Monthly Archives: July 2009

The GOP Has Troubles With Reality

Mike Stark has turned his talent for ambush journalism to Republican Congressmen. He asked them if they personally believed that Barack Obama is legally entitled to be President of the United States. Almost none of them would affirm this belief on camera. Watch Birthers on the Hill and be amazed, disgusted, or worried, depending on your emotional fortitude.

Incidentally, anyone who is unaware of the literal incoherence of the Birther arguments need look no further than this appearance of Birther spokesperson, right-wing radio host, and former Watergate conspirator and felon G. Gordon Liddy on Hardball:

Chris Matthews's best move here wasn't confronting Liddy with documentary evidence he is wrong — mere documents failed to move him, as they failed to move so many of the crazies in the Birther cult — but rather his spinning the Birther view to its logical conclusion: If, as they argue, President Obama was born abroad, not only is he ineligible to be President as he's not a 'natural born citizen' but the President is an illegal alien who should be deported since he's never been naturalized and doesn't have a visa. Liddy swallowed that, but this is so crazy that it's going to turn the press — except maybe Lou Dobbs who conceivably might lose his job over this — against them.

Note also that Liddy's reference to a “deposition” is a fiction — the actual source of this canard is a mistranslation in an interview.

More here and here if you need it.

Back when I lived in England, both sherry-drinking and beer-drinking intellectuals in the UK used to deride the British Tory part as “the stupid party”. Today British intellectuals boast that whatever their Tories may be, they're not as crazy as the US Republican party. They don't give people with burglary convictions radio shows in the UK either.

Posted in Law: Constitutional Law, Politics: Tinfoil | 8 Comments

Health Care Wars — the Ground Game

I like this ad from Americans United for Change, “SNAIL”: Tell Congress to Pass Health Insurance Reform Now!:

I get why the GOP wants to stall health care reform: if it gets voted now, Obama wins. I accept that they don't care enough about uninsured (or pseudo-ensured) Americans to vote the way I think they should.

What I don't get is why observers think delay will do the GOP much good. What legislators have waiting for them when they get home is a lot of people who have lost their jobs — and thus their health care, and even more people nervous that it could happen to them. They are going to be bombarded with localized pitches, like this one which details the effects of the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act on Florida's 18th Congressional District:

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act would provide significant benefits in the 18th Congressional District of Florida: up to 22,000 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 11,000 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,100 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $110 million in uncompensated care each year; and 118,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.

Our Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is a particularly hard case with a relatively safe seat and she's unlikely to be moved by mere considerations of the benefits to local families. But that won't be as true elsewhere.

Posted in Health Care, Politics: FL-18 | 3 Comments

Software Is Easy to Hate

Jeff Atwood writes at Coding Horror about software hatred:

One of the (many) unfortunate side effects of choosing a career in software development is that, over time, you learn to hate software. I mean really hate it. With a passion. Take the angriest user you've ever met, multiply that by a thousand, and you still haven't come close to how we programmers feel about software. Nobody hates software more than software developers.

OK. But they're not the only ones who hate it…..

Posted in Software | Leave a comment

For Students About to Take the Bar Exam

Ilya Somin has A Modest Proposal for Bar Exam Reform:

Members of bar exam boards, such as the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners and presidents and other high officials of state bar associations should be required to take and pass the bar exam every year by getting the same passing score that they require of ordinary test takers. Any who fail to pass should be immediately dismissed from their positions, and their failure publicly announced (perhaps at a special press conference by the state attorney general). And they should be barred from ever holding those positions again until – you guessed it – they take and pass the exam.

After all, if the bar exam covers material that any practicing lawyer should know, then surely the lawyers who lead the state bar and administer the bar exam system itself should be required to know it. If they don't, how can they possibly be qualified for the offices they hold? Surely it's no excuse to say that they knew it back when they themselves took the test, but have since forgotten. How could any client rely on a lawyer who is ignorant of basic professional knowledge, even if he may have known it years ago?

Prof. Somin's point is that the bar exam as constituted is pretty silly. And he's mostly right: the bar exam tests only a small fraction of what lawyers need to know, much that they don't need to know, and even more that they don't need to have memorized. We all forget lots of it quickly. I know that I couldn't pass the New York bar exam today without some serious review — I've forgotten huge swaths of estate, family and criminal law, not to mention most of the details on New York's CPLR. On the other hand, I've learned huge swaths of things not tested on any bar exam, including federal administrative law, trademark law, and of course internet law. Does that make me a bad lawyer or a specialist?

Unlike some, however, I don't oppose the idea of a bar exam in principle. I think there's much to be said for ensuring that all lawyers have a common foundation. There may also be something to ensuring that people who practice in a given state are sensitized to the peculiarities of local law, although I'm less certain about the need to enforce that with an exam. The problem is that the bar exam's choice of subjects is arbitrary and archaic, and the testing somewhat picayune as well.

To those about to undergo our profession's hazing ritual, good luck.

Posted in Law: Practice | 3 Comments

Website Offers Hyperlinked Version of Google Book Settlement

James Grimmlenn announces The Public Index: A Website to Study and Discuss the Google Book Search Settlement:

The groundbreaking proposed settlement in the Google Book Search case is so complex that controversy has outpaced conversation and questions have outnumbered answers. We aim to help close these gaps. The Public Index is a website featuring a collection of tools and resources for those wishing to learn about the settlement or to express opinions about it.

The centerpiece of the site is an interactive version of the proposed settlement. Users can search freely, browse by section, or read through it in a hierarchical view that retains the settlement's indentation structure. Hyperlinks allow users to look up any defined term or cross-reference with a single click. A paragraph-by-paragraph commenting system allows them to annotate individual portions of the settlement with their own commentary. To encourage further discussion, the site also provides a full set of bulletin-board forums.

There's more…

Posted in Law: Copyright and DMCA | Leave a comment

Notes from the Meritocracy Factory

Blackboard – Test Prep – Just Following Orders – An Evil Essay – NYTimes.com

The author, who has an SAT-prep-firm, took the test in order to see how essays are graded. As an experiment, he wrote the most morally evil essay he could, praising Nazi eugenics. The official SAT rules don't talk morality, promising high scores to an essay that,

effectively and insightfully develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position.

And, indeed, he got high marks.

I am sure this explains something, but due to the low quality of the reasoning in his work while in government I am loath to say that this something is John Yoo.

Posted in Etc | 2 Comments

All SSD Drives Are Far From Equal

I had not originally planned to consider buying an SSD drive for my new laptop. There are lots of reasons not to, including the high price, and the relative immaturity of the technology. (The relatively low capacity doesn't bother me much, I've been living fine with a 40GB drive on the current machine.

But three things have led me to consider an SSD: it's standard on some of the machines I'm thinking of; it's not as expensive an upgrade on the others; and the T400s uses 1.8” drives, which I gather are substantially slower than the standard 2.5” disks found in most laptops. Indeed, since drive speed is in substantial part a function of rotational speed it only stands to reason that for any given number of rotations per minute, a disk with a smaller radius will move less information past the read/write point (2πR will be smaller at its greatest point, and the mean will be smaller too).

Thinking about SSDs led me to this marvelous article at AnandTech, The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs and New Drives from OCZ. It may be more than most people want to know, but the takeaways are clear:

  • Lots of first-generation SSDs look great at first, then work poorly. Their performance “degrades.”
  • Benchmarks of new laptops with SSDs in them that in any way rely on hard drive performance cannot be trusted unless the test suite has been tweaked to fill up the SSD with data before the testing begins.
  • SSDs vary enormously in quality. The really good ones are insanely expensive.

It also seems that the Lenovs and probably the Dells (at least for their more expensive choice) use Samsung SSDs which get relatively horrible initial benchmarks compares to the leaders, but it seems don't degrade as much as some others.

The sensible thing to do would be to get a conventional disk, and maybe upgrade in a year or two if prices get sensible. But some of the laptop makers do give you a break on prices, so that's less obvious than it might be. Plus, to the extent I'm considering the T400s, the 1.8” form factor may severely restrict the update options. At present almost all the SSD drives on Newegg are 2.5” form factor drives.

I suppose I'm overthinking this, but I enjoy it.

Posted in Sufficiently Advanced Technology | Leave a comment