Radley Balko's predictions of which civil liberties will disappear in 2008:
As the end of the year approaches, it's time for another column of government overreach predictions for the New Year. What outrageous, beyond-parody grabs at power and erosions of civil liberties will transpire in 2008? My predictions:
— The Bush administration will claim it has the power to kidnap citizens of foreign countries for violating U.S. law, and extradite them to the U.S. for trial and imprisonment — even for white collar crimes unrelated to terrorism, and even for acts that aren't illegal in the countries where the target is a citizen.
— Police will take enforcement of prostitution laws to a new level, by arresting and seizing the cars of anyone who merely talks to an undercover cop posing as a sex worker. Good samaritans, beware.
— The war on prescription painkillers will also reach new absurdities, as people will begin to be arrested and convicted of possessing painkillers for which they have a prescription. Prosecutors will weirdly argue that there is no "prescription defense" to possessing prescribed medication.
— How about sex crimes laws? I predict that here too, prosecutors will overreach. Watch, as some overzealous district attorney will charge middle school kids with sex crimes for such childhood shenanigans as slapping fellow classmates on the buttocks.
It gets worse. Much, much worse.
I just don't get the controversy surrounding "the freedom to live however you want as long as you don't harm others." If you believe in a free society, what is the alternative precisely? Doesn't the freedom to argue — either through rhetoric or by example — for particular ways of living depend upon, I don't know, the ability to actually live different lives? And what exactly is the "conservative moral agenda"? Should we turn to Newt Gingrich for tips on that one? Or Mark Foley? Or D'Souza's "priest friend . . . [who] once observed that wine is evidence of how much God loves us." D'Souza's comments — and his inability to see libertarianism as anything but an epiphenomenon of conservativsm (whatever that is) — reminds me of the huge gulf between cons and libs, mostly revolving around the issue of pluralism.
I consider myself not an atheist but an apatheist — I just don't care very much about religion one way or the other. I can certainly appreciate the positive and negative roles that religion has played (and continues to play) in human history. And I can fully appreciate that irony that classical liberalism, a political philosophy that ultimately separated church from state (thank god!), has its roots in the English civil war of the 17th century, which was in many — maybe all — ways a religious war over the right to worship god in whatever way you saw fit.
But beyond the caricature of libertarians as, what, amyl-nitrate-huffing poufters (not that there's anything wrong with that — there we go again!), I just don't get the idea that what sometimes gets called the pursuit of happiness is in any way controversial. And if it is for conservatives, then it's a good thing they seem to be in the shitter politically.
Nick Gillespie, "D'Souza on Libertarians: Gay or Drugged-Out or Loose or All Three", Hit and Run, 2007-12-21
Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.
Men make more gags than women and their jokes tend to be more aggressive, Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says.
The unicycling doctor observed how the genders reacted to his "amusing" hobby.
Women tended to make encouraging, praising comments, while men jeered. The most aggressive were young men, he told the British Medical Journal.
Previous findings have suggested women and men differ in how they use and appreciate humour.
Women tend to tell fewer jokes than men and male comedians outnumber female ones.
Rogier van Bakel was discussing the near-impossible level of effort needed to open some of the newer packages a few years back. It's still a topical post, especially right about now:
There's customer-unfriendly, and then there's customer-hostile. A few days ago I wrote about package design. More specifically, I excoriated the plastic retail hulls that have been proliferating for a few years now. The industry refers to them as clamshells, but I've dubbed them brinkswrap (that's shrinkwrap with the over-the-top protective properties of an armored truck). The post struck a chord with one reader of this blog who took a shine to the new name.
"Brinkswrap has been a longstanding frustration of mine. My daughter got a digital camera for Christmas — and a nice cut on her hand from the brinkswrap she had to break through to get to the camera. My wife got a couple of nice knives from her father. They were packaged together in brinkswrap. As I fought through the brinkswrap to get to them, I noted the irony of how much easier it would be to get through the brinkswrap if I already had the knives I was trying to get to."
Touché. Dante forgot to create a special circle of hell for these manufacturers and designers. Nevertheless, maybe we can squeeze them in somewhere. I'd put them between the apparel makers who sew scratchy brand labels onto the inside collars of their shirts, and the inconsiderate rotter who designed those maddening multiple seals on CD jewel cases.
Elizabeth has been progressing further with her genealogical studies of our respective families, and found a fascinating connection with the Mary Shelley book Frankenstein:
Here is a synopsis of the story. At 2am on the morning of August 31, 1818 Alexander Love, aged 70 and his 15 year old grandson were heading off to work at the Blackridge Coalpit outside of Airdrie. Unfortunately, coming in the other direction was a very drunken Matthew Clydesdale aged 24 who had spent the day at the foot races and then got very drunk afterwards. Apparently Clydesdale grabbed the elderly man and beat him to death with his walking stick for no apparent reason. The grandson ran back home screaming murder!
Matthew Clydesdale's version:
declares he is about 24 years of age. That he is a weaver to trade and resides at Hartfield in the parish of Bothwell and about three miles from Airdrie. That the declarant was at Clarkston about a mile to the east of Airdrie upon 26th day of August instant running a foot race and where he remained until he and his companions had drank all the money which they got for running. That the Declarant got so much intoxicated that he does not recollect at what hour he let Clarkston on his way home but it was after dark and he does not know whether any body was along with him on his way home — or what road to took to go home but he rather thinks it was the Toll road until he came to the East end of Airdrie and then he thinks he came along Toll road leading from thence towards Monkland. That he has been since told that the Declarant’s brother John Clydesdale and a man of the name Rankine who drives a cart about Clelland and who were both at the said race were a short way before him all the road home — and that they heard him coming after them. Declares that William Muir, weaver in Clarkston who was running against the Declarant at the said race accompanied the Declarant a short way from Clarkston when he came away home, but how far he did accompany him the Declarant does not know. Declares that he is not acquainted with Alexander Love Coalier at Blackridge mentioned in the Petition whom he has never seen to his knowledge. Declares that he did not so far as he knows meet any person upon the road on his way home on said occasion neither did he strike or assault upon that occasion either the said Alexander Love or any other person to his knowledge. That next morning after he want home he observed a hole in the knee of one of his trousers and his knee cut and he was otherwise a good deal bruised, but through what means he had sustained these injuries he does not know. Declares that he has some faint recollection of having met some person who meddled with him at the first near Monkland Mills in the parish of New Monkland but whether this happened or that he fell (but he rather thinks he fell) he cannot say. That the Declarant met with no injury at Clarkston and he must have received the injury upon his knee in the coming home . . . to the best of his knowledge he is not guilty of the crime.
Later (1st Sep 1818) Matthew says that he:
got this wound (his knee) in a scuffle with some tinkers who were going to rob him and he is satisfied in his own mind that some person did attack him — but on second thoughts he has only a faint recollection of this — and he has a kind of a faint recollection of this. And he has a kind of a faint recollection that there were three of the persons who so attacked him and they attacked him and rendered him stupid . . .
There was also a note that Matthew was with his brother, Robert, when Robert died in a mining accident and there seems to have been some implication Matthew was responsible but was not charged. He was also charged with theft but found not guilty.
And then there is the story of what happened to Matthew Clydesdale after he was hanged that November.
You have to follow the link at the end to find the gruesome connection . . .
Recent report on attempt to censor the song here. Common sense prevailed, thank ghu.
Although the site was partly disabled, I wasn't just sitting around ignoring you . . . I was still posting material over at the backup blog:
Jon thinks he's fixed the database problem, so if this post appears on the blog, we should be back in business.
The secret to generating a huge number of comments on your blog: Write about Robert Heinlein and fanfic in the same week; each entry is at about 450 comments. By concatenation, this means writing an entry concerning fanfic about Heinlein books would come close to 1000 comments, and that writing erotic fanfic featuring Heinlein and Ayn Rand would generate so many comments that the entire power grid east of the Mississippi would collapse under the load. Given the severity of the weather at the moment, I am loath to do that. We’ll save it for summer.
John Scalzi, "Just In Case You Were Wondering", Whatever, 2007-12-16
Having belatedly agreed to pay Gurkhas the same pension benefits as any other men taking the Queen's shilling, the Ministry of Defence has decided to start firing Gurkhas three years short of earning their pension entitlements. I have often been asked why I left England to return to Canada and there are several answers (all true) I usually give. But the real reason was exposure to exactly this sort of short con as government. Everyone responsible for this shitty little trick at the Ministry of Defence should be subject to criminal charges for fraud, the Minister should be tarred and feathered and every free Englishman should hang his head in shame.
This is an England not worth fighting for. The Gurkhas deserve better; we do not deserve them.
[Ghost of a Flea], "For Shame", Ghost of a Flea, 2007-12-18
Another view of the insurgent Ron Paul presidential campaign:
Their candidate, a 72-year-old obstetrician from Lake Jackson, Texas — land of duck hunters, ranchers, and oilmen — has improbably become an Internet sensation. He counts more Facebook and MySpace supporters than any Republican; more Google searches, YouTube subscribers, and website hits than any presidential candidate; and more Meetup members than the front-runners of both parties combined. In recent months he was sought out on the blog search engine Technorati more often than anyone except a Puerto Rican singer with a sex tape on the loose; his November 5 Internet "Money Bomb" event pulled in $4 million from more than 35,000 individual donors, a single-day online-fundraising record in a primary. (The previous best was $3 million, by John Kerry.) "The campaign calls itself the Ron Paul Revolution," notes Republican Internet consultant David All. "And I don't think that's a far stretch."
Indeed, Paul's literature is dominated by the word "revolution," though with the middle letters inverted to make "love" — a hippie touch that would be countenanced by few Republicans other than the congressman, who has been elected 10 times on the GOP ticket (and who also ran as a Libertarian in the 1988 presidential election). The truth is, Paul's revolution is a conservative one, by his own account — and thus all the more noteworthy for Democrats, who until now comfortably assumed that progressive bloggers, YouTubers, and ex-Deaniacs would give them, and only them, an edge online. As it turns out, nobody has more Internet buzz than a pro-gun, pro-life, antitax, and antiwar Republican.
The view directly outside my office this afternoon. Brrrr!
At least as good as half the "real" company mission statements I've had to read . . .
H/T to Craig Zeni.
Here's a history test no one should fail: Name a president whose "only reading materials were government documents and Bible scriptures" and whose tenure was linked to an increasingly unpopular war started under morally murky — if not clearly phony — circumstances.
That would be James K. Polk, who pushed for war with Mexico in 1846 after the Mexican army killed American soldiers in disputed territory along the Rio Grande River. As recounted in You Said What? (Harper Paperbacks), Polk "began to prepare his declaration of war, at no time recognizing that . . . the attack had occurred in disputed land. By not addressing the point, he was able to make the strongest case possible to a skeptical Congress."
Polk lied through omission, a disturbingly common characteristic of many of the "lies and propaganda" campaigns gathered in this volume. One hundred and 20 years later, another president, Lyndon Johnson, took advantage of the fog surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin incident to ratchet up the American military presence in Vietnam. What's more, Johnson systematically pursued a "policy of minimum candor" when discussing U.S. aims and troop commitments: "He left office branded a liar because he could not tell the whole truth about the war."
Nick Gillespie, "You Said What? A happy history of lies and propaganda", New York Post, 2007-12-09
We had our Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Noodlemas gathering on the weekend. It went fairly well, given the number of folks who couldn't show up for weather-related reasons. The storm didn't hit until the last of our guests were already well on the road home, so we timed it quite well.
Last year, we tried something a bit different with our C/H/K/N lights (the ones we usually string haphazardly across the front of the house). Instead of using the normal mounting method — plastic hooks snapped on to the edge of the eavestroughing — we went all high-tech with adhesive-backed velcro patches and velcro-backed hooks. It seemed to work very well last year . . . no difference in time or effort to put them up, but much easier to take down and — the bonus part, so to speak — putting them up again this year was going to be a breeze . . . just re-attach the hooks to the pre-positioned velcro patches.
And, with a minor exception, it worked exactly as advertised . . . one of the velcro patches detached from its adhesive backing, leaving an unsightly droop in the lights over the middle of the garage. Still, the job was very quick and easy . . . not an inconsiderable benefit in -9C weather.
On Friday, before the party, a few of the velcro hooks decided that they'd reached their end-of-service date and let go. By the time we got home again, over a third of them had come down. With all the other party prep going on, the lights were a pretty low priority. On Saturday, nearly half of them had fallen, but we just wrapped the trailing edge of one string around the pillar at one side of the front door and pretended not to notice . . .
Of course, yesterday we had the significant snowfall so nothing could be done about the fallen light situation, and it may well be Wednesday or Thursday before it gets seen to . . . and that will require a full re-stringing of the entire length of lights, because we now have to remove the blasted velcro hooks and replace them with something a bit more traditional and sturdy.
This is a test post to see if I'm still on the spam-comment bot's distribution list. If this post remains spam free, I'll open up comments again for future posts.
Rogier van Bakel decodes a recent decision by the Singapore bureaucracy:
It's official, because Singapore says so: There's no such thing as an over-45 MILF. When a woman reaches the age of 45, no right-minded Muslim with a dick would say, "Yeah, I'd tap that."
Muslim women under the age of 45 will be barred from making the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca unless accompanied by a close male relative starting next year, news reports said on Monday in Singapore. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said it would no longer appeal to Saudi Arabian authorities on behalf of women who wish to make the month-long pilgrimage unaccompanied. "We should respect the laws they have laid down," The Straits Times quoted Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim as saying.
Radley Balko highlights how the Chicago police department continues to set standards for police everywhere:
Want to Get Away With Murder in Chicago?
Join the Chicago Police Department.
An eight-month Chicago Tribune investigation of 200+ police shootings going back 10 years found that within hours of a police shooting, the police department convenes hastily-assembled, wagon-circling "roundtables" of law enforcement officials where police and witnesses are questioned but not sworn or recorded, where the officers involved are allowed to confer to get their stories straight before being questioned, and where the inevitable conclusion is always that the shooting was justified. From there, broader, show-investigations begin. Key witnesses go uninterviewed. Forensic evidence is ignored. And the shooting officer is inevitably exonerated.
David Boaz explains why it may not matter (as far as civil liberties are concerned) who wins next November. If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, we can expect further expansion in the role of government in everyday life:
Clinton, always eager to wield power on behalf of her vision of the public good, has just endorsed new government mandates on health care and energy along with a $50 billion spending program for global AIDS. Meanwhile, revelations about Giuliani's secretive use of New York City police and his refusal to allow the city comptroller to audit his security spending reflect his lifelong affinity for using and abusing power.
Clinton calls herself a "government junkie." She says, "There is no such thing as other people's children" and promises to work on "redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age."
Running for President, she's full of ideas about how to use the power of the federal government. Indeed, she says, "I have a million ideas. The country can't afford them all." That's good to hear. But the ones she apparently thinks we can afford still include a national health care plan, a $50 billion program of energy subsidies, more money for local schools and local roads and bridges, a bailout fund for mortgage borrowers, $25 billion for "American Retirement Accounts," and more. She still has the government junkie's love for a nurturing and nannying government.
On the other hand, if Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, we can expect even more authoritarian measures, more government secrecy, and more intrusions into the lives of ordinary people:
Giuliani seems much less committed to any particular vision of government's role. Rather, throughout his career Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that is deeply troubling in a potential President who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush. As U.S. attorney, he pioneered the use of the midday, televised "perp walk" for white-collar defendants who posed no threat to the community. It was a brutal way to treat people who were, after all, innocent until proven guilty.
As mayor he was so keen to "clean up the city" and crack down on dissent that he lost 35 First Amendment lawsuits. He fought against any oversight of his activities; he resisted investigations and audits by the Independent Budget Office and the New York State Comptroller. As Rachel Morris reported in the Washington Monthly, "Over the past 40 years, only two commissions had been held to revise New York's governing document. During his time in office, Giuliani convened three." And he stacked the commissions with close allies and pressed them to eliminate the IBO and the city ombudsman.
He released details from the sealed criminal records of police critics, in clear defiance of state law. But he did manage to seal the records of his own administration by transferring them to a private foundation, even though mayoral records are legally city property.
Not much to be said for either candidate as far as limiting the scope of government, or rolling back some of the powers that Bush has claimed during his administration. Both candidates are clearly inclined to be even more likely to attempt to centralize power in their own hands.
To borrow a phrase from Fark.com . . . having solved all the nation's problems, Congress turns its attention to the pressing issue of investigating professional baseball:
[. . .] we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you give a former Senate Majority Leader $2 million a month for more than a year and half, force clubhouse lackeys to testify under threat of $100,000 fine, and have federal prosecutors grant vastly reduced sentences to drug convicts in exchange for cooperating with Mitchell's private investigation, you can indeed produce circumstantial evidence that Nook Logan (career home runs: 2) and nearly four score others may have taken legal supplements without a prescription to help them recover more quickly after working out, many during a time when such supplements were perfectly acceptable according to Major League Baseball's own rules. And as a direct result, your teenage daughter might eventually face drug testing if she plays sports, once Congress goes through another thrilling round of reforming government.
In so many ways, this is a lovely example of why governments should be limited in the scope of what they can do . . .
No American would accept the proposition that one of our citizens, having been cleared of wrongdoing by American courts, could be abducted by a foreign power and imprisoned for years, only to have his fate determined by a kangaroo court that flouted the most elementary procedural rights. The Supreme Court should not accept it from our government either. If a legitimate hearing finds that Boumediene and his fellow detainees are guilty of aiding America's enemies, so be it. But we should not be satisfied to leave them to languish until the military decides whether the witches will float.
Julian Sanchez, "Restoring Habeas: Why old 'enemy combatmant' rules can't apply to a global battlefield.", Reason Online, 2007-12-12
[Ghost of a Flea] writes on the recent "honour slaying" in Toronto:
A father who murders his daughter with the connivance of other family members may justify his acts as the defense of the family's honour in upholding traditions and — grotesquely — of acting morally. I imagine the experience is one of horror as his daughter transforms into something non-human that he must kill if he is to defend his own authority. I can only pray that men who do this have some love of their own children and some horror at themselves for what they do; I am not convinced this is the case.
But this is only to consider such murders as individual tragedies and at the level of "the family", the primary social unit in the minds of many religious fundamentalists. At a wider level, such acts serve to terrorize society as a whole and as a warning to other girls lest they consider disobeying familial authority. Young Muslim girls are taught from the day they are born that women have a particular place in the world and must yield to familial authority or bring down upon themselves the wrath of God and an unforgiving, homicidal malice from those closest to them in all the world.
This is true not only for medieval backwaters without the law in the "tribal areas" of north-western Pakistan or ten minute's drive beyond the Kabul city limits. This is true of suburban Toronto with its shopping malls and multi-lane highways and CNN; its parliamentary democracy, Charter of Rights and Freedoms and countless titled faculty at women's studies and sociology departments. What lesson can Muslim girls take from this but that tribal law applies to them here as surely as it is does for hundreds of millions of other girls around the world? Their own fathers will not protect them; their fathers may be their murderers. Worse yet, their friends, their teachers and a small army of police will not anticipate such crimes, perhaps because none can imagine a father strangling his own daughter to death over a supposed religious edict.
Nick is quite correct. Locally, after the shock of the act wears off, it will continue to work as a compelling argument to every Canadian Muslim girl that despite living in a Western society, the tribe still has the final say over her fate. It will encourage submission to standards and mores of societies where women are considered little more than property . . . to be disposed of at the whim of the "owner" — their fathers, brothers, or even sons — with no hope of achieving self-ownership.
If you don't think this is utterly wrong, there is something seriously wrong with your world.
Update: Damian Penny has more.
Genetic research is uncovering all sorts of cool things. For instance, did you know that nobody in the entire human race had blue eyes as recently as ten thousand years ago?
The University of Wisconsin press release adds some interesting observations from UW anthropologist John Hawks. To wit:
The findings may lead to a very broad rethinking of human evolution, Hawks says, especially in the view that modern culture has essentially relaxed the need for physical genetic changes in humans to improve survival. Adds Hawks: "We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals."
Humans alive today are as different from people living 5,000 years ago as they were from Neanderthals?! Fascinating.
That tells me that you are younger than I. Consider the time/culture that Elena was raised in. "Exploring the possibilties of boyfriends" was not an option. Any more than it was when I was 18.
I went from being the property of my father to being the property of my husband. Literally.
If I had been injured and compensation was awarded in a Personal Injury case, the Plaintiff would have been my father/husband. And the judgement (money) would have been payable to him, not me. And, if he had chosen to spend the money not "for my benefit", I would have had no recourse.
I had absolutely no legal rights separate from my father/husband.
"Moving out" and living on your own was no remedy. A woman was legally incapable of signing a contract. Want to lease an apartment? Buy a car? Open a bank account? Your "responsible male", i.e., father or husband, needed to sign for you.
Fortunately, times and laws changed.
Sharon Kutzschbach, posting to the Bujold Mailing List, 2007-12-12
I'm quite upset to hear that Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease:
In a brief note to fans entitled "An Embuggerance," Pratchett, 59, said he was taking the news "fairly philosophically" and "possibly with a mild optimism."
"I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news," he wrote on the Web site of Paul Kidby, who has illustrated many of his books.
[. . .]
"Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)" he wrote in his message. "I know it's a very human thing to say 'Is there anything I can do,' but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry."
I think we ought to be out there talking about ways to reduce energy consumption and waste. And we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is.
Mike Huckabee, as quoted by Jesse Walker in "Energy-Free by 2017!", Hit and Run, 2007-12-12
Soccer team Inter Milan is now the least favourite team in Turkey, because of the offensive nature of their soccer uniforms:
The reason for the appeal is unusual: the celebratory shirt for Inter's centenary worn by the team that night, and on several other occasions this season, offended many people in Turkey.
The shirt's scheme saw a big red cross on a white background, a symbol of the city of Milan, and reminded many of an emblem of the order of the Templars, which is considered offensive in Islamic culture.
Inter consciously did not wear their 'centenary shirt' in their first match against Fenerbahce in Istanbul, but at home, they did not think it was necessary to do the same.
It'll be interesting watching how UEFA handles this complaint, because if it's upheld, there are a number of countries whose national flags will cause at least as much offense . . .
A certain amount of the award will go toward significantly improving the Crusher, a 6.5-ton unmanned support vehicle Carnegie engineers developed in 2006 in conjunction with DARPA. Since its introduction, the Crusher has demonstrated unparalleled toughness and mobility during extensive field trials in extremely rugged terrain, according to Carnegie Mellon.
The next generation Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD) ill make use of the latest suspension, vehicle frame, and hybrid-electric drive technologies to improve upon its predecessor's performance. Enhanced mobility capabilities will push the envelope for autonomous and semi-autonomous operation, the engineers said. The engineers will develop a comprehensive control architecture that makes use of hardware and software components as well.
Ultimately unmanned ground vehicles would be outfitted with anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles and anti-personnel weapons to make them lethal. Part of the new award budget is also slated to help the university prove that autonomous ground vehicles are feasible in future combat situations.
Of course, there are always concerns about putting the decision-making power into the "hands" of self-directed machines. The worry is well founded: just think about how you have to struggle with Microsoft Word sometimes . . .
On the other hand, if they develop a model armed with Tasers, the RCMP may need to start worrying about their long-term future.
David Friedman points out the big assumptions of standard educational models:
Our approach starts with the fact that I went to a good private school, my wife to a good suburban public school, and both of us remember being bored most of the time; while we learned some things in school, large parts of our education occurred elsewhere, from books, parents, friends, projects. It continues with some observations about the standard model of K-12 schooling, public and private:
1. That model implicitly assumes that, out of the enormous body of human knowledge, there is some subset that everyone should study and that is large enough to fill most of thirteen years of schooling. That assumption is clearly false. Being able to read and do arithmetic is important for almost everyone. Beyond that, it is hard to think of any particular subject which there is a good reason for everyone to study, easy to think of many subjects outside the standard curriculum which there are good reasons for some people to study.
2. It implicitly assumes that the main way in which one should learn is by having someone else tell you what you are going to study this week, what you should learn about it, and your then doing so.
As some evidence of the failure of that model, consider my wife's experience teaching a geology lab for non-majors at VPI, probably the second best public university in the state. A large minority of the students did not know that the volume of a rectangular solid — a hypothetical ore body — was the length times the height times the depth. Given that they were at VPI they must have mostly been from the top quarter or so of high school graduates in Virginia; I expect practically all of them had spent at least a year each studying algebra and geometry.
As all students and most teachers know, the usual result of making someone study something of no interest to him is that he memorizes as much as he has to in order to pass the course, then forgets it as rapidly as possible thereafter. The flip side of that, routinely observed by parents, is that children can put enormous energy and attention into learning something that really interests them — the rules of D&D, the details of a TV series, the batting averages of the top players of the past decade.
I have to admit that I was always a bad student: it was a struggle to stay awake in most of my classes all through public school, and I still find sitting in a classroom being lectured to be a trying experience. This probably predisposes me to accept most educational reform proposals which don't revolve around classroom lectures . . .
The 1960s remain a volatile mixture of sacred birthplace and hallowed battleground, both Jerusalem and Gettysburg for our national politics and culture. The decade's reach is long, its grasp immense, alternately a continuing mystery needing unraveling or an ongoing problem requiring a solution.
As music, art, racial and sexual relations, and citizens' relation to the state all percolated and mutated in that decade, the resulting cultural and political heat weakened certain bridges across cultural divides. Whether the decade's tumult created those divisions or just illuminated them, they are still often read as defining America in our red/blue era. For one example, the '60s legacy led Andrew Sullivan to the mad expediency of declaring that only a Barack Obama presidency can reconcile the dueling meanings of that decade, the era when Baby Boomers' passions and concerns began their long march through all American’s institutions.
Not having the financial resources to fight* a defamation case, I'm being extremely careful not to comment on this situation in a way that could come to the attention of the Canadian Human Rights Commission**.
So I won't make any comment about the serious erosion of the right to freedom of speech that this situation represents. But you might freely infer that I'm not happy with the direction things are headed. I didn't say that, and you are — at least for the time being — still free to draw your own conclusions about the facts as presented in that article.
* Based on the most recent decisions, it'd be a hopeless fight: calling someone a censor is now legally punishable as defamation under Canadian law.
** In fact, you'll notice, I'm also being careful not to quote from that article. There are statements made in the article which would be actionable if they were published in a Canadian blog, although not in an American one.
H/T to Jon (my virtual landlord) for the link.
Update: Jon also sent along a link to Eugene Volokh's post on this topic, which I also don't feel safe in quoting here.
It may just be happenstance, but I've talked to several people on various mailing lists and discussion groups in the past week who have found unexplained credit card charges for online purchases. In almost every case, it was a small charge from a company the person either had never dealt with, or had not dealt with online before. Apparently, at least according to the folks reporting the issue, this is a common ploy for credit card scammers: put through a small charge to verify that the card is active (but not big enough to draw much notice unless the owner is paying close attention), then ram through a big-ticket item or six until the card is either over limit or closed down by the issuer.
Just a word to the wise . . . and yes, I will be checking my own statements a bit more carefully in future.
By a weird co-incidence, I happened on exactly the same link as frequent commenter "Da Wife" . . . and we both agree that it's well worth your time to view: Wellington Grey's DMCA takedown.
Half a hat-tip to "Da Wife", who also found it on WWdN: In Exile.
In the glamorous, high-tech, fast-paced world of technical writing, we sometimes run into situations where we have to document around software or hardware problems. It's the sort of thing that marketing might try, in the sense of redefining a bug as a "feature". But it could be much worse, if you're developing custom software for a client:
[The client] would buy new hardware and software, but it had to look and function exactly like the old systems. No touch-screens, no graphics and no cashier-friendly reminders; just a plain old text-based interface with obscure keyboard commands for navigation. After all, they had spent a lot of money developing training programs for these registers and had no intention of simply throwing them out.
The retailer had also invested in a whole host of back-office management and reporting applications. Some were PC-based and some relied on proprietary hardware, but they all interfaced with the old cash registers' proprietary database. And though many of those applications were antiquated as well, the retailer had no desire to retire them. The new software would just have to interface with them. On top of that, the retailer didn't want a "flash cutover" deployment. They wanted a seamless, phased deployment that would allow them to switch over one register at a time, and have it all look the same on the back-end. So, with the latest and greatest technology at their disposal, Dave's team built outdated and mediocre software that functioned and communicated exactly like the old software. It did everything it was supposed to do and it did it right. And therein lay the problem.
Shortly after they delivered the software, the retailer rejected the QA testers' build and sent David's company a list of bugs. But it wasn't a list of bugs that their software had — it was a list of bugs that it didn't have. When the retailer said they wanted the same functions, they apparently meant the same bugs as well.
I've been smothered under a spam attack the last day and a half, with spam comments arriving more than twice as fast as I can delete them, so I'm having to turn off comments for the time being.
I've long believed that all the hyperbright procrastinators I know, many of them underachievers, are the product of a particular mindset about intelligence. They are people who long ago internalized the notion that performance is largely based on innate talent--and are therefore putting off work because they know it won't be perfect. Procrastination delays the moment at which you find out that you aren't as talented as you hoped and believed you were.
Megan McArdle, "A for effort", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-12-05
Facebook is no paragon of virtue. It bears the hallmarks of the kind of pump-and-dump service that sees us as sticky, monetizable eyeballs in need of pimping. The clue is in the steady stream of emails you get from Facebook: "So-and-so has sent you a message." Yeah, what is it? Facebook isn't telling — you have to visit Facebook to find out, generate a banner impression, and read and write your messages using the halt-and-lame Facebook interface, which lags even end-of-lifed email clients like Eudora for composing, reading, filtering, archiving and searching. Emails from Facebook aren't helpful messages, they're eyeball bait, intended to send you off to the Facebook site, only to discover that Fred wrote "Hi again!" on your "wall." Like other "social" apps (cough eVite cough), Facebook has all the social graces of a nose-picking, hyperactive six-year-old, standing at the threshold of your attention and chanting, "I know something, I know something, I know something, won't tell you what it is!"
If there was any doubt about Facebook's lack of qualification to displace the Internet with a benevolent dictatorship/walled garden, it was removed when Facebook unveiled its new advertising campaign. Now, Facebook will allow its advertisers use the profile pictures of Facebook users to advertise their products, without permission or compensation. Even if you're the kind of person who likes the sound of a benevolent dictatorship this clearly isn't one.
Cory Doctorow, "How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook", Information Week, 2007-11-26
One of the things that I was struggling to get across at a dinner a few weeks ago is how discontinuous prices on inelastic goods can be. That is, a few percentage points increase in demand against a relatively fixed supply doesn't produce a few percentage points increase in price: it can produce huge spikes. That's not intuitive; we feel as if prices and demand should grow at approximately the same rate. But people in the world have a lot of spare income they can use to bid up the price of oil; the speed with which its price is increasing is a measure of just how useful the stuff is.
Part of the problem is that most media folks are too young to personally remember the first two oil crises, so that the current situation is unique in their collective experience. They communicate that in so much of their coverage of the oil market and the political ruckus influencing it.
Jeff Taylor introduces some cold water reality to a fantasy castle-in-the-sky "fix" to the sub-prime mortgage crisis:
"It is probably in their best interest to walk away. They have no equity," Whalen says of the hapless borrowers.
The possibility of their underwater borrowers actually taking a walk terrifies the banks, however. Banks would have no choice but to write down and make real phantom losses lurking just off their books. What to do? How about pretending that the loans aren't actually bad. How do you do that? Pretend that the borrowers can pay them back. How do you do that? Pretend the teaser rate is the real rate. Presto, problem solved.
At this point, some adult would ideally step in and say, "no, that's fraud." But clearly Treasury is not that mature. And it appears the Fed has resigned itself to some form of greater idiocy coming out of Congress on the subprime front that maybe, just maybe, the teaser freezer can head off.
However, the stubborn fact remains that banks will lose money on teaser rates. Regulators and investors both know this. Who exactly are we trying to fool? Besides inattentive voters.
Of course, nobody in the highly educated, fast-paced, exciting world of banking ever noticed that lending large sums of money to people with little or no real ability to repay the principal might be a risk. Bailing them out with public funds is exactly the wrong thing to do . . . which makes it the odds-on favourite of both stricken bankers and politicians needing to be seen to be "doing something".
In the meantime I was outside in the neighborhood calling for a lost dog. It seemed ridiculous: after all these years, now he runs away? I’d gone outside for a small evil cigar; my wife came out to chat, and yes, we Minnesotans stand outside when it’s 14 above and chat, and Jasper came out to stand with us. He went down to drill a yellow hole by the steps, and I thought nothing of it until I realized five minutes had passed. I went around the corner and gave the whistle, the sound I’ve used for so many years, the sound that usually brings the tinkle of a collar and a dog with pricked ears and wide eyes: will there be food? But nothing. I looked in the new snow; no tracks. I checked the side stairs: dog tracks. They went to the street. Ahhh, damn.
Went back inside, put on boots, and tromped around the neighborhood tweeting like a bird. Nothing. Dead silence. Up the block, down, down the hill, wondering if I’d have to head back to the creek; he loves it there. He could have picked up the trace of a squirrel, followed it down to the Falls, tumbled over the icy precipice.
JASPER I shouted. Nothing. I whistled: too-tweet.
I went back to the house to get in the car and drive around. As I came around the corner he came trotting up the steps. He looked at me: what? I looked at him: you dog. His ears went down and he looked away, then looked at me out of the corner of his eyes.
The most important conversations you have with your dog are silent movies.
James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-12-07
A couple of reports in PC World's daily newsletter about the Facebook debacle:
Facebook could have avoided the strident, weeks-long controversy engulfing its Beacon ad system if, when designing and deploying it, the social-networking company had followed basic social etiquette principles, such as being considerate and candid.
It's not too late, though. Following the common sense and time-tested advice of Mister Rogers and Miss Manners could help Facebook end the nightmare that threatens to harm its business, affect its relationship with advertising partners, and erode its end-users' trust.
That's the consensus from several industry observers and online privacy experts regarding the embattled Beacon, introduced several weeks ago to a sustained chorus of boos.
And then, the response from Facebook:
Facebook is giving members of its social network the ability to completely decline participating in the company's controversial Beacon ad system, a reaction to intense criticism that Beacon is too intrusive and compromises people's privacy.
The announcement was made in an official blog post by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in which he also apologized for missteps in the design and deployment of Beacon.
"We've made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we've made even more with how we've handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it," Zuckerberg wrote.
The ability to skip Beacon altogether is the second major modification to the program. Last Thursday, Facebook gave members more control over Beacon and made the way it works clearer so that people could manage it properly.
This is an excellent example of how difficult it is to build up a strong public image and how easy it is to just piss it away in a moment of brainlessness.
The extraordinary inflation of rare-wine prices — of which the Jefferson bottles are the most conspicuous example — has led in recent years to an explosion of counterfeits in the wine trade. In 2000, Italian authorities confiscated twenty thousand bottles of phony Sassicaia, a sought-after Tuscan red; Chinese counterfeiters have begun peddling fake Lafite. So-called "trophy" wines — best-of-the-century vintages of old Bordeaux — that were difficult to find at auction in the nineteen-seventies and eighties have reëmerged on the market in great numbers. Serena Sutcliffe, the head of Sotheby's international wine department, jokes that more 1945 Mouton was consumed on the fiftieth anniversary of the vintage, in 1995, than was ever produced to begin with.
Patrick Radden Keefe, "The Jefferson Bottles: How could one collector find so much rare fine wine?", The New Yorker, 2007-09-03
Promoters of the ethanol mandate assert that it would help the United States achieve energy independence and slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. Evaluating the scientific and economic claims being made for bioethanol can be vexing, but a few urgent questions come to mind: if bioethanol is such a good energy deal, why must refiners and consumers be forced to use it? Again, if it's such a great idea economically, why does the federal government offer a tax credit of 51 cents per gallon for blending ethanol into gasoline?
In fact, the subsidies are probably higher than that. For example, a 2006 report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development estimated that if one took into account state renewable fuel tax breaks and direct agricultural subsidies that reduce other costs, the total amount of the ethanol subsidy rises from $1.05 to $1.38 per gallon of ethanol
Ronald Bailey, "Bioethanol Boondoggle: Political viability is more important than commercial viability", Reason Online, 2007-12-04
Radley Balko visits "Old Town Alexandria", which is struggling to maintain its historical look:
People who decry the Wal-Mart-ification and Gap-ificaiton of America need to realize that regulation often does more harm to local businesses than predatory pricing, loss-leader business models, or some other imagined corporate evil.
I've lived in or near Old Town for most of the last 10 years. It's not [un]common to see an independently-owned antique shop or art gallery get boarded over, only to be replaced in ensuing months by a franchise. It's not difficult to see why. Franchise operators can tap the resources of the parent company, particularly when it comes to accessing legal help with experience navigating through and working with local zoning laws and business regulations.
Local officials who simultaneously decry big box stores and national chains while doling out burdensome regulatory structures and complicated permit processes should understand that regulatory burdens hit the smaller, independent places hardest, because they're the places that have the smallest amount of discretionary cash to hire legal aid (or, if you're really cynical, to make the appropriate campaign contributions). They're on a tighter budget and, therefore, have a smaller margin of error when it comes to hassles like delaying an opening because some bureaucrat determined their signage is a couple of inches out of compliance.
There's a larger lesson in all of this, too. Those who push for federal regulations to rein in "big business" often don't realize that the biggest of big businesses don't mind heavy federal regulation at all. They have the resources to comply with them, not to mention the clout in Washington to get the regulations written in a way that most hurts upstarts and competitors.
Big businesses know that a heavy regulatory burden is the best way to make sure small- and medium-sized businesses never rise up to challenge them.
According to a report from New Scientist, the IT industry is the latest in a long series of environmental criminal organizations, plotting the demise of Mother Gaia:
"Computers are seen as quite benign things sitting on your desk," says Trewin Restorick, director of the group. "But, for instance, in our charity we have one server. That server has same carbon footprint as your average SUV doing 15 miles to the gallon. Yet, whereas the SUV is seen as a villain from the environmental perspective, the server is not."
The report, An Inefficient Truth states that with more than 1 billion computers on the planet, the global IT sector is responsible for about 2% of human carbon dioxide emissions each year — a similar figure to the global airline industry.
The energy consumption is driven largely by vast amounts of customer and user data that are stored on the computer servers in most businesses. The rate at which data storage is growing surpasses the growth in the airline industry: in 2006, 48% more data storage capacity was sold in the UK than in 2005, while the number of plane passengers grew by 3%.
Of course, the solution is to scrap all those inefficient, Gaia-raping computers and go back to the practice of keeping all data on paper, tabulated by hand. Think of all the millions and millions of people who will be able to get jobs as office clerks, archivists, shipping/receiving clerks (to handle the vast increase in paper shipments), paper mill workers, and lumberjacks this wonderful innovation would benefit.
Let's just ignore the false correlation between air travel growth and data storage capacity growth, shall we? It's about as meaningful as comparing the rate of growth of any two radically dissimilar things.
After posting this, I might suggest the magazine change its name to New Credulist.
H/T to James Lileks.
I've been using Facebook for a couple of months, and I've generally found it a pretty useful site. I'd say I had pretty positive feelings toward the site . . . until now. Now, I'm reconsidering whether I should ever log in to that site again. Why? Because Facebook's Beacon ad system may be telling them a lot about my online browsing habits, whether I'm logged in to their site or not:
If you think that just because you have never signed up for Facebook you're immune to the tracking and collecting of user activities surrounding the popular social networking site, think again.
Facebook's controversial Beacon ad system tracks the activities of all users of its third-party partner sites, including people who have never signed up with Facebook or who have deactivated their accounts, CA (Computer Associates) has found.
Beacon captures detailed data on what users do on the external partner sites and sends it back to Facebook along with users' IP addresses, Stefan Berteau, senior research engineer at CA's Threat Research Group, said today in an interview.
The CA Security Advisor Research Blog offers the following advice:
For me, the Ad system is a real privacy concern. It connects my online actions to my Facebook account — collecting and aggregating an even broader array of data in one database. Yikes. Once I found out about this ad system and realized I didn't like it, I looked at my options.
Here are some of them:
1. Cancel my Facebook account.
2. Continually opt-out of News Feed from external sites.
3. Do nothing.
4. Block facebook.com/beacon*, hence block data transmission.
5. Petition Beacon partner sites.
Option 1. This isn't a good option for me at this time. I use Facebook to connect with people and have invested time and other resources building my Facebook presence. Quitting is not as easy as simply going into my account settings and selecting 'deactivate.' In the field of economics the term "elasticity of demand" is used to describe consumer receptivity to changes in price (e.g.: if the price goes up will they still buy?). I think I will create a new term "retractability of investment". In other words, I invested emotion, time, and other resources in Facebook — what would it take for me to retract my investment by deactivating my account? As of now, my investment is too high and I don't consider retraction a viable option, but if the privacy violations continue, my internal scale may tip.
If you use Firefox, you can follow CA's advice for blocking that particular site from receiving information from your browser (but only if Facebook doesn't change the site or add others to it):
Option 4 is the only option I can think of that allows me to use Facebook, but control my privacy. As long as facebook.com/beacon is the folder used for external sites to send requests, this option will work. You will need a tool for blocking access to this folder. I tried out Firefox's BlockSite Plugin and it works great (if you use Firefox). Just download the plugin and add http://www.facebook.com/beacon/* and facebook.com/beacon/* under 'options' to the 'add' section and restart your browser. Note: Adding facebook.com/beacon to Internet Explorer's restricted sites, is not an option, this will block the entire domain (facebook.com). Also, the hosts file is not an option for the same reason.
I just followed their advice, downloaded BlockSite, and added those two sites to the blocking list. If you're not using Firefox, you may have to consider another solution, though. More information on this issue here.
In other college football news, 13 of the 121 Division I-A football coaches have been fired, forced out or resigned under pressure since turkeys were carved. This only seems like a purge because departures of Division I-A coaches are so rare. Eleven percent of Division I-A head football coaches have been shown the door in 2007; last year, 19 percent of NFL head coaching jobs turned over. The average of the past two decades has been roughly 20 percent annual head coach turnover in the NFL, versus about 5 percent in Division I-A.
As TMQ often reminds everyone, the football-factory schools in Division I-A hold such incredible advantages in recruiting, in cupcake-opponent scheduling and in playing more games at home than on the road that an orangutan could coach a Division I-A school to bowl eligibility. Almost every football-factory season ends in a bowl bid, and thus the typical football season outcome at a big school is officially characterized as a success. Two-thirds of NFL teams do not qualify for the postseason, and thus the typical season outcome in the pros is failure. That's why there are far more long-term coaching dynasties in college than in the NFL. It is simply easier to win games at a football-factory college than in the pros, meaning more college coaches with career winning records and longtime tenures.
Gregg Easterbrook, "TMQ: BCS Madness!", ESPN Page 2, 2007-12-03
I had meant to do some blogging yesterday, but I was prevented from doing so by the horrifying presence of snow on the roads. Not that the snow and ice was that much of an issue, but Toronto area drivers need at least a month's worth of snow before they start to recall that you can't drive on a snowy or icy road as if it's midsummer.
Toronto drivers go through three phases: denial, blind terror, and (finally) resigned acceptance. This week we're just starting the denial phase. It's as if they can't believe that something. Is. Falling. From. The. Sky. It cannot be . . . we will pretend that it is not happening and continue to drive 20 Kph over the posted speed limit.
Sometime next week, the blind panic will set in, and every snowflake will require the army to be called out.
Only after all of that will a few snowflakes not cause the entire GTA to grind to a halt.
. . . well, sorta.
The team of which I was a part, won our club badminton tournament. Some might say in spite of, others might say in consequence of, my part in the tournament. I'd be less than human in hoping that the latter was more correct than the former. ;-)
Update, 2 December: Of course, the bill must be paid . . . I'm just barely able to move today, and I've got aches where I didn't even know I had muscles. It was a great tournament (and I'm not just saying that because my team won), but a full day of play is a lot more than I'm used to doing.
Because of an oddity in the schedule, my team played every other team (and one team we played twice), except Victor's team. The seeding system worked very well: all the games were competitive, with very few lopsided results. By the end of the day, as we were running short of time, the games were only played to 11 points, as the competing teams had to play four games in the match — womens' doubles, mens' doubles, and two mixed doubles games.
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