Monday, February 26, 2007

Life behind the customer service counter at Wal-Mart

Behind the Counter is a blog of entertaining horror stories from an experienced customer service rep at Wal-Mart. If you've enjoyed similar IT or ISP tech support stories of bad customers, you'll enjoy this blog as well.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

AiG Museum asks for special police powers

The Answers in Genesis Museum is asking the governor of Kentucky to grant it special police powers so that "their 10- to 20-person security team can gain access to better training and equipment to ensure they can handle the crowds and traffic anticipated when the facility
opens May 28" according to the Cincinatti Post.

"The goal is not to become an armed encampment or anything like that," says AiG Museum Security Director Jeffrey Hawkins.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

James Cameron backing documentary that claims remains of Jesus found

On Time magazine's Middle East blog, it's reported that James Cameron is producing a documentary directed by Simcha Jacobovici which "make[s] the start[l]ing claim that Jesus wasn't resurrected --the cornerstone of Christian faith-- and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene."

The blog claims that 27 years ago, while a new industrial park was being built in Jerusalem, a 2,000-year-old cave with ten caskets was discovered, and the names on the ten tombs included "Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua" and that "film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family."

It's not clear how DNA evidence could show anything about remains belonging to Jesus (as opposed to relationship between the individual remains), but the comments on the Time blog entry make it clear that we are in for some entertainment in the form of hysterical reactions to the documentary.

UPDATE (February 25, 2007): There's a bit more information at YNetNews.

UPDATE (February 27, 2007): And better coverage at CNN, where experts point out these claims were previously made back in 1996.

UPDATE (March 6, 2007): The Jacobovici/Cameron documentary claims that the James ossuary with the faked "brother of Jesus" inscription was the missing 10th ossuary from the site they claim to be the Jesus tomb. This, however, is definitely not the case, since the person who catalogued the ossuaries at the time of the original find says that the 10th ossuary was a plain, blank ossuary with no inscription at all.

Also, P.Z. Myers watched the documentary so that you don't have to...

UPDATE (April 12, 2007): The Jerusalem Post reports that scholars in the documentary are backing away from their statements made therein...

Recording proves Paszkiewicz denied making comments

When Matt LaClair spoke before the Kearny board of education earlier this week, he gave the board a CD recording of his initial meeting with David Paszkiewicz and Kearny High School principal Al Somma, in which Paszkiewicz denied making the statements that LaClair attributed to him. LaClair had also recorded those, and proved to Somma that Paszkiewicz had lied when he denied making the statements.

This recording now proves to everyone other than LaClair, Somma, and Paszkiewicz that Paszkiewicz actually made the denials.

The recording of the meeting is available via the website of The Observer editor Kevin Canessa.

Canessa also has photos of the board meeting, where Paszkiewicz supporters in the audience held up signs to prevent camera crews from recording the statement made by Paul LaClair, Matthew's father.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Return of the Phoenix Lights

The Phoenix Lights have returned, appearing on February 6 and 22. Oddly enough, both times happened to coincide with Air Force training with flares.

UPDATE (February 25, 2007):
The Arizona Republic continues to present the Phoenix lights as something mysterious, with extraterrestrial visitors being given equal weight to the flare explanation. Commenters on this news story are touting "image expert" Jim Dilettoso in an attempt to discount flares.

The Phoenix New Times, by contrast, has been more skeptical, and exposed Dilettoso's lack of qualifications.

2006 AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility

Congratulations to Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, and to eight teachers from Dover, Pennsylvania who refused to read the anti-evolution disclaimer mandated by the Dover Area School Board that was the subject of last year's Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board trial: Brian Bahn, Vickie Davis, Robert Eshbach, Bertha Spahr, Robert Linker, Jennifer Miller, Leslie Prall, and David Taylor.

They are the 2006 recipients of the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


The blogosphere has been making fun of absurdities at Conservapedia, Andrew Schlafly's attempt to create a conservative-oriented version of Wikipedia. Orac points out that Conservapeia promotes the anti-vaccination Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (Schlafly is their legal counsel). Mark Chu-Carroll points out that even math has a liberal bias, according to Conservapedia. P.Z. Myers looks at some of Conservapedia's coverage of evolution.

Perhaps most entertaining is Jon Swift's coverage of Conservapedia, which contains links to many of the Science Bloggers' commentaries.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Matthew LaClair on Anderson Cooper tonight

Matthew LaClair will appear tonight on Anderson Cooper's show on CNN, 10 p.m. EST.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Matthew was bumped from the show.

The Jesselyn Radack Case

Ed Brayton points out Jesselyn Radack's account of the Bush administration's dishonest and sleazy retaliation against her whistleblowing about the Justice Department's deception in the so-called "American Taliban" case of John Walker Lindh. Radack was an ethics advisor for the Department of Justice who was called about whether Lindh could be interrogated without an attorney present. She pointed out that Lindh's father had already retained counsel, and that counsel needed to be present. The FBI interrogated him without counsel anyway, so she advised that that interview would need to be sealed and used only for national security purposes, not for criminal prosecution. She was ignored, Attorney General John Ashcroft lied about Lindh's rights being respected, and the DOJ tried to destroy evidence of Radack's correspondence. She recovered her emails and submitted them in a memo with her resignation. As the DOJ continued to lie, Radack went public.

The DOJ responded by applying pressure on Radack's law firm to fire her; they put her on an unpaid leave which turned into a constructive discharge, which the DOJ assisted her law firm in contesting. The government placed her under a bogus criminal investigation (later dropped with no charges), brought multiple state bar complaints against her (one of which she's still fighting), and put her on the no-fly list (she's still on it). She finally managed to find a law firm willing to hire her, after three years.

Her story is a horrifying tale of an out-of-control government. Now that the Democratic Party runs Congress, will they take some action with respect to this case?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TSA continues to demonstrate incompetence

A web page on the TSA's website for travelers "who were told you are on a Federal Government Watch List" displays evidence of being a phishing site--it's probably not, it's just so badly done that it looks like a hacked web site that's submitting its details to an unrelated third party.

TSA responded that "We are aware there was an issue and replaced the site. The issue has been fully addressed. We take IT responsibilities seriously. There never a vulnerability; just a small glitch."

The full story may be found at Wired Blogs, which points out fifteen features that make the TSA form submission site look dangerous.

Also check out this comment at Christopher Soghoian's blog:
This may be surprising to hear: I am an employee at a major airline and I just recieved an e-mail that said we now have access to the TSA no-fly list, selectee list, and cleared list. I just accessed it and found it to contain thousands of names, DOB, SSN#s, drivers licesense #'s, military ID #'s, addresses, and even home phone #'s. The TSA just made this list and all of this information readily available to thousands of employees at my airline (and probably others). I think that previously this list was only available to ticket agents, but now it is available to every employee.
I find it quite disturbing that any airline employee has access to this information, and that many of the ppl on the cleared list have to give up there SSN# and other information.

(Hat tip to Bruce Schneier's blog.)

DEA training: everyone shoots the dog

Radley Balko points out a passage from an article about DEA training for raids on drug labs:
The instructor knocks on the front door, shouting, "DEA! Police! We have a search warrant!"

The next thing you know you're inside, clearing rooms like a SWAT team on COPS, firing only at targets with odd numbers. The even-numbered targets could be the good guys, even children. Everyone shoots at the dog. It's covered with paint-ball splatters.

Balko quotes his basketball coach: "You play the way you practice."

And provides this link that proves it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Having sex is like throwing rocks at windows?

In a candidate for worst analogy ever, Washington Post lifestyle reporter Laura Sessions Step writes in her new book that
"Your body is your property," she warns girls, "Think about the first home you hope to own. You wouldn't want someone to throw a rock through the front window, would you?"
The blogosphere is generating lots of handy corrolaries:
We all know it is the husband who is supposed to throw rocks through the windows of your home. This should be done frequently, and ONLY through the same window - never through the back door or other windows.
* * *
Your body is your property. Think about the first home you hope to own. You want to have a big party and invite all your friends over.
* * *
Your body is your property ... Think about the first home you hope to own. If you ever get in trouble with money, you can always rent it out for use by strangers.
* * *
Your body is your property ... Think about the first home you hope to own. You want the carpet to match the drapes.
* * *
Your body is your property. Think about the first home you hope to own. Odds are it's going to be a fixer-upper and will need some major improvements to make it attractive. A larger front porch, for example.
(Via Framed: Discourse and Democracy and Matthew Yglesias.)

Mitt Romney defends Mormons, slams atheists

A heckler took on Mitt Romney for not "stand[ing] for the Lord Jesus Christ" because he's a Mormon (video clip). This resulted in boos from the audience. Romney replied by saying that "one of the great things about this great land is that we have people of different faiths and different persuasions, and I'm convinced that the nation does need to have people of different faiths, but we need to have a person of faith lead the country." This led to audience applause and a standing ovation.

Radley Balko observes: "Romney and his supporters have already deflected as religious bigotry (correctly, in my view) the idea (supported by polls) that America isn't ready for a Mormon in the White House. But Romney has no problem declaring that America isn't ready for an atheist or agnostic in the White House. Frankly, that's offensive."

I agree, but also note this comment from the above video link:

As a Mormon, here are some more of Mitt's specific covenants:

1. God was once a man. He is currently living on a planet near the star Kolob with his wives. 2. Jesus and Lucifer were once spirit brothers. 3. In the afterlife Mormon men will live as kings their own planets and rule over all their heirs. 4. The Book of Mormon was written on gold tablets revealed to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni. These tablets are now lost. Joseph Smith translated the tablets by putting a magic rock in his hat and sticking in face in it. 5. American Indians are the lost tribe of Israel. Jesus ministered to them in his trips to America. 6. Donny and Marie Osmond were great musicians.

But seriously folks, all you people who are trying to pretend Mormonism is just another branch of Christianity, like being a Presbyterian or a Baptist, are fooling yourselves. Someday maybe Republicans will be making excuses for a Scientologist candidate - they're even more nuts than Mormons, but only slightly.

Hail Xenu!

It's not religious bigotry to point out the facts about religions.

ACLU, PFAW give notice of possible lawsuit against Kearny public schools district

The ACLU and People for the American Way held a press conference today regarding the David Paszkiewicz situation at Kearny High School.

On Tuesday, February 13, a tort claims notice was filed with the federal court to preserve the LaClair's right to file a civil suit should the district not resolve their complaints.

Predictably, Kearny education board president Bernadette McDonald was quoted as saying, "It is unfortunate that public dollars will be spent in defending our school district when this matter is already being addressed through dialogue and action." Those actions included banning taping in the classroom without the teacher's permission (which would have prevented Paszkiewicz from being caught lying about what he said in the classroom) and switching Paszkiewicz's U.S. History class with another (so that he no longer has Matthew LaClair in his classroom).

More information at the Jersey Journal and 1010 WINS web pages. The Jersey Journal story emphasizes the education board's position, while the 1010 WINS story emphasizes Matthew LaClair's.

UPDATE (February 20, 2007): The audio of the ACLU/PFAW/LaClair press conference and the text of the Kearny education board's response may be found at Kevin Canessa's Corner at The Observer blog.

UPDATE (February 21, 2007): Looks like CNN picked up the story yesterday.

How IPv6 is already creating security problems

Computer Associates CEO John Swainson, the keynote speaker at last week's CA Expo '07 conference in Sydney, Australia, spoke about how the deployment of IPv6 will bring unavoidable and unknown security threats. He was quoted in SC Magazine:
“I don’t know what they will be but I can predict with a high degree of probability that it will happen,” he said.

"This is not something you can test in the lab, it’s something that emerges through practice.”

Swainson’s comments on IPv6 were part of a broader theme addressing the emerging complexities in IT infrastructure and their more complex insecurities.

“We’re talking about new complexities on top of existing complexities. As networks expand to include remote device types and additional applications [they] produce a wide variety of security threats,” he said.
The new Apple AirPort Extreme for 802.11n wireless networks demonstrates Swainson's point quite vividly. The device supports IPv6, and the default setting is for the device to set up an IPv6 tunnel over the IPv4 Internet and to provide IPv6 addresses to hosts on the local network with IPv6 enabled. For those using the device as their local firewall (which I'd argue is not a great idea--it's not really adequate to the task), while it will reject most incoming IPv4 connections, it will allow all IPv6 connections through. For those not using it as a firewall, if their actual firewall allows the IPv6 tunnel (and most firewalls allow all inbound connections out, which would allow the tunnel to be established), the tunnel then becomes a path through the firewall.

That is, if you put this device on your network in its default configuration, you've just completely opened up your internal systems to connections from any IPv6 host--your firewall may as well not be there, from an IPv6 perspective.

There is no "disable IPv6" option, but if you set the device to "Link Local" mode instead of "Tunnel" mode, it will only talk IPv6 to your internal network, not to the outside world.

My own home network runs IPv4 and IPv6, including wirelessly, but I have my wireless network as a separate network off my firewall, and have IPv6 firewall rules in place. It's my firewall that provides the tunnel to the IPv6 Internet. This means that any machines connected to my wireless network that want to communicate with machines on my wired network (like servers) need to pass traffic through the firewall to get to them. Also, as my firewall is an OpenBSD machine, it will not route (for security reasons) the 6to4 packets the Apple AirPort is using to create automatic IPv6 tunneling (though this makes IPv4-to-v6 migration even more difficult).

Note that in the comments on the Apple AirPort article at Ars Technica, one commenter says "The primary reason why the situation is so bad with IPv4, is that almost the entire address space is populated. Worms and virii can easily guess neighboring addresses, and since most of those are windows machines, they make great targets." This gives a false sense of safety to IPv6, as security researchers have already pointed out numerous ways in which worms can locate other IPv6 hosts despite the sparsely populated IP space (PDF).

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Carlos Mencia abuses copyright to suppress criticism

Comedian Carlos Mencia has had a video removed from YouTube on the grounds of copyright infringement. The video shows a confrontation between Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia in which Rogan accuses Mencia of stealing other comedians' material--supported by clips of Mencia doing the same jokes as other comedians, and footage of multiple comedians agreeing that Mencia has stolen material.

Rogan and Mencia had the same agent, who dropped Rogan over this dispute.

The video is still on Google Video, and Joe Rogan gives an overview at his website. The Wikipedia entry on Carlos Mencia also describes this dispute.

(Via The Superficial.)

UPDATE (February 21, 2007): Ed Brayton (who himself has worked as a stand-up comic) offers his thoughts on this.

NFL abuses Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The broadcast of the Super Bowl contained this announcement: "This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent, is prohibited."

Brooklyn Law School professor Wendy Seltzer, who founded the Chilling Effects clearinghouse of DMCA abuse, posted this piece of the Super Bowl broadcast as an example of a copyright holder exaggerating its rights--clearly the NFL does not own all pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the Super Bowl game.

The response--the NFL issued a DMCA takedown notice against her site for the posting, demonstrating that they not only exaggerate their rights, but are willing to abuse the law.

Thayer Verschoor's latest attempt at censoring academia

Arizona Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert) is at it again, with a bill that prohibits any public school or college instructor from advocating or opposing a political candidate or issue. This is the same legislator who last year proposed a bill that would have required colleges and universities to "provide a student with alternative coursework if the student deems regular coursework to be personally offensive" where "a course, coursework, learning material or activity is personally offensive if it conflicts with the student’s beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion."

While it is appropriate to define limits on partisan advocacy in public primary and secondary schools (where state educational standards define the curriculum and individual school districts set policy on appropriate classroom behavior), it doesn't make sense to do it at the college level, where professors have much broader freedom to create their own course curricula.

Verschoor was also one of several legislators accepting gifts from the Church of Scientology and sponsoring legislation for Scientology's Citizens Commission on Human Rights last year.

Painfully Unfunny

Are neo-conservatives really this humor-impaired?

This show comes off like something Kevin Trudeau should be involved with, somehow.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ed Brayton fisks Jack Cashill on the Sternberg Affair

Jack Cashill has produced an error-ridden column at WorldNetDaily on the Sternberg affair, which Ed Brayton has ably debunked. I predict Cashill will not correct himself, and may even continue to repeat the same errors.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How the invasion of Iraq was supposed to go

A Freedom of Information Act request has yielded a 2002 plan from U.S. Central Command about the invasion of Iraq.

A planning group convened by Gen. Tommy Franks under the coded compartment POLO STEP (a coded compartment created under Clinton for counter-terrorism plans including the targeting of Osama bin Laden) produced this PowerPoint of briefing slides.

The slides show that "key planning assumptions" included that "a broad-based, credible provisional government" would be in place "prior to D-Day," that "Iraqi regime has WMD capability," that "co-opted Iraqi units will occupy garrisons and not fight either U.S. forces or other Iraqi units," and that "Operations in Afghanistan transition to phase III (minimal air support over Afghanistan."

According to the plan, there would only be 5,000 U.S. troops left in Iraq as of December 2006.

(Hat tip to Jacob Sullum at the Reason Blog.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bush attempting to mislead on Iran

The Bush administration is trying to use innuendo and statements carefully crafted to imply falsehoods (or at least, things not known to be true) in order to justify war against Iran. Where the Department of Defense presented evidence that explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) used in Iraq were manufactured in Iran, Bush has made statements designed to imply, without explicitly stating, that the Iranian government is behind them. Reporters are also being told that the U.S. government has some solid evidence, but that it cannot be shared.

For specific details and criticisms, see:

Talking Points Memo (February 14, 2007)
TPM Muckraker (February 14, 2007)
Outside the Beltway (February 12, 2007)

The Pentagon's briefing PowerPoint on the EFPs can be found here. Interesting that the labels on the weapons shown in photographs include English wording, but that's not a sign that they weren't made in Iran, but only a consequence of the fact that English is the lingua franca of the arms trade.

UPDATE (February 27, 2007): A factory producing EFPs has been captured in Southern Iraq--and the parts that have identifiable origins did not come from Iran.

Jeff Han multitouch demo

Jeff Han (who gave a very interesting demo at the TED conference last year) has formed a company called Perceptive Pixel which makes even larger touch screens. This video is a demo of some of the interesting user interfaces that multitouch provides.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Three lottery stories

Sex offender wins $14 million in lottery (Jensen Beach, Florida).
Man with year to live wins $50,000 a year (Rochester, New York).
Bill would refuse lottery wins for sex offenders (Jefferson City, Missouri).

And Jamie Zawinski suggests a fourth:
Bill would refuse lottery wins for cancer victims.

The economics of information security

Ross Anderson and Tyler Moore have published a nice paper that gives an overview of recent research in the economics of information security and some open questions (PDF). The paper begins with an overview of the relevance of economic factors to information security and a discussion of "foundational concepts." The concept of misaligned incentives is described with the now-standard example of how UK and U.S. regulations took opposite positions on liability for ATM fraud is given--the UK held customers liable for loss, while the U.S. held banks liable for loss. This led to U.S. banks having incentives to make their systems secure, while UK banks had no such incentives (and the UK has now reversed its position after this led to "an epidemic of fraud"). other examples are given involving anti-virus deployment (where individuals may not have incentives to purchase software if the major benefit is preventing denial of service attacks on corporations), LoJack systems (where auto theft plummets after a threshold number of auto owners in a locality install the system), and the use of peer-to-peer networks for censorship resistance.

The authors examine the economics of vulnerabilities, of privacy, of the deployment of security mechanisms including digital rights management, how regulation and certification can affect system security (and sometimes have counterintuitive adverse effects, such as Ben Edelman's finding that TRUSTe certified sites are more likely to contain malicious content than websites as a whole).

They end the paper with some open issues--attempts to develop network protocols that are "strategy-proof" to prevent cheating/free-riding/bad behavior, how network topologies have different abilities to withstand different types of attacks (and differing vulnerabilities), and how the software development process has a very high failure rate for large projects, especially in public-sector organizations (e.g., as many as 30% are death-march projects).

There are lots of interesting tidbits in this paper--insurance for vulnerabilities, vulnerability markets, the efficacy of spam on stock touting, the negligible effect of music downloads on music sales, and how DRM has moved power from record labels to platform owners (with Apple being the most notable beneficiary), to name a few.

(Hat tip to Bruce Schneier's blog, where you can find links to a slide presentation that covers the highlights of this paper.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

I've won a Thinking Blogger award!

I've been awarded a Thinking Blogger award, courtesy of Larry Moran at Sandwalk: Strolling with a Skeptical Biochemist. Thanks, Larry!

As per the rules of this award-meme, I must tag five other blogs that make me think:

1. Glen Whitman and Tom W. Bell at Agoraphilia
2. The Technology Liberation Front
3. Martin Geddes at Telepocalypse
4. Ed Felten at Freedom-to-Tinker
5. Kevin Carson at the Mutualist blog

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Arizona minimum wage increase leads to job cuts and reduced hours

In November, Arizonans voted to increase the state minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $6.75/hour, and there is now some anecdotal evidence of job loss for teen workers in South and Central Phoenix.

Pepi's Pizza in South Phoenix is laying off three of its 25 workers and Mary Coyle's Ice Cream Parlor has cut back on hours and not replaced two workers who quit (despite the fact that its owner, Tom Kelly, voted for the increase). Kelly notes that he also increased the wages of those who were already making above minimum wage, with the net effect being an additional $2,000/month in expenses.

The Arizona Republic article notes that the majority of the state's 124,067 workers aged 16-19 already made well above minimum wage before the change, 30.1% of workers making minimum wage fall in that age range, and 30.4% of minimum wage workers live with a parent or parents.

Teens can legally have sex, but if they take pictures, they're child pornographers

The Florida state appeals court ruled that a 16-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy in Tallahassee who took digital photos of themselves having sex were guilty of violating child pornography laws. The appeals court panel rules 2-3 that the Florida Constitution's right to privacy did not protect them. Judge James Wolf, in the majority opinion, wrote that they could sell the photos to child pornographers, and "if these pictures are ultimately released, future damage may be done to these minors' careers or personal lives." Apparently he's not concerned about the damage he's doing to them by causing them to become convicted child pornographers for taking pictures of themselves. Judge Philip Padovano, in his dissent, wrote that the law was intended to prevent children from being abused by others, not to punish them for their own mistakes.

More details in Declan McCullagh's story at

Friday, February 09, 2007

What's happened to The Simple Dollar?

The Simple Dollar blog is offline, and its author is looking for a way to get back online.

I've been reading Trent's The Simple Dollar blog since mid-December. It's a very well-written, professional-looking blog that gets a lot of traffic, but I was surprised to learn that he only started it about a month before I started reading it.

Today, I noticed a lot of Google searches for "The Simple Dollar" were hitting my blog, all coming to my post about Robert Kiyosaki that linked to Trent's blog. I clicked on the link to re-read his post, only to get a "Forbidden" message from his webserver. I contacted Trent to see if the problem was a legal issue, perhaps a threat from Kiyosaki, but it turns out his entire blog has been taken offline by Dreamhost, his webhosting provider.

It seems that today The Simple Dollar--already in the top 2800 at Technorati--got prominent links from both and This generated so much traffic to the shared server hosting the blog that Dreamhost disabled the account and denied access to the blog. Not only have they denied web access, they've denied Trent FTP access. He does have a backup from a few days ago, but is currently looking for a way to get back online with a dedicated server.

You can read his own account of his predicament at Metafilter.

I've offered a few suggestions for possible webhosting providers, but he doesn't think he can afford a dedicated server right now. That's in part because, despite his huge traffic, his blog has grown in popularity so fast that he hadn't yet acquired any major advertisers. He's been the victim of his own too-rapid success.

Are there any advertisers out there who would be willing to help finance the blog's return on a dedicated server with sufficient bandwidth to handle the traffic?

UPDATE (February 10, 2007): The Simple Dollar (or at least most of its content) is back!

Bill Maher makes fun of creationist museum

And Ken Ham is not amused:

Christian publisher Ken Ham said Maher showed up unannounced this week to videotape an interview with him at Ham's Creation Museum, which is just south of Cincinnati. The $25 million facility, due to open in the spring, tells visitors that the earth is just a few thousand years old and that Adam and Eve lived among the dinosaurs.

Ham said a camera crew arranged a Monday visit to the museum, but he was not told that it was connected with Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

"They sneaked Bill Maher into the building while I was waiting for an interview," Ham wrote in a blog he maintains on the Web site of his publishing company, Answers in Genesis.

Maher visited the museum for a documentary he's been filming on religion, his publicist, Sarah Fuller, said Friday. She said he's traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe for the project.

"He's been all over the place," she said. Fuller said she wasn't familiar with how the interview with Ham was conducted.

Ham called Maher's visit an "elaborate deception." He said the film crew asked for a one-on-one interview with Ham after a tour of the museum. After the tour, crew members asked for permission to bring some camera equipment in through the back of the building. Ham wrote that the crew drove to the rear, then distracted an employee as Maher ducked into the building.

Ham said he was shocked, but agreed to the interview.

"Bill Maher did interview me; though respectful in one sense, most of his questions were just mocking attacks on God's word," Ham wrote in the blog on Wednesday.

Ham declined on Friday to comment further on Maher's visit.

But AiG's Mark Looy says "Ken is not upset."

Paszkiewicz has Matthew LaClair removed from his class

The latest news from Kearny High School, via Kevin Canessa at the Observer, is that David Paszkiewicz has removed what he sees as the source of his problems from his classroom by switching classes with another teacher. Now, Debbie Vartan teaches Paszkiewicz's class and vice versa. Principal Alfred Somma confirms that Paszkiewicz requested the switch.

Apparently the ban on classroom recordings wasn't enough--Paszkiewicz must realize that Matthew LaClair has more credibility than he does with the mainstream media, and his presence in the classroom was cramping his style.

Here's hoping that there's someone who was in Debbie Vartan's class who's got as much integrity and brains as Matthew LaClair, and who will keep the public informed of any further misrepresentations or Establishment clause violations in Paszkiewicz's classroom.

Warner Music: we'd rather go out of business than give customers what they want

After Steve Jobs said that he'd prefer to have the iTunes store sell DRM-free music, but is forced into DRM by the music labels, Edgar Bronfman of Warner Music said that his company will have nothing to do with DRM-free music:
"We advocate the continued use of DRM," Bronfman said, adding that music deserves the same anti-piracy protections as software, TV broadcasts, video games and other forms of intellectual property. "We will not abandon DRM nor services that are successfully implementing DRM for both content and consumers."
This quote appeared in an article reporting Warner's dismal results:
its fiscal first-quarter profit fell 74% because of fewer album releases and soft domestic and European sales. Its shares fell nearly 6%.

The New York-based recording company said net income for the period that ended Dec. 31 declined to $18 million, or 12 cents a share, from $69 million, or 46 cents, a year earlier. Revenue fell 11% to $928 million.
The competition at EMI, however, feels differently:
Music label EMI Group is in talks to release a large portion of its music catalog for Web sales without technological protections against piracy that are included in most music bought over the Internet now, sources said on Thursday.
One source familiar with the matter said that EMI was in talks to release a large amount of its music in an unprotected MP3 format to various online retailers.
EMI's plans apparently include talks with Shawn Fanning's SnoCap about releasing MP3-format music through MySpace.

Which company is more likely to still be in business under the same management ten years from now?

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The RIAA doesn't understand economics

The Recording Industry Association of America has a web page arguing that we're all getting a fantastic deal on compact discs because, if they had gone up in price along with the Consumer Price Index, they'd be over $33 each. As Ben Woods points out, by that same argument Texas Instruments calculators that cost $20 in the mid-1980s should have cost over $300.

In fact, the recording labels engaged in price fixing, by setting "minimum advertised pricing" on CD retailers, which caused prices to stop their downward trend in 1996--and causing a decline in sales as prices increased.

If you want to sell more CDs, lower the price.

(Via Techdirt.)

UPDATE (February 9, 2007): This post at kuro5hin from January 2003 on "RIAA vs. MP3 vs. Adam Smith" addresses compact disc pricing and demand.

UPDATE (February 10, 2007): And this post at Techdirt reports on a study that shows no measurable effect on CD sales from online downloads (as opposed to, say, CD prices).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Selling nothing for something

Long or Short Capital reports that:
[Conceptual] artist Jonathon Keats has digitally generated a span of silence, four minutes and thirty-three seconds in length, portable enough to be carried on a cellphone. His silent ringtone… is expected to bring quiet to the lives of millions of cellphone users, as well as those close to them.
Given the duration of the ringtone, Keats should expect to get sued by the estate of John Cage for copyright infringement.

McCain proposes an unfunded mandate for ISPs

Declan McCullagh at reports that Sen. John McCain is preparing to hold a press conference with John Walsh of America's Most Wanted and Miss America 2007 to announce a bill that will create a new mandate for Internet Service Providers to eavesdrop on all of their customers email and web traffic in search of child porn images. The act apparently requires ISPs to implement new technology to compare all images transmitted or received by their customers to a federal database of images (presumably via some one-way hash function, so that the database is not itself distributing child pornography), and to report any that are detected to John Walsh's National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that operates as a clearinghouse/proxy for federal and state law enforcement with Congressional mandate and federal funding.

The new bill is known as the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation Online or SAFE Act, and is not to be confused with the 2003 SAFE Act (Security and Freedom Ensured), the 1997 SAFE Act (Security and Freedom through Encryption), or the 1998 SAFE Act (Safety Advancement For Employees).

Happy 10th birthday, Shelby

Today is our dog Shelby's 10th birthday (that's 70 to you and me). She's a Queensland Heeler/Border Collie/Chow/who knows what.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Unmarried partnership benefits overturned in Michigan

As the result of a lawsuit in Michigan based on its 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that domestic partnership benefits in negotiated contracts with public employee's unions are null and void.

The 2004 amendment was written by Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, who wrote in a pamphlet at the time that:
Proposal 2 is Only about marriage. Marriage is a union between husband and wife. Proposal 2 will keep it that way. This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their lives. This has to do with family, children and the way people are. It merely settles the question once and for all what marriage is-for families today and future generations.
The Alliance Defense Fund, which backed the similar constitutional amendment here in Arizona, has made similar statements.

Yet it was Patrick Gillen of the Thomas More Law Center who wrote the amendment for CfPM, and he was also behind the lawsuit that eliminated partnership benefits.

Clearly, these people cannot be trusted, and Arizona was wise to reject the similar constitutional amendment here.

UPDATE (May 14, 2008): The Michigan Supreme Court has upheld the denial of domestic partnership benefits as a result of their 2004 constitutional amendment.

UPDATE (November 16, 2008): Patrick Gillen was also lead counsel for the Dover Area School District in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, in which he defended the failed attempt to inject intelligent design into the public schools.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Animal rescue awards and recognition events

Arizona R.E.S.C.U.E. had its annual awards picnic on Saturday at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, at which Karen Currie was named volunteer of the year. Kat and I received Cornerstone Awards for our volunteer work in dog fostering and caretaking roles, which was unexpected but gratifying. R.E.S.C.U.E. is always looking for additional volunteers to assist with a variety of activities for the support of both dogs and cats.

Next Saturday, we'll be attending the Arizona Humane Society's annual donor recognition brunch. We're looking forward to hearing what AHS has planned for the coming year. Where R.E.S.C.U.E. has been around for twelve years and operates on a tiny budget and emphasizes quality adoptions over quantity, AHS turns 50 this year, has a multi-million dollar annual budget, two impressive large facilities in Phoenix, and is able to perform a wide variety of services including mobile emergency animal medical services (which can be seen on television on Animal Planet's "Animal Planet Heroes Phoenix" series).

Keith Henson arrested in Prescott, Arizona

Scientology critic Keith Henson was arrested on Friday evening in Prescott, Arizona. Henson had been a fugitive since his conviction in Riverside County, California on April 26, 2001, on charges of interfering with a religion for his picketing of Scientology in Hemet, California and online jokes about a "[Tom] Cruise missile." Henson was sentenced to six months in prison, but he fled to Ontario, Canada, where he unsuccessfully sought asylum as a victim of religious persecution. His application for refugee status was rejected in 2004, and he voluntarily left the country in September 2005, and has apparently been living in Arizona.

Henson's arrest has also been covered by the 10 Zen Monkeys blog and Sentient Developments blog.

UPDATE (February 7, 2007): Declan McCullagh has reported more details at Henson's bond was raised from $7,500 to $500,000 at the request of prosecutors, then reduced back to $5,000. He was released from jail Monday night, and must appear for an extradition hearing on March 5. He is being defended by a local libertarian of my acquaintance, Michael Kielsky.

UPDATE (February 9, 2007): For a deeper look at exactly what caused Keith Henson to be convicted on a misdemeanor charge, see this ex-Scientologist's web page of postings from Henson and Scientology critic Diane Richardson. Diane Richardson is a meticulously accurate critic who has come under fire from fellow critics for negative posts about critics rather than restricting her focus to Scientology. While I've disagreed with her from time to time, when it comes to facts she is quite reliable. She is, as am I, a skeptic of claims of "cult mind control."

UPDATE (March 27, 2008): I'm quite remiss in updating this. Keith Henson was extradited to Riverside, California, after his hearings were delayed into May 2007, where he was jailed on August 11. He was subsequently released from jail in September and is now a free man.

UPDATE (July 7, 2008): Keith served four months of a 180-day (six-month) sentence, and is currently on probation. The Riverside County Superior Court website lists the terms of his probation:

Case HEM014371 Defendant 547981 HENSON, KEITH

Probation Type: SUMMARY Granted: 05/30/2007 Expire: 05/29/2010


Schoolteacher convicted on bogus charges due to malware

Connecticut substitute teacher Julie Amero faces up to 40 years in prison for "risk of injury to a minor or impairing the morals of a child" because a seventh-grade classroom computer was infected with malware. While browsing the web for information about hair styles, the browser hit a website that caused pop-ups ads for pornographic sites to pop up.

Because Amero's attorney failed to raise the issue of malware, most of a defense expert witness's testimony was excluded from presentation to the jury, which unanimously voted for conviction.

There are so many things wrong here:

* The school district had let its filtering software expire, so the machine didn't have adequate protection (and was likely unpatched for major vulnerabilities).

* The police did an incompetent investigation, failing to check for malware.

* The police testified, falsely, that Amero would have had to physically click on a pornographic link to get those sites to pop up.

* Amero's attorney did an incompetent job of defending her, by failing to bring up the critically important issue of malware.

* And the law itself is absurd--Amero shouldn't get 40 years in prison even if she had intentionally shown pornography to seventh graders.

Lindsay Beyerstein has a good summary of the case at the Huffington Post, including links to the expert testimony that shows conclusively that malware, not Amero, was at fault. P.Z. Myers criticizes the "insane anti-porn hysteria" aspect of the case at Pharyngula.

UPDATE (June 7, 2007): Julie Amero has been granted a retrial! She will get a new trial sometime in 2007.

UPDATE (November 26, 2008): The state of Connecticut has finally decided to drop the charges against Amero.

UPDATE (December 4, 2008): But Amero still loses her teacher's license!

Hoax devices and infernal machines

Wired looks at the law under which Peter Beredovsky was charged regarding the Boston Mooninite lights:
Whoever possesses, transports, uses or places or causes another to knowingly or unknowingly possess, transport, use or place any hoax device or hoax substance with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons shall be punished by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
Note the requirement of intent, which should be impossible to prove--it's clear the intent was to promote the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, not to cause panic. But this law also requires that the object being planted be a "hoax device," which is defined as:
For the purposes of this section, the term “hoax device” shall mean any device that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such device is an infernal machine. For the purposes of this section, the term “infernal machine” shall mean any device for endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both, by fire or explosion, whether or not contrived to ignite or explode automatically. For the purposes of this section, the words “hoax substance” shall mean any substance that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such substance is a harmful chemical or biological agent, a poison, a harmful radioactive substance or any other substance for causing serious bodily injury, endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both.
That's a nice term, "infernal machine"--it sounds like something demonic, perhaps appropriate for a state that still has blasphemy laws on the books. Here again, the law is clearly in Beredovsky's favor. There is no way that a person would reasonably believe that the magnetic lights depicting Mooninite characters were "infernal machines"--devices designed to ignite or explode.

I predict the authorities will drop the charges rather than go through the further embarrassment of a trial.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Belief, behavior, and bumper sticker religion

I've occasionally remarked that I don't care so much what people believe as I do how they act. The people I enjoy spending time with are not always those who share my beliefs, but are those who demonstrate integrity, respect, honesty, and other virtues. These virtues are associated with not just holding beliefs in the sense of a mere tendency to agree with a statement, but a deeper belief that actually has consequences for one's behavior. When I was a born-again Christian, I heard many sermons to the effect that many Christians were Christian in name only, paying only lip service to the doctrines while not living their lives in accordance with them. Clearly, there are a lot of such people out there.

(Read the rest, where I recycle an argument I originally wrote in a pamphlet called "Three Reductio Ad Absurdum Arguments Against Evangelical Christianity," at the Secular Outpost.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

More comments on Boston lite brite fiasco

Bruce Schneier has commented on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force nonsense in Boston:

Now the police look stupid, but they're trying really not hard not to act humiliated:

Governor Deval Patrick told the Associated Press: "It's a hoax -- and it's not funny."

Unfortunately, it is funny. What isn't funny is now the Boston government is trying to prosecute the artist and the network instead of owning up to their own stupidity. The police now claim that they were "hoax" explosive devices. I don't think you can claim they are hoax explosive devices unless they were intended to look like explosive devices, which merely a cursory look at any of them shows that they weren't.

But it's much easier to blame others than to admit that you were wrong:

"It is outrageous, in a post 9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," Mayor Thomas Menino said. "I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred."


Rep. Ed Markey, a Boston-area congressman, said, "Whoever thought this up needs to find another job."

"Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok," Markey, a Democrat, said in a written statement. "It would be hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt."


"It had a very sinister appearance," [Massachusetts Attorney General Martha] Coakley told reporters. "It had a battery behind it, and wires."

For heavens sake, don't let her inside a Radio Shack.

And so has Tim Lee at the Technology Liberation Front:

Oh my God! Wires! And a battery! My question is: doesn't the city of Boston have any bomb experts on staff? I mean, it's not crazy for a layman to see an unidentified electronic device and imagine it could be a bomb. But wouldn't the first step be to call in a bomb squad to examine the device? And wouldn't it be obvious to anyone that knew anything about electronics that it's highly unlikely that a terrorist would put dozens of gratuitous LEDs on the front of a bomb?

Terrorism is a serious problem, and we should take prudent steps to to deal with it. But we also have to remember that terrorists' goal is to produce terror and get attention. When we're this panicky, we do the terrorists' job for them. Yesterday Osama bin Laden succeeded in snarling traffic and producing an avalanche of news coverage without lifting a finger.


Minimum wage increase: how to make the poor poorer

Rather than increase the Earned Income Tax Credit or reduce payroll taxes, Congress is moving forward with an increase in the minimum wage. Gary Becker and Richard Posner have written a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "How To Make the Poor Poorer" which describes the likely consequences of this feel-good legislation:
Although some workers benefit -- those who were paid the old minimum wage but are worth the new one to the employers -- others are pushed into unemployment, the underground economy or crime:
  • The losers are therefore likely to lose more than the gainers gain; they are also likely to be poorer people.
  • And poor families are disproportionately hurt by the rise in the price of fast foods and other goods produced with low-skilled labor because these families spend a relatively large fraction of their incomes on such goods.
Because most increases in the minimum wage have been slight, their effects are difficult to disentangle from other factors that affect employment:
  • But a 40 percent increase would be too large to have no employment effect; about a tenth of the work force makes less than $7.25 an hour.
  • Even defenders of minimum-wage laws must believe that beyond some point a higher minimum would cause unemployment, otherwise why don't they propose $10, or $15, or an even higher figure?
Good intentions don't make for good legislation.

UPDATE (February 9, 2007): Glen Whitman writes about how the minimum wage debate is largely symbolic on both sides, though this time it could be different.

UPDATE (September 6, 2007): I just came across this interesting post at the Coyote Blog about how minimum wage changes affect his specific business.

UPDATE (October 10, 2007): Here's a nice summary of U.S. minimum wage worker statistics, including:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual income of a U.S. worker is $32,140. Federal minimum wage is currently $5.85 an hour, or about $11,500 per year — just above the poverty line. Of the 76.5 million people paid by the hour in the United States in 2006, 2.2% make minimum wage or less. Here are some generalizations we can make about minimum wage workers:
  • Most minimum wage earners are young. While 2.2% of all hourly workers earn minimum wage or less, just 1.4% of workers over the age of 25 are paid at or below the Federal minimum wage. More than half (51.2%) of minimum wage workers are between 16 and 24 years old. Another 21.2% are between 25 and 34.
  • Most minimum wage earners work in food service. Nearly two-thirds of those paid minimum wage (or less) are food service workers. Many of these people receive supplemental income in the form of tips, which the government does not track.
  • Most minimum wage earners never attended college. Just 1.2% of college graduates are paid the minimum wage. If you only have a high school degree, you’re more likely (1.9%) to be paid minimum wage. Those without a high school degree are nearly three times as likely (3.7%) to earn minimum wage. 59.8% of all minimum wage workers have no advanced education.
  • Finally, as you might expect, part-time workers are five times more likely to be paid the minimum wage than full-time workers.
UPDATE (November 25, 2012): There has been an accumulation of evidence that a moderate minimum wage is a net benefit, improving both wages and employment in some cases (reference to The Economist, Nov. 24, 2012, p. 82, "Free exchange: The argument in the floor").

National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq that had its release postponed until after the election is now out, and it seems to indicate that Bush's plan for a surge is doomed to failure:
...even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate.
The NIE also says that Iran and Syria are "not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics."

More at TPM Muckraker.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Nice takedown of Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh D'Souza, who blames liberals for exercising their freedom in ways that cause Muslim radicals to hate and attack the U.S., gets a nice takedown at World-o-Crap.

Also see Ed Brayton's commentaries on D'Souza from last year:

"The Inanity of Dinesh D'Souza" (September 2006)
"Walcott on D'Souza's New Book" (October 2006)
"More on D'Souza's Ridiculous Book" (October 2006)

David Paszkiewicz on global warming; Kearny High School bans recording

Last week in class David Paszkiewicz was discussing Adolf Hitler and the "Big Lie" propaganda technique. His example of a "Big Lie" being spread today: global warming. In Paszkiewicz's backwards world, it's not global warming denial that's a big lie, it's the scientific evidence supporting it.

Kearny High School has taken action regarding Paszkiewicz's continuing embarrassment of the school--by banning classroom taping without permission of the instructor. (They have also planned mandatory training for teachers on "how to interpret the Constitution’s separation of church and state and how it should apply to classroom discussions," as I reported last month.)

The New York Times has the story.

Boston completely losing it on Aqua Teen marketing campaign

Boston authorities have now escalated their response to the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" movie publicity campaign, by arresting two of the men who put up magnetic lights showing the Mooninite characters Ignignokt and Err, on charges of "placing a hoax device in a way that results in panic."

But this is absurd--it wasn't a "hoax device"--they were lighted pictures of characters from a movie. It was not designed to look like anything remotely dangerous.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said, "It had a very sinister appearance. ... It had a battery behind it, and wires." So anything with a battery and wires (like, say, an iPod) is now a threatening, sinister appearing device?

Massachusetts is trying to cover its stupidity with more stupidity. Nine other cities didn't find this remotely threatening, and nobody saw the ones in Boston as threatening for the first 2-3 weeks they were up.

(For photos and my initial report, see here.)

Karen Johnson trying to become America's dumbest legislator

Arizona State Senator Karen Johnson (R, District 18-Mesa) is no stranger to stupidity. She was one of a number of legislators who got in bed with the Church of Scientology last year, accepting invitations to Scientology events and sponsoring anti-psychiatric legislation pushed by Scientology's Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) front organization.

Now she's behind SCR 1026, a proposal to amend the Arizona Constitution to prevent courts from the ability to address violations of the separation of church and state:
Her proposal, SCR 1026, would specifically bar courts from being able to grant any injunctions or other legal relief if the question involves "the acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty or government." And that bar would remain in place whether the action were brought against the government as a whole or any state or local official.
She goes on to demonstrate that she doesn't understand the First Amendment's Establishment Clause:
Johnson said she is unhappy that judges in other states have ruled that the words "under God" have to come out of the Pledge of Allegiance, and that a monument of the Ten Commandments had to be removed from an Alabama courthouse.

"We don't want that," she said.

Johnson said she believes her measure would also bar challenges to prayer in school.

Johnson said it is not the function of the courts to decide when government officials have crossed the line between church and state. In fact, she said, there is no law separating the two.

"In the (federal) Constitution, what it means is that there is to be no state religion," she said.

"But we're supposed to have religion in everything -- the opportunity to have religion in everything," Johnson continued. "I want religion in government, I want my government to have a faith-based perspective."

"The courts do their own thing," Johnson said. "They're making up law out of how they feel about things. They're not following the Constitution."

It's not clear whether she even understands that she has no ability or authority to affect federal courts on this issue, though she could affect state courts. All of her comments are about federal issues, and she doesn't appear to be cognizant of Article 2, Section 12 in the Arizona Constitution, which contains even stricter constraints on separation of church and state than in the U.S. Constitution:
The liberty of conscience secured by the provisions of this constitution shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment. No religious qualification shall be required for any public office or employment, nor shall any person be incompetent as a witness or juror in consequence of his opinion on matters of religion, nor be questioned touching his religious belief in any court of justice to affect the weight of his testimony.
(Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

UPDATE: The Zelph blog, an Arizona blog which focuses on Mormons and their influence on the state legislature, has an interview with Karen Johnson from New Times in 2005, and observes that she is such a big supporter of marriage that she's been married five times.