Thursday, March 31, 2005

That DMCA Thing....

Some time ago, I tracked down a large number of sites which were plagiarizing my web content, and asked that they stop. Three replied:

  • "An intern did it; she no longer works here.";

  • "I paid my web designer for original work; I'll have his head for this!"; and

  • "It's good content. Can I keep using it?"

Yesterday I tracked down more instances of plagiarism. Responses have already come from most people contacted, with quick removal of plagiarized material. The difference, in my opinion, is that the major search engines are now responding very quickly to DMCA notices.


With the Schiavo case at its inevitable conclusion, here's an attempt to sort some of the wheat from the idiotorial chaff.

  • In the Washington Post, Abigail Trafford attempts to understand the controversy in light of her own experiences with her terminally ill father.

  • On RangelMD, Chris Rangel attempts to provide a medical context for the case.

  • In the St. Petersburg Times, Robert Friedman takes a sarcastic look at some of the atrocious conduct that has occurred in association with the Schiavo tragedy.

  • On Crime and Federalism, Norm Pattis opines that the Schiavo case represents the start of our slide down a very slippery slope.
(I'm not a fan of "slippery slope" arguments, but I do think Norm is describing what no small number of the Schiavo intermeddlers would like to see happen.)

Oh Happy Day!

In this morning's email, I learned that I have won a share of the grand prize in the London Lottery - as one of fourteen international winners. This is particularly cool, because I didn't even enter the London Lottery.

Best yet, I won three times.

I have until April 12 to claim my prize - if I keep getting notifications at this rate, I may learn that I'm not just one of fourteen international winners - I may be all of them. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll win twenty or thirty times, and be able to claim more than the total prize awarded!

(Spam.... [Don't] Gotta love it.)

A Bad Trend

So first an unnecessary ban on gay marriage through a constitutional amendment - which also deprive public employers, and attempts to deprive private employers, of their right to contract in the form of providing employees with benefits for domestic partners, and also attempts to ban civil domestic partnerships - now this? What's next?

Repubicans like to speak of themselves as the Party of Lincoln. But the fingerprints I see on the Michigan party's legislative agenda don't appear to be Lincoln's.

Just Don't Say "I Told You So"...

... Because a lot of you have.

A lengthy entry I composed earlier this week was unceremoniously eaten by blogger. Although it has (necessarily) been my habit to keep a backup of my blogger entries until I am sure a post has been processed, I somehow managed to either forget to do so or close the backup (well, you try blogging with a five-month-old swatting your keyboard and see what you forget), so... gone.

And at other times this week, during the moments I had to blog, blogger was down.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Oh, C'mon....

The Washington Post owns Kaplan, so one might expect the reporter they assign to school issues to, well, be reasonably good. Today, that reporter presents an editorial which suggests otherwise:
My biology class, sadly, was another story. I slogged joylessly through all the phyla and the principles of Darwinism, memorizing as best as I could. It never occurred to me that this class could have been as interesting as history until I recently started to read about "intelligent design," the latest assault on the teaching of evolution in our schools. Many education experts and important scientists say we have to keep this religious-based nonsense out of the classroom. But is that really such a good idea?

I am as devout a Darwinist as anybody. I read all the essays on evolution by the late Stephen Jay Gould, one of my favorite writers. The God I worship would, I think, be smart enough to create the universe without, as Genesis alleges, violating His own observable laws of conservation of matter and energy in a six-day construction binge. But after interviewing supporters and opponents of intelligent design, which argues among other things that today's organisms are too complex to have evolved from primordial chemicals by chance or necessity, I think critiques of modern biology, like Ladendorff's contrarian lessons, could be one of the best things to happen to high school science.
The initial thesis seems to be that because biology classes are uninteresting - or, more correctly, because the author found the biology class he once took in high school to be uninteresting - the answer is to introduce material which may have no basis whatsoever in science or logic, but which might be more interesting than actual science. The next argument appears to be that if introducing competing scientific theories into the classroom can have educational value and make study more interesting, the same should apply for non-scientific theories. Well, um, yeah. And watching cartoons during English class may really perk up class attention - it's not education, but darn it, it's far more entertaining.
And why stop with biology? Physics teachers could ask students to explain why a perpetual-motion machine won't work. Earth science teachers could show why the steady-state theory of the universe lost out to the Big Bang -- just as Al Ladendorff exposed the genius of the U.S. Constitution by showing why the Articles of Confederation went bust.
I'm not sure what this argument has to do with the author's advocacy of teaching "intelligent design". First, many physics teachers do discuss perpetual motion devices, and I first encountered a teacher who capably discussed the competing theories of the formation of the Universe in a 7th grade science class. But again, how does the discussion of the scientific during science class justify inclusion of the non-scientific.
The intelligent-design folks say theirs is not a religious doctrine. They may be lying, and are just softening up the teaching of evolution for an eventual pro-Genesis assault. But they passed one of my tests. They answered Gould's favorite question: If you are real scientists, then what evidence would disprove your hypothesis? West indicated that any discovery of precursors of the animal body plans that appeared in the Cambrian period 500 million years ago would cast doubt on the thesis that those plans, in defiance of Darwin, evolved without a universal common ancestor.
Hm. So if I throw up any criterion, no matter how absurd, that I claim will cause me to doubt my theory, the theory magically passes "Gould's favorite question" and becomes scientific?

"I propound that the moon is made of green cheese, but I will doubt that theory if I observe Jay Mathews consume several pounds of moon rock without declaring it to be 'yummy'."

Or perhaps, "I propound that Jay Mathews hasn't given sufficient thought to these issues, but the discovery of any precursors of Jay Mathews thoughtfulness predating the Cabrian period would cast doubt on my thesis."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Intruding Into Private Pain

I keep reading legal bloggers who suggest, in relation to the Schiavo case, that "just because Congress hasn't done it before doesn't make it unconstitutional". A truism, but not exactly compelling legal reasoning. Is this a logical next step for "never done before" legislation, now that the federal court has ruled against the parents in their effort to secure a preliminary injuction - combining extraordinary legislative intrusiveness with notion advanced by a growing number of Republicans that Congress can strip federal courts of their power to review certain constitutional issues:
For the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


Pursuant to Article I, Section 8, Clause 9 of the Constitution of the United States, Congress hereby establishes the THERESA MARIE SHIAVO Court.


In responst to any petition filed by any party, the Theresa Marie Shiavo Court shall have the power to order Theresa Marie Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted.


In the event that the Theresa Marie Schiavo Court orders reinsertion of Theresa Marie Schiavo's feeding tube, there shall be no judicial review of the decision of the Theresa Marie Schiavo Court.


Nothing in this Act shall constitute a precedent with respect to future legislation, including the creation of private court systems.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Expert Testimony

I find this type of expert testimony to be, well, interesting.... I paraphrase:
Q. The complainant has given inconsistent accounts.
A. Many complainants who are telling the truth do that.

Q. The complainant repeatedly denied the abuse.
A. Many complainants who are telling the truth do that.

Q. The complainant's time frame for the alleged offenses is impossible.
A. That often happens with young complainants who are telling the truth.


Q. Aren't inconsistent accounts, repeated denials, and an implausible timeframe also consistent with fabrication?
A. I'm not competent to say - I haven't studied false accusations.
I'm not sure what to make of that type of testimony. Does the expert mean to say that not one case of fabrication has been referred to him during his entire 1,000+ evaluations? That he is so overcome by the fact that false denials and confusion can occur in legitimate cases, he refuses to acknowledge basic common sense that they also happen in cases of false accusation? Does he fear that if he acknowledges the obvious that he will do something he finds unacceptable, such as making himself less knowledgeable than a demigod, or putting the prosecution's case at risk?

Celebrity Impersonations

Cousin Ella, seen here her with slightly older cousin Emma, has already mastered the art of the celebrity impersonation. Here she is doing her impression of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo:

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Blake Civil Suit

Despite a colorful acting resume which could be said to invite some mean-spirited humor (e.g., "Slightly Dangerous", "In Cold Blood", "Kid Glove Killer", "Family Troubles", and "Have Gun - Will Travel"), Robert Blake has been acquitted of murder. But that's not what this blog entry is about.
[Blake] is being sued by Bonny Lee Bakley's family, a civil suit alleging wrongful death, set to go to trial on July 7th.

Eric Dubin, attorney for the Bakley family, says they are devastated by the verdict but hope the outcome of the civil suit will be different.

In an interview with KABC-TV, Dubin said the "overwhelming question I get every day is, 'Obviously he did it, but do you think they proved the case?' It becomes more of a game of reasonable doubt. And we just heard the jury say they think he did it, but they just didn't prove it. So that's my job to prove it in the civil case, and he's going down."

"Holly's devastated," Dubin continued, referring to Bakley's 24-year-old daughter, Holly Gawron. "I mean her mom was murdered twice: once in that car and once in the media... Justice will follow; I'll get it for them."
Typical rules of legal ethics prohibit statements by an attorney which are intended to influence the outcome of pending litigation. While attorneys like Dubin probably rationalize that this type of statement won't "have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter", such that they feel justified in saying whatever they want despite the rule, sometimes I wish rules like this had teeth. (And no, I don't personally believe that the lawyer would be making the rounds of the media, issuing his pronouncements about the case, if he didn't anticipate that his statements would affect the ultimate settlement or verdict.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

There He Goes Again, II

Followers of this blog know I'm not a fan of Joe Lieberman. Paul Krugman, today, reminds me of some of the reasons:
[I]n his latest radio address, Mr. Bush - correctly, this time - attributed the $600 billion figure [falsely advanced as the cost of delaying Social Security Reform by one year] to a "Democrat leader." He was referring to Senator Joseph Lieberman, who, for some reason, repeated the party line - the Republican party line - the previous Sunday.

My guess is that Mr. Lieberman thought he was being centrist and bipartisan, reaching out to Republicans by showing that he shares their concerns. At a time when the Democrats can say, without exaggeration, that their opponents are making a dishonest case for policies that will increase the risks facing families, Mr. Lieberman gave the administration cover by endorsing its fake numbers.

* * *

As it happens, Mr. Lieberman stated clearly what was wrong with the bankruptcy bill: "It failed to close troubling loopholes that protect wealthy debtors, and yet it deals harshly with average Americans facing unforeseen medical expenses or a sudden military deployment," making it unfair to "working Americans who find themselves in dire financial straits through no fault of their own." A stand against the bill would have merged populism with patriotism, highlighting Democrats' differences with Republicans' vision of America.

But many Democrats chose not to take that stand. And Mr. Lieberman was among them: his vote against the bill was an empty gesture. On the only vote that opponents of the bill had a chance of winning - a motion to cut off further discussion - he sided with the credit card companies. To be fair, so did 13 other Democrats. But none of the others tried to have it both ways.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Paper Shredders and Baby Bath Seats

A friend of mine, from time to time, will forward me articles on alleged defects in consumer products, and the bizarre injuries that can result. Or which emphasize how, even with an infrequency of injury, some people will argue that otherwise useful products be banned because of the potential for misuse.

I had anticipated that I would not want to leave a baby or small child in the vicinity of an operational paper shredder, for example, but it hadn't occurred to me that a puppy might be inclined to try to lick the shredding mechanism. (Graphic description of injury omitted, but dog lovers: take note.)

But it certainly had occurred to me that the mere fact that a parent uses a baby bath seat does not mean that the parent can ignore the baby, or use that as an excuse ot leave a baby unattended in a bathtub. While I will grant that if you are holding a baby in a bathtub, you are necessarily giving the child direct attention that might not follow if the baby is in a bath seat, not all parents give the baby that level of attention even if the baby is lying in a sink or bathtub. And I haven't personally found that using a bath seat is cause for giving a baby any less attention than any other method of bathing. Bathtub accidents, unfortunately, will happen no matter what associated devices are or are not used. And not one of the cited incidents involved active parental attention directed toward the baby in the bath seat.

Granted, some devices (such as "lawn darts") seem so poorly conceived, and the risk of harm from misuse so great, that you can understand why they should be pulled from the market. And granted, the picture is confused by insurance company propaganda - false stories about people suing after they injure themselves by using a lawn mower as a hedge trimmer, or setting up a ladder on a melting pile of manure, or the pretense that an absurd warning label on a toilet brush is anything more than evidence of manufacture in a non-English-speaking nation or the incompetence of in-house counsel - meant to suggest that manufacturers of perfectly safe products are being sued because of non-foreseeable incidents of absurd misuse. (And it isn't just about products - the same phenomenon is displayed by the Terry Rakoltas, Tipper Gores, and "Parents Television Council"-type organizations, who want to protect me from what they regard as "indecency".)

There is a point where I want the regulators, or those who lobby the regulators to "protect me", to extend at least a modicum of trust in my intelligence.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Customer Service

Sometimes people complain about "what's happened to customer service these days". I'm mostly wondering about the past month, where... well, customer service disasters have been the norm as opposed to the exception.

The latest fun time has been with my web host, which apparently decided to block Googlebots - that is, the programs Google runs to accumulate data for its directory, or to place contextual advertising for its AdSense clients. This is somewhat akin to a large office building taking down its directory so people can't find your office, and then instructing its security guard to tell anybody wearing a suit to "go away". Not good for business. And while the landlord might argue that turning away a large percentage of your visitors saves wear and tear on the elevator and carpet in public areas, that would be why you pay rent.

In this case, upon inquiry, the host didn't attempt to explain the decision - perhaps a wise use of silence under the circumstances - and responded that its routers now permit Googlebots to access hosted pages and servers.

Yes, this is the same host which replied to a "reboot" request last month by presenting me with a reformatted hard drive.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Dogs and Crack Monkeys

Some wackiness from the legal world....

This story, about a subpoena served on a dog, has been making the rounds on law blogs, but TalkLeft has the best pun.

CJR Daily makes mention of a story about the unorthodox qualifications of an expert witness in the Robert Blake case, courtesy of This Is Broken.
Earlier in the trial, a professor from the University of California, Los Angeles, testified as an expert witness about the psychotropic effects of cocaine. He said that he had smoked crack cocaine himself and sat in a cage with monkeys to teach them how to smoke cocaine as well.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Now the Overstated Defense

A few days ago I mentioned an overstated indictment of law school exams. Now the Volokh Conspiracy presents an overstated defense:
But law school exams are very good at testing most of the subset of lawyering skills which law schools teach well--including the ability to think quickly. Yes, three hours is a short time to analyze three or four major problems, and spot the key issues,and the important secondary issues, in every single problem. However, much real-life lawyering is done under intense time pressure. You have to think quickly when you're a rookie defense attorney speaking for your client before the court. Or when you're a young corporate associate having to draft an emergency brief in 12 hours. Or when you're a citizen-activist/advocate (as so many lawyers are) speaking for your cause on talk radio or in a local TV news interview.
In relation to those examples, other than the emergency brief situation where there may be some parallel, my experience tells me that law school exams offer no preparation. And truthfully? Even in relation to the brief, the best preparation is prior brief writing experience, not a law school exam.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Capitalism At Its Best

In today's mail, I received a notice from Citibank:
Transaction Fee for Purchases Made in Foreign Currencies:
For each purchase made in a foreign currency, we add an additional FINANCE CHARGE of 3.0% of the amount of the purchase after its conversion into U.S. dollars. The foreign currency transaction fee will be added to the appropriate purchase balance with the foreign currency purchase. The foreign currency transaction fee may cause the annual percentage rate on the billing statement on which the purchase made in a foreign currency first appears to exceed the nominal annual percentage rate.
Well yes, it would do that, wouldn't it....

So are my eyes deceiving me? I contacted Citibank:
I want to make sure I understand your changes in terms:

For purchases made in a foreign currency, you will assess a 3% finance fee, even if payment in full is made at the end of the billing period such that no other finance fees are charged?

That is, this "finance fee" cannot be avoided, if one makes a purchase in a foreign currency?

Thanks for your clarification.
They replied:
If you make payment in foreign currencies you will be charged 3% finance fee on that. As such this fee can not be avoided.

Thank you for using our website.
Um... gouging?

If Only It Were Fiction

From the London Guardian:
Even the most punitive-minded of voters would surely have been shocked by the allegations that emerged last week from the inquiry into the murder of an Asian teenager in Feltham young offender institution in London five years ago. Zahid Mubarek was imprisoned for three months for stealing razor blades worth just £6 and for interfering with a car. According to Duncan Keys, an officer at the prison, Mubarek was battered to death only hours before he was due to be released because he had been put in a cell with a known white racist psychopath for prison officers' "perverted pleasure". Mr Keys, later assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said it was part of an insidious game in which inmates who might attack each other were put together so that staff could bet on the outcome. The combinations included white and ethnic minority; weak and strong; or two prison bullies.

MCI Customer Service

A couple of months ago, This American Life did a piece on customer service at MCI, entitled "On Hold, No One Can Hear You Scream". It wasn't the most reassuring piece ever for MCI customers, although we were assured at the end that a customer support makeover was in the works.

Early last month, caller ID stopped working on my phone. When I started to look into why it wasn't working, I discovered that MCI was offering a plan which offered all of the features currently on my phone (plus a couple more), plus local and national long distance, for less than the cost of my current plan. So I applied for the plan online.

A few days later, as caller ID was still not working, we called MCI to inquire why. Calling MCI isn't much fun, because you are routed through an automated system. Not "press one, press two", but a voice-activated system which does not always recognize your reply. And it directs you to submenus which don't necessarily have options for the problem you face. (Hint: try saying "Connect me to an operator" or perhaps simply "operator", as that seems to be an avenue to escape the tedious system.)

The operator we spoke with told us that we didn't have caller ID because it isn't on our account. Um... it isn't? It has been for all of the years since I signed up for MCI. So we confirmed that we had placed the order for the new plan which included voice mail. We were told that we could expect the plan to be implemented "within two weeks" with the explanation, "It will probably be a lot sooner, but we're not allowed to give you a timeframe of less than two weeks." She then launched into a hard sell of "inside line backer".

So, a bit more than two weeks later... no changes. I went online to check my account, and the new plan was not reflected in the account. So I sent off an email inquiry. The reply was that there was a problem with my order, but that email customer support was unable to address this type of problem, so I should call the telephone-based customer support. I'm not clear on why the email support representative can't offer the same level of support as a phone representative, nor am I clear on why the email support representative couldn't pass along the issue to a phone representative without my making a phone call... but apparently that's how things work.

After trying to navigate the voice menus (and finally using the "connect me to an operator" escape hatch), I was connected to an operator. Wow - I didn't even have to hold. The first thing the operator said when she opened my account was "You're calling about your request to be switched over to the Neighborhood plan" - well, yes. So apparently, even though email support could not handle this problem and apparently could not refer it to anybody who could, they had managed to place a sufficiently clear entry in my file such that anybody could figure out the problem. (So why did I have to call them, again?) I was then told that my order had been cancelled.

The operator's English was somewhat limited, and I'm not sure if it was because of that or for some other reason that I was then connected to a different support representative. That representative informed me that there was a conflict with my order, and that somebody from MCI was supposed to contact me to resolve the conflict. That, apparently should have happened before the order was cancelled. It did not. I described how, even if somebody was supposed to have called me, I believed that whatever the issue may have been could have been resolved when I called them - and was told that my application remained pending. This issue, I was told, would be referred to the "Research Department", which would figure things out within two weeks. (Again, "It will probably be a lot sooner, but we're not allowed to give you a timeframe of less than two weeks.")

I then asked what they could do in the interim - indicating that this mess had commenced when they took caller ID off of my line, and that I wished to have it restored. That, I was told, was the source of the conflict. They had one database saying it was on my account, and another which said it was not. With the net effect apparently being that they could not add it to my account, resulting in their cancelling my order. (No, I can't quite figure that one out, either.) I asked if this could be remedied in advance of everything else. The representative informed me that the "Research Department" would figure out the problem within two weeks. (Believe it or not, I was starting to detect a pattern.) He assured me, "I would fix it right now, if I knew how, but I don't so I can't."

I then asked about the bill, requesting that I receive an abatement of some sort for the fact that I was going to end up paying them additional monies due to their mistake with my account - but billing issues are outside of the scope of his authority. I asked him to relate the request to somebody with authority.

If you've listened to the "This American Life piece linked above, you may appreciate the last question I asked him - whether they had individual phone extensions. "No, we do not."

He concluded this exchange by asking, "Is there anything else we can do for you today?" I restrained myself from asking if there were actually any services he could provide, given the described limits on his authority.

In any event, despite his "I can't do anything, I don't know anything, I can't promise anything" representations, that customer service representative managed to escalate the issue to the point where I had caller ID the following morning. Which, from a Friday night to a Saturday morning isn't bad service from a company that won't promise even to change a proverbial light bulb in less than two weeks.

(On a side note, a friend told me his experience trying to get MCI to provide new local phone service for a home he purchased. As they would not quote him anything less than a two week window for the start of his service, he went with a different company that promised to connect him within days. It may be easy to keep the "two week" promise, but it may not be the best path to the recruitment and retention of customers.)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Never Forget To Ask A Potential Juror....

Do you know the judge, lawyers, parties, witnesses, victim... or anyone else associated with this case?"

Certainly, the wording for voir dire shoud be more artful, but tattoo a reminder on the back of your hand if you have to. Because, as they note at The Volokh Conspiracy, you may not be able to undo the damage if you fail to inquire.

Another real-life example, although one which probably didn't affect the outcome of a trial, involved a married couple with different surnames, both of whom were seated on the same jury.

An example from a trial I observed last week: After extended jury selection and voir dire, both the prosecutor and defense attorney lost some steam with the final juror, and seated him after performing only cursory voir dire. The juror later sent a message to the judge, to the effect of:
I think you should know that in my custody litigation, I am being represented by the prosecutor's husband, and my wife is being represented by defense counsel.
Oops? (To his credit, the judge in this case brought the situation immediately to the attention of the attorneys, so that they could reach an amicable consensus, rather than declaring it a gotcha.)

Law School Exams

CrimProf Blog brings up an article discussing some of the flaws with law school exams. I think the article overstates its case, and many of the criticisms it extends to law school exams would apply to examinations in any field of study, but the greater point, in my opinion, holds. Although I could joke about the assertion that time pressure in exams not being relevant to legal practice, given how many lawyers seem to wait until the last minute to brief even complex legal issues.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

(Almost) Speaking The Same Language

This exchange regarding Northern Ireland makes me wonder, how can you negotiate a resolution to a long-term conflict if both sides linger on past offense and talk past each other? (Which, unfortunately, is not a problem unique to Northern Ireland.)