Thursday, May 25, 2006
Short people got no prison -- This post on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog was interesting. Although I might benefit from a "too short for prison" policy, wouldn't it make more sense to invest the resources needed to make prisons safer, yet still punitive? Remember, when prisons are dangerous for inmates they are almost always dangerous for guards and society as well. Trying to control rapists and murderers on the cheap is a recipe for disaster. If we reduced the number of noviolent offenders stuffing our prisons we could afford to keep the rest in a more secure, better-monitored environment. Everybody wins. Or we can just watch as more and more judges refuse to throw dangerous offenders like the one in this story into the hellholes we're currently using. Remember, federal judges can't sentence serious drug offenders to less than ten years, but the average federal sentences for manslaughter and rape are in the three-to-five year range.
Teens who use cell phones most found to be sadder and less assured -- The finding of this study isn't all that interesting, but there are plenty of other tidbits that surprised me. The average 7-12 grader now talks on a cell phone for an hour a day. I take it they have unlimited calling plans, because that works out to 1800 minutes a month. And that's the average. Moreover, the top third use the cell phone at least 90 times a day. That teenagers talk on the phone is no revelation, but 90 calls seems like a lot to average each day, especially for those who are in school most of the time.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Eurovision Song Contest -- My reactions to the voting:
1. Others are less fond of Sissel clones than I. Norway didn't do very well.
2. Most of the other top ten match my favorites. The notable exceptions were...
3. Lithuania -- how on Earth did they get so many votes? There must have been a lot of jerks or drunk people dialing in votes. And...
4. Russia -- The guy was off-key, but I suppose being telegenic counts for something. OR: Russia and its neighbors vote for each other. Since Russia has lots of neighbors, it gets lots of votes, regardless of talent.
5. Those former Yugoslav republics sure do vote for each others' songs. It's kind of surprising that people who tried to hard to kill each other are such close allies in ESC.
6. The Cypriot announcer made a crack about having a divided capital city before awarding 12 points to close ally Greece. I oppose the Turkish occupation, but it still seems out of place to snipe at other countries at ESC.
7. States with large immigrant populations always have interesting voting patterns when it comes to the immigrants' mother countries.
8. Finland wasn't the best, but it was pretty good (in my top 5). So when you add talent to the anti-ESC folks who voted for the least family-friendly act, they did very well. And they did it on the basis of their show, rather than political alliances.
My pre-voting Eurovision 2006 analysis
This was a pretty good year. In fact, this was my favorite ESC since 2000, with about half a dozen songs I can imagine sticking on an iPod. Even the middling acts performed reasonably well.
SONG BY SONG:
Switzerland: Flashy performance of a solid song
Moldova: Boring song and boring performance
Israel: The song got a better and more energetic performance than it deserved. Perhaps the group will go on to do better things.
Latvia: I know, the robot was cute. But it was also clunky and the song had a parallel sort of clunkiness to it.
Norway: Wow! This singer has a voice that is a perfect clone of Sissel Kyrkebo, one of my favorite artists. She gets bonus points for that. I really like the song. The performance was stiff and uninspired, but who cares about that if the music is good enough?
Spain: This seems like the generic, cookie-cutter entry we get from Spain most years. It was even slightly off-key. And who came up with the idea of sitting on chairs as a dynamic presentation?
Malta: The song may be generic, but it was still quite listenable and the performance was energetic and competent.
Germany: I know, it's gimmicky. But it's also a decent song and these people are having fun. They won me over, even if the song wasn't the best.
Denmark: Nice, if unchallenging, song. Lots of energy fails to compensate for somewhat limited material.
Russia: Singing it slightly off-key didn't help. It looks like someone wants to be part of a boy band but didn't make it past the auditions.
Macedonia: This one has grown on me since the semifinals, but I still consider it mediocre.
Romania: The song is OK, with a catchy little chorus I don't understand. The performance was great. I like this one well enough to add it to my mp3 rotation.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: The song is pretty, and it gets some credit for that. It's actually a nice piece of art. However, this was a year with strong competition and nothing made this one stand out in my mind.
Lithuania: May they all suffer from untreated guinea worm disease. I hate the song, even though the presentation was competent. If frat boys entered Eurovision, this would be their entry.
United Kingdom: Daz Simpson is a really nice act. I did think the beginning of the song was a bit grating, but it really grabbed me after 30 seconds or so. In a different year, this would be a real contender. As it is, the watered-down lyrics and vanilla hip-hop aren't enough to overcome other, better performances.
Greece: The singer reminds me of Bonnie Tyler. I like Bonnie Tyler. But the song was generic.
Finland: This Gwar-inspired group has the same strengths and weaknesses of other shock metal bands: great costumes, limited musical ability, and -- in this case -- watered down, inoffensive lyrics praising rock and roll.
Ukraine: This is another one that could make it onto my personal playlist. Such energy!
France: For such an insipid, simple ballad, an extraordinary voice is required to give it life. Alas, the singer is no Celine Dion. Her voice just isn't very powerful or skilled. This was one of the worst performances in the show.
Croatia: How very...Croatian. There was no attempt to connect to an international audience here, which is a sign of cultural integrity but a poor approach to winning over an audience. Personally, I didn't much care for it.
Ireland: I don’t see what all the fuss was about. The singer and song didn't suck -- but that doesn't mean they should be in the top ten or anything. I ranked this one right in the middle of the pack.
Sweden: I love Carola, so I come into this with some prejudice. She's simply a better singer than most other contestants, even though the song merely good and the performance was nothing special. She really does elevate the song above most of the amateurs' attempts. The combination of her voice and a solid song is better than almost everything else in the contest.
Turkey: I found the "spoken" sections of the song to be boring, since they didn't really keep a rhythm going. The act had so much stage presence; I just wish they'd brought a different song to the party.
Armenia: I didn't see why they got through the semifinals, but now I'm beginning to understand. This song has grown on me, but that only brings it up to the level of the average song. The performance was sincere but otherwise uninteresting to me.
Ranking (Best to Worst):
The TOP TEN:
6 Bosnia and Herzegovina
8 United Kingdom
The BOTTOM FIVE:
24 Lithuania (DIE! DIE! DIE!)
Saturday, May 13, 2006
What Is The Price Of Plagiarism? When Someone Steals Another's Words, The Penalties Can Vary Widely -- At one of the schools where I taught, it was dealt with by an honor council. I was OK with that. At another school, it was dealt with by professors, who were explicitly banned from doing more than giving a zero on the assignment. That is, when I caught a student plagiarizing most of a paper, I was only able to give a zero for the paper and he still passed my class (albeit with a D). At another place I worked, there was a range of penalties, but instructors were encouraged to fail students if there were mutliple instances of plagiarism (I did this once and gave zeroes on assignments a few times for more minor infractions -- typically when two students obviously completed a solo assignment together). I like the honor code system, complete with an honor council to hear cases (so that professors don't have to fill out as much paperwork) and decide penalties (which should include suspension or expulsion as an option). I hate the idea that a professor cannot fail a student who is only caught cheating once. This makes cheating the night before the assignment is due a reasonable gamble, since cheating and getting caught gives the same grade as not turning in the assignment, while cheating and getting away with it gets substantial credit.
Friday, May 12, 2006
SCOTUSblog: Fewer grants for next Term -- This is a minor blog post, but I think it deserves a bit more attention. One of my chief complaints about the Rehnquist Court was its laziness -- the justices routinely turned down hundreds of cert-worthy cases in order to keep the docket small. Moreover, the Court's tendency to limit its holdings exacerbated the problem of circuit splits. Under Rehnquist, we saw the country fragment along Circuit Court lines, with widely differing federal law from region to region. In opinions such as Crawford and Blakely, the Court upset the whole cartload of apples and showed zero interest in minimizing the inevitable chaos that resulted. This Court makes policy, and it should realize that chopping a decision into four or five years' worth of cases is not in the best interest of justice or the rule of law. Moreover, the Court could easily hear three times its present caseload (as it did in the pre-Rehnquist days) and resolve some of the issues clogging the appelate dockets. But now it seems that short workdays, long vacations, and a sense that "restraint" means doing as little work as possible may continue to drive the Court's docket under new management.
The effects of siblings. -- My sister certainly provided both positive and negative examples. In some ways, I learned more from the negative ones since I was determined to avoid the same tactics that had failed to resolve her dilemmas. On the positive side, she secretly taught me to read when I was four, so I was able to suprise my parents one day by picking up a book of stories and reading a few to them. That gift was priceless in school. The whole birth order theory always struck me as far too simplistic to fare well in controlled tests; it now appears that only minor parts of the theory have survived rigorous testing.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Do-it-yourself defendants -- This interesting study casts some doubt on the maxim that people who represent themselves have fools for clients. It turns out that at least in some court systems in the U.S., pro se defendants actually do better as a group than defendants who are represented by counsel. Even though they are less likely to plead guilty, they are actually more likely to be found not guilty if they go to trial. In other words, defendants without lawyers are less likely to take a plea, less likely to be convicted at trial, and more likely to be found guilty of a lesser offense if actually convicted. Who are the real fools? Those who pay thousands of dollars for inferior outcomes. Of course, it could be that only the guilty (or those who think the case against them is strong) hire attorneys, but at a minimum this result suggests that the average pro se defendant is behaving rationally given his/her circumstances. I hope this study provokes further comparisons of this sort in other states, the federal courts, and between pro se defendants and those represented by public defenders.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Client left 'defenseless' -- An interesting article that demonstrates that which judge you draw can have a dramatic effect on your ability to successfully mount a (true) defense to criminal charges. In this case, a state law created a defense to statutory rape for a belief the victim was over 18 if the jury determines that belief was reasonable. The defendant will be prohibited from introducing letters the girl wrote but didn't send in which she admitted lying about her age, her mother's testimony that she forged a birth certificate, her internet postings that asserted she was 19 and wanted to be a "sexual slave," the fact that the girl told everyone else she was 19, or the fact that the defendant repeatedly offered to drive her home in the presence of the girl's mother! A judge can usually find a way to deny admission to evidence. The judge knows there is no penalty whatsoever for a ruling that is later overturned on appeal, and since the defendant will generally have spent years in prison by then, many judges like the idea of inflicting at least some punishment on people they find to be despicable, even if no actual crime was committed.
Friday, May 05, 2006
n Guilty Men -- This fascinating law review article from 1997 explores the origins and development of the idea that it is better to let some guilty people go free than to convict an innocent person. The "n" in the title refers to the putative number of guilty that should be acquitted rather than accepting conviction of one innocent (the most famous expression has n=10, meaning that it is better than ten guilty go free than that one innocent is punished). I've always questioned the 10:1 ratio, so reading about alternative formulations of the rule is interesting.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Pardons Granted 88 Years After Crimes of Sedition -- People forget just how harsh the regime of censorship was during World War I. Montana alone had nearly 100 sedition convictions, many of them carrying dozens of years in prison for something as minor as criticizing food rationing as "a big joke."
12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004
01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004
07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004
09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004
10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004
11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004
12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005
01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005
02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005
03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005
04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005
05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005
06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005
07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005
08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005
09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005
10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005
11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005
12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006
01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006
02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006
03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006
04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006
05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006
06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006
07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006
08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006
09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006
10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006
11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006
12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007
01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007
02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007
03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007
04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007
05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007
07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007
08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007
11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007
01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008
02/01/2008 - 03/01/2008
03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008
04/01/2008 - 05/01/2008
05/01/2008 - 06/01/2008
06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008
07/01/2008 - 08/01/2008
08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008
09/01/2008 - 10/01/2008
10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008
11/01/2008 - 12/01/2008
09/01/2009 - 10/01/2009