Thursday, October 19, 2006

And some more geekery

One of the hottest new free programs for academics is zotero, essentially a firefox plugin that serves as a bibliographical database. So far, it's available only for Firefox 2.0, which is available as a beta. I gave it a trial run - importing an Endnote database, formating a couple of references - and the programs works just fine, better than other free bibliographical tools I've tried so far. The program is being developed at George Mason University, with the support of various grants, and if it does what it promises to do (online sharing of databases, integration with Word...), it will be a real competition for Endnote et al. For now, it is definitely a useful tool for students who write a couple of term papers a year and want something that spits out a list of references in APA format... (See also the Lifehacker post on zotero.)

On my office computer, Windows Explorer has been doing funny things, such as dropping the "Date Modified" column. So I've been looking around for free and improved alternatives, and have come across freeCommander, and I like it. So far, it has been working without problems on my Windows XP machine, and I like the Norton Commander-style dual panels and one-key copy and move functions.

More multimedia stuff on courts: Oyez Beta

It's been around for a while, but if you haven't done so, take some time to play with the new beta version of They have some fascinating media: interviews with Justices Blackmun and Douglas, besides the ever fascinating oral arguments... Also, check out the new feature of their case summaries (thanks to Bob Roberts for pointing me to it) that lets you view the justices' decision lineup by seniority and ideology (they use Martin/Quinn ideal point scores to estimate justice ideology). Just go to any case record and you'll see (if you don't use a linux computer with an old version of firefox that's missing whatever plugins you need, as I am doing right now, blagh).

Scalia v. Strossen on C-SPAN

C-SPAN has posted the debate between Justice Scalia and ACLU president Strossen as a Podcast of the Week. It is somewhat hidden - you have to subscribe to the podcast feed in order to download the mp3 file; you can also watch the debate (for now) on Realplayer if you go to the C-SPAN home page.

California national election law II

Arnold indeed veto the CA bill that would have attempted to undermine the electoral college. George Will's column of October 12 has the details. Will also provides a good summary of the pro-electoral college arguments. He has a good point about the 2000 election; the electoral college system restricted the recount dispute to a single state. A national election would have led to a marge larger recount problem. Will could have gone even further: If only a few states had decided that their electoral college vote would go to the national winner instead of the state winner, how would they deal with a situation in which the national totals were contested?

I'm less convinced by Will's rejection of the argument that the electoral college system makes non-battleground states irrelevant. According to Will, this argument is only about the lack of voter interest in safe state, and the fact that presidential campaigns spend less attention to safe states. I believe the debate is about more: If a state is safely in one partisan camp, the president may be tempted to neglect the state also between campaigns (if there is such a thing in today's world of permanent campaigns). Safe states may be disconnected from the majoritarian control mechanism. You don't want the president to do what is good for Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc. and neglect the other states. Will argues that scrapping the electoral college would induce parties to rely on narrow localized majorities. Florida, Ohio, and other battleground states do not constitute a contiguous localized part of the country, but at least in 2004 they did not constitute even a majority of the electoral college votes (for a nice picture, look here). (I leave the rather easy counter-argument to that claim to the putative reader...)