Monthly Archives: December 2005

data mining & online information

Today is a beautifully misty day, perfect for leisurely procrastination from holiday tasks like installing back-up hard drives for the mom-in-law. (Well, “in-law” if we were in Mass.; everywhere else in the US, “mom-in-out-law”.) So naturally I found myself doing a little backlog reading of blogs that I don’t read every day, and was fortunate to see Lauren Weinstein’s post from early November, considering the privacy implications of online digital libraries.:

Our hero Aton (actually, “hero” isn’t really the right word) visits a planet that is basically the known galaxy’s central library. It has almost literally endless stacks of books collected over centuries, still kept (for now, but probably not much longer) for historical reasons, even though nearly all of their contents have long since been available via computers from anywhere in the galaxy.

When Aton shows up, one of the few librarians is very pleased to have a visitor — they’re few and far between — and offers to help Aton with some reference work in the stacks.

The librarian immediately and correctly deduces (in an offhand remark) that since Aton wants to use the stacks, he is probably looking for illicit information, given that all attempts to access “proscribed” data though the computers is automatically logged and reported, even though such information would not be accessible. But the stacks are far too vast to be selectively expunged.

[Discussing Piers Anthony’s Chthon.] Watching all the news coming down the pike about Bush Admin. domestic surveillance, Lauren’s post seems particularly relevant.

Reader, I married fafblog.

It was the only thing to do, after such postings as:

There’s No “War” in “Warrant”1 (12/17):

So George Bush secretly authorized the NSA to spy on Americans without warrants or judicial oversight. Oh, it violates your civil liberties, oh, it illegally breaks the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, oh, that tape of you and your boyfriend having phone sex has been playing in the NSA break room for a month and a half. Well boo hoo hoo! Do you hear that sound, America? It is the world’s tiniest violin playing just for your civil liberties. You can hear it in excellent quality sound because it has been bugged by the NSA. …

“Oh but Giblets the president’s executive order is illegal” you say. That’s the kind of namby-pamby whining that would have the U.S. follow “international opinion” and “the Geneva conventions” and “U.S. law.”

Fafblog followed up on the no-FISA-needed Executive Order with The King of Freedom (12/23):

…How soon we forget the lessons of September 11th! Faced with a threat unlike any before, America can no longer afford its cumbersome system of unwieldy checks and balances. Instead it must nimbly respond to terror with a single, streamlined, omnipotent executive branch. Instead of waiting for critical domestic spying programs to pass through Congress, where bickering Senators can selfishly subject them to public scrutiny, an efficient White House can put them into practice so quickly the country doesn’t discover them for another four years.

All the usual suspects have begun ringing all the usual alarm bells, calling the president’s new powers unconstitutional or even dictatorial. This, of course, is absurd. There remain numerous checks on the president’s powers, such as God, who may override the president’s veto with a two-thirds vote, and the president himself, who may bring himself to justice should he find himself to have violated his oath of office. Nor have Congress and the courts been rendered powerless, as all three branches of government have vital roles to play: the executive branch to be the president, the legislative branch to support the president, and the judicial branch to tell the president he is constitutional….

Fafblog’s coverage of the war on terror is also must-read-blogging: (World Without a PATRIOT Act, 12/17):

So I’m browsin through my local library checkin out the latest developments in shelving technology when Osama bin Laden jumps outta the card catalogue an hijacks the reference section!

“Oh no!” says me. “Stop him before he misfiles that almanac!”
“Mwa-hahaha, you’re too late!” says the terrorist mastermind escapin into the periodicals. “Now nothing can stop me from researching the history of your hometown’s spicy marmalade festival!”
“He’s in the microfiche,” says the crusty ol librarian. “We’ll never catch im now!”

Oh John Ashcroft, where are you when we need you most!

And see The Central Front in the War on Facts (12/8):

The usual antiwar suspects have been up in arms for well over a week over the military’s planting of covert propaganda in Iraqi newspapers, caterwauling about the undermining of a fundamental tenet of Iraqi democracy. As always, their concerns are wildly misplaced. First, shouldn’t a pretend democracy have a pretend free press? Second, most of these pieces weren’t factually inaccurate, but mere “spin” – such as the article that spun an Iraqi general’s death under torture as death under not-torture. Third, propaganda is merely a weapon. America’s leaders would be foolhardy indeed to refuse a weapon in their arsenal, especially against an adverary as deadly as the truth.

While it may not be the ideal of journalism in a free society, is this planted, pro-military propaganda so different from the anti-military truthaganda published every day in the New York Times? While military propaganda shows a bias towards distortion, obfuscation, and outright lies in the service of the war effort, the baleful face of the Mainstream Media shows a clear bias towards reporting reality – and reality has always been America’s greatest enemy in Iraq.

And the ongoing coverage of the torture?-we-don’t-torture-but-we-need-to-be-able-to-torture-(even-though-we-don’t-torture) story was as good as it gets; most recently with Let a Thousand Bad Apples Bloom (12/17) (“Rest assured, from this day forth, the detainees tortured in American military prisons will only be tortured by accident or happenstance, or by dozens of rogue soldiers acting in simultaneously and of their own accord.”)

And on domestic issues, Fafblog also nailed it with Nature’s Harmonious Money Cycle” (12/8):

So you can’t afford to heat your house and somebody went and cut your Medicaid and food stamps. “Oh no!” you say burnin a spare child for warmth. “Whatever will I do.”

… and righteously chastised us all about dangerous support for the HPV vaccine (God Bless the Plague, 11/17):

God created death and disease to provide a divine disincentive against soul-sullying sin. Can America afford to innoculate its children, insure its poor, and make peace with its neighbors if it means not living in fear of an insane, invisible overseer in the sky who barks at his creation in a series of mad, contradictory myths? Absolutely not. God bless the plague!

In conclusion, I highly recommend daily conjugal visits with fafblog (the worlds only source for fafblog).

Calling Doctor Google

As a former medical librarian I thought this editorial by a medical librarian in the BMJ was fascinating.

First this amazing information:

Within a year of its release Google Scholar has led more visitors to many biomedical journal websites than has PubMed (J Sack, personal communication, 2005).

… which certainly lends credence to the pro-tagging, anti- or indifferent-to-cataloging thinkers.

I was particularly interested to see the table from the BMJ’s web access stats, which lists Google as its number one referrer, by far, in November 2005 (345,756), and Google Scholar as its number two referrer (105,185). PubMed trailed significantly far behind — fourth place was PubMed Medline (14,522) and fifth place was PubMed Central (9,616). Of course, one shouldn’t read too much into this relatively raw access-data. A lot of factors must play into the numbers. Who are these searchers? Medical consumers typing in terms in google, hoping for consumer information? If they end up going to the BMJ, that’s probably more than most of them want to know, at least in an initial search. Or are they physicians realizing google is a shortcut to particular articles? Does this set of referrals include, for instance, academic-affiliated researchers? Many of them probably have access to their own institutional subscriptions to BMJ, and if requests are being routed through a local proxy then how is that reflected in these numbers? Still, anyway you slice it, it’s obvious that Google — or maybe it’s better to describe it as “general search” — is becoming significant for medical research. And Google Scholar is more successful than I’d realized.

And then this cropped up in the editorial, too:

In a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, a New York rheumatologist describes a scene at rounds where a professor asked the presenting fellow to explain how he arrived at his diagnosis.[4] Matter of factly, the reply came: “I entered the salient features into Google, and [the diagnosis] popped right up.” The attending doctor was taken aback by the Google diagnosis. “Are we physicians no longer needed? Is an observer who can accurately select the findings to be entered in a Google search all we need for a diagnosis to appear—as if by magic?”

Ten years ago librarians were all a-twitter about the fear that search engines (Yahoo! and Altavista were the big contendahs then) would displace librarians. Most librarians blustered it out: “Nothing can replace a librarian!” but there was definitely some anxiety in the ranks. Now physicians. Relax, docs. Librarians, doctors, and search engines, all will find their place in the brave new world of infinite search. And it’s important that consumers have access to as much information as possible to critically evaluate and assess all the other info streamed at us daily. For example, since the FDA has deemed it acceptable for drug companies to “inform” us about their wares via millions of dollars of direct-to-consumer advertising, consumers get barraged with info about commercial drugs provided by commercial for-profit entities. In that information environment, it’s vital for consumers to have consumer-directed diagnostic information to assess Big Pharma’s claims. Ultimately it will improve healthcare. What did you think all those consumer health awareness services were about if not, ultimately, this?

PZ Myers speaks for me*

David Klinghoffer @ the National Review is confused, perhaps willfully, about the Kitzmiller decision. He describes the decision thusly:

If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself? After all, many proponents of Darwinian evolution have philosophical beliefs to which Darwin lends support.

Well, see, right there is the problem. If Klinghoffer is wondering about Kitzmiller‘s statement as to religion — a statement which Judge Jones repeatedly said he was not making — then he needs to frame his question correctly. The court did not say that ID is bogus because its theorists have religious beliefs, or because it lends support to its followers’ religious beliefs, as Klinghoffer would have it. Rather, according to the court, ID is bogus science because it is not conducted scientifically and has nothing scientific to say.

Klinghoffer was trying to frame the question in this inaccurate way so that he could then analogize to the atheism of “Darwinists”, implying an unequal favoring of atheistic godless secular humanism on the part of Judge Jones. He thus implies that the examination of the role of religion in this case was somehow inappropriate.**

Since his initial framing of the question is completely inaccurate, his follow-up analogy to “Darwinism” is completely meaningless.

I was going to thoroughly fisk every part of this really irritatingly stupid article, but PZ Myers and What Culture War have already looked into the article. In particular, I urge you to read PZ Myers’ post at all costs. In his post, he effectively rolls his eyes at the specifics of the Klinghoffer article, and then addresses the faith-science question that the Klinghoffer article so badly misconstrued. I really think I am going to print this post out and possibly frame it.

* Non-Bay Area folks may not be aware of the popular Bay Area bumper sticker, “Barbara Lee speaks for me“, which proliferated after she was the only vote against HJ Res 64.

** Okay, I couldn’t entirely resist responding to the specifics in the article. Klinghoffer seems offended that religion was brought up at all. Another instance of irony. “Intelligent design theory” was developed, not by scientists, but by religious adherents who wanted to sneak creationism back into the schools. Creationism was an avowedly religious belief, and teaching it in public schools therefore violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on establishments of religion.

Since plaintiffs alleged that ID proponents were trying to disguise their religious belief as science, the court had to evaluate it to see whether or not it was actual science (no) and if not, was it religion because that would violate the First Amendment. Courts regular evaluate the quality of science in Daubert hearings and voir dires so this is nothing new.

Religion was relevant because if it’s religion then teaching it as fact in public schools violates the First Amendment. In fact, the religious background of ID proponents was scarcely mentioned. Although the backgrounds and beliefs of the witnesses and parties was rarely discussed in the discussion, the court did rely upon statements made by the School Board, the publishers of Of Pandas and People and other relevant figures. Statements by those people expressing an intent to foster religious belief were significant evidence — exactly as they should be in an Establishment Clause case. ID followers’ stated religious beliefs and affiliations were relevant to the following determinations: 1. Evaluating the intent and knowledge of the School Board, for the Lemon test’s purpose prong; 2. Tracking the historical evolution (ahem) of the specific text Of Pandas and People to assess whether or not the text was a religious text presented deceptively to appear nonreligious; 3. Likewise, tracking the scholarly foundation and historical evolution of the “theory” and the phrase “intelligent design”, to determine whether ID truly is a legitimate scientific theory, or whether it is actually a deceptive attempt to portray a particular religious doctrine as science. (The latter, as was obvious to all.)

Intelligent design is a sham theory devised to get around the First Amendment’s prohibition of state establishment of religion, so that some religious adherents might have the opportunity to indoctrinate children in their particular religious belief. What I find interesting is how persons ostensibly dedicated both to the law and to a religion which forbids bearing false witness — such as Phillip E. Johnson, Boalt Professor of Law — rationalize to themselves this elaborate deception. Do they really believe in a science with less support among scientists than, say, psychic abilities and UFOs? Or have they adopted for themselves an ends-justify-the-means philosophy which says that God won’t mind a little lying if it spreads the Gospel? Very strange.

war on us

oh happy day! The war on us is progressing nicely and soon we will have won the war against ourselves. Phones are being tapped willy-nilly and surely some of them will generate some useful information to allow us to be held without trial or access to the courts indefinitely under the president’s powers. The government is cracking down on those enemies of the state, video game retailers.

fafblog: there’s no war in warrant

not fundamentalist hijackers after all

My friend badgerbag was hanging out & making pastry with various kids, including her own, when one of the kids started acting up. There followed this exchange:

Oh and at some point Moomin went, “Besides, Sophie… Jesus says you should be kind and love other people.” WHAAAAAT? I freaked out! What what what? I mean, okay, sure, but… attempted elaborate casualness not fooling anyone as I froze and hissed “oh how INteresting – who told you that?” It turns out that fundamentalist xtians have NOT hijacked my child’s mind but instead Rook had given a stab at explaining what xmas was about. Whew. (But wait, wait, I’m not ready to deal with this level of discussion….)


happy holidays in dover

Happy holidays and merry xmas to rational Christians: Judge Jones (a Bush 43 appointee) has not only found the obvious religious motivation in the Dover School Board’s actions, but also found the obvious religious motivation in the development of the intelligent design curriculum.

[decision available @ MD PA court website and also @ msnbc. News coverage at nyt 11/20; significant commentary at pharyngula and panda’s thumb; commentary roundup @ questionable authority] Additional commentary, added as I come across it: Ann Althouse had a great potential headline for the story: School Board in the Hands of an Angry Judge. Chortle. Timothy Sandefur laid out ten responses to complaints about Kitzmiller‘s legal analysis, authority, etc. Jasen Rosenhouse @ CSICoP offers a point-by-point summary.

This was nothing less than a judicial smackdown. Judge Jones, “out of an abundance of caution and in the exercise of completeness” (p.71), covered all possible arguments for ID as science — and frankly decimated them. Demolished? Destroyed? Devastated? So many verbs from which to choose. My take on the principal takehome points are this (1) ID is religion not science; (2) the Dover School Board intended to offer it as religion; (3) this is an establishment under both the endorsement test and the Lemon test no matter how you read them. I’m highlighting my favorite parts in that order, below the fold.

Continue reading

nyt article on t33n s3xc@ms

This nyt article on teen s3xc@ms raised a lot of interesting issues, not least of which was the role of the NYT reporter(s) in developing the story.

update 3pm 12/20: I see that I wasn’t alone in finding the journalist ethics issues troubling. Jack Shafer @ Slate also raised the issue, and got the reporter to respond. The ensuing dialog sheds a little more light on some of the missing back-story. [link from boingboing; see also sexerati]

best commentary on right-wing frothing about Paul Mirecki

Love this quote on the right-wing frothing about Prof. Mirecki’s email [from The Panda’s Thumb]:

[T]hey hate “Hate Crime” legislation, driven to rabid frothing at the mere mention of “politically correct” language. They are such fierce opponents (they say) of limits to free speech intended particularly to block racist speech; the term “PC” in the mouths of the far right is an epithet. …

However, … we see that a minor slight of the American religious right by an obscure professor has provoked an event of international outrage.

If you don’t already know about the Paul Mirecki Incident, this is the short summary: Mirecki, a University of Kansas professor of Religious Studies, designed a course on “intelligent design as mythology” in response to the brouhaha about intelligent design “theory” in Kansas primary schools. He then sent an email to a closed list, discussing the course, and including this opinionated line:

The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category “mythology.”

and signing the email “Doing my part to piss of [sic] the religious right, Evil Dr. P.”

The religious right were indeed pissed off: Dr. Mirecki was physically assaulted shortly after this incident, and political and religious readers freaked out. (I previously quoted a Kansas State Senator whose response to the Incident was: “We have to set a standard that it’s not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America.”)

update 12/21: PZ Myers didn’t like the general commentary (or lack thereof) on Panda’s Thumb and points instead to evolve thought (more and more) and orcinus. Some quite pointed commentary on PT’s failure to strongly defend someone who wasn’t wholly politically correct on the topic of religion:

The Panda’s Thumb is a great resource for science and focused critiques of creationism, and everyone should keep reading it, but we should also be clear on what it is not. It is not ever going to address the root causes of creationism in our country: the virulent, pathological brands of fundamentalism that are growing in our midst. That would be…rude.

copyright versus writers

“I wish with all my heart that you will be able to publish a new translation.”

Simone de Beauvoir, 1982.

Another example of copyright being used by the copyright owner to control or restrict dissemination of a copyrighted work — regardless of the likely desires of the creator. Ampersand at Alas, a Blog writes about publisher Knopf’s control over Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, citing Sarah Glazer’s editorial, “Lost in Translation”, NYT Aug. 22, 2004. Apparently, Knopf refuses to allow a new French-to-English translation to fix the (apparently) glaring problems with the first translation. This editorial is over a year old, so I just checked as a quick & dirty proxy for a Books in Print search. All the English versions I found still cite to the Knopf translation (copyright renewed in 1980).

Ann Bartow’s commentary on Sivacracy includes this very pointed observation:

Once again copyright law is preventing rather than incentivizing the creation and distribution of important ideas and expression.

When the government brings the force of law to bear to prevent a person from using particular words or images to communicate, and/or to prevent her from distributing or reading certain words, to some of us that seems a lot like censorship. Copyright laws are a restraint on speech, but one that is tolerated by the First Amendment because the copyright system is supposed to incentivize the creation and distribution of useful, creative works. That’s not what is happening here.

Like most authors, Simone de Beauvoir probably had to capitulate to every demand made by her publisher just to see her book in print. Copyright laws could be re-written to at least slightly improve the balance of power between authors and publishers, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

update 12/21: Alas, a Blog has heard a rumor that Knopf may have agreed to a new translation, and links to another article on the issue.

changed hosts!

I’ve changed hosts for this website & blog, to dreamhost. We’ll see how it goes. It can’t be any worse than my former server, with its outsourced-to-a-FSU* tech support and its 90% uptime.

Already I like the way dreamhost sets up administration for multiple domains. It seems very logical & straightforward to me. It’s open source (linux/apache) based software. Shell access, running scripts, and the like, all seem pretty straightforward. The bells and whistles are also available.

Tech support is not outsourced — which I appreciate both practically and politically.

I also like the option for referral discounts. I’m looking into setting it up such that referral discounts end up getting (at least partially) donated to public interest tech/IP groups (EFF, Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, EPIC, public interest law clinics, and the like). Theoretically, anyway, I should be able to split the discount between people who want to join Dreamhost, the charities, and other purposes (supporting the project’s domain, for instance).

So so far, so good.

There may yet be little things not working that were working previously on the websites or the blog — for instance I discovered that some of the image files for this blog for some reason didn’t transfer correctly. That’s fixed now, but I anticipate a few other minor problems migrating. If anybody sees something not working the way it should be sure to let me know.

update 12/18 3:30 pm Referral codes. Okay, I *think* I have this figured out. If you use this link to go to dreamhost and then sign up, you are doing so using rewards.cgi?lquilter, which will then “credit” my account with a referral if you sign up. The referral is $97.00. Likewise, if you just go to dreamhost and sign up, and during the signup process list lquilter or as your referrer, then I get the $97 referral credit.

Alternatively, I have now created a discount referral code that does what I was looking for when I was trying to sign up. This code, DERIVATIVESWORK, gives the new sign-up 50% of the total available discount. The other 50% is credited to me, and I will donate half of it (25% of the total available discount) to public interest tech/IP groups. My first inclination is to donate in $100 batches to EFF, Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, EPIC, Samuelson Law Technology & Public Policy Clinic (Boalt Hall UC Berkeley) in that order. The other 25% I’ll use to support this blog. If anything comes in beyond the server costs of this blog I’ll probably funnel them back into donations. (But I reserve the right to change my mind about that.) Whatever I do I’ll post it publicly on this blog with an accounting, and if any funds actually come through this system, then I’ll account for them publicly as well. Something for everyone that way, I guess.

The discount in case one is curious is: $25 discount (plus $25 referral credit that I will split up) on a monthly L1 plan, $30 discount (plus $30 referral credit that I will split up) on a monthly L2 plan, $40 discount (plus $40 referral credit that I will split up) on a monthly L3 plan, and $48.50 discount (plus $48.50 referral credit that I will split up) on all the other plans (yearly, two-year, and monthly L4 plans).

So we’ll see what happens!

update 2006/11/1: donations report

* FSU = former Soviet Union republic

Nintendo Threatens Cancer Researchers

aka “Pokémon Producers Pissed”

Pier Paolo Pandolfi of Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has apparently received a trademark cease & desist from the Pokémon company (Nintendo) after cancer-related research on the Pokemon gene — which Pandolfi’s lab named four years ago, in 2001 — received headlines like “Pokemon Causes Cancer”. Sloan-Kettering has knuckled under, now calling the gene Zbtb7. See Nature, v. 438 no. 7070 (15 Dec. 2005) [html and pdf] (subscription access may be required).

Thumbnail of Nature article on Pokemon, with photo absent due to intellectual property concerns

Nature editors with a sense of humor?
Maybe. And some likely confusion
between trademark & copyright.

I would love to see that cease and desist letter. I’m sure they claimed both trademark infringement and dilution, and the kitchen sink, but come on. Trademark infringement is really a wash: consumer confusion between a Japanese video game and a cancer-causing gene? I’d like to see them try to prove that one in court.

Trademark dilution initially sounds like a stronger claim. Let’s just grant that “Pokémon” is “famous”. Dilution requires first of all the defendant’s “commercial use in commerce”. 115 U.S.C. 1125(c). I’d like to see the plaintiffs try to prove this one, too: that Professor Pandolfi’s pioneering medical research at a nonprofit cancer center is a “commercial use in commerce”.

After they passed that hurdle, the Pokémon plaintiffs would then have to prove actual blurring or tarnishment. Id.; Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue, Inc., 537 U.S. 418 (2003). “Blurring” involves the “whittling away” of distinctiveness caused by use of the mark on even dissimilar products. It seems unlikely but not completely impossible that the use of the word “Pokemon” to name a gene discussed largely by scientists and occasionally in the scientific press could “whittle away” at the distinctiveness of a video game chiefly adored by 10-year-olds. That would have to be actual blurring, though, so bring on the surveys of 10-year-olds. Prepubescents, that is, preferably evaluated both pre- and post-exposure to that pernicious purveyor of Pokemon pandemonium, Professor Pandolfi.

So what about tarnishment? I presume that Nintendo was most concerned about tarnishment, since the C&D notices apparently went out only after bloggers & news reporters styled their stories “Pokemon causes cancer”. “Tarnishment” is a more interesting claim than blurring, at least to me — perhaps just because I have fantasies of seeing a brilliant oral argument explaining the science: Plaintiffs: The defendants’ association of our perfectly upstanding product with a cancer-causing gene is unsavory! Defendants: Your Honor, plaintiffs clearly lack any understanding of science. Genes may have multiple functions. “Good” or “bad” is a matter of context. That which causes cancer in one instance is also necessary for cellular function …. Etc. Eric Rothschild could do it, since by all accounts he did a bang-up job in Kitzmiller. (1)

And once again, it has to be actual tarnishment, not potential: Perhaps Nintendo could show its profits were imperilled by potential customers’ unsavory associations of computer games and cancer, but Nintendo merely being petrified of unsavory connotations of one application of a gene shouldn’t suffice.

So the claims look pretty paltry to me. And Nintendo took its time in raising them, too. Pokemon (the gene) has been in the literature since at least 2002, and Nature reported that it had been used in this way as early as 2001. (2) This doesn’t seem like punctual policing to me.

You’d think Nintendo would have been more upset by, say, studies which actually used the animated TV show “Pokémon” to study inducement of epileptic seizures — a phenomenon that was actually named “Pokemon phenomenon”. See, e.g., Fisher et al 2005; Furusho et al 2002. Or one might have expected that Nintendo would have seen that discretion was the better part of valor in this instance, and decided not to risk recalling media attention to the Pokemon-medical connection. And why didn’t their PR people chime in on this one? Suppose Nintendo actually made good on its threats; can’t you see the headlines? Video game company sues cancer research institute? Not the best PR in the world.

For more info, see Pokémon the game [wikipedia and official site, or, hey, contact them to ask your questions directly]. Read about the pokemon gene at wikipedia or search pubmed for pokemon.

And btw — please pardon the persistent placement of “p” in this post. I couldn’t help myself.

update 12/20: I see that c|net and boingboing are now on the story.

(1) For some reason the website of Eric Rothschild’s firm is down as I write/update this post. I can’t help but suspect foul play on the part of angered creationists.

(2) I tried to get a history of the name from Flynome, which has the history and source of various amusing fly gene names. (I’ve blogged it before.) But alas Flynome does not include Pokemon. It doesn’t have Sonic Hedgehog, either, another videogame/gene name, this one owned by Sony who has chosen wisely to remain silent on this potential ‘dilution’. Flynome does include ken and barbie whose litigious TM-owner Mattel has, like Sony, somehow managed to refrain from temptation in this instance.

radical militant librarians

One internal F.B.I. message, sent in October 2003, criticized the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review at the Justice Department, which reviews and approves terrorist warrants, as regularly blocking requests from the F.B.I. to use a section of the antiterrorism law that gave the bureau broader authority to demand records from institutions like banks, Internet providers and libraries.

“While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR’s failure to let us use the tools given to us,” read the e-mail message, which was sent by an unidentified F.B.I. official. “This should be an OIPR priority!!!”

[seen on Riba Rambles]

the death penalty & tookie williams

A human being who was doing valuable work, and helping to make the world better, was killed in San Quentin, California, just after midnight, Tuesday December 13. [See for details of Mr. Williams’ anti-gang and anti-violence work.] “I could find no justification for granting clemency.” [Schwarzenegger Statement following Clemency Decision, 2005/12/12.] Tookie Williams was killed because he continued to protest his innocence. “Seven percent of those whose sentences were overturned between 1973 and 1995 have been found innocent.” [“Capital Punishment in the United States”, Wikipedia (12/13).] Tookie Williams was killed because Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has earned millions depicting various bloody and violent assaults, questioned the “efficacy of Williams’ [anti-violence] message”: “[T]he continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message.” [Schwarzenegger Statement of Decision on Request for Clemency by Stanley Williams, p. 4.] Most importantly, perhaps, Tookie Williams was killed because it is politically expedient for politicians to be “tough on crime”. “Even if you assume he made the decision without political motivations, the political impact or ramifications certainly worked in his favor.” [Dan Schnur, Republican strategist, quoted in the Washington Post.]

Throughout Africa, Asia, and the United States, people face death at the hands of their own government. [Capital Punishment, Wikipedia (12/13).] Since 1976, the United States alone has put to death over a thousand people. The application of the death penalty is significantly affected by race and geography. Roughly 780 people (78% of the executions) have been killed in southern states comprising approximately a third of the United States popoulation (Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee). More than one-third of those executed in the United States since 1976 have been African-American. Most (perhaps 80%) of death penalty cases involve a white victim. As of July, 2005, over 3400 people are currently on death row in the United States. [“Capital Punishment in the United States”, Wikipedia (12/13).]

One such person is Cory Maye, a black man sentenced to death in Mississippi, for killing a white cop who entered his home after midnight while Maye and his toddler were sleeping. You can read more about Cory Maye’s case at the Agitator. And you can read more about the three thousand other death penalty cases in the US at these sites:

Amnesty International USA: Abolish the Death Penalty.
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Moratorium Project (American Bar Association)
ACLU: on the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Information Center

a few choice ID-related quotes

Eric Rothschild, representing the Kitzmiller plaintiffs, in Plaintiffs’ Response to Defendants’ Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law:

Defendants spend 898 paragraphs of proposed factual findings and 52 proposed legal conclusions avoiding the mountain of inconvenient evidence demonstrating that the Dover Area School Board’s change to the biology curriculum was done for religious reasons, and that intelligent design is inherently religious. At bottom, their defense depends on three unsustainable contentions: (1) It doesn’t matter that intelligent design’s designers describe their movement as a religious one. (2) It doesn’t matter what the Board members said about creationism or religion generally because intelligent design is not religious. And therefore (3) this Court should not base its decision in this case on the types of evidence that were dispositive in Edwards and McLean. But defendants’ position cannot be squared with either the evidence or the Supreme Court’s and the Third Circuit’s settled Establishment Clause jurisprudence. For the record is clear that intelligent design is a religious view; that defendants latched onto it because they wanted to impart that religious view to Dover’s ninth-graders; and that defendants succeeded in their goal. No reasonable observer could draw any other conclusions.

and — this is too good, I have to include it:

On the hotly contested issue whether board members who eventually voted for the change to the biology curriculum were discussing creationism at the June 2004 board meetings, defendants again suggest facts that can co-exist only in parallel universes. Defendants admit that William Buckingham discussed creationism at the June board meetings (Defs.’ FF 244, 267), but then insist that “one of the inaccuracies in the press reporting on board meetings was that the reporters were referring to ID as creationism.” Defs.’ FF 248. While arguments can exist in the alternative, facts cannot. Either the Board was promoting creationism at the June meetings (and the reporters described events correctly) or it was not. The evidence – and defendants’ admissions in paragraphs 244 and 267 – make clear which account is correct.

(Emphasis added. The referenced Defendants’ Factual Findings and other post-trial docs available online, courtesy NCSE.)

William Dembski, quoted by Panda’s Thumb (12/5):

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But …

Paul Mirecki, quoted in God, Science, and the Kooky Kansans Who Love Them Both! (12/5):

You’ll often hear fundamentalists say, ‘Science is a religion, Darwin is the high priest, and you have to have faith to believe in evolution.’ This is just nonsense. I don’t believe in evolution. I accept the findings of scientists. There’s a big difference between the two.

Kansas State Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, quoted in Lawrence Journal-World (11/24):

We have to set a standard that it’s not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America.

monday schizophrenic cat painting

Fascinating. A pictorial history of an artist’s descent into schizophrenia. Louis Wain, 1860-1939, effects of late onset schizophrenia on cat drawings. Part of a larger piece on schizophrenia. [link from miscellaneous heathen] More info at wikipedia.

The early paintings during the onset of Mr. Wain’s schizophrenia reminded me of some of the migraine paintings we had at the Exploratorium — jaggedy and painful.




stuff i’ve been reading – information edition

  • The sad story of PearLyrics is being widely reposted [See alandwilliams, sideshow, boingboing.] I’m just sorry that I didn’t hear about it before the designer responded to the C&D by taking down the code.

  • Dan Gillmore (12/3) on telcos attacking the open web: basically, carriers would like to become editors or distributors, content selectors, rather than mere carriers ….

  • Washington Post is letting itself be remixed. I may have to move the Post to the top of my MSM queue (ahead of the NYT).

  • The Royal Society is kvetching about PLOS & open science. [link via BoingBoing & Open Access News]

  • Doc Searls has written “Saving the Net”, discussing, among other things, the “intellectual property” metaphor. [link via boingboing]


a variety of exciting carnivals to read:

for more … blog carnival index and the über carnival site