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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Confusion in the camp of the enemy.

I was interested in development of the story about links between ultra conservative Gover Norquist and Hamas. I clicked on a link which I will not reproduce here. I found a page that accused Norquist of all sorts of things including ties to moslem groups which proselytize in prisons and, shudder, have set up a K-12 school. Back to the home page of the group and I read Allah is not God (well I agree with that) and much on how Islam is evil and George Bush is trying to hide this from the American people.

I am sure I am not glad that there is a quarrel between ultra reactionary Islamic fundamentalists (totally disagree with them) and sectarian bigoted xenophobes (totally disagree with them too) and that undersecretaries and good buddies of Karl Rove are facing up on opposite sides of this culture war. I wish these people would stop hating each other so much. I mean if they just opposed each other as much as I oppose both of them that would be perfect.
Robert's cumupance or don't mess with google.

Over at Brad's blog there was a debate about whether the Bush administration is trying to blame China for US the drop in US employment. The debate was narrowed to "yes they say China is a problem but do they say China is THE problem". I came back with a smart challenge. Find a Bush administration leader who names another problem. Then I took up the challenge and made a fool of myself.

Taking up my challenge to find a Bush admin official blaming something other than China I tried “Bush blames jobs” at google and got first hit

The Victoria Advocate - [ Traduci questa pagina ]
Bush blames better productivity for job losses President also ... INDIANAPOLIS - President
Bush on Friday confronted ... a disappointing new government jobs report by ... local/story/1321556p-1557896c.html - 60k


Robert J Waldmann says that Robert J Waldmann has got to learn that demanding a specific fact is no longer a way to intimidate people into silence now that Robert J Waldmann can just look things up on google.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Today I made a major strategic mistake. I talked to two of my graduate students at the same time to Luigi Giamboni and Andrea Ricci. I was suggesting to Andrea that he write a simpler model with 2 classes of agents, 2 sectors and 2 time periods. Luigi said (in Italian) hey that's exactly the same advice you give me. Now they know that, as an advisor, all I do is deliver one of about 10 standard lines.

1) Why don't you write a simple model with 2 etc etc etc

2) Why don't you make a separate paper (chapter) out of your response to that criticism.

3) How about doing some simple empirical work.

4) start with summary statistics then cross tabs the OLS then maybe do something fancy.

5) There is nothing magical about 5%

6) search Econlit for papers that cite the guy you just mentioned.

7) search Econlit for papers that cite the last thing I read about 10 years ago on that subject.

8) you do know how to search Econlit don't you ?

9) Stata is a very nice program. I has great graphics and the context relevant help is actually helpful.

10) OK I must have given someone advice at least once that isn't in 1-9 so help me out.
I agree with Richard Cheney. I think we don't know whether Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11. I also think that we don't know whether the earth is flat. As noted in one of my first posts to this blog I don't believe in knowledge that is justified true belief. I do believe objective truth. I am enthusiastic that someone called Michael is interested in my epistomology, although I don't recognise myself as an ideological positivist (see Brad's semi daily journal "experiments in information retrieval" comment by Michael).

Back to V.P. Cheney, I don't Know that he exists. He might be, as Ebeneezer Scrooge said of Marley's ghost, just a bit of underdone potato.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Oh wow I came in first first searching for "golden rice corn pellagra". I could just keep doing this for hours.
The internet link hierarchy and the power of Brad.

I have recently been checking how many people visit this blog more or less daily (ok I admit more often than daily). As noted by Michael Froomkin my traffic jumped from roughly zero to, well positive, when Brad Delong linked to me.

The really exciting news is that not all of my hits are referred by Brad. This blog is showing up in google searches. This too is due to Brad. This blog has an almost respectable page rank because Brad has linked to it.

I tried to find this blog searching on google. First I cheated looking for Gulbudin Hekmatyar (my rare miss spelling). At least that shows I'm not the only one who doesn't know how to spell Gulbuddin. Now I am very excited to report that this blog appears 15th in a search for "rumsfeld hekmatyar taliban memo" with no miss spellings as far as I know.

Thanks a google Brad.

By the way, consider Michael Froomkin (who has known Brad for even much longer than I have) and is in my ignorant opinion the one law professor who understands the legal issues related to the internet that I personally know (but hey he made the Economist so it isn't just me). He too notes the wonderful news that Josh Marshall's request for some money to enable him to cover the New Hampshire primary was instantly obersubscribed. However, he manages to restrain himself from writing aweful poetry.

I have long been appalled that my country people support Bush and agree with Bush. Now, finally, Bush has asked for something the American people don't want to give him 87 Billion for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. I am again dismayed. I think we American taxpayers should give 87 Billion for Iraq (I admit this might have something to do with the foreign earned income exclusion which means I pay about 200 bucks a year to uncle Sam). It is bizarre to see right wing Republicans arguing for billions for foreign aid while formerly bleading hearts argue against.

This is almost the first policy issue on which I agree with Bush. By policy issue I mean about what to do. Of course I agree that Saddam Hussein is a monster etc. but I disagreed about what to do about him (my bold proposal was to wait for him to die). Also, of course, I agreed we had to invade Afghanistan, but that was a no brainer. Aside from that I can't think of a case in which I agree about what to do with both Bush and the majority of the American people.
If any of you are, by any chance, suffering from doubts about human nature, cynicism or dispair, I suggest you get right over to talkingpointsmemo.

It's enough to inspire me to write aweful non rhyming poetry

How I tremble for my country when I think that God is just
then I think of reminding Him that Josh Marshall's one of us

OK cynics I can't write poetry but I swear I am deadly serious.

Monday, October 27, 2003

The Plame Game

Until about one minute ago I thought that Joshua Micah Marshall was overanalysing the extreme discipline with which the Bush administration refers to blowing Valerie Plame’s cover as leaking “classified information:” I found his first guess as to the motives, downplaying the offence by lumping it with the release of much less damaging secrets and attempting to focus public anger at potential future whistle blowers convincing. His later hints that, perhaps, this was the basis of a legalistic defence of the leakers seemed strange. How could the true occupation of an undercover CIA agent not be classified.

Just now I think I understand what he has in mind. Marshall is too responsible to put total speculation in cyber-print so I’ll do it myself. Maybe he considers this interpretation to be obvious given the facts he has noted. One, in the original Novak column of July 14 is that Novak sources his claims in an odd way. Novak simply asserts that Plame works for the CIA. He cites two un named high White House sources for the claim that Wilson was ignored because he only got the (unpaid) job because of a recommendation by Plame. Hmmmm the leakers might have said just that. “We ignored Wilson’s report because he only got the job because his wife recommended him.”

According to the CIA source quoted by Novak this would NOT be revealing a secret because the claim that Plame recommended Wilson is not true hence not information hence not classified information. If my made up quote of the White House sources were exact, they would not have told Novak that Plame worked for the CIA, but rather have told him enough to make his suspect that and make him able to trick the CIA source into confirming it.

If my made up quote is not exact and the White House sources said that Plame was a CIA agent, no one will be able to prove this, especially if Novak continues to cover for them (as of course he will).
The legalistic denials might be the basis of a legal defence.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Well it seems odd for me to link this obscure site to
to MSNBC but this is beyond bizarre. It appears that a man recently arrested and accused of laundering money for Al Qaeda and Hamas hired Grover Norquist to lead his front organisation.

I got this from Joshua Micah Marshall's blog, which is, among other things, an excellent source for news.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

search log Search for Allele Habibou (former Nigeran foreign minister retired 1989
who "signed" a "memorandum of understanding" in 2000). No hits. This should not surprise me.
The CIA does not have information as out of date as the fact that Allele Habibou was once the Nigeran
foreign minister on the web even in archives. search Chiefs of state for Niger. returns one hit updated Nigeran cabinet for 2001
Same result searching for the current (as listed by the CIA anyway) foreign minister Aichatou
Mindaoudou. search for chief and/or Niger returns the above and a link to
Nigeran cabinet update 2001 in what's new 2001.
April 6- Posted updated Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments with updated entries
for Botswana, Chad, Czech Republic, Guinea-Bissau, France, Moldova, Nepal, Niger,and Russia.
September 25 - Posted updated Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments with
updated entries for Albania, Macedonia, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, St. Kitts, Turkey.
This update will reflect changes made in
foreign cabinets during the period 18 September 2001 - 24 September 2001.

Notice from "what's new at the cia" you can see that entries for the cabinet of Nigeria (shows up when one
searches for Niger) are quite common. I believe this means that the updates occur when a cabinet changes so
chiefs*.html is always current. It might mean that the CIA pays more attention to Nigeria than to Niger.

Only the most recent update to "Chiefs" is available on the web. However it is clear that over at the CIA
they should have some back issues no ?

I know this adds little to the last post. The point is that there is no conceivable possible way that the
forged documents could have tricked the CIA.
Still seriously underworked (or more exactly underdisciplined) I am working 7 months late to question the accuracy of the documents purporting to show that Iraq bought Uranium from Niger in 2000. I've just logged on and post this as the start gun for my effort to find proof that the documents were forged.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Talk about beating a deceased horse not to mention shooting fish in a barrel, but not having anything else useless to do, I decided to see how long it would take me to prove the notorious Iraq-Niger Uranium documents were forged using google and a modem.

I'm embarassed to say that I have been at it for almost two hours (while also cooking and eating dinner). My error was to download the CIA Fact Book for the year 2000 with a modem. Then I found out that it listed only the president and prime minister of Niger.

Oddly when looking for the documents themselves google sent me to Italian investigative journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzo. I happen to be a fan of theirs. I think they are the best investigative journalism team in Italy (the competition isn't very fierce). In this page they mainly quote Seymour Hersh' article in the New Yorker (not available for free on the web).

Some of their stuff is available translated into English. I'm not sure how much, but their reports on the Berlusconi government would be amusing to people who don't find the Bush administration absurdly dishonest enough.

The main facts are
"As Seymour Hersh wrote in The
New Yorker on 31 March 2003, "One letter, dated
October 10, 2000 (the memorandum of understanding
between Niger and Iraq -- La Repubblica editor's note)
was signed with the name of Allele Habibou, a [Niger]
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, who had
been out of office since 1989. Another letter (dated
27 July 2000 -- La Repubblica editor's note) [...] had
[...] a text with inaccuracies so egregious [...] that
'they could be spotted by someone using Google on the
Internet.'" It might also be added that 500 tonnes
of pure uranium is such an enormous quantity that it
should have aroused the suspicions of anyone familiar
in any way with the country and the commodity
concerned, and also that the letter dated 30 July 1999
refers to deals struck in Niamey on 29 June 2000, and
that the 27 July 2000 letter to the president of Niger
bears his own stamp and signature."

Yep sounds like a forgery which would fool intelligence analysts all right. I knew that the documents were obvious forgeries but I only really knew about the minister coming out of retirement to sign (with the title that was his no longer). While looking for facsimilies of the documents (haven't found them) I tried to check how hard it would be for the CIA to pick up that the so called foreign minister of Niger was not the current foreign minister in 2000. That's how I got tangled in back issues of the CIA world fact book (zip files with no index).

After an hour and a half of downloading files which turned out to be maps and flags I realized that the fact book would not contain the information I wanted. Fortunately I was searching as I downloaded and got to the highly relevant page which is unfortunately a bit too recent.

Finally finally I just went to Notice first page front and center what's new at the CIA contains a weekly entry "Posted updated Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments ... ". This is by far the most common item on the "What's new" section which is the most visible part of the CIA web page. I don't think the CIA is obsessed with cabinets, I just think that is the only thing they do which is so non secret that they share it with the public.

Now it seems that an organization which posts weekly updates on who is minister of what all over the world should be able to notice that something was signed by a "minister" who had been retired for over 10 yearsd doesn't it ?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

I can't believe I am posting a link to Fox News but that's where Rumsfield's memo is posted.

I have read to paragraph 4 and find a remarkable statement showing, perhaps, less expertise about terrorists than I would imagine Rumsfeld has.

I quote "USG has made reasonable progress in capturing or killing the top 55 Iraqis. USG has made somewhat slower progress tracking down the Taliban - Omar, Hekmatyar, etc."

The odd thing is that Gulbudin Hekmatyar is not a Talib. He is the head of the Hezb i Islami a very different organization which has fought the Taliban.

Hekmatyar is a violent, anti-US fundamentalist moslem.
The Hezb i Islami are responsible for most (almost all)
of the devastation of Kabul done not by the Soviet Union, not by the Muhjedein (incl Hezb i Islami) fighting the
Soviet Union, done not by the Taliban or the
United Uniteds (US-UK) fighting the Taliban.
Kabul was largely destroyed by the Hezb i Islami (on Hekmatyar's orders) as it fought the other 6 Muhjedein groups for control of Afganistan.

One of the first effects of the rise of the Taliban was the destruction of the Hezb i Islami as an effective fighting forse.
This largely explains the significant support the Taliban originally had among non insane Afghans.

Hekmatyar is a particularly interesting case, since, unlike the Taliban he was assisted by US dollars. The division of US assistance to the resistance to the Soviet occupation was handled by Pakistan which gave the largest share to the Hezb i Islami.

I am an economist. Can it really be that I know more about Afghan politics than the secretary of defence ?
hmm looks like Mark Kleiman's track back requires at least two references. OK fine here is a second reference.
Mark Kleiman informs me about something alarming. Bad enough for me to tell the pregnant chads to come home all is forgiven. The new(er) electronic vote counting machines can be hacked. Actually it is trivial to do so (double click and edit the *.dbd file).

This is interesting partly because the manufacturer is trying to use its copywrite to block diffusion of internal e-mails describing the problem. It is mainly interesting because it is a threat to US democracy.

Now I don't really know much about computers, but it is obvious how this problem could be solved. As the e-mail (reproduced by Kleiman) notes the problem is that hard disks are read/write devices. Now the laptop on which I am typing also has a write only device -- a CD burner with a RW CD in it.

If our currently elected officials and/or the manufacturer of the vote counting system cared, they could add a CD burner to the vote counting machine and have the machine write votes to the CD. Now I don't mean an off the shelf CD but rather ones with signatures serial numbers you know like money (or paper ballots) placed in a sealed CD burner only to be opened in the presence of representatives of rival parties etc.

It seems to me that a fancy software based approach to guaranteing the authenticity of voting records is bound to be vulnerable to smart hackers, but that a simple hardware based approach to a paperless paper trail already exists. If fact, it has existed for a long time since sealed write once read many times (WORM) drives have been around much longer than CD burners (about 15 years old now).

I suppose there is an explanation other than bad faith for reliance on hard disks but I sure can't think of it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I am member of a minority which suffers in the job market -- Short people (cue Randy Newman) ! Yes yes yes finallyI'm not just a white American man with rich parents. My sister always asked me how I could stand it and noted that, at least she was female. Now I can stand tall.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Hey why can't my wife score me a junket to Niamey (capital of Niger) ? One of the most absurd things about the Wilson-Plame scandal is the suggestion that Wilson got the privilege of going to Niger due to nepotism. It's not like people are lining up for a chance.
The main support for the Bush administration spin that the US weapons inspectors found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is a vial of live botulinum found in the refrigerator of an Iraqi scientist who put it there following Iraqi government orders. Takes courage or rather it shows, in Iraq, it was safer to have botulinum in your refrigerator than say no to Saddam.

I should have realised how silly this claim was. I know that you have to boil anything you can to avoid botulism. I should have realised that to get live botulinum one basically has to can something without boiling it and wait. The bacterium is quite common. It becomes dangerous when something it can grow on is stored in the absence of oxygen. A vial of botulinum appears to be nothing special.

I blush to admit that, in spite of a masters degree in microbiology, I considered live botulinum more serious than botulinus toxin. I note that newspapers are vague on the distinction. I was surprised to read that a vile of toxin was found in the refrigerator in Iraq. I decided to count toxin vs live bacteria in news reports (the first I checked contradicted itself)

Then I got to this link

which does seem quite unsympathetic to Bush
then to a competent microbiologist

David Kay should check with the FDA
"The organism and its spores are widely distributed in nature. They occur in both cultivated and forest soils, bottom sediments of streams, lakes, and coastal waters, and in the intestinal tracts of fish and mammals, and in the gills and viscera of crabs and other shellfish."

and the CDC

"What kind of germ is Clostridium botulinum?

Clostridium botulinum is the name of a group of bacteria commonly found in soil."

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Oops I did it again -- played games with my mouth but the guvnor's innocent.
Amazing that a lawyer who is also a governor's wife can't control what she says. Sure is a good thing I'm not married to a governor (hate to think that what I say might be quoted).

OK OK the link above appears as soon as you open netscape so is one of the least obscure links on the web, but I thought you poor benighted souls who use internet explorer (the worms' best friend) might be interested
I don't want to shock you but I am not sure Matt Drudge is reliable. Here is a quote from 3:23 AM Oct 8 Rome time.
Note that is 6:23 PST and Californian polls close in an hour and 37 minutes. TIME OF LAST UPDATE: 0:26 AM PST


YES 3287922 51.49%
NO 3097262 48.51%

ARN. SCHWARZENEGGER 1995594 31.25%
CRUZ BUSTAMANTE 2090924 32.75%

I think he has decided to make his dishonesty a joke which is a BIG improvement.