Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 2013

Good news for Snowden: How he can avoid being charged

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It really is simple, and the answer is found in this NY Times story by Charlie Savage and David Sanger:

Still, the top Republican on the committee, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, asked skeptical questions about the legal basis for the program while criticizing the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, for making inaccurate statements to Congress about it in March. Mr. Clapper has since apologized.

As we know, Mr. Clapper did not make “inaccurate statements” to Congress: he simply lied outright. He had the question 24 hours in advance, so he had ample opportunity to consider his answer, so his claim that he was confused at the last minute is simply (another) lie—or, in Times parlance, “inaccurate statement.” Even if the Times did not want to label his (deliberate, considered) response a “lie”, a better description would be “false statement.”

BUT—and here’s the good news for Snowden—the apology apparently works. He committed a felony (lying to Congress), but the felony is wiped out by a written apology. This is probably of interest to many who are charged with felonies, but in particular to Edward Snowden. As I understand from this report, if Snowden will submit a written apology, then the crimes he committed are simply then dropped.

Isn’t that great? The US: a forgiving nation.

As you can probably tell, I am biter now about what the country has become. I think I’ll discontinue political blogging for the time being. It does no good, and the nation is set on its course.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 8:50 pm

The Obama Administrations unhealthy obsession with whistleblowers

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As the blurb to the article states:

It’s very hard to square Bradley Manning facing decades in prison while the people who designed and implemented torture policies under the Bush administration walk free.

Scott Lemieux writes in The American Prospect:

Yesterday saw a mixed verdict delivered to Bradley Manning, who was charged with various crimes under the Espionage Act for leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks. Colonel Denise Lind, who presided over the court-martial, acquitted Manning of the most serious charge brought against him while finding him guilty on 20 of the 21 lesser charges. Lind’s ruling is at least a partial victory, acting as a partial break of the Obama administration’s overreaching war on whistleblowers. But many aspects of the case remain disturbing.

It is notable and welcome that the government could not convince Lind that Manning was guilty of aiding the enemy under the Espionage Act. Since this charge rested on the theory that releasing any information the government would rather keep quiet is “aiding the enemy” by definition, the dangers of convicting Manning can hardly be overstated. The idea that transparency aids the enemy is the same theory behind prosecuting newspapers for publishing the Pentagon Papers. The dismissal of these unprecedented charges is an important victory against overbroad contstructions of the Espionage Act.

The belief that the soldier was not merely guilty of illegal leaks, but also a traitor, was presumably the reason for his gratuitously cruel treatment. This treatment should be remembered and cannot be defended whatever one thinks of the merits of the charges against Manning.

Lind was wise not to allow the government to proceed down the road of making some leakers into enemies of the state by definition. Whether this victory will remain hollow for Manning remains to be seen. Ortiz retains very broaddiscretion in sentencing Manning on the remaining charges—there is no minimum and the top theoretical range would exceed Manning’s remaining natural life. A sentence of more than a few years would have an effect nearly indistinguishable from convicting Manning for aiding the enemy—the message to future whistleblowers would be chilling indeed.

The question of whether the charges were wise or appropriate in the first place is also less than settled. As Glenn Greenwald observed on CNN last night, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 3:31 pm

A sign that the US is now an authoritarian state: Authorities are not punished for misdeeds.

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The most recent famous example is James Clapper, who lied to the Senate with no repercussions. It’s okay to lie to Congress if you’re in a position of authority. The biggest examples are Bush/Cheney, who ordered war crimes and faced no accountability at all, thanks to Obama, but even the lower level torturers—the men who actually did the torture and murdered prisoners—have had no penalties applied. At least, not by the US: Italy famously convicted some, but they will not face any problems. The US even has taken steps to prevent one’s extradition when he was arrested in Panama. The US does not hold officials accountable for misdeeds, very similar to some other nations we’ve seen.

And now this story in the Atlantic Wire, from which I’ll quote the opening paragraph:

The Justice Department has a settled a lawsuit with a California college student who nearly died in a DEA holding cell after being held nearly five days, handcuffed, without food or water. Daniel Chongwill get $4.1 million in the settlement agreement, even though no criminal charges have been filed against the agents and no one has been disciplined for the mistake that almost killed him.

No punishment, no accountability.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 12:42 pm

Baby-boomer cannabis fans

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Victoria Kim writes at The Fix:

As US marijuana laws evolve and society distances itself from previous prohibitionist attitudes, the baby boomer generation (born roughly 1946-1964), is smoking pot at an ever higher rate—or at least more of them are admitting it. As of 2011, 6.3% of adults between ages 50 and 59 reported using marijuana, up from 2.7% in 2002, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. “There’s a resurgence of interest in pot and psychedelics in baby boomers,” Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, tells The Fix. “Many of them had experience with these substances in college, then gave them up for their families and careers. Now that they’re retiring and no longer working, they’re more open.” Doblin, who is 59 and has been a regular toker since he was 17, says his marijuana use has become more “work-oriented” as he’s gotten older. “I better understand how to use [pot] for activity rather than just relaxation,” he explains. “It goes terrific with exercise and physical labor. Older people understand this better.”

Doblin says the stigma of pot has decreased in recent decades, and many baby boomers now have a “longer-term perspective” about marijuana after witnessing scare stories blow over. “We’ve watched for 40 years and have found a lot of these claims [about the dangers of pot] to be untrue,” he says. Many older adults also feel freer to use the drug now that their children have grown up and left home. Though not all of them are completely open about it. “What’s so ironic to me is how many people grew up hiding marijuana from their parents,” says Doblin, “and now they’re hiding marijuana from their kids.”

In addition to recreational use, boomers are increasingly using pot to medicate the physical effects of aging. Medical marijuana is now legal in 11 states and can be purchased from dispensaries. “A lot of retired people have aches and pains,” Doblin says. “[Pot] promotes health and reorients your view of physical pain or stress.” Hal, 56, a restaurant worker from New Jersey who is sometimes on his feet for 12-hour shifts, tells The Fix that he uses pot as a replacement for prescription medication. “Through our whole life, people are self-medicating somehow,” he says, “I’d rather smoke pot than take pills.”

Robin, 65, says “dope” (marijuana) has become “fairly common” among aging adults in the Boston suburb where she lives. “My feeling is that it is like alcohol—for some people it’s fine, and for some it’s an issue,” she tells us. “Most of the adults I know who smoke it are pretty functional. They use it as a sedative more than anything else—as a relaxant, in place of drinking.” Compared to alcohol, she says pot is “a much safer drug in a lot of ways, because you’re not as impaired. You can drive; you just drive too slowly, rather than too fast or carelessly.” She adds that pot seems “benign,” saying: “people don’t go into murderous rages when they’re stoned, but they can when they’re drunk.” But while most of her generation is capable of managing their marijuana use, she sees the drug as more of a problem among younger people. “It concerns me when I see young twenty-somethings who do nothing but smoke it,” she says, “but I don’t see it as a problem for [older] adults.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

TSA misconduct on the rise

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CNN reports:

. . . [A] new Government Accountability Office report, citing a 26% increase in misconduct among TSA employees between 2010 and 2012, is striking a nerve with some travelers who’ve had to endure the shoeless, beltless shuffle on the trip through security.

“Whenever you get an organization that has to be there, sometimes it just starts to take on a weight of its own,” traveler Chris Simon said Wednesday at San Francisco International Airport. “So maybe it’s just not being managed.”

“This makes me never want to check my bag,” Twitter user KathrynPowers1 posted Wednesday in response to the news.

“That’s disgusting, ” tweeted user RidockKing.GAO report reveals increase in TSA employee misconduct

Among the report’s findings:

— Misconduct cases involving TSA employees — everything from being late to skipping crucial security protocols — rose from 2,691 a year in 2010 to 3,408 in 2012.

— About a third of the cases involved being late or not reporting for work, the largest single category of offenses.

— 10% of offenses involved inappropriate comments or abusive behavior.

— About a quarter involved screening and security failures — including sleeping on the job — or neglect of duty offenses that resulted in losses or careless inspections.

Photos: 20 odd items confiscated by the TSA

Examples of violations

The report details one case of a TSA agent suspended for seven days after trying to carry a relative’s bag past security without screening. A supervisor interceded and the bag was found to contain “numerous prohibited items,” according to the GAO report. It didn’t say what the items were.

In another case, a TSA agent was suspended for 30 days after a closed-circuit camera caught the officer failing to individually examine X-ray images of passenger items, as required by agency policy.

Among the 9,622 offenses cataloged in the report, the GAO also found 384 ethics and integrity violations, 155 “appearance and hygiene” complaints and 56 cases of theft.

While not specifically mentioned in the report, notable cases of theft by TSA agents include a 2012 case in which two former employees pleaded guilty to stealing $40,000 from a checked bag at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, and a 2011 guilty plea from an officer who admitted stealing between $10,000 and $30,000 from travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

The officer in the 2011 case, Al Raimi, admitted he would “kick up” some of that money to a supervisor, who in turn allowed him to keep stealing. The supervisor, Michael Arato, also pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks and bribes.

Airport officer claims he was fired for exposing sleeping guards . . .

Continue reading. Videos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 11:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Pay to play: Buying ambassadorships

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Interesting report by Anita Kumar at McClatchy:

There’s the vice president of global licensing and retail at the television network HBO, the senior managing partner for a consulting firm based in Chicago and a Miami trial attorney who makes a living suing insurance companies.

Each raised more than a half million dollars for President Barack Obama’s political campaigns. In turn, Obama tapped each to be an ambassador, one of the most coveted posts an occupant of the Oval Office can offer.

Obama has nominated a number of major donors to plum diplomatic posts, from Spain to the Dominican Republic, Australia to Singapore. While the practice is anything but rare for U.S. presidents in modern history, Obama has nominated more donors, friends and supporters – nearly double – than his predecessors since the start of his second term.

Of the 41 ambassadors selected since the beginning of the year, 23 – or 56 percent – are political appointees with little or no diplomatic experience, according to the American Foreign Service Association, which keeps a tally. Nine helped collect more than $500,000 for Obama’s campaigns, though it could be much more because certain campaign finance reports list only the range of the donations.

Just last week, Obama nominated former first daughter Caroline Kennedy, whose influential endorsement helped him secure the Democratic nomination over Hillary Clinton in 2008, as ambassador to Japan.

“It’s long been a practice,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization that studies campaign contributions. “It’s a process that reinforces the notion in American politics that you can buy your way to the most powerful man in the world.”

But Obama’s actions stand out because he promised to be different.

As a candidate, he pledged to decrease the influence of money in politics and push for a series of changes – from eliminating donations from corporations to his inaugural festivities, to fighting a court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations “We’re going to change how Washington works,” he often said.

Many of his promises went unfulfilled, either because he did not lobby for them or changed his mind about supporting them, government watchdog groups say. His ambassadorial picks indicate that – in yet another way – he’s engaged in business as usual, the same quadrennial tradition as his predecessors.

But the White House says . . .

Continue reading.

Obama: Don’t trust a word he says, watch what he does.

This country desperately needs publicly financed election campaigns, with private funds not allowed once the candidate is on the ballot (primary or general).

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 11:18 am

Climate change and the Ameican West

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Those who have lived for a long time in the American West and well aware of climate change and its effects. TomDispatch.com has a good post on it:

Martha and the Vandellas would have loved it.  Metaphorically speaking, the New York Times practically swooned over it.  (“An unforgiving heat wave held much of the West in a sweltering embrace over the weekend, tying or breaking temperature records in several cities, grounding flights, sparking forest fires, and contributing to deaths.”) It was a “deadly” heat wave, a “record” one that, in headlines everywhere, left the West and later the rest of the country “sweltering,” and that was, again in multiple headlines, “scary.”  The fire season that accompanied the “blasting,” “blazing” heat had its own set of “record” headlines — and all of this was increasingly seen, in another set of headlines, as the “new normal” in the West. Given that 2012 had already set a heat record for the continental U.S., that the 10 hottest years on record in this country have all occurred since 1997, and that the East had its own sweltering version of heat that wouldn’t leave town, this should have been beyond arresting.

In response, the nightly primetime news came up with its own convenient set of new termsto describe all this: “extreme” or “severe” heat.  Like “extreme” or “severe” weather, these captured the eyeball-gluing sensationalism of our weather moment without having to mention climate change or global warming.  Weather, after all, shouldn’t be “politicized.”  But if you’re out in the middle of the parching West like TomDispatch regular William deBuys, who recently headed down the Colorado River, certain grim realities about the planet we’re planning to hand over to our children and grandchildren can’t help but come to mind — along with a feeling, increasingly shared by those in the sweltering cities, that our particular way of life is in the long run unsustainable. Tom

Never Again Enough 
Field Notes from a Drying West 
By William deBuys

Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013 — Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.

One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.

These days, the tides of the Colorado are not lunar but Phoenician. Yes, I’m talking about Phoenix, Arizona.  On this April night, when the air conditioners in America’s least sustainable city merely hum, Glen Canyon Dam, immediately upstream from the canyon, will run about 6,500 cubic feet of water through its turbines every second.

Tomorrow, as the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona, the engineers at Glen Canyon will crank the dam’s maw wider until it sucks down 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). That boost in flow will enable its hydroelectric generators to deliver “peaking power” to several million air conditioners and cooling plants in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun. And the flow of the river will therefore nearly double.

It takes time for these dam-controlled tidal pulses to travel downstream. Where we are now, just above Zoroaster Rapid, the river is roughly in phase with the dam: low at night, high in the daytime. Head a few days down the river and it will be the reverse.

By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F, and power demands will rise to monstrous heights, day and night. The dam will respond: 10,000 cfs will gush through the generators by the light of the moon, 18,000 while an implacable sun rules the sky.

Such are the cycles — driven by heat, comfort, and human necessity — of the river at the bottom of the continent’s grandest canyon.

The crucial question for Phoenix, for the Colorado, and for the greater part of the American West is this: How long will the water hold out? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 11:12 am

A false-equivalence classic

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James Fallows posts a classic example of reportage by a reporter who’s — what? lazy? stupid? both?

A reader sent in the paragraph below as another classic in the false-equivalence chronicles. It comes from a bigtime news organization, and if you wanted you could of course track down the source exactly. I’m intentionally leaving out the details, because what makes the story significant is not that it’s exceptional but that it’s representative.

The article is about the risk that the economy will be disrupted yet again, by yet another showdown over raising the federal debt ceiling. It describes the fundamentals this way:

With investors already nervous about the Federal Reserve’s plan to start scaling back its stimulus program, another fiscal policy standoff could be more disruptive this time around.

In recent days, both Democrats and Republicans have been digging in their heels, setting up another possible nerve-wracking battle over the debt ceiling, which the Treasury expects to hit by November.

“Hearing Washington banter back and forth over this again was like arecurring bad dream,” said [I’ll leave out this guy’s name too], deputy chief investment officer at [XX] Bank, which manages $170 billion in assets.

That’s one way to describe what’s going on: Another damned partisan flap! Can’t these politicians grow up and stop squabbling? To hell with all of them. This is of course the tone that runs through most gridlock/ dysfunction stories — another standoff, charges back and forth —  and it’s so familiar that this story can allude to it as an understood truth.

But there’s a different way to describe the situation. That would be to say that the 44th president, like his 43 predecessors, believes that the United States should honor its sovereign debt, as part of maintaining the “full faith and credit of the United States.” He also believes that the policy on government spending first applied under George Washington and in force since then should still be the policy now: once Congress has voted programs or benefits into law, then the government is legally and morally obligated to carry out those programs, until and unless they are repealed.*

To which the other “side” to the dispute replies: Who cares! We don’t like you or your programs, and to prove it we’re willing to risk a default on the national debt.

If you describe the “disagreement” the first way, no one’s really to blame. It’s just politics, a sign of the symmetrical dysfunction that plagues us all.

If you describe it the second way, then one side is sticking to historic norms and practices — and the other is deliberately bringing on a showdown, with the all consequent risks for the domestic and international economies, via demands and threats out of scale with what previous Congresses have done. This second version is what’s happening.

Maybe you could argue that such drastic threats are sensible. You wouldn’t convince me, but you could make the case. What you shouldn’t do is pretend that this is a normal “agree to disagree” difference of perspective. It’s not; it’s nihilistic; and to reduce it to gridlock amounts to “defining deviancy down.” We’re hearing that phrase, of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s, a lot these days in honor of Anthony Weiner. But it applies to current debt-ceiling threats as well.

What’s going on now is more like the 1970s-era hijackers Brendan Koerner describes in his recent book, who would threaten to blow up the plane unless they got the ride to Cuba they wanted. Or, if you want a less violent analogy, it’s like me walking into a restaurant, ordering and enjoying a meal, and then when I finished just tearing up the check and saying that I was “digging in my heels” about whether I should pay. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 11:07 am

Posted in Congress, Media

Two years later, Senator’s criticism of NSA spying sinks in

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Joe Mullin interviews Sen. Ron Wyden at Ars Technica:

As a series of top-secret NSA documents have been leaked over the past several weeks, the issue of widespread government surveillance has been front-and-center in the public eye. For some, those documents were shocking revelations; for privacy activists and digerati who have followed cases like Jewel v. NSA, they were less surprising than they were useful. The documents leaked by a former NSA contractor offered solid confirmation of what had long been suspected—that the NSA had created a giant information vacuum sucking up all manner of data.

Another group that couldn’t have been surprised: politicians in Congress’ top intelligence committees. But few had complained publicly about overbroad surveillance. Two exceptions are Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO), both of whom sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I want to deliver a warning this afternoon,” Wyden said in 2011. “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

Two years later, in small but noticeable ways, that anger is coming to the fore. Recent polls show that more Americans see the government as going too far in restricting civil liberties. A shift is clearly happening in Congress, as well. Last week, the House of Representatives was just eight votes away from de-funding the NSA telephone program.

Last week, Ars spoke to Wyden about his longstanding critique of NSA surveillance, what has happened since the leaks began, and views of the leaker Edward Snowden himself.

Ars Technica: In the past two months, much has been revealed about what kind of surveillance the NSA is doing, largely because of leaked documents. Is there more we don’t know, that we should know? And can you characterize what we don’t know in any way? 

Senator Ron Wyden: There is a lot more to know, particularly in terms of getting a declassified version of the legal analysis used by the FISA court. When people get that, and see it in the context of the bulk phone records program, they will see how astoundingly broad it is. We’ve got secret law, authorizing secret surveillance, being interpreted by a largely secret court.

The administration’s legal rationale talks about something that sounds like there’s a connection to terrorism. Instead, it’s morphed into an arrangement where, for millions of law-abiding Americans, the government knows who they called, when they called, and where they called from. It’s a treasure trove of human relationship data. In my view, that reveals so much about the lives of law-abiding Americans.

Ars: In your last speech you mentioned location a few times. Do Americans need to be worried that their location is being tracked right now?

Sen. Wyden: The government says they have the authority to do it. I can’t get into anything beyond that. They have said they’ve not doing it today.

In public session, i have particularly pressed the intelligence community to describe what legal rights are of law abiding Americans with regard to whether or not they can be tracked. We have 24/7 tracking devices in our pockets. I asked the head of the FBI: given that the law is unsettled with regard to protection, I’d like to have you describe here in an open setting, what are the rights of Americans today as the courts are settling this? They have been unwilling on repeated occasions to give an answer.

Ars: Why have you been one of the only members of Congress speaking out about this? 

Sen. Wyden: Well, I think there have been remarkable developments in the last eight weeks. Before that, you wouldn’t have had this issue debated on the floor of the House—and you wouldn’t have had by a mile more than 200 members of the US Congress saying, look, we’ve got real problems with the status quo. I consider that huge, huge progress in our fight to show that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive.

In the Senate, more than a quarter of the US Senate has sent a very tough letter to General Clapper speaking to exactly how the intelligence community justifies the bulk phone records collection on hundreds of millions of Americans. One of the concerns we feel most strongly about is that the intel community has not been willing to show how bulk phone record collection provides unique value, that they can’t obtain through emergency authorities and the court order process.

Ars: What changed the minds of your fellow members?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 10:59 am

Ariel Rubinstein on Game Theory

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Game theory was once a hot topic and is still useful, but it doesn’t have quite the impact and appeal of its younger days. The interview notes “Ariel Rubinstein is an Israeli economist who works in game theory. He is a professor of economics at the School of Economics at Tel Aviv University and the Department of Economics at New York University. ” It begins:

Game theory is marketed as a system you can apply to any sphere of life, but its practical applications are in fact non-existent, argues the game theorist. He chooses some classic books on game theory and one mystery book that has yet to be written…

What is game theory?

The way I think about game theory is that it’s a part of economic theory, a set of models and concepts that is supposed to capture the way we think about strategic interactive situations. These are situations when my reasonable behaviour depends on the way that I perceive or believe that the other participants in the situation will behave. I want to get into the shoes of the other player or players – I want to enter their mind. That’s crucial for my decision. It’s not like a situation where I’m trying to decide whether to take an umbrella or not, and all I have to think about is the chance it will rain this afternoon. But I can do it in many ways and I can respond in many ways. What is special about game theory is that until now it has been assumed that when the players respond to the other players they respond rationally.

People are presumed to be rational?

Yes, classical game theory deals with situations where people are fully rational. In principle we could think about interactive situations where players are not fully rational, but nevertheless take into account or anticipate other players’ behaviour. But the body of knowledge that is known as game theory, at least up to now, has focused mainly on situations where the players are rational.

What are the applications of game theory for real life?

That’s a central question: Is game theory useful in a concrete sense or not? Game theory is an area of economics that has enjoyed fantastic public relations. [John] Von Neumann [one of the founders of game theory] was not only a genius in mathematics, he was also a genius in public relations. The choice of the name “theory of games” was brilliant as a marketing device. The word “game” has friendly, enjoyable associations. It gives a good feeling to people. It reminds us of our childhood, of chess and checkers, of children’s games. The associations are very light, not heavy, even though you may be trying to deal with issues like nuclear deterrence. I think it’s a very tempting idea for people, that they can take something simple and apply it to situations that are very complicated, like the economic crisis or nuclear deterrence. But this is an illusion. Now my views, I have to say, are extreme compared to many of my colleagues. I believe that game theory is very interesting. I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about it, but I don’t respect the claims that it has direct applications.

The analogy I sometimes give is from logic. Logic is a very interesting field in philosophy, or in mathematics. But I don’t think anybody has the illusion that logic helps people to be better performers in life. A good judge does not need to know logic. It may turn out to be useful – logic was useful in the development of the computer sciences, for example – but it’s not directly practical in the sense of helping you figure out how best to behave tomorrow, say in a debate with friends, or when analysing data that you get as a judge or a citizen or as a scientist.

So the situation of the prisoner’s dilemma couldn’t arise in real life?

I didn’t say that. In game theory, what we’re doing is saying, “Let’s try to abstract our thinking about strategic situations.” Game theorists are very good at abstracting some very complicated situations and putting some elements of the situations into a formal model. In general, my view about formal models is that a model is a fable. Game theory is about a collection of fables. Are fables useful or not? In some sense, you can say that they are useful, because good fables can give you some new insight into the world and allow you to think about a situation differently. But fables are not useful in the sense of giving you advice about what to do tomorrow, or how to reach an agreement between the West and Iran. The same is true about game theory. A main difference between game theory and literature is that game theory is written in formal, mathematical language. That has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that the formal language allows us to be more precise, it allows us to get rid of associations that are not relevant and it allows us to better examine some arguments. The disadvantage of formal language is the level of abstraction, which has two main downsides. First of all, it makes the theory very far away from one minus epsilon of the population. Even among the academic community, most people who claim to use game theory hardly understand it. Secondly, abstraction has the negative side that once you abstract things, you miss a lot of the information and most of the details, which in real life are very relevant.

In general, I would say there were too many claims made by game theoreticians about its relevance. Every book of game theory starts with “Game theory is very relevant to everything that you can imagine, and probably many things that you can’t imagine.” In my opinion that’s just a marketing device.

Why do it then?

First, because it is interesting. And I’m not saying it isn’t useful in indirect ways. I believe that intellectual thinking – philosophy or logic or game theory – is very useful in the cultural sense. It’s part of the culture, it’s a part of our perpetual attempt to understand ourselves better and understand the way that we think. What I’m opposing is the approach that says, in a practical situation, “OK, there are some very clever game theoreticians in the world, let’s ask them what to do.” I have not seen, in all my life, a single example where a game theorist could give advice, based on the theory, which was more useful than that of the layman.

There is probably a confusion in the public between the personal abilities of game theorists and the power of the theory itself. The community of game theoreticians contains some brilliant people who have also “two legs on ground”. This rare combination is very useful. People like that can come up with interesting and original ideas. Not everyone – there are brilliant game theoreticians who I would not ask for any practical advice. But the advice of the other, even if it is good, should not lean on an authority.

Looking at the flipside, was there ever a situation in which you were pleasantly surprised at what game theory was able to deliver? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 9:28 am

Posted in Books, Science

Lifetime waranties: The lifetime of who? or what?

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Is it your personal lifetime? the lifetime of the product? “Guaranteed until the product fails”? Not much a a guarantee, eh?

Michael Dorf tries to figure out the meaning, if any, of the phrase.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 9:22 am

Posted in Business, Law

Bradley Manning guilty of espionage? Really?

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I don’t understand quite how Manning is guilty of espionage. He was not in the employ of any foreign government or group, he was not finding secret information for nefarious purposes. He indeed released the data (through Wikileaks) to the public, so the public would know. He’s a classic whistleblower, leaking information the government very much wishes he had kept secret. But by no means could he be considered a spy. But of course, the actual charges are irrelevant. The government simply wants to hurt Manning, hurt him bad (and did anything ever happen to the officer(s) who were responsible for the illegal treatment he suffered?), and it would have accused him of anything that carried a harsh penalty. That’s how Obama operates: make an example to stop others from informing the public. Obama’s slogan: “The public MUST NOT KNOW what we are doing.” Hell, even the groups with which we’re at war, the groups whose members we are killing via drone strikes, must be kept secret from the public. The US has become something alien.

Juan Cole points out 10 positive outcomes of Manning’s revelations:

Bradley Manning will be sentenced today, having been found guilty of 20 counts on Tuesday, including espionage (despite the lack of evidence for intent to spy and the lack of evidence that his leaking ever did any real harm). Whatever one thinks of Manning’s actions, that we deserved to know some of what he revealed and that his revelations changed the world are undeniable.

1. Manning revealed the Collateral Murder video of a helicopter attack in Iraq on mostly unarmed non-combatants (though some of those struck may have been armed), including two Reuters journalists, whose cameras were taken for weapons, and children. The army maintains that the video does not show wrongdoing, but the killing of unarmed journalists is a war crime, and the callousness of video gives an idea of what was going on in Iraq during the years of the US occupation. When the Bush administration asked the Iraqi parliament for permission to keep a base in the country, the parliamentarians said, absolutely not. The US military was forced to withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

2. Manning revealed the full extent of the corruption of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidin Ben Ali, adding fuel to the youth protest movement of late 2010, which translated the relevant US cables into Arabic. Manning contributed to the outbreak of powerful youth movements demanding more democratic governance in the Arab world.

3. Manning revealed to the US and Yemeni publics the secret drone war that Washington was waging in that country. That the cables show then dictator Ali Abdallah Saleh acquiescing in the US strikes on his country probably played into the movement to remove him as president, which succeeded in early 2012.

4. He revealed that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to spy on their United Nations counterparts. The UN spy requests included cables that “demanded detailed intelligence on the UN leadership including forensic detail about their communications systems, including passwords and personal encryption keys,” foreshadowing later revelations of extensive US spying on even allies like Germany via the NSA.

5. His leaks show that then Senator John Kerry pressed Israel to be open to returning the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a peace negotiation. This item suggests that Kerry might be more of an honest broker in the current negotiations than some observers give him credit for.

6. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 9:17 am

How the NSA can look over your shoulder

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Glenn Greenwald provides today some additional details about how casually and easily any NSA analyst can look at your complete on-line communications. The story is well worth reading. One interesting (albeit misguided (literally) comment from Mike Rogers:

Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

What Mr. Rogers did, apparently, was to rely on what NSA told him despite repeated examples that the NSA lies about its operations. This is called a failure to learn from experience. Mr. Rogers also didn’t consider that Snowden has no reason to lie. He is simply trying to expose what NSA does. NSA, OTOH, not only has a demonstrated proclivity to lie, it also has a lot of reasons to lie. And lie it did, as the story shows.

We are ill-served by Representatives who seem unable to learn from experience.

Greenwald’s report is fairly long, with examples, including screenshots. It begins:

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian’s earlier storieson bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing “real-time” interception of an individual’s internet activity.

Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a ‘US person’, though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.

One training slide illustrates the digital activity constantly being collected by XKeyscore and the analyst’s ability to query the databases at any time. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 9:10 am

BBS with a tiny shave

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SOTD 31 July 2013

A small-scale shave today. The Rooney Style 3, Size 2 is included just for scale, though perhaps the bakelite slant would have provided that.

When I saw the tiny puck, a sample of Woodsy Lavender from Los Angeles Shaving Soap Company, I immediately thought of the Wee Scot, so here we are. The sample-size Coral Skin Food was a natural match.

The soap makes a good lather and the Wee Scot was easier to load on the puck than would have been the Rooney, for example. I’ll be using a full-size tub tomorrow, so I’ll write more about the soap then, but certainly no lather complaints at all.

Three passes with the slant left a perfectly smooth face, to which I applied a good splash of Coral Skin Food, and we start now winding down the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 9:01 am

Posted in Shaving

Doctors ignore evidence in treating low-back pain

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Not surprising: they ignored evidence for antiseptic procedures, they ignore evidence on the effectiveness of checklists, and so on. Here’s the story on low-back pain.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2013 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

A movie not to miss, on Netflix Watch Instantly: Lagaan

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Some I find this movie enormously satisfying.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2013 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Manning found guilty—now ask Obama to stop his vindictive persecution of whistleblowers

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Of course, Obama running for election said that whistleblowers should be protected and honored. Boy, did that ever change once he was in office. But at least speak up.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2013 at 6:12 pm

How to tell if a toy is for boys or girls

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girl-or-boy-toy

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2013 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Weird and wonderful Beethoven performance

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Explanation here.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2013 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Music, Technology

Stanley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films (The First and Only List He Ever Created)

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Interesting. Here’s the post, and here are the films:

The first and only (as far as we know) Top 10 list Kubrick submitted to anyone was in 1963 to a fledgling American magazine named Cinema (which had been founded the previous year and ceased publication in 1976),” writes the BFI’s Nick Wrigley. It runs as follows:

1. I Vitelloni (Fellini, 1953)
2. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
3. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)
5. City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)
6. Henry V (Olivier, 1944)
7. La notte (Antonioni, 1961)
8. The Bank Dick (Fields, 1940—above)
9. Roxie Hart (Wellman, 1942)
10. Hell’s Angels (Hughes, 1930)

But seeing as Kubrick still had 36 years to live and watch movies after making the list, it naturally provides something less than the final word on his preferences. Wrigley quotes Kubrick confidant Jan Harlan as saying that “Stanley would have seriously revised this 1963 list in later years, though Wild StrawberriesCitizen Kane and City Lights would remain, but he liked Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V much better than the old and old-fashioned Olivier version.” He also quotes Kubrick himself as calling Max Ophuls the “highest of all” and “possessed of every possible quality,” calling Elia Kazan “without question the best director we have in America,” and praising heartily David Lean, Vittorio de Sica, and François Truffaut. This all comes in handy for true cinephiles, who can never find satisfaction watching only the filmmakers they admire; they must also watch the filmmakers the filmmakers they admire admire.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2013 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

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