Saturday, August 31, 2002

Andy has another quiz.

Like my prior constitution quiz, here is a science quiz that counters liberal bias:

1. In a famous experiment, a shearwater bird was taken from its nest and transported in a closed container across the Atlantic Ocean. It was then released from its container at a spot 3,400 miles from its nest. On its own, the bird was able to fly back to and find its nest in the following amount of time:
(a) one year.
(b) 98 days.
(c) 12½ days.
(d) never.

2. Charles Darwin claimed that every living species, including whales, evolved. He asserted that the ancestor of whales was:
(a) sharks.
(b) dolphins.
(c) black bears swimming in the sea with their mouths open.
(d) none of the above.

3. Modern physics contradicts purely materialistic explanations of matter:
(a) by demonstrating that experimental results change depending on observation.
(b) by demonstrating that action-at-a-distance exists at subatomic levels.
(c) by demonstrating that particles can tunnel through energy barriers.
(d) all of the above.

4. Limestone is formed from sea life. It is found:
(a) only near the ocean.
(b) only within 1000 feet of sea level.
(c) at all elevations and in all parts of the world.
(d) only on ocean floors.

5. Testability and falsifiability are essential elements of what qualifies as scientific. The following satisfy the requirement of falsifiability and thus can be considered scientific:
(a) the claim that life exists in outer space.
(b) the claim that black holes exist in outer space.
(c) the claim that a species once evolved from a simpler ancestor.
(d) none of the above.

6. The theory that the moon was formed by splitting from the Earth is:
(a) true, because it is shaped like the earth.
(b) true, because there is no other way it could have originated.
(c) false, because we now know it was once a planet in our solar system.
(d) false, because it lacks the iron that permeates the earth.

7. The "Nebraska Man" was supposedly a human ancestor, presented as key evidence at the famous Scopes Trial to support the alleged evolution of man. It was based on:
(a) a single tooth, later proven to be merely from a pig.
(b) a skull, later shown to be from an ordinary ape.
(c) a skeleton of a part-ape, part-human ancestor.
(d) a collection of artifacts now on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

8. "Irreducibly complex" features cannot have directly evolved because they cannot function if any of their parts are missing. A simple mousetrap is an example of something that is "irreducibly complex." Biological examples include:
(a) blood clotting.
(b) the immune system.
(c) intracellular transport.
(d) all of the above.

9. The late Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent evolutionist, declared that the "trade secret" of evolution is that
(a) "Evolution is remarkably powerful at dispelling religious conviction."
(b) "The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change."
(c) "Evolution can be taught at a young age in schools, with its effect lasting for a lifetime."
(d) none of the above.

10. In the popular game show "Let's Make a Deal," a contestant is shown three doors. Only one has a prize behind it, and the contestant is told to take his pick. Say he picks Door #1. Then the game show host opens a different door, Door #3, which has no prize behind it. So the prize must be behind Door #1 or Door #2. The contestant is asked if he wants to change his choice from Door #1 to Door #2. If he switches his choice, then he
(a) reduces his chance of picking the door with the prize.
(b) has the same chance of picking the door with the prize.
(c) doubles his chance of picking the door with the prize.
(d) it is impossible to determine his chances.

Here are my answers.
1. I guess (c).
2. I guess (b).
3. (a) is partially true because some observations can disrupt an experiment. Not sure what you mean by (b), but there is a lot of subatomic behavior that doesn't match our normal intuition. I guess you are referring to the belief among quantum field theorists that quantum fields are more fundamental than matter. Eg, electrons and photons are just manifestations of concentrated electromagnetic fields. I agree with that, so I'll say (d).
4. (c) The limestone is older than the mountain ranges, so it could be on mountains.
5. I guess you'll say (d), but that is not correct because those claims are parts of theories with many testable hypotheses. The notion of falsifiability is usually applied to a theory, not a claim.
6. I think the dominant belief is that the Moon was formed by a collision between the Earth and a small planet. Whether you call this "splitting", I don't know.
7. (a)
8. You will probably say (d), but all are false. An irreducibly complex
feature can result from evolution by changing parts, instead of adding
parts. Eg, suppose that of parts A,B,C, it happens that AB, AC, ABC, and C are functional, and the other possibilities are not. Then evolution could be: C -> AC -> ABC -> AB and we get AB even tho it is irreducibly complex.
9. I guess (b).
10. (c), under reasonable assumption of randomness and the host playing fair.

Andy writes:

Roger writes, "So focusing only falsifiability of individual claim does not tell us much about whether the theory of black holes can be falsified."

Any claim that is not falsifiable is of doubtful validity as science. Relativity is permeated with non-falsifiable claims, not just black holes. You keep implying that "the theory of black holes can be falsified," but you don't say how.

Re: moon, Roger wrote, "I still don't know what answer you think is correct. Does a collision involve "severing"?"

Proposing a collision just is a red herring. The point is that there is no matter from the Earth on the moon, because there is no iron there. No severing of Earth ever happened to form the moon.

Roger wrote, "If you interpret 'directly evolved' strictly, then nothing has ever evolved. Evolution is a theory about indirect change. No one thinks that 10-fingered men evolved from 9-fingered men."

OK, I'll bite. What do you think our ten fingers evolved from, if not from 8 or 9 fingers or 10 stubs?

Re: Monty Hall's paradox, Roger writes, "If you add the assumptions rigorously, then the statement is a math theorem that would be just as true on Mars."

The probability of the location of the prize is a function of post hoc decisionmaking by the observer. If the contestant picks Door #1 and Monty opens Door #3, then the prize is twice as likely to be behind Door #2 as Door #1. If, however, the contestant picks Door #2 and Monty opens Door #3, then the prize is twice as likely to be behind Door #1. The decisionmaking of the observer changes matter and logic after-the-fact. The results are different from when the observer is not there.

Andy maintains: "The theories to which 5(a)-(c) attach do not have many falsifiable hypotheses."

Those theories have lots of falsifiable hypotheses. Eg, the claim that intelligent life exists on Mars has been falsified by trips to Mars.

If someone says "black holes exist", it is hard to falsify. If someone says "black holes don't exist", then it can be falsified by finding a single black hole. If someone says, "there is a huge black hole at the center of the Milky Way", it could be falsified by getting more info about the Milky Way. So focusing only falsifiability of individual claim does not tell us much about whether the theory of black holes can be falsified.

I think that it is entirely possible that (c) will be falsified. That someone will show that some species evolved from 2 other species, by showing it got DNA from both.

Evolution does not act by adding components very often. Mostly it changes components. Another evolution could be: A -> B -> AB -> AD -> CD. Now CD could be irreducibly complex, and yet it evolves from simpler parts.


Roger replied, "You will probably say (d), but all are false. An irreducibly complex feature can result from evolution by changing parts, instead of adding parts. ..."
That's not a scenario whereby the feature "directly evolved," which is the question. Your scenario requires a path that goes from the simple to the complex and then back to something simpler. If progressive evolution has the small probability of X, then your progressive and regressive evolution has astronomically small probability on the order of X squared.

If progressive evolution is impossible, then X = 0, and X squared is also 0. But as I've shown, the indirect route can be more likely.

If you interpret "directly evolved" strictly, then nothing has ever evolved. Evolution is a theory about indirect change. No one thinks that 10-fingered men evolved from 9-fingered men.

Andy writes:

Roger replied, "Put in all the assumptions, and you'll get a math theorem that does not depend on any observer."
It does depend on the observer.
Say Monty Hall plays the game many times, using random placements of the door prize (of which he is aware). (The rules are that after an observer picks a door or no observer picks a door, Monty opens a door lacking the prize.)
At the end of many trials of the game, Monty then culls all the times he picked, say, door #3. From that subset, he analyzes how often a prize was behind door #1 versus #2, and whether the observer's picks had an influence.
It does. When there was no observer, doors 1 and 2 split the prize about 50% of the time. When the observer existed and picked door #1, then door #2 had the prize 66.7% and #1 only 33.3%. Vice-versa when the observer picked door #2. The existence and selection of the observer influences the outcome -- even though his appearance and selection post-date the original placement of the prize.

Estimated probabilities are based on the likelihood of outcomes based on the available info. Monty is giving new info.

If I ask you to choose a card from a deck, what is the chance you'll get the ace of spades? 1 in 52. Now I tell you the deck had 2 jokers. Then it is 1 in 54. Now I say half the deck was missing, but the aces were included. Then 1 in 27. Has the observer changed the probabilities? Not by observing, but by providing new info.
Isaac asks for an example of something that lay people consider to be unethical, that are considered to be ethical by a licensed attorney, because they are permitted by applicable rules. I suggest:

  1. Getting a murderer acquitted because the critical evidence was not admitted or some other technicality.
  2. Finding evidence of a non-client's life-threatening medical condition, but not revealing it to protect a client's financial interest.
  3. Defending a criminal who commits perjury in the case.
  4. Getting a 40% contingency fees on a $100k settlement that only required one phone call to make the deal.

Igor claims that a lawyer cannot assist a client who is committing perjury, and quotes the DC Bar ethics rules:

Excerpts from Opinion No. 234 of the DC Bar --
Defense Counsel's Duties When Client Insists On Testifying Falsely
Rule 3.3(a) prohibits the use of false testimony at trial. Rule 3.3(b) excepts from this prohibition false testimony offered by a criminal defendant so long as defense counsel seeks first to dissuade the client from testifying falsely and, failing in this, seeks to withdraw when this can be done without harm to the client. ...

In other words, the lawyer can allow his client to commit perjury as long as it wasn't the lawyer's idea. As a practical matter, it is usually not possible to withdraw without harm to the client.

Usually the lawyer just looks the other way. If the client wants to testify with a suspicious alibi, the doesn't ask him if it is really the truth. He merely discusses trial strategy, and the pros and cons of telling such a story.

Isaac says that the lawyers in N. Carolina are required to take:

Remedial Measures
[10] If perjured testimony or false evidence has been offered, the advocate's proper course ordinarily is to remonstrate with the client confidentially. If that fails, the advocate should seek to withdraw if that will remedy the situation. If withdrawal will not remedy the situation or is impossible, the advocate may make disclosure to the court. In the event of such disclosure, it is for the court ...

Ok, so the lawyer has to talk to the client. That is the "proper course". The lawyer "should" withdraw if that will remedy the situation, but that is unlikely. If OJ is going to deny killing Nicole, he is going to do it no matter who his lawyer is. Finally, it says that the lawyer "may" tell the judge. IOW, telling the judge is not required. I still say that this is an example of something that lawyers consider ethical, and non-lawyers do not.

Rahul says:

I was told that when licensed attorneys within the USA use the term 'unethical', they are NOT referring to any moral code, but rather, to the rules of the Bar and/or the court that regulates their professional practice.

That is how I've heard lawyers use the term unethical. It only refers to the rules about what lawyers can and cannot do.

Friday, August 30, 2002

The local paper published these bicycle RULES OF THE ROAD.

  • The same rules that apply to cars apply to bicycles.
  • If a bicycle cannot safely ride to the right of cars on a road -- three feet is considered safe -- the bike is allowed to ride in the center of the lane, along with cars.
  • If a slow car is impeding five or more vehicles, it is required to safely allow the other vehicles to pass. The same is true for bicycles.
  • Sometimes the side of the road is unsafe -- filled with debris -- for bicyclists. When this is the case, cyclists are allowed to ride in the center of the lane.
  • When bicycling, do so as if drivers of cars or buses cannot see you.

There is a controversy in Silicon Valley about a collision between a bicycle and a car. The motorist was annoyed at a pack of cyclists and pulled over in front of them, and one of the bikes crashed into him. In the motorist's words, "I was going to tell them it was reckless to ride in the car lane." No one was cited. The motorist apparently believes that he was in the right, but I think that he could be paying a 6-figure legal claim. The fact is that it is often quite legal, safe, and proper for bicycles to ride in a car lane.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Here is some practical research reported by News of the Weird.

New York University researchers writing in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that sex-abstaining women and women whose partners wear condoms were more frequently depressed and concluded that hormones in semen may enter the bloodstream and pep women up.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

The movie rating system seems to be particularly useless. Just about everything is PG-13. Movies like Signs and Blue Crush are PG-13, even tho they have almost nothing offensive and I would take my 5-year-old to see them. But many other PG-13 movies are completely inappropriate for a 5-year-old.
I agree with Jim Bouton -- if there is a baseball strike, it will be because greedy owners are demanding a socialistic system.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Here is a C-Net column trashing Larry Lessig. I actually agree with Lessig that software copyrights should be cut to about 10 years.
Mark writes "Now here's the point: since these [accident scenarios] aren't technically "health issues" until injury has happened, should pediatricians have any role in preventing them from becoming health issues?"

I agree with Carey: "Well, many parents look to them for guidance on this sort of stuff, and they're going to ask, so I think they're somewhat obligated to answer. The real question is what qualifies them to dispense safety advice outside the areas covered by their training? (Eg, motor vehicle restraints, car seats, etc). I'd say they'd be wise to get some materials to hand out on subjects like that, or refer them to expert sources."

There are several problems with peds branching out into safety issues.

  1. They don't (usually) have the education and training for it.
  2. Because of lost medical confidentiality, they cannot get honest safety answers from parents.
  3. Because of increased prosecutions of parents, peds have shifted into a more adversarial role.
  4. Questions of safety often boil down to risk management, and that requires a different mindset than that required for treating disease.

Bjorn Lomborg has some sensible comments about the cost of environmentalist actions, such as the Kyoto Protocol.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

This site does an excellent job of debunking Harper's Index. The Index seems like just some random statistics, but they are carefully chosen to mislead the reader in a certain political direction.
I really want to vote for Bill Simon for California governor. Gov. Gray Davis is corrupt, incompetent, and has been a fiscal disaster. I can overlook Simon's political inexperience, his lousy speaking voice, and his bad judgment in losing a big fraud lawsuit, but why is he such a coward about the big California issues? I'd like to know where he stands on:

  • What would Simon have done about the regulatory crisis about energy? What will he do?
  • Would Simon ban MTBE?
  • What would he do about the current efforts to limit homeschoolers?
  • Where does he stand on school vouchers?

Simon talks about education a lot, but I don't see how any of it is going to help me. I really want to send my kid to the local public school, but they need to be a little more accountable to the parents.

Update: Gumma reports that an SF columnist just trashed both Simon and Davis. California desperately needs a Jesse Ventura!

The problem with pediatricians is that today they want to wear 3 hats:

  1. Physicians, who diagnose and treat disease.
  2. Safety counselor, who quizzes parents about potentially unsafe practices and advises accordingly.
  3. Policeman, who snitches to law enforcement whenever he suspects improper child care.

Roles (2) and (3) are fundamentally incompatible. People are not going to trust pediatricians to tell the truth, as long as pediatricians refuse to maintain confidentiality and threaten to report parents to Child Protective Services.

Physicians are just trained in health matters anyway, not safety matters. Opinions on safety are much better obtained from other sources. Even the leading pediatrician organization, the AAP is unreliable and unscientific in its opinions.

Canada does not have free speech. This order from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal proves it.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

The San Jose Mercury News published my letter.

Chicago Sun-Times headline: 9/11 taking heavier toll on women, minorities. Yes, the article is as ridiculous as it sounds.

A NY Times editorial says that the NY teachers don't teach kids how to learn properly because they think that phonics is a right-wing plot:

The National Institutes of Health, after more than 30 years of research, has said that perhaps 40 percent of children need a structured reading program to succeed. But the teachers' colleges and the public schools have failed to listen, and continue to operate under the popular but mistaken notion that children learn to read naturally. Many public schools view structured reading work as part of a right-wing "phonics" conspiracy aimed at crushing educational creativity.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Here is a story about a mom who spent a week in jail and was threatened with 15 years in prison, just because she took her kids to the county fair one day without enough sunscreen, and the kids got sunburned. Even if the mom is acquitted, she will be hounded by overzealous CPS workers, and info she told to her ped will be used against her.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl turns 100 years old, and is facing lawsuit for Holocaust denial. I saw her film on the 1936 Olympics, and I sure couldn't find any Nazi propaganda. It was an outstanding film. For the most part, it just showed athletes in action without any narration. They should leave her alone.
Andy writes:

Ashcroft at a news conference today: "The investigation into last fall's anthrax attacks has yet 'to cross a threshold' that would allow prosecutors to bring charges against anyone, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday. 'When we arrive at that threshold, I will make an announcement to that effect.'"
Translation: Ashcroft does not yet have the OK from the Karl Rove White House to indict a government insider for the anthrax scare. Maybe on a quiet Friday after the November elections, maybe never.

The White House approved the Lindh plea bargain. Think it's controlling other cases too? Yep, particularly if it implicates terrorism.

Latest USA Today poll:

A slight majority of Americans still supports sending ground troops to Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, but the size of that majority has dwindled to pre-Sept. 11 levels, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds. At the same time, President Bush's job approval has fallen to 65%, still healthy but its lowest level since before Sept. 11. Support for sending troops to Iraq has fallen from a high of 74% in November to 53%. ... if the November congressional elections were held today, Democrats would stand a good chance of taking back control of the House of Representatives. Asked how they would vote in their district election, 50% of registered voters said they would vote for a Democrat and 42% said a Republican. ...

Yes, the White House probably approved the J. W. Lindh plea bargain. I would have approved it also. Lindh got a stiff sentence for what he did. I guess Andy think that the feds know who did the anthrax, but are pretending that they know less than they really do. I think that it is more likely that the feds are pretending to know more than what they really do.

Andy sends this test for your constitutional IQ. Ten "easy" questions about the Constitution. Each question makes a subtle conservative point, indiscernable to most.

1. The Constitution was drafted by a group originally assembled to:
(a) form a new government.
(b) propose modifications to the existing government.
(c) declare independence from England.
(d) pass legislation to implement the Articles of Confederation.

2. The delegates at the Constitutional Convention unanimously supported it because:
(a) the dissenting delegates left before it concluded.
(b) it underwent numerous revisions in secrecy until unanimous consent was
(c) George Washington presided over it.
(d) all of the above.

3. The following resources are available for interpreting the Constitution:
(a) minutes of the discussions at the convention.
(b) media coverage of discussions at the convention.
(c) George Washington's detailed notes from the convention.
(d) none of the above.

4. The signatories to the Constitution included:
(a) Thomas Jefferson.
(b) John Hancock.
(c) William Paterson.
(d) James Monroe.

5. The Federalist Papers opposed a Bill of Rights in the Constitution because:
(a) they would imply federal powers that were never granted.
(b) the New York state constitution lacked a similar bill of rights.
(c) the statute law of Great Britain lacked a similar bill of rights.
(d) all of the above.

6. The State of Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by this percentage vote:
(a) 53%-47%
(b) 65%-35%
(c) 89%-11%
(d) 100%

7. Opponents to ratification of the Constitution feared judicial activism by federal judges because:
(a) they can use the federal government to enforce their orders.
(b) they are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
(c) they receive a salary from the federal government.
(d) they are unelected.

8. Patrick Henry opposed ratification of the Constitution because he found this new federal power especially dangerous:
(a) the power to legislate.
(b) the power to deal with foreign nations.
(c) the power to tax.
(d) the power to thwart secession.

9. The Constitution did not grant women the right to vote because:
(a) the delegates considered women to be second-class citizens.
(b) women generally did not own land, and only landowners could vote.
(c) the Constitution did not grant anyone the right to vote.
(d) none of the above.

10. States can convict defendants of felonies by less than unanimous jury vote because:
(a) majority vote is all that was ever required.
(b) the Bill of Rights do not apply entirely to the States.
(c) the right to trial by jury does not include requirements for the jury.
(d) federal juries can also convict for felonies by divided juries.
John sends an article about a site collecting links to sites that try to prohibit links. He also sends this article on digital copying.

This Slate article explains how music sales are down a little bit this years, but there are a lot of reasons for it, and it may not be piracy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Joe reports these headlines from the Wall Street Journal:

Headline: A Radical New Approach to Anorexia

Sub Head: New Therapies Stress Eating Instead of Psychotherapy
Gumma writes: "See today's editorial praising conservative Judge Noonan for attacking Supreme Court decisions upholding states' sovereignty, including VAWA." John reports the editorial is here. Also see rave review by Linda Greenhouse in last Sunday's NYTBR.

From these articles, it sounds like the book consists of a lot of anecdotal stories about people with grievances who, for various reasons, would have rather had their cases heard in federal court than state court. Noonan is a federal judge from California, and California has a lot of wacky and incompetent judges, so maybe he thinks that the federal courts can do a better job. Both articles mention the 11th Amendment as a prime example of how the Supreme Court defers to the states too much. The 11A prohibits federal lawsuits against states, and the recent decisions on this subject are consistent with decisions that go back to 1890. [Hans v. Louisiana] If people really want federal lawsuits against state government, then they should amend the Constitution.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Good environmental news in the NY Times. Demographers now predict that world population may never exceed 10B people. Birth rates are going down. Meanwhile, whale protection has resulted in millions of whales, and whales not consume more food than all the 6.2B people who now live on Earth. Life is getting safer, and huge amounts of money are being spent to reduce some very improbably risks.

Andy writes:

Roger's discussion acts like this is news.

In the early 1970s conservatives declared the population bomb theory a fraud, but it has been taught for over 30 years in schools. Liberals love the theory because it supports their views about abortion and world government. So it was taught and taught. And its teaching helped raise a generation of academic liberals.

Of course, the NY Times doesn't hold liberal scientists accountable for teaching falsehoods in school for 30+ years.

Gumma writes:

Don't you remember the night Anne came home from Mary Institute and said that Erlich's "Population Bomb" was her science book? Dad had one of his favorite tantrums. That must have been about 1970.

I think that was Liza, not Anne. The news is that population experts have revised their estimates of the Earth's population from 12B to 10B people. Erlich was debunked about 20 years ago, as he was looking at shorter term predictions.
John sends this story about how the NEA is saying that teachers should mark the 9-11 anniversary by showing tolerance, not suggesting any group was responsible, and blaming American for the WWII Japanese internment. It would be better to say nothing; even first graders understand the situation better than that. If they teach the Japanese internment, they should teach the full facts, such as who ordered it, why, how they were treated, how they were compensated, etc. But they won't.

Monday, August 19, 2002

John sends this story about how the NEA is saying that teachers should mark the 9-11 anniversary by showing tolerance, not suggesting any group was responsible, and blaming American for the WWII Japanese internment. It would be better to say nothing; even first graders understand the situation better than that. If they teach the Japanese internment, they should teach the full facts, such as who ordered it, why, how they were treated, how they were compensated, etc. But they won't.
John sends this story about how the NEA is saying that teachers should mark the 9-11 anniversary by showing tolerance, not suggesting any group was responsible, and blaming American for the WWII Japanese internment. It would be better to say nothing; even first graders understand the situation better than that. If they teach the Japanese internment, they should teach the full facts, such as who ordered it, why, how they were treated, how they were compensated, etc. But they won't.
John reports that the NEA has some strange lesson plans for the 9-11 anniversary. The NEA says not to suggest than any group was responsible, promote tolerance, and blame America for the Japanese internment during WWII. I guess the internment is the worst thing America has done. If they taught the internment, then I wish they would at least teach the facts -- including who was responsible (FDR, Earl Warren, etc.), why it was done, how many times they were compensated, etc.
article on teaching 9-11
John sends this NY Post story: "A TOP state schools boss yesterday ordered educators to stop banning kids from classrooms if parents refuse to medicate them with psychotropic drugs - calling it a violation of children's rights."

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Univ. of California at Santa Cruz just ranked third on a rating of party schools, and the Amer. Medical Assn. (AMA) is trying to stifle this info. The AMA disapproves because it says that it legitimizes drinking. Shouldn't students know what they are getting into? If they just read the catalog, they'd learn about our goofy departments like History of Consciousness, but they won't learn about the partying.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Slate argues that the famous Lewis and Clark expedition was irrelevant, because they never found a northwest (water) passage to the Pacific, few people read their accounts, and most later explorers found better routes to the west. Interesting article, but I don't buy its claim that Lewis and Clark's fame is a just a result of an ill-deserved PR campaign in the late 1960s. When it comes to discovering new information, often just knowing that something is possible is the most valuable thing. Lewis and Clark proved that it was possible to traverse what became the western US. Sure, with the confidence that it could be done, others followed and found different paths. But somebody had to figure out that it could be done.
A NY Times letter has a typical Gore fan who is still griping about the 2000 Florida election. It says, "Al Gore did request a full-state recount, but was turned down by Mr. Bush". Not true. Gore did not want a full recount. He only asked for a recount in 4 counties, and then just a partial manual recount in those counties. When the Florida supreme court decided on its own scheme for a statewide partial manual recount of undervotes, Gore supported that. But Gore never asked for a full-state recount. And it wouldn't have been denied by Bush, either. Florida recounts are based on its statutes, and any denial would be by Florida officials.
John sends this article denying that VHS format locked consumers into an inferior technology. People often give the VHS v. Beta story as proof that network effects can lead to a bad result. I am collecting a list of myths like this. It is still sketchy, so send me ideas.

Some people claim that Beta had better picture quality, but you couldn't tell the difference on a typical TV set. It was VHS that had superior technology in what mattered to consumers -- the tapes held twice as much video.

The article goes on to apply the analogy to Microsoft and its antitrust case. The author works for a Microsoft PR firm. I just don't see the connection with the antitrust case. It is not a crime for Microsoft to have large market share, and whether Windows is the best OS on the market is not really an issue. Microsoft was convicted of using certain illegal tactics to protect and extend its OS monopoly. A remedy is needed to stop the illegal conduct.

Friday, August 16, 2002

I can't get away from these alarmist stories about children. Today's Mercury News had its lead front page story about a toddler who fell into a swimming pool. The first sentence was about the kid falling in; the second about the neighbor pulling him out; and the third was about the possibility of the police filing criminal charges. Can't anyone just accept the possibility that it was just an accident? I am opposed to criminalized accidents like this.
Richard Cohen doesn't like Ann Coulter's book "Slander", perhaps because she correctly finds fault with him, as he concedes. But he misrepresents her when he says she wants to invade the Islamic world. Her Sept. 14, 2001 column on the subject clearly referred to "people who want our country destroyed". Yes, we should invade their countries and kill their leaders. We are not concerned with the peaceful Islamic countries.

Here is a contrary view that thinks Coulter was referring to all Muslims. It quotes what it calls the "full context", which is really only the preceding paragraph. It refers to "Muslim hijackers" and "homocidal maniacs". Does he think all moslims are homicidal maniacs? Here is another anti-Coulter tirade. With all Coulter's blunt language, I'd think that critics could find something more damaging. She's right that the Moslem terrorists should be killed.

Bruce Schneier's newsletter has a good discussion of Microsoft Palladium and how the music labels are lobbying for the right to sabotage peer-to-peer computer networks. As usual for crypto geeks, he takes a hard line for personal freedom, and doesn't want the government or Microsoft or anyone else controlling our computers or networks. He wants unlicense, unregulated, and unregistricted use of cryptography for individuals. But then his discussion switches to airline pilots having guns, and all of a sudden he has a bunch of weird fears about how the government might not sufficient control the situation. He wants to give the pilots stun guns instead! In my opinion, the pilots need tools that are good enough to get the job done. That means guns. Schneier mentions that the guns might have to get thru airport security, but that is true for air marshals and others. Not a big deal.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Volokh's blog has a discussion of the Second Amendment preserving the right to armed revolution. While I agree with what he says, and there is no doubt that the US Founders believed that armed revolution was sometimes necessary to protect their ideals, it just sounds kooky today.

Another way to look at it is in terms of the distribution of power. Some people want power to be more concentrated in (hopefully responsible) authorities, and others want it widely distributed. The purpose of the Second Amendment (in this regard, as I see it) is not so much to make armed revolution possible, but to make it unnecessary because the distributed power will limit what the authorities will dare do. It is analogous to the 6th Amendment right to a jury trial. The US Supreme Court has emphasized that this right stems in part from a desire to keep oppressive government power in check. Eg, it said this when upholding the right:

The guarantees of jury trial in the Federal and State Constitutions reflect a profound judgment about the way in which law should be enforced and justice administered. A right to jury trial is granted to criminal defendants in order to prevent oppression by the Government. [cites omitted] Those who wrote our constitutions knew from history and experience that it was necessary to protect against unfounded criminal charges brought to eliminate enemies and against judges too responsive to the voice of higher authority. [Duncan v. Louisiana, 1968]

Now rampant jury nullification is undesirable just as armed revolution is; the hope is that the decentralization of power makes it unnecessary by putting natural limits on government oppression.

Others don't see it that way, of course. The new International Criminal Court has no right to a jury trial.

More wacky vaccine policy. There is a vaccine for West Nile Virus, but it is only approved for horses. Why just horses? According to Slate Explainer, "the USDA judged the virus to be a crisis, since horses are particularly susceptible—about a third of infected horses will perish, compared with around 10 percent of humans who exhibit symptoms." The vaccine has been tested to be safe, but has not been proved effective in humans. This reasoning suggests that a human life is worth only about the same as 3 horses.

The vaccine authorities seem to be locked in a mindset where they either want to mandate a vaccine for everyone, or limit the vaccine to just animals. Sen. Frist (the one MD in the US Senate) just wrote an article with the radical suggestion that people be allowed free choice about whether to get a smallpox. Shouldn't it be obvious to everyone that they should be able to make their own medical decisions?

I am assuming that Slate got it right. The previous Slate Explainer about Charleton Heston was completely wrong, as demonstrated by Volokh. It appears to be just a politically motivated hit piece. Even the acknowledgement seems to be faked. And Slate didn't even have the decency to put up a correction, after notified that the story was wrong.

At least the NY Times had the decency to correct a blatant anti-Bush snide remark, as Kausfiles explains.

Update: Apparently Slate is investigating whether it is wrong.

The eMoo blog is info about free speech at Univ of California. See also this story.
Andy writes:

Other large skyscrapers survived massive fires, while the WTC collapsed. Why? The other skyscrapers were privately built with superior construction, while the WTC was a government building built by politicians and the product of regulatory hysteria about asbestos. The NY Times says:

A 1988 high-rise fire in Los Angeles sounded another prescient alarm. Flames from the blaze at the 62-story First Interstate Bank building, then the tallest tower west of the Sears Tower in Chicago, lapped up the side of the building, gutting offices from the 12th to the 16th floor. By all accounts, the response was fast and well organized, as firefighters quickly eliminated a water-supply problem by linking mobile pumpers into the building's system.

The fire burned for three and a half hours, killing a maintenance worker and injuring 35 others.Engineers later discovered that the building survived the fire with surprisingly limited structural damage; credit was given to especially thick layers of a relatively heavy, cementlike fireproofing that had been applied to structural steel. The World Trade Center had the much lighter, easily dislodged fireproofing on the floor braces whose failure probably initiated the collapse.

No modern fire strikes as strong a resonance with the trade center as the 19-hour, eight-floor fire at 1 Meridian Plaza in Philadelphia. Three firefighters died, few compared with the 343 firefighters who died at the World Trade Center.

Here's an article that claims, mistakenly I think, that extra explosives must have brought down the WTC. "Fire has never caused a steel building to collapse," Hufschmid writes, "so, how did a 56-minute fire bring down a steel building as strong as the South Tower?"

Some scientists theorize that didn't really become modern until about 50K years ago when a language gene evolved. This can be contrasted with others who are always emphasizing how similar we are to ancestors who lived millions of years ago. Meanwhile, chimps and apes, our closest relatives, apparently have less tool-making intelligence than crows.

This poor ex-employee is being abused by Alcatel. Alcatel says he got a clever idea while he was an employee, and has spent 5 years suing him to find out what the idea is!

Update: Good Wash Post article on the mutant language gene.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Larry Lessig quotes Bill Gates as saying:

If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete stand-still today. ... The solution ... is patenting as much as we can ... while this approach will allow companies like Microsoft, Apple and IBM to continue in business, it will shut new companies out of the field. A future start up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price may be high: Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors".

The whole lecture is here. (Req Flash 5.) He's right -- patents are primarily used by big companies to stifle smaller competitors. Trends in the Federal Circuit and Congress are to favor the big companies even more.

Lessig also says that as he was rounding up big-shot economists to sign onto to a legal brief against copyright extension, Milton Friedman said that he'd only sign if the word no-brainer appeared in the brief.

Meanwhile, the US DoJ and a variety of amici have just filed briefs supporting copywright extension to lifetime plus 70 years. I just looked at the one filed by Dr. Suess's heirs. Most of briefs consists of explaining how much money they are still making, and how they would be unhappy if that money got cut off. Eg, Hollywood made a $125M Jim Carrey movie out of the 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the year 2000.

I was struck by this sentence on p. 11: "Of the more than 50 children's books created by Amici, White's Charlotte's Web was the only book to have a children's film produced during the author's lifetime."

Dr. Suess died in 1991. The IMDb credits him as a writer for 20 movies that were made before 1991, and 3 more as a producer. Eg, the 1953 children's movie The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. is quite good.

I didn't get far into the DoJ brief, but it just looked like the usual boring arguments.

It starts off trying to draw significance to the Constitution using the phrase "limited times" in the plural, rather than the singular. Apparently some drafts used the singular:

On August 18, 1787, James Madison submitted to the delegates to the Constitutional Convention a list of powers to be granted Congress, which included the power "To secure to literary authors their copyrights for a limited time" and "To encourage, by premiums and provisions, the advancement of useful knowledge and discoveries." At the same time, Charles Pinckney submitted a list which included the power "To grant patents for useful inventions" and "To secure to authors exclusive rights for a certain time." [Govt report]

But the obvious explanation for the plural is that copyrights and patents were merged into one clause, and they didn't need to get the same limits. The only places where I saw it scoring points was where Lessig conceded too much:

Petitioners do not dispute that the CTEA’s term is “limited” as applied to future works. ... First, petitioners do not allege that the CTEA’s term is too “long” to be “limited.” Pet. Br. 14.

Andy writes:

The homeschool locals just sent out announcements for my two courses this fall: "Constitution and Government" and "Critical Thinking in Science". We'll see how many sign up. Classes are one day a week at a local church building, beginning in late September.

Personally, I don't see how institutional education can survive the internet long-term. Why travel to sit in an institution 5 days a week when you can get more done online? Why be stuck with the liberal courses imposed by a school when you can pick and choose among homeschooled ones? Apparently homeschooling is booming in St. Louis County now. It wouldn't surprise me if high-priced colleges eventually fall into disfavor.

The impact of the internet on many industries is just beginning. Some are saying that the recent collapse of the traditional airline carriers is partly due to the internet, which promotes brutal price competition and allows start-ups to flourish (see US Air declared bankruptcy, and now the news is saying United may file. American just announced layoffs of 7000, on top of the all the people it laid off for 9/11. I recently got a round-trip ticket to Tucson for only $220. I think I heard a steward say that one can fly from LA to SF for $19.

You are optimistic about the internet. It has always been the case that you could become well-educated just by reading books at the library, and some people do, but the vast majority of people are not able to learn without live teachers and fellow students.

An Arkansas judge (Judge Susan Webber Wright, famous for the Paula Jones v. Bill Clinton case) just ruled that vaccination exemptions violate the First Amendment. Her solution -- not allow any nonmedical exemptions. Here is the AP Story. (Also here.)

The case came about because Arkansas, like most states, has a religious exemption for mandatory vaccination. A mom wanted an exemption, but was not a member of a recognized church with tenets against vaccinations. A much better solution would be to allow exemptions based on personal beliefs, as California does.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Andy writes:

Cathy took our kids to the doctor for a routine check-up today. Been sending them to the same doctor for about 7 years. About 4 years ago the issue of the Hep B vaccine came up, and the doctor indicated his skepticism about forcing it on everyone. But later, about 2 years ago, the same issue came up and the doctor was pressuring us. No thanks, we said.

To my total shock, the doctor simply gave the first dose of the Hep B vaccine today to Andrew. No notice, no consent. He wasn't even there for that purpose. Andrew's not even in the age group for mandatory Hep B vaccination in NJ. Doctor also told him to return for next two doses in the future. ...

Looks like parents should require their doctors to sign promises not to vaccinate their children without prior consent.

This is an example of how pediatricians rate they professional obligations, and defined by official authorities, higher than pleasing the patient. They may not accept family autonomy over medical decisions. I don't think that you'll get the pediatrician to sign anything. You are better off finding a pediatrician with the guts to say that he disagrees with some of the vaccine recommendations, or that he respects parental decisions to refuse vaccines. Anytime some professional is pressuring you to do something that you really don't want to do, it is a sign to hire someone else.

John sends a Scientific American article about how even college-educated Americans can be scientific illiterates. It agrees with my experience. Colleges usually have some sort of science requirement. I don't know how they get thru.

Andy (the evolution skeptic) jokes:

I found nothing substantive in the article. But at the end, the author brags about having written two books: In Darwin's Shadow and Why People Believe Weird Things. Is the second one a sequel to the first???

Monday, August 12, 2002

If I were Bill Simon (running for California governor), I'd be all over this issue. California is about to pass a law requiring all California medical schools to require abortion training for ob/gyn residents. [Mercury News story] The press has browbeat Simon into repudiating his former anti-abortion positions, and Gov. Gray Davis is holding on to Democratic support by saying how strongly pro-abortion he is. Simon could be anti-abortion on this issue, and be popular. The people who think that physicians should be forced to do abortions are not the people who are going to vote for Simon anyway.
George writes: "I looked up the AHRA, and it only protects consumer copying if he uses equipment with digital copy protection, like DAT tapes. Computers are exempted. The RIAA says that no computer copying of music is fair use."

The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 says:

No action may be brought under this title alleging infringement of copyright based on the manufacture, importation, or distribution of a digital audio recording device, a digital audio recording medium, an analog recording device, or an analog recording medium, or based on the noncommercial use by a consumer of such a [digital audio recording] device or medium for making digital musical recordings or analog musical recordings. [Sec. 1008]

So the consumer is sheltered provided that:

  1. the music copying is noncommercial
  2. he uses a digital audio recording device or digital audio recording medium
  3. he makes makes digital musical recordings or analog musical recordings.

Most of these terms are defined in Sec. 1001. The definitions are tricky because the AHRA was a legislative compromise that was designed to not put any burdens on computer makers or consumers. A "digital musical recording" might be an MP3 file on a material object that does not have any computer programs on it. As I read this, it might be a CD-R or hard disk with just music on it.

A "digital audio recording device" is any machine or device of a type commonly distributed to individuals for use by individuals, whether or not included with or as part of some other machine or device, the digital recording function of which is designed or marketed for the primary purpose of, and that is capable of, making a digital audio copied recording for private use ...

So let's say I have a regular Wintel PC or Mac with these components:

  1. extra hard disk just for music
  2. sound card and speakers
  3. CD-RW drive
  4. supply of blank CD-R and CD-RW disks
  5. Napster, Morpheus, or similar file sharing software
  6. MusicMatch or similar MP3 playing software
  7. CD ripper software for making MP3 files

All of these components are often marketed for the primary purpose of making music. Millions of people buy these components for that primary purpose. Even entire computers are marketed and sold for the primary purpose of making music. Eg, Apple had a "rip, mix, burn" campaign.

If any of these components qualify as a "digital audio recording device" (or medium) under the AHRA then the consumer copying is legal, and the maker is supposed to be paying royalties under the AHRA. Now most of these makers are probably not paying the royalties, but the only AHRA remedy is against them, not the consumers.

You might say that this is a legal technicality that the courts would never condone, but they already condoned a closely related AHRA loophole in the case that legalized the popular portable MP3 music players that you now see everywhere. The ruling said, "the Act seems to have been expressly designed to create this loophole." [RIAA v. Diamond, 9th Cir, 1999]

I think that if end users got prosecuted for using Napster-type programs or rippers, then a likely outcome would be a clarification of the law. People might learn, for example, that all they have to do is to buy a second hard disk drive and then use it exclusively for storing MP3 files. Then they are completely legal for noncommercial music sharing.

George writes: "If what you say is correct, then the AHRA is nothing but a big piracy law. How did it pass?"

The music label lobbied for the AHRA because it gave them a royalty on all consumer digital music. I think Congress figured that it was giving an incentive to the music industry to promote formats like DAT (Digital Audio Tape) that would give better quality music, more consumer flexibility, and guaranteed royalties. The computer industry is more important than the music industry, and Congress was not going to give the music industry royalties on every computer. If the music industry had promoted DAT and related formats, then they might keep music in formats that they could control. Instead they conspired to kill DAT, and gambled that computer music would never take off.

People keep saying that the US Constitution rejects the natural rights view for copyrights and patents. They say that the Declaration of Independance says that certain rights are God-given, but copyright and patent rights only exist because they are granted by Congress. To prove it, they point to the Constitution which says:

The Congress shall have Power ... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

I don't buy it. I think it is correct to say that Congress's constitutional purpose and authority in passing copyright law is based on the public good, and not a natural right theory. But it could also be true that Jefferson and the other Founders believed in the natural rights theory for copyrights. That is because Congress has limited powers, and they did not expect Congress to address every natural right that people have.

But the Constitution's wording seems carefully chosen to allow for the natural rights view. If it really wanted to reject the natural rights view, it could have said:

The Congress shall have Power ... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by granting for limited Times to Authors and Inventors exclusive protection for respective Writings and Discoveries;

Instead, the Constitution refers to the copyright/patent as a Right, refers to their writings as if the writings are owned by the author before Congress even gets involved, and give Congress the power to secure the right rather than grant the right.

Here is a law review on early view of this clause. Here is a usenet thread on it.

If the copyright is limited to promoting progress, then I think that the US Supreme Court should strike down the copyright term extension, as nobody seriously thinks that it promotes progress. See Eldred v. Ashcroft.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Andy writes: "2 more just died from West Nile. It's top of the late-hour internet news. Of course, the story omits how the virus was brought into the U.S."

The CDC says it was migratory birds. Still it seems odd that we have an Israeli strain in New York City. We have thousands of people coming to NYC from the mideast, but no birds as far as I know.

George writes: "Are you saying that lying to a supermarket is more justifiable than skipping ads? Skipping ads is a passive activity that doesn't affect anyone. No one even knows if you skip the ad or not. Lying to a supermarket is a willful and deceitful activity that causes the supermarket to have bad data in its database."

Jamie Kellner (chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting) says that skipping ads is theft. Jack Valenti (Hollywood spokesman) tried to outlaw the VCR because of people skipping ads. Now I don't agree with them, but they represent powerful and influential interests. On the other hand, I don't see Safeway lobbying to pass special laws to force their customers to provide accurate personal info for marketing purposes.

More legal attacks on music sharing:

[Reuters] U.S. lawmakers have asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to go after Internet users who download unauthorized songs and other copyrighted material, raising the possibility of jail time for digital-music fans. In a July 25 letter released late Thursday, 19 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle asked Ashcroft to prosecute "peer-to-peer" networks like Kazaa and Morpheus and the users who swap digital songs, video clips and other files without permission from artists or their record labels. The Justice Department should also devote more resources to policing online copyrights, the lawmakers said in their letter.

[Mercury News] Nearly two dozen U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to go after Internet users who download unauthorized songs and other copyrighted material, raising the possibility of jail time for digital-music fans.

The music industry claims to gross $40B/year. That seems high to me. But if so, why can't it police its own property? We have a million illegal immigrants coming in a year, some of them spreading disease and terrorism, and Ashcroft should be worried about people who share music?

Meanwhile, the music label lobby RIAA is complaining that the royalty on internet radio music is too low. The rate is .07 cents per song per listener, and is high enough that it has killed most of the good internet radio stations. The RIAA does not get any royalty on regular broadcast radio music -- why should it get royalties on internet radio?

A Sci-Fi novelist said this many years ago:

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

Friday, August 09, 2002

Law professor nonsense for the day. Jonathan Turley says, "ultraconservative Attorney General John Ashcroft [is] normally a states' rights advocate ... conservatives have long defended states' rights".

I never hear conservatives advocate "states's rights". I sometimes hear them support the 9th and 10th amendments to the US Constitution, but these make no mention of states's rights. The 9th refers to rights being retained by the people, and the 10th refers to powers being reserved for the states and the people. Under traditional conservative thinking, states do not have rights. Only the people have rights. A law professor should understand this.

Also, he tries to use ultraconservative as a pejorative word for Ashcroft. But Ashcroft's views on the subject of the essay, enforcement of anti-marijuana laws, are squarely within the mainstream.

Amazing Microsoft Internet Explorer bug. Read about it here, here, or here.

The way SSL works, the certs have basicConstraints extensions to show whether a cert is an end-user or CA cert? If no one checked the extensions, then any bozo could buy a
$50 end-user cert from Verisign, and act as a CA signing certs for bogus sites or anyone else. MSIE, up thru and include v.6, does not check the certif extensions. Anyone with a Verisign cert can be a CA!! Netscape is ok.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Andy writes: "This challenge to relativity, like the recent challenge to the dogma that the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon, is from outside of liberal American academic intelligentsia: Scientists: Speed of Light May Change" See also Wired.

They sound kooky. They refer to a paradigm shift. Actually, you can find a lot of Americans physicists who think relativity needs to be revised. Most astrophysicists now believe that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and relativity doesn't explain that.

Joe writes: "Uh-oh. I'm reading a book by Davies right now - "The Fifth Miracle." He's written a lot of books and has always seemed pretty mainstream to me."

Andy writes: "I can't imagine a meaningful revision. Relativity consists entirely of two simple postulates: (1) all frames of reference are identical for the laws of physics and (2) the speed of light is invariant and insurpassable. Relativity is a math transformation system based entirely on those two postulates, rather than data. Any revision to postulate (1) or (2) would be a big change."

Yes, it is hard to imagine physics that is not based on the Lorentz group (relating space and time coordinates). That is, the spacetime manifold is locally based on SO(3,1). But gravitation and quantum mechanics have never been reconciled, and it is inevitable that relativity theory will have to be revised somehow.

Andy writes: "That's a problem for the theory of relativity, not for physics. There is no difficulty imagining variations to the speed of light, or a preferential frame of reference. Computer-based Newtonian mechanics handles many-bodied problems (like our solar system) much better than relativity. I did a Google search on "many bodied problem" and "relativity" and only 3 cites even mention it! Relativity remains consistent with two-body problems, but becomes incoherent with additional bodies. Does relativistic mass of a fast-moving object influence the third body?"

Relativity doesn't have anything to do with the number of bodies. Newtonian mechanics is easier to compute, and is a good approximation for bodies on the scale of the solar system.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Andy sends a NY Post story about a school that pressured a mom to put her kid on ritalin for ADHD. When the kid got worse, the school wanted him on more psychotropic drugs. When the mom stopped the drug because of nasty side effects, she was charged with child abuse. Reader comments are here, and they are nearly all opposed to schools recommending psychotropic drugs.

The recommended diagnosis method for ADD or ADHD is completely subjective, and based on reports from the parent and/or teacher. The American Psychiatric Association lists fourteen signs, of which at least eight must be present for a child to be officially classified as ADD. These fourteen signs are:

  1. Often fidgeting with hands or feet, or squirming while seated.
  2. Having difficulty remaining seated when required to do so.
  3. Being easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
  4. Having difficulty awaiting turn in games or group activities.
  5. Often blurting out answers before questions are completed.
  6. Having difficulty in following instructions.
  7. Having difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play
  8. Often shifting from one uncompleted task to another.
  9. Having difficulty playing quietly.
  10. Often talking excessively.
  11. Often interrupting or intruding on others.
  12. Often not listening to what is being said.
  13. Often forgetting things necessary for tasks or activities.
  14. Often engaging in physically dangerous activities without
    considering consequences.

The symptoms should have persisted for at least six months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level. In other words, either a parent or a teacher has to be unhappy with the child's behavior. See the DSM-IV criteria for more details.

Law professor E. Volokh thinks that it is ethical to block pop-up ads, but not to lie on a supermarket discount card application. He thinks it is fraud to deceive the store (and possibly lower the quality of its marketing data) in order to get a discount on food.

This is an example of how lawyerly thinking differs from the general population. The lawyer views all human interactions as contracts, and thinks that the contract is defined by the fine print. A non-lawyer is apt to see such thinking as bizarre. A supermarket is just a place to get groceries, and a discount card application is just a form to fill out. There is no negotiation, and no balance between the parties. The supermarket doesn't say what it is going to do with the data, and would not be likely to share similar data that might be of interest to the customer.

Businesses are defined by market forces more than by contracts. A supermarket initiates a discount card program with full knowledge that no one has an obligation to provide personal info truthfully, and many won't. If it really wants to track accurately everyone who shops there, it can become a members-only shop like Costco, and verify the data. It doesn't. It wants the business of people who shop anonymously, and it wants the business of people who lie on the forms. Feeling ethically obligated to tell the truth on forms that are only used for marketing purposes is silly. Just my non-lawyer opinion.

Glenn Reynolds has more evidence that the big music labels are crooks, and that they are lobbying Congress to pass anti-consumer laws. They got Sen. Biden to introduce new bill would make it a federal felony (punishable by 5 years in prison) to try and trick certain types of devices into playing your music or running your computer program.

It is one thing to have draconian penalties like this for child porn to which everyone objects. But these penalties could apply to someone who is just playing his own music. I suggest accumulating a large music collection while it is still legal.

George writes, "There is no legal way to get MP3 files. How can you accumulate music?"

The big music labels want you to think that, but it is not true. It is not clear that users of Napster-like programs are doing anything illegal, as no user has been sued or prosecuted. For a good source of file sharing info and programs, see ZeroPaid.

George writes: "Napster was shut down by a lawsuit. A federal court said that it was illegal."

Yes, Napster lost a preliminary injunction, was bought out by one of the big music labels, and is now dead. I think that Napster made a number of tactical errors. But end users have not been sued or prosecuted, and they would have a number of additional defenses available. Eg, there is fair use, the Audio Home Recording Act, and antitrust conspiring among the music labels. 99% of the users would settle without a fight, but sooner or later someone would put up a good fight and I think that the music labels are scared about losing.

Update: Reynolds also has another good column -- a review of a book that explains how the history of England shows that gun control has not worked there.

It is a standard observation in American and English debates over gun control that England has strict gun controls and low crime rates, while America has (comparatively) liberal gun laws and higher crime rates. It is usually assumed that there is a cause and effect relationship, with the low crime stemming from the strict gun controls in England, and vice versa in the United States.

This turns out not to be the case. As Malcolm observes, violent crime rates in England, very high in the 14th century, fell more or less steadily for five hundred years, even as ownership of firearms became more common. By the late 19th century, England had gun laws that were far more liberal than are found anywhere in the United States today, yet almost no gun crime, and little violent crime of other sorts. (An 1870 act, which was seldom enforced, required the payment of a small tax for the privilege of carrying, not simply owning, a gun.) Despite a well-armed populace, Malcolm reports, "statistics record an astonishingly low rate of gun-related violence in the late nineteenth century."

See also Paul Craig Roberts.

And, of course, when England passed tight gun control laws, the violent crime rates went up. This is all what you'd expect if you think of guns as self-defense tools. When guns are legal, the overwhelming majority of guns are bought by law-abiding citizens for peaceful purposes (self-defense, hunting, target-shooting). The burden of proof is on the gun-control folks to show that gun-control measures might do something good.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

JG sends info about more wacky new medical studies. This study looked at studies about school anti-violence programs, and found that only those who were claiming to have an effective anti-violence program bothered to publish results. That's all. Is anyone surprised by that?

The programs that were allegedly effective involved silliness like "training in nonresponse skills". It claimed to be applicable to the following factoid: "Each year, 1 in 25 US schoolchildren are victims of violent crime while at school or on the way to and from school." No source was given for this statistic. But the study really doesn't apply to violent injuries anyway, because it says, "Of the 44 trials identified, none reported data on violent injuries."

The same journal issue has other silly articles, such as one that concluded that "The information provided [by gun dealers] was often inconsistent with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics." Well I hope so! The AAP thinks that no one should have any guns. The gun dealers know more about guns than the AAP.

The journal issue has another wacky gun study. It quizzed parents about safety measures like capping electrical outlets and keeping a handgun in the home. What is the point of this? Are they surprised that some people would do both? I don't know why not. They are both safety measures. Capping outlets protects against electrical shocks, and having a handgun protects against intruders.

Another study complained that 20% of pediatric resident physicans (in a survey) do not counsel anyone on firearm safety. That means 80% do. I wonder how many of them even know anything about firearm safety. If my pediatrician asked me about guns, I'd ask him what kind he has. If he doesn't have a gun, I would start to worry about his competence.

I didn't know that Japan was working on its own atomic bomb during WWII, and was close to being able to do a test. Thanks to the UK Independent and InstaPundit. Think about that next time you hear someone from Japan complaining about Hiroshima.
Just saw the movie Signs. Thumbs up. It is about a rural minister (Mel Gibson) who lost the faith and is coping with his family situation, when crop circles and evidence of space aliens upset his world view. It is not as stupid as it sounds.
The Europeans want to make motorists responsible for all car-bicycle collisions. Read it in the UK Observer or Independent. Apparently some countries already do it that way, and the EU wants to make the laws more uniforms.

The anti-cyclists are outraged about that, but it seems analogous to the rule that when car A rear-end car B, then car A is nearly always found to be at fault. That is a good general rule because it is nearly impossible to assess fault in any other way, the rear car is usually at fault, and it is a rule that promotes safer driving habits.

In my experience, cars violate traffic laws and safety rules far more frequently than cyclists, and the cars do it in ways that create hazards for cyclists. Occasionally cyclists violate traffic laws also, such as running a 4-way stop when no vehicles are present, but it is very rare that they do so in a way that creates a hazard for others. I'd like to see the European law here in the US.

George writes:

You don't see bicyclists breaking the law? I just got stuck behind a bicycle where I could not easily pass for about a block. There was no bicycle lane, and the bicycle was just riding in the middle of the road where the cars belong.

The bicyclist was obeying the law. The law says that bicyclists have the same rights to the road as cars, except for a few places like limited access freeways where they are prohibited. The bicycles do not have to be in the bike lane. They have some obligation to let other vehicles pass, but it is just the same as for any slow moving vehicle. Often riding in the middle of the road is the safest and proper way to ride.

John sends this article on jury nullification. More info on the subject is here. It is amazing that the potential jurors had such a hard time thinking of scenario that would justify lethal force.

When to use force is a tricky legal matter. To get it straight, I just bought How to Own a Gun & Stay Out of Jail (California Edition 2002). It is especially tricky in California, where they keep passing anti-gun laws. The law says you can use reasonable force to defend yourself. One common misconception is that reasonable force with a gun means shooting someone in the leg. In reality, it is rarely advisable to shoot someone in the leg. It nearly always preferable to either not shoot, or to shoot to kill. You only want to shoot if your life is in imminent danger, and in that case, merely shooting someone in the leg probably won't be good enough to stop the attack.

George writes, "Isn't jury nullification a violation of the oath that jurors take?"

The judge may ask a juror: "And will you promise to obey any instructions in the law I may give you, even should you disagree with one or more of them?"

I would answer yes to this question. The judge is the boss in the courtroom, and it is his job to explain and apply the law. The presumption is that he is doing his job properly, and giving lawful orders. But it is the jury's constitutional duty to render a verdict based on the totality of the info available. That
may mean jury nullification, as the constitutional duty is greater than any obligation to accept the opinion of some particular judge. After all, judges get overruled by higher courts all the time.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Andy writes: "The Washington Post just did a long article on Justice Thomas. It discusses everything, except his opinions. Includes a senseless interview with his older sister in the hope of embarrassing him. It sure is easy to write liberal stories."

Huhh? It discusses: Missouri v. Jenkins, a 1995 case, Hudson v. McMillan, a 1992 case, Adarand Constructors v. Pena, a 1995 case, United States v. Fordice, a 1992 ruling, and Chicago v. Morales. The site has links to 9 Thomas opinions.

What I found most offensive about this article is the way it focuses on racial issues. Thomas has developed a coherent and convincing jurisprudence, and race is really only a small part. For a better description of Thomas's accomplishments on the court, see:

The ACLU thinks that forbidding convicted felons to vote is a Jim Crow law. These weird racism charges are getting tiresome. The Voting Rights Act should be repealed. If people want to vote, they ought to obey the law, learn English well enough to read the ballot, register a month in advance, and participate in fraud-prevention measures. No ethnic groups face any significant voting burdens anywhere in the US.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

An anonymous poster on usenet:sci.crypt defends Microsoft's Palladium. He refuses to say whether he works for Microsoft or not, but wants to sell Palladium and TCPA as open and non-restrictive platforms, based on public documents.

"AARG! Anonymous" wrote "In fact, TCPA and Palladium have tremendous potential for enhancing and protecting privacy, if people will just look at them with an open mind."

I thought that the Intel serial number plan had potential for useful applications, until I saw Intel docs describing the serial number as a crucial part of secret Intel scheme to track everyone on the internet.

Forget the anti-Microsoft conspiracy theories. Let's just look at what Msft itself says in conjunction with Palladium:

  • Microsoft's contends that 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.

  • Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches"

    It seems clear to me that Msft is pursuing all 3 of these major goals with Palladium, and that your examples are farfetched and insignificant. As long as Msft is calling the shots and keeping the details secret, we can only assume that Msft will do everything in its power to use Palladium to promote its business interests, including the above 3 items. And based on the Msft antitrust trial, we should also assume that Msft will use secret and illegal contracts to use Palladium to extend its Windows monopoly to other markets.

  • I think confidential settlements should be abolished. If the settlement stems from either a lawsuit or an allegation of criminal behavior, then the settlement agreement should put on the public record. Eg, suppose a Catholic bishop pays $1M to settle a claim that a priest sexually abused an altar boy. Either the claim is true, in which case the priest should face criminal trial, or the claim is false, in which case the payment is extortion and the bishop is the victim of a criminal shakedown. Either way, the confidentiality of the settlement only serves to further criminal interests. It either lets the priest abuse more kids or lets the blackmailer move on to more shakedowns.

    There are physicians who have paid off dozens of claims in malpractice cases, but they still practice medicine and the public doesn't find out. The feds track data on such matters, but it is a felony to release the data to the public. The public should have the data.

    Andy writes:

    We bought and watched A Beautiful Mind, the latest Academy Award winner (Best Picture). I'd say it's Hollywood's best movie in 10 years. It demonstrates the importance of allowing dissent, especially people who think for themselves. The scene of Nash throwing the textbook into the garbage in class is priceless. True to life, as Nash once began a course at MIT with the salutation: "Why are you here?"

    Supposedly gay activists were enraged that the movie did not include Nash's homosexuality before his marriage to Alicia, for which he was fired from doing military work. But those activists would have been even more enraged if the movie showed Nash going from gay or bisexual to straight.

    One minor quibble for those who saw the movie: it should have shown Nash, not his imaginary friend, pushing the desk out the window.

    Joe wrote, "The movie makes Nash out to be a much nicer person than he was in real life. Does that bother Andy?"

    Later Joe wrote, "I'm comparing him with the description in the book. Did you read it?"

    No, I didn't read the book, and don't plan to. It received some horrible reviews on It's written by an economist, for pete's sake! See sample review below.

    I'm sure people disliked Nash. He didn't play by the rules, and was self-centered. But I thought the movie makes those points quite strongly.

    Here's a sample review:

    "This book is so poorly written, it was hard to follow Nash's life story in any coherent way. ... Why couldn't the author just spit out what she was trying to say? Why so many commas and disjointed ideas in one sentence? Argh! But I kept reading. I soon realized I had no idea what point in his life she was dishing about on any given page. And the way she kept on and on about his homosexuality, or "special friendships," it was reading like the FOX news channel. But written in a tone that tried and failed to be just-reporting-the-facts. You could actually tell what the author thought of the subject and that's kind of creepy in a biography. One whole chapter titled "The Arrest" measured a page and a half in length, one page of which was conjecture. And there were so many contridictions! Nash had no friends, but his best friend was so and so. Nash's neighbor now refuses to admit they were ever friends, but on the next page there's a lengthly quote from the guy about ho! w they worked together for years and played practical jokes on each other. At least I think she was referring to the same person that gave the quote - sometimes she would use a person's first name and then in the same paragraph use their last name or nick name, so it read as two different people.

    Sometimes she'd begin with a quote or reminiscence by a person she'd never introduced. She'd throw a name in as though it was one of the main characters but it would be unfamiliar. I'd page back through the book to figure out who they were, but no luck. Two chapters later, she'd finally introduce them, long after I'd forgoten the quote they'd produced. Oh it was awful and I was so annoyed. But by the time I'd gotten half way through I had to keep reading, partly because I was so annoyed I kind of felt that if I stopped reading it, the author would win and I'd be defeated. Also I wanted to find something redeeming about John Nash. The other thing that got me about this book was how awful the math explanations were. ...

    I think this is the first biography I've ever read where I've come away with more of a sense of the author's personality than the subject's. Surely that can't be cool? In authoring someone's biography? Didn't the editors catch any of this? I love biographies of mathemeticians and scientists, but this one is really bad. I'm looking forward to reading a different Nash biography so I can figure out what his life was like, and assemble the disconnected pieces of the Nash life story that this book gave me."

    Joe responds:

    Well, I'm certainly no math expert, but I really enjoyed the book, and though I read many reviews of it, I didn't have the impression that there were a lot of inaccuracies. I think the guy who reviews it for Amazon needs to take a cold shower. The book was praised by people like John Milnor,whom this crowd will surely recognize; Marcia Bartusiak, author of the wonderful "Einstein's Unfinished Symphony"; Keith Devlin, WSJ, New York Times, etc. Clearly, Roger is going to find any math explanations intended for the public to be pretty trivial, but if an author can get across the general idea of what Nash was doing, I call that a success. I just thought the book was so superior to the movie in helping me understand Nash's life and world.

    The movie was easy on Nash. But Andy's right, he didn't play by the rules. Pity for his out of wedlock, abandoned first child. But, hey, that't the duty of genius, I guess.

    Milnor's review is online. He says: "Mathematical statements and proper names are sometimes a bit garbled, but the astute reader can usually figure out what is meant. ... This is an unauthorized biography, written without its subject’s consent or cooperation. ... the publication of such material involves a drastic violation of the privacy of its subject."

    I would say the review is damning with faint praise. He says stuff like: "we find fascinating information about the history of Carnegie Tech, Princeton, the Rand Corporation, MIT, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the Courant Institute, and also information about many wellknown and not so well-known mathematical personalities." but he fails to say that Nasar accurately describes Nash's life or his work.

    I found the negative stuff in Nasar's book offensive and unreliable. It is based on hearsay about events 40 years ago, and Nash is neither willing or able to rebut them. There should have been an uproar about involuntarily outing a mentally disturbed man. Nasar was just doing it for her personal profit. I was glad that the movie omitted the alleged homosexuality. Gays would have been even more enraged if the movie showed homosexuality as a symptom of Nash's schizophrenia.

    Nasar spent 3 years collecting 440 pages of facts about Nash, but did you get the impression she understands him? Some of the quotes were interesting, but her discussions are not very good. The movie seems to make it all make more sense.

    Joe responds:

    Well, I'd say the Milnor review (I hadn't seen the whole thing, just a blurb) totally supports my view. Milnor mentions no inaccuracies of fact. He is complimentary of Nasar and talks about how carefully the book is researched. I think Roger's excerpt is a bit misleading, because it makes Milnor sound really negative about the book, which is simply not the case.

    Roger finds the "negative stuff" offensive. Well, let's face it - when you father an illegitimate child and then abandon him and the mother, that's ... offensive. So we agree on that, right? I assume that Roger does not find the information relating to the abandonment unreliable - has anyone seen it disputed? My only point was that it was stuff like that which was not in the movie.

    Here's a review I think I more or less agree with.

    I don't know if the bisexuality and abandonment stories are accurate or not. I doubt that anyone knows the full story and is talking. Joe wanted it in the movie. Why? How would it fit in? The movie was about a genius dealing with schizophrenia. At 2 1/4 hours, it was already too long for many people. The movie skipped Nash's childhood, his most respected mathematical research, his repeated commitments, his attempt in Europe to renounce his American citizenship, his divorce and remarriage to Alicia, etc. All of these things are more relevant to the main theme than the stories of alleged bisexuality. There are other movies that deal with themes of bisexuality and illegitimacy. I don't object to those themes in a movie, but there was just no way to do them fairly and accurately, no way to connect them to the theme of the movie, and no way to find sufficient time to treat them.

    The Landsburg review complains mainly that Nash's economics work was misrepresented. Landsburg is a brilliant economist, but I don't agree with him on this. The movie portrays Nash as challenging the Adam Smith notion that free-market competition between self-interested parties leads to the best result. Landsburg says that Smith was right all along. I think Landsburg missed the point. Nash showed that (non-cooperative) competition leads to a Nash equilibrium, which may or may not be the best result that might be achieved thru competition. This is the sense in which Nash overturned centuries of wisdom. The point is explained well in Milnor's review.

    I found it a pleasant surprise that the movie A Beautiful Mind represents Nash's theorem as accurately as it does, especially after the book did such a terrible job. Apparently there were some mathematical consultants that saved the movie from many embarrassments. The bar scene accurately and entertainingly gives an example of a situation where there are multiple Nash equilibria, and no single best result.

    I saw one review (sorry I cannot find the link) by some prof complaining that the bar scene did not really give a Nash equilibrium because the blond girl got left without a date. But if you watch carefully, Nash goes to the bar with 4 (male) friends, and they meet 5 women, one of which is a blond. They all get paired up in Nash's scenario, and it is a Nash equilibrium.

    I cannot think of another Hollywood movie that accurately portrays a mathematical concept (beyond simple counting). Even The Wizard Of Oz get the Pythagorean theorem wrong. There movies like Pi and Good Will Hunting that portray mathematicians and have ample opportunity to articulate some mathematics, but they all give silly caricatures instead.

    Andy responds:

    OK, I just read that review by Landsburg, and disliked it. Landsburg takes the standard approach of academics: defend the icons. He was offended because the movie depicts Nash as saying Adam Smith was wrong about something. We've got thousands of tenured professors like Landsburg religiously defending their gods, thereby impeding progress. We need more John Nashes in our universities.

    Landsburg was at Princeton and seems biased in favor of the plodders there who disliked Nash. Many of Landsburg's put-downs of Nash are silly and petty, as in saying Nash's ideas were not as great as Einstein's and in calling Nash a bisexual (Nash went straight in marrying Alicia 45 years ago).

    Joe and Julie are offended by Nash's purported abandonment of his illegitimate child, which apparently got great play in the book version. While I don't defend that, I do note that Nash was never married to the mistress and thus "abandonment" is probably not the correct term. The mistress obviously misread him. The reality is that most fathers spend virtually no time with children begotten outside their current marriage, which is the situation Nash soon faced.

    I find JFK's youthful indiscretion more offensive: marry a woman, and then break the contract and dump her. Yet JFK is glorified by Hollywood far more than Nash was.

    The funny thing is that Landsburg understands and respects Nash's work. He even wrote a textbook that discusses Nash equilibrium. He is also a right-winger, and I am sure he disagrees with Milnor's left-wing spin on Nash's work. The left-wing spin is that Nash showed that market equilibria can be suboptimal, so govt regulation is needed. Landsburg would say that the Nash equilibria are really optimal in a practical sense.

    I agree with Landsburg that Nash's work was not as good as that of the most brilliant mathematicians, but still deserving of a Nobel prize. But why that relates to the movie, I don't know.

    Andy writes on 4-Aug-2002:

    Everyone makes good points about the Nash movie. I watched key portions again, and the trailer on the video which has interviews of the key players behind the movie.

    I've changed my mind about the movie, but not the book. In a nutshell, Prof. Nash is another story like Dr. Sell's. Nash was forcibly drugged without his consent, as best I can tell. The drugs ruined him for decades. The book's author, and the movie's producers, were too biased in favor of Nash's wife Alicia. Looks to me like she forcibly drugged him and divorced him!

    The movie did botch the bar scene. Roger's right that there were 5 males and 5 females (including the blond). But the movie clearly says that the Nash solution is for no one to choose the blond. That's wrong. One male has to choose the blond for it to be a Nash equilibrium.

    I'm planning to write a law review article with the following title: "State Mandated Drugging -- Your Vein or Your Life." Princeton's website publishes Nash's email address. Think he will respond to email about what he went through? I doubt Alicia would let him <g>.

    Yes, Nash was forcibly committed, drugged, and given insulin shock treatment. The movie is ambiguous about whether these did any good. The insulin shock therapy isn't even done anymore.

    Nash chooses the blond. Then rejects her to go write up his idea. I guess that after he rejects her, the situation is no longer in equilibrium, but I think it is in a Nash equilibrium after the 5 selections are made.