Saturday, January 31, 2004

"States' rights" = "bollocks"

In the Calpundit thread that I reference below, some dude named Jay writes:

This was probably the result of a misguided compromise, since folks couldn't agree on what to call it, "The Civil War" or "The War of Northern Aggression".

It's a shame, because while I think that slavery was reprehensible, the South has also much to be proud about as well. Many brave, honorable (and highly skilled) men fought for the South. For the most part they didn't see themselves as fighting FOR slavery, but rather FOR states rights. In the end, they, and their Northern brethren, were betrayed by fire-eating politicians, who proved to make terrible generals.

This spin may seem pretty amazing to those of us who grew up in the liberal Northeast, but the sad fact is that it's the standard story among many Americans, particularly in the South. The soldiers were usually fighting honorably --- no, nobly --- for states' rights. Slavery? Merely incidental. In this version of events, the Civil War was like a tragic argument between two parties that were roughly equally wrong, rather than a case of the South's fighting tooth and nail to perpetuate a monstrous violation of human rights.

Downthread, Roger corrects Jay's version of events:

... I've read some recent (excellent) work that has looked at the events leading to the War. What they've found is that there is hardly a single speech given by ANY leading (or even minor) successionists prior to 1861 that wasn't almost entirely focused on the preservation of slavery. And there were a LOT of speeches; successionists had fanned out across the south, and were furiously trying to rouse the masses to their cause. They gave hundreds if not thousands of stump speeches, and transcripts, news reports, and original texts confirm that slavery was always THE issue. "States Rights" was simply not a major rallying cry, except in the context of the preservation of slavery.

So when did "States Rights" as a separate idea appear? Almost the day after the war ended. Southern Revisionism began quickly, and was flogged by most of the leading Southerners who'd previously led the Confederacy. But at least for the duration of the war, most Confederates were quite explicitly fighting for slavery, NOT for "States Rights."

The work Roger's referring to is probably Williams College historian Charles B. Dew's recent work Apostles of Disunion (bookstore links). The U. of Virginia Press's abstract for the book has this to say:

In late 1860 and early 1861, state-appointed commissioners traveled the length and breadth of the slave South carrying a fervent message in pursuit of a clear goal: to persuade the political leadership and the citizenry of the uncommitted slave states to join in the effort to destroy the Union and forge a new Southern nation.

Directly refuting the neo-Confederate contention that slavery was neither the reason for secession nor the catalyst for the resulting onset of hostilities in 1861, Charles B. Dew finds in the commissioners' brutally candid rhetoric a stark white supremacist ideology that proves the contrary. The commissioners included in their speeches a constitutional justification for secession, to be sure, and they pointed to a number of political "outrages" committed by the North in the decades prior to Lincoln's election. But the core of their argument--the reason the right of secession had to be invoked and invoked immediately--did not turn on matters of constitutional interpretation or political principle. Over and over again, the commissioners returned to the same point: that Lincoln's election signaled an unequivocal commitment on the part of the North to destroy slavery and that emancipation would plunge the South into a racial nightmare.

Over at the Amazon page for the book, we see that reviewer Timothy Hulsey points out the following:

Before the war, President Buchanan had rejected Kansas's petition to abolish slavery, and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision mandated governmental support of slavery even in states which had determined to reject this "peculiar institution." Both of these decisions were clear violations of the doctrine of states' rights, yet slaveowning Southerners cheered. The problems came with the possibility that future states, given a free choice (and a Republican presidency), would not embrace slavery -- and might even endorse social and political equality for Black Americans.

By the way, do read the other Amazon reviews, where a bunch of adherents of the Civil War revisionist school nitpick or propose ridiculous counterfactuals whereby the North would have been the ones fighting for slavery. Yes, fine, that's all well and good, but the fact is that in this universe, the thing that got Southern soldiers to line up for duty, to kill or be killed, was the fear that the niggers would become free.

Now, I frequently read arguments that "Well, the North was fighting mostly for economic reasons, so the South couldn't have been fighting to preserve slavery." This argument is disingenuous: it ignores the simple fact that combatants need not be fighting for the same reason. The fact that the South was fighting to preserve slavery does not require that the North be fighting to end slavery.

In fact, the standard narrative I was taught is that the North wanted to preserve the Union, whereas the South wanted to preserve slavery. Louis Menand's superb book The Metaphysical Club (bookstore links) touches on this in some detail: before the Civil War became imminent, most Americans viewed abolitionism and Union as diametrically opposed. In order to preserve the Union, the abolitionists had to shut up, because they were pissing off Southerners. It was only much later that the causes of abolition and Union became conjoined; and it was the Southerners' (probably mistaken) belief that the Lincoln wasn't going to preserve slavery that joined them.

Anyway, all this is just to say: if you ever see someone, online or off, going on about how the South was was fighting for the noble cause of states' rights, then point them to Dew's book. Or just ignore them. They're full of it.

Friday, January 30, 2004

It features a woman's chest

OK, last MeFi link of the day ---

In trademark law, parody is a defense to trademark infringement. Eveready Battery Co. v. Adolph Coors Co., 765 F. Supp. 440 (N.D. Ill. 1991) (holding that a commercial advertisement of a well-known actor in a bunny outfit, banging a drum, was an effective parody of the plaintiff's mechanical toy rabbit advertising character). In the present case, consumers are highly unlikely to be confused as to the source of services for several reasons, including the following:

  1. the domain names are entirely different;
  2. the BOOBLE web site searches only provide content related to Adult web sites, including TGP sites, Adult stores, and Adult-related products like browser cleaners, pop-up filters, etc.; and
  3. the BOOBLE mark is distinct from the GOOGLE mark in that it differs in sound, appearance, commercial impression, and other relevant aspects:
    1. it features a woman's chest;
    2. it uses the phrase, 'The Adult Search Engine;'
    3. it posts a warning that the web site contains explicit content; and
    4. it disclaims any association with

Incidentally, if Google's obnoxiousness continues to increase, I may have to jump ship and throw my free Google shirts (acquired through my dept., and acquaintances) into the back of the closet and start using Vivisimo.

BTW, if you've never used Vivisimo: it's a bit slower than Google, but it's definitely better for straight web search, at least when you want to sift through lots of search results. Yes, that's right: I said it's better than Google. OTOH "Vivisimo" is a horrible name --- I actually mistyped it "" the first time, which meant that (ironically) I had to fall back on Google, which intelligently figured out that I had misspelled it. Anyway, Konqueror users can type "vi:search terms" in your location bar; Mozilla/Netscape users will need the Vivisimo search plugin.

We have trained mountain lions to eat people

Or so says David Baron. We must train them to fear us again, for their good and ours:

Near where the mountain lion would later eat the jogging teenager, the fleece and Teva-wearing residents of Boulder, Colo., reveled in living in a city surrounded by acres of open space. They were delighted to find so many Bambis munching on their front lawns, not realizing that as this prey species grew bolder around humans -- feeding all day long, rather than just at dawn and dusk, mountain lions would be drawn in after them. (Boulder was so fond of its deer that when wildlife biologists tried to conduct a study on them, activists staged nocturnal raids to liberate the animals from traps.)


In trying to "re-create a mythic past -- a time when man and beast lived in harmony," Baron writes, the residents of Boulder had removed the negative reinforcement that had made generations of mountain lions fear humans. A unilateral cease-fire in the war with mountain lions succeeded only in casting humans as the cats' new prey.

Not that Baron is advocating picking up a shotgun and shooting every animal with a demonstrated taste for human flesh. But as he tells the story of the frustrated wildlife biologists who tried to sound the alarm as the lions around Boulder grew bolder, in the period before the jogger's death, he suggests that some more humane aversion-training may be in order.

Call it modern-day predator control. Tagging or radio-collaring mountain lions that are seen by people would help biologists understand which individual cats have learned not to fear humans, and should be re-educated or shipped to a remoter locale. Montana officials, for instance, have had success using packs of trained dogs and beanbag-loaded guns to school grizzlies that spend too much time around humans.

Frankly I think more of America could use a big deer-eating predator species. On the East Coast, where there no natural predators left, deer are major pests. If we could only ship some of the good, human-fearing cougars to Jersey.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

NIH under attack for sex research

WaPo recently reported that the NIH is under attack. The backstory emerges in paragraph four:

But a recent one-two punch has put the NIH on the defensive. Late last fall, a conservative religious group released what it said was evidence that the NIH was financing scientifically useless studies of morally repugnant behavior, triggering a congressional inquiry. In December, an article in the Los Angeles Times suggested that improprieties were occurring in collaborations between NIH scientists and drug companies. Those claims prompted a fresh round of congressional questions.

ScienceNOW goes into more detail (non-free subscription required):

NIH began a sweeping review of its human sexuality research portfolio after the House came close to eliminating funding for four sexual research grants in July, and some lawmakers raised more questions at a 2 October hearing. A House Energy and Commerce committee staffer then forwarded to NIH a list of about 198 grants compiled by the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative advocacy group (Science, 31 October 2003, p. 758). The research topics ranged from research on AIDS and risky behaviors, such as drug use, to preventing teenage pregnancy. The Coalition's Andrea Lafferty called the studies "smarmy" and a waste of taxpayers' money.

Not so, says Zerhouni in a two-page letter sent to Commerce Committee chair Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and two senators. "The peer review process ... worked properly," and "I fully support NIH's continued investment in research on human sexuality," Zerhouni wrote. An attached six-page summary by institute directors provides detailed justification for three specific grants, including a study of prostitutes and truck drivers that NIH says will help prevent spreading HIV from truckers to their wives, and a conference on sexual functioning that could "improve the lives of millions of Americans" and shed light on dysfunction.

C'mon, if we can't count on government to fund scientific research into sex, then what the hell can we count on the government to fund? Is there anything that the average taxpaying American citizen cares more about than sex?

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Hijackers did not use box cutters

WaPo reports that they used Mace, pepper spray and knives instead on all but one of the flights, according to the bipartisan 9/11 commission created by Congress in 2002.

Speaking of which, what happened to the 9/11 commission web site? Google says it was up until recently. Could it have something to do with the fact that, for unexplained reasons, the White House and House Republicans have been trying to keep the commission's findings out of headlines, especially during next year's election season? From the article above ---

The commission, which has been hampered by obstacles since its creation in late 2002, announced yesterday that it will publicly press for a two-month extension of its statutory deadline, May 27. Any extension, which must be approved by Congress and the White House, would push the commission's work further into the presidential campaign.

The White House and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have said they would oppose any extension. But Kristen Breitweiser, widow of World Trade Center victim Ronald Breitweiser, said she hopes the appeal from the commission will change their minds.

You know, I don't lay the blame for 9/11 at the foot of anyone in our government, including Bush (and believe me, I blame Bush for lots of other things), but it's actually kind of amazing how suspiciously the Bush administration has been acting w.r.t. the 9/11 commission (see also this Salon article).

How brain-dead do you have to be to request or promise $87 billion of taxpayer money for Iraq reconstruction, $1.5 billion to promote marriage, and $1 billion for a Mars mission, but refuse a measly $11 million extra to investigate the single most deadly terrorist attack in history? This is absurd. I literally cannot figure out the reasoning behind it. It's like the Bush administration is actively trying to attract suspicion. Even putting aside the policy implications, it's an utterly idiotic political move as well: Are they just counting on the media not to give big play to this story?

This gives rise to the related question: Why aren't more Americans furious about this obvious oversight? I grew up in the New York area, and I was living in Manhattan in September of 2001; and I'll never forget what it was like to look downtown, day after day, to see that giant stinking brown dust cloud where the towers had been all my life. But for most Americans, maybe it was just another thing they saw on TV. Maybe kicking ass in Iraq has distracted them: Bush changed the channel, and now they've forgotten.

(Via Atrios.)

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Secret Inner Computational Lives of Plants

I have maintained for a long time that the intelligence of plants is severely underappreciated. This is, among other things, why I am not a vegetarian --- I don't see much moral difference between using cows for food and using wheat for food. A stalk of wheat may have "consciousness" that is more alien to us than that of a cow, but it may be no less worthy of consideration.

Well, progress is being made on this front. Three-Toed Sloth points to a recent paper by D. Peak, J. D. West, S. M. Messinger, and K. A. Mott with this fascinating abstract:

It has been suggested that some biological processes are equivalent to computation, but quantitative evidence for that view is weak. Plants must solve the problem of adjusting stomatal apertures to allow sufficient CO2 uptake for photosynthesis while preventing excessive water loss. Under some conditions, stomatal apertures become synchronized into patches that exhibit richly complicated dynamics, similar to behaviors found in cellular automata that perform computational tasks. Using sequences of chlorophyll fluorescence images from leaves of Xanthium strumarium L. (cocklebur), we quantified spatial and temporal correlations in stomatal dynamics. Our values are statistically indistinguishable from those of the same correlations found in the dynamics of automata that compute. These results are consistent with the proposition that a plant solves its optimal gas exchange problem through an emergent, distributed computation performed by its leaves.

I, for one, welcome our new photosynthetic overlords.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Pop quiz: What is the rate of mistaken paternity?

Everyone knows that men can never really know that their children are biologically their own, short of a DNA test. But most people think that, well, cases of mistaken paternity are rare freak cases, and the people we know couldn't possibly be cases of mistaken paternity; and most men figure that when they have kids, of course the woman they choose will be trustworthy and faithful, so it's a problem for freak-show losers to worry about.


While reading Gigerenzer's Law of Indispensable Ignorance on's Edge Annual Question (this year, "What's Your Law?"), I came across the startling sentence:

The estimated 5 to 10% of children and their fathers who falsely believe that they are related might not lead a happier life by becoming less ignorant; knowledge can destroy families.

"Holy crap! 5-10%? That's got to be a mistake," I thought. Is it? Like any lazy researcher, I did a quick Google search, which turns up a thread from the sci.anthropology newsgroup archives with the rather insensitive, albeit humorous, subject "How many bastards are there, anyway?". At first, it seems, we can breathe a sigh of relief, as Lee Rudolph writes:

Yesterday I was talking to a bioethicist who studies genetic counseling, and when the conversation turned to folklore, she brought up an issue she'd recently investigated. She told me that essentially all genetic counselors believe that there is a "false paternity" rate of about 5 percent--yet few if any counselors encounter a rate nearly that high in their own practices. This discrepancy having piqued her curiosity, my friend had tried to track down just why the rate is believed to be 5 percent. One source after another said the scientific equivalent of "it was published by a friend of a friend". Eventually the FOAF-chain terminated, in a single paper whose author does not think it supports the interpretation it is popularly given! Appendix 1, immediately below, represents the present state of her research into this possible piece of genetic folklore.

... [skipping to appendix] ...

A historical search and a conversation with Dr. James Neel, one of the deans of human genetics, led us to what may be the source for the high estimate: a 1962-65 study of blood typing in a small Michigan town (1). That study found discrepancies between biological and stated parentage in 109 of 2507 nuclear familes. Many of these may have been unacknowledged adoptions, including step-parent adoptions.

...[skipping to cite]...

(1) Sing, CF et al (1971) Studies on genetic selection in a completely ascertained Caucasian population II. Family analysis of 11 blood group systems. American Journal of Human Genetics 23(2) 164-198.

Whew! OK, so it's one small study, and it may not have counted adoptions properly. But hold on --- a few messages later in the thread, Joe Quellen writes:

The statistics are covered in a very engrossing book by Jared DIamond, called *The Third Chimpanzee*, 1992, Harper Perennial, Chapter 4, The Science of Adultery. He describes a study of blood typing and genetics which had unexected results and was quashed. It was done in the 1940s at a "highly respectable" US hospital. The study found that fully 10 percent of babies were not the biological offspring of their legal fathers.

Oh. Diamond was citing a different study. A couple of messages later, "sgf" writes:

I just picked up Timothy Taylor's _The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture_ (Bantam: 1996). Here's his summarization of the subject:

(pp 77-79)
"...In tests of genetic paternity recently conducted by Robin Baker and Mark Bellis [1], they found that around 10 percent of children had been sired by someone other than their ostensible fathers -- although the fathers consciously believed these children to be their own.

...[skipping to cite]...

[1 Baker, R. and M. Bellis. 1993 "Human sperm competition: ejaculate adjustment by males and the function of masturbation." _Animal Behaviour_ 46: 861-65]

And just to pile on a bit, the next Google hit is a working paper by anthropologist Kermyt G. Anderson titled "How well does paternity confidence match actual paternity? Evidence from worldwide nonpaternity rates" (abstract; DOI) (UPDATE 2010-02-17: fixed linkrot), wherein we learn:

The median nonpaternity rate for the high paternity confidence sample is 1.9% (range: 0.4 - 11.8), while median nonpaternity for the low paternity confidence sample is 30.2% (range: 14.3 - 55.6). The median nonpaternity rates for these two groups are significantly different (Wilcoxon sign-rank test, z = -6.112, p < 0.0001), which is not surprising since the two distributions do not even overlap. Thus, men with high paternity confidence are less likely to be incorrect in their assessment of paternity than men with low paternity confidence. In other words, men with high paternity confidence are more accurate in assessing paternity.

The median nonpaternity of men whose paternity confidence is unknown is 16.7% (range: 2 - 32). This is significantly greater than the high paternity confidence sample (Wilcoxon sign-rank test, z = -4.349, p < 0.0001), and significantly lower than the low paternity confidence sample (Wilcoxon sign- rank test, z = 3.528, p = 0.0004).

When the high and unknown paternity confidence samples are combined, the median nonpaternity is 3.9% (range: 0.4 R 32). This is significantly less than median nonpaternity for men with low paternity confidence (Wilcoxon sign-rank test, z = -6.053, p < 0.0001). Thus, men with low paternity confidence are the least accurate in assessing actual paternity.

In other words, interpreting the results rather cavalierly, if you're fairly confident that the child is yours, it is probably yours (although, interestingly, nearly 1 out of 50 such men are still mistaken). If you've got suspicions, then the probability that it's not yours is nearly one out of three. Intuitively, this makes sense: men don't just doubt for no reason. If you have reason to doubt, then it's probably with some justification.

Anyway, the 5-10% number seems to be a bit of an overestimate; the actual number from the most comprehensive survey seems to be in the 2-4% range. Still disturbingly high, in my opinion.

A novel approach to gun control

Boy wonder hacker extraordinaire Aaron Swartz writes, in Lawrence Lessig's blog comments:

On a different note, I’ve never understood the reasoning that causes libertarians to think that restrictions on personal freedom, when called “property” (or something similar), not only become OK but something to be championed. I can see why a principled libertarian might conclude that “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” is the best way to protect personal freedom, but it seems awfully bizarre to attack something like “increasing fair use”, since I can’t think of any reason such increases could hurt the freedom of authors.

To get away from the First Amendment, try this hypothetical: The Federal Weapons Commission was established to propertize the bullet-spectrum. They’re holding an auction to sell off the right to control certain bullet sizes. The winner gets to say how, where, and when bullets of that size may be used. (All other sizes, of course, are prohibited.) Oh, isn’t that funny — the gun control activists are buying up lots of the bullet sizes.

But hey! It’s property rights, not gun control, so it’s good. I’m sure glad those crazy Marxists didn’t convince us to adopt their “bullet commons” approach where you could sell guns that used whatever size bullet you wanted. It’s obvious that the auction system is much better for freedom.

For the record, I don't have terribly strong feelings either way about gun control. Washington has right-to-carry laws, and I may get a gun someday (for self-defense, and just to learn how to shoot). The point Schwartz is making is about the propertization of the electromagnetic broadcast spectrum, and the weird inconsistency of many libertarians on this subject (and many others involving various forms of "commons", including commons of intellectual property).

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Linux kernel developers can be real asses sometimes

Behold as Linux kernel developers express bizarro way-out-of-proportion bigoted responses to the perfectly reasonable suggestion that it might be worthwhile expending some effort getting kernel headers to be C++-friendly so that kernel modules can be written in C++.