Saturday, December 31, 2005

Religious spammer in Scottsdale files lawsuit

Charles E. "Chuck" Carlson (not to be confused with convicted Watergate conspirator turned evangelical prison ministry mogul Chuck Colson) runs something called "Strait Gate Ministries" and assorted websites (including one called "Al-Jazeerah") which seem to focus on arguing that the U.S. should not be supporting Israel. He has a history of advertising these websites by sending unsolicited bulk email, also known as "spam."

He has clashed with a number of anti-spammers, which has led to multiple terminations of online services that he's used--his DSL connection as well as web hosting. He has characterized this as mugging and assault as well as censorship. (Here is a list of some of Carlson's domains blocked by for sending spam.)

In August, he filed a lawsuit (PDF) in Arizona Superior Court (CV2005-052008) against Robert Poortinga, his own providers who had terminated service, and Missouri Freenet Corporation. In his complaint, he argues that Poortinga and others have defamed him by calling him a "spammer" and accusing him of sending "spam," on the grounds that his emails do not meet the criteria in the CAN-SPAM Act.

"Missouri Freenet Corporation," named as a defendant in Carlson's suit, doesn't actually exist--the person he's intending to sue is Alif Terranson (on whose site the above lawsuit complaint PDF is hosted), who is a well-known anti-spammer and formerly ran the abuse team at Savvis. Terranson has supplied Carlson with information about how to properly name and serve him.

Carlson's complaint appears to me to be without merit. His argument based on CAN-SPAM fails because that act does not define the term "spam," which is a well-known term of art in the Internet world, not a legal term.

"Spam" originally meant bulk postings to Usenet newsgroups (an action associated with a couple of immigration attorneys also based in Scottsdale, Arizona), but quickly came to mean unsolicited bulk email (UBE)--email that is both (a) not explicitly requested by the recipients and (b) sent to multiple recipients. Although the most common form of UBE is unsolicited commercial email (which is what CAN-SPAM regulates), UBE and "spam" are broader than UCE and can include religious spam, insane spam, etc. Internet RFC 2505 endorses this broader notion of "spam," as does this definition from Spamhaus.

Although there are no legal penalties for spam that falls outside of what is regulated by federal and state laws (or laws in other countries), most online providers have stricter guidelines than what the law requires as part of their Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs). Customers of online providers are contractually bound by those AUPs, and can find their service terminated for violations even if they haven't violated the law. This has been the case since long before CAN-SPAM went into effect.

Another form of social penalty for spam is having one's email blocked by those who operate mail servers on the Internet--companies, organizations, and individuals have a variety of tools which can be used to block the vast quantities of unwanted email being spewed out daily by compromised machines as well as by those operating in a more aboveboard manner. Included in those tools are the ability to block by domain name or using IP-address-based blocking lists. What Carlson calls censorship is really just the owners of private mail servers setting rules by which their property may be used by others. (The issue is a bit more complicated in the case of an ISP, but so long as the ISP accurately informs its customers of what they've signed up for, they can apply filters consistent with their service. In general, ISPs want their customers to receive what the customers want to receive, as blocking wanted email leads to complaints.)

I'll keep tabs on this suit as it progresses (if it does).

War on Drugs Ends in Success--Four Years Ago

With all the attention to the War on Terror/Struggle Against Violent Extremism, looks like we forgot to celebrate the victory and end of the War on Drugs back at the beginning of 2002. Happy fourth birthday to virtually drug-free America!
(Hat tip: The Agitator.)

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Economics of Church Attendance

The current (December 24, 2005) issue of The Economist features a story, "Wealth from worship," summarizing a paper by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, "Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation and Outcomes: Is Religion Good for You?" Gruber
claims that regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone's income by almost 10%.
The summary points out that ethnic density can make a group worse off ("ghettoization"), which Gruber controls for by looking at "the density of 'co-religionists'" not of the same race. He says that "a 10% increase in the density of co-religionists leads to an 8.5% rise in churchgoing" and that
a 10% increase in the density of co-religionists leads to a 0.9% rise in income. In other words, because there are lots of non-Polish Catholics in Boston and a few in Minnesota, Poles in Boston both go to church more often and are materially better off relative to, say, Swedes in Boston than Poles in Minnesota relative to Swedes in Minnesota.
If this is accurate, what's actually going on here? Suggestions offered in the Economist summary: Churchgoing increases one's network of connections, making business dealings smoother; churchgoing provides a form of insurance against social or economic setbacks; churchgoing promotes an increase in education; churchgoing reduces the stress of life. The first two of these, and perhaps the last, strike me as plausible; whether or not churchgoing promotes education likely depends a great deal on the particular sect or denomination.

U.S. collection of intelligence information via Uzbekistan torture

Blairwatch has published the text of memos from Craig Murray, UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, which complain about the U.S. giving aid to the country after accepting sham improvements in human rights, as well as collecting intelligence information obtained via torture. Some excerpts:
I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at American urging).
We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.
I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

[...] I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact.

[...] At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

This is a country the U.S. supplies with hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Antiwar and Anti-Semitic?

Earlier this year I was an almost obsessive reader of For a time, I was also a financial contributor. Now, it wasn’t in the hundreds or thousands of dollars or anything, but it was a decent monthly pledge.

Soon after seeing Justin Raimondo’s pathetic and embarassing showing in this video, though, I started to become annoyed with the frequently shrill tone of his columns—not to mention their excessive linkage (in a seemingly infinite regress through his own prior columns!), and their often bizarre focus—and although I mostly agree with him about Glenn Reynolds, I just can’t see what his problem* is with Tom Palmer. Palmer is no pacifist, certainly, but he's also no war-monger, and his libertarian credentials seem beyond question (although he really does seem to have raised the ire of at least one other paleolib—see also here. All I can say is “bizarre!”).

Once I saw Justin’s comments (and possible sock-puppetry as “Clement”) on this post at Tom Palmer’s blog, though, I decided, with a heavy heart, that I had to end my financial support of

I took my bumper sticker off my car, and I haven't been visiting much lately. However, I did go back recently, and saw this photo in the blog. It shows Eric Garris standing with the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir (you can also see Justin Raimondo there in the background). The photograph was taken at the recent Perdana Global Peace forum, where, along with Dr. Mahathir, Garris, and Raimondo, such luminaries <cough> as “his excellency” Robert Mugabe spoke.

What I think is interesting about this picture is that if, instead of Eric Garris or Justin Raimondo, it were Glenn Reynolds or Tom Palmer standing there, wouldn’t be having a field day over it? I suspect the shouts of “Warmonger!” would be endless.

Take a look at this page, where Tun Mahathir is acting in his capacity as chairman of the Perdana Global Peace Forum. Everything seems fabulous, there. But now, contrast it with this page, which is the text of a speech he gave at the 10th Islamic Summit Conference.

Now, I think a careful reading of Dr. Mahathir’s words gives him just the right measure of plausible deniability. But, do you not agree that it is difficult not to interpret his speech as “incendiary,” and “a call for global war against the Jewish people by 1.3 billion Muslims,” as the Anti-Defamation League has done?

Even if we recognize that the ADL has an incentive to sensationalize when it serves them, and in spite of Justin’s borderline anti-Semitism (though he may still have a small sliver of plausible deniability on that score), I still have to wonder. Why is it that Garris and Raimondo believe that it is helpful to their cause or to the cause of peace to associate with Dr. Mahathir?

Lots of discussion of this over at Tom Palmer’s blog.

* Note that I myself actually agree with the Herbert Spencer quote found in that link.

Three weeks in jail for possession of flour

A Bryn Mawr freshman, Janet Lee, was arrested at the Philadelphia airport in 2003 as she was going through screening to fly home to California for Christmas. Her checked luggage contained three condoms filled with white powder, and field tests showed that the white powder contained opium and cocaine. She insisted that the powder was flour, and that the condoms were stress reliever toys, to be squeezed during exams.

As it turned out, the field tests were wrong or falsified. Had she not obtained sufficient legal help which led to a retest of the powder, she faced 20 years in prison on drug charges.

She now has a lawsuit against city police in Philadelphia which seeks to answer the question of why the field tests came back positive for drugs.

(More comment at The Agitator.)

The Gospel of Judas

The long-lost "Gospel of Judas," believed to have been written in Greek in the second century C.E., will be published next year. It was apparently recovered sometime prior to 1983, when a copy was offered for sale. Rodolphe Kasser of the University of Geneva announced in 2004 that he would be publishing a translation in 2005, but it looks like it will be out in the first half of next year. National Geographic will be doing a story on it for Easter.

This gospel was in the possession of a Swiss foundation for decades, and are a Coptic translation that probably dates to the fourth or fifth century. Characters in this gospel include Judas, Jesus, Satan, and Allogenes ("the stranger"), who appears in a number of gnostic documents found at Nag Hammadi.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

FISA Court: Rubber Stamp?

In a New York Times op-ed defending the president's warrantless wiretapping of international calls and emails, former Justice Department attorneys (under GHWB and Reagan) David Rivkin and Lee Casey write:
Furthermore, the FISA court is not a rubber stamp and may well decline to issue warrants even when wartime necessity compels surveillance.
It's not? Let's take a closer look (stats from EPIC by way of Talking Points Memo). The FISA court, established in 1978, had received 18,761 requests for warrants as of the end of 2004. How many were rejected? Four or five (sources disagree). Of the four which were definitely rejected (all from 2003), all four were partially approved upon reconsideration. And how many have been modified by the court from the original requests?

1978-1999: 0 (?)
2000: 1
2001: 2
2002: 2 (but the modifications were later reversed)
2003: 79 (of 1727 requests)
2004: 94 (of 1758 requests)

It looks to me like the FISA court was a rubber stamp at least until 2003, and quite arguably still is.

Rivkin and Casey go on to argue that Congress has no authority to regulate how the President exercises his wartime authority:
The Constitution designates the president as commander in chief, and Congress can no more direct his exercise of that authority than he can direct Congress in the execution of its constitutional duties.
Say what? Have they not read Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly gives Congress authority to regulate many aspects of military and wartime activity? I've italicized a key passage:
Congress shall have the power ...

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

... 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.
Rivkin and Casey argue that the executive branch is given the power to collect intelligence information from foreign sources as it sees fit--but where in the Constitution is any such power granted to the executive branch? Their only citation is to Article II, Section 2:
The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States
but there's no specific authority there about intelligence collection. They go on to argue that the President has the authority not only in virtue of this piece of the Constitution, but from
the specific Congressional authorization "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks "in order to prevent any future attacks of international terrorism against the United States."
But Congress is still limited by the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights still applies (or is supposed to, anyway) to every U.S. citizen.

One more abominably bad argument from Rivkin and Casey is that the Bush administration was warranted in bypassing the FISA court for reasons of efficiency and expedience:
Although the administration could have sought such warrants, it chose not to for good reasons. The procedures under the surveillance act are streamlined, but nevertheless involve a number of bureaucratic steps.
They don't bother to tell us what any of these "good reasons" are! Since the FISA court allows retroactive approvals (go ahead and tap, then get approval later), there is no issue of urgency as an argument against getting the approvals. The only reason I can see is to avoid any accountability.

Arguments that the FISA Court itself gave approval to being bypassed in 2002 are based on a misreading of a ruling by the FISA appeals court.

Enjoy Every Sandwich has a nice collection of Bush administration quotes and relevant law regarding wiretapping.

Another "Bush drunk" video

Another video making the rounds... (hat tip to Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC mailing list).
(The previous one that was circulating was a 1992 wedding party video, which is up at Google Video.)

(Yes, the current one is a joke.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mohammed the Prophet Answers Your Emails

Just saw this cartoon at This Blog Is Full of Crap. Let's see, depicting Mohammed, depicting Mohammed in hell, putting words in Mohammed's mouth. I don't think Muslims will be very happy about this, considering their unreasonable reaction to cartoons of Mohammed in Denmark (previously referred to in my posting on the "Sexy Bin Laden").

Mel Gibson on evolution, women, and political conspiracy theory

This is from a Mel Gibson interview with Playboy magazine in the July 1995 issue. I haven't verified it myself, though I've found consistent excerpts (though they could all have an identical bogus source). The positions taken are quite plausibly attributed to Gibson, though I'm surprised at his foul mouth.

On evolution:
PLAYBOY: Do you believe in Darwin's theory of evolution or that God created man in his image?

GIBSON: The latter.

PLAYBOY: So you can't accept that we descended from monkeys and apes?

GIBSON: No, I think it's bullshit. If it isn't, why are they still around? How come apes aren't people yet? It's a nice theory, but I can't swallow it. There's a big credibility gap. The carbon dating thing that tells you how long something's been around, how accurate is that, really? I've got one of Darwin's books at home and some of that stuff is pretty damn funny. Some of his stuff is true, like that the giraffe has a long neck so it can reach the leaves. But I just don't think you can swallow the whole piece.
Why does anyone think his first point is a good argument against evolution? I've never heard anyone argue that Italian-Americans couldn't have come from Italy because there are still Italians there.

And I wonder what book by Darwin he has.

On assorted moral issues:
PLAYBOY: We take it that you're not particularly broad-minded when it comes to issues such as celibacy, abortion, birth control.

GIBSON: People always focus on stuff like that. Those aren't issues. Those
are unquestionable. You don't even argue those points.

PLAYBOY: You don't?

On women:
PLAYBOY: What about allowing women to be priests?


PLAYBOY: Why not?

GIBSON: I'll get kicked around for saying it, but men and women are just different. They're not equal. The same way that you and I are not equal.

PLAYBOY: That's true. You have more money.

GIBSON: You might be more intelligent, or you might have a bigger dick. Whatever it is, nobody's equal. And men and women are not equal. I have tremendous respect for women. I love them. I don't know why they want to step down. Women in my family are the center of things. And good things emanate from them. The guys usually mess up.

PLAYBOY: That's quite a generalization.

GIBSON: Women are just different. Their sensibilities are different.

PLAYBOY: Any examples?

GIBSON: I had a female business partner once. Didn't work.

PLAYBOY: Why not?

GIBSON: She was a cunt.

PLAYBOY: And the feminists dare to put you down!

GIBSON: Feminists don't like me, and I don't like them. I don't get their point. I don't know why feminists have it out for me, but that's their problem, not mine.
Interesting that he thinks a woman being a priest would be "a step down." From many occupations, I'd agree.

Gibson on political conspiracy theory:
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about Bill Clinton?

GIBSON: He's a low-level opportunist. Somebody's telling him what to do.


GIBSON: The guy who's in charge isn't going to be the front man, ever. If I were going to be calling the shots I wouldn't make an appearance. Would you? You'd end up losing your head. It happens all the time. All those monarchs. If he's the leader, he's getting shafted. What's keeping him in there? Why would you stay for that kind of abuse? Except that he has to stay for some reason. He was meant to be the president 30 years ago, if you ask me.

PLAYBOY: He was just 18 then.

GIBSON: Somebody knew then that he would be president now.

PLAYBOY: You really believe that?

GIBSON: I really believe that. He was a Rhodes scholar, right? Just like Bob Hawke. Do you know what a Rhodes scholar is? Cecil Rhodes established the Rhodes scholarship for those young men and women who want to strive for a new world order. Have you heard that before? George Bush? CIA? Really, it's Marxism, but it just doesn't want to call itself that. Karl had the right idea, but he was too forward about saying what it was. Get power but don't admit to it. Do it by stealth. There's a whole trend of Rhodes scholars who will be politicians around the world.

PLAYBOY: This certainly sounds like a paranoid sense of world history. You must be quite an assassination buff.

GIBSON: Oh, fuck. A lot of those guys pulled a boner. There's something to do with the Federal Reserve that Lincoln did, Kennedy did and Reagan tried. I can't remember what it was, my dad told me about it. Everyone who did this particular thing that would have fixed the economy got undone. Anyway, I'll end up dead if I keep talking shit.

(Note added 30 December: I've heard from several people who have now verified the accuracy of these quotations.)

Mencken on Nietzsche

I'm in the middle of reading H.L. Mencken's biography of Nietzsche, and I found this passage, on pages 56-58, to be rather humorous:
Nietzsche never married, but he was by no means a misogynist. ...During all his wanderings he was much petted by the belles of pump room and hotel parlor, not only because he was a mysterious and romantic looking fellow, but also because his philosophy was thought to be blasphemous and indecent, particularly by those who knew nothing about it. But the fair admirers he singled out were either securely married or hopelessly antique. "For me to marry," he soliloquized in 1887, "would probably be sheer assininity."

There are sentimental critics who hold that Nietzsche's utter lack of geniality was due to his lack of a wife. A good woman - alike beautiful and sensible - would have rescued him, they say, from his gloomy fancies. He would have expanded and mellowed in the sunshine of her smiles, and children would have civilized him. The defect in this theory lies in the fact that philosophers do not seem to flourish amid scenes of connubial joy. High thinking, it would appear, presupposes boarding house fare and hall bed-rooms. Spinoza, munching his solitary herring up his desolate backstairs, makes a picture that pains us, perhaps, but it must be admitted that it satisfies our sense of eternal fitness. A married Spinoza, with two sons at college, another managing the family lens business, a daughter busy with her trousseau and a wife growing querulous and fat - the vision, alas, is preposterous, outrageous and impossible! We must think of philosophers as beings alone but not lonesome. A married Schopenhauer or Kant or Nietzsche would be unthinkable.

...Nietzsche himself sought to show, in more than one place, that a man whose whole existence was colored by one woman would inevitably acquire some trace of her feminine outlook, and so lose his own sure vision. The ideal state for a philosopher, indeed, is celibacy tempered by polygamy. [emphasis added]
Now, maybe I keyed in to this passage because it struck a little too close to home - not that I'm any kind of great philosopher, mind you - but the question is this: Is this truly an accurate assessment? Have all the greatest philosophers (and perhaps even artists--Beethoven, for example) been bachelors?

Bush attempts to suppress stories; Doug Bandow taking money from Abramoff

Howard Kurtz writes in yesterday's Washington Post that Bush has been attempting (without success in a few notable recent instances) to suppress stories about CIA prisons and wiretapping.

In the same article, he reports that Doug Bandow accepted payments of as much as $2,000 a story for pieces favorable to lobbyist Jack Abramoff's clients. He has resigned from the Cato Institute in the wake of the story, exposed by Business Week, issuing a statement that "I am fully responsible and I won't play victim ... Obviously, I regret stupidly calling to question my record of activism and writing that extends over 20 years. . . . For that I deeply apologize."

Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation is unapologetic about accepting similar payments; Jonathan Adler of the National Review reports that he was offered similar payments when he worked at a think tank but declined them. It's more evidence that think tank output tends to be generated by starting with paid-for conclusions and generating arguments and selecting evidence to support them--similar to Feith's selection of intelligence information to support the invasion of Iraq. Think tanks supported by particular interests simply aren't a good way of getting objective information.

More examples in Kurtz's piece.

Jeb Bush thinks evolution shouldn't be taught

As quoted in the Miami Herald:

The Watchdog Report asked a follow-up question: Does the governor believe in Darwin's theory of evolution?

Bush said: ``Yeah, but I don't think it should actually be part of the curriculum, to be honest with you. And people have different points of view and they can be discussed at school, but it does not need to be in the curriculum.''

There's no word on whether this opinion is backed by the Mystical Warrior Chang.

It is surprising that he says he believes in it.

Bush's Imperial Presidency

Another nice sum-up from Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

South Korea to allow indictment via text messaging

It's a nice money-saving idea, but since it's something you have to specifically sign up for, how many takers are they likely to get? Perhaps they anticipate having those who think they are likely to be indicted will sign up in order to get some advance "get out of town, now!" notice? But then again, wouldn't the subscriber list be a potential list of targets for investigation?

Friday, December 23, 2005

J.D. Hayworth to keep donations from Indian tribes

Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth (in his sixth term, if you can believe it) has come out near the top of legislators who have received campaign contributions from "Indian tribes and others connected with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff."

I actually agree with Hayworth that he should feel under no obligation to return donations from the tribes, and I agree with many of the stances he has taken supporting them, especially with regard to the case of Cobell v. Norton. This is a case that has been going on since 1996 (with underlying issues going back to the 19th century), when Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana filed a federal lawsuit to get a proper accounting of what the Department of Interior (DOI) has been doing with funds collected from leases of land held in trust for American Indians. In the course of the lawsuit, it has been found that the DOI intentionally destroyed records (and allowed others to be destroyed by the elements) and covered it up, did not maintain records with proper security (which led to DOI websites being removed from the Internet as a result of an injunction).

On the other hand, Hayworth has held multiple fundraisers in sports stadium skyboxes owned by Abramoff, the value of which he failed to report to the Federal Election Commission, for which he refunded money to two tribes and filed amended FEC reports. If specific evidence of other failings along these lines--or of actual bribe-taking--is found, Hayworth should be nailed to the wall. The fact that he has had extensive involvement with Abramoff is itself reason to scrutinize his dealings carefully, as it's a sign that he is either a poor judge of character or doesn't care about who he associates with (it could be either, since he isn't the sharpest blade in the drawer and is one of the biggest blowhards in Congress).

When Hayworth first ran for Congress, he signed up for a dialup account at Primenet, the Arizona ISP where I worked at the time. His campaign manager said that if he won the election, he would be sure to remain a Primenet customer for quite some time. Shortly after his election, the account was cancelled.

"A half-century secularist reign of terror"

Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was quoted in the Washington Post about the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision:
“This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that’s coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito,” said Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. “This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries–if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung.”
Apparently Mr. Land believes that 1965-2005 in the United States was something like Robby Berry's "Life in Our Anti-Christian America."

Timothy Sandefur rebuts Land's nutty comment at The Panda's Thumb.

UPDATE (February 6, 2007): An updated link for Robby Berry's "Life in Our Anti-Christian America."

The "sexy bin Laden"

Wafah Dufour, formerly known as Wafah bin Laden, is Osama bin Laden's niece (daughter of Yeslam bin Ladin, half-brother of Osama, and Carmen bin Ladin, author of Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia) is featured in the December GQ. She wants to be a pop star in the U.S. She hasn't lived in Saudi Arabia since she was 10. She is a fan of The Cure, Seal, and The Beatles, and plays guitar.

It seems to me that in her position, it could be dangerous to become an American pop star, since there seems to be no shortage of Muslim fundamentalists who reject the principle of free speech even while living in countries that endorse it.

USA PATRIOT Act extended to January 31, 2006

The Senate has voted to extend the expiring provisions by a month (five months less than a Senate proposal on Wednesday; the House reduced it to one month). The Bush administration was arguing against a six-month extension as being too short, so this seems to be a good sign.

"War on Christmas" exposed by New Yorker; O'Reilly annoyed

Hendrik Hertzberg writes of the bogus "War on Christmas" being pushed by Fox News in The New Yorker:
The War on Christmas is a little like Santa Claus, in that it (a) comes to us from the sky, beamed down by the satellites of cable news, and (b) does not, in the boringly empirical sense, exist.
He goes on to note that
Today’s Christmas Pentagon is the Fox News Channel, which during a recent five-day period carried no fewer than fifty-eight different segments about the ongoing struggle, some of them labelled “Christmas under attack.”
and discusses John Gibson's book and Bill O'Reilly's role as "Patton." Near the end, he notes:
In this war, no weapons of Christmas destruction have been found—just a few caches of linguistic oversensitivity and commercial caution. Christmas remains robust: even Gibson says in his book that in America Christmas celebrators (ninety-six per cent) outnumber Christians (eighty-four per cent). But the “Happy Holidays” contagion has probably spread too far to be wiped out.
O'Reilly's response on December 20:
O'REILLY: Time now for "The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." New Yorker magazine joins our hall of shame. We are recommending readers and sponsors avoid the publication. The reason: that magazine allows writer Hendrik Hertzberg to print dishonest propaganda fed to him by left-wing smear sites. As I previously stated, any publication or news operation that does that will be listed on as
not worthy of your attention or advertising dollars. The spin and the propaganda stop here. The New Yorker magazine should be ashamed and is absolutely ridiculous. And one note to Mr. Hertzberg: You might want to rethink your practice of character assassination, sir. Just looking out for you.
And Fox's John Gibson, author of The War on Christmas, got into a shouting match with Rob Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, with Gibson threatening to sue Boston for pointing out O'Reilly's falsehood about green and red clothing being prohibited by Plano, Texas schools. As it turns out, there were some prohibitions about party items and gifts in Plano schools which included such things as paper plate color, which led to a lawsuit; that ban was revoked and the guidelines made more sensible--e.g., students could give each other religious-themed gifts, but teachers (who are acting in an official capacity and represent the state) cannot give religious-themed gifts to students.

O'Reilly has retracted his comment about a ban on red and green clothing.

Major flaw in Diebold voting machines

It is possible to preload a memory card with negative votes that are not recognized by the machine, but which affect the final outcome in an undetectible manner. In the test described in a Wired article, a mock vote was held on the question of whether Diebold machines could be hacked, with eight votes. The eight votes fed into the machines (via optically scanned paper ballots) were six "no" votes and two "yes" votes. The outcome recorded on the rigged card was one "no" and seven "yes"--the memory card was preloaded with -5 "no" votes and 5 "yes" votes. By balancing out the preloaded votes (with a sum of zero), the final record showed an accurate number of votes, but not an accurate record of what the votes were.

Further flaws indicate that the Diebold machines execute code residing on the memory cards, without doing checks on the content of that code which are required by Federal Elections Commission standards.

As a result of the hacking demonstrations by Finnish security expert Harri Hurst in Florida on December 13, Leon and Volusia counties in Florida have cancelled their contracts with Diebold.

Much more at

Outsourced to India: lawyers

The December 17th issue of The Economist has an article ("The next wave") about projected growth in India's "Business Process Offshoring" (BPO) industry. While today two-thirds of the $250 billion of annual spending on legal services goes to the United States, 28% of the available global workforce with the requisite language and technical skills is in India. Since India's law is based on English common law, it is in a good position to take a large portion of that business from lawyers in the United States, with a 75% reduction in cost for the buyer. The Economist notes that this is "not just a question of 'paralegal' hack work such as document preparation' but includes 'drafting contracts and patent applications, research and negotiation.'"

Let's all weep a few tears for U.S. lawyers being put out of work.

Cory Maye Trial Transcripts Online

Over at the Agitator (PDFs).

Standards on evidence obtained by torture

In the UK, the Law Lords ruled early this month that evidence obtained by torture is inadmissible in court, including evidence obtained by foreign governments (such as the United States) through the use of torture--and the burden of proof that the evidence was not obtained by torture falls upon the government. Lord Bingham stated, "The English common law has regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for over 500 years ... I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion...that this deeply rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute." The panel of seven judges was unanimous in its ruling that the evidence of torture was inadmissible, but divided on the standard the government must overcome to demonstrate the evidence was not admitted by torture once a defendant produces a "plausible reason" to think that it was. Three of the judges (including Lord Bingham) argued for a standard that the government show "no real risk" of basis on torture, the other four that the government show it "on the balance of probabilities."

In the United States, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have argued strongly against any restrictions on the use of torture by the United States, while at the same time claiming that the United States does not use torture. While Bush has recently and reluctantly agreed to support the McCain amendment on torture, that amendment states that "No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation." Ten classified pages have just been added to that manual, leading some to suggest that this has created a way around the McCain amendment.

Fortunately, however, the McCain amendment goes on to say that "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." It defines "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" as "the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984."

But there seems little question that Bush and Cheney want to push the limits as far as they possibly can.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Daniel Morgan v. Jonathan Witt

Daniel Morgan has posted a response to Jonathan Witt's criticism of his summary of the Sternberg Saga.

Morgan has admitted where he's made mistakes--can Witt and the Discovery Institute give that a try?

Errors in the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision

It's an excellent decision. I did spot nineteen errors, none of significance to the legal arguments (three are typos, one's a mistaken word choice, and fifteen are instances of the same erroneous character substitution, probably facilitated by the ever-helpful Microsoft Word). Will ID advocates find them and make rhetorical use of them? The typos are on pp. 51, 114, and 120, the mistaken word choice is on p. 96, and the three examples of the incorrect character are on pp. 104, 106, 117, 118, 120, 124, 129, and 130. Warning: Reading these pages (which I strongly recommend--in fact, read the whole thing) will expose you to documentation of dishonesty and sleaziness by Christian school board members, including taking a mural depicting evolution from the classroom and burning it.

Buckingham and Bonsell come across as sleazy, lying, manipulative bastards, and the rest of the board come across as ignoramuses rubber-stamping their actions. The citizens of Dover certainly did the right thing by voting out the entire school board.

The science teachers of Dover, however, come across as very reasonable people who made a few compromises with the board early on in order to get the textbooks they needed to teach, but who were unwilling to teach unscientific materials or read a misleading disclaimer to their students.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dover Decision: ID is religious

Judge John E. Jones III has issued his ruling in the Dover, PA intelligent design case--Dover's ID Policy violates both the Lemon Test and the endorsement test, and so the Dover Area School District must discontinue reading the statement at the beginning of the evolution unit about Intelligent Design and the availability of Of Pandas and People in the library. The decision covers much broader ground than this, and though the orders are only directed at DASD, this decision is likely to be influential in much the way Judge Overton's McLean v. Arkansas creation science decision was in 1982. Ed Brayton has the text of the decision and some key quotes and commentary up at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

1981? ...82?

I never cease to be amazed at how the White House's own web page is faithfully documenting and publicizing this administration's stupidities. In a way, I guess, it's strangely comforting. I mean, consider the alternative. What if all the embarassing Bushisms were whitewashed away, replaced by erudite prose? The implications, if that were the case, bring disturbing thoughts to mind--memory holes... Ministries of Truth... that sort of thing.

It seems we're not quite there, yet, as you can plainly see here, where Alberto Gonzales does a lot of hand-waving, dodging, and dashing in response to the question, "If FISA didn't work, why didn't you seek a new statute that allowed something like this legally?"

That question was asked earlier. We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program. And that -- and so a decision was made that because we felt that the authorities were there, that we should continue moving forward with this program.

My translation: "It wasn't bloody likely that we would be able to do what we wanted legally, but we went ahead and did it anyway."

Billmon over at The Whiskey Bar has an even better translation.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Paul Mirecki situation

My opinion is similar to those of Ed Brayton and John Lynch. I think some skepticism about the attack is in order, it's unfortunate that the university took action against Mirecki and shut down his proposed course, and I wasn't impressed with the quality of Gary Hurd's defense of Mirecki at the Panda's Thumb and its speculations about martial artists inflicting just so much but no more injury on Mirecki.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Another stray puppy

In our neighborhood, we frequently see stray dogs, usually without collars or identifying information. We catch them when we can, and turn them into the pound. The puppies tend to get quickly adopted. Others, we point out to RESCUE, an animal rescue group we volunteer with, so that if they get put on the euthanasia lists they may have another opportunity for survival. Unfortunately, RESCUE can't save all of them.

This puppy had been given to a homeless man we know, who in turn gave him to us to take care of. Kat removed numerous ticks and gave her a bath (the first photo is pre-bath, the second is post-bath). We estimated her age at less than three months, and the breed could be some kind of Chow mix. I think this is the fifth stray we've turned in this year; last year we turned in about the same number, including at least three puppies.

Hot For [Pedagogical Agent]

As an individualist, I harbor no sentimental attachments to my species, any more than I do to my nation, my gender, or my race - in fact I despise the very notion of the collectivist "us-versus-them" mentality, and believe it to be a primary destructive force in the world today.

As a "natural", I lack belief in a human soul, whether mortal or immortal, so, in principle, I can't see any objection to the idea that someone will one day succeed in creating an "artificial intelligence."

Because of my naturalist and individualist bent, I'm really not bothered by the possibility that humankind might one day be destroyed, Terminator- or Matrix-style, by our machine offspring - at least not any more than I'm bothered by the possibility that I'll be bludgeoned to death in a dark alley, or waste away, uncared-for, in a convalescence home.

I wonder, though... Is the Terminator myth really a likely, or even possible, future? We're still not entirely sure what "intelligence" really is, let alone how to create it (aside from growing and interacting with human babies, that is). Is the ability to be introspective and/or self-aware a requirement for intelligence? What about feeling emotions? What about having an instinct for self-preservation? I'm not sure about any of those things - and I'm not sure anyone else is, either (in spite of the attractiveness of the thesis found in the hugely entertaining book, Gödel, Escher, Bach).

However, if there is a possibility for some sort of machine revolution, then we are surely doomed. If Congress's reaction to a vegetable that could follow the movements of a balloon is any indication, then, long before our simulated friends (in meatspace or virtual space) have anything approaching a human-level intelligence, we will have been completely beguiled. Our reptile and monkey-brains are too entrenched for our prefrontal and frontal lobes to counteract the instinctive and immediate reaction to an attractive face. Witness the recent craze over the Furby. We even have a hard time not anthropomorphizing skinless heads (see also here). Throw in a little skin, some pretty eyes, and some basic interaction and it's over. Even when it's miserably failing the Turing test, we're convinced in spite of ourselves that we're talking with something that has - for lack of a better word - a soul. Spielberg's prediction, in his film A.I., of the human reaction to our machines is dead on, I think--with the exception that we wouldn't even be able to kill any of the Mechas that look like walking television sets.

If I'm conveying the sense that I think any of this is bad, then I apologize, because I don't mean to. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this stuff, yet. Like any technology, there are good and bad aspects.

The return of private supersonic flight

Since the demise of the Concorde, there has been no private or commercial air travel at supersonic speeds. Now, however, Gulfstream, SAI/Lockheed Martin, and Aerion are working on developing technology that, through specially designed aircraft body shapes, can reduce the "sonic boom" and allow private jets to take flight paths that the Concorde was unable to use. There's more on this subject at The Economist (free audio interview; the print article is premium content).

Polar bears drown as ice shelf melts

Today's Sunday Times (London) has a story about polar bear drownings occurring off the north coast of Alaska. The bears have to swim longer distances now that average summer temperatures off the north coast of Alaska have increased by 2-3 degrees Celsius since the 1950s, leading to the polar ice cap receding last summer by 200 miles more than the average distance of two decades ago.

Today's Doonesbury on creationism/intelligent design

Of late I've often thought that drugs developed on the basis of evolutionary biology should have warning labels indicating that their effectiveness is predicated upon the fact of evolution, and creationists should not make use of them. Today's Doonesbury is along similar lines. (Of course, creationists will say that this is microevolution, not macroevolution, and they only disbelieve in the latter.)

This is as good a place as any to recommend Randolph M. Nesse and George C. Williams' book, Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine (1996, Vintage).

Activist Judge Cancels Christmas

The Onion has given proper attention to the "War on Christmas":
WASHINGTON, DC—In a sudden and unexpected blow to the Americans working to protect the holiday, liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled the private celebration of Christmas unconstitutional Monday.

"In accordance with my activist agenda to secularize the nation, this court finds Christmas to be unlawful," Judge Reinhardt said. "The celebration of the birth of the philosopher Jesus—be it in the form of gift-giving, the singing of carols, fanciful decorations, or general good cheer and warm feelings amongst families—is in violation of the First Amendment principles upon which this great nation was founded."

In addition to forbidding the celebration of Christmas in any form, Judge Reinhardt has made it illegal to say "Merry Christmas." Instead, he has ruled that Americans must say "Happy Holidays" or "Vacaciones Felices" if they wish to extend good tidings.

Within an hour of the judge's verdict, National Guard troops were mobilized to enforce the controversial ruling.

The rest of the story is here.

Five "Lingering Questions" for Sternberg

Daniel Morgan has assembled a very nice list of five "lingering questions" for Richard Sternberg to answer regarding his publication of Stephen Meyer's paper supporting intelligent design. It would be nice to see them answered, but I won't hold my breath.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Galileo's Middle Finger

Galileo's middle finger of his right hand was removed from his body and put into a display case (around 1737) like a holy relic. It's on display at the Institute and Museum of the History of Science (IMSS is the Italian abbreviation) in Florence, Italy. (Hat tip to Alan W. Harris of the Space Science Institute, for his letter on pp. 67-68 of the January/February 2006 Skeptical Inquirer pointing this out. He notes that "One of my scientific colleagues, upon viewing it, noted dryly that it 'was not noticeably pointed toward Rome.'")

Phony War Against Christmas a Product of Fox News

Jim Romenesko at Poynter Forums posts an incisive article on how the Fox News Channel has been pushing this phony "War on Christmas" idea as a method of division. The article is apparently by Charlie Reina, a former Fox News Channel producer. A couple key paragraphs:
Fox anchors will tell you that no one in management dictates that they bring up religion. But my experience at FNC is that, once management makes its views known, the anchors have a clear blueprint of what’s expected of them. In this case, the point man is network vice president John Moody. A scholar and biographer of Pope John Paul II, John is a devout Catholic who seldom holds back on matters of the church, or in framing his views in “good guy, bad guy” terms. For example, during the 2001 Senate hearings on John Ashcroft’s appointment as Attorney General, Moody’s daily memos to the staff repeatedly touted Ashcroft as “deeply religious” and the victim of Democrats’ intolerance. One memo suggested a question of the day: “Can a man of deep Christian faith be appointed to a federal job, or will his views be equated with racism, intolerance and mean-spiritedness?” He added: “(K)eep pounding at the question: should Ashcroft’s detractors try to be as tolerant as they would have him be?”
Then there’s Fox management’s view on the separation of church and state, and on those who support it. One not-so-subtle hint came in March, 2004, after a Baghdad bombing gave reporters at a hotel in the Iraqi capital a scare. Moody’s memo that day advised FNC staffers to “offer a prayer of thanks for their safety to whatever God you revere (and let the ACLU stick it where the sun don’t shine).”
Not mentioned is that the book The War on Christmas is by Fox News "Big Story" host John Gibson, or the multiple fabrications by Fox's Bill O'Reilly. (Update on the latter: Plano schools are getting some press over their response to O'Reilly's fabricated claim that they banned students from wearing Christmas colors.)

David Friedman's blog

Economics and law professor David Friedman, author of The Machinery of Freedom and Law's Order, has started a blog. Initial entries include an interesting defense of the Chronicles of Narnia (and a call for examples of other works that resemble it in a certain respect), a suggestion that the Democrats try to pull libertarian support from the Republican party by endorsing something like marijuana legalization, and a position on gay marriage (get government out of the marriage business).

He's also got a sidebar link to an interesting article that presents a way of justifying (or at least explaining) the notion of rights (and property rights in particular) without appeal to morality or law.

The Bush Medicare Fraud

I've been reading James Bovard's book, The Bush Betrayal, which makes an overwhelmingly strong case that George W. Bush is not only a terrible president by liberal standards, but by conservative or libertarian ones (Bovard falls into the libertarian camp). The book is 278 pages of text followed by 43 pages of end notes (which, unfortunately, are mostly references to secondary sources) documenting Bush impropriety, dishonesty, and bad decisions regarding civil liberties, free trade, education, farm subsidies, Medicare, the war on drugs, and in war.

I just finished reading the chapter titled "Spending as Caring," which has a section on the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs in 2003 (pp. 121-126), which the Bush administration estimated would cost $400 billion in its first decade (and the Congressional Budget Office estimated would cost $2 trillion in its second decade). The initial vote took place at 3 a.m. on November 23, 2003, and lost by two votes. The Republicans violated House rules, which limit votes to 30 minutes, with the longest floor vote in House history. The voting finished at 6 a.m., with two Republicans changing their votes to yes and passing the bill.

Rep. Nick Smith (R-Michigan) was a Republican Congressman who opposed the bill and came under intense pressure to change his vote. Smith, who was in his last term and whose son was running for his seat, was told (according to Robert Novak--not a source I'd ordinarily rely upon) "business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote." He declined, at which time "fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat." Fortunately, Cunningham is now out of office after confessing to taking millions of dollars in bribes.

A month after Bush signed the bill, Josh Bolton, Bush's budget director, raised the estimate of the first decade's cost to $540 billion. As it turned out, the Bush admnistration had known since June 2003 that the cost was higher than $400 billion, from an estimate by Richard S. Foster, the top actuary at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Democratic staffers had contacted Foster asking for an estimate, which he was legally required to provide, but Thomas Scully, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reportedly threatened to fire Foster if he provided the information. Foster later said that "there was a pattern of withholding information for what I perceived to be political purposes." Why was this information suppressed? Because 13 conservative House members had vowed to vote against any bill costing more than $400 billion--they were deceived by the Bush administration.

Eighteen Democratic Senators requested the General Accounting Office to investigate whether any laws were violated (specifically a law that prohibits paying federal funds for the salary of any official who "prohibits or prevents, or threatens to prohibit or prevent" another employee from communicating with Congress). House Republicans blocked an effort to have Scully and White House aide Doug Badger testify before a congressional committee on this issue.

The Congressional Research Service published a legal analysis which concluded that "such 'gag orders' have been expressly prohibited by federal law since 1912." This position was backed by a 1927 Supreme Court ruling on that law which stated that a "legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information regarding conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change."

But the worst part about all of this deception is that the program itself is mostly a handout to people who don't need it. The Medicare prescription drug benefit helps wealthy elderly, corporations, and insurance companies more than elderly without insurance coverage. This change in the law brought the date of Medicare insolvency from 2026 to 2019, and is projected to cost up to $7 trillion over the next 75 years.

After the bill passed, the Bush administration then spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising to promote the law, including "video news releases" by fake reporters which the GAO determined in March 2004 were illegal "covert propaganda" with "notable omissions and weaknesses" and were "not strictly factual news stories."

The above gives a small sampling of the content of Bovard's book (though not his exact words, I've summarized), which is packed with equally damning criticism of the Bush administration.

BTW, Capitol Hill Blue (an often criticized source, yet which seems to often be quite accurate) claims reports from three witnesses that George W. Bush said, in response to criticisms of the USA PATRIOT reauthorization act, "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It's just a goddamned piece of paper!" (Hat tip to Scott Peterson from the SKEPTIC list.)

Profit: Its Social Motivation and Function

I found this site in a roundabout way via this page over at Liberated Space.

I tooled around a little bit, and aside from an essay making a valid criticism of the turgid and pleonastic prose of Joseph Schumpeter, this essay, described by the author as "a brief treatise on this commonly referenced and highly sought subject of economics," particularly caught my eye, if only because being against profit has always seemed to me to imply that you then must be for losses. Am I making a bit of a logical fallacy, there? Constructing a bit of a strawman? Granted. The point serves, however, to illuminate the narrow way in which the far left always tries to define profit as synonymous with exploitation. This is, in fact, what Punkerslut attempts to do at the outset:

Profit serves primarily as an economic idea. If a merchant were to purchase a single loaf of bread for one dollar and to sell it for two dollars, that would be a single dollar of profit, or what many economists would call a 100% profit return. What does money translate to for the merchant? It translates specifically to privilege: the right to possess and consume products and services, which would otherwise be unreachable, had the merchant sold his labor, instead of selling commodities.
Now, my first complaint of the above quote is that it is simply a string of non-sequiturs. What does each sentence have to do with the previous - outside the broadest sense, that they are all somewhat concerned with the subject of "profit"? You can see, though, the foggy outlines of the basic Marxist notion that profit is exploitation of the "laboring class" (the only "class" that creates value - the Proletariat) by the "merchant class" (the parasitic "class" that produces nothing - Capitalists).

But is the laboring class really the only class that creates value? Why is profit restricted to the Capitalist class? Can't a laborer value his wages more than the labor he has exchanged - thereby "profiting" from the transaction?

Reading Punkerslut's essay just makes me sad.

Friday, December 16, 2005

And some good news: the PATRIOT Act reauthorization has failed

The Senate roll call vote is here. Unless a reauthorization passes, various provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act set to expire after three years will expire on December 31, 2005. These provisions include roving wiretaps, the ability to obtain certain kinds of business records without a court order, expansion of wiretap capabilities, certain kinds of sharing between agencies of information obtained via wiretap, etc. The specific details of what was in the Senate bill and the corresponding House bill may be found here (PDF).

Some of the pieces of these bills were beneficial, e.g., placing a sunset provision on the use of National Security Letters, which predated USA PATRIOT and which do not currently have an expiration date. Others extended provisions due to sunset on December 31, 2005 to 2006 or later years. (The ACLU has a lawsuit against the constitutionality of National Security Letters.)

The vote was 52-47; 60 votes were needed to end the filibuster. 2 Democrats and 50 Republicans voted yes, 41 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and one independent voted no.

Arizona: McCain and Kyl both voted yes.

UPDATE (March 25, 2007): The link for the ACLU's lawsuit on National Security Letters is stale, you can now find that information here.

Double Standards

This is possibly the converse of the Cory Maye case: When a cop kills an innocent person by mistake, they usually don't even get charged or go to trial. When they do, they get off. (Hat tip to Radley Balko at the Agitator.)

We've previously covered bad behavior by cops here.

(Added 2:55 p.m.: Balko has another piece on the frequency of botched drug raids here. He estimates them at 46 a month in New York alone, up until 2003 when the Alberta Spruill case led to public attention to such abuses. That was a case where a 57-year-old woman died of a heart attack after a flash grenade was thrown into her apartment in a raid on the wrong apartment.)

Bush administration approved warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens

News is now out that the Bush administration, in 2002, authorized the National Security Agency to conduct eavesdropping (on international email or phone calls) against U.S. citizens without court oversight. The NSA's domestic surveillance is supposed to be limited to foreign embassies and missions, and to require court approval. This is not a power granted to the president by the U.S. Constitution.

This abuse of power has apparently been exercised against as many as 500 people in the U.S. at any given time. The NY Times reports that some NSA officials, to their credit, refused to participate due to their concerns about the legality of the program.

Note that the standards which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court uses to approve wiretaps are already incredibly low (their decision algorithm is pretty close to "say yes to everything"), but apparently that was considered too great a barrier and it had to be bypassed.

Approval of torture, secret CIA prisons in Europe, kidnapping citizens of other countries and taking them to Afghanistan... apparently the Bush administration has no respect for the U.S. Constitution on the principles behind it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Happy 214th to the Bill of Rights

On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution was approved. Happy birthday, Bill of Rights! Wishing you were still here in full force...

More fake paranormal photos had a photo contest for fake paranormal photos. Some of them are pretty good, like the winning photo of a "wasp thing." Most are at least as good as the ones in the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition on "The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult."

Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica

The December 2005 issue of Communications of the ACM contains an "Inside Risks" column raising concerns about some of the risks of Wikipedia:
relying on Wikipedia presents numerous risks:

* Accuracy: You cannot be sure which information is accurate and which is not. Misinformation has a negative value; even if you get it for free, you've paid too much.

* Motives: You cannot know the motives of the contributors to an article. They may be altruists, political or commercial opportunists, practical jokers, or even vandals (WP: ``Wikipedia:Most_vandalized_pages'').

* Uncertain Expertise: Some contributors exceed their expertise and supply speculations, rumors, hearsay, or incorrect information. It is difficult to determine how qualified an article's contributors are; the revision histories often identify them by pseudonyms, making it hard to check credentials and sources.

* Volatility: Contributions and corrections may be negated by future contributors. One of the co-authors of this column found it disconcerting that he had the power to independently alter the Wikipedia article about himself and negate the others' opinions. Volatility creates a conundrum for citations: Should you cite the version of the article that you read (meaning that those who follow your link may miss corrections and other improvements), or the latest version (which may differ significantly from the article you saw)?

* Coverage: Voluntary contributions largely represent the interests and knowledge of a self-selected set of contributors. They are not part of a careful plan to organize human knowledge. Topics that interest the young and Internet-savvy are well-covered, while events that happened ``before the Web'' may be covered inadequately or inaccurately, if at all. More is written about current news than about historical knowledge.

* Sources: Many articles do not cite independent sources. Few articles contain citations to works not digitized and stored in the open Internet.

But the authors don't seem to recognize that most of these risks apply to all published sources, not just Wikipedia or online sources. The reliability of sources on the Internet needs to be examined, just as the reliability of conventionally published sources needs to be examined. They also don't mention that volatility can be a benefit, reflecting rapid change as more or better information becomes available.

A comparison by Nature found that the treatment of scientific subjects by Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica is of comparable accuracy. This CNN article, referencing Tom Panelas of Britannica, says "Britannica researchers plan to review the Nature study and correct any errors discovered."

I bet Wikipedia will have its errors corrected before the Encyclopedia Britannica will. I encourage writers to continue criticizing Wikipedia for inaccuracies they discover--their criticisms are beneficial, as they spur corrections. For example, if you read former Britannica editor Robert McHenry's critique of the Wikipedia entry on Alexander Hamilton and then read the entry as it stands today, you'll see that all the specific complaints he had have been corrected.

Ford doesn't cave to Donald Wildmon

There was some recent press about Land Rover and Jaguar not advertising in gay publications due to pressure from Donald Wildmon's American Family Affiliation. While those specific units have decided not to advertise in gay publications, Ford itself will continue to run advertising there for all of its brands including Land Rover and Jaguar. Ford has released a letter describing its commitment to support diversity within its workplace as well as to continue marketing to the gay community (which has about half a trillion dollars in annual consumer spending--gay couples have, on average, greater discretionary income than straight families). (Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

It's always nice to see a corporation not giving in to boycott threats from crackpots like Wildmon.

Bill O'Reilly "War on Christmas" lies, Falwell idiocy

Dispatches from the Culture Wars reports on a number of Bill O'Reilly fabrications in part of his campaign about a bogus "War on Christmas":

1. He claims that Saginaw, Michigan opposes people wearing red and green clothing. This is a complete fabrication.

2. He says the Plano, Texas school system tells children they can't wear green and red clothing. This is a complete fabrication.

3. He says the U.S. Postal Service no longer issues Christmas stamps with a religious theme. This is a misinterpretation of their decision not to issue new 37-cent stamps this Christmas because the price is going up to 39 cents on January 8 and they still have a huge inventory of 37-cent Madonna and Child stamps to sell this year.

4. Jerry Falwell's "Friend or Foe" campaign sent a demand letter to a Wisconsin school that was putting on a play called "The Little Tree's Christmas Gift" insisting that the song in that play (put together and copyrighted back in 1988) which is sung to the tune of "Silent Night" be changed back to the original words. O'Reilly claimed that "In Wisconsin, an elementary school changed the name of 'Silent Night' to 'Cold In the Night.'" The school has buckled under the pressure and removed that song from the program. This case is completely absurd--the play tells a story about a little Christmas tree, and the song in question was a song that the little tree sings, to the tune of "Silent Night." Who's really anti-Christmas here?

Summary of the Richard Sternberg saga

Daniel Morgan has put together a good summary of the facts and myths of the Richard Sternberg saga. Sternberg was the editor of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, the journal which published Stephen Meyer's paper on intelligent design ("The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories").

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Latest Summary of the Cory Maye case

Radley Balko has put together a post with the most up-to-date summary of known facts and controversies regarding the Cory Maye case.

Sophomore class president arrested for bank robbery

Greg Hogan, 19, the sophomore class president at Lehigh University (where Michael Behe is a professor), was arrested for robbing a Wachovia Bank branch of $2,871 on December 9. The getaway driver was the student Senate president, Kip Wallen, who was apparently in the dark about Hogan's plans.

Hogan is the son of a Baptist minister, Rev. Gregory J. Hogan of First Baptist Church of Barberton, Ohio. Is this an example of "preacher's kid" syndrome?

Indigo Children: How to Raise a Spoiled Brat Fake Psychic

What are "indigo children"?
Indigo Children are the current generation being born today and most of those who are 8 years old or younger. They are different. They have very unique characteristics that set them apart from previous generations of children. The name itself indicates the Life Color they carry in their auras and is indicative of the Third Eye Chakra, which represents intuition and psychic ability. These are the children who are often rebellious to authority, nonconformist, extremely emotionally and sometimes physically sensitive or fragile, highly talented or academically gifted and often metaphysically gifted as well, usually intuitive, very often labeled ADD, either very empathic and compassionate OR very cold and callous, and are wise beyond their years. Does this sound like yourself or your child?
Here's a story originally from the Orange County Register about some "indigo children." How hard would it be for an undisciplined, rebellious child to set up the "orange incident" to impress some gullible parents? (Thanks to several people on the SKEPTIC mailing list for the references.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Yet more on Cory Maye

Radley Balko continues to update on the Cory Maye case as he obtains copies of original documents. Now it appears there was a warrant for Maye's residence, but he was not named. There's also more from the prosecutor, and evidence that the gun he used was stolen.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Another Botnet Talk

I'm giving another talk tomorrow on botnets, this time for the Phoenix chapter of Infragard, the FBI-sponsored 501(c)(3) that is devoted to public sector/private sector partnerships to protect national infrastructures. While Infragard has primarily focused on information technology, they are broadening their focus to include things like agriculture and food distribution, energy production and transmission, chemical plants, etc. This is an update for those who attended my April 2004 Infragard talk, and includes new material that hasn't been in any of my past botnet talks (for ASU, HTCIA, ATIC, FRnOG, and the Phoenix and Rochester, NY chapters of Infragard).

Internet History

I've been reading back issues of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, and just read the April 1985 issue. They are fascinating historical documents. The last two pages of that issue contain the ARPANet hosts file as of September 27, 1984, listing the hosts by geographic location. This was shortly after the ARPANet/MILNET split and about the time of the introduction of the domain name system. The ARPANet hosts used the 10 network (which is now private IP space--it's not publicly routed and can be used by any individual or organization for internal numbering) and MILNET used the 26 network ( is still assigned to DISA, the Defense Information Systems Agency).

Arizona at that time had two hosts: YUMA-SW ( and YUMA-TAC (, both on MILNET. The TACs (Terminal Access Controllers) were systems that allowed telephone dialup access to the network; they essentially played the role of a terminal server. The MILNET TACs developed a system for user authentication called the TAC Access Control System, or TACACS, which allowed a user to authenticate to a given TAC without the actual credentials being stored on the TAC. This protocol was enhanced by Cisco into XTACACS and then TACACS+, which is still used today, mainly on Cisco routers and switches. (The original deployment of TACACS meant that ARPANet users could not login using MILNET TACs--this is something that led to author and computer enthusiast Jerry Pournelle being kicked off the ARPANet in 1985 when his account on MIT-MC was shut down.)

There were a number of Multics systems on the net, including MIT-MULTICS in Cambridge, Massachusetts (, through which I got access to ARPANet mailing lists back then), HI-MULTICS (, the only host in Minnesota, belonging to Honeywell), USGS2-MULTICS in Colorado (, belonging to the U.S. Geological Survey), and RADC-MULTICS (, at the Rome Air Development Center in Rome, NY). The only hosts outside of the United States were MINET-RDM-TAC (, in the Netherlands), MINET-HLH-TAC (, in Scotland), FRANKFURT-MIL-TAC (, in Germany--along with about 10 other hosts in Germany), three hosts in Italy, two in England, and three in Korea--all on military bases.

Magical Thinking in the Nation's Capital: Justice House of Prayer

One Good Move has a Nightline presentation from a series called "Faith Matters" about Lou Engle's "Justice House of Prayer." Engel, who is supported by a wealthy woman whose identity he keeps secret, rents a $7000/mo office space which is "shaped like an arrow pointing at the Supreme Court building" where 70 interns pray 24 hours a day in shifts. They appear to be Christians of a charismatic variety, though I didn't actually notice any speaking in tongues. They jump, they babble on, they face out the window attempting to move God to move the justices of the Supreme Court to ban abortion. They refer to Engle as "Papa Lou."

These are the same people who have been praying outside of the Supreme Court building with red tape with the word "LIFE" written on it, taped over their mouths.

The interns each spend three months in the program, and pay $1500 for the privilege, which includes housing costs. The internship application requires two biographical essays, recommendations from a parent and a pastor, two copies of a recent photograph, and a $20 nonrefundable application fee. If you aren't involved in a local church or ministry, you must offer an explanation. A list of your "spiritual gifts mix" is requested. You also must describe your sources of income and whether you have any savings accounts and debt. As part of your personal history in the past year, the application asks if you've struggled with eating disorders, pornography, or homosexuality, whether you've been sexually active, and whether you've been pregnant or fathered a child.

More at Pharyngula, and you can find the website of these lunatics here.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

More on the Cory Maye case

Radley Balko has blogged a response from the prosecutor, who says there was a separate warrant for Maye and that this was not a no-knock warrant. He's also put Maye's account here.

Update 12/11/2005: Balko has put further commentary from the prosecutor in response to his questions here, and corrects some misconceptions here.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Speculators on an E-Ticket Ride of Blind Faith

Ben Jones' Housing Bubble blog has an amazing piece about a couple of speculators making a living off their home appreciation, but with no other sources of income. They've made $1.3 million buying and selling properties, but all of their net worth is in home equity, and they have a negative monthly cash flow of $5,000 to $15,000. They hold $2.3 million in mortgage debt.

What's amazing is that the mortgage lenders are letting them continue to buy properties with no income other than what they pull out of their properties in loans. As the market turns from a seller's to a buyer's market, they're likely to get crushed pretty quickly. Though at first I thought the new bankruptcy laws could potentially leave them in debt for the rest of their lives, their lack of actual income may save them, and leave their creditors with the short end of the stick.

Favorite quote: "Some people call it a pyramid, but I don't like to think about it that way."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Buying Pet Medicine Online

We were looking for places to buy arthritis medication online for our eight-year-old Queensland Heeler/Border Collie mix, and I was surprised to find how sleazy many of them are--hiding the true identity of the companies or individuals behind them with private domain registrations, postal mailboxes, etc. For example, had a great price, but turned out to actually be a directory service operated by a company called OnTrack Professionals, Inc. (an Oklahoma corporation whose registered agent is John M. Gerkin, an attorney who was just named as a Special Judge for Washington and Nowata counties in September). The directory service points to a Yahoo store called has a Network Solutions private registration:

Administrative Contact:,
c/o Network Solutions
P.O. Box 447
Herndon, VA 20172-0447
Its website gives a mailing address in Norfolk, Nebraska that's a private mailbox service:
710 South 13th Street Suite 900
PMB# 384
Norfolk, NE 68701
I went into the site's online chat:
Please wait for a site operator to respond.
Chat Information
You are now chatting with 'Herman'
Herman: Welcome to! How can I assist you?

Jim: Hello, Herman. I'm trying to find out if there is a legitimate corporation behind before I do business with you.

Jim: How can I verify that?

Herman: That's an excellent question sir. We have been in business for over 6 years now. The name of our corporation is HealthyPets, Inc. We are certainly legitimate. If you would like to speak with one of our reps you can call us at 1-800-889-8967.

Jim: Is that a Nebraska corporation?

Herman: That is both a Nebraska and California Corporation. All of our shipments are made from CA, but our main branch is here in Nebraska.

Jim: OK, thank you very much!
I looked up information on HealthyPets, Inc., and found that there is no Nebraska corporate registration for a company with that name, but there is one in California:
Number: C2133197 Date Filed: 2/5/1999 Status: active
Jurisdiction: California
Agent for Service of Process
M. Ghumman turns out to be Mandeep Ghumman, DVM, and it turns out that HealthyPets, Inc. has a long history of registering domains in the names of other online pet stores and vets, and then losing them to those other pet stores and vets in WIPO arbitration hearings: and (awarded to the owners of and in 2003). (awarded to KV Vet Supply in 2001) (awarded to Dr. Foster & Smith in 2000)

The site at the domain--which includes references to HealthyPets, Inc.--does not sell any prescription medications, so far as I can see, though clearly at least the site, which contains no references to a real company, does.

I also found a record of complaints about HealthyPets, Inc. at, which points out that they use other domains like,, and, as well as reports on a number of consumer complaints about the company.

I decided to go instead with, which is a publicly traded company whose CEO is named and pictured on the site, figuring that I'd rather pay more than do business with a sleazy company. As it turns out, has a price-matching policy, and actually offered us a better price than was offering.