Sunday, July 30, 2006

Some screwed housing speculators in Phoenix

The Arizona Republic prints a story on some housing speculators now being burned:
Two houses on the same north Valley street, similar in size and age, are for sale. One lists for $749,000 and the other for $775,000. A third house came on the market on the same street a few doors from the other two. The new listing was similar to the others in size and age but priced at $659,000.

Reaction: outrage.

"The neighbors were really mad," said Thomas Stornelli, principal of Global Network of Homes in Scottsdale. "They knocked on the door and asked, 'What are you thinking?' For a lot of people, their home equity is their bank. It's like taking money out of someone's bank, their retirement account. People (future buyers) are going to use that house as a comp, even if it doesn't have the same upgrades. It's going to leave a mark."

The owners of the least- expensive home were equally upset. They were in the midst of a corporate relocation and wanted to sell quickly. Suddenly, angry neighbors were confronting them. One night, someone tore down their for-sale sign.

Stornelli is the listing agent for one of the higher-priced homes. His approach is to try for the higher prices, which he believes are justified in Scottsdale.

"Whenever you mix emotion and finance, there's going to be stress," he said. "As a Realtor, we deal with that every day."

The market has proven everyone wrong. None of the houses had sold as of the third week of this month.
Another account in the same story:
A woman walked into Barry's Realty Executives office about nine weeks ago, sat down and began crying. She said she bought two houses last year, fixed them up and quickly sold them, making a $50,000 profit on each.

She was a novice investor, but it all looked easy. She took her profits, threw in some extra money and bought five more houses. She spent money fixing them up, but when she put the houses on the market, she realized she had bought at the peak, Barry said.

"Her eyes just started to well up, and she just started bawling," Barry said. "She said she couldn't sell them for what she bought them for. She said her monthly payments were about $20,000."

Barry suggested turning them into rentals. She told him she couldn't get enough rent to make it worthwhile.

"She was expecting to flip them," he said. "The market flipped her. She was devastated. People have forgotten that houses are not a liquid asset. They never were meant to be."
There are a few others in the report. I expect we'll see more stories like this over the next couple of years as ARMs reset on people who are unable to sell or refinance.

Also check out the comments on this story at The Housing Bubble Blog.

Mel Gibson DUI arrest update

CNN reports that Mel Gibson has released a statement about his DUI arrest in which he says:
I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said, and I apologize to anyone who I have offended.
But they don't tell us what these things are., however, has published a very plausible account of the full police report (including images of report pages):
The actor began swearing uncontrollably. Gibson repeatedly said, "My life is f****d." Law enforcement sources say the deputy, worried that Gibson might become violent, told the actor that he was supposed to cuff him but would not, as long as Gibson cooperated. As the two stood next to the hood of the patrol car, the deputy asked Gibson to get inside. Deputy Mee then walked over to the passenger door and opened it. The report says Gibson then said, "I'm not going to get in your car," and bolted to his car. The deputy quickly subdued Gibson, cuffed him and put him inside the patrol car.
Once inside the car, a source directly connected with the case says Gibson began banging himself against the seat. The report says Gibson told the deputy, "You mother f****r. I'm going to f*** you." The report also says "Gibson almost continually [sic] threatened me saying he 'owns Malibu' and will spend all of his money to 'get even' with me."

The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"


A law enforcement source says Gibson then noticed another female sergeant and yelled, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"

We're told Gibson took two blood alcohol tests, which were videotaped, and continued saying how "f****d" he was and how he was going to "f***" Deputy Mee.

Gibson was put in a cell with handcuffs on. He said he needed to urinate, and after a few minutes tried manipulating his hands to unzip his pants. Sources say Deputy Mee thought Gibson was going to urinate on the floor of the booking cell and asked someone to take Gibson to the bathroom.

And there's plenty more at, which claims that L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy James Mee was forced to rewrite his report to make it less "inflammatory" given the current situation in Israel.

Again, this all seems quite consistent with Mel Gibson's prior behavior and attitudes about women and other subjects.

Hat tip to Talking Points Memo.

UPDATE July 30, 2006: The L.A. Times also has coverage of this which confirms the account.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dogs and the Bible

Odyssey Truett, a Springer Spaniel, comments on the Bible's negativity about dogs.

(Hat tip to Ed Babinski.)

Mel Gibson arrested for DUI

Mel Gibson, whose idiotic views on evolution and the role of women resulted in more hits to this blog than any other post, was arrested in Malibu on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Luskin vs. Judge Jones on peer-reviewed publications supporting ID

Casey Luskin, responding to a point in a book review by John Derbyshire, argues that Judge Jones was incorrect in his decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover when he wrote that Intelligent Design is not supported by any peer-reviewed publications.

As Wesley Elsberry shows, Luskin's argument is not with Jones but with the defense in the Dover case, and in particular with the testimony of Michael Behe, who agreed in cross-examination that "there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred."

Q. [Rothschild] Now you have never argued for intelligent design in a peer reviewed scientific journal, correct?

A. [Behe] No, I argued for it in my book.

Q. Not in a peer reviewed scientific journal?

A. That’s correct.

Q. And, in fact, there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred, is that correct?

A. That is correct, yes.

Jones had to make his decision on the basis of the evidence presented in his court, not on the basis of Luskin's list of publications. Of the documents Luskin lists in refutation of Jones' statements, one of them, a paper by Behe and Snoke, was addressed specifically in the case, and it did not support intelligent design. As Ed Brayton and others have pointed out, in cross-examination in the Dover trial it came out that the Behe and Snoke paper actually is strong evidence against the existence of irreducible complexity. (The Ed Brayton post may also now be found at

Luskin's list of alleged peer-reviewed publications supporting intelligent design hasn't undergone cross-examination in court (except for Behe and Snoke, the treatment of which in the trial Luskin fails to address). Were the publications introduced into the trial, there is little doubt that they would similarly have been torn apart due to lack of proper peer review, lack of original research, and lack of support for intelligent design, as has already occurred at the TalkOrigins site which Luskin links to (but fails to engage with).

9th Circuit approves random warrantless searches and seizures of laptops

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that border police have the right to conduct random warrantless searches and seizures of laptops--including full forensic disk examination.

I recommend using full-disk encryption.

Hat tip to The Agitator.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

VoIP quality degradation shows need for prioritization

A study by Brix Networks, which runs, shows that the quality of VoIP calls has degraded over the last 18 months. Their tests of VoIP connections show that 20 percent of calls have unacceptable quality, up from 15% 18 months ago. Brix's CTO says that the cause is competition for network resources--i.e., congestion.

The solution is, of course, prioritization--putting voice and other latency and jitter-sensitive traffic in a higher class of service with QoS (quality of service).

Thanks to Matt Sherman for the link.

Further comments on the subject may be found at Richard Bennett's Original Blog and by James Gattuso at the Technology Liberation Front.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tucson #7 most overpriced city on Forbes list

Tucson made Forbes' list of the top 10 most overpriced cities in the United States for 2006 at #7. The list is based on the largest 112 metro areas in Forbes' 2006 list of best places for business and careers, ranking them based on job growth, cost of living, housing affordability, and salaries. The ten most overpriced locations have the highest costs of living, lowest housing affordability, least job growth, and lowest salaries.

1. Essex County, Massachusetts
2. San Francisco, California
3. San Jose, California
4. Honolulu, Hawaii
5. Cambridge, Massachusetts
6. New York City, New York
7. Tucson, Arizona
8. Oakland, California
9. Boston, Massachusetts
10. Los Angeles, California

Judge throws out ACLU lawsuit against NSA

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against AT&T continues, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly today threw out the ACLU's lawsuit against the National Security Agency for collecting call detail records from AT&T, MCI, and other providers (though not, apparently, from Verizon or BellSouth).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Visual representation of global data

This is a very interesting presentation at Google by the folks at Gapminder, a Swedish nonprofit that is trying to provide better, visual ways of representing information about the state of the world. These are the same people who put together this set of excellent animated interactive presentations on human development trends (income levels, life expectancy, etc.) for the United Nations Development Program.

(Via Patri Friedman at Catallarchy.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Scale model of disputed Chinese-Indian mountain range in China

On Google Earth or at The Register. (Via Anson Kennedy on the SKEPTIC mailing list.)

Court rejects government's "state secrets" argument in AT&T case

Today Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ruled on the U.S. government's motions for dismissal or summary judgment in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against AT&T on grounds of "state secrets." The motions were denied, with the possibility of a later dismissal or summary judgment on state secrets grounds. However, the judge noted the limits of state secrets privilege with respect to the infringement of individual rights, and stated that "dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security" (p. 36 of the ruling).

The judge noted that you can't claim that something is a "state secret" if it's not secret, citing not only news stories about interception but public statements by George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales.

Also denied were AT&T's motions for dismiss for lack of standing, for lack of plaintiff demonstration that AT&T lack's appropriate government certification for its actions (though the judge indicates he could be persuaded otherwise on this one later), due to AT&T's claim of common law immunity from civil liability for conducting government surveillance (in part because AT&T has argued that its cooperation has been voluntary, not mandatory), and due to AT&T's claim of qualified immunity.

The judge proposes appointing a qualified, appropriately security-cleared expert to assist the court in reviewing classified material and determining what may be disclosed and to whom.

The next hearing is a case management hearing on August 8.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bush's veto of the stem cell bill

As everyone knows, Bush's first veto ever was of H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, to authorize federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, on the ridiculous basis that this research involves killing "boys and girls."

As Scott Rosenberg points out at Salon:
Here is why Bush's position is a joke: Thousands and thousands of embryos are destroyed every year in fertility clinics. They are created in petri dishes as part of fertility treatments like IVF; then they are discarded. If Bush and his administration truly believe that destroying an embryo is a kind of murder, they shouldn't be wasting their time arguing about research funding: They should immediately shut down every fertility clinic in the country, arrest the doctors and staff who operate them, and charge all the wannabe parents who have been wantonly slaughtering legions of the unborn. But of course they'll never do such a thing. (Nor, to be absolutely clear, do I think they should.) Bush could not care less about this issue except as far as it helps burnish his pro-life credentials among his "base."

If Bush believes destroying embryos is murder, let him take a real stand against it. If he doesn't, he shouldn't make it harder for the thousands of embryos that are being discarded anyway to be used for a valuable purpose that could improve real lives.

That's why Bush's stem cell position isn't Solomonic -- it's craven. His upcoming veto is an act not of moral leadership but of hypocrisy. And the cost of this hypocrisy, assuming Congress can't muster the votes for an override, will be borne by everyone who dreams of new cures for awful illnesses.
The House vote to override the veto failed by 51 votes, 235-193. Arizona's Representatives did not follow partisan lines on this--voting to override the veto were Flake (R), Grijalva (D), Kolbe (R), and Pastor (D). Voting against were Franks (R), Hayworth (R), Renzi (R), and Shadegg (R).

Back in May of last year when the House passed the bill, Grijalva, Kolbe, and Pastor voted for it, while Flake, Franks, Hayworth, Renzi, and Shadegg voted against it as the Eagle Forum insisted.

In the Senate, where it passed yesterday on a vote after sitting there for over a year, Kyl voted against the bill and McCain voted for it. No surprise there.

(Thanks to John Lynch at stranger fruit for the voting info and the reference to Rosenberg.)

UPDATE July 19, 2006: I've corrected the above to put Franks' vote back on the expected side and remove my comments of surprise about his vote. I'm still surprised by Flake's vote to override the veto.

U.S. House votes to place limits on judiciary

Yahoo headlined this story "House votes to keep 'under God' in pledge," but that's not accurate. The House passed a bill (H.R. 2389, the "Pledge Protection Act of 2005," on a vote of 260-167) which prohibits the courts from hearing challenges to the presence of "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, which strikes me as an unconstitutional action by the Congress. (Congress does have the power in Article I, Section 8 "To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court" and "To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof," which gives them at least some powers of regulation (to the extent that it is "necessary and proper") over the courts. But circumscribing the topics which the Supreme Court can address would seem to me to be something only the Constitution can do. Any constitutional scholars care to comment?

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin is quoted in the story saying, "We're creating a fence. The fence goes around the federal judiciary. We're doing that because we don't trust them."

Yet it's Congress, more than the courts, that can't be trusted to be remotely responsible, rational, respectful of the Constitution, or of the people. We'd be much better off putting a fence around the Congress, such as by ending the First Amendment after the fifth word.

"Under God" was added to the pledge of allegiance by act of Congress in 1954 for explicitly religious reasons (to distinguish the U.S. from the godless communists in the Soviet Union), and the U.S. Supreme Court avoided making a ruling on the issue in Michael Newdow's case by throwing the case out on a technicality--the issue of standing, since he didn't have custody of his daughter. He's currently pursuing the case through the courts again with other plaintiffs.

All but one of Arizona's Republican Representatives signed on as sponsors of the House bill: Trent Franks, Jeff Flake, J.D. Hayworth, Rick Renzi, John Shadegg. The one Republican exception was Jim Kolbe (R); the two Arizona Democrats, Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor, did not. I suspect their voting went along these same lines.

The Senate version of this bill is S. 1046, introduced by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. While the House bill attracted 197 sponsors, the Senate bill has only attracted 16 and Senator John McCain is not among them. The Senate bill is stalled out in the Judiciary Committee.

Anti-Astroturfing Wiki

Seth Godin has pointed out a new Anti-Astroturfing Wiki, for exposing those who are creating fake grassroots efforts by actions like coordinating letters to the editor or blog comment posts which don't mention the coordinating body--a practice engaged in by both advocates for and against net neutrality regulations.

The current Wikipedia definition: "In American politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behavior. The goal is the appearance of independent public reaction to a politician, political group, product, service, event, or similar entities by centrally orchestrating the behavior of many diverse and geographically distributed individuals."

The Anti-Astroturfing Wiki and campaign has been set up as part of TheNewPR Wiki by Paull Young and Trevor Cook in response to the PR Institute of Australia's promotion of a "how-to" seminar on astroturfing even though the practice violates the PRIA Code of Ethics. Young has issued an anti-astroturfing statement:

We oppose the practice of astroturfing, defined above, in any form. The practice should never be a part of a public relations campaign as it is anti-democratic, unethical, immoral and often illegal.

We will attempt to raise awareness of this practice, expose it for what it is, and encourage our fellow communicators to join us in opposition.

We call for all professional communication bodies to strongly, publicly and actively oppose astroturfing; alongside PR agencies, individual practitioners and bloggers.
I endorse this, along with the InOpinion list exposing astroturfing which I posted about back in May. (For those who want to deny that providing prewritten letters on a website without mentioning the name of the organizing group supplying them is astroturfing, I recommend this rebuttal from the InOpinion blog.)

I wrote about an Arizona astroturfing effort by beverage distributors to stop direct wine shipments here. The fact that these astroturfers weren't really concerned about underage purchases of wine by mail was demonstrated by their agreement to a compromise based on the size of the winery--their principle was making sure that they remained in the middle for most wine purchases, not whether or not underage drinking occurs.

Telecom regulation around the world

Paul Kouroupas has written an interesting series of posts about the state of telecommunications regulation around the world. He postulates a hypothetical company, CoolCo, that is an ISP that wants to sell Internet access, voice over IP, email, instant messaging, and web hosting to residential customers, while not owning any of its own transmission facilities. CoolCo wants to expand its services to include dedicated circuits for business customers, and is majority owned by U.S. investors with a Thai investor who owns 15% of the company.

Kouroupas then looks at how CoolCo would fare in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the United States with respect to licensing requirements, license fees and other fees, foreign ownership restrictions, tariff, contract and pricing rules, interconnection rights and obligations, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the regulatory process.

He begins with Europe--licensing requirements are nonexistent; operators must simply "register and abide by a set of basic consumer protection obligations and regulations." License fees are nominal and consistent across the entire EU. There are no universal service fees or foreign ownership restrictions. There are no tariff requirements, no contract requirements beyond "conformity to basic legal precedence," no pricing rules "other than basic non-discrimination requirements." No regulator approval is required to set prices. Interconnection is mandatory, some states require unbundling of services by the incumbents. The regulatory process is relatively efficient and does not consume the bulk of CoolCo's resources.

In Latin America, Kouroupas looks at Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela, the countries where Global Crossing operates, and shows that there is a large amount of variation between countries, with Argentina, Brazil, and Chile being more open and adaptable, and Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela having more heavy-handed regulation. All have licensing requirements, with the less-regulated three and Peru requiring only a single license for CoolCo's offerings, while Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela require separate licenses for each service offered. All have license fees as a percentage of revenue, ranging from 0.5% to 3%. Universal service fees fall in the same range. Only Mexico has foreign ownership restrictions. Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela heavily regulate prices, tariffs, and form of contracts. Most countries require some form of interconnection, but in Mexico the incumbent (Carlos Slim's Telmex, which was privatized in the worst possible way) has been the recipient of multiple complaints for taking steps to avoid or delay the implementation of interconnection. In most countries the incumbent telco is the largest employer in the country and has considerable influence over the regulatory process, which often fails to complete by the legal time limits, leaving competitive telcos in legal limbo for months or years.

Kouroupas then turns to Asia, looking specifically at Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, with a brief look also at China and India. The former countries, unsurprisingly, are more open than the latter two, though the level of bureaucracy is also high in Japan and Taiwan. China, India, and South Korea have foreign ownership restrictions, at least for facilities-based operators.

Finally, he looks at the United States, which is hampered by a lack of consistency and coherent regulations, especially with respect to VoIP. Licenses are not required at the moment, but the FCC appears to have opened the door for it, and there are some specific requirements that now apply such as CALEA and E911. VoIP providers will have to contribute to the universal service fund by assuming that 64.9% of their traffic is interstate, which means paying 10.5% of 64.9% of their revenue. Foreign ownership restrictions exist, but CoolCo should not hit them at the moment due to its foreign ownership of less than 25% and its not requiring licensing, but this could change. There are no tariff, contract, or pricing rules that apply. For VoIP there are currently no interconnection rights and unbundling is limited. The regulatory process exists at both the federal (FCC) and state (public utility commissions) level. At the federal level, regulation is incredibly inefficient; at the state level it varies considerably from state to state but is generally more efficient than at the federal level and has promoted competition. The overall picture is one of uncertainty about the future.

I've only touched on the highlights of the detail in Kouroupas' posts, but it's clear that CoolCo will find Europe to be the easiest region to establish business in today. Check them out.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The DHS National Asset Database

The Department of Homeland Security's National Asset Database has come under fire recently for the absurdity of some of the more than 77,000 items on the list, most of which were added in 2005--there were fewer than 32,000 items in 2004. Indiana leads the nation as the state with the most entries on the list, with 8,951 (up from 322 in 2004), including Amish Country Popcorn near Berne, Indiana. New York has 5,687 (up from 1,634 in 2004) and California has only 3,212. Washington state has 3,650, which includes 65 "national monuments and icons"--more than Washington, D.C. Arizona has a mere 675 entries on the list, up from 597 in 2004.

Absurd entries on the list include a petting zoo in Huntsville, Alabama, the Columbia, Tennessee Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market near Knoxville, Tennessee, and items like "Beach at End of a Street," "Nix's Check Cashing," "Mall at Sears," "Ice Cream Parlor," "Tackle Shop," "Donut Shop," "Anti-Cruelty Society," and Arkansas' Bean Fest.

In Seattle, the list includes Auburn's SuperMall (which received a $50,000 DHS grant). There are 1,305 casinos on the list, 234 restaurants, and 700 mortuaries. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has called for reader submissions of their own items, "as absurd as you want"--"No way can it top the spectacle going on at homeland security."

Not included on the list: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or the Brooklyn Bridge.

The list has made the press because auditors at the DHS Inspector General's office have questioned the value of "unusual or out-of-place sites ... whose criticality is not readily apparent." But the DHS is unapologetic: "We don't find it embarassing ... The list is a valuable tool," says DHS deputy press secretary Jarrod Agen. Agen claims that the list is not used for funding decisions, but the DHS budget for Arizona was cut in half for 2006.

The committees in Congress responsible for oversight of the DHS are the House Judiciary Committee (which includes two Arizonans, Rep. Jeff Flake and Rep. Trent Franks) and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs (no Arizonans).

How about setting some reasonable standards for what submissions from states get put on the list?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Radley Balko paramilitary police paper

Radley Balko's paper, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, has been released by the Cato Institute today. It is available for download (PDF) and is accompanied by an online interactive map of incidents. The executive summary:

Americans have long maintained that a man’s home is his castle and that he has the right to defend it from unlawful intruders. Unfortunately, that right may be disappearing. Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.

This paper presents a history and overview of the issue of paramilitary drug raids, provides an extensive catalogue of abuses and mistaken raids, and offers recommendations for reform.

You can hear Balko talking about his paper here (MP3 podcast).

Via The Agitator.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another lottery casualty

The Arizona Republic reports on the story of Shefik Tallmadge, who won $6.7 million in the Arizona Lottery in 1988 at the age of 29. He was the biggest Pick winner at the time, taking the payment as 20 years of $335,000 payments. He quit his job, bought a Porsche, took his family around the world, completed a political science degree, and married a pharmacist. He cashed in on the remainder of his lottery winnings in 1998 to get a large lump sum, which he used to buy an expensive house and four gas stations. Last year he filed for bankruptcy and continues to play the same numbers he won with on the Florida Lottery.

This seems to be a not-uncommon story for lottery winners.

Kent Hovind and Ali G

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power

Under the headline "The end of the high road," The Economist reviews Joseph Margulies' new book, Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power. The review begins:

IN HIS new book on the American jail at Guantánamo Bay, Joseph Margulies recounts the story of a prisoner who told his interrogators of plans to use bacteriological weapons. The man named many others involved, and before long his interrogators had confessions from 35 further prisoners, “page upon page of chilling, meticulously detailed admissions”. The problem is that the prisoners he is writing about here were not suspected members of al-Qaeda, but American soldiers. The questioning took place 50 years ago and the interrogators were North Korean.

The confessions were false and had been extracted after the Americans were subjected to extreme psychological torture. Mr Margulies, a lawyer who has represented some of the men at Guantánamo, describes what happened in Korea to illustrate how, in its eagerness to prosecute the “war on terror”, the current American administration has borrowed from some of its most ruthless past enemies, abandoning practices that had allowed it for decades to take the high road in the conduct of war and international affairs.

Read the rest of the review here.

Monty Python: International Philosophy competition

Coulter fundraising reception raises no money

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO), running for Governor of Colorado, had a fundraising reception at the Paramount Theater in Denver with Ann Coulter as the guest. Beauprez himself did not attend, being busy in D.C., but his wife was present. The event didn't attract any donors, leaving Mrs. Beauprez and Coulter to chat with each other, a dozen campaign volunteers, and a few radio station listeners who had won free tickets to hear Coulter speak. Funds raised: $0.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Craigslist no longer uses TCP window size of 0

The erroneous claim that Cox was blocking Craigslist turned out to be a combination of a bug in a firewall driver from Authentium and the fact that Craigslist was using a TCP window size of 0 in the initial TCP handshake. Authentium took full responsibility for the issue, but no one was ever able to get Craig Newmark to answer why Craigslist was using a TCP window size of 0. My speculation was that this was being done as a way of avoiding congestion, possibly by a load-balancing switch in front of the web servers. Although Craig politely responded to some private emails from me, I never got an answer to whether my speculation was correct.

Now Craigslist has stopped using a TCP window size of 0 in the initial handshake, which indicates that it was always within Craigslist's power to fix the problem. Here are some packets I captured a couple of days ago ( is; see the first link above for a more detailed explanation of what the TCP window size means and what caused the problem:

TCP SYN from my machine to craigslist, window size 16384:

15:13:18.469829 [my IP].50845 > S 4043800370:4043800370(0) win 16384 (DF)

TCP SYN-ACK from, window size 4380 (this was the one that used to have a window size of 0):

15:13:18.504234 > [my IP].50845: S 1583028840:1583028840(0) ack 4043800371 win 4380 (DF) [tos 0x80]

TCP ACK from my machine, completing the three-way handshake, window size 16384:

15:13:18.504640 [my IP].50845 > . ack 1 win 16384 (DF)

Dr. Dino Busted

The Pensacola News Journal reports that the law has finally caught up with tax-evading creationist Kent Hovind:
A Pensacola evangelist who owns the defunct Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola was arrested Thursday on 58 federal charges, including failing to pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes and making threats against investigators.

Of the 58 charges, 44 were filed against Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo, for evading bank reporting requirements as they withdrew $430,500 from AmSouth Bank between July 20, 2001, and Aug. 9, 2002.

At the couple's first court appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Miles Davis, Kent Hovind professed not to understand why he is being prosecuted. Some 20 supporters were in the courtroom.

"I still don't understand what I'm being charged for and who is charging me," he said.

Kent Hovind, who often calls himself "Dr. Dino," has been sparring with the IRS for at least 17 years on his claims that he is employed by God, receives no income, has no expenses and owns no property.

"The debtor apparently maintains that as a minister of God, everything he owns belongs to God and he is not subject to paying taxes to the United States on money he receives for doing God's work," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Lewis Killian Jr. wrote when he dismissed a claim from Hovind in 1996.


In the indictment unsealed Thursday, a grand jury alleges that Kent Hovind failed to pay $473,818 in federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on employees at his Creation Science Evangelism/Ministry between March 31, 2001, and Jan. 31, 2004.


The indictment alleges Kent Hovind paid his employees in cash and labeled them "missionaries" to avoid payroll tax and FICA requirements.

On Thursday, a message on the Dinosaur Adventure Land telephone welcomed visitors to the place "where dinosaurs and the Bible meet" and stated that the museum and science center were closed temporarily.

The indictment also says the Hovinds' made cash withdrawals from AmSouth Bank in a manner that evaded federal requirements for reporting cash transactions.

The withdrawals were for $9,500 or $9,600, just below the $10,000 starting point for reporting cash transactions.

Most of the withdrawals were days apart. For example, the indictment shows three withdrawals of $9,500 each on July 20, July 23 and July 26 in 2001.


Over Kent Hovind's protests, the judge took away his passport and guns Hovind claimed belonged to his church.

Hovind argued that he needs his passport to continue his evangelism work. He said "thousands and thousands" are waiting to hear him preach in South Africa next month.
There's more (and comments) at Pharyngula and the Panda's Thumb.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Today's content owners are yesterday's pirates

I posted this review of Larry Lessig's book Free Culture to

Lessig has written a very clear and entertaining book about copyright, piracy, and culture, filled with lots of real-world examples to make his points. The book covers major events in the history of copyright in the United States (from its beginnings in English common law and the UK Statute of Anne) in order to show how its meaning has changed, and how those who are making accusations of piracy today were the pirates of yesterday. (Jessica Littman's book, Digital Copyright, is a nice complement to this book, covering the history of copyright in greater depth.) Lessig makes a strong case that the direction of copyright, giving greater control over content to a very small number of owners than has ever existed, is eroding the freedom that we've historically had to preserve and transform the elements of our culture.

Lessig begins by describing how the notion of a real property right for land extending into the sky to "an indefinite extent, upwards" became a real rather than theoretical issue with the invention of the airplane. In 1945, the Causbys, a family of North Carolina farmers, filed a suit against the government for trespassing with its low-flying planes, and the Supreme Court declared the airways to be public space. This example shows how the scope of property rights can change with changes of technology, in this particular case resulting in an uncompensated taking from private property owners, yet leading to enormous innovation and the development of a new industry and form of transportation. He follows this with the example of the development of FM radio, which was intentionally back-burnered by RCA and then hobbled by government regulation at RCA's behest in order to protect its existing investment in AM radio. This example shows how powerful interests can stifle technological change through its ownership of intellectual property (in this case, the patents regarding FM radio).

He then discusses how intellectual property laws have developed in the U.S., pointing out that Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse made his talking picture debut in the movie "Steamboat Willie" (he had earlier appeared in a silent cartoon, "Plane Crazy"), which was a parody of Buster Keaton's "Steamboat Bill." Many of Disney's characters and stories were taken directly from the previous work of others, such as the Brothers Grimm--works in the public domain, freely available for such copying. As new forms of media have been created, they have borrowed from previous forms. Today, however, the creators of content who have borrowed from their predecessors have successfully changed the rules so that their successors cannot borrow from them, both by extending the term and scope of copyright protection and by developing technologies that have greatly reduced the ability of successors to borrow or re-use content. The specific rules are completely inconsistent, based on the political power of the relevant parties at the time the laws were changed. When Edison developed the ability to record sounds, including recording music written by others, copyright law was changed to provide for compulsory licensing for a fee paid to the composer. With radio broadcasting, the fee still goes to the composer, but not to the recording artist. But put that same radio broadcast on the Internet, and now fees must be paid to both the composer and the recording artist.

Where there used to be a sea of unregulated uses of copyrighted material containing a small island of restricted uses (with shores of fair use), there is now a vast continent of restricted uses, a stark cliff of fair use, and a tiny channel of unregulated uses. Lessig shows a table on pp. 170-171 showing commercial and noncommercial uses and the rights to publish and transform for each. In 1790, copyright only governed publication rights for commercial uses, the other three cells of the table being free. At the end of the 19th century, publication and transformation for commercial use was governed by copyright, while noncommercial use was free. The law was changed to govern copies, including much noncommercial use. Today, all four cells of the table are governed by copyright.

Lessig discusses Eric Eldred's attempt to defend the right to transform public domain works into electronic versions by fighting Congress's continuing extensions of the term of copyright in the face of the Constitution's restriction to "limited Times," and how the case was lost at the U.S. Supreme Court to inconsistent reasoning from the conservative justices who failed to even address the commerce clause argument and the precedent they set in Lopez v. Morrison case. This is a wonderfully written, persuasive, entertaining, and dismaying book. It deserves to be widely read and understood, so that ultimately intellectual property law in the U.S. will be reformed.

This book is available online at no charge.

Three days, three appearances of Rocket Man

An amusing set of coincidences: On Saturday, July 8, Respectful Insolence posted a great video of William Shatner's 1978 performance of Elton John's "Rocket Man" at the Science Fiction Film Awards. On Sunday, an episode of Cold Case ("Honor," a repeat from last November) began by playing Elton John's "Rocket Man." On Monday, the July 8-14 issue of The Economist showed up, with Kim Jong Il on the cover, launching into the air with a trail of smoke below him, with the caption "Rocket man."

Don't worry about debt, just earn more money...

Talking Points Memo writes:
President Bush is out saying that his tax cuts are responsible for the deficit this year being lower than his economists predicted earlier this year and slightly lower than the actual deficit last year. But is someone going to mention that the tax cuts are the prime reason we have record deficits to begin with? President Bush came into office with surpluses. He ran up the deficits, structural deficits created by his tax cuts. Or have we forgotten that?
The tax cuts are the prime reason? As if the wasteful out-of-control spending has no part in the equation?

The President is Always Right

Steven Bradbury, head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, questioned yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee:

LEAHY: The president has said very specifically, and he’s said it to our European allies, he’s waiting for the Supreme Court decision to tell him whether or not he was supposed to close Guantanamo or not. After, he said it upheld his position on Guantanamo, and in fact it said neither. Where did he get that impression? The President’s not a lawyer, you are, the Justice Department advised him. Did you give him such a cockamamie idea or what?

BRADBURY: Well, I try not to give anybody cockamamie ideas.

LEAHY: Well, where’d he get the idea?

BRADBURY: The Hamdan decision, senator, does implicitly recognize we’re in a war, that the President’s war powers were triggered by the attacks on the country, and that law of war paradigm applies. That’s what the whole case —

LEAHY: I don’t think the President was talking about the nuances of the law of war paradigm, he was saying this was going to tell him that he could keep Guantanamo open or not, after it said he could.

BRADBURY: Well, it’s not —

LEAHY: Was the President right or was he wrong?

BRABURY: It’s under the law of war –

LEAHY: Was the President right or was he wrong?

BRADBURY: The President is always right.

(Via The Agitator.)

Arizona's Representatives on banning Internet gambling

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to ban Internet gambling (HR 4411) by imposing new requirements on banks and credit card processors to prohibit them from transferring money to offshore online gambling companies. This will drive up their costs, which they will pass along to consumers. The online gambling companies will set up shell companies to accept the payments, and it will be a never-ending arms race that will not stop online gambling.

The bill that passed was not consistent from a moral basis for banning gambling, as it carved out exceptions for horse racing and state lotteries. In other words--this was a bill that Jack Abramoff would have loved.

Arizona's Representatives voting in favor of the ban: Trent Franks, J.D. Hayworth, Rick Renzi, John Shadegg (all Republicans).
Arizona's Representatives voting against the ban: Jeff Flake (R), Raul Grijalva (D), Jim Kolbe (R), Ed Pastor (D).

(Hat tip to The Agitator. I second his question about why the heck the Washington Post gives a vote breakdown by Representative's astrological sign.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood

Time Lee at The Technology Liberation Front writes about a book by Jim Harper that sounds like a must-read:

Harper’s book does three things. In parts 1 and 2 he presents a theory of identification that classifies identification into four categories (something you are, something you are assigned, something you know, and something you have) and then identifies the relationships among identification, risk, and accountability. He particularly makes the point that the need for identification is intimately connected with the type of transaction being considered: the ID you need to check out a library book is much different than the ID you need to get a mortgage or access to a nuclear reactor. He also stresses the diversity of identification: we use many different forms of identification in our daily lives (library cards, credit cards, passwords, drivers licenses) and that’s a feature, not a bug.

In part 3 he digs into the details of identification cards: how they’re created, how they’re used, and how they can be misused. Finally parts 4 and 5 lays out his vision for an enlightened identification policy of the future: one that protects civil liberties by expanding the diversity of identifiers we use in our day-to-day life.

The book had two points that I found particularly insightful. Harper stresses the role incentives play on the security of identification. The likelihood a particular form of ID will be hacked is directly related to the rewards for doing so. That means that the more uses we pile onto a single national ID card (which is what your driver’s license is rapidly becoming) the more resources criminals will spend to corrupt the ID-granting process. In contrast, if we have many different IDs for different purposes, the rewards for corrupting any given card will be much lower.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Arrested for wearing a peace T-shirt

Mike Ferner was arrested for "protesting" (he was wearing a Veterans for Peace t-shirt) while sitting, having a cup of coffee in the Jesse Brown V.A. medical facility in Chicago. Ferner, a Vietnam veteran, was told to leave or be arrested, and he chose the latter. He intends to contest the $275 fine in court.

(Via The Agitator.)

Happy Independence Day!

I was going to put up something about the mythical story of the Liberty Bell being rung on July 4, 1776 (a story invented in the mid-19th century by George Lippard of Philadelphia--the name "Liberty Bell" is actually a Civil War-era name regarding the abolition of slavery, not American independence), but I was unable to find my copy of Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History. Instead, here are links to a few other sites that have put up some nice Independence Day postings:

Radley Balko at The Agitator asks:
if forced to put the people who crow loudest about patriotism today on one side or the other in 1776, wouldn't you think most of them would have been defending empire, tradition, and the glory of the crown? I can almost read the National Review editorial now, inveighing against the radical, Godless-deist separatists!

Here's another: Would the founders -- whom our government celebrates today -- have tolerated the government we have now? As Cowen notes, we rose up and revolted against a government that was far less intrusive, invasive, and -- at risk of hyperbole -- tyrannical than the one we have now. My guess is that alcohol prohibition alone would've been enough have Payne [sic] or Jefferson calling for arms. Never mind the New Deal, the Great Society, or today's encroaching police state.

Catallarchy supplies six July 4th posts:

Patri Friedman repeats last year's post about flag burning, still applicable today.

Brian Doss provides the key historical documents through a series of five posts:

A key passage from Magna Carta which he thinks may have been a seed for the American Revolution:
And if we shall not have corrected the transgression (or, in the event of our being out of the realm, if our justiciar shall not have corrected it) within forty days, reckoning from the time it has been intimated to us (or to our justiciar, if we should be out of the realm), the four barons aforesaid shall refer that matter to the rest of the five and twenty barons, and those five and twenty barons shall, together with the community of the whole realm, distrain and distress us in all possible ways, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, and in any other way they can, until redress has been obtained as they deem fit, saving harmless our own person, and the persons of our queen and children; and when redress has been obtained, they shall resume their old relations towards us.
King George's Proclamation of Rebellion.

A quote from and link to Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

Another post with the text of a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence.

The final text of the Declaration of Independence.

Sheldon Richman quotes the Declaration, and asks whether it's time for another one...

Kevin Carson points out the irony of "the lapdog press praising an imperial war machine as the source of our liberties, given that we won our freedom and independence fighting a war against our own governments" and supplies a series of "real patriotic, freedom-loving quotes, in honor of the anti-authoritarian hell-raisers who really founded this country."

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars describes a bit of the history around the Declaration of Independence, and the coincidence of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both dying on the 50th anniversary of its signing, and ends with a statement of commitment to the principles of liberty rather than to government:
The 4th of July, for me, has very little to do with patriotism or nationalism, feelings that seem to affect me far less than most men. My allegiance is not to the nation, it is to the set of principles upon which the nation was founded. When the government upholds those principles, I offer it praise; when it violates them, I offer my anger and my opposition. Those principles of individual liberty and equality before the law are, in my mind, sacred and inviolable. They are the cornerstone of my view of human civilization; whatever advances them has my support, whatever impedes them my opposition.
The photos above are of the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington D.C. on May 5, 2006, and of the monument at John Hancock's grave in the Granary Burying Ground, Boston (where two other Declaration signers, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine, are also buried), on the afternoon of June 29, 2006.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Review of The Millionaire Mind

I've submitted this review of The Millionaire Mind by Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D. (2001, Andrews McMeel Publishing) to

This is a deeply flawed book. It purports to be a description of the characteristics and attitudes that make wealthy people wealthy, but it is based mostly on their self-assessments without comparison to a control group. I suspect that this heavily underplays the role of random chance in success, and attributes causation where there is only correlation. Further, the author display clear biases on a number of topics, which leads him to engage in ad hoc interpretation of his data, sometimes to argue for conclusions that are contrary to the clear implications of the data--such as his arguments for the importance of religion in the lives of millionaires.

On pp. 33-35, the author looks at success factors, and compares to the role of luck on pp. 82-85, which he downplays in favor of discipline. While he touches on the importance of having the right connections (and the genetic contributions to intelligence), on p. 85 he asks "what does luck have to do with graduating from medical school? What does luck have to do with successfully running a medical practice? Very little, according to these physicians." But what does luck have to do with being born into a family and in a country where one has a chance to reach adulthood, let alone be able to attend a medical school? Quite a bit.

Unlike its predecessor, which looked at prodigious accumulators of wealth (PAWs) vs. under-accumulators of wealth (UAWs), this book focuses on millionaires (PAWs) and decamillionaires (a tiny subset of PAWs, those with net worth $10M or greater). The lack of comparison to the general public serves to limit the book's value.

A misleading comparison between businessmen and stockbrokers on pp. 76ff makes the point. Stanley states that the former is an occupation more likely to have higher net worth. But this comparison is misleading because he's only looking at the millionaire-plus sample; he is excluding more of the total business owner population from his sample than stockbrokers. The average and median income and net worth for business owners are likely lower than for stockbrokers. If he made the same comparison with actors or musicians to stockbrokers, for example, the problem is more obvious--by excluding all those who aren't worth $1M or more up front, you exclude the vast majority, and pull up the average. With stockbrokers, on the other hand, a higher percentage of them are in the top income earners and wealthy.

On p. 110, after having pages about the importance of ethics and advising "Never lie. Never tell one lie." (p. 55), he passes right over his example, Mr. Warren, lying about being a college graduate in order to get a job, without comment, and without noticing the hypocrisy.

On pp. 173-174, the author wants to make the point that prayer is important for millionaires dealing with stress, despite the fact that the majority of his surveyed population do not regularly pray. (He repeats this again on p. 370, saying "nearly one-half of the millionaires (47 percent) engaged in prayer. ... for a significant percentage of millionaires, their religious faith is a major force in their lives.")

In trying to emphasize the point (p. 174), he splits his sample into "religious millionaires" (RM) and "other millionaires" (OM), observes that 75% of RM engage in prayer while only 8% of OM do, and points out that this is "a ratio of more than nine to one." This is a meaningless comparison, however--RM make up only 37% of his total population of millionaires, so his "more than nine to one" ratio is really nothing more than saying, of those millionaires who are religious, three-fourths hold religious practices which involve regular prayer (and 8% of those who do not consider themselves religious pray anyway). Since the OM population is much larger than the RM population, in absolute numbers that's not a nine-to-one ratio--his numbers show that about 28% of his total sample are RM who pray, while 5% of his total sample are OM who pray--closer to a six-to-one ratio.

But more importantly, the author glosses over the fact that not only are the majority of millionaires not religious, even a quarter of those who are don't engage in regular prayer! Given that the U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the world, the fact that such a low percentage of millionaires are religious is quite interesting and worthy of further exploration as to the cause, but for Stanley, religion and prayer are an important foundation of the "millionaire mind," and he completely misses the opportunity to find an explanation for why millionaires are so much less religious than the general population.

In a later table in the book on p. 366, he shows activities engaged in by a sample of 733 millionaires during the preceding 30 days. The table includes 52% attending religious services, 47% praying, 37% attending religious events, 22% Bible/devotional reading. These numbers don't quite match up with the RM/OM data from pp. 173-174, which seem to show even lower levels of religious activity, but these are still lower than they are for the nonmillionaire population--and weekly church attendance is notoriously over-reported in surveys. Work by Mark Chaves, C. Kirk Hardaway, and P.L. Marler in the 1990s found the actual percentage of attendance about half of what surveys show. This actually could mean that millionaires attend more often, if Stanley's survey results don't have similar over-reporting.

The author's religious bias further leads him to recommend to a student going through a divorce that she, despite not being a church attendee, search for a mate by joining a church group (p. 268) because she "believed in marriage and the traditional family concept." He writes that "I believe that one is likely to find better prospects in a church setting than in singles bars. Of course, there are no guarantees, but people with a religious orientation are more prone to respect the principles espoused in the Good Book." But why is he just guessing on this? Hasn't he asked his population of millionaires--the ones who are 63% non-religious--how they met their mates? He did this, very usefully, regarding how millionaires purchase their homes (pp. 315-326)--yet isn't picking a partner even more important?

This book has some interesting data, and is at its best when giving comparative results between populations (e.g., the house-purchasing characteristics of economically productive millionaires vs. non-economically productive millionaires in chapter 7). But it doesn't stand up well in comparison to The Millionaire Next Door, which is a much better book.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Karl Pflock dies

Karl Pflock, the author of Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe and co-author with Jim Moseley of Shockingly Close to the Truth, died at age 63 on June 5. Pflock had been a contributing editor to Moseley's Saucer Smear, but had stopped contributing regularly after being diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease). Pflock was an entertaining writer and a fair-minded skeptic (he was a believer in UFOs, but his book on Roswell is the best skeptical treatment of the topic). The June 30, 2006 issue of Saucer Smear contains an obituary of Pflock by Jim Moseley.

NY Times and SWIFT

Ed Brayton calls out both the NY Times and those accusing the Times of treason for reporting that the U.S. government is data mining in financial data from SWIFT. He points out that the Times is criticizing the U.S. government for doing what the Times itself editorialized in favor of the government doing, and also points out that it hasn't really revealed anything of significance that the Bush administration hadn't already publicly said it was doing. Further, the only actually new thing reported--that the government is accessing large amounts of data with broad subpoenas, rather than specific transactions--was also reported by the Wall Street Journal, but without it being hit with the same criticisms as the Times.

This is a significant outbreak of inconsistency.

Back from Boston

Kat and I are back from a short trip to Boston, a mix of business and pleasure. I participated in a panel discussion Wednesday at the Silicon Valley Bank in Newton on carrier IP security and met with a customer on Thursday, but most of the rest of the time was available for sightseeing. The photos are from the Museum of Science and the Charlestown Navy Yard (where the U.S.S. Constitution is docked), respectively. We walked the Freedom Trail, saw numerous art cows, and spent some time with friends. We came back before the big Boston Pops concert/fireworks show on the Charles River, but we did get to see the fully-loaded fireworks barge being pushed into place.