1

The Unappreciated East Pediment

justiceliberty.jpgSince Miers’s nomination has focused the attention of the blogosphere on the Supreme Court, I figured that now would be a good time to discuss the unappreciated east pediment of the Supreme Court building. The lion’s share of the pedimentary attention at the Court goes to the west pediment. This makes sense, of course, since the building faces west (like the Capitol it has its back to Europe), but I think that it has led to an undue focus on the west pediment’s inscription: “Equal Justice Under Law.” Don’t get me wrong. I am all for equal justice under the law, but I think it is unfortunate this is the particular legal maxim-engraved-in-marble that has become so exclusively adopted as an icon of our law. I think that we would do well to pay more attention to the inscription on the east pediment, which reads “Justice the Guardian of Liberty.”

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79

The Airline Screening Playset: Hours of Fun!

After blogging a few weeks ago about the airline screening playset, I went ahead and ordered one.

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Each day, I would check my mailbox, eager with excitement about its arrival. Today, it finally arrived. I rushed to open it and began what would be hours of exciting play. Here’s what came in the playset:

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I was a bit disappointed in the toy’s lack of realism. There was only one passenger to be screened. Where were the long lines? The passenger’s clothing wasn’t removable for strip searching. The passenger’s shoes couldn’t be removed either. Her luggage fit easily inside the X-ray machine. There were no silly warning signs not to carry guns or bombs onto the plane. And there was no No Fly List or Selectee List included in the playset.

Another oddity was that the toy came with two guns, one for the police officer and one that either belonged to the X-ray screener or the passenger. The luggage actually opened up, and the gun fit inside. I put it through the X-ray machine, and it went through undetected. Perhaps this is where the toy came closest to reality.

The biggest departure from reality was that the passenger had a cheery smile on her face.

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To make the toy more realistic, I required the passenger to show her ID, which she didn’t have. Indeed, the playset didn’t come with an ID card, so it wasn’t the passenger’s fault. But I had the screener cheerfully deny her the right to board the plane. Ha!

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But she still had that silly smile.

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I wasn’t ready to give up, however, so I decided to have her searched from head to toe with the magnetic wand.

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But she still had that smile.

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4

Wikimania

Dan mentions the possibility of writing a paper by Wiki. He even hints that this could affect legal academia. (And I for one am shocked, shocked at the suggestion that the responsibility of writing legal scholarship might be farmed out to anonymous hooligans on the web, rather than continuing with the time-honored method of farming it out to minimum-wage research assistants).

(Definitional note for those who didn’t read Dan’s post: A wiki is an open website which allows anyone to edit any entry; the most successful is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia).

But let’s ask the real question — is Dan going far enough with wikimania? Or are there more places where wiki adoption could take the place of help out law professors?

WikiRankings.

U.S. News unreliable? Princeton Review incomprehensible? Leiter just too political? Welcome to WikiRankings. Every school is ranked, and everyone can participate in the process. Indulge in your urge to tell people that NYU stinks or that [insert your alma mater here] is really the best school in the country. (Potential downside: Columbia grads who insist on continually mentioning the fact that NYU stinks).

Wiki Law Review.

Your article will be read by an unknown number of random web participants, who can vote on which articles they like best. (How is this different from normal law review submission?)

Once accepted for publication, it will be edited through the efforts of anonymous Wikizens and then published online. (Oh, it’s an online journal!).

Hey, I like these innovations so far. Long live Wikis! I suppose it doesn’t hurt any that I’m teaching at Thomas Jefferson — currently ranked #7 in the country, according to WikiRankings* — and that I’ve just had five articles accepted by the Wiki L. Rev. Where else can we introduce Wikis?

Wiki Tenure Committee.

On second thought, let’s not go there.

* I deny all reports that in an original version of this post I wrote “and it would be ranked higher if I had coded a better javascript voting program.”

0

Me and Judy Miller

A proposed bill would shield journalists from prosecution for failure to divulge their sources. No more Judy Millers!

Unless Judy was a blogger. In which case, she would not be protected.

Yes, that’s right. An unidentified source — who I cannot and will not identify* — has suggested that the proposed law will not shield bloggers. So while Judy is living it up in New York and D.C., we Concurrers will be moldering in a tiny cell. On the other hand, the publicity will be great.

So, does anyone want to e-mail me some juicy leads relating to anonymous sources? I promise, I’ll guard the names well.

* Okay, you got me. You broke past my iron will. The source for my controversial assertion — that bloggers are not protected by the proposed shield law — was Matt Drudge. Don’t arrest me, please, go arrest him.

Also, I think he may be married to a CIA agent.

2

Hurricane Katrina and Credit Scores

creditscore1.jpgBob Sullivan at MSNBC writes:

A second storm surge may soon start slamming into Gulf coast residents hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mounting unpaid bills will lead to a surge of black marks on victims’ credit reports, say consumer advocates, sinking their credit scores. And now, they say, efforts to convince the nation’s credit bureaus to develop new systems to account for victims’ temporary bill-paying troubles have hit a major snag.

Consumers who can’t make their house payments any more – even if that house has been completely swept away by the storm – may face the ultimate penalty in America’s credit-driven society: A credit score so low they won’t qualify for the loans they need to start rebuilding.

Consumer groups, anticipating the coming surge of late payments and account defaults, have asked credit bureaus to help. The consumer groups proposed that the bureaus take a pre-Katrina credit score snapshot of all residents in the affected areas. Later, when victims apply for loans, the pre-Katrina score could be used to identify whether victims were good credit risks before the storm.

This sounds like a sensible proposal, something that will help the survivors of the hurricane rebuild their lives. After all, without good credit, it is much more costly to take out a loan, and sometimes nearly impossible to get a loan or credit.

Fair Issac, the company that creates the formula for generating credit scores supports this proposal. The credit reporting agencies, however, won’t have any of it:

But on Thursday, consumer groups revealed that the nation’s three bureaus – Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax – have declined to participate in the plan.

The reasons are:

A second score likely wouldn’t comply with parts of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, the firm indicated in a letter sent to Consumers Union.

Equifax’s David Rubinger said the presence of a second score could create confusion both for lenders and consumers. Also, credit bureaus and lenders sometimes use alternate scoring systems, he said, so a snapshot FICO score would be of little use to those lenders.

First of all, I’m not familiar with a provision of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that would prohibit reporting a second score. If there is something in the law that prohibits reporting another score, then Congress should make an exception for victims of certain sudden catastrophes.

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7

The Blog Impersonators

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Harriet Miers, as my co-blogger Kaimi pointed out, is the first Supreme Court Justice nominee to have her own blog – Harriet Miers’s Blog!!! Her first entry:

OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M THE NOMINEE!!!

This is BIGGEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!! EVER!!!!

OMG OMG OMG

Needless to say, it’s a fake. And so is a blog called Luttig’s Lair purportedly written by Judge J. Michael Luttig.

Anyone can sign up on a free blogger platform, such as Blogger, and create a blog. In anybody’s name. In your name. You might have a blog and not even know about it.

The Miers and Luttig blogs are quite funny because everybody knows they’re phony. But it is easy to imagine a case where reality and parody are not so readily discernable. What’s to stop me from creating a blog by you? (Don’t even think of vice-versa!)

The law provides at least two potential remedies. One is the tort of libel, which provides for damages when a person publishes falsehoods that damage the reputation of another. This wouldn’t apply to Miers because the blog is an obvious parody – no reasonable person would think it were true.

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3

Wiki Your Papers?

Wikipedia.jpgNeed a proofreader and fact checker? Let the collective community of the Internet do it for you. According to CNET:

When Esquire magazine writer A.J. Jacobs decided to do an article about the freely distributable and freely editable online encyclopedia Wikipedia, he took an innovative approach: He posted a crummy, error-laden draft of the story to the site.

Wikipedia lets anyone create a new article for the encyclopedia or edit an existing entry. As a result, since it was started in 2001, Wikipedia has grown to include nearly 749,000 articles in English alone–countless numbers of which have been edited by multiple members of the community. (There are versions of Wikipedia in 109 other languages as well.) . . . .

Jacobs decided to craft an article about Wikipedia, complete with a series of intentional mistakes and typos, and post it on the site. The hope was that the community itself would be able to fix the errors and create a clean version that would be ready for publication in Esquire’s December issue. The original version was preserved for posterity.

“The idea I had–which Jimmy (Wales, Wikipedia’s founder) loved–is that I’d write a rough draft of the article and then Jimmy would put it on a site for the Wikipedia community to rewrite and edit,” Jacobs wrote on the page introducing the experiment. Esquire “would print the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of the articles. So here’s your chance to make this article a real one. All improvements welcome.” . . .

According to the Wikipedia page for Jacobs’ story, the article was edited 224 times in the first 24 hours after Jacobs posted it, and another 149 times in the next 24 hours.

What result?

On the latest version of the article, the original author writes:

Hello Wikipedians,

I just wanted to thank you all so much for participating in this experiment. It was absolutely fascinating. I was riveted to my computer, pressing refresh every 45 seconds to see the next iteration. And the next and the next. For the last few days, my wife has been what you might call a Wikipedia Widow.

I feel like I should submit all my articles to the community to get them Wikipedia-ized. I can’t wait to print this in Esquire magazine.

Thanks again.

AJ Jacobs

If any students are reading, don’t even think about it . . .

Hat tip: Michael Zimmer

6

Have a Question? Ask a Philosopher

philosopher1.jpgAn interesting experiment, as described by Inside Higher Ed, involves a website called Ask Philosophers where people send in their questions and philosophers respond with answers. The website is designed for the general public:

“I just thought that the Web offered philosophers a chance to do public service of the kind that they haven’t always had,” says Alexander George, chair of philosophy at Amherst College and creator of the site. “Philosophy is ubiquitous in people’s lives, but there is an unfortunate disconnect between the interests of most people in philosophy and their access to information about philosophy and the great ideas and history of philosophy.”

George recruited 34 other philosophers — many from Amherst and colleges in New England, but others from colleges elsewhere in the United States or the world. The panelists were selected for having expertise in different areas — medical ethics, Chinese philosophy, African philosophy, the philosophy of love and sex. . . .

The way the site works is that George reviews questions that are submitted by reviewers and posts those that are appropriate. . . . Then panelists pick questions to answer — George hopes they will tackle 1-2 questions a week. Those who want to comment on the answers or converse among themselves can do so on a Google group that George has also created.

13

Airport X-Ray Peep Shows

x-ray2.jpgAccording to the New York Times, the TSA is moving closer to deploying a new kind of X-ray machine at airports, one that sees through people’s clothing:

Among the most controversial technology being looked at by the Transportation Security Administration is the backscatter body scanner. The device – a boxy contraption that beams low-level X-rays through people’s clothing – has received a lot of attention because of the explicit images of passengers’ bodies it can produce.

This summer, for instance, Lori Borgman, a family humor columnist, wrote that such images were “bound to find their way to the break room, the Internet and the tabloids.” The American Civil Liberties Union has called the backscatter a “virtual strip search.”

As a result, the Transportation Security Administration has approached the deployment of the machines tentatively over the last several years. “I think that as we make the decision to roll out and go to pilot tests and move forward, we need to be sure we’re doing it in a responsible manner,” said the agency’s chief technology officer and assistant administrator, Clifford Wilke. “A person’s first experience with a new technology will determine their perception.”

But there are signs that the T.S.A. is preparing to make its move. The agency said it did not have a specific timeline, but statements made in early August by the two manufacturers of the technology – American Science and Engineering and Rapiscan Systems, a division of the OSI Systems electronics company – indicated that the plans could be made public within the next two months.

Does this technology establish the appropriate balance between privacy and security?

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