Terrorism, war, game theory, international relations, bioinformatics and math

I started these two Coursera self-paced on-demand MOOCs and quit them because I hate the format (I love “Regular Coke” Coursera, but their on-demand format really really bites):

  • Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice
    Universiteit Leiden.  NOTE: They are rebundling it in sessions so next one starts in a few weeks.  Putting it in sessions will make it a little nicer than on-demand format where inter-student communication is incoherent.  Maybe I’ll try it again.  It’s just quizzes after watching videos, not a lot of homework involved.  If there’s no free Certificate of Completion at the end I’ll be pissed.
  • Paradoxes of War.  Dreaded on-demand format.  Imagine your High School Social Studies teacher enumerating ad infinitum a lot of varied trivia about war, only he’s a Princeton professor for some reason.  Big reveal of MOOCs about Princeton professors: They can be kind of meh.  Not saying this guy is, but still.

Here’s one a little more substantial, starting soon, regular course format:

Here’s one on a French platform.  I enrolled in it and just discovered it ended without me.  In French, but I find the professor to be engaging and interesting to listen to, for me it’s like listening to someone read an interesting detective story.  Maybe he’ll do another session, there isn’t any announced so I don’t know how well it went but I assume they’ll keep going because it’s a very fresh topic over there and this one just ended a few days ago, it’s the first time out, and usually successful courses get repeated:

I’m also headed into the second part of Stanford’s ultra-dry Game Theory course:

To complement this I intend to get around to watching these videos on International Relations by a great pragmatic game theorist, William Spaniel:

I have two hard courses on my plate which will take priority over all of the above, namely

  • Molecular Evolution.  Fourth course in Pavel Pevzner‘s Bioinformatics sequence.  He’s another great teacher.
  • Practical Numerical Methods with Python.  This is my only EdX format course, from GWU.  (My Dad went to GWU, for law school.  He worked for Claude Shannon once but didn’t know the first thing about recursive functions, although he pretended he did.  My Dad was kind of a jerk.)  It’s a little scattered in terms of presentation, you have to figure out that some of the course is in one place and the rest of the course is in Python notebooks that are in a different place and you have to download them and go through them.  Also you kind of have to know Physics-y calculus notation and bull your way through the mindset of physics people writing equations, which is a little different notationally and in style of presentation from the way a mathematician would write the same topic.  That is, they start with a stack of interrelated definitions, not always well connected, and notation, not always well introduced and end up with a graph.  The only way to decipher the mess is to read the code that generated the graph and work backwards.  Plus you have to be competent enough to download Anaconda Python 3 and start up a Jupyter notebook.  And also if you want to read a few .md files in the collection, download a Github Markup Language file previewer.  Let’s just say I spent a fair amount of vacation time putzing around before I began to get some traction on this course.  I think it’s going to be a bit of a slog.  Luckily as a programmer it is grounded in code that runs and that will always be my final and natural resource for comprehension.

See you in class!

What are the odds that this will work?

With respect to this thread, a humble e-mail:

Lars Ericson
Wed 12/30/2015 7:44 PM
To: Colonel Lu Dai at the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta

Dear Colonel Lu Dai,

Will China conduct naval exercises with any ASEAN member before 1 June 2016?

Your response will be gratefully appreciated by forecasters in the GJOpen.com forecasting tournament. The above is one of the questions in the tournament that we would like to resolve. You can see the current forecast here: http://tinyurl.com/jmx4po7

Sincerely yours,
Lars Ericson





CHAMPS KNOW and the 2015 GJP report

For some reason GJOpen Training tab does not have the CHAMPS KNOW modules that were available to forecasters in Season 4 last year.  Deficit remedied:


Also, here is the retrospective on (I think) Seasons 2 and 3 (out of 4, one paper to go?) of Good Judgment Project:


There is also this paperon market format.

KSA ISIS blowback scenario


GL2814 pointed out this Al-Monitor article to me and asked “is Richard Haas right?”…about, I guess, blowback in KSA of support for ISIS, which comes in the form of private donations and young citizens going off to war for ISIS and Al Queda in other countries.

The blowback highlighted by the Al-Monitor article is the idea that the young KSA citizens will return to overthrow the kingdom in favor of the “Islamic caliphate“.


I don’t really see this happening, because my sense is that the Saudi royals enjoy, from first-class Saudi citizens and the odd wannabe,


the same affection and deference as exists in England for Princess Diana


or in Japan for Emperor Akihito.


In other words, the Saudi royals are untouchable and orthogonal to everyday ambitions, including ones of politics and jihad.

So this leads us to a bit of source analysis.  According to Wikipedia, though some people think Al-Monitor is a Shiite tool, I note that the Rand Corporation is on the board.  There has been no recorded meeting in history, for any purpose, of any old white guy from Rand


and any living mullah from Qom.



No mullahs from Qom on the board, no Shiite bias.  Suppose Al-Monitor is written by old white guys in Pasadena.

Then how do we read this article?  As wishful thinking?  Trying to make the guys in igals and ghutras living in Riyadh a little paranoid?


Or is it to make other old white guys in the United States less likely to think that KSA has been up to no good, so they will cut KSA some slack, which will result in some maneuvering room needed by the current administration?  Just asking.  I have no clue.

“Models read my book”


Epic boast by Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert, regarding his Wizard Theory on demagogues, which he used to support his appreciation of Donald Trump, in particular the idea that Trump may win the Iowa Caucus and beyond because he is a 3-Dimensional Thinker and the rest of them aren’t.  In particular, that Trump has been able to

  • Reframe Iraq as “not a country”, thus spinning the dial to a different channel in which we can’t lose the war in Iraq (because it doesn’t exist), and presumably then it is our natural role is to eradicate all the Gertrude Bell-contrived lines and let the natives sort themselves out into terrorities comprising distinct ethnic subgroups.  Kind of like things were 100 years ago, before Bell mucked things up.  Never mind that Iran and Turkey might not play ball when it comes to an independent Kurdistan, any more than England has been historically supportive of the idea of an independent Scotland or Ireland.
  • By befriending Putin, reframe himself as Roosevelt with Stalin at Yalta rather than as the Hitler he appears to be based on his immigration policies.

I am discussing this cartoonist’s theories on politics and international relations because they have met with approval in the comments section of GJOpen and caused one Superforecaster™ to push the assessed likelihood of a Trump Iowa win from 12% to 25%.  This is not totally inconsistent with Real Clear Politics poll average giving Trump 26.9% on average of the vote and Cruz 30.3%.

It’s the spread that counts in a photo-finish horse race.  The Eastern Iowa Gazette says Cruz is better organized and better connected to Iowa Caucus voters, so based on that I would give Cruz the nod.  That said, I guess it’s fair to allow Trump 25% as long as you bear in mind that the other 75% is owned by Cruz as I write this.

I just saw the new “Star Wars”


First impressions:

Really great return to the spirit of the 1977 first Star Wars movie.


I’m so glad Lucas sold this to Disney.  Lucas intentionally lowered the mental age of the movies to the 8-10 year old range for the sequels so he could sell Ewok


and Jar-Jar dolls.


The result was cringe-worthy and dull.  The J.J. Abrams rendition is refreshing.

Princess Leia.




Now she looks like Kate Mulgrew in Orange Is The New Black.


I guess it can’t be helped.  My hair is gray now too.  Was 1977 so long ago?


Luke Skywalker.


Okay….in the final big reveal, he looks like a middle-aged insurance salesman having a mid-life crisis.


Not quite sure what to do.  Get divorced?  Start drinking?  Take up golf?  Go to a swinger’s club for the first time?  He just doesn’t know.   And now here’s this girl trotting up the steps with his old pointy stick.  Hmm. Does this mean he has to go back to work?

Luke again.  What does he have for breakfast, after climbing all those steps?  Where are the chickens?  Does he tend to them when he’s not brooding on his front porch?

All of them.  Does anyone in Star Wars ever poop?  Has that ever been alluded to even once in 7-odd films?