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Friday, Aug 31, 2007
Best crypto methods are patent-free
Three months ago, BetaNews reported:
In a move whose repercussions could seriously impact the future development of the AACS content protection system, and even endanger the production plans of high-definition disc console manufacturers worldwide, cryptography software provider Certicom this morning filed suit in Marshall, Texas, against Sony Corporation.

Its claim is that Sony's use of Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) in two of its implemented technologies - AACS and Digital Transmission Content Protection - conceptually violate Certicom's patents for that cryptographic method. ...

As Certicom CEO Bernard Crotty stated in a conference call to analysts this afternoon, the Sony suit is probably the first in a string of patent suits the company may file against AACS and DTCP licensees who refuse to license the underlying cryptography for those schemes directly from Certicom. ...

Certicom apparently patented the concept of elliptic curve mathematics in cryptography as soon as it could following the first suggestion of its use in 1985, by a fellow Certicom admits worked for IBM at the time. It since filed subsequent patents on variations of its use, including #6,563,928, "Strengthened public key protocol," which describes the use of exponentiation as a technique for placing the very large numbers required for high-bit cryptography into a smaller, more manageable group.

This is one of two patents Certicom claims Sony willfully infringed upon, and as Certicom points out, the method is used in Sony's AACS supporting products including the PlayStation 3, its Blu-ray Disc players, Vaio computers, and numerous HDTVs; as well as in its DTCP supporting products including its i.LINK wireless video streaming ports.

For good measure, Certicom also threw in an infringement claim with regard to US patent #6,704,870, "Digital signatures on a smartcard," which Certicom claims is exploited by pretty much the same list of products - including the PS3 and Blu-ray. ...

Is there a possibility that companies such as Sony, and others who received what they believed to be valid licenses from the AACS Licensing Authority, could implement a workaround that doesn't infringe upon Certicom's IP? Not likely, the company said today, since Certicom patented the concept of ECC, not some specific implementation of it. Did the company investigate Sony's implementations in PS3 or Blu-ray to detect specific infringements?

"We weren't able to determine how the implementation is being done," admitted Vanstone, "so all we can determine is that they're using concepts that we have coverage on, solid coverage on." ...

Counterpane CTO and globally recognized security expert Bruce Schneier said he believes Certicom may have a case. "Certicom certainly can claim ownership of ECC," Schneier told us. "The algorithm was developed and patented by the company's founders, and the patents are well written and strong. I don't like it, but they can claim ownership."

No, Schneier is wrong and Certicom will lose this case. I am a patent agent and I have been doing ECC for years.  I was Secretary of the working group that adopted the IEEE 1363 standard for ECC and other public-key cryptography. Certicom has a lot of patents, but it is quite easy to avoid them. The Certicom techniques are not even the best ones, so you can avoid the patents without compromising security or efficiency. If Sony got some decent patent advice, then it should have no trouble defending the lawsuit. Others who want to use ECC just need to take some simple measures to avoid lawsuits.

Congress is considering a patent reform bill next week. I do think that the patent system needs to be reformed, but this bill just tilts the power balance far too much in favor of the big companies. It favors the big companies already. Sony doesn't need any more help.

One argument against the patent reform bill is that the courts have now issued precendent-changing rulings on obviousness and willfulness that address some of the supposed problems that the new bill is addressing. Maybe the bill is unnecessary, even if what the proponents say is correct.

Here is the Certicom v Sony complaint.

Thursday, Aug 30, 2007
String Theory research is a waste of time
The Cosmic Variance blog considers whether String Theory research is a waste of time, and got this exchange:
[CV] understanding particle physics beyond the Standard Model was never the primary motivation of most string theorists anyway

[Woit] It really isn't true that what happened in 1984 was all about the sudden appearance of an excellent theory of quantum gravity. Take a look at the highly cited papers from that era, and you'll find little about quantum gravity, but a lot about compactification schemes for getting the Standard model. The people who made string theory a hot subject were mostly particle theorists excited by the the idea of a unified theory, with real predictions seemingly possible by looking at the lowest energy states of a superstring propagating on a compactified 10d space-time.

[CV] The question of why individual scientists in the 1980's were excited about string theory is certainly a question of sociology. We may argue whether one or another reason is a good one or not, but that is a logically distinct question. If we wanted to drop discussions about what such-and-such a person was thinking when they gave a talk twenty years ago, I'd be all in favor of it.

Woit got the better of that argument. String Theory has no bearing on reality, and research in it is more like Astrology than Physics.
Courts run California prisons
The NY Times describes a supremacist federal receiver micromanaging state prisons:
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Last year, shortly after receiving extraordinary powers to overhaul the medical system in California's prisons, Robert Sillen, armed with a stack of court papers, issued a blunt warning to cabinet officials at the governor’s office in Sacramento.

"Every one of you is subject to being in contempt of court if you thwart my efforts or impede my progress," said Mr. Sillen, a silver-haired former hospital administrator chosen to carry out the overhaul of the prison medical system as the result of a class-action suit brought by a prison advocacy group.

Backing up his warning, Mr. Sillen handed out copies of a federal court order that named him the health care receiver for the California prison system.

In a subsequent warning, Mr. Sillen threatened to "back up the Brink's truck" to the state's treasury, if need be, to finance better medical services for the state’s 173,000 inmates.

State figures show that court-ordered changes to California’s prison system, including those in Mr. Sillen’s health care domain, have cost more than $1.3 billion, and the meter is still running.

For decades, California officials have tried to bring order to the state’s prison system, which is the largest in the nation. There have been lawsuits, special legislative committees and a declaration of a state of emergency by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but never has one person attacked a problem, piece by piece, with such blunt force and disregard for political convention as Mr. Sillen has the prison system.

Mr. Sillen, whose $500,000 annual salary puts him among California's highest paid public officials, said he had never visited a prison or thought much about the penal system until a recruiter called last year to persuade him to accept what the recruiter called a "mission impossible."

Now he has the power to hire, fire, raise salaries, build facilities, waive laws, tap the state treasury and have jailed any bureaucrat who tries to thwart him.

"In my opinion, Robert Sillen is not going to be happy until he’s running the entire prison system," said a state assemblyman, Todd Spitzer, an Orange County Republican and one of Mr. Sillen’s detractors. "He’s a man who has utter disdain for the legislature despite the fact that we’re the appropriate body for budgeting."

If this is really such a good way to run important govt functions, why don't we just shut down the legislature and appoint petty dictators to run everything else? This makes us sound like a Third World country.

Tuesday, Aug 28, 2007
Killing patients for their organs
Jane E. Brody writes:
Although willingness to donate has risen in recent years, major hurdles remain. Some people, for example, believe incorrectly that patients who might otherwise be saved are sometimes “killed” for their organs. Strict regulations are in place to prevent this. ...

There are several ways to increase the supply of organs. They include persuading more people to agree to be donors when they die, putting hospital policies and procedures in place to foster organ donation, obtaining more organs donated from the victims of brain death and cardiac death and increasing the number of live donors, especially people unrelated to the recipients.

This omits the obvious:
Thousands of people die every year waiting for organ transplants that never come, and some of these deaths come at the end of months or years of debilitation and suffering.

In some countries, it is legal to purchase organs to be transplanted. Some people spend upwards of $100,000 to go to those countries for a transplant operation when they cannot get a kidney or a liver or other organ here.

Why is the selling of an organ illegal here? Because so many people are so squeamish about such a transaction.

I think that the whole organ donation business in unethical, and it would be better if no one ever filled out those organ donor cards.
Science does not resolve political disputes
Science editor Alun Anderson writes:
For better or worse, the Arctic is going to see some exciting times. With a bit of luck, and if the US signs up to the Law of the Sea, the claims to different bits of the Arctic may be resolved scientifically, rather than militarily, through surveys of the sea bed to determine whose continental shelf extends where and how far.
I am all for using science instead of the military, but what he says is just impossible. There is scientific resolution to political claims on the Arctic Ocean.

Monday, Aug 27, 2007
Vaccines Are Roaring Back
The NY Times reports:
By the mid-1990s, however, innovation in vaccines had virtually come to a halt. Only a handful of companies even tried to develop new ones, compared with 25 in 1955.

But in a stunning reversal, innovators today are chasing dozens of vaccines, stimulated by some recent high-profile successes. “People see vaccines as money makers,” says Paul A. Offit, chief of the infectious diseases section at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia...

Governments are more interested in funding vaccination programs after years of neglect, and public fears that vaccines cause harmful side effects are subsiding. Those fears are now largely discounted by medical experts.

The govt started aggressively mandating new vaccines in about 1990, so that kids now have to get a couple of dozen shots. The govt has also been paying for vaccinating poor kids for decades. So I don't know what those "years of neglect" were.

Saying that the public fears that are now largely discounted by medical experts is misleading. It would be more accurate to say that many of those public fears were proved valid, and the honest medical experts now agree that they were correct. In the last ten years, the following childhood vaccines were taken off the market as a result of the medical experts conceding that the public fears were correct:

  • whole cell pertussis vaccine
  • childhood vaccines with thimerosal (mercury) as a preservative
  • live polio vaccine
  • rotavirus (diarrhea) vaccine
Without the public pressure, I doubt that any of those vaccines would have been taken off the mandated schedule.

Sunday, Aug 26, 2007
Another dubious missing link
AFP reports:
Ten million-year-old fossils discovered in Ethiopia show that humans and apes probably split six or seven million years earlier than widely thought, according to landmark study released Wednesday.

The handful of teeth from the earliest direct ancestors of modern gorillas ever found -- one canine and eight molars -- also leave virtually no doubt, the study's authors and experts said, that both humans and modern apes did indeed originate from Africa. ...

But the study, published in the British journal Nature, "conclusively demonstrates that the Last Common Ancestor (of both man and ape) was strictly an African phenomenon," commented paleoanthropologist Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University in Ohio. ...

"This is a major breakthrough in our understanding of the origin of humanity," Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a physical anthropologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, told AFP.

The most startling implication of the find, the scientists agree, is that our human progenitors diverged from today's great apes -- including gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees -- several million years earlier than widely accepted research based on molecular genetics had previously asserted.

So they found nine tooth fossils that vaguely resemble gorilla teeth. There aren't any other gorilla fossils, but they could be the teeth of a ape from 10M years ago. Maybe even a gorilla ancestor. That much seems possible. But from there the paleontologists conclude that humans split from apes in Africa 10-20M years ago.

This all sounds bogus to me. I wonder whether these folks really believe in evolution. If apes were evolving back then, I would expect many fossils to be from dead-end species that are not ancestors to any species alive today. These teeth say nothing about the human-ape split.

Modern Cosmology is a folktale with negative significance
Michael J. Disney writes in American Scientist magazine:
The currently fashionable concordance model of cosmology (also known to the cognoscenti as "Lambda-Cold Dark Matter," or ΛCDM) has 18 parameters, 17 of which are independent. Thirteen of these parameters are well fitted to the observational data; the other four remain floating. This situation is very far from healthy. Any theory with more free parameters than relevant observations has little to recommend it. Cosmology has always had such a negative significance, in the sense that it has always had fewer observations than free parameters (as is illustrated at left), though cosmologists are strangely reluctant to admit it. While it is true that we presently have no alternative to the Big Bang in sight, that is no reason to accept it. Thus it was that witchcraft took hold. ...

Big Bang cosmology is not a single theory; rather, it is five separate theories constructed on top of one another. The ground floor is a theory, historically but not fundamentally rooted in general relativity, to explain the redshifts—this is Expansion, which happily also accounts for the cosmic background radiation. The second floor is Inflation—needed to solve the horizon and "flatness" problems of the Big Bang. The third floor is the Dark Matter hypothesis required to explain the existence of contemporary visible structures, such as galaxies and clusters, which otherwise would never condense within the expanding fireball. The fourth floor is some kind of description for the "seeds" from which such structure is to grow. And the fifth and topmost floor is the mysterious Dark Energy, needed to allow for the recent acceleration of cosmic expansion indicated by the supernova observations. Thus Dark Energy could crumble, leaving the rest of the building intact. But if the Expansion floor collapsed, the entire edifice above it would come crashing down. Expansion is a moderately well-supported hypothesis, consistent with the cosmic background radiation, with the helium abundance and with the ages inferred for the oldest stars and star clusters in our neighborhood. ...

In its original form, an expanding Einstein model had an attractive, economic elegance. Alas, it has since run into serious difficulties, which have been cured only by sticking on some ugly bandages: inflation to cover horizon and flatness problems; overwhelming amounts of dark matter to provide internal structure; and dark energy, whatever that might be, to explain the seemingly recent acceleration. A skeptic is entitled to feel that a negative significance, after so much time, effort and trimming, is nothing more than one would expect of a folktale constantly re-edited to fit inconvenient new observations.

This is a curiously pessimistic view. The cosmologists all brag about how much progress has been made in just the last ten years, and how the big problems have been solved.

As he says, the expansion is well-supported, but inflation seems dubious to me. The evidence is weak, and no one knows how long the inflation era lasted, if it existed at all. I wouldn't be surprised if the inflation models were completely wrong.

Congress Withdraws Jurisdiction
John writes:
Yes, it can be done. The Democratic controlled 110th Congress has just passed a law withdrawing jurisdiction over a certain type of lawsuit.

Like the law that protects gun manufacturers from civil lawsuits based on criminal or negligent misuse of a gun, which Bush signed in 2005. The new law prohibits a specific type of lawsuit from being heard in either Federal or State court. In both cases Congress relied on its power under the Commerce clause, instead of Article 2.

The new law is Section 1206 of H.R. 1, which Bush signed on August 3.

After much negotiation in conference, the final language is about 10 times longer than the bill that was originally introduced.

But its purpose remains the same. As summarized by the AP, the bill "Provides civil immunity to those who, in good faith, report suspicious activities that threaten the safety and security of passengers on a transportation system or that could be an act of terrorism."

The law had an immediate effect. On August 1, 3 days after Congress completed final action, the attorney for the 6 "flying imams" filed a motion in U.S. district court in Minneapolis to amend his complaint to remove as defendants the "John Doe" airline passengers who reported suspicious behavior on Nov. 20, 2006.

The attorney said his motion "absolutely nothing to do" with the new law. Although he removed the passengers as defendants, he kept the airline employees as defendants even though they, too, would seem to have immunity. We'll have to wait and see what the judge does.

Withdrawal of jurisdiction is the obvious solution to a variety of problems involving overreaching opinions from supremacist federal judges. Judicial supremacists often doubt that it can be done, but in fact there is a long history of it being done effectively.

Saturday, Aug 25, 2007
The Electoral College cure is worse than the disease
Jamin Raskin writes in Slate:
Deformed Reform

The cure for the Electoral College that is worse than what ails us.

The "National Popular Vote" plan, which is on the table in 47 states, has been signed into law in Maryland and had actually passed both houses in California in 2006 before it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It simply calls for an interstate compact among all states to agree to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. It becomes effective and binding when states representing at least 270 electors enter the compact. ...

We Maryland Democrats were not acting in a partisan spirit. The National Popular Vote plan will not necessarily help (or hurt) us. In small-d democratic fashion, it simply benefits that party whose presidential candidate best appeals to the majority of Americans in an election -- that could be us or them.

No, Raskin is using dishonesty and subterfuge to try to manipulate the presidential election. The NPV plan is anti-democracy because it allows and encourages someone to win the presidency with a minority of the votes. The NPV plan does not require the president to win a majority of the votes.
Lack of any substantive war criticism
Is there even one Democrat leader who is willing or able to say how he could have handled the Iraq War any better than the Bush administration?

All wars involve huge mistakes, so it seems obvious that the Iraq War could have been handled better with benefit of hindsight. And yet I have not heard anyone with a convincing explanation of how the war could have been handled better. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, John Edwards, and the others all complain about G.W. Bush, but none has offered any credible alternative.

Everyone in the media assumes that the Democrats will win in 2008, but I think that the traditional big issues -- the economy and world peace -- will both be net positives for the Republicans. The economy has done very well throughout the Bush administration. Against all predictions, there have been no successful terrorist attacks on USA soil since 9/11/2001. The Iraq War is unpopular, but Bush will not be on the ballot, and Democrat who is on the presidential ballot will likely be a war supporter like Hillary Clinton.

There are those who say that Bush lied, but then they cannot point to an actual lie in quotes. There are those who say that Bush didn't tell the whole story, but then those in the US Senate have to admit that they got the National Intelligence Estimate with all the info, and they didn't even read it. There are those who argue that the Congress should not have authorized the war, but then they have to admit that the major Democrat leaders voted for it. There are those who say we invaded the wrong country, and should have invaded Iran or Pakistan instead, but that approach won't win any votes.

There are those who point out that the economy was good during the Clinton administration, but they neglect to mention that it crashed at the end of his presidency.

There is certainly plenty of room for substantive criticism of the Bush presidency. But very little comes from the Democrats.

Thursday, Aug 16, 2007
Relativity came from critical opalescence
I just ran across this 2004 book review by Robert M. Wald in Physics Today:
Galison's main thesis is that, rather than being the product of one man's isolated attempt to resolve deep problems in physics by pure thought, the discovery of special relativity should be viewed as arising naturally from a convergence of ideas in physics, philosophy, and practical engineering that, in the author's words, had produced a "critical opalescence" by the turn of the 20th century. ...

If the historical record presented by Galison shows that Einstein as isolated thinker is not all that was behind relativity, it seems to me also to show that critical opalescence cannot be the whole story. No one was in a better position to take advantage of the critical opalescence than Poincaré. By 1900, he understood how Hendrik Lorentz's "local time" could be interpreted as the physical time measured by a moving observer. He had by then adopted an operational view of simultaneity, very likely influenced by his work for the Bureau of Longitude. His mathematical abilities certainly exceeded Einstein's. Yet Poincaré not only failed to discover special relativity, he failed to embrace it after Einstein discovered it. Surely Einstein's deep conviction that the principle of relativity must be fundamentally embedded in the laws of physics ...

(Opalescence is a kind of reflected light.)

It is funny how the Einstein worshipers refuse to look at actual facts. Poincare did discover special relativity, and published it before Einstein. It was Poincare who even coined the term "principle of relativity" and applied it to all the laws of physics. Einstein just copied it without crediting Poincare.

Saying that Poincare failed to embrace special relativity is just nonsense. Poincare did suggest experimentally testing the theory, and some Einstein-lovers have argued that this showed that Poincare lacked confidence in the theory, or that he didn't really believe. But it shows the opposite. Poincare was ahead of Einstein on the ether, simultaneity, constancy of the speed of light, mass-energy equivalence, four-dimensional spacetime, and gravity.

If anything, it was Einstein who failed to fully embrace special relativity. American Scientist magazine says:

He [Einstein] also initially rejected Hermann Minkowski's wedding of space and time (anticipated again by Poincaré) as "superfluous erudition."
Here are the original papers. More references may be found here.

Martin Ouwehand argues that the proof that Poincare didn't understand special relativity is that he made an obscure technical error in his 1908 paper. But see also the rebuttal by Harry below it, explaining that Ouwehand misunderstood one of Poincare's terms.

Even if Poincare did make a mistake, Einstein also made his share. The canonicalscience blogger says:

Relativistic theory was mainly an achievement of Lorentz, Poincaré, and others. Now historians agree that all basic ideas of relativity theory, including constancy of c and existence of a maximum velocity for transmission of signals, were previously known in literature.

That none of famous formulas of Einstein, including E = mc^2 was obtained by Einstein. Even when he did attempts to derive formulas, he failed. For example, Ives showed in 1952 that original Einstein proof of E=mc^2 was completely wrong [Ives, H. E. J. Opt. Soc. Amer. Xlii (1952) p.540]. Other formulas derived by Einstein are also wrong. Some reviews are very recent.

This isn't news either, as he explains:
Einstein copied the work of others without cite them, how even Max Born or S. Hawking have recognized.

[Einstein's] paper 'Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Koerper' in Annalen der Physik. . . contains not a single reference to previous literature. It gives you the impression of quite a new venture. But that is, of course, as I have tried to explain, not true. ---- Max Born

Wilhelm Wein proposed that the Nobel Prize of 1912 was awarded jointly to Lorentz and Einstein, saying

"While Lorentz must be considered as the first to have found the mathematical content of relativity, Einstein succeeded in reducing it to a simple principle. One should therefore assess the merits of both investigators as being comparable."

Poincare was dead at the time, and hence ineligible. Max Born was one of the creators of quantum mechanics, and is credited with discovering how to get probabilities from wave functions. (Schroedinger and Heisenberg had no way to get probabilities.)

Wednesday, Aug 15, 2007
Argument against parental rights in family court
Ella writes:
Whenever two parents walk into a courtroom to determine who gets the kids, one or both is walking away with their constitutional rights having been limited in some way. The court could not issue an order allowing one parent to fully exercise her fundamental right to raise her child in a manner that does not abridge the other's equally fundamental right to raise his child. For this reason, a parent's rights are almost entirely irrelevant in a child custody case. Everything that might relate to the best interest of the child is fair game, including the parents' religious and political opinions, sexual behavior, dietary habits, health, etc.

The only limitation on the court's consideration of these factors should be that the court can only use a factor in making a determination if there is a neutral basis to conclude that it has a positive or negative effect on the child's well being. Thus, Mom's recent conversion to paganism might be considered if she and Dad had raised the child in fundamentalist Christianity for the past ten years and the child would be distressed by the change in religious environment if ordered to live with Mom. Dad's inability to refrain from telling his child that Mom was going to hell might also be considered, for similar reasons. I don't see any other workable standard for custody decisions. The truth is that in most cases, the parents are equally fit and the child would probably do equally well (or poorly) with either parent. All the "constitutionally neutral" factors - income, caretaking ability, law abiding character, etc. - are often a wash, leaving more problematic areas related to speech, beliefs, and behavior.

This argument is wrong from beginning to end. Family court judges do not necessarily take away any rights; they can merely divide the parental rights.

In the typical case, where both parents are legally fit, there is rarely any neutral basis for saying that one parent is a better parent than the other. Many custody decisions are based on nothing more than the prejudices of the judge.

Yes, there is a better way.  Judges can simply respect parental rights, and allow parents to maintain the joint custody that they had before divorce, unless one parent is proved unfit. Some courts do this today, and it works a lot better than the judge inquiring into the parents personal, political, and religious beliefs, as was done in the above Minnesota case that promted Ella's comment.

Update: Ella responds to me by saying:

If you want to argue that flipping a coin would lead to equally good decisions in most cases, you're probably right, but for some reason our legal system is reluctant to officially implement this scheme.

I don't think most people are arguing that Muslims or Islamists should always lose their kids, just that in some cases, one parent's embrace of a particular brand of Islam may tip the scales in favor of the other parent.

Normally I would disregard such views as too kooky to bother with, but I am afraid that they are common in the legal system.

I do think that the family court decisions are often no better than tossing a coin, but I am not arguing for coin tossing. I am arguing for something better!

The family court could simply respect parental rights, and not attempt the sort of analysis that would cause judges to take kids away from fit parents based on some subjective and theological argument that is no better than coin tossing.

Tuesday, Aug 14, 2007
Don Imus settles one suit, faces another
FoxNews reports:
A member of the Rutgers women's basketball team sued Don Imus and CBS on Tuesday, claiming the radio personality's sexist and racist comments about the team damaged her reputation.

Kia Vaughn filed the lawsuit alleging defamation of character in state Supreme Court in the Bronx the same day Imus settled with CBS Radio in a deal that pre-empts his threatened $120 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS.

The article has a picture of Vaughn.

Truth is a defense to a defamation suit. Imus's right to express his opinion is also a defense. The gist of his remarks was that the Tennessee Lady Vols were cuter than the Rutgers basketball team, based on his watching the championship game. Check out the pictures yourself. The case will be dismissed.

George writes:

Imus didn't just say that the Rutgers girls had tatoos. He said that they were hos. It is libel per se to say that a woman is unchaste.
No, Imus only said that they looked like "nappy-headed hos" on TV. The new media quoted him out of context, but Imus is not responsible for that. Now that Vaughn has sued, Imus is free to say that she is a greedy publicity-seeking extortionist.

Sunday, Aug 12, 2007
Today's evolution research
The theory of evolution explains modern prosperity:
Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, believes that the Industrial Revolution -- the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 -- occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues. ...

It is puzzling that the Industrial Revolution did not occur first in the much larger populations of China or Japan. Dr. Clark has found data showing that their richer classes, the Samurai in Japan and the Qing dynasty in China, were surprisingly unfertile ...

Most historians have assumed that evolutionary change is too gradual to have affected human populations in the historical period. But geneticists, with information from the human genome now at their disposal, have begun to detect ever more recent instances of human evolutionary change ...

Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. “The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages,” he concluded.

The English upper classes had the right genes for wealth production, and spread them to the whole population. The Third World remains poor because they are insufficiently evolved.

Wow. Rarely do we see such a racist theory in the NY Times.

Meanwhile, another missing link has been shot down:

The discovery by Meave Leakey, a member of a famous family of paleontologists, shows that two species of early human ancestors lived at the same time in Kenya. That pokes holes in the chief theory of man's early evolution - that one of those species evolved from the other.

And it further discredits that iconic illustration of human evolution that begins with a knuckle-dragging ape and ends with a briefcase-carrying man.

The old theory is that the first and oldest species in our family tree, Homo habilis, evolved into Homo erectus, which then became human, Homo sapiens. But Leakey's find suggests those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years. She and her research colleagues report the discovery in a paper published in Thursday's journal Nature.

The evolution textbooks say that homo habilis was a human ancestor. Maybe not.

Friday, Aug 10, 2007
Novell owns Unix copyrights
I posted this in May 2003:
The Unix copyright dispute took an odd twist, as Novell denied that it sold Unix to SCO! SCO was sure enough of its ownership that it sued IBM for shipping Linux that infringes Unix. Strange. Something is fishy here. IBM and Microsoft are paying SCO a lot of money for Unix licenses, and I am sure they wouldn't do it unless they had to.
Four years later, the judge has finally ruled:
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 10 — In a decision that may finally settle one of the most bitter legal battles surrounding software widely used in corporate data centers, a federal district court judge in Utah ruled Friday afternoon that Novell, not the SCO Group, is the rightful owner of the copyrights covering the Unix operating system.

In the 102-page ruling, the judge, Dale A. Kimball, also said Novell could force SCO to abandon its claims against I.B.M., which SCO had sued. Judge Kimball’s decision in favor of Novell could almost entirely undermine SCO’s 2003 lawsuit against I.B.M.

If you ever want proof that high-priced corporate lawyers are worthless, this is it. Novell and SCO negotiated a Unix deal that was worth 100s of millions of dollars. They paid lawyers 100s of thousands of dollars to draw up contracts that were 100s of pages long. The core of the deal was the sale of the Unix business. The most central issue in the whole deal was who was going to own Unix.

Somehow that central part of the deal was lost in the legal paperwork. It took four years of litigation to determine who was to own Unix under that contract. If appealed, the litigation could continue.

Novell and SCO would have been much better off if they did not use lawyers at all, and just had a one-paragraph summary of the deal. That way, at least the parties would know what the deal was.

Here is a good summary of the contract dispute:

CO's basic argument is that the transfer of copyright ownership is implied in Schedule 1.1(a) of the APA which conveys to SCO "all rights and ownership of UNIX and UnixWare, including but not limited to all versions of UNIX and UnixWare and all copies of UNIX and UnixWare."

Schedule 1.1(b) of the APA, which enumerates assets excluded from from the agreement, specifically states that copyrights and patents are not conveyed as part of the transaction.

The second leg of SCO's argument relates to Amendment 2 of the APA, which was written a year later and grants SCO "all copyrights and trademarks, except for the copyrights and trademarks owned by Novell as of the date of the Agreement required for SCO to exercise its rights with respect to the acquisition of UNIX and UnixWare technologies."

1998 not the hottest year
NASA has quietly admitted that 1998 was not the hottest year in history after all. Controversial scientist James Hansen had covered up the error. See Malkin or Slashdot for more. 5 of the 10 warmest years on record now all occur before World War II.

Hansen complains about being censored by the Bush administration, but no one stopped him from releasing the data underlying his published graphs.

Flock of Dodos
I just watched Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus, film by Randy Olson. Olson says that his idol was Stephen Jay Gould, and he makes fun of evolution critics. It is largely an attempt to "teach the controversy" between Darwinism and critics.

At one point, the film says that Galileo was threatened with being burned at the stake for merely suggesting the possibility that the Earth might revolve around the Sun. That's wrong. Bruno was burned at the stake for heresies like denying the divinity of Jesus Christ. Galileo never would have had any problems for just suggesting a possibility.

This movie was just like most of the other evolutionist propaganda. It claims to be promoting science to the general public, and yet there is no real science in it. Instead of addressing what people really say, it invokes conspiracy theories and questions motives. And they bring up Galileo, as if his story helps their case.

One argument the movie made was that the anti-evolution forces spend more money than the pro-evolution forces. As evidence of how powerful and influential the anti-evolution forces are, it says that the Discover Institute once helped get an op-ed article published in the NY Times!

That is just crazy. Evolution is part of the curriculum in every school district in the USA. There is no school that teaches intelligent design or any other alternative. The NY Times publishes about one pro-evolution article a week. That one NY Times op-ed was by a Catholic Cardinal who accepted that human and other organisms have a common ancestry. The amount of money being spent to promote evolution exceeds the amount of money against by many orders of magnitude, no matter how you measure it.

Tuesday, Aug 07, 2007
Defending the constitutional rights of parents
Andy writes:
Unlike most conservatives, Justice Scalia opposes the principle that parents have a constitutional right to the upbringing and education of their children. Specifically, Justice Scalia has indicated his disagreement with the leading precedent in favor of parental rights to control the education of their children, Pierce v. Society of Sisters. Specifically:

In Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist., 127 S. Ct. 1994 (2007), Justice Scalia did not join the Court's reliance on Pierce in allowing pro se parents to litigate claims for their children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

In Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 91-92 (2000), Justice Scalia wrote a two paragraph dissent: In my view, a right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children is among the "unalienable Rights" with which the Declaration of Independence proclaims "all Men ... are endowed by their Creator." And in my view that right is also among the "other [rights] retained by the people" which the Ninth Amendment says the Constitution's enumeration of rights "shall not be construed to deny or disparage." The Declaration of Independence, however, is not a legal prescription conferring powers upon the courts; and the Constitution's refusal to "deny or disparage" other rights is far removed from affirming any one of them, and even farther removed from authorizing judges to identify what they might be, and to enforce the judges' list against laws duly enacted by the people. Consequently, while I would think it entirely compatible with the commitment to representative democracy set forth in the founding documents to argue, in legislative chambers or in electoral campaigns, that the state has no power to interfere with parents' authority over the rearing of their children, I do not believe that the power which the Constitution confers upon me as a judge entitles me to deny legal effect to laws that (in my view) infringe upon what is (in my view) that unenumerated right.

Yes, Scalia said that. But note that at least he says that parents have an inalienable 9A right to direct the upbringing of their kids. A distressing number of conservatives and others apparently believe that there are no such rights at all in family court.

It only takes one parent to bring a motion in family court. Then the judge has free reign to consider whatever he regards to be in the best interest of the child, an undefined concept. If you agree with that, then you are essentially saying that parents have no individual rights to even make the most basic parenting decisions.

Here is a recent Iowa appellate decision where the judge raised all sorts of seemingly irrelevant matters. One parent lost custody, in part, because the other parent enrolled the quarter-Korean seven-year-old in a martial arts class.

I think that it is a little strange for Andy to complain about Scalia's position. Roe will be overturned before Pierce is. It is very rare that Pierce is applied to the benefit of parents anyway. Meanwhile, millions of parents are subject to judges telling them how to rear their kids, and Andy says nothing.

I say that divorced parents should also enjoy that fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their kids.

John responds:

In line with Andy's comments on Scalia, see Justice Thomas's opinion in the recent Bong Hits case, which I just read.

Thomas's opinion (which no other Justice joined) calls for overruling the Tinker (student armband) case. Thomas praises Hugo Black's dissent in that case (which no other Justice joined) as "prophetic."

Tinker's majority opinion, written by Fortas, cited both Meyer and Pierce, though it didn't explain why those parent's rights cases were relevant to student free speech.

Black's dissent not only rejected the majority's reliance on Meyer, but also attacked the Meyer decision itself as being no longer good law. Black said the Meyer decision was an example of the type of reasoning that was no longer valid after the Roosevelt Revolution of 1937.

Now back to Bong Hits. Thomas's footnote 8, emulating Hugo Black, strongly criticizes Tinker for relying on Meyer and Pierce. In doing so, Thomas basically limits Meyer and Pierce to the precise facts of those cases. Thus, Thomas writes:

"Meyer involved a challenge by a private school . . . Meyer provides absolutely no support for the proposition that that free-speech rights apply within schools operated by the State. . . . "Pierce has nothing to say on this issue either. Pierce simply upheld the right of parents to send their children to private school."
Obviously Thomas, like Scalia, rejects the notion that Meyer and Pierce stand for a broad parent's rights doctrine which could be applied in future cases. Indeed, it's hard to see on what basis Scalia and Thomas would disagree with Reinhardt's opinion in Fields v. Palmdale.

Monday, Aug 06, 2007
E.O. Wilson says Darwin was the greatest
From last year:
A few weeks ago James Watson and [Edward O.] Wilson, two of the most eminent living evolutionists, appeared on the Charlie Rose Show to talk about Charles Darwin. Watson said that Darwin was the greatest man in history, because he was the first to "see it." The "it" that he saw was a godless vision of the history of life. Darwin explained how we could have gotten here without supernatural intervention, and to Watson that makes him the greatest man who ever lived.
Wilson was on C-SPAN2 In Depth yesterday, and a caller asked him about this. He reiterated that he agreed with Watson, altho he refused to compare Darwin to Jesus Christ.

Evolutionists are always attacking Phillip E. Johnson for writing this:

The objective (of the wedge strategy) is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic.
Wikipedia evolutionists are always trashing intelligent design (ID) supporters, and their justification always ends up being that Johnson's Wedge Document proves that all ID supporters are unscientific, disingenuous, and dishonest.

I don't know about the ID supporters, but it sure appears to me that all the major evolutionists have accepted Johnson's premise that Darwinism is inherently atheistic. Richard Dawkins just wrote a whole book on the subject, and promotes the idea at every opportunity.

It is kooky the way the evolutionists idolize Darwin. He had a few good ideas, but his scientific contributions are relatively minor compared to other great scientists. The theory of evolution would have developed just as well without him. They seem to want to cite Darwin more for being an inspiration to modern atheists, than for any actual scientific results.

It appears that Dawkins, Watson, and Wilson have their own wedge strategy, and it is the mirror image of Johnson's.

Sunday, Aug 05, 2007
Penrose's Road to Reality
I just got Roger Penrose's excellent The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. He is only of the leading authorities on Mathematical Physics in the world. Penrose has whole chapters on Einsteinian spacetime and Minkowskian geometry, but says:
We must ask why 'spacetime'? What is wrong with thinking of space and time separately, rather than attempting to unify these two seemingly different notions together into one? Despite what appears to be the common perception on this matter, and despite Einstein's quite superb use of this idea in his framing of the general theory of relativity, Einstein's original idea nor, it appears, was he particularly enthusiastic about it when he first heard of it. Moreover, if we look t to the magnificent older relativistic insights of Galileo find that they, too, could in principle have gained great spacetime perspective. [sec. 17.1, p.383]
That is correct. I'm not sure who should get most of the credit, but Poincare and Minkowski were way ahead of Einstein on this point.

It may seem like a trivial point, but the idea of combining 3D space and 1D time into a four-dimensional spacetime is largely when Einstein is considered such a genius today. But it just was not Einstein's idea.

Penrose also has a discussion of String Theory. He explains how it has failed to explain gravity or particle physics, and why it is unlikely to do so in the future.

Thursday, Aug 02, 2007
Family court uses religion to deny child custody
Law prof E. Volokh's blog usually attracts libertarian legal comments, but when he writes on a mom losing child custody partially because of her outspoken religious beliefs, he gets this:
There is no infringement of this lady's freedom to exercise whatever religion she likes (nor to seek sexual gratification with whomever she likes). It is rightly the court's province to say that the father is the preferable party to take custody of the child.

Doesn't this all boil down to: It's in the best interests of our children to conform as much as possible? If so, why is that a good thing?

But when the two parents disagree on how to raise the child and who should have primary physical custody of the child after a divorce, and they are both technically "fit" parents, and the judge HAS to decide which parent's custody is in the "best interest" of the child, I see no reason why the court shouldn't be able to look at the relative normalcy of the two parents' lifestyles.

First Amendment rights give way in custody cases. ... Best interest trumps Constitutional rights.

and this:
The reason I give little weight to Free Exercise issues is that the case inevitably involves two parents, ... Best Interest must control.

In a custody case, the government has already stepped in. I agree that the government should not step in due to the parent's ideology, but once the government is in, between parents of differing ideologies, shouldn't the court consider those ideologies?

Lawyers discussing child custody can be truly evil.

As an example of judicial supremacist thinking, Loki13 argues:

It only takes one party to bring a motion, and then the court intervenes.

That, of course, means the parties are not in agreement. If they were, one party would not be filing the motion (unless it is a joint motion for modification).

Here's the deal-
a. If the parties don't get divorced, the court doesn't get involved.
b. If the parties agree to the terms of the divorce, the court doesn't get involved.

So, you have a dispute between two parties. The court is the netural arbitrator. A decision must be made.

That's how family court works. Don't like it? Get rid of divorce. I wouldn't run on that platform, though.

I am not opposing divorce. Even if there were no divorce, parents could disagree about religious upbringings for their kids.

Loki13 says that one party can bring a motion, and "A decision must be made." But it is just not true that the court must decide on a religious preference for a child. It is wrong, harmful, and unconstitutional for a court to make such as decision, as the law prof blogger Eugene Volokh argues persuasively. The court can refuse to intervene by simply dismissing the motion.

If it is true that family courts have authority over such personal matters as how we teach religion to our kids just because someone brings a motion, then no one has any individual rights. Anyone can bring a motion to court.

Sometimes people think that just because a case is in family court, then the parents must have failed to properly raise their kids and need help. But we have unilateral (aka no-fault) divorce in the USA, and the rules of the court are that anyone can bring a motion asking the court to take some action for the best interest of the children. It doesn't even mean necessarily that the parents have any child-rearing disagreements. It only means that one parent may have something to gain by bringing the motion.

Copyright claims exaggerated
Copyright holders routine exaggerate their claims. For example:
Any fan of the NFL can almost recite the warning by memory: "This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited." The legitimacy of that broad claim may be determined by the Federal Trade Commission after the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a lengthy complaint with the FTC this morning.
It is a lie. You can certainly describe a football game without the NFL's consent. Here is a story about "Captain Copyright" having to retract exaggerated claims. You still have fair use, no matter what they say.