Before Completion

19 July

Is climate change caused by hot air?

The notion that the American Physical Society (APS) has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming has been making it's way around the net. Articles stating this have recently appeared on a number of right leaning blogs. Most point to a non-peer reviewed paper by Christopher Monckton of Brenchley stating the conclusion is that, perhaps, there is no “climate crisis”, and that currently-fashionable efforts by governments to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions are pointless, may be ill-conceived, and could even be harmful.

One problem with the idea that the APS has changed its position is that it's not true. Here's what the APS home page says:

Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.

The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.


I don't want to attribute bias to the bloggers who jumped on this story. Most of them are not scientists and don't distinguish between peer-reviewed articles and conference papers. Many conferences base acceptance on an abstract only but it should be noted that the Monckton's paper was presented at a conference on Physics and Society, not at a conference on the physics of climate change. I don't have the background to know whether Monckton's work is correct or not. I don't think he's a climate scientist, but rather a former policy adviser to the Thatcher administration. I'll leave the details to folks who know more about climate models. However, it is curious how people can deny the results of thousands of models that don't match certain prejudices and accept the one that matches them.

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15 July

Your guide to the new FISA reality

You can find a flowchart of the new vs. old FISA laws at the Ketchup and Caviar blog. One of the more interesting aspects of the law is that it removes the requirement that there be probable cause that the foreign subject whose communications are being intercepted be a suspect of any kind. Basically, the law allows dragnet surveillance of communication between Americans and non-Americans. Knowledge of who talks to whom, even without details of the communication is extremely valuable to government and business. Supposedly, one of the functions of the great firewall of China is to accumulate data on who talks with Chinese citizens for economic analysis. Would the US government use a law supposedly designed to catch terrorists for economic analysis? Would elements of the US government feed data about who competitors talked with to their friends in business, particularly, since oversight is weak or non-existent? Nah, couldn't happen here.
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09 July

Telecoms get a "Get out of jail free" card, constitution gets shredded

Glenn Greenwald expresses this much better than I can.

Today, the Democratic-led Senate ignored those protests, acted to protect the single most flagrant act of Bush lawbreaking of the last seven years, eviscerated the core Fourth Amendment prohibition of surveillance without warrants, gave an extraordinary and extraordinarily corrupt gift to an extremely powerful corporate lobby, and cemented the proposition that the rule of law does not apply to the Washington Establishment.

I actually expected this to pass. Both parties seem agree that the US should become a police state, with corporate interests and government paranoia trumping constitutional rights. I am particularly disappointed in Sen. Obama's performance. I had started to buy into his rhetoric about positive change and the idea that he was a different kind of politician. I'm old enough to know better, but hope springs eternal. I have reverted to my usual level of cynicism about politicians and consider Sen. Obama just another one, like the others.

The ACLU plans to fight.

In other news: The percentage of voters who give Congress good or excellent ratings has fallen to single digits for the first time in Rasmussen Reports tracking history. Coincidence?

I don't usually agree with Fox News, but they got this right:

But there’s a reason why this Congress is such a failure–it’s because they don’t care, are obsessed with irrelevant petty squabbling, and apparently have contempt for the American people. If they didn’t, out of simple respect for the people, all Democrat and Republican leadership in the House and the Senate would apologize and resign en masse.

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08 July

The Supremes sing Dylan

The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. " 'When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.' Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).

Chief Justice John Roberts citing Bob Dylan in his dissent in Sprint v. APCC Services.

I would have thought they would have used To live outside the law, you must be honest.
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06 July

The upcoming FISA votes

This guy sums up my feeling on the issue:

How can even one senator on either side of the aisle in good conscience vote in favor of this law that does nothing to enhance our security and everything to diminish our rights as a free people?

How can both men who seek to become our next president cast such a vote when both should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder declaring that they would govern by our consent and with our approval, not by wielding the coercive and corrosive and corrupt powers that King George III and his latter-day namesake from Texas thought are theirs by divine right?


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Is there such a thing as free speech on the net?

As Internet companies continue to consolidate and Internet users spend more time using vendor-controlled platforms such as mobile devices or social-networking sites, free speech and other rights diminish. Consider these examples from a Wired News article:

Verizon Wireless barred an abortion-rights group from obtaining a "short code" for conducting text-messaging campaigns, while LiveJournal suspended legitimate blogs on fiction and crime victims in a crackdown on pedophilia. Two lines criticizing President Bush disappeared from AT&T Inc.'s webcast of a Pearl Jam concert. All three decisions were reversed only after senior executives intervened amid complaints.

One interesting aspect of this issue is that the quote above s from an article copyrighted by the Associated Press. The article outlines some of the problems that free speech faces on a vendor controlled internet and seems to be arguing for greater openness. This somewhat ironic considering the AP's stand on the online use of quotes from their articles. From PC World:

The New York Times is reporting that the AP is setting guidelines for blog usage of AP content after the AP sent takedown notices to The Drudge Retort last week. The AP's guidelines will deal with what and how much content blogs can quote and still be considered legal use under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

The AP initially sent a take down notice to the Drudge Retort demanding it take down seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words. The quotes were linked, but the AP felt they somehow violated their copyright, even though they fell squarely under the fair use doctrine.

The AP eventually backed off somewhat, but the issue is still in the air. As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value." says Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of the AP.

Mr. Kennedy seems to equate value to his organization with the right to control expression. However value also exists for bloggers, scholars, and other news outlets when they quote from standard sources such as the AP. That value reflects back to the AP. The notion that being an information outlet implies absolute control is a difficult one for many large organizations to shake.
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03 July

All your videos are belong to us

From Wired:

Google will have to turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users' names and IP addresses, to Viacom, which is suing Google for allowing clips of its copyright videos to appear on YouTube, a judge ruled Wednesday.

A number of questions arise about this: Why did the judge allow this massive violation of privacy; what will Viacom do with this information; why was Google tracking this? I think the answer to the latter two questions is obvious. To Google, it is a marketing goldmine. To Viacom, it may be proof that their copyrighted material was popular on YouTube, although that could established by other means. It could also be a marketing goldmine to Viacom. Google correctly that the data should not be disclosed because of the users’ privacy concerns. Of course, that works both ways. Google should not have accumulated that information because of users' privacy concerns.

This is big enough news that it made CNN. CNN gave it about 30 seconds, followed by several minutes about black actors portraying fictional US presidents. The EFF is getting involved.

This is a big potential privacy violation in the US and can lead to some interesting embarrassing moments (Maybe John McCain watches that dumb teenage lightsaber guy over and over). The real problem is in other countries. Now that the cat is out of the bag and every user has been tracked, will Google/Viacom turn information over to various governments about who watched what video that is illegal in their domain? Think that's not a possibility? Consider Yahoo and China.
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