The blog is not abandoned, I’ve just been very busy. Postings will resume soon. Thanks to those who inquired.
I’m back from my post-election vacation from blogging. Lots to catch up on.
In all the reviews of the new iPhone, I haven’t seen anyone comment on what seems like the biggest deal of all to me; the thing is much bigger:
(Photo due to CNET.)
The thing has to fit comfortably in my pocket. I’m not sure that thing will. So what if it’s thinner; it was thin enough already. Am I the only one who doesn’t want a bigger phone?
The skycrane worked! Amazing.
We can build a complicated contraption, send it to another planet, and have it work right the first time, with no testing. Humans rock!
What a nightmare:
With only $30 to her name, the Sonoma native was virtually broke and looking to start afresh in Idaho. She booked a ticket from San Francisco to the Gem State on the travel website Orbitz but, because she purchased her ticket before a new federal law went into effect requiring ticket brokers to disclose all hidden fees, Wessinger was unaware of the extra $60 U.S. Airways would charge at the airport to check her two bags.
Weissinger offered to pay the fee once she got to her destination or leave one of her bags behind; however, U.S. Airways personnel refused, citing airline policy for denying her former request and airport security regulations for denying the latter. . .
Weissinger ended up spending eight stressful days living in the terminal and sleeping in an out-of-the-way stairwell. She was treated for anxiety at the airport medical clinic. When she attempted to plead with airport authorities for help, she was threatened with arrest on vagrancy charges.
She eventually escaped when a local church gave her the $210 she needed. Afterward, US Airways was not very contrite:
When ABC 7 asked U.S. Airways about Weiddinger’s situation, the airline responded: “We have apologized to Ms. Weissinger for her experience, but unfortunately are unable to offer a refund. When you purchase a non-refundable ticket, you accept the terms and conditions. If a passenger cannot travel with their bags, they need to make other arrangements.”
I also would have liked to hear what the airport authorities had to say for themselves.
Steve Jobs is being lauded as one the greatest inventors of our time. I don’t mean to diminish his achievements when I say that (as far as I know) Jobs didn’t invent any of the products he is famous for. I mean to stick up for the role of the entrepreneur.
Jobs was unquestionably one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our times. He didn’t design the iPod, iPhone, and so forth. He built a company that designed them, built them cost-effectively, got them into the hands of consumers, and in doing all that, changed our culture. That kind of talent is much rarer than the inventor.
I also want to stick up for the Apple innovation that has been largely forgotten by other Jobs eulogists. People remember the hardware, the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but they forget the software. I want to remember the software; in particular, the OS X operating system.
Apple products now have the reputation for running smoothly. People forget that, before 2001, Macs were crap. The old Macintosh operating system was terrible. It was unstable and its file system was incompatible with every other file system in existence. (In contrast, Windows NT was relatively stable, and, starting in 1996, it had the same point-and-click interface that the Mac was known for.)
Under Steve Jobs (history buffs: I simplify slightly), Apple fixed the problem by scrapping Mac OS entirely. They built a new operating system with a brilliant design: real Unix underneath with a Macintosh veneer on top. The main thing about it is it actually works. And I say this as someone who doesn’t actually like it.
One of my most popular posts at Internet Scofflaw is this one, on a pernicious urban legend. It was never Instalanched; it has steadily accumulated views at a rate of a few per day since I posted it in 2008. Nearly all of those hits seem to come from search engines. For example, one search string used three times so far today is “palestinians celebrate 9 11 fake”.
On 9/11, we saw horrifying videos of jubilant Palestinians celebrating the terrorist attacks. There were at least two such videos (CNN and Fox) and the Palestinian Authority successfully suppressed another video taken by the Associated Press.
As those videos cast Palestinians in a very bad light, there are many who would prefer to believe that they are fake. According to the legend, the videos were actually from 1991, and the Palestinians were celebrating Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, not 9/11. That too would be a very strange thing to celebrate, but anyway, it’s not true. Snopes has a page dedicated to debunking the story, and CNN does as well.
Given the steady stream of hits I’ve received (to a very minor blog!), there clearly must be people out there who are actively promulgating this misinformation. The rate has particularly increased as the anniversary approached, so I thought this would be a good time to bump the debunking.
Gawker.com reports that Wikipedia is dying:
Jimmy Wales, the iconoclastic founder of Wikipedia, made a troubling announcement at the seventh annual Wikipedia conference: Nobody wants to edit Wikipedia anymore.
I wonder if the reason has to do with how difficult it is to improve a Wikipedia article on any topic that is remotely controversial. I have occasionally taken it upon myself to make simple corrections to Wikipedia articles and I have usually had to fight battles to do it. It just doesn’t seem worth it.
I’ve been horrendously busy this summer, and my intermittent posting will continue for the rest of the summer. Regular posting should resume in the fall.
Megan McArdle asks if it’s okay to steal. (I’m going to go with no.) And if not, why do people think it’s okay to default on their debts?
Never underestimate the power of a person to rationalize their sin.
POSTSCRIPT: This exchange is pretty good:
Peter Twieg One common variant of this argument that I’ve run into states that because lenders price default risk into the price of the loan, in the big picture defaulting is simply a fulfilment of their prior expectations and thus not a big deal – your marginal contribution to a higher price is so tiny as to not really be blameworthy at all. Concentrated benefits, diffuse costs..
odinbearded It’s funny how close that is to another argument. You know, department stores build a certain loss ratio into their prices so they’re not actually losing anything when I take that nice tie.
When Osama Bin Laden was killed two weeks ago, a lot of reporters and commentators had trouble with the name, confusing Osama with Obama. On one level it’s understandable; the two names are just one character apart, and we say Obama’s name much more often.
But here’s my problem. Osama is the terrorist’s first name. Why did those people feel like they are on a first-name basis with Osama Bin Laden in the first place? Needless to say, this man was not our friend. If they had called him Bin Laden, they couldn’t have made the mistake.
I think the proliferation in our culture of first names for people we don’t know is unfortunate, but times do change and far be it for me to stand in the way. But can we at least eschew friendly terms with villains?
I met Glenn Reynolds at the NRA convention today. Nice guy.
(If I’d have known I would be posting a photo, I would have dressed a little nicer.)
I had a question all saved up in case I ever met a law professor, then I forgot to ask it. Sigh. Fortunately I was able to catch up him with him again later and ask.
A spree of ninja attacks, here in Pittsburgh. Seriously.
In a details omitted by the BoingBoing story for some reason, one ninja attack was deterred by a man drawing his handgun. That’s really sad, from a romantic point of view, but quite satisfying from a good-versus-evil point of view.
POSTSCRIPT: Apropos to nothing at all, I laughed out loud at this comment:
Ever since the EPA banned the good ninja spray…
I’m sure there will be a spike of alarmism with the detection of tiny amounts of radiation in North American rainwater. I hope this helps us remember that “measurable” is an entirely different thing from “even remotely dangerous”. The rainwater story doesn’t mention any numbers, but I’m sure they are very much smaller than the banana-equivalent dose.
I launched Internet Scofflaw three years ago today. In honor of the occasion, I’ve collected some of my favorite posts:
- The Scofflaw Principle: in which I expounded my political philosophy that gave the blog its name.
- A fable: tax-and-spend is theft, except without the risk to the robber.
- Media failure: how I learned that the media cannot be trusted.
- Hauser’s Law: the truly amazing result that federal tax revenue (as a fraction of GDP) is constant, regardless of where tax rates are set. Consequently, we should give up on dickering around with the tax rates and focus on encouraging growth.
- Tribal politics and the suicide pact: in which I observe that the Democratic party is not an ideological movement, but an alliance of tribes. I also speculated that its nature might hurt their effort to nationalize health care. (Perhaps I was right, but clearly it didn’t hurt enough.)
- Urban legend claims Palestinian 9/11 celebration video is fake: It wasn’t fake, as much as some people would like to believe it so. I didn’t think this post was anything special, but it has gotten tons of hits from search engines from people searching “Palestinian 9/11 celebration video fake”, so I take some pride in helping to put that particular urban legend down.
Regina Benjamin, the Surgeon General, says that taking iodine tablets because the radiation leak in Japan is a reasonable precaution, which it absolutely is not. In addition to feeding the general hysteria, iodine tablets can make you very sick, so one should not take them without a likelihood of exposure, which there isn’t.
Later HHS put out a statement in which they “clarified” that Benjamin meant the exact opposite of what she said. NPR also noted that the “clarifying” statement was false, in that it attributed some helpful statements to Benjamin that she did not in fact say.
Why do we have a surgeon general anyway? The position’s sole purpose today is as a spokesman. If she is going to put out misinformation, let’s just dissolve the position.
At least, a voice of reason on the question of when seasons start. I always say that the autumnal equinox is the middle of autumn, not the beginning.
I stopped in at Office Depot today to buy some tape. I went to the aisle labeled Staplers/Tape, but they didn’t have tape. Staplers galore, but no tape. So I asked a clerk for help, and he pointed me to literally the opposite corner of the store.
I pointed out to the clerk that the Staplers/Tape sign seemed to be in error. He told me (paraphrasing): ”Sorry about that. We got that sign from Corporate and they haven’t told us to take it down yet.”
If local stores don’t have the authority to correct obvious errors that confuse customers, Office Depot is doing something very wrong.
Probably no blogging this week.
Fox News reports:
The fire alarm system on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was partially disabled prior to the catastrophic explosion that caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a rig worker testified Friday.
The rig’s chief electronics technician told a federal panel that the Horizon’s general alarm system was deliberately set in “inhibited” mode so that sirens would not wake the sleeping crew in the middle of the night.
“They did not want people woken up at 3 a.m. from false alarms,” Michael Williams told the six-member panel. As a result, the alarm failed to trigger during the emergency, and workers were forced to sound the alarm through the loudspeaker system on board.
But Transocean, the rig’s owner, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it is common for alarms on rigs and vessels to to be “zone based.”
“It was not a safety oversight or done as a matter of convenience,” the company said. “The Deepwater Horizon had hundreds of individual fire and gas alarms, all of which were tested, in good condition, not bypassed and monitored from the bridge. The general alarm is controlled by a person on the bridge and sounded from there, only when conditions require.”
A dispute is brewing between the American accounting standards board (the FASB) and the international board (the IASB) over whether all assets should be marked to market. The American board (by a 3-2 vote) says yes; the international board wants to maintain the status quo, which says that historical cost is fine for assets that are held to maturity.
The FASB’s position frankly doesn’t make any sense. For an asset that is held to maturity, exposing the day-to-day volatility of its market value is misleading, not revealing. Moreover, many assets simply aren’t liquid enough to be marked to market anyway. Given that it can’t be done universally, or even close to universally, why be so dogmatic about mark-to-market?
This is what I assumed all along:
The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash, people familiar with the findings said.
The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.
I’m back. I have quite a backlog of blogging to dig through.
Light blogging for the next three weeks. Check back mid-July.
The New York Times has a very good article on how the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe came to be. There’s lots of blame to go around. They paint BP as the main culprit, citing numerous instances in which BP failed to abide by its own best practices. Government regulators went along with everything, and also failed to respond in a timely fashion after the disaster. Halliburton complained that what BP was doing was unsafe, but apparently didn’t refuse.
The New York Times reports:
The American Academy of Pediatrics has reversed its decision last month regarding the practice of female circumcision by immigrants from some African, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. The academy had suggested in a policy statement that doctors be given permission to perform a ceremonial pinprick or nick on girls if it would keep their families from sending them overseas for the full circumcision.
Background on what the academy had been saying here.
(Via Hot Air.)
Delta Airlines loses a dog, lies about it, and finally offers a $200 refund (the charge to transport a dog). To add insult to injury, they offer the $200 refund in the form of a travel voucher.
Apparently not a joke:
DO NATURE FILMS DENY ANIMALS THEIR RIGHT TO PRIVACY?
Imagine if a film crew, without your permission, stormed into your home and filmed you in your most private moments. Makers of wildlife documentaries do just that to non-human animals, and are denying these animals their right to privacy, according to new research published in the current issue of Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies.
(Via the Corner.)
Internet Scofflaw turns two today.
The Economist explains why blockbusters are an entirely different phenomenon from merely popular books or movies, and why blockbusters don’t have to be good:
Although you might expect people who seek out obscure products to derive more pleasure from their discoveries than those who simply trudge off to see the occasional blockbuster, the opposite is true. Tom Tan and Serguei Netessine of Wharton Business School have analysed reviews on Netflix, a popular American outfit that dispatches DVDs by post and asks subscribers to rate the films they have rented. They find that blockbusters get better ratings from the people who have watched them than more obscure ones do. Even the critically loathed “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is awarded four stars out of five. Ms Elberse of Harvard Business School has found the same of ratings on Quickflix, the Australian equivalent of Netflix.
Perhaps the best explanation of why this might be so was offered in 1963. In “Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour”, William McPhee noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read “The Lost Symbol”, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.
This explains why bestselling books, or blockbuster films, occasionally seem to grow not just more quickly than products which are merely very popular, but also in a wholly different way. As a media product moves from the pool of frequent consumers into the ocean of occasional consumers, the prevailing attitude to it—what Hollywood folk call word of mouth—can become less critical. The hit is carried along by a wave of ill-informed goodwill.
Food handouts were shut off Tuesday to thousands of people at a tent city here when the main U.S. aid agency said the Army should not be distributing the packages.
It was not known whether the action reflected a high-level policy decision at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or confusion in a city where dozens of entities are involved in aid efforts.
“We are not supposed to get rations unless approved by AID,” Maj. Larry Jordan said.
Jordan said that approval was revoked; water was not included in the USAID decision, so the troops continued to hand out bottles of water. The State Department and USAID did not respond to requests for comment.
There needs to be an investigation of what jackass gave this order. I want to see that guy forced to say into the cameras that he’d rather see people starve than be fed by the military.
The Economist has a terrific article on why America is so great. (I can hardly believe they printed it.)
I’ve aware that the blog is displaying with the wrong theme on the iPhone. I’m working on the problem.
UPDATE: It’s a new “feature”. I’ve disabled it now.
UPDATE: The real problem is that too many web developers don’t seem to get the point to the iPhone. The idea is it’s supposed to be just like browsing on a computer. We don’t want you to give us a special theme for the iPhone, it defeats the purpose! They are tolerable when you can still get to the real page, but far too many web sites don’t even make that possible.
Since too many web developers don’t get the iPhone, I wish Apple would deal with the problem. They could do it easily by including an option in the iPhone’s browser to withhold the browser identity.
It seems that some people do use the RSS feed, so I’ll leave it on.
Does anyone read Internet Scofflaw via the RSS feed? If so, let me know. I’ve been thinking of disabling it.
Jonah Goldberg comments:
I am delighted by the Roman Polanski controversy. Don’t get me wrong: I am horrified and disgusted by what the acclaimed director did — and admitted to — but there is an upside.
Just to recap, Polanski drugged a child put in his care for the purposes of a photo shoot. He tried to bully her into sex. She said no. He raped her anyway. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse but fled the country before sentencing, allegedly for fear the judge wouldn’t keep his end of the plea bargain. He spent the subsequent three decades living the life of a revered celebrity in Europe. He never returned to America because there was a warrant for his arrest. In a bit of ironic justice, he was apprehended en route to Zurich to receive a lifetime-achievement award. That ceremony will apparently go on without him.
So what do I like about the controversy? Well, for starters, that there is one at all. I think it is fascinating beyond words that this is open to “debate.”
He goes on to look at the shape of the controversy and concludes:
And that’s the main reason I am grateful for this controversy. It is a dye marker, “lighting up” a whole archipelago of morally wretched people. With their time, their money, and their craft, these very people routinely lecture America about what is right and wrong. It’s good to know that at the most fundamental level, they have no idea what they’re talking about.