opinions, everybody's got one...
Saturday, January 26, 2002
politics of search engines
Have you ever considered that the methods that search engines use to index the web may be based more upon political views than upon limitations based upon technology? Do search engines run counter to the architecture of the web? A couple of years old, but very well researched and thought provoking, the article Shaping the Web: Why the politics of search engines matters gives a detailed analysis of this subject, and comes up with the following as one of its authors' conclusions:
As a first step we would demand full and truthful disclosure of the underlying rules (or algorithms) governing indexing, searching, and prioritizing, stated in a way that is meaningful to the majority of Web users. Obviously, this might help spammers. However, we would argue that the impact of these unethical practices would be severely dampened if both seekers and those wishing to be found are aware of the particular biases inherent in any given search engine. We believe informing users, on the whole, will be better than the status quo, in spite of the difficulties.
women and the law
Law in the United States has historically been a profession predominantly represented by males. If you visit a law school, you might find that there is a very equal mix of male and female students on campus. That has not always been the case. The Women Lawyers Association of the Los Angeles County Bar Association has put together a site entitled Women's Legal History Biography Project, which is a great collection of articles and biographical material on women working in the legal field.
the socratic method
In law school, they taught us that the socratic method was a way of teaching that involved the law school professor standing in front of the class and grilling students on the facts, holdings of law, and meanings of cases. Lectures, and plain speech about legal methods, and analysis were the exception rather than the rule. Of course, that was
how many of the professors learned about teaching from their law school professors. Normally, the academic background required to teach law school involved a law degree, and experience as an attorney, and not a degree in education. What if they got it wrong?
An author who has previously written on serious scholarly subjects such as Shakespeare, has recently written a book called Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization. In an essay entitled The Art in the Popular, he explains why he would write about less serious subjects as Star Trek and Gilligan's Island. In doing so, he also explains how law schools have gotten the socratic method wrong.
The process of beginning with popular culture and attempting to ascend from it to higher levels of reflection has a name: the Socratic method. I am not talking about the parody of the Socratic method used by law professors and other academics, but the real thing--the philosophic procedure Plato shows Socrates pursuing in dialogue after dialogue. In the most philosophically autobiographical passage Plato ascribes to his teacher, Socrates explains in the Phaedo (96a-100a) that he became disillusioned with what we would call scientific attempts to understand the universe in terms of material causes. So he decided to turn from the study of the heavens to the study of human things, and that meant studying the accounts of the universe people give when they speak to each other in the city. For Socrates, what human beings say about their world is the best starting point for philosophy, and his aim, as Plato shows, is always to move in the direction of true knowledge from the confused and contradictory opinions people commonly express about the most important subjects, such as justice and the good.
educational resource guide to congress
CongressLink includes a great amount of historical information, and present day information about Congress. It also includes some truly great educational resources, like the Winning the Seat: A Congressional Election Simulation as a lesson plan for high school and college students. It looks like the type of classroom activity that could be a lot of fun.
- William Slawski
Wednesday, January 23, 2002
Around the Law
What were the important influences in your life when you were 16 years old? The Papers of George Washington look at our first president's school exercises, and cite the "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation," as having a profound influence upon him in his teen years.
Going back a few hundred years further, what did the people of the 15th century do for pleasure? The Richard III Society tells us about Delights of Life in Fifteenth-Century England, which details some interesting pastimes and diversions.
Lysander Spooner wrote an essay in 1852 on the common law right to a trial by jury. The document is a long one, but is an interesting discussion of the right to have a jury trial, and the right to be a juror.
At a Newark City Council meeting recently, a member of the public spoke before the Council as a representative of a church on Main Street. The City Council has been reviewing the many different liquor licenses held by different establishments in Newark. The rule that defines each licensee's rights under their license vary depending upon the year that the license was granted. A new restaurant near the church has applied for a liquor license, and it appears that the church is interested in seeing that the City consider very carefully the impact upon the church that granting such a license might have. The thought of having a church for a neighbor has been in the back of my mind since the meeting a couple of weeks ago, and when I came across an article on such a subject, it raised some additional things to think about. Struggling with Churches as Neighbors: Land Use Conflicts Between Religious Institutions And Those Who Reside Nearby, brings forth some points I hadn't considered.
The United States Chamber of Commerce today released a poll which makes the Delaware judicial system look very good. This survey of corporate counsel ranked each state in a number of categories, including judge's impartiality and competence, juries predictability and fairness, and a number of other categories. Delaware finished first amongst the fifty states overall. Delaware also finished first amongst all the states
in each individual category ranked.
- William Slawski
Forum Selection and Web Sites
If a problem arises that might cause someone to try to sue someone else, the person bringing the suit usually makes a decision regarding which court they will bring the case in. This is known as "forum selection."
If you have a web site that people can access for free and it isn't interactive, chances may be that you can successfully argue that your website is only located in the state where it is written. But, when you start charging someone else money to access a web site, or add interactive elements to the site such as a unique login, there are a number of new risks that you may face.
One of those is that a court might make a decision that your website is now located in any number of locations because it is actively engaged in commerce in those other locations.
That's where a forum selection clause comes in. It isn't difficult to make a forum selection clause a part of the conditions to subscription to the website. Keep it simple, easy to find and understand, and in plain english.
To find out more, an article in Online Journalism Review from last November covers forum selection in The Revenue Booby trap.
- William Slawski
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Martin Luther King, Jr.
From "I've Been to the Mountaintop," by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
Sunday, January 20, 2002
A snowy day in Delaware; our first winter storm of the season. It was a good day to kick back, and reflect upon the past. Some history, from various sources on the web:
In the period of time between 1774 and 1789, a group of conspirators gathered together to discuss governance and treason, and became the fathers of our country. The Library of Congress captures many of the difficulties they faced, using a combination of narrative and primary resources including documents, paintings, and prints in a presentation entitled To Form a More Perfect Union: The Work of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention.
Colonial Hall: Biographies of America's Founding Fathers is an introduction to some of the people who shaped the country. In addition to biographies of those from other states, Delaware is represented by Ceasar Rodney (you may have seen him on the back of the Delaware quarter), George Read, and Thomas McKean.
Black Robes and powdered wigs are symbols of office that many attribute to the Judiciary. In Wigs, Coifs, and Other Idiosyncrasies of English Judicial Attire, we learn about how these articles of clothing came to be associated with the legal system.
One of the historical and legal precedents for the Declaration of Independence came from a gathering near where Windsor Castle stands today, on June 15, 1215. The document signed on that day gave the colonists an example they drew strength from, as described in an article called Magna Carta and Its American Legacy.
Judicial review, and the power of the Supreme Court to declare an act of the legislature or executive unconstitutional found its origin in a decision of Chief Justice John Marshall. A page on the case involved, Marbury v. Madison, is an introduction to the history and the people involved in the controversy behind the legal opinion.
- William Slawski