Archive for May 8th, 2008|Daily archive page
The scientific study of evolution is filled with controversies. That was one of the messages coming out of a two-day symposium on the latest in research from the field that was hosted by Rockefeller University last week. I’ll discuss the scientific details of some of the talks separately, but it’s worth analyzing these controversies in light of the “academic freedom” bills that are being considered by a number of states, which purport to protect teachers who discuss controversies regarding evolution.
Nationwide, nearly half a dozen states are considering variants of such bills, some of which throw in the origin of life and climate change for good measure. Legislators in Florida recently introduced such a bill in response to new educational standards that were the first to formalize the teaching of evolution. Althought two incompatible bills passed the state House and Senate, they died when the legislature went out of session; similar measures are still pending in other states. These bills appear to have originated at the pro-Intelligent Design thinktank the Discovery Institute, and constitute part of its latest effort towards reducing the teaching of evolution in public schools.
So, might Discovery actually be on to something here? It’s worth doing a comparison of the controversies they’d like to see taught with the topics that are considered controversial within the actual scientific community. It’s pretty easy to get a sense for what Discovery thinks is a controversy by looking at Explore Evolution, the textbook they have created in the hope of encouraging schools to teach it. Those ostensible controversies fall into three major groups: existence of common descent, power of natural selection, and the existence of proteinaceous machines.
Barack Obama pocketed the support of at least four Democratic convention superdelegates on Wednesday, building on the momentum from a convincing North Carolina primary victory. Rival Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed to remain in the race “until there’s a nominee.”
The former first lady declined to say whether that meant through the roll call of the states at the Democratic National Convention this summer.
Clinton also disclosed that she had loaned her campaign an additional $6.4 million in recent weeks, evidence that her once front-runner campaign was in deep trouble.
She told reporters the loans were a sign of her commitment to her quest for the White House. She earlier loaned herself $5 million as she struggled to keep up with a better-financed Obama campaign.
Computer attacks typically don’t inflict physical pain on their victims.
But in a rare example of an attack apparently motivated by malice rather than money, hackers recently bombarded the Epilepsy Foundation’s Web site with hundreds of pictures and links to pages with rapidly flashing images.
The breach triggered severe migraines and near-seizure reactions in some site visitors who viewed the images. People with photosensitive epilepsy can get seizures when they’re exposed to flickering images, a response also caused by some video games and cartoons.
Barack had the voters at his back against all the forces trying to bring him down. He held his lead in North Carolina, and only the Rush Limbaugh Republican vote stands between Barack and victory in Indiana.
Hillary needed two wins. She failed utterly. But she will not stop, not on her own.
The superdelegates should intervene and send Hillary a message. Out now.
If they don’t, the supporters of Obama should step up their persuasion on those still-undeclared superdelegates to recognize the inevitable and bring this campaign to an end.
Supporters of John Edwards should push their former candidate to release his pledged delegates now, a move that might make the difference as early as this week.
Progressives should intensify the counterattack against Clinton’s smear campaign against Barack’s character and bogus arguments for recognizing Michigan and Florida, sending the message that her campaign tactics risk a massive defection of the disillusioned in November.
It must be understood that at least not on their own. Left to their own repetitive patterns, they will step up the attempt to damage Barack Obama so that he is rendered unelectable in the minds of the superdelegates. At the very least, beginning this week, this may mean an assault on Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground, and a twisted depiction of Obama’s history of statements on the Palestinians. (On this latter point, they can run commercials of Clinton kissing Yasser Arafat’s wife, perhaps coupled with footage of her landing under “sniper fire” in Bosnia. Bloggers may have to carry these messages, since Obama won’t.)
The Obama forces cannot (and will not) coast to victory. In terms of issues, they should intensify the focus on the Clinton proposal for “massive retaliation” and “obliteration” against Iran on behalf of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That was front-page news in Toronto yesterday while receiving zero attention in the New York Times and CNN. Barack should take up Robert Kennedy’s 1968 anti-poverty mission in West Virginia. Finally, his campaign needs to build firewalls in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota to maintain his lead.
To prevent infamous director Uwe Boll from creating more video game-based films, the makers of Stride gum today announced that it will provide free packs of gum to those who sign the Stop Uwe Boll internet petition, provided that it reaches a million signatures.
The oft-hated filmmaker had previously claimed that he would stop directing films if a petition reached one million signatures. Should the milestone be reached by May 23, the release date of Boll’s latest adaptation Postal, Stride promises to offer signatories a downloadable coupon for a free pack of gum.
“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”
“There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said.
Clinton’s blunt remarks about race came a day after primaries in Indiana and North Carolina dealt symbolic and mathematical blows to her White House ambitions.
The Obama campaign, looking toward locking up the nomination, stepped up pressure on superdelegates who have the decisive votes in their race.
In both states, Clinton won six of 10 white voters, according to surveys of people as they left polling places.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that in Indiana, Obama split working-class voters with Clinton and won a higher percentage of white voters than in Ohio in March. He said Obama will be the strongest nominee because he appeals “to Americans from every background and all walks of life. These statements from Sen. Clinton are not true and frankly disappointing.”
Clinton rejected any idea that her emphasis on white voters could be interpreted as racially divisive. “These are the people you have to win if you’re a Democrat in sufficient numbers to actually win the election. Everybody knows that.”
Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Clinton’s comment was a “poorly worded” variation on the way analysts have been “slicing and dicing the vote in racial terms.”
However, he said her primary support doesn’t prove she’s more electable. Either Democrat will get “the vast majority” of the other’s primary election votes in a general election, he said.
Clinton lost North Carolina by 14 percentage points and won Indiana by 2 points after competing full-out in both states. She had loaned the campaign $6.4 million in the past month. She said she might lend more.
“We should finish the contests we have and see where we stand after they’re over,” she said, referring to the six remaining primaries that will end June 3.
There were signs of unrest Wednesday, even among Clinton allies. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein wondered to The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, “whether she can get the delegates that she needs.” Former South Dakota senator George McGovern, whose 1972 presidential bid gave Clinton her first political experience, switched his support from Clinton to Obama.
Obama lawyer: Bush fixing FEC for McCain
Obama counsel Bob Bauer, on his always-punchy personal blog, considers the newest appointments to the FEC and writes that the regulatory body is being put back together to exclude a Republican commissioner who had taken a critical stance toward McCain’s attempt to thread the needle on public financing.
In this one move, the White House ended McCain’s accountability for his use or abuse of the primary public financing system while putting him in position to take money for the general.
For this maneuver to have been arranged for the benefit of Senator McCain, of all people–the John McCain who has regularly, severely criticized the FEC as a “corrupt” agency–is a remarkable turn in his career as a reformer. A Commissioner who acted to enforce the law, to just raise an important question of enforcement, has been stripped of his post. This was clearly in Senator McCain’s interest, this raw power play. It is also in his interest to have the FEC, back in business minus Mason, arrange for his money for the fall campaign.
He goes on to make a case that’s going to be central to Obama’s logic for forgoing public financing, despite his pledge to join the system: That McCain is a hypocrite on this reform issue.
For all the time that McCain has savaged the performance of the FEC, he has led the sizeable crowd of critics who believed that the agency is too beholden, on the whole, to the narrow interests of parties and their candidates. Yesterday, Republicans could not have acted more narrowly in just this vein: effectively firing a Commissioner to immunize their Presidential nominee from enforcement action in a pending case but making sure that there is enough of an agency left to get him the money needed to finance his campaign.
Other than Time Warner’s single-city foray into monthly data caps, consumption-based billing has mostly been little ISPs with little monopolies, and given the market, we thought it’d stay that way. Broadband Reports is, uh, reporting that now Comcast is mulling monthly caps (which Comcast’s PR guy confirms, though not the details)—something like 250GB, and then $1.50 for every GB over that. According to their source, the idea has “a lot of momentum” and it’ll start rolling out in the next two months. The other part is that they’re going to start ramping up DMCA notices to pirate assholes, with a total disconnect if you’ve gotten four letters in a 12-month period.
If this is entering the mix with Comcast’s new “protocol agnostic” network management technique (in something closer to English, very temporarily slowing down your whole connection if you’re hitting the pipe really hard at the same time as a lot of other people in your area), you’re looking at an uncomfortably restricted pipe (to me anyway), even if they’re not targeting torrents specifically anymore, and the overage fees honestly aren’t obscene.
The scary part is that this happening actually does make sense, for a couple of reasons. One, P2P traffic isn’t the biggest bandwidth hog, it’s streaming video, and this’ll get people to (maybe) cut down on their habit, however they’re sucking down bandwidth. Second, it’ll keep them (sorta) clean with the FCC, which is seriously leaning toward transparency rules that would make ISPs be up front about this sort of thing anyway. And after all, there’s no better motivator to watch your ass than money slipping out of your back pocket—no schmancy traffic management necessary.
“Grand Theft Auto IV” raked in more than $500 million (324.04 million) in its first week in stores, selling more than 6 million units worldwide, the video game’s publisher said Wednesday.
The highly anticipated title from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. has received stellar ratings along with criticism for its violent content. The game follows Eastern European immigrant-turned-gangster Niko Bellic on crime missions around a fictional Liberty City.
The title sold about 3.6 million units on April 29, its opening day, bringing in roughly $310 million (200.91 million). This is $10 million (6.48 million) more than what Microsoft Corp.’s “Halo 3,” another blockbuster game, took in during its first week last fall.
The game has also lifted sales of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3, the two consoles for which it is available.
Without giving numbers, Microsoft said Xbox 360 sales jumped 54 percent in the week following the title’s launch, compared with the prior week, and more than 2.3 million people played it on its Xbox Live online service.
“Retailers say roughly four out of every 10 Xbox 360 consoles sold also included the sale of a copy of ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,'” said Aaron Greenberg, director of product management at Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.
Sony spokeswoman Laura Bakken said the company’s 10 largest retailers have “all seen a pretty substantial lift” in PS3 sales, but she did not give specifics.
The game is generating controversy as previous versions have.
Take-Two sued the Chicago Transit Authority on Monday after the organization removed ads for the game because of its “Mature” rating, which means it is not suitable for people under 17. The game also caught the ire of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which seeks an adults-only rating because it lets players drive after imbibing in virtual liquor.
Previous versions of the game generated controversy over hidden sex scenes, sharp criticism from Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton and a 2006 lawsuit that blames the game for three New Mexico murders committed by a 14-year-old.
An analyst with Wedbush Morgan, Michael Pachter, said he expects the game to sell 12 million copies by the end of 2008. Previous versions of Grand Theft Auto have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide.
New York-based Take-Two is the subject of a $2 billion (1.3 billion) hostile buyout from larger rival Electronic Arts Inc., whose offer Take-Two has repeatedly rebuffed as too low.
Take-Two’s shares were recently trading at $26.39, which is above EA’s tender offer of $25.74 (16.68) per share; the offer expires May 16. Unless EA is willing to offer more, it seems “increasingly possible” the acquisition attempt could unravel, Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey said in a note to investors.
The MPA(A) has announced that it is demanding $15.4 million from the Pirate Bay in the upcoming court case, to cover the damages they suffered from 4 movies and 13 TV-episodes that were made available via the popular BitTorrent tracker.
The movie titles they are claiming damages for are Harry Potter, Syriana, The Pink Panther and Walk the Line and the 13 episodes of the popular TV-show Prison Break. MPAA demands 222,50 kronor ($37) for each download. For Harry Potter, 261,50 kronor ($43) and for the first season of Prison Break 416 kronor ($68).
‘The Pink Panther’ is the most popular title among Pirate Bay users; the least popular, by a mile, is ‘Syriana’. The movies have been downloaded 49,593 and 3,679 times respectively, according to MAQS, the law firm which represents MPAA.”
Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde (Brokep) is not impressed by Hollywood’s claims, he told TorrentFreak in a response: “They know they are losing, and try to make us look like big criminals by adding some zeros to a claim for a made-up crime.”
“The worst thing is that I lost 100 kronor on a bet on the number they would come up with,” Sunde added. “And, it sucks that they didn’t claim more than for Napster and the other sites. It’s cooler to break the record.”
When Monique Wadsted, MPAA’s lawyer and a talkshow host, was asked whether the MPAA really thinks every download is a lost sale, she said: “We don’t know that, but the copyright law doesn’t care about that. It says that if you have downloaded something illegally, you must pay regardless, if you would’ve bought it or not.”
Wadsted expects the worst now she has announced the claims, even being hacked by Pirate Bay fanboys: “I know that they have an increased interest in my person and that they try to ridicule me. I also count on having my computer hacked. As a business lawyer, I’m not used to these kinds of reactions.”
MPAA is not the only organization claiming damages. A month ago, IFPI claimed $2.5milion in damages and earlier today Antipiratbyrån asked for (1.1 million. This January, prosecutor Håkan Roswall asked the court for a $188,000 fine for four individuals – Fredrik Neij (”TiAMO”), Gottfrid Svartholm (”Anakata”), Peter Sunde and Carl Lundström.
There is no date set for the court case yet, but it will probably take a few more months before the trial starts.
To be continued.
TorrentSpy has been ordered to pay a $110 million fine by a federal judge in Los Angeles. The BitTorrent site was found guilty on the charges of copyright infringement of several movie studios represented by the MPAA.
This default judgment is the result of an ongoing court case between the MPAA and Valence Media, TorrentSpy owner Justin Bunnel’s company, that started early 2006.
It is uncertain at this point whether TorrentSpy will appeal.
Unsurprisingly, MPAA’s Dan Glickman was very pleased with the outcome of the case that lasted over two years, as he said:
“This substantial money judgment sends a strong message about the illegality of sites. The demise of TorrentSpy is a clear victory for the studios and demonstrates that such pirate sites will not be allowed to continue to operate without facing relentless litigation by copyright holders.”
“The claims made by the MPAA in this case don’t stand up to any sort of scrutiny,” says Andrew Norton, head of the US Pirate Party in a response. “It is also clear that our judicial system urgently needs some unbiased education in modern technical matters, as anyone that has watched this case knows the judge is out of her depth. What chance does justice have in that situation?”
In 2006 TorrentSpy was more popular than any other BitTorrent site, but this changed quickly in August 2007, when a federal judge ordered TorrentSpy to log all user data. The judge ruled that TorrentSpy had to monitor its users in order to create detailed logs of their activities, and hand these over to the MPAA.
In a response to this decision – and to ensure the privacy of their users – TorrentSpy decided that it was best to block access to all users from the US. This led to a huge decrease in traffic and revenue.
This was not enough for the MPAA, who argued that TorrentSpy had ignored the court decision. The legal battle continued, and this lead to a preventative closure of the site by Justin, to protect the privacy of its users.
UPDATE – Wired have the judgement available in their coverage here
World of WarCraft is a game made of many parts: resource gathering, combat, item-creation… and some of those parts are more fun than others. A company called MDY wanted to help with the dull bits of the game, and maybe assist gold farmers a little bit, by releasing a program called Glider that allows your character to continue collecting gold and leveling while you’re not at your computer. In 2006, Blizzard and Vivendi showed up at an MDY employee’s home and threatened legal action against the company, claiming Glider violates the Terms of Service of World of Warcraft as well as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. MDY then sued to establish its right to sell its software, causing Blizzard to file its own suit to stop MDY from selling the program. The issue is whether or not Glider is breaking any laws, and Blizzard is hoping that by stretching the boundaries of what constitutes copyright infringement, it can get MDY shut down. If Blizzard succeeds, it could set a very dangerous precedent.
The question is, how is installing a third-party tool copyright infringement if it doesn’t use Blizzard’s code? This is where things get dicey. In a filing, Blizzard quotes a section from its EULA that says that “All connections to the Game and/or the Service, whether created by the Game Client or by other tools and utilities, may only be made through methods and means expressly approved by Blizzard.” In other words, you’re only allowed to play WoW using Blizzard-approved software.
By scrolling through the EULA and clicking okay, you agree, and can then play the game. Here’s where Blizzard’s logic gets slippery. To play the game, certain parts of the code have to loaded into your computer’s RAM. In effect, Blizzard says you’re making a copy of the game. Since Glider breaks the EULA, you no longer have a license to make that copy in your system’s RAM, and now you’re infringing on Blizzard’s copyright.
So you see, any program which creates a “copy” of itself in your system’s RAM—and that’s every program on your computer—makes you guilty of copyright infringement unless you have a license allowing you to do so. Public Knowledge, a DC-based public interest group defending the rights of users in “the emerging digital culture” has filed an amicus brief with the court explaining why these claims are so preposterous. PK’s arguments are sound and easy to understand. “Defendant Blizzard insists that users of its software must rely upon a license from Blizzard to make RAM copies, and users infringe copyright when they use the software in a way not permitted by the license agreement,” the amicus stated. “But the license agreement cannot govern users’ rights to make RAM copies, because that right is already reserved to users under 17 U.S.C. § 117. Therefore, Blizzard cannot claim any infringement of its copyrights based upon the creation of RAM copies…”
The law cited by PK states that “it is not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of that computer program provided… that such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine and that it is used in no other manner.” It’s going to be hard to argue that using your RAM to run World of Warcraft isn’t an essential step in playing the game.
Public Knowledge doesn’t seem to want to side with either party in these suits. “This is a case pitting distasteful gaming behavior against an unsavory over-assertion of copyrights,” Sherwin Siy, Public Knowledge staff attorney stated. Blizzard is trying to stop a company from profiting from cheaters, but in doing so it may alter EULAs and TOS agreements, to the detriment of users.
“Under Blizzard’s theory, a copyright owner could not only contractually impose the most onerous restrictions on its customers—restrictions that undermine rights guaranteed by copyright and First Amendment law—but could also enforce those conditions with the threat of copyright law’s high statutory damages,” argues Public Knowledge in its brief. “Blizzard’s attempt to use contract to alter and displace those aspects of copyright law it does not like, while using copyright penalties to construe and enforce the terms of that alteration, is untenable, and the Court should not endorse it.”
Starting May 9th, Sprint will begin a massive, $100 million marketing campaign aimed straight at the iPhone’s nether regions. Stacking its 3G Instinct against the iPhone, Sprint hopes to show that EVDO and GPS make their product way better than anything coming out of Cupertino.
The problem isn’t that the Instinct is necessarily a bad phone, or that Sprint is a worse service than AT&T. It’s that Sprint’s series of commercials will cost the company $100 million to promote a message that will most probably be a moot point in one month if/when Apple announces their 3G iPhone. Here’s their second commercial:
newVideoPlayer(“instinctiphone2_giz.flv”, 463, 387,””);
Also, in a more general suggestion to the advertisers of the world, never put a your device side by side against a competitor if the competitor has a higher screen to case ratio. We’ll probably be posting the other three spots as they come in…but even if we don’t, expect to see the series all over the television soon. Oh, and to put $100 million into some perspective, that’s more money than it would cost to run a 2009 Super Bowl commercial every day for a month.