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February 25, 2006

Federalist Society Reflections Before Bed

  1. I doubt I could blog an actual international conflict and make it sound as interesting as PG has whilst blogging the first day's session for Ex Post. Ex Post is certainly the place if you want to know what the fuss is about.

    (She was quite appropriate in linking Prof. Waldron's speech today to the Waldron/Yoo debate held here last year. Waldron's references were torturously unsubtle. It's interesting that Waldron mentioned a passage from C.S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain in his speech. Lewis was also a too-the-core academic writing about why a real society in which practical choices must be made could not live up to an ideal of heaven on earth. I have always rather loved the author of Screwtape, but the quotation brought to mind Waldron's answer to the cursed and "corrupt" ticking-time bomb question, in which the Professor was quite willing to say that even were the loss of millions of lives unnecessary save for the sake of torturing a captive, he would still let the bomb go off. (See here at 29:00.)

    Lewis was a great scholar, a talented writer, and a great moralist, but he'd be one of my dead last choices for congressmen. Philosophers are the only people ever likely to elect philosopher kings.)

  2. I can neither confirm nor deny Will Baude's take on the first panel, but will be certain to post a link as soon as a webcast is available for you to set your own opinion.
  3. There are lots of people here, and lots of things to be moved. I'll blog more later, but it's an early start tomorrow, so I'm off to bed.

February 20, 2006

Google Snark (Paris Hilton Sex Tape Update)

Look what happens if you Google for Paris Hilton Sex Tape:

In response to a complaint we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint that caused the removal(s) at ChillingEffects.org.

Never let it be said that Jim Salomon isn't anything but the height of reasonableness:
Remember, the longer you take, the more your unlawful conduct damages us and the more you incentivize the infringer / fraudster for the next time!
Why does it take many hours for Google to remove an infringing site? By contrast---for example — it only takes EBay/PayPal a matter of minutes (even on a Sunday) to terminate PayPal accounts — associated with infringing sites — in response to my similar reasonable demands.

In any event, I rather like Google's response: take down the link, but show to the world just what kind of person is making these demands.

February 17, 2006

Stretched Metaphor of the Day

From the doyenne of the Huffington Post:

We've only scratched the surface, but the more we learn about the Armstrong Ranch, site of the Cheney shooting, the more it feels like the GOP equivalent of Tony Soprano's joint, the Bada Bing. Of course, at the Bada Bing the girls are strippers; at Armstrong they're the ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. But both hot spots feature quite a bit of gunplay.[1]

You see, a hunting ranch "feels" just like a strip club. Except for the girls. Because a lot of GOP bigshots go there, right?

Tune in next week for more exciting HuffPo metaphors, such as why the Democrat's Renaissance Weekend is an awful lot like the Amsterdam Red Light District. . . .

(Yes, yes, I get the point Ms. Huffington is trying to make: lots of Republican bigwigs go to the Armstrong Ranch and network. But even to a casual Sopranos viewer, it's a stupid metaphor. The Bada Bing is Tony's place, which would make Katherine Armstrong the kingpin of the Republican Party. On top of that, more corrupt deals are made at Artie Bucco's restaurant than the Bada Bing. But focusing on the Nuovo Vesuvio wouldn't allow the HuffPo to make a completely gratuitous slam on a female ambassador. Isn't that odd for a progressive site?

Incidentally, shouldn't it be she's the Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein? There's only one ambassador to the two countries, and unless Arianna knows something the rest of us don't want to know about, the last one wasn't likely to get hired by Bada Bing.)

[1]: Astute readers will note that the quotation above doesn't match the text found at HuffPo. I've quoted the excerpt given on the HP homepage at the time of writing, but linked to the "under the fold" text. The only other option was posting a screenshot.

February 16, 2006

Paging Dan Brown!

Professor Volokh today posts an excerpt from The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS)-Palestine. He makes a serious point, wondering how one can negotiate with a group so disconnected from reality. Me, I just wonder how certain groups become bees in the Hamas bonnet. Take, for instance, these bizarre accusations:

That is why you find [the Zionists] giving [attempts at liberalizing women] constant attention through information campaigns, films, and the school curriculum, using for that purpose their lackeys who are infiltrated through Zionist organizations under various names and shapes, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, espionage groups and others, which are all nothing more than cells of subversion and saboteurs.

Now, I'll admit that my knowledge of conspiracy theory is somewhat limited, but since when are the Freemasons a Zionist group? Even supposing that the Illuminati deck has been reshuffled to that extent, what is this about the Rotary Club? Or even better:
With their money [the Zionists] formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests.

The Lions Club is a secret society? There has to be some kind of story behind this, and I really want to know what the Lions and the Rotary Club did to annoy Hamas. How did they even get on the radar as a member of the Vast Zionist Conspiracy worthy of getting a name in their founding documents?

Hamas has always been a bit of a Janus organization. Suicide bombings against enemies are good, as are non-corrupt social services for allies. One can rationalize those positions if one tries hard. But either its constitution is an attempt at comedy--and this I doubt--or the organization is also what a friend of mine would characterize as "plain batshit crazy."

Thankfully, however much Lions or the Rotary Club members are tools of Jewish Hegemony, Inc., they're pretty mild-mannered about it. I mean, imagine what might have happened if Hamas had published some cartoons of prominent greedy Rotarians with sheckels in their eyes! We might have had mosques burnt down, the Iranian embassy stormed and hostages held, and all sorts of other things that I'd feel compelled to denounce. Fortunately, these folks have been pretty quiescent since 1988.

February 15, 2006

One, Two, Three, Four . . . Erm... What Exactly Are We Fighting For?

As mentioned in an other place, today the Student Senate held a town hall meeting on revisions to our guidelines for student groups. Apparently it's another recurrence of the now perpetual controversy: should groups like the Christian Legal Society be allowed to restrict their leadership to those who hold certain beliefs? The flashpoint, of course, is sexuality. [1] It's part and parcel with the kind of disputes that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education spends a lot of time litigating. The whole business seems . . . well, a matter of much heat and little light.

(I acquired a copy of the Columbia Law School's Christian Legal Society constitution and in party-game fashion counted the reasons I couldn't be an officer of theirs. Wholly without violating Romans 1:27, I count around fourteen reasons I wouldn't be allowed to run. Well, maybe thirteen if they define idolatry more stringently than I would, but in fairness it would be fifteen if I got invited to better orgies.)

I am, of course, considering this from my rather pragmatic perspective. Pragmatically, I'm going to put the rest of this long entry below the fold.

Let us change names for the sake of argument. Suppose that Belief Group A and the majority of its membership, at the time of adoption of a constitution, believes that Practice X is in fact immoral and antithetical to the beliefs on which they're organized. [2] They are sincere in this belief such that any open Practitioner X has little practical chance of winning an open election. Finally, Belief Group A is in a minority as part of the Polity, and in fact the Polity as a whole is strongly supportive of Practice X.

There are two reasons I can see for Belief Group A to institute a policy requiring all of its candidates to abstain from Practice X, reasons I'll call Policy Entrenchment and Hijack Prevention.

Policy Entrenchment: In this scenario, the leadership of Belief Group A thinks that its members beliefs may be changing, and there may soon be at least a considerable minority of the group who does not object to Practice X. A constitutional requirement thus enshrines the present leadership's beliefs as group policy, and would require a massive change in membership to alter. (Even assuming that the constitution can be changed by majority vote, so long as the present members of Belief Group A are strongly anti-Practice X at adoption, a large shift will be necessary to change the policy.) In a Policy Entrenchment scenario, a restrictive leadership requirement thus functions something like a dead hand poison pill, and is objectionable for much the same reasons.

Hijack Prevention: Belief Group A fears that the views of its most active members are not changing, but its larger environment has shifted towards support of Practice X. It thus faces a choice: find some way to restrict its membership only to those already of a given viewpoint--at potentially high cost--or risk the chance that in a future election, a number of supporters of Practice X will "join" the group, vote in candidates who do not actually share Belief Group A's principles, and for all intents and purposes end the group.

Obviously, there may be other ways to prevent this kind of hijacking. The group could charge prohibitively high membership fees, for instance, although this may also discourage legitimate membership. They might limit voting to "active" members (those who have attended more than a certain number of events), but this imposes record-keeping requirements that may be wasteful for a smaller group. And of course, an environment of gentlemanly trust and acceptance would render this worry completely unnecessary, but we're talking about U.S. higher education today.

(There are a few other concerns outside of Hijack Prevention or Policy Entrenchment. Suppose that Practitioner X is not open about their activities (either within or outside the polity). The leadership of Belief Group A might wish to avoid any future candidate having an incentive to make those activities public to the Polity as a whole. But this is rather incidental to the reasons above.)

So the question then becomes: is it more likely that a group putting this rule in place is more worried about Policy Entrenchment or Hijack Prevention? To take my little blinders above off, do we think that the CLS is worried that there are vast numbers of members who wish to vote in a homosexual leadership, or that there will be in three or four years? Or do with think that some politically motivated electoral skullduggery on behalf of an activist or two is a reasonable fear? Perhaps one reason for passing general "antidiscrimination" rules isn't so much that there's a huge amount of real discrimination going on--actual candidates who really want to run actual groups in accordance with their members' wishes--but because it gives one side of a debate a funding club with which to hit their ideological opponents?

If the CLS dropped its membership requirements, would they be at risk of sudden infiltration by non-Christians who wish to wreck their fellowship? On the other hand, has the rule as it stands actually been used to block a candidate for leadership in the CLS who is both homosexual, somewhere within the rational definition of an active member and a halfway viable (i.e. more than protest) candidate? My initial impression is that hijack prevention is the more significant threat, but I've been unable to come up with a single documented case of a Christian law society being infiltrated in such a manner.

Which leads one to wonder whether there is any pragmatic reason to be concerned about this at present. True, the current Christian Legal Society constitution discriminates against homosexuals. It also bars wiccans, wholly heterosexual sybarites and myself, but I guess we don't have organized grievance groups. So long as none of us are actually active members, and no active but disqualified member is trying to run . . . where's the fire?

Ah well. However far the debate has descended, at least it hasn't reached the stage of Birmingham University, where the Student Union has apparently removed recognition from the Christian Union for many of the same underlying reasons. Supposedly among the Student Union's complaints? The use of the words "men" and "women" in the CU constitution might be seen as excluding transgendered and transsexual people.

[1]: It's funny that this typically comes up in the context of Christian organizations and homosexuality. One could imagine a radical feminist group wanting to restrict it leadership such that members of Conversio Virium (Columbia's BDSM discussion group) would be unable to hold leadership positions. Or come to think of it, a BDSM group wishing to restrict its leadership such that it isn't taken over by a traditional values coalition.) There's one case I've been shown in which the conflict was between different groups of Christians, but for the most part it's a religion and sexuality issue.

[2]: In case you think the name changing is needlessly pedantic, it's worth pointing out that one practice proscribed by the copy of the CLS constitution that I have is witchcraft. In theory, a group of witches (or wicca, members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, or what have you) could find themselves just as aggrieved by the CLS policy as anyone else. As a practical matter, this is unlikely at this law school: I don't think we have a wiccan group here.

Certainly, it's unlikely--though not impossible--that a wiccan would consider themselves Christian in the first place, but one could think of some forms of belief--albeit particularly rare--that some might consider part of Christianity and others would consider witchcraft. Yet by the time we get into wondering whether the Christian Legal Society's constitution would bar a practitioner of Enochian mysticism, we truly are beyond the bounds of the practical.

February 14, 2006

An Undiscovered Punctuational Country

From an email exchange today:

In which case, I generally believe (albeit inconsistently ;) that a smiley also doubles as a closed parenthesis, thus avoiding the awkward:
(albeit inconsistently ;) )

Sadly, the Bluebook has remained silent upon this important issue.

Advice from my readers on this important issue is (as always :) welcome.

February 10, 2006

Addictive Timewaster

An... I don't know what you should call it, webcomic maybe... A Softer World. One of those things I come across while bouncing from site to site. It gives me the same sensation as some Japanese poetry, I guess, which is why I can't stop reading the archive.

Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed it.

February 09, 2006

On Reflection, Maybe I Was A Bit Naive....

In the comments to my entry about how useful the Sony Reader electronic book would be for law students, Anon made a good point:

There's certainly a lot to be said for the new technology. Digitized texts save paper (read--fewer trees we have to chop down in the rain forests), spare our backs (read--fewer visits to the chiropractor), and bless us with shorter lines (read--fewer dirty looks from underpaid law school book store register clerks with watch timers set to ring at 5 p.m., the start of favorite bar's happy hour).

I wonder, though, whether these texts will quickly make the transition to paperless, digital format. Digital content is great for the user, but problems of piracy and copyright infringement loom large for the publisher and copyright holder. I suppose if the piracy protection were ironclad, we would be OK, but it seems that almost as quickly as new anti-piracy schemes are cooked up, ways to overcome the protections are crafted. At least if I were the publisher, all of this would make me think twice before digitizing all or part of casebook content.


To which I now feel I might have been overoptimistic in replying:
If I recall correctly from looking at the Japanese model, there's some reasonably robust anti-copying software involved. But I think law school textbooks would have even better protection. Each law student is told when we start school that our personal ethical record will eventually form part of our bar acceptance. Given the high price of tuition and the three years of lost wages, would a student really make illegal copies of textbooks if they felt it might prevent them from passing the bar?

I'm pretty certain that worries about bar passage would have some effect on illegally pirating textbooks. But taking a look at what I've spent on books over the last few years, I think I might be a trifle . . . shortsighted in my response above. Any thoughts from other students?

February 08, 2006

One Mistake, Two Mistake, Red Mistake, Blue Mistake

First, let me say that whatever one's partisan opinions, this is pretty funny. Attorney General Gonzales at the Senate hearings on Monday:

"I gave in my opening statement, Senator, examples where President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance of the enemy on a far broader scale -- far broader -- without any kind of probable cause standard, all communications in and out of the country."

Such slips, especially those made in front of cameras on national TV, are always funny. Gonzales obviously meant to say "domestic international," but as it came out, he seems to suggest our first president had a lot of free time. The status reports must have been great: "Mr. President, sir, today's wiretapping report is the same as yesterdays: 'What are we tapping?'"

So yes, he may be a member of my party, but anyone--even the Attorney General--should be able to have a laugh at that. It's fairly harmless.

On the other hand, we should also be able to laugh at its opposite. A number of leftish websites, for instance Pat Morrison of the Huffington Post, take issue with the AG for citing not only Washington, but also a supposedly anachronistic President Lincoln. But Lincoln actually belongs to the age of early electronic surveillance, and the civil war wasn't exactly scarce on wiretaps. They seem to have forgotten the telegraph, which is a shame considering the role it played in the Civil War.

UPDATE: Actually, looking at his speech, he might have used the words international. Anyway, what all those presidents have in common is wanting to spy on communications going into and out of the United States.

February 07, 2006

Where Were You in 2000?

Tomorrow the Columbia Chapter of the American Constitution Society will be hosting an NSA Surveillance Panel featuring Professors Michael Dorf, Lori Damrosch and Harold Edgar. I'm going to have to show up because it could be amusing. After all, there's a new accusation available about the NSA program, from a former spymaster:

"A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a--a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, 'Oh, Danny really bombed last night,' just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w--was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist."

Oh, I'm sorry: that's not a new accusation at all, nor is it about Bush's NSA program. It's an anecdote told on 60 Minutes way back in February 2000.

You know. The Clinton administration.

Now, back then we had a non-anonymous source making concrete and specific allegations about domestic spying (supposedly accomplished through the simple back-scratching tactic of Anglosphere Spy Agency A tapping everything forbidden to Anglosphere Spy Agency B and then sharing the data). As Cathy Young has pointed out, the events described above probably occurred prior to 1990--so pre-Clinton--but there's no reason to expect that Echelon suddenly went dormant when Clinton was inaugurated. Indeed, the European Union thought very much otherwise.

But if you look at the ACS, large-scale signals intelligence seems to be a bolt from the blue. Sure, the ACS wasn't around when 60 Minutes told its tales, but its panelists were. I've Googled and.... Lexis'd? (why isn't that a verb?)... for comments from any of them on signal intelligence prior to January 2001 and come up with a goose egg. (Maybe they've published on it, but I can't find it.) The national ACS site only turns up one hit for the word "echelon," in a discussion of Harriet Miers and whether she's in the top one. The Columbia ACS webpage has two or three posts mentioning the current debate, but Google doesn't find "echelon" on any page (or reference to any possible prior spying). Instead, Columbia's ACS feels that "America gazes into the mirror, confused, haggard, faintly recalling simpler times." When were these? Where were they?

The times weren't simpler. It just behooves some people to remember them that way.

So I think it's a legitimate question: are we worried about overuse of signal intellligence and spying on domestic conversations? Or is the panel there because it's particularly horrible when the packet sniffers are Republicans?

February 06, 2006

An Almost Perfect Technology

Too late for my academic years, Sony is finally releasing its e-ink Reader in the United States. The older generation argues that this won't replace paper (TCS) or gripes about DRM (Instapundit), but I think they're just being spoilsports. The technology is terrific: the text on a Reader looks remarkably close to paper. I an e-Libre (the Japanese version of the Reader, available in Japan two years ago): after installing a Japanese-English dictionary, it becomes a very easy way of reading books slightly beyond one's skill.

For law students, the benefits of an electronic book are even more obvious: imagine how much easier life would be if we carried all three years of our textbooks in a small, lightweight device. The lecture halls here at Columbia seem positively designed for such a device. During Securities Law, I'm forced to squeeze a Lord of the Rings-sized casebook, a larger statutory supplement and my notebook computer onto desk space smaller than a serving tray from a Bonanza steakhouse. If I were Sony, the first content providers I'd be contacting for license agreements would be Foundation Press and Aspen Publishers.

I suppose I should count my blessings. By the time I have disposable income such that I'll feel comfortable buying another $400 tech toy, Sony will have come out with the next generation of Reader.

Update on Cartoon Angst

Hopefully I'll be off this topic tomorrow, but I do like to update posts when someone proves me wrong, or at least not-so-right. After giving the Committee on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) grief for not forcefully condemning violent responses to the Cartoon controversy, I should note that today's press release mentions in passing that they "condemn all violent actions by those who are protesting the cartoons." I can't find a transcript of the press conference itself, so I don't know what or who they actually condemned, but heck, it's a start.

(Link via Prof. Volokh, who rightfully wonders at CAIR's crabbed vision of free speech.)

In the meantime, a somewhat amusing article in the Daily Telegraph asks two questions about the controversy that I'd like answered:

  • Is it irony alert time? Shouldn't non-Danish Christians be up in arms about the desecration of religious iconography, given that the flag of Denmark is pretty much a white cross? Actually, scratch that: the last thing we need is one more reason for one more group to get righteously angry over something trivial.
  • More important to those who worship the almighty dollar: who's supplying Danish flags to Palestinians? Given the way things are going, we need an internet startup promising to rush deliver ready-to-blaze flags to demonstration-prone areas. ("The flag of your oppressor in 24 hours or less! Free box of matches with every order! Ask about our Frequent Immolator special, and remember, there's always bulk discounts on Old Glory or anything with a Magen David on it!") Is this the next hot IPO?. . . .

UPDATE: Apparently, it's a highly competitive market.

February 03, 2006

Cartoon Angst

From the political to the personal:

The right half of the blogosphere, at least, is in full-angst mode over Muslim reaction to a Danish newspaper publishing some cartoons of the Prophet. (Quick links for background, not political viewpoints.) Most disturbing are pictures of a protest in London from posts that show the worst side of both sides. On the one hand, it would be nice if CAIR directly and immediately addressed (and needless to say, condemned forthrightly) the actions of their co-religionists. On the other hand, the usual suspects are using a handful of loonies as an example of how Islam is not a "religion of peace." One could argue that proposition back and forth forever, I suppose, but it's worth pointing out that by the same standard, the English are a people who don't respect Winston Churchill because some anti-globalization activists decided to give him a mohawk. The few only occasionally speak for the many, though one sometimes wishes that the many would make their voice heard more clearly.

(Before anyone asks, what I mean is this: in that list of "to do" items in the CAIR list linked above, it would be nice if they said, "CAIR calls upon the imams of Great Britain to forcefully reject the demonstrators in London who advocated a violent response to these images." Yes, you can interpret such a position into their call to action, but it would be nice if it didn't require such subtle parsing. They've probably made the point before, and yes, it's probably tiresome. Given the context--not to say the calls for decapitation--it bears repeating.)

I feel sorry for the State Department, which is getting flack from all over the place for stating the obvious: the parties involved intentionally offended a religious group, and this is poor form. Sure, the state department didn't condemn Piss Christ (the new conservative comparison du jour, it seems) and Muslim newspapers aren't exactly known for their cultural sensitivity. But I'd think this is a golden rule example: treat others as you wish to be treated. Maybe it's optimistic to think that a State Department on the side of the angels will be able to exert some moral authority when it next condemns, say, Palestinian "artwork" glorifying a terrorist attack, but it can't hurt. (See UPDATE.)

Death threats are vile in the extreme and banning the cartoons (or punishing the publisher) is out of line. But I'd feel a lot more comfortable with my side of the blogosphere if it was clearer that they were worried solely about the free-speech concerns and not so much the demonization of a people of the Book.

I have my own cartoon anxieties at the moment. This week, Dilbert featured two strips in which the exasperated engineer rebuked two colleagues who asked him for advice fixing or setting up their home computer systems. I'm trying to decide whether I should be flattered or concerned that I received those two cartoons, predominately without comment, in emails or IMs from half a dozen of my fellow students. Optimistically, one might think they're referring to the fact that I like to fix people's computers when they've broken, and I get a lot of requests. On the other hand, maybe they're trying to tell me I'm becoming a grouch about it.

I think I'll take it in the best possible sense. There's enough trouble in the world of cartoons today.

Giving The Devil His Due

Federalist Society Reflections Before Bed (4)
A. Rickey wrote: Well, "Anon," first of all it would... [more]

Google Snark (Paris Hilton Sex Tape Update) (4)
Ginzer wrote: The joys of the internet and porn, ... [more]

Stretched Metaphor of the Day (0)
Paging Dan Brown! (3)
Dan wrote: Hamas' attitude toward Rotary is ve... [more]

One, Two, Three, Four . . . Erm... What Exactly Are We Fighting For? (5)
A. Rickey wrote: Anon: Moreover, wouldn't the non... [more]

An Undiscovered Punctuational Country (5)
reader wrote: I prefer a formulation like this [b... [more]

Addictive Timewaster (1)
anon wrote: Alright, Anthony, you had to see th... [more]

On Reflection, Maybe I Was A Bit Naive.... (7)
michael Fitzpatrick wrote: Hello i write for the Daily Tel... [more]

One Mistake, Two Mistake, Red Mistake, Blue Mistake (3)
A. Rickey wrote: I'm pretty certain that's the on... [more]

Where Were You in 2000? (2)
A. Rickey wrote: Unfortunately, I missed the present... [more]

An Almost Perfect Technology (5)
ambimb wrote: You don't need to spend $400 for a ... [more]

Update on Cartoon Angst (1)
PG wrote: Reminds me of when I first became a... [more]

Cartoon Angst (5)
Emily wrote: I think the Dilbert cartoons are mo... [more]

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