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Monthly Archives: August 2009

I seldom grieve for celebrities seen from afar and aloft as they are.When people die, a small part of the world dies with them. For some, a larger part dies- when the Beatles died, there was a little less music in the world, with Diana; a little grace. But when they die, dreams of universal health care do not die with them, nor the dreams of an era.

One of my favourite songs is “Tangled Up In Blue” covered by the Whitlams, and it has the most pronounced influences on how I think about love and life. And sometimes I think, what if Dylan had died before writing it? What if one of the Whitlams had? But in the end, I would have still stumbled on in the end, through the fog of life. People have loved and lost for millenia, and they shall with Dylan long forgotten. But women did not have equal rights to education until title IX, nor did equality of race exist till the Civil Rights Act. And that, in part, is what Kennedy gave us. He lead us through the fog, like a great sage taking us up the mountain. He created something new, and something unique.

I don’t like to exaggerate men into gods, and neither did Kennedy. Kennedy was not without flaws. He invented the most odious verb in the English language: ‘to Bork’, in the process destroying the credibility of the US Supreme Court, that leading light of jurisprudence. But the lesson Kennedy taught me was that we can hew to our principles and our thoughts without sacrificing congeniality to our opponents. He passed bills not through horsetrading but with compassion for those whosee lives would be enriched by the law and also for those congressmen opposing it. America is a better place for it.

Ted, above my bed lies a picture of your brother, John. It’s his presidential portrait of him deep in thought. They say that the club of former presidents is an exclusive club- those of both parties who know the weighty burden of guiding a nation for 8 years. But you, you guided it for 40 years and each of those great legislative acts you helped write into law would also be woven into America’s social fabric for years untold. In ways, you had more influence than any President who has such a short time in office. I don’t pretend to know you, nor anything about you but the merest shreds. But to you, Edward Kennedy, I give my thanks and this small votive:

“Cinis cinerem; pulvis es

et in pulverem revertis

eum eis monentum memoremus

huius momenti Vergilius canat:

sunt lacrimae rerum et mortalia mentem tangunt

autem pius Kennedy tu putamus

et Arma virumque canamus

To become a writer, a novellist, a man of many words

(PS: yes, the numbering is randomised)

Sometimes the news just makes me want to say I told you so. As I said, whilst a novel and workable idea in principle, the trick was in the implementation. Mergers and acquisitions are difficult enough to pull off with more conventional business models and in better financial times. This was an idea doomed to fail.

I mean the thing that strikes me as most odd about this was the very high purchase price for the Pirate Bay site. Why would you pay millions to acquire what is basically a legal liability? It’s even more toxic than subprime loans, which can’t actually bite you on the ass, only devalue downwards and downwards. It’s like Brisconnections, most people willingly gave their units away for free! Ugh I don’t know. Why are people stupid?

Sometimes we lament the death of bipartisanship, particularly in America where the ideological divide seems almost as wide in this post-ideological divide era as the gender gap.

There was a time when even American politics was, though ideologically charged, quite congenial. Colleagues respected one another, and recognised that politics was an area where great minds might differ. Navel-gaving into the past is always suspect to delusions and mirages – for instance, I might cite Jefferson’s complete and utter hatred of Hamilton. But every now and again, I read a story that reminds me of those days. In Australia, Whitlam announcing (once again) that Fraser “has improved”, though I suspect nothing shall save his friendship with Sir John Kerr.

Here’s another article. McCain (and other Republicans before him) have been lamenting that Sen. Teddy Kennedy was not present for the health care debate. Even though it is the Republicans “subtle” way of saying that their viewpoints have not been consulted on health care reform (as opposed to men with AKs accusing a black man and a jew of being Nazis), it does touch my heart somewhat. A reminder of days of old.

To read Zoology at Oxford

This is a map of the acres of Amazon Forests that have been destroyed by the reams of paper used to write navel-gazing articles on Malcolm Turnbull’s personality. The one thing I never quite understood is why some articles can praise Turnbull’s brash confidence and canny genius on the one hand and on the other call him a risk-seeker on the other.

Try to put yourself into his shoes. You are an Opposition Leader of a splintering and disorganised party. You are leader by virtue of the fact that no other fool is fool enough to fight a first term PM because it never works. What can you really do against a government which does the right things on the right issues? The economic stimulus package is amongst the best designed in the world. The climate change bill, though arguably too quick and unilateral, is not worth quibbling about the details when doing so could make you look like a sceptic. Especially when scientists are still in disagreement about the best way to gag Steve Fielding. Chloroform or HCl? Hmm…

Turnbull had two options in front of him. The first, was a path which has been tried and failed by those with far better political antennae than him. The other, was the road less travelled by. The utegate saga was not a flaw in and of itself, it could have destroyed the Rudd Government. The problem was in its execution. Turnbull, as a lawyer, should have dug through the details of every single comma and punctuation mark of Godwin Grech’s email. As an investment banker, he should have done his due diligence. That was mistake one. Mistake two was his failure to contain his excitement, bragging about it to the PM’s advisor at some charity ball, bragging about it on public TV.

Had all gone to plan, we might all well now be praising Turnbull for his ruthlessness and his genius at installing Australia’s first female PM instead of watching the SMH’s unabashed campaign for a double dissolution.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-and-Justice-Sotomayor-at-reception-in-her-honor/

I noticed that the two other justices present were Stevens and Ginsburg JJ, the two liberal members of the court. Do they know something about Sotomayor that we don’t? Or are they merely angling to be her new best friends? Who knows. The more interesting thing for me to note is that Obama seems to return to the ’empathy’ test for Supreme Court nominees without invoking the word empathy:

Justice William Brennan once said that in order for government to ensure those rights for all its citizens, government officials must be attentive to the concrete human realities at stake in the decisions they make. They must understand, as Justice Brennan put it, “the pulse of life beneath the official version of events.” The pulse of life beneath the official version of events.

Justice Sotomayor understands those realities because she’s witnessed them firsthand as a prosecutor, a litigator, and a judge, working to uphold our laws, keep our communities safe, and give people the chance to live out their dreams — work that she has done with devotion, with distinction, and with an unyielding commitment to give back to this country that has given her so much.

As you can see, Obama then proceeds to tie the empathy test inextricably with the sympathetic background of Sotomayor J (namely her Bronx upbringing). This is about the only thing which Republicans were willing to concede on Sotomayor’s behalf – that she had a life story. I think this foresages, in some small part, Obama’s plan for his next Supreme Court nominee. He is going to bring another jurist with a sympathetic background, with perhaps a more liberal leaning jurisprudence. That way, Obama can really bring a strong argument that it is not the judicial philosophy of the justice that the Republicans object to, but her alternative background. Playing hardball, for sure, but its really the Republicans own fault for going after Sotomayor so hard.

As to what I think about the empathy test itself, its hard to be sure. The empathy test could be what the Republicans mean it to be – empathy for certain types of groups over others. Namely, the poor, racial minorities etc. You know how I feel about entrenching affirmative action in the law. If on the other hand, it is about feeling the empathy of both parties, then I would whole-heartedly accept the empathy test. If Obama truly believes Sotomayor matches his empathy test, then it seems more likely to be the latter. But his continued emphasis on her background makes it more likely to it is as the Republicans believe. Of course, we can’t simplify any president’s beliefs to such a black and white view – especially not a Constitutional lawyer like Obama. Either way, I think this comment is well worth a second look when Stevens has a heart attack.

Sometimes life gives me insights into the past. For instance, I now know why at Federation the larger states were so afraid of the smalle states taking control of the Senate and completely demolishing our system of government. It’s because they have absolutely no competence when it comes to naming people.
The Speaker of the NT legislative assembly is called Jane Aagaard. Why do you need so many As in your name? A prominent ALP candidate in Tasmania is called Honey Bacon, and prominently is the wife of Jim Bacon, former Premier.

Update: I have also just discovered that the former Deputy Chief Minister has the rather Harry Potter-eque name (and title) of Marion Scrymgour. Chief Minister Scrymgour lol

Add that to chair-sniffing, Barnaby Joyce and Sir Joh and now I realise that we are so lucky our country is controlled from Sydney and Melbourne. We have an Opera House/bridge and lots of small bars. That’s all we ever really needed.

In other news, the California Review wrote a battle hymn because they thought God should play a more prominent part in life. They quoted Alan Keyes, a most respectable man, and dear friend of Tom Tancredo no doubt. http://ucsdcalrev.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/my-battle-hymn/

First para:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

I am indeed quite worried.

So apparently the company acquiring the Pirate Bay torrent website wants to float it on the Nasdaq stock exchange in NY: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2009/aug/06/pirate-bay-piracy For those unaware, Pirate Bay is a site where you could exchange torrent files with other members, and was shut down by regulators for fairly obvious copyright issues.

I’ve yet to study IP law, so I shall restrain from commenting on the law though I imagine its fascinating. I find it particularly interesting to see how, despite all the complaints by companies about regulations, the market can adapt to regulations in the same way it reacts to any other shift in sentiment.

The business model seems to be an extension of the iTunes style downloading system to P2P torrent networks. iTunes of course was a response to people wishing to dl songs individually rather than having to buy albums. It seems to have worked reasonably well, the only problem being people don’t lwant to pay for songs. Full stop.

People have been saying this for years, but I’ve noticed an upswing in commentry on it – incidentally starting with this Morgan Stanley analyst report by a 15 year old intern: http://media.ft.com/cms/c3852b2e-6f9a-11de-bfc5-00144feabdc0.pdf In particular, how can facebook make money if end-consumers won’t pay for the service? Basically, most e-companies seem to make money by two routes.

1) Offer a service cheaper than offline services but which is not available for free. Eg. Amazon, eBay

2) Encourage you to use our site for free then make money on the side somehow, usually advertising revenues. Pandora is an interesting model because it aggregates user experience then sells it as marketing research. Basically it finds out what type of music people consider similar to other types of music, the nsells that information. Clearly the interwebs has become more sophisticated since we ran our tiny geocities websites and had to beg people to click our ads once a day.

So will the Pirate Bay model work? It passes the first criterion, which is – don’t charge your consumers! But unfortunately, it does cause inconvenience to them, namely forcing to share their disk space. I’m sure even if this became popular, a black market would quickly appear that nerfed Pirate Ba ‘s ability to use your disk space so you could dl for free. Secondly, I must ask who would buy this disc space? It seems awfully insecure way of storing things. Firstly, there are obvious security issues involved with storing your information on the computer of someone you’ve never ever met. Secondly, how do you guarantee these people will ever return? If they just stop’ using the Pirate Bay for whatever reason, you’ve got your data on their comp and no way of retrieving it.

Finally, it is said that advertising revenues will be $40m per month alone.That’s all very well and good but you have to compare that with how much it costs to license the content in the first place. In that sense, I’m finding it hard to see how it can compete against TV which forces you to watch ads. Online ads, as in banner ads which appear on the sides of websites, are much less valuable, as Facebook has discovered. If you’re going to place tv-style ads on your downloads then that’s a good idea. But then you’re competing against the likes of Hulu which do the same except have a much faster direct-download format.

I’m finding it hard to envision a model which would work for Pirate Bay. The restrictions of a torrent-style dl site are quite heavy. You need active seedrs to keep downloads fast. Which means you can’t offer older content like direct download can. Or you can. But then you store it on your own servers. Which begs the question, why not just adopt a direct download format? The only reason which favours torrent-downloading is the fact you can store information on people’s computers. But this is a concept which is fundamentally flawed, as I said. Surely it would be cheaper just to buy your own damned server and sell that out.

It sounds like Pirate Bay will be a viable business model, as in it won’t collapse. The advertising revenues should be able to sustain it as a viable business for at least a few years. But I don’t see it making a large enough profit in the long term to recoup the huge initial investment because the more innovative parts of its model that will pull it over the line just won’t work. There’s $22m in acquisition costs alone, not including the very significant  costs in adapting the system to their new business model, negotiating with content providers etc.

If there is a future in this sort of thing, it will be in providing a service that isn’t locality specific. Currently, Hulu etc are only available in specific jurisdictions probably because advertisers are only interested in customers in countries where they operate. Not surprising. Which means the US is well-serviced, but countries like Australia have none of these services. Perhaps the data-sharing idea was an attempt to do that, but I just don’t see it working because of the security issues. Good try though.

I’ve always been somewhat impressed by minimalism in design, in particular because I am quite incapable of it: viz my rather lengthy blog posts and my ability to double word limits on law assignments.

Something I’v noticed recently is that people have begun referring to Google as minimalist (usually in the context of Bing, a much less minimalist design), but also their new Chrome brower. Honestly, I had never thought of it that way. I had always considered Apple to be the minimalist technology company. Steve Jobs is deadly with a powerpoint, known for his ability to maximise the impact of slides by having as little on it as possible. Focussing everything on a single point. I’ve never used a Mac, but from my experience with the iPod, iTunes etc, this minimalism stretches across the board. This is hardly surprising but what is surprising is that it is so functional! The click wheel is surely a work of genius, allowing you to do every function necessary on an mp3 player whilst still being intuitive. I was trying to find the new features for v3.0 of the iTouch software, and stumbled across Apple’s website. It managed to cram all those features into a single page in a way both aesthetically pleasing and putting in all the details. Delightful. It also had the added benefit of disguising the fact that there were actually very few useful additions to the software.

Which is why Google Chrome is such a failure. It takes the racing car approach to minimalism. Let’s strip the car of its extra seats, crumple zones, comfort padding and it’ll run like magic. It justs removes function for design, which is not a trade-off one should be making. It essentially removes all the useful functions I like in a browser and puts them into two little menu tabs (rather than the traditional 6 or 7, making each menu tab much larger than it needs to be). It becomes self-defeating. It becomes less intuitive.

On the other hand, I continue to admire its search page. http://www.google.com if you’ve never visited it. I do recommend you do. A single Google picture over the single search bar. A few options delicately placed on the side, advanced users being able to type more complex Boolean type searches directly into the searchbar. The fantastic thing about the Google picture is that it is so standard you can change it slightly for quite a powerful effect – as they do to reflect special occasions.

The most important thing to note is that they allow customisation. If you don’t like minimalism, feel free to use iGoogle. This is a feature that Apple is notably lacking. A well-designed page is all well and good, but sometimes the lawyer in me needs to see all the details. The v3.0 iTouch page being an example- I’m still not sure if it allows me to use 3G wireless access (I doubt it does). The App dl page on iTouches and iPhones are a delight to use. But by omitting the terms and conditions, the privacy terms I am deprived of my ability to discover exactly what these applications can do to my data. for instance, I want to sync my Google calendar to my iPod. I downloaded various programs to do this, but I need to input a password. How do I find out if this is a secure way of inputting my password? Do I merely rely on Apple’s vetting process to screen out apps which steal private password information?

My own attempts at minimalism are quite pathetic. I wanted to put up posters that really highlighted my personality. Instead, I ended up  with every available wall in my room completely covered with posters. I still have a heap of them in my drawer that I want to put up, should I have sufficient room. I just don’t understand. How do other people do it?