Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Plagiarism

For some years now I have noticed the term "plagiarism" thrown around recklessly and with malice, but little else, aforethought. I think it is time to attempt an understanding of what the word is really all about.

The term plagiarism comes from the Latin plagiarius, meaning a kidnapper. It involves taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own. There are of course many ways in which one can use someone else's words and not be committing plagiarism. (Just as there are many ways one can testify about what someone else said and not be violating the hearsay rule, which many Judges in my experience seem unable to understand.)

The Clinton campaign, in a sign at how desperate it has become, recently accused Obama of plagiarism. This illustrates the gross misuse of the concept. When you use a line from someone else with that person's permission, as Obama did, it certainly is not plagiarism. A borrower is not a thief!

Also, much information is considered in the public domain and not subject to coyright. Like facts, for example. Trivia guru Fred Worth found this out the hard way. When the board game Trivia Pursuit came out, Worth discovered that about 30% of the questions had been lifted from his monumental "Trivia Encyclopedia" book. He filed suit over this, but the company won because a fact cannot be copyrighted. The whole story is recounted in chapter 11 of Ken Jennings wonderful book, "Braniacs".

I had a similar issue come up with quizzes I wrote for the FunTrivia.com website. At one point I got the idea of using questions from the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" show, the idea being to study the % of right answers to the questions and thereby determine how well the show was doing at picking the proper level for its questions. However, the idiotic FunTrivia editors accused me of plagiarism and I had to withdraw those quizzes, thereby negating hours of work.

Similarly, you cannot copyright a sporting event. Thus, it is not improper to publish the moves to a chess game, since the moves cannot be copyrighted (Ron Chaika, are you listening?).

I suggest a moratorium on use of the word "plagiarism", so that in time perhaps its proper meaning can be restored to it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Kosovo and the Principle of Self-Determination

A week ago Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The U.S. and some other Western countries immediately recognized the new country.

Since the independence of Kosovo seems to be generally accepted as the right and just thing to do, one wonders if the Kurds are now, at long last, going to get their own country also? And what about the Tamil people, who have been fighting for 25 years for independence from Sri Lanka? And then there's the Karen people, who have been fighting for their independence from Burma since 1949! Yes, the people of Kosovo deserve sympathy for the atrocities they have suffered. But the same can be said for these latter three groups as well.

And a final thought. If self-determination is such a good thing, as surely we can agree it is, then when are all you people who think Lincoln was such a great President, and did the right thing by taking this country into a horrible civil war instead of letting the South go in peace, when are you going to wake up and admit that Lincoln was in fact a horrible President?

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Disturbing story on "60 Minutes" last Sunday about the drug Trasylol, which was on the market for 14 years to control bleeding during heart operations. There had been plenty of red flags during this 14-year period, but the real crime is the last two years. The FDA let the drug stay on the market even after a major study had been made public and published in reputable Journals, demonstrating without doubt that the drug was causing deaths! The best estimate is that 1,000 lives a month were lost during this two-year period due to this drug!

So, the next time you hear some idiot ranting and raving about excessive government regulation, tell them about Trasylol. This is a prime example of the need for more and better regulation. And when some idiot goes on about the threat from terrorists, remind them of 24,000 deaths simply because the FDA would not pay attention to information that was in the public domain, and ask them how many Americans have died from terrorism during the same time period that 24,000 of us perished due to FDA negligence.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Democratic Nomination

Journalist Margaret Carlsen said on last Sunday's "Meet the Press" that the only way the Republicans will unite this year is if they get to run against Hillary Clinton. Everyone around the table agreed. She is so universally detested by Republicans that they would unite behind their candidate were she to be nominated.

Given this obvious reality, is it possible the Democrats will be so foolish as to once again shoot themselves in the foot and nominate Hillary? God, I hope not.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Campaign Is about a Relationship

PBS commentator David Brooks said last night on the NewsHour that a campaign is about a candidate "building a relationship" with the voter. This seemed to me to be an apt way of putting the current Democratic race in context. Obama has been all about building a relationship with the voter, while Hillary has been a total failure at this. Brooks said that she should stop talking about policy and work on building a relationship with the voter; in other words, she should become a human being. She needs to take off her mask and reveal what sort of person she is. After all, this is not Halloween, this is real life! People will not vote for an automaton.

MLB Predictions for 2008

As spring training gets started, I will go out on an early limb and make some predictions for the coming season.

NL East

1. Mets. The Mets should still be hungry after faltering at the end last year and missing out on the playoffs. They obtained Johan Santana to anchor their starting pitching staff, and he should prove to be an outstanding acquisition. Pedro is not the Pedro of old, but at least he is throwing now and should be ready to start the season, unlike last year when he missed almost the entire year. Their position players are almost all stars, and it is hard to pick them anywhere but first.

2. Nationals. Admittedly an idiosyncratic pick, but the Nationals have taken steps to get better, including the acquisitions of Lastings Milledge and Paul Lo Duca, and I look for them to improve.

3. Phillies. The Phillies have a set lineup, with a strength being the late relievers where Tom Gordon will set up for closer Brad Lidge. They made the playoffs lat year but could fall back a bit this year.

4. Braves. The Braves' starting pitching staff looks ancient, and the loss of Andruw Jones will hurt a lot, IMO.

5. Marlins. The Marlins traded away their two best players, and it is hard to see how they will escape the basement, though a hungry, young team can sometimes surprise.

NL Central

1. Cubs. A sentimental pick here, but I like ace Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs' acquisition of Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome, and manager Lou Piniella, who is a proven winner.

2. Cardinals. The Cards have been a winner throughout this decade, and should bounce back from their sub-.500 season last year.

3. Brewers. The Brewers have almost their entire lineup back from last year, and newcomers Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron should contribute. Look for the Brewers to maybe finish higher than 3rd.

4. Reds. The Reds have new manager Dusty Baker, but little else to be reason for optimism that they can have their first winning season of the decade. I do, however, look for them to edge out the aging Astros for 4th place.

5. Astros. Biggio is retired, and the team just keeps aging. I like the Astros, but hard to be optimistic about their chances this year.

6. Pirates. Another year in the dungeon for the woeful Pirates.

NL West

1. Adding Andruw Jones and Japanese star Hiroki Kuroda and new manager Joe Torre should add up to a good year for the Dodgers.

2. Diamondbacks. I love the Diamondbacks and will root for them to succeed. Dan Haren's acquisition from the A's beefs up an already-great pitching staff.

3. Rockies. The Rockies return almost all of the team which had the incredible run at the end of the season last year to get to the World Series. However, it is normal to fall back a bit after such an incredible year, so it's 3rd for the Coors boys.

4. Padres. The Padres faltered late last year, losing the one-game playoff to the Rockies, so will still be hungry. Unfortunately for them, they play in a strong division.

5. Giants. The Giants will be better without the distraction of the Barry Bonds circus, but they just don't have all the pieces to fit together to succeed. In this division, last place seems to be their fate.

AL East

1. Red Sox. The Red Sox are poised to win another world championship. They return all the pieces from last year's team, and there is no reason to doubt them this year.

2. Yankees. I would like to pick the Yanks lower, but the rest of the division looks too weak.

3. Orioles. Strictly a sentimental pick.

4. Blue Jays.

5. Devil Rays.

AL Central

1. The Tigers didn't need much more, but they acquired Willis and Cabrera from the Marlins, so they are ready for a great year.

2. Indians. Came within one win of reaching the World Series last year, and perhaps will be hungry enough to make it this year.

3. White Sox. Made some good off-season moves, but I'm not sold.

4. Royals. I like their new manager, and they could nose out the Twins for 4th.

5. Twins. After losing Santana and Torii Hunter, it seems they are left with a closer and little else.

AL West

1. Angels. Acquired Torii Hunter, and being one of my favorite teams I must pick them to finish first.

2. Mariners. Another of my favorite teams.

3. A's. A team in disarray, should be a down year for them.

4. Rangers. Perennially in the basement, why should this year be any different?

3/23/16 update.  Looking at the results of the season, the Phillies won the NL East behind a monster year from Ryan Howard (48 HR's and 146 RBI's), and from closer Brad Lidge (48 for 48 in save opportunities). The Mets were a close second (only 3 games out), while my idiosyncratic pick of the Nationals went horribly awry when they finished last with only 59 wins.

In the NL Central, the Cubs did indeed win it, while the Cards slipped to 4th, though with a respectable 86 wins. The Pirates finished last as expected.

In the NL West, the finish was as predicted, except that the Giants and Padres were flip-flopped for 4th and 5th.

In the AL East, the Rays finished a surprising first, when I had them last. The other teams were pretty much as predicted.

The AL Central saw a similar result, with the Tigers finishing last instead of first. Cabrera did his part, but Willis was a complete disaster. Even though Willis was only 25 at the time the Tigers traded for him, he won no games in 2008, and only 6 total for the rest of his career! The Twins were also a surprise, finishing 2nd instead of last.

The Angels completely dominated the AL West, winning 100 games, while the Mariners were woeful at only 61 wins. The other two teams were mediocre, both finishing under .500.

An analysis of the results shows that I got 9 teams exactly right, was 1 off on 6, 2 off on 11, 3 off on 2 (Twins and Nationals), and 4 off on 2 (Rays and Tigers).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Clemens and McNamee Testify

Both testified yesterday before a House Committee, and both stuck to their stories concerning Clemens' use of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. The only piece of new information seems to be that Andy Pettite stated in his deposition that Clemens had used such drugs. Clemens response was that Andy must have "misheard", or "misremembered".

What was interesting was the breakdown along party lines. The Republicans came down hardest on McNamee, one calling him a liar to his face, while the Democrats gave Clemens a hard time. It would seem that this is not a political issue. The party-line breakdown reminds me of a hearing I listened to recently in which a Committee was examining the issue of privatization of IRS collection activities. (This would seem to be a dull issue, but I was mesmerized and listened for hours.) The Republicans were supportive of privatization, while the Democrats opposed it and pointed out the $65 million start-up costs, the problem with the caller being unable to identify what it was about, until verifying the identity of the callee (creating a chicken and egg situation), and basically the idea that the same activity could be done more cheaply and effectively simply by the IRS hiring more collectors and doing the work in-house.

Again, we see this odd division along party lines on what seems to be a non-political issue. One has to conclude that there is something fundamentally different between the world-views of Republicans and Democrats. I recall when my kids were little and used to ask me what the difference was between the parties. I always found it difficult to give a clear and unbiased answer to that, and I'm not sure I could even today. I do know, however, that there definitely *is* a big difference between the two parties.

The Delegate Selection Process

NPR talk show host Diane Rehm continues to hammer at the super delegate system. This week she had a whole hour segment on it. While she wasn't as vociferous this week in her opposition to it, she still has obvious qualms about it.

A related issue is the Democratic rule denying delegates to Floroida and Michigan because they held their primaries ealrier than that permitted by party rule. Diane asked incredulously, "How can this be Constitutional?" Uh, Diane, don't you know the Constitution says nothing about political parties, let alone how those parties select their convention delegates? The due process and equal protection clauses only apply to governmental entities, so they would have no application to non-government entities like political parties. The fact is, parties can select their delegates any way they want to. There are *no* Constitutional issues involved!

The interesting possibility arises that there will be a challenge at the convention concerning the Michigan and Florida delegations. Past experience on this type of problem is instructive. In 1912 there was a titanic struggle between Teddy Roosevelt and Taft at the Republican convention. Roosevelt actually clobbered Taft 278-48 in States that had direct primaries. However, there were 1078 delegates total, so that left most to be selected by other means, I suppose comparable to the "super delegates" system at issue today. At the convention there were 254 seats in dispute, and there was the issue of how this dispute was to be resolved. It fell to the National Committee to decide who to seat, and since it was controlled by Taft, it gave Taft 235 of the 254 disputed seats. The Roosevelt supporters took the battle over the disputed seats to the floor of the convention, and Taft prevailed, but only because delegates whose seats were being disputed were allowed to vote on their own cases!!

This show the importance of having good, sound rules in place to govern convention business. Had Roosevelt prevailed, he obviously would have been a much stronger candidate for the Republicans in 1912. Even running as a third-party candidate, he trounced Taft in the general election.

Now fast-forward 40 years to 1952, and we find the Republicans embroiled in an identical delgates dispute, this time betwen the Eisenhower and the Taft forces. Unlike with Roosevelt in 1912, here the Eisenhower forces were successful in getting a Motion passed saying delegations opposed by more than 1/3 of the National Committee could not vote on the credentials of any other delegation. With a fair vote thus assured, the convention overruled its credentials committee and seated the Eisenhower forces, by a vote of 607-531.

One can only hope that in 2008, the Democrats will have rules assuring fundamental fairness, and that there will not be any bruising fights that will leave a permanent rift in the party. The pundits seem to be less obsessed with he super delegate issue than are journalists, as most pundits say these super delegates want to nominate a winner and will not go against the will of the people, even though the ones who have declared their preference to date are overwhelmingly for Clinton. Most, however, remain officially undecided.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bush's Defense Budget

President Bush has proposed over $500 billion in basic defense spending for the next fiscal year. And this doesn't include many items such as veteran care, extra appropriations for the continuing war in Iraq, etc.

At the same time Bush brags about eliminating 141 domestic programs. The conservative manta has always been that you cannot solve social problems by "throwing money at them". Why don't we ever hear that we can't solve the defense problem by "throwing money at it"? When are we going to finally understand that the attempts to solve problems by violent means only sows the seeds for more violence?

If we wanted to do something effective to create a more peaceful world, we would increase the Peace Corps ten-fold, which would have the effect of elevating U.S. prestige in the eyes of the rest of the world. We would increase exchange student programs. We would stop selling arms to the rest of the world, and sell or give them things they really need.

Bush's defense budget would be the largest, even in real terms, since World War II. It is said to be larger than that of the next 10 countries combined. Does this make any sense to anybody? When is sanity going to be restored?

Don Fehr

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and players association head Don Fehr recently appeared together before a Senate committee looking into the steroids scandal in baseball. Selig, of course, has done what he can but his hands are tied because most actions require approval of the Players Association, which has been intransigent. Thus, it comes down to Fehr as the obstacle to progress.

Fehr's attitude is vaguely troubling. I think the problem is he continues to think and act like the lawyer he is. He is overwhelmingly concerned about protecting the "rights" of players accused of wrongdoing, rather than looking out for the good of the game as a whole. But this is a self-defeating attitude, because what is good for the game as a whole is also good for the majority of the players,

What about the "rights" of those players who did not cheat, and were put at a disadvantage by those who did? Don't they have rights also, the right to compete on a level playing field. Fehr's concern for the cheaters is very misplaced, and makes me sick the more I think about it. His "invasion of privacy" mantra sounds lamer and lamer the longer this goes on.

I am reminded of an incident a number of years ago, when Albert Belle gave Fernando Vina a hard elbow in the face during a play at second base. It was a blatant attempt to injure Vinba, and baseball therefore assessed a punishment against Belle. The Players Association took up Belle's cause and appealed the punishment. Then poor Vina spoke out, saying "What about me, I'm a member of the Players Association too. Aren't they going to look after me as well?"

This illustrates the dilemma Fehr and his cronies get into when they lose sight of the larger picture, and obsess too much about "rights".

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Roger Clemens

The recent revelations that Roger Clemens used steroids only confirms my longstanding feeling that he is a complete jackass. This realization has its genesis in Game 4 of the League Championship Series in the late '80's, when Clemens and his Red Sox were down 3-0 to Oakland. Clemens got tossed early in game 4 for arguing balls and strikes, which a player is not allowed to do. He claimed afterwards that he had not used any profanity and had gotten tossed for no good reason; in my naivete, I believed him, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was only years later that the home plate umpire finally spoke out and said yes, Clemens indeed had used profanity. This only makes sense, as no self-respecting umpire would toss a player from a key playoff game without good reason.

Now, fast-forward to 2000 or so. Clemens beans Mike Piazza in the head with a fastball, and expresses no regret whatsoever about it. Later that year, we have the famous incident in which Piazza broke his bat swinging at a Clemens pitch. Part of the bat flew out toward Clemens, who picked it up and threw it at Piazza as Piazza ran toward first!! What in the world was Clemens thinking? His totally lame explanation: "I thought it was the ball". Ah, Roger, if you really thought it was the ball why didn't you throw it to first? After all, this isn't ball tag, where you get a runner out by hitting him with the ball.

It is obvious that, despite the fact that Clemens has a nice family and apparently is a dedicated family man, he is still a complete jerk and deserves all the ignominy that is in store for him as he tries to deny his steroid use. We have seen this sort of thing distressingly often, where someone is caught with his hands in the cookie jar, and then tries to deny it. It has become almost fashionable to simply deny any accusation, as we seem to be in an era that no longer values personal character as once was the case.

My first recollection of this denial phenomenon was in 1973 when the allegations surfaced about Vice-President Spiro Agnew and his corruption from the days when he was governor of Maryland. Agnew's response was to label the allegations as "damned lies", and this was the headline in huge bold letters the next day. However, they were *not* lies, and he was forced to resign in lieu of going to jail as the no-good criminal he was.

Clemens' accuser would have no reason in the world to make up the detailed story about his drug use. He has absolutely nothing to gain, and it is ludicrous to think Clemens will come out of this without his reputation being severely tarnished. If there is any justice in this world, he and his fellow cheaters will never see the inside of the Hall of Fame.

My Kansas Caucus Experience

My daughter and I attended our Democratic caucus Tuesday night. Our site was the W.S.U. metroplex at 29th and Oliver in Wichita.

The crowd there was overwhelming. They expected 400 and got over 1500! It was standing room only and quite chaotic. We had a long wait to get checked in.

Once inside the room there was a long wait while the counters counted and re-counted the numbers in each group. I don't have the exact numbers handy, but the initial count was something like 1530 for Obama, 210 for Clinton, and 6 total spread among Richardson, Edwards, and undecided. The 6 then went 4 to Obama and 2 to Clinton, and the count was finalized. Most of us then left, as it was snowing heavily, with more snow predicted.

The next morning I heard on NPR that all 12 of our District delegates went to Obama. It was only then that I realized that Clinton's total was not up to the 15% threshold! I wish I had been there when the mathematically-challenged leaders finally realized that Clinton's group was not "viable", its 13.4% total being less than the 15% required for viability.

I am also curious about how the delegate selection process went. It seems to me this was way too big of a group to have any semblance of democracy or deliberation involved with the selection process. I imagine the Obama campaign simply had selected the 12 in advance, and presented them as a slate.

This is similar to what we did in 1972 for McGovern, the last time I have been through this sort of process. At that time there was a separate election for each of the 6 slots, and the McGovern people had a candidate for each of the 6. Since we had a majority there, we simply voted in a McGovern supporter for each slot, and noone else had a chance. Not even the moderator, who was the representative for the house district we were in, got elected.

To make some comparisons from then to now, I would say doing it by House District, instead of the much larger senatorial district, was much preferable. Although I did see 5 people I knew Tuesday night, it was a large, chaotic group, with no sense of intimacy or community. Hard for any real democracy to take place in that sort of group.

I was chagrined yesterday to hear an NPR talk show host I used to respect, Diane Rehm, complaining about the "super delegate" system. She implied that it was anti-democratic and somehow just plain wrong. How naive of her and how oblivious to history! One of the serious problems with the 1972 system was precisely that there was *not* any provision for high-ranking people in the party to automatically go to the convention. As a result, you had a convention run by "amateurs", and it was predictably chaotic, with the night McGovern gave his acceptance speech lasting until 2:30 A.M. Surely it makes good sense to have Congressman, governors, etc., being allowed to go to the convention and vote their consciences.

All in all, it was gratifying that Kansas had a true voice in the process this time around, unlike most years when the candidates for both parties are determined early on, before Kansas even has a say.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Kansas Counts!

Kansas is one of the 23 "Super Tuesday" states having primaries or caucuses this coming Tuesday. The Democrats caucus at 7:00 P.M., organized by Senatorial District.

I have not paid attention to this process since the 1972 debacle with McGovern, but this year the races in both parties are tight and interesting, and Kansas actually does matter this time around. In fact, Obama was here last Tuesday speaking in El Dorado, where his maternal grandfather grew up.

This may be the first year since 1952 that a political convention actually determines the nominee of a major party. Growing up in the '50's I was taught that this is the role of a convention, but little did I know then that under the modern system of primaries and pledged delegates, the first ballot would determine every nominee after that. (Not surprisingly, 1952 is also the last time neither of the Presidential candidates was a sitting President or a sitting Vice-President.)