Apr 29th, 2006 by ravi
IT and World destruction!

While reading through Behr, Kim and Spafford's Visible Ops piece, I came across this amusing quote they attribute to Borenstein (of MIME fame):

"The most likely way the world will be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That's where we come in; we're computer professionals. We cause accidents." – Nathaniel Borenstein


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Apr 27th, 2006 by ravi
Net neutrality amendment fails

SFGate: Panel dumps Net neutrality
Verne Kopytoff, Chronicle Staff Writer

Internet carriers would have a free hand to charge the likes of Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. extra for faster delivery of services to consumers under a bill approved by a House committee Wednesday.The vote, 42-12, brings a two-tier Internet one step closer to reality despite the wishes of a broad coalition of Web site operators and public interest groups that insist the fees will crush innovation.

The Web companies had hoped to amend Wednesday's legislation, thereby enshrining the status quo of "network neutrality," the catchphrase that has come to represent a system in which all Internet traffic is treated equally. But the effort failed when an amendment introduced by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., was defeated 34-22 in a largely party line vote earlier in the day.


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Apr 27th, 2006 by ravi
Great Ape Project traction in Spain

IOL: Spain urged to grant rights to apes
Spain urged to grant rights to apes

April 27 2006 at 05:53AM

Madrid – Spain's governing Socialist Party is promoting a controversial parliamentary initiative to grant rights to great apes on the basis of their resemblance to humans, news reports said on Wednesday.

If the initiative is approved, it would make Spain one of the first countries to officially protect the rights of apes, said a spokesperson for the animal rights association Adda.

The socialists want to prohibit the "enslaving" of gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-utangs and bonobos.

Spain would thus adhere to the international Great Ape Project, granting the animals the rights to life and freedom and to not being tortured.

"We are not talking about granting human rights to great apes," but about "protecting (their) habitat, avoiding their ill-treatment and their use in various circus activities," environment minister Cristina Narbona explained.


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Apr 26th, 2006 by ravi
Indian lit cuteness wears off

From Schopenhauer (serious) to the Beatles (trivial), the West has demonstrated a fitful fascination for things Indian. The latest (not counting the return of Yoga) has been Indian English literature — by which I mean not the modestly illuminating works of someone like R.K. Narayan, bot more the cutesy stuff such as the exotic prose of Arundhati Roy. Much was made of the Indian-American Kaavya Viswanathan's precocious work of fiction in the past year. Things have taken a turn for the worse and the below news item might signal the beginning of the end of this fad.

Young Author Asserts Copying Was Unintentional – NYT


Kaavya Viswanathan, the young author who has admitted copying parts of her chick-lit novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," said today she was troubled to see so many similarities between her book and two novels by Megan McCafferty.

"When I was writing, I genuinely believed each word was my own," the 19-year-old Harvard University sophomore said in an interview this morning on NBC's "Today" show.

She also said the similarities were unintentional, even though she admitted earlier this week that she had copied them, and she hopes Ms. McCafferty can forgive her.

"The last thing that I ever wanted to do was cause any distress to Megan McCafferty," she said. " I've been unable to contact her and all I want to do is tell her how profoundly sorry I am for this entire situation."

She has promised to revise her book and said she would acknowledge McCafferty in a foreword.

On Tuesday, the day after Ms. Viswanathan apologized to the author, the publisher of the two books she borrowed from called her apology "troubling and disingenuous."

Steve Ross, Crown's publisher, said that, "based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act."


Update: Author confesses to lifting material and the book has been withdrawn:

Publisher to Recall Harvard Student's Novel


Published: April 28, 2006

Just a day after saying it would not withdraw "How Opal
Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" from bookstores, Little,
Brown, the publisher of the novel whose author, Kaavya Viswanathan, confessed to copying passages from another writer's books, said it would immediately recall all editions from store shelves.


Update 2: Its not just one book:

Author may have copied from 2nd book
'Opal Mehta' has been pulled from retailers' shelves

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) — A Harvard sophomore's novel, which was pulled from the market last week after the author acknowledged mimicking portions of another writer's work, appears to contain passages copied from a second author.

A reader alerted The New York Times to at least three portions of "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," by Kaavya Viswanathan, that are similar to passages in the novel "Can You Keep a Secret?," by Sophie Kinsella.

Some interesting links:

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Apr 24th, 2006 by ravi
Asexuality as an orientation

 Interesting bit on Alternet:

AlterNet: Asexuals Unite
Asexuals Unite

By Traci Hukill, AlterNet. Posted April 24, 2006.

A small but growing movement believes that asexuality is an orientation as valid as straight or gay.


On the one hand our (by which I mean all of society) liberal disposition accepts and encourages this sort of thing, while on the other hand, reductionist biology continues to gain ground. Is there hope of a selfish gene asexual? Anyway, just read the piece!

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Apr 17th, 2006 by ravi
On what unites us in populist struggle

Here's something from the Nation's blog on a response from a Lesbian/Gay activist to the ongoing immigration reform controversy:

Marriage Myopia

Richard Kim

If you want to see the pathologies plaguing the gay marriage movement in action, you need look no farther than this article penned by Jasmyne Cannick. Titled "Gays First, Then Illegals," Cannick's editorial spews the kind of xenophobic rhetoric now rarely heard outside of right-wing radio and white nativist circles — unless, of course, it's coming from the mainstream gay press. Pitting gay rights against immigrants' rights, Cannick — former "People of Color Media Manager for GLAAD" — considers it a "slap in the face to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people" for Congress to debate immigration reform when same-sex marriage remains unrecognized. For your pleasure or fury, here are some of her greatest hits:

"Immigration reform needs to get in line behind the LGBT civil rights movement, which has not yet realized all of its goals. Which is not to say that I don't recognize the plight of illegal immigrants. I do. But I didn't break the law to come into this country. This country broke the law by not recognizing and bestowing upon me my full rights as a citizen."

[More in the original piece]

Jasmyne Cannick's blog has a response and some additional posts on the matter. She writes:

My reality in South Los Angeles may not be your reality.

I believe that America needs immigration reform but how we will get there still remains to be seen.

At the same time, I also believe that America needs to take care of its citizens who don’t yet have all of their rights, including the right to marry, access to affordable housing, access to a better education, access to healthcare, and access to jobs that pay livable wages.

And adds:

No one is right and no one is wrong. We all have the right to our own opinion on how things should be handled.

Opinion / Soap box below:

At the risk of being called inconsistent (in my prior act of defending pomo) I have to say that this seems entirely the wrong way to look at it. Reality is what it is ("r"eality with a lowercase 'r', as the postmodernists may say) and it is our common vision of it that unites us in action. If all we have instead is identity politics, we are ruling out populist struggle. If we do not try to define what is right (and only define what is right for me) we build neither solidarity nor a sustainable foundation.

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Apr 16th, 2006 by ravi
A bicycle is not enough


I was re-reading Philip Kitcher’s comprehensive critique of SocioBiology over the weekend. Titled "Vaulting Ambition" its a serious and detailed work that  works through the arguments and the models. The book has the convincing mathematics inside; I will stop at posting the more simple and emotional appeal in the introduction:

 A Bicycle Is Not Enough

When I was growing up on the South Coast of England in the 1950s, I was haunted by a vision of judgement. […] Those of us whose families were not rich enough to sidestep the state educational system knew that judgement awaited us at age eleven. An examination would separate the academic sheep from the academic goats. We did not want to find ourselves among the goats.

For those who failed the famous British eleven-plus — about fifty percent — judgement was virtually final. Institutions suited to their perceived abilities awaited them. These establishments tried, usually unsuccessfully, to combine sound discipline with the inculcation of mechanical skills. Once committed to them, few of my contemporaries would return to the company of the educational elect.


[Kitcher goes on to list the now famous statistical fabrications of Sir Cyril Burt in order to advance his perverse theories of intelligence, and derives a caution from such episodes in science on how we evaluate current attempts at quantifying or describing human capabilities. He then ends:]

In the early 1970s, on a visit to England, I went to see a distant cousin. One of her children had just failed the eleven-plus — the old system of final judgement lingered on in the bastion of Conservatism in which I spent much of my youth and in which my cousin lives. Like many children before her, the girl had been promised a new bicycle if she passed the eleven-plus. Like many parents before them, her mother and father had given her the bicycle anyway. The daughter was visibly depressed. She felt that she had failed her parents, and she was not looking forward to the beginning of the school year when she, together with the other "failures", would transfer to a new school. Still, the bicycle was there, a small consolation to her and a token of parents’ continued support. As she wobbled down the sidewalk (the bicycle was somewhat too big for her), pride in her new possession temporarily overcame her sense of inadequacy. As I watched her, I remembered many of the children I had known, and the ways in which the educational system had narrowed their horizons at an early age. Those whose asprations have been mangled and whose lives have been reduced through the application of misguided sicence direct us to lok closely at any theorizing that lead us to further mistakes. Their descendants deserve better. A bicycle is not enough.


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Apr 16th, 2006 by ravi
The Christian War on Yuppies!

Roundabout 2pm I pulled the Volvo around and we tooled on over to The Grove, but blimey, the Banana Republic was closed!! J. Crew? Same! No, not the GAP!!!! But yes, the Gap too had been filled shut.

All I want to know is, when did Christianity overtake Consumerism as the dominant religion of the nation?

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Apr 13th, 2006 by ravi
The spectre of Malthus

On many left lists, in the West in particular, if you talk about the unsustainability of current human population and consumption, you are often labelled a "neo-Malthusean" and further, an enemy of the common folks and an advocate of population control of the worst kind. A popular modern version of this debate is the Simon-Ehrlich wager, between conservative economist Simon and eco-activistic (and in that sense leftist) biologist Ehrlich; the twist being that it is the conservative who argues against any dangers posed by human population. For the record, Ehrlich lost that wager handily.

Ehrlich offered a newer list of criteria that Simon found unnacceptable (see link above). What is interesting about the new list is that Ehrlich finally starts thinking outside the [human] consumption trap (and the rephrasing of the issue as one of the effects of human consumption).

Recently, biologist Eric Pianka, at the University of Texas, has been in hot water over his own doomsday predictions about disease and death among human populations. I do not know the background of this guy and his affiliations. However, the following note from his website is an excellent argument of why human arrogance and ignorance, in this context, are morally repugnant.

What nobody wants to hear, but everyone needs to know
Eric R. Pianka

I have two grandchildren and I want them to inherit a stable Earth. But I fear for them. Humans have overpopulated the Earth and in the process have created an ideal nutritional substrate on which bacteria and viruses (microbes) will grow and prosper. We are behaving like bacteria growing on an agar plate, flourishing until natural limits are reached or until another microbe colonizes and takes over, using them as their resource. In addition to our extremely high population density, we are social and mobile, exactly the conditions that favor growth and spread of pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes. I believe it is only a matter of time until microbes once again assert control over our population, since we are unwilling to control it ourselves. This idea has been espoused by ecologists for at least four decades and is nothing new. People just don't want to hear it.

Population crashes caused by disease have happened many times in the past. In the 1330s bubonic plague killed one third of the people in Europe's crowded cities. Smallpox and measles decimated Native Americans when Europeans transported them to the new world. HIV is a relatively new disease wreaking havoc in Africa and Asia. Another population crash is inevitable, but the next one will probably be world-wide.

People think unrealistically because they have lost touch with the natural world. Many people today do not really know where and how our food is produced, and on what our life support systems are based. As we continue paving over natural habitats, many think that we can disrupt and despoil the environment indefinitely. We have already taken half of this planet's land surface. Per capita shares of all the things that really matter (air, food, soil, and water) are continuously falling. Our economic system is based on the principle of a chain letter: growth, growth, and more growth. Such runaway growth only expands a bubble that cannot be sustained in a finite world. We are running out of virtually everything from oil, food and land to clean air and water.

Some politicians, economists, and corporations want us to believe that technology will come to our rescue. But we have a false sense of security if we think that science can respond quickly enough to minimize threats from emerging diseases. Microbes have such short lifecycles that they can evolve exceedingly fast, much faster than we can respond to them. Many bacteria have evolved resistance to most antibiotics, and viruses are resistant to just about anything. Defense always lags behind offense. So far, modern humans have just been lucky. A reactive approach to problems isn't enough, we also need to be proactive and anticipate problems before they become too severe to keep them from getting out of control.Many people believe that Earth and all its resources exist solely for human benefit and consumption, this is anthropocentrism. We should allow the millions of other denizens of this Earth some space to live — they evolved here just as we did and have a right to this planet, too.

I do not bear any ill will toward humanity. However, I am convinced that the world WOULD clearly be much better off without so many of us. Simply stopping the destruction of rainforests would help mediate some current planetary ills, including the release of previously unknown pathogens. The ancient Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" comes to mind — we are living in one of the most interesting times humans have ever experienced. For example, consider the manifold effects of global warming. We need to make a transition to a sustainable world. If we don't, nature is going to do it for us in ways of her own choosing. By definition, these ways will not be ours and they won't be much fun. Think about that.

While he may be temporarily (or even entirely) wrong on the predictions about disease, he is (IMHO) absolutely right on human crowding out of other species, human faith on technology, and in particular our attitude towards the world and how we "consume" it. It is fashionable today (within the left) to dismiss this sort of thing as "new age" sentimentality or "primitivism". The argument deserves more respect.

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Apr 13th, 2006 by ravi
Mozilla makes money?

I bet the rest of the world knew this a while ago, but its news to me: 

Firefox (Mozilla Corporation/Mozilla Foundation) made $72M last year?! – The Jason Calacanis Weblog

UPDATE: I know a lot of folks are coming here from DIGG and other memetrackers. The $72M someone told me at BarCampLA and I have no idea if that is true or not. If you reblog this (or report it) please make sure you make that clear.

The best piece of information I got out of BarCampLA was that Firefox, which is produced by the for-profit Mozilla Corporation, made $72M last year and is on target to have 120 employees this year. I have no idea if this is true (anyone?), but it makes sense. I mean, there have to be 72M people using Firefox out there, and making $1 a year seems low to me! Mark Pincus brought this topic up recently.

Mozilla Corporation makes all that money because of the Google Search box on the top right. If you search with that box (which I do all day long) and you click on the Google ads on the results page Firefox gets ~80% of that. They also have Amazon in the search box, and other services that I’m sure kick them back some affiliate fees. Brilliant.

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