Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Apparently I am Spam

I just got a warning message that my blog has been flagged as a SPAM blog that will be deleted unless I verify it. What utter nonsense. While I can appreciate the need to police such things, it should be apparent to any actual human being that my blog is NOT a SPAM blog. That it was labeled as such without anyone actually verifying this first is terribly annoying.

In essence, blogspot has now spammed me - an automated program has now run and wasted my time in this verification process. And make no mistake, doing this is SPAM, no better than any other automated junk that gets done across the internet.

I do hope this gets cleared up quickly. I suppose since I am doing this for free, I ought not to complain, but it is still annoying.

UPDATE - My Blog has now apparently been confirmed as "real" - I guess it is good it took them less than a day to do so.

Health Care Should NOT Be For Profit

As my blog description of me says, I am libertarian leaning. That means I have my doubts about centrally planned economies - I don't think they work. I value competition, where there truly is some. But some things simply can't be for profit - they can't really work that way. One of those things is health care and health insurance.

Health care simply can't be for profit. Health insurance, in particular, simply cannot be for profit. Because the way you make a profit, ultimatley, is by turning down health care for someone. Not just someone, but lots of people. And to me, that is immoral. No one deserves to have their health sacrificed simply because they don't have enough money.

If you have a burning building with a bunch of people inside, you don't just rescue the people from the building who have money. You rescue EVERYONE. That is the moral thing to do. What, you might say, of those people who stupidly went into the building when they knew it was on fire? Ask a fireman about that - they get rescued too. Because again, it is the moral thing to do.

It is not like people are going to want to deliberately sabotage their health just so they can get medical procedures. Generally speaking, many people, if not most, would rather not go see a doctor if they can avoid it. I sure as hell don't like to go to the doctor. I only go when I'm really sick and I don't think I'll get better on my own. Sure, there are hypocondriacs, but then, such people are probably cheap, because it doesn't cost much to have a doctor look at you and tell you nothing is wrong.

The benefit of insurance, and the reason it works, is that it is about sharing risk across a large population, such that individuals who suffer great losses don't go under, while at the same time, premiums are, on average, affordable. This stops working if insurance companies are allowed to cull from their coverage anyone who really would take a loss, leaving only people in the pool who never need benefits. The only reason to do this is to make a profit. If you don't have a profit incentive, then you might as well just get as many people on coverage as possible, because almost all of the money goes to the people insured instead of into some CEO's pocket.

The bigger the pool of people, the better. The best pool is one that has the entire population in it. Then everyone contributes and everyone benefits and is covered. Yes, this means even young, healthy people have to pay a premium (through their taxes), but then, that is something they will benefit from when they themselves are old and utilizing the premiums paid by the succeeding generations of young people.

Another reason health simply can't be for profit is because when it comes to actually choosing health care, people generally don't have a choice. If you find out you have cancer, you have no choice but to get expensive treatments. You also may not have any time to "shop around" - nor do you really have the expertise to do so. If you need a kidney removed, you only get one shot at having that done. Either they do it right or they won't, and you won't know in advance if you are getting your money's worth. You simply cannot make dispassionate market choices when your health is in immediate peril. And even if you could, it would be very hard to discern if you are truly getting the best treatment. It is not like you are ordering a steak.

So to sum up, there are three basic reasons health care simply can't be for profit.

1. Shared risk really only works where everyone is in the same risk pool and everyone benefits.

2. There are perverse incentives to play with the money in the risk pool when the goal is profit instead of simply making sure everyone is covered.

3. People really can't shop around for health care, even if they wanted to. They simply don't have the expertise and may be under great duress when the time comes to pick services.

Finally, most of the reasons cited to avoid a single-payer, public plan are bogus.

1. The notion that you won't have any choice is crap. As it is, for every private plan I've been on, I've not had much, if any, choice. So it is not like a private plan is any better. If everyone is on the public plan, there would be a vast improvement in choices as you would no longer be limited to whatever small circle of doctors is on your plan - because EVERY doctor would be on your plan.

2. The notion that you would have long wait times for service is also crap. You have to wait under private plans. Even for a simple office visit, you can wait hours past your regularly scheduled appointment time. And procedures can have you waiting weeks or months. My wife just had a suspicious result in one of her checkups. She is a bit of a hypcondriac, which makes that worse. But even though there was potentially a serious problem, she was forced to wait almost two weeks for the followup because no other appointments were available. And now she has to wait two more weeks for the results. So private health insurance sounds an awful lot like what is anecdotally complained about in nations with public health plans.

It does make sense for other types of insurance to be more on a profit model. Insurance that covers optional activities or is based upon your choices, that is ok. Like insurance that varies based on where you build your house. If you try to build in a flood plane, it makes sense that you would have to pay a lot of extra money for that. Or if you want to get a fast, dangerous car, then you pay a premium on the insurance for that care. Or if you want to get life insurance when you chose dangerous recreational activities, like sky-diving. There, the risks set the price, and you can avoid the price by avoiding the risk.

The time has come for us to have a single payer health care system that covers everyone and pools everyone together. I wouldn't outlaw private plans - if someone wants to get something over and above that, and someone else is willing to supply it, that's fine by me. I think the private insurers are all up in arms because they know that once the monopoly of crappy private plans is broken they lose their obscene profits (and in many, if not most places, it IS a monopoly - even where there is more than one plan, you are still stuck with whatever your employer provides) .

I still think many things should just be left to the free market (and I mean TRULY free market (free, but regulated), not the government-sponsored monopolies that make up much of our "capitalist" system). But health care is not one of those things.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Legal Advocacy: The Importance of Credibility

It cannot be stressed enough just how important credibility is when you are a lawyer. I'm not talking about the credibility of witnesses, though that is obviously also an issue of great importance - either bolstering or attacking it, depending on the circumstances. I'm talking about the credibility of the lawyer - both with the judge and the jury (if relevant). I'd say it is most important with the judge or judges (like for an appellate panel).

If you read any (good) treatise on good legal advocacy, this is stressed heavily. But what does it mean?

A layperson may not realize that it is often one of the parties who actually writes a judge's order. You may go to a hearing to argue a motion or an oral argument in circuit court on appeal from an administrative matter and, at the close of the hearing, if you win, you will be asked to write the order that the judge will sign. Often those are basic "you win for the reasons stated in the record" kind of orders, but sometimes, it is a more complex issue. Thus, what you really want is to write your own order and submit it with your motion with the intention that the judge will sign it. And no judge is going to sign your order unless she or he finds you credible in your advocacy.

A total scorched earth approach, questioning and nitpicking every single small point does not lend itself to credibility. Then you look like you are simply arguing for the sake of arguing and opposing for the sake of opposing, and aren't willing to cede any ground, even that ground which you truly should. That makes you appear unreasonable. And if the other side doesn't do the same, then they seem reasonable in comparison. Which order do you think a judge is more likely to sign-the one written by the most or least reasonable party in the suit?

You gain credibility by conceding points where the law truly says the other party should win. You also gain credibility where you concede points that the other side should probably win, but only after a bit of a fight, because that fight wastes everyones time and energy. One thing judges do not like is to have their time wasted. You gain credibily by an unbiased presentation of the facts. Certainly where there is a factual dispute, you advocate for the position you think the evidence supports, but where there are independently verifiable facts, particularly where you are dealing with a written record, citing to it in a misleading way can only destroy your credibility once the judge reads the record and sees that it doesn't match your claims. Better for the judge to conclude that about the other party - then whenever an issue comes up, the judge will turn to YOU for the answer, because the other party simply won't be trusted to give an accurate answer (for instance, if at oral argument, the judge forgets about a particular detail in the record and wonders what happened - or even for something that is outside of the record, like what has happened since the record was taken).

If you gain a reputation for an unbiased representation of the facts, even where it may hurt your client. you gain a reputation for credibility that will serve you well.

I've thought about this in the context of online discussions, where certain ideological groups never cede a single inch or grant any validity to any of the points in contention. Sure, there are idiots who "troll" and don't really have any valid points to make, but it seems like people are shoved into that category all too quickly simply for not being a synchophant, and you get no-debate echo chambers instead of any rational discussion. I wonder if any of those bloggers would still act like that if they had real legal experience where they had to build credibility with a neutral arbiter like a judge instead of having dictatorial control over their own little fiefdom of the internet.

But back to the issue at hand. You need credibility to be an effective advocate. Credibility on the facts and on the law. You have to make sure you are accurate. You have to make sure you communicate it clearly to the judge. And you have to be reasonable. Clients may love it when you are unreasonable and take the scorched earth approach, but it will annoy the hell out of judges (well, unless you are a prosecutor - then the judge can be an extension of the prosecution. Ok, that isn't quite fair - there are lots of biases judges can have).

Credibility is something hard earned and easily and quickly lost. Mislead a judge once, leading to that judge to sign an order that is contrary to the law (or the facts) - and that judge is then reversed on appeal - that judge will remember you. And the next time, even if you are right, the judge certainly isn't going to take your word for it. And ultimately, it is your clients who will suffer.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

NPR and Torture: Why I'm Never Contributing to NPR

My car radio is tuned to NPR. The station also does classical music during the day, but then, during the hours I drive, it is pure NPR programming. Over the past eight years, I've found myself, quite often, screaming at the radio in frustration as torture is discussed and it is labeled with the Orwellian "enhanced interrogation techniques" or "harsh interrogation techniques." I've yelled, "No, it is TORTURE, call Torture, TORTURE!" Sadly, the radio never responds to my tirades.

Now, I see the formal explanation of why this is. NPR's Ombudsman has written a blog entry about NPR's avoidance of the word "torture" to describe torture. It is, to say the least, tortured logic. What is most telling is the admission in there that to NOT use torture is do adopt the government's position - all of this said while they explain how they cannot "take sides." Yet not using the word IS taking a side - that of the government. Unfortunatley, the side that is not taken is the truth.

This is utter bullshit. Glenn Greenwald, as linked above, takes NPR to task on this. I am very much looking forward to NPR's (likely bullshit) response. There really is only one right answer here. NPR should report the truth. It should not matter which "side" is hurt by it or which side uses the language. Objective reporting requires reporting the truth. Anything else is propeganda. Not using the word "torture" to describe torture is propeganda.

Over the years, I've heard many an NPR pledge drive. I did once contribute to NPR, though my labor, not through money, though it was 16 hours of labor, not a small investment. When it has come to money, I have not pledged, though I have always intended to - likely when I am no longer paying for child care. But no more. This Orwellian nonsense has killed any incentive I would have had to give them any of my hard-earned cash. Instead, I am going to call them on pledge weeks and tell them what I'm saying now - until they stop with the propeganda and actually accurately report torture as torture, I will NEVER give them a dime. And it isn't just on the torture issue, but all issues where they play these language games, adopting the Orwellian language, usually of the right-wing, to describe things. Real reporters report facts and don't care which side those facts hurt. NPR is nothing more than a propeganda organ for the right-wing so long as they adopt right-wing language over truth. (Same goes for any left-wing Orwellian language, though there is far less of that).

So NPR had better clean up its act, or no money from me. Somehow, I'm not expecting anything to change. Glenn is going to be either rationalized away or ignored. The rot in the MSM is too deep for anything to matter now. I expect the MSM ship is going to sink to the bottom and be replaced by something else - the inanity of the cable news is likely unfixable, given the way the MSM is structured and financed. But at least my voice is out there, for what it is worth.

Finding a Nanny versus Day Care

I am currently going through the process of looking for a nanny. We had thought about getting one before, but I never really seriously considered it because of the complications involved and the increased cost. Day care is very expensive to begin with. A nanny, we figured, would cost even more, though we never knew quite how much. (Though we did figure if we had three kids in day care, a nanny would likely be cheaper).

The complications include payroll deduction of taxes, which I have no idea how to do. That one will probably ultimately be easy, once I get a program of some sort to handle it. Maybe something like Quickbooks from Intuit. I use Quicken for my finances (and TurboTax for my taxes) and I've been happy with those products, so I'm going to explore whether I can use something like that for payroll deduction.

Another concern is the lack of backups. With day care, if one of the people who watches our kids in a given room (there are different rooms for different age groups), the day care handles covering it with someone else. On the other hand, if we have a nanny and she is sick or unavailable, we are stuck - one of us will have to stay home. That means using up precious vacation or sick days, which neither of us has in abundance. Then again, with day care, when one of the kids was sick, they'd send him or her home, and we'd have to take a day off of work for that. Thinking about that further, we probably would be staying home more often with day care than with a nanny.

Which brings me to one of the main reasons we are looking at leaving day care, at least for our son. He was getting sick all the time in day care. For about three months, he was sick basically continuously, mostly with serial colds, but also with something nastier at one point. He also was not eating well. So he basically gained no weight for three months, which is really bad. His doctor had concerns that something very serious might be wrong with him so he had to take all sorts of blood tests and we had a really bad several months of worry. Our old babysitter saved us.

In April, she came home from her first year at college and so was available to watch our son at home. We pulled him out of day care and he stayed home with her. It was amazing how much better he got after that. He stopped being sick, he gained a ton of weight, and is doing wonderful now. That alone makes it very hard to send him back to day care when the summer ends and our babysitter goes back to school.

Another reason I really don't want my kids in our current day care is that it is run by a church and they include "chapel" activities for the kids, increasing as they get older. It didn't really bother me when my daughter was younger because she really was too young to even vaguely be brainwashed into that garbage. I think even the church recognizes that because they don't really start with it until kids get older, probably between 2 1/2 and 3. My daughter is now almost four, though, and so she has had some of that. Partly for that reason, we also pulled her down to just one day a week, a day that is not a chapel day. What really clinched that for me was when she started spouting some god talk - nothing much, but enough for me to decide that I would no longer subject her to the child abuse that is religion.

So now we need to find a nanny for both of them for when the summer ends. My mother-in-law is here now, helping out, and we are also having babysitter help while she is here for the summer, but that ends in August.

We heard about a site online where you can find nannies, babysitters, and people looking for both. It cost money to subscribe to it, but really, not all that much money, and given what actual agencies and such charge to find nannies, it is a pittance. Much like any such search, it is hit and miss. We've met a few people that we really did not like, and few that we have. The main problem is finding someone we like who also is available for the time we'd need her, who is affordable, and who can make a committment to it for at least until my son starts kindergarten, which is in four years. I'd rather not have to go through this whole process more than once, if I can avoid it.

One woman we talked to a bit had excellent qualificaitons and we really liked her, but we really could not afford her - she wanted $650 to $700 a week. For comparison, day care for two kids cost us $341 a month (down from $379 - the price before our daughter was potty trained). We really can't afford anything more than the cost of day care, though we can't get a nanny for that little, given it is 50 hours a week. Which would make us stuck, except that my parents may help us out to cover whatever extra cost there will be. One might wonder why they don't just offer to help watch their grandkids. Well...

Our primary problem has always been a lack of family nearby who can help us out with childcare. My parents actually aren't that far away - but they really aren't close either - over an hour drive - and they are not exactly young. My mother will be 72 this year, my father 67. Both are semi-retired. Both have little inclination to help out in that regard except in the direst of emergencies - like when we had to go to the hospital one time. Since they don't help directly that often, what they do is they send financial help. Not usually alot, but enough that it is helpful. But a nanny would be a lot. Probably they are willing to do that because of their own concerns about their grandson's health. It is not like they have all that much money - they, like us, are solidly middle class, with sensible finances. But we don't have a lot of extra money. The economy isn't exactly great now - we are both on reduced income now because of it, and we never had that much to save each month.

Looking forward, my daughter will start kindergarten next year. If she were in day care, that would save us a lot of money. If we have a nanny, we'll still probably be paying the same - that would mean us paying that extra money for the next four years, until our son enters kindergarten. (I won't even contemplate a third child right now - I can't imagine how we could manage it, but I guess we'll see in the next few years).

In the end, regardless of the cost, if we can somehow do it, I think it will be worth it. I really don't want the religious crap being poured into either of their brains. I'd rather innoculate them against it by teaching them critical thinking skills. Starting over with another day care just isn't an option we'd consider. Firstly, the day care we have now is actually the cheapest one we found. It is also very very close to our house. And it actually is a lot better than a lot of the other day cares we looked at when we first started looking for one.

Having a nanny would also yield other benefits. The kids would probably eat better. The house might not be quite as trashed, as there would be someone here to pick up a bit, something two working parents seldom have time to do, and there would not be the mad rush to get two kids ready to go to day care in the morning, nor would there be the mad rush home each night to pick them up.

Still, the process of finding someone has been hard. We've never done it before. We don't know how it will turn out. A nanny is more than an employee - it is like interviewing someone to join your family. During the week, this person would be in our home more than we would, and would spend more time with our kids than we could (at least in waking hours). Several times I've been about ready to give up on the process and just send the kids both back to day care full time in August. That would be the easiest, cheapest thing to do. My son would be older than he was when he had problems and he would be in a different room, so he may do better. And the religious stuff won't be reinforced anywhere, so it probably won't leave any lasting damage - after all, it didn't for me when my parents put me in day care and preschool run by a church. The lack of damage was probably because my parents are not religious at all and we never did anything religious.

There is one woman we both like who seems capable and is willing to commit for the time we'd like at a price we could afford. But I wonder - can she really commit to that long? She is young, only 19, but then, so is the babysitter who is here during the week now. I really don't have any experience with this sort of thing - but then again, maybe I do. I have certainly had to deal with lots of child care issues over the past four years. Finding a day care, dealing with a half dozen different regular babysitters, and now even having an almost-nanny for the summer.

I probably would not hesitate to get a nanny as much if we could really afford it, on our own, and could pay someone what would be considered a professional rate - perhaps the $650 to $700 mentioned above. I don't know. For now, the search continues.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Supply-Side Jesus

After sharing the link below (Lovecraft and Jack Chick) with a friend, he forwarded to me this link, which is hiliarious and accurate. I wish I could have a copy in handbill form to pass out in churches.

Lovecraft meets Jack Chick

This is absolutely brilliant. (h/t to Larry). Jack Chick is insane, and yet like the proverbial train-wreck, it is hard to tear your eyes away from the lunacy that is his comic series. Of course, as a gamer, I particularly enjoyed his tract against playing Dungeons and Dragons. (I won't link to it, but rest assured, if you search for it, you will find it).

Fox News is Beyond Parody - as is the GOP

It is just beyond parody that Fox "News" has yet again labeled a Republican politician in the midst of a scandal as a Democrat. This is a really signficant thing for Republicans. I know this because the GOP true believers that post to this bulletin board for a job I used to have love to call the media "liberally biased" based on such things as how often and prominently the political party of a politician in a scandal is labeled. It is something they obsess over.

This makes it even more significant for Fox to deliberately post the wrong party every time a scandal breaks. They know what they are doing and they know their audience. Another thing the GOP is really good at is accusing everyone else of doing what they are doing - particularly where really the ONLY party doing what they are accusing is the GOP. So I find that often the best way to get insight into what the GOP is really up to is see what they are accusing everyone else of doing. The accusations of MSM bias based on the use of labels tells me that the GOP does this (and also that the MSM probably doesn't - not that they don't suck in so many other ways - it is just that the ways the MSM sucks are ways that the GOP doesn't complain about because the GOP exploits them).

It is telling that every sensible person I know who used to lean Republican or was Republican has left the party in disgust. The GOP (and its organs like Fox, Rush, etc.) have gotten truly pathetic. Hell, the latest scandal on the South Carolina governor - it was out for only a few hours and already Hannity was accusing the MSM of "dragging it out" by talking about it too long. Rush is blaming it on Obama for giving the stimulus funds and "making" Mark Sanford fight a lawsuit over it, ignoring, of course, the fact that he fought his own state legislature, not Obama. Facts never matter to them, though, as the mouthpieces for the GOP are lying sacks of shit. Ahem.

As always, here's my disclaimer that I think the Democratic Party is made up of a bunch of spineless wimps. Even Obama, who has more spine than most, is refusing to do the right thing on torture and other Bush era crimes for fear of appearing partisan. Either that or he really just doesn't care. Oh well. He is still way better than McCain. No way I'm ever letting the GOP get the keys to the White House again. I guess we're just screwed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Paizo Pathfinder Adventurepath: Rise of the Runelords

I've been running the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. I started October 9, 2008, so we've been going a solid 8 months now. The players are just about to finish the third book (of six), putting them, by at least one measure, halfway through the adventure path.

Thus far, I've really enjoyed running it and the players have really enjoyed playing it. It is a very solid, fun, interesting adventure. They really don't have a clue yet what the big storyline is, but they've certainly gotten lots of little pieces of it and it may start to make some sense when they get into book 4.

One thing I do with my games is give extra experience for doing "write ups" of each adventure. I give 100 exp per level of the character doing the writeup. A few players started doing some, but really, only one player has kept it up the whole time. The list of writeups is here. The one player who is keeping up is playing a gnome ranger. Those writeups are here.

I may comment more on this as they progress. I'll certainly say something when the entire adventure path is complete, though at this rate, it will be February or March 2010 before they finish it. We play every Monday night, unless two or more people can't make it. With five players, four is enough to play. We've occasionally played with three players, but that just isn't as fun and can also get unwieldly. Thankfully, despite the rigors and trials of life, lately usually everyone makes it. At least til last week, when summer vacations are now starting to pop up.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Advice on College

Since this is college graduation season (and high school graduation season for that matter), I've thought about the sort of advice about college I'll be giving my own children when they start approaching the age where it matters.

The first thing I'll tell them is that usually an expensive school simply isn't worth the money. With very few exceptions, no one cares where you went to school. It only matters much, if at all, for your first job right out of school. After that, your work experience and how you've done at your job will be of primary importance for your career. Thus, if the choice is between two schools and one is vastly cheaper, I'd say, go for the cheap one. Free is best.

Now, there are obviously exceptions to this, like if you want to be a faculty member at Harvard Law school - they are snobbish assholes and very likely won't give you the time of day if they don't like where you went to law school. Other academic positions may also have issues with that. Also, if you want to enter into politics, rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy can only be acheived by going to certain schools. And even that is not necessarily a requirement - it just makes thing easier. There are probably other examples.

With my first thing in mind, I'd suggest going to a community college for the first two years. You can get a quality education that way for cheap and then transfer it in to a four year school. This is also about saving money. You also may get a much better education at a community college than certain four year schools. Which brings me to my next point.

For undergrad, look for the school that places emphasis on education rather than research or prestige. That's where you'll get your best value for what money you do spend. A school that emphasizes education will tenure good teachers. Almost by definition none of these schools will be considered first or even second or third tier schools. But then the tiers are set up by factors having nothing to do with education. They focus on prestige and research. You might think that if you want to do research, it would be good to go to one of those schools for undergrad. You'd be wrong. As an undergrad student, you would not be involved with any of that. If you want to do research, go to a research school for grad school. The grad students are the ones involved with the research. If you want prestige - well, see above.

Speaking of prestige, a minor aside on that. At my first law job, most of the other people I worked with were not from big name schools. All of them were amongst the smartest people I know. Or almost all. The exception was someone who I admittedly never got to know that well. But even though I did not know her, she made sure to introduce the fact that she went to Harvard Law school when you first talked to her. Now, I found that interesting, though I never really asked her about school. I had never met anyone who went to Harvard Law, so I was curious. It turned out she was one of the only people to basically be asked to leave the job. I can't claim to know all of the circumstances, but I do know that she simply was unable to really do the job that everyone else there (from much lower tier schools) was able to do. Admittedly that is but an anecdotal example, but from that, I would be wary of being all that impressed by Harvard Law credentials in the future. Prestige is a poor substitute for competence.

The next piece of advice I'd give would be about what to do while in school. I'd say, firstly, study. Get a routine. Figure out how to study. Most high schools are not all that great at giving good study habits. Mine wasn't. That was mostly my own fault. I was always good academically. I didn't have to try very hard. So I didn't learn how to study hard. I just coasted and did well. I had to learn how to study when I hit college. It took a few tries. Which brings me to another point - don't start school until you are ready.

There's no reason you have to start college as soon as you graduate from high school. Not everyone is ready for school at that point. I probably wasn't - mostly because I didn't do much real living in high school. I didn't have many friends, never went out, never really learned how to be sociable. I did learn these things in college the first few years - but then I was so busy with doing all of those other things I really didn't do some of the basics like - studying or even going to class. It was good for me to learn those non-classroom things, but I could have probalby learned them just as well without spending lots of money on tuition.

Really, in the end, you get out of school what you put into it. I'd say pick a school that is cheap, has the classes you want, and then make sure you get your money's worth. Show up to class. Study. Learn how to stay focused and organized without parents (or anyone) peering over your shoulder. School can be very good for that, but only if you are ready for it.

Finally, consider not going at all if you want to do something in life that doesn't require it. I wish this were easier than it is. So many jobs now require degrees that really shouldn't. In the end, there's probalby not much you'll get from undergad that will really be useful later in life. Most of the classes I took I barely remember and don't really apply to what I do now. The piece of paper that is a degree is more of a bullshit requirement than something valuable, though you certainly can learn some useful skills in school. The thing is, those same skills could be learned just going out and getting a real job after high school. But until society changes, that piece of paper has a big earning potential attached to it, so you probably need to get one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An appeal on Administrative Law

In my current position I often do administrative hearings, or appeals from them. It is an interesting area of the law, one that many lawyers don't seem to know much about, to judge from the number of attorneys who have represented the other side who obivously had never done an administrative hearing. I guess that works to my advantage in the sense that even though I have very little practice experience, I often find myself much more experienced (relatively speaking) than the attorneys I face in these hearings, at least when it comes to administrative hearings.

One of the frustrating things about doing admin hearings or especially appeals from them is the very low number of binding appellate cases, particularly in a specific area of administrative law. You are lucky to find even a single case in an entire area of admin law.

This is because of the way administrative law works, generally. The "trial" actually takes place before someone who, while called an "Administrative Law Judge" or "ALJ" for short, is actually an executive branch official, so they are not a judge at all (though never say that to their face!) It looks and smells like a trial, for the most part, though there is never a jury and often there is no one else in the room but the ALJ, the parties, and their attorneys (if any). Then the only appeal by right you get is actually to a circuit court (what would regurlarly be a trial court). This can also be frustrating in that many circuit court judges are unfamiliar with how to act as appellate judges and they overstep their bounds and try and take evidence or make factual findings.

In any case, this differs from how a regular trial before a real judge would work, in that the appeal by right there goes to the court of appeals. While the court of appeals doesn't always publish cases, they can, and those published cases are binding precedent.

With an admin hearing, the appeal goes to circuit court, and no matter what the circuit court decides, there is no precedential value to it, at least, none binding. You can still appeal to the court of appeals after that, but they don't even have to take the appeal. Given the expense to even appeal to circuit court, very very few admin cases ever even make it to the court of appeals. Hardly any at all. So, for the love of all that is holy (well, holy to an atheist), WHY, does the court of appeal not publish when one finally makes it there? There really ought to be a rule that ANY admin case should be automatically published unless there is a really really strong reason not to. Otherwise, there is really no guidance for all of these hearings, and there are many, and we are left to flail about trying to interpret statutes over and over to different circuit court judges, who are often left with plenty of room to "homer" you - give a favorable ruling to one of their constituents.

So PLEASE, I say, knowing that no one of any consequence in the system will read this, but still, PLEASE. Publish those admin cases when they come your way. We need the guidance. We have almost none. Even if you publish them all, there will still be huge holes in the law. At least try and give us enough structure that we aren't totally on our own.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What does it really mean to be a bad person?

What does it really mean to be a "bad" person? This sounds like something akin to the question of evil, but I'm really not thinking in those terms. While there is certainly evil in the world, things tend not to be so black and white. I'm thinking more in terms of what makes a person someone who is generally considered to be a reasonably decent person. Maybe that will make more sense the further I get into this. There are several different, but related things that come to mind as I think about what makes a person "bad" (or not).

One of the first things that comes to mind is the Christian notion of "sin" and how Christians seem to like to say "everyone is a sinner." Of course, this isn't what I'm getting at all. For starters, the Christian "sin" concept includes many things that really aren't bad at all, (like, for instance, masturbation or having lustful thoughts in general), but that aside, the whole concept is really a load of bullshit. Despite protestations to the contrary, the most self-righteous Christian assholes really think they don't sin, compared to others, and look down upon others. And the whole concept seems to be tossed out the window when you combine it with right-wing canards like who the latest "Hitler" is supposed to be - would that be in Iran or North Korea now that Saddam is gone?

Another thing that comes to mind is something I've discussed here before, the whole echo-chamber and labeling phenomenon you see in online discussions and on blogs. There, it doesn't take much to get labeled "bad" - hardly anything at all, in some cases. All you have to do, really, is be not part of whatever clique is the clique that runs the blog. Or disagree with them. It is amazing just how fast a poster can be labeled a "troll" or worse, and everything they say is then discounted and ignored. And apparently being reasonable and willing to have a real discussion (while still disagreeing) is the worst sin of all, because it "tricks" people into talking with them before they are "found out" as some other label - on a feminist site, the label would be "MRA" - whether or not it is actually accurate. Really, though, the "sin" there is not agreeing with the clique while also not being a totall asshole that can be instantly dismissed.

Instead of trying to have a discussion and maybe change some minds, you just have echo chambers where, if you don't already agree in a synchophantic fashion with the clique, you are "bad" and can be ignored and insulted. Any valid points can thus be safely ignored. And the discussion is about as stagnant as a clogged sewer.

The last thing that came immediately to mind about "bad" people was triggered by a discussion on Apostate's blog about Richard Feynman's sister. I have read Feynman's books. He was a very interesting "character" and also a good scientist and writer. I really felt like I got inside his head, reading his anecdotal stories. The post in question was about his sister, who was also a scientist, and who perhaps was not encouraged in that area by her father (though one wonders if he really discouraged her either, since that is exactly what she became). But then it was also 1928 when she was born, a full 10 years after Richard Feynman, and given that timeframe, for a father to actively encourage a daughter to be a scientist as much as he had encouraged his son would really have made him a radical feminist for his time. (Apostate also referred to some sibling rivalry - I really discount that as anything but sibling rivalry - watching how my daughter treats my son, I expect that sort of thing is common). But I digress.

What got me thinking about this was the general notion that Feynman, and his sexism, was a product of his time, or was just a character flaw that he was not aware of, or was blind to. And does that make him a bad person? What does it mean to be a "bad" person? Feynman certainly seemed like he would be a fun person to know and interesting to hang out with. He seemed decent enough, though obviously I never met him. Yet there is that glaring sexism. Does that make him bad? Would he even have been that way if he had been born in 2018 instead of 1918?

Of course, sexism isn't the only ism a person can have. Which brings me to another post of Apostate's that led to thinking about this, one where she discussed meeting up with some Christians to buy some stuff and finding out that they were very decent people to her, contrary to her notion of how right-wing people are. So if someone is a kind and decent person to those they personally meet, but have politics that are the opposite of yours, even against yours (like being against gay marriage when you are gay), does that make them "bad people"? I tend to think most of them really aren't, simply because most people, when they get to know someone in a group that they would otherwise be against like that, their attitude softens. I'd bet a good proportion of right-wingers who are against gay marriage would soften or change their tune if they had good friends who lived next door who were gay and married and saw how decent most of them were. Suddenly, the notion would not seem so alien and threatening. Of course, maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. But one can see this playing out now in Iran - where the "evil" Iranians are now looking much more human and sympathetic simply through looking at them as people through this election crisis. Hell, the right-wing crazies are upset by this because they would rather have the simple, cartoonish evil figure they can call their next "Hitler."

Is it a blind spot? Blind adherence to ideology without thinking about how it impacts real people, since you never see the impact if you don't know any people impacted?

Maybe I'm naive, but I think most people, if you knew them personally, would probably be pretty decent. Maybe it takes a little time to get to know them so they'd "invite you in" so to speak, but I think most people have a natural, social tendency to, well, be sociable. I think that is why political movements try so hard to make people into labels or numbers - to counteract that natural human tendency to be decent to people you know as people. Dehumanization of the opposition would not be necessary unless most people were reasonably decent.

That's why it always alarms me to see it, even when it is done by people whose politics I agree with. I'm sure I've done it. Right now, I completely ignore anything anyone from the GOP side says on any issue because right now, the GOP has shown itself to be purely about power, talking points for the next 24 hour news cycle, and nothing else. No real debate. No real discussion. Just empty, reflexive opposition. Is that me just labeling them as "bad" so I can safely ignore them? Maybe. Though I tend to think of it more as a learned response to actual bullshit. The GOP is really in a death spiral right now. And there are actually people from that side of the aisle who are not batshit crazy - they just all get excommunicated from the GOP when they stray from the crazy party line - look at Andrew Sullivan. He's a conservative who has been exiled because he dared to break ranks. I still disagree with him on a lot of things, but he actually has shown himself to be thoughtful and willing to change his position when there is new information. A debate with him I would see as actually being fruitful as well as interesting.

Just some random thoughts for a Saturday evening.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Huge New Michigan Case: Michigan Indigent Defense System On Trial

A HUGELY significant case came out from the Michigan Court of Appeals today. In a nutshell, the case is a class action against the State of Michigan and the Governor for failing to provide adequate defense counsel for indigent defendants.

What is significant is that the case is being allowed to go forward. I will post more about this once I've had time to read and digest it all - the opinion is 53 pages long and the dissent is 35 pages long. It also will remain to be seen if it survives Michigan Supreme Court review, but there is a chance it could after last year's election.

The case is Duncan v State of Michigan. Here is the opinion. Here is the dissent.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Caperton Decision - Justice prevails - barely

The United States Supreme Court just released its Caperton decision today.

The case, in a nutshell (From the Syllabus):

After a West Virginia jury found respondents, a coal company and its affiliates (hereinafter Massey), liable for fraudulent misrepresentation, concealment, and tortious interference with existing contractual relations and awarded petitioners (hereinafter Caperton) $50 million in damages, West Virginia held its 2004 judicial elections. Knowing the State Supreme Court of Appeals would consider the appeal, Don Blankenship, Massey’s chairman and principal officer, supported Brent Benjamin rather than the incumbent justice seeking reelection. His $3 million in contributions exceeded the total amount spent by all other Benjamin supporters and by Benjamin’s own committee. Benjamin won by fewer than 50,000 votes. Before Massey filed its appeal, Caperton moved to disqualify now-Justice Benjamin under the Due Process Clause and the State’s Code of Judicial Conduct, based on the conflict caused by Blankenship’s campaign involvement. Justice Benjamin denied the motion, indicating that he found nothing showing bias for or against any litigant. The court then reversed the $50 million verdict. During the rehearing process, Justice Benjamin refused twice more to recuse himself, and the court once again reversed the jury verdict. Four months later, Justice Benjamin filed a concurring opinion, defending the court’s opinion and his recusal decision.

The Court held that under these circumstances, Due Process required recusal.

Of course, this is the correct decision. There's no way in hell that judge should have stayed on that case under those circumstances. That he did shows he has no shame whatsoever and also knows how to ruthlessly exercise and exploit his power. So he has a bright future ahead of him in the Republican Party. What is scary about this case is, like many recently, it was decided 5-4, and no surprise, the 4 was Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia. What was the difficulty the gang of 4 had with this case? Well, they fear there will be an explosion of suits about recusals after this, with no clear standards about when recusal is required by the Constitution.

In other words, they say, because there is apparently not a "bright line" test or simple rule, there can be no remedy for this under the Constitution. One wonders if the $3 million in contributions came from Planned Parenthood and if the case was an abortion case, if these same four judges would have declared that to be without remedy. Then again, maybe they know that such cases are seldom to arise the other way around because the parties with deep pockets and millions to spend on judicial elections will almost always be GOP or GOP sympathizers (big business interests).

You really have to hand it to them - they throw up their hands helplessly as injustice is done and say that they can't do anything about it because they can't come up with a simple enough rule. And here I thought the right-wing always said that judges shouldn't make new law (rules) - they should just act as impartial umpires. Roberts said that at his confirmation hearing. Yet here is a clear foul, and he throws up his arms and says that he can't call it a foul because if he did, some abstract, bad things might happen in the future - so better to call the foul ball a "fair" ball.

What a load of crap. Under the facts of this case, there is no way in hell that judge should have been on that case. You don't need any special rule to see that. The facts speak for themselves. And they are extreme facts. Absent such an extreme circumstance, it is also clear that you will not find a due process violation, or at least not very easily. So the talk of doom and gloom about all the litigation this will spawn is a load of crap. I think what irks them is that justice was done, and it was won by the little guy against a big corporation. Then that was "remedied" by a reversal by this tainted judge. Now that "remedy" is at risk with a remand. Can't have that.

It is scary to think how close we are to so many 5-4 bad decisions. I wonder if the new justice will live up to the name. I can only hope.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Love Paizo - Keeping the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5E Alive

I love Paizo. And not just because Erik Mona, the head publisher, dropped by and left a comment on this blog recently (though that was pretty cool - he has his own blog, btw). And it is not just because they did Dungeon and Dragon magazines right up until Wizards pulled the rug out from under them and cancelled both in anticipation of the fourth edition of D&D. While that is a good reason, it is also one in the past, since the magazines are no more.

No, I love Paizo because they are the main company that is keeping Dungeons and Dragons 3.5E alive right now, at least in spirit. I would perhaps have liked it if they kept right on putting out products for 3.5E specifically, instead of switching over to a somewhat modified, 3.75E, if you will. But so long as there is strong compatibility there, that should be ok. And maybe it is the case that they needed to do that in order to continue to put out new products that mesh, because of licensing issues and so forth. It can be hard to go from being able to do "official" rules stuff in Dragon and other products to doing unofficial, 3rd party type stuff. Again, though, that is just speculation on my part.

While I will continue to play 3.5E, I will pick up Paizo's new rule book when it comes out. I owe it to them to check it out and I may incorporate some elements into my game if they are easy enough to do so. I think of it as sort of the Unearthed Arcana of the 3.5E system (though I know there already is a book of that name, I am thinking back to 1E).

I love the Pathfinder modules and series of adventures. There is nothing better than a campaign that is all along one storyline, even if there are side-treks along the way. I do wish they would at least go to level 20, if not Epic (Epic would be asking a lot). It would also be nice if there were more high level adventures. I know they are harder to do and take up more space, but I, for one, would be glad to pay a premium for high level or Epic adventures. I've even toyed with the idea of trying to publish a few myself - I have come up with a few adventures of my own in that area to run for my game over the years. I had to. There was almost nothing else available. I'd think of it as a huge untapped market and business opportunity, but then again, maybe there aren't many adventures that level because they don't sell well, for whatever reason. (Though really, how could you tell, with such a small sample size - I know of exactly one epic level adventure, from Goodman Games, and of only a handful of adventures over level 15.)

But back to Paizo love. I love the other, support products that have come out for Pathfinder as well. It is nice to have a living, breathing world out there that will get continued support for the foreseeable future.

I don't know of any other companies like that out there, but then I admit that I haven't had much time to look (so if there are any, I'd be glad to know about it). I was terribly disappointed that Goodman games completely abandoned 3.5E for 4E. Why not do both? I know you can't do a single product for both, but I thought you could have separate product lines. Unless Wizards have really been asses about that.

In any case, I will be picking up the new Paizo player's handbook when it comes out and I'll post my thoughts on it here when I do (and have had time to peruse it).

So, my hat's off to Paizo. Thanks for helping to keep my beloved game (version 3.5) alive and kicking. While I would have played 3.5E regardless, it help keeps the spirit of 3.5E alive, and that is a very good thing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures: Dangerous Delves - A Review

I recently got the Dangerous Delves set. This is the second set in the newly revamped D&D miniature line. I actually ended up buying more of these than I wanted to (or needed to) but that was my own mistake.

With the old 60 piece sets (24 rares), I'd order three factory boxes of 12 each and generally get an almost full set with four or five of each uncommon and 8 of each common. But this set has only 40 pieces and there are only 16 rares. So It would make sense to order 3 factory boxes (8 packs per box) to get 24 rares, or 50% more than that total number of different rares, same as with the 60 piece sets. Apparently, though, my brain was elsewhere when I ordered, because I ordered 4 boxes and got 32 of these. So I ended up with a lot. It turned out ok, though. (My brain was really elsewhere because I totally forgot I even had ordered it and almost ordered a second shipment of 3 more factory boxes until I noticed it on my credit card statement).

Notwithstanding the above, it requires buying fewer sets to get a complete set, which may be attractive to some. It is to me. It probably is more expensive per figure now, but they are much more focused, so you get more value for the money. As I mentioned in my previous review, I like that they separated out Player Character minis from the "monster" minis. This is a good model and I look forward to further sets to see what they put out.

First, the good: The Aboleth. I really really like this figure. And not just because I've always wanted an aboleth figure. It is also a really cool-looking figure, with interesting colors, a cool base, and just a general "wow!" to it. I look forward to having an aboleth in my game now. I had one once, and had to use a paper cut-out to show the players what it looked like.

The nice: Visibible figures - there are 8 different "visible" figures, that you see from outside the box. This is also a new feature of the line. I had some worries about this with regard to factory boxes. I mean, if they were randomly packed in the factory boxes, the visible factor would actually count against anyone who would order in bulk, because you wouldn't get to see in advance what it was you were getting. But they solved that issue rather nicely. There are eight packs per factory box, and in every single one, there is exactly one of each "visible" type in the box. So I got exactly four of each visible type from my four factory boxes. You couldn't ask for a better way to do it.

The visible figures themselves are all good. I liked all of them. I think this forced Wizards to make all of them decent figures because otherwise, you might get uneven sales, where certain "visible" boxes don't sell because the visible figures are significantly less desireable than others. I think there is a good balance. While certainly some of the figures might sell more than others for one reason or another, quality or "coolness" isn't likely to be a major factor there.

I liked that there were a few creatures in this set that had never been done before that were otherwise "common" in mythological lore or at least in D&D lore, like the Unicorn and the aforementioned Aboleth. And even better, the rust monster! What an annoying little bugger those are. Little aside: those were apparently a Gygax creation based on inspiration from a small, plastic "monster" figure put out in the 1970s. Even cooler, I have one of those original plastic toys. Even cooler, I think it is one of the originals that the rust monster was based on. I got it when I was a kid as one of the toys out of a box of toys you could pick from at the dentist office, and that was back in the 1970s. Unfortunately, it is not to scale with the regular minis - it is slightly larger than a "large" creature, doesn't have a base, and isn't as nicely painted as the "real" rust monster figures (which are medium sized). Still, it is a little bit of D&D lore.

The overall ratio of really cool, useful figures to figures that are less-so is very good compared to the old 60-piece sets. In many of those sets, each set would seem to have one to four figures that were so "sucky" (in my opinion) that they really were not useful for anything. They weren't of main-line creatures or they were just not all that nice to look at. This set doesn't have any figures I would classify that way, so that is good.

There are some figures in this set for figures that are only in the 4E game with statistics. That is not a problem if you play 4E, but if you don't, to me, that is a waste of a figure. Though since the figures themselves all look pretty good, I could probably find use for those other figures eventually, perahps making up my own 3.5E stats for some of them. Still, that is a minus overall. It would not be if Wizards (or somebody) put out 3.5E stats for them, but given the draconian licensing requirements to put out 4E stuff (you can't put out any 3.5E stuff if you do 4E versions of it, and vice versa), this seems unlikely.

The big sore spot for me on this set is the Beholder. The figure itself looks great. The problem is, the base is soft plastic, and it is curled up, making the figure fall over. I haven't figured out a way to fix this. I can bend it back the other way (the base) and get it to sort of stand up for a little while, but the plastic eventually curls back up and the figure falls over. Which is too bad, since it really is a cool figure of a very cool monster in D&D lore. If there is a permanent solution to fixing the figures, I'd be glad to hear it. I am considering gluing a firmer base to it to see if that will work, but I'll have to find a suitable material to do it with.

The rest of the monsters are a nice mix of common standbys, like orcs, goblins, kobolds, gnolls. There is really only one of each type, but then by now, most people should have plenty of each. It is always nice to get more varieties of those staple races, and if this is a starter pack for someone just starting with minis, it is nice that there is a good mix to get someone started.

For a complete list, you can go to the Wizards site, or my favorite online store for minis, where you can also buy singles.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with the set. See my first post on D&D minis for my general thoughts on them, which still hold true. All of the figures were good (save the problem with the beholder, which may be fixable). I look forward to the next monster set, particularly since it includes "huge" monsters. I really really fervently hope they start to fill in the "dragon" gap, and give us huge green and blue dragons. Techinically we also lack a huge black (solo) but there is a huge black dragon figure with a sorcerer rider that works quite well in that role if you just pretend the rider isn't there. So really, any of those three would be nice. We already have two different reds and a white huge, so there is no reason to go back over that old ground.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Being Late: I hate indefinite waiting

I can't claim to always be on time, but I really hate it when people are late. No, really, I hate it when people are late and won't let you know that they will be late. Especially with cell phones. There really is no excuse for not calling and saying you are running late.

I'm not anal about it. Certainly, with variations in clocks and people's watches, it isn't unreasonable for someone to be 5 minutes late and think that they are on time. That doesn't really upset me. But when it goes over 5 minutes, and where there hasn't been a call ahead, that really bugs me. What makes it worse is when I then have to sit and wait and wonder when or if someone is going to show up. I hate indefinite waiting. Waiting sucks, but at least if you know how long you have to wait, you know when to expect it to be over and can do other things. Indefinite waiting is like torture. You sit and wonder how long you'll be waiting. Uncertainty leads to stress and worry.

If the time was an important one, like, say, the start of court or a movie, then I am less forgiving of being even 5 minutes late. But then in that case, I'd try and make the meeting time early enough that even 5 minutes late is not too late for the event in question. I'd try and meet 30 minutes (or more) before court. Or at least 15 minutes before a movie start time (at the movie theater).

C'mon people. If you are running late, at least call. That is the police, responsible thing to do. I understand that unexpected delays can happen. They happen to me far too often, especially dealing with two small children. Just call. And call again if anything changes. Information is power. Information can also help defuse irritation.

One last note. I really don't care if other people are late for something when it only hurts themselves. Like if someone else is late to a class I'm taking. They miss some class. So what? It only hurts them. They're paying for it. They are the customer. If they want to flush money down the toilet like that, that's their business. What annoys me, actually, is when the instructor makes a big deal out of it. Like when they lock the doors, or something like that only an asshat would do. Or when they start talking to the person walking in and chew them out, complaining how it interrupts class to have someone come in late. The thing about that was, when someone walks in late and no one says anything, it really doesn't interrupt anything. You can tune it out and ignore them. The REAL interruption is from the teacher yelling at them. And guess what, teacher, that is YOUR fault. You may not be able to make a student arrive on time, but you can certainly control your reaction. If you want to chew out a student for being late, do it on your own time, don't waste MY time for it. I place the blame for that squarely on the teacher's shoulder. While I can understand the irritation at the late student, class time, which is MY time, which I am paying good money for, is not the appropriate time to express it. It is unprofessional and childish and I expect more for my money.

Now, someone might argue that the display of childish yelling at a student for being late during class serves as a deterrent to others being late, but to me that only makes sense as an argument if there is a real distraction caused, and again, there is none if you just never yell in the first place. So there's really no savings to be had. Just ignore them. They paid for it, they can show up late if they want. If you really want to say something, do it privately.

Thus ends my rant.