Archive for the 'Legal' Category

TV Pilots

July 1st, 2005

You all know the concept behind TV pilots, right? If a show idea isn’t scrapped to begin with, the crew shoots a single episode, to see how it looks like. It then goes to whoever needs to decide whether to finance and broadcast the show, so they could look it over. Then they have the difficult task of trying to guess if viewers are going to like the show, or not. And as can be easily seen by, well, simply opening up the TV, sometimes they guess right, and sometimes they guess horribly wrong. Though this is not a very good measurement, since we can’t see the shows that were never aired. So lots of false positives, which they discover, but only after they already invested lots of money in the show.

And that doesn’t solve the problem of false negatives. The decision makers may scrap a show even if that show, had it been aired, would have gotten a big enough audience to justify production.

But since there is no way to know whether viewers like the show before it’s being broadcasted on TV, that’s a moot point. Can’t be done. Right? Well… wrong.

Someone leaked the pilot episode of the show Global Frequency, that the WB network discarded and decided not to produce. The pilot received plenty of reviews, mostly good, by people claiming (There are some copyright issues after all) that they didn’t really see it, but that’s what they would have thought had they seen it…

The number of people who downloaded it isn’t huge, but it’s quite large. Certainly matching the number of people downloading plenty of very popular show which are airing. The way WB sees it, this is a violation of their copyright. The way I see it, they just stumbled on one of the best ways ever to evaluate a pilot, and should embrace the opportunity.

Yes, the show is their property, and releasing it is as illegal as releasing any other TV show. Except that, copyright aside, if they’re not going to air it then there is no possible loss whatsoever to the network. They can’t even make claims about commercials, selling distribution rights, and so on. WB are not going to do anything at all with that pilot episode, except keep it locked someplace. So if someone sees it, WB incur no losses. It’s not like a personal journal, that they may have a legitimate reason to keep out of the public. It doesn’t do anything for them if it’s not produced. Which places them in a winning position, since they can either make nothing with it, as they already plan on doing, or manage to make money out of it, which is bound to be an improvement

Now they can (though that’s not likely) come to their senses, change their minds, and air it. They already know that they will have viewers, and that there are plenty of people who like the show. And this huge public exposure test didn’t cost them a dime, people volunteered. This would mean that the pilot distribution will cause whatever damages the downloading of other TV series may do (a lot less, if at all, than what the TV networks claim, but that’s a different topic), but that is surely offsetted by the fact that they wouldn’t have made anything at all without it.

I do hope that someone will realize the point, someplace. And that new pilots will be placed by the networks themselves for public evaluation. It doesn’t cost them, and gives them better approximation of viewers than the guesses of the relevant people working for them.

True, that’s not perfect. The viewer pool in that way is biased towards people who have some computer knowledge. But that changes very rapidly, and many people who are completely computer illiterate already know how to download files if they want to. Plus, even if the bias was strong, it would only mean that a small viewership isn’t indicative, but a large one would still mean plenty of potential viewers.

As a final note, had I actually done something like downloading that pilot and watching it, which I of course would never imagine doing, I’d have probably said that it was pretty good. Very idiotic, but then again it is derived from a comic series. The story of the pilot, and the premises they lay for the series, are, allegedly, full of holes and make little sense. But it still would have been lots of fun to watch, and would have provided good entertainment. They also left plenty of open threads on the larger plot elements, so it could improve. Probably not enough for me to shell money on getting the DVD, but enough to warrant the time of watching it on TV.

When private economic development is considered a public necessity

June 27th, 2005

Local government in the US can legally seize people’s houses and businesses, in order to promote other private economic development of the land.

Yes, that precisely mean that they can take and raze houses in order to allow a mall, or a hotel, to be built, even if the property owners don’t want to sell:

The 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex.

As a result, cities have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes to generate tax revenue.

I guess all those American action movies, of home-owners refusing to sell, and greedy land developers trying to scare them off the property using force, are now a thing of the past. All it takes is explaining to some city officials that the new development may bring money, and those home-owners won’t have a legal right to say they like to keep their houses… How lovely.

On the other hand, this would teach a lesson to those nasty people who buy real estate just because they think the area may be worth money sometime. Instead of negotiating with them for compensation that matches the land value, developers could get the local authorities to kick them off. Good riddance, eh?

Hmm… I wonder if we have similar laws here. That could be real useful in handling the current ill-conceived and badly planned disengagement plan. Instead of getting the people there away for the stated reasons, the government can say it wants to build many malls, bulldoze the houses over to make room, and then give the work and franchise to Palestinian contractors…

Free invitations

June 26th, 2005

The invitation, that the Rav-Chen cinema wrote they’ll send me, finally arrived. Together with a printed copy of the same reply they attached to their answer email

Not too surprisingly, that double invitation to the cinema has a few limitations:

  • Only valid on Sunday through Wednesday (For those of you that have Sunday as a part of the weekend, this is like Mon-Thu)
  • Not valid during holidays, or holiday eves
  • Not valid for movies on the first two weeks they are shown

Which together basically say just one thing, that it’s valid in all cases where they are absolutely sure the cinema will have spare empty seats, so it will not cost them anything to have me there.

Not that I’m in a position to complain, considering I didn’t really suffer any damage, so the compensation at all is nice. But it is somewhat irking, to get a “gift” that bothers to emphasise so much how little it was worth. The invitation paper also have the look of something torn from a big notebook, with plenty of prepared forms (They even come numbered, though I do think having a 9000+ number does not mean they actually sent more than nine thousand of those), with a blank space to pen in the name, and an area to mark with a pen whether it’s a single, or double, invitation. I guess they send enough of those to justify the design work.

Funny, considering they still didn’t finish to design a much simpler form that can be used to list camera deposits…

Anyway, the time limit on the thing is for about one month. Which isn’t a lot, given the rate in which I see movies. Still, given the cost I’m sure I’ll manage to find something.

Now I just want to see that they really do improve their act, and make the whole procedure more professional. That’s basically what I wanted, and what they partially said they’ll do

One thing that I did see, before a movie I went to a few days ago, is that they showed a warning. The warning stated that anyone caught inside the cinema with a camera will be considered to be making a copy of the film, and so the camera will be impounded. I’d really want to see them explain to a judge in court how a turned-off stills camera was being used to film the movie, and what gave them the right to steal impound it.

Negative tolerance for violence

June 20th, 2005

According to reports we here in Israel have a big problem of violence among youth and teenagers. Ministers and Knesset members are talking about having zero tolerance for teen violence, and rush ahead to make new laws and regulations that would make us all safer. So far so good, teen violence bad, safer good.

Except some of these do not seem like zero tolerance. Having zero tolerance towards X means that you will not accept X in any form, will not forgive X, and will not take X lightly. For example, having zero tolerance towards arson would mean that people caught trying to light up fires will be punished to the full extent of the law, and the law could be changed to be harsh. But it would not normally mean that people who buy fuel will be also prosecuted, just because fuel can be used to start fires. Nobody would accept that, since fuel has other uses, and it’s legal to own fuel. Having fuel does not an arson make. If the police would be allowed to search people for fuel, and arrest people who have fuel, that would not be zero tolerance for arson, but maybe a crazy negative tolerance.

And in some aspects this is exactly what is going on now on the teen violence issue. Case in point – Knives.

Owning a knife is legal. There are plenty of things you can do with a knife. Many of them involve cutting things, and there are certainly a lot of things which it is perfectly normal, legal, and even desirable to cut.

This did not stop anyone from suggesting a law which would allow police to search teenagers for knives (yes, a body search. And just because someone is a teen, since I can’t believe there are other external indications for knife carrying. I think they need better cause to search someone for drugs, or guns). And to arrest them automatically if they are found with a knife on them, no discussion, no extenuating circumstances.

If this was about guns, I could at least understand. Guns really don’t have much uses in a city beyond shooting people, regardless of whether it’s self defence intended or not. Carrying a gun currently requires a license, and carrying a gun without a license is a felony. But I don’t think anyone out there is issuing knife licenses.

Heck, I’ve been carrying a knife myself for most of my life. A nice Victorinox swiss-army-knife sort of thing, which has all sorts of good stuff, like a screwdriver, pliers, and, yes, a knife. And you know what? The knife is useful. Cutting packages, strings, papers, all sorts of things. Many people carry similar tools by Victorinox, Leathermans, and other. Or maybe just utility knives, those are knives too.

Knives have many uses, besides stabbing people. Even for teenagers. The idea that being caught carrying a knife can get someone in jail is preposterous.

And why? Because some of those violent incidents involved these teens stabbing or slashing people. Fine, that’s bad. But they could do similar damage with their hands, so should all teens go handcuffed? They can stab someone, or poke their eyes, with a pen. So should any teenager caught carrying a pen, or pencil, be thrown into jail? And do you have any idea how many different ways are there to wound, and kill, people using a belt and belt-buckle? Let’s forbid teens from carrying belts as well. Anyone who wants to use violence will use it, whether they have a knife or not.

Plus, if some crazy angry teen would have jumped at me to attack me, carrying a legal crowbar, I’d have been very happy to have a knife.

Actually, personal story, I practically did. This was on a several-days school trip. Some of the more, er, active pupils decide that night was a wonderful time to have fun. So they picked doors of other pupils as they were asleep and poured all sorts of nasty things on them and into their clothes. They tried to enter through the windows, whether they were left open or not, in a similar way.

When I stood inside the window and told one of them to go away and not bother me that night, he took a large solid branch, and tried hitting me through the window several times. Just to make me move away, so he could throw stuff in. I nearly got my head bashed twice, and luckily was fast enough to avoid it, until I caught the branch and shoved it back.

To put it in context, there were several broken windows on several rooms by the next morning. The teachers didn’t care much, because we were just kids having fun.

Same thing when some broke the door to my room, and started throwing sand, sugar, and other stuff inside. A few kids decided to enter and pour stuff into our bags, and that while I was standing right there telling them to go away. When I pushed them out by force, they came at me in a group to hit me. so I took out a knife, and waved it about a little. That stopped them. They went away. Kids aren’t used to fighting, so they figured if they come at me in a group, I’m the only one who will get hurt. When they saw the knife, they realized they can get hurt. Frankly, they would have gotten seriously hurt without it, since I wasn’t taking being punched as a joke.

Ten minutes later there was a teacher there, finally. Why? To yell at me, and impound my dangerous weapon of mass destruction. Evil, wicked, violent me. I explained to the teacher the reasons I had for waving the knife, but she wasn’t convinced. I told her I’m keeping the knife. She argued, I didn’t budge, and she went away.

Nobody else bothered us that night, I was the crazy guy didn’t take the treatment quietly, as fun. Under the new proposed laws I see these days, I should have been arrested and thrown in jail. As it happened, nothing at all was done to me, since everyone was aware of the problem even if they didn’t want to talk about it. I’m happy I had that knife, or I’d have been forced to actually hurt people, instead of simply scaring them off. The knife prevented violence. And I really think I didn’t deserve to be arrested for that.

Oh, and just to clarify, that wasn’t my pocket knife. That was a butter knife, with a dull edge, of the kind you normally use to spread something on a bread. I didn’t trust the school to provide proper eating utensils, so I brought my own fork, spoon, and knife. Yes, a mundane butter knife. So after that riot, I don’t want to hear anyone telling me that the law will be only about certain kinds of knife. Those they include can still have other uses, and those they exclude can be used for violence, or perceived as being dangerous, just as well. The only sane options are all, or nothing. And the only sane options of these is not to disallow knives.

Taking a camera to the cinema

June 14th, 2005

[UPDATE: The free invitation arrived]

A few weeks ago I went to see a movie with a friend, and carried on me my digital camera. Which resulted in a little unpleasantness. I sent an email to the company (Rav-Hen) running that cinema:

A few days ago I went to see a movie, in the Rav-Hen Dizengoff cinema.
I had with me a new digital camera, inside a small
holster on my belt. This was the first time I ever
arrived to a movie carrying a camera with me.

The security guard saw the holster, asked if I have a
camera inside it, and when I gave a positive response
he informed me that it is not allowed to take a camera
into the cinema, and I will need to deposit it with
security.

I tried to explain to the guard that this is not a
video camera, so I could not use it to make a pirate
copy of the movie even if I wanted to, but to no
avail. When I asked him what is the problem with
carrying cameras, and why are they not allowed, he was
unable to answer me, and only said it’s policy, and
that he doesn’t understand it either.

Worse, when giving the camera I was not provided with
any official deposit form. I was asked for my name,
and was given a simple hand-written note on a piece of
entirely common note paper, having my name and the
word Camera written on it by the women inside the
security room.

Had my friend not been there earlier, and saw people
giving those paper notes and getting cameras back, I
would have made a scene, since it looked entirely
unofficial, and made me seriously doubt that I’ll see
the camera again. If I wave a simple handwritten paper
and claim it’s a deposit receipt, in most places I
would fully expect to be told that’s nonsense.

In this case it ended well, I gave back the note, and
got back my camera, but the entire experience left me
mystified, and was very unprofessional.
In addition, no verification of either my personal
details or the camera details was done. Anyone
standing in the vicinity when I deposited the camera
could have easily written their own note, hand it
over, and get my camera. The current procedure is
entirely open to abuse.

Due to that I wanted to ask you:

  1. Why are simple (non-video) cameras not allowed
    inside the cinema?
  2. Why are the security guards are in charge of it?
    It’s not a security issue, and making other things a
    part of their duty hurts security.
  3. If this is indeed official procedure, why do you
    not issue proper forms, and trust on simple and sloppy
    hand-written notes?
  4. Why aren’t any checks done to better identify the
    identity of the people depositing, and withdrawing,
    the cameras? And that they are getting the right
    camera?
  5. Why are the people in charge of implementing the
    policy not informed as to the reasons for it?

Thank you for a reply, and for any better explanation
about the reasons for this policy, and these
procedures, that you could supply.

A couple of weeks passed, nothing happened. I decided to try this one more time, this time sending the message in Hebrew. Could be that they’re used to getting email in Hebrew, and so this one got ignored, or even discarded by some automatic filter.

I sent them what was effectively a translation of the above message, with some few styling changes. And this time, though it took them about a week, they did answer. The reply was in Hebrew, but this is a quick and rough translation:

We confirm receiving your complaint, and this our reply:

Company policy of the Rav-Hen network forbids inserting cameras from all kinds into the cinema halls, in the intention of preventing any sort of photography of the shown film, due to copyright issues. The policy apply to all kinds of photographic equipment, since our people do not have the expertise to observe the different functionality of each camera.

The enforcement of this guideline is increasing these days, mostly due to the problem of piratical distribution of cinematic movies in various ways, which usually start through cinema visitors who film the movie while it is projected, using cameras of different kinds.

Since these guidelines are new, and the scope of the phenomenon is still relatively small, the network did not yet determine the bureaucratic procedure for applying them in the cinemas.

In any case, in these days the final format for forms which will be transferred to the cinema managers, and will replace the currently existing temporary method, is being finalized.

We see very gravely the fact that the cinema staff was unaware of the meaning of the procedures, and following your complaint to us the procedure will be explained again.

They also said that they added to the message a double invitation for a movie in any of the network cinemas (under several limitations which will be printed on the invitation, and which they advise me to pay attention to). This was of course not actually attached to the message, but rather a note there asked me to provide them with a mailing address to send it to. Considering that while it was annoying, the event didn’t technically hurt the viewing of the movie, this is nice of them.

How did this reply answer my actual questions?

  1. Simple cameras are not allowed because their people, who do not understand anything about cameras (them being security guards), can’t tell if the cameras are problematical or not. This is actually fair. I suppose that it is quite possible to have video cameras that look small and harmless, and the technology just gets better and smaller. So erring on the side of caution is understandable. Still, I do doubt that a running film, on its third or fourth week of being shown, and after there are already numerous versions available either to download or to purchase piratically, is really a high risk. Even with a video camera, nobody would have a reason to try and shoot the film.
  2. No reply as to why the security guards are doing it. And no response about this hurting security. I’m not sure if that’s because they don’t want to talk about it, or that they see it as a non-issue. Bad either way. And has something to do with the lack of professionalism on this angle, since that’s not the field that the security people has to deal with, or understand something about. I assume the real reason has to do with, of course, money. That being that the security guards are already there, and get paid anyway.
  3. The procedure seemed haphazard because it was. They decided they don’t want cameras, sent out the instruction to not allow cameras, and only then started to plan how they actually want to do it. Considering that the problem wasn’t critical (as they say themselves), there wasn’t any extreme urgency, so they could have waited until they could do it properly. It has been about a month since the time the incident occurred, so even if I had the luck to stumble on the very first day of implementation, that’s still a whole month for setting a procedure while they already passed the instructions. This is a long time to run blind and without protocol.
  4. Taking the camera back is probably under the same category, so I hope this would improve as well once they implement proper procedures. I take it that not too many camera thefts has occurred in the meantime, or I’d have probably heard about it by now.
  5. The security guards apparently were supposed to be able to tell me that they have to take the camera because they can’t tell if the camera was a video camera or not. This despite the fact (oh, don’t bother anyone with facts) that the security guard appeared quite aware that the camera was not a video camera, and seemed to even recognize the model.

Still, all’s well that ends well, and this ended well enough. I did get the camera back at the time. They did reply. And they are aware of at least some of the problems, and intend to make the procedure more solid. In the meantime, if for some odd reason I’ll ever go to the cinema with the camera on me, I’ll just put it in my pants’ pocket instead, so nobody will notice it and have any problem (yes, it is that small, my wrongly suspected to be video-camera). Either that, or I’ll try and do it properly, just to see how are they handling it now.

Spam vs. SPAM

June 8th, 2005

Nobody much cares about the proper way to write the term spam, and the actual relation between all those pesky spam messages and the food SPAM. Except of course for SPAM maker Hormel, which after a few lawsuits gave up and also decided to take it easier, requesting only that SPAM will be capitalized appropriately. Those pesky messages should be referred to in lower-case – spam, and their food in upper-case – SPAM.

And like I said, nobody pays too much attention, with people mostly writing it in whichever way strikes their fancy.

Today I noticed a blog post, about some unrelated joke, in which the author mentioned both kinds of spam/SPAM. He decided to be nice and civilized, which is very nice considering that like I said nobody much bothers these days, and to take the extra step of writing them differently.

And then went straight ahead to capitalize them all wrong, with SPAM (food) written as spam, and spam (messages) written as SPAM.

I’d have left a comment, but there is only so much you can do with blogs that require registration in order to leave one, and don’t even provide an email address.

Smaller books for smaller brains

June 2nd, 2005

Another fine piece of educational legislature. A bill that recently passed in California makes schools use only books which are 200 pages long or less. Longer study books are now forbidden.

Also, the bill:

Encourages the use of technology and multimedia materials to create higher interest and more up-to-date information from varied sources.

It does that by requiring that the new and shortened books will include references to Internet resources on the subject. So the pupils could go look for more information on their own. Providing fixed links to specific references on all specific subjects must seem much better to the bill drafters than just adding general lessons on how to use the Internet and search for reliable information.

This is all absurd, of course. Yes, some study books are much longer than they need to be. But not all. Dealing with the issue should be done individually, by whatever authority is in charge of study books quality and selection. But just telling everyone to cut stuff until they get to 200 pages is so arbitrary that it’s bound to be ineffective. If all that matters is length, students will get a shorter version, but not necessarily a more coherent and orderly one. Cutting is easy, properly summarizing is hard.

And while the Internet contains many good sources, having a printed book link to Internet pages is silly. The Internet also contains bad info. And Internet pages are constantly changing, and changeable. When a book is printed you know exactly what’s in it. But a page you link to can change, or just go away. So this will make official study books become obsolete and inaccurate in the same rate web pages are. Worse, the publishers of a book have no control over the content of external Internet sites, so asking them to print a permanent reference is too much.

Unless book publishers are expected to put up their own sites, for each book, putting on each site the material that was cut from the book. This practically ensures that cutting the books down won’t do any good, since they will all just crop material, and have the book point to the site. The books won’t become better, they will remain the same except that parts of them will become less accessible.

One more point, to show how well thought-of this bill is:

FISCAL EFFECT : None, according to Legislative Counsel.

Sure. Making many study-book publishers edit and cut their books, publish new versions of everything, and have people scrutinizing web sites, will cost nothing. Because it won’t cost the publishers any money, so they will obviously not need to raise the prices of books. They will also not be tempted to just take one book and make it a series of several smaller books, and so nobody will need to pay for the purchase of more books. And the wide changes will also not force pupils to buy all these new books since the often used versions they’re using will not become obsolete and they could go on using them.

Yes, there are many problems with textbooks. Yes, many are unclear. Yes, many are old fashioned. Yes, many are uninteresting. But merely forcing everyone to make the books shorter will not solve any of that, and will just create new problems.

Of course, it’s always possible the people proposing the bill are ones who always had a hard time reading any long and complex texts. And since they turned out so well and fine without it (look, they’re even capable of coming up with such amazing education bills), it made perfect sense to them to let others benefit from the same joys of not having a working and educated brain.

Via Techdirt.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

May 31st, 2005

Doesn’t matter why it crossed the road. The law doesn’t concern itself with reasons. Just as long as the chicken will recieve a fine for crossing the road, all is well.

Luckily, after some delibration a judge threw away the fine.

Not because it’s bloody silly, mind you, but because the judge was convinced that this specific chicken was domesticated, and not just livestock. If it was livestock, the 54$ fine would have stood. At these rates, I think letting a chicken cross the road probably costs a whole of a lot more than a whole chicken.

Maybe a better answer to the Why did the chicken cross the road? question would be because it chose to exercise its legal road-crossing right

Via Letters of Marque.

Uncivil protest over the disengagement and evacuation from Gush Katif

May 26th, 2005

As the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and the evacuation of Gush Katif, approaches, more and more protesters among the settlers are taking protest actions which are illegal. The stated intent is to show that they are strong, and can interrupt the lives of everyone else if the evacuation will go on. This isn’t about drawing attention to the problem, since public awareness is very high already. And the public discourse on the issue, whether one agrees to or not, has been going on for a long time, and is practically concluded.

That these people do not agree with the government decision is legitimate. Not everyone has to agree. This is why we have a democracy. As much as it is often not a very impressive one, and as badly as it may work, our democratic procedure do give people a way to express their opinions through voting. Elective government and all that. And the government has made the final decision to evacuate, and that’s pretty much that. There are proper channels for protest, by demonstrations, and by attempts to try and sway public opinion over the media. They did that, it didn’t work, the majority of the population is officially and overwhelmingly in favour, and this is what will happen. It happens all the time, on myriad subjects, and always some people agree more, and some less.

But they are not keeping a civil discourse, and accepting the final outcome. If people don’t agree with the decisions of the government, they can try to change the decision by voting on the next election (Which in this case may seem impossible since it’s not a reversible decision, but they had this option on the last election), they can grumble but live with it (which many people, myself included, do all the time with laws and decisions we don’t like. This is what democratic compromise means), or they can leave the country. Barring that, one can try and make a revolution to throw away the oppressive regime, but we’re not exactly living under an oppressive regime, and there is certainly not nearly enough unrest in the public to even come close. All to say, they should live with it.

Instead they go with force and scare tactics. A few hundreds of people went and blocked major roads and highways. Creating traffic jams, and generally pissing everyone off. Those that the police caught got arrested, but the police is dealing with it badly. Many teenagers were involved, and got arrested. Some of them where left there by their proud (no sarcasm here, unfortunately) parents who didn’t come to bail them out.

Some of them refuse to identify themselves, which is a point I don’t get. How can the police fail to identify them? Nowadays, with a wealth of available private information and personal records, they really should be able to. Maybe not immediately, but certainly after a couple of weeks. By the same logic and treatment, anyone who get arrested can refuse to provide their details, and the police will never be able to get them tried, or properly process them. There has to be a procedure for that, and in this case why isn’t it used?

And the way that the police, or government are handling this, is all wrong. They are giving them special treatment over any other criminals, and not just by providing a special lock-up.

Many of the arrested kids where at the time needing to take their Bagrut exams (state issued examination by the Department of Education, supposed to grade people after finishing high school, and is a requirement for university admission), for example, which of course could not be done without them identifying themselves. So after formal declarations that they will not be able to take the exams anonymously (how could they possibly?! Who will get the grade?! Why did this take a special announcement by the Education Minister?) some of the kids agreed to divulge their details so that they will be allowed to take the exams. And they were examined in the holding cells. This is another very special treatment, since a similar kid who for example would have burned a table at school and kicked a teacher, because he got a bad grade for example, would have also been arrested, but not allowed to take the exam in prison. This is practically unheard of, I think, to provide arrested criminals special opportunity to take the Bagrut exams. If they committed a crime, and have the misfortune of being in jail, they should take the next exam date, just like everyone else who misses it.

Instead, they are put in comfortable cells with a bunch of their friends, and are allowed to have fun. Some deterrent, is it? This works so great as a deterrent, that other protesters are doing other annoying and illegal stuff, not caring if they’ll get arrested. Worse, sometime they don’t. I was recently talking with a co-worker who said she passed next to the courthouse in Tel-Aviv, and a bunch of 15-20 girls where there making a lot of sound with loud whistles, giving headache to everyone around, and seriously disturbing the peace. And 10 cops stood there, just looking at them. Now, I know that there are laws against things like disturbing the peace at public places, so why did all that excessive police manpower just observed, and not arrest those girls?

According to that same co-worker of mine, this is because they are not afraid of getting arrested, they don’t see it as a punishment, and so there is nothing that can be done to them. So first, the arrest conditions may need to be slightly less cosy and fun. Second, this should not, and cannot, be a criteria. What if instead of whistling, or blocking roads, people will come with crowbars and start breaking store fronts in commercial districts, or private houses? Would they be politely ignored because they don’t mind getting arrested? To take it to an overly-large extreme, should you let a murdered go free if he’s a fanatic who likes spending time in jail?

They claim that blocking roads isn’t such a big crime. Certainly they will be (or pretend to be) appalled by the comparison to breaking houses and trashing stores. But the comparison isn’t off at all. If you block a large road, you cost a lot of money. Starting with the relatively minor extra gas and car wear of the people standing, which isn’t so minor on a big road. But also with the time lost. Time is money. People had things to do with that time, which most (all?) of them prefer to do, and need to do, more than standing in a traffic jam. So they didn’t do something, which was more productive to them, or more productive in general. Right there is a substantial economic damage to blocking roads. Sure, most individuals aren’t as badly hurt as a store owner coming to find he lost his entire stock to vandalism (unless maybe someone was held in an ambulance along the way? Rare, but happens sometime, and you can’t know in advance), but the overall damage is larger, since it effect a lot more people directly, and a lot more indirectly.

Taking this thought further, this is plain terrorism. Sure, they don’t try to explicitly kill anyone. But they do try to mess up people’s lives, and to cause property damage. Let’s say it’s like the nice terrorist who will actually call and tell everyone they need to evacuate the building, before triggering the explosives they planted. Heck, some of the leaders of these protesters explicitly said, on public media, that they do that so people will know there will be a price to pay if they are evacuated, that they could cause a lot more damage, and that they won’t hesitate to. It’s a textbook example of terrorism, and it’s criminal and illegal even if it wasn’t.

And today on the newspaper I saw that a rabbi said that blocking roads for the anti-disengagement cause is like saving lives, it has to be done, and people should do it. This is certain to make religious people who follow that rabbi seriously consider doing so. Which mean that the rabbi has explicitly told people to break the law. Yet I didn’t read that anyone tried to arrest him for that. If I went and told people to go to malls and break the stores’ windows, and people were listening to me, I’d get arrested, and rightfully so. Why isn’t he? If what he’s doing is legal (Not that I can see how, but I’m not the authority) it’s for the judge to decide at the trial, not the police. Special, and preferential, treatment again.

Overall, as you can probably guess by this rambling, I’m pissed off by these protesters, and by the treatment they’re getting. There was a decision, the issue is no longer open, it’s done, closed, finished. They fought with the tools they can use, and they lost. Happens to everyone in any democratic society all the time. They should live with it, and be done with it. Not start to break the law, and try to reign terror. They should grow up, and act like responsible people instead of little criminal kids.

And this isn’t a political view caused by me not agreeing with them. Suppose the decision was the reverse, and there was no evacuation. These people are not unlike potential protesters who would have decided that the evacuation is necessary, and they have to force people to do it. So they could have maybe blocked the roads into the settlements, reasoning that without any supply and trade they will have to abandon them. Maybe they would enter the settlements, and burn down houses of settlers there. After all once all the houses are burned, they’ll have to leave. Sounds far-fetched? Maybe, but it’s the exact same sort of the behaviour, with nearly the exact same reasons. And if that happened, I would object just as much about these people. I would object as much about anyone using these tactics and methods here, regardless of their cause and what I think about it. But the settlers who do these protests now? They think what they’re doing is right, but they’ll surely object the same tactics if used by those imaginary protesters in this imaginary case. Even if those imaginary protesters are trying in full earnest, like the real ones say they are, to save the country.

How to reduce violence at bars and clubs. Maybe.

May 17th, 2005

A special committee has recently served the Minister of the Interior with its recommendations on ways to prevent violence in bars and clubs. The committee members come from the Ministries of the Interior, Justice, Education, Welfare, and Transportation, from local authorities, and from the Police. I read the article on the highlights (The full article is in Hebrew. there’s a much shorter version in English, which sadly lacks almost all of the interesting bits) of their recommendations, and overall I’m not impressed.

Bars/pubs and clubs will not be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks after 3AM. This is in order to “dissipate the effect of alcohol on those late for the ball“. Whatever that may mean in this content. I don’t recall any study pointing that alcohol has a stronger effect if imbibed after 3AM. Maybe they know something I don’t. The way I see it, even if most of the violence cases occur later than that, people will just get the same amount of alcohol sooner. Worse, since there’s a deadline, they will get it at a higher concentration as it comes near, since they know they won’t be able to order another drink later.

Club owner will be forced to install CCTV systems, and put someone to monitor it. So it will be easier for them to notice if… something… was going on. So there will be a cost for the clubs to install the surveillance cameras, and to hire people to monitor them. And since most of these places aren’t very large, it will still not provide a much better observation than simply putting someone inside the club to watch using their own eyes. Like, here’s a new thought, having the bartenders pay a little attention and call security if they see a problem. This won’t do much to help, but will raise costs which will of course fall on the customers. Not to mention that people tend to feel a lot less comfortable when they know they’re being photographed, and maybe recorded on film. Having fun, and being self concious, don’t quite go together, so this will cost the clubs plenty of customers

Those same CCTV cameras are to be placed on the entrance to the toilets. Which is supposed to help, how? Is the person observing it supposed to memorize everyone who comes in, and get worried if they stay there too long? Do they really want to bust in every time someone is having number two? No. So it won’t help. Unless they want to put the cameras inside the bathroom, since the claim on the article is that some of the violence occurs there. And this is going to be such a huge success, once people find out that the bathroom is on tape. Right.

Separate bathrooms for men and women. I don’t quite get it, since many people already have those. Some places do have some sort of a single entry/waiting chamber leading to both, but the costs of rebuilding this, or rebuilding totally different facilities for the places which don’t have these, are prohibitive. And I assume the problem they think they have (Doesn’t sound like violence, per se, but more as using the opportunity for the sake of not having people make-out over there. Something which is outside their mandate) is caused by people of different genders willingly going in together. Having different bathrooms wouldn’t stop it in that case.

Forming a group of paid cops/detectives/security-guards who will patrol in the area of the clubs, paid for by a toll the municipality will charge from the clubs. So in addition to their own security, bar owners will need to pay to people who generally patrol the street and supposedly provide security for the entire area? That’s very nice for other business and private homes nearby, I think. Not so nice for the bar owners. Or for their customers who will have to pay for it. Mostly, the problem is that those who will pay will not have any control or guidance over the actions of these rent-a-cops, they just pay the bill, and someone else will give the orders. This is never good. Hey, if having more people patrolling the neighbourhood is a good thing that customers are willing to pay for, then make such decisions public, and let the business compete by publishing how seriously they take it. Let the customers decide if they want to pay for it. But don’t put another tax on these businesses without them having anything to say about it.

Modifying the law forbidding selection, to allow selectors to prevent entry to people who may “endanger the public safety”. It was deemed unfair, prejudicial, or whatever, to allow pubs to put employees outside who will decide that they don’t want some people as customers. I don’t really get it, since it’s their business, and being far from monopolies they should certainly have the right to refuse customers, but that’s the way it is. So now they want to allow this practice, but only for people that they think are dangerous. This is far worse than either having no selection, or having full selection. First, the costs issue again, since this is in fact just a job of another trained security guard, that the bar will need to pay, but who will not provide the value that a proper selector does. Second, people who will be denied entry will raise the exact same complaints they did before. Instead of being told that they don’t look cool enough (or whatever the criteria may be) they will be told that they’re dangerous. This will certainly raise again all the ethnic discrimination issues, just as before. But people will be even more offended, because instead of just being told they don’t fit in with the rest of the crowd, they will be told they’re dangerous. This is very insulting if you don’t see yourself as dangerous, and could actually encourage violence if you really are dangerous.

Classify laughing gas as a dangerous drug. Yes, they want to change the law defining dangerous drugs to also include laughing gas. Why? Because they discovered that sometime criminal elements tend to sell laughing gas outside clubs. And this is supposed to be relevant how exactly? Making something a controlled and legally dangerous substance, just because some criminals sometime sell it near areas where sometime there is violence, strikes me as an enormous overkill and out of all proportions. As well as totally outside the scope of what those drug laws are supposed to deal with. Not everything sold by criminals is a dangerous drugs, and being sold by criminals is certainly not a reason to do classify anything as such.

People with criminal history will not be allowed to own, or be partners in, a club or bar. On the surface, this could make sense, since these people may be more likely to allow criminal activity in the premise. Is this criminal activity directly related to the violence, though? Or just people being drunk and stupid? Because most of the article implies that it’s the latter (after all, this committee was formed to deal with violence, not a crime problem with a side-effect of violence). And so this is outside their mandate again. Not only that, but officially serving prison time is supposed to be the punishment, and people who are released are supposed to be given the option to reform. And this is an explicit discrimination against ex-cons.

I saw another version of the article, on a print paper, which also mentioned something about placing cops who will measure the breath alcohol levels of people leaving bars and pubs. Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, since being drunk is legal. So unless someone parked right in front of the bar, and they stop them from entering the car (All of which is nice, but again totally outside their mandate on the violence issue), this doesn’t help. The exception being if they want to put a cop who will follow every single drunk person leaving the bar on foot, to make sure they don’t drive, or get involved in violent acts, until they sober up a bit. That’s totally unrealistic, and is also not legal, so that can’t be it as well. For now I just prefer to believe that this particular tidbit may have been a mistake of the paper I read, but given the other recommendations above I’m afraid I’m not so sure.

That same printed article also mentioned showing educational films about the dangers of violence in those clubs. The popularity of which is bound to skyrocket the amount of people who will actually go there to have fun.

Overall, like I said, I’m not impressed. Or rather, I am impressed, by how badly done this is. And they intend to turn everything into laws and regulations during the next three months…

Sentenced to hard labour and happy about it

May 17th, 2005

A Petty Officer in the US Navy refused to ship to Iraq, was tried for missing his deployment, and was now convicted.

The prosecution asked for nine months in the brig. The sentence was:

…had his pay cut and was sentenced to confinement to his base and hard labor.

… reduced Paredes’ pay to the level of a basic recruit and ordered him to spend two months restricted to his Navy base with three months of hard labor.

Not a light punishment. I’m not sure what “hard labor” means exactly, but it’s hard labour, it can’t be that comfortable. Plus, having his pay cut means a reduction in rank, in this case all the way to basic recruit. From the starting position of a Petty Officer, it’s already a noticeable drop. It doesn’t look good on anyone’s record, and is a serious blow if he was ever considering a military career.

Which IMNSHO makes the following statement by his lawyer very odd:

“This is … a stunning blow to the prosecutors who asked for nine months in the brig,” he said. “It’s a huge affirmation of every sailor and military personnel’s rights to speak out and follow their consciences.”

Let me get this straight. His client was found guilty, lost his rank, lost his pay level, and has to serve several months of hard labour, and it’s the prosecutors who suffered a stunning blow? Hmm…

Yes, it could have been much worse. He could have been sentenced to a longer duration, jail time, and have been discharged. But just because he didn’t get the maximum penalties assigned in the law, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t punished, or that he was justified and vindicated. I’m pretty sure what he got was also not exactly the lightest punishment allowed under the UCMJ for the charge.

Business ethics and private correspondence

May 10th, 2005

In the recent year my company started to sell a certain system worldwide. One of the systems went to a rather large company, L, which can also act as a reseller for our system as part of their own production line. And which also intended to also use if for presentation purposes, in exhibitions and the likes, as part of their product lines and solutions. L asked for a discount price, and due to the fact that we were trying to push the system, and the fact that this would also provide publicity for our own system, my boss decided this would be a good investment, and gave them a nice discount.

Fast forward to last week. My boss met with the head of a different company, G, who was also interested in purchasing such a system. And started the discussion by asking for the same price we gave L. When my boss asked what price he was talking about, the guy from G pulled out a printed copy of the email that my boss sent in the past to L’s representative.

My boss explained to the person from G that the price cut there was an investment, and that now we are also not so avid to push the system, since it’s not so new and we have sales. And that due to that we cannot sell him a system at such a low price (which is break-even, or even a loss for us. I’m not entirely familiar with the cost analysis, but it would in any case not allow us to make any profit from the sale).

The bigger problem was that the email was a private one. As a rule, individual price quotations are not something which companies are supposed to pass along to other companies. Not as a general rule, and certainly not when it is clearly specified that this is a one-time offer and is a special discount under special circumstances, as that email did specify. So G should never have seen that email.

My boss called the guy from L, to complain, and asked him why did he give the owner of G this message. The guy from L was stunned, claiming that he never did passed along that email…

As it turns out, the G boss was visiting L’s headquarters for business, a short while ago. And for some time they left him alone in the office, going to check for some data. And he used that time to open their file cabinets, browse through folders, and photocopy documents. Which included a printed copy of that email.

This was a senior of a rather large international company, during business meetings with another large international company… Lesson learned: Do not leave anyone in an office unattended, no matter how respectable he may seem.

Needless to say, he won’t be getting that discount.

How not to fake death

May 8th, 2005

Texas. Happily married couple, and two young kids. Then the model citizen of a father get arrested for sexual assault. This is a problem for them, since they don’t want to break the family apart (your husband gets arrested for sexual assault, to which he admits, and you want to preserve the family so much?! Why?!), and it’s hard to stay together when some of you are in jail, right?

So what do you do? Fake the husband’s death. The husband signed a plea, and was allowed to stay on probation out of jail. Meanwhile the wife:

spent weeks surfing the Internet, gathering information for a bizarre and grisly plot of deception. She learned how to burn a human body beyond recognition. She sought clues on ways to deceive arson investigators, and took meticulous steps to create a new identity for her husband.

The husband didn’t report to the probation officer, got jail time, and just before he was supposed to report to jail, there was a terrible car accident, leaving his body charred beyond recognition. Oh, and he had life insurance for $110,000.

Except that the body burned too perfectly, the temperature required to ruin a body so much was higher than what the rest of the car sustained. Just the area of the driver’s seat got so hot. For some reason investigators did not realize from this that he suffered from spontaneous human combustion, and that this was the cause of the accident. They in fact were even petty enough to comment on how there were no skid marks, and whine about traces of lighter fluid. Mean spirited people, aren’t they?

In the meantime, the wife, after a few months, found a new boyfriend. Which surprisingly enough looked exactly like her dead husband, only with different hair colour. I guess this was just her type, of course, since the husband was dead. Or at least that what they expected everyone to believe. The kids bought it (well, being 1 and 4 years old, they have an excuse) and so did the neighbours (Who would have thought? The sexual assault guy was not a very friendly neighbour and nobody knew him well. What a shock).

So many problems with that imperfectly executed plan, that it was bound to get discovered. And it did. At least the wife was nice, and just used the body of an old and poor women, so nobody would be offended. She’s quite a sweetheart when you get to know her, really:

Investigators said Molly Daniels told them the body was taken from a cemetery a few miles away. The body was an 81-year-old woman who had died in 2003 and was buried in an area used for people who can’t afford a burial plot or have little or no family.

”We felt because she was older; there would not be much family impact, if any,” Molly Daniels testified.

Now the only open question is whether they wanted to commit insurance fraud, or whether the fact that they didn’t leave to someplace else proves they just wanted to keep the family together. The way I see it, even if they wanted to preserve the family, it was bloody idiotic to stay in the same place, where people may still recognize the husband (I know eyeglasses worked perfectly for Clark Kent, but just dying the hair? Please…) . And if they were stupid enough for that, then they surely could have been stupid enough to stay if they were just after the money…

In any case, those are obviously weeks of on-line research that went down the drain. Just in case we need another proof that the wife isn’t that great a thinker. Or the husband either, since obviously he head a few weeks to hear about the details of the plan before it went into action.

Via The Legal Reader.

Naked art

May 5th, 2005

If people make a performance which requires practice, careful choreography, and special costumes, that’s art, right? Apparently in Oslo they think so too, which is why a Judge decided that striptease is art.

Here’s a nice quote by one of the strippers artists:

“Ninety percent of the guests here tell me that what I’m doing is art.”

Sure it’s art, baby. Now please shake them for me once more, then go and see if in addition to tax exemption you can perhaps also require state funding. After all, I’m sure things like theatres, galleries, and museums get funding, so why not other art forms?

Defence attorney on murder trial used cocaine

May 5th, 2005

There are so many wrong things in this story, that I don’t know quite where to begin. A man accused of murder is being granted a new trial, after it being discovered that at the time of the original trial his lawyer was using cocaine.

Let’s start with a simple quote from the article:

The judge wrote that defendant Robert Sagasta’s new attorney proved that Gallego’s “impaired mental and physical condition during trial due to his use of cocaine resulted in deficient representation.”

It’s practically a classical lawyer joke right there. This lawyer was using cocaine, had an impaired mental and physical condition, causing him to provide deficient representation, and yet nobody at the time noticed. Guess the behaviour on a light drug like cocaine isn’t enough for someone to notice they’re not dealing with a regular lawyer.

More so, the original trial took place in 2000. The new lawyer started with the appeal proceedings in 2004. So for several years nobody thought to check into the behaviour of the defence attorney, probably because it wasn’t that suspicious. Nice.

Another great quote:

“I’ve always prided myself on giving 110 percent to my clients. That was a stressful time in my life, and it’s history,” Gallego said. “I’ve never been healthier mentally, physically and emotionally, and I’m thankful that I had the mental fortitude to tell the judge what I told him out of respect for the system and my client.”

First of all, always be wary of people giving more than 100 percent. Always. Because, quite frankly, nobody can possibly ever give more than 100 percent. If they claim they do, they are either lying, or are exceedingly bad at math and simple logic.

Second, good to know that he still thinks that even during the time he admits to being very distracted (family issues, it seems), and admits to have been doing a really bad job, he was still giving 110 percent.

Third, this whole fortitude in coming forth to confess to the judge thing? Which does sound admirable… This was done years after the fact, with a potentially innocent man sitting for quite some time in jail, and only after being prompted (strongly?) by the new lawyer. Plus, he came forth and told about the family problems, but neglected to mention the cocaine angle. This only came out later.

via The Legal Reader.