February 2004

In defense of a traditional marriage

DocBug Exclusive: A message from Bug Anger

My fellow Americans,

In announcing his support for amending the US Constitution to ban gay marriage, President Bush declared that “The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution.”

His words may sound convincing, but do not be deceived by his half-truths. Yes, for almost two millennia marriage has been defined as one man and one woman. Or maybe it was a man and a couple of women if the first one is infertile. And there’s something about up to four wives but only if you can afford it… but I digress. Yes my friends, the important bit is the man/woman thing, and we can be confident on that point. But there is another aspect of marriage, equally founded in our traditions, that our president has conveniently left out. It shocks me that this fundamental part of our tradition, honed through millennia of human experience to promote the welfare of children and the stability of society, could warrant no mention from our Head of State.

As anyone born between 300 A.D. and 1960 could tell you, marriage is the union between one man and one woman of the same religious background and cultural values. The reason for this tradition is obvious and scientifically proven: children need the stability of one religious upbringing, one morality, and one set of holidays. Thousands of years of experience has shown that so-called “multicultural” households lead to confusion, experimentalism, and a Creole of ideas that rips at the basic fabric of our society. Is it any wonder that almost all modern religions have strong taboos against marrying outside of the faith?

Over the past two centuries, activist judges have chipped away at this ancient institution, leading to such modern vulgarities as Daddy’s Catholic Roommate, Guess Who’s Coming to Seder, and Heather Has Two Languages. Now the gates of opportunity have been opened by the magical words “Constitutional amendment,” but we must act quickly, while we still have a president who feels that America’s “commitment of freedom… does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions.” It is a rare president that would place our cause above the twin institutions of freedom and tolerance, and rarer still that such a president remains in office for long.

— Bug Anger

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Chicken Little vs. The Ostrich

The British newspaper The Observer yesterday published a story entitled “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us.” It’s the sort of sensationalism you’d expect from the title, full of conspiracies and secret reports and the end of the world by 2020. Unfortunately, their story seems to be getting more coverage than the more complete story that came out in Fortune Magazine after the Pentagon supplied them with a copy of the unclassified “secret report” that The Observer gushes about.

At least in the US, the Global Climate change debate is too often framed by Chicken Littles like The Observer and ostriches like our own president. The reality is that there is a growing consensus among scientists that global warming is real, is largely attributable to human activities, and will continue over the next century. However, there are also a lot of unknowns, and the “Abrupt Climate Change” scenario described in the cited report is one that has been highlighted in recent years by the US National Academy of Sciences and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

We don’t know how likely an abrupt climate change is, but the Pentagon report describes its own worst-case scenario as unlikely. Chicken Littles can come out of their fallout shelters and wipe off the 10,000 SPF sunscreen. However, our nation’s leaders need to stop sticking their heads in the sand about these potential dangers. A footlocker-sized nuke going off in New York is unlikely, but it’s a big concern in Washington and rightly so. A repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic in the next few years is also unlikely, but boy am I glad the CDC is on the case. Homeland security is all about evaluating threats and doing what’s necessary to limit our risk. That’s a lesson every large company knows, and a lesson the Pentagon has always taken to heart. Now if we could just get our president to wise up.


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Dave Weisberg on echo chambers

Nice article on echo chambers by Dave Weinberger over at Salon. A few key quotes:

Conversations iterate differences within agreement… The fact that conversations start from a base agreement is not a weakness of conversations. In fact, it’s a requirement.

No, if you want to see a real echo chamber, open up your daily newspaper or turn on your TV. There you’ll find a narrow, self-reinforcing set of views. The fact that these media explicitly present themselves as a forum for objective truth, open to all ideas, makes them far more pernicious than some site designed to let people examine the 8,000 ways Hillary is a bitch or to let fans rage about how much better Spike was on “Buffy” than he’ll ever be on “Angel.”

We are at a dangerous time in the Internet’s history. There are forces that want to turn it into a place where ideas, images and thoughts can be as carefully screened as callers to a radio talk show. The “echo chamber” meme is not only ill-formed, but it also plays into the hands of those who are ready to misconstrue the Net in order to control it. We’d all be better off if we stopped repeating it and let its sound fade.

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A one-man anti-Kerry smear campaign

I got my first Astroturf political spam comment today on my post on California mental illness legislation. The brief comment links to a press release signed by IPRWire founder and staunch Edwards Supporter Hans Schnauber, better known as The Butterfly Guy. Schnauber made the news in 1996 for registering domain names of big companies and then posting Web pages about how awful those companies have been for butterfly habitat.

The Kerry screed itself takes the well-known story of how Kerry discovered only last year that his grandfather was actually Jewish, and how he had taken his own life in 1921, probably due to financial difficulties. It then goes on to make the completely unfounded assertion that “According to sources, including The Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, and Fox News, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has a family history of severe mental illness” and asks the ominous question “Will the American people vote for a candidate with a family history of mental illness and clinical depression?” Of course, the release doesn’t actually cite the news stories to which it refers, but given a a NetNews post by the author we can guess it refers to the original Boston Globe article and the Sun-Times and Fox News pick-ups, none of which ever mention the possibility of mental illness.

A little web-searching reveals that Hans is hyping the press release on NetNews, posting under the name “Day Bird Loft (loft@pigeons.ws)” (see this post where “Loft” signs his post as “Hans”, and note that pigeons.ws points to the same base scripted website as iprwire.net). But in spite of hyping his story in numerous news groups (sometimes even replying to his own message), I’ve yet to see a response taking him to task for his self-promotion. Given that the NetNews is usually quite aware of spammers, I have to assume he’s gotten away with it for four days (a lifetime on the Net) because his posts are mostly hand-crafted, point to an official-sounding press account (most people don’t know PRWeb is a for-hire press-release wire service), and because he actually defends himself in the threads he posts to. I probably wouldn’t have investigated it either had his comment not been so clearly generated by a spam-bot that got tripped by keywords out of context.

What’s the moral of this story? Just another warning of what we already knew:

  1. The Net is a powerful tool for political messages
  2. It’s as easy to rumor-monger a lie as it is the truth
  3. On the Internet, no one knows you’re not a crowd

Update: Hans comments that he didn’t use a spam-bot, just “plain old fashion tech creativity.” It’s that kind of personal touch that’s missing so often from spam in this day of automation — I’m glad to see some craftsmen still put a little of themselves in their work.

From a purely strategic standpoint though, I have to wonder about the choice of mental illness as the hook for this smear campaign. The best whisper campaigns say out loud what people are already wondering. It doesn’t have to be true: Gore was an honest man but could be painted as dishonest because of his association with Clinton. (Of course, it helps even more if the rumor has truth to it, as was the case with Clinton.) But I haven’t seen anything in Kerry to make me think insanity; it just doesn’t connect emotionally. The story would have stuck much better to Dean I expect — people were much more willing to think he was unhinged, and there were already a lot more forces trying to spin him that way. Perhaps when the nomination is over Hans will explain his reasoning and we’ll be able to do a post-mortum on his one-man campaign.


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Come-hither noises

Jim Griffin (former head of technology for Geffen Records) tells The Register that Wi-fi will be the death-knell for DRM/content control (I buy that) and that the solution will be flat-fee models (I’m not so sure yet, but haven’t looked at the particulars). Best quote:

By promising to play nice, and building DRM and TCPA technologies, the computer industry is simply making come-hither noises that the rights holders want to hear.

“When I was 14, I told girls I loved them to sleep with them too. It was a fiction. Steve Jobs just leaves a little money on the table,” he says. “These theoretical notions of control run headlong into the real historical experience.”

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Now it gets interesting…

There’s been lots of talk about Howard Dean’s use of the Internet, but honestly his campaign is just now entering the phase that interests me the most. As expected, Dean has stopped actively campaigning, though he still encourages supporters to vote for him and send delegates to the convention to help set the party’s platform. More importantly, he hopes to turn his loose-knit community of supporters into a grassroots movement:

[W]e will convert Dean for America into a new grassroots organization, and I hope you stay involved. We are determined to keep this entire organization vibrant. There are a lot of ways to make change. We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again.

MoveOn.org started five years ago as an online petition against President Clinton’s impeachment and now has over two million members. Dean already boasts over a quarter of that number (no doubt with significant overlap), but Deaniacs are even more self-empowered and decentralized than MoveOn members. That makes it a harder ship to steer, and Dean now needs to shift from head of a campaign to first motivating voice in a community of equals. If he can manage that (starting, perhaps, by rejoining with his old campaign manager Joe Trippi) then the movement might yet demonstrate the Internet-age decentralized politics that we breathless techno-pundits continue to predict.

Now it gets interesting… Read More »

Dogs and cats living together

From the SF Chronicle:

And no question became so clear, so obvious, as the one being asked by same-sex-marriage advocates around the world: What, really, is so wrong about this? What is the horrible threat about two adults who love each other so intensely, so purely, that they’re willing to commit to a lifetime of being together and sleeping together and arguing over who controls the remote? And what government body dares to claim a right to legislate against it?

In short, to the neocon Right, a nation that allows gays to marry is a nation with no boundaries and no condoms and where all sorts of illicit disgusting behaviors will soon be legal and be forced upon them, a horrific tribal wasteland full of leeches and flying bugs and scary sex acts they only read about in chat rooms and their beloved “Left Behind” series of cute apocalypse-porn books.

You know, just like how giving blacks the right to own their own land meant we had to give the same rights to house plants and power tools, or how granting women the right to vote meant it was a slippery slope until we gave suffrage to feral cats and sea slugs and rusty hubcaps.

Just as there are two kinds of marriage, religious and civil, there seem to be two kinds of fears out there. The societal fear is of moral decay — if we teach our children that homosexuality is OK then they’ll think rape, torture and masturbation is OK too. Leaving aside the lack of evidence for any such link, this kind of moral debate belongs in our churches and social centers, not our courts and congress. Then there’s the legal slippery slope fear — if the courts protect gay marriage then they might protect things like polygamy. I’m no constitutional lawyer, but that one strikes me as a poor reading what’s happening. The state cases that have been coming forward have not been ruling that homosexuality is OK, nor that homosexuals are a protected class. What they have been ruling is that if I, as a man, have the government-granted right to marry Jane in a civil marriage then so does Susan. That’s what equal protection means. This argument doesn’t apply to polygamy: I don’t have the right to marry two people, and neither does Susan. Ditto for bestiality and anything else that keeps you awake at night.

As for the SF Gate article, I have to admit I’m pretty proud to be living within the Greater San Francisco Liberal Bubble myself right now…

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Historian Offers New Insights

Docbug Exclusive — Noted military historian and strategist Ann “kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” Coulter will be following up on the success of her analysis of Silver Star recipient and triple-amputee Max Cleland with biographies of other war heros, unnamed sources revealed1.

Coulter, who last week presented her expert testimony that the decorated Vietnam veteran deserved no respect for his service because he lost his limbs “in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends,” will soon reveal her insights on other honored veterans, including The Cowardliness of Douglas MacArthur, Congressional Medal of Honor Winners: Traitors in Our Midst, and John Wayne: Pansy.

1 Hey, if Drudge can use them, why can’t I?

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A quick look at the Win2K sourcecode

Kuro5hin has a brief analysis of the code structure and comments in the recently-leaked Win2K sourcecode.

His conclusions:

The security risks from this code appear to be low. Microsoft do appear to be checking for buffer overruns in the obvious places. The amount of networking code here is small enough for Microsoft to easily check for any vulnerabilities that might be revealed: it’s the big applications that pose more of a risk. This code is also nearly four years old: any obvious problems should be patched by now.

Microsoft’s fears that this code will be pirated by its competitors also seem largely unfounded. With application code this would be a risk, but it’s hard to see Microsoft’s operating system competitors taking advantage of it. Neither Apple nor Linux are in a much of position to steal code and get away with it, even if it was useful to them.

In short, there is nothing really surprising in this leak. Microsoft does not steal open-source code. Their older code is flaky, their modern code excellent. Their programmers are skilled and enthusiastic. Problems are generally due to a trade-off of current quality against vast hardware, software and backward compatibility.

I was also gratified to see this comment, based on a book I loved as a kid:


Even in Australia…

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