longbets.org

longbets.org

Somehow I just heard about longbets.org, a site where people can put their money where their mouth is when it comes to long range predictions. There are plenty of bets by people who readers of this site will certainly have heard of, and the terms of the bets themselves are quite interesting as well. They range from the bizarre (Danny Hillis betting Nathan Myhrvold that the universe will someday stop expanding) to the pragmatic (Esther Dyson betting Bill Campbell that Russia will be the world leader in software development by 2012). Cool stuff.

I love regular expressions

I love regular expressions

Perl.com has posted a synopsis of Larry Wall’s fifth design document for Perl 6, Apocalypse 5, which discusses regular expressions. Regexps are near and dear to my heart (thus proving that I’m truly a total geek). I’m still wrapping my brain around the proposed changes, but they certainly look like an improvement from a usability standpoint. I really admire Wall’s ability to rethink Perl in a radical new way. There’s a lot of inertia that would preclude massive changes to the way regexps work, but he’s not afraid to buck that inertia and try to figure out ways to make them more approachable to those people who don’t yet have many years invested in the status quo. I’m impressed by that.

How the Constitution works

How the Constitution works

Howard J Bashman explains how the Constitution works simply enough, for those who don’t yet understand:

This decision is easy to parody; it is easy to denounce. One of the most interesting aspect of yesterday’s television coverage of the ruling was when reporters took to the street to interview the average person. Those interviews suggest to me that it would be quite amusing for television stations to take to the streets regularly to ask the people what they think about having the Constitution enforced in ways that are not favored by the majority. For example, we could ask the person on the street what he or she thinks about the Fourth Amendment when it is used to exclude evidence that was necessary to convict an actually guilty individual, or what he or she thinks about excluding the unconstitutionally coerced confession of someone who is guilty. The beauty of the Constitution is that it doesn’t matter if the person on the street likes the consequences of the document’s provisions, because various parts of the document exist to protect the most vulnerable and least popular.
Secular America

Secular America

The more I think about the Bush quote from yesterday, the more it disturbs me. What does it say about this country that our President thinks that “common sense judges” are ones who “understand” that our rights are derived from God? Doesn’t it make more sense to appoint judges who understand that our rights are derived from the Constitution?

The thing that really disturbs me is that Bush’s moronic statement is an utter and complete affront to the establishment clause in the Constitution. The people who support “under God” in the pledge and other such ceremonial use of religious proclamations do so under the charade that such uses refer to small-G god, or in other words the supreme being of one’s own choosing. That still ignores the fact that there are some number of people who believe in no god or gods, or who believe in many gods, or believe in worshipping nature, or whatever. But what Bush said is even worse, because it’s obvious that he is in favor of appointing judges who are not only theists, but who believe in the same God that he happens to believe in, the God that prioritizes the rights that the Constitution happens to enumerate.

Of course, one wonders why, if the Protestant Christian God is a guarantor of various human and civil rights, he would let so many Christian societies in the past live with completely different sets of rights, or with no real rights whatsoever. Regardless of one’s religious belief, even a short tryst with the study of history tells us that the only rights we have are the ones we agree to guarantee to one another as human beings.

I don’t want to repeatedly slam religion, but I have no problem utterly savaging religious people when they strive to impose their beliefs on people who don’t share them. As someone who was raised Presbyterian, I imagine that Christian attempts to impose their agenda on the body politic of the United States are infinitely less offensive to me than they are to any number of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, or athiests who live in this country.

What’s the most deeply disturbing to me is that President Bush could issue an utternance like the one from yesterday knowing that it will cost him nothing politically. Indeed, the people who voted for Bush in the first place are probably utterly heartened at Bush’s definition of common sense. Is the Pledge issue itself a big deal? No, not really, but I’m certainly glad it came about because we’ve seen a lot of gutless or stupid politicians show their hands, and I haven’t liked what I’ve seen.

One President, under God

One President, under God

Here’s a quote that explains why I detest President Bush:

Bush said the ruling “points up the fact that we need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench.”

Idiot.

Ann Coulter, liar

Ann Coulter, liar

One thing you should always remember about Ann Coulter is that she is, above all, a liar. Take, for example, her denial today on TV that she was fired from the National Review. One needs only turn to the historical record to find this October 2 story from the Washington Post that describes her acrimonious split with the NR in detail.

Supreme Court upholds drug testing

Supreme Court upholds drug testing

One of the keys to getting people in this country to accept any level of intrusion into their personal lives is to start training them early. The Supreme Court ruled today that it’s just fine to randomly test students involved in extracurricular activities for drugs, regardless of whether or not there’s any actual suspicion that they’re using drugs. I find this ruling to be deeply disturbing but at the same time, totally expected. We live in an age when the government wants to pry into our private lives more every day, and corporations want that right as well. They want to control what we ingest, what we watch on TV, and how we use our computers. It’s bad enough that companies are allowed to test all new employees for drugs; opening the doors for public institutions like school to also require drug testing is repugnant. The scary thing is that the technologies available for monitoring people’s behavior are only growing more advanced and pervasive — unless we start drawing some sort of legal lines that define what’s allowed, we’ll unwittingly find ourselves in an uncomfortable place where we really don’t want to be.

The worst thing about this case is that the reason students involved in extracurricular activities are targetted is because school administrators think they can get away with it. There’s apparently a belief that simply drug testing every student would not be acceptable, but that because extracurriculars are voluntary, they can be forced to accept drug testing to join them. This is what we refer to as incrementalism. If people get used to drug testing for athletes or chess club members, soon enough they’ll accept it for everyone. Using illegal drugs in high school is a bad thing, but there are worse things as well.

Death of Salon predicted …

Death of Salon predicted …

Once again the press is predicting the death of Salon. We’ll see. If worse comes to worst, they can just start using massive accounting fraud to conceal their true performance — that should buy them a few more years of continued existence. (Update: word on the street is that the Reuters reporter who wrote the story is so unreliable and inaccurate that Salon will no longer even speak with her.)

More on the Pledge

More on the Pledge

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh is all over the Ninth Circuit ruling today that held the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional due to the “under God” bit. I find the arguments that removing this phrase from the pledge will lead us down a slippery slope that requires us to banish various important parts of our cultural history to be interesting, and perhaps persuasive. As all the stories point out, the “under God” thing was added to the pledge in 1954 at the behst of the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic organization). I don’t have a problem with it being sent out of town on a rail. On the other hand, I don’t think we ought to expunge things that are important parts of our history, like the words of the Star Spangled Banner or the text of the Declaration of Independence. I agree with the dissenting judge’s idea that there’s such a thing as “ceremonial Deism,” but I don’t think that the “under God” phrase falls under that category. If things in 1954 were anything like they are today, there was a political agenda behind the Knights of Columbus campaign, not unlike the stupid movements to tack up copies of the Ten Commandments all over the place. On the other hand, many other invocations of a supreme being are really are there to add gravity and solemnity to whatever they’re included in.