Saturday, April 20, 2002

I HAVE FAMILY members who will be entertained by this tale of AT&T customer service.
ROGER ROWLETT has some of the best photos of the Tribute In Light I've seen yet. (via vodkapundit)
IT'S COMMON TO BASH the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's notice provision, but usually the bashers are long-time computer-folk used to open-source and upset at any intrusion of the intellectual property laws. So I was surprised to see Overlawyered sympathize with Tom Veal's recent troubles in the following manner:
Unfortunately, as Veal notes, the incentives under DMCA are for hosts to muzzle speech in haste and un-muzzle at leisure.
To review: the original problem was the hosting of copyrighted material. Where the copyright violators were unidentifiable, the copyright holder had no alternative but to sue the host. Needless to say, the potential liability for copyright infringement was a huge chill to the ability of host services to provide space for free expression; once the accusation was made, the host had little choice but to remove the allegedly offending material or risk liability, and only the most dedicated host would expend resources evaluating the likely merits of the claim. The DMCA creates a safe harbor. Holder writes Host. Host removes material and notifies Webpage Writer. Webpage Writer has a choice of (a) acceding to the removal or (b) swearing under oath that there's no violation, and agreeing to accept jurisdiction in the event of a copyright lawsuit, in which case Host may reinstate the allegedly offending material without fear of liability.

Perhaps I'm being insufficiently creative here, but this strikes me as a solution to overlawyering rather than a cause of it. There are clear-cut hoops to jump through to avoid liability. Copyright holders are protected. Hosts can host. Users have recourse when unfairly accused. Lawsuits against bystanders are minimized. What alternative solution am I missing that accomplishes all these goals?

Acknowledged: this law can be misused. But so can the copyright laws in general. The law firm in question doesn't seem to have done a great job of handling this particular case: they put the hammer on Tom Veal who linked to the allegedly infringing site, but not to the original site itself. But linking to an infringing work with an intent to disseminate that infringing work has been held to be contributory infringement; the law firm was within its rights. Tom Veal complains that they should've e-mailed him first, but he doesn't provide an e-mail address on his site.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST: New York Times story #1:
The Israeli Army continued blocking access to the camp for at least three more days to humanitarian workers, United Nations officials, and journalists. The army said that fighting could still break out, and that booby traps, even some on corpses, made the area too perilous.

But journalists who gained access to the camp during that period saw no live explosives, and residents said that they feared only Israeli sniper fire. International Red Cross officials and local hospital officials said they had seen no booby-trapped bodies. Eight people have been injured in the camp in the last three days in unexplained explosions or building collapses.
and story #2, in the same day's paper:
In the course of the search, an Israeli Arab medic stepped on an explosive device and suffered wounds to his leg.
This is a rewrite of a Reuters report that appears on the Times web site (via Instapundit):
As relief agency officials and human rights activists swarmed around the camp, an Israeli Arab doctor stepped on something that exploded, blowing him off his feet.

Writhing in agony and bleeding from the leg, Wael Omari, part of a delegation of physicians, was stretchered away to an ambulance by shocked colleagues. The blast was a sharp reminder of the dangers posed by unexploded ordnance and booby-traps.
In any event, why mention that "journalists" and IRC officials claim there are no live explosives, when there clearly are? Why not acknowledge that maybe the Israelis were right and the journalists and the IRC were wrong?
SUDDEN THOUGHT. Isn't it weird that Ted Rall, who makes his living now by making fun of the widows of firefighters and Danny Pearl, previously made a name for himself by complaining in the Village Voice that the immensely more talented Art Spiegelman's New Yorker covers were "cheap and hollow provocation"?
A WEBLOG that I can't find now wonders why Robert Blake's arrest is getting less publicity than O.J. Simpson's, and suggests race is the reason. I disagree; the two cases are similar, but every place they differ, the effect is to make the OJ story bigger:
  • Brentwood home versus San Fernando Valley street
  • the relatively glamorous Nicole Brown Simpson (and Ron Goldman) versus the relatively sordid Bonnie Lee Bakley (though one might plausibly suggest that Bakley's activities were more sordid than Brown's only in that she was less successful in trading on her looks for financial security)
  • Simpson was simply a much bigger star than Blake. This was true at Blake's peak (1975-78), and it was true at the time of the crime, where OJ was still in the public eye and Blake was clearly a has-been
  • The OJ story didn't blow up until the notorious low-speed Bronco chase, which lasted hours, was nationally broadcast, and featured the strange scene of thousands of Angelenos coming out to the streets to root for Simpson (though one could argue that race made a difference here)
  • The Simpson murders came during the summer, in an empty news week, while we're in the middle of a war now
Admittedly, the Simpson case involved race as well as sex and murder and celebrity, but the entirety of the difference between the press coverage can't be attributed to race. Todd Bridges' mishaps didn't get more publicity than Dana Plato's.

What I want to know is this. The LA Times reports that, in the course of the police investigation:
Among the items Braun gave to the police shortly after the killing were nude photos of Bakley that she allegedly sent to lonely men in exchange for cash, plane tickets and bus fare.

Tatreau declined to comment on the investigation in detail, but said detectives have combed through Bakley's possessions and conducted follow-up interviews. The detectives have traveled to Arkansas, New Jersey, Montana and Tennessee as a result of the material that Braun provided, Tatreau said.
How on earth can the police have enough evidence to arrest Blake for murder, but not also simultaneously charge Harland Braun with obstruction of justice? It strikes me as unethical to be sending the police on a wild-goose-chase on factual theories one knows to be false. This is, perhaps, why I'm not entrusted with criminal defense cases.
ANONYMOUS BLOGGING: Most of my commentary on the controversy can be found here, since I addressed Charles Murtaugh's complaint by e-mail. My e-mail was not meant to imply that I'm at the level of a George Orwell or Publius; those were examples to demonstrate that anonymous/pseudonymous political writing as a long and noble tradition. My main concern is the Stuart Buck fiasco: I'd rather see Buck blog anonymously than not at all because of a bogus interpretation of an ethical rule.

Of course, one can't average Sullivan Numbers for anonymous and non-anonymous bloggers. There are thousands of bloggers out there who are entirely isolated from the "warbloggers." It's also a bit unfair; the journalists and free-lance writers aren't going to be blogging anonymously, but the government workers and professionals are. Then, there's the question of "anonymous." Okay, Robert Musil is anonymous, and so is "A Beam". Is Tal G.? I know who Jane Galt really is, but a lot of her more recent readers don't. Asparagirl is identifiable to someone who makes the bother, but won't give her real name in press interviews. Matt Welch met me in a bar in Beverly Hills, and knows who I am, and I've given my identity to a lot of fellow bloggers and friends and family. Judging from my hit logs, a couple of ex-girlfriends have guessed my identity and lurk to see what I'm writing. But, alright, as far as I can tell, only Musil (who gets links from Kaus and Postrel), Orchid, Dr. Frank, and Asparagirl are anonymous with S=2.

Murtaugh is correct that I lose some credibility because I can't impress strangers with what I humbly believe to be an impressive resume (though not as impressive as Eugene Volokh's). My arguments have to stand or fall on their own without that argument from authority, but it's better than feeling too constrained to make them at all. If someone's blogging anonymously so they can take cheap shots at their professors, that's one thing. If someone is blogging anonymously because they have reasons for needing to remain anonymous (even if, as in the case of "Eric Blair," those reasons are irrational and paranoid), I don't object.
ACCUSATION THAT chemical warfare components were found in Arafat's Ramallah compound (via LGF)
JEFF JARVIS ASKS for an economist to defend the lottery:
I'll just bet that a smart econ Ph.D candidate could write a helluva dissertation on that, proving that lotteries are helping to depress our economy, redistributing wealth in the most unproductive manner possible.

Hey all you economist bloggers -- you, you, or you -- tackle that one. Calculate the total amount of income -- income at its most spendable -- drained from the economy; how much spending power did we lose? Then look at where the winnings went; what did it build? Then look at the net income to the government for all this and who paid and how much it cost to generate that income. Then answer the question: Are we better off?
I haven't seen anyone take up the cudgel, and I haven't been an economist for close to eleven years, but I'll do what I can.

1) The first benefit to the economy from a government lottery is that such a government can, instead of taxing productive activity, instead skim from people who are volunteering to give money to the government. (N.B. This is not the incorrect pro-lottery argument that the money is "earmarked for education." Unless the lottery brings in more than would've gone to education in the first place, the lottery money earmarked for education simply replaces general funds that would've been used for education, and the real effect is to increase the government's general fund.)

2) It's a mistake to view the only end of a lottery ticket as the money won. A lottery-ticket purchaser is getting both the expected winnings and the entertainment value of the lottery ticket purchase. For example, someone with a $110 bet on a football game will spend hours watching the football game, even though (a) watching the football game has no effect on his wager and (b) the knowledge obtained by watching the football game is perhaps worth pennies of expectation per hour for future bets. This utility from entertainment is a very real utility. That poor (and middle-class) people spend money on lottery tickets reflects that the utility they expect to receive from the tickets outweighs the alternative uses of their money. Thus, banning the lottery would make lottery purchasers worse off as a whole.
2a) The argument against this is to the extent that lotteries have the same addictive effect as gambling, and that people who begin addictive behavior wouldn't have done so had they known the long-term effects of engaging in the behavior. The cost of educating the public about gambling addiction and curing gambling addiction is a real social cost. But the same argument applies to other addictive "vices," be they tobacco or alcohol or caffeine.

2b) The counter-counter argument is that the prohibition of the lottery doesn't displace the inherent demand for gambling, and that the side effects of illegal gambling are worse than the side effects of legal gambling, just as was the case for legal vs. illegal alcohol in Prohibition days.

2c) The counter-counter-counter argument is the Cass Sunstein-style point that government laws serve as role models for the community in defining acceptable behavior, and that legalization of lotteries and other gambling sends a poor message. This is perhaps similar to Matt Welch's e-mail to Jarvis:
Speaking of the lottery, my argument against it is this -- the state should not be involved in actively promoting vice to its own citizens, let alone (maybe to a lesser extent) depending on levies from said vice to fill a budget. I don't want the state spending money on anti-smoking billboards, and I don't want the state spending money on pro-lottery commercials. I want the state to govern. How's that?
Sunstein points to seat-belt laws, recycling laws, and anti-discrimination laws as examples of how laws can set social norms. The anti-Sunstein argument would be that the government's powers are limited in reality (e.g., the lack of social willingness to comply with 55 mph speed limits on empty highways) and/or the libertarian argument that the government's role is not to be setting a moral example, though, as Matt Welch points out, pro-lottery advertising would be just as offensive to the libertarian spirit. (I don't mind government anti-tobacco billboards to the extent they educate about health risks. I do mind government anti-tobacco-industry billboards to the extent they have nothing to do with health education but demonization of a potential litigation opponent. California's anti-tobacco campaign is scary abuse of government power, even if Harry Shearer is hilarious. But that's a different story for a different post.)
3) The really frightening part is to argue against lotteries because of the "poor taste" of the winners. What policy-making body should deem matters of taste and take account of them in larger policy-making decisions? That's how we get WTO activists burning down Starbucks. Vulgarity is just another word for consumer choice. The highbrow of today -- e.g., men in leather tights performing Shakespeare -- was the lowbrow of 500 years ago. There are Chaucerian tales that are indistinguishable from a scene in a Farrelly brothers movie.

4) Maybe a better objection against government lotteries is that they're such a piss-poor ripoff. You don't see government lotteries in Nevada, because the state is full of casinos, and any casino that offered odds as bad as a state lottery would be out of business in a week. The government-enforced monopoly on gambling is what makes lotteries feasible. But the Jarvis objection to state lotteries would presumably go tenfold for legalized gambling.
YOU KNOW, Sleater-Kinney is probably the best Jewish lesbian grunge-punk trio in the Pacific Northwest in at least the last ten years. I'm just sayin'. New Sleater-Kinney album coming in August. Plus, they appear to be trying out the new material on the East Coast next month. Here's a longer piece from the Olympia newspaper.
THIS APPEARS TO be a blog about type design: Lines & Splines.
THIS entertaining piece on an absurdist use of Google's ad words program, combined with the recent stories on google-bombing and Scientology's censorship of critical google ads, led me to the following do-not-try-this-at-home idea:
1. A purchaser of a google ad has to pays not per viewing of the ad, but per click-through of the ad.

2. Scientology has purchased all ads relating to "Scientology" key-word searches.

3. Thus, a script that searched Google for "Scientology" and selected an ad-word ad would be guaranteed to cost Scientology money.
What would this be: "advertising bombing"? Needless to say, This Would Be Wrong.
INTERVIEW WITH A Palestinian fighter in Jenin. Note (1) that's he describing a vicious street battle, not a massacre, and (2) how the Palestinians cheerfully bluffed cease-fires to ambush soldiers and medics, in violation of the rules of war. (via Joanne Jacobs)
SPEAKING OF Mark Steyn, here's the latest:
For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that "Chairman" Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit.
He also notices the same things Pejman did:
In the British accounts of the alleged worst human-rights atrocity since, oh, the Dutch took charge at Srebrenica, you can't help noticing a curious sameness. All reports rely on the same couple of eyewitnesses -- "Kamal Anis, a labourer" (The Times), "A quiet, sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis" (The Independent), "Kamal Anis, 28" (The Daily Telegraph) -- and the same handful of victims -- "A man named only as Bashar once lived there" (The Telegraph), "the burned remains of a man, Bashar" (The Evening Standard), "Bashir died in agony" (The Times). You'd think with so many thousands massacred there'd be a bigger selection of victims and distraught loved ones, wouldn't you?

Friday, April 19, 2002

GARANCE FRANKE-RUTA on the insane French farmer Jose Bove.
FLIPPING THROUGH CHANNELS Saturday night, I caught the SNL news broadcast for the first time in ages, and fell instantly in love with Tina Fey. Jim Treacher transcribed her monologue on the Mid-East, and like me, was impressed with her blog sensibility whereby she notes the not-widely-reported facts that (1) Arafat says one thing in English and another in Arabic; (2) Iraq is funding the suicide bombers; and (3) Saudi Arabia isn't really our friend. And did it funny to boot. The bad thing about reading blogs is that you end up missing out the extent to which television is reporting the zeitgeist. Bush the Elder was influenced by a 1991 Saturday Night Live sketch making fun of the cluelessness of the press pool reporters. So Tina Fey has the capacity to do great good, probably more so than Mark Steyn or Victor David Hanson.
YUK, YUK. Tim Blair tells a funny
Sesame Arab Street

For children. Join lovable Grover, Big Bird, Elmo, Bert and Ernie as they sing songs, learn the alphabet, and offer hateful tirades against America and Israel's latest political and military plans.
It doesn't begin to compare to the reality.
It's called The Children's Club.

It comes complete with puppet shows, games, songs and a very chilling message about becoming a suicide bomber. A little girl sings in Arabic about her ultimate ambition in life.

(Song Translation) “Oh sing my sister constantly about my life as a suicide warrior.”

Another girl screams about preparing to die.

(Song Translation) “I foresee my death, but I march quickly. Am I afraid? Life has little value because I'm returning to my lord and my people will know I am a hero.”
(Other links on the same show here and here.)
PERHAPS THERE IS hope for France yet.
"The slap that boosted Bayrou," as the daily Le Parisien called it, was just the thing the centrist candidate needed to liven up his flagging campaign.

Bayrou, head of the struggling Union for French Democracy (UDF) party, is scoring only about five percent in the opinion polls, which put him back with the also-rans in the 16-person race for the first round of voting on April 21.


It all started on Monday when rowdy teenagers threw rocks at a town hall annex Bayrou was visiting in a poor neighbourhood in the eastern city of Strasbourg. The candidate decided to confront the boys and lecture them about law and order.

While they talked about the Middle East conflict -- most of the boys were Muslims of Arab descent -- Bayrou put his hand in a pocket and found someone else's hand in it.

"Don't go through my pockets!" Bayrou cried, slapping the boy in the face.
ROGER CLEGG makes the interesting point that the next Supreme Court nomination is greatly dependent upon which Justice retires. I'm rooting for Frank Easterbrook, brother of Gregg, myself, but the weird politics of the Bush Administration seem to favor judges like Gonzales and Luttig who have less of a track record.
HERE ARE TWO MORE time wasters that everyone else is linking.
EUGENE VOLOKH points to a variation of an old programming trick that simulates ESP. Nothing new there (though if you haven't tried it before, I recommend it--it can be unnerving). The really entertaining part is the related e-mail page of users attempting to figure it out.
JANE GALT correctly identifies one reason why the RIAA position on Eldred is bogus. But she misses the other. The RIAA claims:
There will be fewer derivative works prepared from existing works, because there's much more of an incentive to create a derivative work if you can get an exclusive right from the copyright holder.
How does that translate into fewer works?

First, if there is a copyright holder, and a number of artists bidding for the exclusive rights to create a derivative work, the economic expectation is that the copyright holder is going to achieve most of the monopoly rents from the exclusive right. So the derivative creators aren't any better off than if they were competing against each other to create derivative works from public domain items.

Second, if the real benefit comes from getting the "exclusive" right, that benefit can only come from limiting the output and charging higher prices that reflect the limited output. Potential derivative creators will still want to create, but they'll go to the exclusive rights holder for permission, and the exclusive rights holder will either (a) deny permission to prevent market saturation of the original work or (b) demand a cut of the derivative creator's take, reducing the derivative creator's incentive to create compared to the public-domain world where the derivative creator keeps the full share of its profits. Either way, there are fewer works on the market in the world of expanded copyright terms.
HERE'S A PHENOMENALLY COMPLETE analysis of the Battle of Jenin and its press coverage. (via Rand Simberg)

Thursday, April 18, 2002

It's a little humbling to have a weblog for over two months, and see a quarter of all the traffic you've ever had show up in twelve hours due to the Reynolds effect.

My posting level's low at the moment. I'm participating in a law review article, and have been going through dozens of e-mails on the blook.

But as long as we're talking about CAIR, it's pretty phenomenal that one of things they're proud of on the front page of their web page is this lawsuit whose basic premise is that AOL is legally responsible because it has a bunch of jerks in its chat-rooms, including some that deny the divinity of Mohammed. Paging Walter Olson. I was half-expecting to see "14-year-old Amber" listed as one of the users offending Islam. (Warning: offensive language and themes.)

UPDATE: Walter Olson, as always, is way ahead of me.
CAIR COVERUP: We all know that the Council on American-Islamic Relations poll regarding whether Ariel Sharon should be tried for war crimes is bogus. As you recall, CAIR was running the poll, which had a few hundred participants; Instapundit among others suggested readers weigh in; and "NO" was quickly winning by a landslide. Suddenly, the poll numbers changed dramatically; then the poll disappeared entirely, replaced by an accusation of vote manipulation; then even the accusation disappeared. The Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard noticed, though, and now CAIR is attempting to spin their perfidy. Instapundit got the following e-mail from the CAIR webmaster, "Omar T.":
User (I can provide you with the IP address) logs in to the CAIR website. They disable their browser cookies (allowing them to vote multiple times). They voted exactly (as per the logs) exactly 8,056 times. We purged the poll of 8,055 duplicate polls. We also purged a number of other multiple votes (including YES answers). The number of "NO" answers go down drastically. CAIR is seen as manipulating the votes to their advantage. To avoid such confrontation - the poll is taken down.
CAIR is lying.

Before, CAIR's poll showed 95-5 against with 11,168 votes. Let's be conservative, and say the real number of yes votes was 5.49%. That would mean 613 votes for and 10555 votes against.

If 8055 multiple NO votes were purged, the number would be 613 YES and 2500 NO votes, for a 80-20 NO ratio.

Instead, CAIR posted a poll showing 90-10 voting YES with 2176 total votes. So, CAIR did more than subtract 8000 alleged duplicate NO votes. They subtracted over 10,000 NO votes and added over 1000 YES votes!

The CAIR webmaster's story is simply a lie.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

KENYA AND horsehair wigs.
THE BAD NEWS IS that Bin Laden appears to have escaped Tora Bora in December:
But some policymakers and operational officers spoke in frustrated and even profane terms of what they called an opportunity missed.

"We [messed] up by not getting into Tora Bora sooner and letting the Afghans do all the work," said a senior official with direct responsibilities in counterterrorism. "Clearly a decision point came when we started bombing Tora Bora and we decided just to bomb, because that's when he escaped. . .‚. We didn't put U.S. forces on the ground, despite all the brave talk, and that is what we have had to change since then."
The good news buried in the same article is that Pakistan appears to have been more cooperative than has been reported, and caught 300 escaping Al Qaeda, and turned over many of them to the US.
EXCERPT FROM A new collection of children's diaries of the Holocaust.
MEANWHILE, A 13-year old from the Netherlands shut down over a hundred Washington DC banks with a bogus bomb threat on April 15, wrecking numerous procrastinators' plans to create Roth individual retirement accounts for tax year 2001.

My bank was kind enough to close, but leave the ATM lobby open, without any indication to its customers that its employees had been sent home by a bomb threat. Perhaps I should've asked the Japanese tv crew filming the piece of paper saying "closed for emergency."
IT'S LOOKING increasingly likely that Al Qaeda was behind a gas truck bombing of a Tunisian synagogue, a disturbing sign given that organization's propensity to do dress rehearsals in Third World countries before using similar methods in the United States.
THE Homer Simpson soundboard.
LONDONERS ARE NOW six times more likely to be mugged than New Yorkers, though it remains to be seen if post-Giuliani New York will remain tough on crime.
SAD NEWS. Early Usenet legend Rich Halberstein, a.k.a. RICHH, seems to have died tragically young in Seattle at the age of 36 last December. Here's Ted Faber's RICHH archive. Mark Gooley attempts Kaddish. I have no idea if it's the same Richard Halberstein who told a reporter that the combination of the alternative minimum tax and dot-com crash destroyed him financially (page 4 of link).
ON-LINE POLLS ARE invariably bogus, but it can't hurt to suggest that people chip in to the bogus Council on American Islamic Relations poll whether Ariel Sharon should be tried for war crimes.

UPDATE: Don't bother.

UPDATE UPDATE: More links from Instapundit.
OUR FRIENDS, THE SAUDIS. Mark Steyn shoots and scores:
[Powell] did succeed, after a temporary postponement of their meeting, in getting "Chairman" Arafat to acknowledge that terrorism, when all's said and done, is a bad thing. This is an admirable first step, just as recognizing that smoking is unhealthy is the first step toward giving it up -- two, three, 20 years later. The Chairman, alas, will not be giving terrorism up any time soon, not when Saudi TV has just had a hugely successful charity telethon raising US$56-million for the families of Palestinian "martyrs." King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah both chipped in. One Saudi Princess donated both her Rolls and her ox, a double jackpot sure to inspire any West Bank suicide bomber hoping to transform his relicts into a two-car family. Maybe they'll make it a weekly show: Who Wants To Be A Million Air Particles?
THE NATIONAL POST reports on the allegations of a Jenin massacre:
A grocery store owner near Jenin spoke in a hushed voice about seeing Israeli troops loading the bodies of massacred Palestinians into a refrigerated truck which he said was still parked on a nearby hill.

Asked to elaborate, he declined. "The people that are sitting there are collaborators," he said.

The refrigerated truck was parked on a grassy hill, where Israeli troops were resting with their tanks and armoured vehicles listening to Alanis Morissette on a stereo.

When a National Post reporter inspected the truck, it contained not bodies but apples and other food and supplies for the troops.

The best article I've seen yet on Jenin.

Monday, April 15, 2002

JOSH MARSHALL MAKES a helluva point regarding the 2004 Dem nomination:
When you're trying out to be vice-president, and you make it to the final cut, you sit down with the nominee's people and assist in the preparation of what amounts to an opposition research dossier on yourself.
It's a roadmap for how an opponent would attack you, so the nominee's people want to know what he's getting himself into.

It's a notoriously uncomfortable process, with the discussion of the really personal stuff often undertaken with one of the nominee's confidants.
In any case, who dished on themselves for Al Gore in 2000? If I remember right, it was John Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman.

And who's running against Gore in the primaries in 2004?

And don't think I'm the only one who's considered this.
THIS 17-YEAR-OLD HAS survived five terrorist attacks, including one that leaves her 21-year-old brother paralyzed. (via Asparagirl)
ISLAM: A RELIGION OF PEACE. This site, run by the American Islam Society in Los Angeles, purports to exist "to promote better relations between the West and the Muslim World" and starts off with standard standard disclaimers "Radio Islam is against racism of all forms, against all kinds of discrimination of people based on their colour of skin, faith or ethnical bakground" and then proceeds to launch into a series of the worst anti-Semitic screeds, complete with the bogus and long-refuted tale of Ben Franklin and the Jews (a term that needs serious Google-bombing).

Sunday, April 14, 2002

WHY IS A SULLIVAN NUMBER IMPORTANT? Well, it's a rough metric of weblog credibility. To the extent you find Sullivan credible, you'd find the people he links to to be relatively credible. Those people are relatively selective themselves. The universe continues to expand as you go to higher and higher Sullivan numbers. It's unfair, of course, to think that if a weblog is any good than at least someone who Sullivan would link to would link to someone who would link to that weblog, but that's a good guess for an intelligent Bayesian: if a weblog has been around a few months, and it's had something worth saying on a regular basis, someone would've linked to it. When the very credible Eugene Volokh started his own blog, he instantly achieved a Sullivan Number of 2. There will be errors in both directions: the list will be biased towards libertarians (Samizdata, with a Sullivan Number of 2, publishes some awfully sloppy stuff), and Glenn Reynolds seems to have a soft spot for twenty-something girl geeks who aren't doing very much in the way of political commentary; there are surely intelligent leftists with Sullivan Numbers of 3 or 4 who are as good as a majority of the 2s, and someone like Josh Marshall is relatively isolated from the insular world of bloggers and pisses off Sullivan too often to get a better Sullivan Number than 2. But an outside observer can point to any given weblog in the process of web surfing and say "This has a Sullivan Number of n" and feel it's a good assessment of where that blog rates in the world, even if the 2s consist of a wide range with Lileks several standard deviations better than most of the other S=2 folk.

The issue arises, in part, because I'm helping compile a book of webloggers' commentary on September 11 on Matt Welch's suggestion. How does one find who to ask to the party? Well, certainly one wants to see Sullivan and Postrel and Reynolds and Lileks in that book, if they're willing to let their valuable writing go for charity. One can think of pieces here and there off of the top of one's head -- but they all have low Sullivan Numbers. At the end of the day, it's going to be easier to canvas everyone with a Sullivan Number less than or equal to some number n and let God or Simon & Schuster sort it all out.
WHAT'S YOUR SULLIVAN NUMBER? The mathematician Paul Erdos was so prolific and co-wrote so many papers that the mathematical community came up with the semi-serious term "Erdos number." Someone who cowrote a paper with Erdos had an Erdos number of one; if you cowrote a paper with an Erdos coauthor, your Erdos number was 2, and so on. (You might know this concept as it relates to Kevin Bacon, as an American Express commercial recently joked. Or was it Visa? As a side note, this is why you see so few entertaining commercials; if a commercial is too entertaining, you forget what's actually being sold.)

But I digress.

The weblog community has grown so much, that one needs a similar metric for it. I hereby propose the Sullivan Number. Any blogger with a link on the link page has a Sullivan Number of 1. This comprises the top tier of blogdom: Virginia Postrel, Mickey Kaus, and Instantman. The bloggers they link to -- for the most part, highfalutin' types like Welch, Layne, Jacobs, Johnson, and, of course, Lileks -- get a Sullivan Number of 2. Then you get bozos like me with a Sullivan Number of 3 and 100 hits a day if we're lucky.

(Sullivan himself, of course, is accorded the appropriate Sullivanocentric status of the unique holder of a Sullivan Number of zero.)
Good refutation of homeopathy. Keep in mind that there are former federal officials urging homeopathy as a remedy against bioterrorism.
RETRACTION. Snopes disputes the tale of George Bush waving at Stevie Wonder at the Ford Theater Presidential Gala. Sort of.
At the point where Wonder was getting settled behind his keyboard, Bush briefly raised his palm and smiled. The gesture was not the excited, enthused wave it is now comically portrayed to be; it was a small motion of the sort one routinely makes to an acquaintance across a crowded room. Moreover, the motion appears to have been directed at Kelsey Grammer, the emcee of the evening.
THE NEW TRENDY thing is to call "suicide bombings" "homicide bombings," a term that got its start in the blogging community. I don't know why this appellation is considered an improvement. "Homicide" is a morally neutral term meaning the killing of another, and includes deaths caused in war and in self-defense. Call it murder, which is homicide with malice aforethought. Call it attempted genocide, since the goal of the Palestinians is the death of the Jews in the region. But don't create the euphemism "homicide bombing."
HILARIOUS 1994 INTERVIEW with Larry David.
I'd also like to point out that my new house was nearly destroyed by the Malibu fires the day before we moved in.

LF: And that would have put you right back in your usual state of despair.

LD: Not really. I was actually kind of hoping it would burn down. I mean, we hadn't moved anything in yet. Some TV news guy could have interviewed me the next day going through the rubble and I would just be shrugging my shoulders saying, "Actually, we had no memories here. I'm just trying to find this phone number I think I might have dropped somewhere."
Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age
SETH GITELL CHALLENGES the conventional wisdom and calls Jenin a victory because of the large-scale surrender of Hamas fighters who chose not to martyr themselves. But William Buckley suggests that Israel targeted the wrong infrastructure.
THE Horseradish Information Council. You have to give them credit: not many industries or marketers would choose a root vegetable that's been anthropomorphized into a one-legged pervert as its mascot.
EUGENE VOLOKH and his brother Sasha now have a weblog, though it seems to be focusing on gun issues.
JIM HOLT reviews a book on "Intelligent Design" for the New York Times, and notes that the refutations therein carry the day for Darwinism. Meanwhile, intelligent design advocates are not above misrepresenting scientific literature to try to insinuate its theology into science classes in Ohio.
As NCSE asks in its analysis, “Should the state of Ohio be guided in the development of its science standards by people who are apparently incapable of reliably and objectively summarizing the scientific literature?”