Attorney Generals want Craigslist to stop embarrassing them

One would think that a cop’s wet dream would be to be able to just go on to the internet and pick off criminals.  Just go in and get the information, no work, no warrant, just like ordering pizza. 
 
And so you would think that they would be grateful that Craigslist is not particularly diligent in keeping criminal advertising off its’ pages.   Having criminals on display saves many hours of work and gives it a tight focus.   If they were forced off Craigslist they would probably go back to scuttling around in the dark where it is harder to find them. 
 
17 attorney generals in the US want Craigslist to shut down this important policework tool, which should assist various forces with enforcement, research, and protecting innocents from exploitation.
 
But the attorney generals don’t want to stop the exploitation- they want to stop people from hearing about it. 
 
Their motives of course are an open question.   It could be that they would like to continue the common practice of taking officers off police work to do revenue generation such as traffic duty.  It could be that they are concerned about escorts getting raided and their black books leading back to important figures since politicians are notorious skirt chasers.   Or it could be as simple as they are politicians and as such haven’t thought this two steps through and are reacting instead of thinking. 
 
Here’s what I would do- beef up the facial recognition software out there, scan in 5 years worth of yearbooks, ask for photos from the Craigslist connected websites and run them against the database.   The big problem would probably be keeping it out of the press that Craigslist had generated bust after bust.
Advertisements

The “Dog chasing a car” award, 2010

Doesn’t a billionaire have anything better to do than pursue what look like questionable claims?  While I suppose that I am theoretically open to the possibility that his patent company is hard done by, I have to wonder if it is instead one of the companies in the emerging “patent troll” industry.   That Paul Allen would be a technical illiterate who was unaware that online realtors have been linking to each other and has been unaware of the evolution in search engines, would seem to me to be a stretch.
Perhaps somebody should copyright the word “the”.  If it were allowed, just think of all the money they could make.  Or how about the idea of a blog?  Should the first blog writer be allowed to sue every later blog writer for the concept of a blog? Should the first screenplay writer be able to sue anybody that wrote another screenplay, however unrelated?
There may also be issues of parallel evolution.  Just as there are cases of parallel evolution in nature, where different paths lead to similar species that are not related, the internal logic of how to write simple programming is likely to be the same for many users.  They don’t necessarily have to break somebody else’s code if the general path to do something is obvious.   They should also not have to break everybody else’s programming code to be certain that they haven’t accidentally come up with something too similar to somebody else.
If you locked a bunch of programmers in separate rooms and asked them to write a program that would show a man running across the screen, then compared the programs, probably 95% + of the code they would come up with would be near identical, without either plagiarism or psychic powers, because it would be driven by the internal logic of the demand and the system.
Of course what may be routine for programmers may seem ingeniously complicated to non-programmers and may create a bias towards the upholding of technology patents on a lower threshold.
I expect that there will be something akin to an “obvious path” defence available in intellectual property claims, if there isn’t already, to prevent morally stunted people from patenting various arrangements that don’t require great intellectual insight and then “camping” on them to see if anybody comes up with anything similar.   The concepts of patents, copyrights and the like are to  prevent strokes of genius from being appropriated without compensation.  That promotes and protects innovation.
On the other hand there are entire companies these days that are “patents trolls”, who buy up patents with no intention of ever making anything out of them, in the hopes that somebody will independently come up with something sufficiently similar, so that they can sue and get something for nothing.    Patent trolls may have patent the above referenced “obvious paths”, rather than strokes of genius, so as to obstruct innovation pathways.
One case reputed to be a “patent troll” case was the RIMM- Blackberry case.  I don’t know enough about it to reasonably comment on it, but it would be telling if true.
Needless to say the whole “patent troll” concept works to undermine progress and capitalism.
One aspect of the “patent troll”‘s repetoire is that the troll does not strike as the aggrieved victim, issuing cease and desist demands forthwith immediately on a violation.
Most of those who feel geniunely aggrieved of course act immediately.
That however would defeat the patent troll’s central purpose.  The purpose of the patent troll is to use the legal system to take unearned money, to pursue a legal right or an arguable legal right in order to get a free ride at somebody else’s expense.    Especially if the legal and technical issues are complicated enough, who knows what a judge or jury is going to do?   In such situations the only true jury of peers would have to be a jury of senior programmers from companies without a stake in the litigation.
If a patent troll issues a cease and desist demand immediately, the intended mark might cease and desist.  Then the patent troll doesn’t get any money.
The intended mark might also cooperate and change technology so that the argument for damages for a patent infringement is lost.   Then the patent troll doesn’t get any money.
On the other hand, if the patent troll waits for 5-10 years pretending that nothing is amiss and allows the mark to proceed believing there isn’t a problem, then says that somebody’s $25 billion per year business is based on their technology, then it will be incredibly inconvenient to turn systems and hardware upside down to deal with the demand.  There is also a larger pool of money connected with the theoretical violation of the alleged right.   Especially if hardware is issued based on a good faith belief that there is no infringement of another party’s rights, it may be impossible to get away from the alleged infringement until the next product line or in a worst case, the next generation of a product.
While Paul Allen is affiliated with Microsoft and has not gone after Microsoft, it would be in Microsoft’s interests to pursue an intellectual property environment which makes a bit more sense, see for instance http://blogs.barrons.com/techtraderdaily/2010/03/17/virnetx-jumps-wins-10575m-jury-award-vs-microsoft/.
Without saying anything about the merits of the Virnetx case, which I know nothing about, I have to say that the whole process is scary.  If your typical jury is goning to have 9 people without a high school diploma and probably at least 7 functional illiterates, it doesn’t make any sense to have complex issues with that much at stake being decided by such people.   I don’t know that my own technical expertise could be upgraded over the course of a trial to make some kind of responsible decision about these kinds of matters, and I’m no dummy.
Here is the math from a predator’s perspective: it is worth it for a mark to pay you to go away.  If they don’t, look at the litigation math.  The worst case scenario for the troll is having to fully indemnify the mark for all legal fees, which might be a few million dollars.  The best case scenario is billions.   With a potentially random outcome and those numbers, the only reason not to proceed is if you are troubled by, for instance, moral and ethical qualms.
No doubt the lawyers for patent trolls are very adept at milking anti-corporate sentiment and depicting their clients as the victims of mega-corporation bullies although the predator and prey roles may in reality be reversed.
Meanwhile patent offices are reportedly very behind in processing applications.   That can apparently cause problems for businesses that need to get loans, which need patent approval before a bank will approve it, which reduces available jobs because new businesses are on hold.
The economy has enough problems without these issues arising.   Proper regulation of and advancement of techology is important for the future and not something to be left languishing because the details are difficult to follow and it lacks the pizazz of other issues like wars or abortions that more easily  lend themselves to sound bites.   Unconstipate the future and industries advance and gain competitive advantage.
In the meantime the best instrument that I have for sorting out these issues from a distance is a smell test.   That a sophisticated internet businessperson would be oblivious that his 1990’s patents are being violated by almost every online business and he has only realized this in 2010, well, that is awfully hard to swallow.

Is it possible to dumb down the Republican party any further?

I’m not sure quite how to characterize the problems that the Republicans are having with the "Tea Party".  The Tea Party was obviously started as a Republican publicity stunt, a fake grassroots movement to take on the Democrats and delude the public into thinking that there was a popular uprising to reinstate the same policies that led to the economic disaster of 2008. 
 
Somewhere this Frankenstein of a party developed a life of its’ own, and rather than rampaging across the countryside it has instead gone after its’ master.
 
In some ways the Republicans are victims of their own success.  They wanted to create some arms’ length organization that would have an affectation of being run by concerned citizens and it wound up being too arms’ length. 
 
That should not be taken as meaning that I in any way believe that the politicians purporting to follow the tea party line are sincere. 
 
The idea that waving tea bags and pork chops can solve any real problems is asinine. 
 
The right wing promises to increase expeditures (usually military), reduce revenues (taxes) and balance the budget all simultaneously, while bad math and a logical impossibility, have been strong right wing selling points for some 30 years.   
 
If the tea party were to reconcile the right wing financial platform so that it were no longer internally inconsistent I suppose that would be an improvement.  Quite apart from the financial issues one might question whether several hundred billion per year to kill people for being different than us and stealing their resources is money well spent.   I hope that the faction of the tea party vaguely associated with Ron Paul gets the upper hand as they are most likely to create improvement in these areas.
 
The tea party itself has become a victim of it’s own success, with its’ inclusive approach unfortunately leading to inclusion of dubious persons, including racists and loonies.  The debate on that should not however be framed in terms of the party being racist as an either/or option.  My guess is that it probably has a disproportionate number of activists that are for racism and that are against racism.  Asking if the tea party is racist is a bit like asking if the internet is racist.
 
Although the members of the "movement" appear to be mostly white trash, they do have a remarkable interest in reducing the taxes of the ultra-rich who hosed everybody in 2008.   That is rather an odd stand for populists. 
 
I prefer to distinguish what I think of as pure libertarianism from corporate libertarianism, because corporate libertarianism is libertarian for the rich and for corporations but little more than slavery for everybody else.   I do not believe that laws creating a privileged class that dictates to everybody else are libertarian.  Whether that privileged class is referred to as Fortune 500 CEO’s or the Politburo is a distinction without a difference.   No class can have such liberty that nobody else has any.  That isn’t libertarianism, it is authoritarianism or worse.   The libertarian objective should be to ensure that every person is as free as possible to live their life as freely as is practically possible without the interference of anybody else.  Government interference is a necessary evil to the extent that it facillitates rather than detracts from this freedom. 
 
The key issue for the tea party will be, what do they stand FOR?   Government is mostly about administration, not politics.   You still have to connect the dots.   If you decrease taxes now it will generate more debt and lead to inevitable and longer tax increases in the future, as always happens.  If we’d been taxed properly in the first place there’d be no debt to service and a much higher standard of living.   Having taxes chase expenditures doesn’t make any sense, it is like trying to sell your home by following the market down in a falling market, it always fails, but people keep on doing it for psychological reasons.
 
If you are going to reduce expenditures, there are some things where I imagine that I would wholely agree with some tea party members, such as eliminating imperialist wars.    Such wars represent two way imperialism- the war profiteers conquer both nations.
 
Here’s some reference points:
 
 
So get out your knife, and show where you’d cut.    No populist crappola in defence of it either, just hard economics. 
 
For instance, one recent so-called boondoggle that came under fire was for improvements in the Napa valley that would help avoid far more expensive flooding problems.   Eliminating preventative maintenance tends to cost more in the long run.  Think "Minnesota bridge".  Move on.
 
Cut social security for all the people that paid into it and toss them in the street?  I don’t know, that sounds a little harsh for those who’ve paid their dues.  Maybe claw back money from people that don’t need the assistance.   Having Grandma go to workfare and grab a pick or shovel and go out to build highways sounds a little repulsive too.  There might be some things to cut here, but those would likely be in administration.  Move on.
 
Medicare?
 
I think that if done right that can be vastly improved, but not by the means that either the Democrats or Republicans seem to be pursuing, and certainly not by random cuts.
 
I’ll believe that people really accept the consequences for drastic, across the board cuts when they can go to a black or hispanic American dying of a treatable illness and say that he has to die so that taxes can be lowered so that some billionaire can buy another boat or club membership [like a kind of satanic "make a wish" foundation].  If you can do that, I’ll believe that you really believe what you’re saying.  If not, you need to look in the mirror.
 
The list goes on.  It is always easier to talk about cutting expenses when you can be nebulous and wave teabags or pork chops and don’t have to deal with a specific person whose life could be destroyed by your decision.    That isn’t to say that there are choices that aren’t hard.   Running up debt creates hardship as well.   Any decision that is important enough that a politician should consider it, will cause hardship to a large number of people who are in some sense innocent, regardless of which direction is chosen.   Anybody that believes that there is a magical way to make decisions for which there will be no consequences, does not have the maturity to hold public office.  
 
I think that the west, and the US in particular, suffers from something of a Star Wars complex.    You look at the basic plot line of Star Wars, and it is automatically assumed that a rebellion by underdogs is the good guys.  We don’t have any idea what anybody stands for, other than authority is automatically evil and rebelling against authority is automatically good.   But we don’t know anything about the policies of the empire or the rebellion.  The empire is evil because it is an empire.  
 
In the end, you defeat evil, are surrounded by dancing ewoks, and everybody lives happily ever after.
 
Except that real life is the exact opposite.
 
Defeating the death star is easy.  It may be powerful but it is conceptually simple.  The goal is simple.  You have clear criteria for success and failure that a child can appreciate in an instant.  There are clear good guys and bad guys.  The outcome is binary. 
 
In real life, as Obama and every other major leader finds out, winning is the easy part.   Until then all that is required is endless chatter and staying on message.  Then when you win, you inherit all the problems of those before you, and not infrequently, those problems continue to be problems.  Endless chatter is no longer enough, you’ve promised solutions.  If a tea party person were to become president, waving tea bags would be old after the first month. 
 
And to the victor goes not the spoils, but rather the mantle of the evil emperor, because in western mythology, if you inherit authority and cannot dispel all problems with the wave of a hand, it isn’t because the problems are real, but rather you are in authority and ergo evil per se. 
 
 
I am a libertarian, small "l", but I do not agree with the modern corporate apologist libertarianism that only government is capable of oppression.   These days corporations are at least as bad.   Anarchy leads to despotism by whoever is strongest and a correct libertarian should be a strong defender of a minimalist social order for that reason.   That means acknowledging that some authority is necessary.    Even some arbitrary authority is necessary.  We cannot have people individually deciding which side of the road to drive on.  We cannot have people that would otherwise be good citizens having to decide between their family starving and committing a crime.  A certain minimum of order, which in my view includes many social programs, is necessary for stability in which everybody can individually thrive. 
 
Libertarianism should be integrated with empiricism.   No philosophy, libertarian or otherwise, makes the real world disappear in a puff of smoke.   The world is as it is. 
 
One must also be careful to not unduly either attack or defend the status quo and in particular be wary of attacking legal precedents. 
 
I know that many people that are likely now involved with the tea party have said in the past that the creation of the Federal Reserve was unconstitutional.   I agree.  Having read the constitution I agree without reservation that giving control over currency and currency policy to an agency that is technically a private agency is unconstitutional.  Having government appointees present on the Fed is not enough to save it.
 
That said, what do you do about it?  There comes a point where a bad decision becomes so entrenched that it is not possible to undo it.   My general view on legal precedent is that where there is an issue of interpretation the judicial interpretation should stand even if it strictly speaking is probably wrong, so that settled things stay settled.  You can’t have each generation of judges tear up what the previous generation has done, it would promote endless litigation. 
 
On the other hand, where a decision expressly contradicts the constitution there is a lack of jurisdiction.
 
That said, you don’t destroy the world economy by making any order that would prevent the Fed from functioning, in order to prove your brilliance.  So yes, there was a constitutional violation, it is well entrenched, and there is a question of what, if anything, could be done about it. 
 
So even where the people raising these kinds of issues are right, there is a lack of a workable game plan. 
 
 

Wildly improbable conviction of Troy Davis allowed to stand on smoke and mirrors

 
There are few things that get me angrier than a black man being kept on death row because he is black and for no other reason.
 
It is not clear why Troy Davis would have been even considered as a possible suspect.  For a guy with a good future, no priors for anything let alone violence to go to unprovoked cop killing in one step is wildly unlikely.   
 
Given the nature of the offence and the known prior character of the accused and the known difficulties with eyewitness evidence (see for instance the excellent chapter 9 in "Forensic Evidence in Canada" by G.M. Ghayko and E.D. Gulliver, Canada Law Book Inc., 1999), I do not consider the case against Mr. Davis to even be credible.  *
 
However, for somebody it was more important to convict somebody, anybody, and preferrably a black man than to find the real cop killer (which would make a cop a more probable suspect as it is usually especially important to find the real perp in a circumstance like that).
 
At least 7 of 9 witnesses for the prosecution have recanted.   There is still for some reason opposition to reopening the case, and even some people describing it as "smoke and mirrors" for the defence. 
 
Well, the only way that 7 out of 9 recanting is smoke and mirrors is if seven witnesses had only smoke and mirrors to offer in the first place, in which case once would question why they would be put on the stand. 
 
The police probably planting a glove was enough to shake the faith of a jury in the prosecution in the case against OJ.  The reality is, if this case goes back before a jury, there is no substantial likelihood of conviction.   The jury should hear about all of the misconduct in relation to railroading the case, because the conduct of the entire investigation should be in issue, and when they hear that, and with a proper caution on eyewitness evidence, the case is over. 
 
The test for overturning based on an error during trial is generally going to be whether the error could have had any realistic impact on the conviction.  We cannot say that if a jury had heard from even one witness that the witness had been forced to make up a false story through police extortion, that it would not have been enough to change the outcome.  
 
Usually the test has not been that the convict must prove his innocence, but rather that the prosecution must show that the new evidence could not have made any difference. 
I can think of no principaled or ethical reason why information about actual fraud in the conduct of a trial would be dealt with as less important than errors that are often unintentional, which come up at the time of trial or original appeal. 
 
Added to the mystery is why cops who threatened people if they did not commit perjury are not in jail.  They should be each spending a minimum of one day for every day that Mr. Davis has spent in jail, no eligibility for parole, no plea bargains. 
 
 
*[In addition to ordinary problems with memory, a flood of adrenaline from an event can make it difficult to follow what is going on and if a weapon is involved (as in this case) people tend to focus on the weapon.  Add to this issues with whites sometimes misidentifying blacks who look nothing like a perpetrator due to skin color and a host of other issues.   Maybe my favorite of all is that, contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court in Neil v. Biggers, witness confidence has little correlation with witness accuracy, but that doesn’t play much of a role in a case where 7 of 9 witnesses knew that in fact their testimony was inaccurate.   Of course these issues only are relevant if the 2 remaining witnesses stick to their testimony.  It is possible that witnesses have been tainted without being aware of it or intending to mislead the court, it happens all the time. ]

Law and Order?

 
The linked case is one where it would have perhaps been better to have allowed a ship to enter international or even better US waters before acting.
 
The US Coast Guard spies a "suspicious" ship flying a Honduran flag in the territorial waters of Honduras, and boards and searches the ship, finding drugs and then arresting and taking the traffickers back to the United States to be charged with something- I don’t know what.
 
Is the US now going to be like Spain and claim universal jurisdiction over anything that happens anywhere in the world?
 
The US apparently still doesn’t recognize the present government in Honduras.   It seems that if there is an offence it is only jurisdictionally relevant to Honduras and it ought to be tried there.  
 
Imagine the outrage if an American ship had seized a Canadian vessel well within Canadian waters, searched it without warrant and rendered the occupants, possibly Canadian citizens, to Miami to face trial.  
 
That they happened to guess right is irrelevent.   And we don’t know how many "suspicious" ships were searched and turned upside down before one was found with contraband.  
 
Is piracy not piracy because the pirates enforce laws in some other jurisdiction and because they are lucky enough to get some bad guys in the process?  Unless they can come up with some express standing agreement with the present, unrecognized Honduran government to delegate some law enforcement duties I would think that the Coast Guard crew are guilty of a criminal offence. 
 
You would think that they would at least have the common sense to deal with that kind of problem, if at all, with black ops.  

Agreement with Ron Paul and some ancient wisdom

 
He says it well enough so I won’t bother to repeat it.
 
And on dealing with Islam, here is a fable from Aesop from about 2,500 years ago:
 
The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak.
They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other.
Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him;
and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took off his cloak.
And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.

 

(source Wikipedia)

Alas in my readings I tend to find more ancient than modern wisdom and I wonder if being bombarded by endless information can make it more difficult to see the big picture through a cloud of informational "white noise".

 

Some progress in astronomy

 
Language can be a trap, importing unproven assumptions, and that can side track science and ordinary life.
 
One of my least favorite concepts is that of the planetary "gas giant".
 
It looks like the science on that is moving along a bit, in that some people are now trying to look at the formation of planets with large atmospheres from a more practical standpoint of how they evolved.
 
From such a standpoint it is hard to see a gas giant as anything other than a planet with a big atmosphere, and that the atmosphere may be opaque is irrelevant.
 
There is an issue raised in the above article about why Jupiter’s core is likely smaller than Saturn’s, as one might expect a proportionately larger core.
 
To explain the difference, some have suggested that Jupiter might have been bombarded by objects larger than Earth.   There are a number of practical problems with that suggestion however.  Most important is the related issues of where such objects would have come from and where they would have gone to.  The present escape velocity with Jupiter is about 59.5 km/s, and the escape velocity from the sun at Jupiter’s distance is about 18.5 km/s.   If Jupiter was already big when hit by such an object, any solar system object would not likely be fast enough to escape the gravitational pull.   It would collapse back in resulting in more rather than less mass.
 
A lot of these problems can go away if you get away from all teleological viewpoints, religious or otherwise, and think of what would happen in a potluck universe.
 
If you had a vast, perfectly distributed expanse of gas with only a bowling ball into it at one spot and a pea in at another spot with motion such that it would not collapse into the bowling ball, the bowling ball would grow into a star and the pea would grow into a satellite (depending on the distance, the pea could develop into an orbiting planet or star). 
 
Earth has a heavy core, composed of elements that presumably did not come from the sun.  It is thought to be different in composition from most of the other small planets.
 
The planets likely started with kernels with no particular association with the solar system.  The size and composition of such a kernel would be a question of fact, not something to be decided a priori.   Much of the elements on and in the Earth could not have been produced by our sun, subject to one qualification below.  The Sun shoots out plasma but I am unaware of that including heavy elements. 
 
These kernals could be anything.   If one looks at asteroids and comets and the like, some are like chunks of ice, others are for example iron.  
 
The order of arrival of planets in a solar system would also be an issue. 
 
It would be a wildly improbable coincidence that 9+ objects would arrive in perfect orbits simultaneously with the formation of a new sun.   Early arriving objects with a headstart might grow much bigger.
 
Then once material accummulates, the planet’s core becomes hotter and hotter.  Depending on the material it may melt or even vaporize.  The lack of a current solid core or a smaller than expected solid core may reflect increased temperatures rather than the lack of a core in the first place.  The odds are good that the sun was started around a solid foundation.
 
Which brings up another point, if a star does burn out there isn’t any particular reason why it can’t start up again with whatever is left if it passes through a gas cloud.