Alito Nonsense

Can we just stop this nonsense about Judges enforcing the law but not “making” it? And that there is such a thing as a non-ideological Supreme Court justice?

Many people have articulated the problem better than I possibly could. But it boils down to this: “the law” is not deterministic. It is, as a practical matter, impossible to enact statutory language that is sufficiently specific to cover every situation that will appear before a court. The reason cases end up in litigation is, quite often, because the law is not clear on what the result should be. Law is not like source code that can be compiled into an object file and then fed arbitrary input to generate a certain predictable result. The real world is complex. Conditions arise over time that the legislators enacting the statute (or the framers drafting the constitution) could not have foreseen. Even if you believe Judges should exercise “restraint,” in many cases it is impossible to determine, objectively, what outcome represents the more “restrained” position. (I think Alito admitted an analogous issue today when he said that conservatives can be as much “activists” as liberals).

People should agree or disagree with Judge Alito’s judicial approach, but it’s absurd to suggest that he doesn’t have an ideology, or that he could sit on the Supreme Court and just apply the law “as it is written” without having to make interpretive leaps. Those leaps will almost always involve issues on which reasonable people can differ — otherwise the case would never have reached the Supreme Court. That is, in fact, the whole point of the Supreme Court.

China v. China

Interesting juxtaposition of recent news articles:

Song is Cool

I’m flying Song airlines for the first time, en route to Orlando on business. The individual interactive multimedia consoles are pretty cool. You can check out your altitude, flight path, etc., in real time, which I think helps mitigate the lack of control and attendant anxiety most people feel while flying. There is also a decent selection of “MP3s” (I wonder if they are actually stored as MP3s?) that you can queue up for a personal playlist. I’ve found more than enough selections to last the rest of the flight. (Strangely, I seem to have to hit ‘pause’ at the end of each track to advance to the next). There are also a bunch of satellite TV stations, pay-per-view movies and games, although I haven’t checked those out.

I’m curious about how the music licensing works. The airline would like to provide the attractive feature of a broad variety of music for its customers; at the same time, it probably serves as effective marketing for the labels, just like radio play. You might, for example, check out an album you were thinking of buying on the flight, and purchase it later if you liked it. The chance that inflight music will be copied by customers is very low and presumably they don’t need to worry about DRM. So which way does money flow—from the airlines to the labels or vice-versa? Or are the tracks “free?”

Now playing: The Beatles, Revolver, “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

P.S. After we landed, the interactive multimedia consoles rebooted. It turns out they are running Red Hat Linux, circa 2002. Smart.

Humans Fail Turing Test

I use a relatively unsophisticated but highly effective filter for blog comment spam. The system consists of several hundred keywords (mostly spam-related domain names which would never appear in a genuine comment), and a Turing test. The Turing test is a box at the bottom of the comment form, that says: “Do not put anything in this box if you are a human.”

The Turing test catches between 10-25 spam comments per day; the keyword filter about the same.

Every week or two, however, a human comes along, and fails the Turing test and fills in the “don’t fill in this box” box. I’m not quite sure what to do about that. Maybe the human thinks they are not actually human?

More likely they just don’t read the text next to the box, although it is fairly prominent.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a general phenomenon on the web. Many people have a tendency not to read text on webpages. For example, I’ve gotten a lot of questions along the lines of “How do I access my address book in SquirrelMail?” The answer, of course, is to click on “Addresses.” Similary questions arise with respect to my photo album software salonify — “how do I view a slide show of images?” (A: Click on “Slide Show.”)

My hope is that the next generation is better able to process web content, but I’m not sure that hope is well founded.

Getting back to the blog comment spam issue, it’s interesting to observe what sorts of topics appear most frequently in comment spams. Over the past several months, pornographic links referencing transsexuals seem to outnumber other topics. I wonder: do the spammers have a scientific method to their marketing?