@RoguePOTUSStaff Is Probably a Fraud

06 Feb 2017

A lot of “alternative” and “rogue” Twitter accounts have popped up in the past two weeks claiming to represent disgruntled federal employees taking a stand against the Trump administration. Most of these have already devolved into not much more than a retweet machine for the #resist hashtag. One of them, though, is particularly interesting: @RoguePOTUSStaff claims to be a group of insiders at the White House opposing the administration and has been “leaking” some very juicy tidbits over the past 12 days. If this account is authentic, what a journalistic coup that would be! But I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

In this post I’m going to lay out why I believe @RoguePOTUSStaff (hereafter referred to as “RPS”) is a fraud.

Many have already decided RPS is a credible source, which is quite a shame, because there is in fact no evidence to support their credibility. Bill Palmer has probably been the most prolific on this front, writing six articles reporting RPS allegations as news. Let’s take a look at what Palmer believes proves RPS is real:

Here’s what we do know: the @RoguePOTUSStaff has made three assertions thus far which were ultimately proven true. The first was that the President of Mexico had canceled his meeting with Donald Trump, and that Trump had decided he was going to post a tweet saying he didn’t want the meeting anyway. The second was that Mike Pence would be included on Trump’s phone call with Vladimir Putin. The third was that Neil Gorsuch had been picked for the Supreme Court. None of these are high level details. But none of them were publicly known at the time they were tweeted, and they were all later proven to be accurate.

It is correct that RPS made these three assertions, and also correct that they all turned out to be accurate. But it is not true that “none of them were publicly known at the time they were tweeted.” In fact, the latter two had been previously reported elsewhere, and the Nieto cancellation was easy to guess. As we’ll see with these and many other examples, I believe RPS’s MO is to follow up on others’ reporting with their own assertions, adding an unverifiable speculative twist. In every single case where RPS has made an accurate “prediction,” members of the media had already reported those pieces of information. What’s more, RPS made several predictions that never came true, or put out confused information that did not comport with the facts. In one case RPS even directly plagiarized another user.

So let’s take each assertion in turn and unpack the order of events.

On Peña Nieto canceling his U.S. visit

Here’s the first we heard from RPS on this one:

And here’s the corresponding Trump tweet:

Note that the Trump tweet is posted a full 17 minutes before the RPS tweet. You could claim RPS predicted Peña Nieto canceling, but considering Trump encouraged him to do so, that wasn’t much of a stretch. Later in the day, RPS then claims Trump has ordered Spicer to say the meeting will be rescheduled:

In fact, Spicer had already told the press the meeting would be rescheduled, and that was known over three hours earlier:

Pence & Putin

Regarding Palmer’s second “proven” assertion, here’s RPS’s tweet:

But this fact had already been reported by CNN almost an hour earlier:

CNN: “President Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin are scheduled to speak on the phone Saturday in their first conversation since Trump took office, with Vice President Mike Pence joining the call.”

The Gorsuch nomination

The formal Gorsuch announcement occurred the night of Jan 31. Here’s the day before:

And here’s the day of the announcement:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed Trump informed Gorsuch of his decision on Monday and Gorsuch came to DC Monday night. The New York Times reported that “the day began with a phone call from Don McGahn, the White House counsel, who informed Judge Hardiman that Mr. Trump’s pick would be Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.”

So here’s the timeline (Eastern time):

  • Jan 30, 8:43am: Trump claims he has made his decision
  • Jan 30, evening: Gorsuch flown to DC
  • Jan 31, morning: Hardiman informed he’s not the pick
  • Jan 31, 2:30pm: RPS asserts Trump still deliberating his SCOTUS pick but leaning toward Gorsuch
  • Jan 31, 2:39pm: Benny Johnson reports Gorsuch is “100%” guaranteed
  • Jan 31, 2:43pm: RPS asserts Gorsuch is Trump’s “final answer”
  • Jan 31, 8:00pm: Trump announces it’s Gorsuch

So if Trump made his decision on Monday and Gorsuch flew to DC that same night, why is RPS asserting Trump is still deliberating Tuesday afternoon? Even if Trump and Spicer are both lying, for RPS to be believed Trump would have to have made his decision a mere six hours before the announcement.

Furthermore, RPS also claimed that Priebus was “worried about public anger if they learn POTUS wasted tax $$ to bring in SCOTUS loser for Apprentice style nom. announcement”, following media reports sourced to White House officials that Hardiman was coming to DC for the final showdown with Gorsuch before Trump. But we later learned Hardiman never came to DC. And if you don’t believe Spicer, the Times article puts Hardiman visiting a fellow judge in Altoona on the 31st. So it appears RPS is doing nothing more than latching onto media reports. Why would Priebus be worried something that never happened might be disclosed?

The last thing I’ll mention regarding the Gorsuch episode is this tweet:

Again, RPS has piggybacked directly onto someone else’s observation:

That covers it for the three assertions Palmer believes prove RPS’s credibility, and hopefully I’ve shown they do nothing of the sort. But there is plenty more evidence of RPS doing nothing more than jumping on the media bandwaggon.

The LGBT Executive Order that wasn’t

RPS piggybacked directly onto media discussion of a supposed anti-LGBT Executive Order after rumors started swirling and RPS were directly asked if they had any information. They claimed the rumors were true and the order should be expected by the “end of the week”, while asserting there was a “small chance” it would be abandoned, though that was “unlikely”. The next we heard from them on the matter was that same night when they posted a Times article reporting the order had been shelved, adding “after the enormous pressure from the past several days, POTUS repudiates VP, reverses course on LGBT EO”. Again, this was the same night, less than 7 hours since their previous assertion that it was “unlikely” to be scrapped. RPS, which claimed to be plugged into the issue, did not preempt media coverage that the order had been killed.

The State Department resignations

When the media narrative was that there had been high-level resignations at the State Department, RPS claimed Trump was irate, and that he was planning on moving to a “torture-first” foreign policy:

As soon as the narrative shifted, so too did RPS:

White House dress code

Axios reported Trump’s exacting standards for how he expects those who work for him to look:

Trump judges men’s appearances as much as women’s. A source who’s worked with Trump explains: “If you’re going to be a public person for him, whether it’s a lawyer or representing him in meetings, then you need to have a certain look. That look —at least for any male — you have to be sharply dressed. Preferably, I would say, solid colors. … You should have a good physical demeanor, good stature, hair well groomed.”

Trump pays close attention to ties. Says a source who has worked with Trump: “You’re always supposed to wear a tie. If it’s not a Trump tie, you can get away with Brooks Brothers. But I’d suggest Armani.” Trump prefers wider, traditional ties, this source says. Regarding Trump’s rakish policy adviser Stephen Miller, the source adds: “I’ve always been surprised about how Stephen Miller survives with those thin ties.”

Trump likes the women who work for him “to dress like women,” says a source who worked on Trump’s campaign. “Even if you’re in jeans, you need to look neat and orderly.” We hear that women who worked in Trump’s campaign field offices — folks who spend more time knocking on doors than attending glitzy events — felt pressure to wear dresses to impress Trump.

RPS retweeted this report itself and said it “took the words right out of our mouths”, proceeding to “confirm” its allegations.

RPS has again done nothing more than taken a media report and put a spin on it.

Iran & Russia

RPS chimes in on imminent Iran sanctions after media starts reporting on it:

On Russia, RPS retweeted George Takei’s contention that Trump was “easing sanctions on the very cyber groups responsible for the hacks”. Of course, if they’d only waited until the initial hysteria died down, they would have seen that the move did no such thing.

RPS is also adamant that Trump’s inner circle believes he has been compromised by Putin:

Of course, no such “firm intelligence” is publicly available.

Quebec mosque attack

I think the most egregious of RPS’s allegations is this one:

Leaving aside the obvious cruelty of such a remark, this language is very odd. I won’t presume to speak for the entire country, but I have never heard American friends refer to Canadians as “Canucks”, and I don’t think most Americans—except those who grew up near the Canadian border—are even familiar with that usage of the word, let alone would use it in everyday conversation. “Canucks” is much more popular among Canadians themselves. And until I read this tweet, I had never even heard the word “muzzie” to mean “Muslim”.

Here’s what the Google Trends data have to say about “muzzie” and “muzzie Canucks”:


That huge spike there? Yep, that’s around 1pm on January 30—the same time as the RPS tweet. Up until then, “muzzie Canuck” itself was an absolute flatline—literally not searched for; and “muzzie” was a very low-volume search. Indeed, in my searching around for it, it mostly comes up in the comments section of Breitbart and similar outfits, obviously as a derogatory term. I also couldn’t find any public instance in which Trump uses either the word “muzzie” or “Canuck”, though if you know of one please let me know.

Voter fraud

RPS stepped into the discussion on the multiple voter registrations of Trump’s family and inner circle well after those reports broke:

Of course, many people who have moved accross state lines are registered to vote in two states. What’s revealing about this RPS allegation is that it adopts the exact same voter fraud motivation liberals are resisting, namely, that erroneous voter registrations are evidence of fraud, instead of evidence of America’s byzantine electoral system.

Muslim registry or ban?

On the 26th, the day Huffington Post reported on the draft of Trump’s immigration EO, RPS initially began alleging Trump would be establishing a Muslim “registry”, a campaign promise he later walked back. Bizarrely, they claim that “if everyone joins it also becomes useless”, as if the Muslim registry would be a sort of Facebook-like system that anyone could “join”, to “stand in solidarity” with Muslims.

They then claimed Trump was excited about DHS’s “new expedited screening” program and it would be used in conjunction with the Muslim registry:

To put that in context, see this DHS tweet from just an hour earlier:

Of course, PreCheck has been around for years, making it anything but “new”. The only news on that front on the 26th was a TSA announcement that 11 additional airlines had been added to the program.

And then RPS pivots seamlessly to the Muslim ban, forgetting all about the Muslim registry that never materialized:

This observation was 100% plagiarized, image and all, from NBC’s Bradd Jaffy:

But wait! A “contact at DOJ” told RPS the POTUS order to suspend green cards may have “created new illegals out of those already here”:

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean—that ICE will begin rounding up green card holders? Or just that they won’t be allowed back into the US if they travel abroad? It’s not coherent. But has RPS just broken the news that green card holders were being affected?

Nope. It had already been well established by this point that the order was causing green card holders to be detained/deported:

RPS also claims POTUS ordered Spicer to accuse people protesting his ban with “compromising national security”:

I haven’t been able to find any evidence of Spicer making such a claim. In the press briefing that day, Spicer ignores a question on the protesters:

: On the message to the protesters and specifically to the families who this weekend were caught up in this?

: Yeah. And I – I think that it’s a shame that people were inconvenienced obviously, but at the end day, we’re talking about a couple hours. I would rather – you know, I’m sorry that some folks may have had to wait a little while, but I think the president would much rather know that he’s not placing a call to someone who was killed because someone was let into this country to commit a terrorist act.

RPS also picks up on Jake Tapper’s report that the administration is considering asking visitors to the US “to disclose all websites and social media sites they visit”:

Pentagon review of F35 program

RPS alleged Trump was telling Boeing he would drop Lockheed Martin’s F35 jet in favor of an “old Boeing model” in exchange for a lower Air Force One cost. This comes a day after Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered a review of both Air Force One and the F35 program, including to assess “the extent that F/A-18E/F improvements (an advanced Super Hornet) can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective, figher aircraft alternative.” That “advanced Super Hornet” would be none other than a Boeing model.

The EU data sharing pact

They brought up Trump’s changes to privacy regulations only after others had:

The biggest allegations

So we’ve seen that while RPS has sometimes made accurate “predictions”, these always came after the first public reports. And we’ve seen other times they’ve made predictions that never came true at all. But there’s also a class of RPS tweets that comprise incredibly explosive allegations, none of which (to my knowledge) has been confirmed by any reputable source:


RPS has said many times that they will not prove their authenticity to anyone, even a journalist:

@RoguePOTUSStaff Twitter bio: “We will block anyone who asks us to ID ourselves (including press)”

They also claim their activities might violate the Hatch Act and they could be prosecuted for “espionage”. I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t speak to whether RPS’s tweets are a violation of the Hatch Act. But it appears “removal is the only penalty authorized for violation” even if they are. In any case, it’s certainly not an espionage statute, and I don’t understand how RPS could possibly be prosecuted for espionage. I’ll also go ahead and note that the Hatch Act had recently been in the news following the controversy over a Secret Service agent’s social media post about Trump.

RPS exhibits a pattern of taking credible reporting from other sources and adding an insider patina that seems juicy. In every case where they’ve made an accurate prediction, someone else preempted them. In many cases they made inaccurate predictions, confused facts, and stole others’ observations. Whoever is behind the account is obviously a close observer of the media.

All of this leads me to my final point: why does any of this matter?

Emptywheel today wrote about the “fake news” phenomeon as applied to the left, taking issue with, among other things, BuzzFeed’s inclusion of RPS in a list of fake news stories. Marcy says: “Most of these things are not news! Most are not pretending to be news!” I suppose it’s strictly true that RPS does not pretend to be news, but it also isn’t obvious parody and all you have to do is look at the replies to its tweets to see that scores of people take it very, very seriously. I share her concern that the “fake news” label “provides a way to discredit alternative voices”, but I don’t believe there is a clear distinction between Twitter and news anymore. I don’t care whether RPS portrays itself as “news” or not—the reality is that people believe it is authentic, and that is dangerous when they refuse to prove they are who they say they are.

On Jan 29, I reached out directly to RPS to suggest a way to prove their credibility without having to reveal their identity to anyone: post some encrypted messages detailing actions POTUS will be taking in the coming days (so their actual contents would be obscured), and then post the decryption key after the action has been publicly announced. A series of these amounting to more than sheer speculation that turn out to be correct would prove RPS had foreknowledge of the action without having to identify themselves, preempt the administration’s public announcement, or tell any human being who they are. I never received a response, but I still think this is a workable solution, and invite RPS to prove their credibility. Until then, they—and all these other accounts—should be regarded as fake and their allegations left to be what they are: just tweets.


26 Jun 2015

Today’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges reads like a coda: Justice Kennedy tying the knot on the string of gay rights cases he’s crafted over the years. It’s light on legal analysis, relying on previous precedent for most of the heavy lifting. Instead it’s mostly a straightforward affirmation of basic fairness and dignity for the actual human beings involved.

The core dispute between the majority and the minority is what the Bill of Rights means when it says “liberty,” which reflects a wider disagreement in American jurisprudence–whether liberty encompasses only those rights recognized at the time the Bill of Rights was ratified, or whether rights broaden and evolve over time. Justice Kennedy is firmly in the latter camp, but what I love most is how eloquently and clearly he articulates this:

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed. (p. 11)

But I think Kennedy said it even better in his landmark opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated anti-sodomy laws:

Had those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment known the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities, they might have been more specific. They did not presume to have this insight. They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom. (p. 18)

We cannot be said to be making progress unless our rights are broadening and the circle of those who enjoy them is widening. Indeed, we are more free today than we were yesterday.


20 Nov 2013

It should surprise no one that the federal health care program’s problems are much deeper than previously thought. Fresh off the heels of last month’s calamitous rollout, The Washington Post reported yesterday that a huge part of the site’s backend isn’t even finished yet. (Not even if you use the government’s definition of finished–there but you can’t use it.)

Henry Chao, the Obama administration official who oversaw the technical development of the federal health insurance marketplace, said Tuesday that his team has yet to complete 30 to 40 percent of the overall project.

Speaking before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Oversight Committee, Chao said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is still working on a number of “back office” aspects of the project, including a system to send payments to insurance companies.

Parts of the project that users would see — notably the Web portal, HealthCare.gov — are 100 percent finished, he said. But “the accounting systems, the payment systems, they still need to be” completed, Chao said.

It’s not clear if the the incomplete percentage refers to the backend or the entire project (the story says the former, the headline the latter). What is clear is that Mr. Chao is in hot water. At least the “[p]arts of the project that users would see” are “100 percent finished,” right?

One Hundred Man-Years of Solitude

23 Oct 2013

By all accounts the new HealthCare.gov website, supposedly America’s new frontier for ensuring everyone gets a shot at decent healthcare, sucks. Almost as bad is some of the reporting that’s been done around the failures.

The New York Times recently ran an article on the problems contractors face in fixing the website’s problems. The Times reports:

One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.


According to one specialist, the Web site contains about 500 million lines of software code. By comparison, a large bank’s computer system is typically about one-fifth that size.

In response, David Auerbach at Slate rightly takes issue with these claims but completely misses the point. Auerbach—a former software engineer at Microsoft and Google, according to his personal website—sees it as a semantic issue: not all lines of code are treated equal. That’s, of course, true. All lines of code are not created equal, and that’s why no engineer/text editor/product manager/designer worth their salt even bothers talking about this pointless metric. The implication here is that the HealthCare.gov code is not as complicated as the Times suggests. That’s also undoubtedly true, but not because one woman’s 50 million lines of code is another woman’s 50 lines of code.

The elephant in the room here is that there is absolutely no way that the engineers who developed HealthCare.gov wrote 50 million lines of code, much less 500 million.1 We all understand that there are many moving pieces there, but that’s the case with any sufficiently complicated software. It seems to me that this rewriting-50-million-lines-of-code claim is a smokescreen for the real scandal here: the federal government’s horribly inept contractor-development practices. Hiring one contractor to do the database, one do to the design, another to do the login system, another for income verification, etc, is the road to doom. In other words, the point isn’t that HealthCare.gov is complex. The point is that it is a deeply mismanaged project. Now everyone from government leaders to the contractors working on the project are beside themselves promising quick fixes. It’s not going to happen. As Auerbach’s Slate colleague Matt Yglesias points out, Brooks’s mythical man-month is as elusive as ever: you can’t add manpower to a project to get it done faster. No, the contractors who made this mess are stuck with themselves and with each other until it’s fixed. And you can bet that will not be anytime before the end of the year.

  1. By comparison, the most recent major version of the Linux kernel has fewer than 17 million lines. Even huge operating systems, like the one that runs Macs, have many fewer than 500 million. Mac OS X 10.4 (froom 2006) had 86 million lines of code. That’s surely increased by now but is definitely nowhere near 500 million. Even the Curiosity rover, a massive feat of human engineering, only carried 3.8 million lines of code with it to Mars.

    The only other explanation for the exaggerated number I’ve seen was suggested by TPM’s Josh Marshall, who suggests that the number might include dependencies on other code (e.g., open source software and other code the developers relied on but didn’t themselves write). But those numbers cannot be included in a proper counting of the code, and even if they could—as Marshall himself then acknowledges–they are still unlikely to reach anywhere near 500 million. 


30 May 2013

Recently I was reading a blog post by Jeff Moser about the future of programming and how programmers think about the languages they use. At just over 2,000 words, it’s not a very long post. But it included some 77 links, for a word-to-link ratio of 27 to 1—one link for every 27 words. That’s more than one link for every two sentences. (Note: it’s actually a three-part blog post, but since the second two parts suffer from the same high word-link ratio, I’m ignoring them.)

It’s important to recognize that the way we consume information online–hypertext–is different from the way we consume it offline–static ink. In ink, you’re forced to explain yourself or assume your readers know what you’re talking about. On the web, we have the benefit of hypertext. Obviously, hypertext has been there from the beginning and has done as much as anything to catalyze the web’s exponential expansion. But there is great cost in saturating thoughts you’re trying to convey with links to other sources. Many times, it is necessary to link–for example, it would be unfair for me to write this criticism without linking to the criticized post. So it’s clear that I’m not advocating a linkless Web. But consider this sampling of the links in just the first third of Moser’s post:

  • “programming languages class” -> the author’s programming class from Purdue
  • “Scheme” -> Wikipedia article for “Scheme”
  • “latest version of C#” -> a .doc of the C# language spec
  • “lambda functions” -> Wikipedia article for “Lambda calculus”
  • “Plato expands on this” -> Amazon page for Notes on the Synthesis of Form by Christopher Alexander, with title ‘The quote came from the front of this book.’
  • “Phaedrus” -> Wikipedia article for Phaedrus
  • “fanboy” -> Wikipedia article for “Fanboy”
  • “think different” -> YouTube link to classic Apple campaign

Moser even includes a link under the text “Intergalactic Network” to a page called “Internet History”!

My point here is not to single out Moser, to say that links are bad, or to say that citations are unnecessary. But I do think that most of Moser’s links are bad, and are symptomatic of a larger problem that bloggers have, which is that they assume their readers are as invested in their subjects as they are. This is certainly a false assumption. If your aim is to contribute something new, then you need to eschew linkmania and explain what you mean. If you’re not willing to explain what Scheme is, or what a fanboy is, or where and when your programming language class took place, then it’s either (a) not relevant or (b) not necessary. In other words, I don’t care which programming language class you took and I don’t need to be told what Scheme is, because I’m reading an article about the future of programming languages.

From a pure reading perspective, it’s incredibly distracting to have to stumble over a link every sentence or two, because links tease: click me for more information. Sometimes, it’s obvious where the link goes–e.g., many book titles are linked to their Amazon page. Most of the time, though, the reader will have to roll over the link to see where it goes, requiring him to: (1) break his concentration to roll over the link; (2) try to decide whether to follow the link now, ignore it, or save it for later; (3) remember where he was in the text and return to it.

But of course, many links are useful, informative, necessary—so which ones? I think a decent heuristic is: does the link sufficiently enhance the experience of reading the main material, and will more than half of your readers click on it?

Who wants a built-in TV on an airplane?

13 May 2013

The New York Times recently ran a story about changes in the airline industry in recent years. A few highlights:

But most have begun putting Wi-Fi and individual televisions aboard their planes, installing more comfortable seats for business passengers and investing in mobile technology that gives passengers more control over their travel plans.


Delta also spent $140 million over two years to develop a new Web site, which it unveiled last year. The site allows the airline to sell more services to passengers, including upgrades to premium seats, or booking hotel rooms or cars. At a conference last year, one executive compared the company’s aims to something Amazon has on its Web site — the ability to bundle offers or suggest products based on a passenger’s history and preferences.

I recently flew from Seattle to Chicago on United on a Boeing 737-800, which has 126 standard coach seats. Every one of those seats was equipped with a display hooked up to DirecTV. Only a couple people, from what I saw, took advantage of the programming and watched something during the 5-hour flight. What most people did was ignore their display without turning it off, leaving it to loop endlessly over the 5-minute DirecTV marketing pitch.

I have no figures, but how much might it cost an airline to install and maintain these individual displays? Add on the costs to get the content, plus the cheap headphones most airlines give passengers these days, and you’re wasting a bunch of money on something that barely anyone wants. I, like everyone else, travel with my phone, which has all my music on it, and my headphones. And, like many people, I travel with my iPad. It seems to me that having good Wi-Fi on the plane is orders of magnitude better than having a personal display, because I can simply load Netflix on my iPad. (Even assuming a lack of Netflix-capable WiFi, I’d rather watch a downloaded movie on my retina-display iPad than the low-quality airline display.)

Everything the Times article cites as progress—WiFi, site redesigns, better mobile apps—are good things. Except the seat displays. As tech has become more personalized, especially with the popularity of tablets, we’re getting more accustomed to carrying our entertainment around with us. In that world, the airlines would be better off ditching the seat displays, the awful headphones, and the content deals. Instead, they should invest in power outlets and Wi-Fi.

The BRAIN Initiative

02 Apr 2013

Today, President Obama unveiled Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies:

Today at the White House, President Obama unveiled the “BRAIN” Initiative—a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.

A few things:

  1. This is fantastic.
  2. Contrived acronyms like this and countless others in D.C.—PATRIOT, etc.—are nauseating and senseless.
  3. If the name were BRAIN Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, it would almost be redeemable, because then it would be a recursive acronym. Since recursion—self-reference—is so incredibly central to the idea of consciousness, I think it might provide some value and undo the stupendous ridiculousness of the acronym.

List of Eponymous Laws

04 Mar 2013

I was recently reminded of Brooks’s Law—that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”—and it led me to Wikipedia’s full list of eponymous laws.

Besides the classic Asimov robotics laws and Clarke’s laws, a few of my favorites:

Benford’s Law: In any collection of statistics, a given statistic has roughly a 30% chance of starting with the digit 1.

Betteridge’s Law: Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered with a “no”.

Conway’s Law: Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of the organization.

Gall’s Law: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Kerckhoff’s Principle: A cryptosystem should be secure even if everything about the system, except the key, is public knowledge.

Linus’s Law: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

Mooers’s Law: An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it.

Niven’s Law of Time Travel: If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and of changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.

Peter Principle: Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.

Now I’m off to inspect the even-longer Wikipedia list of paradoxes.

Peter Staley to Pat Buchanan: “Use a condom”

26 Feb 2013

Over the weekend I finally got around to watching How to Survive a Plague (available on Netflix), a wonderful documentary about the AIDS activism group ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The film makes heavy use of archival footage from the ’80s and ’90s. One particular moment that I found illuminating was a clip from Crossfire featuring an exchange between Peter Staley, a prominent ACT UP activist, and Pat Buchanan. The first half of the segment is available on YouTube, but I haven’t been able to find the full clip. However, you can see it in the film at the 30-minute mark. Here’s a transcript of the segment:

: Peter Staley, you have the AIDS virus, and I am sorry. But, don’t you think that the Federal Drug Administration [sic] has a responsibility not to let people such as you have quacks that could cause even more harm than you already have?

: The problem is, is that the FDA is using the same process to test a nasal spray as it is to test AIDS drugs. And it’s a 7-10 year process.

: You have the FDA giving you a drug. So far you’ve got AZT. Why would—

: Which I can’t take because it’s far too toxic, and over half the people that have HIV can’t take it.

: OK, but the FDA says there is nothing else that is worth anything.

: Mr. Staley, this is gonna astonish you, but I agree with you a hundred percent. I think if someone’s got AIDS and someone wants to take a drug, it’s their life, and if it gives ’em hope, you oughta be able to take it. What I wanna ask you is whether you know of anything that you think might be some kind of miraculous cure that you think they’re sittin’ on at FDA.

: There are over one hundred and forty drugs out there that the FDA has identified as possibilities, and are in some stage of being looked at right now.

: Why are they holding back—

: Among that one hundred and forty, there’s gotta be one or a combination thereof that can slow down this virus or halt it in its tracks.

: You’re just simply carrying the virus, is that correct?

: I have a few very minor symptoms, and my immune system is virtually shot.

: What would you like to take?

: I would like to be able to take dextran sulfate, legally. I’m taking it on the underground right now.

: Well why not, Mr. Braden?

: Because for—I don’t know anything about dextran sulfate, and neither do you–

: Well I’ll tell you this: it’s an over-the-counter drug in Japan, and has been for twenty years.

: But—

: Over the counter.

: Over the counter in Japan?

: Yes.

: But if the FDA says—

: Mr. Staley–

: I’m only asking that they be released after there’s a minimal amount of efficacy, not a one hundred percent test.

: Well, a final question to you. Let me get something here. You’ve got the pink triangle on your shirt.

: Yes.

: I gather that means you’re a homosexual.

: Yes.

: Lookin’ in the camera, what would you tell some kid—say you had a younger brother, twenty-one years old, who also might have homosexual tendencies—What would you tell him if you wanted him to live a long life?

: Use a condom. And also to use a lubricant by the way that has a medicine that can—

: But aren’t you, this is Russian roulette.

: It is not Russian roulette. It is Russian roulette to not give people this information when human nature dictates that they’re gonna go out there and they’re gonna have sex.

: You mean celibacy is impossible?

: It’s just not gonna work. People aren’t gonna do it and lots of people are gonna die. Now would you rather have a lot of people cheating under celibacy with thousands of people dying or would you rather save those lives and let them have sex?

: Well I think that uh, well. Thank you very much Peter Staley, thanks for being in our studio, Mr. Braden and I’ll be back in a minute.

Some things never change.

Hello, World

17 Feb 2013

Hello, world!

Hopefully more interesting things are to come.