission report, and only having surveyed its conclusions and recommendations, I would suggest that a major problem with the intelligence bureaucracy is the bureaucracy.  I don't think more bureaucracy - even an intelligence czar - is the answer.  I attribute much of the success of today's military to high coordination between branches  - so an army captain can call in an airstrike, instead of going up the army CoC toHQ, then back down the Naval or Airforce CoC to the jets.  The militarily systematically and deliberately created this.

I hate to use business speak, but high synergies between the organization of local forces (empowered! local forces) proved highly effective.  Why can't we do soemthing like that for intelligence?

Comments(1) |

DNC Platform

Keeping up with our pattern - we've discussed beer, we've discussed politics, so now it must be time for a massive document dump (Not to be confused with a massive ursine dump).

So here's a link to the DNC platform (pdf).

I've only glanced over it for the moment,  but I'll add my thoughts on it at some point. In the meantime here's Greg Drejerjian's thoughts on the foreign policy aspects of the platform.

USA Today has a site with the text of the major speeches at the DNC. (link)

Comments(0) |

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Preparing for emergencies

Over on samizdata, I saw a link to this site which provides actual useful information for when you find yourself in an emergency. The following is one of my favorite pieces of advice:
"If you are involved in any emergency it is important to:
      Run like hell, particularly if you caused the emergency.
      Trample all others in your desperate attempt to escape.
      Loot on the way out."

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Welcome co-bloggers!

It's good to see Thason back and posting. Gotta keep the left side represented (or more accurately the Democratic side as Thason is not a Leftist).

Also Jeremy has now joined the blog. You may know Jeremy as a regular commenter to polyscifi, but he was also an originally planned member of the polyscifi team before blogger snafus got in the way.

So now we can finally say - 2 out of 3 groomsmen like to post at polyscifi.

(Thason and Jeremy are both groomsmen at my wedding in October. My brother, the third groomsman, apparently has better things to do with his time.)

Comments(0) |

Where do bears poop?

I've been debating hosts and commentors of winning argument quite a bit in their comments and I thought I would share a comment that particularly amused me.

In this post on arguing that the Bush administration's proposal to allow the states to manage national forests (and thus presumably leading to road building for timber cutting) was the following subpoint:

1. It would pollute drinking water.
Roadless areas in national forests are responsible for producing clean drinking water for millions of Americans. Protected areas of national forests serve as source areas for drinking water in 39 states. Erosion and landslides from roads can send "tons of silt and unwanted nutrients into forest streams." (Republicans for Environmental Protection)

My response to this was the following:
"On point 1 (polluting drinking water): Does a bear not poop in the woods? Why has giardia been present in the water in every wilderness area I've ever hiked in? Are resevoirs not used as recreational areas (providing a more direct vector for introducing pollution into the water supply)?

The fact of the matter is we treat the water that we drink from the tap (that's how the flouride gets in and is why the water we drink isn't brown) and we will continue to do so whether or not we build roads."

Seriously, how often do you get the chance to respond to any argument with, "Does a bear not poop in the woods?"

Admittedly while addressing the water pollution issue, I'm not addressing the landslide concern, but that's another issue and would be there regardless of the roads (indeed a well designed road can reduce landslides). Now logging (not the explicit object of the argument) could produce some landslides, particularly clear cutting if undergrowth is also removed, but that can be regulated and should (no clear property rights - can lead to a tragedy of the commons). On the other hand forest thinning would actually reduce landslides by reducing the severity of wild fires. So if managed properly, the landslide issue would be addressed as well.

Comments(6) |

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


The DNC Keynote


I've been on extended hiatus, enjoying my vacation.  There have been a number of things that I've thought about coming on long enough to write up, but I have a dedicated erstwhile "ally," and its name is laziness.

In a week or so, I will actually be looking forward to resuming a teaching schedule, as it will return some structure to my existence.  Perhaps when I go back to having a million things to do, this will seem like a more worthwhile "waste" of time.  But for now, I can idle away hours with no effort.  And isn't that what America is all about?

Anyway, on to my purpose for being here.  I just got finished watching State Senator Obama's keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.  Does he even have an opponent yet?  Does anyone who watched that speech want that job?

So then, I watched the entire speech, and I found myself thinking something...odd.  Something that gave me a warm pleasant feeling for this country.  (No, Jody.  Not that.)

I found myself thinking "That man could be President some day."

That's really cool.

Comments(5) |

Bar Limit Texas Hold 'em

I went to DC for a long weekend. Did anything of political import happen? Nope. But I did hang out with Alex and a new drinking game was born.
Bar Limit Texas Hold ‘em

What you’ll need to play
A deck of cards
A whole lot of beer
A whole lot of shot glasses (presuming cans, ideally enough shot glasses for 11 ounces per player)

For the communist variant, distribute an equal number of beers to everyone at the table. For the capitalist variant, each player starts with what they brought.

How to play a hand
For the card game portion of Bar Limit Texas Hold ‘em, play follows exactly like normal texas hold ‘em which is explained here.

The betting aspect is quite similar with the only difference being that bets are done in terms of shots of beer. In the blind (before the deal), the two players to the left of the dealer each place a shot into the pot (for fairness, the dealer should rotate around the table after each hand) and every player drinks a shot of beer.

After the dealer gives each player two cards, each player bets a number of shots, beginning with the player immediately after the last player who placed a shot in the pot in the blind with calling checking or raising as normal.

Then after the flop, shot betting begins with the player to the dealer’s left. The same pattern holds for the turn and the river (or fourth street and fifth street). After a final round of betting, a hand winner is decided.

The hand winner then collects the pot and is permitted to assign shots from his winnings.

Assigning shots
When assigning shots, the winning player specifies which shots from the pot are assigned to which players. Note the winning player may assign any number of shots to any player still in the game – including himself.

Should a player assigned a shot (or shots) decline to drink the shots, then the assignee is removed from the game and the assigner gets the assignee’ stack. The assigned shots go into the blind for the next hand.

Any shots not assigned become a part of the winning player’s “stack” for use in future hands.

A few notes
Shots must be assigned before the next hand begins.
Any shots assigned must be drunk before the next hand begins.
Shots won by forcing a player out may not be assigned.
Shots have to be from a winning pot to be assigned.
It is customary for the pot winner to take a shot from his winnings.

Players leaving
Players are eliminated when they
   run out of beer
   are forced out by assigned shots
   independently withdraw

When a player independently withdraws, he should be roundly jeered and his stack goes into the blind for the next hand.

End of the game
The game ends when only one player is left in the game. The choice of what to do with the remaining beer is up to the winner.

Comments(1) |

Friday, July 23, 2004


Losing Arguments 2

Continuing my hubristic process of rhetorically demolishing winning argument, I now turn to their argument that the white house is politicizing the "war on terror." As before, I reprint their argument in its entirety and then respond. I'll also be cross-posting this in their comments.

The White House is politicizing the "war on terror"
Why you're right:

1. White House officials encouraged the Pakistani government to capture high-ranking members of al-Qaeda during the Democratic convention in July. According to a well-sourced article by The New Republic, a White House aide told a Pakistani general last spring "'it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT [high value target] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July' – the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston." Another intelligence official explained "'no timetable[s]' were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt."
(The New Republic)

2. The White House has timed political events to coincide with dates that evoke memories of 9/11.
In March, the president paired the ground-breaking ceremony of the 9/11 memorial with a fundraiser that raised $1.6 million for his re-election campaign. He has also pushed back the Republican political convention to lead up to the 3-year anniversary of 9/11.
(The Journal News, New York Times)

3. The president has sold photos of himself on 9/11 to raise money for his re-election campaign.
In May 2002, the National Republican Congressional Committee offered pictures of Bush on 9/11 talking on the telephone aboard Air Force One. The photo was available only "to donors who contribute at least $150 and attend a fund-raising dinner with Bush and the first lady next month." (CNN)

Why they're wrong:

1. The New Republic article is not a baseless conspiracy theory. It is triple-sourced and coauthored by two respected journalists and a correspondent on the ground in Pakistan.(New Republic)

2. The timing of the campaign and political fundraisers is not "coincidental." The New York Times reported that scheduling the GOP convention back-to-back with the 9/11 anniversary "complete[s] the framework for a general election campaign that is being built around national security and Mr. Bush's role in combating terrorism." (New York Times)

3. The use of the photos is not harmless. It is a slap in the face to the families of the victims of 9/11. The value of the photo to campaign contributors is derived – at least in part – from the thousands of people who lost their lives on the day the photo was shot.

A better idea:
When issues of national security are at stake, decisions should not be made in order to gain a political advantage.

Why it's not a Winning Argument
Before I respond to the specific points, the whole premise of this argument is absurd. Of course there are political aspects to the War on Terror (WoT). As a nation we are in the process of deciding a) if we should be engaged in a WoT, b) what should be done in the War on Terror, c) who should lead us in the WoT.

c) is entirely political. Should Bush lead or should Kerry lead? That's a political decision and a political process. Of course, both political candidates are putting their best foot forward to show that they have the “right” vision and that they should be the one to lead while decrying the leadership (or potential for leadership) of the other. Bush and Kerry would be stupid and be doing a disservice to their arguments and to the country if they didn't represent their cases in the best possible light (while still being truthful).

As Bush’s abilities to conduct the WoT can be measured on his past accomplishments, he must bring up his past accomplishments. It is silly to suppose that Bush cannot toot his own horn in this regard. Further, one of the wonders of democracy is that it places demands on leaders to produce results. So of course Bush feels pressure to produce results in the WoT - the fact that he feels pressure is a good thing.

As Kerry does not have accomplishments in the WoT (nor should he be expected to have any, other than any results he may have produced as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - what results would those be? I don't know. However, I do know of his winter soldier testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee from before he was a Senator.), Kerry must question Bush’s ability to prosecute the WoT and suggest ways in which he would do better. Hence the partisan, i.e., political, attacks that the Dems launch at Bush daily from the BUSH LIED!! canard to the QUAGMIRE!! charges.

On the one bit that might bit that might be relevant to Kerry's capacity to lead the WoT, Kerry did serve in Vietnam. A point that he brings up ALL THE TIME. So one could say that Kerry's politicizing the Vietnam war - one of the most tragic times in our country's history. ;)

Indeed, it would be every bit as accurate to say that virtually everyone in this country, including the folks at winning argument and the folks here at polyscifi, is politicizing the WoT. But so what? The WoT is the largest issue facing our country and it is right that we are having a politicized debate on the topic.

So yes, the debate is politicized – and it’s a good thing. This "winning argument" is premised on the supposition that politicized debate is a bad thing, which is never demonstrated - again an assumption of self-evidence to a point that I think can be made powerfully to the contrary.

Similarly, the debates on education, social security, national defense, energy policy, and every other national issue are politicized and should be. Determining the direction of a democratic country is necessarily a political process. Why should the most important debate on the direction of in our nation’s recent history not be political? Not to mention, how is a nonpolitical debate on the direction of our country possible?

What’s not a good thing is when truth and accuracy are sacrificed as part of the debate, ala Fahrenheit 9/11. That Bush is using “trickerations” to sway the debate – which would be a bad thing - is not even being alleged in this argument, so again, what’s the point of this "winning argument"?

1. White House officials encouraged the Pakistani government to capture high-ranking members of al-Qaeda during the Democratic convention in July.
Umm, no they didn’t. The New Republic article cites an anonymous sources within the ISI – a group not exactly known for their love for the Bush administration (Musharraf yes, ISI no). But let’s see what happens. As a side note, it would be far better timing for the admin if such things were announced the day after the Democratic convention to make the Democrats look like fools (Expected Dem charge - "Bush is a failure." Bush's reply - "lookie who we captured").

I will note that of the three, this is the only charge that is actually worthy of discussion. In this charge, there is an underlying allegation that Bush is not doing everything possible and security would have been sacrificed for political gain.

Fortunately for us, this particular charge is falsifiable. So let’s wait for the Democratic convention and see what happens (I’m betting nothing).

On the election being a deadline, well duh. That's called democracy. Results produced after the election are not useful for an incumbent. As we all recognize that earlier results in the WoT are a good thing, why is this a problem? Pushing off trying to capture al Qaeda members until October would be a bad thing, but that's not what's being charged.

2. The White House has timed political events to coincide with dates that evoke memories of 9/11.
Again, so what? Bush is primarily running on his record in the WoT so why should he not? Of course he’s going to hold political events at times related to the WoT. Are the folks at winning argument seriously arguing that Bush should not attempt to maximize the effectiveness of his arguments, including the “Elect me as I’m the best man for the job argument?” Similarly, should I have written this in Swahili in
Asia and waited until after the election to issue this rejoinder so that I could've not been accused of leveraging everything I could to increase the effectiveness of my message? Of course not. In debates and comedy, timing is important. I find this charge surreal.

On the specifics of the Republican convention – the site was chosen for two reasons. 1) Because Bush is running on his record in the WoT, and a NYC backdrop reinforces that message, and 2) NYC needed tourist dollars and this was seen as a very visible way to help revive the tourist industry in NYC. Were the specific charge related to the site, instead of the timing, a case that “politicizing” had occurred could’ve been made, though it still would’ve been absurd.

But the charge is the date. However, the Democrats picked first and picked a late July date. and it's the Republicans' turn to go last. There’s normally a gap of a few weeks between conventions, but there’s this little thing called the Olympics in the way that runs from Aug 13-29. Unless you think the Republicans are stupid (who needs actual network coverage of the Convention, eh?), of course they’re going to wait until after the Olympics. And what would be the earliest point the Convention could be held after the Olympics? August 30. And when is the Convention being held? Aug 30-Sep 2. Oh, and guess when the 1996 Democratic convention was held? Aug 26-29, so it's not even especially late for recent conventions.

Certainly there's political gain to holding a later convention, but so what? It's been done before, and the Republicans were sort of forced by the timing of the Democratic convention, and it's a good thing for the country to try to maximize the effectiveness of your message.

3. The president has sold photos of himself on 9/11 to raise money for his re-election campaign.

The horrors! A candidate selling a photo of himself as a fundraiser! Even more so, a photo of him on the day remembered by his supporters as his day of greatest leadership! The horrors, I say.

Next you’ll tell me that John Kerry constantly brings up his Vietnam service where I hear he won three purple hearts – his greatest accomplishment - and prominently uses a photo of fellow servicemen in his campaign and photos of himself in the war for political gain, even using war photos to help friends sell books! The horrors!

Really, the premise of this argument is stupid.

Consider if I wrote the following. The constant reminder of Vietnam is not harmless. It is a slap in the face to the families of the thousands injured or killed in the war. The value of this is derived – at least in part – from the thousands of people who lost their lives in that war. Kerry has appeared in front of Vietnam veterans on MEMORIAL day – timing that was surely intentional. Kerry has used a photo of himself with his fellow servicemen for political gain – something most of the people in the photo have decried.

I can go on, but you get my point – the argument is just silly. It's a perfectly acceptable thing for Bush (and Kerry) to use photos for political gain.

In response to the little follow up, people did die on 9/11, but their death is given meaning and purpose by a successful prosecution of the WoT. To deny the use pictures of Bush responding to 9/11 is to deny meaning to the victims of 9/11. A side note, I wonder how the folks at winning argument feel about Moore's extensive use of footage from Bush's response to 9/11 - also for political and fiscal gain. Moore, of course, is making the charge that Bush is not successfully prosecuting the WoT, but if Moore shouldn't be denied the footage, why should Bush? (Here's a hint, neither should be denied use - a political debate is a healthy thing as long as it's truthful and doesn't distract from more important issues, like umm, my work that I should be attending to.)

A better idea
With relation to national security, decisions should not be made in order to gain a political advantage when that decision sacrifices national security nor should willful deceit be used. Otherwise, who gives a flip if it's politicized?

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A completely random thought

Why don't the compressors in refrigerators turn off when the door is open?

When the door is open, the compressor has to effectively lower the temperature of the room - an impossibility as the compressor is dumping extracted heat back into the room. But if it turned off when the door was accidentally left open, a bit of energy could be saved.

Seems simple enough to do as there's already a sensor in place (the light) and on/off circuitry is pretty easy and cheap to implement.

Comments(3) |

Follow ups

The Bush lead was indeed temporary. Rasmussen has Kerry up 48-45.

Is it just me, or does the Sandy Berger incident cry out for a flash game? I suggest it be titled "Guess what Sandy's got hidden?" and play out like the Terrance the Snake sketches from TV Funhouse. I envision the following game.

A picture of Sandy Berger with an unsightly bulge in his pants (get your mind out of the gutter!), perhaps shaped like a bicycle. The game prompts you to think of what Sandy stuffed down his pants, and then reveals.... crumpled up documents!

Comments(0) |

Thursday, July 22, 2004


9-11 report

is here. Polyscifi, your one stop shop for beer, science fiction, and massive government document dumps.

Comments(0) |

Losing Arguments 1

Note this post was temporarily removed for about 3 minutes while some broken html tags were fixed (made the layout even more crapulent than normal if you saw it)
Over on Xrlq, there's a link to Winning Argument, a site that posts arguments that distill complex arguments into winning arguments against conservatives. It's a nice idea, and nicely presented. However, it smacks of hubris1 and as such I can't resist systematically demolishing their arguments (plus they have a thing against Walmart, and you know how I feel about Walmart) (ed-But Jody aren't you insanely prideful, i.e., the personification of hubris, and isn't declaring an intention to systematically demolish their arguments just as hubristic? -Quiet you.)

Anyways in what may become a regular feature, I present to you the "Winning Argument" on why "The Bush administration's AIDS policy is a failure"
"Winning Argument" (copy=pasted from winning argument)
1. Bush has underfunded his own AIDS initiative.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush promised to spend $15 billion over 5 years to combat AIDS. Two years later he has requested just $4.8 billion dollars. Just $350 million has been distributed to countries in need.
(2003 State of the Union, USA Today, Health GAP Coalition)

2. Bush is undermining global AIDS organizations.
Bush plans to slash funding for the Global Fund, the international coaltion dedicated to reducing the spread of aids, by 65% in 2005. As a result of the dramatic decrease in U.S. funding, the Global Fund will be "functionally bankrupt" in next year.
(Health GAP Coalition, Global AIDS Alliance)

3. Bush as failed to provide access to generic AIDS drugs.
The United States refuses to purchase generic drugs that have been approved by the United Nations that provide affordable care for people who have HIV/AIDS. Instead the United States has attempted to discredit their safety. (PBS)

4. Bush stresses abstinence over more effective programs.
The administration has blocked international efforts to provide teen sex education "because of [Bush's] belief in chastity before marriage." Bush's policies have lead to cuts in funding "for life-saving drives to encourage condom use." A recent study in Minnesota found that an abstinence only education program in school doubled the number of students who said they were likely to have sex during high school.
(Guardian, Minnesota AIDS projects)
Why they're wrong:
Supporters of the administration's AIDS policy stress that the president has spent a lot of money on the issue. Certainly, this is better than nothing. But nothing shouldn't be the standard. At the very least, the president should live up to the standard he set for himself. Bush promised that he would devote $15 billion to AIDS over 5 years and he isn't following through. Bush says that the United States is "setting the example for others to follow" in supporting the Global AIDS funds and is slashing funding.
(Bush Speech)

A better idea:
Fully fund a comprehensive and cooperative AIDS program that includes sex education and access to affordable anti-viral drugs.

Why it's not a Winning Argument (copy-pasted from my reply in the comments, with some formatting additions that were not possible in the comments)
1. Bush has underfunded his own AIDS initiative.
I can quibble over the specifics of your 4.8 number (it’s actually $4.95 billion), but that’s small potatoes compared to the failure to consider a simple linear projection. The fact of the matter, budgets grow year over year, typically exponentially. In 2004 (year 1 post AIDS pledge), the US provided $2.25 billion to combat AIDS globally. In 2005 (year 2), we have promised a little over $2.7 billion – an increase of $0.45 billion. Presuming a continued linear increase (which would be less than an expected exponential growth), we get the following numbers (in billions):
Y1    2.25
Y2    2.70
Y3    3.15
Y4    3.60
Y5    4.05

So the Bush admin is on pace to spend MORE than what was originally promised. See this site.

2. Bush is undermining global AIDS organizations.
While Global Fund will indeed lose some funding from the US (still will get $200 million from the US), total US funding for global AIDS will grow in 2005 to $2.7 billion dollars – an increase of 20% over 2004’s $2.25 billion as I just outlined. Apparently you believe that sending dollars to Global Fund is far and away more important than to any other source. However, you do not even attempt to make this case.

3. Bush as failed to provide access to generic AIDS drugs.
In no way did you address the government’s generic drug safety concerns. For better or for worse (ok, for worse), we live in an excessively litigious world, and if the US provides unsafe drugs, we will be sued. For a lot. I presume your belief that generic drugs are safe is premised on their safety in the US. However, guaranteeing that safety is a nontrivial task. Also note that generic drugs go through a rigoruous (and lengthy) screening process before FDA approval.  What would be a reasonable response in such a situation? Perhaps study the generics’ safety before approving? Something which your article says the Bush admin is doing.

4. Bush stresses abstinence over more effective programs.

a. You links are misleading and fail to demonstrate effectiveness of other programs (critical to your point).

b. Uganda’s ABC program (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms) is what the Bush admin touts. This is even implied in your Guardian link where it says“Backed by the Vatican, [the Bush admin] is understood to have been pushing for guarantees that UN-funded sex education programmes will include commitments to preach chastity outside marriage.”But ABC (supported and championed by USAID) has been wildly successful, more so than any other program. It has worked better than any other program in Africa.

c. Your Minnesota link refers to an abstinence only pilot plan, which is VERY DIFFERENT from the international plan pushed by Bush (ABC).

d. Your Minnesota link doesn’t say that the pilot program is less effective, it merely says it is not more effective.

e. Sexual activity is a self reported statistic (unless Big Brother really is watching, hey why does my TV have a dull glow?), and as such is quite dubious. I, for one, used to report that I was pregnant (I’m male) and had sex frequently whenever pulled out of a normal school routine to fill out those gawdawful sex and drug surveys (I also attribute a non-neglible portion of the decline in reported highschool drug use to my and my friends graduations. Oh yeah, we never touched the stuff).

A better indicator for effectiveness would be rate of new STD infections. Since the article doesn’t address STDs, the closest proxy in the article is teenage pregnancy rates (not a 1-1 link, but the two stats should be highly correlated). And the article states that it’s down significantly. This doesn’t disprove your argument, but it certainly doesn’t help it either.

(Not in original reply, but I think it should be there) The why libs are right stuff is just silly in light of my responses. On the better idea, yes to both (and both are being done), but stressing the importance of monogamous relations and abstinence is important and works better than just condoms + sex ed. A program that ignores the importance of abstinence and monogamy in preventing the transmission of STDs is much less effective as evidenced by Uganda.

Comments(10) |

Goldsmith is dead

The composer of the score from star trek has died.

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More 4400

I saw the second episode of the 4400 on Sunday. I did not like it as much as the pilot. For a show that is intentionally attempting to recreate the feel of X-Files, it failed miserably in one aspect - creating an interesting and compelling storyline that only carries for a single show.

Specifically, there was no mystery about how the member of the 4400 with "ninja" powers. From the beginning of the show, you knew exactly who was doing the "mysterious" actions, you knew the the source of his powers, and you knew where the storyline was going (ok, I expected him to be shot, not stabbed, but that's a trivial difference).

Some effort was made to move along the larger storyline, but as they intentionally only reveal a small portion of the larger storyline at a time, it cannot carry a show.

Hopefully, this was just a sophmore slump and not a trend. However, I believe there are structural issues and all episodic storylines will suffer from this problem.

After that ringing endorsement, if you want to catch up a little on the storyline, trekweb (thanks Mike) has an interview with Behr, the director.

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A little more Berger

The most charitable explanation I've read: Berger is a dumbass.
The least charitable explanation I've read: The previous well known third rate burglary didn't steal anything classified.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004


More stupid blogger happiness

I'm still a newbie blogger (as if the site design didn't give it away) so I still get some pretty cheap thrills. Anyways in this comment Bob Skilnik (the author of drink beer get thin) replied to my drink beer get thin post and gave a link to his site. How cool is that?

To share another newbie blogger thrill, someone translated polyscifi into spanish to read the site. Again how cool is that?

Polyscifi - read by famous beer persons (for lack of a better word) with a multilingual audience.

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Why you don't appoint shadow cabinets

In a discussion spawned by this Bruce Bartlett column, Daniel Drezner, Matt Yglesias, and the volokh conspiracy opined on whether or not a challenging Presidential candidate should appoint a shadow cabinet - a group of advisors that can be said to speak for a candidate on a particular issue and advise the candidate - sort of what a President's real cabinet does.
In his post, Jacob Levy (on volokh) made a very prescient point as to why you don't nominate a Shadow cabinet, sayng

"Every shadow-cabinet nominee is a scandal in the making."

Now Sandy Berger is pretty high up in the Kerry advisor team and if Kerry had an official Shadow Cabinet, would probably be his titled Shadow National Security Advisor. As such, he's just "a chief foreign policy advisor" to Kerry. 

Well, as you probably know by now, Sandy's gone and made a scandal. Seems that he "accidentally" stuffed classified notes into his pants and spirited away (and then lost) several classified documents related to the Millenium report (that document that supposedly addresses the Clinton team's response to al Qaeda, which would've been led by Berger). To quote:

"Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed handwritten notes he had made while reading classified anti-terror documents at the archives by sticking them in his jacket and pants. He also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio, they said."

Removing notes of classified documents is against the law and Berger knows that (and also knew that he took them). Removing classified documents (apparently not the first time time either, Berger did something similar on Oct 2 but the incident was kept on the down low).

So Berger's in a bit of hot water. Kerry is merely mildly uncomfortable, but would've been in hot water had he actually nominated a Shadow cabinet.

As is wont in the blogosphere, people, like vodkapundit are having fun with this. Rather than piling on, I think I'll offer (free of charge!) a defense for Berger that's sure to rank right up there with the Twinkie defense, the Chewbaca defense, and the Sicilian defense. (Ok I'm really piling on too).

I present to you the True Romance defense. (Note: I have no reason to think any of the following motives or thoughts ascribed to Sandy are true, but then again, putting forward a "truthful" defense is not the job of a defense lawyer, is it?)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you may not know this, but Sandy Berger is an avid fan of movies. Particularly movies about the drug underworld written or directed by Quentin Tarrantino. Mr. Berger also has problems separating fiction from real life, a problem that was exacerbated during his stint in the Clinton whitehouse.1 You see, on the night in question, Mr. Berger had just watched True Romance. So when he left the secured room and encountered a guard, he flashed back to a scene from True Romance.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you this screenplay of True Romance. If the court stenographer could please read out the scene where Eliot and Kandy have just been pulled over for speeding, and have a bag of coke with them.

Elliot Blitzer is the driver, standing on it. A blond, glitzy Coke Whore is sitting next to him. They're having a ball. Then they're seeing a red and blue light flashing in the rear-view window. It's the cops.

ELLIOT Fuck! I knew it! I fucking knew it! I should have my head examined, driving  like this! (he pulls over) Kandi, you gotta help me.

KANDI What can I do?

He pulls out the sample bag of cocaine that Clarence gave him earlier.

ELLIOT You gotta hold this for me.

KANDI You must be high. Uh-huh. No way.

ELLIOT (frantically) Just put it in your purse.

KANDI I'm not gonna put that shit in my purse.

ELLIOT They won't search you. I promise. You haven't done anything.

KANDI No way, JosÈ.

ELLIOT Please, they'll be here any minute. Just put it in your bra.

KANDI I'm not wearing a bra.

ELLIOT (pleading) Put it in your pants.


ELLIOT You're the one who wanted to drive fast.

KANDI Read my lips.

She mouths the word "no".

ELLIOT After all I've done for you, you fuckin' whore!!

She goes to slap him, she hits the bag of cocaine instead. It rips open. Cocaine completely covers his blue suit. At that moment Elliot turns to face a flashing beam. Tears fill his eyes.

It was this very scene that flashed through Mr Berger's head when he left the secured room. And at that moment, Mr Berger disassociated from reality. Mr Berger was Kandy and he needed to hide the "stash." However, unlike Kandy, Mr Berger had learned what to do during his time in the whitehouse where this sort of scene was all too common.2 Though being quite fat, Mr Berger does not, in fact, wear a bra. Thus, Mr Berger's disassociation, his fascination with True Romance, his time in the Clinton whitehouse, and his sartorial circumstances forced Mr Berger to take those classified documents and "put em in his pants."

You see, Sandy Berger is not responsible for his actions, not in the way that Courtney Love was not responsible for her actions when she said, "The last thing I want to say is, 'I'm a victim', but I am. I believe it's a trickledown from Bush," but rather is not guilty in a very different and entirely legal sense.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am sure that many of you are also movie fans, and had you been subjected to the same pressures as Sandy Berger, you too could've easily disassociated. Maybe you would've killed Bambi's mom, maybe you would've invaded Canada - it all depends on your movie preferences.3

Sandy Berger was under enormous pressure. Sandy Berger was a fan of True Romance. Sandy Berger "put it in his pants." The connection is obvious.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I impore you to forgive Mr Berger of his understandable transgression. And if I may paraphrase the immortal words of Drexl from True Romance, the feds have told Sandy "Shit, man, you done fucked up again. Next time you bogart your way into the NSA's crib, an' get all in our face, make sure you do it on white boy day."

Sandy Berger is the whitest of white boys. Make today white boy day for Sandy Berger, and find Mr Berger not guilty of "putting it in his pants."

It's even worse than I thought. Sandy apparently kept some documents in his socks.

1. Ok, that's a cheap shot. But hey, you say what you gotta say to get your man off.
2. Ok, another cheap shot.
3. I sometimes get the feeling that polyscifi is actually a pop cultural movie site with an occasional political reference to appear substantive.

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Monday, July 19, 2004


Bush disenfranchising Florida voters

The subject of this scrappleface satire. Read the Bush "ad" - it's choice.
While we're at it, the Democratic response to the Governator's "girlie-man" charge is self-satire, right? 

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Three things go poof (2 temporarily, 1 permanently)

When personally in debt, there's two ways to overcome the debt - cut back on personal spending or find some extra income. Similar logic holds for the government. Spending can be cut or the economy can outgrow the deficit. The 90's saw a growing economy and legislative gridlock (and some more principled Republicans in Congress, so principled, in fact, that they actually did retire after 6 years like they said they would, leaving the less principled colleagues in office).
Anyways, yesteday Paul Harvey mentioned that the US had run a surplus for June of $19 billion. Even being a big supply sider, I still said "Nuh huh." But on marketwatch, I see this article which backs up the assertion. Another interesting note in the article from a supply-sider's perspective

"Receipts totaled $214.4 billion in June, compared [with] $193 billion a year ago."
The supply-side ramifications (cut taxes, raise revenues via economic growth) are also noted in this econopundit article. However, it should be noted that the US will still run a deficit for the year and will probably return to deficit spending in July. Why? Well tax receipts are mostly quarterly (other than withholding). Anyways, at least for the moment, the deficit has gone poof (If the admin can stop spending money domestically like a drunken sailor on shore leave, we'll be in great shape).
On a related temporary "poof," the Edwards bounce, for what is was worth, is now over. Rasmussen's daily Presidential tracking poll now has Bush up on Kerry 47-45. At one point last week, Bush trailed Kerry 45-49. While I think that Bush's election numbers will generally trend upwards until the election (I'm predicting 55%) because 1) improving economy, 2) the improving situation in Iraq, 3)the general lackluster campaigning style of Kerry, and 4) It's a Summer Olympic year, I expect the Bush lead to vanish next week. Why? The Democratic National Convention should give Kerry a 3-5 point (net) bounce.
One more set of items going "poof", though this one appears to be permanent. Joe Wilson's credibility and the "Bush (and Blair) lied" meme have gone "poof." Both leaders were exonerated from misrepresenting intelligence or pressuring analysts in the Senate Intelligence Report and the Butler Report which says on p 121,
"We conclude that,on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time,covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo,the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government ’s dossier,and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons,were well-founded.By extension,we conclude also that the statement in President Bush ’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that:
The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa was well-founded."

The collapse of the Niger "lie meme" is summed up nicely in this Barone piece and the impact on Joe Wilson is neatly summarized in this Weekly Standard piece. There's been a general blogosphere pile-on (and I apparently couldn't resist adding my two bits), so if you can't get enough of this stuff, start at instapundit or belgravdia dispatch and just start scrolling.

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Saturday, July 17, 2004


Are you autistic?

On Daniel Drezner in a discussion of whether or not math competitors are athletes,1 this paper on self-assessing autism/Asperger's was posted.

Speculating that autism/Asperger's represent a continuum of related problems, the paper introduces a short autism self-assessment test that generates scores over the range from 0-50 with 50 indicating a strong possibility of autism (or Asperger's), scores above 40 a weaker chance, and increasingly lower probability as the scores decrease. The authors use this test to draw some interesting results (though as it's a sociological study, it's stuff that you kinda already knew).

There's a strong gender component as males scored much higher than females, in general. A similar relation was noted in this IHT article
"Boys are four times as likely as girls to have the disorder. This sex ratio has led one researcher, Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the autism research center at Cambridge University in England, to speculate that autism is a form of "extreme maleness," but the theory has yet to be supported by research."
It's also generally known that autism and science/engineering ability (as well as encyclopedic recall) are strongly related. Enough so that the rate of autism is significantly higher in Silicon Valley. To study this relation, the authors gave the test to 16 winners of the UK Math Olympiad with the result of the "mathletes" scoring significantly higher than the control groups.

Being an engineer, having been on math teams and on Tech's trivia team (as are many of the readers of this blog), I can say that we were pretty messed up, statistically speaking. I can say that a significant percentage of the team members exhibit or exhibited Asperger's like symptoms. Further, most of the members of our high school math team who displayed autistic tendencies were all male and there's a similar gender relation on our collegiate trivia team. Then again, for most years, trivia practices have also been sausage fests, so there may be sample size problems.

But wait, the attentive reader notes, "Jody, you're an engineer, a math guy, and a trivia guy, wouldn't you be dispositioned to displaying some symptoms?" Well, anyone who knew me in high school or undergrad wouldn't ask that, they would just know. While I scored a 20 when I took the test today, I am well aware of how I would've answered in previous years and am fairly certain that I would've scored above a 40 then. I have countless stories of when I would get uncomfortable in social situations and just leave and wonder "WTF is wrong with me?" I had real difficulties feeling any sort of emotion towards people (whether positive or negative) and really preferred to do things by myself rather than with other people (like video games - ask me about StarCraft sometime). Though I was always able to logically deduce what was meant later (sometimes months later), my inability to read others' intent and some odd behavior messed up a lot of relationships.2 At the time, I self-diagnosed myself as a disorganized schizophrenic, but now view myself then as having a mild form of Asperger's (I would do some pretty bizzare things for my personal amusement and the difference between autism and schizophrenia wasn't always so clear.) Fortunately, I was also rather athletic and rather funny so I was never ostracized unlike a lot of others' would've been.3

Well, if I'm not that way now, what happened? Well, I still do some odd things, am still sometimes slow to identify emotions, still sometimes shun social situations, and still have some difficulting vocalizing thoughts4, just not anywhere near as much as I once did. I'm not certain of the exact cause of the change, but I have three speculations. 1) I just grew out of it, 2) I categorized situations and imitated what I thought was "good" or successful behaviors, and 3) I self-medicated with alcohol.

On growing out of it, many researchers have speculated that superfast brain growth leads to autism (scroll down a bit, there's not a good permalink - also draws links to Thomas Sowell and Einstein). I'm a fairly bright guy, at least from self-perception, got noticably brighter during adolescence (though most do). Indeed, as covered in this FuturePundit article, during adolescence most teenagers experience rapid brain growth and rapid drops in social abilities. Eventually growth slows and people learn how to engage socially again. Consider the number of fights you see in highschool versus the number of fights you see in college - a dramatic decline (at least for me). So I may have been just a little further down the distribution curve, for both good and ill.

On the second point, a lot of learning is just imitation- monkey see, monkey do, and what doesn't come naturally has to learned. Not just because I had a friend in highschool tell me that he was explicitly imitating people in order to act appropriately in social situations, I suspect many teenagers have to do the same. I base this speculation on my observation of the cliqueish and group-think behavior that so many teenagers engage in - each member of a group imitating the other members of the group because they don't naturally know what to do. Again, I feel that this may have just been a matter of degree for me.

On the alcohol self-medication, this is a close time correlation between when I started drinking and when my more autistic symptoms started to abate. Whether this is from killing brain cells and slowing growth, the accompanying increased social interaction, or was completely unconnected though correlated in time (like these time-correlated unconnected events), I can't say, but there definitely was a time correlation.

So anyways, that's my little pseudo-autism story. So take the test, see where you stand in the continuum, and relate any thoughts you might have.

1. Math competitition is not a sport, but my high school math team was quite athletic (some were quite unathletic, though). In addition to beating down every other school in the state in math competitions, we would also take on 2-4 other schools simultaneously in ultimate frisbee and win. Of course our math team also included a starting pitcher for the school baseball team, a starter on the tennis team, and a state qualifier in swimming and various other swim team members. Plus a lot of the competing schools were quite unathletic - more evidence for competitive math not being a sport.

2. There's nothing quite as frustating as realizing months after the fact that a girl was interested in you and was expecting a certain response, but since you didn't recognize this, you missed the opportunity. Later never works cause by then you've become trapped in "friend hell." This eventually led to one girl saying to me, "Jody, you're really cute, but you're really weird." The only upside to that moment was my rejoinder, which still amuses me, "Well, thank you..... and fuck you."

3. Recognition of this fact has always led me to be nicer to and more accommodating of the socially maladept.

4. Oddly, I've never had this problem with writing. Indeed I'm a somewhat prolific writer.

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More Robots

Following up on this post, I stumbled across this collection of articles on Asimov's three laws while reading boing boing. Includes an article by Greg Bear. Lots of interesting stuff, but also a lot of harping on the flaws of the three laws (some of which I agree with, some I don't, but still a good Saturday read).
The laws discussion is hosted by the Singularity Institute. They're big pushers of AI (no, not the passable movie with the craptastic ending), and are eagerly anticipating the advent of the singularity. As they define it, a singularity is where an intelligence manages to create an intelligence more intelligent than its creator (being smarter than your parents doesn't count). They seem to think this will be a great day, though I'm somewhat skeptical as SkyNet still scares the beejezus out of me (they also want you to pass out flyers, which also I find kind of freaky).
I wonder if the Singularity Institute counts the hive mind concept introduced by Den Beste (If you read no other link in this post read this one). Loosely Den Beste treats hive minds as collections of individual linked processing elements that together produce coordinated actions and the appearance of thought. This includes ants and bees, but also the neurons that make up your brain and the millions of interconnected humans whose hive mind thoughts are memes. Den Beste speculates on what influences the functioning and effectiveness of a hive mind and identifies element processing power, element interconnectivity, and link bandwidth. Den Beste then speculates that the improvements in communications technologies have spawned rudimentary hive minds far more intelligent than any individual human being (for example consider the collective intelligence and processing capabilities of the blogosphere).
All of this leads me to wonder if the singularity institute hasn't already missed singularity day. 

Slate has another article on I, Robot. The author is also critical of the movie's failure to adhere to Asimov's general vision. He also brings up some interesting examples of sociopaths basing their behavior on the writings of Asimov (like Aum Shinrikyo of Sarin gas fame).

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Friday, July 16, 2004


President of Beer

I've taken it upon myself to make polyscifi an "official" polling location for the President of Beer election.

So as with all good elections, vote now and vote frequently for your favorite candidate. Write in votes should be placed in the comments.

I'll do something with the results... eventually.

Vote for the President of Beer

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Keeping with my promise in this post, I thought I would pass along the latest diet fad which I saw first on Fox and Friends - the drink beer get thin diet.
Although kinda cool sounding, it's really just a variant of the Atkins low carb diet. The author, Bob Skilnik, has surveyed a bunch of different beers (350, IIRC), and summarized their carb and calorie contents. This book can then be used as an aid as in a more traditional diet so that you know exactly how much caloires and carbs you are ingesting with each beer.
Seems rather logical to me. Or as one reviewer rather succinctly put it,
"If you can once again enjoy small portions of once forbidden food items like potatoes, rice and bread (in moderate amounts, of course) in the mid to later stages of a low carbohydrate diet, why not beer?"

Indeed, why not?

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Thursday, July 15, 2004


You're the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

75% of the human genetic makeup is identical to that of a pumpkin.


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What would happen if this man had instead been in this?

h/t Drudge, Xrlq

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Wednesday, July 14, 2004


I, Robot

Jeremy sent me an email which voiced others' displeasure over the upcoming I, Robot movie, with particular speculation as to how fast Asimov was spinning in his grave (and how much electricity we might be wasting by not using Asimov as a turbine).1From the trailers, the movie looks nothing like the book and I really wonder what Asimov would be thinking if he were alive.

Well, "So what?" you ask, "Movies and books often differ greatly."2 Well this movie (from the trailers) goes against Asimov's explicit aims with I, Robot.

To explain why this movie would be such an affront to Asimov, let me give you a little background on I, Robot, and Asimov's contribution to robots in science fiction literature. I, Robot is a collection of short stories that present quirky little mental puzzles based on differences in interpretations of the three laws of robotics between what the humans at US Robots intended and how the robots understood the laws.

Specifically, the three laws of robotics are the following:
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by the human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict the First or Second Law.
There's also a pseudo zeroth law of (some) robots that naturally arose and was most famously carried out by Daneel Oglivaw in several books other than I, Robot.2,3 The zeroth law states that:
0. A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Asimov developed the laws of robotics and his formulation of robots specifically as a way of changing the way literature presented robots. In particular Asimov wanted robots to be more than the servile automatons of Capek's R.U.R. or the evil robots ready to turn on their masters that were popular then (and still are - one even is governor of California).

Asimov's robots were thus designed (through use of the three laws) to be neither automatons nor something that would rise up against humans. So judging by the trailers, I, Robot the movie, is antithetical to Asimov's second objective in writing I, Robot the book.

All that being said, I'll still see the movie, I just won't expect it to look anything like the book and will have to turn off the part of my brain that knows the book.

A good summary of Asimov's I, Robot can be found at wikipedia (where else?).

1. Asimov was cremated and his ashes scattered(that's a pretty twisted concept for a site), and thus strictly cannot be spinning in his grave. Perhaps blowing about vigorously... (This fact was alluded to in the emailed posts.)
2. The zeroth law does appear in I, Robot, while Oglivaw does not.
3. Daneel Oglivaw also rather bizarrely shows up towards the end of the Foundation series. Even though I'll probably see Alien v Predator, I'm not a big cross-over fan and I think that cross-overs weaken an author's work when not handled appropriately (which is a difficult thing to do).
4. Don't even get me started on the David Lynch's theatrical version of Dune's weirding way. While I do get my jollies walking up to people and saying Naaaaaaaaaahhhhhh CHUCK! (I'm a pretty weird fellow), it was nothing like the weirding way in Dune which was more of an advanced style of hand-to-hand combat with insanely fast movements (pseudo-teleportation or perhaps local time-dilation) instead of a sonic amplification weapon. The SciFi miniseries were much better, and the theatrical version actually disturbed me because it was no where close to the book.

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Follow on to Kerry polemic

As a little follow on to this post, I found this article by a pro-choice advocate who's as confused by Kerry's stance as I am. (According to public statements Kerry's thinks a fetus is a human life, but is nonetheless against any limits on abortion). Again her abortion stance is premised on not conceiving of the fetus as a human life - a position I feel is principled and moral even though I disagree.

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Stupid google blog data

After blogging more regularly for some months now, this blog has finally become the top hit returned by google when searching for polyscifi - a word which I thought was quite clever and original until I learned otherwise.

Looking at the google referrals, here's the top searches by which people find this blog:
Vernon Robinson (the black Jesse Helms) + Viacom (search string)
orthotetrachidecahedron (search string)
travishamockery (search string)
bubba ho tep (search string)

So judging by search traffic, this site should be a repository of posts on beer and confused public figures (which may or may not be related to the beer). Duly noted. So more beer! More confused politicians!

Or in the immortal words of Sleazy P. Martini (I think I have the attribution correct), "We need more Crack!"

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Reverse Fantasy Football

Each year, I run a reverse fantasy football league. The premise is pretty simple - instead of fielding the best players in the league, field the players that do the most damage to their team. A player can damage his team by throwing interceptions, fumbling, having a lousy rushing average, missing field goals, being a defense that gives up a lot of points, and so on. In normal fantasy leagues, you'll lose if your players we're playing so badly, but in this system, your players' incompetence is rewarded.

The one interesting twist to this is if your player is damaging your team too badly, he'll probably get benched, and you'll be SoL. What you really want is a player like Ricky Williams who didn't score too many touchdowns, got the ball a whole heck of a lot, and typically did 2-3 yards and a cloud of dust (oh and had a fumbling problem). However, because there was no better RB and the QB blew, Ricky kept getting the ball and was never benched. Compare thie to the rotating Detroit/Carolina QB situation - each QB was sure to get you points, but probably for only a couple weeks before he got benched.

If you're interested in playing, shoot me an email (jody.neel@gmail.com), and I'll send you the sign up info (not too interested in random people I don't know signing up though regular blog readers are welcome).

To those who have played in past years reading this (which I believe are the majority of the blog's readers), I'll be sending out an official invite today (league id and password). Related points: yahoo no longer requires the use of a Do Not Cut List (which was quite annoying for those who missed the live draft), and yahoo now displays fantasy points for each player under the current scoring regime. This latter made my life much easier in that I didn't have to cut and paste every player's stats into excel to crunch numbers. Accordingly, RBs and QBs are both worth about the same (and score about as many points as in a normal league), WR and TE are worth a little less (again like a normal league), the majority of kickers score positive points (though some are still negative), and defense numbers have been tinkered with (approximately similar worth to QBs and RBs).

For those who think reverse fantasy football is a great idea and would like to start your own league: the following is the league settings which I am using (kinda based on a value under replacement player approach, though the replacement player would be pretty good).

Roster Positions: QB, WR, WR, WR, RB, RB, TE, K, DEF, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN

Stat Categories:
Completions (-1)
Incomplete Passes (2)
Passing Yards (-50 yards per point)
Passing Touchdowns (-4)
Interceptions (5)
Sacks (3)
Rushing Attempts (1.5)
Rushing Yards (-4 yards per point)
Rushing Touchdowns (-6)
Receptions (2)
Reception Yards (-20 yards per point)
Reception Touchdowns (-4)
2-Point Conversions (-2)
Fumbles (2)
Fumbles Lost (2)
Field Goals 0-19 Yards (0)
Field Goals 20-29 Yards (-0.1)
Field Goals 30-39 Yards (-0.3)
Field Goals 40-49 Yards (-0.7)
Field Goals 50+ Yards (-1.5)
Field Goals Missed 0-19 Yards (10)
Field Goals Missed 20-29 Yards (8)
Field Goals Missed 30-39 Yards (6)
Field Goals Missed 40-49 Yards (4)
Field Goals Missed 50+ Yards (3)
Point After Attempt Made (0)
Point After Attempt Missed (5)
Sack (-2)
Interception (-3)
Fumble Recovery (-4)
Touchdown (-6)
Safety (-5)
Block Kick (-3)
Points Allowed 0 points (0)
Points Allowed 1-6 points (3.5)
Points Allowed 7-13 points (10)
Points Allowed 14-20 points (17)
Points Allowed 21-27 points (24)
Points Allowed 28-34 points (31)
Points Allowed 35+ points (40)
Fractional Points: Yes
Negative Points: Yes

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Photographing coffins returning home

Somewhat related to a recent Senate vote, last night Rog emailed me to ask:
"You seem fairly conservative. What do you think of the fact that they
won't allow news coverage of the caskets that fly into Dover?"
which I interpreted as, "why are photos not permitted?" as news coverage is permitted and does happen (the news media can and does say, today "X number of brave soldiers who gave their lives for their countries returned home to Dover today" - you just can't go to Dover and film the process), but photos of the coffins are not permitted so without visual imagery, television stations are less inclined to run related stories. (Here's an associated article from last year's wapo)

The following is an excerpt of my reply:1

My feelings on the matter is if the family is ok with the press taking pictures, then it's ok by me (freedom and the press and what not). But without expressed consent, I figure it's best to err on the side of caution with respect to the family's privacy, particularly as the family has not yet had time to have any sort of private ceremony. This is also partially premised on the soldiers and their families not constituting "public" figures whose right to privacy would generally be considered to be diminished.

I also feel that the motivations of those seeking to photo the caskets
are pretty base - seeking to exploit others' deaths to score political
without regard to the families' feelings. The same point (the
human cost of war) can be much more effectively and tastefully
expressed in other ways without exploitation or privacy infringements.
For instance, Koppel's reading of the names of the dead or the various
beach side memorials both convey the same point without infringing on
any privacy concerns (and I dare say both convey the point far more

I also believe that if the caskets were being photographed, the
Defense Dept would be open to lawsuits claiming privacy infringements,
so there's a CYA aspect that's not being considered.

To summarize my point as memorably as possible, consider the following.

To appear in a Girls Gone Wild video, the girl has to sign a release.
Why should we treat our war dead with less respect than a college
co-ed willing to bare all for a t-shirt and free booze?

A mostly unrelated note - gender parity is here.

1. The original touched on some other tangential subjects, like privacy not being a conservative or liberal value and the whole debate actually revolving around attempts to score political points. I've also inserted hyperlinks into the original response as gmail doesn't do inline hyperlinks and didn't feel like breaking up sentences with URLese.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Is this legal?

You can download Clinton's My Life in pdf form from this site. Hurry, I expect it won't be up for long...


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Kerry Hearts Edwards

As opposed to federal review, I won't claim this video is nonpartisan, but I will claim it's pretty freakin funny and answers the question of what happens when a Presidential candidate is a little too affectionate towards his running mate...

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Ender's Game

Ender's Game the movie is in production and slated for release in 2006. Here's some notes on the movie.

That's great, but I'm still waiting for a video game that recreates the Battle Room and the Mazer Rackam simulation...

(hat tip NRO)

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This Land

Click through and watch this animated video. Trust me.

I first clicked through to see the video on Reason, but I had seen it first on xrlq without clicking through. (I'm now kicking myself for not watching this earlier)

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Earth's Magnetic Field Collapsing

according to this article. This is speculated as a sign of an impending pole reversal.

I blame the Bush administration ;)

Article first noted on Drudge.

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Monday, July 12, 2004


Bloggy Luvin

My friend, Roger, just started up a blog, so I thought I would give him a little blog luvin' and note nanothoughts. It's not a political blog or a sci-fi blog but Roger promises "interesting stuff" like an article about canoeing through the Panama canal (no permalinks yet, though his blog does have a nicer layout than polyscifi's ghettotastic layout - we're hoping to upgrade to ghetto-fabulous in the near future).

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Senate Intelligence Report

If you want to read the Senate Intelligence report on Iraqi intelligence, it's here.

Here's some selected jaw droppers lifted from Michael Leeden's NRO story and Dan Darling at Winds of Change.
1. Saddam Hussein offered Bin Laden sanctuary in 1999 (p. 335) (side note: where would Al Qaeda logically attempt to reconstitute post Afghanistan?)
2. Iraq provided training in bombmaking, training in poison and gases and training in document forgery to al Qaeda.
3. Iraq planned to bomb Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague from 1998-2003 (316).
4. Iraq sent teams of terrorists to third world countries to blow up softer Western targets (316)
For more juicy goodness, read the document, or visit Winds of Change.

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A Kerry Polemic

I try to take a balanced view towards politics (to lay my biases in the open, I am voting for Bush), but I feel that I couldn't let a public statement by Kerry pass uncommented (others have commented, but I felt I needed to add my two bits).

According to the Wa Post(registration required), Kerry's statement was, "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

To get one thing out of the way, in its context, Kerry is cleary indicating that he believes human life begins at conception, particularly as a way of signaling that he is in line with the teachings of the Catholic church.

As perhaps is the case with every American, I have spent a nontrivial portion of my life debating abortion. Previously, I've been of the opinion that the differences in the two camps is a function of having an ill-defined definition of when human life begins (outside of the amoralists who I figure a small fraction of the pro-choice side). The pro-life camp believes human life begins at conception (or shortly there after) and accordingly views abortion as murder. The pro-choice camp believes human life begins at birth (or shortly before) and accordingly views as a lesser evil. I honestly always figured the way to settle the debate was for society to come to a general consensus as to when human life begins, and viewed efforts such as this one as steps in the right direction.

However, Kerry's statement trashes my logic (assuming his statement is a principled one, which it may not be). Kerry says that life begins at conception, yet is a very vocal and extreme supporter of the pro-choice position. For instance "Kerry voted against the [partial birth abortion] ban, which Bush signed into law, because he said it does not provide adequate protections for a woman's health." (from this wapo article).

My problems with Kerry's rationale on the PBA and his statements
1) Kerry's advocating that the mental health of a mother is more desirable than a viable life.1,2 Disregarding the religious arguments, is it a social consensus that a life is worth more than someone's mental health?1,2 Is not life generally treated as a higher right in the hierarchy of rights than the pursuit of happiness? (there is, and there must be a hierarchy of rights as all rights necessarily interfere with each other, particularly in interpersonal situations).

2) By Kerry's logic (life begins at conception), that makes him an active supporter of baby killing (and not even in the Swiftian sense). (this point is what caused me to put "polemic" in the post title as I can think of no worse charge to make)

So here's my conundum, is Kerry lying when he says that he believes life begins at conception (saying what he thinks will get him elected - a time honored political tradition), or are his morals that out of whack with America's (believing that life begins at conception, but thinking that someone's mental discomfort outweighs another's life)? Or is there some other explanation that I'm missing?

Add your two bits in the comments - inquiring minds want to know.

The Democratic party wasn't always conformist on abortion. It wasn't until 1992 that the Dems forbade pro-life speakers from the Presidential nominating convention. This decision, which I feel was to the great detriment of the Democratic party and the country, prompted an open letter published in the NYT giving a liberal argument against abortion. If you read the letter, you'll see that their rationale is also premised on the idea that life begins at conception and the conflict of rights must be decided in the favor of life trumping personal convenience (ex post facto contraception is the phrase the authors use).

Oh, and the letter was signed by Sargent Shriver, the 1972 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee (and father to Maria).

1. Many pro-abortion friends of mine make their limit at viability - a principled position I can respect, though disagree with.

2. Physical health is not an issue as in a PBA the baby is almost to term and is almost completely extracted before being killed so the difference with a normal birth is trivial. I would have stats to back this up, but various courts are blocking the gathering of statistics related to PBA.

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The 4400

Watched the 4400 last night on USA. The 4400 is a new series that revolves around the dramatic and public return of 4400 alien abductees. None of the abductees remember anything about abduction or the intervening period in which they were away and none of them have aged since being abducted (for instance, an eight year old girl abducted in 1946 is still 8).

Reviewers have said that the 4400 is going to be the next X-Files, and I can see that – the continuing unresolved storylines, the hints of a greater conspiracy storyline while still showing self-contained shows, and the sexual tension between the two lead agents all played a key role in the success of the X-Files and are being set up in the 4400, so if you liked the X-Files for those reasons, the 4400 bears watching (plus if they do one show per abductee – that’s a long run).

Things I like about the 4400:
Two opposing protagonists:
Rather interestingly the story proceeds along two parallel and opposing perspectives – that of the abductees who are trying to find their place in society and that of the Homeland security agents who are rightly suspicious of the 4400. This is an aspect of a show that I haven’t really seen before – two sides are in fundamental opposition, yet are both treated as protagonists (rather than the more typical protagonist-antagonist storyline).

A general attempt to be grounded in reality:
When the 4400 first appeared (all together), I turned to my fiancé and said, “If I were in charge, they would all be immediately locked away and never again see the light of day.” My reasoning being, the 4400 constitute an unknown threat to humanity and an opportunity to indirectly study the capabilities of the (presumably alien) intelligence that abducted and then returned them. So for the safety of humanity, they needed to be permanently quarantined. Further, for their own safety they need to be protected from the public.

Of course leaving the 4400 in permanent detention would not make for a very good series (though it can work as a movie), so there has to be some way of getting the 4400 into the general population. In this show, the ACLU sues for their release and the 9th circuit grants the release. As I don’t think any other organization and any other court would be willing to sacrifice the security of the nation for the liberty of the few, I think this was a very apt storyline decision.

Things I don’t like about the 4400:
Details aren’t so grounded in reality
That court decision would’ve been immediately appealed to the Supreme Court, and there I’m not so certain what the result would’ve been. Judging from recent decisions, Padilla is still locked up, but the Gitmo detainees now get a hearing. However, I figure that the 9th Circuit would’ve been overturned. But, had that happened, there would’ve been no story, so no appeal is even considered.

There’s no one assassinating the 4400. Maybe this will come up in a future episode, and I’ll give the writers their props if they do, but I view this as a big hole in the story. When the show announced the court decision releasing the 4400, I told my fiancé that had this happened I would be going to jail for a long long time. The implication being, I would be out there hunting down and attempting to kill each and every returnee, There I said it, I'm a speciesist. They’re a credible threat to the species, and I would be perfectly willing, in this case, to shoot first and ask questions later. This would also put me on the wrong side of the X-Men as well – a connection that is particularly apt as each returnee in the 4400 seems to have been given a unique preternatural ability. One girl can see the future, one kid can choose to suck the life energy out of animals (including humans) or to give life energy to an animal, and another can create massive vibrations with his mind (with which he kills a man and nearly kills several others). Any doubts I may have had about playing “a most dangerous game” with the 4400 would’ve been settled with the knowledge of there super-human abilities (again, I’m a speciesist, but I figure I’m not alone in that sentiment).

So all that being said, I'm going to watch the show for a while as I like the premise and feel of the show even though some details need to be worked out (Sundays 9 PM, USA).

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004


More marginal utility maximization

In response to this post, commenter San, Juan made some good comments on why people are bad marginal utility maximizers which I feel should be given a wider read...1
I read an interesting theory presented by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan in their book “Mean Genes”, which relates to why humans (in general) are bad utility maximizers (perhaps maximiser would be a more appropriate spelling in this case). They claim the reason behind our ineptness is two-fold. First, as a species, we derive pleasure from taking risks, and second, we are bad at calculating the odds for the risks we take.

The reasons behind our love for risk are biological. Risky behavior stimulates the dopamine reward systems in our body. Some people are born with systems that that muffle the buzz they get from taking risks. These individuals with unusual dopamine receptors – and hence reduced stimulation of this pleasure pathway -- will go to extreme lengths in pursuit of the dopamine high. They are the risk freaks; impulsive and extravagant: bungee jumpers, explorers, and the highest of rollers in Vegas (studies have shown these individuals also tend to prefer spicier foods.)

The gene which influences this type of behavior is referred to, by the press, as the “novelty-seeking” gene. Recent evidence has also shown a strong link between the prevalence of this single gene in a population and how far that group has migrated. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective as well. Humans first arose in East Africa, and spread out to cover the rest of the world. If we imagined two types of humans, those who cowered in their caves, and those who explored new areas…. we can come to the logical conclusion that, although many of the risk takers may have died, those who gambled and won populated the entire globe. So we are risk takers because we are the great-great….grandchildren of humans who placed risky bets.

As far as the second point about us being horrible mathematicians, Burnham and Phelan provide an explanation that is not quite as clear. They make a case for certain flaws in statistical reasoning, such as predicating causes of death. For example, Americans typically believe that natural disasters are a bigger threat to life then diabetes, yet in 1997, 62,636 Americans died from diabetes compared to the 227 from tornados, floods, and lightning. The authors claim this skewed fear is based on things more likely to harm are prehistoric ancestors. We most wildly overestimate the risk of death from accidents, homicide, venomous snakes, and pregnancy compared to our underestimate of death from disease or vaccination.

This idea of living in a modern world which is very different from our ancestor’s is extrapolated to explain why we can’t calculate expected utilities in other situations.
One possibility is that our ancestors evolved in a world with very few people, many groups were made up of less then 100 people, and not long ago on a genetic time scale there were only 18 thousand humans in the entire world. So people care less about odds and focus on the prizes. It’s still tough for us to wrap our brains around the enormous size of our modern population, and when we see a lottery winner on TV, we think…I can be next.

One final point made in the book was that in certain situations, we risk too little. The social arena is one example. For ancestral humans, social failures were presumably much more costly than they are for us. In the small populations that our ancestors lived in, they were doomed to hear about their social mistakes for years as the same group joked around the campfire. Perhaps worse than jokes, were the consequences of offending the wrong people within a village…banishment would often be a death sentence. Nowadays we should be much bolder at the local bar since chances are we’ll never run into our rejecter again. (Personally, my experiences with this one have been more along the lines of Murphy’s Law then correct statistical odds.)

I think San point on why people gamble is spot on - a) dopamine high, b) we tend to focus on the prize and c) we really don't understand how many people there are in the world and thus muck up our statistics.

I also think his assessment as to why we poorly assess probabilities of death is partially correct, but I think it's changing.2 Certainly, there has been some calibration lag as to what we should fear, but we're catching up. As we've started living longer, our fears have come more in line with the modern causes of death. Cancer, diabetes, AIDS, Alzheimer's, heart disease, and lots of other diseases were not feared by out ancestors yet are very much feared today, and a lot of societal energy is put into combatting these diseases.

Specifically, I think that we tend to especially fear the following things: things that are new, things we do not understand or feel that we have no control over (or are unpredictable), and things with particularly disturbing results (the reverse of San, Juan's gambling rationale).

Accidents, homicides, and natural disasters fall into the second category. Ebola falls into all three. SARS into the first and BSE into all three. How much we fear a particular kind of death (here's my favorite way to die) is a function of the sum of the contributions from each of these three components. If something is very new, we fear it, even if it's no worse than the flu (ala SARS). Ebola, other than the the low probability of it occuring in the US outside of Reston, VA, (but how many of you are willing to take a boat ride on the Ebola river?), is nonetheless quite feared because it's not well understood, is still relatively new, and is just a horrible way to die.

As further support for my thesis, consider the public reaction to AIDS. In the 80s, AIDS was quite the scary disease as it was new, we didn't understand the disease much less its transmission, and the results were quite scary (like Kapposi's Sarcoma). Since then, the disease is obviously not as new, we have a pretty good understanding of the disease and its transmission (don't share needles or have gay butt sex - other kinds of gay sex are statistically ok), and thanks to improved treatments, the results are not so bad (see Magic Johnson). I feel safe in saying that the public's fear of AIDS has dropped significantly.

So keep up the interesting comments. Hearing others' thoughts in response to my musings is one of the primary reasons I post, plus they're fun to read.

1. Note: I added a hyperlink to San, Juan's comments to link to the Mean Gene website and inserted blank lines between paragraphs for readability. Other than these minor changes, San, Juan's comments are as originally posted.

2. I think we overestimate, not underestimate the probability of death or injury from vaccination (see the Autism-vaccination scare or the Nigerian fear of polio vaccines), but that's secondary and not crucial to the larger point, and hence relegated to a footnote.

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