Dark Buzz

Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters


Dark Buzz
RSS feed
Singular Values

About these blogs

Schlafly net

Powered by RogBlog


Wednesday, Dec 31, 2003
Astro pictures
This expanding star made Space.com's list of the 10 best pictures of 2003.

Tuesday, Dec 30, 2003
Poincare conjecture solved
The Boston Globe is reporting that the (3 dimensional) Poincare conjecture has been solved. This is one of the 7 math problems with a $1M Clay prize.

The Poincare conjecture is one of the most elusive problems in mathematics. Many brilliant mathematicians have found arguments that seem to almost work, and many alleged proofs have been shot down. It will take a few months to check this one.

Update: I see that the experts still cannot decide whether Hales' proof of the Kepler Conjecture is correct or not. Just too many details to check.

OnStar wiretapping
Do you have one of those fancy new monitoring systems in your car like OnStar? They can be lifesavers in case of emergency, but they can also be used for secret court-order FBI eavesdropping of your conversations in your car!

The 9C court narrowly rejected such a surveillance order in this case, but for obscure technical reasons and not privacy. The story makes it seem likely that other surveillance orders are already in effect.

Monday, Dec 29, 2003
String theory
Here is some expert criticism of string theory. The latest problem is that many theorists have come around to the view that string theory will have no predictive power unless the anthropic principle is assumed; and that's just a fancy way of saying that it will have no predictive power. Certainly not in the way that the unified field theorists have always dreamed about.
Democrats for Bush
Andy writes:
Andy scoffed at the possibility that Bush could get more votes in 2004 than he got in 2000. This article well expresses where many of those new votes are coming from.
The gist is that only Bush has the guts to face the Mohammedan terrorist threat.
Some people will call you anti-science if you criticize vaccines. Michael Fumento is upset about people who object to forced military anthrax vaccines, and the WSJ is upset about those who think that autism might be related to thimerosal (mercury) in childhood vaccines.

The military anthrax program was crooked from the start, with juicy contracts going to military insiders to produce dubious vaccines against a dubious threat. There was no good military or scientific or medical justification for vaccinating everyone. All the law says is that the US Army must either use FDA approved drugs, or get consent of the soldier, or get an appropriate executive order. It seems reasonable to me.

Mercury probably doesn't cause autism. But everyone now agrees that mercury is neurologically dangerous, and shouldn't be used in vaccines. The issue is whether vaccine makers should have any liability for putting mercury in vaccines. There is the possibility that the courts will inaccurately assess the risk in lawsuits. Maybe it is even probable, since most judges are scientifically illiterate. But Congress should do more to fix the courts, and not just pass special-interest laws that shelter the financial interests of big companies that are allied with the Republicans.

Third World Clans
Bob recommends this WSJ article on Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and this NY Times article on Iraq. They explain the backwardness of Third World countries in terms of clan loyalties. Most Iraqis marry their cousins. Here is another article on that point.
Michael Jackson's shoulder
Michael Jackson complains that the police dislocated his shoulder. That might be possible if he had a dislocation in the past (and didn't have it surgically repaired). But I don't believe it. He is lying.

Update: I see that plenty of others are saying that Jackson is lying about this and that his CBS 60 Minutes interview contains other lies. And the NY Times reveals that Jackson was paid $1M for the interview, even tho CBS claims that it never pays for news interviews.

Update: The NY Times reporter has credibility problems.

Depressing wages
John sends this Bloomberg News article on Indian software outsourcing. It quotes Msft's Steve Ballmer, Intel's Andy Grove, Federal Reserve Banker Alan Greenspan, and an Indian trade association in support of the supposed need for a USA national policy to depress wages for engineers. Ballmer's idea is to flood the market with a gross oversupply of engineers. With engineering unemployment rates already near an all-time high, artificially jacking up the unemployment rate would surely depress wages further, and perhaps increase Msft profits.

What's next? Flooding California with illegal Mexicans in order to depress strawberry picker wages and makes strawberries cheaper? Oh yeah, we're already doing that.

Sunday, Dec 28, 2003
Catholic schools
Andy writes:
At dinner Wednesday evening I remarked that private secondary schools are generally economically unsustainable, and are going broke. I noted that since 1965, half of all Catholic high schools have closed.

My claims were met with disagreement by everyone else at the table. Specifically, Aunt Eleanor and the others said Catholic schools in St. Louis were thriving.

Now I have the stats. Nationwide, the number of diocesan high schools have dropped from 1,566 to 786 between 1965 and 2002. Parochial grade schools have declined from 10,503 to 6,623 during the same period, and enrollment in those schools have dropped from 4.5 to 1.9 million.

Is St. Louis an exception? Maybe it is doing slightly better, perhaps due to problems in its public school system. According to a Riverfront Times article, the archdiocese had 202 parochial elementary schools in 1965. "This year, it's down to 137 schools. Next year, the number will drop again."

The main reasons for the precipitous decline in Catholic schools are sharply rising tuition, which Catholic families cannot afford, and loss of Catholic character.

What I haven't been able to confirm is whether non-Catholic private schools are also declining. Their costs are rising sharply also, but they have a broader customer base and can benefit from the exodus from public schools.

Homeschool statistics remain completely unknown in major states.

JG writes:
The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) Web site has a lot of interesting statistics; one of my favorites is that 30% of public school teachers consider "students unprepared to learn" as being a "serious problem."
The site says that student enrollments have been increasing:
According to the report, "Enrollment in private elementary and secondary schools increased 18 percent between 1988 and 2001, and is projected to increase 7 percent between 2001 and 2013." By way of comparison, enrollment in public schools "increased 19 percent between 1988 and 2001, and is projected to increase 4 percent between 2001 and 2013"
But Catholic schools have been losing market share to nonsectarian and conservative Christian schools. So maybe one explanation is just that
What is a turn?
John sends this story about a judge trying to evade a DUI because state law fails to define a turn. Only a lawyer would think that his guilt or innocence should depend on whether the cop had a good reason for stopping him, as opposed to whether or not he was really driving drunk.
Sex differences
50 years ago, a magazine article could write about the differences between men and women without worrying about political correctness. Here is a fine example.
Patent agent ethics
The US PTO published a proposed new code of ethics for patent agents.One of the proposed new rules is:
Sec. 11.102 (c) A practitioner may limit the objectives of the representation if the client having immediate or prospective business before the Office consents in writing after full disclosure by the practitioner.
Ok, simple enough. But in support of the rule are these remarks:
The terms upon which representation is undertaken may exclude specific objectives or means. Such limitations may exclude objectives or means that the practitioner regards as repugnant or imprudent, or which the practitioner is not competent to handle. For example, a patent agent who is not an attorney should exclude services beyond the scope authorized by registration as a patent agent, such as preparing and prosecuting trademark and copyright registrations, patent validity or infringement opinions, or drafting or selecting contracts, including assignments.
These remarks significantly misstate the law.
  • Limitations on the practice of law vary from state to state, and are not so easily summarized.
  • Patent agents can and do often offer services that are not directly authorized by the USPTO. Eg, a patent agent might offer engineering or marketing advice, and there is nothing controversial about it.
  • The patent agent license has always been construed to include giving legal advice that is necessary or incident to USPTO filings. For most patent agents, filing patent assignments is essential to maintaining an independent practice. But the above remarks imply that a patent agent cannot even download the official USPTO assignment form and hand it to a client. Also, it is often necessary, appropriate, and lawful for patent agents to give patent validity and infringement opinions.

    The following rationale would make more sense:

    For example, a patent practitioner who is not a licensed engineer could exclude services such as engineering advice, if such advice is improper under the applicable laws.
    George writes:
    The above statement does say that patent agents should not be doing assignments or infringement opinions. Since the statement came from the US PTO, isn't that proof that doing those things is outside the license granted by the US PTO?
    No, it isn't. The USPTO is doing a thorough overhaul of the ethics rules for patent practitioners, and replacing 37 CFR 10 with a proposed 37 CFR 11. It could easily put in a rule against patent agents doing assignments, or put in any other limitation on patent agents, if it wanted to. It could refuse to accept patent assignments from patent agents, and it could put "for use by attorneys and inventors only" on the blank assignment form. It doesn't.

    After considering the possibility that patent agents might have some limitations, the rule it proposed is one that lets patent practitioners voluntarily limit their responsibilities in a written client contract. If patent agent responsibilities were already so limited under law or ethics rules, then there would be no reason to put such limits in a private contract. So apparently the US PTO is tacitly acknowledging that patent agents can lawfully give a wide range of legal advice.

  • Saturday, Dec 27, 2003
    Data Quality Act
    Andy writes:
    The Data Quality Act (2001) has enormous potential for cleaning up misinformation put out by our government. Just as language often determines the outcome of debates, underlying data has a powerful influence on policies and litigation. For an overview of the Act, see this.

    Take a sacred cow the assumption that asbestos in brakes pose a health hazard. In August, a Philadelphia law firm invoked the Data Quality Act to demand that the EPA correct its demagoguery about asbestos. Specifically, the law firm send a letter demanding that the EPA stop claiming that asbestos in brakes is dangerous to the health of mechanics. The EPA's claim has been promoting costly lawsuits against the auto industry and forcing the removal of asbestos from brakes, endangering all of us who drive on highways (asbestos is superior to other materials used in brakes). The attorney's letter is here.

    Two months later, the Agency responded by promising to put a note on its written and electronic versions that it is in the process of updating its information. It also promised to involve the public before adopting a new position.

    Should we be invoking the Data Quality Act on other issues?

    No glass ceiling
    Andy sends this story:
    Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that, as of Nov. 30, women represent 50.6 percent of the 48 million employees in management, professional and related occupations.
    Apparently there is more discrimination against men, than women.

    Thursday, Dec 25, 2003
    Activist court
    A Wash Post op-ed tries to make the case that the Rehnquist court is much more activist than any US supreme court since the 1930s New Deal. It is written by an idiot law professor named Cass R. Sunstein.

    In the years before Rehnquist, the supreme court:

  • decided that the Constitution required forced school busing;
  • declared all existing state legislatures unconstitutional;
  • wiped out the death penalty;
  • revised most police procedures, including Miranda warnings;
  • wiped out all state abortion laws;

    The Rehnquist court has never done anything as activist as the above decisions. It has invalidated a few laws, but only in cases where Congress was doing something that it had never dared to do before, and where the court decision was inconsequential. I think that the Rehnquist court is the least activist of the 20th century (and that Sunstein is an idiot).

    It is amazing how the McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit of a few years ago continues to polarize people's view of the judicial system. To most people, myself included, it is a textbook example of a frivolous lawsuit.

    Meanwhile, others adamantly argue that the complaint was valid, and that anyone would think that McDonalds should have to pay up if they only knew all the facts. The especially damning facts are:

  • McDonalds rejected an out-of-court demand for money.
  • The woman did not have a cup-holder in her car.
  • Some of McDonalds' competitors have slower service and colder coffee.
  • McDonalds had paid some claims for coffee burns in the past.
  • McDonalds could have achieve better tasting coffee at lower temperature, by buying more expensive beans and taking other steps.
  • McDonalds experts had estimated that 50 or so out of every billion cups of coffee served would result in burns, and decided that the rate was tolerable.

    Of course McDonalds expects lawsuits. All big companies the size of McDonalds have 100s of claims and lawsuits going on at any given time. It is part of doing business.

    It is amazing how people can be offended when a business makes a business decision. All major businesses make 100s of decisions like those every day. It is impossible to do business any other way.

    Some people are offended that McDonalds does not immediately switch from (beef) hamburgers to soy burgers, because of the risk of e.coli, heart disease, mad cow disease, or whatever. If you think that eating at McD is too risky for you, then I suggest you eat elsewhere. The fast food market is hotly competitive, and you ought to be able to find some restaurant to your liking.

    Science news
    Here are a couple of 2003 science stories I missed.

    Prozac was thought to be a miracle drug because it is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Now it turns out that Prozac doesn't do that, and that it would cause depression if it did.

    The African primate skeleton Lucy was thought to be a 3.5M year old ancestor of humans. Now they have found another ape fossil of about the same age, but quite different from Lucy. These two fossils are obviously different species and there is as much reason to think that one is a human ancestor as the other. They cannot both be human ancestors. So the whole Lucy theory has been scrapped. Yet another missing link turns out to be bogus.

    Bob says:

    That's not fair. Piltdown Man was a hoax. Lucy was just an academic overstating the importance of his results.

    Do you have a cite for the Prozac result?

    No. I got it from a recent TV show on the Science channel. A simple web search turned up lots of sites that love or hate Prozac for various reasons, but I didn't find the result.

    Wednesday, Dec 24, 2003
    Bush's spending
    Chris writes:
    I have attached a spreadsheet that I created from Government figures which break down the federal tax dollar imbalance each state receives and assign them to whether the Bush or Gore received the electoral votes from the state.

    I am curious how one can justify that the candidate who ran against the size of the Federal Government received far and away the majority of votes from states that receive more in federal dollars that they pay in taxes. Further how does the current massive deficit spending by the republican congress square with the purpose of shrinking the Federal Government?

    Or, as I suspect, we have reached the point where the partisan histrionics is the only signal getting through and there is no longer any coherent political philosophy in either party? Perpetuation of power is the only goal in politics as well as the enrichment of campaign contributors and concern for the national welfare is a fools game?

    I don't remember Bush promising to reduce the size of the federal govt. If he did, then he sure hasn't kept that promise. Federal spending has shot way up during the Bush administration, even before 9/11. Bush hasn't vetoed a single spending bill. He has also actively pushed new spending for education, medicare drugs, and other programs.

    At any rate, both parties seem to buy votes by promising goodies to special interest groups, and they have both done it for a long time.

    Medical journal corruption
    This UK Guardian article says that half of all medical journal articles are written by ghostwriters. The writers are employed by big drug companies in order to slant the results towards their commercial interests.

    Tuesday, Dec 23, 2003
    Lessig on Posner
    Lessig usually goes on anti-copyright rants on his blog, but now he praises the views of his old boss, Judge Posner.

    But Judge Posner says that one of his favorite copyright decisions is his one on Aimster. In it, Posner declares that the US Supreme Court Betamax decision found it to be unquestionably copyright infringement for a consumer to fast-forward thru a commercial:

    The third was skipping commercials by taping a program before watching it and then, while watching the tape, using the fast-forward button on the recorder to skip over the commercials. The first use the Court held was a fair use (and hence not infringing) because it enlarged the audience for the program. The copying involved in the second and third uses was unquestionably infringing to the extent that the programs copied were under copyright and the taping of them was not authorized by the copyright owners—but not all fell in either category. ... it was apparent that the Betamax was being used for infringing as well as noninfringing purposes—even the majority acknowledged that 25 percent of Betamax users were fast forwarding through commercials
    But I can't find where the Betamax decision says that it is an infringement to fast-forward thru commercials. It mentions the matter, and says this:
    In a separate section, the District Court rejected plaintiffs' suggestion that the commercial attractiveness of television broadcasts would be diminished because Betamax owners would use the pause button or fast-forward control to avoid viewing advertisements
    But it doesn't seem to have any bearing on the outcome. I really doubt that Lessig agrees with any of this.

    Andy writes:

    Judge Posner, I'm afraid, grasps for that last defense of a bankrupt philosophy censorship. Even if he were right that amicus briefs are a waste of money, why does he insist on censoring them? Far more plausible is that Judge Posner doesn't like being shown up by amici. But that is no excuse to censor them.

    On the website of the interview of Posner, he confirms that he is a worshiper of the incoherent Oliver Wendell Holmes, and can only rely on a silly putdown of the Economist's scathing review of his latest book.

    I agree that Holmes is incoherent. This biography says:
    A cornerstone of Holmes's judicial philosophy was his opinion that, "The life of the law has not been logic, but experience." He insisted that the court look at the facts in a changing society, instead of clinging to worn-out slogans and formulas. Holmes convinced people that the law should develop along with the society it serves. He exercised a deep influence on the law through his support of the doctrine of "judicial restraint" which urged judges to avoid letting their personal opinions affect their decisions.
    In other words, Holmes's philosophy was to let his own personal political and opinions drive his own judicial decisions, but to discourage all other judges from doing the same thing.

    Monday, Dec 22, 2003
    The 6.5 earthquake was centered about 80 miles from me, but I didn't even feel it.
    Internet or internet?
    Andy writes to Wired magazine:
    I enjoy reading Wired for its forward-thinking articles. But why do you still spell "internet" with a capital "I"? It is inevitable that the geeky capitalization will be discarded over time. Already the Economist has converted to a lower-case "i". In the recent decision by the stodgy Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Verizon v. RIAA, the court converted to a lower-case "i". Wired does not use capital letters for "television" or "telephone"; how much longer will it treat the internet like an oddity?
    Yes, there is no good reason to capitalize internet. Maybe some people think that it is a trademark, I don't know.

    We'll know that they are just idiots following obsolete style rules if they publish Andy's letter with the punctuation symbols moved inside the quote marks.

    Lots of magazines and other publishers have severe misunderstandings when it comes to trademarks. Eg, some think that they are under some obligation to use the symbol TM or circle-R when referring to a trademarked name. And even when they think that, they are wildly inconsistent about when they acknowledge a trademark.

    Others refuse to say something like "Roger xeroxed the page", and want to use "photocopy" instead. Photocopy means to copy onto film using a photographic process. To xerox a page means to copy it onto plain paper. The Xerox corporation hired someone to invent the word in order to describe plain-paper copying, because the word photocopy was inaccurate.

    Sunday, Dec 21, 2003
    Gay poll
    Here is a NYT/CBS poll on same-sex marriage. The NY Times headline is:
    Strong Support Is Found for Ban on Gay Marriage
    But the support is not really that strong -- the public opposes it by the overwhelming margin of 61-34. The CBS News headline for the very same poll story is:
    Opposition To Gay Marriage Grows

    The poll questions are biased, although not quite as bad as the Pew poll I attacked before. The NYT/CBS questions are:

    Homosexual relations between adults should be ... [legal, not legal, no opinion]

    Do you favor or oppose a law allowing homosexuals to marry? [favor, oppose, no opinion]

    Do you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment only between a man and a woman? [favor, oppose, no opinion]

    I don't think that any states had law against such a vague concept as "homosexual relations". The laws were mainly against anal sodomy. Occasionally the laws were against oral sodomy, or same-sex anal sodomy, or something like that. The question should have been more specific, like "Do you favor or oppose laws against anal sodomy?"

    The next question should have asked about same-sex marriage. The marriage laws require the spouses to be of the opposite sex. They don't say anything about the sexual orientation of those getting married. The fact is that those with a homosexual orientation are allowed to marry, just like everyone else.

    The more significant result of the poll is that a majority of the people support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Such an amendment to the federal constitution would be a very radical and dubious move, and it shows that most people are disgusted with the courts trying to force the gay agenda on the American public.

    Both polls show a sharp split between those who think that homosexuality is a choice, and those who think that it is an orientation that cannot be changed. The NYT/CBS poll puts 44% in each camp, and says that the big majority of the support for gay marriage comes from the latter. That explains why we are always hearing propaganda that homosexuality is an inborn trait.

    Friday, Dec 19, 2003
    No RIAA subpoenas
    John writes:
    Eagerly awaiting expert reaction to today's bombshell USCA-DC decision in RIAA v. Verizon, with opinion by Andy's old boss, the "good Ginsburg." Nothing on Roger's blog yet.

    Here is a roundup of news reports: 1 2 3

    Here is the full text.

    Despite this court's notorious hostility to amicus briefs, 3 amicus briefs were filed, 2 for Verizon and 1 for RIAA.

    Here is Phyllis's column criticizing the [DMCA] law before it was passed.

    I am sympathetic to the result, and I am glad to see this DMCA section gutted because I think that it is a lousy law, but I think Andy's old boss has been smoking dope again. The opinion is nutty. Ginsburg seems to think that 17 USC 512(h) was written only to subpoena ISP over works that are on the ISP's own servers. But there is no need for such a subpoena to identify the infringer, because the ISP would be the infringer in that case.

    I found this Ginsburg statement especially bizarre:

    ... the legislative history of the DMCA betrays no awareness whatsoever that internet users might be able directly to exchange files containing copyrighted works. That is not surprising; P2P software was ‘‘not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye when the DMCA was enacted.’’

    The internet has always been used for peer-2-peer file sharing. That goes back at least 20 years, and maybe 30. The whole purpose of 512(h) is to identify P2P file sharers. I cannot think of any other purpose for it, and I am baffled that Ginsburg doesn't think that this is clear from the legislative record.

    John writes:

    The DMCA was signed into law in October, 1998. Napster was founded in May, 1999 the first software that enabled practical P2P file sharing between computers that had no prior connection with each other.
    The whole purpose of 512(h) is to identify P2P file sharers.
    but only where some of the infringing material is stored on the ISP, not where the ISP is "acting only as a conduit for data transferred between two internet users."

    Thanks to newly elected Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who has conducted a vigorous investigation of RIAA's subpoena practices, RIAA and MPAA are unlikely to get any more legislation passed. 1998 was the high water mark of the copyright industry.

    Napster popularized a particular form of P2P file sharing, but how do you think that people transferred files before Napster? Usually it is P2P. On some older networks, one peer might have to upload a file to a server, and then let the other peer download it from the server. But the internet has been peer-to-peer since the 1970s.

    Before Napster, people would share their music with other protocols, such as ftp, http, or nntp. Files on my computer might go directly to other computers, with only transitory fragments being on intermediate ISP servers.

    For most people, ordinary email is P2P. I could set up my email program to automatically send out MP3 files to anyone requesting them. Would Ginsburg say that I would be out of reach from DMCA subpoenas because no one realized that was a possibility in 1998?

    That makes no sense. A P2P computer network may have been an innovation in the 1970s, but it is absurd to say that it was invented in 1999. It is the main way people have been using computers for the last 10 years.

    Whom are you quoting about the "conduit"? That language is not in the DMCA. Sec. 512(h)(1) says:

    A copyright owner or a person authorized to act on the owner's behalf may request the clerk of any United States district court to issue a subpoena to a service provider for identification of an alleged infringer in accordance with this subsection.
    It seems pretty clear to me that the purpose is to force a service provider, who is acting as a conduit, to identify a user who is transferring files. What other purpose to the section could there be?

    On p. 13 Ginsburg give the theory that the purpose of 512(h) is for an ISP hosting a user web page on an ISP server, or for an ISP hosting an information locating tool.

    But the subpoenas would not be needed in either case. If the ISP is hosting infringing web pages, and copying those web pages for anyone making a request, then the ISP is a direct infringer. The copyright owner can just sue the ISP (after it follows the take-down provisions of the DMCA). The copyright owner only needs the subpoena in the case that the ISP has no liability and no take-down obligations.

    Joe writes:

    Yes - Alexander is pushing hard for resumption of downloading. I am, of course, playing the grinch.
    You'll lose the battle when Alex gets to college. Today's college students see nothing wrong with downloading.

    When you went to college, you probably had a hi-fi and some records. If someone told you that you had to pay performance rights to play music for everyone on your floor, or that you had to donate money to listen to a noncommercial radio station, you'd look at him like he is nuts.

    Today's students don't have hi-fis and records. They have computers and speakers or headphone, and fast internet connections. They plug in, and music comes down the wire. No one charges money for the music, and there is no obvious reason why they should pay. Nor is it clear who they would. They know that some old fogeys don't think that they should be listening to internet music, but those same old fogeys don't think that they should be listening the hip hop music either.

    Imagine trying to convince Alex that he should call in pledge to his local NPR affiliate. You might say:

    You are freeloading if you don't pay. The station is noncommercial so it depends on listeners like you. .... Yes, I know that they have commercials anyway, but they are separate from the big media oligopoly that dominates the airwaves. They can have alternative views, like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, that are shunned by big business. ... Yes, they'll still broadcast whether you pay or not, but if you pay then they'll be less dependent on govt money and be less afraid to tell the truth about American imperialism in the middle east. Besides, the media should be community supported anyway, so that our consumption habits are not dictated by the Coca-Cola company.
    Alex would just roll his eyes and say that you are asking him to promote a business model that he doesn't believe in, and nobody says he has to pay, so he is just not going to pay.

    It is similar with online music. The RIAA has a convoluted legalistic argument that the music CD distribution companies should also control the online distribution of music, and the best way to facilitate that is to shut down the Napster-like programs. But there is no legal, business, or political consensus that the RIAA is correct. Ask Alex or a typical college student to comply with the wishes of the RIAA, and he will just roll his eyes and wonder why anyone should promote a business model that is bad for society. They think that the music labels are evil, and the sooner they go out of business, the better.

    John asks:

    If you are right about the internet being peer-to-peer before 1998, then why didn't RIAA make that argument? How could the judges be do dumb? And why hasn't anyone else attacked the opinion by making the same point? Doesn't the RIAA have any friends in the media?
    Good questions. The RIAA doesn't seem to have any friends on the web sites that I regularly visit. I don't know what arguments the RIAA made, but the judges seemed to be trying to use their own knowledge to override the plain meaning of the DMCA.

    As for how the judges could be so dumb, remember that these are the same judges who sabotaged the Microsoft antitrust case. Even tho Msft had a consent decree saying that they could not force the bundling of application software, these judges said that Msft could do it anyway, and they threw antitrust enforcement into chaos. They also made those rulings based on some pretty fundamental misunderstandings of some basic technology. So yes, I think that they are technological illiterates.

    As for others, I think that most of them think that the courts are just political anyway, and they just look at the results. Consider the recent 9C medical marijuana decision. An objective observer would say that the plaintiffs had no standing, because they were not being prosecuted and not even under any threat of prosecution, and that the feds had authority to regulate medical marijuana under the established precedents related to the Commerce Clause. But medical marijuana is a popular cause, and no one criticizes an opinion favorable to it.

    I checked the EFF brief, and it argues against the subpoenas on due process and other constitutional grounds, but does not question that 512(h) applies to material where Verizon is a conduit, not a host.

    Survey: Parents yell at kids
    JG found this story about a survey:
    Nearly all U.S. parents yell, threaten or use other forms of so-called psychological aggression to discipline their children, the results of a new study suggests.

    Researchers say it's time to shift the widespread cultural acceptance of these methods.

    The study, which looked at a nationally representative sample of 991 parents, found that 98 percent had used some form of psychological aggression, such as yelling, threats of spanking, and name-calling, to discipline their children by the time they were five years old.

    Next, the pediatricians will come out with specific recommendations against yelling at kids, and Sweden will pass a law against it.
    Paypal scams
    Bruce Schneier writes in the SJMN that we've seen 3 waves of network attacks: hardware, syntactic, and semantic. The 3rd one is typified by bogus PayPal email that tries to trick you into revealing your password to a thief so he can pull money from your bank account. His conclusion is very pessimistic, as he says that people are too unsophicated and computer security technology is useless.

    Schneier is wrong. There is a technological fix. IBM and HP call it TCPA. Intel calls it LaGrande. Microsoft calls it Palladium or NGSCB. You will hear a lot more about it.

    Thursday, Dec 18, 2003
    Michael Jackson
    I think that Michael Jackson is going to be acquitted. Kobe Bryant, also. Scott Peterson will fry.
    Science peer review
    Leftist environmentalists have been accusing GW Bush of biased science. Now the Bush administration proposes to make govt science more scientific:
    The proposal, scheduled to take effect early next year, would require all government agencies to set up a formal, external "peer review" for any scientific study that could affect major federal regulations or "important public policies." Advocates say the plan will reduce bias in government science and regulation.
    The leftists are more upset than ever, because it will be harder to use bogus science to promote their agendas.

    Chris writes:


    Apparently you mysteriously read some other article than the one to which you posted a link. Where in the article is there any comment or mention of ‘leftist bogus science?’

    The objections are to the insertion of an additional layer of bureaucracy into what is currently already a heavily reviewed scientific process. Further the major concern is the exemption of permit applications from this process:

    The proposal favors industry in other ways, critics argue. For example, it exempts from peer review so-called "permit applications," such as a chemical company's request for permission to sell a new pesticide.

    Please present some evidence where there has been any regulation implemented on ‘bogus science.’

    I've never heard so much complaining about scientific peer review.
    Govt policies are justified by bogus science all the time. Consider the gasoline additives MTBE and methanol. Govt science claimed that it reduces air pollution, so it was mandated. MTBE makes my gasoline more expensive, and it pollutes the ground water, and it makes mileage worse, and it doesn't even improve air pollution. Methanol is similarly a big waste of money.

    Or look at govt forest policies. Supposedly the policies are determined by environmental science, but instead they just contribute to horrible forest fires. You hardly ever hear about forest fires on private timber land. The bad fires are on the land managed by govt scientists who are supposed to be preserving the forest.

    There are lots of other examples where some dubious govt science is used to promote some agenda that is different from what the science really says. Clean air, endangered species, breast implants, asbestos, global warming, etc. I'll try to post some more specific examples later.

    Wednesday, Dec 17, 2003
    WTC asbestos
    Andy has his own theory about how asbestos should not have been banned from the WTC. After 9/11, NY Times science writer James Glanz said:
    Virtually as one, experts on the development, testing and use of fireproofing materials say no standard treatment of the steel, asbestos or otherwise, could have averted the collapse of the towers in the extraordinarily hot and violent blaze.

    But some wonder whether asbestos insulation might have kept the towers intact long enough for more people to have escaped. And more important, they say the disaster at the World Trade Center exposes a gap in their knowledge about many fireproofing materials.

    But now he says:
    Whether the collapse of the twin towers was inevitable given the structural damage done by the hijacked planes, or whether the towers would have been able to stand with better fire protection is still not known. The exact sequence of failures that led to the towers' falling has not yet been determined either.
    So maybe asbestos might have saved the towers after all.
    Wright Brothers
    The Wrights' invention of the airplane has gotten a lot of press. John sends this NRO article saying the Wrights' big accomplishment was landing, not flying, and this article saying that they did it on their own money while their competitor was getting big govt grants.

    Several articles correct give credit to others besides the Wright brothers, but I found this NY Times op-ed annoying. The author, Paul Hoffman, seems to want to blame the Wrights for (1) protecting their trade secrets until they were ready for market; (2) patenting their invention; and (3) trying to enforce their patents. He concludes:

    In the end, the advance they made in flight technology was quickly squandered. European aviators lost little time in following the Wrights into the air.
    I don't know what Hoffman thinks that the Wrights should have done. If they had revealed their secrets earlier, or had failed to protect their patent rights, then competitors would have copied their advances sooner. The Wrights' whole purpose in risking their lives, savings, and careers was to go into the airplane business, and using patents was the only way they could see to do it. If it weren't for patents, they would not have built and flown that airplane. At the same time, they weren't sure that patents would adequately protect their interests, as Hoffman acknowledges, so they had to try to keep some secrets to stay ahead of the competition. And they were right -- their competitors were eventually able to get around the Wrights' patents.
    Libel case loses
    Andy writes about this story, and says:
    Effort to Silence Elaine Donnelly Fails ... Again. Elaine Donnelly and her Center for Military Readiness (CMR) have courageously exposed failed feminist policies in the military for decades. In 1994, the Clinton Administration wanted women pilots in combat positions. But a mere two months after the first ones were assigned, Lt. Kara Hultgreen tragicallly died during a routine landing exercise on an aircraft carrier.

    CMR reported that Lt. Patrick Jerome Burns, who had briefly instructed Lt. Hultgreen and the other first women combat pilot, described the placement of women pilots into combat aircraft as "politically driven." CMR and Lt. Burns wrote that "Navy policy on the integration of women into fleet F-14 squadrons is, thus far, an abject failure."

    The other woman combat pilot, Lt. Carey Dunai Lohrenz, sued CMR for libel. She complained that CMR's reports hurt her career. With the assistance of a high-powered law firm, she pursued seven years of litigation against Elaine and CMR. On August 16, 2002, the lawsuit was dismissed, but the law firm appealed to the D.C. Circuit.

    Last Friday, Elaine won her ultimate victory. The court held that the act of choosing combat aircraft when there was a "controversy about women in combat" made Lt. Lohrenz a limited-purpose public figure. Public figures are generally fair game for full public debate. As a bonus, the court was dismissive of Admiral Bien's feminist claim that "no instructor interviewed had stated that Lt. Lohrenz and Lt. Hultgreen were unsafe to fly." The Court explained that "Donnelly knew that Lt. Burns had been interviewed and claimed that he had said precisely that to Admiral Bien."

    Of course Donnelly won. What she did was to write to the Senate Armed Services Committee and complain that Air Force affirmative action policies were resulting in unqualified pilots. If that is not free speech, what is?

    The main injustice here is that Donnelly's lawyer, Kent Masterson Brown charged her about $600k and diddled with the case for about 8 years before getting Donnelly off the hook. I think that Brown botched the case.

    If Donnelly had been sued in California and the anti-SLAPP law applied (and if Donnelly had a decent lawyer), then she would have been able to get the case dismissed quickly, and she would have collected attorneys fees from the pilot with the questionable qualifications.

    Tuesday, Dec 16, 2003
    John writes:
    As I have noted several times here, to general disbelief, champerty is illegal in Florida and will be punished. As it should be.
    David Boies is accused of an ethic violation. Another story says:
    The Florida state Bar has filed an ethics complaint against famed Microsoft litigator David Boies, alleging that he violated its rules by paying more than $400,000 in legal fees for a client his firm is representing in a Palm Beach County contract dispute. Boies, who represented Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election recount battle, is charged with representing the affluent client for free as well as paying fees to other law firms who worked on her case.
    I think that it is amazing that these big-shot lawyers have such fancy reputations for losing cases. David Boies is mainly famous for losing the Bush v. Gore and Napster cases. Mark Geragos is now the hottest criminal defense lawyer in the USA, and is handling the two highest-profile cases (Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson), but he is mainly famous for losing the Winona Ryder case.

    Monday, Dec 15, 2003
    Mass. homosexual ruling has a loophole
    The Mass. supreme court gay-marriage opinion has gotten a lot of attention. It was rumored for months, and the 4-3 decision was very carefully deliberated and worded. Much of the scrutiny has been over whether the opinion has a civil union loophole, like the similar Vermont opinion. But I claim that it has more serious loopholes.

    The main thrust of the opinion is to redefine marriage:

    We construe civil marriage to mean the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.
    This definition depends on the definition of spouse, and the opinion does not give one. The obvious definition is the one in US federal law:
    In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. [DOMA]
    All existing laws in the US and the 50 states are consistent with this definition. Likewise all the common law and religious traditions. Some dictionaries define spouse as marriage partner or something like that, but that would also mean the same thing, as a marriage in the USA has always been between a man and a woman.

    So I conclude that the Mass. supreme court really hasn't redefined marriage at all. A union of spouses can only be a union between a man and a woman.

    Now you might think that this is a silly technicality, but the judges spent months agonizing over the precise wording of that definition, and I can only assume that they chose their words deliberately. Now let's look at the actual court order:

    We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.
    Again, it is carefully worded, but look at what it really says. It says that Mass. cannot deny benefits to someone who "would marry". It does not mention those who seek civil unions, or same-sex marriage-like vows, or anything like that. It does not redefine marry. It only says that someone who "would marry" is entitled to marriage benefits. But there is no one in Mass. who would marry someone of the same sex, because "marry" is not defined that way.

    The Mass. court could have declared that same-sex couples are entitled to marry, if they wish. It acknowledged that the plaintiffs asked for exactly that:

    In their complaint the plaintiffs request only a declaration that their exclusion and the exclusion of other qualified same-sex couples from access to civil marriage violates Massachusetts law.
    But the Mass. court pointedly stops short of issuing such a declaration.

    So what is the point of the opinion, if not to legalize same-sex marriage? I think that the court is inviting the legislature to redefine "marry", "marriage", and "spouse". If and when our society, culture, and law accept that same-sex couples may marry, then Mass. marriage law will have to recognize them as well. If I were the Mass. legislature, I'd wait 179 days and then pass a resolution declaring that the Mass. constitution and the federal Defense Of Marriage Act are consistent, and that no court has said otherwise.

    The UN wants to take over the internet
    This NY Times story says a UN committee is blaming the USA for the internet:
    The United States nonetheless took its lumps at the conference.

    "Even if it is not true, there is a perception that the U.S. government is running the Internet," said Eli M. Noam, who is the head of the Institute for Tele-Information at Columbia University and was a session moderator at the conference.

    Many public comments were similar to those expressed by Shashi Tharoor, the United Nations under secretary general for information and communications, who said in an interview, "Unlike the French Revolution, the Internet revolution has lots of liberty, some fraternity and no equality."

    So these idiotic bureaucrats think that the French revolution was a success, that the internet was a failure, and that the UN needs to remove the internet from USA control.

    Saturday, Dec 13, 2003

    Coase explains Dean Andy writes:
    Roger, that is a brilliant article you forwarded from the Washington Post. In fact, it is the best newspaper article I have read in a very long time.

    It recognizes that Dean defeated the entire Democratic establishment simply by harnessing the power of the internet. It explains how an insight by Coase in 1937 (not the one for which he won the Nobel Prize) predicted this type of development in a general economic way.

    The article pulls up short, however, in addressing whether an internet-powered candidate like Howard Dean can defeat the President of the United States. Is the internet that powerful? I think it is. The establishment is telling us that is not possible. But the establishment also told us that Dean could not win the Democratic nomination, yet look at him take it by a landslide.

    It's also interesting the Washington Post article was written by a Clinton appointee. Note the contrast with Bush appointees, who could never write such an insightful article.

    John responds:
    Interesting analysis, but flawed. The author, like many economists, views a world of individual autonomous economic agents, without regard to law, borders, language, history, or culture.

    No matter how much the internet has contributed to Howard Dean's success, it doesn't follow that we are likely to have successful third-party candidates in a few years. The clue that the author doesn't know what he's talking about is in his penultimate paragraph, where he cites the third parties in New York state as a model for the whole country, and extrapolates to imagine a third party electing a president.

    New York has unique laws that make third parties possible, but most states have other laws that effectively make them impossible. Specifically, New York permits candidates to be listed on two or more parties in the same election. That is the essential law that enables a third party to get and stay on the ballot. Most states forbid this.

    Most states require a party to field a full slate of candidates for all offices (not just one) and to attract a significant number of votes in every election or they will be thrown off the ballot. In addition, many states have sore loser laws that prevent a candidate who sought one party's nomination from getting on the ballot as the candidate of another party or as an independent.

    The author seems ignorant of these facts as he engages in armchair economic theorizing under Platonic assumptions.

    Joe responds:
    Interesting article. He says:
    So the end result of the Internet revolution on companies has been exactly what Coase's theory predicted Cheap information has allowed firms to shrink. Size is now less of an advantage in organizations, and that means more competition in the global marketplace.
    Are Wal Mart, Depot, Lowes etc. shrinking yet? Cheap info can also be harnessed by the big guys to get bigger.
    Andy responds:
    I agree with John that it is unlikely a third party candidate will win the presidency in the foreseeable future. However, that becomes a moot issue when an outsider like Dean can so easily capture control of an existing mainstream party, over intense opposition by its establishment. Why start a third party when one can take over an existing party?
    That article is a joke. Complete BS from beginning to end.

    The main point of the article is that Coase's work implies that reduced communication costs will cause the rise of 3rd parties. I wonder what Coase himself thinks of such gibberish.

    Long before Coase, everyone understood that politicians need to get their messages out widely and cheaply in order to get elected. Coase added nothing to that.

    Dean's success has nothing to do with getting his message out on the net. His message is incoherent and contradictory. His success stems from the fact that he is the only candidate who has been willing to adopt the anti-war rhetoric of the hard left. This strategy may get him the support of the Bush-haters, but it is hard to see how he can win the general election.

    Andy replies:

    [Joe has a] Valid point. But Coase is not talking about horizontal growth, like duplicating retail stores in other locations the way your examples do. Coase is really talking about layers of management and corporate integration of operations.

    You interpret Coase's insight too narrowly. Coase's 1937 insight has proven true for corporations, many decades after his prediction, and it is brilliant to apply his insight to political parties also.

    Frankly, your message sounds like Dean-hating to me!

    The whole concept of "Bush-hating" is dubious and will probably fade away. All agree that Bush is personally affable. It is obviously his policies that people oppose.

    The concept of Bush-hating is not going to fade away. Among California leftists, a lot of people hate him. The reasons they give are irrational, and I question their sanity, but there are a lot of such people and they are the ones that fuel Dean's campaign.

    Here is a recent example of Dean flip-flopping. He says Bush may have been forewarned about 9/11 from the Saudis, and then denies that he ever said it.

    No, the Bush-hating it is not just obviously based on his policies. There are millions of people with a completely irrational hatred for Bush. They'll claim he was really elected president, even tho his election was a legitimate as JFK's or Carter's. They'll complain that Bush did not have sufficient UN approval for the Iraq war, even tho the UN approval was far greater than we got for Bosnia or Kosovo. They'll recite weird conspiracy theories, such as what Dean says above. They'll say that Bush is some sort of radical extremely-partisan right-winger.

    Eg, here is a Bush-hater in The New Republic. He has an irrational hatred that goes way beyond Bush's policies.

    Joe writes:

    Roger is 100% correct about this. Tom Cori recently went to a Dean rally just to get a taste of what these people are like. He was struck with the defining similarity among them all hatred of Bush. When they were asked why they hated him, they often answered "Because he's stupid." I think Bush is hated by these people more than Reagan was.
    The TNR article said that people hate Bush much more than Reagan. Stupidity is high on the list. As an example, it says that in a press conference Bush gave an inappropriate answer to an inappropriate question about Jonathan Pollard, suggesting that Bush did not know who Pollard is. But Bush's answer could also be interpreted as refusing to get sucked into an absurd comparison.

    Update: Here is a blog trashing the WashPost article.

    Friday, Dec 12, 2003
    Money for health care
    Another USA survey found that some Americans sometimes consider the costs when they make health care decisions! This time the survey found that 37% of disabled adults sometimes postpone care because of cost.

    Apparently most disabled Americans must have very ample resources for health care that they never have to consider cost. If you asked people if they have had to consider cost when buying a car, finding living accommodations, taking a vacation, eating out, or just about anything else, then nearly 100% of the public will say yes. The fact that only a third of disabled adults are looking at costs shows that they are getting far too much in terms of govt subsidies.

    Free markets work best if most of the consumers are very price-conscious. With so many Americans disregarding costs, there is little to stop health care providers from raising prices out of control. Somehow we need to raise out-of-pocket health care costs for Americans so that they will pay more attention to price.

    Thursday, Dec 11, 2003
    No gas stations in Antarctica
    The BBC reports:
    The first person to fly a home-built single-engine plane over the South Pole has got stranded in Antarctica.

    Australian Jon Johanson was forced to land his RV-4 plane at a US base when it ran short of fuel.

    But both the Americans and a nearby New Zealand base refuse to give him the fuel, saying they do not want to encourage tourism in the Antarctic.

    Mr Johanson flew over the South Pole after travelling 5,880 km in just over 24 hours from New Zealand.

    I really don't think that there is going to be a rash of Johanson imitators. Who else would fly a home-built plane over the South Pole? Even if they do, the Americans should show a little more hospitality.

    Wednesday, Dec 10, 2003
    Global warming
    Many scientists believe that human activities have contributed to the release of greenhouse gases, and hence to global warming. But Bill Ruddiman says that it all started about 10K years ago. And it is a good thing too, because it saved us from an ice age that would have started several thousand years ago, and it thereby stabilized the climate enough to make modern civilization possible.
    Ritalin is very similar to cocaine in its effect on the brain, so it is natural to ask whether ADD kids on ritalin are more likely to later abuse cocaine. A recent study found data that such kids are indeed more likely to try cocaine. See also this letter. But the study author is a big ritalin advocate, and somehow manages to explain away the results, so that it got reported with the opposite result!

    Here are some more new studies showing negative long-term consequences of ritalin. Ritalin use in preteen children may lead to depression later in life, studies of rats suggest. See also this Forbes-Reuters story.

    Tuesday, Dec 09, 2003
    Grover Norquist
    Grover Norquist is a lobbyist for some causes that I agree with, but he is also paid to support some other causes that he may not even agree with himself. This FrontPage article says he is owned by radical Mohammedans. When he attacks the USA Patriot Act, he is doing so because he is paid to defend allies who are in jail as terrorist suspects.

    More links at InstaPundit.

    Sunday, Dec 07, 2003
    Bush critics
    Andy writes:
    See how the National Right to Life threatened to scorecard votes on the dreadful Medicare bill? Evidently Karl Rove controls NRTL now too. Even though Bush has been abysmal on social issues, Rove is pretending that people who oppose him aren't conservative. Ha ha ha ha.

    At least Doug Bandow of CATO has some guts. His recently published criticisms included the following

    But this president deserves to be criticized. Sharply. By anyone who believes in limited, constitutional government.

    1. First, George W. Bush, despite laudable personal and family characteristics, is remarkably incurious and ill read. Gut instincts can carry even a gifted politician only so far. And a lack of knowledge leaves him vulnerable to simplistic remedies to complex problems, especially when it comes to turning America into the globe's governess.

    Second, despite occasional exceptions, the Bush administration, backed by the Republican-controlled Congress, has been promoting larger government at almost every turn. Its spending policies have been irresponsible, and its trade strategies have been destructive. The president has been quite willing to sell out the national interest for perceived political gain, whether the votes sought are from seniors or farmers. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 encouraged the administration to push into law civil-liberties restrictions that should worry anyone, whether they are wielded by a Bush or a Clinton administration.

    The president and his aides have given imperiousness new meaning. Officials are apparently incapable of acknowledging that their pre-war assertions about Iraq's WMD capabilities were incorrect; indeed, they resent that the president is being questioned about his administration's claims before the war. They are unwilling to accept a role for Congress in deciding how much aid money to spend. ...

    Yes, Bush's spending policies have been irresponsible. But the so-called "civil-liberties restrictions" do not worry me and appear to have increased my liberties. As a result, I can now check out a book from my local library without the govt keeping permanent records. Also, only Congress can spend money, and there is nothing Bush can do about it.

    Chris writes:

    It reminds me of the Ben Franklin quote “Those who give up liberty for the sake of security deserve neither liberty nor security.” It is easy to believe that an incremental loss of privacy or liberty is unimportant, or even personally beneficial. The classic argument is, since I don’t have anything to hide I would be willing to allow the police to search my house unannounced if it would reduce crime in my neighborhood. The problem in this line of reasoning is that there is no control over what those who do the unannounced searches will consider a crime.

    Today an individual may be sure that nothing they do is illegal but what will the future hold. We need only look at the ‘Red Scare’ hysteria to see what peaceful activities may be in the future considered a crime. Will literature supporting Palestinian statehood be considered seditious? What about material supporting a woman’s right to choose an abortion or birth-control? The list of things that could become a crime is long and complex.

    I leave you with Martin Niemöller’s lines about moral failure in the face of the Holocaust 'First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me.'

    It is very hard for anyone to be sure that all his actions are legal. How many Californians realize that they are violating the law when they set a simple mousetrap? I am all in favor of privacy rights.

    I do have a problem with ACLU-types, librarians, and Bush-haters who apparently think that it is fine for some govt agencies to track my book-reading habits, but it is not ok for the info to be used in a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation.

    If the county library, or any other private or govt agency maintains records on you, then it will always be possible for those records to be used against you. If the records are relevant to some criminal or civil trial, then they can be subpoenaed. If someone wants the info badly enough, he can bribe a low-level clerk to get them. That is the way it is, and how it has always been in the USA.

    If you don't want your library records to be accessible to anyone, the only solution is for the library to destroy the records. The Patriot Act does not force the libraries to keep the records. It only says that if the libraries chooses to keep the records for some purposes, then they must be available for the FBI to get a court-ordered subpoena for them, as part of a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation. What better purpose could there be for such records?

    Update: Here is a story about how records can be used against people in court, in either criminal or civil cases. The records are the electronic toll records. Forget the Patriot Act. If the records exist, then they can be used. That has been the law for a long time, and it is unlikely to change.

    Jimmy Carter's final solution
    Jimmy Carter is praising the (unofficial) Geneva Accord, and says:
    Had I been elected to a second term, with the prestige and authority and influence and reputation I had in the region, we could have moved to a final solution.
    We can add this to the long list of reasons for being grateful that Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.

    The Geneva Accord involves forcibly removing thousands of Jews from their homes in Israel. Hitler's "final solution" was to remove Jews from Germany.

    George writes:

    That was a cheap shot. Carter is just trying to promote peace. He is not a Nazi.
    Right, Carter is not a Nazi. But it is the Israelis who want peace.

    Friday, Dec 05, 2003
    Physics jokes
    From PhysicsWeb.org:
    Did you hear about the restaurant NASA is starting on the Moon? Great food, no atmosphere!

    When two atoms bump into each other: "I think I've lost an electron!" says one.
    "Are you sure?" replies the other.
    "I'm positive!"

    "Do you know that Hausdorff published poems?"
    "Oh, he had another dimension!"

    "What's new?"
    "E over h."

    Heisenberg is pulled over for speeding:
    "Do you know how fast you were going?" the police officer asks, incredulously.
    "No," replies Heisenberg, "but I know exactly where I am!"

    A lawyer, an accountant and a physicist are discussing, over a beer, whether life is better with a wife or with a girlfriend.
    "A wife is better," declares the lawyer, "because of the family support and the help she'll be to your career."
    "Nonsense," says the accountant. "A girlfriend is better: you can keep your independence and go out with your friends more."
    They turn to the physicist, who says, "It's better to have both. That way, the wife thinks you're with the girlfriend, the girlfriend thinks you're with the wife, and meanwhile you can be down at the lab!"

    A high school kid in Florida was expelled for a year for bringing Advil (ibuprofen) to school. This is an example of an idiotic zero tolerance policy.

    A couple of Georgia kids were charged for possession of a plastic bag of parsley. I find it hard to believe that possession of counterfeit marijuana is really a felony.

    I didn't realize that California has a form of voucher schools. There are public schools that cater to students outside their districts. The way California schools are funded, those schools can collect $6K from the state per student, regardless of the tax base within the district. These schools tend to be much more responsive to the needs and wishes of parents, and they have higher test scores. If they didn't, then the students would go back to their normal public school. The charter school movement is an attempt to extend this concept.

    Thursday, Dec 04, 2003
    Reagan dime
    The Ronald Reagan Dime Act would get FDR off the dime. Good. Reagan was a much greater president than FDR. FDR's economic policies were a gigantic failure, and exacerbated the Great Depression. He also lied to the American public and provoked the Japanese in order to get the USA into a war that most people wanted to avoid.

    JG writes:

    Coincidentally, a friend just e-mailed me the following commentary comparing GWB and FDR.

    I'd like to see Reagan on the dime, too. We recently named a stretch of I-25 in his honor, much to the consternation of the Dems to the north (Denver) and south (Pueblo). I've heard rumors that traffic on an alternate north-south route, state highway 83, has picked up because some Dems refuse to travel on the "Reagan Highway"!

    The link shows that FDR slashed social spending during WWII. By contrast, social spending has increased under Republican presidents such as Nixon and Bush.
    Trampled at Wal-Mart
    John sends this story about a woman who was trampled during a Wal-Mart sale. It says:
    Syndicated columnist George Will used it to bemoan the death of Puritanism at the hand of Christmas excess, calling department stores "cathedrals of consumption." A Portland, Ore., Web site carried the story under the headline, "Capitalism's Greatest Hits."
    It turns out that the woman has a long history of dubious accident claims.

    Wednesday, Dec 03, 2003
    Truman-Reagan Medal
    Pat Buchanan says Phyllis Schlafly deserves a medal for being a life-long anti-communist warrior.
    Public schools retaining students
    Several years ago (in 1997, I think) the California Dept. of Education issued curriculum standards for all the public schools. Apparently many California elementary schools have decided that the standards are too tough, and that the best way to cope with them is to hold everyone back a year! A 2nd grade teacher explained this to me, and said that 8 of her 20 students had already turned 8, even tho anyone who turns 8 by Dec. 2 is really supposed to be in the 3rd grade, according to California law. The law says that the schools need the parents' permission to hold a child back in this way, but the school pressures the parents to do it and the parents usually comply.

    This seems outrageous to me. I wonder of the state educators who wrote the standards realized that one of their main effects would be to change the age of high school graduation from 18 to 19.

    The local school wants to hold my child back, and has given me an assortment of goofy reasons.

  • The other kids are older, and it is better for the kids to be in a class of kids the same age. (I don't think that they really believe this, because they have 5 classes at each grade level, and they make no attempt to group students according to age within a grade level. Instead they do just the opposite, and try to mix different types of students in each classroom as much as possible.)
  • The student won't get to drive a car until age 16, and might feel left out if all her classmates are driving sooner.
  • The parents won't really want the child to go away to college at age 18, and would prefer to keep him/her at home for another year.
  • A lot of 6-year-old boys just can't sit still for an hour.
  • The schools already have students who test out at many grade levels ahead of their nominal grade, and it is easy for teachers to accommodate them.

    I think the real reason is that the public schools get bonuses based on performance on standardized tests, and the schools have figured out that they can get higher schools by holding students back.

    All the schools brag about how advanced their students are. One teacher even claimed that they have students in 1st and 2nd grade who can read at a high school level. And yet they admit that they have trouble placing foreign students from countries like Costa Rica and Singapore, because they are far ahead of American students.

    7-year-old cannot say "gay"
    The ACLU has gotten a lot of publicity about a teacher who punished a 2nd grader for explaining the word "gay" to another student, and the blogs are siding with the ACLU. Yes, the school overreacted, but I don't think that this is a gay rights issue. The teacher probably would have done the same thing if the boy used the word "heterosexual".

    Update: [Dec-12] George writes:

    The teacher had no business punishing the kid. The US Supreme Court just ruled (in the campaign finance law challenge) that children have free speech rights. The kid can express any opinion he wants.
    Remember that when some other school assigns the 2nd graders to read Heather Has Two Mommies and some kids gets up, quotes the Bible, and says that homosexuality is sinful.

    Schoolteachers do have a responsibility to limit discussions that are vulgar, inappropriate, or factually incorrect.

    Bob says that society should remove these taboo subjects, and teach kids to be open to discussing anything.

    Tuesday, Dec 02, 2003
    Will conservatives support Bush?
    JG writes:
    re your 11/28/03 blog entries. Plenty of people want Bush to lose--I'm one of them. Let the Dems take the White House (please!); at least there'd be some hope/potential for an impasse on several issues. Did you see Ron Paul's latest column?
    Paul complains about the Medicare bill, but there are conservatives who believe that the new medical savings accounts will save us from socialized medicine.

    I live on the Left Coast which is dominated by Bush-haters. There are people out here who complain that Bush campaigned as a uniter, and then after he won the election, he turned into a radical right-wing extremist. Actually, those people usually refuse to admit that Bush even won the election.

    As Paul explains, Bush has been spending money like a liberal Democrat.

    Clark and Waco
    Wesley Clark's supporters are sure trying to deny his involvement in the Branch Davidian debacle in Waco Texas. Eg, see InstaPundit. They say he was not directly involved, but that don't seem to want to say what his involvement. Apparently Clark signed off on the use of two Army tanks from his division by the FBI in the raid. Maybe more. We don't know.

    Monday, Dec 01, 2003
    New database copyrights
    A Phyllis Schlafly column got discussed on Slashdot. The new proposed database copyright law is not as bad as the one from about 5 years ago, because extraction is no longer an offense. But it still attempts to stop others from re-assembling public domain facts, just because it competes with someone who is already making money with the data.
    No gun rights
    John sends this story about the US Supreme Court refusing to hear a Second Amendment challenge to a gun control law. John notes:
    Cert. denied despite a clear circuit conflict.
    Yes, there is a clear circuit conflict over whether the 2A guarantees an individual right to citizens. But the SC is not the place to decide philosophical disputes anyway.

    The SC would probably rule that the 2A is an individual right, but that California can impose reasonable restrictions such as banning narrow and inessential classes of weapons. The various assault weapon bans are annoying, but they aren't really effective because similar guns are still legal and available. So a SC ruling is unlikely to change the lower court outcomes.

    George writes:

    So who should decide the philosophical issues, if not the supreme court?
    Under the Constitution, the SC can only decide cases and controversies. Outside the lower federal courts, we are moving towards a public consensus that the 2A guarantees an individual right, and that has been the general understanding for most of USA history. All the past SC opinions are consistent with that view, and a couple of SC opinions have even said so explicitly (in dicta).