Saturday, April 29, 2006

McCain just lost whatever slim hope he had of someday getting my vote for anything, as he said:

He [Michael Graham] also mentioned my abridgement of First Amendment rights, i.e. talking about campaign finance reform....I know that money corrupts....I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government.

Even if one buys his premise that we need to choose between the two, there's no way I'm just going to cough up my rights for the sake of what he believes to be "clean government."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

That flushing sound you heard was the credibility of the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics going down the tubes:

Sick of receiving spam emails requesting submissions to the 2005 World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics - which charges $390 for each attendee - students Jeremy Stribling, Daniel Aguayo and Maxwell Krohn of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote a program to generate a nonsense paper.

Starting with skeleton sentences, pools of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and a random assortment of computer science jargon, the program produced a grammatically correct yet utterly nonsensical paper titled: "Rooter: a methodology for the typical unification of access points and redundancy". "This isn't artificial intelligence, it's the dirt-simplest way we could think to do this," Stribling says.

Bill Quick has thoughts on why a Republican loss in 2006 might not be bad for conservatives:

This one is for all you wailing wussies who are terrified that the miserable, dog-useless RINO party might get booted out for a couple of years, and the Demon Democrats take control, thereby assuring the destruction of All that Is Good And Pure.

Let's take a look at what happened in the real world:

In 1992, a man named Bush ran for the White House for the second time. He was pretty much a bumbler, botched the Iraqi war, a full-blown RINO who got so out of touch with his own party he cut his throat by going back on his promise not to raise taxes (couldn't even read his own lips, I guess). And no, don't tell me he lost because of Perot. Perot did equal damage.

Anyway, because a lot of this guy's support never materialized, because he'd disgusted it with his betrayal of the Republican and conservative principles they supported, he lost, and "the best politician of the second half of the 20th century was elected." According to all the Weeping Wilmas, the Republican party was, at that point, almost as doomed as the Republic itself, right?

Well, not exactly. Two years after the political genius' election, the Republicans remembered who they represented, pushed forward a Contract With America that Democrats and the MSM loathed, and swept into power in the House, a majority they hold to this day. By the time the political genius left office in disgrace, the new Administration controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House, and the new President was at least talking like a Republican. For a while. Before his true RINO stripes came back to the fore.

Frankly, we could use a few more "disasters" like that. In other words, I don't think the world comes to an end if we boot out some RINOs who have forgotten the principles they are supposed to represent. If they are replaced by - gasp - Democrats, so what? First, I really do doubt there will be much difference in the way the replacements vote, and second, we just might trigger a new understanding in the Republicans that there are limits to how much their supporters will take.

Ministry of Silly Links

Here's a collection of interesting tidbits I've stumbled across recently:

Ian Mckellan is a great actor, but this is just weird... I certainly hope this is satire.

For all you geeky engineers, when it comes to increasing fuel efficiency, it's all about going back to the thermodynamics. This family's been trying to get Dad's engine into production for a few years.

More problems with selective application of the First amendment. All the News That's Fun to Print! That's just sickeningly sweet...

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja... That's just odd.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Good point about V for Vendetta:

While there are some obvious parallels between the fascist state in the movie and the current US administration, I found the movie’s vision reassuring, rather than scary. Not because of the violent revolt it espouses, but because we live in a country and culture where you can make that sort of movie without being hassled. This is a pretty awesome thing, if you stop and think about it, and relatively unusual in world history. We’re talking about a country whose populace buys sixty-seven million dollars in tickets to hear a philosophical screed on the glory of radical violent revolution - and its government doesn’t mind.

Contrast this with the islamofascists, who are rioting all over the world in response to a few goddamned cartoons. Now that’s scary.

Let’s hear it for western tolerance!

Like I said, good point. When you think about it, while the movie may seem to claim that we're moving toward some sort of fascist state, the very fact that someone can make such a movie proves it wrong. Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Sorry, your viewpoint is excluded from first amendment protection"

Via Volokh Conspiracy:

Tyler Harper wore an anti-homosexuality T-shirt to school, apparently responding to a pro-gay-rights event put on at the school by the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school. On the front, the T-shirt said, "Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned," and on the back, it said "Homosexuality is Shameful." The principal insisted that Harper take off the T-shirt. Harper sued, claiming this violated his First Amendment rights.

Volokh argues that:

Judge Reinhardt takes some unelaborated remarks by the Supreme Court about the First Amendment's not protecting student speech that "intrudes upon . . . the rights of other students," and fashions from them a constitutionally recognized right to be free from certain kinds of offensive viewpoints (not a right that is itself directly legally enforceable, but a right that the school may choose to assert as a justification for its viewpoint-based speech restrictions).

This is a very bad ruling, I think. It's a dangerous retreat from our tradition that the First Amendment is viewpoint-neutral. It's an opening to a First Amendment limited by rights to be free from offensive viewpoints. It's a tool for suppression of one side of public debates (about same-sex marriage, about Islam, quite likely about illegal immigration, and more) while the other side remains constitutionally protected and even encouraged by the government.
I agree. Any stripping of First Amendment protections based on the offensive nature of the speech in question is dangerous, because it leaves open the possibility of revoking our freedom to say the very things that this freedom exists to protect: the things that are controversial.

UPDATE: I was just thinking about it, and just to let you know that this kind of speech suppression is common, I do remember a comparable incident at my high school. At one point during my junior year, the school had the usual "gay pride" week. Not too many people really cared, frankly, but there were signs posted everywhere about the GLBT Alliance and gay pride all over the place. As a bit of a reaction, one of my friends wore a home-made "straight pride" t-shirt to school. That's all it said: straight pride. But he was nevertheless forced to remove it because administrators disapproved. Nevermind the gay pride everywhere; openly embracing a majority viewpoint violated the school's dress code, which bars clothing with "offensive messages." (I never saw the kid with the "American by birth, AntiChrist by choice" shirt forced to remove his.) This type of thing does happen, and apparently the ninth circuit is okay with it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

This is just odd...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wow, this is simply hysterical.
V for Vendetta, Sesame Street Style: C for Cookie

Thanks to Dan Jarratt for the link

Monday, April 17, 2006

File Reconstruction and Intellectual Property

Via Catallarchy, a fascinating new issue with intellectual property and file sharing:

Take a copyrighted piece of digitally stored information. Take another comparable piece of digitally stored information that'’s in the public domain. Take the two binaries of these files and XOR them together. The resultant binary output will bear no statistically significant resemblance to either of the two original inputs.

Now, who owns the intellectual property rights to the newly created file? If the answer is 'no-one' (or even "the person who created the file"), then copyrights have a big problem. For any given logic gate, if you know the output and all but one of its inputs then you reconstructruct the other input by deductive inference, and it's a relatively trivial matter to write a program that does this. If the output file and one of the original source files are freely distributable, then fileswappers can simply share these files completely legally and reconstruct the copyrighted file with ease.

And this isn't just a pipe dream, Monolith is out there:
Monolith is a simple tool that takes two arbitrary binary files (called a Basis file and an Element file) and "munges" them together to produce a Mono binary file (with a .mono extension). Monolith can also reconstruct an Element file from a Basis file and a Mono file.

In most cases, the resulting Mono file will not be statistically related to either file. If you compare the Mono file to the Element file, the Mono file will contain none of the information present in the Element file. In other words, the Mono file by itself tells you nothing at all about the data in the Element file. Only when combined with the Basis file will the Mono file provide information about the Element file.

Monolith can be used for exploring the boundaries of digital copyright, and the rest of this website is devoted to such an exploration. The core questions: What happens when we use Monolith to munge copyrighted files? What is the copyright status of the resulting .mono file? These questions are considered in depth below.
Also, a small disclaimer: "if you apply Monolith in the real world, your legal mileage may vary." Translation: Don't try this at home.

Free Hao Wu

FREE HAO WU: Hao Wu, a Chinese blogger and documentary filmmaker, has been imprisoned by the Chinese government for 54 days (and counting) and has not been:
  • charged with a crime
  • formally arrested
  • given access to a lawyer
His family isn't even being told where he is! This is a travesty of justice, and reason #5782 to hate the Chinese government. "People's Republic" my ass... The only "people" with any rights over there are those with the power to enforce those rights themselves, which defeats the whole purpose of rights anyway.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

At-Will Employment

Some, possibly most, of my friends sympathized with the French rioters protestors to whom the French government recently caved. I didn't, but that's beside the point. The real point is that they maintained that the French were protesting a law that they considered unfair, and that they maintained was not the way we do things here in the states.

The French law in question, of course, was the one that would have "allowed employers to fire workers under the age of 26 at any time during a two-year trial period without giving a reason."

You're right, that's not the way we do things here in the states. Here, all employment (barring a few exceptions) is At-will employment:

At-will employment is an employment relationship in which either party can terminate the relationship at-will with no liability if there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship.
Yes, there are some exceptions to it, but they're basically common sense ones.

In the context of the protest of (and eventual defeat of) the law in question, this means that maybe we should re-examine just how reasonable these protestors were. While reasonable people can disagree on which is better policy, at the very least we should all be able to agree that these guys flipped out over a proposal far more timid than it could have been and still have been reasonable. After all, the USA doesn't get the largest economy in the world without doing something right economically. Take the whining over there with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: Forgto to add this link. More info on exceptions to the At-Will employment doctrine here.

For those of you who may not have seen it (or known where to find it), Dan Jarratt, a good friend of mine, recently put together a COMPLETE shredding of a Republican Party Census Document he recently received. It's a riot to watch him dismember the survey writers (metaphorically speaking) before your very eyes:

Apparently, I am "among a select group of Republicans who have been chosen to take part in the official census of the Republican Party." My answers on this questionnaire represent the views of thousands of party members in my voting district, and without my answers, the Republican National Committee will "not be able to help President Bush win passage of his reform agenda in Congress."

Well, if my answers to this academically worthless survey are critical to the President's agenda, we've elected the wrong party. You appeal to my intelligence and then insult it. You make me think you care about my opinions, then discard them and ask for money. Your survey is callous and embodies the impoverished political thinking far too prevalent in the United States today.

Good survey questions don't try to lead the subject into answering a certain way. Good survey questions don't assume thought processes or unduly restrict answers in a "my way or the highway" fashion. Good surveys aren't biased - and bad surveys return useless data.

Also, the graphics rule.

Greater Internet [expletive] Theory. Funny, but a bit (okay, a lot) obscene. Anyone who's ever seen an all out flamewar knows what it's about.

Best. Post. Ever.

Comedic Gold. If you don't get the joke, go read more blogs and then revisit it.

Zeyad, from Healing Iraq, is coming to the states to go to grad school in journalism. As he says:

I have been reluctant to change careers, but quite frankly there is nothing that I can add to dentistry in Iraq, whereas the field of Iraqi online and print journalism is lacking in many aspects, and I hope to contribute to filling that gap. Also, living and studying in New York city is a more like a dream to me that is closer to coming true.

For those of you who feel charitable, he (and many on his behalf) is accepting donations in order to raise the money to get him a visa and put him through grad school. Exciting, no?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

An excerpt from a WSJ article by Arnold Kling, found at Cafe Hayek. Yet again an example of why government just plain sucks at economics:

The elected leaders of Massachusetts have come up with a novel solution for the vexing problem of paying for health care: abolish the laws of arithmetic. Their new plan is a perfect illustration of what happens when politicians approach a problem unconstrained by reality.

The plan includes tax incentives and penalties for employers and individuals to get everyone covered by a health-care policy. It also promises affordable health insurance for people with modest incomes, under a program yet to be negotiated between the state and private insurance companies. Nevertheless, three numbers stand out: $295, the annual penalty per worker a company must pay to the state if it does not provide health insurance; $0, the deductible on the typical state-subsidized health-insurance policy under the plan; and $6,000, the average annual expenditure on health care for a Massachusetts resident. Each of these numbers represents one of the irreconcilable goals of health-care policy:

• $295 represents the goal of affordability. We would like to be able to purchase health-care coverage for $295 a year. If that's what it actually cost, my guess is that the problem of the uninsured would pretty much disappear.

• $0 represents the goal of insulation. As individuals, we would like to be insulated from health-care costs. That is why, instead of real insurance -- which would have us pay for at least the first $10,000 of health care out of pocket -- most of us have health-care policies with much lower deductibles.

• $6,000 represents the goal of accessibility. We want access to the best care that modern medicine can provide, whatever the expense.

The question is this: What insurance company will provide coverage with $0 deductible, at an annual premium of $295, for someone whose health care costs on average $6,000 a year? The numbers imply losses of over $5,700, not counting administrative costs. To subsidize zero-deductible health insurance, state taxpayers might have to pay out about $6,000 per recipient.

Brilliant plan... Unfortunately, wanting to give everyone fantastic and affordable health care doesn't make it possible.

Judge 1, Lawyers 0

Via OverLawyered, a Judge smacks down some lawyers attempting to gold-mine California's Proposition 65. He rejected their request for $540,000, saying:

Given the ease with which it was brought, and the absolute lack of any real public benefit from telling people that things like dried paint may be slowly emitting lead molecules or that parking lots are places where there might be auto exhaust, instead of $540,000, this legal work merited an award closer to a dollar ninety-eight.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

It's bedtime, but before I hit the hay, I just have to direct you to this piece by Cafe Hayek on the government regulation of school lunches:

I'm aware that what I'm about to ask is the intellectual equivalent of taking your date to a monster-truck rally -- that is, sure evidence of low-brow benightednes and crude sensibilities -- but on what Constitutional basis does the national government in the United States regulate the contents of school lunches?

That Uncle Sam does regulate school-lunch contents is beyond question. See this report in today's New York Times informing us that "A bipartisan group in Congress plans to introduce legislation today that would prohibit the sale in school not only of French fries but also of other fatty or sugary foods, including soft drinks."

Put aside all questions of the desirability of such legislation and ask "Is this legislation Constitutional?"

I've read the U.S. Constitution several times, and nowhere -- not remotely, not even as a penumbra emanating from its text -- [if you don't get the joke, you should --Ed.] does it give to the national government the power to regulate the contents of school lunches. And yet, such a fact inspires no apparent hesitation in the typical member of Congress to regulate in this way.

Radley Balko, of The Agitator, has a piece over at Slate on the phenomenon of no-knock raids:

As the name indicates, a "no-knock" raid occurs when police forcibly enter a private residence without first knocking and announcing that they're the police. The tactic is appropriate in a few limited situations, such as when hostages or fugitives are involved, or where the suspect poses an immediate threat to community safety. But increasingly, this highly confrontational tactic is being used in less volatile situations, most commonly to serve routine search warrants for illegal drugs.

These raids are often launched on tips from notoriously unreliable confidential informants. Rubber-stamp judges, dicey informants, and aggressive policing have thus given rise to the countless examples of "wrong door" raids we read about in the news. In fact, there's a disturbingly long list of completely innocent people who've been killed in "wrong door" raids, including New York City worker Alberta Spruill, Boston minister Accelyne Williams, and a Mexican immigrant in Denver named Ismael Mena.


In fact, in many places the [requirement to announce before forcing entry] is now treated more like an antiquated ritual than compliance with a suspect's constitutional rights. In 1999, for example, the assistant police chief of El Monte, Calif., explained his department's preferred procedure to the Los Angeles Times: "We do bang on the door and make an announcement—'It's the police'—but it kind of runs together. If you're sitting on the couch, it would be difficult to get to the door before they knock it down."

That comment came in a story about a mistaken raid in which Mario Paz, an innocent man, was shot dead by a raiding SWAT team when he mistook them for criminal intruders and reached for a gun to defend himself.

This doesn't seem like a particularly reasonable (and thus constitutional) excercise of police power. If someone breaks into your house at three in the morning without announcing themselves, you're not going to wait to make sure it's not a cop before you try to defend yourself and family. Something, somewhere, is terribly wrong. If only the court hadn't defenestrated the Castle Doctrine...

From Chequer-Board, Iowa's Senior Senator:

"Any Joe can hang a shingle and prepare income tax returns. There are no requirements at all," Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. "It's incredible that we have legal requirements for a barber to cut your hair, but there are no requirements for someone to prepare your taxes. Americans have a right to expect that when they hire a tax preparer they're going to get honest, straightforward advice."

First off, I think it's insane that we have legal requirements to be a barber, but that's beside the point. What's more ridiculous is that he's busy ripping on private agencies when the IRS can't even do it right:

Two decades ago, Ralph Nader's Tax Reform Research Group prepared 22 identical tax reports based on the fictional economic plight of a married couple with one child. Identical copies were submitted to 22 different IRS offices around the country.

Each office came up with an entirely different tax figure. Results varied from a refund of $811.96 recommended in Flushing, N.Y., to a tax-due figure of $52.13 demanded by the IRS office in Portland, Ore.

In a 2005 test of the system by the Treasury Inspector General, 35% of answers were incorrect. The Treasury Inspector General tested the system again to measure the quality of the taxpayer assistance during the 2005 filing season.

The poor performance was attributed to the representatives not using the prepared guide scripts or not interpreting the law correctly.

Well, since "not interpreting the law correctly" is the definition of a wrong answer, that's the logical equivalent of saying "They got it wrong because they got it wrong."

So what's the solution? Simplify the bloody thing before it makes us all criminals. I'm in favor of a flat tax, but wouldn't really object to a consumption tax. This progressive-tax scheme with exceptions everywhere and bizarre rules that nobody knows is impossible to keep up, not to mention a drag on the economy. But that's just my opinion. Maybe you should go ask an economist.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Number of Good Points:

From MyElectionAnalysis:

81, 76, 50, 49, 43, 25

What are these numbers? This week’s Powerball winners? A safe deposit combo? New numbers to torment those poor b*stards stranded on the island in Lost?

No, they’re the number of troops that have died in hostile actions in Iraq for each of the past six months. That last number represents the lowest level of troop deaths in a year, and second-lowest in two years.

But it must be that the insurgency is turning their assault on Iraqi military and police, who are increasingly taking up the slack, right?

215, 176, 193, 189, 158, 193 (and the three months before that were 304, 282, 233)

Okay, okay, so insurgents aren’t engaging us; they’re turning increasingly to car bombs then, right?

70, 70, 70, 68, 30, 30

Civilians then. They’re just garroting poor civilians.

527, 826, 532, 732, 950, 446 (upper bound, two months before that were 2489 and 1129).

My point here is not that everything is peachy in Iraq. It isn’t. My point isn’t that the insurgency is in its last throes. It isn’t. My point here isn’t even to argue that we’re winning. I’m at best cautiously-pessimistic-to-neutral about how things are going there.

My only point is that, at the very least, people who complain that good news coming out of Iraq gets shuttered by the press aren’t crazy. I’m a regular denizen of the right-leaning blogosphere (though I spend about half my daily routine with left-leaning sites), and I was unequivicolly shocked when I saw this. Completely the opposite of what I’d expected. My non-scientific sample of three friends, all of whom are considerably more bullish about the prospects in Iraq than I am, revealed three people similarly surprised by these numbers. I’m guessing if I polled people on this site regarding the direction those numbers were going, and people didn’t answer strategically (eg figure I was up to something from the question words), no one would predict any of those numbers were on a downward trend, or were even flat.

Again, my point isn’t that we’re winning. My only point is that if the data you’ve received left you completely surprised by these numbers, what does that really say about the completeness of the data you’ve received?

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Kinda weird...

What can I say? It intrigued me.

Ice Pick Andy

People Iced:Twenty Five
Car Bombs Planted:Two
Favorite WeaponSwitch-Blade
Arms Broken:Thirteen
Eyes Gouged:Thirty Two
Tongues Cut Off:Ten
Biggest Enemy:The Tooth Puller

Get Your HITMAN Name

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Irony, thy name is...

To quote Charles Johnson, irony, thy name is Borders. Found at PlusUltra (who is banned in Pakistan, by the way):

Yesterday I noticed this two-part ad for the Wordstock book convention in Portland, Oregon in the local Portland Mercury newspaper. It is sponsored by several companies, including Borders. The first panel contains a caption that reads “never met a banned author I didn’t like.”

The second panel makes it clear that the event and the ad are sponsored by Borders Books.

This is ironic, of course, because Borders Books has recently refused, along with Waldenbooks, to stock the latest issue of New Inquiry Magazine, featuring the controversial Mohammed cartoons. Yet here there are, advertising their company in conjuction with a message in favor of reading banned books.

Thay've never met a banned book they didn't like... unless they're the ones who banned it, of course. Or maybe they have a magazine exception? Either way, intesely hypocritical. I think Barnes and Noble is looking better and better for my book buying needs...