Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Cory Doctorow links to an article about saving the Iberian lynx and Iberian Imperial eagle by preserving cork forests. "It is the economic value of these forests that has ensured their survival," says a member of the conservation group WWF. I am impressed -- they have it right this time. I look forward to seeing more environmentalists look for ways to make natural (or near-natural) reserves be economically successful, rather than just exhort and invent laws to restrict actions.

According to CorkMasters, cork forests are indeed nearly natural: the cork is harvested off trees without permanently harming the trees, and no herbicides, fertilisers or irrigation are needed. Although a cork forest must involve some meddling with nature (keeping access roads to trees clear, perhaps even mowing around trees, perhaps removing other kinds of trees), it seems the WWF have no problems with this kind of agricultural impact.

This relates to Dan Simon's elucidation of the idea of inaction as it applies to the precautionary principle. Is "inaction" continuing to use cork forests as they've been used for centuries? Or is "inaction" completely stopping the "exploitation" of these forests? Ask the question again about fossil fuel use, and it's clear that most quick answers to these questions depend on ill-examined notions of what is natural and what is action, and probably a lot of indoctrination about environmental good and bad.

Is it really so easy to create a hoax that, when seeded onto a couple small online forums, snowballs and gets 2500 people upset enough to write in within a week? I guess so. The resources page is really pretty funny, if you can look at it right. Penny Arcade saved the world by uncovering details about the hoax first.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Volokh posts on water privatization, and a reader sends in a link to this study on water privatization in Argentina. I had heard about the success of that effort, but hadn't seen this particular paper yet.

It may be counter-intuitive, but is it generally true that privatization produces the greatest successes in the poorest regions? "we find that child mortality fell 5 to 7 percent in areas that privatized their water services overall; and that the effect was largest in the poorest areas."

That's not actually too surprising, because in the richer areas there is likely to be surplus (money, water, other resources or services). In California, those whose water is "taken away" from them (we could consider this to be every organization except farms) are still abundantly supplied with water. But in a poorer area, inefficient water distribution may mean that those who most need a jug of water for a feverish child may not have it, and cannot pay any price for it. Making the water distribution more efficient means at least it's reliably there in need.

My personal preference would be for water privatization to be accompanied with a system of "water coupons" to allow poor people to buy a family's weekly/monthly supply of water. Like food coupons in some cities, and similar to the Heifer Project, these could be supported by private donation from richer regions. This allows even small donations to have an immediate, direct and measurable effect, whereas foreign aid to public water suppliers in poor countries is frequently wasted and has a delayed and uncertain effect. A charitable system of water coupons requires privatization in order to work at all.

I'm back from vacation.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Good grief. Matt Smith complains that "Calculated in potential casualties on the field, [it] is the ultimate American doomsday machine." Can you guess what weapon of mass destruction is being unleashed? A nuclear device? Biological or chemical weaponry? Maybe lasers on satellites targetting everybody personally? Nope. It's the segway, a powered two-wheel transportation device. His argument is that it will make people fatter.

I really think Matt intends to be serious about this -- I carefully scrutinized the article for a sense of irony or mockery. But he seriously seems to think that not only is a segway dangerous to the health, but that San Francisco is morally superior for not encouraging these devices and this causes fitter citizens. Pray tell, how is the segway different from our existing powered two-wheel transportation devices, the scooter and the motorcycle?

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

More info on risk, particularly traffic related.

First, traffic accidents aren't likely to be what kills you (2 to 5% chance), although they are a leading cause of death among the young and among people travelling. (ref1, ref2). But assuming you're interested in reducing that risk anyway, should you decide to live in US or Europe? Should you decide to live in a city or in the countryside? Drive an SUV or a compact? I don't have all the answers today, but I did look up the numbers for US vs Europe. This car safety site has an international statistics page with numbers from WHO reports. I'll grab the following numbers for use later:

  • 120,000 total deaths from traffic accidents in Europe in 1995
  • 40,676 total traffic fatalities in US in 1994
  • 41,907 total traffic fatalities in US in 1996

That's not very interesting in and of itself. I want to know how many deaths there are per capita (assuming that one is driving roughly the average miles per year for the area) or how many deaths there are per mile driven (because that can be affected by behavioral changes). Per capita numbers are easy to get, using the following numbers:

  • 512,000,000 Europeans in 1992
  • 260,327,021 US population in 1994
  • 265,228,572 in 1996
Doing the math that gives:
  • Roughly 234.4 deaths per million in Europe in 1995
  • 156.2 deaths per million in US in 1994
  • 158 deaths per million in US in 1996
Note that although the comparisons may not be exact (the studies may have counted things somewhat differently, my population estimate for Europe was surely a bit low given it was for the wrong year), these differences are large enough to say that Europeans have been more likely to die from traffic than Americans.

Finally, I found death per vehicle-kilometer rate information for all of Europe for 1998, and death-per mile (of course) for US. Some highlights

  • At the top, Greece: 57.4 deaths per billion km, or 9.2 per 100 million miles
  • France: 16.4 deaths per billion km, or 2.6 per 100 million miles
  • Germany: 12.4 deaths per billion km, or 2.0 deaths per 100 million miles
  • US: 1.6 deaths per 100 million miles driven (also in 1998 though from a different source)
  • UK: 7.5 deaths per billion km, or 1.2 deaths per 100 million miles
I didn't pick the worst offenders -- only three European countries (Netherlands, UK and Sweden) out of fourteen are safer to drive in than US.
I frequently talk to people about risk assessment -- particularly when I hear people telling me how "dangerous" it is to fly. Humans are very bad at risk assessment. Knowing this can make you only slightly better at it (unless you actually do the studies and the math each time you evaluate risk), but it might make life easier to live, knowing that the things you worry about may not actually be worth worrying about.

The reason I mention this now is only because I looked up some links for more info. Here they are.

So here are some examples of evaluating risk. Do you think Finland is a particularly safe country to live in overall if you're my age (30)? Why (Answer here). Were the reasons you thought Finland was safe or dangerous the same reasons? Can simple reasoning, without statistics or math, give you a useful answer?

Monday, December 16, 2002

Joel Spolsky, aka "Joel on Software", has a fun rant from last week about how complicated software is. Sometimes I think things aren't as bad as he says, the rest of the time I know they're worse.

Joel notes that you can't intelligently criticize a software ecosystem (the Windows ecosystem, the Linux one) until you really know it. You don't really know it until you've spent years learning the tiny details that rarely but importantly affect your job. And I'll add to Joel's point that by the time you really know it, you can no longer criticize at all: you're too deeply bought in (see Influence for commitment and consistency) and too habituated to one way of doing things for any other way to seem at all reasonable.

Friday, December 13, 2002

In the NYT editorial pages today, Nicholas D. Kristof first says "Mr. Chávez is an autocratic leftist demagogue who is running the economy into the ground, manipulating the Constitution and fostering hatred between rich and poor". So far so good - too often the media (such as NPR), particularly on the left, refuses to even make judgements about dangerous international leaders.

But then Kristof goes on to say that the global community has no right to interfere. He criticizes "César Gaviria, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, who is representing the international community as a negotiator between the two sides, has publicly laid much of the blame for the crisis on President Chávez in an apparent shove to get him to resign or call early elections".

What's wrong with that? When it was the US and Clinton, rather than Venezuela and Chavez, plenty of Euros and Canadians said that Clinton should resign. That was not seen by anybody as "a signal" to "take to the streets and call for a coup". At worst, the response of Americans was that foreigners should mind their own business, but it was in no way taken as interfering with the American democratic process.

I think that's because the American democratic process is strong. Nobody sees any harm in calling for Clinton's resignation (or for Jorg Haider to step down) because they find it rather unlikely that public action will result in chaos in US or Austria. But Venezuela is seen as a tinderbox, with greater risks of violence and chaos -- whether or not Chavez stays.

So, what should a person like Gaviria do? Staying silent seems irresponsible if he truly believes Chavez is harmful. Foreigners can after all have some effect on a country's politics, perhaps influencing voters. On the other hand, it also seems irresponsible to advocate violence or a coup. So was Gaviria irresponsible? It's hard to tell from Kristof's editorial, where there is no Gaviria quote. But it seems most likely Kristof was responding to this news from Wednesday, where the most damning thing Gaviria said about Chavez was "that President Hugo Chavez's refusal to acknowledge the depth of the crisis complicated negotiations aimed at resolving it."

There's a completely different side to the story, people that feel that Gaviria is on Chavez' side, that Chavez may have greased Gaviria's hands (ref 1, ref 2. E.g.

Meanwhile, the ostensible "mediator" of the conflict has cynically called for government repression against the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators assembled outside the TV stations. With that action, Cesar Gaviria has lost any illusory credibility in his aspiration to "mediate" the Venezuelan conflict. He should return to Washington immediately.
Note that quote is from a Venezuelan news source.

It may be that Gaviria spoke up unwisely -- but it's his support (not criticism) of the Venezuelan government that may be destroying his credibility as a negotiator. Kristof should get a more nuanced view of the situation before criticizing the negotiator, and he should definitely give us the ability to fact-check his ass by being more specific about what exactly Gaviria said that he objects to.

In addition to several rankings of countries' economic freedom (Canada's Fraser Institute, US' Freedom House and Heritage Foundation, compared to each other by Cato), there is now a major study of American states that shows the same correlation. The new study is by the National Center for Policy Analysis and the Fraser Institute.

These indexes reflect some new thinking among major economists. In the 1980's and 1990's prescriptions for national economic success included mostly privatization and inflation control. Now there are also concerns about property rights, rule of law, labour market flexibility, and ease of compliance with regulations. Milton Friedman says:

I used to be asked a lot: “What do these ex-communist states have to do in order to become market economies?” And I used to say: “You can describe that in three words: privatize, privatize, privatize.” But, I was wrong. That wasn’t enough. The example of Russia shows that. Russia privatized but in a way that created private monopolies—private centralized economic controls that replace government’s centralized controls. It turns out that the rule of law is probably more basic than privatization. Privatization is meaningless if you don’t have the rule of law.

Hernando De Soto emphasizes the cost of retrograde regulations and undocumented land ownership in any of several interviews:

One main reason why the informal sector has not become formal is that from Indonesia to Brazil, 90 percent of the informal lands are not titled and registered. This is a generalized phenomenon in the so-called Third World. And it has many consequences. One is that the price of land drops because it is not legally registered as private property. In Peru, when we title these lands, the market value doubles the same day. After 10 years, it goes up nine times. The principal reason is that it is easier to trade the land once the property rights are clear and established.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

This NYT editorial by Harvard History professor Lizabeth Cohen contained some material which made me uncomfortable by its slant or implications. It seems the editorial is intended to highlight the inequalities of modern commerce, particularly malls, and to generate outrage -- but I don't like being made to feel outrage at things that are only made to seem outrageous.

As retailers chose to bring "the market to the people instead of people to the market" ... they inevitably favored some people over others. Shopping centers aimed at what Macy's Annual Report for 1955 called "middle-income groups" explicitly distanced themselves from consumers deemed undesirable because they were too poor, black, or young and unruly.

In 1955, shopping centers were pretty new. It's pretty obvious that new developments typically are available to the rich first. Of course a store like Macy's is going to target a particular income group that they believe will return profits. Would Cohen complain if Tiffany's put out an annual report saying it was targetting rich people with its diamond and gold jewelry, or if a yacht company admitted to putting ads in Wall Street Journal rather than on lamp-posts in the slums? It's not immoral to sell expensive goods to rich people.

Next, a historian ought to realize that after the rich people had places to shop, then the middle income groups, the remaining niches were for lower-income groups. In the 80's, from what I can tell, stores like Target and Wal-Mart filled that niche astoundingly successfully.

At a time when many low-income Americans didn't own cars, the few bus routes to shopping centers were carefully planned to transport nondriving customers, particularly women, from nearby suburbs, not low-income consumers from inner cities.

Wasn't the whole point of shopping centers in the suburbs being new -- that there were already stores in the inner cities? So, of course the suburban malls are going to encourage transporting people who have nowhere else to shop rather than people who already have someplace to shop. That doesn't make the people who already have someplace to shop (the inner-city residents) disadvantaged. In fact, one could argue that inner-city residents were themselves advantaged, before suburban shopping malls popped up.

It's true that in some cities (Cohen's example is Newark) the inner cities became dead zones where poor people lived and shops were abandoned. That's a reaction to risk, and it seems in many cities today we're reducing the risk to shopkeepers in those areas and commerce is returning.

If customers looking conspicuously different from typical suburbanites actually made it to the mall, they were often met by unwelcoming security guards who had been hired by management and were not accountable to any public authority.

Isn't that the same in many institutions? Stores don't uniquely have this problem, so do universities and churches and even government buildings. Being accountable to government isn't a panacea. In fact, stores have a unique incentive to be welcoming to a wide variety of people because you can't tell who might spend money.

Malls have done little to encourage public transportation to accommodate the low-paid, urban workers who now dominate shopping center sales forces.

I take it Cohen wants malls to have a social conscience and responsibility. Surely the malls don't have a problem actually hiring these people and having them show up on time. Is it really the mall's responsibility to encourage public transportation for their workers?

The death in 1995 of a black retail clerk from Buffalo, killed trying to cross the seven-lane highway that separated her bus stop from her job inside a suburban mall, was only the most brutal example of this form of discrimination.

This sentence bothered me the most. Sorry, was the mall discriminating in hiring the black person? Was the public bus system discriminating in putting the bus stop on the opposite side of the freeway from the suburban mall? Or was the driver who hit her discriminating in choosing a black person to run over? This is a brutal example of a this form of damning allegation.

As developers sought sites close to the affluent populations to which they catered, their presence augmented the prosperity of host communities, exacerbating an already unequal distribution of economic resources in metropolitan areas.

This is a generic problem; why is Cohen blaming the mall developers? Why not the house-builders who don't build shacks, or the schools for not bussing in slum children? Or the employers putting good work opportunities out in the burbs? A complex social problem like this can't be fixed by assigning blame to just one link in the chain.

Cohen's last prescription is that Christmas shoppers should spread their money around -- not just to malls, or online sites, but also presumably to local/city stores. Prescriptions like that do no good over the long run -- it just wastes Cohen's breath, perhaps makes a couple socially-conscious people either feel guilty or go out of their way to do a less convenient (less efficient!) shopping trip. The whole premise of a market-based society is that the sellers go where people want to buy. If that's the suburbs, the inner cities, or online, they'll go there. From what I've seen, it's all three.

Here's my prescription for Cohen, and all those who -- like me -- want to better the lot of disadvantaged people. Help them directly. If you think that inner city kids don't get enough education, give money to their schools (or give them voucher/money to give them the power to influence schools). If you think that mall workers don't have adequate transportation, work on that directly. Complaining that malls cause these problems is an ineffective way to address these problems because it's only one piece of a very complex social puzzle.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

If I can paraphrase Innocents Abroad: he writes that Western Canada is disenfranchised, fundamentally different and cut off from the Canadian power-base. That certainly has some truth to it -- BC and Alberta are such resource-rich provinces that they have different interests, naturally, from other provinces. However that doesn't necessarily mean a disunited country -- Washington State is resource-rich and Mississippi is poor, yet clearly they're united in a country with a strong self-image.

My parents moved from Alberta to Ontario and back to BC -- I'll have to ask them at Christmas what they think of this.

Monday, December 09, 2002

If your breasts are larger than DD, read Cat's site. Cat only told me about this tonight. There's also reasonable advice for smaller sizes. Even medium-sized chests suffer from badly fitting sports bras in particular.
Volokh says that Fumento says (in Reason Online) that the Atkins Diet doesn't work. Maybe it's because some people don't actually lose weight when they stick to it; maybe it's because some people can't stick with it and therefore don't lose weight. It doesn't matter; saying a weight-loss diet works or doesn't work is too sweeping a generalization. It makes more sense to figure out when it works, why, and for whom.

Volokh also seems to be missing, despite a couple reader comments, that although calorie intake is the main weight-loss causative, what form those calories take can be a major factor in whether or not people can find the right food, feel cravings, feel energetic, and in general are able to keep to the diet.

I never heard about this recently deceased police lab chemist who allegedly repeatedly lied on the stand. I now wonder why we don't hear about this kind of thing more often. Is it:
  • Very rare
  • Happens but hushed up
  • Happens but nobody knows when, where
First and second generation immigrants are quite different. Mel says that at her school where almost everybody is Latino, there aren't interracial tensions. The biggest tensions are between first-gen and second-gen.

First generation: Forget the white kids with the studs in the tongue," Riz says. "Indians are gonna work for you. At the beginning, they work for minimum wage. Then little raise, little raise, slowly, slowly. Everyone live together; they are saving money, six people in household working, they bank 80 percent of their money and use 20 percent for expenses. They don't drink, no clubs, no fancy clothes. Suddenly, they have $60,000 in the bank. Then they will buy the Subway or the Blimpie.

Second generation: Riz worries about the second generation... his cousin, Ali Momin, 22... unlike Riz when Riz started out, Ali won't wear $3 shirts from K-Mart. His cologne is Dreamer by Versace. His savings account is zero. "Riz tells me a whole buncha times, 'Don't be wasting money,' " Ali says. "I keep that in my head for a couple of days, then it goes away."

From a Washington Post article on labour in the Old South (link via Mars or Bust).

Friday, December 06, 2002

Maybe this is why I don't like UDDI -- as Sean McGrath points out, it's a top-down, librarian-style, managed classification system for XML services. A lot of work for everybody to do something that any Yahoo could do.
You can now examine wine with a magnetic resonance spectroscope to see if it's gotten acidic. Of course, the gizmo will cost you a couple tens of thousands of dollars. But since the highest price paid for a case of wine at auction is reputedly $112,500, I expect there will be a couple early adopters anyway.
I just found a slightly dated paper on AOL interoperability and standard adoption, particularly with respect to Jabber. Wishful thinking? I'm betting AOL will wait for two things: (1) for an IM standard to have an RFC number, and (2) to no longer be clearly #1 in the market, as it is now.

A year ago, AOL was clearly the market leader, but MSN and Yahoo were reportedly growing faster (together MSN and Yahoo have more users than AOL). Now, Yahoo claims the most "workday IM users" (also see here, and Jupiter Media Metrics shows that MSN is still gaining.

Presence standards for buddy lists (seeing who's online, where, doing what, and how they could be contacted) have pretty obvious applications in online gaming. The video gaming industry has long been a serious early adopter for graphics, sound, processor and now network technology with the explosion of online games. In fact, sites like XBox Live already let you create buddy lists and see who's online, playing what game, and how good they are. They just don't yet connect with other presence applications -- you have to go to XBox Live to see what your buddies are playing. I think that will change, and these kinds of sites will "push" that presence information into your main IM/presence client, so that you might be tempted to get the service or go online when you otherwise would not have. Classic viral marketing.

For that matter, how about porn, another high-tech early adopter industry? Surely hard-core online porn fans want to know when one of their favourite "D-Cup Blondes" members "comes" online!

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

A bunch of bloggers I read occasionally (often linked from Instapundit) share the feeling that Europeans, particularly on the left, don't understand the new world order since 9/11. This blog entry in particular says that Europe will only understand that there is already a war, when an attack targets their soil.

But what if that educational moment doesn't come in the next, say, 10 years? I may be optimistic, but I believe there's a significant possibility, verging on probability, that moment will not come in the next 10 years. Minor attacks probably, but not an attack with the level of surprise and emotional intensity as 9/11, from the same or similar sources, targetting European soil. There may not be one targetting US soil either. So are we at war? Are the Europeans? It depends on your definition of war, and Europeans define it differently.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Google ZeitGeist is still there, though it's getting harder to find the link. This month, top five sports queries from Canada! I'll give you one guess what the #1 is.
Chris asked me about mercury levels, how dangerous they are, and how mercury can be abated (not because I knew anything a priori, but because he knows I sometimes like to look into these things).

On the one hand, 41 states have issued fish advisories for mercury (ref). But only 13 states have issued statewide advisories (including fish from all bodies of water), and it's unclear how serious an advisory is. The EPA says most consumers don't need to worry. Generally only pregnant women eating unusual amounts of fish daily or from particularly contaminated sources would need to worry. The FDA is currently reviewing its advice so this may change.

Note that mercury abatement processes exist -- there are small companies (like Acute Services or Enviro-Vac) that can be paid to clean up mercury spills. There's even been a small amount of backlash against proposals to even more severely lower the recommended maximum mercury intake. Even at current levels, the US recommendations are already several times stricter than the Australian recommendations (four servings of high-mercury fish per week upper limit for pregnant women only).

Overall, it doesn't seem like a serious thing Americans need to worry about. Even if you travelled to some highly mercury-polluted place and ate nothing but fish for a month, it would still be balanced by a normal American diet over the period of a couple years.

Now this would be a truly useful genetic modification. I'd love to have a cat but we're afraid we wouldn't be able to keep one if our allergies were bad. And that would be nasty to the kitty to get rid of it after a couple months of having a family.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Why the end of feminism is bad news for men (link via Instapundit). Halley even links to Powerpuff Girls stuff which I love for its feminine/feminist combination attitude. Salon did an article on those "demonic offspring of Shirley Temple and Japansese anime" back this summer. They didn't put such a fine point on why this is dangerous for men as Halley does, but they had some good lines: "Is Lara Croft powerful because she can take you down, or because you'd like her to go down on you?"

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Why do we have such bad security? In tonight's keynote, Bruce Schneier started by assuming that large companies have bad security (products or systems) because it makes business sense. It doesn't make sense to spend money on security until it becomes more expensive not to. There are few consequences for bad security. He suggests increasing liability, which has interesting implications for open source. If open source projects were immune to liability, that would be a killer advantage for open source code in some areas.

On the other hand, if everybody who wrote, shipped or administered insecure systems were liable including open source, you would think large institutions would have an advantage. It's surprising Microsoft doesn't support broad liability for security holes (or maybe this is the next phase after Palladium). Microsoft could just buy insurance against this liability anyway. And this gets to Bruce's real solution: that with insurance and liability for security holes, there will be a free market for security. Companies could sell secure products and agree to accept some liability (currently every software package you buy disclaims liability for anything, even problems they know about). This is a very free market approach. Akin to the carbon market which puts an actual price on pollution of a certain kind, liability and insurance put a price on insecurity.

More security notes from the IETF. A couple responsible people watched all the traffic from people's laptops onto the Internet, and had a couple algorithms looking for password leaks. They found 2223 unique passwords. Some details:

  • 1546 sniffed passwords were from HTTP

  • 183 were from telnet

  • One of the telnet sessions then opened a ssh (secure shell) connection, then used a root password which also got revealed

  • 496 passwords were from email (mostly POP)

  • 75 were from AOL IM

I'm sure many more would be found if a human were looking for passwords - the algorithms probably haven't had much work put into them to really find a lot of passwords.

Security is complicated. Systems are complicated. If IETF people can't get it right, how do we expect others to?

Den Beste lambastes a researcher for publishing a weakness in the American agriculture system. Poonwalla disagrees (and Instapundit reports on the debate). The debate is very familiar to me from experience in the computer industry.

When a security hole exists in a system, and a random person discovers this exploit, they have a few choices.

  • Publish the finding, even though some might use it to exploit the system before the hole is fixed

  • Keep quiet or even suppress the finding, hoping nobody else will discover it

  • Use it to hack into or damage the system.

  • For most people, the third option is ruled out pretty quickly, but there's a lot of attractiveness to number 2 (particularly in the military). Most of the security people I talk to believe that number 2 gives only a weak feeling of security. The usual damning phrase is to call it (with a sneer) "security through obscurity". Many people insist on number 1, publishing the exploit widely and loudly to make sure it gets fixed fast or else.

    Poonawalla mostly explains it well, except he misses a subtle point. Many of the most responsible security experts, the guys who routinely discover holes in protocols or cryptographic algorithms, feel that the most responsible path is to give the information about the hole first to the people who can fix it. It *may* be possible to fix the hole even before a potential hacker discovers it. However, in order to pressure companies to actually fix the holes, the security expert will also publish the information on the exploit to the Internet in a week or a month or two.

    This stuff gets discussed frequently here at the IETF, obviously in the security area. I've seen representatives of large software companies plead with the independent security experts to help keep security holes secret at least for a short while. My opinion is that it takes somebody with a certain amount of resentment against these large companies, and a certain amount of willingness to make trouble and cause chaos, not to agree to keep secrets for a short while.

    Coincidentally, Bruce Schneier just discussed this tonight at the IESG plenary at the IETF. (It's the last day of the 55th IETF conference here in Atlanta, and I've been extremely busy, but it's been good.)

    Sunday, November 17, 2002

    Here's a graph from the Fraser Institute on how bad queues have gotten since 1993.

    "Canada has the best healthcare system on earth – so long as you don’t get sick!" That quote is from David Frum (link thanks to Rob again), who is so right-wing as to have been a speech writer for Bush. Not surprising this article is as much about belittling Gore as about health care. But I did follow his links to the Fraser Institute's study on queues in the Canadian Health Care system.

    Queuing is one of only a few ways of rationing a scarce resource. Assuming the supply of angioplastys is not infinite, then a public health care system can ration angioplastys in only a few ways:

    • Queuing
    • Favoritism
    • Bribery
    • Market pricing
    • Central planning

    It seems that Canada uses queuing and favoritism (as Frum alleges), and central planning of course was the original idea of a single-payer health care system. But bribery and market pricing are illegal. Of course if queuing becomes bad enough, it becomes impossible to prevent bribery, as shown in any centrally-planned country after enough years. That leaves market pricing as the only tool not used -- which seems vastly unfair.

    But as Frum says, as long as I was healthy I was perfectly happy living in the Canadian system.

    Thursday, November 14, 2002

    Dave Barry published a mildly funny rant on Modern Art a month and a half ago (but I just got the link last night from my karate instructor). Basically, it's "the emporer has no clothes" -- this art that professional art appreciators pay so much money for, Barry claims, is shit, is nothing, is empty and sterile (or not).What is the public value of a work that can only be appreciated by somebody immersed in the social and historical context of the art world?

    Appreciating minimalist art seems to me to be a very intellectualized endeavor -- if you know how one artist influenced another, you can compare a canvas painted all over in a single colour to a canvas painted in two colours and see the sheer extravagance of the second.

    Terence Spies is the guy who started to introduce me to this extremely intellectualized appreciation of art, and sometimes I can grok it. In his not-recently-updated blog, you can see this tendency in a different realm -- a greater appreciation of certain food from an intellectual understanding of the processes and ingredients that go into it.

    Monday, November 11, 2002

    Emotionally I prefer national health care, but intellectually I have problems with it. Here's one problem: when the government runs out of money as prices go up, they pull the rug out from underneath. Grandmothers wondering if they can buy Christmas presents!

    Thursday, November 07, 2002

    It's not often I see or hear something that makes me wish I had television channels. But now I wish I could see the Daily Show, which this article is mostly about (link found via Volokh). I love the quote from Jon Stewart:

    "CNN has bought the show, I really don't know why. I'm not sure they realize that we're actually making fun of them.".

    Monday, November 04, 2002

    I'm now co-chair of a new IETF working group called XMPP: Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol. To my surprise, there's already news coverage of this working group.

    XMPP grew out of the Jabber work but many people are now trying to bring it to more formal status as an IETF standard.

    Friday, November 01, 2002

    This morning on the jitney in San Francisco, two obvious tourists got on. I offered directions & public transportation advice to the couple, who turned out to be from BC. I said I was also Canadian, but had been living in the US for seven years. The woman replied sympathetically "Oh, that must be hard."

    I blinked. I hadn't put any negative emotional spin on my statement. What did she mean? Did this random Canadian believe that, living in the US, I must be a victom of vast amounts of crime? Subjected to poor and expensive health care? Suffering from racism? Or simply subjugated by the heavy yoke of capitalism?

    I've never thought of living in the US as "hard". Amusing, yes, especially when elections come around. It's a little extra effort deciding to pronounce Z as 'zee' or 'zed', or choosing to write "colour" or "color". But the office jokes about Canadians are so mild they make me feel like one of the team rather than an outsider. The health care system is mysterious used to at times, but I managed to schedule my regular physical with my regular doctor less than one month away from when I called (that's much easier than scheduling an electrician). I have never been a victim of a crime in this country.

    The benefits of living in the US are nothing to sneeze at either. I get lower taxes and higher wages (which together offset the higher living cost), and most of all I get to work at an exciting small high-tech company that has a chance of success because of the business laws here.

    This isn't intended to try to convince Canadians (or Americans) that living in the US is superior to living in Canada. Canada is cool too, and I'd live there if it worked out that way with my job and my boyfriend. All I want to point out is that it's not so different. If that Canadian tourist has swallowed the demonization of the US and Americans that I've been hearing from north of the border recently, it's from a lack of critical thinking, not because its true.

    Saturday, October 26, 2002

    The Republican party posted a response to the DNC flash ad from last week.

    Wednesday, October 23, 2002

    You know your front page is too fat when...
    There's this one user, a Google zealot - we don't know who he is - who occasionally sends an e-mail to our "comments" address. Every time he writes, the e-mail contains only a two-digit number. It took us awhile to figure out what he was doing. Turns out he's counting the number of words on the home page. When the number goes up, like up to 52, it gets him irritated, and he e-mails us the new word count. As crazy as it sounds, his e-mails are helpful, because it has put an interesting discipline on the UI team, so as not to introduce too many links. It's like a scale that tells you that you've gained two pounds.

    Monday, October 21, 2002

    This Reason article goes into great detail about British gun control and their crime problem.

    Wednesday, October 16, 2002

    Americans shouldn't feel too bad if they're disliked by Europeans. These charts helpfully show how Europeans think about each other.

    Monday, October 14, 2002

    This article claims that people fear crime from teens (e.g. Columbine style killings, teen gang slayings) far out of proportion to their actual contributions to the crime rate, because the media whips up the fear of these incomprehensible "youths".

    What percentage of violent crime would you guess is committed by under-18's in Orange County? I'd be interested to hear, because I saw the answer before being able to guess. Click here to see the answer after you've thought of your own.

    My friend Rob argues that the right-wing cannot argue with the left-wing because even mainstream left-wing advocates use name-calling and demonization rather than logic. He pointed me to this ad on the Democratic National Committee site which at least proves that the DNC is capable of misrepresenting positions, demonizing Bush, etc.

    The ad tells how Bush wants to "put your social security savings in the stock market". Whether you agree with Bush, the DNC or other, that seems like a misrepresentation, because the Republican plans seem to be to allow (not force) people to channel part (not all) of their social security taxes to private investment accounts. But worse, the ad shows Bush pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down a sliding stock price graph, at which point she falls, screams, and goes splat at the bottom.

    Most of the time it's not that bad. It's rather common to see Dems accusing Reps of favouring "privatization" of social security, because although the public is in favour of choice in SocSec investment, they are not in favour of privatization. That's not too bad - attempting to cast a policy in its most negative light is the usual way of opposing it. It's the portrayal of an opponent as a murderer that does seem to me to cross some line of decency and fairness.

    However, that's not proof that the Republicans don't use similar tactics on other issues. Any examples?

    This was pretty much me this morning... except I spilled yesterday's leftover coffee on the carpet as I tried to sit down and wake up with today's coffee.

    Sunday, October 13, 2002

    I've been talking about the 'bad attitude' growing amongst Canadians with respect to Americans... Doonesbury notices it too.

    Friday, October 11, 2002

    I was handed a photocopied note on Kearny street at lunch today. It's scary what a mess popular culture can make in obviously a disturbed mind. Here it is verbatim. Only the question marks and location info in italics are added by me.

    Moms oldest son Mike sex abused me almost all my childhood (Brian's father). The Jews pressured Sigmund Freud not to speak of the child sex epidemic and 2 men were destroyed last century for bringing it up. Jews been ordering mom years & harming her in Florida where she was betrayed Aug 21, 2002 trying to sell her condo in Pompero Beach. The 2 men bought another condo. Jews wouldn't let Mom advertise her condo in paper until 2 days ago -- closer and closer to Jeb Bush re-election. Constant threat to harm mom with missing, heart, car etc. Jew Goldie Hawns boyfriend starred in a movie w/red Pickup about missing woman. They made sure to play that at one shelter. Mom was healthy when I left 2000. When I returned 2002 she looked like someone was drugging her. Tammy Wynette's daughter wrote a book. She knew her mom was murdered (lots of money). It was Jewish doctor Bob Levy. I don't trust the Chandra Levy case (spectacular coverup) esp. since Jews threatening mom with missing. In Houston Jew and people the found abused the Jew funded Homeless place called Search (near Greyhound). One looked like actor from Uncola commercial but he's from Ohio where mom wants to live. Her furniture is moved to Ohio and she was there one week. I've given my info on Montgomery St. in San Francisco. Montgomery etched in Sidewalk. After Montgomery Md (Bowie) sniper shooting -- a white man circled me in Bowie TShirt the day after; These attacks take attention away from Chandra Levy which was made huge. Montgomery Md has a huge Orthodox Jewish movement. I don't trust these attacks and Grapes of Wrath unedited is of sensational murders done to take away from fighters for Rights. [Esp. the I am God mallarkey.] In moms backyard is huge Orthodox Jewish movement, (M?gate -- where 2 Jews f?ed for harm to mom on Easter Sunday at church w/ firetruck. Jews order mom. I'm in San Fran again like in 2000.

    On left edge: moms son steve hit mom to ground to get me in front of her condo 2002

    On right edge: Male police are viscious

    Well, now I know exactly what's going on in my area -- graphically, too!
    This article criticizing the Precautionary Principle should have been called Precautionary Principal Considered Harmful.
    Could Canadian loosening of pot laws be in part anti-Americanism? For years, the major argument in Canada against loosening pot laws was that the US would disapprove tangibly. Now, Canadian resentment of being under the thumb of American politicians may have broken through this restriction.
    More thoughts on Robert Wright's prescriptions for free trade and transnational governance. He isn't consistent with his own prescriptions.

    If he believes that free trade is important for countries to get a leg up, improve quality of life, and reduce causes of discontent thus terrorism, then he shouldn't see the WTO as a tool to enforce treaties on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Instead, the WTO should continue to open trade where possible, not be pressured to close trade. Another indpendent organization (NATO? An internationally-run mercenary group?) devoted to security should encourage security, on behalf of the treaty organizations that cover each dangerous or internationally illegal weapon.

    OK, so it's a 9-party essay. And it's got some less-than-good parts. For example, in part 6, Wright makes a policy prescription: "To blunt some of globalization's sharper edges, carry political governance beyond the level of the nation-state, to the transnational level."

    Some transnational political governance is good. But I believe it's very difficult to do at all, and even more difficult to do right. Wright specifically mentions that "Western labor unions would like to use the leverage of the World Trade Organization to upgrade foreign working conditions—whether with child labor laws or workplace safety standards or a guaranteed right to bargain collectively, or whatever. So far they've been foiled, but there's no reason in principle that the WTO can't address labor issues and even the transnational environmental issues that concern anti-globalization activists, thus evolving from a right-wing form of governance toward the center."

    I have some problems with this. First, the WTO is about trade, not within-a-country labor laws. Transnational organizations are going to be more successful if each one addresses fewer issues, not more. There's a scaling problem that becomes particularly bad at the transnational level -- larger bureaucracies are less effective. If a typical national government has different departments for labor and trade, then the world should have at least that division, if not have even more granular divisions.

    Second, labor laws from rich countries can be bad for poor countries. Outlawing any child labour may make children much worse off in countries where orphaned or abandoned kids must take care of themselves. Minimum wages in Bangladesh may help American workers much more than the average Bangladeshi, by increasing the price of goods to the point of uncompetitiveness.

    Transnational organizations (perhaps governance organizations, perhaps simply lobby/aid/education organizations) are probably good in some ways but can certainly cause damage and waste time when ill-conceived.

    I'm reading Robert Wright's 10-part Slate essay on terrorism, technology and culture. So far, it's got good parts. For example, this shameful factoid: "According to the World Bank, economically advanced nations levy tariffs against developing nations that are four times as high as the tariffs they levy against other advanced countries... The United States denied General Pervez Musharraf's pleas to open its textile markets to Pakistan as a reward for his vital support in the Afghanistan war."

    Wednesday, October 09, 2002

    Perhaps I should join the Anti-Idiotarians, too. Ron Rosenbaum makes a good case (link via instapundit). He freaks out at people who show "the inability to distinguish America’s sporadic blundering depradations" from far worse crimes. "All empires commit crimes; in the past century, ours were by far the lesser of evils"

    I, too, frequently find myself arguing against common left-wing positions, even though I'd like to be left-wing in many ways. And I find myself defending the US and Americans, even though I am not American, and even though the defense must often be mounted against Americans.

    An old link, but a good one: how election methods work, including Condorcet and Approval voting, and why no voting scheme is perfect. Required reading before you tell me that the US should move to instant runoff!
    If the UN and the IIS agree that poverty is being reduced (not increased!), and that poverty is being reduced because of (not in spite of!) capitalism and free trade, why do they stillprotest these things? How can they say it's for social protection, or that there's a race to the bottom?

    Monday, October 07, 2002

    More links and info on MCMS (Microsoft Content Management Server), though you're unlikely to be as interested as I am:
    • MCMS used to be NCompass, before an acquisition earlier this year.
    • Although it involves authoring pages for the Web, it doesn't support WebDAV, the standard for Web authoring.
    • Although it supports content syndication, it doesn't support RSS or any other open syndication standard.
    • Its architecture is based on OLE controls embedded in Web pages, so sites built with MCMS probably can't be used by non-Microsoft Web clients.
    Microsoft thinks Instapundit can't increase readership by providing links away from instapundit.com. This is explicitly mentioned in a powerpoint presentation on the new Microsoft Content Management Server: "Aggregate sites cannot simply provide hyperlinks to source... Potential to lose customer to competing aggregate sites."

    Obviously, I think they're already being proven wrong on this one. It's not just Instapundit and Weblogs that prove them wrong, but also sites like Penny Arcade -- a real site much like the XBox.com and related fictional example used in the same presentation.

    Thursday, October 03, 2002

    When I don't have time to do a decent job blogging, Natasha can do it for me:
    "Do I really want an employee so out of touch with the world that she wasted four years of a very expensive education learning how to spot harassment at every turn?" A great description of graduates with degrees in Women's Studies.

    Wednesday, October 02, 2002

    A cool game like Boggle.
    How the feminist movement is increasingly making itself irrelevant
    How DARE leads kids to get their parents arrested.
    I was in Canada on vacation for a week, then I was too busy to blog. Now I'm too busy to blog, but I'm going to anyway.

    In Canada general opinion is unanimous on some issues that are more mixed here. E.g.:

    • The Iraq war proposals are really about oil.

    • Bush is an idiot, probably retarded. He got his university degree through family connections.

    • Kyoto is a good thing, already leading some Canadian companies to good changes

    OK, so opinion is not quite unanimous. My dad, who's in the oil business, says that the war is probably not about oil because US dependence on Middle-East oil is nowhere near where it was 10 years ago. Right now, the US could do without M-E oil with some pain. In the near future, US will be able to do without M-E oil entirely if need be.

    Wednesday, September 18, 2002

    I shouldn't stay up so late that I turn into an insomni-zombie (grumpy and tired but can't sleep). But I did finish the hat for now-2-week-old Payton:

    A closeup of the hat shows where I finally departed from the pattern, and did my own thing on the crown of the hat, terminating in a bit of I-Cord.

    Tuesday, September 17, 2002

    Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is right that we're seeing more meta-commentary (he's speaking particularly about Democrats) about the justification for a war than actual positions: There's a case to be made against war -- maybe even an intelligent one as opposed to the of-course-America-is-wrong line we're getting from the usual Chomskian suspects. And we'd be better off if someone were making it clearly and responsibly. (Robert Wright has been doing a much better job than Daschle, et al.) But making that case requires taking a position that someone might hold against you later, as opposed to carping from the sidelines and hoping to capitalize if it all goes wrong. Those who lack the backbone to take a position at a time like this aren't qualified to hold office.

    Well, I for one enjoy carping from the sidelines! Though I'm not attempting to hold or obtain office, so I hope he'll excuse me.

    Natasha asked me (rhetorically, I hope) in email why the administration should go to war against Iraq, when there are larger dangers to the lives of Americans. This Pravda article supports that position -- it's about 200 Soviet-era nukes in Ukraine that nobody can account for. Link via Instapundit.
    More on Chretien's bad-taste comment on Sept 11, 2002 from National Review Online.

    I find Tom Nichol's article a little much, though. E.g. "Given Chretien's inane comments prior to the meeting, Bush can hardly be faulted for not trying to lay out a case to his Canadian colleague. Indeed, given the lack of substance in their meeting and the clear Canadian aversion to shouldering the burden of the fight against terror — an aversion, by the way, that does not seem to be shared by the brave and able men and women of the Canadian armed forces — ... " Hey, Canada was there in Afghanistan, and not just because the armed forces decided to go. The government decided to send them. Nothing excuses Bush from laying out a case -- to the world, not just to Canada.

    The same paragraph ends with "September 2002 might well be the date affixed by future historians to Canada's last days as a world power." Nice to know in retrospect that Canada was a world power! Heh heh.

    Co-workers report the usefulness of Starbuck's wireless support. Yes, the press releases were a year ago, but more locations seem to have it now. On the other hand, you now have to pay, but that's worth it to these three road warriors.

    Of course, you don't have to go into Starbucks to access their wireless (no wonder you have to pay). They can take a cab from one place to another in NY City, getting in and out of range of Starbucks instances, and racking up enough connection total to synch up email during the trip. Or if they're driving, they park in a Starbucks parking lot and whip out their laptops. Unless one of them says "You know, I'm actually going to go in and get myself a coffee, too!"

    Sunday, September 15, 2002

    I have finished a sweater for a week-old baby named Payton (hope Payton's parents aren't reading this!). It's a little large for a newborn but I'm basically happy with the way it turned out:

    I took a larger picture too.The sweater is knit with Mission Falls 1824 Cotton in light blue, light purple, green, dark purple, black and grey. The pattern is from Mission Falls "Wee Knits" book, called "Colours".

    I can never get the gauge tight enough (typically I'm 10% off and changing needles doesn't quite get me to gauge), so I'm used to making adjustments. This time I had to cut the sides in a couple stitches. Rather than reknit the back after I had completed it, I just moved the seam over two stitch widths on the back. Unfortunately, this makes the seams a little bulky, not as flat as I like to make them. Then for the rest of the stitch counts I just subtracted 5-10% and it all came out.

    The buttons are little purple hearts on top of dark purple circular buttons. That's right, two buttons, just attached together with the thread used to tie them on. The light hearts are cute, and the purple circles give the overall button enough size to fit in the button holes and not be too hard to button up.

    Some, particularly Paul Krugman, criticize the White House for citing first one reason to do something, then another. Krugman calls it a "shifting rationale" and accuses the White House of this both for justifying tax cuts and for justifying the war on Iraq.

    Critics should be clear on whether the administration is abandoning its earlier reasons or not. It's not truly a shifting rationale unless early reasons are abandoned when the situation changes, at which point new reasons suiting the current situation are brought out. On the other hand, if the administration brings out one argument and exposes it to the media, lets it sink in and explores the details, then brings out another reason without disclaiming the previous argument, then the administration is actually building a case on many arguments.

    My impression is that tax cuts were justified by a shifting rationale, but the war on Iraq is being justified by accumulating several independent reasons to attack. I don't claim that the sum of arguments is sufficient, I just claim that's what the administration is trying to do.

    It's an odd facet of human nature that presenting multiple independent arguments can be a bad tactic. If one of the arguments is perceived as weak, opponents seize on that argument. Then the other arguments are ignored, as if they depended on the weak argument, and it becomes very hard to convince that person. However to a rational listener, a weak argument should only cause the stronger arguments to be thrown away if they depended on the weak argument, as in a chain of causes.

    Ekr and Terence have significant experience designing protocols. Ekr's also a chemist. Recently they were asked by a regular programmer "What are the top things to keep in mind when designing a protocol?" Ekr compared this to having a layman ask a chemist "What are the top things to keep in mind when synthesizing phosgene in the lab?"

    Phosgene is a toxic inhalant that quickly destroys the lungs, so clearly this is not a good idea. I like the comparison.

    Friday, September 13, 2002

    Tax compliance costs are taxes that benefit nobody. Duane Freese puts it into numbers.
    Why it's been a busy week: a few pictures from the WebDAV Interop event at UC Santa Cruz, Monday to Wednesday. These pictures show people testing WebDAV clients and servers against each other. While I did very little testing myself because I was busy talking about careful changes to the standard, some great testing did get done.
    Ekr suggests that if dissent has been crushed, it's only from being smothered by news articles about how dissent has been crushed -- so many, that there's no column inches left to discuss real issues! As usual, the media's favourite topic is the media.
    I find it hard to disagree with the adjectives "boorish", "weak and petty" used to describe Chretien. His exact words taped for Sept 11 were "You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others. And that is what the western world -- not only the Americans, the western world -- has to realize. Because they are human beings, too."

    His timing, at least, was bad: It was laudable for him to try to bring up the debate about poverty ... but this may not have been the most opportune time. People need to grieve and people should be allowed to do so. (from Edmonton Journal) And he could have prefaced this remark with an explanation that it does not justify killing innocents.

    But it's not just this interview, it's other actions too. His fit of pique when Bush did not visit Canada first after his election seemed -- well, petty.

    I claimed in a recent post (Sept 8)that there had been no dissent-crushing to speak of in the US since 9/11. And it's not just bloggers that provide alternative viewpoitns. Tim Blair provides more data to back that up.

    McCalman also repeated one of the two great post-9/11 myths: that dissent in the US has been crushed. She didn't provide any examples because there are none. "In the first two weeks after the September 11 massacre," reports Los Angeles journalist Matt Welch, "the LA Times published more than a dozen impassioned antiwar essays from the likes of Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Fisk, Howard Zinn, Alexander Cockburn and Jonathan Schell." (Note to Janet: All of these dissenters were, at the time of writing, still alive.)

    Neil Clark defends Americans in The Australian. Even more strongly, he blasts "the left" for racism:

    The Left of Smith, though, while preaching equality and brotherly love between all races, conveniently does allow for exceptions. All men are equal; all men, that is, except Americans, Serbs, white Africans and Protestants from Northern Ireland.

    Thursday, September 12, 2002

    A lot of people are saying the US should be more "multilateral" (Slate, Guardian). Bush addressed the UN this morning, asking basically "Are you going to take this?", reminding the UN of all its resolutions broken or unheeded by the Iraq regime.

    Some might consider Bush's appeals increased multilateralism, but it's not at all clear to me that everybody will think so. In other words, I bet that what would be an acceptable level of multilateralism to Europeans will be considered unacceptably high (too much sovereignty ceded) to Americans. Even if we all agree "more cooperation", it's not clear that common ground can actually be reached. So I predict (and this is an easy one) continued criticism of American arrogance and unilateralism, for years to come.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2002

    Penny Arcade (video game critics and cartoonists) is running an interview series (parts 1, 2 and 3) with Dr. Henry Jenkins of MIT on some rather social and philosophical issues related to video games. Topics discussed include education, ratings, art, using games as a military tool, and the legal case that decided that video games aren't free speech.

    For one thing, Dr. Jenkins is critical of the research that claims to show that video games promote violence: If you look at criminals incarcerated for violent crime, you find that on average they consume less violent entertainment than the general population does.

    Monday, September 09, 2002

    Code visualization has come a long way in 6 years, when I considered doing my master's degree in that area. There's now a map of the Linux kernel, done by the Free Code Graphing Project. At the lowest level, each routine in the code is represented with its loops (circles) and branches.

    It's very cool looking, but has a ways to go (as they authors discuss) before being very useful. For example, one could use code graphing to mark modules with a lot of dependencies for review or rewrite.

    Sunday, September 08, 2002

    Matt Welch has a article in the National Post on alleged press censorship. The American Prospect had a similar article way back in January. These are in response to articles like Michael Steinberg's recent complaint that although he has 5000 Web readers of his site, people at his office seemed hawkish and thus he's afraid to promote peace at work.

    One of Welch's paragraphs caught my eye (since I'm Canadian): The view looked just as bad north of the border. Linda Diebel of The Toronto Star wrote an article under the banner, "Freedom of speech casualty of a new war." The Globe and Mail's Simon Houpt lamented, "Dissent has all but disappeared." (To be clear, Matt Welch thinks these writers were wrong). Why do Canadians seem to believe that dissent disappeared? It sure didn't in the Bay area (Berkeley can be counted on), among the people I talk to, on the Web, or on the news I read.

    It seems rather normal for a country to veer towards a more militant attitude after an attack. The US did. It also seems rather normal for people who suddenly have a common enemy (all sides of the political spectrum) to agree somewhat more rather than less. But to say that dissent had disappeared any time after 9/11 was always ridiculous. Even without counting the anarchy of voices on the Web (blogging exploded), mainstream media covered and included views opposing invasion of Afghanistan, methods of war, and treatment of prisoners. The only voice I'm aware of that tried to stifle debate is that of John Ashcroft, who is an asshole.

    Instead, what I think is happening is that people who fear to express dissent directly turn that into a claim that dissent is being crushed. But the only reason I can find for that fear is the worry that ordinary people and other pundits might disapprove, and hotly disagree in articles, emails, Web sites and letters to the editor. That's not crushing dissent, that's lively debate, and commentators who are afraid of that and try to use political correctness to get people to nicely agree are using underhanded methods.

    At the same time, people who oppose war cite a "growing chorus of dissent" opposing the hawks. Can't have it both ways, you know!

    My friend Natasha has her own blog now. Although I'm dismayed I won't be able to steal from her emails to me, and she'll probably blog links to Guardian articles rather than email them to me, it's a good thing. Just take a look at her no ballot, no bitching post for proof.

    Saturday, September 07, 2002

    A picture of the quilt I'm working on right now. It's my own design based on a machine pieced triangle grid of fabrics that remind me of the colours of the ocean at sunset. The wave designs are machine couched variegated cotton yarn. Around the crest of each wave are clusters of sparkly seed beads. In the middle, you can kind of see the hand quilting between each line of the cotton yarn (that's the step I'm finishing now).
    Pictures of my team (left to right: Michael, Melissa, Barry, and Orlando, Ed, Brian, Conrad and Henry at the other table). We had a farewell lunch for Conrad, the intern, who has finished his summer to my dismay. Best picture is Michael with Cutlery.

    Tuesday, September 03, 2002

    The Daily Summit blog referenced below was started by David Steven and friends just to cover the Johannesburg summit. Interestingly, it's funded like science (including travel), according to an article covering the blog (very meta): "Steven, who doesn't think of himself as a journalist, says he approached the British Science Council in early August to pitch the idea and it agreed to sponsor the site and his travel expenses. A week later, he says, the site was up and running."

    It's an excellent site. Too bad I only found it today. I love this Q&A from the FAQ:

    Do you know what you’re doing?

    No. But we think we can find out!
    The Times Online has an interesting analysis article from Anatole Kaletsky (link found via Daily Summit). I hear echoes of Julian Simon, particularly in the fifth paragraph: "The experience of the past two centuries suggests that the generations of the future will be infinitely cleverer than we are. They will devise solutions to their problems with an ingenuity that we cannot begin to imagine today. It is not just lazy and selfish to leave the solution of many long-term problems to future generations; it is rational."
    A picture of me from last night, occasioned by new haircut.
    His Excellency the Honourable Saufatu Sopoanga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, made an unfortunate choice of words when he told how his country was being annihilated by rising sea levels (from Times Online). He said “We are being submerged because of the selfishness and greed of the industrialised world. "When are the leaders of the industrial world going to take the moral high ground?”

    But since they've already taken the physical high ground...

    Monday, September 02, 2002

    Natasha clarified her position: "It's not necessarily that yuppie activists represent the poor better than the poor themselves, but that truly poor people can rarely afford to attend summits like this. Many (though admittedly not all) activist organizations that attend these events often spend a significant amount of time speaking to farmers and tradespeople in the developing nations, and work directly with them to shape their agendas and debate. The developed world citizens who can afford to travel, and who are voters in the countries that make many of these decisions act more as lobbyists, many times with the blessing, encouragement, and guidance of the people whose issues they take up."

    That's great when it happens. Still, when a group is too weak to represent themselves, what happens when the motivations of their supporters finally conflict? Another example from Other Powers (book linked below) is that Horace Greeley, editor of the Tribune, originally supported
    Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton in their suffrage movement. However, they fell out when Greeley asked the women to wait for blacks to get the vote first (rather than all at once). When Greeley's wife signed a petition that made it publicly obvious she disagreed with her husband, he took his revenge on Stanton, vowing she would never get positive treatment in his paper.

    I've been corresponding with Natasha about the Johannesburg summit, which is always interesting because we see different things and point them out to each other. Not only do we notice different articles about the same topic (we tend to frequent different news sources), we notice different things inside the same articles. Then we firmly agree on some important things like this: "But the main things produced for export by the sort of mom & pop shops and struggling laborers conjured up by the word poor are durable goods, like cloth. These goods have been heavily tariffed for years on purely protectionist grounds. This is an issue that has nothing to do with environmentalism, mocks the idea that free trade is any kind of true ideal, and genuinely hurts a great many people."

    One thing I haven't made up my mind on is who best represents "the poor"? In the Tech Central Station article we discussed, James Shikwati says "Where are the poor in the summit? They are hardly represented by those "Third World" NGOs here - who pander to wealthy countries in the name of Sustainable Development - perhaps to sustain themselves." Natasha thinks however that first-world "yuppies" (activists) do a better job of representing the third-world poor than their own government ministers. So there are at least four main options (and I'm not sure what Shikwati himself is, although he appears to try to represent the poor):

    • Third World NGOs
    • Third world government ministers
    • Citizens of rich countries (activists, global NGOs)
    • The poor themselves -- voting, demonstrating, etc.

    I'm reminded of the book I'm currently reading, "Other Powers" by Barbara Goldsmith (loaned to me by my co-worker Quinn). This biography of Victoria Woodhull, a spiritualist and women's rights activist, contains lots of material on the movements that fought for the rights of women and blacks. It's interesting that the first woman's rights convention had a man (James Mott) chairing it. However, soon they attempted to elect a female president for the convention, "a move so unprecedented that even Elizabeth [Stanton] opposed it." Ultimately, men had to approve universal suffrage, which vastly improved the ability of women to represent themselves.

    Friday, August 30, 2002

    I can't help linking to Paul Ford's stuff at FTrain some more. He has a bit of dialog in a musing which illustrates how I perceive The Semantic Web:
    PEF: "I don't understand how all this XML/XHTML/XLink/XPointer/XPath/XSL/SVG/FO stuff is going to work together, what the goals are, where the vision is. I mean, it's all great, don't get me wrong. I use it to build Ftrain.com."

    W3C: "Just look at the standard and all will be manifest."

    PEF: "But it's 9000 pages, and is filled with Backus-Naur grammar statements. I'm a human, not a computer! What are you guys really trying to do? What vision are you trying to promote?"

    W3C: "We're trying to build <bigbrightlights>The Semantic Web </bigbrightlights>"

    PEF: "But what is it? Can Ftrain.com be part of <bigbrightlights>The Semantic Web </bigbrightlights>?"

    W3C: "Whether you wish to or not, all must belong to <bigbrightlights>The Semantic Web </bigbrightlights>."

    PEF: "You're transforming into a giant terrifying aluminum robot!"

    W3C: "<loud>Must...<louder> have... <loudest>corporate...<loudest-yet> funding... </loudest-yet> </loudest> </louder> </loud>"
    Just drink the koolaid, children.

    Thursday, August 29, 2002

    Den Beste gets mad at cultural relativists who constantly criticize US today (link via ekr). There's a lot of detail of practices in Mid-eastern or African cultures that should by all rights have horrified Western feminists and all opponents of capital punishment. I was already thinking along the same lines, so what interested me most was the thoughts about why these people are so horrified by the US:
    • It's the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight. It's only when it comes to a country like the US that these people have a chance of getting heard; it's not because US is the best place to make improvements.
    • If they believe that all cultures are equal, then they must beat down American culture because it is so infective. The belief that all cultures are equal is so primary to them that facts must get reinterpreted to fit with this belief. Thus, the American culture is infective but low, unsophisticated, cheap, materialistic; therefore not in fact better in any way!

    Coincidentally, this evening I also ran across a speech by Larry Wall, writer of the Perl programming language, in which he says that cultural relativism is ... the notion that everything is as good as everything else, because goodness is only a matter of opinion. It's like claiming that the only thing you can know absolutely is that you can't know anything absolutely. I think this is really just another form of Modernism, a kind of existentialism really, though unfortunately it's come to be associated with postmodernism. But I think it sucks.
    If you saw my link to FTrain below, and didn't explore, you should; it's got some gems. Some of my favourites:
    An article in TechCentralStation by James S. Shikwati, Director of the Inter Region Economic Network, IREN Kenya, has this para (Link found through Instapundit):

    A delegate from Sweden pointed out that "the poor should not be allowed to make the same mistakes the developed made leading to pollution, the poor should leap-frog in order to attain sustainable development." But what gives the developed nations the right to make choices for the poor?


    Some light humour today. Sanrio is a riot already, and FTrain satirizes their character descriptions in Engrish.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2002

    I can't believe the guy quoted in this article (link via Instapundit). Gar Smith bemoans electricity. He thinks that a peasant's life is better when they are sewing their own clothes via pedal-powered machine (probably manufactured using electricity)

    Although Gar is proud that friends commute via bicycle or mass transit (Gar doesn't say if he does), Gar doesn't seem to realize that public transport (and bicycle manufacture) depends highly on electricity and other modern inventions. And his friends would not be able to live in large cities and commute to their jobs if it weren't for the highly electricity-based economy that keeps water clean and running, removes sewage, runs grocery stores, and otherwise allows so many people to live in such close proximity.

    Even the founder of Greenpeace thinks this guy is a nut.

    I had never realized that the copyright laws easily risk making Web caches, including the one on your hard drive, illegal. A CNET article points this out in an interview with a Verizon vice president. (I got this link this morning through ditherati email. Ditherati liked the VP's quote: "It's been an interesting time to be on the same side as groups like Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.")

    Monday, August 26, 2002

    Just noticed that the French phrase for "sustainable development" (chosen by the Johannesberg conference) is "Développement Durable". Translated back it would be more like "long-lasting development". That's a subtle difference from "sustainable" because it seems to imply that it's the length of duration of the development improvement that is important, not that there are two different kinds of development, sustainable and unsustainable. In German it's "Nachhaltige Entwicklung", or "lasting development" (literally, next-halting development, or development that doesn't end until a later date.)

    I do sometimes wonder how much differences between speakers of different language depend on the way they phrase things. But I don't think that accounts for the American vs. Euro differences at Johannesberg this week!

    "The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development is being called a last chance for the international community to set a reasonable course on environmental protection, or face the possible collapse of the planet's ecosystems." (from Radio Free Europe). Although the article is vague, it seems to attribute this "last chance" language to Nitin Desai. When the "last chancers" are proven wrong again and again (things get worse, things get better), doesn't this rhetoric start to seem ridiculous?
    A number of recent articles criticize the catchphrase "sustainable development" (1, 2, 3 and 4 from Bjorn Lomborg) and the proponents of sustainable development (notably at Johannesburg) who oppose economic growth in at least some forms. James Glassman puts it well, if idealistically: "the word "sustainable" bothers me. While imprecise, it carries connotations of constraint, of limits to growth. The best way to improve the well-being of the people of the world and to improve the environment of the world is to eliminate constraints - especially on the human achievement and imagination. A goal of sustainable development sells the world short. We can do much better."

    On the other "side", Nitin Desai, the Secretary General of the Johannesburg summit, defines sustainable development in this interview. Part of his answer: "What does it mean to talk about sustainable energy? It means that you are not going to approach this simply from the perspective of pure environmental management, nor or we going to approach this simply from the perspective of: here is the demand for growth, how are we going to meet it? We need something which seeks to combine the two!" South African president Thabo Mbeki, who spoke at the summit, says "A global human society based on poverty for many and prosperity for a few, characterized by islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty, is unsustainable." However that seems to be an incompatible (or irrelevant) definition next to Desai's.

    According to this article, the phrase was invented in 1987 in the Brundtland report. 'Sustainable development seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future,' said the report. 'Far from requiring the cessation of economic growth (the notion of sustainability) recognizes that the problem of poverty and underdevelopment cannot be solved unless we have a new era of growth in which developing countries play a large role and reap large benefits.'

    I found this article on American foreign aid and private charitable aid very cheering. Carol Adelman points out that American governmental foreign aid is only a fraction of private aid, not even counting direct remittances from immigrants living in US to their families back home. I prefer to be able to choose how and where to give my charitable dollar, so I approve of this state of things.

    Although the article states that "our government gave more foreign aid, in absolute terms, than any other country in 2001, topping second-ranked Japan" (in absolute terms means counting private charitable donations as well as government foreign aid), I wish the article had done a better job of including numbers from outside US. E.g if Japan is second-ranked, I'd like to know how much of its foreign aid is private and how much is public.

    The personal remittances part is really interesting. A government report says that "Remittances increased from $8.4 billion in 1990 to $11.8 billion in 1995. More than 60 percent of remittances went to the countries of Central America, the Caribbean, and South America". More probably goes through uncounted, brought directly across the Rio Grande inside peoples' wallets. Remittances are finally being seen as a development tool. "In 2000, over $20 billion was sent overseas from immigrants in the US in 80 million separate transactions... the remittances sent to Haiti, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Jamaica account for 10 percent of the GDPs of each of those countries." Holy cow.

    Many governments (Kenya, Cuba) restrict personal remittances from residents (Cuba limits to $300 per quarter). Other countries tax remittances (Brazil) even though they may already have taxed the money once as income. The US remittance limit seems to be $10,000 without requiring any paperwork, and more if you do the paperwork to prove you're not laundering money. I do not know if there's an absolute limit.

    Thursday, August 22, 2002

    People seem shocked that the government would consider making what up to 1/5 of Americans do illegal (that is, to share copyrighted files peer-to-peer). That hasn't stopped the US government before. Prohibition, for example. Oh wait, that wasn't such a good idea either. Maybe we'll see "share-easy" cafes in obscure corners, where laptops are whisked out of sight at the approach of law enforcement?
    I find it hard to complain about more wireless access, but it's hard to see how Starbucks will make money with it. Or do business-people really have meetings in Starbucks, for which they're willing to pay at least $3 for the right to (wirelessly) hook in?

    Tuesday, August 20, 2002

    In more recent articles, Steve Gillmor interviews Raikes and Mangione on further Microsoft .NET strategies. The Raikes article is boring but he does say "Office 11 not only has the same level of XML support that we had in Excel and Access but also a more advanced form of XML support that we have for all of those products in Office 11, which is the ability to support arbitrary schemas."

    I was really tickled by Mangione's statement that "We may not be there today but the reality is, the way you're going to interoperate, the way you're going to bring it together is all going to be over standard protocols. I think the biggest thing in the 10 years I've been at Microsoft is to finally realize that protocols really do matter." That wasn't really true two years ago, judging by the effect my standards work had on my career there, but it may be true now.

    Also in the Mangione article, Gillmor asks "Things like SIP [Session Initiation Protocol], for example. There's no XML in SIP, right?" Umm. That's a really, really stupid question with no relevance to the discussion before or after. It's a stupid question because SIP is a standard protocol whether or not it contains XML. XML is just a way to format data; SIP chose another format. Did Gillmor leave the question in just to make fun of Mangione's repetitive response? Or is that a glitch?

    Finally, Mangione repeats the new keyword "federated" that Bill used in his .NET speech. No doubt they've been hearing loud and clear from customers that it's not OK for Microsoft to run centralized services for businesses. Like AOL IM, for example!

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