Saturday, August 11, 2007

SCO and Unix

The news is all over the place by now, of course, that Novell actually holds the copyrights to UNIX, which means that SCO's demands for licensing revenue, per-seat fees, and whatever else they can get away with... well, it just took a hit below the waterline.

It's not over yet, not completely. But SCO's theory of the case (which has shifted several times) is currently that it's all about copyrights. Well, they don't own the copyrights.

And Novell has the right to tell SCO not to try to enforce Novell's copyrights for them.

Oh, and SCO owes Novell a bunch of license fees for past UNIX installations they sold.

It's going to be fun watching SCO's stock sink the rest of the way to zero.

Update: Once again, Illiad nails it.

2008 Preview

Straw Poll Results Delayed Due To Voting Machine Malfunction

Look who's involved:
The state party rented optical scan machines from Diebold, a company at the center of several recent voting controversies. Recently, the state of California decertified Diebold machines for the 2008 election.
Is anyone surprised?

The enduring appeal of arcade games

Fun article over at the Times about the continuing appeal of classic video games. The writer doesn't quite seem to get it, but isn't taking the usual condescending look-at-the-geeks tone that happens all too often. And actually, the answer is laid out right there:

“I was looking for something that I could be in control of,” Mr. Wiebe, now a schoolteacher, said recently in his kitchen while he heated a bowl of clam chowder for his 10-year-old daughter. “I felt like everything in my life was being decided by others. Donkey Kong was something I could do, and if I failed, I would have no one to blame but myself.”

Cf: The Hacker Manifesto.

And yes, that is often exactly what makes programming so appealing. The challenge of getting the machine to do something, something fun, something cool, something amazing. And if it doesn't work, it's because I made a mistake, no other reason. A way of taking control of at least one small corner of the world.

"A Terrible Mistake"

Followup to this post: Jim Burroway has an email claiming to be from the partner of the vet who was denied a funeral service because he was gay.

It hasn't been authenticated, but if true, it paints a damning picture. Apparently the pictures presented for the memorial didn't even include 2 men hugging. The night before the service, the family was contacted and simply told a mistake had been made and they couldn't use the church. There were multiple excuses, shifting stories, and it was impossible to get a straight answer from the church leadership.

The email states:

To me personally, I have no problem with the church turning us away. My problem is with the method in which they did it. I happen to know several other members of that church who are also gay, and they had no idea that their church held that opinion on this topic either. If they had told us right away, or even on Tuesday that they were not comfortable with the service, we would have been more than willing to try and come to some sort of compromise, or we could have changed venues. We were never given that option. Someone in a position of power made the decision to cut us off, and didn’t even have the moral courage to tell us the truth to our faces.

Hopefully your reading this helps to make sense of what occurred. I fully understand the church’s right to deny us the use of their facilities. I also served in the military, (US Army, 1987-2002), and I have fought to defend their freedom of religion and freedom of choice.

If just one couple or family can be saved from having to suffer the same as we did, I would consider all this to have been worthwhile. I truly believe all congregations need to have more open communication between all their members, so that the person who had initially welcomed us into their church would have known that is was not acceptable in the eyes of their leaders, and the entire issue would have been avoided. If we had known from the beginning we were not welcome, or the offer had never been made, we would have just continued making the same arrangements we finally had in the end. Nothing we did for Cecil’s remembrance ceremony was changed, other than the location.

Read the entire article. It's worth it. If the email is legitimate.... it hardly paints the picture of Christian fellowship the church would no doubt like to project.

Evolution leading to the Industrial Revolution?

I've been meaning to post something about this article from Sunday's Times about a new study suggesting that the rise of the industrial revolution was mostly because of the spread of a certain set of attitudes and behaviors--longer work hours, lower violence, more willingness to save and postpone gratification. No controversy so far.

However, the argument is made that this change was driven by evolution; that European cities were so disease-filled that a large proportion of the population died off annually, to be replaced by new migrants from the countryside. Children of the rich were more likely to survive than children of the poor; thus the surviving population is increasingly represented by the offspring of the rich, perhaps bringing with them behaviors that lead to wealth.

But of course, there are questions he doesn't address. Why were people flocking to the cities, when your chances of foraging outside the cities, admittedly not great, were at least better than in the middle of the disease-infested hell-hole a medieval city was? He notes this didn't happen in Asia because the ruling classes of China and Japan were "surprisingly infertile." Why? And could biological selection account for that large an effect in only a few hundred to few thousand years? He's an economic historian, not a geneticist.

Yes, there have been some intriguing studies suggesting genetic selection over historic time periods (mentioned in the article, which is really worth reading). But all too often I've seen academics read one or two papers from another discipline, misunderstand a key point, and apply that misunderstanding incorrectly in what they fancy is an 'interdisciplinary' paper. As a friend of mine at UNC-Chapel Hill puts it, "Just because you co-authored a paper with a historian, that doesn't make you a historian." And reading a few genetics papers doesn't make you geneticist. My academic specialty is bioinformatics, and I have no pretense at all of being a biologist, or geneticist, or biochemist, though my work (such as it is; I'm primarily an instructor, not a researcher) has touched on all three areas.

An intriguing hypothesis. The book is called "A Farewell to Alms," and comes out next month. I may have to order a copy.

Another small bit of progress

As it turns out, high school students in New Jersey can present (and see) The Laramie Project, a play about the Matthew Shepard case. It sounds like the right decision, even though it took some effort to bring it about.

Yes, it may be uncomfortable in places. Lots of plays do. At least they're trying to tackle real issues. At my own high school, we made a bold decision to present The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. And a real powerhouse of a performance it was, too. [set sarcasm=OFF]

Nice to see there's progress being made.

Friday, August 10, 2007

So long, and thanks. Too bad about the death squads.

Nine thousand Iraqis have put their lives, and their families' lives, on the line by working with the US military as interpreters. Now, of course, most of them are marked for death.

Our government's response. A thousand visas. Enough for about a tenth of them, but not their families. This is how we repay those who risk their lives for us.


"And they will know we are Christians by our loooooove....."

A church in Dallas is refusing to hold a memorial service for a gay man, a Navy vet. Because, you see, the planned memorial included photos from the life of the deceased, including some showing that he was, in fact, gay. The pastor explained that while the church would hold a memorial service for a thief or murderer,

"But I don't think the mother would submit photos of her son murdering someone," he said. "That's a red light going off."

Yep. Two men hugging is equivalent to someone being killed.

Who would Jesus hate?

(Hat tip: John Aravosis.)

Still not getting it

Gay marriage isn't *that* big a deal with me, but when I see otherwise apparently intelligent people coming out with stupidity like this:

Note that I did not have a religious marriage, thus making my marriage more civil union-like-- and maybe making me less convinced that what (depending on the route a state takes) may amount really to a linguistic difference, as opposed to an inherent one impacting on rights-- particularly where the separation of church and state is preserved-- results in "unequal" treatment (and maybe making me less wistful, for lack of a better word, about "marriage," generally).

Look, it's really quite simple: The law, as written, uses the term "marriage." Not civil unions. And we're seeing abundant examples that as long as it's separate, as long as it's marriage-lite, something kind-of-but-not-really, it has a very real impact on rights and equal treatment.

If the state solely defined marriage, and the churches did whatever they wanted in a separate ceremony, that'd be different. If everyone did civil unions, and the laws were written about that, with "marriage" being a religious ceremony conducted by churches but having no legal effect, that might be okay too. But neither of those are the world we live in.

No one, as far as I know, is demanding that the government require churches to perform gay marriages. (There'd be huge constitutional barriers to even trying.) And I agree with Liz that churches, as private organizations, are free to restrict marriages they perform to heterosexual couples, or members of that faith, or whatever other limits they see fit. But those marriages also carry the (civil, secular) legal benefits of marriage with them. And for those who don't want a religious service, there's civil marriage, performed by an officer of the court. If the church won't marry you, you can always go to the justice of the peace. Your church may or may not consider that marriage valid; their decision.

But the "let's just call it something else and not use the m-word" misses the point. As long as the m-word is the magic ticket to full citizenship, that's going to be the goal.

Has incredible progress already been made? By all means. Twenty years ago only the most radical of the radical fringe were discussing gay marriage.

But we're not there yet. And saying "something else really ought to be good enough" is obtuse.

It takes more than just elections

The mainstream media finally notices what's been obvious for years: American support is the kiss of death to any political party or movement in the middle east.

We push for elections, elections, elections at any cost, in the naive hope that elections will turn societies overnight into peaceful, pro-American liberal democracies, willing to sell us oil at low prices. But without a stable society, the rule of law, an educated polity, and a commitment from that polity to the system itself, which requires a certain tradition of self-government--it's just a different way of grabbing and keeping power, the extension of civil war by other means.

It's not that Arab societies "can't handle democracy," a rather racist thesis; it's that their societies don't have the pre-requisites. The existence of a computer implies a certain level of technology; stable elections and orderly transitions of power imply certain levels of societal development. And societies don't go from tribal strongmen to liberal democracies overnight. Not even if Karl Rove says they have to.

Psychology of subprime mortgages?

There's an intriguing article at The Frontal Cortex describing a study looking at what parts of the brain were involved when people were offered a choice between a small payoff now and a larger payoff later. Basically, the longer payoff activated the reasoning parts of the brain, the immediate payoff activated emotional parts.

He's arguing this may explain some people's willingness to take on subrime mortgages with unrealistically low "teaser" rates, with a higher rate (and much higher payments) after, say, 2 years. After all, you can get a house! A nice house! Move in next week! While the rational part of the brain is saying, "Um, but in 2 years it's going to get expensive..."

And of course, in the middle of a boom market, people convinced themselves that "of course" they could refinance or sell at a profit in 2 years. Except, of course, when you can't.

The article makes sense, though. Hmmm, I could save money and work on losing some weight by fixing a light lunch at home (future payoff); or I could go to the all-you-can-eat pizza bar (immediate payoff). And yes, sometimes irrational decisions get made.

Orientation et al...

This seems to be "gay day," or maybe I'm just getting caught up after a couple of busy days... Anyway, PZ over at Pharyngula has a link to an article on the basis of orientation. I'm working my way through the article he links to, and so far it's pretty good.

But the comments on the Pharyngula thread are a hoot. A Christianist apologist wanders in, quotes the thoroughly discredited Paul Cameron, and then whines that he's being persecuted when his numerous factual and logical errors are pointed out.

Shut up and get to the back of the bus

The guest bloggers over at Sullivan's are arguing that gay marriage isn't attainable, and pushing it for it is unwise. What's important is equal legal treatment, not the word.

I agree that the reality is more important than the word. BUT: The word (or its absence) is being used to deny civil-unioned and domestic-partnered couples visitation rights, insurance coverage, Social Security survivor benefits, and other privileges the heterosexual majority takes for granted. Employees in New Jersey are being told the insurance and pension plans are covered by federal regulations, and the federal regulations say "married," not "civil-unioned" or "domestic-partnered."

During the 1960s, many whites argued that blacks were pushing too hard, were chasing goals that weren't attainable, that they should focus on more limited goals first. The eternal argument: "Yes, you should have equal rights, but it's hard, and people don't like change, so wait a little longer and be grateful for the minuscule progress you've made. In the fullness of time, someday, you'll have equal rights, just not today."


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

We'll get right on that

The Catholic Church is now demanding that students at its schools, and their parents, be more devout:

Church leaders headed by Cardinal George Pell yesterday issued an edict to all Catholic schools, demanding that students and their parents be more devout and outlining a plan to lure back thousands of poorer families who have left the system.

Some of the other components of the plan, such as giving preference to Catholic students, seem fairly reasonable, given the institution. The schools are run by the church, and part of their mission is to promote Catholic values; if they want to give preference to practicing Catholics, that's their concern and their right.

But "demanding" people be more devout isn't likely to get far; after all, they've been "demanding" such things for years. As Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, "If people want to stay away, you can't stop them."

Of course, there's a more fundamental problem for the church here... enrollments have been dropping because they're being seen as less relevant, and less credible, with less moral right to make patronizing statements of morality. (The whole thing about preaching divine love while molesting children really has hurt their PR.)

So if they downsize to, oh, zero or thereabouts... well, so what.

About time

If the right is serious about doing something about illegal immigration, then why aren't they howling to demand employer-side enforcement?

Basic economics: If jobs here are plentiful enough and comparatively well-paying enough relative to opportunities elsewhere, people will find a way here to fill those jobs. If there is a demand, a market will arise to meet that demand. Any attempt to block that market will be circumvented by the formation of black markets or other mechanisms.

The only viable long-term solution is to remove the demand. If employers are penalized, badly, they'll straighten up because it costs them too much not to. Of course, that won't happen, because businesses want a ready supply of low-cost easily-exploitable labor, to keep their costs down and profits high. And they contribute heavily to political parties (mostly the GOP) that support them.

The current effort is welcome, and overdue. But it's mostly, I think, for appearances. Six months from now it'll have blown over and be forgotten.

Better Living Through Chemistry

And another record falls.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Getting Shot With Our Own Weapons

This is ridiculous.

And conveniently enough, look what was left out of domestic news reports but included by the BBC:

The GAO said weapons distribution was haphazard and rushed and failed to follow established procedures, particularly from 2004 to 2005.

During this period, security training was led by Gen David Petraeus, who now commands all US forces in Iraq.

Funny how no one thought that was worth mentioning.

Worse By The Day

Several analysts, including Gen. Petraeus, have already made the point that Iraq isn't going to stabilize without a political solution. There is no purely military solution, because it's not a military problem.

The political situation is falling apart.

While our soldiers are still patrolling in the 130-degree heat, the politicians are failing to use their 'vacation' to get things done; indeed, it looks as if the coalition government is falling apart.

This is only going to get worse.