The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Shooting the moon...again...

Sure, I've posted photos of the moon before, but it never gets old to me:

Well, all right, at 4½ billion years it is old to me, but you know what I meant.

On a side note, I just Googled "age of the moon" and discovered that many of the top results are from outside the reality-based community. For example, the second item on my results came from the Institute for Creation Research ("Biblical. Accurate. Certain."), in which one Thomas G. Barnes, D.Sc., begins with the assertion: "It takes but one proof of a young age for the moon or the earth to completely refute the doctrine of evolution." If you're a science teacher, you might want to have a look at this article, because it could be a great way to introduce kids to the meanings of theory, hypothesis, and fallacy.

And could someone please tell me what the credential "D.Sc." purports to be?

Church of Kopimism

To counter SOPA, a Swedish group has gotten official recognition as a religion on the idea of Holy Information:

The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.

"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.

I can't wait to see which angels help them decipher their silicon tablets...

EFF represents defendants in time zone case

Reader Curtis Manwaring alerted me this morning to movement in the copyright infringement case against Arthur David Olson, late of the Posix time zone database. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up Olson's (and Paul Eggerts') defense, and yesterday threatened a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff's attorney if they don't withdraw the case within 21 days:

If there were ever a pleading that invited Rule 11 sanctions, Plaintiff Astrolabe, Inc.'s Complaint is it. ... Astrolabe's frivolous and unfounded Complaint has already caused harm, and not only to Mr. Olson and Dr. Eggert. ... Perhaps realizing the folly of filing such a Complaint, Astrolabe has not yet served Defendants. Yet Astrolabe refuses to voluntarily dismiss its baseless Complaint, and thus the threat of full-blown copyright litigation looms, to the detriment of Defendants and the public interest in obtaining accurate time zone information on the Internet.

Astrolabe's Complaint illustrates the harm that frivolous claims of copyright infringement can cause to a public, collaboratively maintained factual resource. Under Rule 11, the Court should remedy this abuse of the legal system and deter future abuses by striking the Complaint and awarding defendants their costs and attorney fees.

I predicted this motion back in October. I can't wait to see how Astrolabe and their attorney respond.

No, really, it's a bad analogy

Chicago's Francis Cardinal George, the highest-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, apparently thinks gays are like murderous racists:

George’s initial comments came in connection with a controversy over whether next summer’s gay pride parade would interrupt morning services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Lakeview neighborhood.

“Organizers (of the pride parade) invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church,” the cardinal said in a statement issued Tuesday. “One such organization is the Ku Klux Klan which, well into the 1940s, paraded through American cities not only to interfere with Catholic worship but also to demonstrate that Catholics stand outside of the American consensus. It is not a precedent anyone should want to emulate.”

Cardinal, I think you're outside of the American consensus in so many ways, it really doesn't take much to demonstrate this point. However, given the KKK's history of murder, thuggery, intimidation, voter suppression, and did I mention murder?, and the Gay Pride movement's history of being murdered, being beaten in the streets, being intimidated, and did I mention being murdered?, perhaps you want to change the comparison. In fact, opposition to gay rights, murder, intimidation, and so on, is a common theme in Catholic Church history and...well...I think you can see where this is going.

Any comment from the Church?

Strange moments in sponsorship

So I thought I'd take another look at Sebastian Gutierrez' film Girl Walks Into a Bar the other day. But before the film started I saw this:

Not knowing what to make of these options, I chose the two minutes of proselytizing and went to make my lunch. When I got back, the movie was on its way without interruptions, as promised.

What the LDS church hopes to accomplish through this PR campaign escapes me for the moment.

Actually, we *are* in foxholes

Via Sullivan, the L.A. Times reports that atheists are moving toward official recognition in the U.S. military:

Religion — specifically Christianity — is embedded in military culture. The Chaplain Corps traces its origins to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Until the 1970s, the service academies required cadets to attend chapel services. Nightly prayers still are broadcast throughout Navy ships at sea. ... [N]onbelievers describe themselves as a minority that is often isolated and sometimes closeted.

In practical terms, [Army Capt. Ryan] Jean says, lay-leader status would make it easier for atheists at Ft. Meade to get access to facilities and services on the base. But he says recognition would carry a larger message.

Since a majority of Americans practice religion, it follows that a majority of the military do as well. But the proportion of people who don't, and of military personnel who don't, may be larger than the proportion of people who practice any single religion. They deserve the same mental-health services that military chaplains provide to religionists.

Let's not forget: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I daresay if Congress can't, neither can the armed services.

Astrolabe responds

This morning The Daily Parker received a press release from Gary Christen, responding to my analyses of their lawsuit against the guys who maintain the Posix time zone database (here, here, and here).

Unfortunately for Christen, Astrolabe's response fails to rebut my central assertions. I said, essentially, they have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted by a Federal court (or, as one of my colleagues who actually practices law suggested, their complaint is actionable in itself). Their response doesn't make their original claim any stronger.

Christen seems at pains to make non-technical people feel better about the alarm we technical people raised regarding the likely effects of shutting down the tzinfo project. "Astrolabe has now done a careful reading of ... the various industry publications that broke this story on October 7," Christen claims, but if so it was a reading without comprehension. We technical folks got over our panic in about thirty seconds, in favor of outrage and scorn. And with their detailed, bullet-pointed release, Astrolabe systematically reinforces this writer's outrage and scorn.

Taking each of Christen's points in turn:

1. Astrolabe’s lawsuit is in no way intended to interfere with compilation of current time-zone information maintained by Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, or any other persons.

Read in the light most favoring the plaintiff, this is irrelevant. Read in the light of my office, it's false. Astrolabe's intent is irrelevant in any case; the tzinfo database contains historical and prospective time zone data because computers on occasion need to represent times and dates in the past. For that, and other technical reasons I'll get into in another post, "past" and "future" data can't be separated. Shutting down the tzinfo project shuts down the whole thing.

2. The aim of Astrolabe’s suit is only to enforce copyright protection for materials regarding historical time data prior to 2000. This does not affect current time-setting on computers, and it has little or no effect on the Unix computing world.

Taking the second sentence, time-setting isn't the issue; time display is; and if their suit survives a motion to dismiss (big "if"), it could have a crippling effect on time displays in the U.S. But the first sentence demonstrates nicely the fallacy of petitio principii (begging the question) concerning who owns the material in the first place.

3. The fact is that the historical time zone data compiled by ACS is protected by registered copyrights, first on its publication in book form as the American Atlas and the International Atlas, and later in electronic form as the ACS PC Atlas.

Gary, the data is not protected by copyright. Of course the books and the software are protected, which no one disputes. But the data—Gary, can't you understand the difference?

Let me try to help. Let's say the book has the sentence "In 1985, the U.S. passed a law that moved the first day of Daylight Saving Time from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday." The tzinfo database distills from that sentence the following entry: "Rule US 1987 2006 - Apr Sun>=1 2:00 1:00 D". Does the database entry look, maybe, a little different? Can you start to see how the fact and its expression have different forms? No? Sigh.

The question of whether the material is “copyrightable”: has already been decided by the U.S. Copyright Office in the affirmative.

NO, NO, NO, you crashing ignoramus. Wow, either you got astoundingly bad legal advice, or ignored the advice you got.

The Copyright Office does not decide whether a work presented for registration is protected; it simply registers the work. All creative works have presumptive copyright protection at the time of creation. Copyright registration provides legal benefits in the event of infringement. But the Copyright Office makes no determinations at all on the validity of the copyright claim.

But "the material" in the tzinfo database is not subject to copyright protection, as Judge O'Toole is going to make clear to you in short order.

4. Why is the material considered copyrightable? Many hold the mistaken belief that all databases are mere compilations of fact, and are therefore not subject to copyright. However, compiling the ACS database went far beyond gathering official government data. In 20th-century America, particularly in the Midwest, time standards were a chaotic patchwork of not only state and local ordinances, but even of different time observances in the same jurisdiction.

Gary, the information expressed in the tzinfo database "is...considered copyrightable" only by Astrolabe, not, in fact, by Title 17, U.S. Code. And as your attorney should have told you, it doesn't matter whether the authors crossed fields of broken glass barefoot and rinsed the blood off with lemon juice in an effort to find the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and time zones. Once the answer is out there, the facts are public domain. I can tell everyone I want that the answer is 42, and neither you nor the restless ghost of Douglas Adams can make a penny off me saying so.

5. Why did the ACS compilers bother to undertake this effort?

Having moved from petitio principii we move now to argumentum ad misericordiam, an argument to pity. No one cares whether you are curing cancer, leading us to eternal salvation, or as you suggested in your press release, you guys "are money-seeking parasites on society," all that matters right now is the nature of the material you claim to own.

6. Why is Astrolabe suing to defend this copyright? ... Astrolabe inherited the obligation to pay royalties on the Atlas to Michelsen’s widow and to the other principal compilers, who are now at retirement-age.

Oh my heavens, save the widows and orphans! It's irrelevant to your lawsuit, but it does fill me with emotion. Unfortunately, the emotion is disgust.

You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things, this lawsuit reduces the market for your book. The tzinfo database not only exhorts people to buy the books (thus creating the onerous obligation for you to give a few of your hard-inherited dollars back to the family of the guy who wrote them) but gives expression to the data the books contain such that the entire world can benefit from it. Given that computer software engineers, being logical sorts, generally avoid bunkum, the tzinfo database creates a market for the books that would never have otherwise heard of them.

Contrary to the accusations that it is trolling for dollars, it is not filing this suit in pursuit of vast amounts of cash. In the astrology world, there are no vast amounts of cash. The suit was filed in order to make Astrolabe’s concerns known to Mssrs. Olson and Eggert having not received a satisfactory reply to earlier phone calls and letters. Astrolabe has no wish to cripple the database on which Unix, Linux, Java and other computing depends.

Obviously you're not interested in money, because you would have named the U.S. government and the University of California as defendants if you were. (By the way, you need a new lawyer, or you need to listen to the one you have. Since Olson and Eggert maintained the tzinfo database in their official capacities as employees of those institutions, their employers will be joined in the suit eventually, and now you're up against a lot of really good attorneys. Good luck.)

But wait—you filed a Federal lawsuit to make a point? Because Olson and Eggert ignored your calls as any reasonable person would when some crank claims ownership of historical facts? And didn't you write earlier—right there, in the first bullet point—that you "in no way intended to interfere with compilation of current time-zone information maintained by Mssrs. Olson and Eggert?"

Finally, your conclusion:

In filing this suit, Astrolabe has touched the hot buttons on a number of highly emotional issues. One issue is the long-held right of people to receive money for their labors vs. the newer values of open sourcing, wiki and the other forms of the free information exchange that have made the internet so great.

No, you've touched on a well-settled legal issue. The people who labored on the work you're attacking didn't ask for compensation; they donated their time and efforts to the tzinfo project. Also, you, Gary, didn't provide any labor at all. You bought the rights at a bankruptcy sale. Think on what that says about your concerns for the widows and orphans, not to mention your noble purpose in filing this suit. Will you give all the cash flows from the sale of the ACS books directly to the creator's estate? No? Why not?

Another is the clash of paradigms between a mechanistic one unfriendly to astrology and a newer (and older) one that recognizes that the universe is far more mysterious than we thought.

The only reason people think it at all interesting you lot are astrologers is simply that it suggests you refuse to accept evidence as a way of understanding the world. If you want to live in your demon-haunted world and fleece people with similar beliefs, that's your right as Americans.

But filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court inserts you into the reality-based community in ways I don't think you understand. Preach ignorance all you want; just not in Federal court.

Finally, I have to call out for special derision this bit:

[I]n answer to those whose outrage is increased by the fact that astrologers are the plaintiffs, we can only say that these detractors are uninformed. Uncritical recipients of the opinions of those who are higher in status than they are, they have obviously never experienced the power of astrology for themselves. Why astrology works is still a mystery, but as the prevailing paradigm morphs from 19th-century mechanism into one that has to embrace all the new things we are finding out about the universe, perhaps we will soon have a plausible explanation. Anyway, to those who know that astrology is bunkum and its practitioners are money-seeking parasites on society, all we can say is try to be a bit humbler and accept that the universe is far more mysterious than you imagine.

We aren't pissed at you because you're astrologers; we're pissed at you because you're stupid. Speaking only for myself, precisely my ability to think critically and my refusal to accept extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence (from anyone regardless of status) lead me to conclude that this lawsuit is the work of children, who have neither the comprehension, the logic, nor the humility to realize their error in misusing the legal process in their tantrum. I don't wish you harm; I don't care whether your business succeeds or fails; but I do wish upon you and your attorney a Rule 11 dismissal with sanctions so harsh they're recorded in the stars for generations to come.

About this blog (v. 4.1.6)

I'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 5-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in February, but some things have changed. In the interest of enlightened laziness I'm starting with the most powerful keystroke combination in the universe: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

Twice. Thus, the "point one" in the title.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until a few months ago when I got the first digital camera I've ever had that rivals a film camera. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than ten years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago, the greatest city in North America, and the other ones I visit whenever I can.

I've deprecated the Software category, but only because I don't post much about it here. That said, I write a lot of software. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got about 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Another, non-trivial point. Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed, so many people reading this may think I'm just posting notes on Facebook. Facebook's lawyers would like you to believe this, too. Now, I've reconnected with tons of old friends and classmates through Facebook, I play Scrabble on Facebook, and I eagerly read every advertisement that appears next to its relevant content. But Facebook's terms of use assert ownership of everything that appears on their site, regardless of prior claims, which contravenes four centuries of law.

Everything that shows up on my Facebook profile gets published on The Daily Paker first, and I own the copyrights to all of it (unless otherwise disclosed). I publish the blog's text under a Creative Commons attribution-nonderivative-noncommercial license; republication is usually OK for non-commercial purposes, as long as you don't change what I write and you attribute it to me. My photos, however, are published under strict copyright, with no republication license, even if I upload them to other public websites. If you want to republish one of my photos, just let me know and we'll work something out.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

First amendment or road safety?

Via Sullivan, a report that members of an Amish sect in Kentucky have gone to jail over orange triangles on their buggies:

The orange triangles are required on all slow-moving vehicles, according to Kentucky state law.

Nine me

n in the western part of the state have refused to use them. They belong to the Old Order Swartzentruber Amish.

According to court documents, this sect follows a strict code of conduct, called Ordnung, which "regulates everything from hairstyle and dress to education and transportation." They believe that displays of "loud" colors should be avoided, along with the use of "worldly symbols." Swartzentruber Amish believe such symbols indicate the user no longer trusts fully in God.

The Swartzentruber Amish use reflective tape, but refuse to use the orange triangle.

[A friend of the men] says there is another problem with the orange triangle for the Swartzentruber Amish. The triangle is a symbol of the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Swartzentruber Amish believe in the unity of God, says Via, which motivates their refusal to use the symbol, in addition to the other reasons.

But...jail? Well, yes:

After the appeal of their 2008 conviction was denied, Menno Zook, Danny Byler, Mose Yoder, Levi Hotetler, David Zook and Eli Zook refused to pay the small fines associated with their conviction. All six are currently serving sentences ranging from three to 10 days in the Graves County Jail, according to the jail's website.

So, Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering? Exactly. Does the first amendment extend to preventing the government fining people for not putting orange triangles on their horse-drawn buggies? As an academic question, I find this fascinating. As a practical matter, I think the state pursuing this is ridiculous. But as a philosophical matter, I say render unto Caesar: if you want to use roads provided by the state, accept the rules that come with it.

Thoughts?

God's blog

From the New Yorker:

UPDATE: Pretty pleased with what I’ve come up with in just six days. Going to take tomorrow off. Feel free to check out what I’ve done so far. Suggestions and criticism (constructive, please!) more than welcome. God out.

COMMENTS (24)

Beta version was better. I thought the Adam-Steve dynamic was much more compelling than the Adam-Eve work-around You finally settled on.

Adam was obviously created somewhere else and then just put here. So, until I see some paperwork proving otherwise, I question the legitimacy of his dominion over any of this.

Heh.