Hixie's Natural Log

2002-06-12 10:36 UTC Buzz: Shooting the messenger

The Web Standards Project recently unveiled themselves again. This time their message seems aimed more at Web authors and Web users than Web browser developers.

Isn't it sad, then, to see that their own Web site has several common errors? Sure, it validates, but that's only because the validators are merely checking that the documents follow the relevant DTDs, not that they are following all the rules of the specs. (In their defence, this site is better than most. However, given their message, they should be perfect.)

Let's take a look at the www.webstandards.org markup. The first thing we notice is that it is sent as text/html, but it contains XHTML. While that's technically allowed by the specs, it makes no sense... XHTML and HTML are technically incompatible. (For example, <br/> in XHTML is actually equivalent to <br>&gt; in HTML.) What really makes no sense is that the whole point of XML (the basis of XHTML) was that it should avoid the mistakes that tag soup created... all XHTML markup on the web should be valid. But if you send XHTML as text/html, then browsers will treat it as plain old HTML (i.e. tag soup) and not complain about errors! You can see this demonstrated very well by mpt's Web log (see what the validator makes of it). XHTML is great; but if you use it, sending it as text/html totally defeats the point. (It's XML. Send it as text/xml. Like this site.)

The next thing we notice about the WaSP's markup is their stylesheet.

It contains mistakes such as not setting backgrounds and colours together, setting hover rules for anchors as well as links (David Baron has written a nice page explaining this issue), and positioning blocks using pixels instead of ems or percentages, which is why the site fails at unusual font sizes.

Back to the XHTML markup, we start noticing some much more serious problems.

<div id="Header">

Excuse me? What is <h1> for?

<img id="logo" ... alt="Web Standards Project logo" />

Rather inappropriate alternate text... the image doesn't say "Web Standards Project Logo", it says "Web Standards Project".

Below that we find a paragraph of text that is left semantically neutral (it should be wrapped in a <p> element). Then, only a few lines lower, we find presentational classes: <div class="padder">. That's followed by an <h1> just above an <h3>, skipping an entire level of headings (<h2>). We're also faced with a bunch of empty paragraphs, which makes no semantic sense.

In conclusion, while the message is the right one, the messenger is confused. Standards Compliance is a laudable goal, but it's not blind obediance to the validator which will bring us that; it's structurally correct markup with well written stylesheets, using appropriate technologies at appropriate times.

2002-06-10 19:48 UTC Why humanitarian eugenics wouldn't work in practice

Nadia points out the main reason why humanitarian eugenics wouldn't work in practice: it can't be policed effectively without going beyond what people would accept. In an ideal society, we could get everyone to buy in to the system, but in our society...

Well, I guess our hopes are all pinned on genetic engineering then.

2002-06-10 17:46 UTC Still continuing the eugenics debate

Nadia replied to my question asking why we have an inate right to procreate:

Human fairness and dignity?

Life isn't fair. The concept that we should have fairness is exactly what is causing the devolution in the first place. I do not understand how dignity is relevant here.

Are you actually prepared to make the value judgements that eugenics requires?


...and actually enforce your policy on unworthy women who make the mistake of getting pregnant?

The punishment for unlicensed births need not be any more serious than community service. This would have to be investigated further if humanitarian eugenics were carried out.

With quite a lot of false starts and odd results. Not to say that it's not possible to produce superhumans, but should we?

We should at least produce humans that are our equals. The result I am concerned with is that we will produce sub-average humans.

Most of our domesticated plants and animals are incapable of existing without humans to care for them. A lot of plants can't even reproduce in the wild anymore. In its most extreme state (but the only case where eugenics would actually have its desired effect) we would see similar effects in humans, whether intentionally selected for or not.

Fertility would have to be another criteria to breed for.

A better solution is to care for the children that are already produced, without putting value judgements on their parents. Better education for women, especially, will lower birth rates in a much more humanitarian manner.

While I completely agree that we should do this, it will not, of itself, solve the problem of devolution. In fact, as the more intelligent children will be the ones to understand the message most, it will contribute to the problem.

2002-06-10 15:19 UTC Continuing the eugenics debate

Nadia continues:

People who exist have an innate right to continue to exist.

Agreed. That's article number 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I think that people also have a right to procreate if they can care for their children.

Why? What gives them that right? I think this is the fundamental issue upon which we disagree. I am starting from the assumption that the right to found a family, article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, does not imply procreation, but merely the right to form the basis for a family, which could then be completed through adoption, procreation, or any number of other methods.

However, it would appear that my interpretation is not the only one. I could not find a definitive answer as to how the word "found" should be interpreted. (Of course, governments are not really obliged to uphold the Declaration.)

It's that "if" clause that eugenics seeks to modify, to put more value judgements on the prospective parents.

Well, not so much modify, as introduce. But yes.

I think that we still don't understand enough about the way evolution works to say that eugenics will be a foolproof solution. What I should have said is that nature will always have surprises in store, and second-guessing often doesn't work.

Farmers and other agricultural workers have been using eugenics for thousands of years without significant problems. Most of our fruit and vegetables are the direct result of coordinated eugenics programmes. It seems to me that it works remarkably well.

And it doesn't have to be fullproof. At the limit of eugenics being totally random, the process reduces to simple population growth control, which we should be doing anyway.

Genetic engineering brings up a whole lot of other ethical arguments, which I'm not sure I want to get into, but on the whole I feel it's much more reasonable than eugenics because it's on a person-sized scale instead of a society-sized scale... and because it is by nature exceptional instead of the rule.

Genetic engineering is my preferred solution too; however, it is currently at an even more underdeveloped stage than eugenics. Maybe we should start with eugenics and then move on to genetic engineering when the technologies are ready.

2002-06-10 14:29 UTC Further eugenics debate

Nadia has joined the eugenics debate. She makes some good points,

Hixie claims this is "scientifically proven fact." Besides the (scientifically proven) fact that nothing in science is ever a "fact" (sorry, couldn't resist) [...]

My apologies; indeed, I should have said it was scientific theory with evidence to support it. This is, as you point out, as close as science ever gets to claiming anything as "fact".

I don't think that the arguments presented are nearly convincing enough that intelligence as measured by IQ is the absolute driving force in our civilization.

Indeed, as I pointed out in my last post, coming up with the exact criteria is the hardest part of the problem. There are various criteria that would have to be taken into account. This would not be a trivial matter to resolve, it would have to be under continuous scrutiny and much research would have to be done on the subject.

Hixie states, As far as an innate intelligence test goes, universities seem quite happy to rely on school grades to determine someone's innate intelligence. For a system like a university, of course the university is going to admit people that they believe can succeed in, and benefit from, the environment that they offer. Past grades are the closest existing measure for that purpose. But the university makes no guarantee that you do not deserve to exist if they don't admit you... you'll just have to take a rather more circuitous path to success.

A lot of the arguments against eugenics seem to stem from the assumption that people have an innate right to exist. Yet, before they are born, they have no such right (if you follow the argument that they do, you end up with some pretty ridiculous conclusions). So deciding who has a right to procreate doesn't actually have to be completely fair. Take humanitarian eugenics as a form of population growth control where instead of the licenses for births being given randomly, some thought is put into the process.

Sure, us "intelligent" people would like it if everyone else in the world were happy and enlightened as well.

That sure would be nice.

Lastly, well, if we do devolve, so what?

If we devolve, our descendents will have living conditions worse than we do. That, for me, is unacceptable.

Evolution will take care of us. It always does.

Evolution is not a humanitarian process. Survival of the fittest is a natural result of the way DNA and reproduction work. Personifying evolution by saying it will take care of us is misleading at best, in my opinion.

Perhaps the outcome might not be what we like, but that's suitable payback for our current arrogance.

Why should our children pay for our arrogance? If you follow that argument, why should we bother cleaning up our pollution?

There is an alternative to eugenics which doesn't require anyone to judge anyone else, and that's genetic engineering of our offspring. Unfortuately this is not currently a workable solution, because the human race does not yet understand genetics well enough.