Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Put your toddler in a strait-jacket! Weekly World News
The medical establishment, ethicists, etc. are quick to denounce reproductive cloning and obviously immoral, but to distinguish therapeutic cloning as vitally important and worthwhile research.

I don't buy it. Reproductive cloning produces real human people. They are just like twins reared apart. It will never be more than a fringe activity for rich people with peculiar needs, like in vitro fertilization. I don't see anything wrong with it. The impact on society is completely negligible. It can have an impact on the parties involved, but they know what they are doing and are free to reproduce as they wish.

Somehow the thought of clones brings out wacky thought in people. They say that the clones won't have souls, or worry that someone might clone Hitler and he might try to take over the world again!

But therapeutic clones raises much more troubling issues.It offers the possibility of raising a race of subhuman babies for the purpose of harvesting organs and discarding the rest. Some of the animal experiments with therapeutic cloning would be extremely troubling to ethicists if they were done on people. Andy they'd have to be done on a large scale if they were to have any significant medical benefit to society.

Another set of dubious experiments involves mixing human embryos with other species. It may be possible to construct an animal that is part man and part pig. If the animal turns out to be all pig except for a human liver, then maybe it would be useful for a liver transplant. But what if it turns out to be all pig except for a human brain? Such an outcome is possible if they start mixing undifferentiated embryonic cells.

Reuters says that the State Dept. doesn't know whether it should issue a passport to the clone baby (if indeed a clone baby was born to an American mother).
John sends this article on how Microsoft claims that Lindows violated its Windows trademark. Lindows is sort of a Linux windows software product. Normally big company trademarks are quite secure, but windows is a fairly generic term. It was used to describe other products that show windows on the screen before Microsoft's product, and it continues for that purpose.
John sends this WorldNetDaily article about a possible US national ID card, and how it would have to be linked to a national database to be useful. Canada has had such a national database for 30 years, and it is worth looking at how well it works there.

Monday, December 30, 2002

(Exchange on immigration with John and Andy was moved to Jan. 1, 2003 because of server errors.)
This UK BBC story says that kids learn less in school when computers are involved. The UK schools have spent a lot of money on putting computers in schools, and now they think it was wasted.
John sends this story about Canadians protesting gun registration.
I just heard the authors (Miele and Jensen) of a new book on intelligence and genetics interviewed on the local NPR affilliate. A couple of callers were offended by the topic, but the authors rebutted the callers well. I don't think that there is much serious academic dispute about what Jensen says. One caller said that the Nazis used IQ tests, and we should learn that lesson and avoid them. Jensen said that the term "IQ" was actually coined by a German Jew in the 1930s, and that Hitler hated IQ tests because they failed to prove Jews inferior.

Another potentially controversial new book on a related topic is The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker. It says that certain instincts are inherited, and hardwired in the brain.

Links to both books are here.
This Sex star is ok after a puck in the face. No, it is not a typo or a euphemism.
This story tells more of the Raelians attitudes towards sex. Their cloned baby claims look like a big publicity stunt.
WSJ editorial page editor Max Boot complains that people call him a neocon. Boot came to the USA from Russia in 1976 when he was 7 years old. The WSJ promotes war at every opportunity. What does he expect? The WSJ consistently plugs neoconservative interests. The more traditional conservatives (like paleocons) were not such warmongers.
I don't see how a man can be prosecuted for the sex abuse of a minor unless there is some real minor involved. There have been a number of stories about police entrapment schemes that send some man to jail by enticing him with a story about a phony minor. This story says a Kansas man has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for planning to rape a child who doesn't exist.
This law.com article explains the govt vaccine injury compensation system (VICP).
John sends this LA Times story that you can now get a second medical opinion online. It's not cheap -- $500 to $1000 and insurance does not pay.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

The TV 60 Minutes had a segment on the supposed US nursing shortage. So recruiters are looking to other countries, like S. Africa. The explanation, according to the show, is that real wages for nurses have declined.

This is not a shortage. It is simple supply and demand. There are plenty of nurses for any hospital that wants to pay the money. The health care providers just argue that there is a shortage to excuse importing cheap labor from overseas.

A recent BMJ article says that nurses spend a lot of their time doing non-nursing tasks. Recruiting more nurses might just lower morale by making them do more non-nursing tasks.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Some base jumpers parachuted from the top of the world's tallest building in Malaysia. Except that the world's tallest building is really the Sears Tower in Chicago. The Sears Tower has a higher top floor, a higher roof, and a higher antenna. The Malaysian building is only a little taller if compare the top of its spire to the roof of the Sears Tower.

Update: Charlie writes: "Let the damn Malaysians claim the record. Being known as the tallest building in the world is like painting a target on the thing...."
This NY Times obituary of Cyrus Vance tells the story of how he resigned as Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter. He was opposed in principle to a rescue of hostages. His assistant Warren Christopher was just as bad, and later served under Clinton. Bush's team is much better.
I did a survey of pop music on local radio stations. Here is what I found:
288Dixie ChicksLandslide
251SantanaThe Game Of Love
213No DoubtUnderneath It All
209Vanessa CarltonA Thousand Miles
201John MayerYour Body Is A Wonderland
182Mark Wills19 Something
181SeetherFine Again
163Avril LavigneComplicated
1633 Doors DownWhen I'm Gone
162Christina AguileraBeautiful
160Terri ClarkI Just Want To Be Mad
154Matchbox TwentyDisease
153Tori AmosA Sorta Fairytale
151Five For FightingSuperman
148Jack JohnsonFlake
143Tim McgrawRed Ragtop
142John MayerNo Such Thing
138Brad PaisleyI Wish You'd Stay
136George StraitShe'll Leave You With A Smile
135TrainDrops Of Jupiter
George writes:
You defend C.T. Sell as if he were a political prisoner. He threatened to kill some FBI agents. He is insane, and he is being given medicine for his own good. He is not competent to make medical decisions for himself.

The rationale for drugging is not that it is punishment for threatening to kill FBI agents, or even for his own good. Those arguments wouldn't fly. The feds want to drug him in order to suppress his (alleged) paranoid delusions for the duration of the trial.

Sell apparently made some intemperate remarks to some govt agents while being arrested. Most people probably would if they were about to be locked up without trial in a mental institution for 5 years. The judge who ordered the drugging did not take the threats seriously.

What is really strange is that the media has treated the Sell matter as racial. The NY Times said:
The case of Dr. Sell first came to national attention in early 2001 when John Ashcroft, formerly a senator from Missouri, was seeking confirmation as attorney general and there were reports that as senator, he had once met briefly with Thomas S. Bugel, a friend of Dr. Sell, who was asking the Missouri Congressional delegation to look into accusations Dr. Sell had been abused in prison.

Here is a Salon magazine attack on Ashcroft from Jan. 2001. It implies that Ashcroft is an extremist and a racist for listening to Sell's story for 10 minutes. The case has nothing to do with race. It is about drugging nonviolent defendants.

The crucial facts here are:

  • Sell has not been found guilty of anything.
  • Sell has been held 5 years without trial for financial irregularities
    that would have a maximum sentence of 3 years if convicted.
  • Sell has not been found to be a threat to himself or others.
  • The feds want to forcibly drug Sell because he allegedly has paranoid
    anti-govt delusions.

Drugging Sell would set a precedent that would allow the feds to forcibly drug other peaceful protesters.

Sell's US Supreme Court brief and some other links are here.
Andy writes that conservatives should be pro-immigration.

With no immigration controls at all, we might have 50M immigrants a year for several years. No one wants that. Nearly everyone (except perhaps a few fringe libertarians) thinks that there should be limits on immigration. The only debate is over what those limits are.

Currently, USA policy results in about 1M legal immigrants a year, and about 1M illegals. (John, are these numbers about right?) These numbers are about like tax revenues that can be adjusted upwards or downwards by trivial changes in gubmnt policy. Our elected officials decide how much tax revenues and immigrants we want, and that is what we get.

Someone who is anti-immigration is someone who thinks that those limits are too high right now. Andy, if you are pro-immigration, what does that mean? That you want the limits raised? Or that the gubmnt has already found the optimal level for immigration?

I say that the current level are much higher than most people want. They are kept high by 2 causes: (1) special interests who want high immigration, such as businesses who want cheap labor, and (2) inaction by politicians sensitive to being called racist.

The pro-immigration folks are unable or unwilling to justify the current immigration levels. Where are the benefits to offset the drawbacks documented in Malkin's book?
John sends this NY Times article on how some people think that the word internet should be spelled with a lowercase i. I agree. I have spelled it in lowercase for years. Those who capitalize it appear to be under a mistaken impression that the internet is some sort of brand name or proper noun or commercial product. It is really just an amorphous set of connections and public domain protocols that are used to communicate between different computer networks.

One sentence that took me aback was: "Whether you use a cap I or little I is macht nicht," the German term for bupkis.

Ok, but what is the English word for bupkis? 'Bupkis' is a Yiddish word that means "large beans".

Friday, December 27, 2002

I just learned the following.

  • We have had periodic ice ages for only about the last 2.5M years. I had assumed that they have been going on for billions of years.
  • Ice ages can occur suddenly, in perhaps 10 or 20 years.
  • North and South American were disconnected until about 2.5M years ago, and ocean currents flowed thru what is now Panama. Closing this (natural) Panama canal may have been what made the Earth's climate unstable.
  • Hominids (human ancestory) just started to make stone tools and acquire intelligence about 2.5M years ago. Some people think that this is not a coincidence.
The Ohio supreme court said that a plaintiff with a $30M windfall must donate 2/3 of it to a cancer charity. This judicial activism is wrong. It is the legislature that should limit punitive damage awards. I can understand punishing the insurance company, but we really need a law that says that punitive damages goto the govt.
I signed up for MCI phone about 6 weeks ago. About 5 weeks later, they finally connected my service. I just got my first bill -- for one day of service! $3.33 for the day, plus $8.30 in taxes and surcharges. I think that they are crooks. I ordered service by the month, and they never told me what these taxes and surcharges would be. For info on MCI price gouging, see Bye-Bye MCI.
Some conspiracy theorist lists Seventeen Techniques for Truth Suppression.
If you have fallen behind on your space stories, this list has a few you might have missed in 2002. A great space site is the Astronomy Picture of the Day.
Why do people keep saying that Trent Lott resigned? Lott was not the Senate Majority Leader. Lott had polled enough support to get elected when the new Senate takes office on Jan. 6, but the election had not taken place yet. All Lott did was to withdraw his candidacy for the Jan. 6 election.
You might think that privatization of essential utilities is something that only wealthy communities in First World countries could afford. According to this (pdf) paper, it has saved a lot of lives in dirt-poor areas of Argentina.
The top selling business book for the past 3 years has been Who Moved My Cheese. At 12M copies sold, it has outsold The One Minute Manager, the previous champ. Other recent business books are not even close. It is also a silly children's book that no self-respecting adult would admit to reading.
Andy writes:
John wrote, "Andy has repeatedly warned about Ashcroft using his powers (under the USA PATRIOT Act, etc.) to harass 'law-abiding citizens.'"

It's not just me. Many grassroots conservatives are still outraged by the USA PATRIOT Act. My class of 20 high school conservatives, on their own, complained about these federal database and surveillance powers. Bush/Ashcroft have seized new domestic powers, and no one doubts that they will inevitably be used.

As to immigration itself, I surprisingly find that the issue does not resonate well with young conservatives. While my class is as conservative a group that anyone will find, they oppose substantially reducing immigration. And many people who want to eliminate immigration are not really conservative. Historically, the anti-immigration party of the 1850s, the "Know-Nothing Party," lacked a consensus on domestic issues like slavery and quickly disintegrated.

I do think the immigration issue is important, but domestic manifestations of it (like English language, education, freedom for law-abiding citizens) are worth emphasizing. They may resonate better among conservative activists than calls for Bigger Government to reduce immigration, which is what John seems to be suggesting.

This ACLU tirade lists people who supposedly had their rights violated after 9/11. For the most part, they are immigrants who suffered some trivial inconvenience. Where is the example of an outrageous violation under the USA Patriot Act? I don't see it.

Here is another anti-USAPA rant. There are some minor USAPA clauses that I disagree, but for the most part it is a law that lets the FBI browse the web and question suspicious immigrants. I don't see a big problem. And I resent these ACLU-types who don't think that an immigrant from Yemen should ever be asked some questions from the FBI.

Those teenagers are just reciting what they've been told.

John replies:
Please cite a specific example of new domestic powers that are being or will inevitably be used against law-abiding U.S. citizens.

Since the last sentence is self-contradictory, we obviously need a new course in order to educate your young conservative students about the critical importance of the immigration issue.

Immigration cuts across party lines. So what? There are other such issues - gun control, the Middle East - where people who share a point of view on one issue "lack[] a consensus" on other domestic issues.

At the grassroots, the vast majority of people (on both sides) see immigration and its "domestic manifestations" as one and the same issue. Only the small group of extraordinarily influential neocons have tried to advance the incoherent and unsustainable argument that we can reverse those "domestic manifestations" without reversing our current policy of unrestricted open immigration.

The current INS budget is only $6 billion, which is less than 1/3 of 1% of the federal budget. It could increase its budget 10-fold and be entirely self-supporting by raising the fees immigrants are charged.

Bigger government at the border is the only alternative to bigger government everywhere inside the U.S. That may be a hard lesson for some business-oriented conservatives to learn.
John writes:
Andy has repeatedly warned about Ashcroft using his powers (under the USA PATRIOT Act, etc.) to harass "law-abiding citizens."
I think everyone detained by Ashcroft since 9/11 have been NOT law-abiding and NOT citizens (of the U.S. anyway). And that is where the protests seem to be coming from.
Here is a good example: a lawsuit just filed against Ashcroft's policies which openly declares that it is filed on behalf of non-U.S. citizens.
The plaintiffs claim they are "law-abiding people," but in fact, only people without proper visas were detained.

I didn't know that there are technological reasons for DVD players being lousy CD music players. Fortunately, most of the new DVD players now play MP3 files, so maybe it doesn't matter to me. I assume that when the player plays an MP3, the quality is limited mainly by the compression and bit rate of the MP3.
Back from vacation. The kids had a White Christmas Back East. Highlights: they got to ice skate while it was snowing, ride a sled down a hill, show off a few stunts they learned (such as a sassy walk), and get lots of presents from grandparents eager to spoil them.
A recent JAMA article attempts to summarize "Current Controversies in Vaccination: Vaccine Safety". (If you have a paid subscription, you can access it here.) It doesn't mention big controversies like smallpox, but appears intended to rebut criticism of the routing pediatric vaccination program. The intended audience is pediatricians who might face controversy in their practices.

You would expect an article like this to honestly list the controversies so that clinicians can deal with them. But every single is so spun with official propaganda that it would be hard for the casual reader to figure out what the issue is.

Eg, it says, "The ACIP includes representation from pediatric and general medical organizations and community advocates." The ACIP is the federal committee chiefly responsible for setting the official vaccine schedule, and has been widely criticized for financial conflicts of interest, secretive meetings, flawed decision-making, and lack of public accountability. There are no "community advocates" on the ACIP. They are mostly drug industry lackeys and vaccine researchers.

The article states that "the risks of moderate-to-severe vaccine reactions are weighed against the benefits that vaccines produce ...", and then cites a CDC web page comparing the "risk of disease vs risk from vaccines". This comparison is fallacious. Smallpox has a high risk of death while the smallpox vaccine has a low risk of death. So does that tell us how to weigh the risk/benefit of smallpox vaccine? No, it does not, because it does not figure in the risk of getting smallpox. The risk of getting smallpox is probably extremely small, but the medical authorities really don't know because no one knows the capabilities of enemy countries and terrorists.

As the article mentions, US pediatric vaccination rates are at an all-time high (roughly 98% compliance), and criticism of vaccine policy comes from a small and vocal minority.

Here is a list of sites with contrasting views. The JAMA article does not even scratch the surface of the reasons for some people having skepticism. Since it didn't really explain the controversies, it ought to have at least included a reference to a vaccine policy critic. Of the 30 references, only 2 suggest vaccine problems that might imply that the official vaccine schedule is not what it ought to be.

I get skeptical when I see major medical journals like JAMA attempt to whitewash controversies like this. The vaccine authorities have done a pretty good job, but time and time again the critics have proven them wrong about some aspect of vaccine policy. The authorities are intolerant of any dissent. I have to figure that they know the critics have some very strong points, and they want to quash the critics before they get any significant influence.
John doubts that democracy is possible in Iraq. He emphasizes this factoid: most Iraqi marry their first cousins. The country is sharply fragmented into many clans with much hope that the different clans will achieve the sort of political consensuses that are necessary for democracy. I said that a lot of countries around the world are that way, and John replied that those other countries are not suitable for democracy either.
This article says the outlook for US engineers is bleak. The number entering the profession is declining. Part of the problem is the import of cheap foreign labor:
Adding to the frustration of some engineers are the numbers of foreigners competing for jobs. In 2000, near the end of the high-tech boom, industry CEOs convinced Congress to nearly double the number of H-1B visas, allowing up to 195,000 skilled workers from India and elsewhere into the US. Some engineers contend that those CEOs kept many of those H-1B workers while cutting higher-paid US citizens.
"About 80,0000 engineers were unemployed a few months ago. If you take out the H-1Bs who came in, you'd have jobs for all of them," the IEEE-USA's Bryant says.
The feds decided to let convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick renew his ham radio license. The NY Times has an AP story. I guess the NY Times is too embarrassed to cover this story itself. It was the NY Times that created a myth about how dangerous Mitnick was. As a result of NY Times stories, he was considered "the most wanted computer criminal in U.S. history". But it is hard to get an explanation of just what he did that was criminal.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

John sends this NY Times story about how the feds are trying to force Charles T. Sell to take psychiatric drugs in order to stand trial. He is a dentist who is accused of overbilling Medicare. He has already served 4 years in prison, even tho the maximum sentence is 3 years. The NY Times reports that Sell may have been tortured in prison. The idea is that some experimental psychiatric drugs might make him competent to stand trial. Federal shrinks say he suffers from a "delusional disorder of the persecutory type." IOW, he thinks that the feds are out to get him, and the feds are going to drug him until he changes his mind.

For more info, see the Eagle Forum brief. Here is another amicus brief in support of Sell. The Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics calls this case the “Roe v. Wade of the mind”, because they think that it could establish freedom for the mind in the same way that Roe v. Wade established freedom for the human body.

The case has been used repeatedly to smear US AG John Ashcroft. Eg, just a few days ago, a Newsday article started:
When he was a U.S. senator from Missouri, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft praised Rebel leaders of the Civil War in the pro-Confederate Southern Partisan magazine, accepted a diploma from the racially discriminatory Bob Jones University and met with a leader of the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens.
As the NY Times article explains, Ashcroft met with a friend of Sell for 15 minutes for the sole purpose of listening to a request for help in releasing the videotapes of Sell being tortured while in a federal psychiatric prison. Sell's friend had also been a member of the St. Louis School Board and actively opposed forced racial school busing. Sell and his friend were also apparently members of the C. of C.C., which takes a number of political stands including opposition to forced school busing and other racially charged issues.

It is unlikely that Ashcroft knew of this obscure connection between Sell and racial issues at the time of the meeting. He was just listening to a constituent ask for some help in dealing with the federal bureaucracy. Senators and Congressmen do this all the time.

Ashcroft is going to be blamed for being on both sides of the Sell issue. He got blamed for considering helping Sell when Sell was a poor defenseless lunatic in federal prison. Now, I predict that the US Supreme Court will rule sharply against the forced psychiatric drugging of nonviolent defendants like Sell, and Sell will become a hero to political prisoners everywhere. Sell deserves a lot of credit for refusing to take the drugs and plead guilty when he was told that it was the only way he'd ever get out of prison. Liberals will praise the Supreme Court decision, and slam Ashcroft for defending the federal govt's position in the matter.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

This report says:
a coalition of academics and electronics combine are designing an optical disk that will eventually be able to store 1.5TB (terabytes) of data.
Although we're unlikely to see such devices until 2010, the consortium, which includes Matsushita, Ricoh, Pioneer, Mitsubishi, and three universities, is plunging $25 million into an R&D project which will start in Spring of 2003.
Reports said that optical disk will use "3D" optical technology likely to use a technique which stores the data in multiple layers.
It will also be backwards compatible with standard DVDs, the reports said, with its storage ability equivalent to around 300 DVDs using the current format.
* BY 2010, according to senior Intel architects, a CPU will have processing power equivalent to the brain of a bumble bee.

Sounds great to me.
NJ has passed a smart gun law. These laws are very silly. Most gun owners are extremely safety conscious, and will gladly replace their gun with a more expensive one if it is safer. This law wants guns that are safer in a way that no one has figured out yet. If the legislators want safer guns, maybe they should look at the types of guns that police departments buy. Police departments are not likely to want so-called "smart guns" anytime soon, because they will be more dangerous.

Monday, December 23, 2002

NYTimes says school textbooks are too heavy, and backpacks are overloaded. California has passed a weight limit for textbooks, starting in 2004. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that schools are abolishing lockers, so students have to take all their books to and from school every day.

Textbooks have also gotten expensive. Are they any better? I doubt it. The textbook publishers keep changing the textbooks, in order to keep up with state education demands, and to stay trends. The changes also kill the used book market.

There ought to be a better way. People could develop public domain textbook materials to cover most of what students need, and put them on the internet.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

After being re-elected governor of Calif., Gray Davis admitted that the state deficit is $34.8B instead of $21B. Now the state bond rating has sunk to the lowest of all 50 states, tied only with Louisiana.
Davis has surely wasted more money than any governor in history. Calif had a big surplus when he took office.
This WashPost story tells about efforts to shut down Kazaa in various countries. Kazaa is an internet search tools that is often used to share music, videos, pictures, and books. It upsets the business models of the big entertainment companies, and they are suing. But the principals are located in Netherlands, Estonia, Australia, and Vanatu. The entertainment companies might wish that they had cut a deal with Napster, because Napster operated on central servers in the US and could be monitored. Kazaa does not use a central server. Also, most of the Kazaa users have actually switched to an ad-free ripoff called Kazaa-Lite, and no one knows who is responsible for that, except that he goes by the Russian name Yuri.

Here are my reasons for thinking that Napster-like programs are a good thing.
John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness Office has been under attack. The Mercury News reports that web activists are keeping an eye on him here. Poindexter's official site has been cutting back on the info it provides, but you can find the previous info mirrored here.
The story about (talk show host) Laura Schlessinger's mother being murdered is creepy. Apparently she was murdered in her apartment, and the body was found several weeks later. Dr. Laura announced the death on her radio show, and went on to bad-mouth her mother. Weird.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Forbes has a list of 85 great 20th century business innovations. A copy is below. Forbes also has a list of failures, like picture telephones and 3D movies.

1918Mass Spectrometer
1921Tetraethyl Lead
1923Business Management
1923Multiplane Camera
1924Frozen Food
1924Mutual Fund
1925Bell Telephone Laboratories
1926Rocket Engine
1929Synthetic Rubber
1930Jet Engine
1933Frequency Modulation
1934Value Investing
1935United Auto Workers
1937Pulse-Code Modulation
1937Blood Bank
1956Ampex VRX-1000
1956Containerized Shipping
1956Disk Drive
1956Fiber Optics
1958Implantable Pacemaker
1949Magnetic Core Memory
1950Diners Club Card
1951The Pill
1952Holiday Inn
1952The Conglomerate
1954Polio Vaccine
1955Fast Food
1959Integrated Circuit
1959Three-Point Seat Belt
1962Point-of-Sales Data
1962Telstar I
1964Mainframe Family
1969Automated Teller Machine
1969Charge-Coupled Device
1969The Internet
1970Compact Disc
1970Relational Database
1971Answering Machine
1939Automatic Transmission
1942Electronic Digital Computer
1945Nuclear Power
1947 Instant Photos
1947Cellular Phone
1947Microwave Oven
1972Computed Tomography Imaging
1972UNIX/C Programming
1973Discount Brokerage
1974Catalytic Converter
1974Index Fund
1976Personal Computer Chic
1976Recombinant DNA
1977Cash Management Accounts
1977Original-Issue Junk Bonds
1984Customized Mass Retail
1984Liquid Crystal Displays
1991World Wide Web
1995Internet Business
1995Protease Inhibitors
2000Automated Sequencing Machine

GW Bush is considering a new plan to give Social Security benefits to Mexicans who worked in the US as illegal aliens.
Important new scientific research, coming from England.
A study of the vital statistics of hundreds of Playboy centrefolds has revealed that female models are becoming less curvaceous.
Researchers in Toronto and Vienna studied 577 consecutive monthly issues of the magazine to compare models' measurements over nearly 50 years.
Playmates have become more boyish or androgynous, with smaller breasts and smaller hips in 2001 compared with 1953. They also weigh less than females in general.

Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore of Alabama sure is stubborn. This article mentions some of his goofy legal theories.
My telephone, electricity, and internet service providers are all bankrupt. So far, they are still functioning, except for occasional outages during recent California storms. Isn't Capitalism wonderful?

Thursday, December 19, 2002

John sends this Wash Post story about bloggers getting into trouble with their employers. Some of it seems a bit wacky to me. It says:
The same law that relates to publishing in the offline world, generally speaking, applies to material posted publicly on a Web log, ... Authors generally are obligated to publish as facts only what they believe to be true.

Huhh? What law says authors have to tell the truth? Many bloggers publish rumors, speculation, parody, fiction, hypotheticals, trial balloons, devil's arguments, and various other deviations from the honest media. The print media have been doing it for centuries. There is no legal obligation to tell the truth in a blog.
John responds to Andy:
John's entire argument rests on his premise that "the church is not liable for" what the priests did, "because the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply" and "only the abusive priests themselves could be civilly liable to their victims."

I can't imagine any litigator giving the Church such advice. Eventually a jury will hold the Church liable, and of course judgments will be in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. John's advice, if taken, would have bankrupted the Church long ago. Law (relying on counsel) probably saved the archdiocese hundred-million-dollar judgments, like that imposed against the diocese in Texas.

There is no case or precedent holding the church liable for a priest's misconduct in and of itself. All these cases rest their legal theory on misconduct by bishops, and they produced abundant evidence of such misconduct.

Note that under John's logic, any settlement by a defendant convinced of his innocent would prove his guilt. Asbestos settlements, insurance company settlements, etc., would all prove culpability under John's view. Not even Dr. Sell would plead guilty to get out of jail and avoid the dangerous drugging.

If the bishops had paid only a few private settlements of relatively small amounts while maintaining their innocence, you might have a point. But they have paid hundreds of secret settlements estimated to total $1 billion.

Andy it is just impossible to claim both that Law is innocent and also that it is reasonable and prudent for him to pay out the entire net worth of the diocese to settle claims - which, I repeat, are claims against him, not against his priests.

For the same reason, it has become impossible to defend Trent Lott. If Lott didn't say or do anything wrong, then what is he apologizing for and why is he abandoning long held Republican principles - even Judge Pickering?

John concludes, "I suspect Andy is irrationally driven to defend Law because Law is regarded as a "conservative" on what U.S. politics calls "social issues" (abortion, etc.) ...."
> Not really. My objection is to outsiders trying to dictate what an association (the Church) does. There's no standing or legitimate interest for such objections.

This is like saying the White House and grass-roots Republicans have no standing or legitimate interest in trying to dictate what an association of 51 members (the Senate Republican Conference) does about Trent Lott.

It is curious how anti-Catholic sentiment draws people to attack Cardinal Law. If, as they believe, the Church stands for nonsense, then why their great interest? I certainly have no interest in who heads the World Atheist League or Evolutionists for a Better Tomorrow.

Sure, anti-Catholics have piled on Cardinal Law, just as Trent Lott's enemies piled on him. But it was Law and Lott who gave ammunition and opportunity to their respective enemies.

Roger writes, "John nailed it. Law was paying out secret hush money in order to quiet claims against his own irresponsible management. ..."

Confidentiality is standard for every settlement. If an attorney settled one of these claims against the Church and did not ensure confidentiality, then he should be fired on the spot. Confidentiality hardly supports Roger's claim of misappropriation.

This could only be true if the claims were legally valid and the settlements paid were reasonable. But we know that many claims were not, in fact, legally valid and that the bishops paid money, not to "prudently and frugally" settle a valid claim, but solely to prevent scandal (i.e. save the bishop's reputation) by purchasing silence from prospective plaintiffs.

I agree with John. Law and Lott have demonstrated themselves so thoroughly unfit for any leadership position, that it is a wonder how they got there in the first place. The institutions that put them there need to be fixed.

Andy first excuses Law because he relied on shrinks; now it is because he relied on lawyers. Not sure which is worse. Either way, it is just more evidence of his unfitness for a position of responsibility. A prominent Catholic bishop should not have to ask a shrink or a lawyer what to do with a priest who is a child molester.

What's next -- Lott blaming his troubles on his speechwriter?

The Law settlements were just to conceal his own culpability, and were a wrongful use of Church money. The archdiocese could not have gotten big judgments against it. Mass. law limits liability for charitable organizations to $20k per claim.
Terminator 3 has a trailer available. It looks like a plot repeat. The friendly Schwarzenegger terminator battles a new improved female terminator. How boring. I figured that the movie would skip the time travel, and show the machines taking over the world, and the future battle led by John Connor against the machines.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The judge in the Barry Bonds record home run ball lawsuit couldn't make up his mind. He just ruled that the 2 fans fighting over the ball have to sell the ball and split the profits.

I thought that Popov deserved the ball. He caught the ball first, and only lost it because a crowd of people knocked him down and buried him. We don't know if Hayashi stole the ball from Popov, or was just the lucky recipient of the ball when it got knocked loose. Either, I say Popov got the ball first, and deserved to keep the ball.

Hayashi's best argument is that there is a baseball tradition of letting the final possessor of the ball keep it, even if there is a scuffle. But that unwritten rule was mainly for the convenience of stadium officials, who didn't want to arbitrate disputes. The Barry Bonds ball is unusual in that it is worth about $1M.

The judge acknowledged Popov had been "set upon by a gang of bandits who dislodged the ball." TV news video showed the ball in Popov's glove for at least six-tenths of a second before he was enveloped by a crowd. Both sides agreed the videotape showed the ball in Popov's glove.

Judge Kevin McCarthy is incompetent. It doesn't matter whether Hayashi was one of the bandits or not. Hayashi benefitted from the bandits.

George writes:
The judge did what he could under the circumstances. If he could, he might have taken the ball away from both of them for refusing to settle. If he gave the ball to Popov, then everyone who drops a foul ball will goto court. The decision was Solomon-like.

No, the decision was not Solomon-like. King Solomon's decision to cut the baby in half was a clever trick to get at the truth, and to award the dispute baby in its entirety to the rightful party. This ball decision is a cop-out. Why should Popov compromise with a thief? Yes, others who get robbed by a gang of bandits should be able to get a remedy from the courts. And it shouldn't take 15 months for the judge to decide, when everyone else was able to reach a conclusion after seeing a 10-second videotape. The trial told us nothing, except what was obvious the day of the Bonds home run.
John sends this story that the music labels have cut production by 25%. The RIAA has been complaining about how online piracy was costing sales.
After keeping the figure rather quiet for two years, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says the industry released around 27,000 titles in 2001, down from a peak of 38,900 in 1999. Since year-on-year unit sales have dropped a mere 10.3 per cent, it's clear that demand has held up extremely well: despite higher prices, consumers retain the CD buying habit.

CD sales were booming when Napster was at its peak. The case can be made that internet music sharing has boosted CD sales.

This site has some more RIAA stats, and some analysis. CD sales have roughtly tripled in the last 10 years. The music industry making money hand over fist, and has benefitted enormously from the internet. It complains because it wants total control over internet music, and it is not getting it (so far).
This NY Times article explains how millions of people are paying to avoid telemarketers. I was doing it myself -- paying about $8/month to block all callers who refuse to identify themselves. It was very effective. I'd only get maybe one telemarketer call per month. It works because the telemarketers hate to identify themselves. They usually want to lead you to believe that some reputable company is calling.

There are also gadgets like TeleZapper that work as well.

As the article explains, it is annoying to pay $8/month to the phone company to solve a problem that the phone company has created. Why can't the phone company have its own opt-in system?

Actually, avoiding telemarketers is not the main reason I had the service. I really got it to identify callers. I have no interest in taking calls from people who refuse to identify themselves. I can see why businesses might take anonymous calls, but why would individuals? I cannot think of a single time in which I wanted to take a call from an anonymous caller.

To identify callers, you need 3 things: Caller ID service from Ma Bell, a caller id phone or display, and a service or box to reject anonymous calls. The anonymous call rejection is needed because millions of Americans block their caller id, and many of them don't even realize it. With the fancier anonymous call rejection services, the caller has a chance to unblock or identify himself on the fly. Otherwise, the caller has to hang up, dial *82 to unblock caller id, and redial the number.

So why don't I have it anymore? I dropped Ma Bell, and switched to MCI for local and long distance service. It just has simple anonymous call rejection. It works ok so far, but it is too early to tell. Occasionally, an anonymous call slips thru. I'll probably get some complaints from people who have to dial *82, but why are they calling anonymously? I have yet to hear a good reason for anonymous calls (to private homes).
Here is a good pro-gun essay.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

John sends this article about scientists wanting to publish articles and put them in the public domain. This is a story about greedy publishers, but also a story about scientists who threaten to refuse to assign their copyrights, but fail to carry out their threats. In some fields, researchers do not assign exclusive copyright rights. The biology and medicine researchers need to wise up.
ElcomSoft was just found not guilty by a jury. Adobe should be ashamed of spearheading this prosecution. Adobe was mad at this Russian company for exposing some flaws in one of its products. John also sends this story.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Forbes and SpinSanity point out errors in M. Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine. SpinSanity agrees that the movie is not really pro-gun-control, as you'd expect, but a confusing mix of gripes about how the USA is not sufficiently leftist.

Here is another critic trying to make sense of the Movie:
Roughly put, Moore's argument is that because Canada has as many guns as we do, our gun violence problem can't be blamed on the accessibility of guns. The cause must lie elsewhere, and Moore points his finger at a sensationalist news media feeding a culture of violence and paranoia. In other words, Canadians and Americans both have guns, it's just that Americans are so scared of each other that we actually use them.

He goes on to explain how erroneous and incoherent Moore's movies are.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Al Gore is out, but I think he is just lying low and waiting for other Democratic candidates to screw up. Gore's poll numbers are terrible, so he has very little choice for now. He said that his candidacy would focus attention on the past, and he's right. A lot of voters would view it as a rematch of the 2000 election, and vote based on whether Bush stole the election. But I think that issue is a loser for Gore. A lot more people will think that Gore tried to steal the election.

Andy thinks that Lieberman is the front-runner. He may not hold up to scrutiny. Lieberman thinks that it is against his religion to work on Saturday. Don't we want a full-time president? What if a presidential decision has to be made on Saturday? If Lieberman and the others wash out, Gore will be back.
Fay Vincent, former MLB Commissioner, continues his personal vendetta against Pete Rose, one of the all-time great baseball players. His NY Times op-ed says:

The evidence collected by the commissioner's office — betting slips in Mr. Rose's handwriting, the testimony of his bookie — seemed overwhelming. Mr. Rose, the all-time leader in hits, had bet on his own team repeatedly. He committed baseball's capital crime. But Mr. Rose would admit nothing, so Bart was left with no choice. Mr. Rose was banished from the game and placed on the permanently ineligible list.
The statement is very unfair to Rose. Rose cooperated with the investigation, and admitted to having an extreme gambling habit, illegally betting on basketball and football, as well as various legal bets. See this FAQ for general info. He adamantly denied betting on baseball. Rose and the MLB Commissioner agreed to sort of a plea bargain in which Rose admitted that he did wrong and accepted being banned from baseball, but did not admit to betting on baseball.

Rose obviously thought that he'd be reinstated after a couple of years, because the Commissioner agreed not to pursue the allegation that he bet on baseball. But Commissioner Giamatti immediately reneged on the deal, claimed that he had proof that Rose bet on baseball, and died of a heart attack a few days later.

I think that Giamatti's friends are carrying out a vendetta against Rose because they blame him for killing Giamatti. Rose was not even accused of committing baseball's real capital crime, which is to deliberately throw a game. Everyone always said that played his best. Rose is not accused of betting against his own team, either. Pete Rose belongs in the hall of fame, and should not be blackballed by some petty league officials.
Andy reports that CBSNews.com says US Rep. Dick Armey is responsible for inserting the vaccine/thimerosal liability protection clause in the homeland security bill, as an apparent favor to Eli Lilly. John reports that Armey is also responsible for inserting another clause killing Operation Tips. Armey is retiring from Congress next month. (Thanks to John for a correction.)

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Andy writes:
The odds are 95% that the expected Rehnquist vacancy will be filled by one of these individuals (though not necessarily as Chief Justice). Because O'Connor is expected to step down soon, maybe simultaneously, I have compiled a separate list of 8 women for her seat. In building this list, I limited myself to candidates less than 60 years old (with one exception), and then eliminated obvious non-contenders.

These are GWB's most likely candidates, even if unacceptable to conservatives:

1. Al Gonzales (White House counsel, 47 yrs old)
2. Ted Olson (Solicitor General, 61 yrs old)
3. Emilio Garza (5th Cir., elevated by Bush Sr., 55 yrs old)
4. Michael Luttig (4th Cir., appointed by Bush Sr., 48 yrs old, father was murdered in famous case)

The following 11 candidates are longshots, but possible:

Dennis Jacobs (2nd Cir., appointed by Bush Sr., 58 yrs old)
Rhesa Barksdale (5th Cir., appointed by Bush Sr., male, 58 yrs old)
William Riley (8th Cir., appointed by GWB, 55 yrs old)
Michael Melloy (8th Cir., elevated by GWB, 54 yrs old)
Andrew Kleinfeld (9th Cir., elevated by Bush Sr., 57 yrs old)
Richard Clifton (9th Cir., appointed by GWB, 52 yrs old)
Harris Hartz (10th Cir., appointed by GWB, 55 yrs old)
Terrence O'Brien (10th Cir., appointed by GWB, 59 yrs old)
Stanley Birch (11th Cir., appointed by Bush Sr., 57 yrs old)
Edward Carnes (11th Cir., appointed by Bush Sr., 52 yrs old)
Joel Dubina (11th Cir., elevated by Bush Sr., 55 yrs old)
John Ashcroft (Attorney General, 59 yrs old)

The following 9 candidates are likely to be ignored by GWB, though some are the best judges in the nation:

Jeffrey Howard (1st Cir., appointed by GWB, 47 yrs old, from NH)
David Brooks Smith (3rd Cir., elevated by GWB, 51 yrs old)
Sam Alito (3rd Cir., appointed by Bush Sr., 52 yrs old)
James Harvie Wilkinson (4th Cir., 58 yrs old, appointed by Reagan)
Jerry Smith (5th Cir., appointed by Reagan, 56 yrs old)
Danny Boggs (6th Cir., appointed by Reagan, 58 yrs old)
Frank Easterbrook (7th Cir., appointed by Reagan, 54 yrs old)
Kenneth Ripple (7th Cir., appointed by Reagan, 59 yrs old)
James Edmondson (11th Cir., appointed by Reagan, 55 yrs old)

The next step is to compile and disseminate information about these candidates, and veto unacceptable ones. Had this been done before Souter was picked, for example, we would be in a much better situation today.

Liza wrote, "I can't believe Andy is defending Cardinal Law. Of course he had to go. It shouldn't have taken this long."

Your view that a cardinal, innocent of any intentional wrongdoing, "had to go" is a protestant-like approach. What else does the Church "have to do"? Allow priests to marry? Accept birth control? Women priests?

The Church reviewed the facts concerning Cardinal Law earlier in the year and concluded he should stay on. After all, there is no evidence that he intentionally committed any wrong.

The alarming development is that public pressure, mostly by people who oppose Catholic doctrine, caused the Church to cave in. Like Trent Lott's apologies, we'll see if Cardinal Law's resignation helps or hurts the Church.

What difference does it make whether Law was "innocent of any intentional wrongdoing"? Nobody cares about that. Maybe he is stupid. Maybe he is incompetent. Maybe he is irresponsible. Maybe he is a pervert. Maybe he is callous. Maybe he has a very twisted set of values. For whatever reasons, he was not doing the job adequately.

We don't know the reasons for the Church's decision to keep Law, so that tells us nothing.

Lott's apologies were particularly lame. Somebody in political leadership should have had the skills to handle it better.
This article summarizes various legal issue involving copyright law threatening our freedoms.
I just watched the Steven Spielburg mini-series finale Taken. It has all the usual silly alien cliches -- crash at Roswell, flying saucers, skinny hairless 3-fingered bug-eyed space aliens, bright lights, shape-shifters, ESP, telekinesis, abductions, hypnosis, breeding experiments, military coverups, evil govt personnel, transmitting brain implants, etc. In the end, a blond 9-year-old part-alien girl is smarter than the adults.

The space aliens were only interested in white people, it seemed. There were a bunch of black people in the show, but they were all dumb soldiers. One of the blacks was a general, but he was also pretty stupid. They are easily manipulated by the evil white people, and they keep trying to kidnap the part-alien kid even tho the aliens are protecting her. The one likable soldier is white.
Measles has been eradicated from the USA, but we still have minor outbreaks that are caused by immigrants. According to the CDC, there were 14 cases caused by American adoption of Chinese orphans. This makes no sense to me. Americans have to get measles vaccine to enter schools. Why aren't immigrants required to show proof of immunity before coming into the USA? I think that the priorities of the federal vaccine authorities is all wrong. The feds think that infection carrying foreigners have a right to bring their diseases into the USA, but healthy law-abiding Americans have no right to attend schools without a whole battery of unnecessary vaccinations. The current vaccine schedule requires at least 20 shots in the first 2 years of a baby's life, and each shot can have as many as 3 vaccines.

Meanwhile, Bush is ordering smallpox vaccinations in spite of the side effects. Japan has a much safer vaccine, but we won't be allowed to use it until 2004.
Andy writes:
Kissinger just resigned because he didn't want to disclose his "business" dealings.

Good thing mother attacked him during that tiny window when he was in power. FYI, mother's column was posted on Free Republic on 12/11 and it immediately inspired 55 messages. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/804861/posts

Only one was critical of the Kissinger reference, by an apparent liberal named "TopQuark" with a non-substantive posting. Unfortunately, physics departments are crawling with liberals these days. The academic field has been overtaken by politicized, speculative theories. Only engineering remains non-politicized.

Cardinal Law resigned today, and Trent Lott is being pushed to do so as well. What do they have in common? Both tossed fuel on the fire by repeatedly apologizing. In both instances, the apologies appear to have been huge mistakes.

Apologies may make sense on a personal level (though I can't think of a Biblical mandate for it), but in a political or legal context it is often a huge mistake. The public could easily misinterpret the headlines about Lott as follows: he's apologizing for being a racist! He damns himself simply by apologizing. In contrast, Nixon saved himself by standing up to his critics and refusing to return the dog (an improper gift) in the famous Checkers speech.

The ousting of Cardinal Law is a dreadful precedent for the Church, buckling under to pressure by the media and liberals. The headlines and articles talk about incriminating evidence concerning Law, but I can't find anything other than his reliance on experts, desire for rehabilitation and, underlying it all, general Church views towards forgiveness. Law's real mistake was to repeatedly apologize and offer $30M, which opened the floodgates.

The media's appetite is insatiable. If Law must leave because of poor management, must the Pope resign also? Must his replacement be someone who can handle public relations better?

John reports that the Bancroft Prize in history is being withdrawn from Bellesiles. Amazing. The book was anti-gun propaganda masquerading as history, and it was exposed as academic fraud.

Friday, December 13, 2002

I just ran WindowsUpdate to install some fixes to Msft bugs that allow intruders to seize my computer. To get the fix, I have to agree to a license agreement with some curious properties. First, Msft makes it very difficult to save the agreement for later viewing. It has specially rigged the dialog box so that I cannot copy and paste the text. Next, it has clauses like this:
You may not disclose the results of any benchmark test of the .NET framework component of the OS Components to any third party without Microsoft's prior written approval.
So if the fix causes my computer to be dog slow, I am prohibited from complaining about it on this blog! It also says, "All rights not expressly granted are reserved by Microsoft.

So Msft interprets the law to say that it is allowed to prohibit users from disclosing benchmark results. If so, then Msft presumably has the right to prohibit all sorts of criticisms. Since Msft has not granted me the right to criticize its product, then I guess Msft reserves that right. So I am violating the license agreement by writing this blog!

With the Msft antitrust trial wrapping up, I expect Msft to get bolder in how it tries to restrict users.
Resignations today from Cardinal Law, Henry Kissinger, and maybe Trent Lott. The news media has been piling on.

Michelle Malkin blasts Lott: "Both liberals and conservatives who are lambasting the vacant Lott as an unrepentant bigot give him too much credit, methinks."

Kissinger apparently didn't want to reveal the names of the foreign governments for which he works, and didn't want to face the critics who say he has spent his whole life covering up govt misbehavior.
John sends this SF CA article about how Pacific Bell (now part of SBC) DSL subscribers will be subject to Yahoo's invasions of privacy.

I have been trying to get rid of Pacific Bell/SBC for a while now. I signed up for MCI/WorldCom about a month ago, but it has failed to connect me so far. I'd rather get rid of the Bell monopoly. They don't even provide DSL in my area. SBC complains that it has to sell wholesale service to other firms like MCI/WorldCom at a loss in order to get into the lucrative long distance market. I very much doubt that SBC is selling anything for a loss, unless the loss is from SBC's mismanagement.
Here is a rant against Child Protective Services.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

The Dilbert newsletter reports these quotes:
"I may not be the brightest light in...the...light drawer!"
"The ball is in the other person's lap."
"That report reads like a bleached whale."
"That really burns my goat!"
"He had the eyes of a bat."
"A little hindsight is forethought."
"I don't feel like the sharpest button on the beach today."
"I just got my car fixed and it's runnin' like a dime."
"I won't cow-tail to anyone."
"She exaggerates EVERYTHING."
"That's going to be the gravy on the cake!"
"The Albatross of Damocles is hanging over your neck."
"There's more than one way to lick a cat."
"They've dumped you in the briar patch and told you to sink or swim."
"We have to make sure we're all swimming on the same page."
"We've got a cash cow that's turning into a dog that needs milking."

There are also some amusing stories.
John sends this article on how lawsuits have tried to stop US wars, but they have always failed, and will continue to fail. War is a political issue, and not one for the courts.
There are some new studies out about ritalin, a popular drug for attention-deficit disorder.

Insight mag says:
A study by scientists at the University at Buffalo has shown that Ritalin (methylphenidate) may cause long-term changes in the brain. Joan Baizer, professor of physiology and biophysics, and senior author of the study, reports, "When the active dose has worked its way through the system, they consider it all gone. Our research with gene expression in an animal model suggests that it has the potential for causing long-lasting changes in brain cell structure and function." The changes, according to Baizer, are similar to those seen with cocaine and other psychoactive drugs.

Another paper says:
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, some nine million American children take Ritalin each year, a stimulant used to help kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
But a growing number of studies suggest the medication may be doing something far more insidious.

A University of California at Berkeley researcher, Dr. Nadine Lambert, found that people who took Ritalin as a child were nearly twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as adults, and of that sample, were 18 times more likely to become cocaine abusers.

"There are two possible explanations," Lambert told The Her other thought was that kids who take Ritalin condition their brains to be "susceptible to other stimulants."

Either way, Lambert painted a grim picture for Ritalin users.
John sends this essay that summarizes and documents a number of inaccuracies in Judge Reinhardt's 9th Circuit anti-gun decision. The blogs have been piling on, and shown what a dishonest jerk Reinhardt is. The decision has blatant lies, and quotes that are snipped out of context so as to reverse the meaning of the quotes.

Predictably, the usual liberal newspapers have praised the decision.

The essay understates the case against Reinhardt. One little problem I have with the essay is that it says:
The problem with Judge Reinhardt's analysis is that the Miller Court's discussion clearly centered on whether a particular shotgun with specific dimensions (a sawed-off shotgun) had a relationship to the preservation of a well-regulated militia, with the answer being no. This is an exceedingly narrow ruling, ...

The ruling is actually narrower than that. The defendants did not show up, and did not present any arguments about usage of the gun in question. The court refused to take judicial notice on the matter, and remanded it to the lower court. Here is what the 1939 US v Miller decision says:
No appearance for appellees. ...
In the absence of any evidence ..., we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice ...
We are unable to accept the conclusion of the court below and the challenged judgment must be reversed. The cause will be remanded for further proceedings.

The idea here is that some people thought that a sawed-off shotgun is some sort of gangster gun that has no legitimate use. In reality, short-barrelled shotguns were used in World War I and the defendants might have presented such arguments, if they had bothered to show up. The court didn't know. (Most people don't know; even most gun enthusiasts don't know.) All the SC was saying was that the 2A does not protect guns that have no legitimate purpose. Charleton Heston and the NRA would agree.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Congress held some vaccine hearings. Listen here. (If trouble linking there with realaudio - go here and connect.) It has a lot of info about the govt vaccine program. You might not want to give your kids vaccines after learning more about the federal vaccine program.
Andy attacks Ashcroft for "his lack of any conservative initiative in nearly two years." John responds:
Lack of any conservative initiative?? What about his May 17, 2001 letter supporting the Second Amendment as an individual right (reproduced here with several typos corrected).

The highly publicized Ashcroft letter probably played a pivotal role in the 5th Circuit's long-delayed decision in U.S. v. Emerson, (see also NRA and SAF which the court finally released on Oct 16, 2001, 16 months after it was argued.

And what about his November 6, 2001 ruling that DEA-licensed physicians may not use controlled substances for assisted suicide in Oregon because assisting suicide can never be a "legitimate medical purpose". See also this memo.

And litigating the issue in Oregon v. Ashcroft which is now on appeal to the 9th Circuit; see DOJ and Amici briefs filed Sept 23, 2002.

Like the Second Amendment memo, Ashcroft's position on physician assisted suicide reversed a position taken by the Clinton Administration; for details, see Nat. Review and PCCEF.

Good points. I happen to like Ashcroft because he is as good as we are likely to see on some of my favorite issues, like guns, copyrights, and crypto.

Ashcroft's position on Oregon assisted suicide has infuriated liberals who call him a hypocrite because it seems like he is acting contrary to right wing federalism and following his own personal religious beliefs. But he is just enforcing the law that says that federal controlled substances are restricted to legitimate medical purpose. Allowing physicians to deliberately kill patients seems like a really bad idea to me. Oregon is doing the experiment, and we'll see how it works out. But in the mean time, there should be no support for it at the federal level.

Andy responds:
Though Ashcroft has been in power nearly two years, John only cited 2 conservative things he's done.

First, John cites Ashcroft's letter to the NRA, which had no more legal effect than a letter by you or me. (Oddly, it's posted on the EF website as a "statement" without a description of its context as a letter to the NRA.)

John claims conservatives won in the Emerson case because of this letter. In fact, Ashcroft's subordinates aggressively tried and convicted Emerson simply for owning a gun, and he now faces up to 5 years in jail. The Fifth Circuit decision said the federal govt can infringe on the right to own a gun. That decision is nothing to brag about.

Second, John cites Ashcroft's reinstatement of the original Clinton DEA position against doctors prescribing suicide meds. Then the district court judge in that case held against Ashcroft, and noted that he had abandoned an argument based on Justice Thomas' decision in Oakland Cannabis.

On the other side of the ledger? Here is just a partial list of harmful actions by Ashcroft/DOJ:

(1) keeping Clinton appointees in power to supervise and eviscerate investigations of Clinton/Gore scandals.
(2) siding against abortion protesters in Scheidler case argued a week ago (was there any objection by RNC for Life?!)
(3) greatly expanding DOJ power in connection with Patriot Act, databases, etc.
(4) telling agencies to oppose FOIA requests, promising full DOJ support for stonewalling.
(5) turning FBI loose to monitor peaceful gatherings, the internet, and political groups.
(6) arresting and imprisoning the Russian engineering at a scientific conference, invoking the dreadful DMCA.
(7) insisting on forcibly drugging Dr. Sell, and continuing to hold in jail (>5 yrs) w/out a trial.
(8) maintaining the status quo on DOJ grants going to non-conservative groups (as far as I know).
(9) setting computer industry back 5 years by preserving Microsoft monopoly.
(10) avoiding and even cancelling appearances at conservative meetings; Justice Scalia speaks out for conservatism more than Ashcroft.
(11) withholding documents related to McVeigh investigation from the public, and firing no one for concealing them from McVeigh's counsel.
(12) destroying the Republican Party in Illinois with a massive, one-sided prosecution of state officials, dreadful legislation will soon result.
(13) using VAWA to prosecute ordinary murder, bungling the case in the process.
(14) failing to make arrests in the anthrax mailing murders, despite the small universe of govt-related suspects.
(15) destroying tens of thousands of innocent jobs by convicting and ruining corporations (Arthur Andersen) rather than culpable individuals.

There's probably more that I've missed.

John sends this story about Santa Cruz deputizing some dope growers in order to stall action by the US DEA. Previously, a DEA raid seized 160 marijuana plants. No charges were filed.
As an experiment, I tried spidering some local pop music station playlists to see what they are playing the most. Here is a preliminary list.

15Dixie ChicksLandslide
14Avril LavigneComplicated
13Vanessa CarltonA Thousand Miles
13SeetherFine Again
13John MayerNo Such Thing
13No DoubtUnderneath It All
12SantanaThe Game Of Love
10ChevelleThe Red

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

John sends this Houston Chronicle story about how the local hospitals have a lot of trouble treating patients who do not speak English. Why are we even giving free medical treatment to people who don't speak English anyway? I don't get free medical treatment.
Dean Dwyer at U Cal law school just resigned because of a complaint of inappropriate sexual behavior several years ago. The complaint came from one anonymous student in her mid-20s who apparently invited the Dean into her apartment after some late-night drinking, and later regretted it. The purpose of her complaint was to sabotage the Dean's career.

California is temporarily abolishing the statute of limitations on molestation so that people can sue the Catholic Church for allegations about events that happened 30 years ago.

I don't agree with ruining people based on allegations that are impossible to verify. If someone has a complaint about private sexual behavior, she should have to make the complaint right away. A 25-year-old law student should know what she is doing. If she is not willing to go public with her accusations and evidence in a timely way, then she should be ignored.

Meanwhile, Berkeley has a mayor (Tom Bates) who has admitted stealing 100s of newspapers just before last month's election for the purpose of preventing voters from reading an endorsement of his opponent.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Steve Landsburg has an economic explanation for some parents spanking kids more than other parents do. Spanking is simple and easy for poor parents, while middle class parents have other punishment alternatives.
The blogs are all slamming Trent Lott for saying positive remarks about US Sen. Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party. Thurmond ran for president in 1948, and Lott suggested that we'd have been better off if he won. He said that he was proud to vote for Thurmond.

Maybe we would have been better off. I'm not a big Harry Truman fan. I figure that Thurmond has gotten millions of votes over his long political career. Are all those voters bad people? Just what bad things do these bloggers think would have happened if Thurmond had been elected US president? They don't say.
John sends this Christian Science Monitor tabulation of what Israel has cost the USA. It says, "Since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion. If divided by today's population, that is more than $5,700 per person."

The WSJ blog responds: "In 1981 Israel destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor, setting back Saddam Hussein's quest for nuclear weapons. How much money and how many lives did this end up saving America?"

I think that it is good that someone is tabulating the costs, so people can re-evaluate whether supporting Israel is worth it. The case can be made that creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was all a big mistake. But cost calculation is very tricky because we don't know the alternative. Suppose we abandoned Israel, and supported the Arab countries in driving the Jews out of the area. Would Arab terrorism stop? Would crude oil be cheaper? Would Mideast Arab countries suddenly become peaceful and friendly? I don't know. Seems doubtful to me.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

I just heard Michelle Malkin on C-SPAN plugging her new book Invasion, on illegal immigrants. She mentioned a number of immigration-related scandals, including the H-1B program. She was very persuasive. She said Rob Sanchez has compiled a database of H-1B applications, and shown how the program is abused.

This site uses Sanchez's database to uncover this story. CEO Susan deFife is a poster woman for the industry H-1B lobbyists, and said in her testimony to the Senate in October 1999:
Last year, we spent months recruiting for a systems administrator who has the critical role of ensuring our content is presented correctly and on time to our audience. We were fortunate to eventually find Noemi Nieto-Mendieta, a young woman from Mexico who was finishing coursework at a local university. (Noemi is with me today.)

It turns out that this hot-shot computer operator is only being paid $35k/yr! There are millions of Americans who can do that job, but they want to get paid more than $35k. The idea that these H-1B workers are filling a labor shortage is nonsense. The companying are lying so that they can get cheaper labor.
John sends this gossip that Scalia or Thomas might be promoted to Chief Justice of the US (Supreme Court). I think that there is zero chance either Scalia or Thomas will be promoted. They are clearly the best and most widely respected members of the Supreme Court, among those who have actually read their opinions. But they would face huge political battles, and I doubt that Bush has the stomach for it.

John also sends this speculation of whether the SC will hear a Second Amendment case. There is currently a direct split between the 5th (Texas) and 9th (Calif) circuits on whether the 2A protects an individual right.

The article says a couple of annoying things that are common to these gun rights articles in the mainstream press. It says:
it could spur the U.S. Supreme Court into deciding an issue that it last addressed -- without fully resolving -- in 1939: Does the Constitution give individual Americans the right to own guns?

Nobody thinks that the Constitution gave anyone gun rights. It only codified protection for gun rights that people already had. Later, it says it better with: "Ashcroft had announced the same view -- that the Constitution protects private gun ownership -- earlier in 2001".

Another misstatement:
The Supreme Court last discussed its meaning in 1939 when it upheld a law banning interstate shipment of sawed-off shotguns, on the grounds that possession of such a weapon has no relationship to preserving a well-regulated militia.

The 1939 Miller case did not uphold any gun ban or any other law, and it did not make any factual finding about sawed-off shotguns. The defendant Miller did not show up for the argument, and the SC remanded the case to the lower court to find out how sawed-off shotguns are used.
Adobe had a visiting scholar from Russia arrested and held in jail for exposing technical defects in its eBook program. Adobe said his employer (Elcomsoft) was using the ideas to sell a program to unlock eBook copy protection. Elcomsoft is being prosecuted under the DMCA for making a product that circumvents copy protection.

Now, at the trial, Adobe has admitted that it could not find anyone using the Elcomsoft product to pirate e-books. It is possible that all the purchasers of the Elcomsoft product had legitimate purposes in mind.

The root of the problem here is the DMCA. It criminalizes copyright circumvention whether it is for piracy or for what has always been considered legitimate fair use. The DMCA should be repealed, and Adobe's support of this prosecution is reprehensible.
John writes:
Schools are free to give preference to an applicant's willingness to work in underserved areas. They just can't use race as a proxy for an applicant's "likelihood" to do that (or anything else). I admit that race is "relevant" to a lot of things, but 14A forbids states from denying a benefit on the basis of an applicant's race.

Today the NY Times has an article about how Rice Univ uses code words to perpetuate racial discrimination (under the guise of affirmative action). I found the Rice attitude offensive. They believe that they are circumventing the law using phony gimmicks so they can continue to get $45M/yr from the feds and continue racial discrimination.

Friday, December 06, 2002

The NY Times killed a couple of sports columns that deviated from its liberal editorial policy. That editorial policy is racist and offensive because it says that Tiger Woods has some sort of obligation to boycott a golf tourneyment in order to pressure the sponsors to change their membership policy. I agree with Woods that the membership policy of some private golf club has nothing to do with him, and there is no good reason for him to be singled out about it.
This picture claims to be Al Gore in Vietnam. He is handling a gun by letting it point at his head! (The picture shows the safety is off and the magazine is not in, but does not show whether the gun is loaded.)
A Harvard group of anti-gun propagandists has come out with another biased and misleading study. Here is the abstract. They find a correlation between homocides (including non-gun) and gun ownership. There are several problems with this. First, they don't trust direct measures of gun ownership so they look at gun homocide and suicide rates instead. So obviously gun ownership will be correlated with homocides under their measures.

The editors of the journal forced them to admit in the article that it is not clear from their data whether the higher rates of household gun ownership caused or resulted from the increased number of homicides. "It is possible, for example, that locally elevated homicide rates may have led to increased local gun acquisition," they write.

Not only possible, but likely. Which is more likely, that buying a gun causes homicide with a knife, or that high knife homocide rate causes self-defense gun purchases? Having guns would not cause stabbings. People in high-homocide areas are buying guns for self-defense.

But the Harvard group uses the study to put out press releases claiming that research supports their anti-gun message. The Reuters story said:
The study findings imply "that guns, on balance, lethally imperil rather than protect Americans," lead study author Dr. Matthew Miller of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, told Reuters Health.

Miller is an embarrassment to Harvard. He didn't even look at how guns protect Americans, or do anything to measure the "balance".
It is still annoyingly difficult to set up computer networks. I just tried setting up a wireless access point to be used in conjunction with Microsoft Windows internet connection sharing. The idea is that if one machine has access to the internet, then it can extend that access to other machines using an ethernet cable or wireless WiFi connection. But I tried D-Link and NetGear products, and they don't make it easy. One problem is that Microsoft wants to use IP address and assign addresses of the form 192.168.0.X to local machines on a network. But the routers want to do the same thing! Zillions of IP addresses would work just fine, but they fight for the same one. It seems to me that if either Microsoft or the routers were flexible enough automatically use another IP address if there is a conflict, then there would be no problem. But I have to manually try to persuade these products to use another IP address and not dictate an IP address to everyone else.

While I am griping about electronic products, I just bought a pair of $20 Sony earphones (MDR-ED228LP). The package listed specifications on impedance, frequency response, etc, and then said, "Design and specifications are subject to change without notice." So does the product match the specs or not? Do they really think that this disclaimer allows them to sell a completely different product in the package? Why print specs if there is no promise that they apply to the product?

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Here is an article about how reporters create phony sports scandals by how they sometimes decide to publish off-the-record quotes.
John sends this evidence that early central Americans developed writing before the Mayans. The evidence is pretty weak. I don't think we really know what the Mayans did in the way of writing, because the Spanish explorers supposedly destroyed their books.
Wacky judge of the day. Judge Reinhardt, who is already known as the most frequently reversed federal judge in the USA, just ruled against the 2A:
The debates of the founding era demonstrate that the second of the first ten amendments to the Constitution was included in order to preserve the efficacy of the state militias for the people’s defense — not to ensure an individual right to possess weapons. Specifically, the amendment was enacted to guarantee that the people would be able to maintain an effective state fighting force — that they would have the right to bear arms in the service of the state.

This opinion makes no sense. Knowing that he is going to be attacked by gun rights enthusiasts, I would think that it would cite good sources. It cites Bellesiles (recently fired for academic fraud), and Parade magazine!

Then he goes on to say that an exemption to a gun-control law for retired cops is unconstitutional because it is contrary to any legitimate state interest. He says that the exemption for off-duty cops has a rational basis.

Gun control laws commonly have exemptions for off-duty and retired cops so that cops will support the laws. If these exemptions were really unconstitutional, many gun control laws would not pass.

Remember, this is the judge who says the Pledge is unconstitutional.

Update: the 2A opinion is trashed in these blogs: Cramer, InstaPundit, Volokh. Probably a lot of others also. This page says, "Judge Reinhardt was reversed by the Supreme Court fully eleven times during the 1996-97 term. He holds the record for unanimous reversals in one term: five".
John sends this WSJ editorial defending thimerosal (mercury) in vaccines. It argues that the thimerosal in the vaccines was probably harmless, that the feds should have left it in the vaccines, that the big drug companies should be sheltered from lawsuits over it, and that the shelter was an appropriate part of the Homeland Security Bill (that just passed).

I don't buy it. There are still a lot of reasons for thinking that the thimerosal is harmful. The courts are lousy at resolving scientific or medical issues like this, and I think we need some tort reform, but putting a special break for Eli Lilly in the Homeland Security Bill really stinks. Let Eli Lilly get the same tort reform that everyone else wants. If it wants tort reform, let it use its multimillion dollar lobbying budget to get a tort reform that benefits everyone.

The WSJ says:
U.S. public health agencies ... worried that anti-vaccine groups would use the FDA information to scare parents away from immunizations. So they hastily recommended that manufacturers immediately remove the preservative -- a huge mistake.

"We took it out precipitously, which made it look like thimerosal is harmful -- when there is no evidence it is. I think we hurt the public trust," said Paul Offit, who sits on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and is chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

What the WSJ doesn't mention is that Offit is a paid lobbyist for the vaccine makers. He tried to conceal it, but Congressman Burton smoked him out during cross-examination in a congressional hearing.

What Offit is really arguing here is that it is better to stonewall the public on the risks, rather than admit error. He is more interested in avoiding risk to the credibility of vaccine officials, than avoiding risk to kids getting vaccines.

I got interested in the vaccine issue when my kid was born and the hospital wanted to give her an HBV vaccine. They didn't tell me that the vaccine had mercury in it, or that only babies from HBV+ mothers are at risk, or that HBV is largely an Asian disease. Just that people like Offit are forcing everyone to get it. I will not have confidence in the federal vaccine officials until they purge their committees of vaccine flacks like Offit, and use an open process to recommend vaccines.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

This blog draws an analogy between today's liberals supporting affirmative action in schools, and 1956 Southern Congressmen defending segregated schools. The US Supreme Court just agreed to hear another case about racial discrimination in colleges.
Some mathematicians are trying to organize an Israeli boycott because of the war there. Most of the supporters are from France. A boycott of France might make more sense.
I just ran across The Center For Consumer Freedom. It seems to be a food industry response to vegans and other do-gooders who want to tell us what to eat. One of its slogans is: Remember -- even an ugly baby can be named Tiffany.
John sends this story about lawyers wanting $704k in legal fees to get the Ten Commandments removed from an Alabama courthouse. I say that if it cost $704k in legal work to figure out that a trivial little plaque might be unconstitutional, then the courts should just ignore it.

But what keeps these cases going is that they are big money-makers for certain legal organizations. One of the plaintiffs here is the racist Southern Poverty Law Center, which can then use the money to fund its racist causes.

Meanwhile, the court that said the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional is now refusing to let the child, her mother, or even the US Senate intervene. The child does not object to the Pledge. The court ruled that an act of Congress endorsing the Pledge was unconstitutional, but will not let the Senate be a party to argue the case. I think these judges should be impeached.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Robert B. Stinnett stands behind his claim that FDR has advance knowledge of Pearl Harbor. The FDR lovers have been attacking him. I think that FDR looks bad no matter whose version of the facts you believe.
A new book, Lost Discoveries by Dick Teresi, argues that much of modern science has non-Western roots or was reinvented elsewhere. Here is a review. The review raves about it and compares it to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. I think both greatly exaggerate the accomplishments of non-Western development.

Consider these claims:
The Babylonians developed the Pythagorean theorem at least 1,500 years before Pythagoras was born. Indian mathematicians performed multiplication and algebra, and even ventured toward calculus, a millennium before Europeans. An Arab astronomer, Ibn al-Shatir, spelled out the theory of planetary motion 150 years before Copernicus. Many ancient cultures had inklings of quantum theory. The ancient Indians, long before Copernicus, knew that the earth revolved around the sun and, a thousand years before Kepler, knew that the orbits of the planets were elliptical.

They are all silly and foolish. The Babylonians did not even have the concept of theorem, much less the Pythagorean theorem. Archimedes ventured closer to calculus that any India, as he derived some very clever formulas that are usually derived with calculus today.

It is absurd and idiotic to say that the ancients knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun, or had inklings of quantum theory. Copernicus did not even know that the Earth revolved about the Sun. The ancient Greeks debated whether the Earth went around the Sun or the Sun went around the Earth. They had no compelling evidence either way, and neither did the Indians, Arabs, or Copernicus. The first really good evidence came from Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo.