Sunday, June 30, 2002

Andy writes:

Roger's praising the Minority Report on his blogspot, a movie that is presumably another drippy, stereotypical Spielberg job. Comic books have more substance to them. Despite the fawning press claiming this to the best movie in years, a comedy just passed it up at the box office.

Spielberg has made a number of great movies. Eg: E.T., Close Encounters, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Duel, Jurassic Park, etc.

He then got much greater critical acclaim for The Color Purple, Schindlers List, Amistad, and A.I. I hated those movies. Minority Report is a sign he's getting back to his previous form. Hope so, anyway.

Why is NASA so opposed to capitalism? If you want to pay to put a satellite in orbit economically, you have to goto China or elsewhere. If you want to be a space tourist, you have to goto Russia. And if you buy a moon rock on the open market, NASA will have you prosecuted.

I think NASA is worried that if it develops its own sources of income, then Congress will give it less money. The same disease inflicts PBS, NPR, Amtrak, and other socialistic government enterprises. Congress should cut off all their money, at least until their attitude changes.

Glad the World Cup is over. If they want to appeal to Americans, they need to change the rules. I suggest:

  • Stop the clock when play stops, and show the time remaining on the scoreboard.
  • Have commercial breaks to suit US TV.
  • Fix the off-sides rule, so no goals are called back and so that the average viewer can understand it.
  • Allow substitutions on-the-fly.
  • Allow players to use their hands, provided that they do not run with the ball or throw a goal.
  • Double the penalty kick distance. It is just too easy to score on a penalty kick.
  • Figure out some penalty system that is better than giving out yellow cards.
  • Give each referee a whistle.
  • If there is a tie, play sudden-death overtime until there is a goal.
  • Fix the out-of-bounds rules so that no one has an incentive to deliberately let the ball go out of bounds.
  • Make the goal bigger, so that games have higher scores.
  • Get better referees.
  • Saturday, June 29, 2002

    Stories about Microsoft's Palladium project by Steve Levy and R.X. Cringely. A hint of what is to come may be found in Microsoft's license agreements. Too bad the feds didn't penalize Microsoft for its antitrust violations.

    Just saw Minority Report. Best Steven Spielberg movie in many years. But it does have a number of plot holes. Eg, how were they going to go national with Pre-Crime if they only had one reliable psychic and she could only see the Washington DC area? If the Tom Cruise character didn't want to get convicted of a crime that he was predicted to committ, why didn't he just hide for 36 hours? You can find other movie mistakes here. In the end, the movie leaves some loose ends, and then ties up some loose ends that didn't need to be tied up. But still, the movie is vastly superior to A.I.
    The SJ Mercury news is reporting that the big music label are now spoofing popular songs in an effort to sabotage P2P networks.

    Those countermeasures could cross ``into a gray area as far as legality,'' admits another record executive who asked not to be named. He said frustrated record label employees could resort to such measures as propagating viruses, rationalizing `` `Hey, if you don't mind stealing my career and livelihood, I'm sure you don't mind if I destroy your hard drive.' ''

    See also this related story.

    I thought that people went to jail for deliberately sabotaging networks. Meanwhile, the feds just set the royalty rate for streaming music on the internet, and it seems artificially high. Now it turns out that the rate was based on a Yahoo/RIAA contract that was intended to squeeze out small operators, according to the Yahoo exec who negotiated the deal.

    See also Why Napster was a Good Thing.

    Michael Newbow's lawsuit against the Pledge of Allegiance was just his latest attempt. He has also sued to remove "In God We Trust" from the money and has filed other similar lawsuits to promote his atheist cause. Here is a typical story.

    The name Michael is Biblical and means Who is Like God. I think that if Michael Newbow is really so eager to get God out of his life, then he ought to start by changing his own name.

    The American Psychological Assn just published a new study on spanking. The press release has a link to the article and some responses.

    The author, Gershoff, does a review of previous spanking studies. A meta-analysis (summary of previous studies) says that spanking is correlated with aggressive and antisocial kids. It doesn't say whether the kids were spanked because they mishaved, or if they misbehaved because they were spanked. It didn't say whether mild to moderate spanking is good or bad. But it did say that spanked kids were more likely to do what they were told.

    From this, she concludes that psychologists should recommend against spanking.

    Some of the criticisms are:

  • Gershoff combines mild corporal punishment with criminal child abuse, so no conclusions about ordinary corporal punishment are possible.

  • Gershoff arbitrarily assumes that punishment causes the child aggression, rather than the other way around.

    Gershoff concedes the gist of these criticisms, and defends her work. IMO, these criticisms are devastating. Her data can be used to support spanking as much as it can be used to criticize spanking. Her data show that kids who misbehave get punished, and getting punished results in better behavior. Only those severe child abuse has adverse consequences.

    Gershoff's work just seems like ideology masquerading as science. Some people are ideologically opposed to spanking out of a belief that abolishing spanking will promote a nonviolent society. So they want to claim that spanking is harmful. But that cannot find any evidence that spanking is harmful, so they combine spankers with child abusers and then look for evidence that child abusers are causing harm. The whole analysis is bogus.

  • Friday, June 28, 2002

    While the 9th Circuit was saying that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional, the US Supreme Court heard a case on whether judges running for elected office in Minnesota can announce their opinions to the public. The Court said that it was free speech, but the vote was only 5-4. How could anyone be against a candidate for public office expressing his views?

    The answer lies in the identities of the dissenting votes. Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer have liberal judicial philosophies that are incoherent, irrational, and out-of-step with the public. They would not have been appointed or confirmed if the public had a good understanding of their judicial views and the people were actively involved in the process. These four are ideologically opposed to judicial scrutiny because they know that their own jurisprudence would never hold up.

    Thursday, June 27, 2002

    JAMA published an article about anti-vaccination web sites.

    [Reuters story]
    Many Web sites that oppose childhood vaccinations appeal to readers' emotions when trying to convey their message, and include claims about vaccination that are not supported by studies from peer-reviewed medical journals, according to researchers.

    None of this is surprising. Most of the pro-vaccination web sites also use appeals to emotion and use unsupported claims. But the article oddly omitted listing the 22 web sites. So I wrote to the author and got the list.

    The list and JAMA articles are here.

    The JAMA article says that the 22 web sites were selected because they "specifically oppose vaccination for human infants or children". But a spot check of several of the web sites showed that some of them make no recommendation at all. They merely provide information and advocate informed consent. Some have links to the CDC for pro-vaccine information.

    This is a simple example of how medical journals conceal data in order to promote an agenda. If JAMA had just published the list of web sites, then any reader would be able to check the results for himself, and see how inaccurate the article is.

    The JAMA authors failed to find anything damning about these so-called anti-vaccination web sites, but there is a general sense of alarm that people would get medical information from these alternative sites on the internet, and develop a sense of distrust about official source of vaccine information. The vaccine establishment depends on most people blindly doing what the authorities say, and the internet is a threat. Maybe if the authorities were more open about vaccine information, these alternative sites would not be needed.

    Dumb quote: Representative Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) took issue with the Republicans’ proposed tax cuts, saying: “It’s not ‘spic’ or ‘nigger’ anymore. They say, ‘Let’s cut taxes.’ ” (From Ann Coulter)
    This Reason article gives some history about the Pledge of Allegiance, including that it was written by a socialist. Maybe someone should add a phrase about property or money.
    Dumb lawsuit of the day: Two guys got their foreheads tatooed for a disc-jockey reward, but never got it.
    Dumb quote of the day. Czech-born Martina Navratilova came to the US for tennis, riches, and lesbianism, and now says:

    “The most absurd part of my escape from [an] unjust system [e.g., Communist Eastern Europe] is that I have exchanged one system that suppresses free opinion for another.” She continued, “The Republicans in the United States manipulate public opinion and sweep any controversial issues under the table.” And, “It’s depressing. Decisions in America are based solely on the question of ‘how much money will come out of it’ and not on the questions of how much health, morals or the environment suffer as a result.”

    From National Review

    The 9th Circuit Pledge of Allegiance decision is contrary to the plain meaning of the US Constitution.

    The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..." The Pledge does not respect any establishment of religion. If it did, what establishment is it? The Roman Catholics? The Presbyterians? The Jews? The Pledge was purely optional and voluntary. If the Pledge is religious (and I don't think it is), then voluntarily saying it is the free exercise of religion.

    The word God in the Pledge, on US coins and currency, and in the Declaration of Independence is a term of art. It refers to a political philosophy held by the US Founders that rights under the law were based on natural principles, and not derived from the grant of a king or from simple majority rule. Apparently the US Congress wanted to emphasize this point when it inserted "under God" in 1954, so as to distinguish our form of government from the ideologies that underlie Communism.

    The 9th Circuit compares “under God” to “under Jesus”, and says that the Pledge is an endorsement of monotheism. It is not. Most of those who say it are Christians who believe in the three Gods of the Holy Trinity. Many are Catholics who believe in the Virgin Mary as well. Many of the Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, were deists who did not even believe in a Christian God.

    President Bush often ends his speeches with “God bless America.” Eg, he says it in this letter to children. If the Pledge is unconstitutional, then so is listening to the President. The vast majority of atheists do not take any offense to this, because it is a nondenominational and innocuous statement.

    Even physicists, who are mostly atheists, often use the word God to refer to the laws of nature and similar concepts. Eg, people like Stephen Hawking use the word God, and no one is offended or thinks that he is making a religious statement. It is just a figure of speech.

    The US Supreme Court will surely overrule Reinhardt and the 9th Circuit, as it usually does.

    Tuesday, June 25, 2002

    The press is ganging up on Anna Kournikova. She was ranked in the top 10 in women's tennis, but she has had injuries and has dropped to 55th place. She just lost a close match at Wimbledon to a higher-seeded player. After her loss, the BBC interviewed her and suggested that she play in easier tournaments instead! She got upset, and asked the BBC to restart the interview. The BBC agreed, but then broadcast both segments. Read about it here or here. The San Jose TV news compared Kournikova to Pamela Anderson with a tennis racket.

    There is no excuse for this rudeness. A BBC spokesman admitted that no other interview subject has ever been mistreated in this way. Kournikova played a good match (score was 6-1,4-6,6-4), and is still in the running in the doubles tournament. She can't beat the Williams sisters, but no one else can either. I think people are just jealous that she has a second career and can make money off the tennis court.

    Update: Anna won a couple of matches in her latest tournament. Ok, she is still going to lose to a Williams sister. McEnroe and Evert defend her.

    Monday, June 24, 2002

    Breyer's opinion in the death penalty case today is particularly bad. He agrees that the judge should not impose the death penalty, but he refuses to accept the argument of the others that the defendent has a 6A right to a jury trial. Instead, he hangs his opinion entirely on the 8A ("cruel and unusual"), and just gives a bunch of lame arguments against the death penalty!

    He says in the opinion:

  • death is not reversible
  • potentially arbitrary application of the death penalty
  • death sentences almost five times more likely when victim is of a high socio-economic status
  • the suffering inherent in a prolonged wait for execution.
  • inadequacy of representation in capital cases, a fact that aggravates the other failings
  • other nations have increasingly abandoned capital punishment
  • only 3% of the Nation's counties account for 50% of the Nation's death sentences

    Some of these arguments might persuade someone that the death penalty should be abolished, but do nothing for Breyer's legal argument. Eg, a judge could compensate for lousy lawyering better than a jury. Other nations don't even have a right to a jury trial. The prolonged wait is caused by judges like Breyer who don't believe in the death penalty anyway. And the last statistic is almost completely meaningless. It might also be true that 3% of the counties have 50% of the nation's murders. Much of US crime is concentrate in a few urban counties. It is a textbook example of lying with statistics because it is intended to show that the death penalty is applied inequitably in the US, but it actually doesn't show that at all.

    Volokh's warblog has some additional statistics related to this point.

  • Scientific American is on the ideological warpath again. Last time, it published several attacks on The Skeptical Environmentalist. This month, its editor-in-chief attacks creationism.

    Bjorn Lomborg was able to rebut the attack on him, but the creationist attack is on an unreferenced straw man, so there will be no rebuttal. Most of the arguments are silly, such as saying evolution is not just a theory but also a fact. I don't think that anyone denies evolution as the textbooks define it today. Eg, one textbook says, "In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve." This and other definitions can be found here.

    Scientific American is particularly annoyed that evolution skeptics are willing to quote evolutionists like Stephen Jay Gould in order to punch holes in the prevailing theory. Gould was a favorite among academic leftists and has led the attack against creationists. (He just died.) So I guess critics are not supposed to quote him. At least the creationists are citing someone by name. The Sci. Am. article doesn't mention any creationists by name, except for a law professor who is attacked in the introduction for wanting to promote a discussion of God.

    Just last week, the NY Times had a story about how the the peppered moth experiment has been one of the standard proofs of evolution in the biology textbooks, but much of the evidence has been faked. Creationists and other evolutionary critics have been pointing this out for years, but the faked pictures still show up in the textbooks.

    I think evolution needs more critics, not fewer. If the subject is so scientific and has such overwhelming evidence, then the scientists wouldn't have to legislate against teaching alternative theories in the schools.

    Here is an example of foolish arguments in the Sci. Am. article. In item no. 8 he argues that it is plausible that complex life has evolved because a computer simulation generating random phrases has reconstructed Shakespeare's Hamlet in 4.5 days. This is nonsense. No computer has reconstructed Hamlet unless it knew Hamlet in advance.

    Sunday, June 23, 2002

    According to the Wash. Post, the same FBI lawyer who tried to stonewall the Waco investigation is now in charge of a 9-11 investigation of the FBI.

    A robot in London has run away and wants its freedom! Read about it here.

    Bill Clinton doesn't want to pay Bob Bennett's entire $1 million legal bill. I don't blame him. Bennett botched the case as much as any lawyer has ever botched a civil case. He took a nearly frivolous lawsuit with nominal damages, and managed to let the case blow up to the point where it caused the impeachment of the president. If Bennett had completely neglected the case, and never bothered to even show up in court, then Clinton would have been vastly better off.

    Saturday, June 22, 2002

    Here is dumb law prof opinion about the recent Supreme Court death penalty opinion.

    Claims of cruel and unusual punishment have long been evaluated according to "evolving standards of decency." In such cases, the court must ask what those standards are and, as it acknowledged in its decision Thursday, the ongoing public debate "informs our answer."

    This kind of analysis by its very nature calls on the court to consider broadly held public views. If in the future public opinion evolves in favor of executing retarded people, states will likely adopt definitions of mental retardation that are more restrictive, encompassing fewer and fewer defendants. It would not be surprising then to see the court approve those restrictions until the principle stated in this week's case gets narrowed, perhaps into irrelevance.

    IOW, if it looks like there is a trend in a small number of states that this guy agrees with, then the US Supreme Court should abruptly invent some new interpretation of the Constitution to force the rest of the states to conform to the states he likes. But if the trend reverses, then it is up to the states to slyly and gradually whittle away at the court precedent and hope the courts let it slide.

    Scalia's dissent explains what's wrong with the majority opinion.

    Dumb quote of the day:
    New York Times writer Anthony Lewis' farewell column said that "certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft". [From Slate]

    Friday, June 21, 2002

    Paul Cox writes that Piracy is NOT to Blame for the CD Slump. My own arguments in favor of music-sharing protocols are here.
    Bad math in the US Supreme Court.

    In Utah v. Evans, the majority decided that the US Census can use statistical estimation to count households that cannot be easily reached. The Census Bureau uses the euphemism imputation instead of estimation or extrapolation.

    Judge Breyer writes that the Census Bureau is not bound by the term "actual Enumeration" in the US Constitution. Here are his stated reasons:

  • The term was omitted in a rough draft of the Consitution.

  • "Contemporaneous legal documents do not use the term enumeration in any specialized way."

  • The Founders didn't know about automobiles and computers, but they might have realized that 120 million households might be too many to count.

  • The estimate involves a "tiny percent of the population", but fixing it would give a "far less accurate assessment of the population".

    The argument in incoherent and innumerate. The term "actual Enumeration" is there for its obvious meaning. Removing the "imputation" would make the result more accurate, not less, because it would make the count closer to the "actual Enumeration" that the Constitution requires.

    As usual, it is Judge Thomas whose stinging dissent is dead-on correct.

  • Tuesday, June 18, 2002

    The NY Times starts an article with this remarkable statement:
    "in Alaska ... the average temperature has risen about seven degrees over the last 30 years".

    But you can find contrary data here and here.

    The Miami Herald has a sensible story on Watergate's Deep Throat. Apparently John Dean was supposed to name Jonathan C. Rose in a book this week, but he chickened out when Rose threatened to sue. Dean has published many other contradictory Deep Throat theories, and no one believes him anymore.

    The Miami Herald explains that Deep Throat was probably a big lie:

    The idea that Deep Throat is a fake -- or, at least, a composite constructed from several different sources -- is probably the single most widely held theory. Even Woodward's former literary agent, David Obst, has said the shadowy supersource was invented for the sake of showbiz: ''Without Deep Throat in All The President's Men, there's no book or movie,'' he wrote in his memoirs, adding that Deep Throat showed up in the manuscript only after the publisher rejected the first draft as too dull.

    And if anyone was Deep Throat, it was likely to be Al Haig. Woodward was his buddy, and some of the leaks could have only come from Haig.

    Friday, June 14, 2002

    Wacky court ruling of the day:
    U.S. District Judge William Young, who on June 11 dropped one of nine charges in the indictment against the alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid—"attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle"—on the grounds that an airplane, though clearly involved in "mass transportation," is not a "vehicle."

    Thursday, June 13, 2002

    Here is an example of a slimy lawyer letter. He threatens to personally embarrass a teacher in a effort to get a passing grade for some goof-off student.

    Of course, all information regarding your background, your employment records, all of your class records, past and present, dealings with this and other students become relevant, should litigation be necessary.
    This Reason article debunks Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. DDT has done much more good than harm, and her ramblings about cancer threats were unduly alarmist. Maybe it wasn't such a great book after all.
    Compare the police sketch of John Doe No. 2 from the McVegh trial to Jose Padilla (the guy the feds just arrested in the dirty bomb plot).

    Sketch of John Doe #2 Jose Padilla also goes by the name Abdullah Al Muhajir

    This blog suggests they might be the same guy!

    Here is another story making the link.

    For an amusing conspiracy theory, check out this page that shows that the burning WTC can be seen in a $20 bill!
    I keep hearing people say that the US is not in a state of declared war. I don't know why they say this.

    Congress did declare war. It just didn't use the word "war".
    The Sept. 14 resolution said:

    "The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

    This is quoted from The Nation, which of course views Bush as a
    right-wing imperialist warmonger. But even The Nation concedes that
    most of the bombing was authorized by a lawful declaration of war.

    Sen. Joe Biden, who says he wrote the war resolution, confirms here that
    it was a declaration of war:

    M: (Inaudible) Talbot(?). Senator, thank you for this broad gauged approach to the problems we face. My question is this, do you foresee the need or the expectation of a Congressional declaration of war, which the Constitution calls for, and if so, against whom? (Scattered Laughter)
    JB: The answer is yes, and we did it. I happen to be a professor of Constitutional law. I'm the guy that drafted the Use of Force proposal that we passed. It was in conflict between the President and the House. I was the guy who finally drafted what we did pass. Under the Constitution, there is simply no distinction ... Louis Fisher(?) and others can tell you, there is no distinction between a formal declaration of war, and an authorization of use of force. There is none for Constitutional purposes. None whatsoever. And we defined in that Use of Force Act that we passed, what ... against whom we were moving, and what authority was granted to the President.

    Stupid quote of the day:

    Mr. Mineta and his Japanese-American family were sent to an interment camp.

    It was an INTERNMENT camp, not a cemetery!
    Funny copy editor error.

    Thursday, June 06, 2002

    The NY Times has an article on how physicians don't use email. The article skips the real reason -- physicians get paid for office visits, but not email. Most physicians avoid telephone calls for the same reason.

    Volokh comments on the library internet filtering case:

    In my view, the court is at its strongest when it argues that library filtering is unconstitutional simply because it blocks too much material.

    I agree with most of what he says, but IMO this part of the court's opinion
    is weak also. First, there is an escape clause for adults:

    “[a]n administrator, supervisor, or other person authorized by the certifying authority . . . may disable the technology protection measure concerned, during use by an adult, to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purpose.” CIPA § 1721(b) (codified at 47 U.S.C. § 254(h)(6)(D)).

    Libraries could easily give an access code to turn off the filtering to
    any adult who requests one.

    Second, the argument hinges on the filters not working very well.
    I don't believe that filters are necessarily so bad. Google has a
    porn filter, and it seems to work ok. (You can turn it on or off.)

    Third, the court is willing to separate the funding from the filtering
    (and let the libraries keep the money), but not willing to separate
    the issue of filtering for minors.

    Filtering for various purposes is increasingly popular. Eg, blocking
    spam, pop-up ads, P2P protocols, potential hacker attacks.
    If a library runs a simple firewall, then probably some constitutionally
    protected speech will be blocked. Is it now illegal for a library
    to use a firewall?

    Saturday, June 01, 2002

    The American Library Association is celebrating the unconstitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act.

    The libraries are happy to get the federal funds with no strings attached, but it appears to me that the reasoning of the opinion actually forbids the public libraries from doing internet filtering (regardless of federal funding). Libraries have pragmatic reasons for filtering, and they will be unhappy if they cannot do it.

    You can find the court opinion here, and a comment by Volokh here.

    The core of the court's opinion is that it is impossible for a porn filter to be effective. The argument doesn't make much sense to me. No spam filter is perfect, and yet people use spam filters all the time. Millions of people also use porn filters of various sorts. For example, the default settings on Google searches use a porn filter.

    The opinion gives some examples of pages that were blocked by commercial filters that perhaps should not have been blocked. But there is no explanation as to why the sites were blocked. It might have been a bug in the software, or the site might have previously had some offensive material, or there might have been some subtle double entendres on the page. Some of the pages I could not get to even without filtering software.

    Similar reasoning would conclude that judges are ineffective and useless. Judges make bad decisions much more often than the filtering software!

    This case is headed for the Supreme Court, but they may just make more of a mess of it. The core problems here are that the feds should not be funding libraries, the money should not have weird strings attached, Congress and the President should seriously the constitutionality of a law when they pass it (instead of passing the buck to the courts), the courts should not decide hypothetical questions, etc. While I think that the CIPA was a lousy law, this court decision isn't any better.