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    Archive of posts on rights and government

[Some posts pre-2008 also listed by topic at the end.]

Another fine mess      September 11, 2008

Yowzer. This one has everything. Freedom of religion, fairness in the workplace, immigration, general free-floating bigotry. (But no sex, drugs or rock-n-roll, so maybe not everything.) Colorado meatpacking plant lays off 100 Muslim workers A meatpacking company Wednesday laid off about 100 Muslim immigrant workers who walked off the job last week in protest of the firm’s refusal to give them time to pray during the holy month of Ramadan. … The Muslim workers, mainly Somali immigrants, have recently flocked to the plant, replacing many of the 262 workers, mostly Latinos, who were detained as illegal immigrants following a federal […]

Rights, wrongs, and brotherhood      September 8, 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot about rights lately, and that took me to Wikipedia’s page on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here’s Article 1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. What is wrong with this picture? Yes, the very next Article goes on to say, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, . . .” and so […]

Toilet Paper: IP Gone Mad      January 27, 2008

I have a boring bathroom with not much in it except towels and soap and that kind of thing. But there are inevitably times when you’re just sitting in a bathroom without much to do. So I started reading the package on the toilet paper (“6 BIG rolls!”) that I hadn’t put away yet. (I have no excuse. It was sensory deprivation.) And this is what I saw in the fine print on the back. Made under one or more U. S. patents: 5,114,771; 5,143,776; 5,240,562; 5,274,930; 5,328.565; 5,581,906; 5,584,126; 5,584,128; 5,671,897; 5,679,222; 5,728,268; 5,827,384; 5,846,380; 5,855,738; 5,865,396; 5,865,950; 5,942,085; […]

Death of DRM: You heard it here first      April 28, 2007

Well, not first, exactly, but long before The Economist. Belatedly, music executives have come to realise that DRM simply doesn’t work. It is supposed to stop unauthorised copying, but no copy-protection system has yet been devised that cannot be easily defeated. All it does is make life difficult for paying customers, while having little or no effect on clandestine copying plants that churn out pirate copies. … While most of today’s DRM schemes that come embedded on CDs and DVDs are likely to disappear over the next year or two, the need to protect copyrighted music and video will remain. […]

Which way is Up      March 27, 2007

There’s a New Yorker cartoon of two gormless hikers lost in the desert and looking at a map. One is pointing at the sun and saying, “Well, there’s the sun so that way is up.” They’re way ahead of some of us here in the good old U. S. of A. There are people here who need to have it explained to them why it is wrong to use the legal system for persecution. “Whaddya mean, the President can’t fire prosecutors investigating corruption in his party? Why not? It stops the investigation. That’s what he’s trying to achieve. What’s wrong […]

The Pinworms of Peace and Prosperity      February 26, 2007

They’re all small things. They seem hardly worth noticing. And because Mother Nature has nothing to do with them, we don’t even react with total disgust. We should, though. They’re a disease of the body politic as bad as any pinworm. The genius of the Karl Roves of the world, who feel that power and money are wasted on people, is realizing that people will ignore small things. Throw someone in jail for exercising free speech, and you have a fight on your hands. But make sure that only compliant reporters get “the story,” and they’ll fall all over themselves […]

Fraud, funding, and science      December 28, 2006

Everything from health to wealth depends on science in the modern world, so, obviously, scientific results had better be rock-solid. And yet honesty in science is enforced by what amounts to a gentleman’s agreement, and the penalities for breaking it are nothing more than career damage. Contrast that to financial dishonesty. Its only direct effect is loss of money, but it is regulated by hundreds of laws, and the penalties include jail time. Scientific honesty has been in the spotlight recently because of fraud in stem cell work by Dr. Hwang in South Korea. Science, which is the premier forum […]

Weaponized Free Speech      December 18, 2006

Knowing the Enemy: The anthropology of insurgency, by George Packer, is an insightful article in the current New Yorker (Dec 18, 2006). He discusses how the information / propaganda / media component of any fight has become hugely important, and how insurgents / freedom fighters / terrorists around the world have been quicker to use the new tool than established armies. ‘Just before the 2004 American elections … [in] Bin Laden’s public statements … that offered a list of grievances against America: Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, global warming. … The odd inclusion of environmentalist rhetoric … made clear that “this […]

Bridging the West-Muslim Divide      November 19, 2006

There is a big divide, important people say. Muslims are furious about the treatment of Palestinians, about discrimination, humiliation, and marginalisation. To demonstrate how to treat people right, they blow them up. The West is furious about people being blown up. To demonstrate how to treat people right, they blow up mosques. And people, but always only as a regrettable side-effect. It’s not terrorism when the West does it. Remember that, or nothing will make any sense. The West has some other issues that get less press. Oil, for instance. This is not about oil. Do not think about oil. […]

Dawkins is wrong about God      October 15, 2006

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but Dawkins’ pronouncements are just plain stupid. Using religion and God as an excuse to kill people is evil. If he’d said that, I’d agree 100%. Some of the things people do in the name of God really are evil. But to say that religion is at fault because people make a pig’s breakfast of it is like saying that love is evil because people can use it to hurt each other. The other thing is, where does he get off, making sweeping statements about God? He’s just finished saying he doesn’t think God […]

Statistics and the human cost of the war in Iraq      October 14, 2006

Many commenters on the Lancet study (pdf) boggle at the numbers, point at the uncertainty, express disbelief, and note that they’re not statisticians. Well, I’m here to help. Although perhaps not very much. I’m not a statistician either. I scraped the bottom of the barrel as a student taking my one required stat class. It was only because Dick Lewontin was a brilliant teacher and exceedingly merciful that I passed at all. But in some ways that may make it easier for me to explain. I know what we all go through when statistics get thrown at us. I won’t […]

Let me explain what sex is      October 4, 2006

I give up. I have to comment on the Foley business because so many people seem to be totally confused about sex. On the left and the right, every scandal that involved private parts has been enumerated, going back for decades right to Gary Hart and his Monkey Business. The implication is that they’re all more or less the same. They are not. This really isn’t difficult. Sex is enjoyment, preferably between people, but not unknown as a solitary activity. That’s it. That’s all anyone needs to know. If anyone involved isn’t enjoying the situation, then it’s not sex. If […]

The Pope, the Jihad, and the Sword      September 15, 2006

What is it about popes? With rare exceptions, like John XXIII, what a bunch of benighted enablers of balderdash. Maybe it has to do with the selection process being limited to a few old men in skirts. Now the current one has managed to quote a fourteenth century emperor as if he had some relevance six hundred years later. (Quoted from the BBC) …[H]e [the emperor] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will […]

Human Rights Are Not Optional      September 14, 2006

I know I’ve said it before. I know I’m repeating myself. I still can’t believe it needs saying at all. You can’t trade human rights for expedience. It does not work. It’s not only bad, as in BAD, but it achieves less than nothing. Let me run through a couple of obvious examples. (After all, if their message hasn’t gotten across yet, they must bear repeating.) Slavery. In recent times, it created–and still creates–suffering among blacks. No particularly startling insight there. It held back the economic development of the US South for over a hundred years, and the area still […]

Pundophallacy      August 18, 2006

We need a new word. Something that describes intelligent people urging the stupid use of force. If you were feeling temperate, you might want to call it pundofallacy, but I’m not and I don’t. What brought this on is an article in the TimesOnline, “It sounded so good to start with. But where did it all go wrong, George?” by Gerard Baker, Aug 18 2006. …as the world contemplates the nervous breakdown of American policy in the Middle East, it is something President George Bush should surely be asking himself, or at least his fellow Americans. How’m I doin’? Let’s […]

Cure for terrorism? Islamic law for women      August 15, 2006

This is down there with “Attack Iraq because of terrorists in Afghanistan.” A headline today in the UK newspaper Independent: “Let us adopt Islamic family law to curb extremists, Muslims tell Kelly.” Dr Syed Aziz Pasha, secretary general of the Union of Muslim Organisations of the UK and Ireland, said he had asked for holidays to mark Muslim festivals and Islamic laws to cover family affairs which would apply only to Muslims. Dr Pasha said he was not seeking sharia law for criminal offences but he said Muslim communities in Britain should be able to operate Islamic codes for marriage […]

Collected Links to Acid Test posts on democracy, and related blessays

[Earlier list. Not updated after 2007.]