The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Chicago's <i>foie gras</i> ban

Letter to the Chicago Tribune:

The August 24th editorial on the Chicago City Council implies that the Council's recent actions, including its enacting a ban on the sale of foie gras, are paternalistic: the Council is "meddlin'," a "bossy governess," a bunch of "scolds"; its decisions are "petty intrusions in people's lives."

All of those words and phrases describe paternalistic actions; that is, actions whose purpose is to save people from themselves. The foie gras ban is intended to save geese from people. The distinction is clear as day, yet opponents of the ban keep missing it.

—Guest blogger Anne

The point of terrorism

Bruce Schneier reminds everyone how we can really defeat the terrorists:

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.
And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.
The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.

The President's Diary

As channeled through American Prospect columnist Julian Sanchez:

August 11: My anger at The New York Times subsides somewhat as I skim Foucault and Sartre. Surveillance serves its disciplinary function only if the populace is conscious of it. And if Americans aren't wrenched from being-pour-soi to being-en-soi (at least in relation to an observer who is Other) by the objectifying gaze of the state—well, then the terrorists have won.

Read more.

Judge takes away our DVR

A Federal judge has ordered Dish Network to disable almost all of its customers' digital video recorders after parent company EchoStar Communications lost a patent-infringement suit brought by TiVo:

Thursday's ruling from U.S. District Judge David Folsom in Marshall, Texas, demands that within 30 days, EchoStar must basically render useless all but 192,708 of the DVR units it has deployed.
The decision comes four months after a jury ruled that EchoStar should pay TiVo $73.9 million because it willfully infringed TiVo patents that allow the digital storage of TV programming.

Crap. This could be inconvenient. All those Lost episodes we've saved could be...um...yeah.

Update, 3:43 pm CDT (20:43 UTC): The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington has granted a temporary stay of injunction to give Dish Networks time to work something out with TiVo. (I couldn't find the actual order online.) So we get to keep our DVR for the time being.

Inner Drive will be happy to help

The FBI spent $170 million on broken software, which it has since scrapped. Now it's planning to spend $450 million on, one hopes, working software:

Because of an open-ended contract with few safeguards, [San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.] reaped more than $100 million as the project became bigger and more complicated, even though its software never worked properly. The company continued to meet the bureau's requests, accepting payments despite clear signs that the FBI's approach to the project was badly flawed, according to people who were involved in the project or later reviewed it for the government.
David Kay, a former SAIC senior vice president who did not work on the program but closely watched its development, said the company knew the FBI's plans were going awry but did not insist on changes because the bureau continued to pay the bills as the work piled up.
Along the way, the FBI made a fateful choice: It wanted SAIC to build the new software system from scratch rather than modifying commercially available, off-the-shelf software. Later, the company would say the FBI made that decision independently; FBI officials countered that SAIC pushed them into it.

Upton Sinclair's wisdom notwithstanding, consultants have an obligation to inform clients about problems before they become too large to solve. Consultants also have an obligation to make appropriate build-or-buy recommendations to clients; in this case, if SAIC made such recommendations, there doesn't seem to be any evidence.

On the other hand, the Post article suggests the FBI had almost no clue what they were doing, bolstering SAIC's claims that they told them so.

Still, even assuming the best possible facts in SAIC's favor, they should have done the right thing, whatever that "right thing" was at any point in the relationship. Like, for example, testing the software, even if the FBI didn't think testing was important.

When a project like that blows up, everyone looks bad. Sometimes the consultant just has to walk away before that happens.

At least we're not in last place

Only Turkey lags behind the U.S. in the proportion of people who believe the well-established fact that humans decended from apes:

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."
Miller's report makes for grim reading for adherents of evolutionary theory. Even though the average American has more years of education than when Miller began his surveys 20 years ago, the percentage of people in the country who accept the idea of evolution has declined from 45 in 1985 to 40 in 2005 (Science, vol 313, p 765). That's despite a series of widely publicised advances in genetics, including genetic sequencing, which shows strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice. "We don't seem to be going in the right direction," Miller says.

Approximately the same number of Americans accept evolution as who don't, but 10% aren't sure either way. In Turkey, more than half reject the theory.

Gotta love the fundies.

Plutons?

I'm actually enjoying the International Astronomical Union's discussions about what, actually, is a planet:

The part of "IAU Resolution 5 for GA-XXVI" that describes the planet definition, states: "A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet." Member of the Planet Definition Committee, Richard Binzel says: "Our goal was to find a scientific basis for a new definition of planet and we chose gravity as the determining factor. Nature decides whether or not an object is a planet."
The IAU draft Resolution also defines a new category of planet for official use: "pluton". Plutons are distinguished from classical planets in that they reside in orbits around the Sun that take longer than 200 years to complete (i.e. they orbit beyond Neptune). Plutons typically have orbits that are highly tilted with respect to the classical planets (technically referred to as a large orbital inclination). Plutons also typically have orbits that are far from being perfectly circular (technically referred to as having a large orbital eccentricity). All of these distinguishing characteristics for plutons are scientifically interesting in that they suggest a different origin from the classical planets.

By this definition the solar system has 12 planets, including Ceres, Charon, and UB313 (which one suspects will soon get a "real" name).

85 days, 15 hours and 50 minutes

The hypothesis that the Bush Administration (891 days, 3 hours and 50 minutes left) pumps up the volume on terrorism close to an election just got more evidence:

NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

So all you people who had to throw out your expensive cologne this past week? You might want to write your congressman.

McKinney, Lieberman, DeLay...don't let the door hit you

It looks like the Democrats will hold the Georgia 4th after all: Rep. Cynthia McKinney lost her primary against challenger Hank Johnson. McKinney has found herself in the news more often for her antics than for her legislation, as in her recent altercation with a Capitol Police officer.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman also lost against challenger Ned Lamont. Lieberman has supported the war and President Bush (895 days, 4 hours) more often than anyone else in the party—and more often than some Republicans as well. He now plans to run as an independent (of what, I wonder?) against Lamont and the nearly-anonymous guy the GOP put on the ballot as an afterthought.

The Lieberman campaigned turned silly Monday night when the Lieberman Website went down. Lieberman's people blame hackers; another story is more probable:

Lieberman's camp, whose candidate has since conceded the primary election to challenger Ned Lamont, charged Monday that the Lamont campaign was responsible for alleged cyberattacks which they said brought down their primary web site and email services. Such "dirty politics" were "a staple" of its operations, asserted Lieberman campaign manager Sean Smith. Later, Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein admitted to TPM's Greg Sargent that Lieberman's staff had no evidence Lamont's campaign was behind the alleged attacks.

The general election is in less than 90 days. With McKinney and Lieberman no longer running as Democrats, I think our chances of holding both seats just improved. Add to that Tom DeLay's and Bob Ney's (R-OH) troubles, and we might—just might—win the House this year.