September 25, 2007 archive

Statistics 101: Cluster analysis of the US Senate

reposted from dailyKos
How do the senators line up?  Are there groups of Senators with similar records (other than the obvious Dem vs. Rep?)

There’s a statistical tool to answer questions like this: It’s called cluster analysis.  It takes a group of subjects (here Senators) and some method of saying how similar they are (here, ratings from various groups) and tries to put the subjects into groups.

There are LOTS of subtleties, some of them (along with results) are below the fold

Statistics 101: Nature nurture nonsense

reposted, with changes, from dailyKos

Over at daily Kos, feemus wrote a very good diary about the Bell Curve (the book, that is).  That led to a discussion of nature and nurture.  All such discussions are silly.  To see why, go below the fold.  (Oh, and the Bell Curve is nonsense masquerading as science, as feemus and nearly all the commentators knew)

Four at Four

This is an OPEN THREAD. Here are four stories in the news at 4 o’clock to get you started. A path and a gateway have no meaning, once the objective is in sight.

  1. The Washington Post reports of an emboldened Taliban is carrying out more attacks with greater reach. Some of the Taliban’s attacks have been in the provinces ringing Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital and the headquarters of international troops. The U.S. and Afghan officials disagree with assessments that these attacks indicate a Taliban major military resurgence. “The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a project funded by the European Commission…, found “a significant monthly escalation in conflict” in the first half of the year. Attacks by armed opposition groups increased from 139 in January to 405 in July” and “every month there’s a 20 to 25 percent increase in offensive activity”. Attacks in June and July were more than 80 percent higher than the same period last year. “U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said much of the activity attributed to the Taliban and other militant groups probably was not part of the anti-government insurgency, but more likely was related to criminal activity, narcotics trafficking and tribal disputes. And in some cases, he said, levels of conflict are up because more NATO, U.S. and Afghan forces are pushing into areas of the country where they had never operated. There are an estimated 50,000 international troops here, about half of them American. ‘Logic tells you the number of incidents you report are going to be increased,’ he said.” McNeill also acknowledged difficulty with fighting and holding ground. “We’re not all the force we should be, both in size and capability,” he said. Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?

  2. In the column, Betrayal by Blackwater, for GulfNews, Mayada Al Askari writes, “So who does Blackwater USA do business with? The US State Department, with contracts reaching $715 million in Iraq. ¶ Can Condoleezza Rice be wanting a private army for her State Department now? Well, as almost everyone has a mini militia in Iraq today, staying in vogue is very tempting. ¶ US troops in Iraq make anywhere between $28,000-$40,000 annually, while Blackwater USA boys make the sum monthly, tax exempted.” Askari goes on to ask what laws actually do apply to Blackwater (none) and then recounts George W. Bush being asked about it in 2006:

    President George W. Bush spoke at the South Asian Studies Organisation on April 10, 2006 marking the third anniversary of Iraqi freedom. On that memorable day, one student asked Bush: “The Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to Private Military Contractors in Iraq, I asked your Secretary of Defence Mr Rumsfeld what law governs their actions?”

    To which Bush replies, half jokingly,: “I’m gonna ask him… help”.

    The student laughs with everyone else and goes on with her question: “I was hoping for a more specific answer here, Mr Rumsfeld said Iraq had its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to these PMCs, however, Iraq is clearly unable to enforce its laws, much less over our PMCs, I would surmise to you that in this case privatisation is not a solution. How do you propose to bring PMCs under a system of law?”

    Bush smiles and says: “I was not kidding [needless to say the house went down with laughter] I’m a gonna pick up the phone – I am not dodging the question, it’s very convenient, but I will really call him and ask.”

    This is one example of how the Blackwater shootout is being written about in the Mid-East press. (The White House transcript of Bush’s remarks is available.) Maybe someone in the D.C. press corp should ask Bush the same question again?

    Spiegel gives a rundown of how the shootout unfolded in ‘Blackwater’s Hail of Gunfire‘ and how other security contractors go about their jobs in Baghdad.

    Big vehicles, loud sirens, visible weapons, helicopters — Blackwater favors anything that can be used to keep potential enemies at bay. The aggressive attitude of the firm’s security details has earned its employees the nickname “testosterone monsters.” Employees from other security contractors are often happy to get past a Blackwater-run convoy in one piece.

    Some other firms — mostly British and Canadian — prefer to take a lower profile approach on the streets of Baghdad. Although they also drive armor-plated cars, their vehicles are much more inconspicuous than Blackwater’s SUVs. Most are BMW or Mercedes models from the 1980s which have been stripped of conspicuous accessories and which are deliberately left unwashed so as to blend in better on the streets of Baghdad. The drivers wear checkered short-sleeve shirts over their bulletproof vests so as to look like average Iraqi men. Some even go as far as dyeing their blond hair black and wearing dark contact lenses to look more like the locals… However, that doesn’t mean they are guaranteed safe passage around the city.

    The AP reports that this ‘Cowboy’ aggression works for Blackwater. “Not one diplomat has died while being guarded by employees of the politically connected company based in the swamplands of northeastern North Carolina. Experts say that success — combined with the murky legal world in which Blackwater operates and its strong ties to Republicans — has allowed the company to operate with impunity… ¶ Blackwater’s ties to the GOP run deep. Company founder and former Navy Seal Erik Prince has given more than $200,000 to Republican causes, a pattern of donation followed by other top Blackwater executives. The company’s vice chairman is Cofer Black, a former CIA counterterrorism official who is serving as a senior adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. ¶ Members of Blackwater’s legal team have included former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and current White House Counsel Fred Fielding.”

    The AP story notes that Rep. David Price (D-NC) has urged Congress “to regulate the private security industry and increase congressional oversight” for years. Maybe after the massacre, some of the Democrats in Congress may have finally taken notice. The Hill reports Sen. Obama presses Bush on Blackwater. “Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has proposed clarifying that private contractors accused of misconduct can be tried under U.S. law and urging the Pentagon to pursue such civilian prosecution. Following a Sept. 16 shooting that infuriated the Iraqi government and got the contracting firm Blackwater USA briefly barred from the country, Senate aides are working on adding parts of Obama’s plan to the defense authorization bill… Obama told Bush he was ‘disturbed’ by the Blackwater episode, which ‘raises larger questions about the role of private security contractors.'” The Los Angeles Times reports that back in Baghdad, a new Iraqi law would end U.S. firms’ legal immunity. “A draft law that would strip local and foreign security companies of their immunity from prosecution in Iraq has been submitted to a state committee for legal vetting after a deadly shooting involving the firm that protects the U.S. Embassy and its staff, an Iraqi official said today… If approved by the State Shura Council, which vets the legal language of draft bills, the measure would still require the approval of the Cabinet and parliament to become law.” If Iraq’s softening stance on the eviction of Blackwater is any indication, then it may be a long, long time before the new bill becomes law in Iraq and even then, who will enforce it?

  3. The Denver Post brings news of a new study showing farm runoff causes hideously deformed frogs published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Biologists have known for several years that trematode [a type of flatworm] parasites can infect young frogs and cause severe deformities, but no one had figured out just why parasite levels have been on the rise.” University of Colorado “biologist Pieter Johnson and his colleagues discovered that nutrient pollution – agricultural runoff rich in nitrogen and phosphorous – can trigger a biological chain reaction in lakes and ponds, starting with algae and ending up with frogs that cannot hop.” Reuters also reports on the study. “We continue to see malformed amphibians all over the place and yet very little is being done to address those questions or even understand them,” Johnson said. “You can get five or six extra limbs. You can get no hind limbs. You can get all kinds of really bizarre, sick and twisted stuff,” he said.

  4. BBC News reports Germany is set to build a maglev railway. “The Bavarian state government said it had signed an agreement with rail operator Deutsche Bahn and industrial consortium Transrapid that includes the developers of the train – Siemens and ThyssenKrupp.” The new line will run from Munich city centre to its airport. The project, which had funding problems before the annoucement, is estimated to cost €1.85 billion ($2.6 bn) to build. According to the AP, the German federal government will pay for half the cost, providing some €925 million ($1.3 billion). Bavarian Governor Edmund Stoiber said the maglev train would be “a beacon for high technology ‘made in Germany.'” Currently the only running maglev train service is in Shanghai, China. Spiegel reports Germany developed the Transrapid monorail ‘magnetic levitation’ train decades ago but couldn’t decide whether to use it. “The deal was announced on Tuesday by the Bavarian government and is a parting gift from Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber, who is retiring on October 9. Scheduled for completion by 2014, the Transrapid will cut the journey time for the 40-kilometer route from the airport to the Bavarian capital to around 10 minutes from the current 40 minutes. ¶ German engineers have been refining the technology since they first developed it in the 1960s. The train is propelled at high speeds by a frictionless electromagnetic system. It was developed by Transrapid International, a joint venture between Siemens AG and ThyssenKrup.”

There’s one more story below the fold…

Don’t Panic. Stop and Think.

‘Let’s Stop and Think. Who do we ask when we don’t know where to go? The Map. That’s right.’ – Ancient and Wise Philosopher Dora the Explorer.

So I’ve been reading a fair bit of gloom and doom economic analysis on the web lately.  As your Friendly Neighborhood Economic Centrist Blogger (patent pending and Armando, I used it first) who thinks our economic system is so far off ‘center’ it ain’t even funny, I thought I would add my own opinions to the mix. (more)

The pre-pre-Progressive Manifesto….updated

One of the top ten Bash Democrats Constructions is ….The Democrats don’t stand for anything.

THE top problem with being a progressive is…..Wtf is a Progressive.

So as the Mainstream Democrats sail off once again to Never Never get elected Land and leave their base behind…it has become obvious that We The People have to take it upon ourselves to bring about the changes we want to see.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Healthcare – Moving beyond the converted

I posted the following as a response to a diary on Universal Health Care by rjones2818, which can be found here. The essay didn’t get much response, unfortunately, so my comment failed to generate any discussion. I want some thoughts on this issue, so I thought I would re-post as a short diary.

rjones2818 asserted that a primary component of the debates between General Motors and the UAW was health care and it’s associated costs. And, that the issue would have been greatly simplified if we simply had Universal Health Care for ALL in this country. An excellent point, no doubt. Below the fold are my thoughts (with limited editing):

Project Management Processes for the Netroots

Armando, Buhdy and ANKOSS are all speaking to leadership and the netroots. While Armando is coming at it from the perspective of questioning leadership failures, and Buhdy is addressing the role of blogs in the netroots development and influence, ANKOSS is taking a critical look at the role of corporations in oppressing the populace, of which the netroots is a subset.

I’d like to throw up out another idea.  The netroots is a subset of the progressive movement, and it is a work-in-early-progress. To that end, here’s a project management proposal for meta netroots leadership, management and organizational development.  With any project management process, it’s akin to herding chickens, cats – or even libertarians! *g* Use this as recipe ingredients – subject to change to meet the tastes and preferences of the chef and the diners. Throw out what doesn’t work, innovate where that helps the process to move forward, and savor the contributions of the ingredients.

Cavest:  I am dyslexic, arthritic and myopic – the -Icks sometimes interfere with the cleanness of the writing, and so I re-read, continually edit and post essays that are works-in-progress.  Where commenters contribute, I try to incorporate those contributions into the essay and attribute accordingly.

Pony (Tea) Party

So I told pfiore8 last week that I’d take a couple Pony Parties for her, and I just now got around to reading the FAQ — and what’s this?

Be prepared, this is NOT a tea party!

Hey Budhy, what if I want it to be a tea party?!?

Please do not recommend a Pony Party when you see one.  There will be another along in a few hours.

Subduing the Corporations: Part I – Infernal Machines

This has been a long time coming, and it is here now. — Cormack McCarthy, “The Road”

Powerful corporations now dominate the governments of the world. Their global empires extend across all continents and supersede all nominal forms of government. Although most people believe them to be marvelous cornucopia of enticing goods and services, there is a growing understanding among informed individuals that something has gone badly wrong. The collective activity of the multinational corporations is not bringing us an earthly paradise. Instead, it is bringing us environmental devastation, growing inequality, endless war, and the curtailment of freedoms.

This essay explains the necessity of subduing the corporations and returning them to a politically subservient role in which their efficiencies can be harnessed to the public good rather than pernicious institutional aggrandizement. In my view, the struggle between the networked people of the world and ruthless, malignant corporations will be the defining conflict of this century. Part I of the essay states the case for action.


Faux Fights and Leadership [UPDATED]

Since so many essayists and commenters are interested in the activities and consequences of people espousing ideology of false patriotism, dominionism, fundamentalism and other -isms, I thought I’d play with the principles a bit and explore what can be done to counteract the effects.

The framework of a preferred paradigm that I’m using is that of embracing the classic Roman virtues. Don’t remember them?  You’re not alone.

While there are many systems and classifications of virtues, I am going to refer solely to the Roman-defined virtues to avoid an overly lengthy and needlessly complicated presentation.  However, as far as I have been able to ascertain, any well-defined listing of socioculturally significant virtues is applicable to the following relationship of using virtues as a criteria by which to evaluate leadership attributes.

A caveat for those of you who aren’t familiar with my posts:  I am very dyslexic, myopic, and arthritic.  I re-read my posts and most often continue to edit them for wrong words, poor grammar and unclear sentences after I post. I appreciate it when readers point out errors, and I do my best to make posts works-in-progress which reflect commenters’ participation and contributions.

There are many scholarly texts which outline characteristics of cults and attributes of members. This isn’t a post to regurgitate or criticize those foundational works. I include them here to distinguish between genuine leadership and subliminal and detrimental group influence which morphs into group-speak, propaganda, social behavior norms and voter behavior.

Essentially, the things that most people look to cults to fill are factors of socialization:

  • Clear rules of membership
  • Delineation of US and OTHERS
  • Reward system for compliance
  • Punishment and threat of shunning/ostracism for noncompliance
  • Clear normative values

This post originally was going to compare the attributes of cults with today’s two major political parties in how they court voters, but I’m now going to hijack my own essay and speak to leadership values. Keep the attributes of cults handy in looking at attributes NOT to reward, enable or use in selecting political candidates.

Iraq: The Failure Of Activist and Netroots Leadership

Chris Bowers writes:

If our vote totals on key pieces of legislation are actually going backward in Congress, then no one in the Democratic field is successfully leading on Iraq in Congress. Good leadership isn’t just about proposing legislation (which all current members of Congress have done), sending out press releases announcing how you will vote beforehand (which a couple of candidates did this time), exhorting your colleagues in Congress to vote a certain way (which at least Dodd has done among current members of Congress running for President), and then casting the right votes (which pretty much everyone does now, even though none of the Senators running for President did so last year). Successful leadership is actually causing the debate to bend in your direction, and gathering support where none previously existed. According to this criteria, when it comes to the impact of the 2008 Presidential field on the Iraq fight in Congress, no one has done that. To varying degrees, they all have tried-or at least made it look like they were trying-but no one has succeeded.

I think that is a fair criteria for all of us. And by that criteria, I think it is fair to say that the leaders of the Netroots have utterly failed. It is ironic that Bowers criticizes people like Chris Dodd (for his post is really a pushback against Dodd’s little surge in the Daily Kos straw poll while his preferred candidate, Bill Richardson, had a meltdown) for their efforts in Congress without even considering his own failures and that of the other leading Netroots lights, like Move On. Interesting use of blinders there. More.

Pony Party, the Piano

Animation:  The Piano

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