Archive for June 2003

G. in Baghdad

G. in Baghdad

I don’t know what to think about G. Salam Pax he isn’t, and that is a good thing. He isn’t a refined writer, but I think that if he was a little less stream-of-conciousness I might suspect what he has to say.

I like his analogy in this post:

Here in Iraq every citizen was provided -since the early days of the regime- with a whole set of lies that gradually became the foundation on which you would build your perceptions of the world outside.
Consequently you end up with two channels, a “channel reality” that is off the air most of the times and “channel rhetoric” a mixture of self-denial, conspiracy theory [apologia] and propaganda.
Of course we shouldn’t blame Saddam and his lies based tyrannical regime only, this phenomenon has its roots deep in our cultural/religious history.
I’d really like to see a plain-English look into this phenomenon, because it isn’t exclusive to Iraq or totalitarian regimes. I’ve seen the same sort of thing from racial bigots, white and black; I’ve seen it is political demagogues, left and right, and I’ve seen it in my own family when it comes to this or that black sheep. I think this is some defense mechanism deep in our minds, and it is disturbing to see an entire culture grasping at a defense mechanism.

Survey finds ‘grueling year’ and fiscal woes for states

This one piqued my interest.

In one sign of the difficult economic times, 37 states reduced already enacted budgets by almost $14.5 billion, which the organizations called the largest spending cut in the survey’s 27-year history.

Also, governors in 29 states proposed tax and fee increases for fiscal year 2004, for a total tax hike of $17.5 billion. And that is the largest such hike since 1979, according to the survey. The tax and fee increases targeted, among other things, nursing homes, hotels, motor fuel, cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol and the personal incomes tax.

Those are big numbers, but I was suspicious of where that big number was coming from — is this an across the board thing, or was there a single major culprit? You bet there was. When you look at the actual report (CNN didn’t bother to link to it — imagine that) you see one state shining through as the masters of fiscal mismanagment. California.

Let’s look at that $14.5BB in cuts. California: $4.4BB. That’s… uh… 30% of the total. One state.

How about those tax hikes? That $17.5BB? $8.5BB of it is in California. That’s… uh… damned long division… 49% of the increase. So what we have is one state with a $4.4BB shortfall and a $8.5BB tax hike buried in a story about all 50 states. Great reporting there, CNN. Way to edit the press release.

Social security imbalance sheet

This one is good for the Congressional Budget Office quotes. Check this one out:

“Assets set aside to fund future obligations are most likely to be insulated by a system in which ownership and control rest with individuals. In that circumstance, each participant has property rights and legal recourse to guard against the diversion of resources.”
Translation: Congress can’t take your shit if you have it in a private account. If you don’t, all you can do is bend over and take it.
“An approach in which the government invests collectively on behalf of program beneficiaries is less likely to succeed. If the money did not belong to individual participants, future policymakers could find alternative uses for it — to create a new benefit, fund a new program, or perhaps cover a budget gap,”
Translation: Congress always screws up anything involving money. On top of that, if it doesn’t have your name on it, Congress is going to steal that shit and spend it.
“A future Congress, confronted by war, recession, or other urgencies, could spend the invested resources or could run larger budget deficits or smaller surpluses that offset the effect of boosting savings,”
Translation: Congress steals any money they can get their hands on, like crackheads.
“No trust fund, lockbox or other accounting device has yet proved effective in protecting funds that have been set aside for future commitments from the fiscal demands that arise from one Congress to the next.”
Translation: It has always been like that. If you don’t see that, maybe you are a crackhead too.

Philadelphia’s High-Tech Courtroom

This is what I do. I set up this type of system in regular courtrooms. It is even better when it is an installed system, because you don’t have tape running everywhere covering wires, and you can usually get the geometry set up better (since you can rearrange while you are installing).

I don’t agree with everything here, though. I’ve seen a lot of these installations (the Northern District of Texas, for example, already has one at each courthouse and is working to convert every court.) The real trick comes in getting one thing into the attorney’s heads — you can practice law well, or you can run the lightshow well, but you can’t do either if you try to do both.

The orientations included separate sessions for judges and attorneys. The sessions for attorneys covered everything from how to use the technology in the courtroom to the impact of the technology on trials to the mutual responsibilities the technology places on attorneys and the court.
Again, the attorney is not the one to have running the show. If you have a tiny case, yeah, the attorney can handle it alone. When you have a big case with a lot of documents, the attorney doesn’t keep track of all the exhibits — he has his paralegal do that. This is the same way. Once the trial gets to the size that justifies using this technology, it is already big enough that it is too big for the attorney to handle himself without his ability to practice law suffering.
The technological problems most attorneys are going to have to worry about are not major concerns about malfunctions and such but the tiny issues that could get a lawyer off-kilter in the middle of presenting a case, Lederer said. For example, he said, the computer screen will go blank, or “sleep,” if no key is hit on the keyboard in a certain amount of time. A blank screen could cause an attorney to panic, Lederer said, so it is important to remember to program your computer in its settings to not sleep during trial.

“Your success or failure as a high-tech litigator is a matter of learning to use the system correctly,” Lederer said. “The little problems can be very disruptive.”

No. Your success or failure at a high-tech litigator is a matter of hiring someone else who knows how to use the system correctly.

If an attorney is going to try to use it himself, then the only way to make it work is to use the document cameras rather than a laptop. It is quick, and it looks like crap, but it is the only reliable way.

My laptop doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t make any noises other than the audio that I specifically play back. It doesn’t use any hardware acceleration on the video. Why? Because it is a machine tuned for courtroom presentation. That makes it a terrible machine for an attorney to use. You can tune it for practicing law, or presenting information, but not both.

Maybe the most important aspect of a technology-focused trial presentation is the visual effect on the judge and jury, according to Lederer. Most people are visual learners, he said. Attorneys already take advantage of that fact using things like diagrams, but there is almost no simpler way to organize and present information than on a computer, he said.

“The best reason for using technology is that it improves the odds that your factfinder will learn and understand,” Lederer said.

Lederer said that there are high-end computer programs to use for a trial but that a slideshow program such as PowerPoint could suffice in many situations.

In fact, Lederer said he did not have any evidence that the party with the most money, and therefore the highest-quality graphics, has any advantage before a jury.

“No matter how good your technology may be, you won’t win if the evidence isn’t there,” he said. “In certain cases, you’re better off with the simpler, more primitive stuff. It’s clear, not confusing.”

This isn’t an issue of money. This is an issue of knowledge. You aren’t going to get good results using a tool that isn’t applicable, but you are going to get better results if you know how to use the right tool. There are lots of “click jockeys” that we hire to push buttons in the courtroom. I have my job because I know how to visually present information. It isn’t true that most people are visual learners — that is a misconception brought about by lumping kinetic learners (people who learn by watching things move around) in with visual learners. If your presentation is static, you have caught the visual and auditory learners, and missed the kinetic learners. That is the sort of thing that makes the difference.
The use of technology also brings up new variations on evidentiary issues, Lederer said. For example, labeling a graphic in a certain way, such as writing “incision that caused injury” on a medical diagram, could be considered leading, or putting the image of an expert witness in videotaped testimony on a larger-than-life screen could be considered unfair prejudice.

Lederer said it is probably time to codify the rules on digital evidence.

It is codified. If it a scan of an exhibit, it is parole evidence. If it is anything else, it is demonstrative evidence. If you put a zippy title (like that example) on it then you have to follow all the same rules as if you had put that on the top of a foamcore poster. Changing the media does not change the rules about the information.
One attorney who attended Wednesday’s session, Gerald W. Spivack of Spivack & Spivack, said he found it necessary to his practice to learn about the new courtroom.

“I’m excited about the possibility of improving my ability to try a case,” said Spivack, who focuses on the areas of negligence, professional liability and workers’ compensation on the part of injured parties. “I feel I have to have my exhibits prepared in such a way that they can be shown on screen. In the past I’ve used an exhibit book. This is much better and more efficient.”

But Spivack said he and almost anyone else who tries a case in Courtroom 625 will need some hands-on training beforehand.

“I’ve only just learned to use a computer. We’re all going to need practice,” he said.

He sees the issue — that is the first step. He just needs to see that he isn’t the person who needs to worry about learning it.

‘Apocalypse Now’ Music Fires Up U.S. Troops for Raid

Yahoo! News – ‘Apocalypse Now’ Music Fires Up U.S. Troops for Raid

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – U.S. troops psyched up on a bizarre musical reprise from Vietnam war film “Apocalypse Now” before crashing into Iraqi homes to hunt gunmen on Saturday, as Shi’ite Muslims rallied against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

With Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” still ringing in their ears and the clatter of helicopters overhead, soldiers rammed vehicles into metal gates and hundreds of troops raided houses in the western city of Ramadi after sunrise as part of a drive to quell a spate of attacks on U.S. forces.

Funny, I always thought that “Ride of the Valkyries” was from the Ring Cycle, not Apocalypse Now.

Either I’m off on which one came first (I think Wagner beat the film by a few decades at least) or the “news agency” Rueters is indeed run by dunces.

Gut Rumbles: I am tired

I do love a good rant.

I swear to Bejus. If I ever have to do this again (which I will), I’m going to bring my golf-ball retriever to every one of those meetings, and when somebody starts “multi-tasking” or going off on a tangent, I’m going to whip that sucker out, telescope it to the necessary length and BEAT THE SHIT out of whoever needs it.

A liberal’s condescension toward Hispanics slips out

A liberal’s condescension toward Hispanics slips out

In dealing with minorities, liberals have learned to try to keep a lid on their condescension. But sometimes it slips out.It slipped out a few months ago when Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman, during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” took the liberty of crediting affirmative action for putting the highly capable Condoleezza Rice — the first African-American woman to serve as national security adviser — “where she is today.”

And it slipped out again last week when another Democrat seeking the presidential nomination, John Edwards, dismissively boiled down the accomplishments of the highly capable Miguel Estrada, President Bush’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to his having “the right last name.”

This isn’t one man’s foible. This is the entire basis for affirmative action today.

Affirmative action is based on one giant insult: If you are a minority, you aren’t good enough to acomplish anything on your own. You are too stupid, you’re parents are too irresponsible, and you can’t learn to assimilate into general society. That is what affirmative action says.

This is the natural outgrowth of where Democrats and Republicans differ. Republicans look at individuals. When Bush formed his cabinet, he picked the best people he could find. He ended up a white guy who has a dyke daughter (Cheney), a black killer (Powell), and a black woman from Alabammy (Rice). He even hired a Jew for media relations (Fleicher). You know why? Because they were the best for the job.

On the other hand, look at Clinton’s “Cabinet that Looks Like America”. It was the biggest bunch of race pimps and incompetents around. Why were they hired? Because Democrats know that if they put them in a few token (and I use that term intentionally) spots then he will get a few more votes.

Conservatives and libertarians look at individuals. When you look a the individual, you cannot come to the conclusion that Affirmative Action comes to. “This guy doesn’t make the cut. He’s black? So? Why does it matter that someone else who looks like him doesn’t make the cut either?” When you look at it from the left and socialist view of seeing everyone as part of a group, you get to the Affirmative Action conclusion. “Let’s see, Whitey has a lot of his people here, and we needs some more. Let’s get some Darkies and some Messicans. But not those Yellow bastards. They’ve already got more than their share. Screw them.”