Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Meet the Bloggers. I find this funny. I think I'm the "real gas" who wants to be the "uncompromising alterna-journalist".

Monday, June 24, 2002

The Supreme Court has just made two rulings in one week affecting the death penalty. One will certainly curtail use of the death penalty because it forbids the death penalty for retarded persons. The other could have the long-term effect of either increasing or decreasing death penalties, depending on whether juries assign the death sentence more often than judges do. However, in the short term it is likely to have the effect of reducing death sentences, as condemned prisoners appeal death sentences given by judges. Whether their appeal leads to another trial or commuting sentence to life, there will be fewer death sentences carried out.

Is support for the death penalty waning, or is the Supreme Court bucking popular opinion? The death penalty has long had popular support. The trend of the news at the Death Penalty Info Center implies that is dropping, particularly a New Jersey survey which shows a slight drop (perhaps from 65% or 63% to 60% support depending on where you look). Support among Republicans is high at 73%.

The survey is very interesting in the different results polled depending on how the question is asked. There seem to be many respondents who do not oppose the death penalty, yet prefer life in prison over a death sentence as the penalty for murder. Support for a moratorium on death penalties is quite high at 66%, meaning that many respondants who support the death penalty also support a moratorium!

I'd note that both the Death Penalty Info site and the survey seem to be run by folk who oppose the death penalty. For a look into how the news is presented by the other side, see Pro-Death Penalty (it doesn't seem to have been updated recently, but I couldn't find a more up-to-date pro-capital-punishment site this morning). Another survey linked there has the latest two polls showing increasing support for the death penalty (+3% from 05/01 to 10/01, and +4% from 10/01 to 05/02).

Given that theoretical support for the death penalty remains the majority, but actual support for restricting use of the death penalty is also high, it seems the Supreme Court is following popular opinion very nicely.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Canadians prefer politics to sex? I guess it depends how you ask the questions. The Environics survey asked respondents their favourite leisure activity. Who is likely to answer "sex"? And yet, who would give it up entirely? It shouldn't even be in the same category as "reading a book"!

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Today's Ditherati link was an ABCNews article called Living in a Wireless World. The article quotes Michael Zey (professor, futurist, author) extensively. Two quotes in particular struck me:

The dark side — and we're already seeing it [in other countries] — is people that are addicted to it and not using it informatively, but as an escape," says Zey. "There aren't any personal relationships and they never to make new social bonds."

OK, so every technology has a dark side. But this isn't quite it for connectedness, as most people seem to use more connectedness not to retrieve information but to chat. I was most addicted to Internet-as-escape in early university, when I spent many hours playing fantasy muds. That led to meeting other "mudders" in person at the 1992 GenCon in Minneapolis. A bunch of students from Ontario and a few north-east American states drove parents' cars or bummed rides to the convention, and we misfits shared a few cheap hotel rooms. We stayed up late, played games, loved the convention. We made social bonds, even though some of us were the geekiest oddities you can imagine. I see this happening again and again: readers of the FoRK mailing list gather for dinner in San Francisco, bloggers arrange to meet at bars. Connectedness allows us to get to know far-distant but similar-minded people. Then when we travel or move cities (as we increasingly seem to do) we may have friends there to meet us.

"We're already used to the idea of cell phones and the Internet ... It won't take long to adopt [sic] to [the new technologies]"

Now Zey is being too optimistic, rather than too pessimistic. It always takes us a while to adapt to new technologies. We adapt, and then we adapt some more, and we are often not done adapting when the new technology is superseded by a newer one.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Nicholas Kristof's NYTimes editorial today lambastes the FBI and the Bush administration for not signing an international women's rights treaty. His reason why it should be signed is that women in Pakistan and certain other countries suffer deeply.

What has that to do with US signing the treaty? Shouldn't Kristof instead ask for Pakistan to enforce the treaty? Surely it would be more effective (if hypocritical) for the US to pressure other countries to enforce the treaty even without signing it. In fact, it seems that's what the US is already doing, at least in Afghanistan.

Perhaps Kristof believes the US would have more success in these international efforts if it were not perceived as hypocritical. But he does not make that argument. Instead, he uses heart-rending examples of battered or tortured women in Pakistan to make the direct claim that -- like Pakistan! -- the US must sign the treaty.

Dive Into Mark is doing a very readable "30 days" to a more accessible weblog. So far his advice has been good.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

A very interesting critical piece in American Prospect debunks Sylvia Hewlett's baby bust book. The article debunks the idea that smart women have trouble find acceptable partners (I posted on that before). Hewlett said "the more a woman succeeds in her career, the less likely it is she will ever have a partner", and Garance Franke-Ruta shows that the numbers do not support that at all.

Well that's a releif. Guess the reaction to Hewlett, and Dowd's related article, just shows that "smart" women are paranoid.

Google seems to have discontinued its Zeitgeist monthly summary of queries. It hasn't been updated since April and isn't linked any more from their all about page. That's too bad, I really enjoyed Zeitgeist. In place of that link, Google has a new answers service to match people with questions up with people with answers, for a fee.

My last tidbit of Google news is that the winner of their 2002 programmer contents was a friend of mine when we both lived in Seattle. His project is really cool (I wouldn't expect anything less from Dan) but it doesn't seem to be available to use. I would so love to be able to search for Web sites geographically!

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

In SatireWire's latest, the first paragraph stands on its own.

"Known for its long-standing opposition to whaling, logging, strip mining, genetically modified food, nuclear power, the chemical industry, wars, corporations, politics, and weapons, the activist group Greenpeace today announced that as of 12:01 this morning, it will just oppose everything."

When I was in Canada a week ago, people asked me what I thought about the lumber dispute. Frankly, I hadn't heard anything about it since the previous time I'd been in Canada, like others living in the US. Seems US accuses Canada of protectionism (ref) and has raised tariffs, but Canadians feel that's just an excuse. US media does mention the dispute now and then, but just as a kind of ongoing known issue, not the bigger news item it is to Canada. To see how big, check out the Canada.com features section.
Instapundit sometimes has links to cool Canadian news , like this link on an Ontario environmentalist group surprisingly preferring nuclear power to coal. The surprise is that they don't denounce both.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Shipping containers revolutionized the shipping business in the 1960s. An entire standard-size container could be moved from a ship onto a train or a truck-bed and moved along, rather than repacking the contents from the ships hold into the truck or car's interior. That saved money for the shipping industry as a whole, but there were other benefits. Prices dropped for consumers. Unsightly dock areas could be smaller per ton shipped, because a ship is unloaded faster. Less energy (and likely pollution) can be expended moving each ton for a number of reasons. Theft costs were much reduced and fewer warehouses required at docks (ref).

The longshoremens who used to pack and unpack boats and fill those disappeared warehouses suffered most from the revolution. In the UK over 20 years dock jobs fell from 80,000 to 11,400. In some countries the loss of jobs was extremely sudden, because those countries prevented container technology from being used for a while, then suddenly relented, giving much less time to adjust. Longshoremen unions negotiated all kinds of work preservation shemes. Sometimes these involved regulated amounts of workers per ton shipped, but if containers were being used many of those workers would stand idle. Eventually some of this sorted itself out and the longshoremen found other jobs, perhaps painfully. By 1997, general longshoremen were paid an average of $96,865.

Today it's happening again on the West Coast, only the scary new technology is computers. Ship manifests could be moved electronically between ship and dock, but that is not allowed by labour contracts which have guaranteed jobs to $113,808/year clerks. Inventory in dock may not be electronically tracked - longshoremen must be hired to drive around in trucks. Dock workers may not be electronically dispatched to where they're needed - they need to meet at the union daily before being assigned. Dispatching inflexibility results in spot labour shortages which are on the increase, exacerbated because it's difficult to get into the longshoremen's union. A local dockworker strike is possible according to the sfweekly article, which could cost the local economy much, with costs spread widely and lasting long as investment drops in West Coast shipping. Shipping companies even route through the Panama Canal in order to avoid the West Coast. It's hard to feel sorry for anybody involved, but it's a crying shame to waste so much.

Here's a nice science article on fertilizing the ocean with iron, to stimulate plankton blooms and suck carbon dioxide out of the air. There's even one hyperlink in the article (though I wish more had been provided, I had to look up the very interesting planktos site myself).

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

I usually like Paul Krugman's NYT editorials more than this one. Krugman jumps on recent business scandals to declare that rewarding executives highly does not work. A few such cases are hardly proof of failure, though they may be an indicator that something in the system needs tweaking. Me, I favour better reporting rules and requirements for transparency. The rewards given to executives are much less amenable to influence.

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