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Wednesday, January 23, 2002

I just had a brainstorm for a great political science project or thesis. There have been lots of attempts to categorize people's politics, from the simplistic "left <---> right" axis to the somewhat more sophisticated 2-dimensional "Nolan Chart" that charts economic freedom on one axis and personal freedom on the other axis. I've seen many variations of the Nolan Chart, each usually containing 5 or 10 questions per axis, which supposedly pinpoint the respondent's political coordinates from the resulting scores.

But which questions are the best ones with which to grade a person's politics? How well do they really distinguish typical political positions? What kind of predictive power do they offer?

My idea is to use neural networks to classify people's politics: Come up with a questionaire containing a fairly lengthy and diverse set of questions, covering a wide variety of topics. Then recruit people to answer the questionaire who are widely recognized as epitomizing different political categories. For instance, recruit many prominent libertarians and Libertarian Party leaders who most everyone agrees hold hard-core libertarian beliefs. Do the same for environmentalists and Green Party leaders. Do the same for died-in-the-wool liberals, arch-conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, socialists, anarchists, foreign-policy "hawks" and "doves", etc.

These initial questionaire respondents provide the "training vectors" for the neural network. The neural network learns to separate people into political categories based on the complex weightings and interrelations of the answers they give to the various questions. Post-analysis of the neural network may also suggest certain questions or combinations of questions that offer great discriminatory value, while other questions and issues turn out to be largely irrelevant or derivative. With enough testing and optimizing of questions, it should be possible to classify people according to political labels that will have some real validity.

This could ultimately lead to very practical political applications, which for now I will leave to the reader's imagination.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

I'm not the only one who thinks Brett Favre iced the game when Strahan sacked him for the record. Chis Havel, in his sports column in today's Green Bay Press Gazette, quotes former Packers great Fuzzy Thurston as suggesting the same scenario.

Monday, January 07, 2002

Brett Favre may be generous but he's also devious. The uproar over Favre's gift sack to Michael Strahan near the end the the Packers' victory over the N.Y. Giants on Sunday ignores an important point: It iced the game for the Packers.

Brett Favre is a good 'ol boy who loves playing football and obviously wanted his friend Mike Strahan to break the sack record. Brett Favre is also a wily old veteran who can lie with a straight face. Everyone may suspect but no one can ever prove that his sack was a gift; Favre insists it was a play he's run before and this time it just didn't happen to work. When he ran into Strahan he did the smart thing and took a slide rather than risk a fumble or injury. That's his story and he'll stick with it.

It also distracts everyone from the real consequence of that sack.

This was a game the Packers had to win to maintain home field advantage for their playoff game against San Francisco. And even though the Packers had dominated for most of the game, a late charge by the Giants had made it uncomfortably close at 34-25. A sudden touchdown, successful on-side kick, and field goal by the Giants could still result in a miracle come-back victory, which would dramatically sour the Packers' playoff chances.

So Favre pulled a "naked bootleg" (without telling his teammates) and ran smack into Strahan for the record sack. The game stopped while everyone congratulated Strahan. It signalled that the game was over. Giants coach Jim Fassel refused to use his remaining three time outs, and basically let the clock run out. After all, how could the Giants desperately attempt a last-minute upset of the Packers after that? It would have seemed so churlish and ungrateful.

End result: The Giants accepted the consolation prize, to close out an otherwise very disappointing season. And the Packers play at Lambeau field next weekend.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

Is my daughter smart or is it just grade inflation? After graduating from Whittier College with two BA degrees, my daughter enrolled "full-time" at the local community college in order to defer her student loans (and stay on my health insurance). She spent minimum time and effort on her classes, and did virtually no homework, but still got straight A's this past semester. We all thought that was pretty amusing. I mean, she is awfully smart, and it's hard for her not to do her best, but still...

We Californians are paying a lot of taxes for community college "higher education" and seem to be getting no more value for our money than we do for K-12 public schools.

  0 comments earns credit(?) for inspiring another blog and another non-paying customer for I have no idea where I'm going with this, but if blogging is the wave of the future I sure don't want to be left in a back-eddy.

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