opinions, everybody's got one...
Saturday, February 16, 2002
state songs and state birds
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
The beginning of Maryland's State song is rousing, and embodies the State's willingness to fight against cruel tyranny. Woe that the tyrant in this case is Abraham Lincoln.
There's a debate going on in Maryland's State Legislative halls on this subject. It's been going on for years.
It's time to end it. The question poised is "should a song that has embarassing historical significance continue to be the official song of the state?" If most of the state's residents are too embarassed to sing the song, then maybe it is time to look for a replacement.
The last battle over the the changing of the song was the result of a homework assignment, last year.
The rest of the song appears on the Maryland web site: "Maryland, My Maryland"
Should that despot Lincoln continue to be immortalized in Maryland's confederate anthem? I hope not. But that's not my choice. The people, and the legislators, of Maryland should decide.
I'm glad to say that the Delaware State song appears to hold no such controversy. If it reads a little like a high school anthem, that's ok. Most of us like it anyway.
But, it's easy to make that argument against Maryland's State Song as an outsider. How would Delaweareans feel if an organization like PETA urged us to change our state bird, the Blue Hen Chicken (scroll halfway down the page) because it reflects a barbaric and cruel custom of cock fighting.
Or was it named as state bird to immortalize those who fought in the revolutionary war on our behalf, the men who became known as the Delaware Blue Hens?
- William Slawski
Thursday, February 14, 2002
February 12 started the chinese new year. A friend told me that this is an unlucky year for he and I (as we have the same birthday)...it is the year of the water horse or the black horse. I took the news with the skepticism I reserve for such things. Last night, as I was driving home with a large vase of flowers carefully perched on the back seat, I began to hear the water horse's hooves bearing down on me. It sounded like water pouring into the floor. It was. So today another accomplice helped me to research chinese astrology a little further. I found out that I am a brown pig, that my lucky element is metal, and that I've used it all up. Great.
But luck is not everything, Jenny T. Liu, M.A. says that I have paid my karma dues and that I will prosper in reputation beyond my expectations. She also predicts that I will travel frequently and eat well. That's not all bad.
every breath you take
Have a great Valentine's Day!
Lately, it seems like privacy is often in the news:
In response to the Washington, D.C., police action to build a network of surveillence cameras, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out what type of information will be collected by the cameras, and who will have access to it. Hopefully the EPIC web site will let us know if their request has been fulfilled.
The NYC Surveillance Camera Project News page has some great articles on the subject of surveillance. One of them, on the failure of facial recognition technology in Tampa, Florida (pdf) may hold less than stellar news for the District of Columbia's Police force. According to the ACLU, Tampa police's use of cameras and face recognition software ended with less than great results: no hits, no arrests, and many false positives. The data the ACLU received was with the use of FOIA requests. The Tampa force used dozens of cameras. The D.C. endeavor includes hundreds of cameras, but they haven't decided upon which "face-matching" software they will use yet.
In Britain, where there are over 2.5 million surveillance cameras, the results aren't seen to be very spectacular also, as an article in the Aspen Daily News reports:
Far from reducing crime, however, Britain's violent crime rate has risen. Cameras seem to have an initial deterrent effect but that often decreases over time. They tend only to prevent opportunistic, or spur of the moment, crimes and otherwise displaces crime to a different area. Indeed, the crime reduction statistics have been declared "wholly unreliable" by Professor Jason Ditton, director of the Scottish Center for Criminology, and without credibility by the British Journal of Criminology.The Aspen article refers to a report by Jeffrey Rosen, entitled: Being Watched: A Cautionary Tale for a New Age of Surveillance.
on the web
So you're at home browsing the web, when you read a report that your cable company is tracking your every click of the mouse. Do you: (1) call customer service and complain, (2) drink a beer, and offer a toast to evaporating privacy, (3) send a letter to your Senator (4) sell your computer, pack up your belongings and move to some place where no one knows your name? On the heels of news that the Comcast cable company was tracking the viewing habits of their users came a column in the Washington Post that Comcast will stop tracking their users. It appears that someone chose option number three above, as this letter probably had something to do with Comcast's decision.
as you read
If you've read any good books lately, it's possible that the government might want to take a good look at your reading list. Should the government be able to demand that a bookstore turn over a list of books that you've purchased? Or require that an online bookstore provide a list of all of the purchasers of a particular book or cd.
In fact, according to Finan, less-publicized demands by law enforcement for customer information have become "alarmingly" more frequent over the past two years. And not only independent booksellers, but giants like Borders and Amazon, have been subpoenaed. In perhaps the most egregious case, authorities ordered Amazon to give them a list of all customers in a large part of Ohio who had ordered two sexually oriented CDs. Independent booksellers have been especially hard-hit by these cases. And fighting them without the benefit of a corporate budget or in-house counsel means hefty legal bills and months, if not years, of hassle.
on the phone
At least the telephone companies aren't selling information about your account. What? They could be? Customer proprietary network information (CPNI)? There's a misunderstanding involving the information collected by telecommunications corporations about their customer's telephone calls. CPNI includes:
the time, date, duration and destination number of each call, the type of network a consumer subscribes to, and any other information that appears on the consumer's telephone bill.And telephone companies have been considering selling this information. Should you have to opt-out of the phone company's sale of this type of information about you? Here's hoping that a slight change to the Communications Act of 1934 will end that confusion.
- William Slawski
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
I?ve been reading Oxford American Magazine since their spring 2002 issue, which was the Southern-music issue, and was accompanied by a cd filled with some excellent music. Their Winter 2002 issue hit the shelves this week and its topic is Southern Movies. While we try to focus upon subjects related to Delaware or the law (or both) here, I really enjoyed an article from this issue of Oxford American by writer and filmmaker Gary Hawkins, called Chicken House Cinema.
Oxford American has nothing at all to do with the law, unless you consider that its founder and publisher is John Grisham, who is a former lawyer, and has written a few books with law-related themes. That?s a bit of a stretch though.
Delaware really has very little to do with the south, though some people consider it a southern state rather than a mid-atlantic state. Delaware is the only State in the union which is divided in half by a man-made waterway. The Delaware canal splits the State into a northern half, and a southern half. The area above the canal tends to be filled with more industry and offices than the agriculturally inclined southern half. And when I talk with someone from below the canal, I often detect a note of a southern accent in their voice. But that still doesn?t make Delaware a southern state
While you could probably fit the population of Delaware in Times Square on a new year?s eve and have room for a few-hundred thousand more people, in many ways, the population of Delaware is representative of the rest of the population of the country. People who study demographics tend to like to conduct surveys and polls in Delaware because of the way that results of Delaware-wide polls tend to echo the results of country-wide polls. Maybe we have a little southern attitude in that mix.
I think what I enjoyed about this article was that the author willingly took on a number of restraints in his craft to capture the local flavor of the region he was telling a story about with his filmmaking.
From Chicken House Cinema:
Oddly, the filmmakers who most strongly advocate regional filmmaking are Danish. A few years ago a movement called dogme (dogma) sprung to life in Denmark. It began as a joke, then it caught on. Their manifesto listed ten requirements that must be met if your film is to qualify as dogme-worthy. A few of them are:
The dogme rules are an interesting approach to telling a story on film. For all of their restraints upon filmmaking, in some ways this approach frees the person making the film to focus upon the tale being told.
around the law
internet law in spain
It looks like a Spanish law regulating the internet may be going before the parliment. There is an aspect to the law that has some concerned:
Controversy surrounded one article in the law that said that a "competent authority" would be given the power to close down any website that violates principals of personal and family privacy, personal data, and freedom of expression and information.
verdict awarded to motor duty deputy who questioned quota
A California jury found in favor of a police officer who refused to follow an order to write a minimum of at least 100 citations per month, and who lost his position because of the refusal.
smuggled sperm in court
A New York mobster in prison in Pennsylvania; his wife wanted to use his sperm to get pregnant. A guard was willing to take a bribe to help smuggle the prisoner's sperm out of the prison. The frozen sperm has been impounded by federal prosecutors and the government is asking that it be destroyed. If you were the judge hearing this case, how would you decide?
incarcerating dangerous people
The US Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case at the end of last month that ventures along a dangerous ground. The case is Kansas v. Crane, and in the decision, the court sought to distinquish between people who are incarcerated as a punishment for a crime, and people who are confined without a criminal conviction in order to prevent any future harm. The author of the findlaw article calls the highest court's decision a failure, in that it didn't give any guidance to distinquish between the two:
Nine Justices at least profess to believe that the ordinary dangerous criminal should be subject exclusively to the criminal justice system. They claim to believe as well that despite the Crane decision, civil confinement remains a limited instrument for dealing with the unusual case. But all nine are wrong - for they have opened an Pandora's box that allows civil commintment of a wide range of ex-criminals, mentally ill persons, and even those who are simply considered "abnormal." Kansas and other states that have, or enact, similar laws are now free to show just how wrong the Justices are.
ftc busts chain mailers
Why am I so underwhelmed by this story of the FTC busting seven people for their involvement in a chain letter email? It's true that this paticular chain involved more than 2,000 participants from almost 60 countries. The settlement the FTC reached with the seven participants appears to be more of a slap on the wrist than anything else. My guess is that this enforcement action will have as much impact as a rare (but successful) prosecution of a jay walking case.
- William Slawski
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
around the law
A reader of Delaware Law Office sent in the following link. The Ocean Conservancy's Ocean Action Network has issued a call to action regarding regulations involving sea turtles and shrimp trawler nets. They are asking for help in influencing the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in that ageny's shaping of proposed changes to regulations that would make Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on shrimp trawls larger, so that larger sea turtles can escape the nets used to catch shrimp. Research shows that many smaller and medium sized turtles are escaping, but large ones are still getting caught up in nets. The size of the escape mechanism doesn't affect the number of shrimp that are caught by the shrimp nets. They've set up a letter for you to use, and edit, to send to the NMFS if you are interested. (Thank you, Rachael)
death penalty errors
Another submission we've received, from Jessica Fitzpatrick (thank you, Jessica), on an alarming study about the rate of errors in death penalty cases:
Calling agressive dealth penalty sentencing a "magnet for serious error," a study released by law professors from Columbia Law School reports that more deadly errors involving innocent people are likely to manifest in states where the death penalty is sought zealously. The study also found that other factors, such as areas that have higher African American populations, areas where judges face political pressure, and overburdened legal systems can also lead to to errors, where innocent people are sentenced to death.
certification, standards, and labels on food
In what has the makings of a good beginning to a useful resource guide, the Consumers Union Group has issued a Guide to Environmental Labels. Many people like making environmentally sound choices when they shop for food. This is an information source to help those people find out more about the products they've chosen, to let them see what the label on the product actually means. Information about certification programs and standards is also covered by the data base provided. (via metafilter)
replacement tire safety problems
This is disturbing. Claims of tread separation are springing up in tires being used to replace the 13 million recalled from Firestone.
creative commons licenses
Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig, who has written a couple of books on legal issues relating to the internet, is involved in a venture called Creative Commons, which will be unveiled in a few months.
In a boon to the arts and the software industry, Creative Commons will make available flexible, customizable intellectual-property licenses that artists, writers, programmers and others can obtain free of charge to legally define what constitutes acceptable uses of their work. The new forms of licenses will provide an alternative to traditional copyrights by establishing a useful middle ground between full copyright control and the unprotected public domain.This approach will address some of the problems that Lessig sees in the present application of copyright law.
Just how do you find the company behind that spam in your inbox? A report on MSNBC from a Wall Street Journal reporter called Tracking spam to the source discusses some of the problems the author faced when he tried to find out more about the people and companies behind the spam.
I received an email today asking if I had heard more about a program called mailwasher. It included a link to the mailwasher.net site where this software is available for free. I checked a number of sites which had reviews of the program, and they all seem to be positive. Mailwasher allows you to review your emails while they are still on the server, and return some of them as if they had bounced because the address was bad. What this should do is to hopefully have a spammer remove your email address from his or her list because they believe that it is a bad email address. The program also lets you set up your own black list to filter out emails from certain addresses. It looks like a useful program.
Another site to consider visiting if you're interested in tracing and reporting spam is Spam Cop, which provides a useful service to help you identify and send complaints to the networks where spam originates.
- William Slawski