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Don' need no steeenking:
Thursday, June 21, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So today I made another of those Highly Organized Lists of Things To Do. I was doing pretty well in the morning (it helped that I'd scheduled one thing for "until 08:30", and then the next thing for "09:00 to 10:00", and therefore had an accidental half hour slack time), but then I got one of those "phone calls". Given that we have email, I don't really get the point of "telephones"; they put all the power in the hands of the people who want to interrupt me.

Since it's raining out, though, we had an extra-short lunch (no walk around the Medical Center, or even around the building), so now I'm back on schedule, and can even spend a few minutes doing that Weblog Thing.

From Ethel, a simultaneously comforting and indigifying story, "The Culture War Against Kids":

In rising panic, culture warriors left to right indict explicit video games, television, gangsta rap music, R-rated movies, Internet images, and "toxic culture" for causing teenage violent crime, drug abuse, sex, and unhealthy behavior. From 1990 to 2000, rap sales soared 70 percent, four million teen and pre-teen boys took up violent video games (as 1992's Nintendo Mortal Kombat evolved to 1994's bloody Sega version and sequels), and youth patronage of movie videos and Net sites exploded.

As "toxic culture" dysfluences spread, did Lord of the Flies ensue? To the contrary. Perhaps no period in history has witnessed such rapid improvements in adolescent conduct. From 1990 through 1999, teenage violence and other malaise plunged: homicide rates (down 62 percent), rape (down 27 percent), violent crime (down 22 percent), school violence (down 20 percent), property offenses (down 33 percent), births (down 17 percent), abortions (down 15 percent), sexually transmitted diseases (down 50 percent), violent deaths (down 20 percent), suicide (down 16 percent), and drunken driving fatalities (down 35 percent).

Check your coat here:

Here is a shilling for you, my good man...
Sing on, there in the swamp!
Blenders Over the Ocean II: the Fight for Justice
People yakkity yak a streak and waste your time of day
Well listen to this.
stealth airbag
Quotidian lawyers in Mississippi.
Quotidian lawyers in Mississippi.
Quotidian lawyers in Mississippi.
Quotidian lawyers in Mississippi.
Quotidian lawyers in Mississippi.
Quotidian lawyers in Mississippi.
Mock Todd, Eno Feevom.

It's possible there was a little mail-server hiccup somewhere in there. So is that "Feevom" thing some kinda anagram or something?

Check your coat here:

How's my coat look? Anything hanging off it? Does it go all right with these shoes? Can you see that little stain there? Oh, good. Okay, it's checked.

Congratulations. You are the first web site to use the word "drimfe." You win.

good af_noon i m reading The Lugano Report: On Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century. by Susan George. Pluto Press, London and Sterling, Virginia, 1999

I can't check my coat here. I am at work, and it being a warm summer day, I left my coat at home. What should I be checking for, anyway?

you can do your own photocopy-like thingdoo with paint thinner and a hair dryer, no joke!

By "photocopy-like", do you mean "large flaming explosions", or something else?

Eventually, the Furbys were reclocked back to their normal rates to avoid problems caused by oveheating.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

We went to the little daughter's Moving Up ceremony this morning; next year, Middle School! What a thought.

Among the various certificates and awards and stuff she came away with was a Presidential Award for Academic Excellence, 'cause of getting good grades and all. It came with a little pin, and a letter from President Bush himself! His hand sure must get tired, signing all those letters.

"My God."

"It worked."

"Okay, okay. So we need to, we need to find a lawyer we can trust. And like put together a patent. Or should we keep it as a trade secret? And maybe a marketing team. Or we could just sell the rights. But a big company might screw us. Okay, first --"



"Why do all that?"

"Are you crazy? With what we've discovered here, we could be rich beyond our wildest dreams!"

"Garrett, with what we've discovered here, we're already rich beyond our wildest dreams."

"What? Oh. Oh, yeah!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

I went into the little boy's class this morning, with M, to be a Parent Helper at Activity Day. It was fun, if overstaffed; when the teacher first asked for parent volunteers, she hardly got any, and then when she said "we still need volunteers!" she got tons. Each of the rooms with Activities had fifteen or thirty kids and five to ten grownups, and the Food Room (where we were) had zero kids and five to seven grownups charged with supplying snacks and lunch to the other rooms. Which didn't require nearly that many people! So we sat around and talked and tried not to eat all the cookies.

A reader writes:

...your view of Scalia is so far from my own that I wanted to explore why this is would be so.

I found a REASON article which expresses my view of what Scalia stands for. It should serve as an excellent jumping-off point:

My only addition for now is the observation that a "fascist loon" would never have found with the 5-4 majority in Texas v. Johnson (holding that flag-burning is protected expression).

I will freely admit that my impression of Scalia is based mostly on his dissent in Romer. That evidence seems awfully compelling, though! From having now poked around the Net a bit more, he seems to be devoted to the Conservative worldview as defined by Phil Agre: straight WASP males on top, everyone else firmly strapped into their places further down. He justifies his rulings in that direction by appealing to the letter of the laws and the Constitution.

I do approve of his vote in Texas v. Johnson, and in fact that case is cited on various Scalia-admiring pages on the Web as proof that he's an honest "strict interpretation" guy, with no political bias. Since Romer seems to be such strong evidence to the contrary, though, it'll take more than one vote on the other side to convince me! (He didn't write the majority opinion in Texas v. Johnson, he just joined Brennan.)

Is there any other case where Scalia has found on the progressive side of the question? (Defending, say, the right of the people to challenge the government, of the poor or an oppressed minority to resist the majority, or of people to object to the negative externalities imposed by large businesses, or like that?) I'd love to think that he's more reasonable than his Romer dissent suggests.

It's not hard, of course, to read just about whatever degree of enlightenment you want into the Constitution and the opinions of the Framers. You can observe that they were rather radical believers in liberty, and that what they proposed (government by the people, allowing even the poor to vote) was pretty progressive for its time. Applying the same degree of radicalness to the modern world would of course imply (for instance) that the government can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

On the other hand, you can observe that the Framers (while radical for their time) were in the details of their behavior extremely reactionary by our standards. While I have every faith that if Adams or Jefferson were alive today they'd be on the side of Hardwick rather than Bowers, Rehnquist and Scalia simply note that at the time the Constitution was written, equal rights for homosexuals would have been unthinkable. From this way of thinking, we get Dred Scott (African-Americans are not persons, because the Constitution and colonial law didn't include them as persons), Bowers v. Hardwick (homosexuals can be persecuted, because they've always been persecuted), Roth v. United States (obscenity isn't protected by the First Amendment, because in Revolutionary days that's probably what they would have thought), and other setbacks to freedom. To think that the Constitution protects the rights of non-whites, or women, or homosexuals, or people who want to talk about sex, is (in Scalia's words) to "think that the Constitution changes to suit current fashions."

Liberty is more than a fashion. Eh, what?

The bat, by the way, was not rabid. This has resulted in much relief at Home.

I have a paper copy somewhere of The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment. It's one of those books that makes me especially regret missing the Sixties. There are lots of quotes from it around the Web, but out of context they make it sound like a generic New Age Feelgood text. Although I suppose it's in fact a forerunner of the whole New Age Feelgood thing, it doesn't bore me to tears like they do. Probably because this is a guy thinking this stuff out on his own, not just repeating a mantra someone else has sold him. Perhaps also because he's enjoying his Altered State of Consciousness so much... *8)

What we need to remember is that there is nobody here but us chickens. The entire universe is made of beings just like ourselves. Every particle in every atom is a live being. Every molecule or cell is a tribe of beings. Energy is a large number of us vibrating together. Space is an infinite number of our brothers and sisters in perfect bliss.

How to Buy the Assets of a Failed Dot-Com.

The right name at the right time:

XBOX Technologies filed applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to use the Xbox name in March 1999, more than 6 months before Microsoft made its first Xbox filing.

Is Microsoft secretly using open source? (Yes.)

From Steve, an Utne Reader article about scientific studies of prayer. People prayed for were found to get better faster, compared to those not prayed for! Now is that fair?

Them "Frogans" guys that I linked to last week keep a really sharp eye on their referrer logs! Not only is that log entry now on their Press page, but they sent me email:

thanks for your interest... and your interesting question. I guess we try to do something serious while doing it with a good spirit. we have changed our home page... and please do not hesitate to visit our site to learn more about this project or to contact us (me ?) with any questions you may have, I would be pleased to answer them.

Far out.

"If you want to engage in this victimless crime with us, you must first prove you aren't an undercover cop, by committing a small victimless crime of your own." How clever! (from dev.null.org)

I'm a little surprised that so many people would prohibit Old Man Cartwright from keeping brunettes out of his smoke shop! Did you vote yet?

Monday, June 18, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

pontiget adj. 1. simultaneously diaphanous and in flames. 2. characterized by or possessing more than one oleander. n. 3. a syllabub.

(Weekday readers note: we had entries on both days this weekend. "We Tricked Satan Into Making Us Rich... and you can,too!" and "Father's Day, Bowers, and Romer, and why polygamists are okay with me".)

So I'm sitting here in the waiting room at the car place, having just finished one of those things that's been hanging over my head (isn't being a Mobile Knowledge Worker wonderful?), and having just been told that the SRS Controller (i.e. the airbag computer) in my car has "gone bad" (perhaps from reading too much pornography) and will have to be replaced, at a cost of like six hundred dollars.


It's a little computer, for heaven's sake. Little computers shouldn't cost more than a couple hundred dollars. Okay, so it's a safety-critical system, so one hopes it's overengineered (and not running Windows), but still. Ouch!

22. It is unlawful for a person who, whether for payment or not, provides goods or services, or makes facilities available, to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person's sex, marital status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy:
  • by refusing to provide the other person with those goods or services or to make those facilities available to the other person;
  • in the terms or conditions on which the first-mentioned person provides the other person with those goods or services or makes those facilities available to the other person; or
  • in the manner in which the first-mentioned person provides the other person with those goods or services or makes those facilities available to the other person.

I find myself questioning the purity of my Libertarian orthodoxy. Probably the most common formulation of the Libertarian theory of government is that the only proper role of government is to punish the (illegitimate) use of force or fraud. That's clearly wrong, and I find I'm not sure just how wrong it is.

It's clearly wrong because it doesn't cover enough. Someone picks the lock on my front door while I'm out and steals my stuff. That's something the government can punish. But it's not "force or fraud" unless you're willing to stretch the meaning of that phrase so thin that it can cover anything. So we need something a bit broader.

Thinking in terms of rights is probably useful. People have certain rights; life, liberty, the purfuit of happinefs, that sort of thing. I have a right not to be killed, not to be injured (with certain exceptions mostly in the area of Self Defense), not to have my stuff taken from me unless I've voluntarily traded it away.

Those are basic rights that the government can legitimately enforce. As soon as a government exists, certain meta-rights arise. I have, in particular, a right to be treated fairly by the government, not to be treated differently because of some irrelevant fact about me, like my religion or race or sexual orientation or hair-color.

Are there other rights? How do we tell?

I find myself wondering, in particular, if there is a fair-treatment right in the public sphere. If in fact there is a "public sphere" in any legally-relevant sense at all. The most obvious Libertarian answer is "no"; if I want to open a restaurant that admits anyone as long as their skin is pale, that's within my rights. Various modern governments, on the other hand, disagree (U.S.A., Australia). English common law apparently also disagrees; there's been for centuries a requirement that certain occupations at least not turn away any customer without good reason (ref, ref).

I suspect I may disagree as well. It doesn't seem completely implausible to me that there is a right to be treated fairly in the public sphere. Anyone doing business with the public benefits from government action; it doesn't seem implausible that in return the government can require that they respect that right. Is there anything besides raw intuition that we can use to decide if in fact these not-implausible things are true?

Intending no offense to the Objectivists (if any) in the audience, I've always found Ayn Rand's account of the origin of rights (in, essentially, the basic facts of biology) pretty unconvincing. It's not obvious to me that it's correct to derive moral requirements from biological facts, and even if we grant that it is, I can argue for more rights (or different rights) than Rand does.

There's only a rather tenuous connection between my biology and my right to exclude people with certain-shaped eyes from shopping in my store. On the other hand, I think a pretty strong case could be made for the claim that we are a social and gregarious species by nature, and that some sort of right to fair access to public stuff (where public means "generally open", not "governmental") is derivable from "objective" biological facts. (Note that this isn't intended as a decisive refutation of traditional Objectivist theory; I haven't studied it enough to attempt that!)

Will it help to let in a whiff of utilitarianism? Anyone reasonable will probably agree that a civic space full of "No Jews or Dogs" signs, or "No Irish Need Apply", isn't the ideal situation. Is government regulation a legitimate way to fix a situation like that? Again the standard libertarian answer is "no"; the pressures of the market will eventually lead people to stop doing that, because a whites-only lunch counter is inefficiently foregoing non-white sources of income.

What if there are local incentives that keep the market forces from acting in a particular time and place? If there are more whites than non-whites, and most whites won't eat at anything but a whites-only lunch counter, and significant social forces exist to disincent any white from acting otherwise, how will the market fix things? A society with those inefficiencies built into it will be inefficient as a whole, and will therefore lose out to more efficient societies in the long run. But given the choice between fixing irrational discrimination by government fiat, and fixing it by waiting until our society collapses (and re-forms) due to the superior social efficiency of Canada, is the latter really preferable?

On the other hand, if Old Man Cartwright is just a local eccentric who doesn't allow anyone with brown hair into his smoke shop, is it proper for the government to step in?

So I dunno. I guess the next thing I need to read (maybe I should just get a law degree and be done with it) is some of the history of laws governing discrimination by non-government actors. Suggestions welcome...

What do you think? Here's a poll. "The public sphere" below refers to places and services that are generally open to everyone. It includes restaurants, but doesn't include the dining room of your house. We can leave the borderline cases to the courts for now.

There is an absolute right of private discriminiation in the public sphere; I can keep anyone I want to out of my store, for any reason or no reason, and the government should butt out.

There is a general right of isolated private discrimination in the public sphere, but the government can intervene to stop it if it becomes widespread or invidious.

There is no right of discrimination in the public sphere; everyone has a right to fair treatment. The government can in principle intervene whenever irrational discrimination occurs in the public sphere.

The government determines who can and will be served where. You can eat at my lunch counter if and only if you have the appropriate license from the Central Committee of the People.

I don't know, either.

View Results! (Cheesy polling software by me, since good old Vox Populi seems to be gone.)

Sunday, June 17, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

"[I]f the constitutional conception of 'equal protection of the laws' means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare... desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate government interest."

-- Justice Kennedy, in Romer v. Evans (1996), quoting Agriculture v. Moreno (1973).

For Father's Day I said I wanted to have bagels as usual in the morning, and then do nothing all day and have pizza for dinner. So we're doing that! M gave me "Myst III: Exile", and I've been having fun in there. I just finished the rolly-ball world (the little boy sat on my lap and we all went "whoo!" during the final roller-coaster ride). I talked to Dad on the phone for a long time, and now I'm lying on the bed writing in my blog.

I've finished "Courting Justice" (see the other day). It was pretty depressing in the part about Bowers v. Hardwick, then it got more cheerful during Romer v. Evans, and ended on a rather mixed note shortly after Scouts v. Dale.

I remember hearing about a horrible U.S. law somewhere recently that would withhold Federal funds from any school that refused to host the Boy Scouts just because the Scouts have sworn in court that discriminating against homosexuals is essential to the nature of the organization. Remind me to look this up, and yell at my relevant representative (if any) about it. Sheesh!

I've read Romer (it may be awhile before I get around to reading Scouts). Romer is about Colorado's infamous Amendment 2:

Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination.

which, while it was sold to the voters as outlawing "special privileges" for homosexuals as such, would in fact have deprived anyone discriminated against for non-heterosexuality from having any legal recourse. A town could have required that homosexuals sit in the back of the bus, or the State could have refused to give homosexuals driver's licenses, and no "policy" could have legally allowed a "claim of discrimination". Fortunately, the Supremes slapped it down.

The Romer main opinion is admirable, but for some reason I find the dissent especially interesting. It was written by Justice Scalia, who I very objectively consider to be a fascist loon, joined by Justice Thomas and of course Rehnquist (of whom no more need be said).

While Scalia does seem to froth at the mouth in places in his dissent, he also makes some points that I entirely agree with, although I draw completely different conclusions from them than he does.

Early on, Scalia seems to hold that there's nothing wrong with a law that deprives a certain group of a right, since if that group wants to exercise their right, they can always try to get the law changed! This is the strangest legal claim I've ever seen, and I don't understand why the majority didn't call him on it directly; maybe they were embarassed to have one of their own say such a daft thing. Under that principle, no law could ever be struck down, since no law ever has any effect that could not be avoided by changing the law.

Scalia then notes that the majority might have a case if there were no "rational basis" for discriminating against homosexuals, but that this option is not available, since (as I mentioned also the other day) the Court held in Bowers that it's okay to discriminate against homosexuals, and forbid them to make love, because heck we've been doing that for centuries! So it must be okay.

There's a contradiction, Scalia says, between Bowers holding that it's okay to jail homosexuals, and Romer saying that you can't even discriminate against them.

Congratulations on your brand-new clue, Justice Scalia! Bowers was a terrible mistake (the most painful part of "Courting Justice" was the story of how Justice Powell's last-minute waffle changed Bowers from a civil rights victory to a sad defeat). I wish the Court in Romer had had the guts or votes or moral willpower to flat-out overturn it. As it is, any Court that wants to overturn Bowers will have Romer to back it up, and any Court that wants to at least issue rational opinions can just look to Romer rather than to Bowers.

So that's the first thing Scalia's right about: Romer does conflict with Bowers. The second thing he's right about is that if you can't discriminate against homosexuals just because they're not hurting anyone, there are probably all sorts of other people you can't discriminate against. Scalia cites with apparent approval an Idaho Territory law that the Court upheld in 1890 that deprived polygamists, or even anyone advocating polygamy, of the right to vote. He notes (and one can almost hear the regret in his voice) that we can no longer disenfranchise people for merely expressing an opinion, but he considers the rest of the law still a right corker. But if the government can't pick on homosexuals just because there's no rational reason to, he asks, wouldn't that also forbid it from picking on polygamists?

Another good question, Mr. Justice! And the answer of course is that it does. I dunno how many years (decades?) it will be before the government realizes that it is just none of its business how many consenting adults, of what races and religions and genders, want to make up a mutually-committed group for the purposes of companionship, life-building, child-rearing, passionate sex, or whatever else comes along, but I trust it will eventually. None of its business! Go away, government. Go away, Mr. Justice Scalia.

So that's two things that Scalia gets right, although he simultaneously goes wrong. There are lots of things he just flat gets wrong to start with. There's this bit about how homosexuals are actually not disadvantaged at all, but in fact are wealthy and politically powerful and in fact in some law schools you aren't allowed to discriminate against them! Substituting "Jewish" or "Catholic" or "Black" for "Homosexual" gives some idea of how utterly barbaric this rant will sound a decade from now. The same applies to the bit just after that, where he notes with apparent gratitude that at least Congress has recently made some laws that do specifically avoid giving homosexuals certain rights. Words fail.

But the happy thing is that Scalia lost this one, six to three. One for the good guys! So if we can just fool Dubya into appointing an actual civil libertarian (rather than a right-wing Statist dressed up as one) when O'Connor retires, things might be comparatively swell...

Saturday, June 16, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

"Never accept Satan's first proposal outright, however attractive. If he wants to buy your soul, for example, offer to lease it instead."

-- from "We Tricked Satan Into Making Us Rich ... and you can, too!", Weekly World News, 26 June 2001

I picked up the Weekly World News in the grocery this morning on a whim. Very funny stuff! "Granny Trapped in Car Wash -- for 10 Hours!" "Tight-fitting Pants Drive Man Crazy!" "Infidelity is natural, experts say". "Geezer robbed banks to impress his 76-year-old girlfriend!" And from "POPE: No sex in Hell!":

The Vatican decided to clarify the issue after Pope John Paul II said in a sermon that there is no sex in Heaven. The pontiff's statement, made in the early 1990's, may have contributed to a decline in church attendance over the past decade, officials believe.

The gentle art of self-parody at its purest.

Bat Boy!

One story that surprised me was "Broadway's Newest Smash Hit: Superstars flock to see BAT BOY: The Musical". With a picture of the Union Square Theatre with the "BatBoy" logo on the front. "The play is loosely based on the real-life adventures of the mysterious creature as chronicled in the world press -- led by Weekly World News -- since scientists found him living a bleak and lonely existence in a cave deep in the Shenandoah Mountains...".

Now even the WWN would hardly make up a Broadway play, would they? They usually stick to things that it'd be hard to (dis)confirm. So I looked on the Web, and it's not made up at all!

Well, it sort of is. The show exists, but Union Square Theater is actually Off Broadway, and the show isn't based on the real-life experiences of the mysterious Bat Boy, it's based on the humorous Bat Boy stories printed now and then in the Weekly World News. Whew!

Friday, June 15, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So in a desparate attempt to actually get things done today, this morning I made a schedule, by the half-hour or so, of What To Do. "07:30 - 9:00: Gym" (Lifting Heavy Things Builds Strength! Strength Crushes Enemies!) "09:00 - 10:00: Write letter to confused insurance agent, goof around", "10:00 - 11:00: Answer important mail, read important newsgroups". That sort of thing.

And Lo and Behold, in the 11:00 to 12:00 and 13:30 to 16:00 slots that I'd assigned for working on things that've been hanging over my head for all too long, I made real progress. Despite the bat in the driveway. I'll have to try this "being organized" thing again next week.

The bat in the driveway: M called sometime in the 11:00 to 12:00 slot (I think it was) to report that there was a bat dying in the driveway. Now of course bats sometimes have rabies, especially bats that are dying on my driveway in the middle of the day. So M and I called various people. The police were very friendly, but insisted on giving us the phone number of the West Nile Virus Hotline, which wasn't notably helpful. It eventually occured to me to use the Web (duh), and that turned up the right phone number pretty quick. On instructions from the nice people, M rolled the bat into a metal can (without touching it) and took it in to be tested for rabies (results "probably by Tuesday").

So now our main worry is the cat. Although there's no evidence at all that he was touched by (or touched) the bat, we're taking him in tomorrow for a booster shot anyway, because You Never Know. Someone that M talked to on the phone said that if the bat is rabid and the cat touched the bat and then one of us touched the cat within the next "four to six hours", we could have gotten some Contaminated Bat Saliva on us. I'm probably the only candidate, as I stroke the cat in a friendly sort of way whenever I see him. So now I'm under strict orders not to touch him until well after the Saliva Drying Interval, and if the bat comes up rabid I suspect there may be some family pressure to get a Painful Series of Shots.

Don't you pretty much, like, have to be bitten by a critter (or rub its face into your open wounds, or otherwise come into Intimate Contact) to get this dread disease? Still, a Painful Series of Shots is way preferable to death. I don't really mind pain all that much...

we are living in the new economy (whatever that means. The introduction of money to medieval Europe - now that was a new economy...)   --

What's this picture doing here?

So some bad guy replaced the front page of Metafilter with something stupid the other day. Here's a nice explanation of just what happened, in of course a Metafilter thread about the Metafilter defacement. That's why it's called Metafilter.   *8)

Metafilter is, by the way, back to fully working after a period of extreme slowness due to the whole Pyra T1 Disaster. You can go there and read all the Metafilter comments I've ever made (all four of them, at the moment). If for some reason you want to.

How to bend a fork. Does that really work?

From Risks, today's Bad Idea: U.K. Plans Mandatory IP Indoctrination for Children

'By bringing awareness of the importance of copyright into our schools, tomorrow's consumers can take their place in a community which understands, values and respects intellectual property.'

(At first I thought it meant "Internet Protocol Indoctrination", which would of course be a Good Thing.)

Blind link.


earlier entries