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Computer science: de facto or de jure?

Winston Gutkowski
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  21

(continued from here, as we were going off-topic. Please feel free to contribute)

Stevens Miller wrote:...before I found out that most of my papers were being graded by graduate students at the university down the street.

Surely no better grading ground? Personally, I'd be happy to have my code graded by a graduate.

Or are we talking about the law here?

At the risk of creating a new thread, US law seems very regimented to me - constitution is all, and everything is argued against it, for good or ill - which, I suspect is why a TV series like Law & Order stands on its own. We over here need a Rumpole to make it interesting, because people in the dock are actually given leave to answer more than just the question posed to them.

However, we (or actually, I) seem to have drifted from the original brief...

Winston

Isn't it funny how there's always time and money enough to do it WRONG?
Articles by Winston can be found here
Stevens Miller
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Stevens Miller wrote:...before I found out that most of my papers were being graded by graduate students at the university down the street.

Surely no better grading ground? Personally, I'd be happy to have my code graded by a graduate.

My gripe was that it wasn't graded by the person who taught the course. Silly me; I have since learned that most professors are far too busy to review the work turned in to them by their own students. (I am aware that this is not universal. My stepmother-in-law makes a point of grading her own papers and, though we don't really get along all that well, she has my respect for that.)

Or are we talking about the law here?

My goodness, no! Most American law schools work on the same principle: your grade for a course is decided by your grade on the final exam. That. Is. It. I believe the professors in my law school did grade their own exams.

At the risk of creating a new thread, US law seems very regimented to me - constitution is all, and everything is argued against it, for good or ill


You have your finger on a topic of considerable currency here. Many commentators have lately observed that more cases than ever seem to be argued on constitutional (rather than statutory) predicates. My own humble opinion is that this is because the rest of our law that is dedicated to preserving harmony among a diverse people who don't agree on everything is pretty well worked out. Thanks to your forebears, excellent recordation of cases decided at the common law, and the Magna Carta, we only needed another couple centuries to iron out the kinks (this doesn't apply to specialized areas like software patents; I'm speaking of the basic notion of law in the service of an ordered liberty). Now, where that's left us is with three groups of people considering about a half-dozen very black-and-white basic issues: the death penalty; abortion; gun rights; gay rights; the environment; defense spending; social-service spending. (That's seven, but the last two are actually flip sides of the same coin, as it seems to be working out.) Now, when I say "black-and-white," I don't mean they are easy issues to resolve. Rather, I mean that, for those who care about them, it is easy to know which side of each of those issues one is on. Thus, our three groups: those who are "for" something; those who are "against" something; and those who are not interested in the question. Continuing in my own humble vein, that last group seems to me to be in the majority. But, the other two groups tend to care rather a great deal and so they make rather a great deal of noise of those issues. Most of our statutory law is based on compromises, balances, notions of degrees of liability and punishment, and so on. Those who are simply "for" or "against" a fundamental proposition tend to want it either advanced without limit, or prohibited in all ways. Compromise and balance doesn't appeal to the "for" group, nor to the "against" group. Well, our constitution is not "all," but it is supreme. Thus, if you can get our top court to say that a thing is, or is not, "constitutional," then you have what the "for"s and the "against"s all want: the last goddam legal word, with no "if"s, "and"s, or "but"s.

If you think this is not a good way to preserve domestic tranquility and secure the liberties of a free people, I will agree with you. But, we seem to have run out of other interesting things to fight with each other about, so there we are.

which, I suspect is why a TV series like Law & Order stands on its own. We over here need a Rumpole to make it interesting, because people in the dock are actually given leave to answer more than just the question posed to them.


Oh, God, are you on about that again? Now you know why I call "Law & Order" "Long & Boring." Yeah, domestic audiences here seem to love courtroom dramas that go right to the basic questions without implicating much in the way of life's complicating factors. Of course, we're all addicted to "Downton Abbey" too, so please don't judge us solely by our courtroom dramas. (A lot of us were fans of the Doctor, too, even before Billie Piper showed up.)

However, we (or actually, I) seem to have drifted from the original brief...


Yeah, well, gotta do something to fill the time between OPs asking for help with their homework, eh?

Oh, to bring this back at least vaguely to the topic: I am up for an adjunct faculty spot at a local university in its Computer and Information Science department. Going to give my "test lecture" on Wednesday. If I get the job, those who think I have been altogether way too high and mighty about professors grading their own papers may ask me again in a year how I feel about it then. Perhaps I'll have a different point of view at that time....
Winston Gutkowski
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  21

Stevens Miller wrote:My gripe was that it wasn't graded by the person who taught the course. Silly me...

Ooof. Really? Most of the teachers I had were the last people I'd want to be grading me - especially if there was any possibility for marks for original thought.

My own humble opinion is that this is because the rest of our law that is dedicated to preserving harmony among a diverse people who don't agree on everything is pretty well worked out...

Yes, but do you not think that this simply breeds the recursive rule of law? I don't know about the US, but one of the basic tenets here is that ignorance of the law is not a defence. And it's becoming more and more difficult to enforce because you have more and more statutes; and many of those statutes are recursive (ie, they're based, or defaulted, on previous laws that they supercede).

When does it end? And when is the public going to start wondering if legislators (and politicians who, like corporate upper management, seem to spawn, almost exclusively, from your profession) aren't simply feathering their own nest? I hate to say, but US law, with its rather literal translation of jurisprudence (not to mention, method of selection of judges) seems poorly equipped to answer these sorts of questions.

Perhaps it'll be up to the historians to sift through the ashes "come the revolution"... and I'd only give them an academic nod, even then.

I like the idea of a world where someone defending him or herself in court does NOT necessarily have a fool for a client.

Vive la liberte

Winston
Stevens Miller
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Stevens Miller wrote:My own humble opinion is that this is because the rest of our law that is dedicated to preserving harmony among a diverse people who don't agree on everything is pretty well worked out...

Yes, but do you not think that this simply breeds the recursive rule of law? I don't know about the US, but one of the basic tenets here is that ignorance of the law is not a defence. And it's becoming more and more difficult to enforce because you have more and more statutes; and many of those statutes are recursive (ie, they're based, or defaulted, on previous laws that they supercede).


To get a grip on when "ignorance" is a defense (actually, the word you want to google will be "scienter," which is not quite the same thing), you need to know the difference between malum prohibitum crimes, and malum in se crimes. Suffice to say that, in some cases, ignorance is a defense, while in others it is not (though I certainly don't mean that to defend the notion that the distinction is always appropriately applied, 'cause that's not what I happen to think).

When does it end? And when is the public going to start wondering if legislators (and politicians who, like corporate upper management, seem to spawn, almost exclusively, from your profession)


My profession? You mean computer programming? I'm kidding, of course, but only to an extent. Yes, most politicians (at least in the Senate) are lawyers. Now, I will say in passing that I rather like the idea of law being crafted by people who have studied law, much as I like the idea of surgery being conducted by people who have studied medicine, and so on, but I am also ready to admit that, since law is "practiced" on everyone, everyone ought to have a say in it. I would be pollyanna if I said, "and that's the genius of democracy," since, having been an elected official myself, I know that elections are not enough to yield good government. What you need (among other things) are candidates worthy of election. But here--and I would not be pollyanna at this point--I put the burden on the electorate: I went to law school mostly because propeller-headed computer geeks (like me) don't generally get the same role in setting public policy that lawyers do. I think our profession (computer programming) produces at least as high a percentage of potentially good policy-makers as does the legal profession (somewhat higher than the profession of business administration, which is really where most of the CEOs seem to come from). But, if you want to get elected, you gotta be a lawyer. So I became a lawyer. Does that mean my contributions as an elected official were those of a lawyer, or were they those of a propeller-headed computer geek who happened to have a law degree?

I hate to say, but US law, with its rather literal translation of jurisprudence (not to mention, method of selection of judges) seems poorly equipped to answer these sorts of questions.

It does better than most folks think, imho. The problem with US law is not, I think, that it is poorly equipped for the contemporary era. Rather, I believe our federal legislature is too much the product of what's good for members of the boards of Fortune 500 corporations. When law is based on what makes for good business (by any definition), it ceases to be about what's good for a system of ordered liberty. Instead, it becomes a tool for economic development. People who pretend they've read "Atlas Shrugged" (God, what an awful book; I couldn't finish it, myself) try to suggest that an unregulated market will do a better job of protecting individual liberty than a system of laws. Well, look at Spain and tell me if you think that's true.

Now, I share your distaste for laws-upon-laws as a way to ensure the security of a free people. But I also think of American law as "applied philosophy," and I admit that many philosophical questions are complex and subtle. That means it should not be surprising that those questions have answers that are also complex and subtle. Turning those answers into policy (that is, converting theoretical philosophy into applied philosophy) might take more than just what you can chisel into a pair of stone tablets.

One of your better actors delivered the line (in a not-so-good movie) that, "There are laws that enslave men, and there are laws that set men free." Less law isn't necessarily the same as freedom, and more law isn't necessarily the same as slavery. The question for anyone considering a law really is, I believe, what does it mean to ordered liberty? Does it enslave us, or does it set us free? The beauty inherent in that approach, if there is any, is that one need not be a lawyer, nor even a propeller-headed computer geek, to use it.

I like the idea of a world where someone defending him or herself in court does NOT necessarily have a fool for a client.


Heh. You're up against a lot more than American jurisprudence when you take that maxim on. I don't believe it relies on ignorance of the law for its truth. It goes to the heart of what it means to deny a charge, and the basic nature of human psychology. We're cynical animals who tend to say, "Of course he says he's not guilty. He'd say anything to avoid hanging. Wouldn't you?" Our system doesn't guarantee representation so that lawyers can squeeze fees out of defendants who can't handle the law; it exists so defendants can squeeze acquittals out of juries that can't handle innocence.

Winston Gutkowski
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  21

Stevens Miller wrote:I'm speaking of the basic notion of law in the service of an ordered liberty...Now, where that's left us is with three groups of people considering about a half-dozen very black-and-white basic issues: the death penalty; abortion; gun rights; gay rights; the environment; defense spending; social-service spending. (That's seven, but the last two are actually flip sides of the same coin, as it seems to be working out.)

Sorry about this, but I'm quite enjoying it:
The first 4 things that you listed I can certainly agree with, at least in the US. Indeed, in almost any other country except the US, number 3 wouldn't even be a matter for judicial consideration.

But defense spending? Or the social contract? What business does the law have with these - other than, possibly, as an arbitrator?

The law is not about making policy; it's about enforcing it when it needs to be; and sometimes - in (hopefully) rare cases, and with a good judiciary - about pointing out when it's wrong. How long were Jim Crow laws in force?

Interestingly, major issues of social policy are the one area where I do have a bit of faith in our elected reps (it's the lesser stuff that gets up my nose). I'm sure it varies, but I suspect that more than 50% of the electorate would vote to bring back hanging in the UK given the chance; yet parliament has voted consistently (quite a few times since 1960, from what I understand) not to; and furthermore, across party lines (and it has never been subject to a party whip as far as I know). And the vote has never even been close enough to make more than a passing headline.

Unless I'm mistaken, the US has not yet ratified the equal rights amendment. Is it a major problem? Maybe for some - and in some States - but I suspect that for most it's been put to bed (in fact, it may be constitutionally dead now; I don't know). Enough compromises have been made, and maybe in 50 years' time someone will come up with another version that has a chance of passing. That's the way democracies work - but it's not the business of the law or legislators; for good or ill, it's the business of parliament (or Congress).

We cut off a King's head for that right...and the French would back us up on that one.

Winston
Winston Gutkowski
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Stevens Miller wrote:Heh. You're up against a lot more than American jurisprudence when you take that maxim on.

Believe me, it wasn't American in particular; but jurisprudence in general.

Our system doesn't guarantee representation so that lawyers can squeeze fees out of defendants who can't handle the law; it exists so defendants can squeeze acquittals out of juries that can't handle innocence.

Hmmm. Sounds like a nice aphorism from your (I mean lawyer) side of the fence; especially as you are the guys receiving whatever money there is being squeezed. I don't know what the rules are like in the US, but in Britain you can't even bloody talk to your lawyer in court. So...what? You come in with a pre-ordained script and you sink or swim on that? Sod a lawyer, give me Anthony Hopkins.

Sorry, but the whole darn process is far too entrenched for me: Too good at making money for the people involved; too much of a "closed shop"; too couched in Latin; too much about pageantry and procedure; and presided over by someone who is a petit Dieu and almost impossible to remove from office, no matter how incompetent or senile they get.

You'll forgive me. It's simplistic; but I'll bet I'm not the only person who feels that way about our system of "justice".

And just as a piece of evidence to back my claim: I bought an apartment in Scotland back in 2000 and was sent the title document (at least I think it was; I wouldn't stake my life on it) - 11 tightly-spaced A4 pages of legalese; 4 (yes, four) sentences.

C'mon, tell me you aren't (or weren't) in it for the dosh.

Winston
Winston Gutkowski
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  21

Stevens Miller wrote:The question for anyone considering a law really is, I believe, what does it mean to ordered liberty? Does it enslave us, or does it set us free? The beauty inherent in that approach, if there is any, is that one need not be a lawyer, nor even a propeller-headed computer geek, to use it.

I have to admit, I like that sentiment.

And I'm done ranting. Hope you didn't take it personally; you're the only lawyer, propeller-headed or otherwise, I know.

Winston
Stevens Miller
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Stevens Miller wrote:I'm speaking of the basic notion of law in the service of an ordered liberty...Now, where that's left us is with three groups of people considering about a half-dozen very black-and-white basic issues: the death penalty; abortion; gun rights; gay rights; the environment; defense spending; social-service spending. (That's seven, but the last two are actually flip sides of the same coin, as it seems to be working out.)

Sorry about this, but I'm quite enjoying it:
The first 4 things that you listed I can certainly agree with, at least in the US. Indeed, in almost any other country except the US, number 3 wouldn't even be a matter for judicial consideration.

It's a big issue in Switzerland and South Africa, but I don't know if it's a judicial issue.

But defense spending? Or the social contract? What business does the law have with these - other than, possibly, as an arbitrator?

Goes back to your observation that everything here is a constitutional issue. See, our most passionate political activists really don't want to be mired in legal issues: they want they know/think/believe/hope is right. Our last few federal elections have been all about those 6/7 issues, with the notion predominant in the thinking of each side that whomever we elect should use their power to do what's right. The law is a part of that, but you asked about the constitution. While that's the cornerstone of our law, it can also be used to avoid the law by simply trumping it. Thus, rather than fight about statutes and cases, our empassioned classes simply want the constitution to give them what they want. For some, that includes a big military. For others, that includes national health care. Both sides know that if, somehow, the constitution says they get those things, then they get those things and everything else is just chicken shit.

The law is not about making policy; it's about enforcing it when it needs to be; and sometimes - in (hopefully) rare cases, and with a good judiciary - about pointing out when it's wrong. How long were Jim Crow laws in force?


Policy is made when the legislature writes the law. Enforcement is administered directly through the executive branch, and indirectly through the judiciary. The notion that the judiciary has the power to rule a law unconstitutional gives legitimacy to a very specific definition of "wrong" that courts can apply. The catch-all is actually in a vague phrase, "the interests of justice." That's where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, for the judiciary and morality. But, in our system, the law is very much about making policy. The question we fight about all the time is whether that is solely the job of the legislature, or does the judiciary have a role in that?

Unless I'm mistaken, the US has not yet ratified the equal rights amendment.

That died in the '80s. It would have to begin again in Congress at this point.

That's the way democracies work - but it's not the business of the law or legislators; for good or ill, it's the business of parliament (or Congress).


I'm confused by your words here. Congress is our legislature. Its members are our legislators. They write the statutory law.

We cut off a King's head for that right...and the French would back us up on that one.


Are you talking about Cromwell and Charles I? There were some down sides to how that all worked out, were there not? My English history is not what it ought to be, so I may be thinking of the wrong events.
Stevens Miller
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Stevens Miller wrote:Heh. You're up against a lot more than American jurisprudence when you take that maxim on.

Believe me, it wasn't American in particular; but jurisprudence in general.

I think it's more a matter of human nature.

Our system doesn't guarantee representation so that lawyers can squeeze fees out of defendants who can't handle the law; it exists so defendants can squeeze acquittals out of juries that can't handle innocence.

Hmmm. Sounds like a nice aphorism from your (I mean lawyer) side of the fence;


You can't beat the old parallel structure when trying to sound profound. Here's an excellent example you may recognize:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender


especially as you are the guys receiving whatever money there is being squeezed.

That depends on where you are. In New Jersey, court-appointed lawyers don't get paid. In New York, they get paid about what a good Java programmer makes with two years' experience.
I don't know what the rules are like in the US, but in Britain you can't even bloody talk to your lawyer in court. So...what? You come in with a pre-ordained script and you sink or swim on that? Sod a lawyer, give me Anthony Hopkins.

Yes, that solicitor/barrister thing has always seemed odd, to me. Our system eliminated that distinction from the start. Later we elminated the distinction between law and equity. We actually have simplified things quite a bit. Meanwhile, Hopkins is a great actor, but even his dramatic skills are no match for the words, "You objection is sustained." And mine usually are.

Sorry, but the whole darn process is far too entrenched for me: Too good at making money for the people involved; too much of a "closed shop"; too couched in Latin; too much about pageantry and procedure; and presided over by someone who is a petit Dieu and almost impossible to remove from office, no matter how incompetent or senile they get.

Would it amaze you to learn that I know businessfolk on Wall Street who have almost these exact same complaints about the programmers who write code for their trading systems? They think we deliberately keep it all to ourselves, using needless jargon and confuse and mislead them, while we annoint our own priests and demi-gods (network admins and DBAs, we call them), while creating fiefdoms no one else can comprehend, just so we can hold onto our jobs long after we have become otherwise obsolete.

A lot of this perception would seem to depend upon who is on the outside, looking in, and who is inside, trying to keep the others out.

You'll forgive me. It's simplistic; but I'll bet I'm not the only person who feels that way about our system of "justice".

I certainly will, and you certainly aren't. And I'm not really trying to defend anyone's system. I am saying that improving it while simplifying it isn't as easy it might seem.

And just as a piece of evidence to back my claim: I bought an apartment in Scotland back in 2000 and was sent the title document (at least I think it was; I wouldn't stake my life on it) - 11 tightly-spaced A4 pages of legalese; 4 (yes, four) sentences.

FWIW, at my law school (New York Law), they made quite a point of emphasizing that, if you can't write in plain English, you can't prove what it is that you think your words are saying. Of course, one could, again, point out that some code is just as dense and impenetrable as some title documents. Does that make it bad code? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the alternatives available.

C'mon, tell me you aren't (or weren't) in it for the dosh.


In what? Computer programming? Yup, that was easy money. I went to law school so I could get into policy. Worked pretty well and I've done some interesting cases. Alas, it worked so well that I got elected to local government in 2007. Finished my four-year term and, at the end, I was dead broke, kind of like I was when I finished law school, fifteen years earlier. I'm trying to claw my way back into the computer field so I can catch up on some of what I and the missus have foregone during what were supposed to be my peak earning years.

Mind you, I'm not asking for a medal or any sympathy. I made my own choices and I knew the costs involved when I made them. And I do still get some benefits out of being a lawyer. For example, when the furnace in our new house wouldn't light that first winter, and the builder jerked me around for weeks and weeks until it got so cold I was worried for my wife and myself at night, I simply sent a letter saying that, if a new furnace weren't installed in five days, I would buy a new one from someone else, document all costs, and take them to court for the total amount incurred. I signed it with my name and Virginia state bar ID number. Gee, funny thing about what happened three days later. (When the roof--still under warranty--started leaking two years after that, and they again jerked me around for weeks and weeks, I just backspaced over "furnace" in that letter, typed in "roof," and sent it again; I believe you know what happened next.)

No, I was never in it for the money. I mostly went to law school to prove that computer geeks can do anything that other professionals can do, if we set our minds to it. (Guy I went to law school with, who was a police officer at the time, has since become a doctor, partly for similar reasons. I believe he's broke too. Lesson in that, somewhere, eh?)
Stevens Miller
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Stevens Miller wrote:The question for anyone considering a law really is, I believe, what does it mean to ordered liberty? Does it enslave us, or does it set us free? The beauty inherent in that approach, if there is any, is that one need not be a lawyer, nor even a propeller-headed computer geek, to use it.

I have to admit, I like that sentiment.

And I'm done ranting. Hope you didn't take it personally; you're the only lawyer, propeller-headed or otherwise, I know.

Winston

Nothing personal to take, far as I have seen. Glad to have this kind of exchange, particularly in light of all the patience you have shown me on topics where you are the more experienced.

BTW, the actor was Sean Connery. You gotta love anything said by Sean Connery.
Winston Gutkowski
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Stevens Miller wrote:BTW, the actor was Sean Connery. You gotta love anything said by Sean Connery.

Except I bet he said: Doesh it enshlave us, or doesh it shet us free?

He was probably on his way to a Scottish National Party conference.

Winston

PS: My favourite quote on the subject:
"I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin. Never had the Latin for the judging. I just never had sufficient of it to get through the rigorous judging exams. They're very rigorous, the judging exams; very rigorous indeed. They’re noted for their rigour. People come staggering out of 'em saying ‘My God, what a rigorous exam’....So I became a miner instead..."
Campbell Ritchie
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Shcottish National Party, surely?
Winston Gutkowski
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:Shcottish National Party, surely?

Absholutely.

Winston
Stevens Miller
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Stevens Miller wrote:BTW, the actor was Sean Connery. You gotta love anything said by Sean Connery.

Except I bet he said: Doesh it enshlave us, or doesh it shet us free?

Well of course that's what he said. That's part of why he gets to be the Sean Connery, and we don't.
 
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subject: Computer science: de facto or de jure?