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Science, Public Affairs, and the Bush Administration

February 9th, 2006

I’ve recently learned that my blog has a much higher readership than I originally thought. I really thought this thing was read by a couple of my friends and that was that. But no, it turns out my posts are showing up in google searches, friends of friends (who I’ve never met) and maybe even future employers. YIKES. This news gives me pause to consider what I want out of this blog and how I hope others view it (and, as a result, me). I’ve decided to keep all the current kinds of content, but dial up the discussions of public matters. This approach has two positive attributes: one, it gives me a chance to develop thoughts on complicated matters using my education and viewpoint (which is, arguably, unique… what with the law and the politics and the computers); two, it greatly increases my chances of saying something stupid that will come to haunt me years from now. Two birds… one stone.

To that end, I present for consideration the following Washington Post editorial. The Post requires free registration, and I know many people avoid such things like the plague, so let me quickly describe the contents. The Bush Administration has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar… the cookie jar of science. The editorial documents several instances, but the most egregious offense comes from NASA. Seems President Bush appointed (yes, it’s an appointed position) a 24 year old fellow named George Deutsch to the position of NASA Public Affairs Officer. Also seems Mr. Deutsch claimed he had been awarded an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M… but apparently not. During his brief time at A&M he wrote several very conservative articles for the school’s paper. But worse than that, Mr. Deutsch has been preventing senior NASA scientist from presenting their views (views supported by their NASA funded research) and demanding that all mentions of the Big Bang also mention the word “theory” because he didn’t want to forclose rival intelligent design “theories”.

Now you know the facts… here’s the analysis. First, a twenty four year old political appointee? That’s actually brilliant, in my opinion. Sure, it’s an awful idea for the agency. An appointee with so little actual experience is surely not competent for such a complex job. But, if a President is willing to sacrifice the agency’s wellbeing he has just planted the seeds for an incredibly powerful political operative. Think what this kid could have accomplished by the time he turned 50… assuming he wasn’t forced to resign in disgrace. It’s a real indication of the Republican investment in the future of the party. Not only did they find this kid fresh out of college (sort of), they gave him a big job. If the Democrats had done this years ago when they ran the country, we might not be facing this massive lack of young talent (my observation… may be untrue… certainly not untrue here at the UW).

Second, in regards to the censorship aspect, I don’t view this as a clear cut issue. At first glance it sounds horrible, and it is, but long term consequences loom large. Consider for a moment the world where government scientists are allow to say whatever they want to the public. I suggest to you that if those comments were contrary to the opinion of the current administration the research budget would be slashed. Don’t like the research of your own government… shut-it-down. With the current system where public affairs official spin things properly the science is at least being done. It’s all public record and will eventually work it’s way out into the larger research community where non-government scientists can comment until they are blue in the face.

I’m a big believer that the Truth (yes, capital T) will set us free. Government should not be in the business of manufacturing truth for political reasons. It’s bad and it leads to societies based on a faulty review of reality. Which means that an Administration who openly holds opinions that are counter to scientific understanding should be thrown out of office. But, when the American people vote in such an Administration, fully aware of their tragic view of science, then we are faced with the real possibility that science will be skewed. But I think that is a preferred outcome then having the science shutdown altogether.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Solid B+

February 8th, 2006

I received my last grade for Autumn Quarter today. Those with a calendar handy may notice that it’s been nearly two months since I finished exams from Autumn. I’ve had three of four grades for the past several weeks, but one of the professors turned in grades way late and sort of threw the whole process off kilter.

Anyway, with the final grade recorded I can now proudly announce the first quarter in my life when I got the same grade for every single class. The proud, the plentiful, the B+. It’s considered the average grade for the UW, so I’m not disappointed. Given the limited reading time I had last quarter I think the grades came out reasonable well. No B’s, which are to avoided whenever possible. It sure would have been nice to get an A- in Trademarks or First Amendment, but apparently I just didn’t quite make the cut.

I have much higher hopes for this quarter. I’ve been able to allocate quite a bit more time to reading and feel far more on top of the material. Not to mention the subject matters are strong areas for me. Although Basic Tax might give me a run for my money. It’s not the math so much as it is all the tiny rule gotchas. I’m going to need to develop a rock-solid outline if I plan to survive the final.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Somebody Had to Lose

February 6th, 2006

For all the legal brilliance the Seahawks demonstrated in court earlier this week, they apparently couldn’t keep it together on the field. After an initial strong showing, the Seahawks’ defensive line couldn’t keep up against the Steeler onslaught. Oh, and the referees clearly had money on the Steelers… the only time an initial flag was ruled in our favor was on appeal. We lost several touchdowns to overly aggressive penalties and the Steelers picked up seven points on a very arguable call.

On the plus side, Seattle didn’t get burnt down in a post-Super Bowl induced frenzy.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Nearing Success

February 2nd, 2006

Last night, after months of effort on my part, the ASUW took another important step in changing the culture of student fees. As I blogged last month, the GPSS and seemingly the Campus Affairs Committee of the ASUW Student Senate endorsed the Student Technology Fee (STF) Committee’s request to increase the STF by $3 per student per quarter. That’s a roughly $400,000 increase in funds available for allocation. As an interesting comparison, it is exactly the amount the Services & Activities Fee (SAF) Committee was able to cut from it’s budget last year by asking questions and demanding straight answers.

As it would turn out, Campus Affairs reconsidered the resolution and after a change in tactics on my part (switching from demanding zero growth to supporting slow growth of a $1) recommended only a dollar increase to the full Senate. Last night that proposal was given its proper deliberation complete with a battle royal between myself and the current STF Chair. We spared on issues of longterm budgeting, I-601 spending limitations, and how proud democrats can avoid being labeled “tax and spend” democrats by asking a few simple questions and holding to a few basic principles.

The amendment to restore the full $3 increase was defeated overwhelmingly and $41 was approved. Unfortunately, this puts us into a strange position. The GPSS has formally endorsed a $3 increase while the ASUW has endorsed a $1 increase. How do we rectify these two positions? In the past the two governments have just split the difference… so we end up with a two dollar increase. This is not okay with me.

The STF Chair says the University Attorney General’s office informed the UW’s Planning & Budgeting Office that the STF is not under the restrictions of I-601, the State’s citizen approved spending initiative. Having reviewed the legal materials available to me and the administrative policy statement on which I assume the AG’s office rests, I don’t have a lot of faith in this fun game of legal phone tag. I spoke with a couple other law students (most of whom comprise the GPSS officer corp) who all agree that this kind of novel legal opinion should only be accepted if accompanied by a legal brief. Until I see the brief, I remain skeptical.

Now we’ll see if the AG can produce the brief or if it’s just bogus grandstanding. Based on previous legal opinions from the AG on student fee issues, I doubt I’m going to have a lot of faith in the brief even if it does exist. But now the only person’s opinion who really matters is the GPSS President.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Getting the Facts about the 12th Man

January 31st, 2006

I’m not big into sports, as my friends can attest. But with the Seahawks going to the Super Bowl this Sunday I’ve recently become more interested. It’s a civic pride thing. This afternoon I learned that the Seahawks are being sued by Texas A&M for use of the trademarked phrase “12th Man” to honor the fans supporting the 11 men on the field. Wow… sports and law combined!

First, here’s some fabulous local reporting on the subject from the Seattle Times. My favorite part is where the Seattle University Law Professor explains that a temporary restrating order is a “a type of emergency motion.” Profound insight from our fair city’s lesser law school.

I did a little research myself to see if I could predict any outcome. Texas A&M has two trademarks for 12th Man. You can see them for yourself here and here. The first one was filed in 1990 and protects merchandise (bumper stickers, novelty buttons… towels) while the second, filed in 1994, protects “entertainment services, namely organizing and conducting intercollegiate sporting events.” The registration claims first use in commerce in 1922. A court in this situation will compare these dates against the Seahawks first claimed use in 1984 when they retired the jersey number as a dedication to the fans.

So, how is the case going to turn out you ask? Well, my first guess is not well for A&M. I say that because, in the words of the Seattle Times, they filed their case “in the 85th District Court of Brazos County, Texas, where Texas A&M is located.” Trademark law is predominately a federal issue. Where it is a state issue it has limited protection. Texas law cannot bind the actions of our Washington State based boys in blue (err… steel gray?). Why file in a state court then? Because you are praying for state prejudices to factor in your favor. Of course, that’s the very reason why the Federal removal statute exists. Not only will the Hawks be able to move into a federal court, they may be able to move to a Seattle court since that’s where the supposed infringement is occurring.

Procedural wrangling aside, Texas A&M has a tough row to hoe. Not only has the Hawk’s use been since before the registration, A&M hasn’t attempted to enforce it’s trademark until the Hawks got good in the past few seasons. It’s decision to go to court now, the eve of The Big Game™ is even more telling. These factors are called bad facts in the legal world and lead to dismissed cases. Then you’ve got the registration itself, which seems to limit itself to collegiate football. Assuming the mark is valid (which is questionable), and they survive summary judgment for the above listed reasons, it will boil down to a likelihood of confusion test. Will the average consumer confuse Texas A&M with the Seattle Seahawks? Stay tuned to see what your federal judiciary has to say…

probonogeek Uncategorized

Employment Possibilities

January 31st, 2006

A potential source of gainful employment just posted the description and call for resumes to a job I knew was coming… but took nearly three months to get here. Behold, Google Policy Counsel. Yeah, that’s right… Google… Policy… Counsel.

I really couldn’t be more excited. Best yet, the application requires your resume be submitted either in ascii or html format. I bet most people qualified for this job don’t even know what ascii is, and at best know how to “Save as…” their DOC formated resume into a webpage. I’m going to totally blow them away with my hand crafted HTML. Anyone want to suggest clever comments for me to include in comment form within the HTML?

probonogeek Uncategorized

This is Not Okay… Probably

January 30th, 2006

Any congressional staffers out there reading this post, you need to read this article and then ask yourself a simple question. Is this something I would do?

I think it’s a tough question. Wikipedia is an open encyclopedia and anyone is free to edit the entries. If I worked for a person who had sufficient fame to actually be listed in Wikipedia, then I would argueably be an expert on that individual. I work for them, know them, seen how they behave… I would be an expert. Seems I would be eminently qualified to revise those posts. But it’s not just that simple… these are public officials and the first amendment protects the general citizenry to comment on those officials. If staffers can just go in there and delete comments about their boss… well… that’s problematic.

Oh, but it’s even more complicated than that! Because it’s not like Wikipedia is a closed site and Congress is using coercive powers to edit the comments… they’re just using the open system on which Wikipedia prides itself.

So the situation is tough. I don’t think there is an obvious answer. That being said, Wikipedia does have a rule that says you are not allowed to edit posts about yourself. Maybe extending that rule to people who have working relationships would resolve the issue. But then, what about that stuff I said at the top.

The internet… infinite possibilities… infinite problems in implementation.

probonogeek Uncategorized

Proud Day…

January 28th, 2006

to be a citizen of Washington State. I’m not going to go into all the details, but let’s just say the State Senate final made the right decision. You can read all about it over at the Coffeehouse Soapbox (the definitive source on such issues).

probonogeek Uncategorized

Answering the Wrong Question

January 28th, 2006

Last year the UWSL ACS chapter organized a practice oral argument for Gilmore v. Gonzales, a case that, at the time I heard it mooted, was about the publication of a government security order involving airplanes and photo ID. Seems that John Gilmore, early member of Sun Microsystems and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was trying to board an airplane in 2002 when the airline requested to see his photo ID. He refused on the grounds that he should be able to get on the plane without showing any identification, to which the airline responded that it was government policy. When he asked to see the policy the airline said it could not be publicly published… John Gilmore did not get on the plane that day, or any day since.

Instead, he went to federal court. His primary motivation was his belief in a Constitutional right to get on an airplane without having to produce identification… but as made clear during the mock oral arguments and in conversation with the lawyers afterwards, the only true legal hook was requesting the regulation be published. The theory being that citizens cannot engage in open discussion of the laws and policies of their nation if they can’t at least read the policies. When I asked the lawyers “would a win on the publishing and a loss on the larger ID issue be a win overall?” they quickly responded… “not for the client.”

Looks like Mr. Gilmore lost. But that’s not what is upsetting to me. What is upsetting is that neither the referenced article nor anything else I’ve found gets to the question of publication. You know… the one legal issue that they actually had a good case to argue. Nothing. Which concerns me… I don’t personally have an issue with having to produce ID to fly. But it scares the hoo-hah out of me that the government can create and enforce policy against its citizens without any written publication. It’s an outrageous practice that really strikes at the heart of representative democracy. So, I ask, why doesn’t the article address that question?! Do I really have to go track down the opinion to get the full picture? It’s no wonder most American’s distrust the legal system. With incomplete reporting like this I wonder how anyone does.

UPDATE

Found this CNN article about the court ruling that puts a bit more meat on the bone, as it where. The gist, for those to lazy to read, is that in addition to losing the fundamental right to travel argument, Gilmore lost the publication argument too. Here are some choice quotes from the article on the issue.

On judicial review of the government policy.

After reviewing the government’s identification policy in private, a unanimous three-judge panel said the policy was not overly intrusive. The review was done in private for security reasons.

Gilmore’s counsel saying something painfully obvious.

He said government regulations should be disclosed in writing to the public. While millions of passengers willingly show their IDs at airports, Simpich said there is no way to know whether the regulations call for impermissible searches because the government, and the court, won’t make them public.

The Court saying that big signs dictating outcomes can supplant the actual words of the policy.

The court rejected the argument, saying airport signs and airline workers give adequate notice that an ID is required.

And, of course, the obligatory quote from the Government that if everyone would just calm down we’d all be safer.

Justice Department lawyer Joshua Waldman argued that demanding identification “promotes the right to travel by protecting everyone’s safety.”

probonogeek Uncategorized

Thoughts on the Project

January 23rd, 2006

The Washington Post is carrying an op-ed today taking aim at Condi Rice’s slow transformation from a realist to a, ostensibly, a neo-conservative. The particulars of the opinion are not the subject of this post (though certainly interesting). What I found insightful is this comment from Mr. Fukuyama, author of the The End of History.

Here’s what the op-ed had to say about him

Fukuyama certainly believes in spreading U.S. values, but he has emerged as a critic of the Iraq war because he believes its ambitions were unrealizable. The United States lacks the instruments to transform other societies, Fukuyama argues; to build nations you must first build institutions, and nobody knows how to do that.

I find the last bit to be of most interest. Nobody knows how to build institutions.

I think that is right on the money. As I read the papers and interact with some of the brightest minds of my generation, I have been slowly convinced that we could not setup something as enduring as the United States government in today’s environment. Oh, sure, we could probably draft something akin to the Constitution today, complete with checks and balances, separation of powers, federalism, the whole bit. But I think we lack the appropriate world perspective to put those principles into practice.

In America it is easy to just ride the coattails of the former generation; our institutions are already built, we just have to make sure they don’t fall down. Yet, they seem to be falling down all around us. Today a good friend of mine posted the beginnings of a brief on how the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is undermining the Full Faith & Credit Clause, a bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution. In the United States Senate the amendment to exempt flag burning from the 1st Amendment failed by ONE vote. If Sen. Cantwell loses this year, you can expect a new vote next year and a hasty ratification process across the states.

What about aristocracy? The States have often stood against such transfers of wealth, believing it creates inefficient societies and concentrates too much wealth. But come 2009 the Estate Tax, our government’s best tool against formation of perpetual aristocracy, will be completely repealed.

So I ask myself, why. At first glance it appears as though special interest groups are prepared to put their interests above the collective interests. But that can’t be the only factor. Such behavior has always existed. Which leaves me with only one other idea… that electoral politics has changed in such a way that winning is more important than governing. Whatever promise, whatever resolution, whatever official act must be done to ensure reelection takes precedence over proper governance. Want to beat the evil liberals? Secure votes by tearing down institutions long since held as sacrosanct in this country (like Social Security, the Estate Tax, and Freedom of Expression) and you’ll get votes. Better yet, allow massive corruption and interminably intertwined lobbying connections into your own caucus to ensure party members follow the line.

The end times may not yet be upon us, but when they are, I’m fairly certain that the slide into final dissent will look very similar to our current situation.

probonogeek Uncategorized