Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hip Huggers and Bellbottoms

Hip hugger jeans and bellbottoms should go the way of the dinosaurs. Actually, they did, once, but they unfortunately have returned to vogue. Hip huggers do nothing to flatter any woman’s figure. They cause women to appear to have the figures of preteen girls, at best, which is not good. In some cases, the effect is worse. It is particularly egregious for a female to wear low-rise jeans when she has a hairy back.

I call them “tacky pants.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Kinky for Texas Governor

Texas author, musician, and humor columnist Kinky Friedman is in the running for Texas Governor in 2006. Kinky’s platform and positions on the issues are refreshingly unconventional. He has my vote over Governor Perry and any other politician that might oppose the incumbent governor.

Kinky promises to provide a solution to the problem that is the two-party system. Kinky needs our help to make it onto the ballot, though. He needs 50,000 valid signatures to have his name appear on the ballot as candidate for Governor of Texas. However, he cannot begin collecting those signatures until after the Republican and Democratic Primaries, March 7, 2006, and he only has roughly a month; further, anybody who votes in either primary is ineligible to sign by Texas law. Texas is the only state in the union with such a law. These rules are intended to keep the two major parties in power.

So, for Texas residents, make sure you have been a registered voter for at least 31 days prior to March 2006, do not vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries, be certain to sign the petition to put Kinky on the ballot, and then, vote for Kinky in November 2006!

Sacrifices in Iraq “Worth It”?

In his Fort Bragg speech Tuesday, President Bush said of the violence in Iraq, “I know Americans ask the question, is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it.”

What sacrifices is President Bush making? Is he imperiling his approval ratings? How many loved ones has President Bush lost in this conflict? President Bush’s life is not on the line.

What is it worth? Are we in Iraq “because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens,” as President Bush said? Is America’s altruistic goal to bring to Iraqis a free society, including a judicial system and guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion? More likely, we are in Iraq because President Bush wanted to depose a dictator and secure a source of oil.

Liability for Infringement by Users of Peer-to-Peer File-Swapping Technology

As you are no doubt aware, the United States Supreme Court ruled that makers of peer-to-peer file-swapping software can be subject to liability for the copyright infringement made possible by their products.

I had not been terribly sympathetic with the music industry, which was suffering so due to the music pirating “people (especially the young) [who] use file sharing software to download copyrighted works.” I understand that the starving artists receive a mere pittance of the proceeds from the record sales, as compared to the millions the corporate members of the RIAA reap. I also understand that copyright exists to encourage innovation, so there will exist incentive for the recording companies to invest in the efforts of the musicians, thus making music available to the public. Copyright also protects the artists, so they will have incentive to create.

In Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., the Supreme Court held that the sale of copying equipment – VCRs – does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes. The equipment need merely be capable of substantial noninfringing uses for the manufacturer to be free from liability.

In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., the Supreme Court held that “[D]istribut[ion] [of] a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright” makes the distributor or software maker “liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.” Justice Souter said the plaintiffs are entitled to a trial to prove their accusations that the file-sharing companies were in business primarily to enable and induce computer users to find and download copyrighted material, of which there is ample evidence.

These cases are easily reconcilable. If your primary purpose is to enable infringement, you will be liable, despite substantial noninfringing uses. This is unfortunate for artists who want their music distributed via peer-to-peer file-swapping, for innovation in music that would benefit from peer-to-peer file-swapping, and for innovation in computer programs that would allow peer-to-peer file-swapping.

Jeff Tweedy, the leader of the rock band Wilco, and Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford University law professor who opposes criminalizing file sharing, participated in a discussion titled "Who Owns Culture?" sponsored by Wired magazine, in New York; they stated that “the Web, in an age where conglomerated FM radio has squeezed out virtually all possibility of hearing anything worthy and new, is where fans are best exposed to music they might want to buy…. [T]he decision to outlaw downloading would have a profoundly inhibiting effect on the creation of culture.”

Will liability of file-sharing software makers for infringement their products make possible halt the decline of the music industry? I would agree that the music business’s “problems stem from an inability to produce a product that consumers want to buy.” I do not recall the last time I purchased music for my enjoyment; I have not been downloading it illegally, either.

Monday, June 27, 2005

In search of my favorite licorice

Licorice is shrub native to southern Europe and Asia. The licorice roots may be chewed or eaten or the extract from the roots may be used in candies and flavorings. Licorice is also reputed to have medicinal qualities, but it may increase the absorption of many drugs and reduce the effects of blood pressure medications. Consumption of excessive amounts can cause high blood pressure, low levels of potassium, and hormonal imbalance, among other maladies. I have also read that it can adversely affect libido.

I find that it is difficult to come by good licorice. The best licorice I have eaten was sold by the Morrow’s Nut Houses that were located in malls. Morrow’s Nut House offered long ropes of licorice that were not overly sweet and that had an intense licorice flavor. They also sold “red” rope licorice, but “red” licorice is not even licorice, so it does not deserve mention. I think Morrow’s Nut House is now defunct, though. This would not be so problematic if I knew the brand of the licorice Morrow’s sold.

Other licorices I have tried do not compare to the licorice I used to buy from Morrow’s Nut House. Panda brand licorice is good, as are the licorice sticks and the licorice wheels available in the bulk bins at Central Market. I have tried several salt licorices; most people I know dislike salt licorice, but it is fine by me. Apparently, it is more popular in Europe than it is in America. None has been as good as I recall the Morrow’s Nut House licorice tasting. It may be, though, that the Morrow’s licorice has taken on mythic status in my mind, and if I were to eat some of it again, it might not be as good as I have imagined it to be.

If anyone has any information on the brand of licorice that I seek, I would greatly welcome your assistance.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Gay Marriage Debate Really Isn’t Much of a Debate

I recognize that it is important that the State recognize the institution of marriage. I agree that a marriage between a man and a woman is unique. However, I do not believe that a man and a woman’s marriage has so little intrinsic value that external influences diminish its worth. A union between two people of the same gender does not affect marriages between heterosexual persons.

Politicians, such as Texas State Senator Staples, R-Palestine, and Texas State Representatives Chisum, R.-Pampa, and Talton, R-Pasadena, latch onto such issues as the gay marriage debate for their political gain. A Houston Chronicle article cited Houston City Controller Annise Parker to this effect:

City Controller Annise Parker, the highest-ranking openly gay officeholder in Harris County, said she thinks the amendment is being pushed for political reasons by supporters aiming to gain capital with conservatives.

Gay and lesbian couples, she said, have more at stake.

“For us, it’s about our lives,” she said. “They do it to identify voters, raise money and influence local races.”

However, to people who oppose gay marriage, the issue may not be as simple as demeaning the institution of marriage. In a New York Times Magazine article, Russell Shorto examined cultural conservatives’ reasons for their opposition to gay marriage. Conservative Christians believe that homosexuality is not an innate condition. If homosexuality were inherent, their reasoning goes, “that would mean God had created some people who are damned from birth, morally blackened.” Russell Shorto, “What’s Their Real Problem With Gay Marriage? (It’s the Gay Part),” The New York Times Magazine, June 19, 2005 at 34.

If Conservative Christians interpret the bible as saying that people are damned because of their sexual orientation, I don’t suppose there is any arguing with that. Maybe when their religious beliefs become more progressive, Conservative Christians will not believe that homosexuals are damned. Wasn’t the bible at one time interpreted as condoning slavery?

Plenty of Ice Cream Here

I recently acquired a Cuisinart® Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker. My previous ice cream maker was a Donvier™ Ice Cream Maker. I made ice cream with the Cuisinart ice cream machine for the first time today. I was quite thrilled with the results! The ice cream was nicely aerated – light and fluffy – which is what an ice cream maker is supposed to produce. There were no complaints such as, "Why are restaurant ice creams so light?" The Cuisinart did all the work, too. I just flipped the switch, and, in about twenty minutes, we had a wonderfully textured lemon ice cream! (I did have to make the ice cream base.) The Donvier, which is a manual model and which does not cost significantly less than the Cuisinart, required a few turns of the handle every couple of minutes; the task became increasingly difficult as the ice cream froze.

I look forward to making more ice creams and sorbets this summer using the Cuisinart ice cream machine. When my second ice cream cylinder for the Cuisinart machine arrives, thanks to the Sur La Table Free Cuisinart Freezer Bowl offer, we should experience no dearth of frozen desserts.

Why Americans elect partisan politicians

I was wondering why the American people continue to elect politicians from the two major parties who do not seem to do anything to benefit the public, but who take up a few issues that are unimportant to most people and who pander to special interests, and why the American electorate does not instead put into office law makers or executives who are above the hotly contested political issues, who have no loyalty to moneyed interests, and who might actually govern in a fashion that would be to the advantage of the people. Jeffrey Rosen’s article in The New York Times Magazine provides a possible answer to these questions.

How did we get to this odd moment in American history, when unelected Supreme Court justices are expressing the views of popular majorities more faithfully than the people’s elected representatives? The most obvious culprit is partisan gerrymandering. In the 2000 elections, 98.5 percent of Congressional incumbents won their races definitively (75 percent of them by more than 20 percentage points), thanks to increasingly sophisticated computer technology that makes it possible to draw House districts in which incumbents are guaranteed easy re-election simply by catering to their ideological bases. As a result, Democrats and Republicans in Congress no longer have an incentive to court the moderate center in general elections. This, in turn, has created parties that are more polarized than at any other point in the past 50 years.

Jeffrey Rosen, “Center Court; Unelected judges aren’t thwarting the will of the people – they’re channeling it. Which is a blessing and a problem,” The New York Times Magazine, June 12, 2005 at 17.

[T]he conservative interest groups have it exactly backward. Their standard charge is that unelected judges are thwarting the will of the people by overturning laws passed by elected representatives. But in our new topsy-turvyworld, it’s the elected representatives who are thwarting the will of the people, which is being channeled instead by unelected judges.

Id. at 18. Rosen concludes, “If Congressional Republicans and Democrats repeatedly put the wishes of their bases above the wishes of the public, a provoked national majority may eventually try to throw them out.” Id.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Law school grading

Are the grades “assigned” on law school exams arbitrary and meaningless? I completed law school about six months ago. I feel that I received a fabulous education. However, I found the exams to be a most unpleasant experience. Law school exams are graded on a curve, that is, each student’s grade is relative to his or her performance as compared to other students. The grades in law school do not reflect the content mastered by students. A student is expected to demonstrate, in three hours on a cheesy fact pattern devised by the professor, the knowledge the student acquired in the preceding fourteen weeks.

When professors have numerous essay exams to grade – sixty-plus, perhaps – it would be quite a feat to pay careful attention to each answer and to grade it objectively in relation to the other fifty-nine students’ exams.

There is the objective answer format, also. This is completely contrary to the student’s goal on a law school exam – to demonstrate knowledge. How can one exhibit what he or she has learned over the course of fourteen weeks if the only answer alternatives are (A), (B), (C), or (D)? Forget about explaining your reasoning.

If law school exams are modeled after bar exams, and are intended to prepare students for essay and multiple-choice format exams, why is there only one exam administered per semester in each law school course? Would not multiple and more frequent exams better provide students with practice for the bar exam?

What is to be made of IRAC? Does the IRAC method of answering law school essay questions, whereby the examinee spots the Issue, states the Rule, performs Analysis, and states a Conclusion, have any value? Has a professor ever advocated this method of answering an essay question? Some professors state that they do not care what method students use to answer essay questions. What, then does the professor want?

What concerns professors on law school exams leads to another issue. Professors state that they do not care how artfully crafted an exam answer is. They do not consider grammar, spelling, or eloquence in grading exams. This stands in contravention with the reality of the practice of law, as I understand it to be. In the real world, the ability of lawyers to communicate effectively is of utmost importance. Lawyers frequently submit work for others - clients, senior attorneys, judges - to review. The ability to persuade, to inform, or not to create the impression that one is semi-literate, is of utmost importance to the lawyer.

Thus, the format of grading in law school is completely subjective and arbitrary. Conceivably, grading on a curve encourages competition, rather than cooperation, among students. In Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman advocates cooperation, as it benefits all individuals more than does competition. In my experience, however, there was not cutthroat competition among law school students. Rather, students were generally willing to assist one another in achieving the common goal of making it through law school. One is not in competition with one’s fellow students, but with the professors and the grading system.

I’m writing about “air-chilled” chicken?

Yes, I am writing about “air-chilled” chicken. An article in the Thursday, June 23 Wall Street Journal “Personal Journal” section examined “air-chilled” chicken. To refrigerate them quickly after slaughter, air-chilled chickens are hung on shackles and passed through cold chambers, rather than being soaked in cold, chlorinated water, as with water-chilled chickens. An air-chilled whole chicken costs around $2.20 per pound, whereas water-chilled whole chickens cost approximately $.90 per pound. Air chilling is significant because chicken can absorb 2% to 6% of its weight in water during the water-chilling process, according to The Wall Street Journal. Air chilling is also purported to result in a better tasting chicken.

One brand of air-chilled chicken I have tried is MBA Brand Smart Chicken. I find that the Smart Chickens do taste better than other brands I have eaten. Whether it is the air chilling, or the fact that it is natural chicken, not treated with antibiotics or hormones, fed vegetable diets free of animal by-products, and raised “in a stress-free, environmentally sustainable manner,” I am not certain. I am inclined to think the latter factors play a significant role.

I do not have a problem with paying around $1.30 more per pound. Natural chicken, not injected with oil and artificial flavor, is much preferable to that which has been “enhanced.” The diets must also account for something; for one, the chickens are white, rather than yellow, which reflects the diets. The Smart Chickens are trimmed of fat fairly well, also, so you are not paying for something you are going to discard. It is also good to know that the producer is not dumping contaminants into the waterways, as some producers have run into trouble for doing.
Up to $9 for an all-natural chicken may sound like a lot to pay, but I think it is reasonable, when you consider that a family of four can make about two meals out of it, and an entrée for just one person would cost about $9 in a restaurant. Furthermore, they taste like chicken.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Signing On

This marks my entry into the blogosphere. I am a novice blogger. I was introduced to blogging by my friend Thomas, and have made posts on his blog and even contributed as a guest blogger.

I am taking baby steps, initially, as I venture into the blogosphere. Since, despite my efforts and my $$$ postgraduate degree, I am unemployed (more on this in subsequent entries) I will probably have time to make frequent posts. I do not envision that this blog will have a particular theme, such as revealing a vast right-wing conspiracy, or uncovering facts about Hillary Rodham Clinton that would hinder her chances of being elected to the presidency. Rather, this blog will be similar to a journal, or a diary that is open to the whole of cyberspace, where I record my thoughts on diverse subjects. At least, that is what I envisage for this blog.