Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
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Wednesday, Apr 30, 2003
New Mexico resolution
New Mexico leads the way in state nullification of the PATRIOT law. The resolution passed the House by a remarkable 53-11 vote. Though the resolution is pro-immigration, it has other provisions that are well-written and impressive, such as the way it address the encroachments on education privacy (FERPA), medical privacy (AAPS is suing over this), and sneak and peek.It is not just pro-immigration -- it says that NM will not cooperate in expelling illegal aliens; that NM will not use profiling; that NM will treat citizens the same as non-citizens in criminal investigations; and that NM will blame Ashcroft for its own privacy invasions by its libraries.
Patriot Act helps privacy
Another public library admits it has been violating citizen privacy by keeping records of patrons' reading habits. Without the USA PATRIOT Act, we would never have learned about this.It is amazing how these public libraries think that they have right to keep nosy records on citizens, but share them with federal terrorism investigators.
Tuesday, Apr 29, 2003
John responds to Andy:
John says that the expected confirmation of Jeffrey Sutton is "big". Big what? Sutton, the former Ohio state attorney, is famous for defending govt against lawsuits. That's not even particularly conservative. I haven't seen anything to suggest he is pro-life.Yes, Sutton's confirmation to the 6th Circuit today is a big victory. He is only the 4th of Bush's "controversial" appellate nominations to be confirmed (the others were McConnell-10th, Shedd-4th, and Smith-3rd). Sutton is famous for defending state and local govt against suits by individuals claiming rights under federal laws passed by Congress under the Commerce clause. Yes, I think this is a "particularly conservative" objective.
The Language Police
A new book The Language Police is a devastating criticism of how political correctness has ruined the school textbooks and tests.
A typical publisher’s guideline advises thatIt is not just an American disease -- British teachers are being told to avoid the term "brainstorming" because it might offend epileptics. No, the epileptics are not even complaining, just the political correctness police.
The Origin of Dragons
UFO scholars like to cite the fact that many reports of UFOs and space aliens look similar, and to argue that the similarity add credence to the reports. I think they are just all watching the same movies.
Now this NY Times article tackles the older question of why ancient cultures all over the Earth seem to have the same dragon images and stories.
New S&W handgun
My revolver is now obsolete. The Dirty Harry movies say that the .44 Magnum is the most powerful handgun made, but it has been passed up. This blog says:
The ol' reliable 9mm Glock fires a 124 grain bullet.The new Model 500 costs $1000, and each round is about $3. Maybe I can use my .454 Casull as a backup gun.
Update: I've changed my mind -- a .454 Casull pistol is a better choice. It uses standard ammo, while the S&W 500 uses peculiar ammo that is only available from one maker and is very expensive. Furthermore, the regular ammo isn't really any better than the S&W 500 ammo. For reviews of both, see Chuck Hawks.
Music CD profits
Orin Kerr says:
However, Professor Fisher estimates that for a typical $18 compact disc, about $7 goes to the retail store that sold you the disc; $3.75 goes back to the artists, performers, and composers; $1.50 goes into manufacturing the disc; $1.50 goes into the distribution of the disk from the manufacturer to the retailer; $1.50 pays for marketing the disc; $2.50 pays for the record company's overhead, and a whopping 19 cents is record company profit.He's missing something. First of all, "profit" just means shareholder profit, and does not include things like executive salaries. The profits are expected to be small compared to retail prices. If they were larger, then the label would sign more bands. It doesn't mean much, except just a reflection of ordinary capitalist economics.
Second, the royalties are often prepaid in advances and signing bonuses, with no additional payments coming from sales. Sometimes the artists even have to pay back money to cover record label marketing costs. So even if those average figures are correct, buying a CD does not necessarily put any money in the artist's pocket.
Third, retail sales of shrink-wrapped jewel cases with music CDs are going to continue to decline because of changing technology. Horse-and-buggy sales decline when cheap automobiles hit the market. So yes, retailers are taking a hit, just like any other technology that booms, peaks, and declines.
It is the music labels who are trying to keep the artists, retailers, and consumers from moving to better distribution technology. I happen to think that the artists will be in a better position if music downloading drives all the label bankrupt. Time will tell.
Monday, Apr 28, 2003
More on Santorum
If an animal rights advocate wants a ban on fur, then it is fair to ask if he also objects to leather shoes. If a gun nut wants the right to own an assault rifle, then it is fair to ask if he also want a tank or a bazooka. If a tax protester wants a radical tax cut, then it is fair to ask if he is willing to pay any taxes at all. You don't really know what someone is advocating unless you know some limits on it.
Likewise, those who advocate a constitutional right to sodomy need to explain whether that right would include other practices like adultery, incest, and zoophilia. That is the issue that Santorum raised, and the Santorum critics are being completely dishonest in refusing to address it.
I live in California which has fairly liberal sex laws, and I have no complaints about it. Sodomy laws are not really enforced anywhere, so why does anybody care? Apparently they care because they want the courts to come out with a dictatorial ruling that will be useful in promoting a social change in attitudes. That's what I resent. I'll make up my own mind. Judges are the last people I'd want to listen to about social change.
Great American publications
Andy sends this list of the most influential American publications. He feels that publications have been more influential than presidents.
Isn't it funny that Andy cites his class as if it were an independent authority?Joe writes:
Capitalism and Freedom - FriedmanAndy writes:
John wrote, "So you construct a list with that in mind, and sure enough - not a single president made the list! Imagine that!"I will post Andy's revised list.
Sunday, Apr 27, 2003
Revoke the Oscar
There is a campaign to revoke the Oscar for the movie Bowling For Columbine. The movie was supposed to be a documentary, but include many dishonest distortions of the facts. Surely, Winged Migration was a better picture.
Update: John sends this FoxNews article.
Saturday, Apr 26, 2003
Implanted ID chips
This NY Times story wonders why more people don't have ID chips implanted in their pets. Several states are considering laws requiring the chips. The main purpose is for govt agencies to track dogs, cats, and owners in a big database, and to return wandering pets to their owners. Apparently owners only get the chips when they have to:
Virtually every shelter in the country implants chips in captured strays or in pets put up for adoption. But private veterinarians say that requests from pet owners are still relatively rare. Most requests, they say, are made to comply with international regulations when taking animals abroad: all pets traveling to Britain and France, for example, must have both a blood test to check for disease and a microchip.This shouldn't be so surprising. The program is sold to the public based on benefit to the pet owners; but the benefit to owners is minimal. It is really a privacy-invading pet licensing scheme.
Andy on Bush
The Bushies have succeeded in removing all conservative advocacy from top official positions. Frist and Hastert advocate little to nothing. Bush and Cheney don't touch social issues. The outspoken conservatives Senators, Smith and Fitzgerald, have been pushed out of their seats. Every Republican in power is now just trying to hang on. Liberals are making their arguments and winning by default, as in the battle for the judiciary.Woody Allen has a joke in Annie Hall: Two old ladies are vacationing. One says, "The food here is so bad." The other says, "Yes, and the portions are so small."
19th century history is irrelevant. More recently, Truman (1948), Kennedy (1960), Nixon (1968), Clinton (1992), and Clinton (1996) all lost the popular vote. (Their opponents got more than 50% of the vote.) Election results are here and here.
Andy disputes my definition of winning the popular vote, and argues that one can win the popular vote with a plurality of the votes.
You can make any definition you want, I guess, but you should define your terms if you are using a peculiar definition. In my book, winning the electoral vote means getting a majority of the electoral vote, and winning the popular vote means getting a majority of the popular vote. If you want to count presidents who failed to win a plurality of the popular vote, then say so.
If the election rules were such that the winner is decided by a plurality, then I guess that would be it. But otherwise, ordinary usage requires a majority, IMHO. If party A elects 48 senators, party B 47 senators, and party C 5 senators, then has party A won the election? I say no, because it didn't elect a majority. Parties B and C could form a coalition to take the majority and control the senate.
In the 20th century, GW Bush (2000) and Kennedy (1960) failed to win a plurality of the popular vote.
Scott Peterson has been charged with murdering his pregnant wife Laci and their 8-month old fetus. The prosecutor wants the death penalty, but the death penalty depends on being able to prove both murders.
Scott's motive was apparently that he wanted to abort the fetus, and she did not. If it had been the other way around, then Laci would have been acting entirely within her constitutional rights to kill the 8-month-old fetus without her husband's permission.
A few anti-abortion activists are unhappy about this. If Scott can be executed for doing a late-term abortion, then it will start us down the slippery slope of suppressing female sexual freedom. No, it doesn't make sense to me either.
Friday, Apr 25, 2003
Judge rules in favor of Napster clone
A federal district judge just dismissed an RIAA/MPAA lawsuit against Morpheus and Grokster. Meanwhile, Verizon is being forced to ID P2P users by another federal judge. Here is the Wash Post story.
The RIAA will probably try to spin their Morpheus loss by saying that the judge found the users to be infringing copyrights. But he really didn't say that. He merely said that Morpheus was not responsible for possible user infringement.
I still think that the music labels would have been better off cutting a deal with Napster. Napster was willing to pay a royalty on downloads. The legal theory for shutting down Napster was that if a P2P service monitors downloads, then it should enforce copyrights. So the gnutella P2P services were designed so that no one could monitor downloads. The music labels are just getting what they asked for!
A Forbes article says the Baby Bells are cheating consumers out of billions of dollars.
A Univ. of Chicago student agreed to plead guilty to violating the rarely used 1996 Economic Espionage Act. I don't think that what he did should be prosecuted severely as economic espionage. He did not benefit financially, and it is not clear that anyone else did either. He just released some info that may allow some Canadians to watch American TV. Canada doesn't let the American satellite TV companies sell to Canadian customers, so I don't know what is so bad about Canadians watching American TV on their own.
It's not enough to send missiles into Baghdad, we are planning to bomb the moon! Not for oil -- just water.
Thursday, Apr 24, 2003
The Double Helix
Until this PBS Nova special on Photo 51, I didn't know how Watson and Crick dishonestly and maliciously stole the work of Rosalind Elsie Franklin. The importance of DNA was already known, and Linus Pauling and others had published models of it. The critical breakthru was some excellent x-ray crystallography photos taken by Franklin. Here is a neutral account in Physics Today. It says:
In their 1953 paper, Watson and Crick state that they had been "stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M. H. F. Wilkins, Dr. R. E. Franklin and their co-workers at King's College, London." That oblique acknowledgment misrepresented Franklin's role and, whatever its intention, left most people with the impression that her work mainly served to confirm that of Watson and Crick. It has to be one of the greatest understatements in the history of scientific writing.
Franklin died before the Nobel Prize was awarded.
I was expecting a story about how Franklin was a lowly grad student or lab technician carrying out Watson & Crick's instructions, or a poor brilliant woman who suffered from sex discrimination. In fact, she was an accomplished and respected scientist who was studying DNA on her own, and she had other significant accomplishments before she died at age 37.
It was Watson's famous book, The Double Helix, that revealed how crucial it was to get Franklin's results, stab her in the back, and publish before anyone else gets her photos. The book became one of the big-selling science books of all time, but the first publisher rejected it because of the inaccurate and nasty comments about Franklin and others. (Franklin was dead at the time, and probably never knew how she was cheated out of a Nobel Prize.) Because of people outraged by Watson's book, a couple of other books were written to tell the true story of the discovery of the helical structure of DNA, and Franklin's role in it.
If Watson and Crick had missed the boat, then Linus Pauling would have solved it as soon as he saw Franklin's work. But if Watson and Crick did not have Franklin's work, they never would have gotten to first base. It might have been several years before anyone solved it.
Watson and Crick used Franklin's unpublished work without her knowledge or permission. Watson admits to that. Maybe you think that's ok in Watson's culture, whatever that means. But Watson and Crick dishonestly misrepresented her work and their dependence on it back in 1953, and have refused to give her proper credit ever since. They were worse than naive and arrogant; they were dishonest back-stabbers.
Bob says that Watson honestly explained the whole story in his 1968 book. To ameliorate criticism over the nasty and belittling comments about Franklin in his book, Watson wrote an epilogue that said:
"In 1958, Rosalind Franklin died at the early age of thirty-seven. Since my initial impressions of her, both scientific and personal (as recorded in the early pages of this book), were often wrong. I want to say something here about her achievements. The X-ray work she did at King's is increasingly regarded as superb. The sorting out of the A and B forms, by itself, would have made her reputation; even better was her 1952 demonstration using Patterson superposition methods, that the phosphate groups must be on the outside of the DNA molecule. ....Sorry, but this epilogue doesn't cut it. Her unpublished work was essential to the Watson-Crick research. She showed them what they were doing wrong, and they got her photos. Watson and Crick were so excited by her photos that they immediately dropped what they were doing to publish a DNA model, as they were sure that the molecular structure of DNA would be obvious to Linus Pauling as soon as he got the photos. They should have made Franklin a co-author to their famous paper, and properly acknowledged her contribution.
The above passage consists of self-serving back-handed compliments. Watson is happy to credit Franklin for unrelated work, and miserly when it was work on which he depended. The closest he comes is "The X-ray work she did at King's is increasingly regarded as superb." That is academic-speak for "she was merely a technician".
Here is an online account of the race for DNA.
It is disillusioning that 2 of the heros of 20th century science turned out to be such jerks and liars. I am not even sure that they should get most of the credit for DNA. It was Oswald Avery who showed that was was the DNA that contained the genetic material, Linus Pauling who figured out how to model the molecular structure of such compounds, and who first proposed a helical structure for DNA, and it was Rosalind Franklin who did the experiments that showed precisely what was wrong with Pauling's model. Watson and Crick just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and put the pieces together after others had done all the brilliant work.
This sounds like another one of those politically correct attempts to rewrite history in favor of some oppressed group. If Franklin were really so smart, why didn't she prove herself by doing later work and earning a Nobel Prize for that?Actually, there was another Nobel Prize awarded for later work that she collaborated on. She was not eligible, because the prizes are not awarded to dead people.
It doesn't appear that her scientific career suffered from sex discrimination. The only discrimination story I saw was that she was that the college had some sort of men-only faculty dining room. But that really doesn't explain Wilkins and Watson mistreating her.
There is also a story about Linus Pauling missing out because he was a commie and the US revoked his passport. But that story is also exaggerated. Pauling has visa problems once, but traveled to England at other times. This seems to be mainly a story a professional jealousy, egotism, and backstabbing.
Wednesday, Apr 23, 2003
A $100B settlement is in the works. 70 companies have already been bankrupted. All because our incompetent court cannot handle junk science claims.
The bloggers and pundits are on the warpath against Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum for his remarks about sodomy laws. He said that he thinks that the US Supreme Court should uphold the Texas sodomy law because if it finds an unrestricted constitutional right to private consensual sexual acts, then it would also legalize incest, bigamy, polygamy, adultery, and bestiality. He thinks that such laws should be up to the political wishes of the people in each state, and not dictated by the US SC. Here is the transcript.
Those on a PC witchhunt are saying he is bigoted, ignorant, unfit for office, etc, but none explain what the SC rationale would be for saying that there is constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, but not those other sexual acts. I don't see it.
Maybe there ought to be a constitutional amendment legalizing whatever people do in the privacy of their own property. Such an amendment would legalize drug abuse, prostitution, and all sorts of other unpopular practices. Very few politicians would support it.
I agree with Santorum that our political system puts these issues before the state legislatures, and the US SC should stay out of it. I hope he sticks to his guns, and refuses to apologize.
Santorum's comments were offensive because he equated homosexuality with incest. Homosexuality is an innate orientation. Incest is a crime. He and his ultra-right-wing Republican allies want to police the bedroom, and he shouldn't be allowed to stay in office if he says such prejudiced things. He sounds like Trent Lott.Santorum was careful to distinguish between orientation and acts. Sure, incest is a crime. That's the point. It is a crime even if it is between consenting adults. Likewise with bestiality. In some states, at least. Santorum is not trying to impose his personal views. He wants laws defined by the usual political process, instead of getting social engineering changes dictated by unelected SC judges. He finishes the interview with:
I would put it back to where it is, the democratic process. If New York doesn't want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. I mean, I wouldn't agree with it, but that's their right. But I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in.I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in either. Most of the states have now gotten rid of their anti-sodomy laws, and the SC does not need to cook up some phony constitutional principle to expedite the process.
This Slate column supports Santorum's legal argument, and ridicules the gay rights lobby for sidestepping the issue. (Update: He has more comments here. He notes that some people are hung up on the distinction between child molesting and incest, but that just obscures the main issue. He gives an example of an 18-year-old girl who went to jail for seducing an uncle.)
This NY Times op-ed has the usual idiotic attack on GOP hypocrisy. But the main complaint is that Santorum meant exactly what he said:
Unlike the former majority leader, Mr. Santorum didn't slip up and say something in plain English that every good Republican knows must only be said in code. Unlike Republican appeals to racist voters, Republican appeals to homophobic voters are overt.So how is it hypocrisy? Somebody needs a dictionary. It would be hypocrisy if Santorum said something that he didn't believe.
When liberals disagree with someone, and don't want to articulate why, their favorite epithets are intolerance, ignorance, and hypocrisy. But it is a good bet that the people using these terms are prime examples of intolerance, ignorance, and hypocrisy. This op-ed, like all the other attacks on Santorum, takes quotes out of context to misrepresent what he said. Eg, Santorum said:
And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. ... It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold ...The op-ed quotes this as:
A right to privacy, he said, "doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution" — for gays, straights, anybody.The 4A protects against unreasonable searches. That is surely a right to privacy in the Constitution that Santorum would not dispute. What Santorum said was "this right to privacy", in reference to a hypothetical SC ruling. The op-ed dishonestly misquotes Santorum because it refuses to address the ramifications of such a ruling, and the possibility of those ramifications was really Santorum's main point.
You are missing the point. Gay people are deeply offended at the suggestion that they should be locked up just because they are gay. Just read the Andrew Sullivan or Jacob Levy blogs if you want their point of view.I guess Jacob Levy is saying he is gay on the Volokh blog. Levy says he agrees with someone who says he is gay and against sodomy laws, and in the same sentence says he disagrees with someone else who says he is not gay and against sodomy laws. But it is a little hard to tell. Both Sullivan and Levy stubbornly refuse to address Santorum's main points, and misleadingly twist his words into something else.
Sure, the laws on sodomy and adultery are silly and archaic and so little prosecuted that they aren't worth debating. These laws could not be prosecuted without gross invasions of privacy. Everyone understands that. But none of these Santorum critics can explain how the US SC could read into the US Constitution the distinctions on private sexual practices that they want.
Update: I see Sullivan and Levy and accusing Santorum defenders like Stanley Kurtz of ignoring the main issue. Sullivan says:
Stanley simply ignores the implications of Santorum's full comments, which clearly place Santorum in the position of believing that homosexual relationships should be criminalized, as well as equating homosexuality with child abuse and bestiality.Santorum did say that the definition of marriage has never included homosexuality, bestiality, or child abuse. He doesn't include bigamy or polygamy in this list because those have been included in the definition in many countries (and even in Utah). He is not equating homosexuality, bestiality, and child abuse. I guess you could say he is associating them, but so what? It is Sullivan and his friends who are lobbying to redefine marriage. To debate the subject you have to be willing to say what it is and what it is not. I suspect that Sullivan doesn't want to do that, because he doesn't want to reveal the radical extent of his agenda.
Chilling effect of RIAA lawsuits
This NY Times story tells about students who were intimidated into shutting down academically useful computer networks. And this C-Net story says the Napster investors are being sued by the record labels. And this AP story says students have been cut off the internet just because the university got a copyright complaint.
We are losing our free speech rights just because of greedy corporations trying to control people listening to music.
Tuesday, Apr 22, 2003
I have an xml rss feed for this blog, but not everyone likes xml. Eg, see http://www.xmlsucks.org/.
There is a point with critics: Unlike Latex or HTML whichNo one is going to want to edit that by hand. And if no one edits by hand, then why the ascii? It would have been better to have a simple binary format.
XML is like the Windows registry -- it seems like a good idea until you see how people abuse it.
I am a patent agent. People sometimes ask how that differs from being a patent attorney.
The federal govt licenses people to practice law before the US Patent Office (USPTO). Those with current licenses are called patent practitioners. If a patent practitioner is also licensed to practice state law in some state, then he is also called a patent attorney; otherwise he is called a patent agent.
Because federal law expressly provides that patent agents can practice patent law without a state license, and because state regulations are preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, the US Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Florida law restricting patent agents. See Sperry v. Florida, 373 U.S. 379 (1963). This opinion makes it clear that patent agents can draft and prosecute patents before the USPTO, advise clients on patents, draft patentability opinions, record patent assignments, and otherwise practice patent law as it relates to USPTO actions.
Patent attorneys sometimes jealously argue that patent agents are narrowly limited in what they can do, and that patent agents cannot draft license agreements, write infringement opinions, or assert attorney-client privileges. However, there is no controlling legal authority for any of these positions. The USPTO allows patent agents to record licenses and assignments, so giving appropriate advice to clients should be covered by the Sperry decision.
It seems possible that some state like Texas, that aggressively restricts the unauthorized practice of law, could try to prohibit patent agents from negotiating licenses or writing infringement opinions. But none has, too my knowledge. Here in California, prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law is targeted mainly at those who lie about their credentials.
The rules about what can be kept confidential under a privilege are trickier, and widely misunderstood. The attorney-client privilege is only supposed to protect the confidentiality of communications made by a client to an attorney, for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or a legal opinion. The privilege belongs to the client, not the attorney. (There is a related work-product privilege that arises in litigation.) At one time, there was no patent attorney privilege. United States v. United Shoe Machinery Corporation, 89 F.Supp. 357 (D. Mass. 1950). In American Standard Inc. v. Pfizer Inc., 828 F.2d 734, 3 U.S.P.Q.2d 1817 (Fed. Cir. 1987), an opinion letter which was not signed, not on letterhead and recommended no legal action was found not to be privileged because it "did not reveal, directly or indirectly, the substance of any confidential communication."
Nevertheless, there doesn't seem to be any rationale or precedent for treating the privilege differently for patent attorneys and agents. If it were really true that an inventor could only fully protect the rights to his invention by consulting a patent attorney instead of a patent agent, then it would frustrate the intent of Congress in licensing non-attorneys to prosecute patents before the USPTO. See In Re Ampicillin Antitrust Litigation, 81 F.R.D. 377 (D.D.C. 1978).
So I occasionally write a patent opinion letter.
Monday, Apr 21, 2003
Online bill paying
This NY Times article tells how banks are promoting online bill paying. I think that they still have a ways to go, before it is more reliable and convenient than ordinary paper bill paying. I looked that Bank of America and Yahoo, and they are more trouble than they are worth for me. Mailing paper checks is still a lot easier and faster.
Town opposes Patriot Act
This WashPost story about how the Arcata California town council opposes global warming, the Iraq war, and cooperating with govt subpoenas for the records of terrorists. I think they'd change their minds if they ever saw any terrorists in their little town.
Edgar F. Codd died
Edgar F. Codd, the IBM SQL inventor, died. The Si Valley story says:
In 1953, Codd moved to Canada, frustrated that no one insisted that Sen. Joseph McCarthy produce proof of his charges that Communists were embedded in the U.S. government.Sounds a little kooky. At least he later moved back to the USA and became a citizen, so I guess he eventually read about the proof.
Sunday, Apr 20, 2003
The movie sequel The Matrix Reloaded will be out soon, so check out this explanation of some of the dubious science in the movie.
Roger's definition of deconstructionism may be the what the deconstructionists would like us to believe. But as it is taught and practiced in college English departments (probably the most corrupt of all academic departments, well, anyway just as corrupt as Women's Studies), deconstructionism means that we don't have to consider what the author may have meant when he wrote the text; that's irrelevant! All that matters is what the reader would like to think it means. Ergo, there is no such thing as a classic.
I heard Schumer castigating some hapless Bush judicial nominee for a comment he made about rape victims getting pregnant. What are the real stats on how many "rape pregnancies" there are - Schumer said something like 36,000 per year. I'm suspicious that a lot of these encounters get "re-characterized " after the fact.Joe writes:
You're right to be suspicious [about rape stats]. There are no "real stats" on this because there is no independent third-party review of such claims. Wherever and whenever abortion has been allowed on the ground of rape or incest, the uncorroborated say-so of the woman is accepted without question.Rape pregnancies are extremely rare. The number would be closer to 36 cases a year, not 36k cases a year. I've never even heard of any cases. When a woman reports a rape, she is given a morning-after pill (or equivalent) and pregnancy does not occur.
Here is a NY Times article about how PVR users are so happy about their PVRs that they tell all their friends to buy one, and PVR market share is very small.
It is an odd phenomenon. Having a PVR is like having a color TV while everyone else has black-and-white. Actually, I think the difference is bigger. It makes the difference between TV being watchable and unwatchable. It is easy to understand why PVR users are happy with the product. It is harder to explain why market share is so small. The article doesn't try to explain that, except to note that TiVo hasn't advertised since 2000.
Saturday, Apr 19, 2003
This blog complains about a biased WashPost poll. Meanwhile, NPR just had one on taxes that has lots of problems. The poll tested tax knowledge by asking some questions like whether the respondent understood the difference between the federal income tax and the payroll tax. I understand that they are collected and accounted somewhat differently, but the Social Security tax is a federal tax on income. Both taxes are collected primarily from employee salary withholding, and both just put money into the federal treasury. I don't think there is much difference.
The poll gets on thinner ice when it tries to summarize policy arguments, such as:
There is a proposal in Washington now to do away with personal income taxes on corporate dividends. Dividends are what many companies pay to owners of their stock. ...I don't think that is a very good statement of the arguments. The double taxation argument is a lousy argument, as lots of money is double taxed. People want to do away with the tax in order to encourage investment in dividend-paying corporations by making the taxation more similar to other types of investments, and thereby create jobs and stimulate the economy.
The difference is that paying the SS tax entitles the payer to receive valuable benefits in return - a pension, annuity, disability and survivor benefits. The benefits are roughly proportional to the amount paid in. As a class, payroll (SS and Medicare) taxpayers get all their money back, and then some.No, I don't see a huge difference there. Retired people are not getting their money back -- they are getting mostly getting money from the SS taxes of current workers. The SS trust fund is an accounting fiction.
But even if I accept that there is a difference between how the SS tax is spent and how the rest of the federal income tax is spent, the SS tax is certainly a federal income tax. It is federal, it is a tax, and it is a tax on income. You pay it to IRS just like the rest of the federal income tax.
If you look at the mismatch in future workers v. benefits, it's hard to believe that evil rich people will get all of the promised benefits. If future benefits are cut, it will be at the top end. So I don't buy the argument that the SS tax (when the benefit side is considered) is regressive - that only makes sense if the benefits are ultimately paid out. So SS tax looks a lot like the income tax to me.John writes:
I did not say that retired people get "their" money back. But (1) they do get money back and (2) the money they get back is in exchange for the money they put in and (3) the amount of money they get back is a function of the amount of money they put in.Ok, there is some relationship between SS taxes and future benefits. I am not sure that the relationship will still be there when I retire. But anyway, so what? Gasoline taxes are used for road maintenance. Property taxes are used for schools. Sales taxes are used for police. Income taxes are used to fund foreign wars. Cigarette taxes are used for anti-smoking campaigns. Some of these things may seem like benefits to you and some may not. There are all taxes.
How do you answer this question, which is designed to test your knowledge of taxes:
13. When you think of the federal taxes that you pay, do you think the amount deducted from your paycheck for Social Security and Medicare is part of the federal income tax, or isn’t it part of the federal income tax, or don’t you know enough to say?I say Yes, the SS tax is absolutely part of the federal income tax. But the later questions seem to imply that the pollster thinks that the answer should be No.
The fundamental difference is that SS and Medicare benefits are placed in individual accounts, and paid out of those accounts to beneficiaries. All the other so-called "benefits" you cite are just general social improvements that no individual taxpayer has any particular claim to and may never benefit from.
John points out that Google now has links to maps. Eg, you can search on my phone number, and it gives my address and maps to my house. The Yahoo and MapQuest maps have the same error, so I guess that they are both derived from the same database.
Another useful and little-known feature is the Google Glossary.
Bible does not translate
A fundamental reason for opposing a multilingual America is the impossibility of precisely translating our Rule of Law into another language. To translate the Constitution, for example, is to revise it. As languages degrade -- which no one else here recognizes -- the problem magnifies.John replies:
For this reason, according to Bernard Lewis, there is no authorized translation of the Koran. Only the original Arabic will do. Thus, the Saudi-funded madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan train illiterate boys to memorize the Koran in a language they do not understand. Under similar reasoning, the Catholic Church for centuries opposed any translation of the Bible (except the Latin Vulgate, which the Church believed was more authentic than the original Greek).That's the beauty of his argument -- if Andy's right, then it cannot be explained in english.
This debate will only be of interest to those who agree that translation does change meaning. Frankly, I'm not sure who else here accepts this basic premise.John writes:
No one doubts that translation *can* change meaning. But it is also true that even within a single language, the meaning or common understanding attached to words can change drastically over time. Even today, hundreds of English words have a different meaning in the UK than in the USA.Those differences in Engligh are declining, and English is becoming more standardized as a result of TV, movies, internet, etc.
You cannot teach someone by using word he doesn't understand. If you cannot explain a concept in your own words, then you do not understand it. Period. There is no such thing as a concept that can only be described in one way.
Andy, what makes you think that the Greek was accurate? It was written many years after the fact, and after the stories had been retold and translated many times. It is about like someone today writing an account of the US Civil War in Swahili using an oral tradition of a few people.
Did he die, or not? Unless you can explain the sense in which he died, you cannot possibly understand it.
John replied "No one doubts that translation *can* change meaning. ..."Math can be translated without changing meaning. Other things also.
Laws can be translated and explained. Eg, your law school textbooks. But:
Andy seems to be saying that translation always and necessarily changes, distorts, and degrades the original text. That is an astounding claim which illustrates once again how Andy has internalized the philosophy of Plato rather than Aristotle.
Andy is sounding like a deconstructionist to me.Andy's approach is similar to literary deconstructionism:
Deconstructionism - An approach to literature which suggests that literary works do not yield fixed, single meanings, because language can never say exactly what we intend it to mean. Deconstructionism seeks to destabilize meaning by examining the gaps and ambiguities of the language of a text. Deconstructionists pay close attention to language in order to discover and describe how a variety of possible readings are generated by the elements of a text.
Folks, you're arguing against the position I took for Eagle Forum in our Supreme Court brief: "An idea does not pass from one language to another without change." Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, Author's Preface, xxxiii (J.E. Crawford Flitch transl. 1921) (quoted in the brief).Translating laws is usually no problem as long as the meaning is clear. The difficulty is that the meaning is often not clear. Eg, just look at the laws on student privacy and terrorism. They are hopelessly ambiguous, and deliberately so. They would be hard to translate only because people won't agree about the english meaning of the text.
Friday, Apr 18, 2003
The Philadelphia newspaper says:
Zoosexuality is described in the "Zoo" community as a sexual orientation, in the same category as hetero-, homo- and bisexuality. The profound emotional and/or physical attraction to animals can be manifested in many ways, including sex. Not everyone has an emotional attachment to his or her animal lover; some just do it for the sexual release.Soon, people will call me a bigot if I object to man/dog marriages.
People are getting very agitated over SARS. The CDC now says that there are only 35 probably cases in the USA, and only 1 confirmed transmission in the USA. All the other cases are imported from Asia. Reason magazine says the problem is that info now spreads faster than a disease.
Iraq oil for food
I didn't know that the UN "oil for food" program in Iraq was just a big corrupt scam. See the NY Times op-ed.
Thursday, Apr 17, 2003
Atkins diet guru died
Dr. Robert Atkins died of injuries related to a fall. For 30 years, his diet was attacked by the AMA and others as dangerous and no good. Actually, there is good science behind his diet.
Here is the NY Times obituary.
A lot of programs leave unused junk in your Msft Window registry. Some of this can be automatically removed -- namely references to files that don't exist. There are lots of utilities to do this, and I always assumed that they did more or less the same thing. But actually, most of these are sloppy, and sometimes even remove good entries. Here is a comparison.
Does the Patriot Act violate student rights?
Some people claim that the Patriot Act seriously limits student rights that were granted by FERPA.
Are you familiar with the PATRIOT Act's modifications of FERPA? The PATRIOT Act eliminated the notice requirement, allowing DOJ to obtain ex parte orders to examine student records without opposition or real accountability.John responds:
I haven't followed this issue closely. It just seems to me that, with all the leftist whining about the Patriot Act, they'd be able to point to some specific way in which it infringes our liberties. Mainly, I've heard:
1. some foreign terrorists are being held as enemy combatants in Guantanamo under conditions that are worse that what a citizen criminal defendant or POW would get.
2. the FBI can get library records of foreign terrorists, with some potential for abuse.
No. 1, I agree with. No. 2, I think there should be some better safeguards, but overall I think the effect will be positive. The FBI may abuse my privacy, but I know that the Santa Cruz libraries were abusing my privacy until this law was passed, so the net benefit is favorable.
I agree with John that if the Patriot Act gives the feds the power to determine whether a foreigner on a student visa is complying with his visa requirements, then it is a good law. Some of the opposition to the Patriot Act comes from people who think, for ideological reasons, that aliens should be able to immigrate to the USA on student visas, and no one should be able to check up on them. I don't agree with those folks.
As to the substance of Section 507 of the PATRIOT Act, you can read it here.
Andy, the above link summarizes all the FERPA exceptions, most of which predated PATRIOT. Hence, it does not explain how (or if) Sec. 507 of the PATRIOT Act changed existing law. Section 507 of PATRIOT can be found here.Andy writes:
The tip-off is the phrase it "seems to me." You cite the link, and it expressly states that the only requirement is a certification by a federal official: "An application ... shall certify that there are specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the education records are likely to contain information described in paragraph (1)(A)." In other words, a federal agent makes his (biased) determination and submits a certification for rubber stamping by the court. Contrast that with the requirement for a search warrant, which requires a neutral magistrate himself to determine if a fair probability exists that contraband will be found in the place to be searched.John sends this story:
Washington - House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. said Thursday that he would fight any effort now to make permanent many of the expanded police powers enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of the USA Patriot Act.
Wednesday, Apr 16, 2003
By popular request, I am posting the software I use for this blog. See the RogBlog link on the left margin. I'd appreciate any feedback. It is just alpha software, and is only suitable for a simple blog like mine, running on a simple server.
Tuesday, Apr 15, 2003
Illinois Senator Quits
Last night, the brilliant email service of the "Illinois Leader" had the scoop: Peter Fitzgerald will not run for reelection. It's a devastating blow to the Republican Party's power in the Senate, because the Democrats will likely pick up the seat. It could even strengthen the Democratic resolve to filibuster Bush's appointment to replace Rehnquist.John responds:
Fitzgerald's retirement is not that surprising given that he was almost sure to be defeated for reelection. But in other states, Republicans are likely to pick up at least 4 Democrat Senate seats in 2004: GA, SC, NC, FL. See: NewsdayPhyllis writes:
Fitzgerald is a wealthy independent man, and he didn't see any reason why he should spend his fortune on the Republican Party. He doesn't need a job. The party treated him badly. He was one of our great victories. I am proud of what I did to nominate him in his primary against the entire Republican establishment, including Bob Dole's endorsement of his opponent (Lolita). It was an outrage when LaHood said he was looking for someone to run against Peter in the 2004 primary.Andy writes:
John's excuses for Fitzgerald's ouster range from (1) Republicans will win Democratic seats anyway, (2) Fitzgerald can't personally afford to spend another $12M, and (3) Republicans can't hold the Illinois seat anyway. Even if these claims were true (which I doubt), they are irrelevant.Joe writes:
Should conservatives have vocally opposed the "ouster" of Trent Lott?
Here is another doomsday scientist who thinks that new research may cause the end of the world.
Update: Here's more in a Wired article.
John sends this story about how electrical engineering unemployment is at an all-time high because of American workers being displaced by cheaper foreign labor under the H-1B program. Some congressmen want to increase the H-1B quota on the theory that we have jobs that can only be filled by foreign workers. But that is plainly false, as the EE unemployment figures show.
Naval students disciplined
The Naval Academy students who got caught listening to music on their computers finally got disciplined. The Baltimore Sun story quoted an academy official saying:
"They had enormous drives - multigigabite drives - and they were on all the time. They became little Web sites."Of course they had multigigabyte drives. You can't even buy a disk drive any more that has less than about 20 gigabytes. Millions of people have web sites, and yes, they are usually on all the time.
Monday, Apr 14, 2003
A Russian claims to use the Ricci flow to solve the 3-dimensional Poincare conjecture, according to this NY Times story. I had heard about this, but there have been a lot of alleged proofs before.
John Lott complains in the LA Times that federal rules are still keeping our commercial pilots unarmed. This is more evidence that (Dept. of Transportation Secretary) Mineta is not doing his job.
The ACM is giving its Turing award to the inventors of RSA cryptography. Here are the past winners. This was the first award to cryptographers.
A lot of people think that RSA invented public-key cryptography. They did not. It had previously been invented by Merkle, Diffie, and Hellman at Stanford and Berkeley, and by some British spooks (in unpublished papers). Rabin also invented a signature scheme similar to RSA. The RSA folks were directly inspired by the Stanford research, and their method is really just a minor variation of the Stanford ideas.
I wrote a Crypto Mini-FAQ. Comments welcome.
Steven E. Landsburg is back with his Slate columns. He argues that the Iraq war will be worse than expected, because almost everything in life goes worse than expected. And he makes a contrarian argument for looting.
John sends this USA Today op-ed about how new federal privacy rules give the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) access to your medical records. So why aren't the Bush-Aschcroft haters complaining about this? Why is it ok for the feds to get my private medical records, but not ok for the feds to get the public library records of a suspected international terrorist?
Update: JG sends a link to the Medical Privacy Coalition.
Sunday, Apr 13, 2003
The Reagan Salute
A NY Times Op-ed attacks Ronald Reagan's military salute as "puerile", and says:
But about 20 years ago the militarization of the image of the presidency began. It started with Mr. Reagan, who had no record of military service and who spent World War II in Hollywood (something that he tried on occasion to obscure).It is hard to see how the NY Times could make such an egregious mistake about one of our greatest presidents. From Grolier's encyclopedia:
Reagan interrupted his acting career in 1942 and served for three years in the U.S. Army, for which he made training films. After he was discharged, with the rank of captain, he began turning toward a political career.Even worse, the op-ed continues about Reagan:
There was, too, his easy and self-satisfying willingness to employ the armed forces of the United States in rapid and spectacular military operations against minuscule targets and "enemies" like Grenada, Nicaragua and Libya.Reagan also directly and boldly challenged the Soviet Union by doing things like putting nuclear Pershing missiles in Europe, and ultimately won the Cold War with his military strategy. He demonstrated that he was willing to use our armed forces in a way that his predecessors were not.
Update: The NY Times has now published this correction:
An article on Monday mischaracterized Ronald Reagan's history of military service. Although he was disqualified from combat duty because of poor eyesight, he was a captain in the motion picture unit of the Army Air Corps.This is the minimal sort of correction I expected. Fix what was blatantly and outrageously wrong; but ignore all the other distortions in the column. I should say that Reagan served for 3 years in the Army during WWII (something the NY Times has tried on occasion to obscure).
Bush backs gun ban
This article says Bush is endorsing a continuation of the federal assault weapon look-alike ban that is scheduled to expire next year.
I never thought that the ban would expire. The significance of the ban is almost entirely symbolic. The banned weapons are mainly the scary-looking guns that have militaristic looking features like bayonnets. The ban has had no impact on crime. The anti-gun folks just wanted to prove that a class of guns could be banned, and the guns look nasty enough that hardly anyone wants to defend them.
Update: Joan sends this BBC story about Wal-Mart getting into trouble for selling toy guns. The toy guns were painted orange according to federal law, but not NY state law.
Did polio vaccine cause AIDS?
Joe sends this Edward Hooper article with new evidence that the oral polio vaccine caused AIDS. The theory is plausible, and no one has a better one.
According to the article, it turns out that some of the oral polio vaccines were made in Congo from chimp tissues in the late 1950s. HIV is widely thought to have come from chimps. The earliest known case of HIV is from the same part of Congo in 1959. A million experimental doses of oral polio vaccine were given in Congo during 1957-1960. Maybe it is all coincidence, but I haven't heard a better theory.
Bob sends this story about how the debate over AIDS transmission in Africa still rages. Some research indicates that it is mostly dirty needles, but a UN agency insists that it is unsafe sexual practices. Bob also says:
I think you are on shaky ground endorsing the Polio vaccine theory of the origin of AIDS. This has been looked at seriously and I believe impartially and nothing was found.The polio-HIV theory may be wrong. All they have to do is to find one AIDS case before 1957, and the theory will be shot.
Bob says that if someone could show that a simian virus could mutate into HIV during polio virus attenuation in chimp kidneys, then he'd get a Nobel prize.
They did give a Nobel prize for growing polio virus in animal tissue, but they never gave a Nobel prize for development of the polio vaccine, and never gave one for finding that HIV causes AIDS, so I don't think that they'll give one for showing that the polio vaccine caused AIDS.
This polio-HIV theory is upsetting to some major sacred cows. Vaccine and AIDS research are extremely politicized, compared to other scientific areas. The medical establishment does not want to admit the possibility that a vaccine could have done so much harm.
Patriot Act and libraries
John sends this WashPost article about how libraries have been enlisted for anti-Bush scaremongering. One librarian says, "The government has never had this kind of power before. It feels like Big Brother."
Yes, the govt has always had this power because nosy librarians who work for the govt have unnecessarily kept records on patrons. If the libraries really want to push for privacy, all they have to do is to avoid keeping the invasive records in the first place.
In Santa Cruz, Calif., all 10 branches of the library are destroying records daily ...
Do not call
I just submitted my phone number to the California do not call registry. Now that the FTC is doing a national registry, California will just forward the number to the feds.
I don't expect it to do much. There are exemptions for charities, political groups, small businesses with five employees or less, and companies that have an established relationship with a consumer. It should block the telemarketing companies, but they almost always block caller ID and I don't accept those calls anyway.
The FTC says the new law is supposed to require telemarketers to transmit Caller ID information. Hmmm. I might have to change my screening procedures. The telemarketers hate to transmit caller ID info because they like to mislead the consumer about who is really making the call. Eg, Bank of America might hire a sleazy telemarketing firm which calls and describes an offer from Bank of America, giving the impression that the Bank of America is calling. If caller ID says something else, then the consumer knows that someone is lying. I even get calls claiming to be from the phone company (SBC in my area), and the caller ID says something else.
Saturday, Apr 12, 2003
PBS had a just had a Bill Moyers special on Bob Ricker, the former gun industry lobbyist who is now a paid witness for the groups suing the gun industry. Ricker is being hailed as a whistleblower.
The gist of the gripe is that the BATF tracks guns that are used in crimes, and has lists of gun dealers who sold those guns. Apparently a relatively small number of dealers is responsible for many of those sales. Rickers thinks that the gun makers should refuse to sell to those dealers.
I'm not sure I get the point here. If GM discovers that a few dozen car dealers account for a disproportionate number of drunk drivers, then should GM stop selling cars to those dealers?
Bob Ricker's testimony is supposed to be a smoking gun, because he claims to have inside info that the gun companies became concerned that their knowledge of the bad dealer problem would be a liability in the anti-gun industry lawsuits, so they made a deliberate attempt to ignore the problem.
But the question still remains: If the BATF has evidence that a few bad gun dealers are violating the law by selling guns to criminals, then why doesn't the BATF prosecute them? And if the BATF evidence is insufficient for the BATF to take any action, then why is it sufficient for the gun makers to take action? And what good would that do?
My guess is that the so-called bad gun dealers are just the big urban sporting goods stores. There are in high-crime areas, and most of their customers are law-abiding citizens who need the guns to protect themselves. But some guns get in the hands of criminals anyway.
There may indeed be a problem with a few crooked gun dealers. But if so, then it seems like a law enforcement problem for the BATF. A private lawsuit is not likely to solve anything.
More on Patriot Act
Roger writes, and John concurs, "Yes, they'll wonder, but the war is popular. Give it up."People like results. The Iraq war has accomplished more in 3 weeks than the Vietnam war did in 8 years.
Nobody cares about Cheney cronies. I've heard these leftist arguments about how we only went to war so rich buddies of Bush and Cheney can profit. It doesn't make any sense to me. Bush and Cheney have gambled their entire careers and reputations on this war, in one of the riskiest moves a US president has ever done. Both are sufficiently rich that they don't need any more money. If the war is a failure, then no profits to their buddies could possibly compensate them for the bad consequences.
I'll defend Platonic logic. Mathematics is Platonic logic, in my view.
There are a lot of bad federal laws. Eg, I don't agree with jailing the guy who just got busted for selling Xbox mod chips. But where is the abuse? So far, the effect has been positive. It sunsets in 2005 anyway, you know.
Suppose it is true that he was supporting terrorism, but that the only evidence was found in the course of foreign intelligence investigations. Should that evidence be usable in a criminal case against him? That is the core issue with the Patriot Act. I say yes.
Friday, Apr 11, 2003
Anti-war vandals hit SUVs
John sends this article about Santa Cruz anti-war anti-SUV vandals.
The graffiti also included references to ELF, or Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group that has previously taken credit for torching and vandalizing dozens of SUVs in Pennsylvania and Virginia -- presumably to protest the gas-guzzling vehicles' environmental costs.I don't think these people breed; they just cross-pollinate.
The science behind The Core
The producer of the new movie The Core is upset by a review, and wrote a letter to the editor:
When I read that "The Core" suffers from "a preposterous plot, cliched characters, and silly special effects," I realized Pack didn't do his homework. ...I can't tell whether this guy is joking or not. The movie does have a preposterous plot, cliched characters, and silly special effects. There is an amusing sort of silliness to it, like Independence Day, Ghostbusters, or one of those 1950s sci-fi B movies that are ridiculed in Mystery Science Theater. This is not necessarily a criticism -- I enjoy those movies myself. But they are really spoofs, and there is hardly a line in The Core that anyone would take seriously.
For a free and funny newsletter, subscribe here. It has quotes like these:
"He's not the brightest cookie in the lamp."
John gives thumbs up to Schlafly beer. A new brewery opened. It was also mentioned in USA Today.
Tom sent a link to another story. The new brewery was open with a "blessing of the beer" from a minister: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to have a happy life." Congratulations to Tom for creating a successful beer niche right across town from the biggest beer company in the world. I thought that he was doing the impossible.
Decoding Iraqi symbols
Here is a dictionary for decoding Iraqi symbols, such as beating a statue with shoes.
Thursday, Apr 10, 2003
Wellesley College invites a conservative to speak
This story says:
WELLESLEY -- Women belong in the home, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said at Wellesley College last night, and feminism is a fraud. ... Past Wellesley College speakers have included prominent liberals Hilary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Angela Davis.The invitation was from campus Republicans, but nevertheless the college president met with students objecting to the invitation, and issued a letter attacking the speech in advance. The letter (not online at Wellesley.edu, unfortunately, said:
Office of the PresidentNothing Phyllis Schlafly has said could approach the negativity of Angela Davis. Davis is mainly famous for:
I would expect a college president to be able to write a better letter. All she had to say was that there is educational value in having speakers with a diversity of opinion, and drop the biased and inaccurate accusations.
Here is another account of the speech:
WELLESLEY IS STILL BUZZING ABOUT PHYLLIS. When homeschooler Rae Adams, daughter of New Jersey Eagle Forum State President Carolee Adams, was admitted on scholarship to Wellesley College, she promised that she would bring Phyllis Schlafly to the campus. Now a sophomore, Rae rallied the campus Republicans and achieved her goal on April 8 when Phyllis came to lecture on "Feminism v. Conservatism The Great Debate." Although Wellesley has had a succession of feminist speakers, including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund, Barney Frank, and Whoopi Goldberg, the feminists were loud in their protests against the invitation to Phyllis. They demonstrated for 3 hours in front of the lecture hall, waving nasty signs and chanting. When they came into the lecture hall, a half dozen had their faces painted with the feminist sign exactly as shown in the picture of a French feminist on the cover of Phyllis's new book Feminist Fantasies. The lecture hall was standing room only, and so many students wanted to attend that it was televised and shown to another crowd in an adjacent hall and beamed into all the dormitories. The students heard a view of feminism they had never heard before. Most of the students were polite during the speech, but the level of the questions was below what one would expect from such a prestigious college. One student said she wasn't sure whether there is any biological difference between men and women. The most hostile questioners were a couple of male professors. Anticipating emotional trauma from hearing Phyllis' pro-family speech, the feminists prearranged counseling sessions after the lecture to help them recover.
Wednesday, Apr 09, 2003
Andy sends this Princeton story about how Princeton University's new female president has recently been appointing a lot of women:
Janet Lavin Rapelye, currently Wellesley's dean of admission, was recently appointed to serve as dean of admission at Princeton. She is the fourth woman President Tilghman has appointed to a highly visible position in the administration. "Rapelye really was the standout candidate," Tilghman said. "I can only presume that there is essentially an unintended bias on the part of people who cannot believe that the best candidates for these jobs turned out to be women."The alumni magazine seems to be entirely staffed by women. I am annoyed that she is not providing a legal defense for the poor student who is the target of a music label lawsuit. His computer project was a straightforward academic pursuit, and the music labels want to make an example out of him.
Gun control debate
Harvard had a law prof debate on gun control. Notice how it is only the anti-gun people who are always complaining about the wording of the 2A, and concocting theories for why the Founders did not really mean what they said.
Dershowitz, however, called the Second Amendement an “anachronism” because if America had the choice today it would not choose to be an “armed society.” “The Second Amendment has no place in modern society,” he said.I wonder what Dershowitz thinks about constitutionalizing sodomy, or prayer in schools.
Rodney Dangerfield is getting brain bypass surgery. Smirking is now banned in the Palo Alto city council. Voodoo is now a recognized religion in Haiti. CBS made a new mini-series on Hitler, because some producers think Bush is similarly denying civil rights and starting wars.
The Republican war president
John sends this Seattle Times story about how most of the 20th century wars were led by US Democratic presidents, and that leading a war does not necessarily lead to popularity. Liza responds:
John - This is wishful thinking. This columnist talks of the Nov. 2004 elections handing Democrats a big victory just as our troops roll triumphantly into Baghdad. But they are already rolling triumphantly into Baghdad today!Bush bet his presidency on this war, and the war has been a tremendous success. It exceeded all expectations. There is no doubt that Bush's popularity has been vastly increased by his gutsy and skillful handling of the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Yep. Bush I lost in 92 because of the economy. That will be extremely important in '04, but Bush has even more prestige now than his father did. Economy will have to be really bad for him to lose, because most people don't trust the Democrats in military matters, and we are going to be on some kind of a military footing for a while.John sends this funny Rumsfield quote:
As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know.Andy responds:
Liza wrote, "You/they were all in favor of containing Communists who had nukes; why notnow contain crazy dictators and terrorists who have, or are trying toacquire, nukes, bio/chemical weapons, suitcase bombs, etc.?" (Liza, please update your address book to use my email address here at aol.com)John responds:
Andy continues his Platonic assault on the real world of observation and experiment. The question is not whether logic is a valid form of argument - of course it is - but whether, as Plato believed, logic alone can produce knowledge about the universe. As Aristotle showed, logical conclusions depend on their premises, which logic alone cannot validate.
Bureaucracy is no cure for SARS
Jane Orient says in USA Today that we don't need new laws to deal with a crisis like SARS.
Sell a chip, goto jail
A man was sentenced to 5 months in prison for selling Xbox mod chips. The chips let Xbox owners run unlicensed software, and therefore circumvent Msft's rights in controlling the Xbox. Another unfortunate consequence of the DMCA.
Update: John sends this link.
I don't know Ramsey Clark ever got to be US Attorney General. His views and actions are wacky and anti-American. Now he paid $45 to place a newspaper ad to impeach GW Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, and Ashcroft.
Tuesday, Apr 08, 2003
If global warming continues, then the world might get to be as warm as it was in the Middle Ages, according to a recent study. A mini ice age started around the year 1400, and it looks like we a just getting over it.
Military food innovation
This SF Chronicle article says M&Ms, Velveeta, and Spam were WWII innovations.
"Thirty percent of the products you and I would find at the grocery store are a direct result of military innovation," said Gerald Darsch, a food scientist in the DOD test kitchens at the U.S. Army Soldier Center in Natick, Mass.
Result is better privacy
Slashdot had a discussion about librarian complaints about the Patriot Act. I posted this:
This law only lets one govt agency (the FBI) access records from another govt agency (the Santa Cruz library system) in the case of a foreign terrorist investigation. The libraries should not have been keeping long-term records on what books I check out in the first place. When I check out a book, it only needs to keep a record of that until I return the book. Then the record should be deleted from the library database. There is no law requiring the library to keep the records. The law just says that if they keep the records and they are subpoenaed, then the library has to turn them over.
I live in Santa Cruz, and I am glad that this controversy has resulted in the libraries destroying old records. I am more concerned about Santa Cruz misusing the old data than about the FBI misusing its subpoenas. The best solution to privacy invading databases is to purge the unnecessary info from the database, and not to rely on controls on who can access the database. If the data is there, then it can be had by low-level workers who can be persuaded, bribed, or coerced.
Monday, Apr 07, 2003
Norman Mineta racist?
While looking up something else, I found this page saying that Norman Mineta (now Secy. of Transportation) pushed for a law in 1988 that gave $20k tax-free to Japanese Americans and aliens who were detained by FDR in WWII. In response to complaints that German and Italian residents were not being similarly compensated, then Congressman Norman Mineta said "The Germans and Italians were interned for 'cause', whereas the Japanese were interned for racist reasons."
Hmmm. Mineta was born in San Jose and relocated to a camp during WWII. I assume that his parents were either illegal aliens or disloyal to the USA, as was the case in most of the Japanese relocations. Does anyone know?
Cross-burning law is unconstitutional
The US Supreme Court just overturned that a Virginia law against cross burning with the intent to intimidate. The law, as interpreted by the courts, was found to be unconstitutional. The decision is here. Thomas dissented, and voted to uphold the law.
This decision is being reported as the SC upholding a cross burning ban with a 5-4 vote, and Thomas dissenting. Eg, see this CNN/AP story. I guess it is another confusing O'Connor opinion with no clear majority. It looks to me like Thomas is really the only one who said that the law (as construed in Virginia) is constitutional. At least 7 others say that it is unconstitutional on free speech grounds. Am I misreading something?
Update: Here is the NY Times article. It says:
The Supreme Court ruled today that states may make it a crime to burn a cross with a purpose to intimidate, as long as the law clearly gives prosecutors the burden of proving that the act was intended as a threat and not as a form of symbolic expression.My problem with this is that any statement about what laws the states might hypothetically pass is just dicta. The controversy before the SC was the fate of 3 defendants who burned crosses. A 7-2 majority said that all should go free immediately because of the unconstitutionality of the Virginia law. Anything else is just dicta (ie, just non-binding opinion that had no bearing on the case).
Libraries using shredders
The NY Times reports that Santa Cruz libraries are destroying records, in order to comply with the Patriot Act. The Santa Cruz libraries are posting warnings about it.
The Patriot Act doesn't mention libraries. The controversial clause (now 50 USC 1861) lets the FBI subpoena records relating to foreign intelligence investigations. The target should be either an alien or an international terrorist, and not someone just exercising his free speech rights. A separate part of the law was challenged on constitutional grounds, and upheld. (That other part allows foreign intelligence evidence to be used in a criminal case against foreign terrorists.) The law sunsets in 2005.
The question I have is why the Santa Cruz library wanted to keep the privacy invading info in the first place. There is no law obligating it to keep long-term records on what books I check out. Once I return the book, it can delete the record. I am offended by Big Brother laws as much as anyone, but the FBI having my records is only marginally worse than the County having my records.
Why were the libraries keeping those records, if they weren't even going to let it be used to stop al-Qaeda terrorists planting bombs in this country? If that is not a good enough use for the records, then what is?
Sunday, Apr 06, 2003
Disk drive capacity predictions
Bob sends this Brian Hayes prediction:
Extrapolating the steep trend line of the past five years predicts a thousandfold increase in capacity by about 2012; in other words, todays 120-gigabyte drive becomes a 120-terabyte unit. If the annual growth rate falls back to 60 percent, the same factor-of-1,000 increase would take 15 years.(The article is from last year; today's hot drive is a 200Gb firewire or USB2 drive.)
He then explains how difficult it would ever be to fill up such a disk. Ok, but before the IBM breakthru on magnetoresistive heads in 1991, the growth was 25%:
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, bit density increased at a compounded rate of about 25 percent per year (which implies a doubling time of roughly three years).25% growth over the next 10 years only gives us 10x growth. So then we'll have terabyte drives in 2012. That is a more reasonable prediction. Also, his video estimate is based on DVD. A terabyte might only hold 100 hours of HDTV, and we would easily be able to fill that up.
Saturday, Apr 05, 2003
Mercury News anti-patent article
The Si Valley Mercury News published this anti-patent column and the founder of WebTV now going into the anti-spam business with a patent. He is trying to use his patent to exclude competitors. The article says:
``He's not helping the cause of stopping unsolicited commercial e-mail,'' said Derek A. Newman, a Seattle lawyer representing Spam Arrest. ``He's just looking to make a buck.'' ...I don't really think that the Patent Office should be granting patents like this. But given that they do, why shouldn't Goldman do what he is doing? He invented an idea for a new product, teamed with another inventor who got a patent on the same idea, and now they are trying to make a buck off of the idea. Patent law says that the inventor has exclusive rights for 20 years. The competition entered the business after the patent issued, so they were on notice. Why does this business section columnist think that it is unethical for an entrepreneur to exercise his legal rights?
Did CNN know when the war would start?
To Roger Schlafly
I am skeptical. It is possible that CNN was advised of the date the ultimatum ran out, but not the date of the air strike aimed at Saddam. It is possible that the entire bunker busting mission was intended to cause Saddam to purge his close associates or it may have been real. Either way anyone who leaked it to CNN would be strung up. CENTCOM claims that ground attack was scheduled for the next night and it happened the next night. Jim Hoagland claimed on the Charlie Rose show that the date of the war was set when Franks flew to Washington which may correspond to the 4 Mar date in the Comical piece. I don't think it is a big deal if CNN was informed of the ultimatum date. The idea that anything except disinformation was leaked from the Bush I administration to CNN to Arnett is ridiculous.
Friday, Apr 04, 2003
Bowling for Columbine
John sends this NRO article deconstructing Bowling for Columbine. It is not really a documentary (too many facts are wrong) and doesn't even have a coherent message.
Here is an article on how Europe has not extended patents to software and business methods to the extent that the US has. I think the heart of the problem is that a bunch of clueless judges on the Federal Circuit have seized control of our patent system, and done a lot of harm to it. People assume that since it is a patent court, that the judge are patent experts. Most of the judges have no patent background at all. And those that do, like Judge Rich, are not helping. See the article for the story of how Judge Rich concealed a huge conflict of interest in a crucial case. He helped draft the 1952 patent law, said that it makes inventions like the diaper service unpatentable, and later wrote the ruling that made business methods like the diaper service patentable, based on a argument about the intent of the 1952 law! He didn't even acknowledge his role in the 1952 law, how he has inside info about its intent, and how he own previous remarks were contradictory.
The article quotes another Federal Circuit judge as admitting that they have no empirical evidence at all for any of their patent policy decisions.
This NY Times article says that gun control advocates also support states' rights:
Granting immunity would be a serious setback for advocates of gun control, who have turned to state courts increasingly in recent years after meeting resistance in legislatures. They have denounced the proposed legislation as an unfair favor to an industry and a federal usurpation of states' rights.I've wondered who supports states' rights. Conservatives rarely support states' rights. I don't think many conservatives would think that the cities should be filing lawsuits to deprive citizens of their 2nd Amendment rights.
Maybe I'm all wet, but all through law school whenever we talked about "states' rights" it always seemed like a conservative notion, and was always seemingly supported by "conservatives." So I was surprised at your comment that "Conservatives rarely support states' rights."The 10A does not mention states' rights. The 9A mentions rights retained by the people, and the 10A mentions powers retained by the states. Conservatives believe that people have rights; states have powers, not rights.
There are some Southern pro-Confederates or pro-segregationists who use the term states' rights. At least there were some many years ago. I don't think that those people are really conservatives. Conservatives do not want to re-fight the Civil War. At the Supreme Court this week, it was the liberals who were arguing that the state of Michigan should not have to comply with federal civil rights laws.
The US Constitution is based on a notion of dual sovereignty, in which the federal and state govts have separate roles. Conservatives do support that traditional concept, and reject attempts by the federal govt to exceed the powers defined in the US Constitution. It is not because they believe that states have any rights, but because they believe in limited govt and constitutional govt.
Jonathan responds with this Columbia Encyclopedia quote:
In the 1980s and 90s, states’ rights proponents, under the banner of “federalism” or “the New Federalism,” attacked the great increase in federal government powers that had occurred since the New Deal. On taking power of both houses of Congress in the 1994 elections, conservative Republicans proclaimed the beginning of a process of “devolution,” with much power reverting to the states [ . . . ]Note that the quote refers to powers, not rights. The 1994 Congress did not oppose the New Deal or have anything to do with states' rights. It wanted to slow the federal expansion of powers.
The next sentence after the quote is:
State sovereignty has been affirmed and expanded, however, by recent, often narrowly decided, decisions of the Supreme Court.A typical such decision is the SC ruling against a federal law banning guns within 1000 feet of a school. The rationale for that decision is that such laws are outside the enumerated powers of the Congress that are listed in the Constitution. It has almost nothing to do with states' rights. It had no bearing on states passing laws like that.
Preceding the quote, the article says that "the doctrine of states’ rights is usually associated with the Southern wing of the Democratic party". IOW, the term states' rights has become a liberal smear term that is used to paint conservatives as racists and segregationists. It is an attempt to imply that anyone is a racist if he believes that the federal govt has limited powers. But it is a central tenet of American political philosophy that the federal govt powers are limited, and that states have no rights.
Thursday, Apr 03, 2003
Sales of old books
John sends this Slate story about how well old books sell. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice sold 110,000 copies last year.
This would seem to deflate arguments by the copyright lobby that copyrights are needed to provide incentives for publishers of old works.
This C-Net column argues that we'll soon see car-makers and others selling bundling music content in bulk. Why spend $250 a year on CD music when the same player could get an MP3 player capable of holding many 1000s of hours of music?
I agree with this guy. It may not make sense to get 100 GB of free music with a new car, but one of these days, the music industry is going to realize that it's better to sell 100 GB of music for $250 or $50 or $10 than to get nothing for it.John sends this C-Net story about the RIAA suing some students connected to internal campus computer networks. It wants damages of $100k per song, for songs that are on the network. The colleges were not named, and they will probably throw their students to the dogs and not defend them. The advocates of academic freedom should support these students. All they did was to put some network services on a campus network. Without, students have a harder time sharing files.
The RIAA says it wants to set an example out of the students. I hope the public makes an example of the RIAA and stops buying CDs. The best thing that could happen for modern music would be to bankrupt the big music labels.
Meanwhile, there is a reported settlement between big webcasters and big record labels over royalties. The record labels do not get any royalties when music is played over the radio (airwaves), but are seeking to get much more power over internet radio.
Update: According to the Princeton newspaper, the university is not defending the student. I went to Princeton, but my opinion of the administration goes down all the time. According to reports, Daniel Peng, the Princeton student, managed a site that merely indexed files that were already on the network, and maintained a program that allowed searching the index on campus. Maybe he wrote the program, I don't know. This might be analogous to someone who made a better card catalog for the university library, because the existing card catalog was hard to use. Because the defendant is a student, and the web site has legitimate scholarly utility, and it was being run for the benefit soley of the Princeton University community, and because the administration was not given an opportunity to resolve the complaint outside of court, I think that the University should defend Peng.
Princeton doesn't defend criminals just because they happen to be students. No doubt Peng was in flagrant violation of university policy. Princeton is more likely to kick him out of school for violating the honor code.Peng did not violate the honor code, and is not being criminally charged. He has been sued in an unusual civil lawsuit that threatens to interfere with how Princeton can run its own networks. The RIAA legal theory underlying the lawsuit is dubious and untested. What if the RIAA and Peng reach a settlement in which Peng's program only allows file transfers that meet clear a RIAA filter? Would Princeton put up with that? Probably so, but it shouldn't.
Update: One of Peng's fellow Princeton students has posted the RIAA complaint, along with a detailed itemized rebuttal. I hope that this is a sign Peng will fight the case. Too bad our legal system doesn't allow him to defend himself that simply. The way lawyers work, it would cost him a lot of money to hire a lawyer to just recite what he already knows.
Update: Here is another analysis. The music labels ask for $97B, but I think that the students have a good case. If our legal system worked, they'd be able to just submit the arguments on these web sites, and skip the lawyers.
Nobel Prize in Mathematics
There is now a Nobel Prize in Math. Not a real Nobel Prize, but one intended to have similar award amounts and prestige, like the imitation Nobel Prize that is now given in Economics. It is called the Abel Prize, and is given in Norway. Abel was a great Norwegian mathematician, and his name sounds like Nobel.
The first Abel Prize has just been given to J-P Serre. The major media have not reported it yet. It may take a few years to get Nobel Prize prestige. A similar prize called the Wolf Prize has been given in Israel since 1978,
Serre is a genius, with many deep mathematical accomplishments, so I have no argument with the choice. But this citation is a little strange:
The practical issues of finding efficient error-correcting codes and of public-key cryptography, both make use of solutions of polynomial equations (specifically over finite fields) and Serre´s work has substantially deepened our understanding of this topic.I am not aware of any practical application of Serre's work to efficient error-correcting codes or public-key cryptography.
A battle rages over whether consumers have the right to make backup copies of DVD disks. Here is a SJMN article about an ongoing court case against a copy program.
One aspect of this issue that I haven't seen discussed is that federal copyright law provides for making backups of a "computer program". See 17 USC 117. Note that this laws allows for backups of programs, like Msft Office, but not data, like an Eminem CD.
When Hollywood standardized on the DVD, they had a choice of making it contain just data or data with programs. They decided to put programs on regular movie disks, so that they could have greater control over the user movie-watching experience. Eg, they wanted to be able to put on FBI warnings and commercials that you could not skip with the fast-forward button. By doing so, they must have made a deliberate decision to let users make backup copies under 17 USC 117, and they did it anyway. It was a business decision, and not driven by any technical necessity. I say that they should face the consequences of that decision, and let consumers make backups.
Wednesday, Apr 02, 2003
Faked war picture
An LA Times photographer was fired for doctoring a pictures. The originals and published photos are here. Remarkably, some LA Times readers apparently noticed the fake. Can you see anything phony about the published picture?
In the left original, there is a man in white with a red bandana around his neck squatting to the left of the soldier. There are also 2 head behind his back and also to the left of the soldier. In the right original, the perspective is shifted, and all 3 men are to the right of the soldier. The bandana man's face is behind the soldier, but you can see most of him squatting there. The other 2 heads are still behind him, with a 3rd head in between. In the altered picture, those 3 men are duplicated on both sides of the soldier.
In the 1st picture, the soldier looks like he is in charge and doing something, but it also looks like no one is paying much attention to him. In the 2nd, the soldier is relaxed. The doctored picture makes it look like there is a confrontation between the soldier and the man with a child.
John sends this amusing story about video game makers being upset about players disrobing the characters with software patches. One game maker even won a Japanese court case to stop it.
My kids take the clothes of their Barbie dolls, and Mattel doesn't get upset. Why should the makers of newer technology toys have any more power than the old toy makers?
Tuesday, Apr 01, 2003
If you like hoaxes, check out this list of 100 April Fool hoaxes. Topping the list is the BBC story about the spaghetti harvest. Also, here are the MIT hacks.
U. Michigan discrimination
C-SPAN2 just broadcast the audio to the Supreme Court arguments on colleges using affirmative action. John says the links are here and here.
The Michigan lawyers were really squirming. They kept denying using quotas, and sometimes even denying discriminating, but adamantly claimed that they could use goals for a "critical mass" of black student so that those students could express their individuality with confidence and so the white students would benefit from the diversity. In other words, they just wanted to set they their own racist quotas without justification. They could never explain precisely how those critical mass percentages were determined, or show any tangible benefits to the policy, or reconcile it with the constitution ban on states practicing racial discrimination.
Some of the silly Michigan arguments were:
Scalia made the point that Michigan's problem is entirely of its own making because it chooses to maintain such an elite law school. If diversity were really so important, it would have a more egalitarian system.
One annoying thing about this is that schools and the judges attach great importance to the motives behind the admissions policy. But it is very unlikely that any admissions officer ever testified candidly about his motives.
Are you suggesting that college deans committed perjury? I am sure that they were deposed about their intents and policies.College deans are so well-practiced in political-correctness-speak, that there is no telling what they really think. They are like politicians who say whatever generates the least criticism. If they really believed in that diversity, then they'd do some experiments that showed that diversity led to a better education somehow, or otherwise show the benefits. They don't. They recite the diversity babble because the academic left will accuse them of racism otherwise, and they hate that.
Here was an odd exchange:
U.Mich lawyer: ... That was the Department of Education's interpretation.I guess Scalia thinks that he is the only one who is allowed to interpret the US Constitution.
What is your point? Do you really want the US Dept. of Education interpreting the Constitution? Only the Supreme Court is allowed to do that. The Supremacy Clause says so.No, the supremacy clause of the US Constitution says that the Constitution is the supreme law of the law. It does not say that Scalia's or the SC's interpretation is the supreme law of the land. When the Secretary of Education is sworn in, he takes an oath to defend the Constitution, and to the SC's interpretation of it. Of course, the Secretary of Education has a duty to interpret and uphold the Constitution.
In connection with the college affirmative action debate, Julian Bond of the NAACP says:
Housing studies demonstrate a "tipping point" causing whites to flee as the number of African-Americans reaches 25 percent. Other studies describe whites on college campuses becoming an apprehensive "psychological minority," even as they remain a majority.I wonder how those studies explain it. The obvious explanation is that the whites are acting out of racist bigotry, or black stereotyping, or something like that. But that wouldn't explain why 25% would be critical. Surely such racial attitudes would have a lot of regional and community variance. Can anyone explain it?