NYTimes: Top Indian Security Official Resigns as Toll Eclipses 180

Who resigned after the Sept 11 attacks?

Referees suck everywhere

The quality (or lack thereof) of MLS referees is always a hot topic and frequently leads to amusing column or blog titles (like this one). But after watching the Chelsea/Arsenal game today I'm reminded that referees suck everywhere, not just in MLS.

After calling Chelsea forward Solomon Kalou wrongly offsides twice in the first half, the same linesman allows Robin Van Persie's first goal to stand after he was clearly a couple yards offsides on the goal. The referee, Mike Riley, bizarrely points to Chelsea defender Jose Bosingwa, who was yards ahead of Van Persie, as somehow playing Van Persie on. The match commentators speculated that perhaps a Chelsea defender had deflected the ball, as there would be no other possible reason to allow the goal to stand (if the ball came off a Chelsea player, Van Persie couldn't be offsides). However all the replays showed obviously that there was no deflection. The wrong call totally changed the momentum of the game, and Chelsea lost, 2-1 (Chelsea had been winning 1-0, Arsenal's goal came out of nowhere). So refs in England can be awful too.

They can also be awful in Germany, where they fixed games in exchange for being paid off by the Croatian mafia. They can also be awful in Italy, where Juventus appoints which refs referee their games. They can be awful in Spain, where they are apparently fooled by every player that falls down as if shot. They're every bad in sports other than soccer, like the NBA or any NFL game involving a Manning brother (just the personal opinion of this Patriots fan).

So lets cut MLS referees a bit of slack. Nobody's perfect, and in fact the refereeing situation could be a lot worse.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Go see this movie. It is the best movie I've seen in recent memory, certainly the best this year. Ruth and I just saw it in an absolutely packed theater.

When the credits started rolling, there was complete silence.

By popular demand:

More pictures and a video of our cat, Oomi.

Oomi's tail wags like a dog's.
From Oomi

And she enjoys her fort.
From Oomi

What I do

My place of employment, the Monroe Crime Analysis Center, had our public rollout last week.  Here are news articles from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and local TV (watch the video here).  Here's the official press release from New York State's Department of Criminal Justice Services (which gave us lots of money).

Austrian hostages freed

Months ago, two Austrian tourists were kidnapped by AQIM in Algeria (probably in Tunisia but whatever).  They were freed on Oct 31.  I didn't put anything on my blog because I was hoping for some actual news reports in the media other than a one-line sentence saying they had been freed, but I am disappointed.  So, no info that I've seen on where they were held, what the kidnappers got in return, or anything like that.  And disappointingly to me, no information on what role if any local Tuareg factions played in the negotiations that led to their release.  Oh well.

Here are my previous two pieces on the Austrian hostages: AQIM/GSPC kidnaps two in Tunisia, and Update on Austrian hostages of AQIM.

Deflation on the way?

The conventional wisdom is that, with the recession, the US will experience some inflation. Flanders, the resident financial guru on this blog, thinks the opposite. Here is a potential scenario for deflation, via Flanders, with some input from myself:

a) Deleveraging (selling assets to raise cash) by financial institutions means that they need lots of cash now-now-now and so dollars (because investors want to be paid in dollars rather than Euros or pounds) are more valuable.
b) A global recession means that raw materials are going down in price. So if you are a business needing raw materials, why buy now? Hoard your money for a bit and raw materials will be cheaper in the future. This could create a cycle of reduced demand creating an even steeper slide in price for raw materials, increasing the incentives to hoard money and buy later, decreasing demand further, etc. etc.

So overall, demand (from financial institutions) for the dollar is going up, while supply is going down because of hoarding. When demand goes up and supply goes down, price goes up. Therefore dollars will increase in value.

Since I don't really understand this stuff, comments are welcome.

The problem with private intelligence

What's wrong with Stratfor in a nutshell:

"First, Washington had no intention of actually carrying out airstrikes against Iran."

a) You can never make definitive statements about intentions, because they are unknowable! Especially when 99% of everything regarding possible US military action against Iran remains classified. This is basic intelligence analysis 101. Stratfor is selling false certainty.

b) Washington never intends on doing anything because Washington is not a thing! Stratfor insists on looking at everything through hardcore realists lenses. It's more likely that some PEOPLE in Washington wanted to bomb Iran, and other PEOPLE didn't, and the people who didn't want to bomb were able to outmaneuver their bureaucratic opponents. But individuals don't usually feature in many Stratfor analyses - it is all about indivisible countries that have clear-cut interests.

Private intelligence shops like Stratfor obviously exist and apparently do quite well. But I think the market for private intelligence will always be extremely distorted. For markets to work properly, consumers need good information about the product they're buying. But the nature of intelligence is that good information doesn't exist on whatever the intelligence product is about. So you can only judge intelligence based on logic, examining the sources yourself, and track record. But track records are hard to get in the intelligence world because they are jealously guarded.

So I think what ends up being the best business strategy for a private intelligence firm is to play on your potential customers' pre-existing beliefs on how the world works. A small amount of this is maybe desirable so that the intelligence actually makes sense to the consumer by fitting in their paradigm, but I think the Stratfor stuff goes way beyond that. Stratfor sees their potential customers as "private individuals, global corporations, and divisions of the US and foreign governments." But if you look in their emails, all the testimonials about how great they are come from American businessmen or retired American military folks (who will have credibility with American businessmen) so I think it's accurate to say that US business executives are their target clientele. And I guess Stratfor's brand of unitary rational actor, realist, grand geopolitical drama analysis matches this clientele or else they wouldn't be as successful.

The same problem exists in government when competing intelligence shops open up, whether its Team B in the 1970s providing an "alternate" analysis that conveniently was exactly what the bosses wanted to hear, or Doug Feith doing the same thing with his Office of Special Plans. In government it could be even worse because multiple shops will be competing for a single consumer (the gov't), or at least a much smaller number of consumers. The problem is that people have no way of knowing which product is better until it is too late, and so you run the risk of creating competition to kiss ass rather than provide objectivity. This seems pretty obvious - it's why a lot of people think the head of the CIA and now the DNI should serve set terms instead of at the pleasure of the President - but even in spite of this a lot of people push the idea of private intelligence.

MLS playoffs, round 1

As noted earlier, the Revs lost.  This wasn't very surprising given the injury situation. The other matchups were Columbus vs. Kansas City, Chivas USA vs Real Salt Lake, and New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo.

Columbus was favored against KC and won easily, no surprise there. Chivas USA had the higher seed against Salt Lake but Salt Lake had been on a roll at the end of the season and so I wasn't surprised to see them beat a Chivas USA side that had a couple injury problems of its own. The shocker was today, the New York Red Bulls knocking out the Houston Dynamo by winning 3-0 away. New York's only away win this season came in week 7, beating a bad LA Galaxy team 2-1. There was a magical force field protecting New York's goal, and that plus Dane Richards having the game of his life put New York through to the Western Conference championship where I'm sure Real Salt Lake will beat them. I expect the MLS Cup final to be Columbus vs. Real Salt Lake. Columbus will be favored but I wouldn't be surprised to see Salt Lake win the whole thing.

You can see video highlights of all the games at MLS's website.

Revs season is over

The New England Revolution lost 3-0 to the Chicago Fire and were knocked out of the playoffs.

The game started out with the Fire getting a lot of shots, including one that Parkhurst cleared off the line. Then New England started getting in to it, getting some of their own attacking players going. Right at that moment, the Fire's John Thorrington came in late and from behind on Jeff Larentowicz, who had been our best player, and broke his ankle. He walked off the field anyway because he's hardcore, but then went to the hospital. We then lost the midfield, gave up a goal just before halftime, and lost the game. In exchange for taking out Larentowicz, Thorrington got a yellow card and got the Fire into the next round of the playoffs. Larentowicz himself was ejected for a far less serious foul against the Fire in the second game of the season, (view the highlights here if you don't believe me).

Basically I felt good about the game until Larentowicz was hacked down by Thorrington. We were holding our own, and we went from competing in the midfield to relying on a gimp (Shalrie's knee) and a slow galumphing rookie (Pat Phelan). In the beginning of the season I thought that our combination of speedy youth and experience would be a good mix, but that doesn't work if all your experience is sent to the hospital (or in Shalrie's case, should have been sent to the hospital). I think if you take any team in the world and subtract their star forward (Twellman), their 2nd forward (Cristman), their star attacking midfielder (Ralston), their most dangerous winger (Khano Smith, deservedly suspended), and then injure both their central midfielders, that team will be in trouble. I'm not really disappointed in the players or the coaches at all for mistakes or lack of effort, I just feel cheated by Lady Luck.

On to next year.

Thoughts on the election

Obama won!  A few observations on the election:

A lot of people are saying "Look, now this really shows that any child can grow up to be President!"  Well, no.  At the same time as the U.S. elected a black man as President, a bunch of states voted for anti-gay laws.  And plenty of ignorant people were still under the impression that Obama is a Muslim and that that's a bad thing.  And Senator (soon to be former Senator) Dole in North Carolina attacked her challenger Kay Fagan by calling her an atheist - Hagan responded by calling it "slander".  There was no Colin Powell moment in that race where someone asked "why do you care if Fagan is an atheist?"  So yes, a black man won the presidency, showing we've progressed, but you probably still can't win the Presidency if you are openly atheist, openly gay, Muslim or Arab (see a poll from 2007).

A lot of people like Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan are saying this was a transformational election, that the Democrats are building a new coalition just like Reagan in 1980 and FDR in 1932.  Well, no.  The data shows that, compared to 2004, the Democrats just got a a plus 3% handicap in pretty much every state other than states who had their own officials runing (Arizona, Alaska, Massachusetts, Hawaii), and Appalachia and Southern states (hmm).

Stratfor highlights that, even though Obama won in an electoral landslide, the popular vote was relatively close.  One reason for that is going to be Obama losing a lot of areas in the South and Appalachia by much more than Kerry did 4 years ago as you can see on this map.  The obvious explanation is racist voters voting against a black person in those areas.  However you can see that almost no counties in North Carolina and Virginia swung in McCain's direction compared to 2004, however just across the state lines, counties right next to them voted much more heavily in favor of McCain than in 2004.  And Obama targeted North Carolina and especially Virginia, and didn't really target West Virginia and Tennessee.  So I think beyond racism, there is the lesson that if you target voters even in the sticks in Appalachia, they will vote for you in greater numbers than otherwise (vindicating Howard Dean's 50 state strategy).

Basically, I don't think too much has changed in terms of electoral politics.  This election didn't show that we all united, it just showed that a mere 3% more of us reject Republican rule after one of the worst presidencies in history and instead will vote for a black guy if he promises to cut taxes and seems like a generally likeable fellow.

Bunch of Imams and Priests fight each other

...on the soccer field! To benefit charity!  Check out this article from RFE/RL:

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- An unusual charity soccer game was recently played in the northeastern Bosnian city of Tuzla.

The match pitted a team of Catholic priests against a squad of Muslim imams and was played under the slogan "For Children's Smiles."

All proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorship were donated to the city's home for underprivileged children and to an association for children with special needs.

The game was hardly a classic, but it attracted a sizable crowd and a festive atmosphere reigned in the city's Tusanj stadium. The final score was the least important part of the occasion...
If the name Tuzla rings a bell, it may be from the Democratic primary campaign. Hillary Clinton bizarrely claimed to have come under sniper fire when she landed there which of course was false.

Now on to today's election results!

Campaigning in Pennsylvania

Yesterday my wife and I went down to Erie, Pennsylvania, along with her parents and 3 other friends, and we campaigned for Obama.

We were given lists of Obama supporters and went door to door reminding them to vote, telling them where their polling places were, what they needed to bring, etc. Between my wife and I, we knocked on a couple hundred doors, and talked to dozens of people. We only got two McCain supporters (both hers) and one racist (mine).*  I talked to one old lady who was angry that the person that called her from the Obama campaign was a black girl, so she hung up on her.  Then she got even more angry when she mistakenly got a letter in the mail saying "thanks for your $150 pledge".  She said it made her not want to vote, but I talked her down from the ledge (hopefully).

My wife's parents did run in to some McCain campaigners, but nothing interesting happened.

The Rochester paper had an article today about some other supporters who also went down to Pennsylvania and Ohio. Of course, as Yglesias notes, the only reason we had to go down to Pennsylvania to find people who's Presidential votes mattered is because of our screwy electoral system.

My thought as we were driving back was, after all this talk about change, what will his brand be in 2012?  My guess is something like "steadiness," or "I am not a total airhead like my challenger."  If Palin runs in 2012, would we have a sequel to Larry Flynt's Nailin Paylin?

*Apparently plenty of racists are supporting Obama for President over McCain.