Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Andy writes:

Professor Lessig's mishandling of the Eldred v. Ashcroft copyright case, now pending before the Supreme Court, has been nagging me for quite a while. ... I recently concluded that Lessig's approach is a very liberal, even communistic, view of property. His emphasis on the "commons", which is an area where private property is prohibited, illustrates that. (We argue that limited government requires limited copyrights.) Now I see a writing by a University of Wisconsin (Madison) professor that confirms my analysis.

When Lessig talks about "commons", he is not talking about property that is commonly owned, like a public park. He is referring to stuff being in the public domain. Ie, free, and not owned by anyone. This author says, "Copyright is not about 'property' as commonly understood." I cannot agree with this. Having information in the public domain is great, and should be the end result of all information. But in the meantime, original works should be treated as property.

Lessig is a smart guy, and much better than other well-known law profs, but he has bungled the Eldred case so far. Only one of three judges sided with him on the appellate panel, and that was only because the judge was persuaded by an amicus argument that Lessig eschewed.

Andy says:

I fail to see any distinction between "public park" and "public domain." Lessig's approach is for communal property. I don't see any other interpretation of it. Our approach favors private property, but limited govt grants of property rights.

The difference is that a public park requires some maintenance, rules, and policing. Or its value will erode. It is owned by the city or some other entity that exercises authority over it.

Hamlet is in the public domain. No one owns it. It is not property, communal or otherwise. No one has the right to police usage of Hamlet. Lessig's approach is to have more goods in the public domain.

John writes that Netscape does not display quotes correctly:

I use Netscape version 4.79 and don't want to change. I keep MSIE version 5.5 on hand, only for the handful of web sites (like Yahoo) that cause Netscape to crash. However, I have never before noticed that Netscape fails to display indented quotes properly.

I print about 100 pages off the web every day. I always use print preview and resize every document to fit the page. Netscape makes that task simple. Earlier versions of MSIE did not allow that at all; in version 5.5 it is possible but takes about twice as long as Netscape.

Additionally, I use the Netscape e-mail program that comes bundled with the browser. Netscape e-mail is far superior to MS Outlook Express, which should be avoided due to security and virus hazards as well as its many stupid design elements.

I went to your blog with MSIE, and the indented paragraphs look fine - indented about 6 spaces.

I don't blame you for avoiding MSOE, but how can you stand to use a browser that crashes on Yahoo? That browser has been obsolete for a while. Try Netscape 7.0 or Mozilla 1.0, reviewed here. There are also a lot of good, free, email programs like Eudora. I don't know why Netscape can't handle <blockquote> tags; that has been plain vanilla HTML for about 10 years.
California gives driving exams in 34 languages. The San Jose Mercury News reports:

Santa Clara County must print voting materials in Tagalog -- the national language of the Philippines -- and San Mateo County must publish them in Spanish and Chinese, according to a Census Bureau report published Friday. The requirement is part of the federal Voting Rights Act, meant to ensure that all Americans can take part in elections.

Tagalog is so obscure that most people don't even know what it is. No one can be informed about political issues in the US without speaking English. Most of the educated people in the Phillippines probably speak English. Most of the educated people everywhere in the world speak English, and soon there will be very little reason for any English-speaker to learn another language.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

I was expecting a straightforward answer to the question -- why do earthworms surface after a rain? But the NY Times experts can only say they are uncomfortable underground in the rain. As if the rain is an opportunity to just get some fresh air and stretch out. Hmmm. I guess I'd think that way if I crawled in dirt tunnels all the time. Not convinced? It also says, "while they might meet other worms out there, I am not sure they are going out for that purpose."
When the human genome project was declared completed, the various leaders very carefully disassociated themselves of any racial implications. They persuaded the New England Journal of Medicine that "`race' is biologically meaningless". Everyone accepted the notion that DNA analysis had proven that the human races were essentially identical. Craig Venter wrote that “it is disturbing to see reputable scientists and physicians even categorizing things in terms of race." Stephen Jay Gould also liked to say publicly that “humans are 99.9% the same” and “race is biologically meaningless”.

Now a Stanford geneticist finally points out that such political correctness could impede disease research, because there is enough racial variation in disease response for the classification to be useful in studies. Apparently race can be objectively determined by looking at 100 randomly chosen DNA sites. These facts are well known, but public discussion is avoided.

The NEJM response is especially lame. An editor would only say that it is "a serious piece of work and merits a lot of thought." He must be thinking, "I thought we had all the reputable scientists on board. We decided that it is better to be wrong than to look racist. Why is he blowing it for us?" The emperor has no clothes.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Here is a SJ Mercury News sports columnist trashing cycling champ Lance Armstrong. He runs marathons himself, and thinks that marathoners are better athletes. I don't buy it. The top marathon runner in the world is a skinny 125-pound weakling who couldn't beat up the average 14-year-old. The main requirements for long distance running are being small, skinny, very little muscle, and a lot of training and perseverance. I just ran a 10k race in Santa Cruz yesterday, and today my leg muscles ache. So I can understand also that distance runners are well-conditioned for running, and can tolerate a lot of aches. But I wouldn't call them great athletes.

The SJ Mercury News has the worst sports columnists of any newspaper I have read. Their editorial page opinions are no better. Today's attack on school choice says, "It's the rich parents whom Congress and the Supreme Court really meant to reward with vouchers." Nonsense. The plans approved by Congress and the Supreme Court only benefit poor people. The non-poor do not qualify. The column also complains that poor voucher students will only get a choice between their current public schools and with "hastily set up non-denominational warehouse schools". Isn't that better than no choice at all?

School choice attacks tend to argue that the private schools will better, or be worse. Sometimes, as in this SJMN column, both arguments are made at the same time. More likely, of course, is that the public and private schools would become competitive, and some people would like one or the other, based on individual preferences.

San Antonio (Texas) is fluoridating its water, even as it is supplying a filter to a family that is getting too much fluoride. The facts on fluoride are:

  • There is a slight correlation between fluoridated water and reduced dental cavities.
  • The benefit was originally thought to be systemic (ie, based on consuming the fluoride), but now the CDC says that those studies were mistaken, and that there is only scientific evidence of topical benefit.
  • Fluoridated water does not benefit those who brush their teeth.
  • About 50% of the US population uses fluoridated water.
  • About 10% or so of the population shows ill effects of too much fluoride, such as stained teeth.

In my opinion, water fluoridation is just another example of a do-gooder law that does more harm than good. For more info, here is an anti-fluoridation group.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

I found this Galileo story:

When Galileo invented the barometer he used water rather than mercury in the tube so his barometer went up through the roof of his house. To help him tell height of the water on a given day and hence whether the pressure was going up or down, Galileo floated a wooden figure of a red devil on the water. Galileo's neighbors noted that the red devil came out of the house on sunny days and went back inside on rainy days. They attributed this correlation to sinister goings-on with the devil and broke into Galileo's house and destroyed the barometer. [summarized from Thomas Sowell column, 1996]

I don't believe this story. My sources say that Torricelli invented the barometer in 1643, but Galileo died in 1642. Sowell probably honestly found it somewhere, but it seems carefully constructed to match the myth of Galileo as a scientific genius who was persecuted by backwards religious know-nothings.

George writes, "That story might be wrong, but the Inquisition stopped Galileo from doing science because the Bible says the Earth is flat and Galileo proved that the Earth went around the Sun."

No, that's not right. Maybe someday I'll write an essay on it. The Roman Catholic Church always promoted scientific research, and never stifled it.

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France again, Jeff Cooper adequately trashes suggestions that he is not an athlete. Armstrong's athletic ability impresses me more than that of a champion marathon runner.

Here is a possible signal from extraterrestial intelligence. What if we decoded it, and it was a DNA sequence? Sooner or later, someone would make it, just as someone recently artificially made a polio virus from just DNA data. A really clever E.T. might send us a virus that would wipe out life as we know it, and replace us with a race of E.T. clones. As long as the alien DNA sequence were available, and it would fit on one CD-ROM, some curious scientist would eventually create it and destroy us all. The only safe thing to do is to shut down SETI immediately!

Science historian and evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould's last book gets trashed here as verbal flatulence. I agree. Gould was the leading expositor of evolution, and probably the most famous scientist in the world until he died recently. But his confused and inaccurate evolution arguments are so poor that they almost make me doubt evolution.

I disagree with his claim that Gould never ran from a scholarly fight. Gould's biggest selling book was The Mismeasure of Man, a polemic against IQ testing. The book was severely criticized in the scientific press as being wrong about most of his central assertions (but greatly praised in the nonscientific press). Gould never answered the criticisms, and even came out with an expanded edition years later with all the same mistakes reprinted.

Gould's IQ opinions were praised by leftists and non-scientists because he attacked the idea that IQ is measurable, that IQ scores can be ordered, and that IQ is largely inborn and unchangeable. And yet these premises seem basic to the recent US Supreme Court ruling [Atkins v. Virginia] that from now on, criminal executions are to be based on IQ scores. As Bob says, "Where is Stephen Jay Gould when we need him?"

George writes, "Gould didn't run from the IQ fight. He published an attack on the book The Bell Curve."

Yes, Gould repeated various attacks on IQ, but look at these criticisms of Gould's book. For critical opinions online, see Carroll, Davis, Jensen, Rushton (or shorter version), and Hunt. Some of these essays tend to show up on racially sensitive sites, but these are legitimate scientists with legitimate criticisms.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Microsoft is getting bold again. NY Times ace John Markoff reports on .Net:

"We still get people saying to us, `what is .Net?' " said Mr. Gates. ... computer software should be subscribed to as a Web-based service rather than purchased as a product they own and use, as most is today. ... Microsoft also warned today that the era of "open computing," the free exchange of digital information that has defined the personal computer industry, is ending.

The idea is that Microsoft will own the controlling software on most of the world's computers, and that it will be able to restrict functionality and extract revenue streams to a greater extent than it has ever been able to do before. It will continue to ship Windows with virus-enabling features until people demand a secure product. The Microsoft will introduce Palladium (or Longhorn or some other name) purportedly to solve the security problem, but it will also make Microsoft the gatekeeper for music, movies, and even web browsing.

You can hope that Microsoft would use its monopoly power in a responsible manner, but that is very unlikely. It was convicted of the most egregious antitrust violations, but the appellate court stopped any meaningful enforcement. Now the settlement agreement is toothless, and even gives Microsoft free license to commit more anticompetitive behavior.

John reports that Microsoft is lobbying to stop open-source laws in S. America.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Why is it that abortion protesters have the least free speech rights? A couple of months ago the Federal 9th Circuit court ruled 6-5 that they cannot have web sites that name names, and now Congress is revising the bankruptcy law with a clause to prevent certain abortion protesters from declaring bankruptcy. Even assuming that abortion protesters are extremist ideologues, I don't see how they are any worse than many other political movements.
The news media are making a big story about Princeton admissions breaking into a Yale computer. I think Yale deserves the blame. It ran an insecure server that failed to use a PIN or anything similar to protect confidential student admissions results. Princeton was in the process of trying to set up a similar system. It noted that Yale's system was insecure, and told Yale about it. Instead of fixing the problem, Yale called the FBI and the press. Both Yale and Princeton have a history of occasionally sharing admissions information. They both shouldn't be doing that. But this latest incident seems trivial.

John reports that Ellen Campbell says that the incident would not violate FERPA, the federal law protecting the confidentiality of student records:

It does not appear it would be a violation because these applicants were not yet "students" - the Department has long held that FERPA only protects the records of students as defined by FERPA. They are "students" if they are "in attendance." FERPA does protect records received from another school under the redisclosure provision - but applications or information provided by an applicant are not "education records" and those not protected.

John also reports that, according to a Wash Post story, Princeton was not just checking random students. Princeton checked on Bush's niece, who was admitted to Princeton and Yale.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Congress is considering a bill to let vigilantes in the movie and music instrustries to vandalize computer networks in order to promote their economic interests. Yeah, it sounds bad. See EFF for more bad computer laws in the works. I guess the music industry wants a vigilante war. See also Why Napster is a good thing. A Sci-Fi novelist once said:

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years , the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped ,or turned back, for their private benefit. [Robert Heinlein, Life-Line]

The IEEE is complaining about the H1-B visa program. The program was always a scam. The whole scheme was based on the assumption that the US needed foreigners to fill high-tech jobs on a temporary basis because there is no American qualified to fill the jobs. The quotas were tripled a couple of years ago, and now there is high unemployment after the crash.

We have a lot of H1-B workers in Silicon Valley. I doubt that more than 1% are genuine. They don't come here as temporary workers, they come here as immigrants. And the employers hire them because they can be hired at a lower salary and because they are less likely to change jobs (as they would have to find another H1-B sponsor). It is possible that the H1-B program provided some short-term benefit to the economy by supplying cheap labor, but at a cost to Americans who are now unemployed. The politicians and business leaders who promoted this program ought to be honest about what the program is doing.

George writes: "At the peak of the boom several years ago, it just wasn't possible to hire American programmers for any reasonable rate. Companies had to import them from India and elsewhere."

That argument is total nonsense. The Silicon Valley workforce is highly mobile, and any company that offers $20k more than the going rate is swamped with resumes. There has never been a shortage of programmers here. It reminds me of someone who used to claim that there is a shortage of American nannies, and that overseas nannies are needed. There is a huge supply of nannies. It is easy to find truly outstanding babysitters, if you are willing to pay the money.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

A new Gallup Poll on abortion says that 58% want to keep abortion laws the way they are. But it also cited polls from 2000 saying that 86% favor making third trimester abortions illegal, and 82% favor requiring parental consent before a minor can get an abortion.

Abortion law is in the news because a Bush appointed Texas Supreme Court Associate Justice Priscilla Owen to the federal court (5th circuit court of appeals), and the Democrats are attacking her abortion record. Texas had a parental notification law until the Texas supreme court, led by Bush appointees, eviscerated it. Owen dissented (thereby favoring parental notification).

If 82% favor parental consent, then more than 82% must favor parental notification, and only a radical abortion proponent would take the other side. Is this really the worst thing the Democrats can find on Owen? 90% of the population must agree with her on this issue.

It appears that the public does not know what the abortion law is. Roe v. Wade made third trimester abortion a constitutional right in 1973. If 86% really favor third trimester abortion restrictions, then 86% must be in favor of tightening abortion laws. The new Gallup poll says only 39% want to make abortion laws more strict.

A lot of people are under the impression that the states can restrict third trimester abortions under Roe v. Wade. But that case, along with the companion case Doe v. Bolton, said that any woman could get a third trimester abortion for health reasons, where health is interpreted so broadly that no restriction has ever been allowed by the court. Here is an explanation.

Al Gore understood this point in the 2000 election. He endorsed limits on late-term abortions, provided that there was an exception for the health of the mother. He knew that any such limit would have not practical effect, because of the court interpretation of health.

The LA Times says that 57% say abortion is murder, but most of those think it should be legal anyway.

Update: As an example of a law professor misstating Roe v. Wade, Jeffrey Rosen says: "Many lawyers and law professors -- on both sides of the abortion issue, Democratic as well as Republican -- view Roe as a loosely reasoned decision that failed to explain convincingly why the Constitution protects the right to choose during the first trimester of pregnancy." [11-Aug-2002 NYTimes magazine] Well, yes, and it fails to convincingly why the Constitution protects the right to choose during the other two trimesters also.

According to Andrew Odlyzko and The Economist, WorldCom is responsible for the myth that internet traffic was doubling every 100 days. The actual rate was more like doubling once a year. WorldCom carries about half of the US internet traffic, and would know the truth. Now WorldCom is bankrupt. Yes, I think we need some tougher laws against investor fraud by CEOs. Here is a good essay on problems related to this exaggeration.

Academic freedom is in trouble at American U and at Cleveland Cuyahoga Community College. I really don't see how they can justify firing an art professor for accessing pornography on the internet. Why shouldn't he be allowed to use the network for lawful activities that don't bother anyone?

Hillary Rodham Clinton went into a tirade about how the Rehnquist court is more activist than the Warren court. But the Warren court handed down decisions that radically changed the way state legislatures, schools, and cops work. Where the Rehnquist court has invalidated a law, it has always been something of little consequence. Her comments about the 2000 election are nonsense. She says that the supreme court stripped a state of power to administer its own laws. It would be more accurate to say that the supreme court enabled Florida to administer its own election laws, by blocking an effort by a lower court to sabotage the election.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Story about the Chinese snakehead fish that is invading US ponds. Not only is it huge and a predator, it can crawl out of a pond and live for 3 days out of water while it finds another pond! It makes plausible the theory we evolved from fishes that crawled out
of the sea.

Good site for riddles, collected from job interviews.

Smarter Harper's Index corrects some misleading statistics.

Funny site for downloading the whole web.

I score a BMI=27, so the CDC says I am overweight. I think it is bogus.

California Gov. Gray Davis brags about signing a law to force cars to emit less carbon dioxide. He says:

The federal government and Congress, by failing to ratify the Kyoto treaty on global warming, have missed their opportunity to do the right thing. So it is left to California, the nation's most populous state and the world's fifth largest economy, to take the lead. We can now join the long-standing and successful effort of European nations against global warming, learn from their experience and build upon it. [See also Wash Post story.]

Davis has been a disaster. Now he wants California to have its own foreign policy, contrary to the federal govt. Europe has not been successful at fighting global warming. In other actions, Davis has bragged about making California more dependent on natural gas for energy, which creates a lot of carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is good for the environment, not bad. It is harmless to humans and animals, and it helps plants grow better. The only potential downside is that it contributes to global warming. Whether that is good or bad is debateable. Whether anything can be done about it is debateable. But if Davis really wants to do something about carbon dioxide, then he should license nuclear power plants.

Monday, July 22, 2002

The US bureau of standards (NIST) has drafted some official recommendations for cryptographic key sizes, in bits. These are security guidelines. Here they are, along with the years of validity.


Cipher Skipjack TDES AES-128 AES-192 AES-256
Hash SHA-1 SHA-256 SHA-384 SHA-512
Cipher key 80 112 128 192 256
EC order 160 224 256 384 512
DSA order 160 224 256 384 512
DSA modulus 1024 2048 3072 7680 15360
RSA modulus 1024 2048 3072 7680 15360

John sends this SJ Mercury News story:

Owners of mobile home park battle rent control

Perched on a cliff looking out over the Pacific Ocean, the De Anza mobile home park is arguably the most spectacular such park in the world. It's also ground zero for perhaps the last great battle over rent control in California, the outcome of which could affect hundreds of thousands in the Golden State, many of them seniors on fixed incomes.

Usually I am against rent control laws because they take away property rights, and create economic distortions. But I don't see either in this case. It looks like the landowners are just abusing the legal system.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

JG writes:

While physicians and public health personnel have been squawking about "unintentional injuries" (newspeak for "accidents") from cars, bikes, and lawn mowers and how, in most instances, they're preventable/avoidable (often through the micromanagement of individuals' lives), it turns out an even greater--much, much greater--threat comes from them, their associates (health care workers), and their environs, particularly hospitals. The Chicago Tribune is doing a three-part series on the problem (Sunday: Thousands of hospital patients die from avoidable infections they picked up while under care; Monday: Following simple procedures could have helped save the lives of thousands of sick children; Tuesday: Dangerous antibiotic-resistant germs are spreading from hospitals to the community at large). Today's installment, "Infection epidemic carves deadly path: Poor hygiene, overwhelmed workers contribute to thousands of deaths," can be found here.

If the word gets out, physicians may regret that they banned the word "accident"!

The New England Journal of Medicine has relaxed its policy on conflicts of interest. It seems that it couldn't get review articles except from authors with financial conflicts.

Meanwhile, the NY Times reports:

Some medical specialties and geographical areas are suffering from a glut of doctors and hospitals, these experts say. Supply seems to drive demand. More hospitals in an area mean many more days spent in hospitals with no discernible improvements in health. More medical specialists mean many more specialist visits and procedures. ...

"When all is said and done," Dr. Berwick said, "the people who have been most serious about it rarely think we are underresourced. The evidence to my mind is so strong. More is not better, and it often is very, very much worse."

Physicians may regret lobbying for laws like mandatory helmet laws. They take the view that accidents are preventable, and laws are needed to prevent them. So what about accidental deaths by physicians and hospitals?

Bad use of technology. I am gung ho about using technology for just about everything, but there is a common fallacy that you can solve a problem by throwing technology at it instead of addressing the root problem. This happens in schools that buy a lot of computers.

Today, I see it in voting machines. Palm Beach County just bought a lot of $3.5k voting machines, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2000 election dispute. These machines are so fancy, they are self-auditing. As AP reports, there has already been a dispute and no one has the slightest idea how the machines work. Opening them would void the warranty.

The Palm Beach 2000 election problems were not technological. The ballot was a little confusing, but it was approved by all parties before the election. The count was accurate. There were no major reports of fraud. The problem was that one side was able to abuse the courts by changing the rules after election day. By the election paradox, just about any close election can have its outcomes changed if courts are allowed to change the rules. Expensive voting machines that cannot be externally audited will make the matter worse, because people will not trust the machines.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Joe writes:

I read recently that in any list of random numbers, the first number (and the second and third, to a lesser extent) are not randomly distributed, that higher digits are more likely (that the probability that the first digit will be n or less is not n/9 but rather log n+1.) This makes no sense to me. Can you put it in layman's terms?

Random numbers are, by definition, randomly distributed. But there are many possible distributions. With infinitely many numbers, it is not enough to say that all numbers are equally likely. One distribution is the uniform distribution of the real numbers from 0 to 1. This has numbers in [0,.1], [.1,.2], ..., each having probability 1/10. Another distribution is the bell curve.

Looking at leading digits of numbers found in nature leads to a distribution with a multiplicative invariance, not an additive invariance. Simon Newcomb noticed that the pages on his log tables were more worn at the beginning than at the end, and he published a logarithmic distribution in 1881. It looks like numbers on a slide rule. For more explanation, look for the First Digit Law.

The California supreme court just voted 4-3 to knock out a jury instruction. Up to now, juries were often told that they had a duty to report fellow jurors who use improper reasoning during deliberations. I am appalled that the jury instruction was there in the first place, and that 3 out of 7 supreme court judges thought that it was a good idea.

There is no duty under the law to rat on fellow jurors. There is barely any such thing as improper reasoning. Jurors have the power to use any reason that they want to reach a verdict. Usually the judge tells them not to consider the punishment, but it seems neither possible nor desirable to completely ignore it. Under the minority reasoning, if a juror says, "I just don't think that he should go to jail for doing that", then the other 11 jurors have a duty to turn him into the judge to be kicked off the jury.

The minority says:

The majority also does not dispute that jurors have a duty to report such misconduct to the court. (See People v. Williams (2001) 25 Cal.4th 441, 451 [“jurors are required to follow the trial court’s instructions”]; id. at p. 452 [“ ‘the judge must be permitted to instruct the jury on the law and to insist that the jury follow his instructions’ ”].) The problem is that the majority, other than disapproving this instruction, fails to articulate how trial courts may properly inform jurors of that duty, apparently assuming instead that jurors will discover this duty on their own.

The simple explanation is that the duty does not exist. Judges should not be telling jurors about a duty that does not exist. The minority is wrong to think the duty is implied by an obligation to follow a judge's instructions.

Friday, July 19, 2002

A medical journal published my email letter to the editor, along with an author rebuttal. I think I was too easy on him. He ignores the Google Directory, which has balanced information, and probably always did. Also, the conclusion doesn't even agree with the paper. The abstract says that 43% of hits for "vaccination" and "immunisation" were antivaccination. But Table 1 says it was 43% for vaccination and 6% for immunisation (or immunization). So the combined percentage is only 24.5%.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Good Ann Coulter column.
Coulter has gotten a lot of attention from Katie Couric's contentious interview of her. Coulter said that Couric repeated called Ronald Reagan an airhead based on a false quote from a fictionalized Reagan biography, and Couric denied it. Kausfiles says that Coulter was essentially correct. The Daily Howler also agrees that Couric was wrong, but says that it is not her fault because everyone else in the media was also calling Reagan an airhead. I think that Coulter would have preferred it if Couric used that defense, since the whole point of her new book is that the news media slanders right-wingers.

Andy writes:

Obviously, Ann Coulter is increasingly publicizing the most egregious type of liberal bias: the fiction that liberals are somehow smarter than conservatives. I hear that her book touches on this, noting that the so-called cerebral Bill Bradley had an SAT score in the 400s (and no other real intellectual accomplishment). Coulter's swipe at the intelligence of the NY Times publisher in her column about mother is clever.

But Coulter is just scratching the surface. My information is that Bill Clinton flunked out of pre-med at Georgetown, never achieved anything intellectual, and has yet to have an original idea. Henry Kissinger is another intellectual fake, lacking in analytical and linguistic skills. The more one looks, the more examples one finds of people declared by the media to be geniuses but who are anything but. McNamara, Gould, Oppenheimer, Tribe, Souter, etc. A whole book should be written about this.

There's nothing wrong with intellectual weakness, of course. There is something wrong with repeatedly lying about it in order to gain political advantage.

I agree that many media intellectuals are overrated. Judge Posner has a book on the subject. I think Stephen Jay Gould is one of his examples. He doesn't say Gould was stupid, but Gould has written a number of popular essays and books on science and the history of science that have not held up well under criticism. It seems that he got a free pass by maintaining political correctness. (He died recently.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Dumb medical journal news of the day. The current medical journal JAMA reports that UN/WHO says safety is a human right. It goes on to explain how this should help health professionals to lobby for things like helmet laws. Soon, the United Nations will get involved. The medical journals are contributing to the cause by banning the word accident!

Many in the health care community believe most injuries can be avoided. This opinion led the British Medical Journal to ban inappropriate use of the word "accident," with the journal's editors arguing that most injuries are preventable. The Journal of the American Medical Association and the specialty Archive journals of the AMA pioneered in avoiding use of the word. In this evolving atmosphere, proponents of the Montreal Declaration said their document can help persuade governments and corporations that they have a duty to protect citizens and consumers, and if they do not do so, they will be held accountable. [cites omitted]

It is just amazing how silly these medical journals can be. They think that they are accomplishing something by banning the word accident and by a UN committee declaring that safety is a right. It seems that BMJ thinks an accident is an "act of God", and the editors don't want to imply that God had anything to do with it.

Gadget gripes. One of my favorites is the Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox, but it does have these defects:

  • Inadequate battery life.
  • Awkward shape. It is difficult to stick it in a coat pocket.
  • Slow boot time. It reminds me of using my grandmothers tube-based radio, where I had to wait a few minutes for the tubes to warm up.
  • Lousy PC software.
  • Bad buttons. It is just too easy to accidently hit a but that turns the player off, or wipes out the playlist.
  • Clumsy on/off lock switch. Because it is so easy to accidentally turn on or off, there is a lock switch, but the switch doesn't really lock but triggers a warning message on the still. Still, you have to use the lock switch if the player in in your pocket. But the switch is on the opposite side from the volume control, so it is very awkward to make a minor volume adjustment.
  • It freezes a lot, and you cannot even turn it off, I have to keep a bent paper clip handy to punch in a tiny hole on the back to reset it.
  • The earphone jack plugs into the side instead of the top, making it impossible to use the carrying case.

Except for these problems and a few others, it is a really nice MP3 music player.

JG sends a couple of very good links that explain why mandatory helmet laws are bad. Here and here. Besides all the usual safety issues, there are some secondary issues that are harder to explain. The first does a good job with this one:

Health effects aside, the real question here is whether or not the state believes that parents should have the primary responsibility for raising children. If it does, it has no business micromanaging something with a risk as low as riding a bicycle without a helmet. Parents must routinely balance risks that lawmakers never even think of. A school-hating child is perfectly capable of figuring out that “losing” his helmet at the last minute means that he can miss some school. A parent alert to the dodge would probably decide that making the point that losing one’s things is no excuse for missing school is more important than the (slight) increase in the risk of injury from riding a bicycle without a helmet. The child would be shoved out the door and off to school without a helmet. Should the state ticket or reward such discernment?

And now the medical journal JAMA reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) declares that, "Safety is a fundamental right. It is essential for the attainment of health, peace, justice, and well being." It goes on to explain how this should help health professionals to lobby for things like helmet laws. Soon, the United Nations will get involved.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Joe Sobran reviews Spielberg's Minority Report, and complains that federal government law enforcement has assumed radical new powers, and no one objects. I didn't see the movie that way. The new powers were being assumed by a private company called PreCrime. It was presumably under contract to the feds, but with virtually no oversight. In the movie there is a plan for the feds to take over the program, and expand it nationwide. The DoJ sends an agent to figure out exactly how the program works, and when he finds out, the DoJ shuts down the program.

I just don't see why Sobran says, "The state simply seizes any powers it craves, no questions asked. Its only limits are technological, not legal." The powers were seized by an insufficiently regulated private company. The scheme did not fail for any technological reason. It is not clear exactly why the program was shut down -- maybe because it was abused, maybe because it was inhumane, maybe because it was not scalable, maybe because the PreCrime company was discredited, I don't know. But it was working.

Sobran really goes off the deep end when he says, H.G. "Wells was a very fallible prophet". Who predicted the future better than Wells? Among other things, he predicted the invention of the atomic bomb. Read more here.

Monday, July 15, 2002

George writes:

I don't know why you are ridiculing that helmet study. You wouldn't let your kid ride a bike without a helmet. The law helps other parents who have no safety sense or are not good at controlling their kids.

Yes, I do let my kid bicycle and roller skate without a helmet. It is the medical journals that have no safety sense. This article had no evidence about safety. Most of the helmet research is very seriously flawed. I do not want nanny state laws to substitute for routine parental decisions.

Jeff also objects to my comments about the helmet study, and writes:

What is "unscientific" about an observational study? Does it make conclusions that cannot be tested?

Yes, it makes untestable conclusions. The conclusion is that someone should intervene with these kids. It says, "public education and interventions should target children and their parents as well as scooter riders." That cannot be tested -- it is just someone's opinion about how kids should play. It is like a conclusion that says, "The kids could get hurt playing outside. They should just stay home."

JG writes: I think you might have it backwards; I rather imagine the "unobtrusive" observers formed their "conclusions" first and then went out to gather data that would, in *their* minds, support them.

You're right. Can you imagine a medical study that said this?

We visited a kids' playground, and found all the kids playing and having fun in a safe manner. In fact, we found that undue attention to safety was paid. The swings and monkey bars were torn down because they were erroneously thought to be dangerous. A kid was not allowed to ride his roller skates because his mom forgot his elbow pads. The baseball field was replaced with a soccer field. When storm clouds formed, all the kids had to go home because of a paranoid fear of lightning. A security guard was hired because of suspicious unrelated adults who were loitering with clipboards, even tho they were doing legitimate medical research. The city would have saved money and the kids would have had more fun and everyone would have been just as safe if there had been less concern about safety.

It just wouldn't happen. The kind of people who do these studies are not interested in who is having fun, or saving money, or rationally ignoring a minor risk. If they have to control people to get some alleged medical benefit, so much the better.
The Silicon Valley paper reports that statistics indicate that the local tech firms have been practicing illegal discrimination, but the EEOC cannot find any complaints on which to base lawsuits! The article gives various reasons why someone might not file a complaint, but there is a more obvious explanation: statistical disparities do not prove discrimination.

Crappy medical study of the day. A couple of busybodies sit around at a playground watching kids play, and form unscientific and annoying opinions about telling everyone what they should be doing. This time they see that most of the kids are not wearing helmets, and announce that someone should intervene and make them wear helmets.

Here is the study and the story. Here is a translation of the study for the layman:

Design: We watched our kids play at the park, and while we were there we took notes on how the other kids were playing.

Conclusions: The kids were not sufficiently restrained and were having too much fun. All the parents should be sent to a re-education camp so they'll force their kids to play the way ours do.

California already has a law mandating helmets for kids on bicycles, and is considering a similar law to cover other activities like roller skating and skateboarding.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

The great-granddaughter of the author of the original Pledge writes a NY Times letter to justify omitting the under God. Apparently he was a socialist who believed that private schools should be abolished so that the state could uniformly indoctrinate kids in non-religious schools, and that the Pledge should reflect that ideology!

The 9th Circuit made a big deal out of claiming that "under God" was added to the pledge in order to promote religion. But apparently the phrase was left out of the original Pledge for the purpose of attacking religious education. All this is just more evidence that looking at the purpose for such things is not very helpful. Why should the court consider pro-religion evidence, but not anti-religion evidence?

Saturday, July 13, 2002

Andy writes to explain his non-materialistic placebo theory:

Language, with its materialistic roots, is an obstacle to discussing non-materialistic phenomena. But there's no disputing that the placebo effect exists, and is the foundation of most medical studies. Likewise, there's no disputing that some very ill people can hang onto life until after a milestone like a graduation or a special holiday, such as Christmas. That phenomenon also defies materialistic explanation.

Jordan Ellenberg explained last year, "But Barry Bonds isn't going to hit 72 home runs for the same reason that there might be no such thing as the placebo effect." The trouble with this is that Bonds ended up hitting 73 homers! (Actually, his argument is sound.) Later, he defended it by saying, "If you bet a hundred bucks at the All-Star Break that Bonds would hit 73 home runs, you made a dumb bet. Now you've got a hundred bucks; it was still a dumb bet."

Update: Andy replies, "But he replies to my argument about the widely accepted placebo effect by citing Barry Bonds' hitting 73 home runs. He doesn't mention, however, that Barry Bonds was apparently taking steroids (I'm told Sports Illustrated suggests this, and Bonds doesn't deny it.)"

False. Bonds admitted using creatine, but has emphatically denied using steriods. See
USA Today or LA Times. He has gained weight in the last couple of years, and is likely to be stronger. Bonds could be lying, but I think that it is just as likely that the media is spreading false rumors about him. The reporters don't like Bonds.

Phyllis writes:

Why isn't is a sham if it's ineffective (worthless). Would fraud be a better term? Roger: did you have this operation? Isn't it likely that I would have been advised to have it if I had consulted an MD about my knee pain?

The words sham and fraud suggest that the surgeon was tricking patients into having a phony operation. But the surgeons had every reason to believe that the surgery would be effective. The surgery repaired or removed bad tissue, and the patients reported positive results.

I've had several knee surgeries, and I have arthritis in my knees, but I never considered the knee surgery described in the NY Times article.

Andy writes:

Good point, about calling the knee surgery a "sham", as that it is a misuse of the term. But it was a quoted doctor who misused it.

The article is unclear on the most important point: did the operation help patients, or not? The study merely demonstrated that the operation helped patients no more than the placebo effect. Both were presumably positive in benefit.

You say "The placebo effect is controversial ..." Only to materialists, who likewise deny other all other phenomena which defy materialistic explanation. Medical studies, meanwhile, are designed to address the placebo effect, including the knee surgery study.

I once had a surgeon try to talk me into wrist surgery. He even suggested that the surgery could be worthwhile even if he failed to find the problem. He said the surgery gets people to rest their wrists for a couple of weeks, and then they are more like to follow instructions of physical therapy. I was not impressed by this argument. At least he had a materialistic explanation for why the surgery would work.

Andy writes:

The third notable front page story in yesterday's NY Times (in addition to the Guiliani and skull stories) was the brilliant study concluding that a common knee surgery, costing taxpayers billions, confers a benefit no greater than the placebo effect. It is perhaps the only time that someone has compared the effect of a surgery against the placebo effect.

Not sure how the materialists here will respond to that one. To many of them, the placebo effect itself is not really accepted. It lacks material explanation.

There are really 2 placebo effects -- how people who are deceived into thinking that they are getting effective treatment seem to improve, and how people with no treatment also seem to improve.

The latter can often be explained by the fact that people tend to seek treatment when conditions are worst. Last winter I got antibiotics for a sore throat. After taking the pills, my throat is much better. But I'll never know if the pills did anything or not.

Whether there is much a placebo effect in the first sense is debatable. A recent study says no. See this discussion.

The current Newsweek reports that prozac and other SSRI-antidepressants perform only slightly better than placebos.

I have a theory about prozac -- that a slightly different placebo effect is at work here. Prozac has very mild side effects. It was considered a breakthrough (in part) because earlier drugs had more serious side effects. It may be that those mild side effects are crucial to getting results because they remind the patients that they are getting medicine for their condition. The placebos don't have any side effects at all.

They should really test prozac by comparing it against a placebo that has mild side effects similar to prozac. Until they do that test, I will be skeptical about whether prozac is effective. The very slight advantage that prozac shows in tests might be entirely explainable by the failure of the placebos in the tests to have side effects.

Update: USA Today says, "An estimated 5 million to 6 million U.S. children are currently taking at least one psychiatric drug. ... About 1.5 million children currently take Prozac-type drugs". Seems like a lot to me. Most of these kids are on ritalin, which is controversial for other reasons.

Update: Here is the study. Haven't read it yet, but why does it take a Freedom Of Information Act request to get this data out of the FDA? The data should be published as it is submitted to the FDA.

It turns out that there are 2 new medical journal articles about antivaccination web sites. I wrote about one before. The other is in a BMJ journal and has an abstract here.

Both of the articles complain about the availability of so-called antivaccination web sites which present information that differs from what is presented by the official medical authorities. But ironically, neither article is freely available on the web! I think that if these folks want to compete with the medical info that is on the web, then they should put their papers freely on the web also.

At least the BMJ paper disclosed its list of 100 antivaccination web sites. (The JAMA article did not.) Both lists are here. Of the 100 sites, several are duplicated and about 20 are dead or have moved. Others are really just single essays that can be found elsewhere. I tried to fix most of the broken links.

The BMJ paper complains that the first 10 hits on Google for "vaccination" are all antivaccination web sites. But that's not true. Not any more, anyway. The first Google link is to this directory listing of 23 web sites with a balanced set of opinions. Furthermore, many of the antivaccination web sites are really not opposed to vaccination but merely provide information and advocate an informed choice.

It is amusing how the medical establishment has a low tolerance for criticism. Medical criticism does not just come from fringe web sites. Just in the last week, the NY Times called the 30-year AMA attack on the Dr. Atkins diet a big fat lie and called a popular knee surgery a sham. Most alternative medicine web sites do not even use such strong language.

Friday, July 12, 2002

A reader asks how the Federal Data Quality Act relates to the Shelby Amendment of a couple of years ago. John responds:

This 9-15-99 column credits Sen. Shelby for inserting a data disclosure provision
in the 1998 omnibus appropriation bill. The column accuses the Clinton administration of trying to gut the law through regulations in 1999.

The Bray column I quoted below doesn't mention Shelby. It says the Federal Data Quality Act was inserted in the 2000 appropriation bill by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson. It says the provision was drafted by the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness, a group which specializes in this issue and has collected numerous articles and resources.

As I recall, the Shelby Amendment was prompted by some dubious high-profile academic studies that were being used to change public policy. One was a study that Joe Camel was more recognized among children than Mickey Mouse. The universities refused to release the raw data, even though the study was funded by the federal government.

Anti-gun historian and proven academic fraud Michael A. Bellesiles doesn't give up. He wrote a book about how Americans didn't have any guns 200 years ago, and it turned out that he faked his data. Now he has a new essay, and it is nonsense from beginning to end. He is fairly trashed by Rosenberg and Volokh. For example, Bellesiles praises proven liar David Brock, and says that the electoral college has outlasted its usefulness. (I think the 2000 election was good evidence for the electoral college. Gore won the popular vote, but only won majorities in the coastal areas.)

Bellesiles is a good example for John's point about how those trying to change public policy with academic studies should release their raw data. Bellesiles had a huge influence in the gun-control movement with his bogus statistics, until the NRA and others called him on it.

One of the main points of the Bellesiles article is to attack the idea that there was a consensus about the meaning of the US Constitution and the Bill Of Rights when they were adopted. It is indeed a historical fact that there were sharp political battles over many issues, and a lot people did not even have any political influence. But there was a consensus about the meaning of most of it.

A law that was passed by one vote has the same validity as the one that was passed unanimously. To apply the law, it is often useful to look at what people meant by the law at the time the law was passed. It is usually not relevant to note that the law was controversial. Bellesiles seems to want to argue that the Constitution and Bill Of Rights should be taken less seriously because they were controversial. The argument is nonsense.

Bellesiles cites Posner as saying historians do not know history and are useless in offering guidance on public policy. Bellesiles is the proof.

John writes the following about public disclosure of raw data.

This good column by Thomas Bray tells about the new Federal Data Quality Act which says that when studies are relied upon by govt agencies to make policy, the public has a right to see the raw data from which conclusions were drawn.

Now, if only the law applied to studies issued by private pressure groups instead of just govt agencies. E.g., the Anti-Defamation League released a "study" purporting to show that 17% of the American people harbor "strongly anti-Semitic" beliefs. But a writer (who is apparently Jewish) who looked at ADL's raw data, concluded that the study is bogus.

A more serious example of questionable data is the notorious 1998 book The Shape of the River, which claims that affirmative action in college admissions benefits both blacks and whites. The authors of that book have refused to allow their chief critics, Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, to see the raw data on which the book's conclusions are based. Here are details.

More evidence that the Pledge case was a big sham. It turns out that the plaintiff Michael Newdow was never married to the mother of the 8-year-old child, the mother has custody of the child, the mother and child are practicing Christians, and the child does not object to saying the Pledge. So it is hard to see how Newdow even has standing to complain about his daughter saying the Pledge. See Wash. Post, How Appealing,, or InstaPundit.

Newdow previously sued to get "In God We Trust" off the money. He is also trying to get 50% custody of the girl, said,
"I'm trying to overturn the whole family law system, because it's unconstitutional." It is amazing that the 9th Circuit paid any attention to his silly arguments at all.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

I really don't agree with these criminal trials of parents just because of a lapse in child care judgment that resulted in a tragic accident. They suffer enough by having to live with the events. In Silicon Valley, a manslaughter trial is just beginning for a father who left his baby in a car. He faces four years if convicted. He could have avoid jail time with a plea bargain. The story is here.

Previously, a mother here was sentenced to four years in jail because she left her baby in the care of a boyfriend who scalded the baby with a hot bath, and because she delayed getting medical care while she looked for an emergency room that would not turn them into the police. The story is here.

I object because (1) I don't believe the parental behavior is criminal, (2) I think that the prosecutions are cruel, and (3) state interventions into family situations like this almost invariably make the situation worse for all parties involved.

The people who write these laws and prosecute these cases have one main purpose. They want to set a public example so that everyone will be in fear of the authorities in their child-rearing practices. They want social workers from Child Protective Services to be able to knock on a family door, and have the parents so totally intimidated that they will do whatever the social worker says. Well, I don't agree with it.

I also object to these prosecutions because of the way that they breed fear, distrust, and privacy invasions in our society.

Here is proof of NPR bias. In January, it accused a right-wing Christian group of being in on the anthrax letters to the US Senate. It now apologizes, after some Congressional embarrassment.
The Volokh brothers complain about the familiar idiom about comparing apples and oranges. But Sasha misstated (and then corrected) the definition of a well-ordered set. Here is a correct definition. The reals are ordered, but not well-ordered.

To an economist, all commodities can be compared by looking at their values in the marketplace. To a mathematician, any two elements of a set can be compared by using an ordering on the set. Comparing apples and oranges is ambiguous unless the ordering is specified. The people who say you just cannot compare apples and oranges are plainly wrong. But neither of the people the Volokhs are criticizing were saying that.

Being a mathematician, I side with the mathematician's view. If someone says that comparing vegetarian and meat-eating diets is like comparing apples and oranges, then that means that any comparison depends on which ordering is in use and there is no canonical ordering. Being a vegetarian often comes with lifestyle choices and moral worldviews that are not shared by most meat-eaters. Their belief that vegetarianism is superior is based on an ordering that the meat-eaters would not choose. So the comparison is not just a matter of objectively determining which diet is healthiest.

So I think that apples and oranges can be compared, but still it often makes sense to say that a comparison is like comparing apples and oranges. In mathematical terms, it means that the ordering is not defined. Or to an economist, it means that it depends on the utility function.

There is a lot of media excitement about the latest police brutality accusations. Having seen the videotapes on TV, I do not think that they are sufficient to convict those cops of anything. The police behavior is easily explainable, and may even be considered reasonable when all the facts are out.

The Inglewood teenager was apparently resisting arrest. The cops were a little rough with his, but he didn't look like he got hurt. If a suspect is being arrested and not following police instructions, then it is often necessary to use a little force. We don't know how much resistance the teenager was giving. He was handcuffed, but he could have been grabbing or pinching the cops with his hands, kicking with his feet, or refusing to bend down over the car. If he was doing any of those things, then I think that the cops were justified.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

The NY Times published a wacky attack op-ed on this Antonin Scalia essay on Christianity and the death penalty. It is amazing how much people hate Scalia. It seems like they attack him without reading what he says, and assume the worst. Adequate rebuttals are on Volokh's blog and in letters to the editor.

Still, Scalia is the most respected member of the Supreme Court. Both right and left wingers say he is brilliant, and that he consistently and coherently applies legal doctrines. Hardly any of the others get much respect.

InstaPundit and Juan on Volokh's blog seem to endorse this column suggesting that a recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision shows that the judges voted principles over politics in Bush v. Gore. The trouble with the argument is that the same 5 judges who voted for Bush are the ones who sided with the Minnesota Republican party. Cynics will say that they were just voting party preference again.

It is really a distortion to say that Bush v. Gore "restricted how elections had to occur." Bush v. Gore did not restrict elections at all. It only restricted a state court when it tries to redo the counting procedure after the election is completed. The decision left Florida completely free to hold its elections and counting procedures as specified in its statutes, and as administered by its executive branch. It did not even limit post-election trials over counting disputes, and did not reverse any trial court action or action by election officers. If anything, Bush v. Gore upheld Florida's right to hold an election according to its constitutional and democratically determined procedures. It only knocked out a partial manual recount scheme that was unilaterally imposed by the Florida supreme court.

The more recent Minnesota case is more of a free speech case than an election case. My previous comments are here. If there is a common thread between these two cases, I'd say it is in the view of the judiciary. The conservatives believe that the judges should just follow the law, and be accountable to the public for doing so. The liberals have a more activist and elitist view of judges. They believe that judges should be able to use their superior wisdom to rewrite the law as they see fit, and not be subject to the political checks and balances that plague other branches of government. Remember, Souter is the one who said he'd allow cameras in the court "over my dead body", so it makes sense that he thinks that judicial candidates shouldn't have to answer to the public.

The baseball all-star game ended in a tie?! I thought that only soccer allowed such foolishness. Surely someone could have pitched a couple of more innings.

The list of 30 memorable baseball moments could have been better. The last one was Ichiro Suzuki winning the AL MVP last year, but he didn't deserve to win. Jason Giambi had a better season for the Oakland As. I had always heard about the great Willie Mays catch in the 1954 World Series, but had never seen it. It was on the list, and was shown as part of the all-star game broadcast. I've seen a lot of more impressive catches. It didn't look like any big deal to me.

Bill Wattenburg suggests solving the Pledge dilemma by Congress passing a law saying:

The word God shall mean that entity or force that created the universe in which the Earth resides.

Alternate version:
The word God used in any official or legal context in the US shall mean that entity and/or force that created the universe in which we exist..

Liza writes:

I just read the blog concerning the Calif. housing discrimination case. Do you mean to tell me that California doesn't allow a white woman to discriminate against a black man in her choice of roommate? You've got to be kidding! What kind of a roommate are we talking about?

In that case, as I understand it, it is legal to discriminate, but it is not legal to tell anyone you are doing that. Yes, its wacky. Someone should challenge it. It is hard to imagine the Supreme Court upholding a penalty for expressing an opinion in favor of lawful behavior in a private conversation.

Update: Here is the decision, thanks to Volokh.

Liza writes:

I just read the blog concerning the Calif. housing discrimination case. Do you mean to tell me that California doesn't allow a white woman to discriminate against a black man in her choice of roommate? You've got to be kidding! What kind of a roommate are we talking about?

In that case, as I understand it, it is legal to discriminate, but it is not legal to tell anyone you are doing that. Yes, its wacky. Someone should challenge it. It is hard to imagine the Supreme Court upholding a penalty for expressing an opinion in favor of lawful behavior in a private conversation.

Andy writes:

John's listing of the rising tide of liberal attacks on the Pledge is no surprise. This is a standard pattern: feigned outrage, complacency by moderates, and then the liberals by default. There's no middle ground on this or any other issue. Advocate or lose by default.

I'm convinced that many people are drawn to "moderate" philosophies because they don't want to accept that constant advocacy is essential, even on basic issues. Drive around New England sometime and look at all the old Protestant churches that are now empty due to lack of advocacy against liberal attacks.

All the legislation cited by John is utterly useless, some of it perhaps intentionally so. Only Akin's bill is meaningful. That's no surprise: Akin is one of the best Congressmen on our side.

Roger's response. Yes, I would vote against any of those bills. What could be sillier than hardwiring the Pledge into the Constitution?

The bills do not address the heart of the problem. Is the Lemon Test a correct interpretation of the Constitution? Does the Pledge fail the Lemon Test? If the answers are yes, then the Pledge is still unconstitutional under the jurisdiction limit. State judges, teachers, and others could reasonably still come to the conclusion that the Pledge is illegal.

I would suggest a broader jurisdictional exclusion:
No federal court shall have jurisdiction to hear or determine any claim that a nonsectarian reference to a deity violates the Constitution of the United States.

John writes:

Since the Newdow decision, there has been a slew of liberal commentary ridiculing the Pledge of Allegiance.

In an effort to defuse public support for the Pledge, they claim the Pledge was promoted by a socialist (Francis Bellamy), the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of Columbus, Joe McCarthy, etc.

Here are two of many such recent examples. NY Times and New Yorker.

However, not one of these articles has seen fit to mention where the phrase "nation under God" actually came from - the Gettysburg address!

Andy says the solution to the Newdow decision is a constitutional amendment. So far, the following proposed amendments have been introduced:

S.J.Res. 39 (Landrieu) `Article--

`SECTION 1. A reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance or on United States currency shall not be construed as affecting the establishment of religion under first article of this Constitution.

`SECTION 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.'.

H.J.Res. 102 (Pickering) `Article --

`SECTION 1. The first article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States shall not be construed to prohibit the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.'.

H.J. Res. 103 (Green of TX) `Article --

`Nothing in the first amendment to this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, as follows: `I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all'.'.

H.J. Res. 103 (Lucas of OK) `Article --

`It is not an establishment of religion for teachers in a public school to recite, or to lead willing students in the recitation of, the following pledge : `I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'.'.

H.R. 5064, a bill introduced by Todd Akin, would insert the following new statute into the Judiciary Act (Title 28 of U.S. Code):

`Sec. 1632. Jurisdiction limitation `No court established by Act of Congress shall have jurisdiction to hear or determine any claim that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, as set forth in section 4 of title 4, violates the first article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States.'.

Monday, July 08, 2002

Vijay on says:

I have been looking for an answer to the question, "Do the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks?" for almost a decade now. Over the past eight years I have reviewed close to 2,000 peer review articles on the issue. I have reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Journal of Epidemiology, Journal of the American Medicine Association, British Medical Journal, and the Annals of Neurology, to name a few. From a purely scientific standpoint, a review of the scientific data reveals that the evidence for vaccine safety and efficacy is just not there.

The answer is not easy to find. I have looked myself. To the best of my knowledge, there is no scientific publication that makes the case that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.

A recent JAMA article wanted to say that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, but the strongest statement that it could document was:

Vaccination is not risk free, but most in mainstream medicine agree that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.

The cited support for this was a Mayo Clinic editorial that said:

Despite such irreducible uncertainties, the modern use of vaccines has clearly benefited more than harmed.

But Vijay wanted something a little more rigorous, I am sure. This is just opinion, without any definition of benefit or harm. I don't think that he will find it. For more info, see the Vaccine Policy FAQ.

John writes to clarify the powers of the US Supreme Court, and gives some excellent examples:

I see that Roger has been conducting a debate with somebody named "George" who says Marbury v. Madison means that "the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the Constitution. The president is not allowed to interpret the Constitution."

Of course, that is a grossly misleading overstatement. The Supreme Court is only final with regard to the cases, controversies and parties that are (properly) before it. What is final is a Supreme Court decision - NOT ITS OPINION.

The decision is final (binding on the parties) simply because there is no further appeal. But everyone is free to disagree with the opinions of the justices and to act accordingly. The fact that US v. Nixon forced Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes does not prevent a later president from asserting executive privilege.

In McCullough v. Maryland (1819) the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for Congress to create a national bank. Andrew Jackson believed it was unconstitutional. In his veto message of 1832, Jackson explained why he was not bound by John Marshall's opinion on this.

In Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional for Congress to ban slavery in the Western territories the U.S. had purchased from France and Mexico. Lincoln believed it was constitutional and, indeed, his goal was to do exactly that. In these speeches, Lincoln argued that the finality of the Dred Scott decision applied only to the parties to the case. Everyone else was free to reject the "rule" or "principles" of the decision and act accordingly.

Slate has a good article on how death penalty opponents (such as the NY Times) use contradictory arguments in order to reduce executions.
According to Volokh's blog, it is illegal in California to make a private racist comment to a roommate. He says:

On May 7, the California Fair Employment & Housing Commission penalized Melissa DeSantis $500 for inflicting "emotional distress" on a would-be roommate by allegedly telling him that "I don't really like black guys. I try to be fair and all, but they scare me." It also required her to pay him $240 in expenses -- and take "four hours of training on housing discrimination."

I agree with Volokh that this is contrary to basic rights to free speech and freedom of association.

The NY Times Magazine had an amazing story about the Dr. Atkins diet. This is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that was promoted in some popular books about 30 years ago. The American Medical Assn. (AMA) has been vigorously denouncing it ever since.

The trouble is that the AMA opposition is based more on its own prejudices than on science. So far, the medical establishment has refused to even test whether the diet works. Meanwhile, a lot of people report that the diet works, while other diets don't.

Update: Monday's CNN Crossfire had a debate on this. The right-winger took the side of eating fatty foods and following empirical scientific evidence. The left-winger took the side of telling people to eat what nutritionists think people ought to be eating. I think that the right-winger got the best of the argument.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

George writes:

You're wrong about Marbury v. Madison. It said, "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." That means that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the Constitution. The president is not allowed to interpret the Constitution. US v. Nixon proved that. Nixon was ordered to turn over the Watergate tapes. It didn't matter if Nixon had his own constitutional interpretation.

Of course judges have to interpret laws. They have to, in order to decide cases. But so does everyone else. When the President is sworn in, he takes an Oath to the Constitution, not to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution.

Every day the President makes decisions based on his understanding of his presidential powers under the Constitution, and most of those understanding have never been tested in court. It is absolutely the responsibility of the President to interpret the Constitution.

Dumb quote of the day. This is about President G.W. Bush's refusal to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Harold Hongju Koh, a Yale law professor and a former assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, said the retraction of the signature on the treaty would be a profound error.

"The result is that the administration is losing a major opportunity to shape the court so it could be useful to the United States," Mr. Koh said. "Now that the court exists, it's important to deal with it. If the administration leaves it unmanaged, it may create difficulties for us and nations like Israel."

He described the opportunity as similar to the United States Supreme Court's 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison that courts could subject the other branches of government to its jurisdiction, decisively defining its role in the new nation.

"This is an international Marbury versus Madison moment," he said. [NY Times, May 5, 2002]

Apparently Koh thinks that the US Supreme Court seized authority over the other branches of government in the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison, and that the ICC should similarly declare its superiority over sovreign nations.

Koh is misreading Marbury v. Madison.

In Marbury v. Madison, the Court was asked to do something that it believed to be contrary to the US Constitution. The Court pointed out that its judges take an oath to the Constitution, and it declared that it did not have the power to do what it was asked.

The ICC would take away rights that Americans currently enjoy. If President Bush respects his oath to the Constitution and follows the logic of Marbury v. Madison, then he will continue to keep the US out of the ICC.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

Stephen Wolfram (of Mathematica fame) must have some amazing publicists. His new self-published book A New Kind Of Science has a wealth of examples of how simple computer programs can have complex outputs. Entertaining, but not a big deal.

The NY Times has already reviewed it 3 times in the last month. Here's the first. And today it has a fourth article about the book -- an interview with Wolfram about it.

Here are some more reviews. It is hard to take the book seriously when it has such an egotistical style, has so many wildly exaggerated claims, and has such a stubborn refusal to put his work in the context of the work of others. But I guess that's what you have to do to get 4 reviews in the NY Times.

George writes:

Why shouldn't the JAMA article be considered academic fraud? The data was concealed and misrepresented. Honest researchers try to publish articles that accurately reflect their findings. The whole point of the article was to describe 22 web sites that fit a certain definition. If none of those web sites met the definition, and the authors withheld the necessary evidence, then the article is a fraud.

I discussed this JAMA article on antivaccination web sites here and here.

I try to give the authors the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the authors are so brainwashed by the medical establishment that they think that anyone who is not endorsing the official vaccine recommendations must be an enemy of medicine.

Still, the JAMA article is misleading and irresponsible. The main point is that so-called anti-vaccination web sites often "rely heavily on emotional appeal to convey their message". But so do many pro-vaccination web sites, such as this.

Politically correct liberals uniformly denounce IQ tests or even any mention of intelligence. Even the SAT test (for college admissions) is being changed to be less like an IQ test, because of pressure from liberal college deans trying to fill affirmative action quotas. But now, the US Supreme Court wants to use IQ tests to determine who gets executed and who does not! [Ring v. Arizona, 2002]

This may be the biggest judicial abuse of IQ tests since the Supreme Court declared "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." [Buck v. Bell, 1927] There it endorsed sterilizing women of low IQ.

Mainstream liberals praised Holmes's judicial philosophy, and they praise the current decision. I guess measuring IQ is ok when it suits their political agenda, and not otherwise.

Ted Williams died. He was the best hitter in baseball. Not everyone liked him. One year he batted .406 but failed to win the MVP award. Another year he led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs and failed to win the MVP award again because of vindictive sportswriters.

Today, Barry Bonds is similarly disliked. Even the home town newspapers trash him on a regular basis. But he is the most feared hitter in baseball today, and he has won more MVP awards than anyone else.

Friday, July 05, 2002

New York City has cut back on uneconomical recycling in order to save money, and this brainwashed Queens student wrote the following letter to the NY Times to complain.

When we take the time and trouble to sort garbage for recycling, we feel that we're doing our part. When stores set aside space for bottles and cans so that they can be recycled, they are doing their part. People are used to going through the steps required in order to make recycling work.

I am 13, and the middle school curriculum constantly features material about pollution, species extinction, rain-forest elimination and global warming. You can hardly complete a book report without covering those subjects. Everyone knows that we are running out of landfill space and are damaging our environment.

We want to cooperate with recycling, but the government won't let us. The government must do its part so that we can do ours.

Apparently NY schools are overrun with left-wing propaganda. My brother is going to reconsider homeschooling if he finds out that his kid's school is teaching this crap. Volokh is another recycling skeptic.

We are not running out of landfill space. The environment is improving, not getting worse. Global warming may ultimately turn out to be a good thing. If recycling really made sense, then the recyclers could separate the materials at the dump.

My blogs are not being posted correctly. I may have to check out alternatives. Today's blogs didn't post for many hours.
Charlie objects to some of my soccer comments:

Your suggestions for improving soccer:


  • Stop the clock when play stops, and show the time remaining on the

  • Soccer is a little like baseball in that it doesn't play out in short bursts of action followed by 30-120 seconds of restarting tedium.  This is a feature, not a bug.  A viewer can get pleasantly lost in the ebb and flow of the game without constantly being pulled down to earth to watch 4 or 8 thirty second commercials. 

  • Have commercial breaks to suit US TV.

  • I don't know all the reasons for soccer's failure on American TV, but I'm pretty sure that being commercial-free isn't one of them. Commercials are a bug, not a feature of American sports.  See above.

  • Fix the off-sides rule, so no goals are called back and so that the average viewer can understand it.

  • How?

  • Allow substitutions on-the-fly.

    I'd support this if it was completely unobtrusive and didn't result in stoppage of play. Having rested players out there
    might result in more scoring.

  • Allow players to use their hands, provided that they do not run with the ball or throw a goal.

    No way!  This is soccer.  You don't use your hands, period.  It's the core concept of the

  • Double the penalty kick distance. It is just too easy to score on a penalty kick

    This would be worth trying.

  • If there is a tie, play sudden-death overtime until there is a goal.

    I agree with this one, but you can't play forever.  Maybe 60 minutes of sudden-death ("golden goal") overtime, then penalty kicks after that.

  • Fix the out-of-bounds rules so that no one has an incentive to deliberately let the ball go out of bounds.

    I don't see a problem with the game's existing out-of-bounds rules.

  • Make the goal bigger, so that games have higher scores.

            Yeah, a hair bigger, maybe moving to metric: 3 meters by 10 meters.


  • Get better referees.

    The only world-wide, year to year constant in sports: People bitch about the referees.  Soccer's officials don't seem any worse than football or basketball officials.


  • Roger's response. Some of my opinions are based on what works in hockey. Ice hockey has continous substitutions and it works ok. Off-sides in hockey is based on a couple of lines in the ice, and it is usually a clear-cut call. Sometimes the refs blow it, but it never results in a goal being called back. (Hockey did have a stupid man-in-the-crease rule that resulted in a lot of goals being called back, but that rule has been abolished.)

    In soccer, the off-sides rule is based on the relative position of the players. A team could execute a pre-planned play perfectly and score a goal, but then the goal could be called back because a defensive player on the other team was slow to drop back and try to cover the scorer! A player should not be penalized just because he can run faster than someone on the other team, and the fans should not get the disappointment of a big goal being disallowed.

    The soccer off-sides rule is particular hard to call because it is based on the position of the offensive player receiving a pass (relative to the defensive players) at the time the pass was kicked. So the ref has to watch at least 3 players at the same time in order to make the call. Watching a game on TV, I could only tell if a play was off-sides by rewinding the recording to the time of the pass being kicked, and checking the positions of the other players. Frequently, the refs were wrong.

    I suppose the soccer off-sides rule makes sense for third world playgrounds with unmarked fields. But if they don't want offensive players going to far upfield, then could paint a line on the field and say offensive player can't cross the line until the ball crosses the line.

    Commercial breaks may be annoying, but the economics of American pro sports is completely dependent on them. How else is soccer ever going to get a major television network contract?