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Showing posts from May, 2012

The drone madness continues

I've been feeling a bit lazy lately. So I'll just let this largely speak for itself. Here is how the Obama administration keeps track of the effects of its drone:

"It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent," the newspaper reports. "Counter-terrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good."
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This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama's trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in …

Mad Men

Spoilers for tonights episode (May 27th) will follow.

This is the first season I've watched live. I watched the entire series up to this season in the months leading up to it and I've really it and the current season. Tonight's episode might have been one of the better ones I've seen. Again, spoilers to follow.

I was really sad for Joan. Basically, she whored herself out for her future financial wellbeing, and maybe for the sake of the company. I think it was more for herself given the scene where her mom tells her the fridge needs to be repaired and the previous scene a few episodes ago where she turned down money from Rodger. I was sad because for the most part Joan is a strong headed person. She generally doesn't take people's shit. But sometimes she conforms to the roles her society expects of her.

She married the asshole doctor despite the fact he was an asshole. She sleeps with Rodger but doesn't let him control her. But she also has his kid. Though…

Nullification and state's rights

The Iowa GOP must feel threatened by the Republicans in Tennessee for challenging them for the title of the most extreme and moronic group of conservatives. TP shows some of the ridiculous crap in their platform. This one stuck out to me:

We support constitutional state sovereignty including nullification of federal oversteps.

We disagree with Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton as “settled law.” Under the Tenth amendment, these Supreme Court decisions have no authority over the states.
Even as anti-federalist and strong supporters of state's rights, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson balked at the idea of nullification, which is the idea that a state can ignore a federal law. Jefferson was more open to the idea than Madison, having wrote favorably of the concept of nullification on at least one instance. But Madison was successful in talking Jefferson down from the idea. And while any flirtation with nullification was probably partly rooted in their personal philosophies, I think a lo…

Why I don't use marijuana

And one of the many reasons it should be legal comes from this good point from Penn Jellette:

Do we believe, even for a second, that if Obama had been busted for marijuana -- under the laws that he condones -- would his life have been better? If Obama had been caught with the marijuana that he says he uses, and 'maybe a little blow'... if he had been busted under his laws, he would have done hard fucking time. And if he had done time in prison, time in federal prison, time for his 'weed' and 'a little blow,' he would not be President of the United States of America. He would not have gone to his fancy-ass college, he would not have sold books that sold millions and millions of copies and made millions and millions of dollars, he would not have a beautiful, smart wife, he would not have a great job. He would have been in fucking prison, and it's not a goddamn joke. People who smoke marijuana must be set free. It is insane to lock people up.
The likelihood th…

Using social science in public policy

This article on the NYT discusses how reliable social sciences are compared to natural sciences and the implications of that difference for how we form public policy. Here is the main point about the comparison:

Social sciences may be surrounded by the “paraphernalia” of the natural sciences, such as technical terminology, mathematical equations, empirical data and even carefully designed experiments. But when it comes to generating reliable scientific knowledge, there is nothing more important than frequent and detailed predictions of future events. We may have a theory that explains all the known data, but that may be just the result of our having fitted the theory to that data. The strongest support for a theory comes from its ability to correctly predict data that it was not designed to explain.

While the physical sciences produce many detailed and precise predictions, the social sciences do not. The reason is that such predictions almost always require randomized controlled ex…

Follow up on torture and leadership

I talked about the relationship between the two in this post from last week. Here is Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who interrogated some accused terrorists, talking about Jose Rodriguez's claims about torture:

Is there a cultural difference between the F.B.I. and C.I.A. that played into decisions about torture and civil liberties? As Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker, you also learned, after 9/11, that failures in intelligence—particularly in the investigation of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, which you led—may have cost us a chance to stop the attacks. Is the situation better?

As we discussed, there’s no difference between the views of the C.I.A. and F.B.I. professionals in the field, who know what works and what doesn’t. My colleagues and I in the F.B.I., however, were fortunate to have leadership that shared our views, with the Assistant Director of the F.B.I., Pat D’Amuro, saying to Director Robert Mueller, “We don’t do that,” and Mueller agreeing. Many of my colleagues i…

Today in Republicans don't understand science

At least this time it's something that isn't too easy to wrap your head around:

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes.

“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation.

“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

In fact, the randomness of the survey is precisely what makes the survey scientific, statistical experts say.
Randomness is part of what ensures that you aren't taking too big much of your sample from a specific location or group of people, which would skew the data. Not understanding this isn't the worst example of R…

Is holding hands gateway sexual activity?

That's the question Politifact is asking in light of another really stupid law passed by the Tennessee legislature. I'll save you the time of clicking this link for their analysis with one of my own.

No, you fucking morons. For the vast majority of people, breathing is a gateway to sexual activity. We are biologically designed (not intelligently designed, for you morons in the TN legislature) to want to have sex. That desire may cause us to want to hold hands with someone we want to have sex with. But the act of holding hands is not causing us to have sex. So once again, the Tennessee legislature displays its shockingly horrible understanding of logic and science. And they continue to display the fact that the only gateway activity that is harming the people of TN is Republican lawmakers getting a cup of coffee to start their days filled with making stupid laws.

Obama touts his conservative principles

Here is the chart that is being displayed by Obama and some liberals as a good thing:


So you responded to a recession in which there was a lack of demand by not spending more than what we were spending when you got into office. And that's supposed to be a good thing? I think what this is trying to do is say to Republicans and moderates, "Look, you're wrong about me being a typical tax and spend liberal". I hope they don't actually think this is a good thing. I hope they realize they should have spent more.

But since I can't get in their heads I'll just criticize the strategy behind presenting this as a good thing. You aren't going to convince conservatives that you are a decent politician by showing them this. They don't care. And you aren't going to convince enough moderates to vote for you using this information. First of all, they don't pay attention to politics. So they probably won't ever see this chart. Second of all, there prob…

Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23

I'm loving this show. It's not the most unique concept I've seen. But I'm not aware of many shows like it on tv. It's a sitcom about late 20s to early 30s people who live in NY. But it's got a different tone and the jokes come fast but without force. Each episode has a fairly set plot with a certain theme. But it seems fresh. And I think that's because of the aforementioned pace and also the writing and the actors.

The leads are Krysten Ritter and Dreama Walker. Dreama plays June, who had moved to NY to take a job on Wall Street. She meets Ritter's character, Chloe, who is renting out a room in her apartment. Despite being scammed out of deposit money by Chloe, losing her job, and being cheated on by her fiance, June decides to stick it out and stay with Chloe. That's the setup. And the general episode thus far has been about how the two very different roommates affect each other's lives. Ritter is fantastic as the bitch, as is Walker as the sl…

LeBron takes the blame again

Who had the better game?:

Player A: 10-22 FG 0-4 3PT 8-13 FT 9 RB 5 AS 6 ST 0 BLK 2 TO 28 PTs

Player B: 8-22 FG 0-2 3PT 8-10 FT 6 RB 4 AS 1 ST 2 BLK 3 TO 24 PTs

Player A shot more efficiently overall, rebounded more, had more assists, more steals, less turnovers and more points. The only area that Player B did better is in free throw efficiency and blocks. So I think it's fairly clear that Player A played better than Player B. Given that, who would you say deserves more blame for the team losing the game?

Before we answer that, let's stipulate that Player A is Lebron and B is Dwayne Wade. And Lebron missed two free throws very late in the game that would have possibly won the game. I don't know how of a site that does win probability added for the NBA like Advanced NFL Stats does. But even with the missed free throws I can't imagine Lebron should get much more blame than Wade. Actually, I"m not sure either should get much blame. They both played pretty well.…

Beaning, torture, and leadership

I was just watching Pardon the Interruption on espn and the topic was beaning. Ryan Braun got hit with a pitch and fearing retaliation, the Mets manager pulling David Wright from the game. The whole unwritten rule thing in baseball where you have to retaliate if a pitcher is shown up or if the other team throws at your guy for some reason is stupid. Since it's been going on for decades it obviously doesn't work. Not to mention it puts players at risk of injury. Part of the reason it continues is because the people in leadership positions in every organization either allow it to happen or actively encourage it to happen. That's also the reason torture occurs and why political leaders should be held accountable for it.

Baseball players are (likely) taught from at least the time they get to the minors within an organization the unwritten rules of the game involving when you throw at a batter and when to expect to be thrown at. Or if I'm wrong and they aren't taught, …

Republican obstruction

I've read about this in a few different places lately. This post at xpostfactoid does a nice job summarizing those pieces. I won't quote each summary. The basic story is that the Republican party is so extreme that it forces them to obstruct everything the other party wants and to get rid of anyone who doesn't agree with their strict dogma. Apparently it started in the 90s and now has reached it's zenith under Democratic control of the executive and the senate, as evidenced by the fact that anything Dems pass gets basically no Rep votes and that Republicans in the house refused to raise the debt ceiling, which is something they had never not done.

I think that's all pretty accurate and nothing in the explanations as to why it's happening strikes me as wrong or overstated. But one response in the link above that I want to highlight is from David Frum, a Bush administration official who presumably has a decent handle on the workings of the party and it's sup…

How I Met Your Mother: Barney's bride

This post will contain spoilers for the two episode season finale.

My initial reaction to Robin being the bride at Barney's wedding is this is why you don't drag a series out just because it's getting you good ratings. In the first episode of the finale Robin tells Ted how dumb he is for pursuing unavailable women, herself being one of them because she told him from day 1 that she didn't want to get married and have kids. We've been reminded of this by Robin on a very consistent basis. And now it looks like they are going to spend an entire season undoing Barney's engagement to Quinn and coming up with excuses for Robin changing her mind.

You could kind of see this coming, at least in retrospect. The first episode of this season showed Ted being called for by Barney's bride. The bride would only call for Ted if she really knew him well. And they haven't established any sort of relationship with Quinn and Ted this season. So it didn't make sense tha…

Grizzlies lose series to Clippers

Yesterday's game was brutal, both in how it was played and the outcome. We played so poorly that we probably should have lost by more than we did. As a team we shot 32.5% from the field and 0% from three on 13 attempts. Mike Conley was 2-13 (I'm not sure if it's true, but someone on twitter said he had the flue). Zach Randolph was 3-12. Blake Griffin was about as bad and Randolph offensively. So that about cancels out, if not giving an edge to Zach because of rebounds. But Chris Paul, while not great, was much better than Conley. I think that was the biggest difference.

Our starters played at least as well, arguably better than theirs. Though Rudy Gay was bad in the 4th quarter, as was the whole team throughout the series. For some reason, they just don't run their offense the same way in the 4th as they do the rest of the game. Obviously they need to figure this out in the offseason.

But aside from the difference between Conley and Paul, the other deciding factor wa…

Foreign policy hypocrisy: Bahrain edition

Juan Cole has the details about our arms sale to the nation:

The United States government has blasted Syria over its repression of its popular movement for democracy, placing a series of sanctions on Syrian leaders.

The US has been virtually silent about the dirty little police state that is Bahrain and its outrageous tactics, such as trying physicians for so much as treating wounded street protesters. The US has not placed sanctions on Bahrain and has done no more than tut-tut the government violence.

It is now worse. The US is now selling Bahrain Coast Guard and F-16 jet equipment.

Just ask yourself if the US would sell coast guard and F-16 equipment to Syria today.

This unnecessary and pernicious arms sale has only one purpose, and it isn’t to beef up Bahrain’s defenses. It is to reassure the Sunni king and his uncle, the prime minister, that the US forgives them for their jack boot tactics and will continue to support them.

There is no difference between the US acting this way and …

Community and Parks & Rec renewed

I want to thank NBC for giving us another season of each, even if it's a shortened one. For some reason these shows don't get big ratings. So it probably would have been easy to move on and cut your losses. But aside from there probably being some sort of financial benefit from renewing them (dvd sales I would guess), I'd like to think that some people at NBC love these shows as much as the fans do and have invested as much as we have in them and their characters.

Parks and Recreation's seasons finale last night was a really nice reminder of why we love the show. We got the result of the election and along the way got funny and emotionally satisfying moments from each character, not to mention the awesomeness of Ron Swanson: "You drive. I've had 11 whiskies." It was good enough to where if it hadn't have been renewed it would have been a good sendoff. Now hopefully since they know they have at least another 13 episodes they can give us a great sendof…

House votes to prohibit political science funding

Having first hand experience working on research in the field this obviously pisses me off:

The Flake amendment Henry wrote about appears to have passed the House last night with a 218-208 vote. The amendment prohibits funding for NSF’s political science program, which among others funds many valuable data collection efforts including the National Election Studies. No other program was singled out like this. The vote was essentially party line, with only 5 Democrats voting in favor and 27 Republicans against.
As with everything that Republicans talk about when it comes to spending and the budget, this is complete bullshit. Beyond the merits, the funding for political science in extremely small. It's not sending the deficit into a spiral. It's so small it's barely even there. And on the merits, this shows some of the important things the funding provides.

One of the examples given on the link is the CIRI human rights dataset. I worked with Dr. Richards, one of the originato…

NC invokes its state's rights

If you follow this blog you know that I hate the states' rights argument. Well, North Carolina provided a glaring reminder of how dumb it is to leave certain things to states by passing an amendment to it's constitution making gay marriage illegal.

As expected, North Carolinians voted in large numbers on Tuesday for an amendment that would ban same-sex marriages, partnerships and civil unions, becoming the 30th state in the country and the last in the South to include a prohibition on gay marriage in the state constitution.
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“We are not anti-gay — we are pro-marriage,” Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of the executive committee for the pro-amendment Vote for Marriage NC, said at a victory rally in Raleigh, where supporters ate pieces of a wedding cake topped by figures of a man and a woman. “And the point, the whole point is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults.”
Putting aside the states' rights argum…

Two lessons for the Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies are down 2-1 in their first round playoff series. Instead of dissecting every game I just want to focus on two things that I think go a long way towards explaining the two losses and what would make it much more likely that we win three of the next four games.

The first thing is that it's easier to make a shot the closer you are to the basket. There are generally two ways you get close to the basket and thus increase your chances to make a shot, and thus increase your chances of winning. One is that you dribble around a defender and to the basket. The other is that you go stand near the basket and have someone pass the ball to you. The Grizzlies are very capable of doing both of those things. Yet for some reason, especially in the 4th quarter, they don't focus on doing them and instead settle for more difficult shots further away from the basket. Focusing on getting closer to the basket will go a long way in improving our chances to win.

The second less…

Atheist: why not Agnostic?

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins claim they aren't atheist, but agnostic.

So, how does Dawkins square his public persona with his lack of certitude? Easily. No matter how strongly Dawkins is associated with atheism, he is first and foremost a scientist. Therefore, "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other," he claims.

Similarly, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson claims the title "scientist" above all other "ists." And yet, Tyson says he is "constantly claimed by atheists." So where does Tyson stand? He tells Big Think: “Neil deGrasse, widely claimed by atheists, is actually an agnostic.”
To a certain extent they are correct, that as a scientist, which is how I look at the issue, it's best to say that there isn't yet any evidence that a god or gods exist but that in and of itself doesn't disprove the hypothesis. And really I don't have much of a problem with not moving beyond that and then declar…

What's important about "normal"?

The word normal is often used to either say something is pleasantly common or to defend something by pointing out that while it may not be pleasant, it's common, at least among a certain group. I don't think the strict definition carries much of a value judgement with it. In strict terms I view it mostly in terms of a statistical term, similar to the word average. I don't completely object to making a value judgement when using the word to describe something. But I would only use it as a starting point from which further discussion is necessary.

Because of it's limitations, I find it troubling when the term is used in obscenity cases. Here's an example:

One of the Miller prongs asks how the work would seem to “the average person, applying contemporary community standards.” So what, King asked the jury, would your neighbors think of Hollywood Scat Amateurs #10? Would they find it “normal”?
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As a documentary filmmaker, I’m essentially a First Amendment absolutist.…

The Avengers

This post will contain spoilers. So go see the movie already.

I've seen it twice now and I had a lot of fun both times. I'm really proud of Joss Whedon for making a good movie and one that looks to be extremely successful. What I hope is that the film's success leads to giving more leeway to Joss. I think they let him do a lot of what he wanted. He did get to kill someone. But he didn't go very dark. Granted, this is not Batman. This is a group of people who don't exist in the real world. So you just can't go to the same emotional depths that you can with a Batman movie. But you can give it a little more focus on character rather than plot. And I think that was the one way this movie could have been better. And that is Joss' strength.

Aside from what I hope for in the future, I think he did a good job with a difficult task. Every character had their moment. Black Widow was a nice change of pace to an otherwise all male cast, also aside from Agent Hill who…

WTF have they been teaching in law school?

You're weekly reminder from Glenn Greenwald about how out of whack the rule of law is in this country:

Yesterday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the argument of the Obama DOJ that John Yoo is — needless to say — fully immune from any and all liability for having authorized the torture of Jose Padilla, on the ground that the illegality of Yoo’s conduct was not “beyond debate” at the time he engaged in it. Everything I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the identical shielding of Donald Rumsfeld by federal courts and the Obama DOJ from similar claims applies to yesterday’s ruling, and The New York Times has a good editorial today condemning this ruling as “misguided and dangerous.”

In sum, this yet again underscores that of all the American institutions that have so profoundly failed in the wake of 9/11 to protect the most basic liberties — Congress, both political parties, the establishment media, the Executive Branch, the DOJ specifically — none has been quite as disgracef…

My new favorite baseball player

I knew that Brandon McCarthy had changed the way he pitched in order to take advantage of the knowledge of statistics that he had. He studied the research the saber community had done which basically said that groundballs were good and fly balls were bad and changed how he pitched in order to get more groundballs. For a stats-inclined person like me that was enough to make me like Brandon. Given that, it's not surprising he plays for the A's, the original Moneyball team who I root for because of that fact.

But now that I've seen this, Brandon is officially my new favorite player:

Oakland A’s righthander Brandon McCarthy has had just about enough of Kiss Cam and the anti-gay overtones he believes it conveys.

He took to Twitter recently after a Kiss Cam session ended with the camera focused on two men. He didn’t see any humor in the gag, and he pointed out that no real attempt is made to include gay and lesbian couples.

McCarthy’s tweet: "They put two guys on the 'K…

Joss Whedon interview

As you can see from my blog's title, I love Joss Whedon. So I'm really happy that not only is his movie, The Avengers, is coming out on friday, but that he is getting a lot of press because of it. He deserves to be a superstar and hopefully The Avengers makes that happen. So if you weren't planning on seeing The Avengers, or having seen The Cabin in the Woods, I highly encourage you to go see it. I doubt you'll be disappointed. Also, if you aren't familiar with Joss check out this interview with GQ. Here's something I didn't know about his career:

Regardless: It is a true there-is-no-God injustice that it's taken this long for somebody to give Whedon, whose entire oeuvre is a study in how to make comic-bookish subject matter live and breathe realistically and emotionally on-screen, a big-ticket superhero movie to direct. He's come close, a few times. Most recently there was Wonder Woman. He was going to write and direct it for Joel Silver. The archet…

Reminder on the deficit

Republicans don't care about it. The always informative Jonathan Bernstein explains:

So let me get this straight. Republicans are currently blocking the extension of lower student loan interest rates because they insist on cutting a health care fund to pay for its cost. But when it comes to the Bush tax cuts, they continue to believe that no budget offsets are necessary to pay for them.
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Here’s how the GOP War on Budgeting actually works. If Republicans are seeking increased spending on one of their priorities (such as defense), or are looking to cut taxes and decrease revenues, there’s no need (in their view) to offset either; whatever they’re demanding is simply an urgent national priority, end of story.

If, however, Democrats want a tax cut (such as on the payroll tax) or spending increase on one of their priorities, then suddenly it must be paid for — by more spending cuts in programs that Dems favor, which Republicans are always for, regardless of the budget situation. That…

Romney responds with more foreign policy chest-thumping

Yesterday I posted about Obama adopting conservative foreign policy rhetoric in order to tout his "accomplishment" in killing bin Laden. Mitt Romney, in further demonstrating that he doesn't have a fucking clue what he is talking about, got to the heart of why Obama and liberals feel the need to partake in the ridiculous chest-thumping when they think they actually did something right on foreign policy:

Mitt Romney informs us that the raid that took out Osama bin Laden one year ago was no big deal, because "even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."
I'm not sure exactly how it came about. But Carter is the poster child for liberal ineffectiveness on foreign policy for conservatives. And it's not just about a perception regarding poor foreign policy decisions. It's about the manner in which those decisions were made, and also about how Reagan presented his policies. Basically, it's the belief that Reagan and his policies were strong, bold, an…