Friday, 29 November 2002

A blog-free weekend

Don't expect anything to show up here until sometime on Sunday... I'm too busy celebrating Ole Miss's 6-6 season :-/.

Thursday, 28 November 2002

The Jane Galt Tax Plan

Read it. I've thought for quite some time that people who don't pay a tax ought not to be able to decide how the money is spent; her "negative income tax" would solve the problem without curtailing democracy. So when you vote for smaller government, you get more money in your pocket — regardless of your income.

The Rebs Suck (updated)

Ole Miss is 5-6, yet can still pull out a bowl invitation in today's Egg Bowl game against Mississippi State due to (a) the collective futility of the remainder of the league and (b) Albert Means, the kid at the center of the Crimson Tide's recruiting scandal that earned them a 2-year post-season ban, with the death penalty still an option due to additional infractions the Tide forgot to report (including the involvement of a coach in addition to the boosters).

Of course, the Ole Miss late-season collapse is becoming a recurring theme, ever since Tommy "Judas Iscariat" Tuberville was too busy negotiating with Auburn at the end of the 1998 season to get his current team to do anything on the field. David "Coach to the Manning Family" Cutcliffe hasn't done much better, with the annual November skid becoming a recurring bad joke; though this year he started early.

In fairness, Ole Miss isn't the only team that's had a skid that looked worse in the box score than on the field; Kentucky's season has been about as heart-rending, complete with a final-play loss to LSU. (Ole Miss, by contrast, folded like a cheap kite on drives against Auburn and LSU, forgot to actually go to Tuscaloosa, fumbled the game away against Arkansas, and got pulverized by a ten-minute game-ending drive by Georgia.)

I guess the big question in Oxford is whether Eli Manning sticks around for his senior season. His receiving corps is only getting better and the running game seems to have finally gotten on track. His draft chances are probably better in 2004, with Byron Leftwich and probably Rex Grossman in the 2003 NFL draft. With backup QB David Morris graduating this year, the starter next year on an Eli-less squad would be Michael Spurlock, who apparently is pretty talented but whose total college quarterbacking experience is a few downs against Arkansas State. My gut feeling is that Eli will stay, if only because (a) Peyton did and (b) I think Eli wants to win the SEC title.

Mel Kiper thinks Eli needs another season to maximize his draft value. That's another reason for him to stay...

Public education

Colby Cosh writes on the outdated, industrialized model of education in the Western world. My high school history teacher made some similar points about a decade ago; our public schools are designed (from the ground up) more for indoctrination than for education, two subtly different things.

I'm not sure what the answer is, and I'm certainly not sold on the idea that home schooling is the right approach for everyone, but surely sticking kids in a vaguely prison-like facility for 6-8 hours a day where the rules assume they are going to be making trouble isn't entirely healthy.

Wednesday, 27 November 2002

Phoenix+XFT build updated

Get it here; it seems to be relatively stable. Hopefully it leaks memory less than 20021119 did...

Website updates

Various pages under the roads hierarchy have been updated with new photos, including the MS 302, MS 304 and U.S. 78 pages.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Foomatic-GUI 0.1 unleashed (updated)

Here it is. You'll need at least foomatic-bin, python-gnome2 and python-glade2 for it to work (as well as their dependencies). No .deb yet.

Some of the input validation isn't there yet. It does do autodetection of parallel and USB printers; if a printer is known to foomatic's database, it will fill in the add druid for you; all you'll need to do is just hit "Forward" a few times to make the queue.

I've added proper GPLv2 boilerplate to each of the source files and fixed a few minor buglets. Also, you probably need python2.2-gnome2 1.99.13-2 for this to work properly.

Foomatic-GUI Preview

Here it is: the world's first look at foomatic-gui. It can do everything except add/modify a printer at the moment (i.e. it does next to nothing, but it sure does look pretty).


Monday, 25 November 2002

Printer configuration utility

I've been spending most of this evening working on a printer config tool for Debian, tentatively called foomatic-gui. As the name suggests, it's designed to use foomatic; basically, it's just a cute frontend to foomatic-configure. I think some autodetection should be possible; however, discover doesn't detect printers, so I may have to do it manually.

I also tried to hack together a new Phoenix+Xft build, but the 20021125 build fails to start due to a missing libc6 symbol; weird.

Sunday, 24 November 2002

GNU libc running on NetBSD

Momchil Velikov's glibc port to NetBSD is apparently working well now; Debian GNU/NetBSD will benefit greatly from this work. Note that the FreeBSD port is using FreeBSD's libc instead of GNU libc, just to make things more interesting; even so, a lot of cross-pollination between the two ports is happening.

GoreCare: As bad as it sounds

Quoth Colby Cosh: exactly is the U.S. going to adopt a single-payer national health care system "like Canada's"? The United States is missing an essential component of the Canadian system--namely, a large neighbour to the south with a working economy and a market-based health system.

The funny thing about all of this is that if health care was actually overpriced in America, as some politicians allege, it would get cheaper due to market forces because people would defer surgery, leading to doctors geting hit in the pocketbook and lowering their prices. (The presence of an insurance oligopoly doesn't affect this basic equation; doctors don't get paid if people don't use them.)

Strong but limited government

Adam Cohen, by way of The Volokh Conspiracy and Radley Balko, has a bone to pick with Ken Starr:

Mr. Starr was particularly exercised about liberals' being result-oriented, abandoning their principles to reach the outcomes they favor. But he would have made a more compelling case if he had not proceeded to abandon his — and the Federalist Society's — own oft-repeated commitment to judicial restraint to praise the Supreme Court for striking down the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Violence Against Women Act in a burst of conservative activism.

I think Cohen is confusing "judicial restraint" with something very different: an interest in taking the constitution at its word. Both of these decisions dealt with the ever-increasing scope of Congress' powers the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 3) that basically gave the federal government a blank check to do anything it wanted, so long as some (often tangential) connection with "interstate commerce" could be made.

The original purpose of this line of reasoning was to justify laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1963 that extended non-discrimination requirements into public accomodations to stamp-out segregation. However laudible the goal, the court's reasoning in upholding these statutes opened the door for virtually any federal law to be justifiable.

In retrospect, the courts could have more narrowly tailored the rulings under the 14th Amendment's "privileges or immunities" and equal protection clauses, along with existing common law, to avoid this outcome; however, the Warren Court often seemed more worried about the policies it could set from the bench than the precedents its decisions would set elsewhere in the law. The end result: the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Violence Against Women Act, neither of which did anything but federalize crimes that are already illegal in every state of the union.

Libertarians (big-L and small-L) are often accused of wanting a "weaker" federal government. Certainly we support a reduced role for the federal government, and in particular a Congress that stays within its enumerated powers. A limited federal government would allow more freedom for citizens and, at the same time, be able to concentrate on problems that the states cannot solve on their own. The rush to federalize every conceivable crime, from smoking pot to murder, accomplishes neither of those goals.

Syndication now enabled

I've added an RSS feed to the site; it's probably compatible with most 0.9x tools, although it's actually built on RSS 2.0.

FWIW, RSS 1.0 seems a bit overboard on the "XML as a solution to all problems" dimension, but I'll implement it if anyone cares.

Baptists run amok

Tim Blair lets us all know that British authorities have fined a pub's owners because some of its patrons were caught dancing.

I haven't the faintest clue what this means, but there's a Footloose joke in here somewhere just begging to be told.

802.11b WAP/Residential Gateway: $49.99 after rebates

If you're in the market for a wireless base station, check out this deal from a Netgear MR814 for $99 with $50 in mail-in rebates.

Saturday, 23 November 2002

More Python goodness for 2.2 and 2.3 (updated)

Want to iterate over a file? Try this on for size:

for line in open('/etc/passwd'):  # You could also use file('/etc/passwd')
    logname, x, uid = line.split(':')[:2]
    print 'user %s has uid %s' % (logname, uid)

You'd probably want to use the pwd module instead if you need to access the passwd database portably; this was meant as a simple example. :-)

Explanation: In Python 2.2 and later, file objects have a built-in iterator, which allows the lines in a file to be iterated over in a "for" loop. This is more memory efficient than the lines=f.readlines() semantic and easier to read than using the relatively new xreadlines() method.

You can also iterate over dictionaries now, as well as any class that defines a __next__ method. This is particularly useful when combined with generators, which are basically functions that preserve state between calls. xrange() and xreadlines() are now implemented this way. Of course, sequences (lists, tuples, strings) have their own built-in iterators too for backwards-compatibility :-)

Python 2.2 also has additional cool dictionary features; you can use "in" and "not in" instead of using dict.has_key(). "in" can also be implemented in classes using the __contains__ method. (Also, 2.3 extends "in" to allow multicharacter strings, so you can use the much cleaner if 'hell' in 'hello' instead of if 'hello'.find('hell') != -1.)

Another productivity tip for 2.2 and later: use help(object) at the interpreter prompt to get documentation for that object; it works best with modules and classes.

Friday, 22 November 2002

Jumpin' Jim Jeffords

Radley Balko passes on word that Jim Jeffords, who defected to the Democrats (er, became an "Independent") last year, wants back in with the GOP.

It's certainly nice to see principles are alive and well in the Senate.

Xft-enabled Phoenix for Linux

I've hacked together a Xft-enabled Phoenix build from a nightly Mozilla build and a nightly Phoenix build; you can download it here. It seems to run well under Debian unstable; it should also run OK in Red Hat 8.0 and Mandrake 9.

If you want to roll your own, see the unofficial Phoenix FAQ for details. That site also has extensions and themes that work with Phoenix; I'm enjoying the Qute theme, myself.

My laptop's a fraud

Nothing like finding out your 1.1GHz laptop actually is speed-capped at 550 MHz. Apparently Toshiba is giving full refunds, so we'll see how that goes...

CSS and other fixups

I've added a couple of extra default font names to the stylesheet and also provided an alternate stylesheet that uses serif fonts instead; hopefully this will fix the issues some have had with fonts. Also, I've added mod_gzip to this Apache installation to reduce the bandwidth requirement of the page (all the markup makes it clock in pretty big) and added a few tweaks to the generated HTML — the most important is that the last modified time of an entry is a now tooltip for the original posting time (the page is full of tooltips, in case you haven't noticed).

At some point, I should add some media stylesheets to remove the sidebar when printing. Not that you'd actually want to print this crap...

Python 2.3 goodness

A few interesting things in the next stable release, to whet your appetite:

for (i, x) in enumerate(['Zero', 'One', 'Two']):
   print i, x
from sets import Set
set1 = Set([2,4,6,8,10,12])
set2 = Set([3,6,9,12])
print set1 & set2 # S1 intersection S2
print set1 | set2 # S1 union S2
print set1 ^ set2 # Symmetric difference of S1 and S2

Also, some links for those of you interested in nested scopes (added as a 2.1 extension), long integer/integer unification (added in 2.2), and some new 2.3 features: the logging module (basically, a Pythonic syslog) and the integrated advanced option parser (formerly known as Optik).

Wednesday, 20 November 2002 on the LP "spoiler effect" (updated)

Via Chip Taylor: Brian Doherty tells the GOP, it's your policies, stupid!.

Chip has an update, with quotes from an article from the Weekly Standard.

Not that it matters much in Mississippi, where we haven't had a competitive election since, oh, Reconstruction.

Walnut Grove slowdown?

According to the Commercial Appeal, some Shelby Farms people want a 45 mph speed limit on the new, realigned Walnut Grove. The current speed limit is 55, and the new route would be free of traffic signals, suggesting that a limit of 45 is highly unlikely to be obeyed or, given Memphians' general level of respect for speed limits, even enforceable.

Furthermore, it's exactly the wrong plan for Walnut Grove. What's really needed is a full freeway between I-240 and the future Collierville-Arlington Parkway (TN 385), to relieve traffic on Germantown Parkway and keep the Cordova area from becoming one giant traffic jam.

More of this rant appears in misc.transport.road.

Monday, 18 November 2002

Star #51: Alberta?

Colby Cosh discusses a UPI article by James C. Bennett; apparently, secessionist sentiment is running high in "Canada's Texas." Alberta (unlike Quebec) is a huge net contributor to Canada's federal budget; due to the nature of Canada's power-sharing, most services are provided by the provinces through funds redistributed by the national government via block grants.

One of the ironies of Canada is that its constitution, the British North America Act of 1867, was specifically designed to forestall the secessionist problems embodied in the United States (who, after all, had just come out of a bloody civil war that at least in part was over the relative powers of the state and national governments). However, the division of responsibility embodied in the BNA Act has led to a political environment where the provinces have much more sway over Canada's national policies than states do in the United States.

Radley on Miller

Radley Balko gives John J. Miller a bit of a Fisking. My feeling on the Republicans: it's not just "what have you done for me lately," it's "what have you done for me since 1994?" The notion, expressed in some of the responses, that Republicans deserve libertarians' votes because at least they're not as bad as the Democrats doesn't hold a lot of water for me.

Sunday, 17 November 2002

Monopoly Rents and Microsoft

Slashdot, everyone's favorite paragon of journalism, is claiming that the 85% profit margin that Microsoft makes on Windows is a "monopoly rent."

I'm not entirely sure I buy that, although my fuzzily-remembered economics isn't helping me figure this out. My recollection is that being a monopoly allows you to shift the supply curve to the right, thus increasing the market-clearing price where S and D intersect. However, calling the difference in price levels a "monopoly rent" assumes that this supply curve shift has actually taken place (obviously we can't determine this empirically). My gut feeling is that it hasn't; Microsoft's OS pricing is comparable to, or lower than, that of other proprietary operating systems (Linux doesn't really count, as R&D costs are lower).

Writing two tickets a day keeps the unemployment line away

Apparently, Germantown's cops are on a ticket quota. I'm shocked, simply shocked that such a thing would go on.

Saturday, 16 November 2002

Libertarians cost Republicans filibuster-proof Senate margin

At least, that's what John J. Miller claims in today's New York Times. John, who doesn't seem to be a libertarian in either sense, thinks that's bad for libertarians, mainly because we won't get the Bush tax cut permanently (me, I'd prefer a cleaned up tax code to yet another layer of gobbledygook; between all the capital gains rates and normal income rates, we're now up to about a dozen real tax brackets). Glenn Reynolds makes the reasonable point that libertarians are sensibly reacting to Republicans' policies that they disagree with, even if they are "closer" to being Republican.

I don't necessarily disagree with the "Libertarians are closer to Republicans" thesis; a former Libertarian presidential candidate, Ron Paul, is now a Republican House member from Texas, and Republicans' national rhetoric is somewhat more "libertarian" than Democrats'. At a more practical level, it's harder to advance a socially-conservative agenda in Washington than a fiscally-liberal one, so voting Republican is probably less of a risk to freedom than voting for Democrats — particularly since most Dems run for the hills when it comes to actually sticking up for fundamental freedoms or ending the War on Drugs, lest they appear "too liberal." Then again, a fellow libertarian (and political scientist to boot) tends to vote Democratic (but that's only because he thinks South Carolina's Republicans are fascists).

It seems to me that Democrats and Republicans have two realistic choices to deal with their third party problems: they can either try to get stricter ballot-access laws (which could be hard — the most stringent are being thrown out by the courts fairly regularly, even with the bogus "state interest in promoting a two-party system" argument that seems to pop up from time to time; my recollection is that our Founding Fathers would think our system already has two parties too many), or they can promote some sort of ballot reform like approval voting or Condorcet vote counting that would preserve their duopoly in the short-to-medium term but still let voters blow off steam by voting Green or Libertarian.

On the other hand, such reform could conceivably lead to the full-scale disintegration of the Democrats into various client-group parties (probably a rump comprised of union voters plus a few racial-interest parties concentrated in gerrymandered districts, with the rest defecting to the Greens) and the loss of the socially-agnostic wing of the Republicans to the Libertarians.

More likely it would end up in a situation where Republicans and Democrats would have the bulk of the seats but third parties would be coalition power-brokers; the big question is whether there would be permanent parliamentary-style coalitions in Congress or a more ad-hoc arrangement with no "majority" like we know it today, just floating coalitions assembled by the White House to get its preferred legislation passed.

Won't you take me to Funkytown(?!?)

Yes, according to the Memphis Regional Chamber, the City on the Bluffs is not only Cosmopolitan, Comfortable, Vibrant, and Convenient; it's also Funky.

I'm more reminded of the old Northwest Airlines joke: Northwest has three hubs: Motown, Snow Town, and No-Town. But then again, I'm a cynic.

Flags (Georgia and Mississippi)

Virginia Postrel also writes about the Georgia elections and what they may have had to do with the flag change there; she links to an article in Metropolis magazine talking about how the flags' design could have been an issue in their success or failure.

At least in Mississippi, that didn't make a difference. A former colleague, D'Andra Orey, took a look at the issue and found racial attitudes were the prime factor on how people viewed the flag issue. The fact that the proposed banner was butt-ugly and had no historical significance to the state was beside the point. (The Metropolis piece also talks about this to some extent.)

The reality is that the Mississippi Legislature — particularly the white Democrats who run the place, despite the fact that the Republicans and black Democrats could easily make a power-play if they felt like it — made a shrewd political calculation: they punted on the issue to save their jobs (a reasonable thing to do; realignment hasn't reached the state legislature here yet, but voting for a new flag was one sure-fire way to make sure it did), and they counted on having the popular mandate to not change the flag to insulate them from any backlash from the NAACP and other groups pressuring for change. The only possible downside for the legislature's white Democrats, who really didn't want a new flag anyway, was that if Mississippi's black population had decided to turn out disproportionately in the election, they could have gotten the new flag. In the end, only 30% of the electorate showed up, and the "old" flag won in a number of majority-black counties. Realignment was forestalled, the NAACP went away, and nobody in the state really seemed to care all that much.

Of course, virtually nobody in the state cared much about what anyone outside of the state thought either, which is probably why Mississippi is viewed as little more than a collection of backwater hicks and a source of occasional "local color" for Robert Altman films.

Firefly's "Ariel"

Another great episode, although my current fave is still "Shindig" from two weeks ago (though that's probably just my Kaylee thang talking). The weekly discussion is underway at TiVoCommunity. The past few weeks have filled in some backstory, although we still have the reworked pilot and a couple of other episodes to look forward to next month (an early Christmas present).

Now hopefully Fox will have the sense to renew it, and put Andy Richter on year-round while they're at it.

"Hybrid" I-69 route annoys all sides

The EPA's new "hybrid" route proposal apparently is unpopular with both Evansville officials and environmentalists. In other words, it's the very definition of a compromise. (Most of the sniffing seems to be from people on both sides who feel "left out of the loop." I feel their pain.)

I'm personally not all that sold on a route that meanders drunkenly through Southwest Indiana, but I'm sure something reasonably direct can be worked out that avoids the Patoka National Wildlife Refuge, which seems to be EPA's biggest concern.

Regular I-69 updates are at; this site is just for meaningless blather. :-)

The Transportation Security Agency

Virginia Postrel comments on the relative efficiency and competence of the TSA.

At some level, it's too early to judge them (the initial "startup effect" makes everything seem competent the first six months or so; go to a McDonald's or Best Buy the month it opens then come back a year later, and compare the difference), but I agree they did seem a bit more together than the old-style crews when I flew to Savannah last weekend. They also had big signs telling everyone what to do ("take your laptop out of your bag, put your coat on the conveyor, don't brandish weapons and/or start shouting in Arabic"), which helped the process somewhat. And, so long as these people can be fired on the spot if they can't figure out the difference between silly putty and Semtex, I'm cautiously optimistic.

But I'm still not flying again anytime soon, so nyah!

Friday, 15 November 2002

Material Breaches

Well, UPI reports that the Iraqis have already violated the most recent UN Security Council resolution. Maybe Saddam is bored with running Iraq and needs an exit strategy...

Ah, the good ole days

A bit of retrospective on the socialist worker's paradise that was Bulgaria under Communism. (Seen at Instapundit.)

Sounds like drinking with some of my professors... :-)

George Flinn wants to buy the Pyramid

So says The Commercial Appeal, at least. I don't know that he can make money at this, but I guess it's better than just sitting empty like Mud Island and the rest of Memphis' boondoggles.

Thursday, 14 November 2002

The Amazing Disappearing Letter

Rachel Lucas has discovered a memory hole at Michael Moore's website.

I have to say I used to enjoy Michael's work, but I think he's lost his critical edge over the years; you might say he peaked early. Not to mention his tireless efforts to make every American tithe to the AFL-CIO for the privilege of having a job. Still, Roger & Me was a great film, and "TV Nation" was entertaining enough, paving the way for "The Daily Show"'s similar (but more equal-opportunity) mix.

Incidentally, I guess I should find some lefty bloggers to quote lest anyone think I'm some sort of conservative. :-)

Divx Redux

Ars Technica reports on perishable DVDs. To paraphrase David Spade, it sucked the first time, when it was called Divx.

On the upside, at least all six people who don't own CD burners can now enjoy free coasters like the rest of us.

Nineties on 9

XM's 90s on 9 is starting to grow on me, even though I could live without the rap that's about 10% of the playlist. Then again, that's why there's 100 other channels to choose from. :)

Incidentally, they're doing a bit of housecleaning. Now if they can just replace KIIS with something a bit edgier than MIX but without the rap from 90s on 9, I'll be in music heaven.

State legislatures and the median voter

Tacitus has some thoughts on state legislatures vis à vis political parties and the liberalism-conservatism scale. It's an interesting piece as far as it goes, but it begs a couple of empirical questions:

  1. Why do Republicans fail to compete effectively for the median voter in "liberal" states? Democrats in the South seem able to separate themselves from the national party, yet this eludes Republicans. Is it simply a matter of gerrymandering or incumbent advantage? (Some political scientists would argue that on the "local" issues Dems have the advantage of the right issue positions, though; no state legislator is ever going to have to vote on defense or national security, two Republican-"owned" issues, to borrow from John Petrocik.)

  2. Why does Democratic control of state legislatures persist in states that elect Republicans regularly to national office?

Some people have gotten at corners of these questions (and I'd cite them if I could remember them offhand; the realignment literature is an interesting place to start), but I don't think there's been a good answer yet. And a good answer might actually be relevant to the real world, something us PoliSci people are rarely good at providing.

Yes, Virginia, there are illuminati

Seen on Instapundit: the logo for the Information Awareness Program. Does the government really want all the New World Order/Trilateral Commission loonies to feel justified at night?

On the other hand, it might make a cool logo for Area 52.

Calling Alanis Morrissette

The following message just arrived in my email:

At approximately 1:35 pm today, a contractor, working at a campus construction site, pulled down a utility pole and surrounding power lines. This caused a fire and a transformer to fail. Subsequently, many buildings on campus were without power. Power should be restored to most buildings on campus by close of business today. Please forward any ongoing problems related to this outage to the Physical Plant so that we may assist you. Thanks for your patience. We apologize for any inconvenience.

I think it pretty much speaks for itself.

Dollar coins

One of the great mysteries of the universe: why didn't the Sacajawea dollar coin take off? I've always found them eminently useful and preferable to digging around in my wallet for small purchases.

Pelosi's big "win" (updated)

In what has to be the most thankless political win since Iain Duncan-Smith was elected leader of Britain's Conservative Party last year, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected House Minority Leader by the Democrats.

Frankly, the Democrats missed the boat in not selecting Harold Ford, Jr., who not only is more clueful than the rest of his family combined (not that that would be hard), but also could have prompted the party to modernize its agenda; being the Party of Welfare State Clients (and little else) isn't exactly a vote-winner in 2002.

The Economist agrees (at least on Pelosi).

EPA opposes highway construction; news at 11

The Evansville Courier & Press reports that the EPA wants I-69 to be a $900 million boondoggle that accomplishes basically nothing except destroying the few remaining businesses along U.S. 41 that I-65 didn't kill off.

Welcome to (updated)

This is a bit of a pilot project to see if (a) Python and PostgreSQL do a decent job as a blog engine and (b) Chris can actually find enough to say to be worthy of having his own blog.

I'd wager on (a) but against (b), personally. :)

Incidentally, all of the layout here is CSS-based; Mozilla and its derivatives seem to cope fine, but some IE variants (notably, IE 5.2 for Mac OS X) seem to have some issues (which I'll try to sort out as I get a chance).