Question of utmost importance #1
Can a society be funded? I mean, can it have enough in the bank that no one has to work for a salary and everyone's income is generated via investment returns?

If it is possible, wouldn't and shouldn't it be a goal to have policies that would get us closer to being a funded society?

If not, what does it mean, in terms of the limits of economic growth or the possibility of the equitable distribution of wealth?
  Random MLC thought #2
Sherry from Alabama, "she was a crossing-guard, you know"
October 16, 2003
TO: Gen. Dick Myers
Paul Wolfowitz
Gen. Pete Pace
Doug Feith

FROM: Donald Rumsfeld

SUBJECT: Global War on Terrorism

The questions I posed to combatant commanders this week were: Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror? Is DoD changing fast enough to deal with the new 21st century security environment? Can a big institution change fast enough? Is the USG changing fast enough?

DoD has been organized, trained and equipped to fight big armies, navies and air forces. It is not possible to change DoD fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror; an alternative might be to try to fashion a new institution, either within DoD or elsewhere — one that seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies on this key problem.

With respect to global terrorism, the record since Septermber 11th seems to be:

We are having mixed results with Al Qaida, although we have put considerable pressure on them — nonetheless, a great many remain at large.

USG has made reasonable progress in capturing or killing the top 55 Iraqis.

USG has made somewhat slower progress tracking down the Taliban — Omar, Hekmatyar, etc.

With respect to the Ansar Al-Islam, we are just getting started.

Have we fashioned the right mix of rewards, amnesty, protection and confidence in the US?

Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with the global war on terror?

Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.

Do we need a new organization?

How do we stop those who are financing the radical madrassa schools?

Is our current situation such that "the harder we work, the behinder we get"?

It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog.

Does CIA need a new finding?

Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madradssas to a more moderate course?

What else should we be considering?

Please be prepared to discuss this at our meeting on Saturday or Monday.

Heh. I added a 'favicon' to the blog:

It's a rocking A... my family brand. There's a bunch of cattle running around the hills of humboldt county with this brand.
Does anyone else think the eyeball icon on the itunes store screen is creepy...

  Random MLC thought #1
She had an uncanny sense of the 70's and 80's music scene.
  If they lack legitimacy, yeah, they are terrorists!
In response to a comment about a post on the common wealth club web site, I wrote:

Jason was defining a soldier not a terrorist. Jason proposes two reasonable qualifications for being a soldier:
a) A member of an Army that was formed by a democratically elected leader
b) A member of an Army that was formed by an internationally recognized leader

Assuming he would define a terrorist as "not a soldier" (Jason don't let me put words in your mouth), terrorists would be the fighting class of a country that are not members of the official army (i.e. Hamas in Palestine).

Was there a legitimate French Army during Vichy France? If not, can it be said that any fighting force (i.e. the resistance) was illegitimate or terrorists? In other words, given Jason's definition of a soldier (and his implicit definition of a terrorist), do the freedom fighters of WWII France qualify as terrorists?

NOTE: I'm not a WWII history expert! :-)

Henri-Philippe Petain was not an elected leader. He was ambassador to Spain before being recalled to France in hopes of increasing morale in the country (HPP was a WWI hero). After Paul Reynaud, the French Prime Minister, resigned, he was appointed to Reynaud's post and quickly gave himself dictatorial powers. Roosevelt recognized his government for a while during the war, but Churchill was quick to back De Gaulle's opposition government. I wouldn't say the Vichy government was internationally recognized.

So neither of the two possible conditions apply to Vichy France and its hard to see why, under Jason's definition of a soldier, la Resistance freedom fighters would be called terrorists.

Ask the Palestinian's, who is your leader; I think they'll answer Arafat. Ask the world, who is the legitimate leader of Palestine and the Palestinian people; it'll answer Arafat. Ask Arafat if Hamas, or others of their ilk, are his or Palestine’s Army, I think he'll answer no. Now, why aren't Hamas/etc terrorists?
  Republican's lie... yep, and so do Democrats and Independents
Would it be unkind of me to mention that the three "virtuous" conservatives mentioned in the article (Limbaugh, Schlessinger, and Bennett) were not, in fact, appointed to any post by now president Bush. These are conservative pundits that happen to be hypocrites... Perhaps, in Britain, were the Guardian finds its home, the government appoints mouth pieces and the entire social discourse is controlled from the top, but here in America that doesn't happen. There is no connection between the actions of these people and the present administration.

What exactly was the point of this "special report"? If its to point out that the human race contains hypocrites and liars, then I have its support. If it attempts to show a special relationship between Republicans and hypocrisy by mentioning Bush's name in the same article as the accused three, then I can only point out that human nature is not partisan.

No matter how much Liberals want to think otherwise, Republicans are humans. Humans lie.
  fun with statistics
I'm sure I'm going to get this wrong, but here's what I want to do: I want to see what my percentile would be if I was comparing myself to the GRE taking folks (so I can compare my math test with my score in the GRE practice test last weekend). I'm going to assume that my math class' normal distribution is shifted by 20 percentage points to the left in relation to the distribution for the math section of the GRE. This would because my class is not representative of folks headed to grad school. You'd expect that the population at large (i.e. those not headed to grad school) would, on average, score worse than folks headed to grad school. Also, I'll just assume that the distribution curves look similar (equal stdev).

Anyway, the average on my recent test (see previous post) was 45% and the standard deviation was 20%. Given the above, I'll assume that students headed to grad school would have averaged 65% and because I don't know what I'm doing, I'll assume that the standard deviation is exactly the same. NOTE: it may not be fair to assume that the deviation would be similar in the two samples as my class may consist of some students that are going to grad school (high scorers as a group) and the rest aren't (low scorers as a group). Intuitively, I feel like this would increase the spread in the scores. But anyway...

I scored 2.6 standard deviations above average which is the 99th percentile. Where would this put me on the 'headed to grad school' distribution curve? About the 95th percentile...

Look, I have to make myself feel better. I'm taking another practice GRE this weekend. We'll see how I do.
I scored 97% on my first Calculus test. It was on plain old integration of single variable functions... itegration by substitution and by parts, etc. I scored the highest in the class and the second highest was 76%.
  I've seen that face before, that face that I see in the mirror
Man in the looking glass, have no regrets
The man who's wise never forgets
That life is worth living if once in a while
You can look in that looking glass and smile
- Frank Sinatra
  But why is it important?
"We now know that there is no such thing as race, that humans are biologically one species; we know that an African is likely to have more in common genetically with a European thousands of miles away than with a neighboring African. Yet this knowledge has not deterred the racism many Europeans continue to harbor toward Africans, nor the wariness Africans harbor toward Europeans."

If race is such a chimera, why would it need to persist as a concept that divides us. Surely, both 'harboring' racist and 'wary' minorities would find that they don't have much separating them if they're convienced of the truth of the non-existence of race. If I had it my way, we'd be shouting from the rooftops that there is no scientific evidence for anything resembling race. "ITS NOT REAL! BELIEVE THE WORLD IS FLAT? THEN BELIEVE IN RACE. OTHERWISE, GET OVER IT!"

Perhaps I'm being logical rather than visceral; a dichotomy I'm not sure I understand. Logic is as innate to humans as is their tendancy to distrust and vilify 'others'. We just don't like 'others'. Of course, people have more than skin color (the least meaningless definition of race) to help them define 'otherness'. There are many examples in history: religion, territory, language, economic standing and many others have all created divisions between people. None of these differences couldn't be overcome.

Also, why do we keep talking about 'race' and racism when the real issue is 'black vs. white'. The 'race issue' has been overcome by many groups in the US: the Irish during the turn of the 20th century and Asians now. Latino's also don't show as much fission between them and the rest of society. Only the 'black community' persists in its need to maintain its distance from the rest of us.

Of course, I'm not attempting to deny anyone their right to congregate with any group that they see fit. I'm simply saying that the race issue, the black vs white issue, persists because of racism AND the strong desire of the members of the 'black community' to remain separate from the rest of society. You can't get rid of the race issue without getting rid of BOTH of these causes.

Oppisition to prop 54 and "racial conservativism" stems from fear of losing a sense of 'black community' and not from any grounded attempts to reduce or eliminate racism.

Where I grew up, there was a Portuguese festival and Danish festival every year. Each of those groups felt a strong sense of community. My family are Swiss imigrants, but there were no Swiss festivals. Without my own festival, I paricapated in Danish dancing at their festival (much to my Grandfather's chagrin). While these groups keep distinct identies (both internally, the festivals and various clubs, and externally, we used to make pretty raw jokes about the intelligence of 'Portagese'), there were no meaningful divisions between those two groups and any of the other members of my small town. They were able to keep a sense of community without making themselves outsiders. What stops the black community from doing the same? Why isn't there a Black festival and why can't I do some Black dancing?

  Theists aren't as rational as they think
Dinesh D'Souza makes the argument that atheists ignore Kant's observation that there are limits to our ability to understand reality. Essentially, we're limited by our five senses, but there is no reason to believe that there are not aspects of reality that are invisible to our senses. Therefore, there may be aspects of reality unknowable by us humans. Fine.

To me, this argument shows that there is room for god and spirituality (and Santa Claus and the Easter bunny), but it does not prove god's existence. To say something may exist is not to prove its existence.

Anyway, I don't think 'brights' are actively trying to disprove the existence of god. It would be convenient to do so, as we wouldn't spend as much time defending our POV. We just insist on a positive proof of his/her/its existence. Until we get it, we'll busy ourselves observing with the only senses we got.
  Starwars sends the wrong message, I'm afraid
I hate relativism. Can't we just hate the terrorist in peace with having to consider their POV? Geez.

That reminds me. Professor DeLong wrote a post the other day, a "non-socratic dialog", that got me wondering about:
- the Pareto frontier
- the social welfare function, which can take forms that are distribution neutral or not (which makes me wonder about the conclusion of the dialog) I'm not sure if this will be much help.
- what the hell is argmax
- and why the profs post relates to above... why is making a claim to be neutral on distribution a position of relativism?
  gre practice test I - results
I just plain ran out of time in the math section and my scores show:
Verbal - 620 (88 %tile)
Quantitative - 640 (62 %tile)

My GRE scores from 6 years ago were:
Verbal - 570 (78 %tile)
Quantitative - 760 (84 %tile)

These results and the change in scores tell me a couple things:
- My vocabulary has grown over the years
- I've gotten worse at taking tests (I only answered 2/3rds of the math questions)

For my test on the 11th of next month, I'll spend most of my time reviewing math. During the practice test, I spent a lot of time deriving geometric short-hands like: the hypotenuse of a right triangle with 60 and 30 degree angles is 2x, while the other two sides are √3x and x.

UPDATE: In reviewing the essays, I'm pretty embarassed by the response to the letter to the editor. Did I write that?!
  gre practice test I part 2
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument.

The following appeared as a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

"Five years ago, we residents of Morganton voted to keep the publicly owned piece of land known as Scott Woods in a natural, undeveloped state. Our thinking was that, if no shopping centers or houses were built there, Scott Woods would continue to benefit our community as a natural parkland. But now that our town planning committee wants to purchase the land and build a school there, we should reconsider this issue. If the land becomes a school site, no shopping centers or houses can be built there, and substantial acreage would probably be devoted to athletic fields. There would be no better use of land in our community than this, since a large majority of our children participate in sports, and Scott Woods would continue to benefit our community as natural parkland."

The letter makes the argument that the land set aside was set aside to provide value to the community as a whole. To the author, the land as "natural, undeveloped" is as equal value to the community as turning the land into a school and athletic fields.

It is unclear why this equivalence is made which would have made the argument better made. Without providing the reason behind the equivalence, we are able to make similar statements that I don't the author would agree, but would be just as valid has her arguement. For example, making Scott Woods into shopping center would be just as good as keeping it natural because the shopping center could be used by the whole community and we would have increased sales tax receipts.

The community has a choice between three options: development, school or a natural park. The problem is that the author gives us no sense of why keeping the Woods in the natural state or converting it to a school provides value to the community. If we could quantify the value, it may be a good start. For example, homes near Scott Woods are twice the value of similar homes in neighboring towns, but if we added a school it would triple the value.

What is inherently worse about shopping centers and houses versus schools or natural parks? You can make an aesthetic claim or an economic argument. Aesthetically, you can order the three options (park, school, or development) in aesthetic order. A natural park is much more appealing that a parking lot and boxed stores, but a school is only slightly less appealing then a park. Economically, you can do the same. A school is a long-term capital expentiture that will give its return far in the future, the shopping mall would give quick economic returns, but the park may provide incendental returns (but perhaps you can find clever economic value to the park as in the example with property values above).

The next step in the argument would be to weight aesthetic concerns against economic. Which is more important beauty or money and how much more important? This discussion will go a long way to determine which of the three options the community should choose. If, for example, you feel that economics are much more important than aesthetics, you might choose the development plan.

This is my suggestion for making the arguement the author makes. First layout the aesthetic qualities of each options, pointing out that schools are not as bad as shopping malls. Next, evaluate each option for its economic value. Hopefully, this would show that schools have economic value. Last, have a discussion of why the mix of aesthetic qualities and economic value means that a school is the best option for the site. In essance, my advise would be to show that a school as as much or more value to the community than a natural park.
  gre practice test I
Present your perspective on the issue below, using relevant reasons and/or examples to support your views.

"The media (books, film, music, television, for example) tend to create rather than reflect the values of a society."

The media have a large impact on the values in society, but they do no create values. Society is a marketplace of values and the market determines which values will survive and which will not. The media particapate in this marketplace, as do other instruments of culture. For the media are not the only mechanism for which culture and values are transmitted.

However, a case can be made that the media are responsible for creating values in society. This view suggests a top-down view of society were the few have a strong enfluence on the many. The average person in society, like a sponge, soaks up values and has little role in creating them. This seems plausable because there are seemingly so few examples of ordinary people particapating in the creation of culture. For the most part, people in society go to work, raise their families and, generally, are consumers of culture created by other people.

Television is a good example. The content in that medium is created and produced by a few and it is consumed by millions. The show 'friends' has, perhaps, a few dozen principles that create it and it has tens of millions of viewers. You have to believe that 'friends' has a huge impact on the views and values of its audience. You can get the same analysis when you inspect most other media. Each is owned and controlled by a few and consumed by the masses. The characterization is that the masses have no say in what is produced and they have no mechanism to actually produce anything. The internet seems to be the only exception, but even it, it can be argued, is headed towards consolodation of control and eventually it will follow the same pattern.

This view has two flaws. First, the media are not the only way that values are distributed in society. If it were, the case for top-down control would be more likely as society would have no other options for getting its values. Second, the media industry is very diverse and it is an extremely competitive marketplace and can't represent a jaguernaut, forcing its values on an unsuspecting society. If a particular book, film, song or television show attempts to force audiences into subscribing to unsavory values, the audience wouldn't buy that book, film, song or television show.

The media are one of many ways for values to be distributed in society. There are families, schools, interpersonal relationships. Local, state and federal politics, while using the media as an instument of its art, also live separately from the media as a means of values creation. All these alternatives to media are just as important in the creation and dissemenation of values. In this larger view of the way values are created and dissemenated, the media become one actor in a larger play.

With all these options, members of society have many chooses when it comes to consuming values. Even within the media there is a large variety of values. There are lots of choices. The media industry today can only be described as a competitive marketplace and lots of options. A competitive marketplace has many options and there is no person or group telling the particapants in that marketplace what they do and do not have to buy. By choosing one medium over another or by choosing one cultural artifact (i.e. book, film, etc) over another, the simple consumer is a powerful force in that marketplace. They are determining which media and cultural artifacts are successful. 'Friends' is popular because the consumers of that show choose it over others. They would not have choosen a show that doesn't reflect their values and what they care about.

In economic terms, they are determining the demand curve for various values. Assuming a perfectly competitive market, the demand has just as much to do with the final output of the market (i.e. values) as the supply.

In summary, the media do not create values. They are a part of a larger process of values creation, a process that exists in a healthy exchange of ideas in society between suppliers (of which the media are but one of many) and consumers.

  Con te partirò
Con te partirò.
Paesi che non ho mai
veduto e vissuto con te,
adesso si li vivrò.
Con te partirò
su navi per mari
che, io lo so,
no, no, non esistono più,
con te io li rivivrò.
Con te partirò
su navi per mari
che, io lo so,
no, no, non esistono più,
con te io li rivivrò.
Con te partirò.

Io con te.
  Oddly Unclear on the Concept

I'll keep that title from Brad De Long's blog.  He is oddly unclear of concept of the process of discovery.  How does he expect Bush to have taken action on an issue of which the seriousness of it wasn't clear until recently?  True, the facts of what happened between White House staffers and Mr. Novak haven't changed since two months ago, but the label of the events has.  For example, in July I was a aware that Novak had outted Plame's wife, but I certainly didn't know that it was a felony to do so and I certainly wasn't aware that the white house was the one that was doing the outting.  If the president knew those things, he would be to blame.  What De Long is oddly unclear of is that the events aren't new, but the characterization and the context of the allegations, are.

The Washington Times has an editorial that is oddly unclear on the concept of timing:

Out the outers -- now - The Washington Times: Editorials/OP-ED: The outing of Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife as an undercover CIA agent... would be contemptuous... not to say felonious. As former President Bush said... "insidious traitors." We fully agree... what is beyond doubt is that "two senior administration officials" did the deed.... The president has days, not weeks or months, to snap into action. He does not need a Justice Department investigation.... Yesterday, his spokesman reiterated that there's no need for an internal investigation, while the president said, "I want to know the truth"... too passive a stance. He has all the authority he needs to question his staff, seize phone logs, e-mails and vacation schedules. He must do all in his power, immediately, to identify and fire the malefactors -- whomsoever they may be. There is a need for an internal investigation -- now....

[T]his is beyond politics. It is a simple matter of right or wrong. And it is precisely at such moments that the moral and ethical measure of a statesmen is taken...

But the White House knows nothing more now about the Plame Affair than it knew at the end of July. The moment for an internal investigation was two months ago. The moral and ethical measure of these statesmen has already been taken.

[Semi-Daily Journal]
Professor, are the ancient Greeks to be blamed for not discovering cellular structures because microscope hadn't been invented yet?  I mean, the cells were always there.  What immoral, unethical idiots those Greeks were!
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