"Looks like we're not 0, 1 and 1 anymore!"

The title or this post is, of course, taken from a line delivered by Clint Eastwood in the penultimate scene of Heartbreak Ridge. Which movie, as I'm sure you recall, recounts the triumphant American invasion of Grenada.

In light of recent news, I've been wondering if there have been any (major) films about America's triumphant victory in Panama. Anybody know of any?


"John McCain's foreign birth is not an issue in this campaign!"

Mr. McCain’s likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president and the happenstance of his birth in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 are reviving a musty debate that has surfaced periodically since the founders first set quill to parchment and declared that only a “natural-born citizen” can hold the nation’s highest office.

Almost since those words were written in 1787 with scant explanation, their precise meaning has been the stuff of confusion, law school review articles, whisper campaigns and civics class debates over whether only those delivered on American soil can be truly natural born. To date, no American to take the presidential oath has had an official birthplace outside the 50 states. |NY Times|

Holy crap!

This isn't going to go over well at Headquarters...

L Ron Hubbard plagiarized Scientology

Journal of a different Jim

Longtime Jason watchers will remember Jim's Journal, a sublime piece of Eastern wisdom reincarnated in the rude body of a 4-panel comic strip (note the K-State shoutout in the wikiped article!).

Well, this guy is removing Garfield from Garfield comics. And in the absence of the suck? It's... Jim!

Okay, it's not the same. But it feels right.


Barack Obama can do ANYTHING!!

Apparently the jury is still out on whether or not Barack Obama "shoots rainbows out of his butt" (quoting Jason there), but it has long been known that he does, in fact, smell like caramel.

In other news, the following is taken from "The Delegate Hub" portion of Hillary's website:

"FACT: Florida and Michigan should count, both in the interest of fundamental fairness and honoring the spirit of the Democrats' 50-state strategy."

Three thoughts to kick off the discussion:
1) "Florida and Michigan should count" doesn't strike me as a particularly fact-y statement.
2) I'm pretty sure I didn't hear any complaints from Hillary's campaign about the DNC's decision to not seat Michigan and Florida delegates until after she lost South Carolina.
3) If Hillary wins the nomination because she is awarded delegates from Michigan and Florida, I will not vote for her in the general election.

Not wrong, really... just premature

Since we lack data from the administrations of William Howard Taft or Warren Gamaliel Harding, however, it would probably be premature to declare Mr Bush the least-popular president ever.

From here. I think David Cross was the first person I heard actually say out loud that George Bush would be judged by history to be the worst president ever. We might not have to wait for history.


A little bit of awesome

This makes me happy for a variety of reasons, but I'm posting it here to show that I really do believe that crowdsourcing can work, even after badmouthing Intrade the other day.
But what I find most interesting about InnoCentive is its success rate. A study of InnoCentive led by researchers at Harvard Business School found that nearly 33 percent of the problems posted on the website were solved within the specified time frame. In other words, a disparate network of strangers and amateurs managed to solve problems that companies like Eli Lilly, General Electric and Procter and Gamble - companies with thousands of scientists and huge research budgets - had been unable to solve internally. Sometimes, the problems were solved within days.

By studying which particular problems were solved, and by tracking the efforts of "solvers" as they worked together in online "problem rooms," the Harvard researchers could see what, exactly, made some problems more solvable than others. The key was intellectual diversity. If a molecular biology problem just attracted molecular biologists, then it tended to remain intractable. But if that same problem managed to attract a molecular biologist, a biophysicist, an organic chemist and a statistician then, chances are, the problem tended to get solved. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that problem solvers were most effective at the margins of their fields of expertise. Chemists didn't solve chemistry problems: they solved molecular biology problems.


Privacy in a world bereft of privacy

See here for a story about how the EU and the EFF are concerned about the digital watermark technology that modern printers contain, which makes it possible to identify the exact printer that was used to produce a given document.

In general, I find these kinds of efforts to be quixotic, at best. My advice to the EFF and other privacy advocates is to give up fighting new technology, because it's a losing battle. Instead, we should spend our time and energy identifying and promoting policies that work in a world where 100 percent surveillance is the norm, because--like it or not--that is the world that is coming.

But in this case there is a real and immediate change that can be made to protect people in countries whose regiemes can and will use the watermarking technologies as instruments of repression. And that is something worth doing.


A blogger's plea

Do you, dear reader, have LexNex access? If so, could you dig up the Clinton campaign's statement in which they acceded to the DNC's decision to not seat Michigan and Florida delegates? Google (or my google-fu) is failing me.


In which I question the basis of everything

If you've read The Wisdom of Crowds, if you've read A New Kind of Science, if you run SETI @ home, or if you have ever had your mind expanded by any flavor of chaos theory, you, dear reader, are probably a sucker for the idea that new ways of looking at the word--and especially new ways of harnessing the awesome information-processing power that is all around us--is likely to yield spectacular predictive power. I know I am.

And you probably thought Intrade and it's ilk--which purport to predict all kinds of unrelated real-world results based on the mystic power of market forces--are a pretty nifty idea. I know I did.

But is there any evidence whatsoever that predictive markets actually predict future results better than any other kind of analysis? Every election cycle we hear about the predictive markets, but we never hear about the follow up. From the perspective of a media-watcher, this makes it the functional equivalent of some random town in some random state that has a 98 percent success rate of predicting the next president based on their local outcome. And, just like those stories, there is never any follow up.

So this year I've paid marginally (no market pun intended) more attention to the results of the predictive markets, and what have I seen is that the market has followed the trends rather than using the awesome aggregate intellect of their user base to anticipate any developments whatsoever. On Intrade, for example, this example sums it up for me:
Barack Obama’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination have risen sharply in the last four days, with Intrade on Monday giving him a 70 per cent probability of taking the prize against just 30 per cent for Hillary Clinton.

With the exception of a brief leap following his strong victory in the Iowa caucuses on 3 January, Mr Obama’s chances had been rated at substantially below 50 per cent all year.

If I weren't such a sucker, I could probably have predicted their prediction problem. You can follow the links from the wikiepd page for some more detailed and scientifically sound analysis of why predictive markets suck so very badly at what they are set up to do, but permit me oversimplify for rhetorical effect:

Predictive markets fail because, although they use the machinery of actual markets, they aren't actual markets in one crucial respect: There is nothing of actual value being bought or sold. It is simply a complex form of betting on outcomes (no wonder, given that Intrade was founded by Irish bookies). With the actual value of the underlying commodities and securities completely removed, the actual incentives for long-term, reasonable traders are likewise absent. What you are left with are day-traders and other nogoodniks whose activities, while more complex, are really no different than betting on a horse to show down at the track.

The same trouble is plaguing real markets, as well. We haven't managed to actually remove the underlying value of the commodities and companies being traded, but increasingly baroque financial packages have managed to obscure that value to such a degree that even very savvy financial institutions are being caught by surprise when they discover what is actually contained in many of their securities.

For markets to work well, at assigning value or predicting changes in value, there must be incentives for the long game, meaning that there must be real and transparent underlying value.

Not that I'm against gambling! But I do prefer straight up books to the hijinks at Intrade. I hear the odds on Obama are looking pretty good....


Multiple choice question

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday publicly endorsed the concept of ordering a pause in troop withdrawals from Iraq this summer after the departure of five extra brigades deployed last year as part of the force increase. |NY Times|

Three possible explanations:
  1. "...a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense.” (Gates)
  2. Things are deteriorating again in Iraq.
  3. Things would almost certainly deteriorate in Iraq were more troops to be withdrawn, and keeping the troops there over the summer will help prevent the Democrats from making the election a referendum on a failed war.

Which explanation seems best?


Time machine is as time machine does

Cynics often point out that if time travel was really possible, we would have been visited by people from the future.

However, Einstein's laws of physics suggest that time travel is only possible into the past as far as the point when the first time machine was invented.

This comes in an article which says that CERN may create a wormhole to the future in about three months.

I, for one, would like to welcome our new ant overlords...

Texas Democrats take note!

On March 5 March 4 we have a primary and a caucus. Some of the delegates are assigned by primary, some assigned by caucus.
On the same date, in the evening, precinct caucuses will be held across the state and to participate one has to have voted in the primary earlier in the day. [italics added]

I'm not sure I fully understand, but here is the article that Joshua sent me.

2/11: Updated to reflect the correct date, thank to Melissa. Stupid leap years!


Not really all that super, let alone duper Tuesday

It's looking more and more as if Clinton and Obama are going to more or less split the delegate pie today, perhaps with a slight edge going to Obama. Since Clinton went into the day with a little bit of a lead, chances are that tomorrow we'll wake up to a two person race that's more or less tied. So much for the maelstrom of clarification that we'd been led to expect.

What's also clear is that America's pundit class wasn't prepared for this eventuality. Shouldn't they be ready with analysis that tells me, avid consumer of political horse race news that I am, how Clinton and Obama are expected to fare in the primaries and caucuses coming up over the next few weeks? Do they even know which states are next on the calendar? I had to look it up.

...I've been trying to figure out for awhile what's so weird about the way that Obama says "Americans" and tonight I think I've figured it out. He pronounces the word the same way that Bush does. Or, at any rate, the same way that Will Farrell's Bush does.

...Obama projected to win Alaska with 60% of the vote counted. Currently he leads 176-66. If his numbers hold up, Obama could break the 250 vote barrier.

...294!!!!! Also, I've just realized that it's 2am and I'm still watching election returns even though a DVD of some episodes of The Wire came in the mail from netfix today.

I don't know if this is a reason to vote for Clinton or a reason to vote for Obama

I'm only aware of one rape committed by Bill Clinton

-- Michael Insane Douchebag Savage, overheard by me on talk radio today

Gax will also outlaw tree sap

Click for the rest of Wondermark!


Obligatory post-Super Bowl blog post

If you only read one blog post about the Super Bowl, they you're reading the wrong one. Correct yourself before you yourself are wrecked and follow this link to the good stuff.


A little something from the memory hole

In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world's largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.

Clinton has been endorsed for president by more than a dozen unions, according to her campaign Web site, which omits any reference to her role at Wal-Mart in its detailed biography of her.

Wal-Mart's anti-union efforts were headed by one of Clinton's fellow board members, John Tate, a Wal-Mart executive vice president who also served on the board with Clinton for four of her six years. |ABC News|

(via Lian)


Notes on the game

Am I the only person who's a little put off by the fact that The Disney Channel seems to be celebrating Super Bowl weekend by putting The Replacements in heavy rotation? Kids, if you're reading this, you should know that scabbing is WRONG.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the reason defenses have been able to take Randy Moss out of the game in the playoffs has as much to do with the weather as the scheme. The way I see it, the Patriots should be able to beat the double team by going over the top and letting Moss either run past the D or fight for a jump ball, but blizzard conditions effectively take away the downfield pass. Notably, it isn't expected to snow in Arizona tomorrow.

Lastly, I'm not quite sure how my Peyton Manning hatred cuts as a driver of rooting interest. Do I root for the Giants on the theory that a ring for Eli could send Peyton into a spiral of sibling rivalry inspired depression? Or, do I root against the Giants on the theory that any blot on a Manning's record is a blot on Peyton?
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