Thursday, July 31, 2003

Questions on the Terrorism Market

After reading some more about "idea futures" and DARPA's cancelled project, I've got some questions on how this might work/might-have-worked.

First, let's say the basic idea is that the market would trade in "contracts" that predicted particular events: al-Qaeda hits New York, Abu Mazen resigns as PA Prime Minister, bin Laden is found dead, etc. The contract would pay the holder if that event happens. Market members would buy and sell these contracts, so if, for example, there was evidence that the Palestinian Authority was about to have a major shake-up, bids would probably drive up the price of the "Abu Mazen resigns" contract. Our government would watch the market closely, looking for trends in the prices. The theory is that all of the individual actors in the market sort through the information available and in aggregate arrive at a conclusion, reflected in the price of the contract.

Because people would be putting real money at risk, there is a penalty for being wrong and a reward for being right. This is literally putting your money where your mouth is. This incentive would encourage better decision-making than when nothing is at risk to each individual actor. If a panel of experts is convened and asked their opinion on the chances of an event happening, there's no risk to them if they're wrong. But if they have money at stake, those who are more certain of their opinions will put more at risk than those who are less certain. So the market weights the opinions differently.


On to the questions, and my guesses at the answers:

1) Who would get to act in the market? Would it be as open as, say, the stock market?
I would think DARPA would want to limit the market to people they have screened, although they would want a large number of members, in order to get the best results.

2) Would the market be given any classified information, or would it have to act purely on public information?
DARPA's website mentioned this as a question to be decided. I imagine if members were screened carefully enough, perhaps they could be trusted with some classified data. Maybe a first version of the market could be tried with only public information, and then a later version could add classified data.

3) Would the state of the market be publicly known?
If classified data is used at all, I would expect the market to act in secret. But even if only public data is applied, there are problems to having "contract" prices reported in the newspaper. More on this below...

4) If the market is used to predict a terrorist attack, and then the government acts on the prediction and successfully prevents the attack, does the contract pay out?
This is a serious problem, but it might be overcome. Here's a scenario: Let's say the contract on "al-Qaeda attacks New York" sees a steep rise in price. The FBI is alerted that there might be an attack, and they manage to find the terrorist cell in the process of placing bombs in a building. The attack is thwarted. Well, then the attack doesn't take place, and the owner of the contract isn't paid. So he isn't rewarded for his valuable prediction, and he might drop out of the market. Furthermore, other members see this result and find less incentive to play the market in the future. Finally, the market loses its effectiveness.
This might be solved if the contract has clauses that it pays out if the event would have happened if the government had not prevented it. This is still tricky, because lots of plots have been uncovered in the early planning stages. Perhaps the contracts would have to be contingent on the terrorists getting fairly close to succeeding. Still, this is a sort of social Heisenberg case--knowledge of the state of the system distorts the outcome.

5) What if al-Qaeda tried to play the market?
First, this would assume that they managed to get into the market at all. This is one argument for screening members. But let's say they did get in. Then there are three possibilities:

5a) What if al-Qaeda tried to make money by successfully "predicting" their own attacks?
This is similar to the rumors that al-Qaeda had sold stocks short in New York right before September 11, 2001. In the new scenario, though... First of all, if they tried hard enough to buy a contract for, say, "bomb blows up the Brooklyn Bridge," that might drive up the price, alerting the government that an attack might occur. So they'd tip us off and lower the chance of success for their own operations. But perhaps they bought a contract for some obscure, unlikely-seeming event--something they could get cheaply and not drive up the price. Well, surely the government would pay attention to who gets paid--DARPA would be running the market, after all. The payee (any payee) would be checked out very carefully to see if he has any terrorist ties. So al-Qaeda would run the risk of leading us right to them.

5b) What if al-Qaeda tried to distort the market to throw us off?
Ahah! Reverse psychology! (Or something...) al-Qaeda decides to send us on wild goose chases by pushing up the prices of contracts for attacks they aren't going to make. Entirely possible. But this costs money. In order to convince the government to put a lot of resources into such a false lead, al-Qaeda would have to spend a lot of money to drive the price up. And the more people playing this market, the more money in the market, and the more al-Qaeda will have to spend to drive up a price on their own. Money they could be using to train bombers, build explosives, fund agents, etc.

5c) What if al-Qaeda only went for attacks that aren't being predicted by the market?
A reason to keep the state of the market secret. Still, their bigger attacks seem to have taken years of planning, so they might not be able to change plans quickly enough to keep up with the market. Aside from that, I haven't thought this part through in detail.

6) How would the market be started?
Would DARPA specify all of the contracts, or could individual actors propose some?
Would the United States make all of the contract payouts, or does that money come from trades in the market itself? (This shows my ignorance of how futures markets work.)
Would all of the contracts have the same payout value, or would more crucial events (New York being blown up) have a higher payout than less crucial ones (a ship is sunk)?

Long post. I'll come back with more later.

UPDATE: Some corrections from Robin Hanson. See post of August 5, above.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Terrorism and "Idea Futures"

I know that I'm chiming in late on this, but I'm becoming increasingly fascinated by DARPA's (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's) concept of a futures market in terrorism predictions. My first reaction upon hearing about this was, "that's weird," but I'm more and more annoyed by some of the (apparently) uninformed posturing by several Congressmen and Senators that killed this before it was even tried.

Last night, I found the DARPA website that describes this concept, but it has been removed already. (Take a look at their other projects, though.) Glad I downloaded the page while I had the chance. It didn't go into many details, but it was a useful overview.

Eli Lehrer has an excellent discussion of the method over at National Review and includes a link to the webpage of the author of the original concept.

I'm going to read about this and will post more later...

Re: Loch Ness Monster

Nuts, nuts, nuts!

The Loch Ness Monster

The age old myth of the loch ness monster has been refuted today by BBC who had a team sent to trawl the lake with sonar beams and satellite navigation technology. They had hoped that the air in the monster's lungs would give off a signal, but none was found. Sightings of the loch ness have been recorded since the 6th century. In some aspects it is unfortunate that modern technology has reduced this myth to fiction. But I'm sure there are still die hard believers out there who will come up with some reason why the monster could not be picked up by sonar. So perhaps the legend will continue to live on.

RE: Scare

I hope they weren't intending to break into your place. They shouldn't have known when you were coming home - and yet they seemed relatively persistent to stick around that area even when you shined the headlights in their direction. Glad you made it in safely! Is it possible to change the trajectory of light from the "security lamp" to focus on the bushes as well?

Federal Court Decision on California Recall

USA Today is reporting a Federal Court decision Tuesday on the California gubernatorial recall. Part of the state's law was declared "unconstitutional," although this would change ballotting procedures without preventing the recall vote itself.

As USA Today describes it, the decision concerns ballot votes for the new governor, in case the recall succeeds. California law has the voter mark "yes" or "no" on recalling the current governor. If the voter marks "yes," then he also marks the name of a candidate to replace him. If he votes "no," then he doesn't vote for a replacement.

I do not understand the description of this as "unconstitutional." I don't know of any Federal Constitutional provision on state election procedures. And if this violates the California constitution, then I would think the Federal courts could not rule on that point. So is the decision being misreported, or am I missing something? As USA Today states,

The challenge by University of San Diego School of Law professor Shaun Martin and other legal scholars said the process unconstitutionally compels voters to choose on one matter to gain eligibility for another.

There's that word "unconstitutional[]." Seems very out-of-place. The current law seems to me to be a fairly reasonable method. If you vote against the recall, then you are also voting for the current governor to continue in office. I can see some arguments for letting anti-recall voters also choose a successor if they fail, but that's a matter for California to decide, not the Federal courts.
As it is, this strikes me as a real violation of Federalism--an encroachment upon State powers.

In a similar vein, the District of Columbia is suing to prevent Congress from prohibiting D.C. from imposing a "commuter tax." Suing? Congress has the power...
Article I, Section 8
17. To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district...

Clear enough? I don't know if the suit tries to make a rational argument or not. From the descriptions in the local news here, it seems to be in the category of suing because you don't like something, not because you have logic or the law on your side. I'll try to find out more.

Scare

I just got back from a get-together with the Tennessee State Society in D.C. Great bunch--mostly people my age; lots of Capitol Hill staffers, other government types, interns, etc.; plenty of attractive young ladies. And they're fellow Tennesseeans! So we went out for food & drinks a block from the White House (this is very cool).

Got back very late to my apartment, and as I was locking the car and walking to my door, I saw three silhouettes crouching behind the bushes in front of my and my neighbor's patio--right in front of the door. The "security" lights shone right on me and left them in the dark. One or two shadows slipped around the corner of the building (maybe 20' from my door) but then poked back around to look at me, and then the third seemed to stay put. I had no flashlight or weapon. I got back in the car and kept trying to scare them away by shining the headlights on them from one side of the building or another, but they kept dashing back and forth and staying close to my door. This worried me even more.

I finally kept the lights trained on my door as I approached my apartment, and I came back out with a flashlight and Ol' Betsy to turn the lights off. I didn't see any more of them, but it was one of the worst scares I've had living here.

Re: Telemarketers

Good point, E, about marketers finding a new way of advertising, if they have restrictions on phone solicitations. I could imagine some First Amendment grounds for a suit against this law, but I don't know the specifics. Still, advertising will survive.

Odd...several months ago, I started finding an occasional telemarketing call left on my answering machine. Not an automated call, but a live person who knew they were speaking to a machine. I was actually impressed, in a way. I figured that this was somebody who had enough confidence in their product or their salesmanship that they didn't have to play any tricks and could simply leave a brief message.

Now, I'm getting several of these types each week! Must be the new trend. Incidentally, can you imagine the sheer number of "free vacations" I've "won" to Florida this year?

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Telemarketers

Everyone has been the subject of telemarketers at one point or another. Some have probably made that fatal, regrettable mistake where you listen to the telemarketer, decide they're offering an awesome deal, and then realize the next month that it was a horrible idea and you feel almost cheated out of your money. Maybe some have had good experiences, but I have not. A new system recently emerged to allow your phone number to be blocked from unwanted telemarketing calls. What a great idea! Who wants to be sitting down at dinner with the family only to have the phone ring and find out you can't get this persistent person off the phone because they want to sell you this new and improved product and all you care about is your dinner is slowly getting colder by the minute. This new system has telemarketers outraged. They feel their business will dwindle, and thousands of jobs lost because they can't harrass you at all hours of the day. They are going so far as to sue the federal agency which supported this new system. Instead of suing the federal government, why not realize that their method of promoting products is annoying, and find a more appropriate method to sell new products. A new marketing scheme perhaps. Something that makes consumers more happy and allows the people who must work this kind of job not deal with disgruntled customers who only want to finish their dinner.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Landlord-Tenant Laws

Thank god for landlord-tenant laws! I just recently (past month) had to use these laws in order to move out of an apartment which proved to be unsafe. The manager had felt she could walk into our apartment whenever she wanted, and used a move-in checklist as an excuse. Keep in mind that this move-in checklist is only done on move-in, about two months ago for us. They entered our apartment under the guise of a work order (the move-in checklist) and snooped around our apartment. We know this because we had just gotten a ferret and he was kept in a bedroom behind closed doors so our cats wouldn't torment him when we're gone. Keep in mind that they didn't fix anything either. So we got a notice on our door about having a ferret, but nothing that mentioned they had been in our apartment. We put two and two together, and went immediately to the office to talk to them about the ferret and entering our apartment without appropriate notice. The manager stated "I have a problem about the ferret, he must be gone in 24 hours. I know the laws, I don't care what you think, that's your problem. Have your lawyer contact me." At that point we decided to check into these laws, and discovered they had broken a number of the right of entry laws. So we went back, and the manager refused to talk to us, all she said was "I won't let you break your lease. I'll see you in court, have your lawyer contact me." Undaunted, we consulted with a lawyer (military) and he agreed with us, especially since we got a copy of the so-called work order that clearly states when they came in and why, along with the move-in checklist and all the dates. So our lawyer called and left messages for our manager three days in a row. She never bothered to return his calls, so now we're moving out, and into a much nicer, safer apartment. Now I don't have to worry about strange men entering our apartment without us knowing, worry about theft, nor surprise visits.

P.S. Word of advice: when choosing a new apartment, do NOT choose the third floor! I'm regretting it already... :)

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Day by Day is back, too.

Chris Muir's "Day by Day," is a good, funny, politically conservative cartoon. He's been on medical leave for a few days, but I'm glad to see he's recovered early and is back now. A refreshing thing about this strip is how he plays his characters against type--avoiding the easy stereotypes, that is.

Feddie's back, and he's got a baby!

Feddie's back on Southern Appeal. He'd had Jonathan Adler and Quin Hillyer subbing for him last week. His wife just gave birth to their second child, a healthy 7 lb. 11 oz. daughter. Our best to the entire family.

It's good to read the legal analyses of a fellow Southern federalist. Feddie's given us some compliments on our blog here and has been kind enough to link to us. I know he's going to have his hands full for a while but look forward to reading his posts again.

Bush, Hussein, and Voldemort? And Zaphod.

Not that this should come as any surprise, given that it's coming out of the mouth of a movie director, but the new director of the next Harry Potter film explains how President Bush reminds him of the evil Lord Voldemort. And then he pairs Bush and Hussein [insert eye-roll]. Well, at least he seems to think there's something bad about the ex-Butcher of Baghdad. That alone makes him a rarity in the business.

So, you might ask, what's so bad about Bush and Hussein that puts them in league with He-who-must-not-be-named? Well,

“They both have selfish interests and are very much in love with power. Also, a disregard for the environment."

Not quite my more detailed analysis of a few days ago, but... This seems to be a case of first not liking somebody, then taking all sorts of unrelated qualities you also don't like and lumping them all in on that person. I get a strong impression that Bush is anything but power-hungry. Quite modest, too, especially in comparison with certain past holders of the office. But here's a comment by the Newsweek reporter that puzzles me:

Cuaron’s [the director's] scrappiness is either refreshing or worrying, depending on your stock portfolio.

Huh?!? I really don't get this at all.

The love-of-power charge reminds me of...well, let's ignore President Blythe for the moment... It reminds me of The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Before his successful campaign to become President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox had a brain operation to suppress the power-hungry side of his personality that had wanted him to become President to begin with. He reasoned that anybody who really, really wanted to become President should never, ever be entrusted with the job! (I think that his power-hungry personality had him do the operation in order to keep people from finding out how much he wanted it.) I've long thought that this was a great insight. Sad that Douglas Adams died.

P.S: One more eye-roll from that Newsweek article. Professor Dumbledore is now going to be depicted as an aging hippie! Ugh.

End of hostage situation; coup vs. impeachment

Well, maybe that conspiracy theory really was their honest belief... Seems like the Filipino mutineers let the hostages go, after the government said they'd look into their charges of conspiracy with Abu Sayyaf terrorists. I'm hearing that last bit from the television news; it doesn't appear in the AP story I linked to. The AP story also says that there were nearly 300 mutineers, not the 30 I'd heard reported yesterday.

It also describes the recent history of coup attempts and near-attempts in the Philippines, ever since Marcos was forced out, and many of these were on accusations of corruption. But don't they have the means of impeachment?! Think about Venezuela last year, and the abortive coup against that dictator-in-the-making, Hugo Chavez. I think the coup plotters there were basically in the right (Chavez has been taking more power for himself, and things came to a head after a pro-Chavez militia fired on a public demonstration), but can't they try impeaching him first? Well, in the case of Venezuela, I don't know...that might not be possible, under the new constitution Chavez had made to order. I'd be curious to find out, though.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Australian Ambassador and Two US GIs Held Hostage

Fox News is live right now with news that the Australian ambassador to the Philippines has been taken hostage right now by mutinous Filipino soldiers. Two American soldiers are also being held. The mutineers (10 officers and 20 enlisted men?) claim that they're not staging a coup, but their leader had recently (yesterday?) been ordered to be arrested by President Arroyo for plotting a coup. Their public statement claims they're angry about corruption and accuse the Philippine government 1) of selling arms to the Moslem terrorist groups in the country and 2) of staging terrorist attacks in the country, with the help of the United States.

Yeah, right. Either these guys are some of the worst conspiracy theorists around, or they're putting this out as a cover for their real motives.

Do we still have troops in the country? We'd been conducting joint exercises and anti-terrorist training with the Filipinos recently. They prohibit foreign troops to fight in the country, and our joint exercises had been a way to help them out without violating that law. I wonder if this hostage incident might have some connection--anti-US feeling among the mutineers? Of course, that doesn't explain the Australian ambassador.

Friday, July 25, 2003

More fun with Pig Latin

Apparently I'm not the only person who thinks of Pig Latin when he hears "Uday and Qusay." As Opinion Journal mentions, the translation of "Uday" could be a homophone of "Do" or "Doo." Well, for that matter, I notice that the translation of "Qusay" is a homophone of "Scoo." Hmm...so if I threw in "E-bay"...

"Qusay E-bay Uday" --> Scooby-Doo!

There must be some deep meaning here...

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Fearless Leaders

I've been trying to keep track of all of the overromanticized titles that Communist countries have given their dictators. Offhand, I can only remember a couple, so I'm having to look the others up. I know there must be more in this vein.

Fearless Leader -- Rocky and Bullwinkle Show [OK, so it's fiction, but it's in the right spirit]

Great Leader -- Kim Il Sung, North Korea

Dear One -- Kim Jong Il [during the reign of Kim Il Sung]

Dear Leader -- Kim Jong Il, North Korea

Little Father of the People -- Joseph Stalin

Others???

James Ossuary Arrest

CanWest News Service is reporting that the collector and antiquities dealer who presented the "James ossuary" to the world has been arrested by Israeli authorities for forgery. (Alerted via The Corner) He is accused of forging both the ossuary inscription and a supposed 9th-century B.C. tablet. The ossuary is inscribed, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" and if real might be the oldest inscription to refer to the Biblical Jesus. The tablet has an inscription describing care of the temple in Jerusalem.

While the supposed temple tablet is widely considered to be a fake, the ossuary inscription has had a large number of defenders, although a recent reexamination by the Israeli Antiquities Authority of the patina in the inscription concluded that that feature was faked. There has still been an argument that this most recent examination is not conclusive, but I've lost track of the details of the debate lately.

Israeli authorities say that they found in Mr. Golan's house "forgery equipment" and even "partially-completed forgeries." Nuts. I had really hoped that the ossuary would prove to be authentic, and I'd been holding out even through this last study, but this is a real blow.

Fictional Characters Not in Search of an Author?

OK, bad play on the name of that play. But I've been wondering, lately: can a work of fiction have more meaning than the author puts into it? I've seen Shakespeare analyzed to death, for instance, with the character of Hamlet effectively psychoanalyzed on Freud's couch. How can you do that to a fictional character, who is only what his author made him? Psychoanalysis didn't exist when Hamlet was written, so how can it tell you anything about the character?

That's my general objection to these kinds of stunts. But I do wonder if Shakespeare could have been such an excellent student of human nature that he could have written a character with all of the necessary quirks and motivations that can be dissected in completely different ways today, even if the author wasn't entirely aware of them.

Not sure this is a clear explanation of what I mean, but then it's very early in the morning. I'll come back to this later.

KGB 102

Attended the second lecture by Major General Oleg Kalugin Wednesday night. Just as impressive as his first one, last week. He revealed a couple of pieces of information that are still officially classified in Russia. A member of the audience asked later if he was committing treason by doing so. He told us straight out that he's already been convicted of treason in Russia and considered a traitor. This despite the fact that he never acted as a spy for any country but the USSR, and he never defected to the West. He wasn't entirely clear as to the specifics of the charges against him but that they were a revival of Gorbachev-era charges.

He had been charged with those offenses during Gorbachev's rule, but at the time he was retired and serving as a minister of parliament and so was exempt from prosecution. Gorbachev later had the charges withdrawn. Kalugin seemed to hint that the renewal of these charges has grown out of a very public and strong disagreement between him and President Putin, with Kalugin (Putin's former boss, during his KGB years) calling Putin a war criminal and...something else bad that I don't remember...and the Putin administration in return accusing Kalugin of committing treason.

Probably not a problem in practice. The ex-Major General is applying for American citizenship, after all!

I'll post more details on KGB recruitment and training methods from this talk, soon...

...OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM ASHINGTONWAY...

Odaytay, Esidentpray Ushbay atedstay officiallyay atthay Uday anday Qusay Usseinhay ereway illedkay inay ay ootoutshay ithway ethay 101stay Airbornay inay Osulmay esterdayay.

I've really been wanting to do that all day.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

CENTCOM confirmation

Kathryn Jean Lopez, over at NRO's The Corner says that CENTCOM is holding a briefing now, confirming the deaths of Uday and Qusay!

Hussein, Sauron, and Voldemort

The worry on the part of Iraqis that Hussein or his regime will make a comeback has gotten me to thinking about comparable scenarios in fiction. Tolkien had Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, and Rowling has Voldemort in Harry Potter. In both of those stories, the evil lord has been defeated at some point in the past but is still alive (in some sense) and preparing for his victorious return. Our heroes know of his plans but have a hard time convincing others that the present peace will not last--that a war is inevitable and will even be necessary to protect future life and liberty. Other people react with hostility to the suggestion that the evil lord could return; they prefer to bury their heads in the sand, enjoying their lives as they are now, without the worry that it will all soon come to a dark end. Fighting means risking (probably losing) their lives and happiness, and maybe they could find some accomodation with the evil forces if they really did return.

The difference with our present situation is that the Iraqis are anything but blindly content. They really do worry that the Butcher of Baghdad or his sons will return to rule them in the future, and of course, we're taking that seriously, too, with such an active operation to go find him.

Maybe it's closer to the international situation before the war. "Old Europe" didn't want to be bothered by our insistence that Hussein still posed a threat. He was biding his time, working on his weapons programs, and possibly setting up connections with terrorist groups who could have carried out attacks on us directly. They reacted with hostility to our warnings and, to the extent they believed them at all, seemed to think they could reach an accomodation with him...some kind of peaceful coexistence. Some of these nations may have been outright collaborators with his regime (Voldemort's "Death Eaters"?). Meanwhile, we sent missions to the newly free countries of Eastern Europe and convinced them to join us in fighting Hussein.

Hmmm... I like the analogy. Have to think about this in more detail.

Two down?

My friend Jeff notes that Fox News and MSNBC are reporting on the aftermath of a big US raid in Mosul. It might be that we've killed Uday and Qusay!

This followed a four-hour firefight between the 101st Airborne and (presumably) Ba'athists inside a villa. Our men surrounded the house and, after taking fire from inside, called in helicopter assistance before storming the place. No fatalities on our side. Four "high-level" targets were killed inside, and it's likely that the two sons were among them.

Qusay was thought to be the future heir to his father's dictatorship, and if we've killed him, it might go a long way towards convincing ordinary Iraqis that the Husseins are not coming back.

Monday, July 21, 2003

KGB

Really puts into light the concept of "Big Brother." What did the USSR citizens think of their mail (and in essence their privacy) being opened and viewed for the government? I don't think the US could ever attempt to do something like that. Even with all the laws passed because of terrorism, that particular line of privacy has not been crossed. How many people lived in the USSR in 1953?

KGB Employment Statistics

Good question, E, about how Kalugin knows the number of CIA agents inside the USSR before 1953 (zero!). I will have to ask him this week after his second talk. I suspect that it might have come either from declassified CIA information (although they like to hold that kind of data quiet for a long time; wasn't Venona only recently declassified?) or from any moles the KGB had within the CIA who might have been in a position to know. But you're right--how can he be sure, unless the CIA announced it?

I was talking to my dad last night about Kalugin's talk, and he was amazed at the sheer number of KGB employees: 496,000 at the time of Kalugin's service. Plus the kind of jobs they did--every single piece of incoming or outgoing foreign mail was opened and read and checked for secret writing, microdots, or codes, and domestic mail was read selectively. In Leningrad alone, the KGB employed 700 people to follow other people around.

Dad's reaction was essentially--a half-million people...employed in this kind of non-productive labor, and they all need places to live, eat, and so on. This must have been an enormous drain on the country's resources. No wonder the USSR failed.

Illegal Immigrants and the Job Market

New Mexico is a very interesting state. The current trend is that unemployment is increasing...except for illegal immigrants! Illegal immigrants are finding more and more jobs in NM as US citizens are left without one. There is a law (in NM) that states a certain percentage of hispanic origin workers MUST be employed! Where is the equality in that? What happened to everyone being judged based on their abilities, not their race/color? This is a form of discrimination and it needs to stop. No, I'm not against the Mexican culture or their desire to support themselves in the US. I feel that equality is paramount, and in the United States, that equality applies to US citizens. Are we not the ones that pay taxes? That defend our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic? It is sad that these illegal immigrants have gained enough power to take over the job market, refuse to speak the US language, and put upstanding citizens out on the streets. To those who are working on their citizenship, and learning our language, I congratulate you, and welcome to the US! To those who are not, leave our country if you do not want to be a citizen. US citizens should run this country, race/color/religion/gender etc do not matter, only citizenship.

Re: KGB

I jus typed a long post only to have it erased! I hope I can convey the message I tried to send. I am fascinated by the fact that the KGB had over 200 agents in the US, and the CIA had none. I'm very intrigued as well, especially about where Kalugin got these statistics. My thoughts are this - What sort of spies were they? It would make sense that it would be easier for a spy to immigrate to the US and be more readily accepted by US citizens than a US spy immigrating to the USSR. However, were these spies foreign nationals, or were they moles, US citizens "bought" to spy on their country? If the majority of the spies were moles, then would it not be just as likely for the US to have moles "bought" in the USSR? Where DID Kalugin get these statistics, the CIA? If the KGB - no, since the KGB still exists in Russia today in a slightly different form, would it not make sense that the CIA would doctor their supposed numbers in order to protect those in Russia today? Just a thought. It reminds me of the time I toured the Pentagon. In the Pentagon, there is a wall dedicated to the Navajo code talkers. On the wall are navajo words displayed versus the english meaning. My guide had had the privilege of giving a few of the revered Navajo code talkers a tour of the Pentagon. When they saw the navajo words versus the english meaning, they laughed, and said the translation was all wrong. So who's to say that the CIA did or did not have spies? Only the CIA.

Questions and Answers

One brief point from the post below-- The way that sentence, "Did the President mislead us into war?", is asked, I keep expecting it to be prefaced by Alex Trebec saying, "Sorry Mr. Congressman, you must phrase your accusation in the form of a question."

I'm reminded of a comment by a friend of mine at the Space Telescope Science Institute. We were heading to a colloquium by a cosmologist whose talk was titled, "Can the Universe Create Itself?" She (my friend) remarked that for once, she'd like to attend a talk with a rhetorical question that is answered, "no"! Whenever you see that kind of question posed, you can usually bet the speaker is going to argue that the answer is "yes."

Sunday, July 20, 2003

The Iraq--Africa Issue

This issue with the State of the Union Address and intelligence on the Iraqi nuclear program is still making the rounds on the news shows, which had surprised me at first. Then I remembered the Presidential campaigns are starting up.

One problem is that many of the administration's defenders have taken the wrong approach, saying that, after all, it was "only 16 words." This comes across more as a stipulation of his guilt (and an attempt to minimize it), rather than as a defense. The length of the sentence is entirely irrelevant as to the question of whether the President was lying or not, which is or should be the central question being argued over. If the President actually were lying, misleading us, or misuing intelligence, it would not be a defense of his character or the facts to say, "but it was only 16 words!"

However, there is a second point involved. Some liberals are further implying that we went to war over the uranium claim. (Such as in the melodramatic, sanctimoniously-asked question, "Did the President mislead us into war?") The length of the State of the Union sentence is perfectly relevant in answering this charge. In fact, it's a very good defense. The justifications laid out in support of war were many, and this was only one. Furthermore, Congress had already voted on the issue before the State of the Union message, if I remember correctly. I think what's happening is that many of the President's defenders are mixing up the context of their argument. They might mean to use the "16 words" retort only in the sense I've just described, but it's used far too often and thereby comes across as a blanket defense.

Now, as far as lying and misleading goes, I think it should be clear by now that the administration relied on multiple sources of intelligence, including the British evidence, so the issue of faked Niger documents is something of a red herring. The idea that the President lied is pretty clearly wrong. His statement referenced the British position, which that government still stands by, and it was not restricted to Niger, which the left often forgets.

More details later...

Music to type by

On Friday, at last, I finished at last a paper I've been working on for a few months now (well, not constantly, at least), and it's submitted to the journal. It's amazing how quickly you can write a decent first draft of a scientific paper, but then how long it takes to clean it up into publication quality. And this was a short one; there's a nearly 50 page paper I've put off while I was finishing this one.

In trying to get into the mood for editing and typing each day, I found the right music helps. For this paper, it's usually been Vaughan Williams' "6th Symphony" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Tsar Saltan" and my favorite, "Scheherezade." Now, the Russian composers of the Romantic period are my favorites, with Tchaikovsky being at the top of my list. For working intently on something, Rimsky-Korsakov's tone poems are great, because they keep a more even emotion, providing good background music and setting the mood, without being too distracting.

Vaughan Williams is a lot different--his music could easily be distracting, but the dark, dramatic tones of the 6th Symphony really get me in a serious, down-to-business mood, and ready to write. Especially helpful, first thing in the morning.

Friday, July 18, 2003

The cost of occupation

Getting back to E's post below about the casualties involved in occupying Iraq, I just figured out a comparison to murder rates in US cities. According to Safe Streets DC, Washington was America's murder capital in 2002, with 262 murders in a population of about 600,000. That means 4.37 x 10^-4 murders per capita in Washington. Dividing by 365 days in the year gives us a rate of 1.20 x 10^-6 murders per capita per day last year.

Now, if this rate held true for the roughly 150,000 US troops stationed in Iraq now, we would be seeing 0.180 soldiers killed per day, or (in practical terms) about 5 1/2 days between each death.

My impression has been that lately we've been seeing nearly one US death per day, maybe every other day--somewhere on that order. If that's true, it would mean that the occupying troops are at about a 2 3/4 to 5 1/2 times greater risk of being killed than the average person living in Washington. So it's risky, but it's not that risky.

UPDATE:
My friend Maggie managed to find hard numbers: as of July 18th, we'd had 34 US soldiers die, from all causes in Iraq since the end of major combat on May 1, according to the CBC. That's 34 deaths over a total of 79 days, or 1 death per 2.32 days. The D.C. murder rate (above) would give us 1 death per 5.57 days. So on average since the end of major combat, US troops have experienced a 2.40 x greater risk of death than living in D.C.

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE...
However, even that's not the whole story, because Maggie says her numbers include all deaths of soldiers in Iraq--even from automobile accidents (sorry--I can't spell humvee). To make a valid comparison, we need to get only deaths from hostile fire, and that will lower the relative risk I calculated. I'll update this when it comes in.

ACTUALLY...
It seems like those numbers are just from hostile fire.

NAACP appearances, cont'd

Thinking about how relevant the NAACP is to blacks today, I know that the voting patterns for blacks have been trending even more strongly to the Democrats lately--was it something like 90% in their favor in 2000? But I think I've seen polls that show blacks overall are more conservative on social issues than Democrats generally, so there's some hope that this trend will turn around some day.

Meanwhile, the NAACP has becoming more and more radical, which I would expect to lead to some kind of rift.

NAACP appearances

Do these guys have any backbone at all? After skipping an invitation to an NAACP presidential candidates' forum the other day, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Lieberman, and Dick Gephardt practically groveled at an apology session on Thursday. Apologizing for missing it is one thing, but the way these guys did it is amazing. Kucinich had a House vote to attend, as he explained to the crowd, but then

Following Kucinich's five-minute speech, the moderator goaded him to offer an official apology, saying: "We have heard the explanation, does the congressman need to say something else?"

Kucinich replied: "I'm very sorry I wasn't able to be here, amazing grace, how sweet it is, once was lost, now I'm found."


Gephardt also had some schedule conflict, and I don't know about Lieberman. I saw one of those two on the news last night saying, "I was wrong" to miss the forum. The most outrageous thing was Kweisi Mfume's arrogance about this all on Monday:

"If you expect us to believe that you could not find 90 minutes to come by and address the issues affecting our nation, then you have no legitimacy over the next nine months in our community," NAACP President Kweisi Mfume told the convention Monday. "In essence, you now have become persona non grata. Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars."


For goodness' sake! I cannot imagine an interest group having such an opinion of itself that it declares three presidential candidates (four, if you include Bush) persona non grata for an entire race of people, because they simply missed an invited talk. How dare a Congressman do his job rather than speak to us! I'd like to put this behavior down to the NAACP's leadership knowing that they've passed the era of their necessity, and panicking that they are losing their own legitimacy in the eyes of the American public.

And what's with them declaring anybody persona non grata for all blacks? Does the NAACP think it can speak for an entire race?

UPDATE
Over at NRO, Jay Nordlinger aptly describes these fellows as "engaging in something like Maoist self-criticisms." The self-humiliation they'll put themselves through is embarassing.

One party rule and the Constitution

Going back to whether it is possible to enforce one-party rule in Congress, here are some relevant sections of the US Constitution:

Article I, Section 4, paragraph 1:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing [sic] Senators.

I'm curious as to the reason for giving the States this authority but then allowing Congress to change these laws on its own. To what extent has Congress used this authority? I think it would be a stretch for Congress' ability to regulate the "Manner" of holding elections to be extended to party membership.

Section 5, paragraphs 1 and 2:
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.


Now that I've read this, it seems as though Congress can't specify the qualifications for its members but is simply the "judge" of whether its members meet them. I presume that these qualifications are the ones specified by the Constitution.

So in case you were wondering, yes, we can breathe easy again...

One more from Kalugin...

One comment of his that really sent shivers down my spine (impressed shivers) was a quote from his autobiography. During his KGB service in Great Britain and the United States, he "had learned not to cringe." He discovered this after he returned to the USSR and found that this was not a highly valued quality there. It was one of the things that eventually brought him to leave the KGB.

That's high praise, coming from one of our former enemies. I asked him later if such changed opinions of the West were common among KGB members who studied the Main Enemy or lived in it, and he said it probably was.

Report from KGB 101

Last night's talk at the International Spy Museum was absolutely amazing. Former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin gave his first of two lectures on Soviet spy recruitment and training methods. He is an impressive public speaker, with a mild accent and an enthusiastic delivery. While the lecture itself was exciting, his speaking style came through even better during the Q&A that followed.

Some of the points he made:

--Back in his day, the KGB employed 496,000 people. In addition to the foreign intelligence work with which the public is familiar, there were many other responsibilities, including border troops (>220,000), keeping an eye on industrial and scientific organizations, "Protection of the Constitution" (Kalugin dismissed this derisively as a euphemism), and surveillance (during his time in Leningrad, 700 employees were assigned in that city to shadow people), among others.

--Every piece of mail entering or leaving the country was read and examined for microdots, invisible ink, and codes. Domestic mail was read selectively.

--The size of the Russian security apparatus (the reorganized KGB) nearly doubled after the fall of the Soviet Union.

--The Operation and Technical Directorate, which created the KGB's spy gadgets, once had a "Laboratory No. 12," that was responsible for "poisons and special means of eliminating people physically." It was created under Stalin and disbanded sometime in 1990, but there are signs that it is back in action today.

--The CIA had no spies within the Soviet Union until 1953. By that time, the USSR had over 200 within the United States!

--The KGB set goals--quotas--for arrests and even for executions of "counterrevolutionaries," during Stalin's era. As an example, Moscow might order Leningrad to arrest 1,000 counterrevolutionaries for the month of May. The Soviet attitude is always directed towards goals and plans, and Leningrad might respond that they would arrest 1,100, to beat the goal. There was no concept of due process. One record of a "trial" that Kalugin read was three pages long. Three pages: arrest, interrogation, trial, and execution. And that one turned out later to be a case of mistaken identity.
Later, under Krushchev, some concept of legal procedures were introduced.

--When asked if the Russian mafia presents a problem for the Russian security services today, he responded, "What problem? They interact!"

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Iraqi government and one-party rule

Combining a couple of these topics: one other advantage to a federal system and a president independent from the congress is that it makes one-party rule more difficult to achieve. As I mentioned about the American system below, the only way I see that Congress could attempt to enforce a one-party government in practice would be by refusing to seat new members from other parties. Yet that would still not give them control over any more than one branch of government.

In a parliamentary system, control of parliament means getting to choose the prime minister, but under our system, the President does not answer to Congress. And the judiciary is yet a third independent branch, another stumbling block to a single party having absolute sway.

So a system closely modeled on our own might be of great benefit to a country such as Iraq, which has just emerged from decades of one-party rule. It gives us stability and dampens sudden, short-lived swings in any political direction.

Re: Iraq Conflict

Regarding E's comments below, I'd be curious to find out how our presence in Iraq compares with the post-WWII occupations of Germany, Austria, and Japan. I read that attacks on US soldiers in Germany continued through about 1947, for instance, but at what level?

And how does the post-war casualty rate compare with, say, the murder rate in Washington, D.C. or New Orleans, I wonder? I'm sure it's higher for occupation, but actual numbers would be nice to see.

The structure of the new Iraqi government is the next question, especially the debates over (1) having a parliamentary vs. a president-congress system, and (2) a federal vs. centralized structure. I think that a federal system with a president and a congress would be the best choice for protecting the rights of the minority, be they Sunni Arabs, Kurds of any stripe, the few Christians and Jews in the country, or simply the losing side in an election.

Iraq Conflict

As of yesterday, 147 US soldiers have died in Iraq since the "war" ended. Should we or should we not keep troops there? Is the American presence required when so many Iraqis want the US to leave their country? Are they afraid of a US sanctioned government, one which must dance to the music of the President? And is this fear valid?

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Spies and assassins

Just got back from the first lecture by Oleg Kalugin on KGB recruitment and training methods. It was an excellent talk, but more on that later.

On the drive back, I was listening to To the Point on NPR. Heard this comment in a discussion on the assassination of a pro-American mayor in Iraq today: "...the mayor was killed to death."

Man, that's got to be the worst way to die.

How (not) to take over the government

Okay, so here's my question: Using only legal means, without amending the Constitution, would it be possible to take over the United States through one-party rule? I don't mean one party simply winning elections and making the opposition irrelevant, but actually making a legally-enforced one-party state.

I don't think it would be possible. Let's imagine Party A gets a solid majority (veto-proof) in both houses of Congress and passes a bill outlawing all other political parties. The first problem is that the Constitution doesn't even mention political parties at all, and it sure doesn't grant Congress the power to regulate them. Well, Congress exceeds plenty of its enumerated powers these days, so let's let them try.

The second problem would be a court challenge that this violated the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The last two clauses here are held to protect "freedom of association" and would particularly protect political association, such as a party.

This would probably be solid, but what else is there? For one thing, Congress doesn't set the rules for elections to Congress--the states do! So now you'd have to take over each of the states individually, and that's going to be nearly impossible.

Hmmm... One problem I just thought of: doesn't each house of Congress have the power to set the rules for accepting new members? In cases of disputed elections, they have occasionally refused to "seat" a new member. Is there anything to prevent Congress from saying that party membership is a factor??

Re: One Party States

I found an interesting article which discusses trends towards a totalitarian government. In a totalitarian government, who is the true ruler? The elected/appointed leader or the Party members who have the most influence/money, etc? And does a ruler change policy based on the people's needs or the Party's needs?

One party states

On a semi-related topic, I was thinking about some of these one-party, totalitarian states. Is there any way of telling, just by looking at the country's constitution, whether it's a free country or not? I've read the old Soviet constitution, and the early versions make it look like a normal country. Is the move to totalitarianism made in the laws that are passed, or more informally?

The brilliant thing is making it a one-party state. If you outlaw other political parties, then the only access into government is through The Party. And since it's technically just a private organization, the Party can set up its own rules for membership. That takes the ultimate power outside the written laws.

Re: North Korea

I keep getting the impression that N.K. is trying to get attention, like a little kid, except rather than a kid holding its breath or screaming, they're building a plutonium bomb. They probably want us to pay them off again, but the last time we did that, they continued their nuclear work anyway.

We can't reward nuclear extortion--I can imagine how bad it would be if/when Iran tries the same trick. And although they would clearly lose a nuclear war, their simply possessing a few bombs is enough to make us tiptoe around the Peninsula. It changes the whole way we have to act with them, because we don't want Seoul to be a smoking ruin.

North Korean Nuclear Weapons

For the past several months it has become an anti-U.S. environment in South Korea due to the U.S. opposition of the production of nuclear weapons in North Korea. Does this represent a potential hazard for the U.S. as well as neighboring countries of S/N Korea or is America overstepping its bounds? First let me remind everyone that North Korea signed a 1994 pact insuring they would have no nuclear weapons program, but recently openly admitted to reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods into weapons grade plutonium with the intent to continue down this avenue. Perhaps this in itself is not enough for the U.S. to take action, perhaps this is nothing more than a means of achieving concessions from the U.S. for S/N Korea, but then again...perhaps not. China has now intervened on the matter, and has encouraged North Korea to discuss their nuclear weapons program with world powers. China sees them as a threat to their national security, as does the U.S. So again I ask, is this a ridiculous chirade that the U.S. is overemphasing in order to exert their power over smaller nations? I think not. It is a real issue, one which every American should take seriously.

About Tim

Just to introduce myself more formally, I'm a NASA astrophysicist, studying quasars, galaxy evolution, and black hole growth. I graduated from the wonderful Rhodes College, and I'm now almost two years out of grad school (The University of Pittsburgh and the Space Telescope Science Institute). Soon, I'll be starting a new job as a professor of physics and astronomy at a university in the Midwest.

KGB 101

Later today, I'm going to hear KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin speak about Soviet spy recruitment and training methods. This is held at the International Spy Museum, here in D.C., and ought to be exciting. I'll be sure to report back.

Apropos of something...

"...Stepan Trofimovich's activity ended almost the moment it began--due, so to speak, to a 'whirlwind of concurrent circumstances.' And just to think! It turned out later that there had been not only no 'whirlwind' but not even any 'circumstances,' at least not on that occasion.
...
"He himself sincerely believed all his life that he was a cause of constant apprehension in certain spheres, that his steps were ceaselessly known and numbered, and that each of the three governors who succeeded one another over the past twenty years, in coming to rule our province, brought along a certain special and worrisome idea of him, inspired from above and before all, upon taking the province. Had someone then convinced the most honest Stepan Trofimovich, on irrefutable evidence, that he had nothing at all to fear, he would no doubt have been offended.

"And yet he was such an intelligent man, such a gifted man, even, so to speak, a scholar--though as a scholar, however...well, in a word, he did very little as a scholar...nothing at all, apparently. But with scholars here in Russia that is ever and always the case."


--Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons

Hmmm...also describes some radical members of the academy here I can think of...

(Thanks to
The Rat for inspiring me to read this.)

About our title

After striking out with our first choice for a blog title, "One small step..." (allusion to Neil Armstrong and nicely applicable to lots of subjects), we've chosen a quote from Sir Isaac Newton,
"Hypotheses non fingo."

This is neo-Latin for "I do not feign [frame] hypotheses," which Newton writes in his General Scholium to the Principia Mathematica. As best I understand him, he meant that he was presenting solid observations, rather than idle speculation. Of course, we might have plenty of idle speculation going on here...

ASTROPHYSICS PREPRINTS

Publishing in astronomical journals can take months, so there's a system for getting new results out quickly, while you're waiting--the preprint server at Los Alamos. I get into the habit of checking this daily. The best title from yesterday has got to be:

Origin of Chaos in the Prometheus-Pandora System
astro-ph/0307259

Shades of Edith Hamilton??

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Welcome to "Hypotheses non fingo," our blog for politics, space policy, astronomy, and general culture.