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Done with a Capital D, that Rymes with V, that Stands for Vegas

March 15th, 2006

I just turned in by Basic Income Tax final, the last of my three back-to-back-to-back finals and ends the quarter1. I think I did just fine, all things consider, and am looking forwards to my perfunctory B+. No shame in being average at a top tier law school.

On Saturday I pick up the minivan in preparation for leaving on Sunday on our much vaunted Vegas Road Trip! Pictures should be flowing back from the event, along with some sort of musical montage for the actual driving portion. We have a timeshare ready for our use down there (free of charge, thanks Mom and Shannan!) and will be staying for 5 days! In addition, we are driving through six different states: Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, California, and Oregon. And the plan is to drive NONSTOP! I don’t know whose going to be doing the driving at three in the morning, but it should be loads of fun.

The trip is largely bankrolled by my fantastic tax return this year (thank you qualified tuition exemption). Although, for a moment there I was sort of freaked out when I received an email claiming to be from the IRS informing me my refund was only going to be $68. After freaking out (seriously, emotional blowout) for a bit, I realized it was a fake… email originated in Japan, the website it sent me to had a Brazillian TLD, the thing was covered in government copyright notices, but the real nail in the coffin was the form asking for my credit card number so they could send me my refund. Hmm… I don’t think that’s how credit cards work.

Anyway, the whole trip should be a blast and a welcome relief after the super stressful quarter I’ve just finished. Hoo-ah!

1. Technically, I got an extension on a two credit research project, but I don’t care.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Boy Scouts in the News

March 15th, 2006

Seems the Boy Scouts can catch a break these days. Last time I saw the BSA in the press was to report on widespread cases of heat exhaustion while waiting for President Bush to speak at the National Jamboree. Well, today the Seattle Times reports that a fellow Scouter at Camp Meriwether (it’s in Oregon, and yes, I’ve been there) was walking with some other scouters, collapsed, and died.

He was 16!!!

So, first… why don’t they every report about the good things that happen to Scouts, or because of Scouts? Like, “Cat rescued from tree by local scout” or “church repainted by scout troop.” No, it’s stuff like “Scout dies while hiking” or “Scout fails to rescue fellow hiker from falling down a crevasse.” Seriously, scouts have their problems, but if I just read the paper I’d think they were an endangered species crippled by years of inbreeding. On reflection, that might be true, but certainly there are some good things to say as well.

Secondly… what happened to healthy scouting? Sixteen year old males are not supposed to fall down and die from walking.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Race Based Admissions

March 14th, 2006

Can someone please explain this New York Times article to me? As with most newspaper articles it is high on rhetoric and low on facts, but it sounds as if universities and colleges are shutting down their minority focused programs. Now, race is a complicated issue for everyone, yes, everyone; but some topics are pretty straightforward… like the applicability of the 14th Amendment.

The Times article says that most of these changes are coming “threats of litigation and pressure from Washington.” I guess I can sort of understand the “pressure from Washington,” maybe the Education Secretary is going around threatening to pull federal aid if schools don’t eliminate the programs. But legal challenges? Under what authority? The article reports that the Center for Equal Opportunity sent out over 200 legal challenges to which 150 schools had responded favorably (from his perspective, I suppose). I want to know what those legal challenges said?!

See, the 14th Amendment, where all the previous affirmative action litigation has emanated from, is very clear about one thing (and, really, only one thing): it is limited to state action. The 14th has absolutely not impact on my behavior, your behavior, or those of private institutions. So why is Pepperdine, a private religious school, rolling over?

My theory is pretty evil, but it fits the facts. I suggest that for the past several decades conservatives have been fighting to get on the Board of Directors for these schools (much as they have infiltrated the school boards and city governments). Once there they discovered it was simply political infeasible to just outright eliminate these programs… so they called up their friends in Washington (governmental or NGO, doesn’t really matter) and said if they raise enough of a stink they can use it as cloud cover to make change. Far less resistance if they are just trying to stay chummy with the “powers that be” as opposed to overturning 50 years of progress towards racial equality.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Words to Read

March 13th, 2006

This year the ASUW has perhaps the greatest President in office of the seven years I’ve been involved. I want to share with you something he wrote a few days ago; an observation about America and about ourselves. I hope you’ll take the time to read all of his words… I know you will find it worthwhile.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Our Not too Distant Future

March 12th, 2006

If you have even the remotest interest in the outcome of the 2006 midterm election you must read the New York Times Sunday morning Magazine article.

I beginning to wonder if I’m cut out for this stuff?

probonogeek Uncategorized

Final Determination

March 12th, 2006

In 1998 the students of the University of Washington made a stupid decision, and this Friday, almost nine years later, that decision was affirmed on procedural grounds. The decision was to replace the aging Driving Range with a new state-of-the-art double deck range at a price of $3,000,000. Since then the Range has reduced in size to an expansion of only three tees and the cost has ballooned to $9.7 million. Through it all the S&A Fee Committee has dutifully agreed with the project and no matter how hard I may have tried, the range will go forward.

To be honest, I really couldn’t be more proud of the Committee this year. While I rather disagree with their decision, I am just a single vote on the Committee and refuse to be the Chair who pushes his opinion on the membership. It was their call, and they made it. Their reasoning boils down to this:

  • The 1998 Committee approved the range at $3 million
  • The 2002 Committee approved the range at $8 million
  • There are no apparent procedural defects in how those decisions were made
  • The decisions are themselves not unreasonable
  • The 2006 Committee may have decided differently but it is not appropriate to substitute our judgment for theirs
  • Funding outside of student money was available to make up the difference between the approved $8 million and the $9.7 million need

Even though the Committee had the resources to make up the difference on our own, they felt the decision was easier to make by using other resources. Personally, I don’t see the distinction. The other funding was money set aside for the Recreational Sports Program (RSP) and would have been used for other capital projects. By spending it on the Driving Range we just put the Committee in a worse position when RSP comes back to ask for funding later. It may not have been student funds today, but it will mean greater student spending later.

I would have been very interested to see the vote had that money not been available. I think it would have changed the dynamics, but the outcome would probably have still been the same. The Committee seemed unwilling to disturb the earlier decision and found a way to avoid doing that… but if that option hadn’t been available I think they still would have been unwilling to stop the project. The argument that we should leave the original determination undisturbed holds just as much water. Yes, we need to spend an additional 1.7 million more of student fees to faithfully execute the decision, but that’s no different than the actual situation… it’s just the appearance that it wasn’t our money.

The Committee also let the RSP Director get away with murder. These funds had been in an account for years and gone unreported until just a few days ago. Instead of berating the director, the Committee let him off easy. We could have made him spend every penny of those excess dollars, retaining as much of the student’s money as possible. Instead the Committee decided to let him keep as much as possible. I really can’t begin to understand that decision unless they were giving the original Committee decision of $8 million some sort of super-precedence. Not only had the costs gone up since then, the necessary funding from students had gone down.

Not a whole lot I can do about it now… except marvel at the larger situation and take away an important lesson. First, the necessary power to overturn a previous decision (even a bad decision) is far greater than I had expected. Second, combinding in recent observations from GPSS, the necessary power to make a new decision (even a bad decision) is far lower than I had expected. These two factors do not bode well for government.

So, if this is true… how is it that we’ve managed to hold the government together for so long? Shouldn’t we be tearing ourselves apart at the seams at this point?

probonogeek Uncategorized

Get Your Saturday Seattle Post-Intelligencer

March 5th, 2006

After my weeks of radio silence I return in a blaze of glory to tell all my faithful readers to go pick up a copy of the Saturday PI. There, among the headlines on page one you will find a story entitled “Universities are adding on the perks at a price” which includes multiple quotes by yours truly.

If you’re too cheep to buy the paper (50 cents man) or simply out of physical reach, you can read the article via the interwebs.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Partial Birth Heads Back to the Supreme Court

February 21st, 2006

The justices have granted cert in Gonzales v. Carhart which challenges the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by Congress a few years ago. It was widely believed the law would not pass judicial review because the law is nearly identical to a Nebraska law struck down in 2000. That case had a 5-4 split with Justice O’Connor casting the majority vote on the grounds that the ban provided no exception for the health of the mother.

Of course, the court doesn’t look like it did in 2000. Chief Justice Roberts has replaced Rehnquist (one conservative for another) and Justice Alito has replaced O’Connor (one conservative for a moderate). Strikes me as though many social conservatives are looking towards this case as a great indicator of whether they finally achieved the judicial majority they’ve been fighting for the past thirty years. Maybe they are right…

…but maybe they are wrong. This act does not strike me as the ideal legislation to test their new majority because it includes the sticky issue of federalism. The Act is an exercise of federal power, which means it must fit within one of the enumerated powers granted to Congress by Article I § 8 of the Constitution. The more liberal judges have taken a rather expansive reading of those grants of power leading to expansive federal power. Conservative justices, the ones who find a limited right to privacy in the Constitution, take a rather narrow reading of those same powers. So a conundrum presents itself to our newly minted highest court in the land: yes, they can uphold the the act and strike a blow to the right to privacy, but in so doing they will expand the federal power to areas traditionally left to the states.

I’m not a judicial conservative, so I don’t know how they might want the case to come out. Seems like a real double edge sword. I’m told that this kind of Supreme Court litigation is planned years out with long term strategies and top political operatives. If so, why did they go with a federal statute? A state law would have presented far fewer prickly federalism issues and provided a much cleaner holding for the Right to hold up as a victory trophy.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Filling the Void

February 14th, 2006

Last week the ASUW Student Senate considered a rather unremarkable resolution entitled R-12-18: A Resolution to Calling for a Tribute for Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, USMC. Col. Boyington is Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and a University of Washington graduate. The resolution’s sponsor was seeking student support for a statute/monument to the man. After rather lengthy procedural wrangling the resolution came to a final vote before the Senate which split evenly prompting the Senate Chair, who only votes in the case of a tie, to vote against.

Rational people might think the story stops there, but no. The campus College Republicans took this vote as an anti-military vote and promptly informed the conservative press. Since that fateful Tuesday evening the ASUW has been besieged by press inquiries, radio talking heads, and the conservative blogosphere. Their conclusion: the University is under the control of radical anti-American liberals!

I’m not going to disagree with conservative’s final conclusion… might very well prove to be true, but this resolution is not Exhibit A in that case. Col. Boyington is certainly a remarkable figure and is deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor. That’s why the President and Congress bestowed the honor. But that alone does not warrant a University honor. The University produces many admirable people who go on to do incredible things. How are we to decide who should commemorated in monument form? If the Colonel is deserving of a monument on campus ought the City declare his domicile a historical building… perhaps rename his high school? What is the intelligible principle by which we honor members of society?

I suggest that the University ought not honor every remarkable person who caries a degree. It is not the us who should honor them, it is they who honor us by going out and doing increadable things. The military, and the entire nation, should think higher of the UW because of our five Medal of Honor winners. Who the University should honor is those who come back and contribute to the community from which they took so much. This is why the University has five buildings named after Microsoft founders and their parents. They had ties to the University before they became famous, became famous, and then returned here with their fame and fortune to make the UW a better place.

This isn’t to say we’ve always followed this policy. We have a monument dedicated to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought against the fascists in Spain. The College Republicans like to make fun of the monument… “supporting those who fought with the communists,” they say. I wouldn’t have supported that monument either. But I don’t think that poor choices about monuments in the past is justification for continued poor decisions. Students should hold their demands for monuments on both sides of the isle and develop criteria that we can all agree on instead of pushing for monuments whose connection to campus is remote.

Resolution supporters respond saying we should hold up Col. Boyington as the ideal product of the University. A self-sacrificing member of the community. I know little of the Colonel’s demeanor or self-sacrificing nature, but I’m willing to grant the point. However, their arguments lead me to believe that he was a model citizen and a model soldier, not necessarily a model member of the University community. In fact, we know he was a model soldier because the Congress awarded him the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor this country can bestow. But that does not imply he was a great member of the academy. After he left the University he never returned to contribute, did not go on to further his field of study with research and teaching, none of the things the University holds in the highest regards. He may have been a great man, but that does not de facto imply he was a great scholar.

Col. Boyington has been welled honored by this country. The Medal of Honor, biographies, and numerous admirers. That is his legacy and they are the ones who will remember him.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Digital Wrongheadedness

February 10th, 2006

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a great organization. They are essentially the ACLU for the internet. There has been criticism in the past in regards to how successful they have been (they tend to go after businesses, not government… courts seem less sympathetic to the former). On balance, even considering their faults, I like ‘em… donate to them… and would gladly accept a job from them.

All that being said, this I cannot abide

EFF urges consumers not to use this feature, because it will make their personal data more vulnerable to subpoenas from the government and possibly private litigants, while providing a convenient one-stop-shop for hackers who’ve obtained a user’s Google password.

The quote is in reference to a new feature of Google Desktop (which I admit I’ve never used… doesn’t work with Linux). If I’m reading their indignation correctly, I shouldn’t use this new feature because the government will illegally seize the information? Let’s be clear, when we are talking subpoenas, your house is no more protected then Google’s servers. If it’s a criminal matter, then the government can seize the servers without observing 4th amendment protections (the 4th doesn’t extend to non-traditional spaces like banks). So, yes, that’s a concern… but that doesn’t seem to be the focus here.

And then there’s the hackers and their one-stop-shopping! Give me a break. If I’m stupid enough to have given away my Google password then I’ve sort of asked for trouble. That password is also the key to my email… also known as my digital identity. I think I’ve got scarier issues than a hacker rifeling through my class notes.

EFF it’s time you toned the rhetoric down. Yes, it’s true that I would be more private if I just used cash (used to be one of their privacy recommendations) but let’s get serious. What are realistic things I can do in today’s society? And if you’re going to go after companies like Google, just tell people about the feature and it’s potential risks… the people listening to you are smart enough to figure it out from there.

probonogeek Uncategorized