Tuesday, July 27, 2004


I've been doing some of my blogging at ob4.org/Blogs, "an experimental site dedicated to discussion of new political ideas." Check it out.

ob4 stands for "of, by, and for," which echoes the last line of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:
"that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

California budget rescued from special interests

California has at least a "hand-shake" budget. The money part had been settled long ago. What I was watching were the side deals. It looks like the Democrats pretty much held firm. Senate Democratic leader John Burton even gave Governor Schwarzenegger some credit for helping to reach a reasonable settlement.

how the LA Times describes the various resolutions. (The bulleting is mine.)
  • Issue: a loophole that allows owners of luxury yachts to avoid paying the sales tax on them by keeping the yachts in Mexico for three months. 

    Resolution: [C]lose the loophole for two years and study its impact on the [yachting] industry.

    [The] Republicans [had] warned that closing [this loophole] would wreck the state's yacht industry.[!]

    The governor ultimately joined Democrats to push for the change. "Arnold, God love him, he went to bat on it," Burton said.

  • Issue: [a law that] allows workers to file multimillion-dollar lawsuits against their employers for a variety of offensives — some of them as small as using the wrong size type on posters that inform employees of their rights.

    Resolution: [Employees may] sue for major violations, but only if the Labor and Workforce Development Agency refuses to act. [No] suits for such minor violations as failure to post labor rules.

  • Issue: [A] law that restricts schools from contracting out for transportation, janitorial and other noninstructional services to companies that pay below union wage.

    Resolution: The Democrats agreed to some concessions, but Republicans said they weren't enough.

    I wish I knew more about this compromise. Neither the NY Times nor the Sacramento Bee had any details.
All-in-all, I'd say that the good guys won. Let's see if the Governor can convince enough of his party-men to support his budget. The Democrats can't pass it on their own.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Wedge issues

Rick Perlstein has an excellent article on today's LA Times (Leave It to Cleaver: Wedge politics have given the GOP an edge, so the Democrats may want to slice and dice for their own side) in which he first describes how Republicans exploit wedge issues and then urges Democrats to learn how to do the same.

Perlstein describes a typical Republican attack as follows.
"Political observers recently got to watch Republican wedge politics go down, in textbook fashion.

At a fundraiser in New York for Sen. John Kerry, Whoopi Goldberg said something naughty about President Bush. Ken Mehlman of the Bush campaign called the formerly obscure event a 'star-studded hate fest' and demanded the Kerry campaign release it on video — implying even naughtier tidbits to come. Fox News, then the rest of the media, granted Goldberg's attack legitimacy as an 'issue.' The mighty GOP ax had fallen again, predictably, right at the point where two key constituencies of the Democratic coalition are joined.

One segment of the party is both reliably rich and reliably liberal — 'Hollywood.' Another — they used to call them 'hard hats' — is culturally conservative but seeks a dependable protector of its economic interests."
This is an excellent column, and I recommend that you read it in full.

I would only add that the Democrats should also learn another Republican trick. Instead of responding defensively to a wedge issue attack, respond in kind. If a Republican insists that Kerry disassociate himself from Whoopi Goldberg's remarks, Kerry might respond as follows.
"Do you have a problem with Whoopi Goldberg expressing her opinion? Are you suggesting that Whoopi Godlberg be censored? Don't you believe in freedom of speech? How dare you suggest that I or anyone else should tell Whoopi Goldberg what to say. If you don't like what Whoopi Goldberg has to say, take it up with her. In the Democratic party, people are free to express themselves without having to clear everything they say with command central. That's the kind of America I believe in. What kind of American do you believe in?"


I received this email message. It seems to be phishing for my personal information.

I don't have an account at USBank.

In addition, the entire message is an image, even the text. The line that looks like a link in the middle is just part of the image. Clicking anywhere on the image will take you to the same web site.

Yet the message includes the USBank logo. It looks fairly convincing.

I have received others from with CitiBank logos.

See my previous posting: Identity theft artists go phishing for your personal information.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Babies think before they speak

"The distinction between a tight fit versus a loose fit is marked in Korean but not in English. A cap on a pen would be a tight fit relationship, while a pen [in a shoe box] would be a loose fit relationship. English does not mark this distinction in the same way"
Yet 5-month old babies of both English-speaking and Korean-speaking parents notice the distinction, apparently indicating that we are born knowing how to make and see such a distinction but that English speakers learn to ignore it as they grow up.

As summarized by www.4woman.gov
"'Adults were glossing over the distinction that the babies were actually detecting,' said co-author Sue Hespos, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University.

'These findings suggest that humans possess a rich set of concepts before we learn language,' added co-author Elizabeth Spelke, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. 'Learning a particular language may lead us to favor some of the these concepts over others, but the concepts already existed before we put them into words.'"

Solutions for America

A friend has some interesting economic suggestions.

See Cliff Lazar's Solutions for America.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Does Bush feel any regret about not having done better?

In "There was no way Bush could have won." I talked about why Bush can't possibly be re-elected. One is that 9/11 happened on his watch.

The idea that Bush should hold himself in some sense responsible for 9/11 seems not to have received much attention. I don't understand why.

In saying that Bush should publicly accept responsibility I'm not arguing that a formal trial-like process would pin the blame directly on him.

What I am saying is that the event happened while he was in charge. We know that it could have been avoided, and it wasn't. Whether Bush should formally be held to a standard that assigns blame to him for incompetence is not the point. He should hold himself to such a standard.

Why has he not spoken to the American people and expressed remorse that he didn't do better. He certainly might have done better. Doesn't he regret that he didn't do better? Why haven't we heard about any regret he may feel?

Bush likes to talk about values. One of the basic elements of values is holding oneself to a high standard. Does he? It doesn't seem so. As quoted in the previous piece, when asked about his reaction to the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) entitled 'Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US,' Bush said that the PDB didn't have enough information for him to take any action. Perhaps it did; perhaps it didn't. But certainly from hindsight, we would have been much better off had he acted. Why hasn't he expressed any regret about not having acted? Does he feel any regret?

Richard Clarke, when testifying before the 9/11 commission said
"Your government failed you, and I failed you. ... We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed."
Why haven't we heard anything remotely resembling such a statement from Bush?

Instead, in mid October 2001, we get the following from OMB director Mitch Daniels while talking about how Bush was justifying breaking his campaign promise not to run a deficit.
"[Bush] had always listed, throughout his campaign and since, the reasons ... he had given as acceptable for running fiscal deficits: for war, recession, or emergency. As he said to me in mid-September, 'Lucky me. I hit the trifecta.'"

Persistent processes

In Are we born dualists? And if so, should we be concerned? I began to discuss persistent processes -- in that entry as a way of thinking about people. The notion is far more general -- and not necessarily mystical or spiritual. Here are two examples of large-scale persistent processes.

Hurricanes. A hurricane is a persistent process powered primarily by temperature and pressure differentials. For an explanation of how hurricanes work, see "How Hurricanes Work".

codebase="http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=4,0,2,0" width="400" height="300" -->

src="http://static.howstuffworks.com/flash/hurricane-cross-section.swf" quality="high"
Version=ShockwaveFlash" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400"

Source: NASA Observatorium

Ocean currents. Surface and Subsurface Ocean Currents are also powered by temperature and pressure differentials as well as by gravity, saline differentials, and other forces.

From Ocean World
"Ocean currents can be divided into two types of flow based on the forces that drive them. Most currents in the upper kilometer of the ocean are driven by the wind. Mixing drives deeper currents, which brings very cold dense water up to the surface. The dense water is replaced by cold dense water that sinks to the bottom near Greenland, Norway and Antarctica. Deeper water is affected by long variability of climate. Climate controls salinity and temperature of the water, which has everything to do with density. "

House Rpt.108-614 - MARRIAGE PROTECTION ACT OF 2004

Senator Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) submitted the `Marriage Protection Act of 2004' to the House of Representatives. The summary includes the following.
"H.R. 3313 would prevent unelected, lifetime-appointed Federal judges from striking down the protection for states Congress passed in the Defense of Marriage Act (`DOMA')"
(Apparently, this is the actual form in which it is submitted to the house. It is neat to have all this online.)

But to the point: Federal judges are lifetime-appointed, and they are unelected. That's how our system works. Part of the job of Federal judges, a job which they take an oath to fulfil, is to strike down laws that violate the constition.

For Senator Sensenbrenner to criticize them for doing exactly what they are sworn to do is to criticize the constitution for saying what it says. If any of this is a surprise to Senator Sensenbrenner perhaps he should take a refresher course on the separation of powers and how the principle of checks and balances works in our government.

Google Search: separation of powers turned up the following on the first page:

Fantastic jobs?

"It is especially galling to see the governor point at a handful of school bus drivers and excoriate them as 'special interests' that he must fight before we can have a budget. ...

The governor ran for office promising 'fantastic jobs for every Californian.' But his actions are just the opposite. He wants to help a corporation to cut bus drivers' pay. This kind of policy would increase the number of working poor in our state."
Lillian Taiz, California Faculty Association Vice President, and Professor of History at California State University, Los Angeles commenting on Governor Schwarzenegger's insistence that the budget include a provision that would allow local school districts to outsource school bus-driver positions to companies that pay lower wages than those paid by the school district.

I fault Schwarzenegger for tying this issue to the state budget. It has nothing to do with the state budget, and the state should not be held hostage to settling this debate about wage levels.

More philosophically, I'm not sure what my position is on wages. Normally, if I have a choice between similar products at different prices, I'll choose the less expensive one. But what if the price differential is due entirely to a wage differential. Should I care? If I buy the more expensive product, I'm depriving the people who make the less expensive product (and who make less money doing it) of a living. (That's one of the dilemmas we face with regard to labor standards on imported goods.) If I buy the less expensive product, am I exploiting the people who produced it if they work for very low wages?

I basically do believe in market mechanisms. The low price should win over the high price. Why isn't that true for wages?

On the other hand, the growing imbalance between the pay of CEOs and the pay everyone else gets is not healthy. Our middle class is shrinking. That's not good for the country either. I don't have an answer.

Stronger unions would help. Unfortunately, unions abused their power when they had more strength.

In the interest of full disclosure, I belong to the California Faculty Association (CFA), the same faculty union that Lil does. I believe that it is a good and necessary union.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

On Girlie Men and Our Manly Governor

Steve Lopez writes a terrific column for the LA Times.  Today he took on our Governor. Here are some highlights.

  • Number of times Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised an on-time budget in the last year: Too many to count.

    Number of days that have passed since the budget deadline: 21.

  • Total dollar amount of the 2003-04 budget signed by ex-Gov. Gray Davis: $99.1 billion.

    Total amount of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first budget after promising to shrink government: $103 billion.

  • Number of employees on Gov. Schwarzenegger's staff who make $100,000 or more: 14.

    Number of employees on Gov. Davis' staff who made $100,000 or more: 8.

  • Schwarzenegger's whereabouts just hours after vowing to stay in Sacramento and fight like a warrior to end the budget stalemate: Beverly Hills fund-raiser.

    Amount raised at Beverly Hills fund-raiser by Schwarzenegger, who earlier promised to end fund-raising during budget season: Roughly $400,000.

    Amount Schwarzenegger has raised for himself and committees he controls since the day he said he doesn't need anyone's money because he has his own: $30 million.

    Nickname that best applies to ex-Gov. Davis when comparing his fund-raising prowess to Schwarzenegger's: Girlie man.
Read the whole column.

"There was no way Bush could have won."

That's what everyone will be saying November 3 after Kerry wins 40 states. Given
  • Bush's record of converting a $200 billion surplus into a $500 billion deficit while simultaneous arranging an outrageous tax giveaway to his rich supporters,
  • his phony but expensive war,
  • his squandering of American respect around the world,
  • his so-called Patriot act that has begun to move this country toward a dictatorship,
  • his lack of respect for and apparent failure even to understand the fundamental rights written into the constitution, a failure so profound that even the Supreme court, the court that put him in power, had to reign him in -- something it rarely does during a real war,
  • his prison scandals,
  • his Halliburton scandals,
  • his broken promises ("no child left behind," indeed; plenty of money for a phony missile shield but none for firefighters) and his bait-and-switch approach to government ("The Healthy Forest Loggers Act"),
  • his blatant hypocrisy in which he panders to special interests at the expense of the overall economy (the imposition of shrimp and illegal steel tariffs while claiming to believe in free trade) for short -term political gain,
  • his record of being the first president during whose administration the number of jobs has shrunk,
  • his pompous dishonesty and promotion of bigotry, "defend the sanctity of marriage,"
  • his attempt to censor government sponsored science and economic reporting,
  • the torrent of well documented, highly credible anti-Bush books:
  • his simple arrogance. He is the man who told Bob Woodward,
    "I'm the commander. See, I don't have to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
Given that Bush is
  • the man who will almost certainly be judged as one of the worst Presidents in history,

  • the man who, when asked how he responded to the August 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB)  entitled 'Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US,' said
    "My response was exactly like then [sic] as it is today, that I asked for the Central Intelligence Agency to give me an update on any terrorist threats. And the PDB was no indication of a terrorist threat. There was not a time and place of an attack. [emphasis added] It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to?"
    In other words, since bin Laden hadn't sent him a telegram explaining how and when he intended to attack, there was nothing to do,

  • the man on whose watch 9/11 occurred.
How could he possibly have won a second term? Of course he lost by a landslide.

That's what we'll all be saying on November 3.

So why am I so worried now?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Why tyrants rule Arabs

Gwynne Dyer writes
"It was just a random statistic, but a telling one: Only 300 books were translated into Arabic last year. That is about one foreign title per million Arabs. For comparison's sake, Greece translated 1,500 foreign-language books, or about 150 titles per million Greeks. Why is the Arab world so far behind, not only in this but in practically all the arts and sciences?"
This is an interesting statistic on its own. Dyer goes on to blame it on the west for supporting Arab dictatorships. I think that's a bit too much of playing the victim.

Dyer does seem to have intersting things to say, though. I quoted her once before: It's not always about you. In both cases, I saw her stuff in Radio Free USA.

Saying No to Killers

The genocide in Sudan is not over. Nicholas Kristof continues to be our conscience and to remind us that we are doing nothing to stop it.
Colin Powell's visit to Sudan was an excellent first step, but President Bush has remained passive. As for John Kerry, he averted his eyes from Darfur for months, but last week he finally demanded action against what he termed genocide. ...

If readers want to help, I've listed some actions they can take on www.nytimes.com/kristofresponds Posting 520 (but please don't send money to me). Moral choices lie not only with those who, like Carl Wilkens, risk death to help others, but also with the millions of ordinary people who are spared the risks but still face a basic decision: Do we try to save lives, or do we simply turn away?

The Arabian Candidate

Paul Krugman is fantastic. Read The Arabian Candidate.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Are we born dualists? And if so, should we be concerned?

I belong to a reading group. Yesterday evening we discussed Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human, by Paul Bloom, Psychology Professor at Yale. Amazon.com quotes from Publisher's Weekly,
"Bloom's central thesis is that what makes us uniquely human is our dualism: our understanding that there are [both] material objects, or bodies, and people, or souls."
No one in the reading group thought the book itself was very good. It rambled on, skipping from one point to another, without an overall coherent structure. But the issue it raises is central to how we look at the world. (By the way, Bloom does not argue that dualism is true, only that we are wired to see the world from a dualistic perspective.)

My perspective is that dualism is an exaggeration. It is an unfortunate consequence of setting in stone an explanation of real phenomena about which we have yet to develop adequate terms. Here's the problem.

When you think about someone you know, you don't think of that person in terms of his or her brute physical substance -- although you may picture that person in your mind in terms of his or her overall appearance, which is different. You don't think about hair follicles, or blood cells, or internal organs, or the partially digested food in the person's digestive tract. You think about the person in terms of his or her personality: what is it like to be with the person, what does the person like or dislike, what scares the person, how intelligent is the person, is the person outgoing or shy, what makes him or her laugh or cry. Even when we think of a person sexually, we think of how the person feels and reacts when touched in a certain way; we don't think of touching as an interaction between two (lifeless) physical substances.

This becomes especially clear when we consider how we think about corpses. We don't think about a corpse as the same as the person who died -- even if the person just died a moment ago. We tend to distinguish between a person and a person's body. We think about the substance of a person and the personality of a person as two distinct things. Try running define: personality to see a nice collection of definitions for personality. Many of these definitions capture quite well what we think of when we think of a person.

In the preceding, I used the term personality. But the term personality seems to refer to a collection of properties or characteristics of a person. We don't think of a person's personality as being the person himself or herself.

So if a person's physical substance is not the person, and the person's personality is not the person, what is the person? Certainly it is isn't a person's hair follicles or internal organs that cry when the person is sad. It doesn't even make sense to apply the notion of being sad to hair follicles and internal organs. Nor is it consistent with our use of the term to say that the personality was afraid when something frightening happened. We just don't use the term personality that way. So what was sad, or afraid, or intelligent, or angry, or happy, or reckless?

Traditionally we have used terms like soul to refer to the person and the word personality to refer to ways of describing a soul. In other words, we reify (another great word) what we think of as the person as something separate from the physical realm but something to which personality-related terms apply.

In doing so, we become dualists.

And what choice do we have? What other options are there?

The answer is a longish story, but the short version of it is this. There are lots of processes in the world that persist in a relatively constant form over an extended period of time. Think, for example, of a book club. The actual members of the book club come and go. (This is similar to the fact that the physical substance of a person's body comes and goes.) The location at which the book club meets may vary over time. The frequency with which the club meets may vary also. Yet we have no problem talking about a book club as a thing even though there is virtually nothing physical about it that is constant. (Along similar lines, do you remember "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York" from Guys and Dolls?)

We have no trouble talking about a book club as (if it were) a thing or Nathan Detroit's crap game as (if it were) a thing; yet we don't insist that either has a soul. Each can have a personality, but you don't need a soul to have a personality. All you really need is persistence.

So it seems to me that we are indeed dualists in that we do see the world as consisting of more than just physical objects. But being dualists doesn't necessarily mean that we believe that the world is divided into two distinct realms: the physical and the spiritual.

We quite reasonably see the world as consisting of more or less static physical objects and more or less dynamic (but persistent) processes -- and that seeing the world in these terms is quite useful. There is nothing all that mysterious about it.

Fierce Blue

Former Harvard Business School Professor Blasts Bush

For what it's worth. Professor Yoshihiro Tsurumi says Bush was 'shallow,' 'flippant' in 1970s class.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

"The world's attention today."

As you know, I think that the world of blogging, news feeds, and similar dynamic web phenomena is very significant. The dynamic web is about who is talking about what now; it's about what the world is thinking about. I would like to see the following service provided.

Index the web of feeds but weight the words in the index by both the number of sites in which a word appears and how recently it has appeared. Thus a word that appears in a large number of sites on a particular day would rate high for that day with the rating dropping off on subsequent days if the word did not continue to appear on a large number of sites.

Presumably one would still get a Zipf's law distribution of word frequencies. But what would be more interesting than just the absolute distribution of word frequencies is the change from day to day. For example, I imagine that marriage has appeared much more frequently during the past couple of weeks than usual. I suspect that its appearance has dropped off since the Senate ended consideration of the FMA.

This could be the basis of a very popular web site: "The world's attention today" -- in some ways similar to Slate's "Today's papers." Given the right data and some intelligent analysis, this would be a useful service for anyone who wanted to know what people were paying attention to. I'll bet that such a web site would get lots of traffic and would become quite a valuable cyberspace destination. It could be the start of an important business.

For a bit of background of how I got here, see my blog entries: here and here.

Is Schwarzenegger losing it?

Referring to legislators who refuse to rubber stamp his budget, our governor said yesterday,
"I call them girlie men."
As I understand it, the Democrats, who control the legislature, and the Governor have agreed on all the financial issues in the budget. (But see Dan Weintraub for recent complications) The only unsettled issues are Schwarzenegger's insistence on two additional provisions: (a) that the legislature repeal a law passed during the last days of the Davis administration that made it easier for employees to sue their employers and (b) that the legislature approve a provision that makes it easier for government agencies to outsource service such as driving school buses.

The Democrats have threatened to bring the budget to a vote without these two provisions, saying that they can and should be settled separately. Even though the Democrats control far more than 50% of the seats in both houses of the legislature, California's budget rules require that a budget be passed by a 2/3 majority. The Democrats can't do that on their own. But they can show that they aren't the ones holding up the budget.

I hope they do bring the budget to a vote and make it clear to everyone what's really going on.

About Schwarzenegger himself, I wonder what's gotten into him. So far he has relied on his overwhelming popularity to get whatever he wants. No politician can count on that sort of honeymoon forever. His apparently has ended. Is he that much of a bully that if he fails to get what he wants he resorts to this sort of name-calling? It's not even smart name-calling. Who does he think he is embarrassing other than himself?

California fire

We drove north this weekend to attend a wedding. (This is California. The groom's mother was Irish Catholic; the groom's father was Indian Sikh; the bride's family was Serbian.)

On the way, we drove past the fire burning near Magic Mountain. This is the best shot I got. I took it with my Treo 600.

After passing the fire, we continued north along I-5. I was reminded of why I like the California hills so much. They seem to me like frozen waves of land, so senuous.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


David Brooks complains
"If Kerry really shared our values, he probably wouldn't have to tell us so every minute, and once, just once, he might actually say what the values we share actually are."
I wonder if Brooks noticed that just a few days ago President Bush said
"I did well here in 2000 because the North Carolinian voter understood we shared values. I'm going to do well again in 2004. They know we share those values."

The world's attention

In The dynamic web: the web of human attention I began to discuss the significance of the world of blogging, news feeds, and similar dynamic web phenomena. As I said then, the dynamic web is about who is talking about what now; it's about what the world is paying attention to.

Here are a couple of services I would like to see.
  1. Index the web of feeds (just as Google does) but weight the words in the index by recency. Presumably one would still get a Zipf's law distribution of word frequencies. (See, for example, Zipf's Law.)

    What would be more interesting than the absolute distribution of word frequencies is the change from day to day. For example, I imagine that marriage has appeared much more frequently during the past couple of weeks than usual. I suspect that its appearance has dropped off since the Senate ended consideration of the FMA.

  2. I would also like to see a network of references: which blogs refer to which other blogs and other sources. That too probably changes from day to day. If a newspaper breaks an important story, it will probably be linked to quite widely.

    More interestingly, a collection of blogs may have a discussion among themselves about a subject. A dynamic network of inter-blog links will show that discussion going on.

William J. Bennett: free enterprise at public expense

At Reagan's memorial William J. Bennett said,
"With [Reagan's] faith that government tax policy was the problem, not the solution, and a firm grasp of the fundamental principle of economics -- free enterprise works -- he released our creative energies and entrepreneurial spirits. "
A few days later, we read (Santa Rosa Press Democrat: News for California's North Bay and Redwood Empire)
"Students throughout the [California] North Bay will have a chance to join a new 'virtual' charter school, part of a national network backed by former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett.

Bennett is coming to Santa Rosa on Friday to tout his national, taxpayer-supported [emphasis added] school program ... .

[Bennett's] California Virtual Academy will receive about $4,700 in state aid for each primary grade student. Of that amount, the charter school will pay Bennett's K12 company about $1,800 for curriculum and online resources, plus about $600 for administrative support."
Is anyone surprised to see how happily private enterprise finds its way to the hated taxpayer-funded checkbook?

So does Bennett favor Bushonomics: it's ok for government to spend money; it's just wrong to collect taxes to pay for it? Or is it that Bennett thinks that it ok for government to "tax and spend" as long as the spending goes to companies like his? I really don't know.

Kristoff on intolerance on the religious right

In his current column (Jesus and Jihad) Nicholas Kristoff characterizes the current crop of what he calls "evangelical thrillers" as having scenes such as
"Jesus will return to Earth, gather non-Christians to his left and toss them into everlasting fire: 'Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed itself again.'"
Kristoff goes on to say that
"These are the best-selling novels for adults in the United States, and they have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide.

It's disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety." [emphasis added]
"the horses [of the non-believers], their flesh and eyes and tongues melting away, leaving grotesque skeletons standing, ... [rattle] to the pavement."
As Kristoff says, "One might have thought that Jesus would be more of an animal lover."

Kristoff then points out that
"If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of [this sort of fiction] and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit.

As my Times colleague David Kirkpatrick noted in an article, this portrayal of a bloody Second Coming reflects a shift in American portrayals of Jesus, from a gentle Mister Rogers figure to a martial messiah presiding over a sea of blood. Militant Christianity rises to confront Militant Islam.

[W]e should be embarrassed when our best-selling books gleefully celebrate religious intolerance and violence against infidels.

That's not what America stands for, and I doubt that it's what God stands for."

Friday, July 16, 2004

The White House claims that we are safer

The current (7/16) White House Weekly Review claims that over the past three years, the American people have become safer. It doesn't say what measure of safety is being used in making that statement.

Presumably this refers to safety from terrorism. Yet the Homeland Security Terror Alert indicator seems to be stuck on Yellow. So what are they really claiming?

For an analysis of the speech in which Bush makes the America-is-safer claim, see Fred Kaplan's Bush's Foreign Fantasy - The president thinks the world is safer than it was three years ago. Which world is he living in? in Slate.

Many have argued that I should lighten up, that this is just political rhetoric.

No doubt that it is. Web WordNet 2.0 defines rhetoric as "using language effectively to please or persuade" -- presumably in contrast to using language to express meaning. When politicians use language for purely rhetorical effect, I think they should be called on it. If political speech has become meaningless, why bother with it at all.

Certainly politicians must address people's hopes and fears. But they should be honest about what they are saying. When they make what looks like factual claims, they should be held to their statements.

A statement to the effect that we are safer now than three years ago should ultimately refer to reality. A statement such as "I know you are worried about safety (but I haven't really done anything about it)" is a lot different from "I know you are worried about safety and here are the concrete ways in which you are safer now than three years ago." The second statement lets people judge for themselves whether those concrete specifics are effective.

Even better would be a statement such as "Here is how we are measuring safety (e.g., number of terrorist incidents, number of people injured or killed in terrorist incidents, number of foiled terrorist incidents, etc.)." Here are the statistics from three years ago, and here are the statistics for today. Clearly we are safer now than three years ago.

On those grounds Bush can certainly make the case that we haven't had a 9/11 incident since 9/11, so we must be safer now than then. Is that what he has in mind?

Identity theft artists go phishing for your personal information

ZDNet has a report on phishing. This is not an urban legend or a phoney warning.
"The latest innovation in identity fraud typically begins with an unexpected e-mail message from a financial institution proclaiming something like: 'Your account information needs to be updated due to inactive members, frauds and spoof reports.'

Anyone who clicks on the included hyperlink and types in their personal details is unwittingly connecting not to their own bank, but to a scam artist engaged in the sport of "phishing" for illegally obtained credit card numbers, bank account information, and Social Security numbers."
I received one of these. It had the correct logos and other graphics of my own bank. I was a bit suspicious and wanted to send an email to the bank before filling out the form. (The form requested my account number and password. It seems harmless; they just want me to log in.) When I noticed that there was no way to contact the bank from the web page I decided not to fill out the form. I'm glad I made that decision.

Be aware.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The dynamic web: the web of human attention

There seems to be little doubt that blogging will be the next step in the evolution of the internet. The question is where is it going.

seems to have the right idea. Their slogan is "Search the World Live WebTM"

Blogs, really feed readers, let anyone be a publisher, converting the web from a collection of destinations to a collections of broadcasters. (Push technology is back.) With feeds, there are now two webs: the traditional, relatively static web of destination URL's and the dynamic web of continually updated broadcasts.

Like the old web, the new dynamic web (almost certainly) has a scale-free link structure. Some broadcasters have orders of magnitude more in-links than most others. This is similar to the scale-free structure of the static web in which sites like Yahoo are linked to orders of magnitude more often than most others. (See, for example, What is a Scale-free network? for a discussion of scale-free networks.)  But in the dynamic web, links are weighted by age.  A link more than a couple of days old, doesn't count for very much.  So the link structure of the dynamic web is constantly shifting.
In some sense the dynamic web floats above the static web, consisting of newly created (within the past couple of days) content.  As such it is to the static web as a motion picture is to a photograph.  (It's actually amazing to realize that I'm talking about the traditional web as old and static!)
The dynamic web includes not just bloggers; it also includes traditional news sources such as the web feeds of traditional news outlets. In many ways, these form much of the basis of the new web. To a great extent, bloggers talk about items they see on traditional news outlets. Often bloggers give these items a different emphasis, but the originating sources are frequently paid reporters.
In trying to think of what it is about the dynamic web that differentiates it from the static web, the answer I come up with is human attention. The static web has lots of information, but for the most part, no one knows who is looking at what information now.  The dynamic web is exactly about who is talking about what now. The range of subjects. although probably not as broad as that covered by the static web (how could it be; the subjects on the static web are a superset of those on the dynamic web) is still quite broad. But what is important about those subjects is that they reflect what people are thinking about in the present.
It would be interesting if one could monitor the static web for page hits and publish lists of sites that were receiving the most page hits weighted by time, the most recent the most important.  That would be another picture of what people are paying attention to now.  But we have no technology to do that.  Many sites don't keep track of hits, and many that do don't make that information public.
With feeds we see what people are thinking about.  Although this is not the same as the hits they generated when writing their feeds, it is probably a good reflection of the content of the pages they visited when writing their feeds. 
Of course people don't write feeds every time they visit a site.  And some people wouldn't want their journeys across the web to be known.  So we never can generate a fully accurate picture of what is on people's minds.  But feeds are probably as good a proxy for that as we are likely to get.

One question many people are asking themselves is what services does the dynamic web demand.  (Of course, the reason for asking this question is to offer those services and make a lot of money.)  Here are three answers.  The first two are obvious and are already becoming commodities. The third is still developing.

  1. Blog broadcasters and generators. A commodity. But the fact that these services are commodities doesn't mean that some people won't get rich. Blogger.com seems to be the host with the most. MoveableType.org and its hosting service typepad.com are also giants in the field.

  2. Feed aggregators and readers. A commodity but can be built-upon. Bloglines.com seems to be the leader. But there is a problem. The more feeds there are (and the number is growing so fast that one just can't keep up) the harder it is follow them all.  One can't subscribe to everything, but one would like to have access to postings of interest.  This is a very difficult problem.

    One would like to be able to subscribe to an abstract feed, something like a clipping service. Some feeds actually provide such a service.  BoingBoing.net, for example is a clipping service for "interesting" items. It relies on links sent in by readers, which is probably more reliable than relying on crawlers. Crawlers are subject to spam, which is one of the reasons feeds are nice: one subscribes to the ones one wants. 

    Blogs themselves are, in effect, clipping services. Word spreads about an interesting item because bloggers write about it.  So in one sense the entire world of blogs is a self-referential clipping service.  But there is a growing need for something better. Whoever comes up with a spam resistant clipping service for high quality postings in areas users can specify will do very well.  But that is a very difficult challenge. I would bet that manual clipping services will do well for a while.

  3. Feed analysis and search services. Open country. Here we have companies like Technorati, mentioned above, feedster.net, and bloogz.com. The big question is what useful new services can people in this area think of. The primary service these organizations provide are: search (where can you find recent feed entries about a particular subject?) and link analysis (who is linking to whom now?) This is the Google service for the dynamic web.

    To try out a search service I looked for "Billboard Project" this afternoon to see if there was any news on the conflict between that organization and Clear Channel. Indeed there was, and I created a post as a result, see Russ Abbott's Adventures in Blogland: Project Billboard and Clear Channel reach a settlement

    No existing search services are not similar enough to the clipping service discussed above to serve as a preliminary version of such a service. Google's News alerts already allow users to subscribe to a notification service for news items based on a search.  (They are not feeds, though; they are email messages. How retro!) If one has a narrow enough search, that's fine.  But normally not only are one's interests generally broader than what one asks for in a search, one's interests change from day to day.  I don't do the same search every day.

I regret that the preceding was not as complete and coherent as I would have liked it to be.  But the dynamic web itself is neither complete or coherent, and we just don't know in which directions it will grow.

Project Billboard and Clear Channel reach a settlement

From Newsday.com
"[A] 105-foot-long dove, which will be decorated in stars and stripes and retain the message about democracy, will wrap around the Conde Nast building, at Broadway and 42nd Street, said Deborah Rappaport, a board member for [Project Billboard].

[A] 'Total Cost of Iraq War' ticker will hang vertically at the W Hotel, at Broadway and 47th Street, with those words, she said. The price stands at more than $122 billion. "
This resolves the dispute, discussed in Why we need courts.

The real real story of the vote on the intolerance amendment: reframing worked

In The real story of the vote not to vote on the intolerance amendment I said that the real story of the vote not to impose cloture on the intolerance amendment is that the vote didn't force Senators to take a position on the amendment itself, only on whether a vote on the amendment should be taken -- and a majority was more than happy to agree not to vote on it.

But there is another more positive story as well. As reported in the Tallahassee Democrat
"Supporters of the amendment were careful in their arguments not to criticize gays and lesbians, reflecting the potential political ramifications of the debate in an election year.

'Gays have a right to live the way they choose,' said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah."
As far as I know, no Senator has recently said that same-sex sex is an abomination. The position that Democrats took of reframing the issue as one of intolerance instead of one of "defending marriage" forced the Republicans into having to defend themselves as not intolerant. In other words, reframing the issue worked!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The real story of the vote not to vote on the intolerance amendment

No one seems to be reporting, much less talking about, the real story behind today's vote not to end debate on the intolerance amendment. (See my previous series of entries, which explain, among other things, why I call it The intolerance amendment .)

The New York Times writes,
"Senators Block Initiative to Ban Same-Sex Unions

After more than three days of debate, the Senate voted 50 to 48 against moving forward on the proposal, effectively killing it for now."
The Senate didn't vote against moving forward, the Senate voted not to impose cloture.

Why would the Senate prefer not to impose cloture? Because if debate is not cut off, then no one has to vote on the actual issue.

Originally, the Republicans thought that they could force the Democrats to take a position on the amendment on the eve of the Democratic convention, and that doing so would be a lose-lose choice for the Democrats. In response, the Democrats started a filibuster to avoid bringing the issue to a vote. The vote taken today was whether or not to end the filibuster -- and it lost.

Lots of Senators, not just Democrats, apparently preferred not to have to vote on the amendment itself. By allowing the filibuster to continue they saved themselves from having to make that hard choice.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The intolerance amendment

Let's be honest about it. The Republicans don't want to "defend the sanctity of marriage." First of all, whatever they mean by "the sanctity of marriage," it is not under attack. And secondly, it's not up to the government to defend sanctity in any event. (See Texas Senator John Cornyn on the Marriage Amendment, Bush and the "sanctity of marriage", Orrin G. Hatch on The Federal Marriage Amendment, Senator Sam Brownback on Marriage, and President Defends the Sanctity of Marriage for earlier posts on this subject.)

What this is really about is to appeal to the discomfort many people feel with homosexuality. Just as quotas has been a code-word for racism, the sanctity of marriage is a codeword for gay bashing. The Republicans can't come straight out and say lets get the blacks or lets get gays; so they say let's be against quotas and let's be in favor of marriage. In the same way they are not anti-abortion, they are pro-life. They are not opposed to the inheritance tax, they are opposed to the death tax.

This is all very clever and has worked quite well for them. Only recently have progressives begun to respond in kind. The Rockridge Institute is working on framing issues from a more progressive perspective.

But let's get back to the Intolerance Amendment. Many Americans are uncomfortable with homosexuality. (Many Americans are uncomfortable speaking about sex of any sort.) But most Americans are also quite tolerant. We are proud to think of ourselves as the land of the free, and we generally try to tolerate most people as long as they don't interfere with our own lives.

The Intolerance Amendment is an attempt by the Bush administration to write into our constitution a clause both explicitly and implicitly intended to restrict the rights of gays and lesbians. That is simply un-American. It is just plain wrong to defile our constitution, the document that we proudly hail as the guarantor of our freedoms, with what amounts to prettified hate speech. Once Americans understand that, once they understand the depths to which the Republicans are willing to stoop to retain power, they will reject them for it.

Many Americans are uncomfortable with homosexuality. But it is shameful for the Republicans to attempt to exploit that discomfort, to disgrace our constitution, as a way of holding desperately onto political power. They should be embarrassed for themselves. No one with any real sense of values would do anything like that.

Why we need courts

The Los Angeles Times provides more details about the dispute between Project Billboard and Clear Channel. (See Can billboard owners reject political ads? for my earlier comments.)

According to the report in the LA Times, a Clear Channel spokesman has said,
"We have no objection to the text. We have absolutely no political agenda."
The same spokesman also said,
"[W]e've agreed to the copy, subject to Marriott approval."
So the first question is whether the Clear Channel contract with Marriott actually give Marriott veto rights over ads on that billboard. That should be simple enough to determine. Just look at the contract. That certainly can be established in court.

Assuming Clear Channel's contract with Marriott does give Marriott veto power, the second question is whether Clear Channel made that condition known to Project Billboard last December when the two of them signed a contract for the use of the billboard. Project BillBoard said no such condition was included in the contract. In fact, Project Billboard has filed suit requiring Clear Channel to comply with what Project Billboard says is in the contract.

At this level it seems fairly straightforward and something that courts are good at deciding.

A broader issue is whether the quasi-monopoly created by limited billboard space should be subject to restrictions of this sort. But Project Billboard has not to my knowledge raised this issue.

Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush

Reason.com, the web presence of the libertarian Reason Foundation has published its top ten reasons for dumping Bush.

Thanks to Billmon for the reference.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Texas Senator John Cornyn on the Marriage Amendment

Is this right wing paranoia, or did the Supreme Court really do something good.

In his article supporting the anti-same-sex marriage amendment Texas Senator Cornyn refers to the recent Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision in which Texas' anti-sodomy laws were struck down. Cornyn says,
"In Lawrence, the Court explicitly and unequivocally listed 'marriage' as one of the 'constitutional' rights that, absent a constitutional amendment, must be granted to same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples alike. Specifically, the Court stated that 'our laws and tradition afford constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education.... Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do' (emphasis added). The Lawrence majority thus adopted the view endorsed decades ago by one of its members -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While serving as general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, she wrote that traditional marriage laws, such as anti-bigamy laws, are unconstitutional and must be struck down by courts."
If Cornyn's is a fair reading of the Lawrence decision, I can understand how the right might be concerned. Did a majority of the Supreme Court really agree with Ginsburg that same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed by the constitution? (Did Ginsburg even express that opinion? I don't know. But Cornyn seems to think so.)

When Cornyn says
"[A]ctivist courts have so dramatically altered the meaning of the Constitution, that traditional marriage laws are now under serious threat of being invalidated by judicial fiat nationwide — indeed, the process has already begun in numerous states across the country."
is he including a majority of our current the Supreme Court among those activist judges? And if the process is so widespread, can he really argue that it is just a few judges. According to Cornyn it is a virtually unstoppable nationwide trend. Most of the article urged the passage of the amendment as a way to stop that trend.

Did Cornyn have any arguments about why an anti-same-sex amendment would be good social policy? The only argument I could find was this. When attempting to rebut the argument that the marriage amendment would roll back rights and institutionalize discrimination he said,
"Marriage is not about discrimination — it is about children."
I doubt that Cornyn means to restrict the possibility of marriage to parents. But it wasn't clear what he meant -- and he didn't bother to say. The problem is that so many of those opposed to same-sex marriage get so upset that they can't think straight.

I don't doubt that the anti-same-sex marriage people they are truly upset. Like the fall of legally mandated discrimination, such a change requires a significant modification of their view of the world. But I wish they would stand back from themselves just a bit and try to understand what is really bothering them.

Laura Bush is quoted as saying about her husband, "George is not an overly introspective person." My guess is that Cornyn is not either. When someone is as upset as Cornyn, introspection can be very valuable. I wish he would try it.

I'm not sure why I've been spending so much time and space blogging on this issue. I'm not gay, and I don't care about marriage. My girlfriend and I are registered as domestic partners, a California formalism that grants to those so registered the same rights and responsibilities as marriage as far as the State is concerned. (It doesn't apply at the Federal level.)

One of my primary values is intellectual honesty. The opposition to same-sex marriage is so intellectually dishonest that I find it difficult to resist speaking up.

See Bush and the "sanctity of marriage", Orrin G. Hatch on The Federal Marriage Amendment, Senator Sam Brownback on Marriage, and President Defends the Sanctity of Marriage for earlier posts on this subject.

China Trades Its Way to Power. What are our plans?

Jason T. Shaplin and James Laney have a column exploring the implications of China's growing trade strength.
"Within six years, China's economy will be double that of Germany's, now the world's third largest. By 2020, it is expected to surpass Japan as the world's second-largest economy. Japan already imports more from China than it does from the United States. And China has become the largest trading partner of South Korea, the world's 12th-largest economy. Clearly, the juggernaut has already begun."
We all know this. Their point is that
"while Mao once claimed that power grows out of the barrel of a gun, today's leaders in China know it also grows from trade. Tokyo and Seoul know this, too. Aware that China is now vital to their economic well-being, they are no longer as willing as they once were to position themselves opposite Beijing, even if this means going against Washington. Put another way, while the Bush administration still thinks of the United States as the sole superpower in a unipolar world, Tokyo and Seoul do not share this view. To them, the United States and China are both powers to be reckoned with in a bipolar Asia. ... [Our] influence will only decline further as India's economy grows to the point where it passes that of Japan and China."
The world does not stand still. We have been the sole superpower since the fall of the USSR. Rumsfeld notwithstanding, that arrangement won't last more than another decade or so. Are we planning for what we will do then?

Locality: the next big thing?

The internet and the cell phone have made the world one large community. It no longer matters where you are; you can communicate with anyone. In a brief column/blog entry (Social Lives of a Cell Phone) Eric Bender describes Dodgeball, a service that tells you whether anyone you know is within shouting distance.
"You take out your mobile phone and tap in the name of the restaurant where you're hanging out. You get a list of friends, and friends of friends, within 10 blocks. You can message each other about getting together, and maybe send a photo of yourself. 'We're taking social software off the desktop and moving it into the environment where people actually socialize' ... ."
The fact is, we now live in two worlds, the physical world of streets, buildings, trees, automobiles, and flesh, and the internet world. Dodgeball is the latest in an growing list of services that integrate these worlds. The most famous is the GPS location system. Others include map services like MapQuest and Maps.Yahoo.com and their ability to tell you what stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. are near a given physical location.

Another way of looking at these services is that they extend our traditional senses. With GPS it is as if we had the ability to sense our latitude/longitude locations. Migrating birds seem to have a variant of this sense. With Dodgeball it is as if we had an extended sense of vision that enabled us to sense people we know anywhere within a given radius.

A service that I as a Los Angeles driver have often wanted was one that told me the status of the freeways along the possible routes that I was considering. We have had radio traffic reports for a long time. But I can't seem to find them when I want them. And they generally aren't specific enough. Also, they seem to report the traffic conditions backwards. First they describe a condition; then they tell you where the condition exists. If I'm driving along waiting to hear whether the route I am on has a problem, I don't listen very closely until I hear the name of my freeway. By that time the condition that applied to that freeway has already been described, and they are on to something else!

There is even a web site with pretty much the information I want. RIITS, the Regional Integration of Intelligent Transportation Systems project, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, provides realtime information about the freeway system. I just don't have an easy way to access it while I'm driving.

What all these services do is to use technology to give us additional perspectives on our environment. In fact we have been doing that for a long time: consider telescopes and microscopes. What's new is that perspectives are now being created for our personal environments. These new perspectives provide in-context social information, not just physical information.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Can billboard owners reject political ads?

The New York Times reports that a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications is rejecting an anti-war ad.
"Project Billboard's representatives said the contract they signed in December with Spectacolor, a division of Clear Channel, required the antiwar group to pay $368,000 to use the billboard space from Aug. 2 through Nov. 2, Election Day. ...

A Project Billboard spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said the group planned to file a lawsuit today in federal court in Manhattan charging Clear Channel with breach of contract and asking it to live up to what the group said were the terms of the deal."

Clear Channel has a close association with the Republican Party. (See the article for details.) But the issue seems to me to be what authority Clear Channel has with respect to controlling the content of its billboards. Considering that the billboards are presumably regulated and limited in number by the city, there must be some obligation to allow free expression. But Clear Channel is not a government agency and is presumably not bound by the anti-censorship constraints under which the government operates. I don't know the answer to this. I hope an expert in the field provides some help.

The two images show two versions of the ad. When Clear Channel rejected the first version because of the bomb image, Project Billboard submitted the second, presumably acknowledging that Clear Channel had some authority over the ad content. Clear Channel seems to have rejected the second ad as well.

Counterfeit batteries? The DMCA strikes again.

The LawGeek noticed this NEC Electronics Press Release: July 6, 2004.
"NEC Electronics' Software for Microcontrollers Verifies Authenticity of Mobile Phone and Digital Still Camera Batteries

KAWASAKI, Japan, and DUESSELDORF, Germany, July 6, 2004 -
NEC Electronics Corporation (TSE: 6723) and its subsidiary in Europe, NEC Electronics (Europe) GmbH, introduces a new software for microcontrollers that detects counterfeit battery products in mobile phones and digital still camera batteries. ..."
In other words, if you put a cheap replacement battery in a device equipped with this software, the device will reject it. You will be obligated to buy manufacturer-approved batteries. Neat for the manufacturer, who will have a captive market, not for the consumer or battery maker.

Why can't competing battery makers simply make batteries that tell the device that they are the real thing? That's why the LawGeek was interested. Any manufacturer whose batteries mimic the authentication codes of the manufacturer's batteries may be guilty of violating the DMCA.

And this isn't something that will be limited to NEC products. NEC is licensing the software to any manufacturer willing to pay the price. Again from the NEC press release.
"The software will be introduced in Japanese digital cameras by year's end and is expected to be used in 50 million units by 2007. The software is ideal for use in mobile phones and batteries, but NEC Electronics is also considering extending this technology to "smart" keys, printers and ink cartridges, as well as bundling the technology into hardware options.

Pricing and Availability
The software is available now. Pricing dependent on volume; please contact info@necel.com for details."
Here is a market innovation that does nothing to help the consumer. Manufacturers must pay NEC to use the software, thus increasing the original price of the product. Then consumers are locked into using only the manufacturer's replacement parts, thus eliminating competition in that area and gouging the consumer a second time.

OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism is a movie and a supporting web site that describes how Fox News has become little more than an arm of the Republican party. The web site also has links to Quicktime or Windows Media trailers for the film.

Thanks to Dan Gillmor's Guerilla News Network story. Dan Gillmor's eJournal is always worth reading.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Spider-Man for President

Frank Rich makes the case that the enormous popularity of Spider-Man 2 is not an accident. Not only is it a good film in his opinion (I can't say; I haven't seen it), but it reflects the sort of hero American needs -- and knows it needs.
"'With great power comes great responsibility' is the central tenet of [Spider-Man's] faith, passed down not from God but from his Uncle Ben ... .

He takes it seriously. Spider-Man wants to vanquish evil, but he doesn't want to be reckless about it. Like the reluctant sheriff of an old western, he fights back only when a bad guy strikes first, leaving him with no other alternative. He wouldn't mind throwing off his Spider-Man identity entirely to go back to being just Peter Parker, lonely Columbia undergrad. But of course he can't. This is 2004, and there is always evil bearing down on his New York. ...

As a man locked in a war against terror, Peter Parker could not be further removed from the hubristic bravura of Mr. Bush and his own cinematic model, the Tom Cruise of Top Gun. There's nothing triumphalist about Spider-Man; he would never declare 'Mission Accomplished' after a passing victory, and his very creed is antithetical to the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.

But neither is he a stand-in for John Kerry. Whatever inner equivocation he suffers over his role as a superhero, he stops playing Hamlet when he has a decision to make. Nor does he follow Mr. Kerry's vainglorious example of turning his own past battles into slick promotional hagiography."
Both candidates might learn something from this movie.

I hope Kerry learns his lesson first. Actually, it's hard for me to imagine Bush even being interested in the lesson this movie holds for him.

Bush and the "sanctity of marriage"

In an earlier post (President Defends the Sanctity of Marriage) I discussed Bush's misunderstanding of the relationship between government and sanctity. In a more recent post (Orrin G. Hatch on The Federal Marriage Amendment) I discussed Orrin Hatch's apparent misunderstanding of how the system of checks and balances is supposed to work in our government. I recently found this Statement by the President from last May which combines both problems.
"The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges. All Americans have a right to be heard in this debate. I called on the Congress to pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife. The need for that amendment is still urgent, and I repeat that call today."
To summarize the problems:
  • "The sacred institution of marriage." The government isn't in the business of determining whether marriage is sacred. That's up to religious organizations. My beliefs about what is sacred and your beliefs about what is sacred are up to you and me. We don't need the government to tell us what to believe. That's one of the foundation stones of our form of government. The government is in the business of creating rules for civil society. That's it. It is not up to the government to determine what is and is not sacred.

  • "A few activist judges." Judges are supposed to strike down laws that abridge rights guaranteed by the constitution -- whether or not the President likes those rights. That's the way our government works. Judges are independent. Judges make decisions either alone or in small groups, i.e., "a few." We don't convene a large assembly of judges to make decisions. Mr. Bush is in the White House because of "a few" judges on the Supreme Court. That's the way the system works. Mr. Bush may disagree with the decisions of one or more judges, but it is not up to him to criticize them for doing their jobs, which is to make decisions when issues are presented to them.

  • The constitution is intended to guarantee rights, not take them away. Mr. Bush and other supporters of the ban on same-sex marriage apparently believe that the constitution currently guarantees the right of same-sex couples to marry. They fear that the judiciary, in its role of guardian or our rights, will use that constitutionally guaranteed right to "redefine marriage." Hence the need to modify the constitution to prevent them from doing so.

    If the Federal Marriage Amendment is enacted, it will be the only time other than prohibition (you remember how well that worked) that we will have modified our constitution to take rights away. Do we really want to do that?

    Even if such an amendment were passed, it would do nothing to ensure that marriage remains sacred. Nothing can do that other than religious institutions. If the President doesn't believe that our religious institutions are doing their job, then he should be preaching to them, not campaigning for a constitutional amendment.
Are Mr. Bush and his followers so insecure in their own sense of the sacred that they need a constitutional amendment to prop themselves up? Insecurity has always been one of the underlying causes of bigotry and of attempts to restrict other people's freedom. Haven't we learned that lesson yet?

Orrin G. Hatch on The Federal Marriage Amendment

In a long article, Republican Senator Orrin G. Hatch lays out the conservative justification for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would outlaw same-sex marriage. His basic point is (as usual) that the possibility that "a handful of liberal judges [may] force this radical change [the possibility of same-sex marriage] on the entire nation is wholly inconsistent with the right of people to govern themselves." He complains
"In California, even though 60 percent of voters recently approved a statewide ballot initiative to maintain traditional marriage, the California supreme court is now considering the constitutionality of that democratic action. In Nebraska, the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged a duly passed state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Second, there will likely be a federal court challenge to state marriage laws, similar to the challenges that have eliminated state laws against certain sexual activity.

Third, a federal lawsuit in Florida is challenging DOMA's traditional definition of marriage for purposes of federal benefits."
Senator Hatch is an intelligent man, and he understands our constitutional system. Yet he ignores the fact that it is precisely the job of the judiciary to strike down laws that are inconsistent with the rights guaranteed to us by our constitution.

When our government was created the Founding Fathers were aware that we are not always wise enough to govern ourselves with tolerance and respect. That's why certain rights were written into the constitution and why courts were authorized to strike down laws that abridged those rights.

Recently we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the ruling that struck down segregation in the public schools. Does Hatch really think it was a bad idea for a handful of judges to have imposed such a radical change on the entire nation? I haven't researched his position on it. Perhaps he does.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

In 1998, at the urging of the entertainment industry, Congress passed and the President signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That act severely restricts consumer's rights. The LawGeek: DMCA blog has been reporting on some of the more outrageous situations that arise. The most recent is that a third party service provider who tried to fix a StorageTek product was in violation of the DMCA. Why?
"Well, it turns out that StorageTek allegedly uses some kind of algorithmic "key" to control access to its "Maintenance Code", the module that allows the service tech to debug the storage system. The court found that third party service techs who used the key without StorageTek's permission "circumvented" to gain access to the copyrighted code in violation of the DMCA, even though they had the explicit permission of the purchasers to fix their machines. ...

The Court also found, in a bizarre twist of logic, that while it is legal to load a program into RAM for repairs, it's illegal to allow it to persist in RAM while you fix it."
If you are interested, the Anti-DMCA Website looks like a good source of information.
Also, note that Creative Commons , the organization under whose copyright license this blog is protected, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are additional good sources of information.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Senator Sam Brownback on Marriage

I don't know why I bother, but according to Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas here are some of "the costs that we face as a society if we fail to protect traditional marriage."

First of all, Brownback refers without dispute to "a recent study showing federal revenues increasing by upwards of $1 billion a year as a result of redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships." So allowing same-sex marriage would reduce the deficit.

He also notes, again uncritically, that "supporters of homosexual marriage have even cited a projected boon to the wedding industry as an argument for the economic benefits of mandating same-sex marriage." So same-sex marriage will improve the economy.

So what are Brownback's objections to it?
  1. Brownback points to studies that show that children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes... . Not quite to the point, but so be it.

  2. He then says, "Redefining marriage is certain to harm children and the broader social good if that redefinition weakens government's legitimate goal of encouraging men and women who intend to have children to get married."

    Is it really government's legitimate goal to encourage people who intend to have children to get married? Does Brownback truly believe that the government is the best judge of how people should arrange their lives? I didn't know that Republicans had adopted such a positive attitude toward social engineering.

    And if Brownback does want to be a social engineer, what about gay and lesbian parents? Doesn't this argument say that government should encourage them to get married?

  3. Brownback then says, "If marriage begins to be viewed as the way two adults make known their love for each other, there is no reason to marry before children are born rather than after. And if it is immaterial whether a couple should be married before the birth of a child, then why should they marry at all?"

    What does that have to do with same-sex marriage?

    Is he saying that marriage should not be viewed as the way two adults make known their love for each other? I'm afraid I missed the point.

  4. Brownback goes on to say that "the system of marriage-like same-sex registered partnerships in Scandinavia established in the late 1980s has contributed significantly to the ongoing decline of marriage in that region."

    In other words, Brownback is saying that because same-sex couples may have registered partnerships, heterosexual couples are less interested in getting married. What's the connection? Does he really believe that?

    Brownback also claims that "In the Netherlands, same-sex marriage has increased the cultural separation of marriage from parenthood, resulting in a soaring out-of-wedlock birthrate."

    In other words, Brownback apparently also believes that the out-of-wedlock birthrate has increased as a direct result of the existence of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands. They must be growing some good stuff in Kansas.

  5. And finally Brownback argues that "the decline of the institution of marriage goes hand in hand with a decline in married fertility, and a corresponding decline in population."

    It's amazing what some people will believe.

    Too bad we let them make our laws.
Brownback concludes by saying that research has shown that "in a [traditionally] married state, adults of both sexes are vastly healthier, happier, safer, and wealthier, and live longer lives."

Since the same results will probably be found for adults in same-sex marriages, I suppose Brownback is arguing that it is in the government's interest to keep gays and lesbians less healthy, less happy, less safe, less wealthy, and to prevent them from living longer lives. Why does he want the government to do that?

I must say that the article convinced me that same sex marriage has a lot going for it as good social policy. Since as Brownback points out
"an influential organization of lawyers and judges, the American Law Institute, has already recommended sweeping changes in family law that would equalize marriage and cohabitation, extending rights and benefits now reserved for married couples to cohabiting domestic partners, both heterosexual and homosexual."
others must be convinced as well.

Given the case Brownback makes, how can anyone oppose same-sex marriage? Too bad he doesn't listen to his own arguments.

Thanks to Matt Welsh for noticing this article.

World Trade Week lasts little more than a week

In his World Trade Week, 2004 proclamation, President Bush praised the benefits of world trade. Less than two months later, Mr. Bush imposed tariffs on imported shrimp.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"The proposed tariffs on Chinese exporters range from about 8 percent to 113 percent. Vietnam exporters face duties ranging from about 12 percent to 93 percent. Those numbers could change as the department continues investigating.

Besides China and Vietnam, shrimpers allege India, Brazil, Ecuador and Thailand also have dumped shrimp on the U.S. market. Later this month, the Commerce Department is expected to rule if those countries are guilty of dumping."
For a lucid explanation of the issue, see The Fallacies of Shrimp Protectionism
"[T]he International Trade Administration (ITA), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce [has a] history of ruling in favor of most every dumping claim that comes its way, [making] it difficult to conclude that the U.S. antidumping law is anything other than pure protectionism.

In the shrimp dumping case, the conclusion is inescapable. Modern shrimp farming was developed in the early 1970s and proliferated rapidly. In 1975, shrimp farms accounted for about 2.5 percent of world shrimp production. By 1985, they accounted for 10 percent of world shrimp production. By 2001, shrimp farms were operating in over 50 countries and accounted for 40 percent of world production.

Shrimp farming has proliferated for one simple reason: efficiency. Trawling for shrimp is costly, and the harvest often varies considerably from year to year with changes in weather and ecological conditions. Shrimp farms not only produce shrimp at much less cost, they produce a steady and reliable volume. Seafood processors value the reliable volume: these companies buy harvested shrimp and produce finished products for consumers whose desire for shrimp does not fluctuate with weather and ecological conditions.

As shrimp farming has expanded, world shrimp production has increased and shrimp prices have fallen. Shrimp prices are now so low that they threaten the market survival of U.S. shrimp trawlers. So the trawlers have turned to the U.S. government and its antidumping law to protect themselves, not from dumping, but from market competition with their more efficient foreign competitors."
But Mr. Free Trade President was never one to let the benefits of private initiative and free markets stand in the way of politics, especially if the initiative is foreign and the politics is domestic.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Exporting jobs?

In a recent report the Federal Reserve Bank provides figures on overseas jobs in companies in which US corporations held majority ownership.

First of all, my experience with these reports is that they tend to be rather academic and not politically motivated. Secondly, it's important to notice that the report discusses jobs at companies in which American corporation held majority ownership. It does not talk about jobs that were outsourced entirely to independent contractors.

The primary finding is that the number of overseas jobs has increased by 77% during the past 15 years. However, balancing that growth has been the even greater growth (at least in percentage terms) of workers in the United States employed by foreign-owned corporations, which has more than doubled. A global labor market works in both directions.

Another interesting finding is that the 49 countries designated by the United Nations as the least developed (with an annual per capita GDP under $900) account for less than 1 percent of the foreign employment of U.S. foreign corporations. (The article doesn't say whether the 1% is a percentage of the number of jobs, which would be significant, or the amount of money spend on those jobs.) But the implication is that off-shore employment does not necessarily go predominately to low-wage countries.
"In 1987, 68.3 percent of workers employed by foreign affiliates of U.S. corporations were located in high-wage countries; in 2001, this share fell to 61.4 percent.(1)"
Finally, a third important consideration is the intended destination of the products produced overseas. Only 11%, on average, is shipped back to the United States. Although that number is higher in low-wage countries, the bulk of production is generally for local markets. Quoting from the report,
"For example, in 2001, 28 percent of the sales of U.S. affiliates in Mexico were exported to the United States, whereas 64 percent of the sales went to the local market.

In China, 71 percent of the production by U.S. affiliates was sold to the local market. This indicates that for some companies the attractiveness of investing in China is not the access to cheap labor but access to a billion consumers."
Exporting jobs may not be the scourge of our employment market that we fear it is.

(1) High-wage countries are the 15 countries of the European Union (as of 2001), Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland.

Further investigation of the Bush administration's abuse of science

The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued an updated report (Scientific Integrity in Policymaking - 7/04) documenting the Bush administration's abuse of science. From the introduction:
"On February 18, 2004, 62 preeminent scientists including Nobel laureates, National Medal of Science recipients, former senior advisers to administrations of both parties, numerous members of the National Academy of Sciences, and other well-known researchers released a statement titled Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making. In this statement, the scientists charged the Bush administration with widespread and unprecedented 'manipulation of the process through which science enters into its decisions.' The scientists' statement made brief reference to specific cases that illustrate this pattern of behavior. In conjunction with the statement, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released detailed documentation backing up the scientists' charges in its report, Scientific Integrity in Policy Making.

Since the release of the UCS report in February, the administration has continued to undermine the integrity of science in policy making seemingly unchecked. Many scientists have spoken out about their frustration with an administration that has undermined the quality of the science that informs policy making by suppressing, distorting, or manipulating the work done by scientists at federal agencies and on scientific advisory panels. For instance, Michael Kelly, a biologist who had served at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration�s National Marine Fisheries Service for nine years, recently resigned his position and issued an indictment of Bush administration practices. As Kelly wrote, 'I speak for many of my fellow biologists who are embarrassed and disgusted by the agency's apparent misuse of science.'1

Scientific Integrity in Policy Making: Further investigation of the Bush administration's abuse of science investigates several new incidents that have surfaced since the February 2004 UCS report. These new incidents have been corroborated through in-depth interviews and internal government documents, including some documents released through the Freedom of Information Act."

1. Michael Kelly’s resignation letter is available online.

Another terrorist?

"A couple was removed in handcuffs from Bush's July Fourth rally in Charleston for wearing a T-shirt with the message 'Love America, Hate Bush.'"
The full story: The Charleston Gazette. Reference from Unfogged