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What country is this, again?


An alert reader sent in this news item: A California court has ordered that a website be shut down for revealing documents that, if true, demonstrate that the Swiss Bank Julius Baer engaged in illegal money laundering activity.

There's more on the BBC.

If you want to see these documents, by the way, you can still see them on their Belgian site, so the ruling only serves to demonstrate that

  1. The Judge doesn't understand how the Internet works.
  2. The Judge doesn't understand how wikileaks works.
  3. The American legal system is still at risk of making grievous errors in judgement.

Here's some interesting background on Judge Jeffrey White:

  • He was appointed to his current position by George W. Bush in 2002
  • He sentenced the reporters who blew open the drugs in baseball scandal to 18 months in prison for failing to reveal their sources
  • He also fined the San Francisco Chronicle $1000/day until the names were turned over to the court
  • He ordered a company that continued to call customers who asked not to be called to pay $200 per complaint to the customers and pay $100,000 in fines
  • He ordered struck down a San Francisco ruling that would have provided universal health care for the employed in San Francisco

I like the bit about enforcing Do Not Call legislation and I don't know enough about the universal health care proposal, but I think that reporters don't have to name their sources EVER. It's up to the consumers of the news to decide whether they believe unnamed sources or not. And I think it's dangerous to our civil liberties, criminal against the reporters and illegal under the Constitution to imprison reporters who refuse to give their sources.

Wikileaks Belgian site seems difficult to understand, although their mission statement is one with which I can sympathize.

Aside from the obvious censorship angle, there's also the fact that this was a court case instigated by a foreign Bank. Are they protected the same way under US law? Do they pay US taxes?

And why was it a tort, rather than a straightforward libel case? If Julius Baer didn't break the law, then why bring a tort?

Finally, why wasn't Wikileaks asked to remove only the offending material rather than have their entire site blocked?

Update: Okay, either Judge Jeffrey White is unbelievably technologically inept or his ruling was an intentional attempt to make Bank Julius Baer think he was taking down Wikileaks while in fact doing nothing. What he ordered was that their DNS entry be removed from the DNS server and not allowed to be transferred or re-registered anywhere while the problem gets sorted out. At any rate, here's the IP address for Wikileaks in California: Thank you to Mark Frauenfelder.

Update 2: Doc Ruby on Slashdot found and posted the IP Address, and that's how it spread to BoingBoing and Daily Kos. I would have never looked at this site except for this furor. Now I'm hoping that it can hang on via IP until this afternoon so I can make a copy. I'm hoping someone else has already.

Nancy Pelosi is my hero


At least for the moment. She stood up to the Bush White House and suggested that they take more time to review the provisions of the Protect America Act.

What this bill would do is prevent legal oversight of the Executive Branch, whose overzealous actions might turn out to be illegal. It grants retroactive immunity to AT&T and Verizon from lawsuits that allege that those companies violated their rights by cooperating with a request from the White House. It's worth noting that Qwest absolutely refused to cooperate and did not forward every single phone call to the NSA, although AT&T and Verizon did.

The lawsuits are for enough in damages to force the Telcos to switch hands. If this happens, it would effectively prevent any future CEOs from wholesale illegal spying on the American public; the consequences would be disgrace, loss of job, prison time, and personal loss of great huge gobs of cash. It would make it more difficult for future presidents of any party to conduct illegal searches or violate the Constitution in the same way.

In other words, it is a good thing. Let us hope that those lawsuits succeed. In order for them to succeed, though, the first step is for this vile manipulation of and utter contempt for legal process from the White House and the Senate to be stopped. Nancy Pelosi and the House are the best chance that this could happen.

The title is five words I thought I'd never, by the way. I'm not a Democrat and usually decry them as the party of group politics.

But this issue has been an inversion of the normal conservative/liberal split. On one side stand the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, myself and most of the Democratic party, which makes for strange bedfellows. On the other side are George Bush, Ted Poe, Anne Coulter and John McCain. I think that the Republican Senators - plus the 17 Democrats who voted with them - embarrassed themselves.

Yes, we want to be safe. Yes, we think that terrorists should get spied on. But they do, so the only reason for this bill is to keep Bush's friends in control of the phone company. It would be a perfect conspiracy theory, except it's being done in plain sight, completely out in the open, without even cursory attempts to hide it or dress it up.

In the interest of fairness, I must point out that Roger Pilton has completely lost his mind supports the Protect America Act. He's a chair at the Cato Institute. His own colleagues disagree with him. The best source to unravel his argument is basic common sense and the ability to spot internal inconsistency. Failing that, try his colleagues at the Cato Institute. Compare his article with these links. To his credit, he does at least acknowledge that most of his colleagues at Cato disagree with him.

Security ensures Privacy


Once again, Bruce Schneier says something both more succinctly and more eloquently than I can.

Aside from encouraging everyone to go and read his blog - and to regularly read it - I'd like to point out that you should own your information and no one else should be able to use it without your consent.

The thing that's most chilling is that J. Michael McConnell actually feels bold enough to say "We have a saying in this business: 'Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'"

This is what he actually thinks. In order for you to be safer, you must hand over your anonymity, your privacy, your bank records, your emails, your mail, your packages, your shoes, your laptop and at various points your person. You must submit to the will of Allah the State. Your virtue is measured by how well you submit.

Have any of you ever seen Big Brother?

Threats, risk and fright

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I was working my way through Techmeme yesterday when I had one of those sharp, jarring intellectual moments, where a number of memories suddenly reinforced each other.

They were:

1. A conversation with Mara
2. Of Paradise and Power, by Robert Kagan
3. Bruce Schneier's Blog
4. Kathy Sierra's recent experiences
5. Mara's experiences in Israel. My sister is a very powerful influence on my perceptions of the world.
6. My own experiences with death threats, the archives of which have been regrettably lost when I was forced to rebuild this site from scratch in 2003.

Dennis Leary talked about happiness in one of his stand up comedy routines.

He said that happiness comes in small bundles - you eat the cookie, you smoke the cigarette, you have the orgasm - and then it's over. Back to reality, back to your dull job or your boring marriage, middle class existence or whatever.

In my case, happiness came last night in meeting a pair of really sweet people: Julia and Danni, both from Germany and over here to study journalism for a semester. They're from Darmstad (I hope I spelled that right) and were just really kind and interesting.

I had them over for dinner last night and I'll get pictures up soon for the rest of you. I just couldn't find my camera on the night.

The Bell Curve

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I've been re-reading Murray and Herrnstein's The Bell Curve, an old favorite of mine.

I read it when it first came out, while I was at college, in 1994. If you weren't at a university at the time, then reports from that era might seem odd, but The Bell Curve was seriously disruptive. Even Case Western Reserve University had a pair of seminars on the book, where professors and other folks went to comment on and discuss the book.

I went to one with a good friend and it was a real disappointment. No one commenting had read the whole book. Everyone spent time trashing Charles Murray, questioning how the book was financed, asking why it wasn't peer reviewed and so on. Peer review is useful, no doubt, but the everything else mentioned were ad hominem attacks and did not discuss the central thesis of the book. This ritual, legal but unethical, was carried out across America in churches and at Universities and no one had read the book.

I had. I had read it, found a number of mathematical errors, tried to work on the data a bit and had come to some similar and some different conclusions. Subsequently, a number of scientists with more patience and time to do so went over the book with a fine toothed comb and came up with a number of challenges.

Here are some of the theses that stood:

  1. Policies do not take differences in ability into account.
  2. Meritocracy creates problems, particularly stratification.

There were a number of theses which fell apart, as well, including the two below, which generated most of the criticism:

  1. Murray and Herrnstein contend that IQ is mostly genetic. It isn't. It is partly genetic. If you use the data that Murray and Herrnstein have used (the National Longitudinal Study of Youth), then you get a different answer than they got, closer to 40%. Michael Daniels, Bernie Devlin, and Kathryn Roeder write about it in the sedately titled Intelligence, Genes, and Success : Scientists Respond to THE BELL CURVE.
  2. Murray and Herrnstein contend that Asians are smarter than Caucasians, who are smarter than Latinos, who are smarter than Blacks. Since the book also postulates that smarter=better and that smart is genetic destiny, you can see where the critical fury came from. While the topic is controversial, the results purported by Murray and Herrnstein weren't. They were wrong (or as Wolfgang Pauli might have said, not even wrong). They made mistakes copying information from the data they used and made obvious errors in multiplication. Robert Hauser and Wendy Carter, over at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote an article that covers rationally the errors that Murray and Herrnstein made.

The reason that I'm re-reading it is because the two theses that still stand are powerful in their implications and a critical part of the problems facing a society that simultaneously values equal rights, meritocracy and upward mobility - or even de-stratification.

The current policy making structure in the United States clearly favours people who care about policy. A policy that is subtle and nuanced, with implications that ripple throughout the people it effects to acheive the intended consequence of the policymaker is considered a good policy - right? But, in fact, if you also care about stratification and equal rights for all, then there's a concern here.

All policies and all laws have flaws. They're not perfect. They're subject to interpretation by human beings and their application can have as great a role to play in their effect as their wording.

This means that, in a lawful society, a person who can unwind a convoluted policy has a definite advantage over someone who can't. The advantage grows the more convoluted the policies become. The more refined and balanced our policies become, the harder they are to follow and the more citizenry we disenfranchise - because some people are smarter than others.

I'm not sure what the efficient and fair way is to take differences into account when making policies is, but my instincts tell me that a combination of simpler and fewer policies and simpler and fewer laws would go an awfully long way. While it's beyond the scope of this blog, it would also help if the lawmaking process had a feedback loop in it.

As unlikely as it is that we'll ever resolve the tension between simplicity and completeness in lawmaking, it is even less likely that we'll resolve the stratification that results from meritocracy.

The playing field has become more level across the middle classes - which it has done, slowly, as corporate executives have recognized the value of the work of folks like Gary Becker and Ronald Coase. All other things being equal, a company that has a meritocracy in place will outperform the same company with any other structure (i.e. nepotic or racist or sexist biases). The bottom line is improved if you can successfully inculcate a meritocratic culture and most modern companies make the attempt in order to improve their bottom line - with the result that the playing fields are levelling.

Some governments have also introduced laws that have provided effective valves that vent the cycle of poverty, permitting those with the werewithal to escape. These policies have had the effect of reducing the transaction costs associated with labor mobility, making it easier for people to move around and switch jobs.

That's great for the economy at large and for the individuals who take advantage of them. What it also does is remove sources of support for the people whom economic migrants leave behind, creating far more entrenched ghettos. If everyone in a neighborhood with any talent has moved on, there's no one left except the talentless. This kind of ghetto is very difficult to tackle; the better you are at tackling the problem of poverty, the more hopeless the cases are that remain.

There's a neighborhood in nearby Glasgow that I think of every time this topic comes up: Shettleston. Google it. It makes Scotland one of the most violent, unhealthy, short lifespan places to live in Europe basically singlehandedly. The average lifespan is 56 years, nearly 20 years less than Edinburgh.

If anyone out there has any ideas, I'm listening.

Blogged with Flock

The Overscheduled Child

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Over at MSN they have an article about how kids need time to "do nothing," unstructured play time that's theirs and theirs alone.

Then a pretty damning indictment of the modern conventional wisdom of parenting follows.

This led me to think four competing thoughts simultaneously. They are:

1. I wish I knew how to play a musical instrument.
2. Kids are much more resilient than we think.
3. Formulaic anything is never as good as original work.
4. It takes all kinds of childhoods to make all kinds of grownups.

What would Jesus serve?

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I was perusing the great width of the World Wide Web and stumbled across a few heretofore unread pieces by my old friend Basil Valentine.

He talks about the importance, taught to us by Jesus himself (Jesus is Lord!), of the proper reverence towards food.

Amen, Basil, Amen!

I posted a couple of days ago about Hugh MacLeod's website.

If you mosey down to his post Flacked by Chanel?, you'll see that he's getting posts on his website that look like something that could have been written by the folks over at BzzAgents.

I myself was interested because I nearly got taken in by a corporate sponsored disinformation campaign.

There's a method for writing and deploying software that involves having a lot of the work already done. This method is pretty simple: you write a deployment platform and then host your applications on the platform. The various folks who vend this stuff are known mostly by three letter acronyms: IBM, CDN, BEA. JBoss, on the other hand, is a four letter word. More below.

Chick Tracts

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Okay, sometimes you just need to kick back and laugh.

These guys over at Chick Tracts have provided all the humor you need.

There's dozens of them, but this one is my favorite!

As if this could happen.

Israel's Eugenics Program

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I was over at Three Legged Duck, Violetta's articulate blog, and she posted a link to a Haaretz article about genetic counselors in Israel.

Barbie is a slut

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I saw this girl at one of the concerts and just happened, purely by accident, to be reading her boobs and thought "Hey! That shirt's hilarious!"

So was this girl.

I'm eating Blockbuster brand toffee popcorn.

Dissent is an important part of consensus building and an integral part of any consultation practice. What has marred the modern political landscape in the US in since the 1988 presidential election is that rhetoric has given way to ad hominem invective. Dissent is part of an intellectual process, not an automatic naysaying of the proclamations of an "opponent," arguments from certain members of Monty Python notwithstanding. Modern political discourse takes the form of statements and counterstatements between camps that maintain a posture of diametric opposition even on matters about which they actually agree. This isn't really dissent, but a kind of mental wrestling that benefits only the combatants, and only when they "win." More below.

Also:This past January 9th marked the two year anniversary of when Carol Forbes and I went on our first date. This coming January 26th markes the date that I'll be moving back to Edinburgh, a place that I've come to think of as home more than here in Alexandria, VA or Mentor, OH, where our parents live.

My Sister's Thesis, Part ii


I've gotten to a difficult part in my sister's thesis, partially thematically and partially linguistically. It is difficult for me to find sympathy for Annie Ernaux. Not because she is having an abortion, but because on the one hand I don't know any men who are as nasty as apparently described in L'événement and on the other hand because I get the feeling that the Law felt masculine in France in '65 and may yet still feel masculine. The law doesn't feel masculine to me, here in Virginia. Also, I don't speak French and, contextual clues notwithstanding, I'm having some difficulty with the passages.

My Sister's Thesis, Part i


I was reading my sister's brilliant thesis, The Differences in Treatment of Sexism in the French Language Between France and Quebec. It made me think about Schoolhouse Rock, specifically Conjunction Junction, the nature of sexism, how the egalitarian movement might benefit from a name change and why class struggles aren't really dead.

Also, I invented a low-effort, tasty snack sandwich that uses liver pudding.

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