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Monday, May 31, 2004
Libertarian kook
The US Libertarian Party has nominated a kook to run for president. His opinions sound like the uninformed ramblings of someone in junior high school.

Meanwhile, MoveOn.org is appealing to a different set of kooks:

This weekend, millions of Americans will go see The Day After Tomorrow -- the movie the White House doesn't want you to see. Thousands of MoveOn members will be there to enjoy the show, to help get people talking about the real danger of a climate crisis, and to take action to prevent one. Get a sense of this movie's drama ...
I suggest watching Indendence Day to get people talking about the real danger of illegal aliens.

Sunday, May 30, 2004
Judge okays namecalling
A Boston federal judge has declared that it is legal to falsely call someone a homosexual. The AP story quotes the judge:
"In fact, a finding that such a statement is defamatory requires this court to legitimize the prejudice and bigotry that for too long have plagued the homosexual community," she wrote in her opinion Friday. ...

She pointed to a Supreme Court ruling last year that found a Texas sodomy law unconstitutional, and to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling last year that it would be unconstitutional to prevent gays in the state from marrying.

This is really wrong-headed. First, those court decisions were particularly controversial and outrageous examples of judicial supremacy, and even the authors would be unlikely to endorse such an extension of their reasoning.

Second, defaming someone is broader than accusing someone of a crime. It might be libel to call someone a Communist, an adulterer, or a flag-burner, even tho the courts say that it is legal to be those things.

There may be an upside to this. If the federal courts declare namecalling a constitutional right, then the politically correct speech codes might be demolished. We may soon be able to call people queers, niggers, faggots, etc, and some federal judge will say that we are just exercising our constitutional rights. Companies may no longer be able to fire an employee for calling someone a faggot.

Bob suggests that the word faggot is derived from using bundles of sticks to burn homosexuals at the stake. This appears to be an etymological urban legend. It might be related to burning heretics, but not homosexuals. This reminds me of the story that the phrase "rule of thumb" was related to an old law about beating wives. The story is bogus.

Friday, May 28, 2004
Bogus fingerprint science
Be wary of anyone giving scientific conclusions that he claims to be 100% exact and certain. Real scientists understand that when they draw conclusions based on looking at limited evidence, there is a nonzero probability that they are wrong.

The FBI continues to claim 100% certainty about a fingerprint match, even tho they make mistake. An Oregon lawyer just spent 2 weeks in jail as a terrorism suspect, because of a similar fingerprint.

Thursday, May 27, 2004
Women initiate most divorces
A UPI story:
An AARP survey published Thursday found most women who divorced after 40 say they initiated the split, contrary to conventional wisdom. ... 66 percent of women respondents say divorce was their idea.
I believe that most other surveys have found that divorce is usually initiated by the wife, not the husband.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Wacky legal theory
Law professors and judges sometimes say the silliest things about the law. Here is the new Alabama chief justice Champ Lyons explaining the firing of Judge "10 C." Moore. Lyons says that he is obligated to uphold US Supreme Court decisions that are contrary to the US Constitution. He says that any intellectually honest scholar would agree that the decisions are unconstitutional.

Lyons took an oath of office to the Constitution, not to some court's deliberate misinterpretation of the Constitution. I think that Lyons is irresponsible, and should resign.

Then Lyons presents a proposal to amend the Constitution to require the Supreme Court to stick to the text of Constitution most of the time! This judge has some serious misunderstandings about constitutional law. Unfortunately, some of his misunderstandings are quite common.

Dumb quote of the day
When a California agency tried to ignore a law by declaring it unconstitutional about 30 years ago, the people of California passed a constitutional amendment requiring a court opinion before some state agency willfully violates the law. Now the same-sex marriage advocates call this amendment an obscure statute, and want it ignored.

UC Berkeley Law Professor Stephen Barnett said:

Once you call the mayor an administrative agency, it's hard to know where to stop.
Hmmm. Maybe other public officials might have to obey the law also?
Racist judge
John sends this story about a California judge who cited a UN treaty to help justify racial discrimination.

Meanwhile, also in Berkeley, the law school is protesting one of their profs, John Yoo, because he wrote a memo for the US DoJ on the scope of the Geneva Conventions. Berkeley students used to be advocates of free speech.

Update: John Yoo defends his Geneva interpetation.

Monday, May 24, 2004
Why I do not donate
Occasionally I get a call or letter from Princeton Univ. asking me to donate. I wonder why anyone donates.

Princeton's endowment is so large that it could fund all of its expenses from just the income from that endowment. It does not need either tuition or annual giving campaigns. Princeton also gets millions of dollars from govt-sponsored research. It doesn't need any of it.

At one time, class dues were used to support PAW, the alumni magazine. But the university took over PAW as a public relations device, and took editorial control over everything that is printed. It is now just a freebie being used to promote the university.

The school has so much money that it recently decided to tear down and rebuild about 5 dormatories on campus, including one of the ones where I lived one years. When I was there, the dorms were called "New New Quad". It was not because the dorms needed replacing or anything like that -- they were actually some of the most modern dorms on campus. The only problem is that they were built with brick, and some people thought that they were ugly.

Friday, May 21, 2004
Palo Alto Cougar
California passed a law against hunting mountain lions a few years ago, and not an overpopulation of lions is encroaching on the suburbs. When a lion wandered into a residential area in Palo Alto, the police came and shot the lion. The local animal lovers are upset. Here are some letters to the local paper:
Why couldn't the city of Palo Alto (Page 1A, May 18) have spared the life of a non-threatening mountain lion? This animal posed no immediate danger to anyone. Clearly this animal was scared wandering into unfamiliar territory.
Miguel Yrure Newark

I do not understand why the Palo Alto police department couldn't have tranquilized this animal and relocated it. We live in mountain lion territory, they do not live in ours. It was wrong to kill this animal.
Terri Kiplinger Sunnyvale

I am angry that, in more than four hours of searching for the mountain lion in Palo Alto, no attempt was made to tranquilize the animal when it was finally located. Merely killing it removes the possibility of studying the animal while it is alive and possibly learning why it came into an urban area in the first place.
Rob Knight Santa Cruz

It came into an urban area because it is a wild animal looking for food! There was no way to capture it safely, because it was already in a residential area, and no way to relocate it safely to mountain lion territory, because that territory is already saturated with mountain lions.

Now Palo Alto has a memorial for the dead cat!

Update: More letters:

The police officers stated that the tranquilizer gun would not have worked fast enough and that the lion was a threat to children. How easy it is to kill an animal and yet child molesters and gang bangers are not shot on sight -- and they are a greater danger to our children. Instead they get a trial and go to jail with three squares a day while our tax money pays for all of it.
The lion was just doing what was natural -- looking for food since we have taken up all of its habitat with new homes.
Suzanne Stephenson Sunnyvale

Yes, to have darted the mountain lion with a tranquilizer and then released it to a sanctuary would have been sentimental -- indeed, it would have been the action of a virtuous society. Obviously we have not yet evolved to that higher ethical plane of existence.
A cat treed by a dog and surrounded by at least 12 armed police officers posed no possible threat. Let us be honest about that. A god of the wild had condescended to visit us -- but we were not worthy of it.
Ronald D. Brown Mountain View

Why do you think there are mountain lions in our backyards? Has anyone stopped to realize that maybe, just maybe, development on the Peninsula and in South Bay has gone too far? Maybe someone in government or law enforcement needs a tranquilizer dart shot in his butt as a wake-up call -- we've overdeveloped, and we are the problem, not the mountain lions.
Don't make the wildlife pay for our mistakes. What a sad, sad day.
Jamie Wolf San Jose

I thought that we had evolved into a higher plane in which humans are valued more than wild cats. I think that all stray cats in the suburbs should be shot on sight.

Update: Good Thomas Sowell column.

Thursday, May 20, 2004
Tom Sell, in prison without trial
Liza sends this St. Louis story about dentist Tom Sell who has been in federal prison for 7 years without trial. Judge Donald J. Stohr has finally agreed to watch videotapes of Sell being abused by prison guard, after 4 years of requests. Here is a previous story about Sell.

I am convinced that Sell is innocent, and that he is being imprisoned and tortured because of personal vindictiveness on the part of Judge Stohr and his friends. Apparently Sell disrespected Stohr's friend, Magistrate Judge Mary Ann Medler, and annoyed a black FBI agent by being opposed to forced racial school busing. Other federal agents were offended by his Waco Branch Davidian conspiracy theories. Stohr retaliated by ordering Sell to be forcibly drugged with experimental anti-psychotic drugs that are not even FDA approved. Sell persuaded the US Supreme Court to delay his drugging, but he still sits in prison with no end in sight.

A lot of people were outraged over the so-called abuse at the Abu Graib prison. Where is the outrage about Tom Sell? Sell has been abused much more than anyone at Abu Ghraib.

Caffeine manipulated
The tobacco companies had to give up defending their products when it was revealed that they manipulated the nicotine levels of cigarettes in order to keep their customers addicted.

How long will it be before the big gourmet coffee vendors are similarly called onto the carpet? The jumbo 20 oz cup of Starbucks coffee has a whopping 400 mg of caffeine. By comparison, a typical 8 oz cup of drip-brewed coffee has 85 mg of caffeine, and a 12 oz can of Coca-cola soda has 35 mg of caffeine. (Note that Coca-cola says that they only add enough caffeine to make the coke taste good; they are apparently concerned about over-caffeination charges.)

Bob writes:

The Italian government regulates the amount of caffeine in coffee. When the Italians attempted to apply these regulations to energy drinks made in other EU countries and imported into Italy, the EU sued the Italian government in an EU court. Guess who won. The court determined that the Italians didn't make a scientific case that the regulated levels of caffeine are bad for you. [Cases here and here.]
The EU allows trade in cigarettes, also. The same people would probably say that nicotine is not bad for you either. (The nicotine causes the addiction, not the cancer.)

Sunday, May 16, 2004
McDonalds needs a healthy CEO. With the new movie Super Size This claiming that Big Macs are dangerously unhealthy, McDonalds could only responds by eliminating super-size fries from the menu. Meanwhile, their CEO dropped dead of a heart attack last month, and the replacement CEO already has colon cancer.

Saturday, May 15, 2004
Brown v. Board
E. Volokh doesn't understand how anyone can oppose racial discrimination and also oppose Brown v. Board of Education. That was the 1954 Supreme Court decision that said that "separate but equal" public schools are inherently unequal. Monday is the 50th anniversary of the decision.

The decision doesn't really make any sense, as something cannot be both equal and unequal at the same time. But it was an important decision, because:

  • it repudiated the pro racial segregation decision of Plessy v Ferguson, 1896.
  • it paved the way for judicial supremacist rulings that are fundamentally contrary to our constitutional system of govt.

    A neutral govt history site says this:

    But the decision also raised a number of questions about the authority of the Court and whether this opinion represents a judicial activism that, despite its inherently moral and democratic ruling, is nonetheless an abuse of judicial authority. Other critics have pointed to what they claim is a lack of judicial neutrality or an overreliance on allegedly flawed social science findings.
    Everyone agrees that Plessy was wrong, and since the main point of Brown was to repudiate Plessy, most people praise Brown. If the Brown dicta had been ignored, it would have been fine. But it led to supremacist rulings that let to shutting down the Little Rock schools, forced racial school busing, forced taxation, and other undemocratic and unconstitutions applications of dubious racial theories.

    A NY Times editorial praises Brown, but laments:

    Nationally, 70 percent of black students now attend schools in which racial minorities are the majority.
    Why is that bad? In California, the majority of school kids are hispanic. The (non-hispanic) whites are the biggest racial minority, with about 30%. So white kids who happen to attend a majority-white school in California have the same complaint as the black kids in the above quote -- they belong to a racial minority and attend a school with a lot of students of their own race.

    Most blacks see nothing wrong with attending school with other blacks, and oppose forced racial busing.

    Tom Sowell writes in today's WSJ:

    What the Warren court presented as legal reasoning was in fact political spin. The success of that political spin, in a case where most of the country found racial segregation repellent, emboldened the Supreme Court--and other courts across the land--to use emotional rhetoric to impose other policies from the bench in a wide range of cases extending far beyond issues of race or education. ...

    Brown v. Board of Education was the crucial case establishing a pattern in which rhetoric beats reasoning--and we are still paying the price today. The painful irony is that black schoolchildren, the supposed beneficiaries of all this, have gained little or nothing in their education.

    George writes:
    When the NY Times refers to minorities, it means non-white minorities. Whites cannot be considered minorities, even if they are minorities in some states, because whites are part of the dominant culture of western civilization.

    Without Brown v. Board, black kids would still be at the back of the bus. That is because studies have shown that schools deteriorate once the percentage of blacks exceeds about 25%. That is why black kids need to be going to majority (80%+) white schools, or they won't learn anything. The NAACP and the Supreme Court recognized this, and that is why Brown v. Board was a great decision. Unfortunately, white people recognized it also, and moved to the suburbs. The Supreme Court didn't have the guts to desegregate the suburbs.

    Tax the damages
    John sends this LA Times story about an idea from Calif. Gov. Schwarzenegger. He wants a 75% tax on punitive damage awards. Several states have such a tax already. The idea is that punitive damages were intended to punish the guilty defendant, but there is no good reason why the plaintiff should get a big windfall. I say that the tax should be 100% on everything over $100k.

    Thursday, May 13, 2004
    Meese on Judicial Supremacy
    Former US Attorney General Ed Meese once gave an excellent speech against judicial supremacy at Tulane U. in 1986. He was widely attack, as is often the case when someone prominent speaks some uncomfortable truths. I put the speech online, because it does not appear to be readily available elsewhere. (My copy asserts a Tulane copyright, but that is obviously not correct as Tulane cannot copyright the speech of the US attorney general.)
    Congress doesn't understand the Army
    Only 5 US congressmen and 1 US senator have kids serving in the US military.

    Sunday, May 09, 2004
    Ad brainwashing
    Why do people prefer Coke when Pepsi wins the blind taste tests?

    Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, has done some MRI experiments to try to find the answer. It appears that Coca-cola's marketing campaigns have a brainwashing effect that makes people think that Coca-Cola brand Coke taste better. Here is the NY Times story. Montague even claims to have found the areas of the brain where this brainwashing takes effect.

    This explains a lot. It appears that most adults are susceptible to this sort of brainwashing. I've wondered why many adults have such a fondness for certain foods that kids hate. The kids haven't been brainwashed yet. If those foods really tasted good, then kids would like them also.

    Trans-gendered Darwin critic
    Bob writes about this NY Times interview:
    Homosexuality in animals is a well known fact. I don't know what the big deal is. The NYT doesn't give a clue about what Roughgarden's idea is of how homosexuality comes about. Is she a creationist, or what? I have no intention of reading her book to find out. I'll have to wait for the executive summary which was not provided by the NYT. The complaint about bias is typical of mediocre scientists. I suspect that her gender issues have helped her career in the same way that Stephen Jay Gould's marxism garnered academic allies who defended his errors, mediocre to bad scientific work, and pompous writing.

    I just looked Roughgarden's book up on Amazon and found a rave review by Paul Ehrlich, a liar and scientist who makes idiotic predictions. Ehrlich lied in a speech he gave in which he claimed that the quote Quayle cited from Gore's book "Earth in the Balance Ecology and the Human Spirit" in the Quayle-Gore debate was made up out of whole cloth. The quote is:

    QUAYLE Well, I'm tempted to yield to Admiral Stockdale on this. But I -- you know, the fact of the matter is that one of the proposals that Senator Gore has suggested is to have the taxpayers of America spend $100 billion a year on environmental projects in foreign countries --

    GORE That's not true --

    QUAYLE Foreign aid -- well, Senator, it's in your book. On page 304 --

    The quote cited by Quayle is on page 304 of Gore's book as stated.

    Here are some of Ehrlich's idiotic predictions are here and here.

    There is a very funny South Park which starts when a dog turns out to be gay.

    Homosexuality makes evolutionary sense as a mechanism for population control. The problem is how genes which confer homosexuality can spread in a population. There is evidence that homosexuality is triggered by in utero stress on the mother. This mechanism would allow the genes in question to spread in the population.

    I recently heard an interesting analysis. Consider a hunting group of around 10 males. 10 is the average hunting group size for hunter gathers. If game is scarce, one gay guy in the group means that the gay guy will contribute to the hunting, but will not have a family which needs food. This results in a percentage more food available for the rest of the community similar to the percentage of homosexuals in the hunting group.

    These theories sound dubious to me. There are animal groups with 10 adult males in which only the alpha male is allowed to mate with the females. So are all the other males homosexuals?

    Bob responds:

    I don't know whether the alpha male strategy operates on overpopulation. I believe that bonobos don't have alpha males. Even if alpha male were a strategy for dealing with overpopulation, it does not preclude other strategies. Various species have various strategies for sharing food and dealing with overpopulation. Even among a single species, various strategies occur.
    I don't get it. Did the Stanford professor have his/her sex change operation because he convinced by Paul Ehrlich's overpopulation arguments, or because of an effort to mimic bonobos? Either way, it is fallacious. Bonobos do not have sex-change operations. I would say that Darwinian theory predicts that this prof's genes will be removed from the gene pool, but I bet that he/she is a cloning advocate.
    Do they really hate us?
    Americans are wringing their hands about how we are hated in the rest of the world, but I wonder they do. Various anti-American interests have tried to boycott American products, such as those sold by Ford, McDonalds, Coca-cola, and Kodak, but according to this NY Times article, people are buying American as much as ever. Even in Mohammedan countries.

    Saturday, May 08, 2004
    Phonics works
    Bob sends this story from Science magazine:
    Training the Brain to Read

    Phonics tutoring of problem readers actually changes how their brains operate, demonstrates a new imaging study from Yale. The work shows that 8 months of phonics--a method that separates words into their component sounds, as opposed to the "whole language" approach--produces gains that persisted a year.

    The researchers, led by pediatricians Bennett and Sally Shaywitz, imaged the brains of 49 poor readers, aged 6 to 9, while they performed simple letter-recognition tasks. Instructors then gave 37 of the subjects daily phonics tutoring for 8 months, while most of the other 12 got ordinary remedial reading.

    The phonics students made sustained improvements, and brain imaging showed "substantial normalization" of the brain's "reading pathways" (see illustration), the researchers report in the 1 May issue of Biological Psychiatry. In particular, their brains showed more activity in an area that recognizes words instantly without first having to decipher them. The work shows that in many poor readers, "the system is there but has not been activated properly," says Sally Shaywitz.

    Educators need to dispense with the notion that because "children are hard-wired to speak," reading should also come naturally, she says. "We're running 40% reading failure rates" as a result of that attitude, says Reid Lyon of the reading and language branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "The converging scientific evidence is very clear" that poor readers need to be taught the "building blocks" (phonemes) of words, he says.

    All the previous research also showed that phonics works better than whole language. The trouble with phonics, as I understand it, is that it is boring for the teacher, and hard to do in a group setting. It works best one-on-one with a motivated teacher who can pace the material to the progress of the student.

    I just taught my kid with Turbo Reader.

    Friday, May 07, 2004
    Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad
    An anonymous reader says that the picture of U.S. Army Spc. Lynndie England is a feminist's dream. She has been turned into a mean soldier, and is dominating a naked male prisoner like a dog on a leash.

    The news media and Congress is really overreacting to this. No one was killed or injured. Rumsfeld says that the Army announced these abuse allegations to the public in January. What do people expect? Once women are trained for combat, and shipped off to war on the other side of the world, they aren't likely to be nice to enemy prisoners.

    Thursday, May 06, 2004
    Brain Fingerprinting
    I just learned about Brain Fingerprinting. It promises to be a new law enforcement tool. It is somewhat like a lie-detector test, but instead of trying to figure out directly whether a suspect is lying, it tries to determine whether he has previous familiarity with a fact or image. If a suspect denies being at the scene of the crime, it can provide evidence that he knows too much. I am not sure enough studies have been done to justify using it in court, but it will surely be a useful interrogation tool.

    Liza sends this long article on the Massachusetts Chief Justice and same-sex marriage advocate. She recently gave a speech advocating that judges mine the work of foreign courts, such as from her native country in Africa. When she talks about Mass. precedent, it is usually to some mythical slavery case that never even happened. She apparently held up her decision mandating same-sex marriage in order to quote the Supreme Court endorsing homosexual anal sodomy.

    Meanwhile, I just listened to Frisco Bush-bashing radio station KGO 810 AM interview local lawyer Arnie Levinson with his scare stories about how reelecting Bush will give us an extreme right-wing court. The guy is just reciting idiotic leftist propaganda. We have a predominantly left-wing court now. You cannot find any judges on the court today who are actively pursuing a extreme right-wing agenda. But you can find lots on the left. That Mass. judge is just one example. (She is on a state court, unaffected by Bush appointments.)

    The Bush-bashers recite this myth about how reelecting Bush will bring a return to back-alley abortions, because one Bush appointment will reverse Roe v. Wade. That opinion is just crazy. First, it would take at least three anti-Roe appointments to reverse Roe v. Wade, assuming that Rehnquist is one of those to retire. Second, neither Bush nor other Republican presidents have a history of appointing anti-abortion judges. Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter were all Republican appointments, and have all voted to uphold a constitutional right to abortion throughout the entire 9 months. G W Bush appointed several radical pro-abortion judges to the Texas supreme court. Third, even if Roe v. Wade were reversed, abortion would continue to be legal and available to the vast majority of Americans. Maybe a couple of states like Pennsylvania would regulate it, but pregnant women in those states could just get a bus across the state line if they don't like the regulations.

    Sunday, May 02, 2004
    Zero Tolerance watch
    For a good blog on silly "zero tolerance" school board policies, see ZeroIntelligence.net.