jrtom: (social scientist)

Basically, what happens when you get a couple of comic book fans who happen to be lawyers geeking out about legal issues in alternate (comic) universes.
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Last Friday and the following Tuesday, I served on a jury for the local municipal court.

the details )

Questions welcome. It was an interesting experience; I'm glad that I was able to do it, although it would have been nice if the second day of jury duty didn't overlap with my employer-granted holiday. :P Given some of the things that some of the other jurors had said before we started deliberating, I was gratified that we came to a consensus so quickly.
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and the conclusion (part 5 of 5) on this topic, which works as a place to start if you just want the bottom line:


We can hope...software and business method patents have always bugged me, not least because of what they've meant for employees of companies like Microsoft. (When I was working there, we were cautioned to _not_ try to find out if something that we were doing was covered by patent law, but to leave that to the lawyers (who can't really be expected to keep up with research in fields not their own)--because knowing about prior art could expose us to lawsuits. In addition to being an incredibly silly and efficient way to run a railroad, it is diametrically opposed to how research generally works. As far as I can tell, software patents are basically only used to keep other people from using your clever technique, rather than to derive a modest profit from having created it--and this is what trade secret law is for, IMAO.)
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This question keeps occurring to me in different contexts. This morning, I learned that some unspecified treatment of homeless people apparently constitutes a "hate crime" in Washington State: http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kplu/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1201540

This is one of those contexts in which I'd kind of like to believe that I'm missing something, so this is a genuine question to which I'd like to receive thoughtful responses.

Wikipedia states:
Hate crimes differ from conventional crime because they are not directed simply at an individual, but are meant to cause fear and intimidation in an entire group or class of people.

(The definition above sounds like it could easily have been for "terrorism", but I'll leave that alone.)

I can understand members of various minority and/or powerless groups wanting to ensure that they're not systematically oppressed, and I certainly understand that individual crimes can have very wide repercussions.

But it seems to me nevertheless that legal recognition of crimes qua hate crimes has some serious pitfalls, too.

  • Prosecuting someone as a "hate criminal" (so to speak) identifies their cause and perhaps even legitimizes it. It gives their action more publicity than it would otherwise have had. Possibly even gives the actor the status of martyr.
  • Shouldn't we prefer to focus on preventing crimes of violence and intimidation in the first place? Establishing motive is useful...but it's not clear why it should be a basis for punishment, rather than the nature of the actions themselves.
  • Perhaps most importantly, it comes at least perilously close to legislating opinions, or at least motivations. If we protect free speech, certainly we must also afford at least that level of protection to opinion.

Knowing me, I'm probably missing something practical and obvious. Any thoughts?
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Odd corners of IP law, or how magicians deal with those who steal their tricks:

Ice cream dispenser sizes portions according to how sad you sound:

"Geostationary Banana over Texas"
and, just because, http://www.geostationarybananaovertexas.com/ (how can one resist a URL like that?)

Madeleine L'Engle tribute involving tesseracts:
(and for bonus points: http://www.tomorrowland.org/photos/uncategorized/hypercube.gif, which is one of the cooler hypercube animations I've seen)
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The original reference to the paper below. Also includes a link to

which is Bruce Schneier's take on the issue; this is less detailed (but also much shorter! :) ) than the actual paper, at

Despite this paper's self-description as a "short essay", it's about 25 pages long, and I admit I haven't read the whole thing yet. But it looks like an interesting drill-down into what privacy is, what it's for, and why it's important.
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Honestly I don't really care that much about Second Life; I have enough to do in First Life just now, thanks, and plenty more amusements than I have time to spare for them.

What _is_ of interest to me here are the grounds on which the Terms of Service was judged "unconscionable". These all seem pretty reasonable to me (although at some point the whole question of jurisdiction in the context of the Internet is going to get jerked around pretty hard, I suspect), so I'm hoping that this decision will percolate up and maybe do some real good elsewhere.
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What I find most encouraging about this is that the judge in charge of this tribunal made this decision, it appears, independently. I've little doubt that there will now be a flurry of hearings to reclassify some detainees as "unlawful enemy combatants" (and not simply "enemy combatants", as opposed, presumably, to "friendly combatants [against which we have nevertheless preferred charges]"). But the point is that the military at least appears to be trying to police itself.
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This is an entirely serious question, and I'd appreciate some responses.

I don't understand the reason why the category 'hate crime' exists as a legal term. I'm fully in favor of anti-discrimination laws, and I believe that people get beaten up, or worse, for being (say) gay on an unfortunately regular basis.

What I don't understand is why such crimes cannot be effectively addressed under existing statutes. Why does it matter, in law, what reason someone has (or asserts) for beating the mortal crap out of someone else?

I mean, I can understand taking the motivation into account in terms of the kind of sentence that you give--community service for an appropriate support organization or charity might be especially appropriate. But I really don't see why differences in motivation define different crimes.

If anyone here can provide some cogent arguments for why hate crime legislation needs to exist, I'd really like to hear them; I'm prepared to believe that there's something I'm missing.
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via http://boingboing.net : Loyalty Day

Somehow, this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don't even think that it really has much to do with Bush--although this does feel like a political ploy. I think that it has something to do with the implication that we need to be told to be loyal...and perhaps it does have something to do with Bush, as arguably some of the worst things in his administration could not have happened but for the loyalty of various people to him (which he is now repaying in kind by stubbornly refusing to admit that they might have engaged in any wrongdoing). Plus Bush, I think, does not define "loyalty" as I do.

On a not-exactly-related note, clicking on 'Executive Orders' in the sidebar turns this gem up which makes a whole raft of changes to how military courts-martial proceed:


It allows for witnesses that aren't physically present...which may be reasonable in some cases...but then moves on to permitting the accused to not be physically present...and then makes it clear that such remote connections can be audio-only (all sorts of fun possibilities there).

Then it goes on (search for "119a") to, as far as I can tell, lay the groundwork for criminalizing abortion. (Essentially, it sets things up so that if a fetus is killed or harmed in the course of some other crime, some charge with code number I don't know is added to those of which the defendant is accused. To be fair, it does explicitly exempt legal abortions...and again, maybe it's just the known biases of Bush in this regard...but it makes me nervous.)

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An encouraging sign, I think, on several levels. (This discussion must necessarily touch on several important questions, including "what is a sentient being?" and "what responsibilities do we have to our creations?", which I think are important questions for us to address as a society.)
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This is just beautiful. Honestly, I laughed out loud for sheer joy when I read this. Fortunately my officemate had already read the article and agreed that it was a wonderful thing.

It would have been even better, of course, had the AI itself been cited rather than its creator--and it sounds like the AI in question wasn't doing a very good job--but despite all that I find this both encouraging and hilarious.
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Michael Crichton, in the NY Times, This Essay Breaks the Law

Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

*sigh* The US Patent Office needs a reboot...badly.
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They're taking the hobbits to Isengard! (Flash; high res version)

This is funny (and short enough not to be annoying). It's also caused me to think more about solutions to the whole "derivative works" problem.
read on, if you're curious; gets somewhat technical )


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May 2011

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