log (2005/05/13 to 2005/05/19)

I always love it when readers actually read what I write, and then take the trouble to write back and say stuff. (Don't worry, I also love it when readers just sort of lie there on the couch looking out the window and eating chocolate; that's fine too.)

In this case, reader Arthur writes:

David -

It seems to me you miss the point, fundamentally.

Its about process, and democracy. The constitution as written, and interpreted within its meaning when written is the best we have. In all cases it can be amended by the democratic processes described therein.

But in this case we need not go down the road, really. Certainly Scalia is not contending that the Constitution *requires* the death penalty. And as we know, many states forbid it - by democratic process. Scalia, I am sure, would defend their right to do so.

Scalia is saying something simple and innocent, but important. That he - despite whatever personal feelings he might have on the subject, and despite his position as a member of our highest court - finds no basis for granting to himself and his colleagues the power to interrupt the democratic process in this area. Since the Constitution contemplated the existence of the death penalty, the political will of the people to implement it cannot be defeated by resort to Constitutional argument.

There is certainly nothing in the way of defeating the death penalty, however. Personally, I support its defeat.

What is important here is the will of people expressed through the democratic process, and Scalia is being protective of that - as well he should be.

Perhaps the most insistent and eloquent ranting on this subject was undertaken by Roosevelt when, in the 30's, the Supreme Court consistently blocked fundamental aspects of New Deal legislation - findings violations of protected property rights, via Constitutional interpretation.

If you need to find a basis to find Scalia on the side of the devil - many people seem to - please try harder than this.


Thanks much for the thoughts! I don't think I miss the point, fundamentally or otherwise, but I'll let y'all judge.

I understand that Scalia thinks that "[t]he constitution as written, and interpreted within its meaning when written is the best we have." I just disagree, and propose as an alternative that the Constitution as written, and interpreted within its meaning right now, is the best we have.

That is, the right interpretation of that part of the 8th Amendment is that cruel and unusual punishments, in the sense of punishments that are cruel and unusual, are forbidden. This seems to me quite straightforward.

Scalia's reading, that what's actually forbidden is the set of things that would have been considered cruel and unusual punishment in 1791, isn't utterly implausible, although I do disagree with it. (What I find irritating (as opposed to simply mistaken) about Scalia is, not that he disagrees with my position, but that he doesn't even acknowledge that my postion exists.)

On the death penalty, then, which we haven't really been talking about but I don't mind starting: I don't think there's currently a consensus on whether or not it's cruel or unusual, so it's not clear that it's forbidden by the 8th Amendment. But the right question to ask isn't "what did people think in 1791?"; it's "what do people think now?"

So I agree with pretty much everything else you say. It's very much about the democratic process, constrained (naturally) by the protections that the Constitution offers to people of minority opinion. Judges can't just do whatever they want; Scalia and I agree that the words the judges have to be guided by are the words in the Constitution and the laws. They can't just make stuff up! (See my comments at the end of yesterday about the Commerce Clause.)

It's just that when the judges go to figure out what the words mean, Scalia would have them look to 1791, and I would have them look to today.

I don't think I need to find Scalia on the side of the devil; on the contrary I'd love to discover that he's on the side of freedom and rationality! But...

If he were just in favor of looking to 1791 instead of to today, I wouldn't consider him on the side of the devil, although I would still be unhappy with his view (we were, after all, less free in most respects in 1791 than we are today, especially for values of "we" that include minority races or views or habits, or women). On the other hand I'm sadly not convinced that that's all that's going on, and that Scalia is actually an honest originalist.

His failure to acknowledge the existence of the connotationist position at all, despite how obvious it is as a competing view, makes me suspect that he may be arguing in bad faith, pretending that alternatives don't exist in order to avoid addressing them. And the observation that his "originalist" arguments are sometimes based on distortions of the actual historical facts makes me suspect that he is (either consciously or unconsciously) using originalist claims to get a moral high ground from which to make what are actually politically motivated (or at least no less politically motivated than his opponents') judgements.

And then there was that whole thing about state laws against masturbation... *8)

In entirely other news (I keep saying that; maybe it'll become a Tradition) it gives me great pleasure to present the award for Best Discussion of Doxastic Voluntarism to Brian Weatherson. The judges would like to call special attetion to the winning entry's use of a non-fictional account of a missed bus, and an absent camel. And the word "ostend". Among other things.

A spammer writes

Subject: Make this email make a difference for you neanderthal

I was going to be insulted by the word "neanderthal", but then it occurred to me that that would be sort of racist. Or speciesist. Or something.

Swinging wildly technical, here is a pointer from Bruce Schneier to a paper about potential SSH-exploiting worms that I really ought to read.

Next time, perhaps some other reader input and/or notes on "Sex, Lies, and Videotape", and/or something else besides constitutional law. Maybe.

So I finished listening to the Scalia talk. Turns out I was almost to the end anyway; all that was left was the tail-end of the talk and the Q & A period, during which he didn't say much that was new. But he reinforced my ideas about his denotationism very nicely!

I'm saying the Eighth Amendment means what was cruel and unusual and unconstitutional in 1791 remains that today. The death penalty wasn't, and hence it isn't, despite the fact that I sat with three colleagues that thought it had become unconstitutional. Executing someone under eighteen was not unconstitutional in 1791, so it is not unconstitutional today. Now, it may be very stupid. It may be a very bad idea, just as notching ears, which was a punishment in 1791, is a very bad idea.

Can't get much more explicit than that! "Cruel and unusual punishment" doesn't mean punishment that's cruel and unusual (since that obviously can change over time); it means "whatever the people in 1791 thought 'cruel and unusual punishment' meant". Denotationism in a nutshell.

Note that it doesn't even mean "punishment that people in 1791 thought was cruel and unusual", since even the notion of what constitutes "punishment" might, in principle, have changed.

(Thanks again to Three Bad Fingers for the transcript.)

Along the same lines, a reader writes (in a note that I'm sure I read but now can't find) that Scalia's argument reminds em of certain religious arguments: since we know that God is always right, and we know what God says, we don't even need to listen to contrary views. Scalia's variant of that is more like "I'm open to contrary arguments, but there aren't any". A subtle difference. *8)

In general, though, the feeling that there is a fixed truth that was written down a long time ago and that we've since fallen away from, does feel more traditionally religious than, say, the feeling that there is truth out there in the world that we can investigate and find out more about, and that we're getting closer to it with time. Depending on what religion one looks at, of course!

I've thought of a fun puzzle involving Scalia's chronopunctual denotationism. What would happen if a new constitutional amendment were to be adopted next year:

XXVIII. Cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted.

Now at first glance that seems sort of redundant with the Eighth Amendment, which uses the same words. But in the denationist view, this new amendment says something very different! In particular, it bars things that would be considered cruel and unusual punishments in 2006, whereas the Eighth Amendment bars only things that would be considered cruel and unusual punishments in 1791. Potentially very different things! For instance ear-notching isn't barred by the 8th amendment, says Scalia, but presumably it would be by the 28th.

Now what if we were to have a Constitutional Convention, and it were to decide to throw out the entire Constitution, including all the Amendments, and replace them with a new version that was word-for-word identical? To some of us this might look like a no-op, but to a chronopunctual denotationist it would have a huge effect: since the proper way to interpret legal words is to look at what they mean at the time of adoption, a wholesale updating of the adoption timestamp of the Constitution would change the meaning of every word in it!


Do we really have to go to all the trouble of throwing out the whole thing and replacing it with an identical copy, though? What if we had a Constitutional Convention, and it decided not to do anything? Isn't that a sort of adoption, in the "adoption by thinking about modification but deciding against it" sense? In fact, doesn't that apply even if we just decide not to hold a Constitutional Convention at all, even though (as a people) we always have that ability? Aren't we re-adopting the Constitution (and all other laws) in this sense every day?

In the case of such a non-Convention and non-modification, it seems that the originalist (the chronopunctual denotationist) has to look at what the people who decide not to modify the words think that the words, as unmodified, mean. So if, for instance, the people as a whole are originalists, they think that by not modifying the words they are leaving them meaning what they meant in 1791 (or whenever first adopted). That'd be simple.

But as Scalia notes, most people these days aren't originalists (he's very proud of his persecuted-minority status, in fact). So the correct originalist analysis would seem to be that if when the people choose not to modify the words of the Constitution, even though they have the ability to, they are effectively re-adopting those words, then the correct intrepretation of those words is whatever the people think the words mean at the time they fail to modify them; and since most people today aren't originalists (and, presumably, think that the words mean what they mean today rather than what they meant when first adopted), then if people today choose not to change the words, and people today think that the words mean what they mean today, then in fact the correct originalist interpretation of the words is whatever they mean today.


Who says a degree in analytical philosophy is of no practical value? *8)

A Michael Jackson joke here would be really tasteless.

In completely other news, "Yes, Sweetie, Mommy's Heard Of Gil Scott-Heron". Another of those times when the Onion gets it amazingly right. (Not televised or televised? You decide!) Also, lesbian phone call dot com. Just because. (Apologies to readers who follow that link after it's become a pornsite; it (probably) isn't one right now. Exactly.)

And just to make sure that we've frightened away anyone who was lured here by the last few days of Serious Discussions, we offer our puzzling popup ad of the day. Is Sheraton actually offering, as an option in their Personalized Wakeup Service, topless four-year-old boys? Is that even legal?

A few followups on our Scalia notes yesterday. Here's an unofficial transcript of the talk (I haven't read it yet except to refresh my memory; I want to listen to the whole thing before reading it). During the talk Scalia misnames two cases; one is "Romer v. Colorado" (by which of course he means Romer v. Evans), and the other is "BMW v. Bush". Amusingly, the actual name of that one is BMW v. Gore (noted on How Appealing).

Scalia cites BMW v. Gore as an example of how modern courts are sinfully non-originalist. The case is about the damages in a lawsuit; someone sued BMW because the car they bought turned out to have been scratched in shipment and the paint patched at the dealership, and the dealer didn't tell them. They got four thousand dollars in damages, and BMW was fined a further four million dollars in punitive damages.

The Supremes found that fine was so excessively high as to constitute denial of due process, and kicked the case back to the Alabama Supreme Court to either retry it or figure out a more reasonable fine. Scalia thinks this is a bad thing, referring cuttingly to "I assume, the Excessive Damages Clause of the Bill of Rights". Those nasty modern judges, making up stuff; this wouldn't have happened in the Good Old Days.

Unfortunately for Scalia's story, the doctrine that the Court relied on in BMW, that sufficiently ridiculous ("grossly excessive") fines can constitute a violation of Due Process, seems to come from TXO v Alliance (1993), which is turn refers back to Waters-Pierce Oil v. Texas (1909), in which we read:

The fixing of punishment for crime or penalties for unlawful acts against its laws is within the police power of the state. We can only interfere with such legislation and judicial action of the states enforcing it if the fines imposed are so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law.

So apparently the rot started as far back as 1909. Dear me!

As I noted yesterday, Scalia says in his speech that back in 1920 "the American people... looked at the Equal Protection Clause and said... it clearly doesn't mean that you can't discriminate in the franchise."

It turns out that this is a bit of an oversimplification (i.e. not true). In fact significant numbers of people did think that the Equal Protection Clause said exactly that, and they thought it long before 1920. For instance in Minor v. Happersett, way back in 1874, the question actually reached the Supreme Court. Now of course Minor lost, and women didn't get the vote then; but clearly Scalia is being disingenuous when he suggests that it would never even have occurred to "the American people" in the Good Old Days that the 14th amendment meant that women should be able to vote.

In the 1872 presidential election, hundreds of women across the United States went to the polls and attempted to vote. They based their right to vote not on state law, which uniformly denied women the right to vote, but on the "privileges and immunities" clause of the 14th Amendment.

If only those women had been properly taught Originalism, they wouldn't have made that embarassing mistake, eh? Oh, but wait! Since the fourteenth amendment was adopted in 1868, those women's opinions must be part of what we have to consider even if we think it's "the original meaning" of the words that matters. Yikes!

From Scotus blog, we find two items on similar distortions of history in "originalist" arguments. So apparently I'm not the first one to notice a flaw there. *8)

On originalism (denotationism) in general, it occurs to me that we can pin a certain kind of moral relativism on Scalia. His position seems to be that words like "equal protection" and "due process" don't have any actual correct meaning; there are lots of different meanings, depending on what year it is and who you ask (and, by the way, the important meaning is the one that was popular when the words were voted into law).

So in Scalia's view there isn't a fact of the matter about what "equal protection" means, that we might hope to get closer and closer to as we get smarter. There's only a sort of amorphous cloud of different meanings, none more accurate than any other, and we have to choose one on procedural (rather than correctness) grounds. How squishy and post-modern!

(Fun as this is to accuse Scalia of, it's probably only a very limited form of moral or legal or political relativism, confined to questions of interpreting legal words. I'm sure that in general Scalia thinks that there are facts in the world, and that we can hope to get a more accurate idea of them over time. Maybe he'll eventually come to see the law that way also!)

In other SCOTUS news, see the Wine Case, Granholm v. Heald, discussed at the Scotus blog. It hinges on how the implied "the States can't interfere too much with Interstate Commerce" part of the Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3) relates to the "the States are allowed to control booze" part of the 21st Amendment (Section 2).

My first reaction was "Ooh, the Supreme Court has noticed the Commerce Clause?". This got a laugh at lunch, but actually I was completely wrong. The Supreme Court is entirely too fond of the Commerce Clause, and uses the power to regulate interstate commerce as a hook to regulate everything else ("well, if California legalizes weed that might depress the street price of weed and change the amount that crosses state lines, so it's an interstate commerce thing so the Feds get to meddle in it"). The brats.

One of the cool things that Audible does is make certain 'public interest' type audio programs available for free. I don't know if they do this out the goodness of their heart or their ad budget, or if someone pays them to do it, but it's cool anyway.

One of the free things they have is a talk that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave on the subject of Constitutional Interpretation, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last March. (Due to Audible's bizarre site design I can't figure out how to give you a pointer to it that will work, but if you search on "Scalia" you'll probably find it. Although it's free, I dunno if you can get it if you don't have an Audible account.)

I'm a bit more than halfway through it, and it's interesting. I've previously expressed the opinion that J. Scalia is a fascist theocratic loon, and I've teased him for his defense of state laws against masturbation in his Lawrence dissent; what I've heard so far doesn't make me any more comfortable having him on the high court, but it does give me some additional insight into his character and legal thinking.

Scalia doesn't like to be called a "strict constructionist"; he prefers "originalist". His idea is that the words of the Constitution meant something when they were adopted, and that it's that meaning that we must follow today. And when he says "meaning" he isn't thinking of the general meaning or connotation of the words; he's thinking of the very specific denotation of the words: the exact specifics of what they were thought to mean at the time.

So since when the 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 no one thought that "equal protection" included the right of women to vote, it required a further amendment to give them that right. Scalia says (quite plausibly) that nowadays we would have done it on 14th amendment grounds instead, and he clearly thinks that that's a bad thing.

Since "originalist" doesn't strike me as a neutral term (when was the last time you saw "unoriginal" used as a compliment?), let me refer to Scalia's position as "denotationist"; the words of the Constitution (or any other law) must be interpreted as having the same denotation, as picking out the same parts of the world, as they had when adopted.

(At the extreme denotationist position, if the Constitution had said that the number of Justices on the Supreme Court should be equal to the number of planets around the Sun, then the proper number of Justices would be seven, since that's what people thought the words denoted at the time. I'm not suggesting that Scalia would actually carry the idea this far, although it wouldn't surprise me if he did.)

So what's the alternative to denotationalism? In this lecture Scalia claims that the only alternative is to consider the Constitution not a legal document at all, but just sort of an "exhortation". He claims that he's asked all sorts of people at law schools what principle they propose in place of his, and none have had an answer.

This strikes me as baffling, since the answer is so obvious. Rather than interpreting the words of the Constitution according to what they meant when adopted, we should interpret them according to what they mean now. If we've discovered since 1789 that there are really nine planets, or since 1868 that equal protection does mean the ability to vote regardless of gender, then that's what the Constitution should be read as saying.

(Jim points out a possible circularity here, so let me say explicitly that the view I'm outlining here isn't the tautological "the Constitution means today whatever it means today"; I mean something more like "the words in the Constitution mean today whatever the same words mean outside the Constitution today". Modulo politically irrelevant typographical shifts and so on.)

I'd like to call this alternate view "connotational", in contrast to Scalia's denotationalism. And it seems to me highly unlikely that no one has ever suggested it to Scalia, or that he wouldn't have thought of it himself for that matter. Scalia seems to have an enormous blind spot where differing opinions are concerned; not only does he disagree with non-denotational views of Constitutional interpretation, he doesn't even see those views. At one point in the speech he says that he would have decided a certain case in a certain way based on the original meaning ("meaning") of some words in the Constitution, whereas the court actually decided the other way, "based on -- well, I don't know what!"

He's obviously a smart guy, but apparently there's a filter between the part of his mind that is sharp enough to understand arguments on both sides of an issue and the part that consciously notices those arguments. (Jim points out that Scalia wouldn't be the only one with this problem.)

Another possibility is that Scalia is simply a propagandist, and that pretending that the other side has no argument at all is just a rhetorical device that he likes to use. That'd be a pity.

So anyway. The denotationist view says that when the Constitution uses phrases like "due process" or "equal protection" or "freedom of speech", we should consider those phrases to be convenient shorthands for whatever set of things people thought they meant when the words were adopted. If it wouldn't make the Constitution implausibly long, we could replace each one with a list of all the things that people at that time thought the words referred to.

The connotationist view, on the other hand, says that "due process" means the processes that are due, the proceedings that are appropriate, and if our opinion about what is appropriate has changed since 1798, it's our current opinions that count. Similarly, "equal protection" means protection that is equal, and if people in 1868 didn't notice that disenfranchising half the country didn't constitute equal protection, so much the worse for them; our current government should be guided by our current understanding.

(Now in practical terms it's nice that we have the 19th amendment there making it explicit; but I do think that a 14th amendment case for female suffrage should in principle have had a very good chance of success.)

So Scalia's basic theory isn't particularly inconsistent or anything; I just strongly disagree with it. His inability to acknowledge the very existence of alternative theories is a flaw, and not one that makes me fond of him.

What else? Scalia's theory leads him to say some odd (or at least odd to me) things about the Constitution's role in protecting minorities. At one point he says that protecting minorities from the whim of the majority is one of the most important things that the Constitution does. But because he's a denotationist he sees it as protecting only those particular minorities that the Framers would have wanted to protect (or that the adopters of later amendments would have). So Catholics, for instance, are protected (hem, hem), but not people who want to make love to people of the same gender.

(Sidenote: Scalia always refers to male-male sex as "homosexual sodomy"; a little subliminal reminder that the Lord has destroyed whole cities over the issue; ref "theocratic" supra.)

The equal protection clause can't allow people of the same gender to marry, because when the clause was adopted people didn't think it meant that. A connotationist can say that we've decided since then that equal protection really does mean that; but Scalia doesn't even consider that as a possibility. It's not simply wrong, it's just not on his radar at all.

If we want to provide equal protection or due process or freedom of speech outside the original denotation of those terms, he says, what we have to do is persuade our fellow citizens to enact the appropriate legislation or Constitutional amendments. Which is to say, if we want to protect a minority that wasn't popular back in 1789, we have to persuade the majority to play nice. Which of course seems completely wrong to me, given the whole "Constitution protecting the rights of minorities" thing.

The Framers were large-minded folks; I think that when they said "due process" or "freedom of speech", they didn't just mean the things that those words meant in the 18th century, but that they meant whatever those words might turn out to mean as the species matured.

Hm, I'll bet we might even be able to find some writing of the Framers that say that! I wonder what Scalia would do then...

In completely other news, a reader points out that metababy is back! And it now has typekey authentication. So now the cost of entry is a valid email address; it'll be interesting to see what that does to the whole Metababy Dynamic.

It is frightening to note that one of the first pages on this round of metababy was called "/david/chess". I'm hoping it was created by the same reader that sent the note about the site being back up; the thought that more than one metababy denizen might know of our existence makes us nervous.

(Also, here's another metababy-like site; I've never tried it myself, but there it is. Note that in both cases I haven't pointed to the front page of the site, because You Never Know.)

Okay, so the geekiness is hard to stop once it gets going. The style-chooser at the bottom of the page now sets a cookie, and the page itself (this one and last week's, so far) uses the cookie. So now you can browse the modern part of the log in your favorite style, without having to switch every page! Isn't that exciting? (Code copied and pared down from a list apart.)

What is the sound?


Secure all water-tight doors! Dive! Dive!

The Woodstock Generation writes:

If you don't remember *the sound*, then you weren't there, man, and you can never know...


"The Sound and the Fury" is a novel written by a depressing author known as William Faulkner, in which people stream their consciousness whether we like it or not.

Dunno about that. But I've heard that there isn't much blue in "The Red and the Black".

These make a story:

... abruptly, the sound ceased.




The Woodstock Generation again, perhaps:

don't fret, it's just the hallucinogen.

Today'a Koan: What is the sound...

of the Goddess and I hopping on one foot?

And finally:

Man! You have a lot of dental work!

Hey, only about one per tooth! *8)

This entire universe is just a fragment of conversation, a minor rhetorical technique.

Somewhere in a universe indescribably higher, ontologically, than ours, two beings (where "beings" is a completely false description, but the best we can do) were talking (same for "talking"). One of them, wanting to make or illustrate a subtle point, did the equivalent of sketching a couple of lines on the back of an envelope, or moving the cutlery ("this salt-shaker is one node of the network, and this fork is where we were at the time"), or even just making a particularly expressive hand-gesture.

The result was this cosmos, vast and sprawling as it looks from here, and your entire life, and mine.

Readers notice the exciting new design developments!

Hmm. In your new format, the links on the left (brown) bar are underlined in black. That didn't use to be the case?

That was always the case in Opera, but not in IE (and mebbe not elsewhere I dunno). When I CSSified everything, it apparently started doing that in IE also. Isn't it cute?

(Note that this page and last week's page are using the same CSS file(s) for their layout, thus potentially saving bandwidth in that your browser only has to load the layout once even if you read both pages. Isn't that clever? Funny no one thought of it before, really.)

An extremely perceptive reader writes:

You in mocha... positively delicious.

We blush with quiet pride. Readers can now enjoy the log also in Blue (from Thursday's essay), and Jet. If I find some more energy somewhere, I'll experiment with images for decoration some more. Otherwise, I may try to concentrate more on the content. *8)

Speaking of content, a reader asks:

Altavista Babel Fish says: "I hold my promises, mem cells others" -- huh?

Yes, well. Apparently my "e" key was sticking a bit that day. The line should have read "Je tiens mes promesses, meme celles des autres" (plus perhaps some diacritical marks). It was apparently a slogan of the Vichy government, and it means "I keep my promises, and those of others". Menacingly baffling, n'est-ce pas?

There's a gazillion things queued up to log (I made the mistake of like reading stuff on the Web again). Since I sometimes harp about Microsoft security bugs, here are some Firefox security bugs, and also some OS X ones. And some Microsoft ones just for good measure.

And perhaps more significantly, an interesting story about internet extortion ("real nice gambling site you got here; pity if something were to happen to it"), and how it happens in real life (I didn't realize it was so common).

(All of the above thanks to SANS.)

I finished and wrote up On Bullshit and Codex (much of the latter review is spent ranting about how the author got various New York locations wrong; I'm prepared to be embarassed if in fact I got them wrong instead).

From Elf Sternberg, a couple of notable pictures of people in relationships with very large insects. Note that you shouldn't make these into desktop wallpapers. Really. Don't do that.

A concerned reader writes:

This Email has been sent to you because your web site has DROPPED out of the Search Engines!

Bummer, eh? But the people searching for "brazil triplets nude", "incent sex stories", and "hack yahoo webcam" aren't really my main target audience anyway. (Of course we're always happy to have Iris Chacon fans visit.)

Another helpful citizen writes:

Subject: Re: Browser Based

Hi my name is Jason,
I was recently visiting www.davidchess.com/toys/mazes.html and wanted to offer my services. We could help you with your Browser Based website.

Speaks for itself, really.

The other day someone (I think it was Jim) quite wittily coined the term "praising with faint damnation". Not the first, natch, but a very useful concept. Pointing out a few small errors in something can suggest (sometimes falsely) that everything else about that thing A-Okay with you.

Potentially dangerous.

On this colorization technology, the mysterious HTML o' the Day says (quite rightly): "Never mind your political beliefs about colorization, it is amazing what they do with a minimal amount of user input. Photos and movies both."

From Cryptome: Impact of Artificial "Gummy" Fingers on Fingerprint Systems (see also).

Oh, and again from Elf S, heartening and/or distressing evidence that BDSM is now utterly mainstream. Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down: Pain for Pleasure:

Most couples choose a "safe word," that signals to the "top" to stop a scene immediately. A word like "no" or "stop" may actually intensify a scene because it's part of the submissive fantasy, so instead a color code is often established.

This from the ABC News website. Is nothing kinky anymore?

Turns out the "individual-i" thing is a Schneier thing. Note the T-shirt.

A couple of long quotes. First, some good news on the "outlawing of general-purpose computers" front: Appeals court rejects "broadcast flag" rules:

Washington: Hollywood studios and television networks were dealt a blow yesterday when a federal appeals court rejected an earlier federal ruling that required the coming or 'next' generation of digital apparatus like TVs, personal computers, DVD recorders to contain anti-piracy technology.

The November 2003 ruling by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required manufacturers of computers and TV sets to include new technology that would stop consumers from copying and distributing programs. Yesterday, the 3-judge panel blasted FCC for overstepping its authority when it approved the rules. The landmark decision now rewrites the situation for intellectual property rules.

And then some noteworthy data analysis:

The results are simple: Democratic presidents have consistently higher economic growth and consistently lower unemployment than Republican presidents. If you add in a time lag, you get the same result. If you eliminate the best and worst presidents, you get the same result. If you take a look at other economic indicators, you get the same result. There's just no way around it: Democratic administrations are better for the economy than Republican administrations.
In other words, voters aren't necessarily ignoring economic issues in favor of cultural issues. Rather, Republicans produce great economic growth for all income classes in election years, and that's all that voters remember. They really are voting their pocketbooks.

Bartels doesn't essay an explanation for this. Do Republican presidents deliberately try to time economic growth spurts -- and are Democratic presidents too lame to do the same? Is it just luck? Or is the difference somehow inherent in the different ways that Democrats and Republicans approach the economy (with Democrats typically focusing on employment and Republicans on inflation)? At this point, your guess is as good as anyone's.

Fwiw, as they say.

I haven't mentioned the bathroom construction again because it's been uneventful (touch wood). Walls are up, tiles are mostly up, fittings have arrived, we talked to the glass guy today about the shower door. We're tending toward a clear glass shower door, which will be strange. What would it feel like to take a shower where the whole bathroom can see you?