Monday, December 29, 2003

Ryszard Kapuscinski is a Polish journalist and writer who has elected travelling as his life, more than as his work. Kapuscinski has been choosing as destinations countries torn apart by feuds and wars and he has described the consequences of the latter not only at the political level, but first and foremost from the victims' perspective. His spirit of observation, sensitivity and evocative succintness make reading his works an actual "travel" experience, as well as an invitation to reflect upon the dynamics of power and, more generally, on human nature. [in italiano]

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I read an article this week on health care policy by two writers, David Leach and David Stevens. It contains the following sentence: “Competence without compassion is not really competence, and compassion without competence is not compassion.” I tend to shy away from sayings and platitudes (to the extent that they obscure the real complexity of things), but these words - in combination with Fawce's post below - do trigger a thought that has been forming in my head for a while.... I find that in my interactions with people they fall into roughly two groups when it comes to their sense of obligation about how much they need to know before they offer an opinion - on sports, on politics, on art. One group is hesitant to have any position until they have thoroughly read through a point and the other, informed or not, takes a hard stance right away. My preference runs toward the former group but, given the demands on people's time, I wonder when you know enough to deposit an opinion. For instance, I haven't hesitated to form an opinion on the middle east but, as Fawce's post suggests, very few people know the geography of the region (I don't), the history of the place (I don't), its demographics (I don't) or needs of the average person there (four for four). So what, then, is our obligation as citizens, particularly in international affairs? Hard to say. To circle back to my quotation, though, I think that any person or organization that intends to do good work - George Bush, Joe McCannon, the World Bank, any one of thousands of (often useless) NGOs - cannot do so without being thoroughly informed...it is one thing to offer your opinion but another all together to take action in the name of compassion without knowing who you are trying to help. It seems like we lose sight of this a lot.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

washingtonpost.com has a very quick summary of various states and actors associated with terrorism. Such basic facts as population, size, location, religious demographics and recent historical events are presented. Reading these summaries revealed some surprising facts -- for example over 90% of Filipinos are Christian, and the recent spate of terrorist actions have been enacted by a very small minority of militant islamic fundamentalists; or Iranians are ethnically Persian not Arab.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The English language has by now reached the status of lingua franca throughout the world, to the point that the vast majority of people, to a specific question on their knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon idiom, answer “I know English!” (despite uttering a sequence of unintelligible sounds when it comes to using it). In many countries, including Italy, there is growing concern about the possibility of losing the heritage of the mother tongue, because of the invasion of internet caf├ęs, intercity trains and ministries such as welfare. In my view, the possibility of Italian being replaced by English is still a quite remote one (even though I had rather start worrying about it, since it would put me among the unemployed) and, in any case, there are some who fare worse than we do. DOBES is a Dutch program dealing with endangered languages, describing their history and giving the opportunity to listen to the sound of some of them. At least, if and when our language is on the brink of obsolescence, we will know whom to turn to…

Saturday, November 29, 2003

I've read Orwell's essay twice now, and I think it will (or should) be a regular habit. Phrases like supporting our troops, defending freedom, liberal media, and compassionate conservatism, float through our public discourse like litter through the windy streets (would George approve of that last one?). Ease of parody, I think, measures inversely depth of thought. Who is easier to impersonate than a politician? Journalists are the only class of professional easier to imitate in satire. Politics and editorials are reduced to slogans and appropriating phrases. Conservative editorials fling Unamerican at anyone who criticizes the president. Think how unnatural it would seem to hear a liberal call a conservative Unamerican. If anything, it would seem like an intentional irony. "Look at me, the liberal, calling a conservative unamerican, how decidedly unliberal of me." What about conservative and liberal? Can you be a liberal republican? How about a conservative democrat? Of course, my commentary here is clearly unamerican. How could I be accusing the commander in chief of double talk, when everyone from the Crawford Coffee Shop to the Beltway agrees he is a straight talker? I remember when Bush was running in 2000, and all the republicans were still trying to defend W's reputation for being, well, not exactly Rhode Scholar material. (Aside: is it just me or has Rhode Scholar taken on a connotation similar to White House Intern?). The republican boosters all said the same thing: "He's a great manager. He'll put together a great team. He knows how to take advice". Well those are admirable qualities. They are even necessary traits for a President. But they should be refining compliments to leadership. Presidents need beliefs, guiding principles, and good advisors. But above all they need intellectual horsepower. Can GW press Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz on the finer points of their global strategy and ideology? Can GW articulate to Powell that hopes for global coalition building were dashed by the growing impact of terrorism? How can he be expected to decide between competing and compelling arguments from each? At the same time, the democrats seem incapable of connecting with anyone. Look at Kerry's stance on the war. Can anyone summarize it? Could there possibly be a slogan for it? I suppose that is Dean's appeal. He is clearly defined as the anti-Bush candidate. Then there is Dick "no-comment" Gephardt. How could a candidate for the presidency try to get away with saying nothing about the most stirring symbolic act the president has made since visiting ground zero in 2001? At least Gephardt is literally saying nothing.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Most of this article is just a summary of what's been happening - and why I object so much to the Bush administration's foreign policy - but, for what it is, I like it, and I think the last paragraph nails my feeling about how we could lead the world. It doesn't go into too much detail (and skips over some things like the infusion of fundamentalist Christianity into the Bush administration) but it is a good place to start a conversation... http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2003/12/soros.htm Or maybe I just like it because I agree with it. As for Bush's visit to Iraq, I agree with John. He may have acted in a calculating way but who cares? It was a good thing to do and he did it. The real challenge for the Democratic candidate is this: how do you find a way to break the spell that Bush's content-free nationalistic rhetoric and appearances have cast on key swing voters and expose the damage that his administration is doing? Though he doesn't say much of anything beyond "God Bless America and we will prevail against evildoers," no one has been able to formulate a compelling response for people who don't have time to read. Bush is perfectly perpetrating the political crime that George Orwell describes in this blistering essay: http://www.resort.com/~prime8/Orwell/patee.html
The NY Times article, Democrats Temper Praise for Bush Visit With Criticism, shows just how much the democrats have lost touch with the country's mood. It would have been smarter politically to give firm and unequivical endorsement of the President's gesture. The closest to the mark was the Jano Cabrera's quote: "visiting with the troops is exactly what a commander in chief should do". In other words, the candidates could compliment the gesture and emphasize that this is what they believe a president should do -- a sentiment in accord with most of America, especially on Thanksgiving. By taking a purely affirming position, it would be easier to remain authoritative. Criticism in the moment, even if coupled with credit for a heavily symbolic gesture, only makes the candidates seem petty. Criticism from the candidates opens them to an attack of the form: "apparently they care more about the election than supporting the troops". The job at hand for all of these candidates is to secure the democratic nomination. Every democrat said the same thing. The president's visit was an opportunity to distinguish oneself from the primary field. The country won't forget the president's gesture. If his visit turns out to be an empty political pandering, he will be criticized vehemently. Thursday, however, he did the right thing.
First post in punto, the Italian version of stitch [in italiano]

Sunday, November 23, 2003

AR wrote to me about the Metaphysical Club post, comparing the idea there to the observer's paradox. As I understand it, the observer's paradox is that human subjects invariably behave differently when they are aware of any observer: a person, a camera or a tape recorder. However, observing and recording human subjects without their permission is ethically questionable. So AR, was suggesting a parallel between the individual reaction of a single subject, and an entire society, where being watched as an individual is similar to being modeled as a society.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

In the Metaphysical Club Louis Menand traces the development of American intellectualism from the Civil War until close to the beginning of WWI. Part of the dramatic development at that time included the veritable creation of the concept of "social sciences". The idea, which is taken for granted today, was to apply the scientific method to the study of society. Evolution, as pursued by Darwin and other evolutionary thinkers, provided a more specific method of analysis. Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. (also treated in the Metaphysical Club) wrote a landmark work called The Common Law, which laid down the argument that the Law was not based on Logic, but on experience. He goes on to explain how the Law "grew". Holmes' work was immensly influential, and I have seen him quoted as one of the earliest figures in the current dominating theory of law: law and economics. Theories about the law, it seems, also grow. Which brings me to my point. Unlike the physical or biological sciences, the study of society cannot make observations in isolation from the subjects. Certainly, blind studies are possible -- but eventually studies are translated to theories and those theories are disseminated. Theories about law eventually, even inexorably, effect the law itself. So, how can the scientific method be applied to social studies? There is a joke among scientists; they like to say that "The universe doesn't care how we think it works, it just works." This joke and the maxim underlying it cannot be applied to societies. The study of society inevitably effects society, so one way or another, a model of society is in danger of becoming inaccurate because knowledge of that model spreads through the society it is meant to represent. There are obvious examples of these changes -- social darwinism and the role of law and economic theory in the creation of policy. I believe that one of two strategies may prove more effective than the direct modeling of society itself. Both are variations on applying the scientific method to evidence other than human agents: - information flow, for example the dissemination of different social theories - Situational factors, for example the weather, options prices, location, age, and so on In both cases, the theory is to measure and model the underlying engines of social change, rather than a given society. Furthermore, the hope is that these engines are consistent across societies, and do not bend to prevailing theories about their function.

Friday, November 14, 2003

The Economist reports progress in the creation of Artificial life. Absolutely breathtaking. The concluding sentence raises the unholy specter of custom designed terrorist viruses. I wonder if making the virus brings us closer to manufacturing the antibodies? If so, imagine the arms race.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I want to investigate the economic arrangements for trial lawyers. Asbestos litigation is a notable class of suits resulting in enormous settlements that have combined to bankrupt corporations. Recent movements for tort reform at the federal level have included proposals to cap total damages awarded in cases. The theoretical problem with this approach may make it economically attractive for large corporations to commit enormous transgressions without suitably large liabilities. I believe inefficiency of the system is not in the size of awards, but in the number of cases brought to trial, which have no merit. The system relies on incentivizing both plaintiffs and their lawyers to bring suit. In theory, trial lawyers, who are only paid if they win, should seek to represent clients they believe can win. However, extremely large settlements and correspondingly large fees for lawyers make another strategy more attractive. If a very large possible payout exists, it is more compelling for a lawyer to prosecute as many trials as possible rather than seeking trials that have merit. The system therefore encourages lawyers to seek as many trials for which a large payout is possible. So how could a system be arranged to incentivize lawyers to focus on cases with merit? How could the market forces be tailored to encourage lawyers to be more selective in the cases they try? The answer is not to cap the total damages, but rather, to cap the dollar amount a lawyer can collect in fees. If the total fee amount were capped, the winning strategy for trial lawyering would be to seek as many high-probability cases as possible. The legal system could still reward damages commensurate with the resources of guilty parties, but the artificial pressure to try more and more big ticket cases could be alleviated. Has this idea ever been proposed? Trial lawyers operate an enormous lobbying infrastructure, but I believe it would be easy to popularly promote a policy based on capped fees for trial lawyers and open damages for plaintiffs.

Monday, September 29, 2003

A Robert Novak article from July 14th, Mission to Niger smoldered for over two months before bursting into conspiratorial flames. Why did it take so long for anyone to notice the disclosure of a CIA operatives name? The Washington Post lays out the chronology leading up to the justice department inquiry.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Office Product Updates may be a good idea...
The New Scientist reports on the most recent Microsoft bug notifications. The last series of worms were generated from publicly disclosed vulnerabilities just like these. As far as I know, the Office XP Suite doesn't have the same auto-update features as Windows XP. So as the article above mentions, patch uptake by office users could potentially be much slower.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

I should have read the speech before blogging the article about it. Looks to me like Kerry is on the mark: Text: Kerry Announces Presidential Bid (washingtonpost.com): "But the threats today don't just come from gun barrels, they come also from oil barrels. The dollars we spend at the pump can too easily fund the terrorists who seek to destroy us. America will only be stronger if we never have to send our sons and daughters into battle for oil half a world away. We have to disarm that danger by making America independent of Mideast oil within the next 10 years. I know that the auto industry has political muscle, but we're in a time of war and everyone should contribute to the cause. In World War II, Detroit was the arsenal of democracy. Today, they need to raise their gas mileage and build the vehicles of the future that use clean, renewable energy like ethanol; they need to help move America to energy independence. "
As the Congressional Review of Blackout Begins (washingtonpost.com), I am still waiting for the democrats to take advantage of this open political door. Energy is the issue.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Reuters has a review of Kerry's campaign launching speech. The democratic candidates have been casting around for a key issue. For the last year, I've been hoping they would hit upon energy. Why energy? Because it ties together the three things you want in a presidential platform plank:
  1. Fear. Americans are (and probably should be) afraid of our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. I think voters are on the cusp of getting very angry about the economic dependency on Mid East Oil production.
  2. The shadow of impropriety cast over your opponent. Bush is Oil money. Cheney is Oil money. Haliburton gets a new contract in Iraq nearly every week.
  3. Vision. Kennedy took us to the moon. We were racing against the Russians and we won. Now we want to innovate our way out of dependence on the world's most unstable region.

Maybe the Kerry camp is way ahead of me. In the article referenced, Kerry touches on the issue: "Kerry said he would make the United States independent of Middle East oil within the next decade". I think a candidate could make a strong case that the US needs to escape our dependence on Mid East oil, and that the only sure way to do it is through invention. Once the message is established, point two is: your incumbent president cannot lead us out of dependence on Mid East oil. He is too industry friendly. Bush doesn't have the vision to push our country to its creative limits. Make Kerry's complexity, his adventurous attitude a necessary skill. Tell people that the biggest problem facing the nation is one that requires a man of both intellect and courage.

Who knows if it would work. I'd like to see any candidate try, mainly because I do believe energy independence is the top issue for domestic security, foreign policy, and to a lesser degree, economics.

Friday, August 29, 2003

My brother and I have been running Triathlons for two years now, and we are closing this season with a bang. The lobsterman triathlon is a 2 year old race (sidenote: I have a life goal to participate in 50 straight lobsterman triathlons, which would be extra cool since I was in the first one). My brother and I aren't in triathlons for the money or the fame. It's all about longevity. Next year, we hope to take our training up a notch, and break through 2:30 for an international length triathlon (the lobster is one). Last year I ran the lobster in 3:30 (abysmal) and was happy to survive. This year I hope to do it in under 3 hours, which was my time for the Fairlee Triathlon, a comparable race. At this point, finishing in 3 hours with no serious pain (I cramped badly in the first Lobsterman) is a thrill. [in italiano]

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

NOAA News Online (Story 2015) has valid (and fully referenced) photographs of the North Eastern US before and after the blackout. The unmistakeable conclusion is we have way too many lights.
Gadgetopia debunks a fabulous hoax photograph of the blackout.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Pride in authorship and pride in translation. A good friend of mine, a translator by trade, sent this along to me. The opening quotation is a rather remarkable tribute to the craft that rings, ironically, literary.
Not exactly ethical, but sort of humorous. Unfortunately, defacing/blocking a website doesn't quite portray opensource community members as mature, polished business people.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Slashdot had a link to this posting on GROKLAW. The BSD license is pretty mellow. As far as my non-existent, unreliable, unquotable legal skills allow me to interpret, open for use under the GPL or LGPL. So SCO has released evidence of its own copyright violation. Unfortunately, they didn't release an example of GPL'd code, which would have implied all SCO unix code is GPL'd (see). GROKLAW

Friday, August 22, 2003

ah, the jbmq3.2 branch is open for business again. JBoss :: Professional Open Source
Random thought... the website Sobig.F hits could have been hacked by the author. I'd bet it is the counter for the virus' infection rate. Maybe the author has gained access to the website statistics, and is using it to track the virus' progress. Then the repeated Friday/Sunday polls could be the author's way of following infection. Wild guess, but I would think that if it was malicious, the author is waiting for a critical mass of dot-F to be dormant, to be ready for dot-G.
Viruses are a crime. But man are they interesting. Also, the effect reminds me of a blizzard. Things get shut down, business slows, school gets cancelled, but no permanent damage is done. Of course, barrels of cash are poured out, and IT staffs world wide have a bad day (or week). Also, I kind of wonder if the writer of Sobig.F felt the competition from Blaster. Here is blaster, with some second rate exploit based on a published flaw in IE getting all the press, and the Sobig.x dynasty is yesterday's news. Did Sobig push the virus sooner for the fame? Or the ultimate in conspiracy -- are they linked? Also, besides a psychological problem, what motivates someone or some organization to develop such an extensive parlour trick? InformationWeek > Security > Anti-Virus Experts Say Much-Feared Internet Attack Fizzles > August 22, 2003
oh boy. yuppies of boston rejoice! IKEA cometh. "In 2001, Ikea withdrew plans for a store in New Rochelle, N.Y., after months of fierce opposition by residents, clergy, and elected officials." Self-assembled furniture oppposed by clergy? huh? Boston.com / Business / Ikea sets sights on Avon site
So let me get this straight. Microsoft finds and fixes a security hole. The fix is published for the world to have and apply. Only the blackhats seem to actually retrieve and review these patches, and instead of applying them, they exploit them. So by posting these patches, windows is only seeding the virus makers with ideas. For my personal systems, I'd happily accept automatic updates. For my work equipment though, I don't think I'd be comfortable. Granted, we are developing extensively in C# so I am more worried about "updates" that are flawed than average joe user. InfoWorld: Microsoft ponders automatic patching: August 22, 2003: By : Platforms
Here's a nifty article on the SCO vs. Linux Community saga. The way I see it, as soon as SCO releases a definitive list of code infringement, that code will be lanced out of the public distributions. SCO clearly understands this "risk" to their case, and so they are attempting to keep the details of the infringement under wraps. Further, they assert that, essentially, linux is a derivative work of their copywritten material.
As the SCO forum incident shows, hiding the information is going to be difficult. As for linux being a derivative work of System V -- it is almost certain that there is code common to both. Identical code even. But my guess is, the bulk of the common code shares ancestry to some earlier, open product. SCO reveals 'stolen code'

Thursday, August 21, 2003

This happens every time I try to use blogger. I get all jazzed about this rolling log of my findings on the web, I try to post a link or two, and nothing works. So I try over and over (which Einstien declared the definition of insanity) and get frustrated and quit. I thought this was going to be the perfect activity for compile time idleness.
this is a post from the blogger app, not the google toolbar blog this, man.
no dice
absolutely astounding. what I can't believe is you can actually make a living with 3rd rate scams like theses... Wired News: Xupiter Mongers Deal Spam, Scams
blog alert!
Did the google toolbar just bring me back to blogging? XDoclet: Attribute-Oriented Programming - Tag Reference