Saturday, July 21, 2007

Petraeus' Qualifications

Well, we know why he was selected....and by golly, I wonder what he's going to say in September. (Last month he said the surge was already working so well he knew it'd be a success by then... then earlier this week he said he'll need until November.... then the next day he said it'd be next summer before we could even tell.

I've got a nephew over there, I wish the generals would make up their mind....

The more I see...

The more I learn about Giuliani's record, the more convinced I am that he's dangerous.... Another imperious president is the last thing we need at the moment.

I wonder if Jesus told them to do this....

It's not just the petition fraud that bothers me, it's the stupid petition fraud.

(Cincinnati, Ohio) A Republican lawmaker behind an unsuccessful bid to repeal Cincinnati's ordinance protecting gays from discrimination has been accused of knowing names to get the issue onto the ballot in 2006 were fraudulent.

Two women working on behalf of Equal Rights Not Special Rights have pleaded guilty to election falsification.

State Rep. Tom Brinkman, who was the head of the organization was never charged, but at a hearing the judge in the case suggested he was involved and knew that Lois Mingo, 48, and Precilla Ward, 32, had falsified the petitions by crossing out names and addresses of signers and replacing them with addresses of registered voters in order to make them appear valid.


Among the phony signatures were "Fidel Castro" and Cincinnati Reds owner "Bob Castellini."

I mean, really, people, if you're going to put phony names on a petition, at least put believable names. Fidel Castro? He's not even a Republican....

It truly annoys some people that the law protects people they don't even like, doesn't it?

Hilzoy nails it

Lessons learned from Iraq:

(1) It seems to me that our country went slightly crazy after 9/11, and one of the manifestations of that craziness was a tendency to say, about anyone who suggested stopping to think about much of anything, that that person just hadn't absorbed the lessons of 9/11, hadn't been there, hadn't fully grasped how horrific it was....

(2) Never substitute impugning someone's character for impugning his or her argument...

(3) One of the greatest strengths of our country is the fact that we allow debate and dissent. This means that if we choose to do so, we can debate policies before we adopt them, rather than first adopting them and only then, when it is too late, discovering the problems that a real debate might have made apparent...

(4) When the rest of the world thinks you're crazy, it's worth entertaining the possibility that they might be right...

(5) Beware of movements built on contempt... Sometimes, groups of people who spend years muttering about how different things would be if they were in charge are right. Often, however, they are not...

(6) Think very hard about the lessons of history...Trotting out Munich at every possible opportunity only ensures that the next time you find yourself in a Cuban Missile Crisis, your country will be turned to radioactive glass.

(7) Be very wary of extrapolating from the last few wars...

(8) Never underestimate the value of an exit strategy. By an exit strategy I do not mean the military plans for how, exactly, we might extricate our troops from Iraq, but a way of disengaging without seeming to have been beaten....[A]s Republicans are fond of reminding us, when we withdraw, al Qaeda and any number of other Islamists will take it as a victory, and will conclude that we can be outlasted. But that outcome is inevitable, unless we are willing to stay in Iraq forever, watching the men and women in our military die, along with more and more Iraqis.

(9) In wars, there are very few do-overs, and in occupations there are almost none....We need to get it right the first time. Eventually isn't good enough...

(10) Just because we're going to war doesn't mean we don't need diplomacy....

An excellent article, well worth reading.

Brayton Fisks Brownback

Truly a thing of beauty. That this clown keeps getting not only elected but re-elected say so much about the intelligence of part of the electorate....

Checkers solved

This article shows, I suspect, the risk of what happens when a journalist either doesn't fully understand the subject (and thus isn't sure what questions to ask, especially followup questions) or isn't familiar enough with it to anticipate readers' questions.

The Chinook program can play a perfect game of checkers once the number of pieces on the board gets below a certain point (10 checkers). The article says "It can't lose" after that, based on an exhaustive database. It's literally looked at every position with 10 or fewer checkers still on the board. But is any such position always a draw? Obviously not. I think--speculating, I haven't read the full paper--that what they're getting at is this.

There must be some combinations of pieces in which one side can force a win; e.g. 9 white, 1 black, I doubt Chinook could force a draw playing black. (Or perhaps so, by forcing a "no legal moves for black" situation, or if checkers has a 3-fold repetition rule like chess.)

But--if earlier play were strong enough to ensure that such grossly unbalanced positions don't come up in play--the discussion is academic.

And given a large enough database, good enough heuristic rules and position evaluations, and enough time to 'back up' the results farther up the game tree (this position is a loss for black, so a position that turns into this one is also a loss for black), it may be possible (duh, apparently is) possible to keep material balanced enough & positioning strong enough that forced-loss positions can be avoided when the exhaustive database finally kicks in.

Solving chess is going to take longer, of course. And at one time the ability to play chess was generally regarded as prima facie evidence of artificial intelligence--until, of course, the first chess-playing programs were demonstrated, and it was obvious that what they were doing was nothing like what people do when playing chess. But why should they? They're not people, they have different strengths and abilities. They're very good at numbercrunching--thus, computer chess involves lots of number crunching. They're good at database searching--thus, computer checkers (and chess) involves lots of database searching.

okay, this is what happens when I blog first thing in the morning.... i'm rambling.

It's official, I'm a robot

Your Score: Robot

You are 85% Rational, 0% Extroverted, 28% Brutal, and 28% Arrogant.

You are the Robot! You are characterized by your rationality. In fact, this is really ALL you are characterized by. Like a cold, heartless machine, you are so logical and unemotional that you scarcely seem human. For instance, you are very humble and don't bother thinking of your own interests, you are very gentle and lack emotion, and you are also very introverted and introspective. You may have noticed that these traits are just as applicable to your laptop as they are to a human being. You are not like the robots they show in the movies. Movie robots are make-believe, because they always get all personable and likeable after being struck by lightning, or they are cold, cruel killing machines. In all reality, though, you are much more boring than all that. Real robots just sit there, doing their stupid jobs, and doing little else. If you get struck by lightning, you won't develop a winning personality and heart of gold. (Robots don't have hearts, silly, and if they did, they would probably be made of steel, not gold.) You also won't be likely to terrorize humanity by becoming an ultra-violent killing machine sent into the past to kill the mother of a child who will lead a rebellion against machines, because that movie was dumb as hell, and because real robots don't kill--they horribly maim at best, and they don't even do that on purpose. Real robots are boringly kind and all too rarely try to kill people. In all my years, my laptop has only attacked me once, and that was only because my brother threw it at me. In short, your personality defect is that you don't really HAVE a personality. You are one of those annoying, super-logical people that never gets upset or flustered. Unless, of course, you short circuit. Or if someone throws a pie at you. Pies sure are delicious.

To put it less negatively:

1. You are more RATIONAL than intuitive.

2. You are more INTROVERTED than extroverted.

3. You are more GENTLE than brutal.

4. You are more HUMBLE than arrogant.

Saint Gasoline's Personality Defect Test

Friday, July 20, 2007

Quote of the day

"There once was a man named Vitter/

Who vowed that he wasn’t a quitter/

But with stories of women/

And all of his sinnin’/

He knows his career’s in the -- oh, never mind."

-- Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), quoted by The Hill, on Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) prostitution scandal.

[Hat tip: Cliff Schecter]

That's what it's there for

Many denouncements and much drama in the Senate over politically-motivated amendments to bills. Including undoing it later, taking it all back, etc. And among other things, it turns out to be against Senate rules to describe an amendment as politically motivated.

Last time I checked, the Senate was a political body.

Doesn't trying to remove politics from a political body rather defeat the purpose? If not miss the point completely?

There I go, trying to be logical again...

Details Emerge

The reasons for the executive order start to become clearer (NYT):

After months of behind the scenes wrangling, the White House said Friday that it had given the Central Intelligence Agency approval to resume its use of some harsh interrogation methods in questioning terrorism suspects in secret prisons overseas.

With the new authorization, administration officials said the C.I.A. could now proceed with an interrogation program that has been in limbo since the Supreme Court ruled last year that all prisoners in American captivity be treated in accordance with Geneva Convention prohibitions against humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees.

So some American torturer (ugh, what a repellent phrase) now has his legal fanny covered, because although we say we're following Geneva, we don't spell out exactly what that means.

Andrew Sullivan has the full text of the order up on his site. As he points out, it makes no sense to play coy about what's covered and what isn't, when Geneva spells it out pretty clearly. At this point, secrecy has become its own justification, clung to reflexively. Or perhaps there's something even worse than we've seen so far and they're terrified it's going to come to light. I hope that's just paranoia; unfortunately, with this administration, one can't be sure.

Nope, we don't torture. Not anymore. But we still won't define it.

A breakthrough for decency, or just fear of a war-crimes trial in his future?

US President George W Bush has signed an executive order on how terrorist suspects should be treated.

It bans cruel and inhuman treatment of any suspects detained and interrogated by the US authorities, and describes acts of torture as intolerable.

Which can only be applauded, of course. We gain nothing by resorting to the same thuggish tactics as the enemy. And saying "We're not as barbaric as they are" is hardly a winning argument. Of course, we still have to leave ourselves an out:
However, the White House would not reveal if all controversial interrogation procedures would be barred under the new guidelines.
Meaning what, waterboarding is still okay?

Look, this really isn't difficult: Torture doesn't work. It's an affront to everything America has ever stood for. When Germany did it in WWII (and called it 'enhanced interrogation,' the same thing President Doofus and Vice-President Vader call it), we (quite rightly) condemned it. We don't do that. That's what makes us different from them.

So when we announce that we're not going to be doing more of what we shouldn't have been doing in the first place, do we also expect a medal? Is this going to be spun as some great concession? And why are we still playing games with the definition?

Update: The Times has a more complete article. Cautious optimism here. Of course, this is all assuming that any of this will actually be followed and isn't just management-by-press-release.

"Security Theater"

Finally, a bit of sanity. Rather remarkable, coming from Homeland Security and all....

China Learns A Hard Truth

It appears the dragon doesn't want to be tamed. Of course, after every boom comes a bust, and the bigger the one, the bigger the other. With the rural/urban wealth divide already huge and growing, and food prices being the hardest hit, meaning any bust is going to hit the (mostly rural) poor the hardest, as busts always do....

It's going to be interesting. I've heard the expression "May you live in interesting times" called a Chinese curse. I have no idea if that's accurate or just a canard; either way, it appears there are going to be some interesting times in China within the next year or so.

Theories, "Truth," and Missing The Point

Michael O'Hare makes an argument (or rather, presents Nelson Goodman's argument) that a model need not be true if it is useful. He gives the example of the Ptolemaic earth-centered universe, which worked just fine for centuries telling people where to look in the sky to make observations.

The point seems to be that if a model is useful, it need not be true. But the geocentric model was abandoned because it was no longer useful, because more and more epicycles and exceptions had to be added to account for the growing number of observations that defied the model. He says:

This is behavioral evidence, the best kind, that he credits the Ptolemaic theory with a utility for a purpose that is not operationally very different from truth.
But the "behavioral evidence" kept mounting that the truth and the model weren't matching up--and hence the model had to be changed.

He concludes:
It's not always necessary to pick one truth from a set of propositions that appear to be inconsistent, and to have what appear to be inconsistent models at hand for different purposes is not the same as post-modernist relativism or mushy contingency.
Um, actually, yes it is necessary. Sometimes we don't have enough evidence to make a decision, as in the early days of quantum physics. Is light a particle? A wave? A particle with wave-like properties? A wavicle? Something completely different? As evidence comes in, one proposition gains support, another fades away. Saying "We don't have enough evidence to choose between two competing models" is much different from saying "We don't need to decide between two competing models."

Of course, this is coming on the tail of a discussion about religion and how much deference/respect (if any) it is due. If his point is that the geocentric model works "well enough" for the astrologers and so we shouldn't laugh at them for using a model that works "well enough" for them, okay. (I laugh at them for completely different reasons.)

Likewise, if his point is "I believe in my religious beliefs because they make me feel better and thus work 'well enough' for my purposes, whether they're true or not," again, okay. At least it's honest.

But scientific theories are "useful" only to the extent that they are true or that suggest experiments pointing toward the truth. Saying "It's not true but it's useful" is equivalent to saying "It's not science." Nothing wrong with that, there are lots of things that aren't science.

But don't call it something it's not.

First post, whoop-de-frikken-do.

So let's see if I'm still doing this in six months, or if it's yet another abandoned blog...