law


The Wall Street Journal recently (Thursday July 14, 2011) published an article in the Marketplace section where various analysts reported valuing the company at $100 billion and upwards. Redpoint Venures’ Geoff Yang notes that Facebook created a new ecosystem – the ‘social web’. His valuation was based on a $25BB market in online ad revenue with Facebook having a 27% share. In 2015 that $25BB will grow to $45BB and Facebook’s share translates to $7BB in revenue. Add in the local advertising market today estimated at $133BB and project that to the future for $150BB. With the Internet taking 20% and Facebook 20% of that, add $6BB in revenue. Add in international revenue and the estimated 2015 revenue goes to $19BB. With a P/E of 25, Facebook is worth $140BB in 2015. The high end of the scale in the report was $240BB valuation. Some of the higher P/Es are undoubtedly because Facebook is still a private company, lots of investor want in, and the law of supply and demand is active.

Going back to Geoff Yang’s comment about a new ecosystem, the thing about ecosystems is that they contain lots of niches, some beneficial and some not so beneficial. Looking at Facebook as a social media, people automatically assume that Facebook is about communications. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, Facebook has the ‘potential’ to be a communications tool but to be specific, one has to remember that, as Claude Shannon established, communications requires three elements: a sender, a channel and a receiver. Social media over the Internet is clearly the channel and the millions of members participating are senders. I am not so certain about the receivers.

Facebook is a means for participants to throw out to the world (dare I say ‘vomit’) pithy comments about life, mostly as a means to assuage their egos and establish that their thoughts are somehow worthy of publication. Admittedly, blog writers succumb to the same predisposition, as do contributors to refereed journals. In our case as well as the case with journals, we impose some sort of peer review.

The problem comes when participants believe and expect that Facebook is, in fact, a means of communication, when it typically is not. Personally, being inoculated by Inter-relay Chat (IRC) in earlier days, I know enough to not assess my self-worth by a post or response to a post that comes flying my way, and do not participate in “flame wars”. There are lots of people out there using Facebook with less unassailable egos, fragile personalities and low self-esteem. When these persons become involved in Facebook interactions; and the inevitable trolls and digital demagogues line up like sharks at a chumming, the potential for damage is high.

In verbal communications, most people learn quickly that a self-imposed delay between thinking and speaking is a survival trait. Facebook provides minimal feedback to reinforce an equivalent delay between thought and post. This is not a new concept – books have been written on email etiquette. What is new is that email did not have the potential to impact participants to the same degree. Technology has provided enablers: streams of friend’s posts requires bandwidth; computational power; and storage – all of which have made significant improvements over the last ten years. The result of which is a much more rapid and wider dissemination of accidental stupidity and intentional cruelty.

A 2009 report showed that 1 in 5 divorces are attributed to Facebook. Verbal bullying on Facebook has been reported and is increasing. Blackmail related to Facebook posting of photos is noted. Some interesting work on the phenomena is found here.

Returning to Facebook’s valuation, an infelicitous confluence of factors – high valuations, widespread usage and the potential for material damage (psychological – resulting in treatment costs; suicides, etc.) make Facebook an obvious target for tort lawyers. Expect novel theories of liability to emerge directly in proportion to Facebook’s rising valuation.

Someone might want to contact the heads of Abercrombie & Fitch and teach them how to get away with work place discrimination. Not that it is ever a good thing to discriminate against your employees. We here at the 12 Angry Men don’t endorse such behavior at all. But if you’re going to treat your workers unfairly it is generally best to do so with uneducated minorities who are disenfranchised and don’t garner much sympathy with the popular media.

It’s pretty clear that Abercrombie and Fitch are going to learn this lesson the hard way, because really, what do you think is going to happen if you discriminate against a young attractive white female with a prosthetic arm who, just by the way, happens to have finished sitting her law exams and is nearly a practicing lawyer? Does that really sound like a great idea? To me it just sounds like a recipe for getting publicly humiliated and shelling out £25,000 in settlement to a budding lawyer who is sure to become a darling of the press. Say it with me everyone, “Abercrombie & Fitch, you’re DOING IT WRONG!”

-Angry Midwesterner


There is a statue in Dublin Ireland that stands atop the gates of the castle. It was meant to represent justice, but has a number of peculiar things about it. The first is that in Dublin, Justice wears no blindfold. Instead she is admiring a sword which she carries. Second, she has turned her back on the city and faces instead the castle. Lastly she carries a set of real scales that normally are perfectly balanced. Yet when the rains come in (as they often do in Dublin), one of the ends of the scales is sheltered by her arm, causing the scales of justice to tilt unfairly.

All of these facts were disturbing to the people of Dublin, and Ireland as a whole, as Dublin Castle, and the justice it represented, was made by their British oppressors. To them this statue represented the sort of “justice” they received from the crown. When Ireland won its independence one of the first things they did was to drill a hole in both sides of the scales, so they would never be unbalanced again. They could not reblind justice, nor make her face the people, but they made what changes they could.

In America we have long prided ourselves on the nature of our justice. In America Lady Justice has always been blind. Our constitution itself attempts to secure equality for all, and while we have not always achieved it, we have always strived for it. Until now. Now we have a President who wishes to do an abominable thing. Obama wants to remove the blindfold from Justice.

Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor is nothing less than this. He has even stated openly that he wants to appoint a Supreme Court Justice on the basis of “empathy”. This is a weasel term as much as calling attaching the label of “Patriot” to a well known and unjust act. Empathy has no place in our courts. Justice should be blind to empathy, and should be applied fairly to everyone regardless of their race, class, or situation. Empathy in the courts is just another way of saying “a different standard of justice for differing types of people”. While I will always support mercy in our law, when we apply our law it should be in a fair manner that is blind to circumstances. Everyone, low or high, should be treated the same. This standard for justice is one that has defined America for centuries.

But now we have a President who so hates America and our way of life that he wants justice to be applied unfairly. Make no mistake he has selected the right justice for the role. Sotomayor is a self avowed racist and sexist who believes latina women are endowed with more wisdom and grace than white men. For her a certain sort of “empathy” (better known as bigotry) is assured.

In the end, however, we should not be surprised by Obama, or his actions. After all he has already shown us that he would rather give our tax money with no strings attached to rich business men, than loan it with interest to blue collar workers. Why should we be surprised that he wants to apply justice unfairly as well?

-Angry Midwesterner

Hate the game, not the players. —A colleague of mine’s favorite saying

addendum_2

The absolute ludicrousness of the above disclaimer should be evident to anyone. I don’t mean what it says but the fact that it needed to be issued at all is what’s ludicrous. The great State of Illinois needs to issue bonds and, because of the absolutely shameful activities of the governor, it also needs to issue disclaimers about the bonds themselves, saying that the chief executive of the state has no involvement with them.

To quote Keeanu Reeves: “Whoa!”

The fact that Illinois governors get in trouble is not terribly surprising just based on their records. George Ryan, Blago’s immediate predecessor in office, is currently in the Federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Governor Dan Walker did time for bank fraud, which at least he had the decency to commit after he left office. It goes on: All told, six Illinois governors have been charged with felonies, mostly related to tax evasion. Three have been convicted of felonies and served time. Let’s hope(?) that a fourth is coming soon. If Blago’s really lucky he can get tips from George Ryan over in Terre Haute and maybe even share a cell.

Illinois is not alone in having crooks in the governor’s mansion: Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards comes to mind as a rogue in office. He is currently doing time and due for release in 2011; perhaps he too could give Blago advice. And everybody’s favorite, Sarah “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” Palin seems to be up to some Alaskan adventures, though these probably don’t rise to the level of actual crime. However, Sarah and Blago do share a general, ah, idiom of hairspray populism, delusions of grandeur, general dislike for their current offices and willingness to play fast and loose with the rules.

I don’t even think Illinois is the most dysfunctional state. The system works in some respects: The current budget shortfall in Springfield looks nothing like the insanity coming out of Sacramento these days, such as the mind-blowing $41 billion deficit and need to write IOUs starting in February. I should note that the system works in no small part because the 1970 Illinois constitution expressly forbids most deficit spending, though of course that didn’t stop George Ryan and the legislature from spending like drunken sailors because the state was running a surplus back at the end of his tenure in office.

In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate, and improve. —Thomas Jefferson

I have no particular reason to believe that people in politics are especially clean, but Blago—and too many of his predecessors in office—are something special. There are plenty of Illinois politicians who have been dedicated public servants not cut from the same bolt of cheap, tawdry and rat-gnawed cloth as Blago. I believe President-Elect Obama to be one (let’s hope so), and politicians such as Ray Lahood, the late, great Paul Douglas, and former Governer Jim Edgar were.

The problem is precisely the fact that too many of Blago’s predecessors are special too, which makes me think there’s got to be something bigger going on. When the same problem shows up time and time again, as Larry Sabato says it’s not the individuals, it’s the system.

In fact, the entire point of a democratic republic as set out by Jefferson, Madison, and pals back in the late 18th Century recognizes this fact and puts restraints on the power of one individual. The English system they saw themselves reforming indeed had restraints on the power of the king—a matter settled during the century preceding starting with the execution of Charles I to the supremacy of Parliament established by Sir Robert Walpole, just not enough.

Scott Turow, former prosecutor, author and, ironically enough, appointed the Chair of an ethics board by Blago had this to say:

Even by Chicago’s picaresque standards, Tuesday’s developments are mind-boggling…. All of this news comes with personal chagrin for me because I was Governor Blagojevich’s first appointment to the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, a body created his first year in office. (For the record, I have never made a campaign donation to him.) The commission judges ethics complaints against state officials, supervises ethics instruction, and tries to carry out an overall mandate to improve the ethical climate in Illinois. … Ethics reform in Illinois is often regarded as an oxymoron, and I admit that the commission’s arduous efforts to strengthen our ethics laws have met with little success. Speaking solely for myself, I hope the governor’s arrest galvanizes public outrage and at last speeds reform.

First of all, gee thanks Scott, for forcing me to take all those stupid mandatory “ethics tests”! But that bit of pique aside, what would it take? Turow goes on:

One change that is obviously indispensable is overhauling the campaign contribution laws in Illinois, where there are literally no limits on political donations — neither how big they can be or who can give them. The lone exception is a law, passed over a Blagojevich veto, that takes effect Jan. 1, prohibiting large state contractors from donating to the executive officer who gave them the business. Otherwise, anybody — union officials, regulated industries, corporations, lobbyists — can throw as much money as they like at Illinois politicians.

In short, the Illinois political system at the local level is awash with money. In fact, it’s the money in the system that let Blago, given to him by his now-estranged father-in-law, Chicago alderman Richard Mell—defeat his vastly more qualified 2002 primary opponents Roland Burris and Paul Vallas, by buying lots and lots of ads downstate that the relatively poorer Burris and Vallas simply couldn’t match. So take that conservatives next time you oppose campaign finance reform!

Most local politics is subject to a relatively constant level of corruption of the beak-dipping variety. When the money’s floating around the way it is in Illinois, where the name “pay to play” is commonly known, you have to expect a higher level of corruption. If the system gets to to the point that you have to expect heroic virtue—I’m talking the “wins the Medal of Honor, saves kids from burning building, donates kidney to a stranger” kind—to resist not just beak dipping but wholesale feasting on carrion, third world land is not far behind.

OK AM, I’ll agree, it’s completely transparent, in that everyone who knows much of anything knows that state politics runs the way it does. Everyone knew Comrade Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, too. I’ll even agree that other states run this way, to varying degrees, but that particular argument is no different than the one used by corrupt pols to justify their behavior: “Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?” Since when does other people’s bad behavior excuse your own? That is the argument of a moral coward deluding himself about things he damn well knows are wrong but wants to do anyway, or his enabler.

And so what about transparency? What’s NOT transparent or accountable is decision making because they are basically made by a cabal of a small number of party leaders, we’re really never sure why they do what they do and can’t do anything about it even if we did know because you can darn well bet their districts are solid. I could go on but in short, Illinois government has all the worst features of a parliamentary system—heavy duty party control with its attendant lack of individual accountability—without the best part, i.e., the no confidence vote and clear party accountability, which would solve this whole damn problem right now. Blago would simply be gone and ready to face the music. In fact, he would have been gone a while ago when it became evident that the Democratic caucus lost faith in him.

This is serious shit and hopefully the fact that Obama knows this, much like FDR with respect to Tammany Hall in New York City, will help concentrate minds in Springfield wonderfully, but I suspect that it’ll take a more than a few Patrick Fitzgerald-provided hangings first and, sadly, have deep faith in the resiliency of the Illinois machine pols, even for whom Blago is an aberration.

I linked the nice post by Larry Sabato above, but here’s a summary of five “principles” of corruption:

  1. Corruption has no ideology, no partisan coloration.
  2. While corruption is inevitable and a constant, its precise manifestations are ever changing.
  3. Corruption flourishes in secrecy and wherever the people and the press tolerate it.
  4. A system of government or politics can be at least as corrupting as human nature itself.
  5. Any crusade to eradicate corruption is naive and doomed to failure, but corruption can be controlled and limited.

The LA times is flabbergasted that amongst large numbers of entries in a database:

  1. There are similar entries
  2. People who have been banking on people’s bad understanding of the statistics of large numbers are reluctant to have them re-educated about the reality of the situation.

Here is the story.

The FBI DNA database has some close matches (strangers matching at 9 points of the DNA profile). Defense attorneys are jumping on this trying to make DNA not be the nail in the coffin for their clients. Prosecutors have been lazily overstating the uniqueness of a 9-point match. The FBI, rather than just acknowledge that a higher match level might be necessary to ensure uniqueness, is seeking court orders to stop wide match searching in its database. This to me seems retarded from the FBI. Wouldn’t you rather crawl the database once, find all of your close matches, then resolve those cases (a few hundred out of 65,000+) so that you can be aware that any of the people involved in those matches will require 11 or 12 point matches if they are on trial. The FBI should just crawl their own database (Google iFBI !) once, and publish the numerical results to DA’s offices nation-wide.

It would seem that you’d want to eliminate the uncertainties that you can, so they don’t bite you in the butt unexpectedly.

The complaints about tying up the database or violating the right to privacy are ludicrous. My laptop could do billions of comparisons in a day. Depending on how hard a comparison is, this shouldn’t take more than overnight, unless the FBI database is running on a TI-85 graphing calculator. Borrow time on a DoE supercomputer overnight and get it done. Doing numerical compilation of the results while havingthe names stripped off the numbers would be sufficient to not violate someone’s privacy. Yes, the whole DNA strand is mostly unique (twins being the outliers), and the profile is apparently less, but still significantly unique. But the counts of comparisons between profiles aren’t unique. It’s analogous to comparing the names of the people in the database and returning the amount of matches among the letters of the names. The names might be private, but the match numbers won’t be.

Barely is the ink dry on the Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller when Chicago is up in arms. Mayor Daley is declaring the decision “frightening” and vowing to fight to keep Chicago’s gun ban. Chicago liberals are going so far as to call for the repeal of the 2nd amendment. The 12 Angry Men chimed in on the decision and readers will note my opinion. But I wanted to specifically look at the State of Illinois and the individual right (as established by Justice Scalia) to “keep and bear arms”, specifically the “bear” part.

Illinois is a “no carry” state. Individuals in Illinois can own weapons but cannot carry them concealed. Given the law enforcement attitude, it is also right stupid to carry a weapon unconcealed — even though it is technically legal (but practically impossible). However, many law enforcement personnel throughout the state have a right to carry weapons. These are the class of public servants which Mayor Daley wants you to believe are endangered by DC v. Heller. For the recond, I list those who have a right to, and do carry in urban areas throughout Illinois.

Federal Personnel

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents
  • Federal District Court Employees
  • Internal Revenue Service Agents
  • Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Agents
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agents
  • US Federal Marshals
  • US Air Marshal Service Agents
  • US Special Investigators
  • Transportation Security Agency (TSA) Agents
  • US Secret Service Agents
  • Federal Prison Guards
  • US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents
  • US Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General Agents
  • US Postal Inspector Service Agents

State of Illinois Personnel

  • City Police
  • County Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs
  • University Police
  • Community College Police
  • Township & County SWAT
  • Illinois State Police
  • Secretary of State Police
  • Illinois Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement (Conservation Police)
  • Illinois Bureau of Revenue Agents
  • Illinois National Guard Members (on duty)
  • Illinois Department of Corrections Agents
  • Illinois Attorney General’s Police
  • Illinois Department of Trasportation Police
  • Capitol Police

In fact, it is virtually impossible to obtain a complete list of all of the agencies, both at the Federal and State level, who authorize their agents to carry weapons. I have read that this group constitutes almost 25% of the population of the Unites States. I doubt this, but as the list shows, it it a far from insignificant number. With all these law enforcement agencies, is there any chance of abuse of power? Naw!

If gun control advocates want to repeal the 2nd amendment and remove all the guns, then at least afterwards, the law enforcement people should emulate the Bobbies of England and go about their business un-armed.

So, a short time ago, the Associated Press decided that bloggers who quote a little too freely from AP’s wire should be ponying up:

Last week, The A.P. took an unusually strict position against quotation of its work, sending a letter to the Drudge Retort asking it to remove seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words.

They did retreat from this somewhat extreme position, however, and announced that they were looking for clear guidelines. Regardless, the AP was clear that it believed that:

As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value

(Hat tip to the New York Times, with which I frequently disagree but which has never tried to sue me for quoting their articles!)

Now (and you could probably see this one coming) it seems that the AP doth protest too much:

In a news item about the e-mail from Judge Kozinski’s wife that I posted on this site, an AP article lifted numerous passages.

I counted 154 words quoted from my post. That’s almost twice the number of words contained in the most extensive quotation in the Drudge Retort.

And if that weren’t bad enough, there’s this:

Ironically, in January 2007, the AP syndicated reports written by a group of Media Bloggers Association member bloggers covering the Scooter Libby trial. The AP did not compensate the bloggers, though it benefited from their work.

Now, to be fair, in that last case it looks like it was win-win.

But isn’t that really the point? With fair use, it’s always win-win, especially on the Internet, where links back to the original material are pretty much par for the course. So basically, the AP gets free advertising and traffic for their site, and bloggers get a bit of free news.

You’d think a news gathering organization would be all for generating more buzz…but, of course, there’s this:

The central point of this post – that the AP’s middleman rewrite service business is becoming obsolete – stands.

Good point, Bill, good point. That’s what I think is really going on here: just like the music industry, the news media realizes that the gravy train is coming to the last station. Inevitably, markets destroy all middlemen, inevitably those middlemen resist and lash out, and inevitably they lose—and the rest of us win. That’s how I see it, any way. But what about you?

So…a show of hands from those who think that the AP was actually justified in its little blizzard of cease-and-desist letters? Those opposed? Crazy conspiracy buffs with a bizarre explanation of how everyone involved is really on the same side?

UPDATE: Really, this happens so often I sometimes forget, but I shouldn’t: Hat tip to Instapundit for pointing me towards this story.

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