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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Cool Legislation Names


I just learned that Congress in 1828 passed a protective tariff called the "Tariff of Abominations." Why don't we have cool names like this anymore?

Iraqi Council Bans Al-Jazeera


The AP reports (see here) that the Iraqi governing council has banned the Middle Eastern channel Al-Jazeera from government offices and news conferences for one month. They cite alleged disrespect and abuse of high ranking Iraqis, including a Shiite cleric and the father of a Kurdish leader.

After a few weeks of First Amendment class, some issues come to mind. Although I don't know exactly how well respected Al-Jazeera is in the Middle East it is certainly popular, and this move may undermine the transparency of the Iraqi government. I think it is important for other Arab nations to see what is going on in Iraq, and for the Iraqi council to accept criticism as they move toward a democracy that will hopefully embrace free speech. That said, Iraq is in a difficult position because it may not have enough clout yet to counter a major media source if that source is behaving badly. Also, I do not fully understand the cultural norms that may make Al-Jazeera's actions particularly sanctionable in this instance.

Still, my first impression is that transparency of government and setting a precedent of free speech regarding political leaders should be a priority.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Predatory Textbook Pricing


UCLA's newspaper, the Daily Bruin ran an article today on how textbook prices are unnecessarily high due to improper industry practices. For the most part, I agree with the CALPIRG opposition to current practices, such as unnecessarily publishing new editions of books and bundling software (which is usually useless). I also support efforts to keep costs down for students by creating ways to swap used books online.

From a typical copyright standpoint, profits as an incentive to publish textbooks is weaker than that for normal entertainment media. SeeStephen Breyer, The Uneasy Case for Copyright: A Study of Copyright in Books, Photocopies, and Computer Programs, 84 Harv. L. Rev. 281 (1970). In a worst-case scenario, mandatory tuition fees could be used to purchase necessary books published on an as-needed basis, or on-line distribution could supplant the need for hard-copies of books.

I hope organizations and students overall succeed in keeping unfair industry pricing in check. But it is professors that can (and should) make meaningful change by allowing older textbook editions (perhaps of their own work), avoiding costly bundled packages, and making material fairly available through course readers as an alternative.

Welcome to Lando (Ichiban?)


Everyone (all two of us) say hi to new blogger Landon. Expect poop jokes in the future.
I am now all up in your blog spot. Sup now?

Woman Bears Own Grandchildren


Link here. Everyone else that says his/her family is weird must now shut the f--- up.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Citing Unpublished Opinions


A proposed change to federal appellate procedure would allow citation to unpublished opinions. Professor Volokh has weighed in (with Judge Kozinski) against the proposed rule in response to Howard Bashman's support.

I have not read the proposed rule in its entirety, or the official comments. However, I have always thought that unpublished opinions (and being forbidden to cite them) was a little odd. Intuitively, I feel that when a court makes a legal ruling, it should apply equally to all future litigants. If a court decides certain facts dictate a certain result under the law, someone with very closely analogous facts deserves the same judgment, regardless of whether the decision is published or not.

I find Judge Kozinski's arguments thoughtful, but ultimately the costs imposed by the new rule would not be unduly burdensome. I do not see how an opinion simply reciting the facts and stating something like "we feel these facts fall under our decision in ... " would cause problems. First, it doesn't require any extensive reasoning, so judges will not be unduly taxed. Second, it will minimize the impact on lawyer research while still retaining all decisions as citable law. Third, in cases where the facts are not sufficiently different from prior cases, a simple "affirmed" will suffice so it will not create an undue amount of cases for lawyers to sift through. Finally, minimizing dictum and extensive reasoning will avoid giving too much weight to hastily drafted opinions.

Obviously these are just my cursory thoughts, and I have never practiced in federal court.

Mandatory Plagiarism Detection?


According to Court TV (via CNN's Website Jesse Rosenfeld, a student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, challenged his school's requirement that he submit his paper to an online plagiarism detection service, Turnitin.com, before it would be graded. The school sided with Rosenfeld, ruling he should not have to submit his work.

Rosenfeld cited "an ethical and political problem" with submitting his work, claiming "[he] was having to prove [he] didn't plagiarize even before [his] paper was looked at by [his] professor." Also, it looks like the school did not consult with students before implementing the policy. Although I buy these arguments on an intuitive level, I think promoting academic honesty should outweigh these personal concerns, which I see more as matters of politeness than rights. No one is accusing the student of anything; the school is requiring an examination of submitted work (that would be read anyway) by a machine for one specific purpose: to check for copying. I don't see how this incorporates any more of an ethics/privacy concern than submitting a paper normally since a professor can look for plagiarism; this method is simply more effective. If it was for criminal investigation, or scanning confidential communications, then the story would be different.

Also, opponents of the policy feel Turnitin.com is making money off of the students' works, which should not be done without the students' consent. I find this unpersuasive as well. Copy shops around colleges "make money" off students' work when a certain number of copies are required. Here, it doesn't even say the students had to pay any money (because perhaps the school pays a flat fee). Also, the student retains all his copyright rights to exploit the work commercially.

One final criticism is that this method is "cutting corners" and is a "poor substitute for trained individuals." Yep. However, if all final decisions are made by actual humans (the professors themselves?), then this argument is totally without merit. In short, I don't see any privacy violations that outweigh the benefits of this system. The feeling of invasion and accusation seems like just the fear of getting caught, and this decision by McGill University only hinders the fight against academic dishonesty.

Scientists Create Cool Stuff


The AP reports that scientists have created a "new form of matter" by cooling potassium atoms to near absolute zero. The new matter form, "fermionic gas," exhibits wave properties that may lead to new understanding about quantum mechanics.

Most of this is way over my head, but I've always been fascinated by theoretical physics, especially absolute zero and string theory. Absolute zero is cool (asside from the obvious reason) because in theory all motion should stop. This new matter form occus at fifty billionths of a degree above absolute zero. That's cold! Anyway, kudos to science for blowing our minds once again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Hi all!


Hey, this is my first post!

Do I get money now?

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