Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Other than humans, that is...

From the London Times Online:
...Cat and dog owners were urged to stay calm yesterday after news that a cat in Germany had become the first in a species other than birds to get infected by H5N1 flu virus in Europe...

Umm, the first in a species other than birds? What about humans?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tribalism and the Trouble in Africa

Reach Upward, in a comment on a blog post at Slam Smith, linked to an amazing article. The article by "Theodore Dalrymple" explores why Africa has had so much trouble with corruption. It is an article that will take a while to digest. We get the argument from Dalrymple (the pen name for Anthony Daniels... but that name was already taken by C-3PO I guess) that the benevolent intentions of the colonialists in Africa caused a great many unintended problems.

For example, he discusses how important farming is in the base of the economy. Seeing the desperate conditions, outsiders have emphasized the importance of education. So poor families will sacrifice and stretch the limits of the capacity to send a relative to school. Once the relative graduates, they will be able to get a government job. With all the help they received from their family to obtain the education, they have a social obligation to pay the family back. They then exploit their position in the government to maximize the benefit to their family.

Dalrymple argues that the notion of the nation-state, imposed by the colonialists, has been the root of many problems. The people simply don't have a system of culture and customs that supports the nation-state. Everybody has loyalty to their family group and has no qualms about exploiting the official government to benefit their primary (only?) loyalty.

This all reminds me of a book I read by Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem. In that book Friedman was examining the root of the problems that have beset the Middle East for so long. One of the chief culprits, as I recall it from the book, was tribalism. The notion of placing your tribal loyalty above all others, and being willing to exploit your tribal connections, sounds awfully familiar when compared to the system that Dalrymple describes in Africa.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Utah Spam Law in the Utah Supreme Court

Citizen 431 has a useful summary of a recent decision from the Utah Supreme Court about a now repealed Utah anti-spam law. It also explains why a federal anti-spam law is more useful. For those interested in a nice legal review of the subject, surf on over.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pete Ashdown Endorses Jon Stewart

From UtahPolitics.org interview with Pete Ashdown:

11. There has been speculation about so many potential candidates for president, if the election were today, who would you like to become the U.S. President and Vice?

When our country started the vice-president was person who came in second place. I really like that idea because it gives the opposite party a seat at the table in the White House. Negating the 12th Amendment aside, I like Joe Biden for the sole reason that he was 30 years old when elected to the Senate against a longtime incumbent. After him, I think Jon Stewart would make a great president. Seriously.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ashdown Debates Copyright

I really like the things I hear Pete Ashdown saying about copyright. He seems to side with Lawrence Lessig whom I've written favorably about before. On a recent blog entry (ht SLC Spin), Ashdown thanked a blogger for an endorsement and then got into a bit of a debate on the copyright issue. I think it was very informative discussion. Copyright is certainly a tricky issue, especially since we are involved in so many international treaties on the subject. I do hope we are able to amend our laws to do something more common sensical.

"Bombastic" letters to the editor

While reading the always-amusing Best of the Web Today by James Taranto (WSJ), he quotes a letter to the editor of the University of New Hampshire student newspaper. The first paragraph follows:
I take issue with the dating advice column printed in last Friday's edition of The New Hampshire. This article, published by "Dr. Durham," offers readers "15 ways to get yourself noticed by the opposite sex." The column's title, "Dear Dr. Durham," suggests some sort of professional, medical opinion relegating the singular and implicitly "normative" sexual preference of our student body. The article's presentation, one column for "girls" and one for "guys," separated by a vertical black line, reflects the social myth that there are only two gender categories and, subsequently, only two rigid forms of gender expression.
When I first read this, I honestly thought the writer wasn't completely serious. The entire letter is peppered with multiple adverbs, adjectives, and somewhat obscure words. It brought to mind a letter to the editor we once wrote in the Geology grad cubes (now you can see why it took most of us longer than two years to get our masters' degrees). A sample sentence (the entire letter is reproduced below for your reading pleasure):
With some consternation we read Mr. Russell Hansen's polemical and vituperative letter regarding television and the turpitude thereof.
We actually combed through our GRE practice books for the most bizzare, unusual words we could find.

So I was entirely ready to take this student's words with a BIG grain of salt, knowing the craziness that can ensue in college. Alas, it seems more likely that she is serious--she is a member of the university's "Students Advocating Gender Equality" organization. This is probably a cause near and dear to her heart.

Oh well. Still, it brought back some good memories. We had some good times in the grad cubes.

Dear Editor,

With some consternation we read Mr. Russell Hansen's polemical and vituperative letter regarding television and the turpitude thereof.

Under an air of probity, he claimed television had "single-handedly managed to eviscerate and trivialize all facets of our culture" and that "television -- the medium and its message -- deserve censure, not praise."

These are equivocal statements, tenuous at best, grossly erroneous at worst. Allow us to elucidate our dissidence and disabuse these fallacies so shamelessly disseminated.

First, we find the idea of the inherent inimicability and eviscerative abilities of television to be abstruse.

The medium of television, so deserving of censure, includes the tube, cables, antennae, satellites and receivers -- we could also include VCRs, DVDs videotapes and disks.

These are all inherently inimical? No. The ideas disseminated through the medium foment human baseness, but the medium is not responsible. We could make the same argument against paper publications, computers and the spoken word. Are these mediums also inimical?

Now the alleged evisceration of our culture. Once eviscerated, an organism undoubtedly expires.

So our culture is dead? What culture is that? Isn't television a mere representation of our culture? A mirror?

Television executives do not produce inchoate programs. Careful research is involved, it is what our culture wants to see. Television does not create or destroy our culture; it reflects it.

We compliment the ebullience of Mr. Hansen, and while this response is a bit aberrant, we do not intend it to be supercilious or banal. We do feel it a commensurate response.

Although teetering on the edge of being bombastic, we hope it is mentally salubrious.

Cuz, like, dude, the tube's like totally awesome 'n stuff!

Jason Aase

Orem, Utah

Keryn Tobler

Las Vegas

Jared Lyman

Los Alamos, N.M.

Emily Bartlett

South Jordan, Utah

Saturday, February 04, 2006

With a name like Varadarajan...

Tunku Varadarajan is upset by the mayor of Los Angeles giving a response to the State of the Union in Spanish.
I am a first-generation migrant to this country. I believe that in settling abroad, foreigners make a brutal contract with their land of adoption. They may speak their language, eat their food and practice their religion--but at home or by private arrangement. That is as far as I would go with multiculturalism. All else--including an insistence on a public affirmation of ethnic frills and fancies--cripples the process of integration.

He goes on to explain why he is bothered by the mayor choosing to give a public speech in a foreign tongue.
Mr. Villaraigosa chose to emit his message specifically in Spanish, and by doing so he sent a clear signal of his chosen tribal identity (and not just the accident of his birth). That may help him with his vote bank, but it will not help his city. Ultimately, it will distance his primarily Mexican-American audience from their neighbors, including other immigrants.

Varadarajan says, "Why not a response in Farsi or Korean--languages spoken by people toward whom Mr. Villaraigosa has no fewer mayoral duties than he does toward his Hispanophones?" I had thought of the benefits of public business always being conducted in the national language. I hadn't thought of the risks of alienation to other linguisitic minorities.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Don't Pity the "Former" Ford Employee

I've heard talk about how sad it is for the people that are going to lose their jobs as Ford closes plants. NPR carried a story that shattered any sympathy I have for these workers. Here are a few bits of my transcript from the complete story.
Micheline Maynard: Well, under the terms of the UAW contract, no one actually is fired. Under the contract, auto companies have to keep their plants “idle” until the end of the contract. In this case it will expire in the fall of 2007. So they can’t actually shut everything down, close the doors, and sell the property. They actually have to negotiate a plant closing in the national contract talks.

So while people are laid off from these idle plants, they’ll actually receive about 90% of their pay and they’ll get full benefits. So it’s actually very favorable coverage.

NPR: Does that apply to all the employees in these plants?

MM: Well, it does not apply to the salaried employees. Once the plant is closed, unless there’s another job inside Ford, the salaried employees essentially, just either can retire or they lose their jobs completely.

NPR: But for the employees on the line, they essentially will keep drawing a paycheck even though they are not working.

MM: That’s right.

NPR: How much do these employees earn?

MM: They earn about $27 an hour in straight pay. They also get cost of living allowances. And then if you fold the cost of their benefits in on top, it’s about $67 a worker.

NPR: And they would earn about 90% of that while in idle status?

MM: They would earn about 90% of that, so that would roughly be $55 to $60 an hour.

NPR: So it sounds like if you just read the headline on this story, “30,000 Jobs Cut By Ford,” you don’t get the whole story.

MM: You don’t.