The Core of Persuasion

Harvard Law School's CyberOneDuring the fall of 2006 Harvard Law School provided podcasts, videocasts, and other means for anyone to participate in its Law in the Court of Public Opinion Course (better known as CyberOne). The course covers “many different media technologies to understand how their inherent characteristics and modes of distribution affect the arguments that are made using them.”

I began listening to CyberOne podcasts late in the semester and now I’m listening/watching each class starting with the first. Its loaded with excellent information and you don’t need to be a lawyer or law student to understand the information provided.

Today I was listening to class number five (9/25/06) [audio, video, wiki page]. At about 36:20 on the audio version Professor Nesson makes some interesting points about empathic advocacy/argument. He stated, as paraphrased from Rebecca Nesson’s notes:

If you are going to persuade someone you need to change their interpretive stance. You need to reach them emotionally. You need to convince them that you understand what the world looks like from their point of view.

As paraphrased from Jordan’s notes:

Changing your point of view is at least in part an emotional experience. You can only persuade someone if you persuade them that you understand what the world looks like from the viewpoint they already have.

The last sentence struck a chord with me. A few years back I decided to make a conscious effort to understand the foundations and reasons taken by those with views in opposition to my own. It is an effort to check myself to see if I’m wrong about a particular issue. The result is the ability to recognize the core of the other person’s view, to address that foundation, and communicate (empathic) reasoning that is more likely to be persuading. Understanding the other person’s worldview is not only effective in persuasion but is helpful in uncovering truth and obtaining a just result.

Help Me Build a School and Give the Life Long Gift of Education

Children Benefit From New Room to Read SchoolThe sun burned off the morning chill and the only sounds were the river and feet walking along a dirt path on the three-hour hike to a school in Bahundanda, Nepal. The trekker reached the school after climbing 1300 vertical feet in the last mile. The school had eight classrooms, each overcrowded with students who sat crammed on benches without desks. The headmaster showed the trekker the library. There were so few books that the teachers did not want to risk the children damaging them, so they were pad-locked in a cabinet. The books were likely ones left behind by other backpackers, and therefore not age appropriate for the students. Before leaving, the headmaster said to the trekker: “Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books.”

This unplanned detour on a 21-day hiking trip caused John Wood to quit his successful career as a technology executive working for Microsoft in China and to establish Room to Read. Since 2000, Room to Read has built 221 schools, established 3370 libraries, donated 1.2 million books, funded 2,344 long-term girls’ scholarships, and established 108 computer and language labs.

I recently read John’s book titled “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.” My goal for 2007 is to raise $11,000 to fund a complete school in Nepal. Please join me in this endeavor and contact me at blog [at] waltmire dot com.

Listen online or download Jerome McDonnell’s interview of John on Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview.

RTR seeks to intervene early in the lives of children and help provide them with an education and the lifelong gift of literacy. The countries of current focus are Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Africa, South Africa.

To increase the likelihood for success, Room to Read (RTR) enlists community involvement. Our challenge grants require villages to raise a significant portion of the overall expenditures through donated land, labor, materials and cash, thereby allowing our cash donations to go further so that we can help more villages. Our challenge grants act as catalysts for community building while also maximizing the local participation and expertise brought to our programs to ensure they are run efficiently and effectively.

Research Tip: How to Quickly Find (for Free) Cases Supporting a Rule of Law

Often when writing a legal memo I come to a point where I want to recite a widely accepted rule of law, like a canon of statutory interpretation. For example, when interpreting a statute the court must determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. I know there are hundreds of cases which recite this principle. But in legal writing any rule of law should be supported by citation to authority. Running a search on LexisNexis or Westlaw could be expensive. The solution is to search the Illinois Supreme Court website for an opinion supporting the rule of law. Here’s how to do it:

  1. The Illinois Supreme Court website does not make it easy to find the opinions search page. If you click on the opinions link from the main page, you come to a list of recently released opinions. Scroll to the bottom of the page and find the “For opinions older than 90 days, please go to our Opinions Archive page.” Click on Opinions Archive. Then scroll to the bottom of that page and you’ll finally find the search opinions search box.
  2. Now search for the proposition or rule of law. Use quote marks when appropriate to get the best results. Here I typed “legislative intent” (quote marks included).
  3. Click Search
  4. Click on the first result (note that the first result may change as new opinions are added to the website).
  5. Its a 2002 case from the Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court (Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka)
  6. Use your web browser’s search function (Ctrl-F in Firefox) to find “legislative intent” within the current page.
  7. That finds the following paragraph:
    • “The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation, to which all other rules are subordinate, is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. People v. Maggette, 195 Ill. 2d 336, 348 (2001). In determining the legislative intent, a court should first consider the statutory language. This is the best means of determining the legislative intent. Maggette, 195 Ill. 2d at 348. A court must consider the entire statute and interpret each of its relevant parts together. If legislative intent can be ascertained from the statute’s plain language, that intent must prevail without resort to other interpretive aids. Paris v. Feder, 179 Ill. 2d 173, 177 (1997).”
  8. Now I can cite to People v. Maggette to support the “intent of the legislature” canon in my memo. You should probably look at the Maggette opinion to make sure its a case you want to cite (i.e. the case doesn’t come to the opposite conclusion that you are asking the court to come to in your case). You can probably find the Maggette opinion by following the steps below.

If I wanted to cite to Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka in the above example I would:

  1. Go back to the opinions search page and search for “Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka” (quotes included).
  2. Click on the first result.
  3. It is the 2003 Second District case (People v. Harrell).
    • You can tell its a 2003 case because the url: /august/html/2020026.htm is in the 2003 folder on the court’s website.
  4. Use your web browser’s search function to find “Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka” within the current page.
  5. That brings you to:
    • “Moreover, we must construe criminal statutes narrowly in favor of the accused (In re Detention of Tiney-Bey, 302 Ill. App. 3d 396, 400 (1999)) and so that no portion of the statute is rendered meaningless (Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka, 334 Ill. App. 3d 454, 459 (2002)).”
  6. There you have it. The full cite to Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka.
  7. It was not a problem here, but sometimes you can’t get a pin-point cite to the partition of the case supporting your legal proposition. You should use pin-point cites for almost all citations. You don’t want the judge (or law clerk) to have to read the entire case to find the point of law for which you cited the case. But better to exclude a pinpoint than fail to support a rule of law with citation to authority.

This method of finding a reporter citation to a case does not work when searching for a case that is relatively new because that case is not yet likely to be cited in other cases.

Consumers Empowered?

A patent targeted by EFF’s patent busting project caught my eye. A company called NeoMedia claims:

the general concept of reading an “index” (e.g., UPC number1) off of what it calls a “data carrier” (e.g., consumer product) and crossreferencing that index in a database in order to find the necessary information to look up and connect to a remote computer (e.g., URL fetched out of a database which is then inserted into a web browser).

The November 15, 2006 edition of the EFF’s Effector email newsletter summarizes the patent:

NeoMedia claims to have invented the basic concept of any technology that could, say, scan a product on a supermarket shelf and then connect you to price-comparison website.

This technology has the potential to empower consumers and force prices to reflect real-time supply and demand. Think about scanning the bar code of a product at a retail store with your phone. The information is transmitted to a price-comparison site and the results display on your phone. Now you know instantly whether the price there at the retail store is the best price.

This technology has the power to put some real teeth into those lowest-price-guarantees. What if the price-comparison surveyed not only online retailers but also traditional retailers? So you could scan a product at Circuit City and find out it is available for $50 less at the Best Buy store one mile down the road?

A company called Scanbuy already provides a free service that allows consumers to enter a bar code into their cell phone and receive: best price, other online prices, product reviews, and information about the product. This service will probably only really catch on when it is easy to use, i.e., when the users cell phone scans the barcode instead of requiring the user to manually enter the number.

Will retailers honor their lowest-price-guarantee when a customer shows the retailer the price comparison results on their phone? Some guarantees do not apply to prices of online retailers, and some match only in-print advertisements from competitors. The cost of redeeming a lowest-price-guarantee has been described as a hassle cost. Can retailers afford to continue providing guarantees when the consumer’s search cost incurred in discovering a lower price is virtually eliminated? Will this technology be the death of low-price guarantees? Or will retailers just retreat to price matching only in-print advertisements from competitors? If they retreat will the guarantees loose their effectiveness (if they are effective in the first place)?

Price-guarantees aside, a service like Scanbuy, should offer the option to “buy it now” that lets the user purchase a product using their phone from the online retailer with the lowest price. E-commerce continues to expand. The ability to purchase products with your phone while standing in a retail store maybe the next step in the evolving way we purchase goods.

Will Google Provide a Free Web OCR App?

Today I had an image of a document that I needed to convert to text. In this age of free web apps I wondered whether there was a Free OCR web app. I found Jon Galloway’s post which basically concludes there are no satisfactory free OCR app. He did find Microsoft Office Document Imaging acceptable, but its not free and its not on the web. It comes with Microsoft Office XP and Microsoft Office 2003. I also discovered this web OCR app, but I did not get a chance to try it because the document I needed to OCR was in PDF format.

All this got me wondering whether Google will provide a free OCR app in the future. Google is doing a load of OCR work with their Book Search project. Did Google write its own OCR software or did it purchase the software from a third party? Duff Johnson proposes Google wrote its own OCR software. If Google did, it might be easy for them to provide that app free to everyone. Will they?

Judges are Real People (even when acting in an unreal world)

Recently the Seventh Circuit started podcasting oral arguments. Now, Judge Richard Posner of that circuit has taken a step into Second Life. He is no stranger to technology as he blogs at The Becker-Posner Blog. James Au provides a transcript of Judge Posner’s December 7th Second Life question and answer session. The discussion covered serious topics, but Posner showed his sense of humor when he ordered the raccoon to appear. Just another example of how judges are real people (even when acting in an unreal world).

Documentarians All Around

The talks hosted by TED are incredible. TED is an annual conference were speakers talk about the latest ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED), and also Business, Sciences, and The Arts “… in fact any subject area offering something fresh and important.” The talks are available at TedTalks and you can subscribe to their podcast feed.

Today I was listening to Peter Gabriel’s talk. He described the work of Witness, the organization he founded in 1992. Witness describes its mission:

WITNESS uses the power of video to open the eyes of the world to human rights abuses. By partnering with local organizations around the globe, WITNESS empowers human rights defenders to use video to shine a light on those most affected by human rights violations, and to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools of justice.

His talk reaffirmed the power of video and photography to expose human rights violations. Recent news stories about a conference of Holocaust deniers show the important documentary power of an image. One of the reasons the existence of the Holocaust is not reasonably doubted is because there is video and photographic evidence.

Now that many cell phones have video and photography functions, the ability to easily and quickly document human rights violations is enhanced. Programs like GrameenPhone are bringing cell phones to the developing world. If Witness partners with programs like GrameenPhone, its net will be expanded, and human rights violations will be reduced. People with cell phones are now documentarians.

Video: Changing the way Teachers and Adminstrators Act

Cnet and This Week in Tech reported on the story where a teacher was recorded yelling at a student. The recording later ended up on YouTube. Two thirteen year-old girls worked together. One provoked the teacher while the other secretly recorded the teacher’s response. The Canadian school suspended the two girls and the teacher took a stress leave of absence.

It seems the suspensions were imposed because of the provocation and the coordinated nature of the event. I wonder if the school had a policy concerning the use of video and audio devises. If they don’t, I’m sure they are drafting one now.

The Cnet article quoted Abdu Mansouri, a spokesman for the region’s teachers’ union, saying: “The teacher will be the master of his class–a closed class and confidential.” I’m not sure a classroom should be completely closed and confidential, but this incident raises a question of whether technology was disrupting the educator’s ability to teach. It seems reasonable for teachers to restrict the use of video equipment in their classes when it is used to disrupt education. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where a particular student attempts to provoke a teacher on a regular basis in order to catch the reaction on tape. Students have attempted to gain attention from disruption for years. The difference is that before the ability to easily record the incident, the student’s audience was only their classmates at the given time, whereas if the event is recorded the student’s audience is unlimited and the incident can be played over and over. In short the incentive to disrupt class is greater because the attention generated is greater. But if there is a policy against recording, the possible punishment may offset the incentive.

A student should not be disciplined where the school did not have a video policy and, unlike here, the student doing the recording had no involvement in the incident. The more interesting issue is whether an uninvolved student doing the recording should be disciplined where the recording exposes truly reprehensible conduct, but the school had a policy prohibiting unauthorized video recording. Arguably, in that case, the student’s act of recording was good, although against school policy. Yet, maybe the accountability benefits are outweighed by the need for a consistently applied policy and an undisrupted educational environment.

Today, my search of Youtube for “Teacher Yelling” returned 83 results. I am sure that number will rise. Regardless of whether a school has a policy, the fact that secret recording is possible will likely change the way teachers and administrators act. What type of change and whether the change has a positive, negative, or mixed impact is open for debate. Even if a school has a policy that prohibits a student from unauthorized recording in school, there is no guarantee that a student is not violating the rule. Once the video is put on the Internet, there’s no getting it back simply because it was recorded in violation of school policy.

The Launch

I have been thinking of starting a blog for a while. As I read more blogs it became obvious that blogging was an excellent idea. I particularly like Jay Rosen’s idea of a blog as “a little First Amendment machine.” Ideas are quickly dispersed and tested in the blogosphere. It provides an excellent forum for the Marketplace of Ideas.

I must thank Professor Diane Murley for introducing me to blogs in my Advanced Electronic Legal Research Course in 2004. I know some of my classmates thought blogs were a waste of their time, but I’m glad they were covered. Blogs have and continue to expose me to new ideas, subjectmatter, and products, which I would not otherwise discover. They influenced the direction of my legal career. They prove an important legal resource for my current work at the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court.

I like Ernie the Attorney’s post on why and how to start a blog. I also like his quote of Martha Graham where she said:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you…

You can find more about me and the purpose of this blog here.