April 26, 2007

Prof. Fried Smells A Rat [10:34 am]

Of course, he’s not alone in being snookered these days, but at least he gets a platform to point it out (however more gentlemanly than I could): Supreme Confusion

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California asked whether I thought a Justice Roberts would vote to overrule Roe v. Wade. I said I thought he would not, at least not in its later, less absolute version embodied in the 1992 Casey decision, which protected against governments imposing an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose abortion before the fetus’s viability. I told Senator Feinstein that the formulation, and the principles behind it, had become so deeply rooted — in the law relied on not only in abortion cases but by analogy in matters as widely disparate as the Texas homosexual sodomy case, compelled visiting rights for grandparents and the right to die — that its abandonment would produce the kind of violent unsettling of the law against which respect for precedent is meant to protect.

The next year, when I testified in support of Samuel Alito, Senator Feinstein asked me the same question. I gave the same answer.

[...] Finally, the decision is disturbing for a more far-reaching reason: there are indeed cases where the court in the last few years had become truly incoherent, largely as a result of Justice O’Connor’s pragmatic and underexplained abandonment of positions she had earlier agreed to or even proclaimed on affirmative action and campaign finance. The first issue has been argued and will be decided this term of court; campaign finance is being argued this week.

If the justices eliminate the confusion and restore principle in those areas, the cry will go up that the court is simply reflecting its changed political complexion, not reasoning carefully and promoting stability and clarity in the law. And last week’s decision will lend plausibility to that charge.

[I purposely left out the paragraph immediately following the first two in the quote; because I am sure that no one needs to help to immortalize someone playing CYA on the Op-Ed pages of the NYTimes.]

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Sorry, Everybody [8:57 am]

For those few of you who are still putting up with this blog, please know that I, too, am completely frustrated with the abysmal performance of this site over the last month. I have been trying to figure out why WordPress has become so incredibly sluggish on this machine, but other than narrowing it down to the MySQL server, I’m not making a lot of headway — particularly since I do have other demands on my time.

I expect that I’ll keep pounding away at this, and maybe I’ll get it resolved. My great fear is that there’s been a mangling of the databases during the latest WordPress upgrade, and I have only retained so many backups. The fact that certain diagnostics suggest that there are some JOINs without INDEXes going on is certainly disheartening (i.e., select_full_join <> 0).

For those few of you who are putting up with the sluggishness, thanks, and I am trying. Anyone out there who has suggestions, I’m getting desperate and will listen to just about anything at this point.

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Speaking of Reality; Why YouTube Isn’t It [8:16 am]

The interesting sociological question, of course, is whether this corrosive attitude toward access to human foibles for our amusement is something that we’ve been trained in (by, say, reality TV) or something that we implicitly require in societies. I know what I hope the answer is, but I really couldn’t say: I’d Like to Get Off the Stage Right Now

But in the field of damage control, the rapid shifts in access to every personal foible and ill-considered phrase of the rich and famous is the equivalent of flying without a net.

And the truth? The truth is a diminishing resource, easily bludgeoned by the facts.

“You can say, ‘Be transparent,’ ” said Mr. Mayer, the expert in crisis control, “but you’re seeing all these things ripped out of context, that’s the scary thing about it. There is the illusion when you’re watching a video that you’re seeing the whole truth. As anyone who’s followed court cases, or been in the news business knows, looking at different outtakes you get different realities. And this powerful illusion of reality is far more misleading than any distorted account.”

Related: Sony’s going to fix copyright-infringing video sites by offering up their own fantastics one tomorrow — Sony to launch video-sharing network on Friday - pdf

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Why Would You Want A Representative Image? [7:59 am]

Hey, it works in music; why not in photography? Looking Perfect, One Pixel at a Time

Professional photographers have relied on clever hands and sophisticated software to turn a good picture into something that stands out. Now, Web sites are selling professional retouching services. For $20 to $200 or more, anyone can get a tighter stomach, smoother skin and brighter teeth — at least in an image. In addition, a wide variety of programs make it possible for the average computer user to fix basic problems.

[...] Some companies are trying to automate the process. Among them is Anthropics Technology, which makes a software program called PortraitProfessional (selling for $39.95) that gives the user about 80 ways to increase the “beauty” of a subject with algorithms that automatically shift and reshape the parts of a face.

[...] But with such a program, he said, “its power to subtly alter appearance also raises some interesting moral questions.” He has received e-mail messages that pointedly asked, “Who made you the gods of beauty?”

[...] Reputable news organizations have strict rules forbidding photographers or editors from using such tools to alter images.

But when it comes to family matters or simple vanity, the ethical equation is different.

“Most pictures are about memories,” Mr. Berend said. “They’re to be looked at years later. When you show your kids your wedding picture, it’s nice that they’re nice. Harsh reality is not always what people want.”

After all, aren’t we all the stars of our own movies?

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