Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Streets of Google Maps

Now you can drive through them, too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Waterboarded...With Information

Gene Weingarten over at the Washington Post has some keen insights about the nature of our political culture after a 24-hour information binge. The following is but a small part of a very compelling and often amusing essay.

It is possible to know too much. It is possible to care too much. Hunger for information can become gluttony.

This has always been true, but it is more so now because the opportunities for abuse are greater. There are too many voices, competing too hard, fighting for attention, ranting, redundant, random. The dissemination of fact and opinion is no longer the sole province of people and institutions with the money to buy network monopolies or ink by the ton, as it was a half-century ago when information was delivered to us, for better or worse, like the latest 1950s-era cigarette: filtered, for an illusion of safety. Now, all is out of control. Everyone with a computer is a potential pundit; anyone with a video camera can be on a screen.

And so it has come to this: a Web site called Meme-orandum.com, which brags, in its mission statement, that it "auto-generates a news summary every 5 minutes, drawing on experts and pundits, insiders and outsiders, media professionals and amateur bloggers." Driven by algorithm, largely unimpeded by the human mind, this information-aggregating Web site offers an obsessively updated menu of hyperlinks to hundreds of morsels of political news and commentary, many of which lead to dozens more of the same, creating a bottomless pyramid of punditry, a tessellated spider work of interconnected news and opinion that canvasses virtually everything that is being publicly written or uttered minute by minute on every subject everywhere by everyone.

There's a colorful analogy for living in an age of information overload. When I couldn't remember it, I went to Google and typed in "analogy" and "information overload." Twenty-six hundredths of a second later, after combing through the published thoughts of millions of people, the search engine served up a 6,100-page hierarchy of Web hits sorted by frequency of recent usage. And there it was, second from the top:

"Information overload is like drinking from a fire hose."

Right. We're all getting hosed. No one can consume it all, nor would anyone want to try. You'd drown. So, as best we can, we try to reduce our intake to manageable, gasping, horking gulps, and, in so doing, are able to remain ignorant of the breathtaking, mind-numbing totality of it. But what of that breathtaking, mind-numbing totality? It's not like if you don't see it, it's not there. We are like those 2-year-olds who try to hide, in hide-and-seek, by standing in the middle of a room and covering their eyes.

Surely this neurotic impulse to hear and be heard means something, good or bad, about our national character. Doesn't the world need one individual with the courage and audacity to expose himself to it all -- punditry in newspapers, punditry on TV, punditry on the radio, punditry on the Web -- for 24 hours straight?

No? Well, too late.

I'm back, and I'm here to make my report. I should begin by correcting one important impression.

Not fire-hosing, exactly. Waterboarding.

You Can't Say He's Not Honest

David Paterson gets candid about his colorful past -- very candid. (More so than he already has!) Money 'graph from the linked interview:

In a one-on-one interview with political anchor Dominic Carter, David Paterson spoke candidly about his past, admitting to illegal drug use, but not since the late 70s.

Carter: Marijuana?

Paterson: Yes.

Carter: Cocaine?

Paterson: Yes.

Carter: You have used cocaine governor?

Paterson: I'd say I was about 22-23. I tried it a few times, yes.

And commenter "adaglas" hypothesizes about some of Gov. Paterson's other possible indiscretions:

Interviewer: So you say you were once a member of the SLA, Governor?

Paterson: Yes.

Interviewer: As well as the IRA?

Paterson: Yes.

Interviewer: And a brief stint in Khrushchev's Politburo?

Pateron: Yes.

Interview: And COBRA?

Paterson: That was a phase. They had pretty sweet uniforms.

Monday, March 24, 2008

So Much for Fiscal Responsibility

I used to think McCain wouldn't be such a bad alternative to Obama if Hillary won the nomination. It's reasons like this one that I'm now having serious second thoughts.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mea Culpa

I apologize to my readers for going off the grid -- I had quite the workload over my spring break this week. I'll be unavailable today due to travel, but I hope to get back up to a more regular posting schedule soon thereafter. God knows there's been plenty in the news and elsewhere to talk about.

Update: As a small consolation, I've embedded a widget for my most recent Twitter updates in the right-hand sidebar. I'll use it for random thoughts that might not otherwise merit a blog post, and potentially future mea culpas as well. (Though I hope I won't have to resort to any more of those.) Hopefully you find it worth a quick glance every now and again.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Transparent Candidate

Obama continues to impress on matters of ethics and transparency, even as a presidential candidate: between elaborating on the nature of his interactions with Tony Rezko, releasing all his earmarks, and making his last tax return public, he's really drawing a sharp contrast between himself and Clinton (and, to a lesser extent, McCain).

It really makes you wonder what she's got to hide. There is no legitimate reason for her to withhold her tax returns.

On Spitzer and Obama's Evil Pirate Twin

Gail Collins has fun with the Spitzer scandal in her latest op-ed. Money 'graphs:

Spitzer apparently preferred to schedule his assignations outside of New York, a courtesy that the home state has so far failed to appreciate. In order to arrange the now-famous meeting in Washington with the now-famous Kristen, he bullied Congress into inviting him to testify at a hearing on bond insurance. It will go down in history as the only time the House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets has been used as a beard.

[...]

But I’m not going to be fooled again. From now on, I’m bringing up every possible worst-case scenario. Go ahead and vote for Barack Obama if you want to — but what if it’s actually not Barack in front of the cameras at all, but his evil twin brother, the pirate? What if we elect Clinton and it turns out she’s secretly operating a dog-fighting ring out of Chappaqua?

Just remember, I warned you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Computer Viruses, Pixar-Style

A new project creates 3-D visualizations from analysis of malicious code.

Lowering the Bar

Al Giordano explains why Pennsylvania is probably out of Obama's reach:

The press will try to make a race of it. There will surely be polls showing the race tightening, perhaps even suggesting that Obama could win it. But that’s just part of the predictable song-and-dance to sell newspapers and up ratings (and hit counts, for the political blogs and news sites that sell ads). The way the odd-numbered delegate districts break down, the demographics, the fact that it’s a closed primary (no Independent voters allowed), and its long border with the senator’s New York state make it a lead-pipe cinch for Clinton; to the extent that Obama supporters enter the “no, but yes, we can win it” narrative they’ll be walking into a trap.

Clinton has now moved 250 staffers (about 13 for each of Pennsylvania’s 19 Congressional districts) into the Keystone state and is opening two dozen field offices. She has the support of Governor Ed Rendell and his considerable machine, not to mention a phalanx of mayors including Michael Nutter of Philadelphia. They’re carrying a straight flush and they’re betting everything on it. That makes it tempting for Obama fans to seek a knockout punch, but all their candidate really needs to do is survive to the next round – North Carolina, two weeks later – without having fallen into a rigged expectations game to clinch the nomination.

The Obama campaign will contest the state strongly, of course, but it looks like expectations are low, as they probably should be. Six weeks is a long time, yes, and some unforeseeable gaffe or scandal could lay Clinton low, but relying on such an event makes for spectacularly unwise campaign strategy. Then again, Obama could use the time to refine not only his skills at parrying Clinton's attacks, but also his message among downscale Democrats. He needs to alternate between his typical message of hope and reconciliation and hard-hitting policy specifics. The former will help counter the increasingly identity-driven polarization that is occurring (and lessen or possibly prevent its effects in Pennsylvania), while the latter will help give Obama added traction among downscale Democrats, who have tended to be more concerned about policy specifics than narratives.

Meanwhile, commenter Mark T says there may be promising news on the superdelegate front regardless of the results on April 22:
Doing a back of the envelope calculation (well, using Excel), I ran some projected delegate counts:

- Start with current delegate counts on DemConWatch (Pledged and Supers)

- Add Projected Add On Delegates (pretty well determined by who has the pledged delegate lead in any state). Obama is projected to lead this 36 to 27 when all is said and done.

- Use Al’s projections for Penn

- Use Obama’s ‘leaked’ spreadsheet projection for all the rest of the states

I come up with a total of:

Obama: 1902 delegates, 123 needed to clinch
Clinton: 1792, 233 needed to clinch

Now, here is where it gets interesting. There are a total of 720 superdelegates (when you take the Add on delegates out of the 796 count).

- 452 of these have already committed, according to DemConWatch

- Only 268 superdelegates remain uncommitted

So, if things go to the Obama projections, Clinton would need to secure 233 of the remaining 268 superdelegates (assuming there is no movement back her way).

In other words, she would have to get 87% of the uncommitted superdelegates at the convention.

Stick a fork in her.
I can't argue with that conclusion.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I'll Take "Uncommitted" Any Day

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, has this gem of wisdom:

I'm calling for a revote. But, Tim, you run against uncommitted, that's the toughest election to win. I'd rather run against an opponent anytime than against uncommitted, and Hillary Clinton got 55 percent of the vote against uncommitted.
It boggles the mind that any politician, let alone the governor of Pennsylvania, could be on the record as saying something as stupid as this.

Poisoning the Well

No, it's not terrorists who are tampering with our drinking water supplies -- it's our own medicines.

Gamers and Virtual Death

Apparently gamers who play first-person shooters actually get a visceral thrill not from killing their opponents, but from dying instead.

The Entitlement Narrative

A minor resemblance, perhaps?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Yes, We Can

So, Hillary has once again demonstrated her tenacity, her ability to cling for dear life to the side of a sinking ship. For those of you out there who need a little something to put the wind back in your sails:





We can do this. We can fight back against the same-old stupid partisanship that paralyzes Washington just as we need action most. We can acknowledge the problems of our nation and fix them, even as we celebrate our nation's greatness. We can effect change. But we must be the ones to do it. While government can help amplify the effects of our actions, we cannot wait for government to make change for us. Big Government cannot make change for us.

We
are the ones we have been waiting for. Barack Obama can help unite us, he can inspire us, and he can lead our nation, but we must be the ones who are willing to get involved in the causes we care about. We must be the ones who are willing to give back to our country, to serve our country however we can, for the common good.

Yes, we can.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Huckabee Calls It Quits

I'm watching it live on CNN. So sayeth the former minister:

"I'd rather lose an election than lose the principles that got me into politics in the first place."
It's too bad that those principles are so antithetical to the principles on which this nation was founded. Don't get me wrong: Huckabee always struck me as a kind and humorous individual, and I'm sure that's evident in person. But I find his policy positions abhorrent -- remember, this is a man who advocated the quarantine of AIDS victims, doesn't believe in evolution, and believes that the Constitution should be brought in line with Biblical principles.

As a fellow Christian, I can understand his religious-based appeal, and I believe that his heart is generally in the right place. Nevertheless, religion has no place in politics, certainly not to the degree that Huckabee exemplified. Should Obama take the White House, the GOP needs to seriously consider a major overhaul of its coalition. Perhaps a little time in the political wilderness will do the party some good in that regard.

Obama-Powell Watch

Just one example of where Powell could help shore up the Obama ticket:

McCain cited his experience as a Navy officer and as a senator who focused for years on foreign policy and military issues.

"I've been involved in every major national security challenge for the last 20 years that has faced this country," McCain said, according to the Associated Press. "I look forward to having that debate as to who's most qualified in the event of a national crisis and the phone ringing at 3 a.m. in the White House."

So has Colin Powell, who served as National Security Adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State during that same time. I'd think that that makes Powell more qualified than McCain, given that Powell was arguably involved more substantively than McCain in the policymaking for most of those major security challenges.

Also, an insight into how the Republicans might run against Obama in the general:

Jeffrey Ressner, with the magazine Politico, was the only journalist allowed into the conference room. When he walked in, a PowerPoint presentation was being projected onto a screen. "Obama isn't ready yet to do the job of the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces," one of the slides read. Another item, which had deliberately been left vague, seemed to bear Rove's signature: "'Certain issues' will be raised during the campaign" -- a reference to Obama's admission that he used drugs as a teenager, to his Islamic middle name Hussein, which is unusual in the United States, and perhaps even to his skin color.

Many things are possible if strategists like Rove decide to get into the fray. The core message of the presentation was clear: "Obama's greatest weakness is his lack of experience. He isn't ready to be president yet."

Again, Powell would provide a strong bulwark against this line of attack. First off, he'd likely be Obama's primary source of advice in military affairs -- and the Republicans would be hard-pressed to argue, after Bush-Cheney, that the Vice President doesn't play a significant role in advising the President and shaping policy. Second, my guess is that Powell would be nigh-untouchable. How many Republicans -- even Karl Rove -- are really going to try to criticize one of their very own, especially one as decorated as Powell? Even if they tried, I think Powell is still popular enough among the public at large that such an attack would very likely hurt McCain, even if he's only guilty by association to another party that propagated the attacks.

Of course, the drugs and Islam issues are far more easily debunked, so long as Obama continues to consistently get his message out about them both. He's said before that he's long since realized that his drug use was a mistake and does not by any means advocate it for anyone else, and he's made his commitment to his Christian faith very clear. If Obama can keep pressing back against this kind of misleading information and has Powell to back him up on executive and military issues, the Republicans would likely find themselves at a loss to get anything substantive to stick to him.

Obama's VP: Why Not Colin Powell?

Implausible, I know, but it would shore up Obama's ticket in a number of ways.

First, and probably most importantly, it gives Obama instant executive and military credentials against McCain. Second, Powell is still a widely-respected public figure, despite his involvement in the road to Iraq (for which he has, of course, since expressed regret). Third, Powell's status as a moderate Republican means that his nomination to the ticket would demonstrate Obama's commitment to substantive bipartisanship in a single act. Fourth, Powell and Obama clearly share some of the same views about how to govern, how to carry out diplomacy, and how and when to use force, among other things, which would make him palatable to at least some Democrats as well as many Republicans. Finally, Powell could help to balance out the ticket electorally by potentially garnering some swing votes in red states.

Again, I realize that this is a very implausible scenario, because it's impossible to tell if Powell would accept if offered the job, or if the Democrats could overcome partisanship at the convention to elect such a revolutionary ticket. Still, it makes for an interesting thought exercise.

Will We Beat the Odds?

Robert Reich says there's a 20% chance we're headed for a depression. Personally, I think this is going to be nothing more than a recession -- a strong, but not severe, market correction -- but then, I'm no economist. (Or a former Labor Secretary, for that matter.)

Part one of his argument is here, part two is here.

Giving Up the Ghost

Krugman refuses to do it, even as he acknowledges the potential loss of the candidate he's been shilling for since the beginning.

Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd takes Hillary to task, as usual.

NAFTA: Obama vs. Clinton

We all knew that neither of them would go so far as to put all the protectionist rhetoric they've been throwing around in Ohio into real policy, but it looks like Obama would very likely be better on free trade than Hillary.

Monday, March 3, 2008

How Islamabad Learned to Start Worrying About the Bomb

The following is an essay I recently wrote for Professor Taw's Gov. 70 class, on the subject of the realist and liberal responses the international community has taken with regards to the security situation in Pakistan, and more specifically, nuclear nonproliferation. I briefly discuss some of the fundamental underpinnings of both camps and then tie those underpinnings into relevant events in recent history. The research for this paper broadened my understanding of nonproliferation issues and how they are being handled, and it is a topic I will likely have to take up again here.


How Islamabad Learned to Start Worrying About the Bomb:
Realist and Liberal Approaches to Nuclear Nonproliferation Issues in Pakistan


The constant tensions between India and Pakistan have long been a vexing problem in the calculus of South Asian politics and that of the international community. Such tensions are multifaceted and have deep historical roots, but a significant portion of those tensions can be traced to both states’ possession of nuclear weapons and their respective policies regarding their use. The major nuclear powers of the international community have been concerned with nuclear nonproliferation issues across the world since the passage of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, but India and Pakistan have proven to be one of the primary areas of concern to the nations involved in nonproliferation efforts.1 While the such nonproliferation efforts of these nations have targeted both India and Pakistan, the two are linked through John Herz’s “security dilemma”—which states that a nation that seeks security from attack from other states will only cause those states to seek security in turn2—and thus specific efforts affecting one can affect the other. Given the relative instability of the Pakistani government in comparison to India’s, as well as Pakistan’s history as a nuclear-enabling state3, it is understandable that nonproliferation efforts tend to be focused more on Islamabad than New Delhi. In attempting to advance a nonproliferation agenda with regards to Pakistan in particular, members of the international community have relied on both realist and liberal approaches—the former including the United States engaging in unilateral actions to manage Pakistani nuclear development, and the latter including established international institutions created to handle nonproliferation issues.

The United States has had a long history of heading up nonproliferation efforts against rogue states seeking nuclear weaponry, and the case of Pakistan is no exception. Following a number of Pakistani nuclear tests, the U.S. ceased providing military and economic aid—primarily in the form of arms technology sales and transfers—to Pakistan in October of 1990. Islamabad, unwilling to lose a source of such largesse, attempted to mollify their benefactors in Washington by working on a freeze on nuclear development.4 The sanctions continued nonetheless until 2001, when President Bush ended the sanctions on Pakistan following the attacks on September 11th. The Bush administration then reversed course, providing its new ally in the “war on terror” with some $10 billion of aid, $100 million of which was allocated for securing Pakistani nuclear materials.5 Such unilateral sanctions, operating outside the typical liberal international framework, were crucial in applying significant political pressure on Pakistan—whose economy was not as able to withstand the brunt of the sanctions as, for example, India—to halt its nuclear development program. Likewise, in the absence of an transnational entity capable of providing aid to Pakistan for the purpose of securing its nuclear weaponry—due primarily to Pakistan’s refusal to participate in the NPT or International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections—the United States, recognizing this anarchical international situation and the vital national security issue at stake, provided Pakistan with the resources necessary to help prevent non-state actors from acquiring unsecured nuclear materials in order to attack American interests.

However, the U.S. policies, while effective in their own ways, do not address the fundamental raison d’être of the Pakistani nuclear program—namely, the aforementioned security dilemma. So long as India possesses nuclear weapons, Pakistan will feel compelled not only to retain its current stockpile but also to enlarge it, until Islamabad feels it has achieved sufficient parity with its chief rival. This is where one of the key precepts of liberal theory—the use of international institutions—can break the stalemate of the security dilemma. Robert O. Keohane argues for the efficacy of international institutions in resolving the security dilemma:

Institutions create the capability for states to cooperate in mutually beneficial ways by reducing the costs of making and enforcing agreements-what economists refer to as “transaction costs.” They rarely engage in centralized enforcement of agreements, but they do reinforce practices of reciprocity, which provide incentives for governments to keep their own commitments to ensure that others do so as well. Even powerful states have an interest, most of the time, in following the rules of well-established international institutions, since general conformity to rules makes the behavior of other states more predictable…absent full transparency, states are uncertain about what their partners and rivals value at any given time. They naturally respond to uncertainty by being less willing to enter into agreements, since they are unsure how their partners will later interpret the terms of such agreements. International institutions can reduce this uncertainty by promoting negotiations in which transparency is encouraged[.]6

This concept of promoting transparency is crucial to breaking the impasse that the security dilemma represents; it follows that if Pakistan is more transparent about its nuclear capabilities and intentions, then India will likewise be more transparent about its own affairs, or vice versa. Indeed, such institutions as the NPT and IAEA were created to ideally prevent, but also to arbitrate, situations precisely like the one presently occurring in South Asia. As such, the international community has sought to bring Pakistan into the established and respected international framework for mediating issues of nuclear proliferation, with varying degrees of success. While Pakistan is a member of the IAEA, as is India, both have few IAEA-safeguarded facilities7, and both refuse to accede to the NPT unless the other does as well. Nevertheless, progress is being made; both Pakistan and India have, for the past 15 years, attended the International Training Course on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Facilities and Materials, an IAEA-sponsored event that provides training in nuclear security measures.8

To be sure, neither of these approaches prescribes a stand-alone solution to the serious threat of nuclear proliferation in Pakistan and South Asia. On the one hand, realist strategies, such as the unilateral actions taken by the United States, can be potent when the state in question is attempting to secure stronger relations with the nations carrying out those strategies, or simply when the state in question does not value the legitimacy that the international community can confer upon it. However, in many cases, that legitimacy is compelling enough to force rogue states into operating within the bounds of accepted international frameworks—and, in the case of regional rivalries such as the one between Islamabad and New Delhi, operating by the established guidelines of international institutions leads to greater transparency, which can in turn lead to the end of the destructive security dilemma. Indeed, it is only through a combination of realist and liberal approaches to such major international issues as nuclear nonproliferation that they will ever be resolved in a peaceful manner.




1 Carl E. Behrens, Nuclear Nonproliferation Issues, CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Congressional Research Service (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 2006), p. 1

2 John H. Herz, “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma,” World Politics, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Jan., 1950), p. 157

3 Carl E. Behrens, Nuclear Nonproliferation Issues, CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Congressional Research Service (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 2006), p. 12

4 Federation of American Scientists, Pakistan Special Weapons - A Chronology, 3 June 1998, 24 February 2008 <http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/pakistan/nuke/chron.htm>.

5 David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms," New York Times 18 November 2007 <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/washington/18nuke.html?>.

6 Robert O. Keohane. “International Institutions: Can Interdependence Work?” Foreign Policy, No. 110, Special Edition: Frontiers of Knowledge. (Spring, 1998), p. 86

7 Arian L. Pregenzer. “Securing nuclear capabilities in India and Pakistan: Reducing the terrorist and proliferation risks”, The Nonproliferation Review, 10:1. (Spring, 2003), p. 125

8 Ibid.