Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!


Why the media reports on science so poorly

Here is an interesting article from the Guardian Weekly that attempts to explain this.

... I've been collecting specimens, making careful observations, and now I'm ready to present my theory.... Science stories usually fall into three families: wacky stories, scare stories and "breakthrough" stories....

Wacky stories... never end. Infidelity is genetic, say scientists. Electricity allergy real, says researcher. I've been collecting "scientists have found the formula for" stories, carefully pinning them into glass specimen cases, in preparation for my debut paper on the subject. So far I have captured the formulae for: the perfect way to eat ice cream (AxTpxTm/FtxAt +VxLTxSpxW/Tt=3d20), the perfect TV sitcom (C=3d[(RxD)+V]xF/A+S), the perfect boiled egg, love, the perfect joke, the most depressing day of the year ([W+(D-d)]xTQ MxNA), and so many more....

A close relative of the wacky story is the paradoxical health story.... These stories serve one purpose: they promote the reassuring idea that sensible health advice is outmoded and moralising, and that research on it is paradoxical and unreliable.

At the other end of the spectrum, scare stories are a stalwart of media science. Based on minimal evidence and expanded with poor understanding of its significance, they help perform a crucial function for the media, which is selling the reader to their advertisers....

Once journalists get their teeth into what they think is a scare story, trivial increases in risk are presented, often out of context, but always using one single way of expressing risk, the "relative risk increase", that makes the danger appear disproportionately large.... [H]alf the papers got the figures wrong. This error, you can't help noticing, is always in the same direction.

And last, in our brief taxonomy, is the media obsession with "new breakthroughs": a more subtly destructive category of science story. It's quite understandable that newspapers should feel it's their job to write about new stuff. But in the aggregate these stories sell the idea that science, and indeed the whole empirical world view, is only about tenuous, new, hotly contested data....

But enough on what they choose to cover. What's wrong with the coverage itself? The central theme: there is no useful information in most science stories....

Why? Because papers think you won't understand the "science bit", all stories involving science must be dumbed down, leaving pieces without enough content to stimulate the only people who are actually going to read them - that is, the people who know a bit about science. Compare this with the book review section in any newspaper. The more obscure references to Russian novelists and French philosophers you can bang in, the better writer everyone thinks you are. Nobody dumbs down the finance pages....

[Via Dave Farber's IP list.]


Electronic communications flood Congress

USA Today (not a paper I generally read) has an interesting article about he impact of the Internet and e-mail on the operations of Congressional offices(via Michael Geist's Internet Law News).

According to a recent report by the Congressional Management Foundation, Congress received four times more communications in 2004 than it did in 2005, with all of the increase emanating from Internet-based communications. During this decade, notwithstanding the exponential increase in communications, staffing levels at Congressional members' personal offices did not change. The number of communications received by Congress reached a phenomenal 200,388,993 in 2004....

[Not 200,388,992. Not 200,388,994. But exactly 200,388,993!]

In spite of the deluge of electronic communications, 79% of Congressional staff recognize that the Internet has made it easier for citizens to become involved in public policy, and 55% believe that the Internet has increased public understanding of the workings of the federal government. Furthermore, 48% believe that the Internet has made members of Congress more responsive to their constituents.

Congressional staff members do have concerns about identical electronic communications that are generated from lists. Half of these staff believe that many of these identical communications are sent without constituent knowledge or consent. Furthermore, staff members state their belief that personalized or individualized messages to Congress have more influence on the decision-making process of Congressional members than do identical form letters. Obviously, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to contacting Congress.

I admit to being a fairly prolific slacktivist. Every year I send dozens — if not over 100 — messages to government officials, mostly from sites and e-mails generated by the likes of ACLU's and Amnesty International's online action centers. Every time I send one unmodified, or even only slightly modified, I feel a little bit guilty about not writing the whole thing from scratch myself, because I know they look like mere form letters to staffs. Which is exactly what they are. But I console myself by saying that it's more effective than doing nothing.


The filibuster

I subscribe to a e-mail list called Politically Savvy Friends, which is irregularly published by Jon Delano, Political Analyst at Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz School of Public Policy. It focuses primarily on Pennsylvania politics, especially Western Pennsylvania. But it is very readable and always interesting.

On 2 June 2005 Mr Delano wrote, among other things, about the political battle in the U.S. Senate over the filibuster. As I told him when I wrote to obtain his permission to post these comments, "[Y]ou have provided what seems to me to be the only balanced and reasonable reporting I've heard, seen or read on the battle over the filibuster." I hope you agree, even though it is now a month and a half later.

Filibuster Fantasies:

As a flaming moderate, I kind of like the Gang of 14's attempt to restore balance in a deeply partisan Senate, but it remains to be seen whether the compromise that U.S. Sens. John Warner and John McCain thrashed out will stick. All along this battle has not really been over the GOP mantra of an 'up or down vote' on the president's judicial nominees. It's been about power and the traditional Senate respect for accommodation, compromise, and the minority party.

Senate Rule 5 requires a two-thirds vote (67 senators) to change the Senate rules. In a Senate divided 55-44-1, the Republican majority simply did not have the votes to amend the filibuster rule to exclude its use on judicial nominees. So White House strategists with the strong support of the three Senate leaders (U.S. Sens. Bill Frist, Mitch McConnell, and Rick Santorum) concocted an end-run around Rule 5. They would use a parliamentary gimmick to object to the use of the filibuster on a judicial nominee, have the chair (Vice President Cheney) make a ruling sustaining the objection, and then use their simple majority (or Cheney breaking a tie 50-50 vote) to confirm the procedural ruling, thereby amending the filibuster rule.

It was diabolically clever but, at the same time, highly offensive to Senate traditionalists who know that the two-thirds requirement of Rule 5 protects everyone in the long-run. Democrats immediately cried 'arrogance of power' and promised a slow-down in non-security business. The so-called nuclear option was avoided when Warner, McCain, and five other Republicans (in all, four conservatives and three liberals) joined seven Democrats to cut a deal.

So far, it appears that Bush has been the victor of the deal because a number of his judge candidates so anathema to the Democrats will be confirmed. But the true test will come when the President submits a Supreme Court nominee. Unless Bush bends over backwards to work with moderate Democratic senators, that nominee will surely be filibustered. And, at that time, the seven Republicans will be expected to hold up their end of the bargain. Will they do so? Wait and see.

Jon Delano


[As always, these views are my own and not those of any of the wonderful organizations with whom I am associated].

Reprinted with permission.


One of my favorite weekly reads is The Straight Dope. The answer to one question this week really bowled me over:

Q. ... Apparently a group of Eskimos were brought to a New York City museum in the 1930s. They were cruelly put on display so that visitors could feed them raw fish for a small charge. It gets worse. Apparently said Eskimos died (I'm not clear on how), and the proprietors had them stuffed and put back on display. Relatives in Alaska, wondering what had happened, made the journey to New York to find their family members taxidermed.... Is there—could there possibly be—any truth to this story?

A. ... [M]y steadfast assistant Bibliophage, whom I rely on to keep me abreast of developments in world literature, called my attention to Kenn Harper's Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo (1986, republished 2000). Long story (277 pages) short, the account you heard was garbled—the Eskimos, or more properly the Inuit, were from Greenland, not Alaska, and the year was 1897, not anytime in the 1930s. But in its grim essentials the story is true.

Read the whole account here. Learning about a despicable incident like this leaves me feeling like being of Western European culture and descent is an ignominious lot, at best.


A hawk to admire

War forces us, or should force us, to ask hard questions of ourselves. As a military historian, a commentator on current events and the father of a young Army officer, these are mine.

So begins an opinion piece titled "A Hawk Questions Himself as His Son Goes to War" in last Sunday's Washington Post by Eliot Cohen. The first question he asks himself is, "If you had known then [when the Iraq war was launched in 2003] what you know now would you still have been in favor of it?" His answer is a hestitating yes, and he believes that Iraq will "become [something like] a state that makes room for the various confessions and communities that constitute it, that has reasonably open and free politics, and that chooses a path to a future that could inspire other changes in the Arab Middle East." I am not so optimistic.

Things are never as simple as most political arguments make them seem. The doubts Mr Cohen expresses lead me to assume that he is a reasonable and well-intentioned human being, and not your usual right-wing pundit.

The Bush Administration did itself a disservice by resting much of its case for war on Iraq's actual possession of weapons of mass destruction. The true arguments for war reached deeper than that.

He lists some. I certainly agree with his conclusion that we failed with our policy towards Iraq in the preceding decade — "[it] fed the outrage of the jihadis with whom we are in a war that will last a generation or more" — and towards the Middle East for much longer than that — "relying on accommodating thugs and kleptocrats to maintain order...; it was the well-educated children of our client regimes who leveled the Twin Towers, after all."

He doesn't convince me that going to war was right. He does remind me, however, that we can't go back and change the fact that we did. While I am strongly tempted to advocate the immediate removal of all our troops and support as the only reasonable form of making amends for the sins of our past, I simply cannot bring myself to do so. I fear that pulling out would lead to more death, more repression and more hatred than some other alternative. I'm not quite sure what that alternative is. The turnout for Iraq's elections last January demonstrated quite clearly that there is a huge contingent of support for a liberal, free and democratic Iraq. We must do what we can to that end.

Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?

This is Mr Cohen's last question for himself and his answer reveals bitterness and anger about the conduct of this war, a bitterness and anger that I fully share.

A variety of emotions wash over me as I reflect on our Iraq war: Disbelief at the length of time it took to call an insurgency by its name. Alarm at our continuing failure to promote at wartime speed the colonels and generals who have a talent for fighting it, while also failing to sweep aside those who do not. Incredulity at seeing decorations pinned on the chests and promotions on the shoulders of senior leaders -- both civilians and military -- who had the helm when things went badly wrong. Disdain for the general who thinks Job One is simply whacking the bad guys and who, ever conscious of public relations, cannot admit that American soldiers have tortured prisoners or, in panic, killed innocent civilians. Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war, and for the blithe disregard of the bungles by some who think they were right in favoring it. A desire — barely controlled — to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties are not really all that high and that I really shouldn't get exercised about them.

I cannot argue with the substance of his conclusion. I do not share in his expectation of the outcome. I wish I had enough faith left that I did.

There is a lot of talk these days about shaky public support for the war. That is not really the issue. Nor should cheerleading, as opposed to truth-telling, be our leaders' chief concern. If we fail in Iraq — and I don't think we will — it won't be because the American people lack heart, but because leaders and institutions have failed. Rather than fretting about support at home, let them show themselves dedicated to waging and winning a strange kind of war and describing it as it is, candidly and in detail. Then the American people will give them all the support they need. The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do. What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth — an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight.

Sadly, the truth is the main thing that's been missing in the governance of this great nation since before I became old enough to vote. My mother says it began when Eisenhower lied during the U-2 incident of 1960. It was certainly in full swing by the time of the War on Vietnam and the Nixon presidency.



I'm not much into posting personal gripes, but it's taken till just a few minutes ago to get that last entry posted. That's 13 days! Apparently Blogger doesn't report publishing errors due to incorrect permissions any more. I put in a request for support within the first couple of days, after checking Blogger status and looking through known issues, but only got an automated response saying they can't answer every e-mail they get. Time to start thinking about using different posting software!


Freedom of speech vs. the FEC

The U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) has been court-ordered to extend some campaign finance and spending limits to Internet-based political activity. has a story, "Bloggers use mainstream methods to fight government regulation," about some fears this has generated among bloggers and what they are doing about it (via Michael Geist's Internet Law News):

Acknowledging the Internet's growth, a federal judge last year ordered the FEC to extend some of the nation's campaign finance and spending limits to political activity on the Web.

Bloggers fear that will mean new, unique limits on their activities, even though several of the commission's six members have indicated they have no desire to go beyond what the judge has ordered them to do.

The FEC plans this summer to decide how far to go. Bloggers view whatever happens at the commission as just the first step in their quest to remain free of government oversight.

"The FEC isn't the end of it," [Markos] Moulitsas [Zuniga, founder of the Web log] said. "We still have Congress, and beyond Congress we still have the courts."

Personally, I'm ambivalent. On the one hand, moneys play far too important a role in U.S. elections. The overwhelming amounts required to be competitive, for all practical purposes, rule out anyone like me from being able to run (not that I'd want to even if I had the money) without becoming beholden to so-called special interests1. But on the other hand, the idea of restricting the freedom to make political speech, which is a large part of what is done with all this money, is extremely abhorrent to me.

This is one of the reasons why I'm becoming more and more attracted to some kind of parliamentary system (PDF, via Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News). The feature of such a system that tends to reduce the influence of money is that the party (or coalition) in power can call elections anytime during the term of office (e.g. five years in the U.K.) and that those elections are generally held within 30 days of calling for them. Compared to current practice in the U.S., this would effectively limit the time of actual campaigning from about one year to about one month. How much influence can money have in one month? Probably still too much, but certainly less than it has now.

1special interest, n.: a group with money and political influence that has views contrary to one's own.


Justice undraped at Dept. of Justice

I have something good to say about U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez: he's allowed the Spirit of Justice and her companion, the Majesty of Justice, to come out from behind the curtains that former Attorney General John Ashcroft hid them behind. Here is the BBC story.


Hunting via Internet?!

I don't like guns, although I did do some target-shooting when I was in the Boy Scouts. I've never understood the appeal of hunting. Especially since as a teenager, I casually threw a rock at a bunny rabbit near Ted Trevarrow's house and — much to my amazement — hit it. It fell over, dead.

But really, hunting live captive animals over the Internet? It seems particularly bizarre, yet as reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press (login using ''), Wisconsin is apparently not by any means the first state to ban the practice (via Michael Geist's Internet Law News):

Hunting via the Internet would be banned in Wisconsin under a bill the state Senate approved Thursday.

The bill would prohibit hunters in Wisconsin from shooting at captive animals unless they have physical possession of their weapons....

The bill adds Wisconsin to a list of states that took action after a San Antonio entrepreneur created a Web site,, designed to let hunters shoot exotic game animals or wild pigs on his private ranch using guns controlled by remote control via the Internet....

"Hunting is about being outdoors and a part of nature," [Rep. Scott] Gunderson [the bill's author] said in a written statement. "Using a computer and a Web site flies in the face of all of those things that true hunters believe in."

Silly me! I thought hunting was all about killing defenseless animals!


Federal Agency Collected Extensive Personal Data About Airline
Passengers Despite Pledge

A great example of how government cannot be trusted (quoted directly from Dave Farber's IP list, slightly edited).

Remarkably, I think [this] AP story understates the extent of the privacy violations by TSA and its contractor.

According to TSA's revised "system of records" notice and privacy impact assessment, they didn't just get more data about June 2004 air travelers.

They took 42,000 of those names and for each "created up to twenty variations of a person's first and last names" — then submitted both the 42,000 real names and an extra 240,000 new names to three commercial data brokers (Acxiom, InsightAmerica, and Qsent).

TSA didn't say how many of these 282,000 names yielded commercial dossiers. But it's clear that personal information about many tens of thousands of people who didn't even fly in June 2004 must have been turned over.

This goes way beyond a "routine" change in the official definitions.

Note that under the Privacy Act, willful violation of the law regarding "systems of records" notices is a criminal misdemeanor. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(i)(2) ("Any officer or employee of any agency who willfully maintains a system of records without meeting the notice requirements of subsection (e)(4) of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000."). I'm not aware of any prosecutions under this provision, however.

Sailing to Mars

After 9/11, the U.S. government removed a large number of unclassified documents from public access. Here is one, An Encomium1 on Solar Sailing, written in 1973 about how one might sail to Mars in a spacecraft that requires no fuel. Access to this paper is "restricted to selected government agencies," according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library (at least so says Steven Aftergood in the recent issue of Secrecy News in which I found this). It's an interesting read in its own right, made more so by the fact that the Feds don't want you or me reading it, apparently (though I'll be darned if I can figure out why).

The radiation-produced thrust of a solar sail is not arbitrary in direction, for it may not have a component toward the sun. The reflection of light from a sail surface oriented at an angle to the incident radiation can, however, provide a component of force perpendicular to the solar direction. Since a sunward force is inevitably supplied by solar gravitational attraction, the limitation on thrust direction does not imply a restriction on the ability of a solar sail to travel between arbitrary points in interplanetary space.....

The really striking properties of solar sailing vehicles are consequences of the fact that they require no propellant. The useful propulsive effort that can be obtained from a solar sail is determined only by its freedom from malfunction and wear....

A rough notion of the rate of meteoric attrition of the sail can be based on current estimates of the density of micro-meteorites in interplanetary space. One arrives at the impression that the half-life for decay of sail reflectivity will be measured in thousands of years....

1 en•co•mi•um, n.: 1. Warm, glowing praise. 2. A formal expression of praise; a tribute.


Speaking of digital photography...

Lehigh Gap, Blue Mountain

Early morning June 5, 2005 looking NE toward Lehigh Gap in Blue Mountain, N of Allentown, PA (AutoStitched from two separate photos)

Click on image to see full-size.

Digital photography copyright laws

We common folk and amateurs get screwed again by copyright law [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Copyright law requires photo labs to be on the lookout for portraits and other professional work that should not be duplicated without a photographer's permission. In the old days, questions about an image's provenance could be settled with a negative. If you had it, you probably had the right to reproduce it.

Now, when images are submitted on CDs or memory cards or over the Web, photofinishers often have to guess whether a picture was truly taken by the customer — or whether it was scanned into a computer or pilfered off the Internet.

The full article, with several examples, is actually much more interesting than this little quote.


Victory criteria

I got an e-mail from Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this morning. It said, in part,

This Sunday is Father's Day, and many fathers in America are away from home.
They are in Iraq, just as many mothers were on Mother's Day, fighting a war of
choice, where we sent our young people into harm's way without leveling with the
American people about the purpose of the war, without intelligence about what
they were going to confront, without the equipment to protect them, and without
a plan of what would happen after the fall of Baghdad. This is not the way to
win a war.

Today, I have offered an amendment to the defense budget that will say to the

"Within 30 days of the enactment of this legislation, Congress expects an
accounting from you as to what the strategy for success is. What are the
security and political measures that you are putting forth that can lead us to
bring our troops home?"

An accounting of a "strategy for success?" At this point I'd be happy with an accounting of the criteria for success! How will we know when we've "won?" It seems to me that when any nation goes to war and asks its young people to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, that they and all its people deserve to know what the objective is. They deserve to be able to make their own accounting of whether the government has met its stated objective and should bring the troops home.

And I ask the same about the so-called War on Terror. When will it be over? How will we know? This time there may be no troops to bring home, but there will certainly have been — there already has been — real damage done to our civil liberties that the government can no longer be justified in continuing, not even by this Administration. Either that, or we will see just how unjustified these sacrifices were all along and what liars we've put in office.

BTW, what if the criterion for success in the so-called War on Terror was simply no major terrorist attacks on the U.S. for four years?



I was unable to find anything else by googling (both the web and news) on this story, but if it's true — and there's no reason to think it's not — I'd sure like to know more. Some people will be put off by the strident tone of this particular telling, but I'm hoping it will get picked up by others.

Independent filmmaker Jem Cohen shoots movies the old-fashioned way, using a hand-wound 16mm Bolex camera. That alone makes him unique among today’s digitized, computerized crop of indie filmmakers....

On January 7 of this year, Cohen sat in a window seat of an Amtrak train en route to Washington to New York. With his hand-wound Bolex, he filmed the passing scene out the window of the train. Or at least he tried to.

Shortly after leaving New York, the Amtrak ticket taker told Cohen he couldn’t shoot pictures through the window because he was in a "quiet car" and such activity might disturb other passengers.

So Cohen tried to move but was told he couldn’t shoot out the windows of any other car on the train. When the train arrived in Philadelphia, four armed cops escorted him off the train and demanded his film. He rewound it in the camera and turned it over and got back on the train for the rest of the trip to Washington.

At Washington’s Union Station, the FBI and plainclothes officers for Homeland Security questioned Cohen about his motives. He explained he was an independent filmmaker, gave them the names of some of his movies and noted that he has been filming scenes out of the windows of passenger trains for about 15 years....

When Cohen asked about getting his film back, [he was told] the film had been turned over the National Terrorism Task Force. That was five months ago and he is still waiting to get his footage back.


Adults prohibited unless accompanied by children

As one who remembers quite well the early days of the adage, "Don't trust anyone over 30," I found this story from the Northwest Indiana Times quite amusing [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Adults must be accompanied by children in certain sections of Evansville's public libraries.

The Evansville-Vanderburgh Library Board voted Thursday to bar unaccompanied adults from children's areas as a precaution against "those who might be there for inappropriate reasons," Evelyn Walker, the library's assistant director of public service told the Evansville Courier & Press.

I must say I was surprised by the number of hits I got when I googled for the phrase "Adults must be accompanied by children."

PATRIOT Act renewal

Several provisions in the PATRIOT Act are due to expire at the end of this year. Congress is considering extending these provisions and even adding some more. NPR recently had a good story on why that's Bad News©. To quote Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, "If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds" [via TrueMajority action alerts].


E-mail divertisements

I generally find SPAM to be unamusing in the extreme. Nevertheless, there have been two or three things that have caught my attention recently. One is the admonition I get regularly these days:

Get a capable html e-mailer

The fact is that I do have an HTML-capable e-mail client; I've just got it configured to show me message bodies in plain-text, thus allowing me to see none of the advertising this spammer wants me read. Why on earth would he encourage me like this to stick with plain-text viewing? LOL!

Another is the first piece of SPAM I've ever saved. I did so because of the sender: the widow of the late Yassir Arafat.

Dear Friend,

I am Mrs Suha Arafat the wife of late palestinians leader organasation ( PLO ).
I must confess that my Agitation is real, and my words are my bond, in this

My late husband diverted this money meant for purchaseing Of ammunition, for
my country, during the civil war in My country, now he had deposited the money
with a security company in Europe as personal iterms but the security company
does not known the content of the consignment, it is on this note That I am
contacting you for help! , all I needed from you is to Furnish me with your
telephone and fax number for you to Assist me claim this money into where it is
in Europe, the said amount is USD75 milion dollars out of the $1.5billions he
kept in a security company.

sating you with 25% of the total money amount, Now all my hope is on you and I
really want To invest this money in your country til when my daughter will
mature because is still 9 years old now,. Honestly I want you to believe that
this Transaction is real and never a joke. My late husband Arafat gave me the
copies of the Certificate of deposit issued to him by the security company on
the Date of deposit, and he wanted to transfer this money With the assistance
of a foreigner as the beneficiary Of the fund, for you to be clarify because,
I do not Expose my self to anybody I see, I believe that you are able to keep
this funds secret for me Because this funds is the hope of my life, it is
Important. Please contact me immediately you must have Gone through my message
through my email address.

That is the reason why I offered you 25% of the total Money and 5% percent for
local and international Expenses, and in case of any other necessary expenses
You might incur during this claim of funds

N.B Try and negotiate for me some profitable blue Cheep Investment opportuni-
ties which is risky free which I Can invest with this money when it is claimed
to Your account, personally I am interested in estate Management and hotel

Email me immediately You receive this message for more explanation. And Promise
me and my children to be a Father considering our situation and not to betray

Best regards

MRS.Suha Arafat

And, finally, who is this guy John who keeps giving my e-mail address to everyone who claims to be calling to offer me too-good-to-be-true mortgage rates?


I'm the Guy They Called Deep Throat

For anyone who's interested and hasn't yet located it, the Vanity Fair article is online, here (printer-friendly format).


New book

My wife, Roslyn Taylor, is the editor of a new collection of articles (including several by her) entitled Healing Words: A Sampler of Wholeness Theology.

[Ten] articulate authors, many leaders in their fields, have contributed their thought-provoking perspectives to a book that will give you insights into how Swedenborgian Christianity contributes to the developing field of wholeness theology. You will read about living wholeness in three dimensions, spiritual practice, the paradoxical nature of being human, a revolutionary way for husbands and wives to relate, myth as a way to understand spiritual life, and much more.

I can't say much more as haven't yet finished reading it, though it is one of three books I've started.


Second anniversary

It's been two years since my first post. Posts have become, obviously, few and far between. This is primarily due to everything at work being in the process of being re-planned over the last few weeks. Mostly a lot of good things seem to be happening and I am optimistic. I have also been asked to have a bigger hand in planning and implement what we are doing. I've basically become one of three project leaders — the first management responsibility I've been willing to take in over 15 years — and all of us will likely wind up with some overseas programmers working on our teams. The three of us are working well together, I think, and my new boss and I seem to be thinking along the same lines most of the time. I believe we have a narrow window of opportunity that provides a good chance of having a real impact on the part of the market we're aiming at.

Wish us luck!



I don't care much for seeing a long list of pet peeves in someone's blog. Or even a short list. But as you can see I'm not above posting one that really bugs me. And one regularly recurring and particularly annoying one is the way that the announcer saying that a particular radio show has been distributed by Public Radio International pronounces it, "Public Radio Innernational." At least one other person out here in blogland agrees.


New speculative market: book futures

In the software development business, we call such products vaporware, an extremely disparaging term [via the Plain English Campaign newsletter]:

It seems that some internet sites will stop at nothing when it comes to the hard sell. A recent programme on BBC Radio 4 revealed that the Amazon website had been found selling books that hadn't even been published. Although the site claimed that books would be available 'within 4-6 weeks', at prices they had somehow conjured from thin air, in some cases the books hadn't even been written! One author was delighted to see his second novel available for purchase at £18.99, especially since he still had the unfinished manuscript at home.


You don't have to be the government to chill free expression

I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by Dale McFeatters in today's Capitol Hill Blue:

There may be a tendency to dismiss the incidents as harmless, if annoying, college pranks, but in the last two weeks three conservative commentators speaking on college campuses have had their speeches physically disrupted....

Attempts to suppress speech — and that's what these are — have a way of escalating. It's conservatives now but it could easily be somebody else later, and the chosen means could be something nastier than pies or salad dressing. The sheer rudeness and immaturity of the acts aside, they are a chilling phenomenon.

Does the 6th Amendment still apply?

[NB: I actually wrote this Thursday afternoon but Blogger wouldn't let me post it. I'm very fortunate to have thought to make a copy before trying to post it at the time! Furthermore, I was unable to publish it until even later!!]

A Federal appeals court gave hope to the Bush administration today that it does not. In case you don't remember, here's what this Amendment to the US Constitution says:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence [emphasis added].

The question is whether Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was a driver for Osama bin Laden and who is being detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, has a right to be present when government prosecutors present classified evidence against him. His trial came to a halt last year when Judge James Robertson ruled that the procedures used by the military commission that is trying him were unlawful. The government today called Robertson's ruling "an extraordinary intrusion into the executive's power".

Hamdan's attorneys assert that "[t]he right to be present at all stages in criminal proceedings is fundamental, guaranteed by military law, common law, constitutional law and international law." I don't know about military law, common law or international law, but the Constitution, as amended, seems quite clear to me. I also emphasized the part about the location of the trial being determined by law. As best I can recall, Gitmo was chosen by executive fiat, not by law. Elsewhere the Constitution makes clear how the location should be determined:

... such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed [emphasis added].

[via Capitol Hill Blue.]


Tax month

I was interested to read "Dubya's secret tax hike" for two reasons. One was the title:

By President Bush's definition, allowing a tax cut to lapse is effectively a tax increase. Thus, by the president's definition, his administration, through inaction, is hitting the taxpayers with a large and fast-expanding tax increase.

The second reason was the tax referred to: the Alternative Minimum Tax. When I was self-employed as a software consultant and depreciating the minimum capital investments I had made — primarily a computer — I had to file Form 6251 (using the 8-page instructions). I never had to pay extra because of it, but I had to fill out the form anyway. It was extremely time-consuming and vexing.

The reason for my interest in AMT is explained by the rest of the Capitol Hill Blue story, excerpts of which follow:

Congress passed the AMT in a fit of political pique in 1969 to recover at least some taxes from 155 rich people who paid no taxes in 1966. The tax was never indexed, so as inflation and incomes grew, the AMT snared more and more people....

This year, 3 million taxpayers will pay more — about $3,000 each on average — under the AMT... than the ordinary income tax... Most of these taxpayers earn between $100,000 and $500,000, income levels unlikely to engender much sympathy. But next year it will bag 20 million taxpayers, and a few years after that it will hit one in three taxpayers, some making as little as $50,000.

... Large families in high-tax states especially get hammered. Soon, the AMT will cover almost all families with three or more children.


RIP, Fred Korematsu

He died last Wednesday at the age of 86. A true American patriot, Korematsu took his battle against the interment of Japanese-Americans during World War II to the Supreme Court, where he lost in a decision that was finally overturned in 1983.

He was arrested, convicted of violating the order [to report for transportation to remote camps] and sent to an internment camp in Utah. The Supreme Court upheld Mr. Korematsu's conviction in December 1944, agreeing with the government that it was justified by the need to combat sabotage and espionage.... Current legal scholars almost universally regard the ruling as one of the worst in the court's history....

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and the government when it deserves it. — Mark Twain


First global circumnavigation

I knew, but neglected to post at the time, that Monday, 28 March, was the 416th anniversary of the first documented trip around the world by any human being. I remember learning in elementary school that Ferdinand Magellan was this human being. In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia still says of him:

Ferdinand Magellan

(Portuguese Fernão Magalhaes)

The first circumnavigator of the real world;...

To be fair, the article ends by saying,

Magellan himself did not reach his goal, the Spice Islands; yet he had accomplished the most difficult part of his task. He had been the first to undertake the circumnavigation of the world, had carried out his project completely, and had thus achieved the most difficult nautical feat of all the centuries.

Even here there's enough to argue with.

The Wikipedia article seems, in some ways, more accurate. It says,

He was... the first to lead an expedition for the purpose of circumnavigating the globe. Though Magellan himself died in the Philippines and never returned to Eurpose, 18 members of the crew and one ship of the fleet returned to Spain in 1522, having circumnavigated the globe.

But those 18 were not the first to circumnavigate the world. Magellan beat them to it; he died in Cebu (in the Philippines), well north and slightly west of the Spice Islands (in Indonesia), which he had visited from the West prior to his circumnavigational expedition. This East-West relationship can be clearly seen with this interactive map, if you know where Cebu and the Spice (or Banda) Islands are.

History House Online gets this right in footnote 3 to its article on Magellan's Demise.

Magellan had masterminded and led the first true circumnavigation of the globe3...

3 While Magellan didn't complete the journey, he made it past the farthest eastern point he had travelled in previous journeys....

I, however, like to think that a man best known as Enrique of Malacca (or "Henry the Black") was the first. His real name was Trapobana and he travelled with Magellan from the East to Spain and accompanied him on the circumnavigation expedition as a slave of and interpreter for Magellan's (although I'm not sure slave is the appropriate term for their relationship). I read a long but intriguing account of Trapobana that I highly recommend. It is anything but negative toward Magellan himself, though some of his crew don't come off so well. It is, not surprisingly, highly sympathetic toward Trapobana himself, as it was written in support of the thesis that this Malayan was the first to actually make it all the way around the world.

And, as I said, I like to think it's true.


Weapons of Mass Deception, redux

Steven Aftergood is the greatest. I can't recommend his Secrecy News highly enough. Two days ago, I posted his proposed questions for the WMD Commission. Today their report came out and Mr Aftergood reported on it. I must say that I have not read the report, but Mr Aftergood's comments sure have the ring of truth and fairness:

The Silberman-Robb Commission on WMD Intelligence released its massive report today, which featured blunt criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies and of nearly every aspect of the intelligence production cycle. A copy is posted here:

"We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," the Commission stated in its letter of transmittal to the President.

Contrary to some early media reports, the Commission did not absolve the Bush Administration of mishandling or misrepresenting intelligence on Iraq.

"We were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community," the Commission Report said (page 8).

President Bush welcomed the report in a White House news briefing,
and commended its authors for presenting an "unvarnished" review.

But then the President stated inaptly that "in an age in which we are at war, the consequences of underestimating a threat could be tens of thousands of innocent lives."

The whole impetus for the Commission was the fact that intelligence had *overestimated* the threat from Iraq, not underestimated it. Thousands of Americans and many more thousands of innocent Iraqis lost their lives or were seriously
injured as a result of the ensuing war.

And that, my friends, is by far the most important fact, IMHO. And that fact's consequences have done nothing if not decrease the security of the United State and all its citizens, not to mention that of the so-called Western World and its inhabitants.

Oxy moron

Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day features the word oxymoron in today's issue (scroll to bottom of page to see entry for 31 March). I was moved to e-mail this comment to the author:

Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 16:22:43 -0500
From: "Hugh D. Hyatt" <>
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--oxymoron

At Occidental College ( several decades ago, my
friends and I observed that Oxy moron is itself an oxymoron.

BTW, as of this moment, has a list of 895 them,
one of which is indeed Oxy moron.

Mac attack

My daughter Abby sitting on my lapFor the last few days, I've heard more about Macintosh computers than I've heard in many years. It's a resurrected or reborn meme. It all started Sunday, when my daughter mentioned that she had gotten a Powerbook. "Why didn't you tell me they were so much easier to use?" she asked chidingly. (Here's a picture of her minutes before — or was it after? — our brief discussion. Can you tell I've acquired a new digital camera? LOL!)

Then Tuesday, a colleague at work and I were discussing the relative merits of PCs and Macs, the only one we knew of favoring the former being cost. He mentioned in passing that OS X was nothing more than FreeBSD, which I had not known (I can't believe I'm admitting this publicly).

In another conversation that same day, this same colleague suggested that I might enjoying reading some of Paul Graham, of whom I don't remember knowing anything previously. That night he sent me a link to Graham's web site. The next morning I pointed my web browser there, and the first thing I read was his latest essay: Return of the Mac. It was quite an intriguing read. Why am I going to all this trouble to replace various versions of Windows with various versions of Linux on my PCs, when Apple has already put FreeBSD on the Mac? Good question!

All the best hackers I know are gradually switching to Macs. My friend Robert said his whole research group at MIT recently bought themselves Powerbooks. These guys are not the graphic designers and grandmas who were buying Macs at Apple's low point in the mid 1990s. They're about as hardcore OS hackers as you can get.

The reason, of course, is OS X. Powerbooks are beautifully designed and run FreeBSD. What more do you need to know? [link in original]

Then, the Mac exposure came late in the day, when I read Michael Geist's Internet Law News, which had two items about Macs. The first announced the halt of a virus writing competition for the Mac:

Plans to hold a $25,000 competition to write a virus designed to infect the Apple OS X have been scrapped after the company behind the scheme backed down over "legal problems" and complaints from Mac customers. Apple accessories company DVForge announced the competition after security company Symantec claimed OS X was likely to come under increasing attack as Apple's market share in the computer market grew [linked to the original article].

The second told of the Gartner Group warning about the Mac becoming a target for spyware and viruses:

Just a week after Symantec caused an uproar in the Mac community by warning that the OS X operating system was quickly becoming a target for hackers and viruses, Gartner has warned businesses reliant on the Mac to guard against "spyware infestations." Martin Reynolds, vice president of the research firm's Dataquest organization, said last week that although the number of Apple Computer systems used in businesses is relatively small, just one vulnerability exploit could cause trouble [again, linked to the original article].

I don't know what it all adds up to. Hell, I don't even know if I'm done hearing about Macs again for a while or if this is just a momentarily pause in a new blitz of information.


Alma Mater As Agent of Big Brother

The title of this article from the Washington Post is "Alma Mater As Big Brother" but I think the title above is more accurate, where Big Brother is the Usual Suspect (US). It's yet another good example of the inevitable mission creep whenever such information is gathered by government [via Dave Farber's IP list].

A proposal by the Education Department would force every college and university in America to report all their students' Social Security numbers and other information about each individual — including credits earned, degree plan, race and ethnicity, and grants and loans received — to a national databank. The government will record every student, regardless of whether he or she receives federal aid, in the databank.

I was wrong

I recently worked closely with a fine woman who advised me never to be afraid to say, "I don't know," "I need help" or "I was wrong." It was good advice, applicable far beyond our common arena.

In January, shortly before the Iraqi elections, under the title "Making Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 look really good", I made this post, mocking the possibility of these elections being anything but a farce. This admission of having been wrong is almost exactly two months overdue.


Split rail fence with unmelted snow in its shadowToday is sunny and the temperature is predicted to go up to 62ºF. It finally feels like spring has arrived. A mere three weekends ago it snowed. I wasn't sure it was going to be the last snow of the winter, but now it appears to be so. I took a bunch of photos the next morning. This one's my favorite; click on the thumbnail to see a larger version. As you can see, the sun was warm enough to melt the little bit of snow that fell while the air was cold enough to prevent it from melting.


Weapons of Mass Deception

From today's issue (link should be available soon) of Stephen Aftergood's Secrecy News:

The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction is supposed to report this week to the President, providing its assessment of U.S. intelligence on WMD and its recommendations for needed reforms.

Considering that the recommendations of last year's 9-11 Commission — notably including intelligence budget disclosure — have been rejected or not fully implemented, one may wonder about the likely impact of the latest Commission.

Several impudent questions about the forthcoming WMD Commission report were posed by myself for the Nieman Watchdog, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Impudent questions? I don't think so. On the whole, they are questions that deserve answers. The only one that doesn't, perhaps, is the last.

Q. Do Bush Administration officials bear any responsibility for their public representations of the inaccurate intelligence assessments of Iraqi nuclear weapons programs? Or was the White House merely an unwitting conduit?

Q. What makes this commission report different from the dozen or so studies that have tackled the intelligence problem in the last decade? Why is it any more likely to produce meaningful change?

Q. Did U.S. intelligence accurately project that more than 1,500 American servicemen and women would be killed in a U.S. attack on Iraq, and many thousands more wounded? If not, do the commission's findings and recommendations address this intelligence failure as well?

Q. In light of the commission's findings, was it appropriate for President Bush to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet?


Violation of public trust

This story, from The Guardian, is an egregious example of such violations from the UK. Not because the "attorney general still believed invasion [of Iraq] was illegal less than two weeks before the troops went in." That's an opinion that changed, for whatever reason, good or ill. But because the British government deleted this allegation from a document being released under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The government yesterday tried to suppress evidence that the attorney general believed war against Iraq was illegal less than two weeks before British troops joined the US-led invasion of the country.

It has removed a key passage in the resignation letter written by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, on March 18 2003, the eve of the invasion.

The remainder of her letter — in which she described the planned invasion as a "crime of aggression" — was released yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act.

The entire letter would have remained secret had not the Guardian published parts of it last month, the FO [Foreign Office] said.

Cold fusion poised for a comeback?

I came across a very interesting article titled "Thirteen things that do not make sense" from the New Scientist. The thirteen things are:

  1. The placebo effect
  2. The horizon problem
  3. Ultra-energetic cosmic rays
  4. Belfast homeopathy results
  5. Dark matter
  6. Viking's methane
  7. Tetraneutrons
  8. The Pioneer anomaly
  9. Dark energy
  10. The Kuiper cliff
  11. The Wow signal
  12. Not-so-constant constants
  13. Cold fusion

If this list doesn't fire your imagination or if you don't immediately click on the link to read the article, you're nothing like me. I was familiar with only 3½ of these, not counting cold fusion, which I thought was ancient debunked history.


Federal court orders Bush Administration to charge Padilla with a crime or let him go

I've been watching for news of the Jose Padilla case. I've posted on it in May 2004 and in June 2004, twice . The New York Times has latest news.

A federal district judge in South Carolina ruled Monday that President Bush had greatly overstepped his authority by detaining an American citizen as an enemy combatant for nearly three years without filing criminal charges.

The judge, Henry F. Floyd, ruled that the government must release the American, Jose Padilla, within 45 days from the military brig in Charleston, S.C., where he has been held since June 2002. That left the Bush administration time to appeal, and a Justice Department spokesman, John Nowacki, said officials immediately decided to do so.

In his opinion, Judge Floyd sharply criticized the administration's use of the enemy combatant designation in Mr. Padilla's case.

"The court finds that the president has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold petitioner as an enemy combatant," Judge Floyd wrote.... "To do otherwise would not only offend the rule of law and violate this country's constitutional tradition,... but it would also be a betrayal of this nation's commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties."

[via Capitol Hill Blue]


Corporate security? Or IQ test?

Image downloaded from Jeremy Wilson's site, to whom it presumably belongs [via Bruce Schneier's February CRYPTO-GRAM, where it's captioned: "A great photo that illustrates the "weakest link" principle"].

The War on Terror, according to the Bush Administration

A final couple of posts via More Junkmail from Bob (elided material comprises web links only):

Funding Al Qaeda

The Pakistan government has paid Pakistani militants $842,000 so the militants could pay back Al Qaeda ( It seems that Al Qaeda paid the militants 50,000,000 rupees to get them to fight the government. Now the government has decided to give Al Qaeda a refund so the militants will stop fighting. And we have an embargo against Cuba. Did I mention that Pakistan is nuclear power?...


Ahmed Abu Ali grew up in Falls Church, Virginia. He went to college in Saudi Arabia. On June 11, 2003, the Saudis threw Ahmed in jail. A year later he was still in jail and U.S. and Saudi authorities had given no reason for his detention. Saudi officials supposedly said privately that Ahmed would be released the moment some formal request comes from the U.S. government. There were some protests and demonstrations over this last summer....

It looks like this guy was arrested along with three others who were supposed to be involved with terrorists. The others were sent to the U.S. and charged with "conspiracy to wage armed combat against allies of the United States." Apparently there was not enough evidence for Ahmed, so they left him in a Saudi Arabian prison. The FBI has had access to Ahmed in Saudi Arabia ever since his detention....

According to the Washington Post, "Two U.S. officials from different national security agencies said the government did not really want Abu Ali returned. One said the government had hoped the Saudis would find a way to hold him, but was now seeking 'to make the civil suit go away' because it risked forcing the government to disclose sensitive or embarrassing information about his case...."

I don't know whether this guy is guilty of anything, but it's not right when the U.S. Justice Department causes a U.S. citizen to be jailed, and then refuses to file charges or even disclosed the reason of the imprisonment to the citizen or his attorneys. If he's guilty, he should be charged and jailed. If not, he should be released.

There is a lot of stuff in the U.S. Constitution designed to prevent people from being imprisoned at the whim of government employees. I hope we don't throw that all away just because a couple dozen suicidal idiots crashed some airliners into some buildings.

Effects of Indian Ocean earthquake on the Earth

Here is a nice little summary of these effects [via, believe it or not, More Junkmail from Bob]:

[Dr. Benjamin Fong] Chao [of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD] and [Dr. Richard] Gross [of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA] have been routinely calculating earthquakes' effects in changing the Earth’s rotation in both length-of-day as well as changes in Earth’s gravitational field. They also study changes in polar motion that is shifting the North Pole. The "mean North pole" was shifted by about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in the direction of 145°ree; East Latitude. This shift east is continuing a long-term seismic trend identified in previous studies.

They also found the earthquake decreased the length of day by 2.68 microseconds. Physically this is like a spinning skater drawing arms closer to the body resulting in a faster spin. The quake also affected the Earth’s shape. They found Earth’s oblateness (flattening on the top and bulging at the equator) decreased by a small amount. It decreased about one part in 10 billion, continuing the trend of earthquakes making Earth less oblate....

The researchers concluded the Sumatra earthquake caused a length of day (LOD) change too small to detect, but it can be calculated. It also caused an oblateness change barely detectable, and a pole shift large enough to be possibly identified. They hope to detect the LOD signal and pole shift when Earth rotation data from ground based and space-borne position sensors are reviewed.

Homeland Security, according to the Bush Administration

Still another post from More Junkmail from Bob:

Anti-terrorism rules have finally been relaxed for people flying to three small airports outside of Washington, DC. The airports are College Park Airport, Potomac Airfield, and Washington Executive Airport/Hyde Field Airport. Now, all I need to do to fly there is receive prior authorization to use the airports, get fingerprinted at Reagan National Airport, pass a criminal background check, get approved by the TSA (they won't disclose their criteria), check in with the FAA in Washington or Baltimore, and present my documents to airport management. It's a good thing the government is protecting me.

Meanwhile, hundreds of illegal people and tons of illegal drugs are entering the U.S. every month. Maybe it's every two months, but there's a lot illegal drug and people traffic. Apparently people in Washington are more concerned about the appearance of security than the real thing. Last time I flew commercial I stood in line for over an hour for the privilege of a body search and shoe removal. (I now rate "special security" status. That means I get extra special treatment in the slow line.)

If I was a terrorist, I'd just add my weapons, explosives, and maybe even subversive literature to a drug shipment, and I'd add myself to an illegal immigrant group to avoid the inconvenience of a public airport. The Mexican border is a long way from Washington and is not as publicly visible as airport lobbies, so there's no need to waste money stopping the flow of illegal people and drugs.

I don't mind Mexicans or other people coming to the U.S. to work. But if there are laws against it, the laws should be either changed or enforced.


Via More Junkmail From Bob:

It sounds like the beginning of a science fiction story: "In January 2002, a dull star in an obscure constellation suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun, temporarily making it the brightest star in our Milky Way galaxy."

But it really happened. A star blew up and lit up the sky. It became 600,000 times brighter than the sun, the brightest object in the Milky Way galaxy. At that intensity, the light illuminated the dust surrounding the star. The light reflected off the dust that happened to be sitting around in the area.

The dust appeared weeks and months later than the explosion did, because it takes the light some extra time to go off in another direction and then bounce off some dust toward earth. Because of this time delay, we see successive layers of dust farther and farther from the star as time progresses.

The last time this happened was in 1936. Here are some Hubble photos of the event, over a few months. It's pretty amazing.

I've only got one photo link here; there are five more in Bob's Junkmail.

Blogger trouble

I haven't been able to login to Blogger to post entries since 10 February. I'm certainly not the most regular of posters, but when I want to post, I want to post NOW! Grrrrr!

The problem I've been having is perfectly described by one of the symptoms listed for Login Difficulties? on the Blogger Help page: Continual prompting to login. But none of the suggestions there, including those under Last Resorts, seemed to help. I was getting the same thing on different computers, with different operating systems, with different browsers.

Until today, when I discovered an entry from yesterday on the Blogger Status page:

As a result of new code pushed last week, a couple of bugs have been introduced which affect a small number of users.

  • some will get an error page when clicking on the name of their blog from the Dashboard
  • those with long usernames will be unable to log in

We are working on fixes for both problems now.

How long a username qualifies as "long"? Mine in 9 characters. I don't consider that long. I'm still having the same trouble today using Firefox, but I am able to log in using Internet Explorer (Boooooo!). That's why I'm able to post this entry. The next thing I'll do is enable posting by e-mail.

In making this post, I learned that Blogger's spell check tool does not recognize 'Blogger' as a legitimate word. How strange is that?


Blogging Ethics survey

I was randomly selected to be asked (via e-mail) to take this survey. As advertised, it did require about 20 minutes. Before taking it, I checked out a couple of references to it on other's blogs, just to be sure I wasn't being somehow scammed. It sure doesn't seem like a scam; the questions are mildly interesting and I'll be interested to see the results. Anyone who wants to can take it, I think.

And if you would just give us a little additional support, you can mention our survey by posting our link on your weblog post, or forward this e-mail to your friends. We are working hard to have our survey disseminate globally across countries so that a wide demographic can be collected.

Upon the completion of this study, the survey results will be made available to all participants at The Singapore Internet Research Centre. You can visit the home page by following this link:

Firefox exploit

And a quick fix, which I implemented yesterday [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Many Mozilla based browsers (Firefox, Camino, ...) and khtml based browsers (Safari), plus a couple others, have a vulnerability that is susceptible to phishing attacks, even spoofed SSL certificates. The usual problems-prone IE, in this case, is immune to this issue.

Read about the problem at with the proof of concept at It is a jaw dropper!

No work-arounds so far except for Firefox, detailed at

$2.95 gets you anyone's criminal record

Open to anyone to investiage anyone, apparently. The verbiage says its for New York residents only, but they don't seem to be checking (dislaimer: I didn't try it). Look here [via Dave Farber's IP list].

Global warming

Earth Observatory has some interesting data that seem, to me, to indicate rather strongly that things are heating up here on Earth. This image represents a portion of that data. The graph on the referenced page is the clincher. Of course the important question is, Why are temperatures rising? There's good evidence for a 100,000-year cycle of higher and lower temperatures (the latter being known as Ice Ages).

Here (from, as is the image below) is a graph of temperatures in the lower atmosphere over the last 400,000 years, as inferred from ice core samples from Antarctica. These are from a web page (to which the images link) that looks at the correlation of temperature and CO2 in the atmosphere (again, from Antarctic ice samples). If there is any validity to the concern that high CO2 concentrations lead to increased temperature, then this graph of these concentrations over the last 400,000 years would give serious cause for worry.

OK, so the theory of greenhouse gases leading to higher global temperatures is just that — a theory, an unproven theory. The EPA's global warming site makes this point. But considering what the consequences might be if the theory is even partly correct, shouldn't we be doing much more than we are to reduce those gases?


Prescription drug sales over the Internet

Michael Geist himself has written an interesting article [Email '' and password 'mugsgame' will log you in] in the Toronto Star on the discussion over whether citizens of the U.S. should be able to order drugs from Canada over the internet.

[T]he Canadian and U.S. governments, supported by PhRMA [the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America], have relied on a series of demonstrably false premises to stir fear among the Canadian and American public.

These include claims that online sales of pharmaceuticals from Canadian Internet pharmacies are dangerous, that they will lead to reduced pharmaceutical research and development, and that the sales could result in product shortages in Canada.

Mr Geist then proceeds to discuss each of these claims, and concludes

It is evident that Ottawa's proposed policy is being driven by heavy lobbying from U.S. President George W. Bush (who reportedly raised the issue on his visit to Canada last year) and the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, which retained former American ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin to lobby Canadian officials on the Internet pharmacy issue.

While there may be good reasons for shutting down the online pharmaceutical industry — it is not Canada's place to solve the inequities in the U.S. pharmaceutical market — the public has yet to hear them.

Once again it seems the Bush Administration's dedication to the ideal of free markets is contravened by the apparent need of big business interests to set artificial constraints based on fallacious arguments in order to ensure the higher profits that come from diminished competition.

Music industry sues 83-year-old dead woman

This headline from a story in the Boston Globe says it all. Has the RIAA no shame? [via Michael Geist's Internet Law News]

More than a month after Walton was buried in Beckley, a group of record companies named her as the sole defendant in a federal lawsuit, claiming she made more than 700 pop, rock and rap songs available for free on the Internet under the screen name "smittenedkitten."

Walton's daughter, Robin Chianumba, lived with her mother for the last 17 years and said her mother objected to having a computer in the house.

"My mother was computer illiterate. She hated a computer," Chianumba said. "My mother wouldn't know how to turn on a computer."

Red vs blue? Or pragmatism vs utopianism?

I found this article from the Boston Globe much more interesting than any of the red state vs blue state analyses I've read recently. The pragmatist is John Kenneth Galbraith and the utopian is Milton Friedman. I'm not much of a student of economics, but I already knew something of both these gentlemen. I learned more about each from the article but its value is more in the thoughts it provoked about today's political climate [via Dave Farber's IP list].

Republicans nowadays count themselves the party of ideas. "Ideas matter," Ronald Reagan proclaimed a quarter-century ago — words that have since become a GOP shibboleth. But with his recent Inaugural and State of the Union addresses, President Bush reminded us that today's conservatives don't love just any kind of ideas, even conservative ones. Big ideas are better than small, and bold ideas — ideas meant to profoundly reshape world history in the name of high principle — are always preferable to cautious ones. Abandoning a once fiercely defended reputation for caution in the face of change, it seems today's proudly swaggering conservatives have adopted the revolutionary role that for 200 years they existed to defeat.


Unbelievably clueless over-reaction

And that's an understatement. What was called for was no reaction at all. Declan McCullagh's Politech list pointed me to this Boing Boing entry:

Jailed for using a nonstandard browser

A Londonder made a tsnuami[sic]-relief donation using lynx — a text-based browser used by the blind, Unix-users and others — on Sun's Solaris operating system. The site-operator decided that this "unusual" event in the system log indicated a hack-attempt, and the police broke down the donor's door and arrested him. From a mailing list:

For donating to a Tsunami appeal using Lynx on Solaris 10. BT [British Telecom] who run the donation management system misread an access log and saw hmm thats [sic] a non standard browser not identifying it's type and it's doing strange things. Trace that IP. Arrest that hacker.

Armed police, a van, a police cell and national news later the police have gone in SWAT styley [sic] and arrested someone having their lunch.

Out on bail till next week and preparing to make a lot of very bad PR for BT and the Police....

So just goes to show if you use anything other than Firefox or IE and you rely on someone else to interogate [sic] access logs or IDS logs you too could be sitting in a paper suit in a cell :(


Who owns National Weather Service data?

A prior question should perhaps be, "Who pays for National Weather Service data?" The answer is, not surprisingly, "U.S. taxpayers." A lot of NWS data is available on their Internet site. These are popular desinations for Internet users.

During the three months last fall when four hurricanes struck the South, weather service sites received nine billion hits — breaking a government record of six billion hits on NASA sites in the three months after the Mars rover landing last spring.

Last fall the government invited public comment on the NWS policy of making such information freely available. Support was "overwhelming." Shortly after the election, the NWS announced "it would officially embrace an open-information policy."

But some are not happy.

[T]he Commercial Weather Services Association, the industry's trade group, has complained that such sites violate an agreement from the pre-Internet era. By their argument, the taxpayers should continue to pay for all the weather balloons and monitoring stations — but should not be allowed to get the results directly from government sites.

This would be outrageous. I'm sorry to read that Senator Rick Santorum, who represents me — as well as others &mdash in Washington agrees with the trade group's position and will introduce legislation to allow commericial for-profit organizations to "continue providing meteorological infrastructure, forecasts and warnings, rather than providing services already effectively provided by the private sector. In other words, taking down those Web sites...."

This isolated item is discussed in the broader context of the Bush administration's impact on technology (taking a basically positive view, I might add) in an article from the New York Times entitled "Bush Didn't Invent the Internet, but Is He Good for Tech?" [via Dave Farber's IP list]


Taking advertisers at their word

I quote in its entirety a letter to The Times of 19 Jan 2005 [via the Plain English Campaign's weekly newsletter]:

Sir, I have received an insurance company leaflet which suggests that I could save over £200 on my car insurance. The small print then explains:

All price saving comparisons included in this leaflet are based on a 44 year old female living in the Darlington area, with Comprehensive cover but zero No Claims Discount, driving 12999 miles per year in a 2002 Rover 25 1.4.

If she would like to get in touch with me I will pass the leaflet on to her.

Yours sincerely,


24 Harestone Hill,

Caterham, Surrey CR3 6SX.

January 14.


Making Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 look really good

Picture this: it's a week and a half till the election. Almost all the candidates are anonymous, there have been no debates and there is virtual no information about candidates' positions. Furthermore, you won't know where to go to vote until the last minute and you can't see a sample ballot. You can't drive to the polling place, assuming you find out where it is, because most vehicles are banned from the streets.

What a farce this is going to be!


Because 2005 is 21 years too late

That's the motto of the Students for an Orwellian Society. Their home page links to news stories under three categories

  • War is Peace
  • Freedom is Slavery
  • Ignorance is Strength

It would be très amusant if it weren't so frighteningly reality-based [via Dave Farber's IP list].


Patent hypocrisy

On a related note, Michael Geist has a column (, password=thestar) in today's Toronto Star arguing that the World Trade Organization's intellectual property provisions are unfair to developing countries [via Geist's Internet Law News]. It contains the very interesting—at least to me—assertion that developed nations resisted legalizing pharmaceutical patents until their pharmaceutical industries were mature.

The one-sided nature of global intellectual property law is best illustrated by the legal protections granted to pharmaceutical products. Developed countries that are now home to pharmaceutical giants persistently resisted providing patents for pharmaceutical products until their industries were well developed ? France introduced pharmaceutical patents in 1960, Germany in 1968, Japan in 1976, Switzerland in 1977, and Italy and Sweden in 1978.

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