D. Herbert

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Relative vs. Objective Truth in Trial Outcomes

Beldar's whole-hearted embrace of the lay jury trial process seems to be a kind of relatism: truth and fiction are defined by 12 men and women. Objective things don't matter.

Statistics that can't show any link between Vioxx and the heart health problem it's alleged to cause don't matter. Mathematical concepts like statistical significance are insignificant. Scientific understanding is irrelevant (Besides, said one juror afterward, the medical evidence was confusing: "We didn't know what the heck they were talking about.").

The jury system is important for maintaining a fair criminal justice system, especially given the murkiness surrounding the facts in some of those cases. It's valuable towards settling civil disputes that laypeople can understand.

But issues involving heavy mathematics or sciences (I mean issues far beyond car crash physics) should not be left up to a jury of laypeople--especially because plaintiffs lawyers deliberately weed out people of intelligence and mathematical/scientific sophistication during the voir dire process.

Congress should shield high tech industries from dangerously biased backwater state courts by using Commerce Clause power to limit all suits against them to federal court (perhaps even to a special circuit that hears science-heavy cases, staffed with people who know what they are doing, and perhaps even cut out lay juries entirely). The Supreme Court should not hesitate to step in against bad science (and because these cases will all be federal, under federal law, the Supreme Court will have the authority to step in).

For drug cases, there should be a high bar that plaintiffs must meet to show a potential connection between the drug and the malady, or the cases should be thrown out in summary judgment. Illegitimate cases should never go to trial.

These high-tech/pharmaceutical/etc. industries are amazing and wonderful and are producing some of the most awesome innovation the world has ever seen. We need to protect them from greedy lawyers. If there is actual culpability on their part, they should be held accountable. But they should not have to pay a cent if they are not at fault. Even if they are guilty of profiting from the creation of such wonders.

The truth matters. At least, it should. That's what justice is supposed to be all about.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Dawn of the Dead Remake

What a let down. It can't hold a candle to the original.

Sure, it's got better effects (everything does these days, except for "DragonWhatever" starring Dean Cain showing on the SciFi channel). And it's got more "action."

It's also got lots of cliches, half of it is entirely, ploddingly predictable, and the other half is absurdly illogical. It's entirely missing the themes that made the originals (Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) so great. It's completely hollow and worthless and utterly commercialized, which is ironic because the original was a critique of commercialism. There is actually a scene in which a actor takes a sip of brand-name water. That is so not Dawn of the Dead! It's a horrible parody from Bizarro World!

And it has a scene in which a SPAS-12 semi-automatic shotgun is pumped. Every stupid action movie has to have a SPAS-12 being pumped. Even though it's semi-automatic and the pump function is only there in case it misfeeds or so police can use lower-powered riot loads. You don't use riot loads (bean bags and rubber bullets) against zombies!

And enough gratuitous slaps at private gun-owners. Get a clue, Hollywood. If a zombie invasion/uprising took place, private ownership of firearms would be our best hope.

Did I mention the stupid cliches? It's lame. Avoid it and rent the original. Fast-moving zombies are lame. If you see fast-moving zombies, run.

On Promises

Suspect Device at DailyKos writes:
FEMA promised more than they could deliver. They cut off deeper, perhaps more meaningful discussion and planning by handing out empty promises.
So who is to blame? Brown for failing to deliver on FEMA's promises, or his predecessor who made those promises?

(or did Michael Brown make those promises?)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stupid, Shameless S.F. Chron

Californians overwhelmingly passed a statewide ban on gay marriage in 2000, barring the state of California from recognizing non-heterosexual marriages performed in or outside of the state: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The state legislature sent a bill to Governor Schwarzenegger that would have recognized gay marriages. This bill was unconstitutional because voter initiatives cannot be overturned by normal laws. The governor properly vetoed that bill, showing respect for our state constitution and the rule of law in general.

(non-stupid) News analysis from the S.F. Chron:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision Wednesday to veto a historic same-sex marriage bill was based on the plain language of a ballot measure that Californians passed 5 1/2 years ago.

Proposition 22, approved by 61 percent of the voters in March 2000, declared, in full: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.'' Because it was passed by initiative, it can't be amended without another public vote, under state constitutional rules that protect the public's right to make laws at the ballot box.

In announcing his planned veto through a spokeswoman, Schwarzenegger said any attempt by the Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage would conflict with Prop. 22.
The San Francisco Chronicle, of course, overwhelmingly supports the bill, our constitution and the will of the voters be damned. You see, they claim, Prop 22 only affects out-of-state gay marriages, and thus has no bearing on marriages performed inside the state. They base this extremely dubious claim on the location at which Prop 22's critical text was inserted. Debra Saunders writes:
What's more, AB849 is dishonest in that it pretends to exist outside of Proposition 22. Leno has long argued that Proposition 22 only addresses out-of-state marriages because the measure's authors inserted their language into Section 308.5 of the state's family law code, which addresses out-of-state marriages.

Baloney. And Leno knows that is not the way California voters saw it. Prop. 22 stated, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Voters didn't care which statute it amended; they wanted to send a clear message about their opposition to same-sex marriage.
She didn't just make this up, there are actually people publicly putting their name to it. Where is this claim made? In the text of the bill itself! (At (3)(k) via PhoBlogger)

The Chron editorializes:
The question should not be whether the public supports a marriage law that enshrines discrimination against gays and lesbians in myriad ways -- including the deprivation of about 1,000 federal rights and responsibilities. The question is whether the state's leaders have the fortitude to risk their standing for the cause of equality -- by challenging discrimination with all available political and legal tools.
Note the spin: upholding our constitution is conflated with pandering to the majority. Pathetic. Any question of whether the measure itself is unconstitional is deliberately avoided (except to relay Schwarzenegger's spokesperson's comments).

In case there is any doubt, I rounded up a few contemporary quotes from the SF Chron. They show that no reasonable person thought that prop 22 was only about out-of-state marriages:

Bay Area Defiant In Its Support For Gay Marriage
State polls show region's voters stand alone in opposing Prop. 22
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer
Wednesday, March 1, 2000
"That March 7 ballot measure seeks to reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman."

Christian Right Ready for Push To the Polls
Impetus is McCain, marriage measure
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer
Saturday, March 4, 2000
"Proposition 22, the ballot measure designed to prevent gay marriage"

Lots of Reasons For State's Voters To Head for Polls
Greg Lucas, Sacramento Bureau Chief
Tuesday, March 7, 2000
"Proposition 22, a measure intended to prevent California from recognizing same-sex marriages."

Californians OK Gay-Marriage Ban -- Casinos Approved on Indian Land
Greg Lucas, Lynda Gledhill, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Wednesday, March 8, 2000
"Sacramento -- Voters yesterday overwhelmingly approved an emotionally charged initiative that bans recognition of same-sex marriage in California.
"Proposition 22 led by a wide margin even though opponents said it was an unnecessary wedge issue because no state allows same-sex marriages."

Thursday, March 9, 2000
"THE OVERWHELMING approval of Proposition 22, the ban on gay marriage, makes it plain how the public feels on the narrow topic."

Gay Marriage Ban Pleases Leader of Mormon Church
But opponents of measure say passage isn't all bad news
Elaine Herscher, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2000
"Voters in Tuesday's election approved Proposition 22 by 61 to 39 percent, a lopsided victory for those seeking to reinforce the law that makes civil marriage legal only between a man and a woman."

Bay Area Voters Are State's Contrarians
Some winning measures lost big here
Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2000
"Proposition 22, the initiative that defined marriage"

Getting Right On Knight
Monday, March 13, 2000
"Most propositions seek to change something; this one sought to keep things precisely as they are."
"The proponents of Prop. 22 were careful to say that they were not against giving gay people in loving partnerships legal and contractual protection."

Sunday, March 19, 2000
"Voters in California last week overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative banning gay marriage, joining some 30 other states in declaring that, to be recognized legally, a ``marriage'' must be a union between a man and a woman"
(SF Chron quoting the Boston Globe)

Gay-Marriage Battle Was Lost, But the War Is Far From Over
Sunday, March 19, 2000
"CALIFORNIA VOTERS may have rejected gay marriage"

The Vermont Solution
Monday, March 20, 2000
"California's Proposition 22, which reaffirmed the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman"

Domestic Partner Rights OKd by Assembly Panel
Greg Lucas, Sacramento Bureau Chief
Wednesday, March 29, 2000
"...voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 22, which prevents California from legally recognizing same-sex marriages."

There are two unfortunate outcomes here: one is that respect for our constitution is tarnished. Even though it has been upheld by Arnold, a greater number of Democrats than before were willing to ignore it. That's major.

The second is that gay marriage opponents will use this issue to bring yet another intitiative to the polls--this time aiming to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in the constitution itself, which will be even harder for gay marriage proponents to overturn. Do I think they are wrong to do this? Insofar as I think gay marriage should be legal, yes. Insofar as to whether their fears of a legislative/judicial end-run around prop 22 are justified, no, they are not wrong. I hope this initiative appears on the ballot and is defeated, creating the momentum for an initiative to overturn 22.

If we didn't have a Republican governor today, I might be blogging about "post-constitutional California politics," without hyperbole.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Upholding the Constitution is Extremist?

The SF Chron reveals its true colors today, with its all-out attack on Arnold's decision to uphold our state constitution.

Signing an unconstitutional bill into law--even if it would otherwise be the right thing to do--is an attack on our system of law. In some extreme cases, it might be right to move against a constitution. This is not one of those cases.

The proper way to enact gay marriage in California is not to push it through the state legislature or find a judge willing to invent a new legal principle. The proper way is to take it to the voters with another referendum. If that fails, try again.

Why did so many people vote for Prop. 22? I didn't, so I can't speak for them. But I think in large part it was out of fear that if they didn't act, someone would try to sneak it through against their wishes. Using underhanded tactics now is only going to encourage conservative voters to be more suspicious of the liberal agenda and take more precautionary measures in the future that will only impede liberal reformers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Total War on the DLC

Kos declares war on the DLC: (via LGF)
Two more weeks, folks, before we take them on, head on.

No calls for a truce will be brooked. The DLC has used those pauses in the past to bide their time between offensives. Appeals to party unity will fall on deaf ears (it's summer of a non-election year, the perfect time to sort out internal disagreements).

We need to make the DLC radioactive. And we will. With everyone's help, we really can. Stay tuned.
Total war ("[no] truce will be brooked") against a political entity? I am curious as to what this will look like.

Is it just going to be a conventional whiner campaign (criticize every aspect of the DLC, loudly and repeatedly) magnified by the sheer number of Kos's followers? It would be surprising if this wasn't part of the campaign.

But the real question is, what else is there?

Does Kos have some sort of "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" style attack campaign planned, driven by people who have firsthand knowledge of the DLC?

In a similar vein, does Kos have some sort of insider information/scandal that he can use draw the DLC out and then expose them?

Both of those seem doubtful, because they would require people to be organized and secrets to be kept...

So what does Kos have? What can he possibly do to convince ordinary Democrats to abandon the DLC? Whatever it is, he is doing a good job of keeping it secret.

I like Charles' countdown idea, because these "secret plans" have a way of never materializing, but to be fair, Kos said two weeks, not "14 days." So I'll give him 17 days...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Windows Vista, HWR, and Spam

Most of the turing tests used to distinguish between humans and spambots involve reading characters (numbers or letters) from an image that has been distorted.

They work on the principle that computer programs cannot easily recognize distorted characters. OCR (optical character recognition) software is good at reading Times New Roman text off a print page, but isn't so good at recognizing distorted characters (so far as I know).

The upcoming OS Windows Vista will have a Tablet Edition, and this will sport advanced HWR (handwriting recognition software that interprets "ink" drawn on the screen as characters). I think these ink characters are generally more deformed than the printed characters most OCR schemes are designed to identify.

Not only will Vista be better at recognizing characters, but it will make it easier to integrate HWR into applications.

Will it be possible to take advantage of Vista's HWR to automate the process of recognizing the distorted characters from an image? If so, this would go a long way towards defeating that form of turing test. I don't know what sort of test we could use to replace that, if any.

If we can't come up with a new test, we'll have to give up on anonymous comments and instead rely on registration schemes like Blogger's or TypeKey (which are of course already infiltrated by spambots, but they could be taken a step further, for instance by requiring a member in good standing to hand out new registrations, such as with G-Mail)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Google gets Blogging

It wasn't always clear that Google knew what it was doing with blogs. But there's good news:

1) Google uses its blog to correct a mistaken impression in the news. (A more cynical person might say to "spin" the news, but it looks to me like Google is being entirely earnest.) (via THG)

2) Turing tests to comment on blogs. Someone's been generating fake comment spam to draw people to their adwords pages. Google put a stop to that. (A more cynical person might note that Google benefited from the spam because it generated money through Google's own adwords program.)

Neither is novel or of great importance, but they are both positive developments given that Google is running our blogging platform.