Sunday, December 14, 2014

Senate 'Torture' Report: Re-post of Understanding Interrogation and Drone Policy

In light of the angst our country is undergoing with the Senate 'Torture' Report  and debating its data privacy policies, a re-post of Understanding Interrogation, Drone and Manhunt Policy is being made to provide perspective; not justification of the policy:

There's a common universal thread in the following debates:
The common thread is that all of these can be looked at as an escalation of defense strategies and studied through through the lens of Game Theory; an analysis framework that breaks down and abstracts strategies to their essence.
The April 17, 2009 post entitled 'Torture Memos: Food for Thought'  provides a perspective on these challenges and is re-posted here:

Torture Memos: Food for Thought
(April 17, 2009)

In the wake of the recently released Torture Memos by the Obama administration, the following is offered as food for thought.

Coming in From the Cold: CIA Spy Calls Waterboarding Necessary But Torture:
A leader of the CIA team that captured the first major al Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah, says subjecting him to waterboarding was torture but necessary.

In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.

"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline."

"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
And here's a look at the issue through the lenses of Science and Game Theory:

Assume for the moment that torture was used on terrorists like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) ("principal architect" of the 9/11 attacks). The science of immune systems (Immunology), Evolution and an analysis informed by Game Theory offer us billions of years of 'best practices' in dealing with deadly threats that can be translated to the moral challenges our society faces in the Global War on Terror.

Game Theory is often used as a tool to abstract and model the payoffs of various strategies and responses in biology and human behavior (eg: Passive Versus Aggressive Strategies: A Game Theoretic Analysis of Military and Immune Defense, Cheating Viruses and Game Theory and Tit for Tat).

John Maynard Smith and George R. Price used game theory concepts to develop the category of Evolutionary Game Theory analysis. The use of torture against terrorists as a last resort is analogous to the last resort strategies utilized by the immune system; a defense mechanism whose strategies have withstood the test of time through error and trial.

In principle, an immune system works to protect an organism by attacking pathogens that would do it harm. White blood cells, or leukocytes, are constantly at work defending against harmful microbes in the body. The fevers we experience when our bodies get the flu, a 'high-level attack' and a disease that takes 250,000 to 500,000 humans annually, are part of the overall defenses the immune system utilizes. A fever's prolonged high temperatures can cause death. That's why the body maintains a normal temperature when it is simply experiencing 'low-level attacks', like the germs that infect a small wound on your hand.

Unfortunately, the immune system's protection comes at a price; it's a two-edged sword with built-in imperfections. Sometimes it attacks the very organism it's trying to defend. This condition is called Autoimmunity. Rheumatology is one branch of medicine that treats one of these imperfections.

Eons of evolution have given us an immune system that precariously balances aggressive actions, like high fevers, with unintended consequences. We must remind ourselves that the attack-and-defend interplay between pathogens and immune systems is not a steady-state system, but is co-evolving. One of the more fascinating adaptations is the process of active immunity and its production of antibodies. With active immunity, an immune system is constantly re-programming itself in response to the diseases/attacks it has survived.

Much like the immune system uses a potentially deadly fever as a last resort defense mechanism, our society should keep waterboarding as a legitimate, but rarely used, tool to protect the greater good. Particularly against individuals like KSM who are determined to destroy our society.

The argument is often made that the Geneva Conventions and policies against torture are there to protect our soldiers. But the historical evidence doesn't support this claim. The Nazis and Japanese abused POWs during WWII. POWs were tortured during the Vietnam War. And more recently, our troops have been tortured to death in Iraq.

Like a doctor treating a patient, our society should be guided by the core principles of 'first do no harm' and the Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them treat you) as we debate and evolve our policies. Implied within the Golden Rule and the Geneva Conventions is an expectation of reciprocity; even from our enemies. It's worth remembering that al-Qaida and its operatives are not signatories to the Geneva Conventions and have no claim on its protection.

While water boarding is an extreme tactic, it is justified by the extreme measures our enemies have taken against us. Our challenge is to make sure that we judiciously use this tool and don't allow a potential abuse that would result in an attack on the very society we're trying to protect; ala an autoimmune disease. We must be mindful of the potential hazard of declaring the operation (our anti-terrorism tactics) a success at the expense of losing the patient (our ethics and morals).

Related:
Update: Intel chief: Harsh techniques brought good info

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Repost: The 'You Break It, You Own It' Theory on Benghazi

In light of the recent official confirmation that the CIA gathered intelligence on weapons to Syria in the House Intelligence report on Benghazi , this post originally made on February 9, 2013 is reposted:

The following is a theory on the apparent disinterested nature and dissonance President Obama had over the Benghazi attack discussed at the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 7, 2013.   It's inspired by Secretary of State Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule on Iraq: 'You Break It, You Own It', as posited by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

It's also prompted by the question, 'If the President was against a policy of arming the Syrians, why do we have a report that arms were being shipped from Benghazi to Syria by way of Turkey?'. (The question might evoke memories of the 'You Can't Handle the Truth!' scene in a 'Few Good Men'.)

It's only a theory and attempt to connect some very curious 'dots' that have been reported.  Like any theory, it can be proven wrong, but history shows that informed speculation has a utility in uncovering the truth.

Theory:  President Obama was not intimately involved/engaged with the operational defense of the Benghazi Consulate because he was upset that key members of his National Security Council had circumvented his policy against arming the Syrian rebels.  His disengagement was his way of disassociating himself from a policy gone wrong; a policy he originally opposed.

The Facts in Support of the Theory:
  • The National Security Council (NSC) includes the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta), the Secretary of State (until recently Hillary Rodham Clinton; now John Kerry), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Martin Dempsey),  the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) whom was reported to by the Director of Central Intelligence (David Petraeus) and the National Security Advisor (Tom Donilon).
  • The February 7, 2013 New York Times story 'Senate Hearing Draws Out a Rift in U.S. Policy on Syria' notes the following (emphasis added):
    In his first term, President Obama presided over an administration known for its lack of open dissension on critical foreign policy issues.

    But on Thursday, deep divisions over what to do about one of those issues — the rising violence in Syria — spilled into public view for the first time in a blunt exchange between Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and the leaders of the Pentagon.

    Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. But it was ultimately vetoed by the White House, Mr. Panetta said, although it was developed by David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state...

    ...Neither Mr. Panetta nor General Dempsey explained why President Obama did not heed their recommendation. But senior American officials have said that the White House was worried about the risks of becoming more deeply involved in the Syria crisis, including the possibility that weapons could fall into the wrong hands. And with Mr. Obama in the middle of a re-election campaign, the White House rebuffed the plan, a decision that Mr. Panetta says he now accepts.

    With the exception of General Dempsey, the officials who favored arming the rebels have either left the administration or, as in Mr. Panetta’s case, are about to depart. Given that turnover, it is perhaps not surprising that the details of the debate — an illustration of the degree that foreign policy decisions have been centralized in the White House — are surfacing only now. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

    The plan that Mr. Petraeus developed, and that Mrs. Clinton supported, called for vetting rebels and training a cadre of fighters who would be supplied with weapons. The plan would have enlisted the help of a neighboring state.
    This line of questioning was pursued by both Senators McCain and Graham during the hearing.
  • A mysterious Libyan ship -- reportedly carrying weapons and bound for Syrian rebels -- may have some link to the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Fox News has learned.

    Through shipping records, Fox News has confirmed that the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means "The Victory," was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun -- 35 miles from the Syrian border -- on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.

    On the night of Sept. 11, in what would become his last known public meeting, Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m. local time.

    Although what was discussed at the meeting is not public, a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi to negotiate a weapons transfer, an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists. And although the negotiation said to have taken place may have had nothing to do with the attack on the consulate later that night or the Libyan mystery ship, it could explain why Stevens was travelling in such a volatile region on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

    When asked to comment, a State Department spokeswoman dismissed the idea, saying Stevens was there for diplomatic meetings, and to attend the opening of a cultural center...

    ...The cargo reportedly included surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, RPG's and Russian-designed shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS.
  • The following two video excerpts from the committee hearings document Senator Graham's inquiry into why President Obama only had one conversation with Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey.  Note that Panetta never talked to Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton spoke directly with the President and the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon.

    (Update: It appears from Secretary Clinton's testimony (link to C-SPAN video: Sec. Clinton on Her Activities on 9/11/2012) that she also spoke to the President just once during the attack, though she wasn't asked that question directly in the link provided.)

    (Update 2: Confirmed that Secretary Clinton only spoke once with the President as well. See the questioning by Representative Dana Rohrabacher from the House Hearings between 1:04:35 and 1:09:45:

    Dana Rohrabacher: “When did you see the President?”

    Secretary Clinton: “I talked to the president at the end of the day, but I had been in constant communication with the National Security Advisor. I’d been in secure video conferences with high level officials in the White House, in the Defense Department."


    )

    Pay close attention to how Senator Graham gets Panetta and Dempsey to state on the record that they only had one conversation with Obama and how he starts his second round of questioning re-confirming the arms shipment policy difference detailed in the New York Times article above:

    Video 1:

     

    Video 2:

  • An obvious question should come from these facts and reports.  With the on-the-record testimony that President Obama was against shipping arms to Syria, why were arms being sent to Syria (transiting through Turkey)...at least according to the Fox News report?  
Conclusions/Speculations:
  • The arms were being shipped to Turkey, instead of directly to Syria, to provide plausible deniability.
  • Somehow, key members of the National Security Council were able to put together a plan to get arms to Syria in spite of the President's objection.

    The President may have finally relented but said something to the effect of, 'OK...but if things blow up you're on your own...you get to clean up the mess' to his NSC members that were in favor of the policy.  Or in Tom Friedman's words, "You Break It, You Own It".

    This may explain the lack of engagement Senator Graham was pursuing above on the operational details of Benghazi, even to the point of continuing with a planned visit to Las Vegas on September 12, 2012.

Legal Reasoning: Marriage is not a Federal Constitutional Fundamental Right

The post '6th Circuit Echoes Porkopolis' Arguments on Rationale for State of Ohio Defining Marriage' demonstrates how Judge Sutton's 6th circuit opinion echoes an argument made on this blog in 2009.

Judge Sutton also reasoned in the opinion that a state only has to satisfy a minimal rational basis for establishing marriage.  The act of establishing a rational marriage laws is in essence an act of discernment and not an act of discrimination.

Euclid used the technique of using contradictions (reductio ad absurdum) when arguing mathematical proofs.

Like Euclidean mathematical proof, a contradiction is used in the following line of reasoning that has been forwarded to the Ohio Attorney General's office in the event that the 6th circuit ruling is reviewed by the Supreme Court:

Marriage is not a United States Constitutional Fundamental Right 

It is the law of the land, through the Windsor decision, that a state like New York can define marriage within its borders and the federal government must respect that. This was the rationale to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

What of the corollary to that? Can a state choose NOT to define marriage within its borders?

If a state chooses to do so, will the federal government intercede and say, "You CAN'T be a state without a definition of marriage."?

If one argues that the federal government has the right to tell the state it can't exist without any marriage laws, a reference to the U.S. Constitution where that authority exists must be provided.

Now, if one can't find that clause in the U.S. Constitution, then the conclusion must be that marriage is not a fundamental right and that state can still be part of the union with no marriage laws whatsoever.

And once one establishes that marriage is not a United States constitutional fundamental right, we're back to Windsor and every state has a right to define marriage to address the rational concerns as perceived by that state and the federal government can't intercede in a state's approach to addressing the rational concern.

If the rational concerns were universal rational concerns, they would be in the federal constitution; either in original form or amended.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

6th Circuit Echoes Porkopolis' Arguments on Rationale for State of Ohio Defining Marriage

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld same-sex marriage bans in Ohio and three other states.

In doing so, the court used an argument that echoes the one made by Porkopolis in 2009:
...Before considering the question of gay marriage, a more fundamental question should be considered: Why marriage at all? In the United States, marriage is a tri-party legal agreement. The first two parties, husband and wife, are obvious. The third party is the state/community that acknowledges a marriage. Male and female couples petition the state –and more generally, their community– to recognize their marriage. If it was just a simple relationship amongst consenting adults, the community would have no need –and more importantly no business– acknowledging the relationship.

However, marriage is a relationship that imposes responsibilities on the community and that’s why the state is involved in its recognition and definition; as in detailing that only two (not more) individuals of the opposite sex will be recognized in a marriage. Married couples get legal tax and inheritance status. Male-female couples asking the state to recognize their marriage are also asking the state to address the care of their biological children if the couples are incapable of doing so.

What does the community get in return for consideration of this ‘special’ status? It is rejuvenated –by the only relationship that can procreate: a male-female relationship– and benefits from responsibly raised children in a marriage. Because of the corrosive effects to the community of infidelity, the community acknowledges only monogamous marriages. This shared responsibility amongst all the parties (husband, wife, community) is the limited government rationale for marriage as a legal construct...
From the court's opinion:
...One starts from the premise that governments got into the business of defining marriage, and remain in the business of defining marriage, not to regulate love but to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse. Imagine a society without marriage. It does not take long to envision problems that might result from an absence of rules about how to handle the natural effects of male-female intercourse: children. May men and women follow their procreative urges wherever they take them? Who is responsible for the children that result? How many mates may an individual have? How does one decide which set of mates is responsible for which set of children? That we rarely think about these questions nowadays shows only how far we have come and how relatively stable our society is, not that States have no explanation for creating such rules in the first place.

Once one accepts a need to establish such ground rules, and most especially a need to create stable family units for the planned and unplanned creation of children, one can well appreciate why the citizenry would think that a reasonable first concern of any society is the need to regulate male-female relationships and the unique procreative possibilities of them. One way to pursue this objective is to encourage couples to enter lasting relationships through subsidies and other benefits and to discourage them from ending such relationships through these and other means. People may not need the government’s encouragement to have sex. And they may not need the government’s encouragement to propagate the species. But they may well need the government’s encouragement to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish. It is not society’s laws or for that matter any one religion’s laws, but nature’s laws (that men and women complement each other biologically), that created the policy imperative. And governments typically are not second-guessed under the Constitution for prioritizing how they tackle such issues. Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 486–87 (1970)...

...What we are left with is this: By creating a status (marriage) and by subsidizing it (e.g., with tax-filing privileges and deductions), the States created an incentive for two people who procreate together to stay together for purposes of rearing offspring. That does not convict the States of irrationality, only of awareness of the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended offspring. That explanation, still relevant today, suffices to allow the States to retain authority over an issue they have regulated from the beginning...
The 6th Circuit opinion is extremely well reasoned and worthy of a complete reading as evidenced by this argument against the claim that "failure to recognize gay marriages celebrated in other States violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses":
...What of the reality that Ohio recognizes some heterosexual marriages solemnized in other States even if those marriages could not be performed in Ohio? See, e.g., Mazzolini v. Mazzolini, 155 N.E.2d 206, 208 (Ohio 1958). The only reason Ohio could have for banning recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and not prohibiting heterosexual marriages performed elsewhere, the Ohio plaintiffs claim, is animus or “discrimination of an unusual character.” Obergefell Appellees’ Br. at 18 (quoting Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2692).

But, in making this argument, the plaintiffs misapprehend Ohio law, wrongly assuming that Ohio would recognize as valid any heterosexual marriage that was valid in the State that sanctioned it. That is not the case. Ohio law recognizes some out-of-state marriages that could not be performed in Ohio, but not all such marriages. See, e.g., Mazzolini, 155 N.E.2d at 208 (marriage of first cousins); Hardin v. Davis, 16 Ohio Supp. 19, 20 (Ohio Ct. Com. Pl. 1945) (marriage by proxy). In Mazzolini, the most relevant precedent, the Ohio Supreme Court stated that a number of heterosexual marriages—ones that were “incestuous, polygamous, shocking to good morals, unalterably opposed to a well defined public policy, or prohibited”—would not be recognized in the State, even if they were valid in the jurisdiction that performed them. 155 N.E.2d at 208–09 (noting that first-cousin marriages fell outside this rule because they were “not made void by explicit provision” and “not incestuous”). Ohio law declares same-sex marriage contrary to the State’s public policy, placing those marriages within the longstanding exception to Ohio’s recognition rule. See Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01(C)...
Related: Collection of Essays and Posts on Same-Sex Marriage

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Obama can't "Philosophical"-ly Have It Both Ways on Ebola Travel Restrictions

After meeting with several public health officials yesterday, Obama reiterated his policy of not implementing travel restrictions from areas of Africa where the Ebola epidemic is growing out of control.

Mr. Obama made the following statements  that don't stand up to critical analysis:

I don't have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban, if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe. But the problem is is that in all of the discussions I've had thus far with experts in the field, experts in infectious disease, is that say travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting--that involve screening passengers coming from West Africa...

...If we institute a travel ban instead of the protocols that we put in place now, history shows that there is a likelihood of increased avoidance. People do not readily disclose their information. They may engage in something called broken travel, essentially breaking up their trip so that they can hide the fact that they have been to one of these countries where there is a disease in place. And as a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease, they are less likely to get treated properly, screened properly, quarantined properly, and as a consequence we could end up having more cases rather than less...
The President, an individual with two Ivy-league degrees and skilled in the art of rhetoric, should know well that those statements open him up to being accused of having it both ways.  With his statement he concedes that infected (and possibly infectious) individuals "may engage in something called broken travel, essentially breaking up their trip so that they can hide the fact that they have been to one of these countries where there is a disease in place."

Mr. Obama would have us believe that once a travel ban is instituted, an infected individual will use 'human cunning' to evade the travel ban and get to a treatment facility in the United States.  As if the act of a travel ban brings out the creative-evasive thinking in infected individuals.  His critical-deficient thinking makes no provisions for realizing that the 'human cunning' exists even without the travel ban.  Infected individuals have every incentive now to creatively circumvent the screening process in a country like Liberia.  Using cunning like:

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson Should Stick to the Rhetoric of Logos; Not Pathos and Ethos

Rich Lowry does an excellent summary of Neil deGrasse Tyson's "just-so" account of a President Bush myth in The Cult of Neil deGrasse Tyson:
...When Tyson puts up a slide with George W. Bush’s name on it, the audience laughs, prepared to have its prejudices confirmed, and Tyson obliges with his bogus quote.

Tyson says that right after Sept. 11, Bush asserted the superiority of “we” to “they” (i.e., Muslim fundamentalists) by saying, “Our God is the God who named the stars.”...

...As Sean Davis pointed out in his initial piece on the dubious quote, it really came from a poetic tribute to the astronauts who died in the Columbia disaster in 2003. After quoting from Isaiah, Bush said, “The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.”...
Porkopolis has highlighted Tyson's excellent essay The Perimeter of Ignorance and urges him to take the very advice he advocates in it:
The Perimeter of Ignorance: A boundary where scientists face a choice: invoke a deity or continue the quest for knowledge...

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Critical Thinking on Dallas, Texas Ebola Situation

Facts:

Questions
:

  • Why is the public health policy isolating one group of individuals that came in contact with the infected Ebola patient but not others?

    It would stand to reason that family members had longer, sustained contact with the patient than the EMS transport drivers.
  • Is their a robust protocol in place to determine individuals presenting with symptoms have been traveling in areas infected with Ebola?  

    Besides wanting to help individuals that show up sick, hospitals generally want to get paid for their services.  That's why they ask not only what symptoms an individual has and how they will be paying for the services.  If the individual was not a U.S. citizen, he would have had to present an non-US form of insurance or payment form.  It stands to reason that this should have triggered (and should trigger) a protocol to determine if the individual is traveling in infected areas; especially after the President has gone out of his way to tell the world and the nation that this is a major problem.

Friday, August 22, 2014

International Conferences on Climate Change

“Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout”:


 Full list of presentations via The Heartland Institute

A Tragic Comedy

Andrew Klavan: Democrats at War:


Friday, July 18, 2014

IRS Investigation: Congressman Jim Jordan Reveals Deputy Attorney General James Cole's Ineptitude...

... and possible malfeasance.

(Related: Report: IRS Sent Database Containing Confidential Taxpayer Information to FBI)

 

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Incurious Mr. Koskinen

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Uncle Sam Improperly Doles Out $100 Billion

Fox News: 'Staggering': Government making $100B in improper payments every year:
The U.S. government is making roughly $100 billion in improper payments every year thanks to a combination of fraud, clerical errors and insufficient IRS enforcement, according to testimony at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

“The amounts here are absolutely staggering,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said.

The problem of erroneous payments – largely from Medicare and other health care programs – is not a new one. But Mica said at the hearing of a House oversight subcommittee that federal agencies reported over $100 billion in improper payments during each of the last five years.

That’s roughly what the Obama administration spent on the Afghanistan war and other security operations last year.

“That’s an incredible amount of money that has been misappropriated, mis-paid,” Mica said.

The money is coming from an array of agencies, and includes tax credits to families that didn't qualify, unemployment benefits to people who had jobs and medical payments for treatments that might not have been necessary...
Related:  Citizens for Tax Justice (They're totally serious): Addressing the Need for More Federal Revenue :
America is undertaxed, and the result is underfunding of public investments that would improve our economy and the overall welfare of Americans. Fortunately, Congress has several straightforward policy options to raise revenue, mostly by closing or limiting loopholes and special subsidies imbedded in the tax code that benefit wealthy individuals and profitable businesses...

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Cluelessness!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

WSJ: Maryland's Incredible Purple People Mover

How the state's proposed $2.4 billion light rail could take taxpayers for a ride:
With a $2.4 billion price tag, the Maryland Department of Transportation's 16-mile light-rail "Purple Line" won't be built without federal taxpayers as major underwriters. The state is asking them to kick in $900 million for construction costs—and that's before contractors, who are notorious for cost overruns, have even broken ground. That kind of money is a rounding error in Washington but it also seems to be a colossal waste of money...

...Even using the Parsons Brinckerhoff predictions, the project seems misguided. According to the EIS, roughly two-thirds of the riders forecast to use the system by 2040 will come, not out of their cars, but from existing bus lines. In other words, reducing the number of cars on the road, which was once supposedly a key objective, is now a minor side effect of a system that will cost $150 million per mile—if it comes in at budget...

...But Gov. O'Malley and his developer friends want it, and President Obama wants them to have it. The president put a cool $100 million in his 2015 budget for the Purple Line although the FTA has yet to complete the project development phase of its assessment and it hasn't even begun the engineering phase.

Whether Mr. Porcari has been able to help with all this is a matter of speculation. In 2009 he left the Maryland DOT to become President Obama's deputy DOT secretary. In December he left the Obama administration to become senior vice president and national director of strategic consulting at Parsons Brinckerhoff. He did not return requests for comment. But taxpayers could be forgiven for suspecting that he and all the other Purple Line planners are taking them for a ride.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WhiteHouse.gov Petition Calling on POTUS to Issue Executive Order to Search for Missing IRS Emails

Obama has a pen and he's not afraid to use it with regard to Executive Orders.

Here is one Executive Order consistent with his "I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it" position on the IRS investigation.  Federal agencies should be instructed to search their email archives for the lost email correspondences with Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax-exempt status department.  Emails to be searched should included those initiated by her and those initiated by individuals corresponding with her.

Update: IRS Has Lost More E-mails...

WhiteHouse.gov petition:

We petition the Obama administration to:

Issue an Executive Order to federal agencies to search their archived systems for emails from IRS agent Lois Lerner.

On Friday June 13, 2014 the IRS informed the House Ways and Means Committee that the that it could not recover two years of emails from Lois Lerner, the former head of the agency's tax-exempt status department.

To support the ongoing investigation, the President is urged to assist the recovery of the requested emails by directing the federal agencies in the executive branch to search their archived email systems for any emails that may have been part of a correspondence with Lois Lerner.

The retrieved emails will then be turned over to both the Congressional Committees investigating the IRS and the Justice Department.


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Monday, May 26, 2014

Theory of Wisdom

Having looked at wonder, thought, meaning and the dynamic of inquiry through the lens of neural science, it's worth considering the elusive psychological dynamic of wisdom.

Stephen Hall's Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience is replete with anecdotes, but just scratches the surface in offering a reductionist explanation for the phenomena of wisdom.

Scientists are studying the process of decision making in the brain and in particular wisdom itself.  At its essence, wisdom (like all other brain functions) is the time-measurable response to neural stimuli quantifiable in neural correlates of the brain's neural network.

In 2000, Dr. Eric Kandel shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of the molecular dynamics involved in learning and memory; providing fundamental insight into the brain's neuroplasticity (video).  More recently, Dr. Giulio Tononi and Dr. Chiara Cirelli have argued that sleep is critical part of memory making; suggesting that it implements a pruning mechanism of the neural network in memory formation.  Tononi and Cirelli are making major contributions to research started in the early 1960's.

These fundamental discoveries on how memories are made in the brain are important to understanding the physical and neurological dynamics of wisdom.  The sleep research in particular points to the important factor dedicated time 'invested' in sleep has on memory formation:

...Scientists first proposed the idea that sleep is important to memory nearly a century ago, and plenty of experiments since then have shown that after a night of sleep, and sometimes just a nap, newly formed memories “stick” better than they would if one had spent the same amount of time awake...

Sleep forges wisdom.

The proper perspective for developing a Theory of Wisdom is achieved when the following question is asked:
What makes one neural correlate response wiser than another neural response?
Here game theory, cited by Stephen Hall in his book, comes into play (pun intended). (Also see: Game Theory Intro.)

Fundamental to game theory is the quantifiable concept of utility:
In any game, utility represents the motivations of players.  A utility function for a given player assigns a number for every possible outcome of the game with the property that a higher number implies that the outcome is more preferred...
John Nash won a Nobel Prize in 1994 for offering a systematic way of identifying the utilities in non-cooperative games and quantifying the Nash equilibrium.  Since then, Steven Brams has made a major contribution to game theory providing insight into the complex strategies used for maximizing utility with Theory of Moves (TOM):
Another approach to inducing cooperation in PD [prisoner's dilemma] and other variable-sum games is the theory of moves (TOM). Proposed by the American political scientist Steven J. Brams, TOM allows players, starting at any outcome in a payoff matrix, to move and countermove within the matrix, thereby capturing the changing strategic nature of games as they evolve over time. In particular, TOM assumes that players think ahead about the consequences of all of the participants’ moves and countermoves when formulating plans...
The implementation of the 'think ahead' strategies quantified in TOM  are manifested on a neural network that has been molded by the memory making dynamics detailed by Eric Kandel and the memory pruning mechanism argued by doctors Tononi and Cirelli.

Building on:

  • the well established concepts offered by game theory to quantify maximum utilities,
  • the fundamentals of the time-dependent neural responses and
  • the time-dependent formation of the neural network (where wisdom is ultimately manifested) through sleep 

the following is offered as a Theory of Wisdom (TOW):

Assuming, U is a quantifiable maximum game theoretic utility, t is the amount of time required to affect a neural correlate that results in U, and W is the neurological dynamic of wisdom to be quantified:


W = U/t 


With this simple ratio, an individual's wisdom can be assessed.

The following dynamics can also be put into perspective:
  • When it's qualitatively observed that someone is wise there is an implied comparative to the observation. The implication is that the wise individual is wiser than an unwise (or naive) individual.  Both individuals will process the same neurological stimuli, but the wise individual's response/decision will have greater quantifiable utility (U) than that of the unwise individual within a comparable unit of time (t).  Having a larger utility to the same stimuli (question/problem/challenge/etc.) in the same unit of time is one way to result in a larger amount of wisdom.

  • As humans we have acquired a foundation of wisdom (built-in skills, genetically hard-wired into the brain's neural network); which is the study of evolutionary psychology.  As discussed above, the other way that wisdom is acquired by our brain's neural network  is through neural stimuli (experience) that 'rewires' the brain through the memory making mechanism fundamental to neuroplasticity.  A wise(r) individual has more experience and thus a potentially more optimally developed brain.  The potential qualifier is stressed because, like the evolutionary utility being mathematically quantified with evolutionary game theory, any given utility (U) is not known until it is put to a test in an 'error then trial' (not trial and error) dynamic.

  • An  individual may respond to stimuli that results in maximum utility (U).  But if it takes that individual a very long time (t) to do so, then the quantifiable wisdom (W) would be very small; relative to stimuli that 'started the clock' to quantify/evaluate the wisdom.  This is because the divisor in the wisdom ratio above would result in a large time value (t); possibly as long as a lifetime for an individual to 'wise up'.

    The longer the time (t) to maximum utility (U), the smaller the resulting wisdom (W).  Small comparable wisdom is the definition of unwise/naive; whether that value was derived by a small utility (U) or large (t) in the wisdom (W = U/t) ratio.

  • Given comparable neural stimuli (experience) that results in a neuroplasticly transformed brain that responds with the same utility (U) in time (t) as that of a wise individual, an unwise/naive individual's neural network could be transformed into one that will respond wisely (large W); with age (time) comes wisdom.
As an aside, insight (and wisdom) would have been appropriate in Hall's discussion of Socrates' "wisdom tour".   He rightfully observes on page 255:
...in a world of ongoing social interactions, as in the serial repetitions of games in game theory, people who insist on winning at all costs, whose self-interest trumps sociality, and whose greed (financial or emotional) exceeds the bounds of fairness end up playing solitaire. A famous Sicilian proverb holds that "the man who plays alone never loses," but in social reality most of us experience, it also means he never wins...
It's ironic that Hall misses this very lesson while advocating that Socrates was a paragon of wisdom.  On page 21 he notes:
...Socrates managed to alienate, humiliate, illuminate, and educate his countrymen about the paradoxes of Socratic wisdom...  
It escapes Hall that Socrates was less than wise with respect to his social skills; a major contribution to his trial and death.  Socrates would have benefited from the wisdom of a fictional Sicilian and game theory practitioner extraordinaire, The Godfather's Don Vito Corleone, famous for counseling: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer".  Sage advice that even the Dali Lama should have used.


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Thursday, May 22, 2014

NYT: A Victory Lap for a Heretical Neurologist

‘Madness and Memory,’ a Memoir About Discovering Prions:
Sweet revenge comes in many delectable forms, among them the receipt of accolades for work long scorned. And then to get to tell the whole story at length and without a single interruption — small wonder that the Nobel laureate Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner, a renowned neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, writes with a cheerful bounce. Once disparaged, his scientific work is now hailed as visionary, and his memoir takes the reader on a leisurely and immensely readable victory lap from then to now.

Neural Network Assisted Evolution

Expanded DNA alphabet provides more options for nanotechnology:
Long-time readers of Nanodot may remember the section of Chapter 15 of Nanosystems in which Drexler explores options for producing easier to design proteins for the protein engineering path toward atomically precise manufacturing by incorporating specially chosen amino acids in addition to the 20 genetically encoded amino acids. Back in 1992 the only option for incorporating unnatural amino acids into proteins was Merrifield solid phase peptide synthesis, using the methods of organic chemistry rather than biological systems. However, this becomes problematic and expensive for longer chains. Consequently, finding ways to expand the repertoire of biologically encoded amino acids would be quite useful. One way to accomplish this goal would be to expand the DNA ‘alphabet’ from two to three base pairs (that is, from four to six ‘letters’). We noted progress in this direction back in February of 2008 when Floyd Romesberg, at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California created two artificial DNA letters that were accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme. In September of 2011 we noted a different approach taken by a team at the Salk Institute that keeps the current DNA alphabet but alters one three-letter word to mean an unnatural amino acid, increasing the amino acid repertoire by one. We noted in June of 2012 that continued work by Romesberg had revealed how the new base pair was efficiently replicated in the test tube by a natural enzyme. In a major advance, Romesberg and his collaborators have engineered a living organism to stably propagate the expanded genetic alphabet...

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Japan's New National Stadium



Monday, May 19, 2014

Bumpin on Sunshine

A baby cloud was rolling round
 Humble tumble out of bed

Hit the ground without a sound
 Stumble crumble split its head

Thunderstruck it looked around
  Rumble fumble bleed to bled

And the find that's to be found
 Mumble bumble read to read

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Martin Feldstein: Piketty's Number Don't Add Up

Ignoring dramatic changes in tax rules since 1980 creates the false impression that income inequality is rising:
Thomas Piketty has recently attracted widespread attention for his claim that capitalism will now lead inexorably to an increasing inequality of income and wealth unless there are radical changes in taxation. Although his book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," has been praised by those who advocate income redistribution, his thesis rests on a false theory of ..how wealth evolves in a market economy, a flawed interpretation of U.S. income-tax data, and a misunderstanding of the current nature of household wealth.
Update: Piketty's Book -- Just Another Excuse For Legal Plunder And Expanding The State:
...Those responses to Piketty, accurate though they are, do little to blunt his message that the rich are already too rich and will keep getting richer unless government steps in to impose substantially higher taxes on them. Arguing against Piketty on the grounds that inequality isn’t as great as he says is futile. It’s like trying to file down the tip on your dueling opponent’s sword – the darned thing will still be lethal.

Rather than going after Piketty’s numbers, we need to go after his philosophy...
UpdateData problems with Capital in the 21st Century

Update: Why Piketty's Wealth Data Are Worthless:
...Private retirement plans rose to $12.4 trillion in 2012 from $875 billion in 1984. None of it is reported on tax returns....

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Questioning the Authority for Advocacy on Public Policy

The posts
all address the central theme of individuals using the rhetoric of pathos and ethos when advocating public policy.

History tells us its perilous to listen to the likes of Congressman Fernando Wood ("Congress must never declare equal those whom God has created unequal") with the authority they argue has been divinely bestowed upon them.

Equally so, it is perilous to give credence to the most recent economic policy recommendations made by Pope Francis (Pope demands 'legitimate redistribution' of wealth).

If the Pope is going to advocate a global re-working of the capitalist system, he opens himself up to having the facts that directly lead to the authority by which he makes the advocacy challenged.  Specifically:
All of the Pope's authority hinges on these extraordinary biological claims.  And, as Carl Sagan rightfully argues, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson asserts, the Pope's belief and faith may have "evolutionary utility":
...The empirical evidence points to substantial group-level benefits for most enduring religions.

Benefits include defining the group, coordinating action to achieve shared goals and developing elaborate mechanisms to prevent cheating. The same evolutionary processes that cause individual organisms and social insect colonies to function as adaptive units also cause religious groups to function as adaptive units. Religious believers frequently compare their communities to a single body or a beehive. This is not just a poetic metaphor but turns out to be correct from an evolutionary perspective....
 However, as one can see with Congressman Fernando Wood,  it is a two-edged sword.

Related: The Clergy Project:
The Clergy Project is a confidential online community for active and former professional clergy/religious leaders who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

Currently, the community's 582 Forum Participants use it to support, network and discuss what it's like being an unbelieving professional in a religious community or being an unbeliever as ex-clergy in their world.

The Clergy Project’s goal is to support Forum Participants as they move beyond faith. Forum Participants freely discuss issues related to their transition from believer to unbeliever including:
The Clergy Project is referred to by Daniel Dennett in his presentation: How to Tell if You're an Atheist

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

TED Video: Sam Harris: Science Can Answer Moral Questions

Senator Tom Coburn: Pork Barrel Politics Redux

Porky's II: The Earmarkers Strike Back: Restoring earmarks in today's Congress would be like opening a bar tab for a bunch of recovering alcoholics:
Remember the $223 million in federal funds earmarked in 2005 for the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska? The project stalled but the public outrage it sparked led to a 2011 decision by Congress to end earmarking. Well, it looks like the bridge-to-nowhere crowd is ready to get the scaffolding out again, with lobbyists and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle calling for a return to earmarks and pork-barrel politics.

The powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) has called the ban a "bad idea." Two Republican candidates in Mississippi—Sen. Thad Cochran and House candidate Gene Taylor —are making a return to pork part of their platform. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) recently tried to dismiss the bipartisan ban as a fringe, right-wing idea that has led to gridlock. "It was a tea party reform," Sen. Durbin told reporters in Springfield, Ill., on April 14 after a speech to Teamsters. "They came in and eliminated it and what they did is take the glue out of a federal transportation bill. That was the glue that held everybody together."

Mr. Durbin said he longs for the day "when we get back to the point where members of Congress are sitting down with a common goal—let's pass this bill, let's make sure there is enough money in this bill, let's find the sources of revenue necessary for this bill—you know, it creates a much better and more positive feeling."

The "glue" is pork and the "positive feeling" that Mr. Durbin is referring to is the joy of spending other people's money. For politicians, this sensation is highly addictive. It's why I called earmarks the gateway drug to Washington's spending addiction after fighting my own party's earmarks in the 1990s...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why Does 1% of History Have 99% of the Wealth?


Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Scarcity Fallacy

Via the Wall Street Journal: The World's Resources Aren't Running Out Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again:
How many times have you heard that we humans are "using up" the world's resources, "running out" of oil, "reaching the limits" of the atmosphere's capacity to cope with pollution or "approaching the carrying capacity" of the land's ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff—metals, oil, clean air, land—and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption.

"We are using 50% more resources than the Earth can sustainably produce, and unless we change course, that number will grow fast—by 2030, even two planets will not be enough," says Jim Leape, director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature International (formerly the World Wildlife Fund).

But here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this "niche construction"—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

10th Anniversary of Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin's Disappearance

Maupin's remains were recovered in 2008.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Repost: The 'You Break It, You Own It' Theory on Benghazi

In light of the recent Benghazi testimony from Michael Morell, this post originally made on February 9, 2013 is reposted:

The following is a theory on the apparent disinterested nature and dissonance President Obama had over the Benghazi attack discussed at the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 7, 2013.  It's inspired by Secretary of State Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule on Iraq: 'You Break It, You Own It', as posited by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

It's also prompted by the question, 'If the President was against a policy of arming the Syrians, why do we have a report that arms were being shipped from Benghazi to Syria by way of Turkey?'. (The question might evoke memories of the 'You Can't Handle the Truth!' scene in a 'Few Good Men'.)

It's only a theory and attempt to connect some very curious 'dots' that have been reported.  Like any theory, it can be proven wrong, but history shows that informed speculation has a utility in uncovering the truth.

Theory:  President Obama was not intimately involved/engaged with the operational defense of the Benghazi Consulate because he was upset that key members of his National Security Council had circumvented his policy against arming the Syrian rebels.  His disengagement was his way of disassociating himself from a policy gone wrong; a policy he originally opposed.

The Facts in Support of the Theory:
  • The National Security Council (NSC) includes the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta), the Secretary of State (until recently Hillary Rodham Clinton; now John Kerry), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Martin Dempsey),  the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) whom was reported to by the Director of Central Intelligence (David Petraeus) and the National Security Advisor (Tom Donilon).
  • The February 7, 2013 New York Times story 'Senate Hearing Draws Out a Rift in U.S. Policy on Syria' notes the following (emphasis added):
    In his first term, President Obama presided over an administration known for its lack of open dissension on critical foreign policy issues.

    But on Thursday, deep divisions over what to do about one of those issues — the rising violence in Syria — spilled into public view for the first time in a blunt exchange between Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and the leaders of the Pentagon.

    Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. But it was ultimately vetoed by the White House, Mr. Panetta said, although it was developed by David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state...

    ...Neither Mr. Panetta nor General Dempsey explained why President Obama did not heed their recommendation. But senior American officials have said that the White House was worried about the risks of becoming more deeply involved in the Syria crisis, including the possibility that weapons could fall into the wrong hands. And with Mr. Obama in the middle of a re-election campaign, the White House rebuffed the plan, a decision that Mr. Panetta says he now accepts.

    With the exception of General Dempsey, the officials who favored arming the rebels have either left the administration or, as in Mr. Panetta’s case, are about to depart. Given that turnover, it is perhaps not surprising that the details of the debate — an illustration of the degree that foreign policy decisions have been centralized in the White House — are surfacing only now. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

    The plan that Mr. Petraeus developed, and that Mrs. Clinton supported, called for vetting rebels and training a cadre of fighters who would be supplied with weapons. The plan would have enlisted the help of a neighboring state.
    This line of questioning was pursued by both Senators McCain and Graham during the hearing.
  • A mysterious Libyan ship -- reportedly carrying weapons and bound for Syrian rebels -- may have some link to the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Fox News has learned.

    Through shipping records, Fox News has confirmed that the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means "The Victory," was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun -- 35 miles from the Syrian border -- on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.

    On the night of Sept. 11, in what would become his last known public meeting, Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m. local time.

    Although what was discussed at the meeting is not public, a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi to negotiate a weapons transfer, an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists. And although the negotiation said to have taken place may have had nothing to do with the attack on the consulate later that night or the Libyan mystery ship, it could explain why Stevens was travelling in such a volatile region on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

    When asked to comment, a State Department spokeswoman dismissed the idea, saying Stevens was there for diplomatic meetings, and to attend the opening of a cultural center...

    ...The cargo reportedly included surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, RPG's and Russian-designed shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS.
  • The following two video excerpts from the committee hearings document Senator Graham's inquiry into why President Obama only had one conversation with Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey.  Note that Panetta never talked to Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton spoke directly with the President and the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon.

    (Update: It appears from Secretary Clinton's testimony (link to C-SPAN video: Sec. Clinton on Her Activities on 9/11/2012) that she also spoke to the President just once during the attack, though she wasn't asked that question directly in the link provided.)

    (Update 2: Confirmed that Secretary Clinton only spoke once with the President as well. See the questioning by Representative Dana Rohrabacher from the House Hearings between 1:04:35 and 1:09:45:

    Dana Rohrabacher: “When did you see the President?”

    Secretary Clinton: “I talked to the president at the end of the day, but I had been in constant communication with the National Security Advisor. I’d been in secure video conferences with high level officials in the White House, in the Defense Department."


    )

    Pay close attention to how Senator Graham gets Panetta and Dempsey to state on the record that they only had one conversation with Obama and how he starts his second round of questioning re-confirming the arms shipment policy difference detailed in the New York Times article above:

    Video 1:

     

    Video 2:

  • An obvious question should come from these facts and reports.  With the on-the-record testimony that President Obama was against shipping arms to Syria, why were arms being sent to Syria (transiting through Turkey)...at least according to the Fox News report?  
Conclusions/Speculations:
  • The arms were being shipped to Turkey, instead of directly to Syria, to provide plausible deniability.
  • Somehow, key members of the National Security Council were able to put together a plan to get arms to Syria in spite of the President's objection.

    The President may have finally relented but said something to the effect of, 'OK...but if things blow up you're on your own...you get to clean up the mess' to his NSC members that were in favor of the policy.  Or in Tom Friedman's words, "You Break It, You Own It".

    This may explain the lack of engagement Senator Graham was pursuing above on the operational details of Benghazi, even to the point of continuing with a planned visit to Las Vegas on September 12, 2012.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Amazing Parasitic Mind Control

Devolution

Texting for long periods 'could lower life expectancy': The United Chiropractic Association warns that bad posture due to mobile phone use could shorten your life :
Texting and using mobile devices for long periods of time could lead to lower life expectancy, chiropractors have warned.

The forward-leaning posture that many people adopt when texting, going online, sending emails or playing games on phones and other mobile devices increases the risk of an early death in elderly people, and there are fears that younger people could also be knocking time off their lives...

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Organic Chemicals Self Assemble

Intelligent Design need not apply, both figuratively and literally.  More evidence:

Study shows short peptides can self-assemble into catalysts:
A team of researchers with members from Syracuse University and the University of California, has found that naturally forming peptides can self-assemble into catalysts. In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they designed seven peptides, allowed the resulting molecules to self-assemble into amyloids and then noted how many of them could catalyze the hydrolysis of esters...

...To learn more, the team created seven modest peptides, each of which were constructed from just seven amino acids—putting them together in a dish, with a dash of zinc iron to help move things along, allowed the peptides to self-form into different sheet-like fibril amyloids. During testing, four of the amyloids the team created were found to be able to catalyze the hydrolysis of esters.

The results of the team's experiments suggest that enzymes didn't necessarily have to spring forth fully formed from the primordial soup for life to begin, perhaps amyloids came first, serving as an intermediary, or a sort of blueprint—over millions of years the amyloids could have given way to the much more complicated enzymes, leading eventually to living organisms.
Related (Amino Acids occur natutallly): Life Ingredients Found in Superhot Meteorites—A First: New evidence that space rocks may have seeded life on Earth.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Did The President NOT Know And When Did He NOT Know It?

Washington Post: Feinstein: CIA searched Intelligence Committee computers:

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday sharply accused the CIA of violating federal law and undermining the constitutional principle of congressional oversight as she detailed publicly for the first time how the agency secretly removed documents from computers used by her panel to investigate a controversial interrogation program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.” ...

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Curious and Counter Intuitive Number -1/12

Smithsonian Magazine writes about the mathematical oddity of the number -1/12 in The Great Debate Over Whether 1+2+3+4..+ ∞ = -1/12 .

It turns out the 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + .... = -1/12 is utilized in quantum field and string theory.

If one considers Euler's Identity ( e^{i╥} + 1 = 0 ) and re-formulates it as e^{i╥} = -1, the curious relationship noted above can be represented in a way that brings into play three other mathematical constants (e, i and ) in provocative and counter intuitive musings:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... =  e^{i╥} / 12

It's probably no accident that the imaginary number i has been so helpful throughout history, allowing us to mathematically delve into another 'dimension' for problem solving in fields like electrical engineering, also shows up in the infinite sum of positive integers relationship.

Just as interesting is that the number 12 shows in up in a dimensional variation of string theory.

Hopefully Coming to A Bumper Sticker Near You

#Benghazi: When Foggy Bottom Got Caught With Its Pants Suit Down

© Porkopolis.blogspot.com, 2014. All rights reserved.

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News Flash: Laws of Economics Are Still in Effect


Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski's confusion not withstanding, it should not come as any surprise that business owners will continue to innovate and lower their expenses in the face of rising labor costs.

The Wall Street Journal's opinion piece The Employee of the Month Has a Battery details the automation efforts of several restaurants utilizing tabletop ordering devices to replace waiters.

The exact same argument was made here in 2006 to counter the assertion that illegal immigration provides irreplaceable cheap labor:
...One can argue that cheap labor is keeping U.S.-based agriculture from further automating and reducing it's labor content...That cheap labor is providing a disincentive to fund further research and development that reduces the labor content in agriculture.

Along with the Homeland Security benefits of halting illegal immigration, we could see an increase in good ole' fashion American ingenuity that would lessen our dependency on cheap labor. Our future would see more innovations like trunk shaker machines, robotic fruit pickerssheep shearing robotssatellite controlled harvesters and flexible agricultural automation.