Friday, February 27, 2009

Best Nigerian 419 scam ever

I just read this email this morning, which has to win a prize for the best Nigerian 419 scam I've ever seen:
From: "Mrs. Mary S. Derrick"
Subject: Stop Contacting those people !!!
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 2009 04:43:50 +0100
X-Priority: 3
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2600.0000
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V6.00.2600.0000
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-NetStation-Status: PASS

Attn: My Dear,

I am Mrs Mary Susan Derrick, I am a US citizen, 48 years Old. I reside here in New Braunfels Texas. My residential address is as follows. 108 Crockett Court. Apt 303, New Braunfels Texas, United States, am thinking of relocating since I am now rich. I am one of those that took part in the Compensation in Nigeria many years ago and they refused to pay me, I had paid over $20,000 while in the US, trying to get my payment all to no avail.

So I decided to travel down to Nigeria with all my compensation documents, And I was directed to meet Mr. Henshaw I. Anderson, who is the member of COMPENSATION AWARD COMMITTEE, and I contacted him and he explained everything to me. He said whoever is contacting us through emails are fake.

He took me to the paying bank for the claim of my Compensation payment. Right now I am the most happiest woman on earth because I have received my compensation funds of $1,500,000.00 Moreover, Mr Henshaw I. Anderson, showed me the full information of those that are yet to receive their payments and I saw your name as one of the beneficiaries, and your email address, that is why I decided to email you to stop dealing with those people, they are not with your fund, they are only making money out of you. I will advise you to contact Mr. Henshaw I. Anderson

You have to contact him directly on this information below.

Name : Mr. Henshaw I. Anderson
Phone: +234 802 739 4935

You really have to stop dealing with those people that are contacting you and telling you that your fund is with them, it is not in anyway with them, they are only taking advantage of you and they will dry you up until you have nothing.

The only money I paid after I met Mr. Henshaw I. Anderson was just $580 for the paper works, take note of that.

Once again stop contacting those people, I will advise you to contact Mr Henshaw I. Anderson so that he can help you to Deliver your fund instead of dealing with those liars that will be turning you around asking for different kind of money to complete your transaction.

Thank You and Be Blessed.

Mrs. Mary Susan Derrick.
She's being so honest about those other Nigerian scammers that ripped her off, so surely she must be honest about this compensation fund. The sad thing is that those who have been ripped off multiple times already will probably fall for this one, too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fourth stray dog of 2009

We found this dog--some kind of Spaniel?an Aussie sheepdog--at 20th St. and Euclid, where he appeared to be wanting to get into a mini-van with a group of mariachis. They just drove off and ignored him, so we stopped our dog walk to pick him up. He had a collar, no tags. This dog is a neutered male, unusual for the strays we find.

This could have been our seventh stray of 2009, but the pack of three dogs we saw running along the canal yesterday morning wouldn't let us near them.

UPDATE: We've been contacted in email by the owner; this dog's name is Woody and the owner will be going to pick him up at the pound.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bristol Palin disproves intelligent design

The Weekly World News, now online only, looks like it's trying to become more like The Onion:

Bristol Palin held her first interview since giving birth Monday night with Greta Von Susteren. The 18 year old daughter of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talked about her experience as a mother and her mother’s policies towards education.

“Mom says that science and stuff is too hard to force kids to learn. That the world is too complicated to have just happened by accident, and things like an eyeball show signs of a designer. She’s right, Bio is totally hard. But if you work at it, it does kinda make sense.”

She then went on a diatribe about carbon dating, genetic transference, and paleoanthropology.

Bristol held up her Lisa Frank notebook filled with equations and diagrams which categorically disprove the possibility of Intelligent Design.

“It’s a nice idea, but it’s just not realistic. I mean, Lucy? The entire pre-hominid fossil record? Hello??”

Sarah Palin, who was sitting in the room at the time, looked increasingly more uncomfortable. Eventually she broke the silence saying:

“Well now none of us were there so we can’t know for sure…”

“Omigod Mom, it’s called Gene Mapping, don’t even get me started!”

The two sat in an awkward silence until Sarah went into a speech thanking Von Susteren and the other personalities at Fox News for being the last saviors of Democracy. Bristol rolled her eyes and mumbled math equations under her breath.

Mississippi's medical forensic fraudsters

Radley Balko at Reason magazine exposes video that shows Michael West in the act of falsifying evidence used to frame someone for rape and murder, by using plaster casts of the accused's teeth to make bite marks on a toddler's corpse.

This is one of three cases in which Michael West and Steven Hayne provided evidence in the form of bite marks on a body to link a murder victim to an accused rapist and murderer--and in the other two cases, the alleged killers were subsequently freed when exonerated by DNA evidence which linked the cases to the actual murderer, who confessed when they were released.

West and Hayne belong in jail, as does the judge who claimed that the referenced video contained "no exculpatory evidence favorable to the defendant."

Hayne performed over 80% of Mississippi's autopsies for the last 20 years, and was permitted to complete a backlog of 600 autopsies even after he was terminated as the state's coroner as a result of Balko's exposure of other misconduct. This misconduct and the state's failure to hold them accountable brings every criminal case they've ever touched into question.

(Previously on Hayne.)

Daniel Dennett at ASU

Last night, Daniel Dennett gave the 2009 Beyond Center lecture with a talk appropriate for the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birthday, titled "Darwin's 'Strange Inversion of Reasoning.'" While not quite drawing the crowd that last year's lecture by Richard Dawkins did (3000 people at Gammage Auditorium), Dennett filled the 485-seat Galvin Playhouse and an overflow room was set up with a video link. The Phoenix Atheists Meetup group alone had about 57 members who attended.

The talk was videotaped by the Beyond Center, and what may be an unauthorized video has been made available on YouTube.

Skyhooks and Cranes
The content of Dennett's talk was largely drawn from his book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and centered on the idea that Darwin brought about a change from thinking of the world as the product of top-down design to a recognition of apparent design as the result of bottom-up processes. Dennett referred to the former as the "trickle-down theory of creation" and the latter as the "bubble-up theory of creation," and used his "intuition pump" of skyhooks vs. cranes to make the point.

"Skyhooks" are explanations of design in terms of miraculous intervention by an entity which itself has no explanation, a deus ex machina. Dennett illustrated that with the drawing above, a Guy Billout illustration titled "Deus ex Machina," from the May 1999 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. By contrast, "cranes" are built up from the ground to provide scaffolding for constructing new things. The dome of the Florence Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), depicted in Billout's illustration, was a marvel of engineering by Filippo Brunelleschi, which used some innovative construction techniques to build something that many thought was not possible.

Darwin's "Strange Inversion of Reasoning"
The title of Dennett's talk came from a critique of Darwin's theory of natural selection by Robert Beverley MacKenzie in 1868, who wrote (as quoted by Dennett in DDA, p. 65):
In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system that, IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin's meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill.
To which Dennett's response was: "Exactly!" He illustrated the point with an example that is now somewhat commonplace, the computer. Dennett observed that prior to Alan Turing, "computers" referred to people who were hired to perform tasks that today are performed by mechanical devices with the same name. In order to perform these functions, people had to understand arithmetic. Dennett cited Turing's 1936 paper, "On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem" (PDF), a demonstration that arithmetic computation is a specific case where, in fact, understanding is not required to perform the action--another example of the same kind of "strange inversion of reasoning." Dennett quotes Turing: "The behaviour of the computer [meaning a person] at any moment is determined by the symbols which he is observing and his 'state of mind' at that moment," noting that "state of mind" is in quotes because Turing's showing a method by which no mental activity or understanding is actually required. Substituting into MacKenzie's argument, we get "IN ORDER TO BE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL COMPUTING MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW WHAT ARITHMETIC IS."

Creationists and Mind-Creationists
Dennett observed that many people cannot abide Darwin, and we call them creationists. There are also people who can't abide Turing, and he suggests we call them mind-creationists. (Steve Novella's presentation at last year's The Amazing Meeting, on "Dualism and Creationism," drew this same analogy.) Dennett said that there are some people who can't abide either--including both Jerry Fodor and Thomas Nagel, referring to his paper "Public Education and Intelligent Design" in Philosophy and Public Affairs vol. 36, no. 2. I think Dennett mischaracterizes Nagel's position here--Nagel is an atheist who thinks that we don't have the full account of evolutionary theory, and who also thinks that if a god exists, there's no reason to think science couldn't study such a being and its effects. I agree with Nagel about that--methodological naturalism could potentially find its own limits and suggest the existence of entities that operate independently of the laws of physics we've discovered. I think we'd end up just modifying our understanding of those laws and continuing to call the result "natural." Jake Young, at the Pure Pedantry ScienceBlog, argues otherwise, defending Stephen J. Gould's "Nonoverlapping Magisteria" (NOMA), the view that science and religion are completely distinct subjects with no intersection, a view I find implausible unless religion is restricted to matters that are completely unobservable and have no causal consequences in the empirical world--which is not the case for any actual religion that I'm aware of.

A few of the "mind-creationists" Dennett pointed out were Jerry Fodor and John Searle. Another is Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, the main argument of which I criticized in a short paper ("Historical But Indistinguishable Differences: Some Notes on Victor Reppert's Paper," Philo vol. 2, no. 1, 1999, pp. 45-47). Reppert's position is that Turing machines don't actually do arithmetic, because they have no semantics, only syntax, and that you only get meaning through original intentionality of the sort that John Searle argues is an irreducible feature of the world. Computers only have semantics when we impute it to them. My argument was that if you have two possible worlds that are exactly alike, except that one was created by a top-down designer and one evolved, there's no reason to say that one has semantics and the other one doesn't--how they got to the point at which they have creatures with internal representations that stand in the right causal relationships to the external world doesn't make a difference to whether or not those representations actually refer and have meaning. [UPDATE (March 3, 2009): Victor Reppert says I've misdescribed his position and elaborates a bit at his own blog.]

Hunting for Skyhooks
Dennett observed that people's issues with bubble-up theories of creation and design center around the fact that some designs seem to be too remarkable to have evolved. Michael Behe's notion of "irreducible complexity" is the idea that some structures require all of their parts in place to function at all, and cannot evolve step-by-step from a previous structure that doesn't also have all of those parts. (The mistake there is that the previous structure may have some other function.) So those arguing for intelligent design have gone "hunting for skyhooks," to try to find examples of design in nature that require a top-down designer's intervening hand to bring into existence. Dennett observed that all of the hunting for skyhooks has failed to come up with any actual examples, but instead has resulted in multiple new discoveries of cranes. This is certainly true for the main examples of "irreducible complexity," blood clotting systems and bacterial flagella. This has led to the quip, "evolution is cleverer than you are," which Dennett discussed in the Q&A as "Orgel's Second Rule."

Another example Dennett gave was the discovery of motor proteins, which he showed using a clip from the film "The Inner Life of the Cell," produced by XVIVO for Harvard University. Dennett didn't mention that this film was the subject of a controversy regarding the film "Expelled," pre-release versions of which used XVIVO footage without permission. Earlier still, intelligent design advocate William Dembski used an overdubbed version of their film in his lectures.

The Bubble-up Path
"We are made of trillions of mindless little robots," Dennett said, "but not a one of them knows who you are or cares." But we do know, and we do care. How is that possible? The bubble-up view has to provide an explanation. Dennett provided some examples of how certain evolutionary changes in the past have created entirely new ways for evolution to proceed. His first example was one that was championed for years by Lynn Margulis to much resistance, but which has now become mainstream, which is the idea of a symbiotic origin for eukaryotes.

For the first 2.5 billion years of life, everything was prokaryotic--single-celled organisms without a nucleus. But then, one form of single-celled organisms invaded another without destroying each other, and came to evolve together, forming eukaryotic life. Each of our cells has not only its own genome in the cell nucleus, but a separate genome in its mitochondria, which is inherited only from our mothers. This development allowed cells to become more complex and versatile, as well as allowed a division of labor that made multicellular life possible.

The Need-to-Know Principle
Dennett showed a video clip about the cuckoo (the link is to a different but similar one). The mother bird lays her egg in the nest of another bird, and removes one of the other bird's eggs. The other bird is then surprised to find that one of its eggs--the cuckoo's egg--hatches first, and the hatchling pushes the other eggs out of the nest. It seems evil, Dennett said, but "don't worry, the cuckoo chick doesn't know what it does. It doesn't need to know."

A principle something like the CIA's need-to-know principle applies in evolution as a matter of thrift, but matters are often confused because biologists tend to attribute more understanding when explaining a feature of living things than actually exists. This, Dennett says, is partly a linguistic matter, because we don't have a word for a "semi-understood quasi-representation" or a "hemi-semi-demi-understood quasi-representation." But Turing does give us models of competence without comprehension.

He then showed a video of a New Caledonian crow trying to use a bit of metal wire to get a worm out of a glass beaker. The crow bends the wire around the glass to make it into a hook, then uses it to fish the worm out of the beaker. This was an example of a creature that goes a step beyond the cuckoo chick. Dennett cited the work of Ruth Millikan, noting that the crow is an example of an animal that represents its goals in the same system in which it represents its facts--but not its reasons for those goals, which are produced by evolution and not represented within the organism.

The MacCready Explosion and Memes
Dennett observed that there has been about 3.5 billion years since the start of the whole tree of life, and only about 6 million years since the divergence of humans from chimps and bonobos, our closest hominid relatives. But a mere 10,000 years ago, as Paul MacCready pointed out, the total human population plus livestock and pets composed about a tenth of one percent of the terrestrial vertebrate biomass. Today, however, we consume 98% of it (most of which is cattle).

The Cambrian "explosion" in which multicellular life became dramatically more diversified took place over millions of years, while the "MacCready explosion" took place over a mere 500 generations, and the explanation is science and technology, communicated from parents to children not by biological evolution but through culture.

Here Dennett gave an introduction to memes by analogy--the cultural highway of transmission of ideas, once it exists, can be invaded by "rogue cultural variants," or "memes," as Richard Dawkins originally called them They are vehicles of information, like viruses, that invade our brains.

He then paused for a "skeptical interlude" to address the question of what's the evidence that memes even exist. He asked, "do you believe that words exist?" If so, then those are examples of a subset of memes, those that can be pronounced. (I'm not sure of the practical benefit of talk of memes as opposed to ideas, concepts, and language, but I'll save commentary on that until I read the meme chapters in DDI.)

So, said Dennett, we are apes with "infected" brains, or, on analogy to prokaryotes/eukaryotes, we are "euprimates." We carry with us virtual machines that give us new powers and versatility to bring organization of the world up another level.

Mind Tools
Dennett quoted one of his own students, Bo Dahlborn, who wrote, "Just as you cannot do very much carpentry with your bare hands, there is not much thinking you can do with your bare brain." We have conceptual tools and methods. At the very simplest level, there are words as tools, such as passwords or labels. Douglas Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop identifies a bunch of phrases that are frequently used as tools for analogies, such as "wild goose chases," "tackiness," "loose cannons," "feet of clay," "feedback," "slamdunks," "lip service," and "elbow grease." Dennett compared these to Java applets for the mind--collections of information transmitted from one person to another that allow them to do something more.

Long division is a more complex example. With a sufficiently well developed English (or other language) "virtual machine," you can "download" the procedure in the form of mathematical instruction or from a book, to be able to perform the process. Cost-benefit analysis is a bigger, more complex set of tools learned in the same way.

While some such tools have distinct authors, others have evolved. Language itself, money, and tonal music are examples of such mental tools that were not created at once by individual authors, but have evolved over time.

What this implies for who we are is that we are not Cartesian egos with original intentionality, but "an alliance of hemi-semi-demi-understood virtual machines."

Darwin's Trio
Darwin proposed three types of selection. First, two types of selection where the selective force is human beings. 1. Methodical selection, or intentional artificial selection, where humans intentionally breed creatures for particular characteristics. 2. Unconscious selection, where humans simply preferred certain organisms to others, and helped those to reproduce--such as in farming, and raising domestic animals. To those, Darwin added 3. Natural selection.

Now we've also added 4. Genetic engineering.

And the same categories can be applied to memes. There are original, synanthropic memes, those which live with us but are not domesticated, such as superstitions; these are analogous to memes created by natural selection. There are memes replicated by unconscious selection, such as differential replication of tunes based on how catchy they are. Dennett noted that the Germans call tunes that get stuck in your head "earworms." And then there is methodical selection of domesticated memes, which would include science, literature, and calculus. Dennett compared calculus to laying hens, for which broodiness has been selected out--you have to work hard to get it to reproduce.

And to these categories we can add memetic engineering--spin-doctoring, marketing, propaganda, etc.

Dennett asked, how do you draw a straight line? We use a straight edge. And how do we make straight edges? By drawing a line along a piece of metal with a straight edge, and cutting it. How do we get the first straight edge? He pointed to a book on the history of straight edges, and observed that over time we have gradually improved our technology for making straight edges, and can now measure far more precisely how we fall short in reaching the unattainable goal of a perfectly straight line. We can represent our goal, our reasons for achieving the goal, and the imperfections and errors in reaching that goal.

He suggested that the Platonic "form of the true" has a similar history, and that in science "memes have been selected for veridicality."

At this point, we really do have the capacity for genuine top-down design.

Dennett concluded his talk (apart from the next section, which seemed more like an afterword) by stating that "What makes us human is not our genetic children, but our brainchildren. We've finally reached genuine intelligent design."

Darwin Fish
Dennett concluded his prepared lecture by pointing out that he was wearing a Darwin fish lapel pin. The physicist Murray Gell-Mann observed to Dennett that this was patterned after the Jesus fish, a fish symbol which contains the Greek word for fish, which was apparently the first acronym. The Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ stand for the Greek words for Jesus Christ, God's Son, the Savior, said Gell-Mann. But what does "DARWIN" stand for?

Dennett took that as a challenge, and came up with a Latin expansion for "DARUUIN" (since there is no letter "W" in Latin):

Ut Universum

This translates into English as

the author
of things
in order to understand
the infinite

I'm not too fond of this--it confirms anti-evolutionists' worst fears of evolution, and refers to an "author of things" to be destroyed, as though there is one that exists, rather than a myth not to be believed. It's clever, though.

UPDATE (February 20, 2009):

Dennett then answered a few brief questions, and then signed a bunch of books. The first question (and the only one I'll note) was what it was like to work with W.V. Quine, his mentor. Dennett said that he transferred to Harvard University as an undergraduate specifically to work with Quine, and that two of the most significant influences from Quine were the view that science and philosophy are significantly overlapping and parts of the same larger project, and that the quality of Quine's writing (in contrast to his lecture style) was something to aspire to.

He's well-spoken, entertaining, and thought-provoking, and I encourage you to hear him speak if you have the opportunity. I think that his views, like those of Richard Dawkins, argue that science and evolution in particular either imply or at least cohere better with or provide evidence for atheism. I don't think there is a logical implication, and I'm not sure Dennett and Dawkins do, either--that's something that anti-evolutionist lawyer Phillip Johnson has argued, which I've critiqued at the website, and which the views of Christian evolutionists like Kenneth Miller, Glenn Morton, and Mike Beidler contradict by their very existence. On the other hand, I'm not sure Miller's position is coherent (I really should get around to writing a summary of last year's Skeptics Society conference), and I reject the NOMA view that there is no overlap between the domains of religion and science and agree with Dennett's and Quine's views that there is significant overlap between science and philosophy (and history, for that matter).

The National Center for Science Education and many scientists argue for a sharp divide between science and philosophy, and between science and religion, and find cases like those made by Dawkins and Dennett (and P.Z. Myers) to be problematic, especially when it comes to the legal arena and the goal of keeping intelligent design and creationism out of the public schools (though public universities have more freedom). I think that this is ultimately due to a tension between the principles of separation of church and state, public education, and academic freedom, given that there is no sharp divide between the domains of science and religion (or science and philosophy). In my view, in any case where a religion makes an empirical claim, if there's scientific evidence against that claim, it should be legitimate to discuss that scientific evidence in a public school classroom even if that has the primary effect of inhibiting (or promoting) religion (violating the second prong of the Lemon Test for measuring whether a government action is a violation of the Constitution's establishment clause). I consider it a flaw in the Lemon Test that people can always create new religions which attempt to turn secular ideas into religious content with the specific intent of turning government actions into church-state violations (e.g., creating a doctrine that paying taxes is a sin), as well as the fact that it provides an unwarranted immunity to criticism in the classroom for religious claims, even if they are empirically falsified or conceptually incoherent. (See the comments of this Ed Brayton post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars on the Summum monument case for some legal puzzles. BTW, Justice O'Connor argued for a either a different test in Lynch v. Donnelly, the "endorsement test," which asks whether a reasonable person would conclude government is endorsing or disapproving religion from the action. This has sometimes been interpreted as a complement to the Lemon Test, and sometimes as a substitute for it. Judge Jones in the Dover case applied both the endorsement test and the Lemon Test, and argued that the Dover school district violated both, including all three prongs of Lemon.)

Another resolution is to finesse the issue by getting government out of the business of being a direct provider of education, and instead meet the goal of free public education by providing government funding and standards that include mandatory curriculum requirements that any school can exceed with content that expresses particular religious viewpoints. By providing a fixed amount of per-pupil funding and a mandatory minimum curriculum that doesn't include religious content, those two items are tied together and anything beyond it would be considered provided at the school's own expense, and thus not a church-state violation. In my view, more discussion and debate of religious claims at a younger age will yield better-educated adults (and probably more atheists). Ironically, it is western democracies without a strong history of separation of church and state where religion is weakest and acceptance of evolution is strongest.

Without finessing the problem like that or modifying the Lemon Test, views like those of Dennett and Dawkins must be excluded from public school classrooms along with creationism for the same reasons (to the extent that they express a religious viewpoint), and I think that ultimately the "exploring evolution" or "academic freedom" strategies of the creationists for getting critiques of evolution into the public school classrooms will succeed in passing constitutional muster. Ultimately, the reason their arguments should be excluded from science classrooms is not that they are religious, but that they are bad arguments, and there's no constitutional provision prohibiting the establishment of bad arguments.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chase Bank makes stupid offers, and loses money by failing to live up to them

I recently wrote about how Chase Bank's inflexible systems just cost it money by not allowing me to make a $100 payment to my mortgage account to make up an erroneous underpayment. Instead, I had to make an entire additional payment, depriving them of a significant amount of future interest.

In January, I received an offer from Chase Bank to open a checking account with them, with a minimum deposit of $100. After I set up direct deposit, within ten business days of the first deposit they would deposit $125, which would be mine to keep so long as I left the account open and receiving direct deposits for at least six months.

I asked an online banker whether there was any minimum amount that had to be direct deposited, and was told no. I decided to set up the account in person at a branch near my office, and again asked whether there was any minimum direct deposit. The banker told me no, there was no minimum--if I wanted to deposit only $1 per paycheck, that would be fine.

As I have no interest in using Chase Bank as my primary bank--I'm quite happy with a regional bank that is one of the top-rated places to work in the country and has demonstrated reliability to me repeatedly over several decades--I decided to maximize my return on this otherwise non-interest-earning account by minimizing my deposits. My employer provides a convenient way for me to control my own direct deposits into up to three different banks, so I added a new direct deposit of $0.01 per paycheck into my new Chase Bank account.

The first $0.01 went in on January 15. On January 30, no $125 had been deposited, so I sent an online email inquiry asking when I could expect to see it. A response a couple days later told me I needed to call in to get an answer to my question, so I dialed the toll-free number, waited on hold, and finally got to a person who told me I needed to wait four to six weeks after the first direct deposit.

My second $0.01 went in on January 30. My third $0.01 went in on February 13. Still no $125.

Today, I got another $125 offer from Chase Bank, which prompted me to dig up my application materials and see that they promised my $125 would be deposited within ten business days, not four to six weeks. So I called and left a message for the banker at my branch, I sent another online inquiry asking whether Chase Bank is going to remedy its failure to honor its offer, and called in to the toll-free number again. I described the issue to my "telephone banker," and he asked for my account information. When he brought up my account, he asked if the $0.01 deposits were pre-authorizations for direct deposit, and I told him no, those are the deposits--I was told multiple times that there was no minimum deposit, and there is nothing in the written offer that mentions a minimum deposit. He was unable to solve the problem, and said he would have to send it to be researched, and I would hear back within a couple of days.

If they didn't want to honor the offer, they shouldn't have made it in the first place. By failing to live up to it, they're costing themselves even more money. It's surprising to me that this is probably the strongest of the major banks in the U.S., and the least likely of the majors to end up costing the U.S. Treasury money in the long run from the TARP's preferred investments ($25 billion put into Chase so far).

UPDATE (February 18, 2009): I received a voice mail from Chase Bank stating that the promised $125 will be deposited into my account within the next two weeks. My real-life banker left me a voice mail saying that the issue was that their system doesn't automatically count direct deposits for issuing an award if they are less than $1. So they do intend to honor their offer, it will just take longer since I used the system in a way they apparently didn't anticipate (or did anticipate with the same reasoning companies use with rebates).

UPDATE (February 25, 2009): My $125 was deposited yesterday.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

6th Circuit Court of Appeals tells AiG and CMI to go to arbitration

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered Creation Ministries International and Answers in Genesis to settle their dispute with private arbitration, the outcome sought by Answers in Genesis and affirming the trial court's ruling. CMI had hoped to force the U.S. dispute into the Australian courts, where a second lawsuit is ongoing and has its next hearing in April. This decision opens a route for AiG to stop the Australian proceedings in favor of the private arbitration that has been ordered in the United States.

The court's decision is here (PDF).

It appears to me that CMI is going to be held to the agreements that its previous board of directors signed, however foolish, irresponsible, or unethical it was of them to do so. As those previous board members resigned in return for indemnification, it doesn't appear to me that CMI is likely to obtain any remedy for the wrongs it alleges have occurred. It looks like AiG operated within the bounds of the law in its actions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Our third stray of 2009

This black unneutered male Cocker Spaniel came up to us at around 11th St. and Caldwell while we were walking our dogs. There were some people nearby, and we asked if this was their dog, and they said no, so we brought him home and called Animal Care & Control.

He's wearing a spiked collar with no tags and looks like he's been wandering the streets for a couple of days or so. He was very tired and thirsty.

We've put his picture and description up on

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

ApostAZ podcast #14

The latest ApostAZ podcast is now available:
Episode 014 Atheism and Sucker-Free Thought in Phoenix! Go to for group events! Intro from Vocab Malone 'Lean Back- But think', Guest Shawn from the Tough Questions Podcast and and Josh, Religion and the Workplace, Outro Music from Greydon Square- CPT Theorem

I wish people would stop saying that you can't prove a negative. You can. (Also see this.)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Obama administration backs state secrets defense of extraordinary rendition and torture

So much for change.

ABC News:

The Obama Administration today announced that it would keep the same position as the Bush Administration in the lawsuit Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.

The case involves five men who claim to have been victims of extraordinary rendition — including current Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, another plaintiff in jail in Egypt, one in jail in Morocco, and two now free. They sued a San Jose Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, accusing the flight-planning company of aiding the CIA in flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured.

New York Times:
During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.

“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.

Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”

Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.

The Telegraph:

Mr Mohamed, 30, an Ethiopian, was granted refugee status in Britain in 1994. He was picked up in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of involvement in terrorism, rendered to Morocco and Afghanistan, tortured and then sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2004. All terror charges against him were dropped last year.

Two High Court judges last week said they wanted to release the full contents of a CIA file on his treatment but they held back seven paragraphs of information after David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, argued that it could compromise intelligence sharing with the US.

A British official, who is regularly briefed on intelligence operations, said: "The concern was that the document revealed that intelligence from the British agencies was used by the Americans and that there were British questions asked while Binyam Mohamed was being tortured.

"Miliband is being pushed hard by the intelligence agencies to protect the identity of those involved."

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said.

(Via the Volokh Conspiracy).

Glenn Greenwald writes of this that "Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability--resoundingly and disgracefully."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The two religious conversions of George W. Bush

Russ Baker's new book, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, The Powerful Forces that Put it in Power, and What Their Influence Means for America, states that George W. Bush's conversion to evangelical Christianity was staged as a way to wipe the slate clean of his past record of misbehavior. It further makes the case that his story of a conversion after a visit from Billy Graham was his *second* conversion, the first coming a year earlier after a meeting with evangelist Arthur Blessit, who was determined to be too controversial for the story Bush wanted to convey:
... what was a starchy, Episcopalian heir to a blue-blooded Yankee political pedigree to do? And what of his reckless, apparently non-religious, playboy son? These were the intertwined questions faced by Vice President Bush and George W. in the 1980s as they planned Poppy Bush's run for president in 1988--and W.'s political future.

Baker's chapter titled "The Conversion" features startling revelations that challenge the well-known narratives of the Bush family's religious history-- including the way they crafted a strategy for winning over the religious right, and the creation of a conversion legend for George W. Bush. The purpose of the latter was not only to position him as a religious and political man of his time, but to neutralize the many issues from his past that threatened to undermine his future in politics (and possibly that of his father as well). The plan probably worked far better than anyone could have hoped. "I'm still amazed," Doug Wead, a key architect of the Bush family's evangelical outreach strategy told Baker, "how naïve so many journalists are who have covered politics all of their life."

Under [Doug] Wead's tutelage, Poppy would learn the ins and outs of the evangelical world. But Poppy and W. had a problem in common. Baker writes that they knew that W.'s "behavior before becoming governor [of Texas in 1994] his partying, his womanizing, and in particular his military service problems--posed a serious threat to his presidential ambitions. Their solution was to wipe the slate clean--through religious transformation."

A Tale of Two Conversions

For this to work they needed "a credible conversion experience and a presentable spiritual guide." And so the legend goes that none other than Billy Graham paid a visit to his longtime friends at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. This led to the famous walk on the beach that George W. Bush says "planted a mustard seed in my soul," and to his supposed rebirth as an evangelical Christian. That was the accepted narrative in the media and throughout the evangelical world for years. But Graham later told a journalist that he does not remember the encounter; and to another said he does remember a walk on the beach--but not, apparently, any kind of spiritually meaningful conversation. Whatever the facts of the Graham episode, there are actually two conversion stories. The second was deep-sixed in favor of the Graham story, and only emerged after George W. was elected president.

The itinerant evangelist Arthur Blessitt, famous for dragging (mostly on wheels) a 12-foot cross around the world, posted the story on his Web site in October 2001, noting that he met with George W. Bush a full year earlier than Graham. "Mr. George W. Bush," wrote Blessitt, "a Midland oilman, listened to the radio broadcast and asked one of his friends `Can you arrange for me to meet Arthur Blessitt and talk to him about Jesus?' And so it came to pass."

Wead, Baker reports, "had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched their conversion story. It couldn't be seen as something too radical or too tacky. Preachers who performed stunts with giant crosses would not do. Billy Graham, `spiritual counselor to presidents,' would do perfectly." And that was the story that speechwriter Karen Hughes wove into Bush's 1999 campaign book, A Charge to Keep. There was no mention of Blessitt.

(Via Frederick Clarkson at Talk2Action.)

I'm not sure how credible Baker's book is. The link I've just given also includes a quote from the book claiming that Bush helped a Texas girlfriend procure an illegal abortion prior to Roe v. Wade, and I think this is the book that I've heard suggests George H.W. Bush and the CIA had involvement in the JFK assassination, which I find wildly implausible.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

How Chase Bank's inflexibility is costing it money

My mortgage has been purchased by Chase Bank a couple of times (after the first time, I refinanced with another bank and then Chase bought my mortgage from them), and they're my current lender. I pay extra principal with every payment, usually about 30% more. For my February payment, I decided to reduce the extra principal a bit, for various reasons including keeping a bit more cash on hand in current economic conditions.

Unfortunately, I made a $100 error in my payment. Rather than paying an extra $40.37, I underpaid the monthly payment by $59.63. I learned my mistake when I received my mortgage statement, indicating that my entire payment was in "suspense funds received" and had not been applied to my mortgage at all.

I immediately called Chase. Even though it was an hour before their call center closed, I was unable to get to a human being. Instead, after being told I was being transferred to customer service, I got an automated message saying that my call could not by completed. I looked for online options for payment, but the Chase website referred me instead to their phone-based "FastPay" system. The "FastPay" system by phone charges a $15 fee (which the phone system says can be avoided by using the online payment system) and only allows making a full payment.

I tried again the next morning, and got through to Tonja, a customer service rep who told me that I could only make a full payment through the phone (not the $100 I wanted to pay), but said if I connected an external bank account online, I could make the payment that way, and as soon as the extra $100 was received, the payment would be applied as normal. I'm also well within the 15-day grace period for a payment, so I don't have to worry about late fees.

Online, I searched through some counter-intuitive menu options--within the mortgage account, payment options send you to the page about FastPay over the phone--I finally found that from the front page I could get to an option to connect an external account. I started the process, and learned that my bank could not be connected instantly by putting in my online banking authentication information, but had to use a method of verification where Chase puts two small deposits in my account and I come back later and input those amounts back to Chase to prove that it's my account (or at least that I have access to it). It then allowed me to attempt the instant verification method, despite its previous claim that my bank didn't accept it, but that failed (and I probably shouldn't have tried--Chase shouldn't have my authentication credentials to another bank). It then said it would take up to two business days for these deposits to go through.

The next day, my bank showed me that there were two pending deposits from Chase (yet another cost Chase is incurring), so I went back to the verification page and entered those amounts. Chase's website informed me that because those deposits had not been made yet, I was not allowed to verify the amounts yet. Dumb design. I tried again later in the evening, and my verification was accepted. Now I went to the page to make a payment, only to find that once again, the only option is to make an entire payment. Contrary to what Tonja told me, I cannot pay just an additional $100, because there is an outstanding payment that hasn't been made, and my $1100 sitting in "suspense funds" doesn't count and can't be used.

Well, I've got the money in savings, so I decided that if Chase is going to make things so difficult, I'm going to go ahead and make a full extra payment and deprive them of a little more interest over the life of my loan, in addition to the overhead costs they've incurred through this episode. The website told me it would take two business days to process, so it will be applied on February 11--still during the grace period. But now I still am not sure that the $1100 will be applied to principal reduction, so I called in again and spoke with Kim. I explained what has happened, and pointed out to her that Chase is losing money from its inflexibility, and she offered to move $100 from my January extra payment to February so that I could cancel the additional payment. I thanked her for the option (which I would have needed to take if I didn't have the money to spare), but declined, since that would result in an increase in interest. I asked if she could verify that the $1100 would be applied correctly, and she suggested that I call in again after I see online that the new payment is applied--which will incur yet further costs to Chase.

This is a nice demonstration of how an inflexible payment system doesn't deal well with partial payments can cost a company money and customer goodwill.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Our second stray of 2009

As we prepared to take our dogs for a walk this evening, we found this guy in our yard. He has a collar, but no tags. We've put his photo up on, and he'll spend the night here and get a pound pickup tomorrow.

UPDATE (February 7, 2009): This black lab (mix?) isn't happy-go-lucky like our first stray of the year--he was quite fearful, but did relax a bit when we got him on leash. He was interested in our dog Fred, which we used to catch him. Once on leash and after receiving some attention, he warmed up, and he would then come back after being let off leash.

He was terrified to come in the house, and didn't seem to want to walk on the wood floor of the kitchen, but we did eventually get him into the spare bedroom, where I stayed with him overnight. He ended up sleeping peacefully at the foot of the bed.

This morning, I had the same challenge getting him out of the bedroom that I had getting in--so I ended up letting him straight out to the side patio, and he's now back out in the front yard.

UPDATE: The same animal control officer who picked up our first stray just picked up this dog, and gave us some good news--the first stray we turned in was successfully adopted, and is now named Truman!

UPDATE: We got our first call today about our listing for the above dog, which includes a photo and a description. The call went like this:
ME: Hello?

CALLER: Uh. Did you find a lost dog?

ME: Yes, we did.

CALLER: What did it look like?

ME: It's a black lab mix, young ...

CALLER: Oh, that can't be our dog. Our dog is white.
Every phone call save one that we've received as a result of our found dog notices online has been from someone whose dog could not possibly have been confused with the dog in the description. (The one exception was one where the dog was returned to his rightful owner.) By contrast, when we've put up posters there's been no similar mistake. I suspect the Internet information is being passed on to the callers by friends or family, but apparently people who look at lost dog information on the Internet do not know how to communicate basic information about color or breed. Or perhaps this caller has a computer infected by a virus that replaces all images with photographic negatives?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Heartland Institute mistakes parody for reality

Just as Conservapedia is often edited with parodies that even the real conservatives there can't distinguish from conservatism (let alone everyone else), the global warming-denying Heartland Institute has mistaken a parody video for a real one, and briefly posted it on their site until they realized they'd been had. It was probably the traffic from Tim Lambert's Deltoid blog that tipped them off.

This is a problem faced by ideological groups that search for evidence to support their established positions rather than trying to honestly evaluate the evidence. This isn't the first time the Heartland Institute has demonstrated that this is how they operate, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Not-pology from Holocaust-denying bishop reinstated by the Pope

Orac at Respectful Insolence shows the deception from Bishop Richard Williamson, the formerly excommunicated Holocaust-denying Catholic bishop who was recently reinstated by Pope Benedict XVI. Williamson created a recent media firestorm because of his Holocaust denial, and has now apologized--not for his Holocaust denial, but for the fact that there was a media reaction to it. It's a not-pology.

Orac debunks some of Williamson's falsehoods about the Holocaust, and points to some of the best sites for responding to Holocaust denial: Nizkor, The Holocaust History Project, and Holocaust Denial on Trial.

What Michael Phelps should have said

At The Agitator blog, Radley Balko writes what Michael Phelps should have said when a photograph of him taking a bong hit was published in a tabloid:

Dear America,

I take it back. I don’t apologize.

Because you know what? It’s none of your goddamned business. I work my ass off 10 months per year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture.

I put myself through hell. I make my body do things nature never really intended us to endure. All world-class athletes do. We do it because you love to watch us push ourselves as far as we can possibly go. Some of us get hurt. Sometimes permanently. You’re watching the Super Bowl tonight. You’re watching 300 pound men smash each while running at full speed, in full pads. You know what the average life expectancy of an NFL player is? Fifty-five. That’s about 20 years shorter than your average non-NFL player. Yet you watch. And cheer. And you jump up spill your beer when a linebacker lays out a wide receiver on a crossing route across the middle. The harder he gets hit, the louder and more enthusiastically you scream.

Yet you all get bent out of shape when Ricky Williams, or I, or Josh Howard smoke a little dope to relax. Why? Because the idiots you’ve elected to make your laws have have without a shred of evidence beat it into your head that smoking marijuana is something akin to drinking antifreeze, and done only by dirty hippies and sex offenders.

You’ll have to pardon my cynicism. But I call bullshit. You don’t give a damn about my health. You just get a voyeuristic thrill from watching an elite athlete fall from grace–all the better if you get to exercise a little moral righteousness in the process. And it’s hypocritical righteousness at that, given that 40 percent of you have tried pot at least once in your lives.

Read the rest at The Agitator.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Our first stray of 2009

We found this dog at Circle K Park while walking our dogs. He is a friendly pit bull mixed with something big and shaggy (perhaps Bernese Mountain Dog), with a partly brindle coat. He was easy to capture on leash--he came right up to Kat. We brought him home and he eagerly drank a full bowl of water and some food. He raced around our front yard and chased a ball and brought it back. He's just a puppy with perfect teeth and bad habits of jumping up and being overly excited.

We put his picture on Pets911 and took him by the house of a neighbor who said he lost a brindle-coated pit bull a few months ago that had been seen in the vicinity of the park. We had trouble coaxing him into the car, but eventually he crawled in on his own accord. Unfortunately, the man's wife said this wasn't their dog

He seemed to have some kind of allergy, as he had red around his eyes and his gums were bright red, so we gave him a Benadryl. I spent the night with him in our spare bedroom, and he couldn't seem to sit still or stop breathing hard (or stop wanting attention) until the Benadryl kicked in, and he had a couple of decently long periods of sleep and rest. When he got up this morning, his eyes and gums looked much better, and he again enjoyed racing around the front yard and playing fetch.

Animal Care and Control picked him up just a few minutes ago, and he was shaking in the kennel on the truck. I don't think he's one who is going to do well in a kennel situation. We got his case number, in case someone calls us as a result of the Pets911 ad, but unfortunately, that rarely happens.

UPDATE (February 7, 2009): When the animal control officer picked up our second stray of 2009, he let us know that this good boy was quickly adopted, and is now known as Truman.

Congratulations, Truman!

2009: A Year for Chinese Dissidents

June 4 will be the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. March 10 is the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising that led to the Dalai Lama's exile. July 22 is the 10th anniversary of the banning of the Falun Gong cult in China. And October 1 is the celebration of 60 years of Communist rule in China.

Chinese leaders worry that the first three anniversaries may cause issues for the last, and they are right to worry. This looks like it will be a year for dissidents in China to come forward, and it has already begun with an online petition issued in December called Charter 08 at the 60th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Charter 08 (in English here) was named after Charter 77, a human rights manifesto issued by Czechoslovakian dissidents in 1977. Charter 08, which has been signed by more than two thousand Chinese citizens, calls for recognition of "basic universal values":

Freedom. Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights. Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China's recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime's disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person—regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief—are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism. Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of "fairness in all under heaven." It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Constitutional rule. Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

More concretely, Charter 08 offers the following 19 more-specific recommendations:

1. A New Constitution. We should recast our present constitution, rescinding its provisions that contradict the principle that sovereignty resides with the people and turning it into a document that genuinely guarantees human rights, authorizes the exercise of public power, and serves as the legal underpinning of China's democratization. The constitution must be the highest law in the land, beyond violation by any individual, group, or political party.

2. Separation of Powers. We should construct a modern government in which the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive power is guaranteed. We need an Administrative Law that defines the scope of government responsibility and prevents abuse of administrative power. Government should be responsible to taxpayers. Division of power between provincial governments and the central government should adhere to the principle that central powers are only those specifically granted by the constitution and all other powers belong to the local governments.

3. Legislative Democracy. Members of legislative bodies at all levels should be chosen by direct election, and legislative democracy should observe just and impartial principles.

4. An Independent Judiciary. The rule of law must be above the interests of any particular political party and judges must be independent. We need to establish a constitutional supreme court and institute procedures for constitutional review. As soon as possible, we should abolish all of the Committees on Political and Legal Affairs that now allow Communist Party officials at every level to decide politically sensitive cases in advance and out of court. We should strictly forbid the use of public offices for private purposes.

5. Public Control of Public Servants. The military should be made answerable to the national government, not to a political party, and should be made more professional. Military personnel should swear allegiance to the constitution and remain nonpartisan. Political party organizations must be prohibited in the military. All public officials including police should serve as nonpartisans, and the current practice of favoring one political party in the hiring of public servants must end.

6. Guarantee of Human Rights. There must be strict guarantees of human rights and respect for human dignity. There should be a Human Rights Committee, responsible to the highest legislative body, that will prevent the government from abusing public power in violation of human rights. A democratic and constitutional China especially must guarantee the personal freedom of citizens. No one should suffer illegal arrest, detention, arraignment, interrogation, or punishment. The system of "Reeducation through Labor" must be abolished.

7. Election of Public Officials. There should be a comprehensive system of democratic elections based on "one person, one vote." The direct election of administrative heads at the levels of county, city, province, and nation should be systematically implemented. The rights to hold periodic free elections and to participate in them as a citizen are inalienable.

8. Rural–Urban Equality. The two-tier household registry system must be abolished. This system favors urban residents and harms rural residents. We should establish instead a system that gives every citizen the same constitutional rights and the same freedom to choose where to live.

9. Freedom to Form Groups. The right of citizens to form groups must be guaranteed. The current system for registering nongovernment groups, which requires a group to be "approved," should be replaced by a system in which a group simply registers itself. The formation of political parties should be governed by the constitution and the laws, which means that we must abolish the special privilege of one party to monopolize power and must guarantee principles of free and fair competition among political parties.

10. Freedom to Assemble. The constitution provides that peaceful assembly, demonstration, protest, and freedom of expression are fundamental rights of a citizen. The ruling party and the government must not be permitted to subject these to illegal interference or unconstitutional obstruction.

11. Freedom of Expression. We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision. These freedoms should be upheld by a Press Law that abolishes political restrictions on the press. The provision in the current Criminal Law that refers to "the crime of incitement to subvert state power" must be abolished. We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.

12. Freedom of Religion. We must guarantee freedom of religion and belief, and institute a separation of religion and state. There must be no governmental interference in peaceful religious activities. We should abolish any laws, regulations, or local rules that limit or suppress the religious freedom of citizens. We should abolish the current system that requires religious groups (and their places of worship) to get official approval in advance and substitute for it a system in which registry is optional and, for those who choose to register, automatic.

13. Civic Education. In our schools we should abolish political curriculums and examinations that are designed to indoctrinate students in state ideology and to instill support for the rule of one party. We should replace them with civic education that advances universal values and citizens' rights, fosters civic consciousness, and promotes civic virtues that serve society.

14. Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

15. Financial and Tax Reform. We should establish a democratically regulated and accountable system of public finance that ensures the protection of taxpayer rights and that operates through legal procedures. We need a system by which public revenues that belong to a certain level of government—central, provincial, county or local—are controlled at that level. We need major tax reform that will abolish any unfair taxes, simplify the tax system, and spread the tax burden fairly. Government officials should not be able to raise taxes, or institute new ones, without public deliberation and the approval of a democratic assembly. We should reform the ownership system in order to encourage competition among a wider variety of market participants.

16. Social Security. We should establish a fair and adequate social security system that covers all citizens and ensures basic access to education, health care, retirement security, and employment.

17. Protection of the Environment. We need to protect the natural environment and to promote development in a way that is sustainable and responsible to our descendants and to the rest of humanity. This means insisting that the state and its officials at all levels not only do what they must do to achieve these goals, but also accept the supervision and participation of nongovernmental organizations.

18. A Federated Republic. A democratic China should seek to act as a responsible major power contributing toward peace and development in the Asian Pacific region by approaching others in a spirit of equality and fairness. In Hong Kong and Macao, we should support the freedoms that already exist. With respect to Taiwan, we should declare our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy and then, negotiating as equals and ready to compromise, seek a formula for peaceful unification. We should approach disputes in the national-minority areas of China with an open mind, seeking ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish. We should aim ultimately at a federation of democratic communities of China.

19. Truth in Reconciliation. We should restore the reputations of all people, including their family members, who suffered political stigma in the political campaigns of the past or who have been labeled as criminals because of their thought, speech, or faith. The state should pay reparations to these people. All political prisoners and prisoners of conscience must be released. There should be a Truth Investigation Commission charged with finding the facts about past injustices and atrocities, determining responsibility for them, upholding justice, and, on these bases, seeking social reconciliation.

The Chinese government's response has been to detain Charter 08's chief organizer, Liu Xiaobo, question or threaten signers of the document, shut down websites that contain or discuss the document, and require Google to return no results for searches on Charter 08, but instead produce a warning that "according to local laws, regulations and policies, some results have not been displayed."

More on Charter 08:

"The year of living dissidently," The Economist, January 17, 2009, pp. 42-43.

Happiness, charity, religiosity, and liberals vs. conservatives

In a recent paper, Jamie Napier and John Jost argue that the reason conservatives are happier than liberals is that they are, for ideological reasons, not pained by observing high levels of income inequality. They draw this conclusion on the basis of responses to a survey item about attitudes about meritocracy that ranges from a scale of "hard work generally doesn't bring success--it's more a matter of luck" to "hard work pays," which Will Wilkinson shows cannot do the job of supporting their explanation:
I strongly agree that success, understood as a significant upward move on a valued status dimension, is largely a matter of luck. But I also strongly agree that hard work (in a society with decent institutions) usually brings a better life. It’s possible to work hard and achieve a better life without ever winning anything you’d count as success. So I haven’t a clue how I’d answer this question. Do I believe in meritocracy or not?
He observes that there's also a much better explanation for the answers to that question than assuming a blindness or lack of care about inequality:
If one wants to see a meritocratic bent as a common cause of conservative leanings and higher happiness, here’s a less tendentious explanation. (1) Those with a greater sense of the efficacy of their behavior — with a greater sense of being in control — will tend to (a) think hard work brings a better life, (b) be happier, (c) see policies that seem to penalize hard work as unjust. (2) People likely to see high taxes as an unjust penalty on hard work tend to identify as “conservative.”
And a further problem about attributing a blindness to inequality to conservatives is that conservatives give more to charity than liberals, as Wilkinson's commenter John Thacker points out (and I've previously observed at this blog). Thacker attributes the difference to religiosity; again, I've previously pointed out that he is apparently correct on this point (also see this post and the previous reference on conservatives vs. liberals), that the religious give far more to charity than the secular, even if you don't count donations to churches. (But apparently Christians are well-known in the service industry as lousy tippers.)

The same Napier and Jost paper is discussed at Marginal Revolution, where commenter DocMerlin points out that:

A rather simple answer follows with (A) and (B) being true statements that result in the same statistics without the rediculious "conservatives are happy with evil" result that the study got.
A) Women are much more likely to self report depression and unhappiness than men are.
B) Men are more conservative than women.

A) Divorced/unmarried women are on average more liberal than married women
B) Married people are happier.

A) Conservatives are more likely to attend church regularly
B) People who attend church regularly are found to be happier and healthier than those who don't (on average).

A) Liberals feel guilty for their own success.
B) Conservatives don't feel guilty for their own success.

Another possible explanation is that liberals and the secular value truth over happiness, but it seems to me that the Napier and Jost paper is an example of trying to explain away an unpalatable truth. It's better to dig deeper to understand the causes of these differences before offering public policy prescriptions (or even arguments for what is individually better to do). Wilkinson, who has done extensive review of the literature on happiness and proposed public policy prescriptions, seems to me to have the better psychological explanation for the happiness difference in terms of sense of control over outcomes. That explanation also comports well with a charitability difference--if you don't feel that your contribution could make much difference, you're probably less likely to make a contribution.