First 30

Scott Adams on 'Systems vs Goals'

This is an idea worth pondering over.

Let's examine the difference between 'systems' and 'goals'. A goal is short term effort for a specific outcome. It will end when the goal ends and if you don't reach the goal, you fail. 

A system is a set of skills and assets that can be increased over time. If the specific goal fails, you will succeed because your skills and assets will have increased. These skills are then transferable to other projects.

Thus, focusing on 'systems' may be superior to focusing on goals. 

In the book Tools of Titans, Scott Adams give us an example of the 'systems' approach in action:

When I first started blogging, my future wife often asked about what my goal was. The blogging seemed to double my workload while promising a 5% higher income that didn’t make any real difference in my life. It seemed a silly use of time. I tried explaining that blogging was a system, not a goal. But I never did a good job of it. I’ll try again here.

Writing is a skill that requires practice. So the first part of my system involves practicing on a regular basis. I didn’t know what I was practicing for, exactly, and that’s what makes it a system and not a goal. I was moving from a place with low odds (being an out-of-practice writer) to a place of good odds (a well-practiced writer with higher visibility).

The second part of my blogging system is a sort of R&D for writing. I write on a variety of topics and see which ones get the best response. I also write in different ‘voices.’ I have my humorously self-deprecating voice, my angry voice, my thoughtful voice, my analytical voice, my half-crazy voice, my offensive voice, and so on. Readers do a good job of telling me what works and what doesn’t.

When the Wall Street Journal took notice of my blog posts, they asked me to write some guest features. Thanks to all of my writing practice, and my knowledge of which topics got the best response, the guest articles were highly popular. Those articles weren’t big moneymakers either, but it all fit within my system of public practice.

My writing for the Wall Street Journal, along with my public practice on the blog, attracted the attention of book publishers, and that attention turned into a book deal. And the book deal generated speaking requests that are embarrassingly lucrative. So the payday for blogging eventually arrived, but I didn’t know in advance what path it would take. My blogging has kicked up dozens of business opportunities over the past years, so it could have taken any direction.

The Failures of Forensic Science

Imagine you’re sitting in court and you’ve been falsely accused of a crime.

If found guilty, you’re looking at 20 years in prison.

The prosecution calls a forensic analyst to the stand and she states, “There is a clear match between the accused's fingerprints and the fingerprints at the crime scene.”

However, you weren't even at the crime scene and so you think, what is going on?

You look over to the jury and they’re buying it.

The 20 years imprisonment is feeling more certain now. You’re freaking out. You’re on the cusp of having a panic attack in the middle of court.

You think, how can this possibly be?

* * *

Well, this is precisely what has been happening.

Four major reports from 3 three different countries have been released, all pointing towards the lack of certainty in the forensic sciences.

In fact, the ‘Ontario Report’ was triggered by a series of wrongful convictions.                             

The Limitations of The Forensic Sciences

1. The General Lack of Certainty

With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, however, no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source. [1]

Big claim, I know. Keep reading.

2. Lack of Quality Studies

The simple reality is that the interpretation of forensic evidence is not always based on scientific studies to determine its validity.

This is a serious problem.

Although research has been done in some disciplines, there is a notable dearth of peer-reviewed, published studies establishing the scientific bases and validity of many forensic methods. [1]

Note the Ontario Report’s recommendation:              

In expressing their opinions, forensic pathologists should adopt an evidence based approach. 

Such an approach requires that the emphasis be placed on empirical evidence, and its scope and limits, as established in large measure by the peer-reviewed medical literature and other reliable sources. 

This approach places less emphasis on authoritative claims based on personal experience, which can seldom be quantified or independently validated. [4]

3. ‘False Precision’ and Vague Terminology

‘False precision’ is the fallacy of treating information that is not precise, as precise. We see this happening among forensic examiners.

Many terms are used by forensic examiners in reports and in court testimony to describe findings, conclusions, and the degrees of association between evidentiary material (eg hairs, fingerprints, fibers) and particular people or objects.

Such terms include but are not limited to ‘match,’ ‘consistent with,’ ‘identical,’ ‘similar in all respects tested,’ and ‘cannot be excluded as the source of.’

The use of such terms can have a profound effect on how the trier of fact in a criminal or civil matter perceives and evaluates evidence.

Yet the forensic science disciplines have not reached agreement or consensus on the precise meaning of any of these terms. [1]

Note the Scottish Report’s recommendations:            

Fingerprint evidence should be recognised as opinion evidence, not fact, and those involved in the criminal justice system need to assess it as such on its merits.

Examiners should discontinue reporting conclusions on identification or exclusion with a claim to 100% certainty or on any other basis suggesting that fingerprint evidence is infallible. [3]

Friction ridge analysis:

Although there is limited information about the accuracy and reliability of friction ridge analyses, claims that these analyses have zero error rates are not scientifically plausible. [1]

Fingerprint analysis:

At present, fingerprint examiners typically testify in the language of absolute certainty.

Given the general lack of validity testing for fingerprinting; the relative dearth of difficult proficiency tests; the lack of a statistically valid model of fingerprinting; and the lack of validated standards for declaring a match, such claims of absolute, certain confidence in identification are unjustified. [7]

4. Cognitive Biases    

Cognitive bias is a serious issue. Not only in the forensic sciences, but in all domains of life that involves careful thinking.

If interested, the nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman has written a brilliant book on this general issue. Also check out an exceptional list of cognitive biases

A great example of cognitive bias in forensic analysis:

Threats to cognitive processes have a demonstrated tendency to change how humans interpret evidence. Experiments have demonstrated that analysts may change their opinions when exposed to information that is not relevant to their analysis.

In one series of studies fingerprint examiners (and DNA analysts), who did not know they were part of an experiment, were exposed to case information unrelated to their analyses.

They were asked to re-assess samples they had previously matched (several years earlier) while under the impression that they had not seen the particular latent prints before. As part of the study the analysts were provided with information about the investigation, which implied that the prints did not match.

The results indicate that a large proportion (up to 80 per cent in one study) produced interpretations, on the central issue of whether two prints or profiles matched, that were inconsistent with previous interpretations of the same material by the same examiner. [8]

5. Limitations of ACE-V

ACE-V stands for Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation, and Verification.

ACE-V provides a broadly stated framework for conducting friction ridge analyses. However, this framework is not specific enough to qualify as a validated method for this type of analysis. ACE-V does not guard against bias; is too broad to ensure repeatability and transparency; and does not guarantee that two analysts following it will obtain the same results.

For these reasons, merely following the steps of ACE-V does not imply that one is proceeding in a scientific manner or producing reliable results. [2]

6. Limitations of Fingerprint Analysis         

A fingerprint identification was traditionally considered an ‘individualization,’ meaning that the latent print was considered identified to one finger of a specific individual as opposed to every other potential source in the universe.

However, the recent attention focused on this issue reveals that this definition needlessly claims too much, is not adequately established by fundamental research, and is impossible to validate solely on the basis of experience.

Nor does fingerprint evidence have objective standards or a well-validated statistical model that can provide an objective measure of the strength of the fingerprint evidence in a given instance.

Therefore, examiners should not claim to be able to exclude every other finger in the world as a potential source. [2]

7. The Courtroom is Not a Science Lab  

Unfortunately, the adversarial approach to the submission of evidence in court is not well suited to the task of finding ‘scientific truth.’

The judicial system is encumbered by, among other things, judges, lawyers, and jurors who generally lack the scientific expertise necessary to comprehend and evaluate forensic evidence in an informed manner; defense attorneys who often do not have the resources to challenge prosecutors’ forensic experts; trial judges (sitting alone) who must decide evidentiary issues without the benefit of judicial colleagues and often with little time for extensive research and reflection; and very limited appellate review of trial court rulings admitting disputed forensic evidence. [6]    

8. Lack of Statistical Education Among Forensic Examiners

Note the Latent Print Report's recommendation:

Because statistical information plays a fundamental role in weighting latent print feature evidence, training should include the best available empirical information and should educate examiners about probabilistic reasoning in using that information.         

The latent print examiner community should expand the training of examiners in elementary probability theory to enable examiners to properly utilize the output of probabilistic models. [2]    

9. The Lack of Scientific Education Among Lawyers and Judges

Lawyers and judges often have insufficient training and background in scientific methodology, and they often fail to fully comprehend the approaches employed by different forensic science disciplines and the degree of reliability of forensic science evidence that is offered in trial. [1]

* * *

Book Summary - Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges

Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges is written by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. GarnerAntonin Scalia was a judge on the Supreme Court in the US for 30 years. Bryan A. Garner is a professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and has written over 20 law books.

Below is a collection of the most useful ideas from the book.


On General Argumentation

1. Don’t Appeal to Judge’s Emotion

Appealing to judges’ emotions is misguided because it fundamentally mistakes their motivation. Good judges pride themselves on the rationality of their rulings and the suppression of their personal proclivities, including most especially their emotions. And bad judges want to be regarded as good judges. So either way, overt appeal to emotion is likely to be regarded as an insult.

2. Never Overstate Your Case

You’ll harm your credibility—you’ll be written off as a blowhard—if you characterize the case as a lead-pipe cinch with nothing to be said for the other side.’ So err, if you must, on the side of understatement, and flee hyperbole.

3. Know Your Opponent’s Case

Don’t delude yourself. Try to discern the real argument that an intelligent opponent would make, and don’t replace it with a straw man that you can easily dispatch.

4. Lead With Your Strongest Argument

Why? Because first impressions are indelible. Because when the first taste is bad, one is not eager to drink further. Because judicial attention will be highest at the outset. Because in oral argument, judges’ questioning may prevent you from ever getting beyond your first point.

5. Preemptively Refute the Opposition

Anticipatory refutation is essential for five reasons. First, any judge who thinks of these objections even before your opponent raises them will believe that you’ve overlooked the obvious problems with your argument. Second, at least with respect to the obvious objections, responding only after your opponent raises them makes it seem as though you are reluctant, rather than eager, to confront them. Third, by systematically demolishing counterarguments, you turn the tables and put your opponent on the defensive. Fourth, you seize the chance to introduce the opposing argument in your own terms and thus to establish the context for later discussion. Finally, you seem more even-handed and trustworthy.

6. Make Space for Your Own Arguments

If an opponent has said something that seems compelling, you must quickly demolish that position to make space for your own argument.

7. Concentrate Your Fire

A mediocre advocate defending a good position will beat an excellent advocate defending a bad position nine times out of ten. Scattershot argument is ineffective. It gives the impression of weakness and desperation.

8. Don’t Try to Defend the Indefensible

Fessing up at the outset carries two advantages. First, it avoids the impression that you have tried to sweep these unfavorable factors under the rug. Second, it demonstrates that, reasonable person that you are, you have carefully considered these matters but don’t regard them as significant.

On Legal Reasoning

All legal arguments fall under either positive or negative syllogisms.

Leaving aside emotional appeals, persuasion is possible only because all human beings are born with a capacity for logical thought. It is something we all have in common. The most rigorous form of logic, and hence the most persuasive, is the syllogism.

Legal arguments can be expressed syllogistically in two ways:

Positive syllogisms:

Major premise: All S is P.

Minor premise: This case is S.

Conclusion: This case is P.

Negative syllogisms:

Major premise: Only S is P.

Minor premise: This case is not S.

Conclusion: This case is not P.

What falls under the major premise?

Legal argument generally has three sources of major premises: a text (constitution, statute, regulation, ordinance, or contract), precedent (caselaw, etc.), and policy (i.e., consequences of the decision). Often the major premise is self-evident and acknowledged by both sides.

What falls under the minor premise?

The minor premise, meanwhile, is derived from the facts of the case. There is much to be said for the proposition that legal reasoning revolves mainly around the establishment of the minor premise.

And finally, some examples:

So if you’re arguing from precedent, your argument might go:

Major premise: Our cases establish that a prisoner has a claim for harm caused by the state’s deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.

Minor premise: Guards at the Andersen Unit ignored the plaintiff’s complaints of acute abdominal pain for 48 hours, whereupon his appendix burst.

Conclusion: The plaintiff prisoner has a claim.

Or if you’re arguing text:

Major premise: Under the Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, states cannot tax Indian tribes for activities on reservations without the express authorization of Congress.

Minor premise: Without congressional authorization, South Dakota has imposed its motor-fuel tax on tribes that sell fuel on reservations.

Conclusion: South Dakota’s tax is unconstitutional.

On Writing Briefs

Banish Jargon and Cliche Phrases

By “jargon” we mean the words and phrases used almost exclusively by lawyers in place of plain-English words and phrases that express the same thought. Jargon adds nothing but a phony air of expertise.

Don't use words and phrases like:

"Nexus," "the instant case," "pursuant," "hereinbefore," "fatally flawed," "flies in the face of," "painting with a broad brush," "viable," and "beyond peradventure of doubt."

On Oral Argument

1. Master the Use of the Pause

Perhaps the rhetorical device most undervalued and indeed ignored by lawyers is the pause. A strategic pause after an appropriate lead-in can add emphasis to whatever phrase or sentence immediately follows.

2. Be Clear on What You Want the Court to Do

The judges we’ve consulted say that it’s lamentably common for lawyers not to know how to fill in this blank: “The Court therefore orders that _________________________.”

3. Master Your Opener

For this part of your presentation, commit your words to memory (though try not to deliver them as though by rote). Even for the opener, however, don’t read from a prepared text.

Your opening should usually consist of, or at least contain, a brief outline of the subjects you intend to address: “I hope to discuss this morning first why this court has jurisdiction, then why the trial court’s finding of negligence was unsupported, and finally why the damages awarded are plainly excessive.”

4. Be Cautious With Humour

In Roe v. Wade, an assistant attorney general for the State of Texas, who was arguing against two women lawyers, led with what he probably considered courtly Southern humor: “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court. It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they’re going to have the last word.” No one laughed. Onlookers said that during an embarrassing silence, Chief Justice Burger scowled at the advocate.

5. Never Postpone an Answer

Perhaps the most annoying of all responses to a judge’s question is this: “Your Honor, I’ll get to that point later. First, . . . .” Go where the court wants you to go! Besides offending the court’s dignity, you invite the judge to conclude (as most will) that you have no effective response. And you invite suspicion that the promised “later” will never come.

6. Never Praise a Question

Never—never—patronize a judge by volunteering “That’s a very good question.” Of course it is! All judges’ questions are ex officio brilliant. “[F]or heaven’s sake, forget about the rather trite response ‘I’m glad you asked that question’ or ‘That question goes to the very heart of the case.’ We have all heard this response to our questions, and we are all a little bit skeptical about it.”

* * *


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Getting a Job as a Lawyer: The Science of Improving Your Chances

In 2016, many students, and particularly law students, are finding it difficult to find a job. The current figures in the Australian legal industry are: there are 60,000 practicing lawyers. The percentage of employment grows at an average rate of 5% per year. This allows for 3000 job openings per year, however, there are 12,000 law graduates per year.

The statistics speak for themselves.

The problem

The following mental models will attempt to explain the reasons for this phenomenon and what will contribute to the difficulties in landing a job.

1. Supply and Demand

Firstly, a significant part of the problem can be viewed from the fundamental economics concept of ‘supply and demand.’ Currently, there is an excessive supply of law students, while the demand for law students remains the same. Simply, there aren’t enough jobs for all law students and this will severely reduce the probability of obtaining a job.

2. Mere Association

Although it pains me to say it, the ranking of University will have an effect on the perceptions of employers. A degree from a low ranking University does not have a high level of prestige, recognition, and connections as other Universities.

Employers may subconsciously apply the psychological tendency of negative association, that is, associating the student as lower quality, if they come from a lower ranking University.

However, they cannot possibly know a student’s ability without testing the student’s ability, nevertheless the psychological tendency of ‘mere association’ may negatively impact a student’s job prospects.

Postulated Failed Solutions

In order to get a job, many students are raising their grades. They’re studying harder and harder in order to appeal to prospective employers. Without applying other solutions, this is likely to fail.

This claim is best explained through ‘the red queen effect’ and through the ‘appeal to possibility.’

1. The Red Queen Effect

In evolution, the ‘red queen effect’ is a phenomenon where one species evolves in order to gain an advantage, however, the other species adapts to keep up. Both species are continually progressing with no long term advantage over the other. For example, a rabbit evolves to outrun a fox, and the fox evolves to catch the rabbit.

As for law students, this very same pattern is occurring. Student A is raising their marks and student B is doing the same. Both students are becoming better and better while neither is getting an edge over the other. Thus, they are in exactly the same position as they were before.

2. Appeal to Possibility

A common thought that a number of students hold in their mind is, “We don’t need to worry, as it is possible to get a job.” This is a true statement, it is entirely ‘possible’ to get a job. However, ‘possible’ does not equal ‘probable.’

This is the logical fallacy called ‘appeal to possibility.’

It is more probable that a student will not get a job, than a student will. Relying on the belief that it is possible to land a job, may lead to ill-judged planning or inaction, and inturn, increase the probability of not landing a job.

Postulated Successful Solutions

1. Inversion

The mathematics of algebra frequently utilises the tool of ‘inversion’ in order to solve problems that can’t be solved any other way. That is, the problem is turned around in reverse. Let’s apply inversion to the problem in question. Instead of asking, ‘how can a law student get a job’, ask the following:

If I were an owner of a law firm, what would I want in a graduate and how would I choose between them?

The following mental models will attempt to answer the inverted question.

2. Bias from Liking Tendency

The psychological model ‘bias from liking tendency’ is where an individual tends to view the people they like, as more trustworthy and they're more likely to agree with the people they like.

This is contrasted with the ‘bias from disliking’, that is we are more prone to avoid and disagree with people we don’t like.

Owner’s perspective: “I have had such terrible experiences working with jerks in the past that, now that I’m in charge, I’m never going to work with a moron again. James is very smart, however, I can feel that he’s going to be a handful, and so I’m picking Rod instead. He’s a nice guy.”

3. Mutualism

In ecology, the scenario where one species benefits and the other is harmed, is called a parasitic relationship. If we relate this to the relationship between an employer and an employee, a business owner will not want to pay an employee if they are giving little in return. This leads us to the ecological theory called ‘mutualism.’ Both species benefit from each other’s existence.

In our case, the more that the employee can provide for the employer, the more the employer will provide the employee, in the form of a job and remuneration.

Note that this model is subject to potential exploitation by employers.

4. Ecological Niche

In an ecological niche, one species occupies a particular resource and a different species is occupying a different resource. Both species peacefully coexist because they are not competing for the same resource.

In our situation, a law student that is occupying a particular area of law which other law students are not occupying, will reduce the number of his or her competitors. Law student A is not a threat to law student B, and vice versa. Both parties can coexist because they are not competing for the same area of law.

5. Division of Labour

This point is an example of the ecological niche. Division of labour is one of the most fundamental models within economics. This is where a labourer can narrow his or her skills and focus entirely on a single area. As her time is not divided between skills, the singularity leads to exceptional competence and thus results in significant productivity.

For a law student, an edge can occur if the individual dedicates their additional time to an area of law such as negligence, or even a speciality within this, such as medical negligence. It would be very difficult for a non-specialised student to compete with the specialised student, within the specialisation. The student could be so exceptional that it would be irrational for the employer to hire somebody else.

A potential risk of taking this strategy is the chance that the mastered skill is unwanted or not in demand.

6. ‘Us and Them

A point which is similar to the bias from liking tendency is the predisposition to reject people that are not in the ‘in-group’. We have the tendency to view ‘outsiders’ as threats and ‘insiders’ as favourable.

A student that attempts to align themselves as being the ‘same’ as the employer may result in greater favour than the others.


To sum-up, the above mental models indicate that the following ideas will increase the probability of obtaining a job:

1. Don't rely on wishful thinking. 

2. Don't rely purely on grades.

3. Be likeable.

4. Try to find as many ways as possible to be useful to your potential employer. 

5. Become really good at a single area of law.

6. Try to appear 'similar' to the potential employer. 

* * *

The following is a list of academic disciplines that were used in order to solve the problem.

Psychology — ‘mere association’, ‘bias from liking tendency’

Ecology — ‘niche’, ‘mutualism’, 'parasitism'

Economics — ‘supply and demand’, ‘division of labour

Evolution — ‘red queen effect’,

Philosophy — ‘appeal to possibility

Mathematics — ‘inversion

Sociology — ‘us & them

The 'Law v Fact' Distinction

In the book Thinking Like a LawyerFrederick Schauer provides a good explanation of the distinction between law and fact. In general, 'fact' is understanding and establishing what happened and 'law' is what we ought to do about it. 

[Legal reasoning tends to] assume that the interesting issues in Donoghue v. Stevenson' are about whether Mrs. Donohue ought to be able to recover against the ginger beer bottler despite the absence of privity, and mostly ignore the question of whether it really was a decomposed snail that came out of the bottle or just how ill, if at all, the sight of the snail actually made her."

We know after Raffles v. Wichelhaus that when both of two contracting parties are fundamentally mistaken about the object of the contract, there is no contract at all, but how do we know that there were two ships named Peerless, and how do we know that each of the parties really was mistaken?

Below is a great little example of the distinction between law and fact. 



Is a manufacturer (or bottler) directly liable to the consumer when there is a decomposed snail in a ginger beer bottle?

Is there a contract tract when the contracting parties have different beliefs about what they are contracting for?

Is dire necessity a defense to a charge of murder?

Does a separate but nominally equal racially segregated school system violate the Fourteenth Amendment?



Was it a decomposed snail?

Were there two ships named Peerless, or only one, or maybe even three?

How close to death were the shipwrecked sailors?

Do black children get a worse education in an all-black, legally segregated school whose physical facilities and teacher training are the same as those in the all-white schools?

Courts determine both fact and law. Richard D. Friedman in his journal article the Distinction Between Fact and Law, puts it this way. Determining facts is allogous to looking back on history and creating a 'mental film' of the event. Determining law 'is to prescribe the consequences to be attached'.

However, determining fact can be very difficult.

Facts, at least disputed facts, usually cannot be determined to, or nearly to, a certainty; thus, the fact-finding function is to reconstruct in imagination various possible accounts... of reality, assigning a probability to each. And the law-determining function must take this uncertainty into account, prescribing the consequences not simply for a given factual state but for a given distribution of possible factual states.

* * *

Want to read more? You can read the journal article here and you can buy the book here.

Mental Model: Silent Evidence

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a genius statistician and a provocative writer. People seem to either love him or hate him. I love him. In his brilliant book, The Black Swan, Nassim talks about the striking importance of silent evidence.

It is fallacious to focus on evidence that is clearly visible while ignoring disconfirming evidence that is not readily seen. This deadly concept is called ‘silent evidence.’ Similar ideas are named the anthropic bias and the survivorship bias.

Some great examples of silent evidence...

1. The Story of the Drowned Worshippers

More than two thousand years ago, the Roman orator, belletrist, thinker, Stoic, manipulator-politician, and (usually) virtuous gentleman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, presented the following story.

One Diagoras, a nonbeliever in the gods, was shown painted tablets bearing the portraits of some worshippers who prayed, then survived a subsequent shipwreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. Diagoras asked, “Where were the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned?”

The drowned worshippers, being dead, would have a lot of trouble advertising their experiences from the bottom of the sea.

2. How to Become a Millionaire in 10 Steps

Numerous studies of millionaires aimed at figuring out the skills required for hotshotness follow the following methodology. They take a population of hotshots, those with big titles and big jobs, and study their attributes. They look at what those big guns have in common: courage, risk taking, optimism, and so on, and infer that these traits, most notably risk taking, help you to become successful. You would also probably get the same impression if you read CEOs’ ghostwritten autobiographies or attended their presentations to fawning MBA students.

Now take a look at the cemetery. It is quite difficult to do so because people who fail do not seem to write memoirs, and, if they did, those business publishers I know would not even consider giving them the courtesy of a returned phone call (as to returned e-mail, fuhgedit). Readers would not pay $26.95 for a story of failure, even if you convinced them that it had more useful tricks than a story of success.

Now consider the cemetery. The graveyard of failed persons will be full of people who shared the following traits: courage, risk taking, optimism, et cetera.

3. The Effects of Funding the Hurricane Katrina Victims:

Katrina, the devastating hurricane that hit New Orleans in 2005, got plenty of politicizing politicians on television. These legislators, moved by the images of devastation and the pictures of angry victims made homeless, made promises of “rebuilding.” It was so noble on their part to do something humanitarian, to rise above our abject selfishness.

Did they promise to do so with their own money? No. It was with public money. Consider that such funds will be taken away from somewhere else, as in the saying “You take from Peter to give to Paul.” That somewhere else will be less mediatized. It may be privately funded cancer research, or the next efforts to curb diabetes. Few seem to pay attention to the victims of cancer lying lonely in a state of untelevised depression. Not only do these cancer patients not vote (they will be dead by the next ballot), but they do not manifest themselves to our emotional system. More of them die every day than were killed by Hurricane Katrina; they are the ones who need us the most—not just our financial help, but our attention and kindness.

4. 9/11 Caused an Increase in Car Crashes:

Let us apply this reasoning to September 11, 2001. Around twenty-five hundred people were directly killed by bin Laden’s group in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Their families benefited from the support of all manner of agencies and charities, as they should. But, according to researchers, during the remaining three months of the year, close to one thousand people died as silent victims of the terrorists. How? Those who were afraid of flying and switched to driving ran an increased risk of death. There was evidence of an increase of casualties on the road during that period; the road is considerably more lethal than the skies. These families got no support—they did not even know that their loved ones were also the victims of bin Laden.

The Good News:

Once we seep ourselves into the notion of silent evidence, so many things around us that were previously hidden start manifesting themselves. Having spent a couple of decades in this mind-set, I am convinced (but cannot prove) that training and education can help us avoid its pitfalls.

And finally, the takeaway message:

Have the guts to consider the silent consequences when standing in front of the next snake-oil humanitarian.

* * *

Want to Read more? Buy the book here.

How to Make a Judge Dislike You (Part 2)

The following points are from the book The Art of Persuading Judges. The author, Antonin Scalia, was a judge on the Supreme Court in the US for 30 years. The second author, Bryan A. Garner, is a professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and has written over 20 law books.

If you haven't read part 1, read it here. No need to read in order.

Now, how to make judges dislike you...

5. Present outdated authorities

One of the most interesting cases I ever saw argued was a U.S. Sixth Circuit case in which both attorneys were arguing about the application of a case that had been overturned. When Judge Wellford finally asked one of the attorneys (who happened to be representing himself) whether he knew that the case was no longer good law, he responded (with great composure): ‘No, Your Honor, but I would point out that opposing counsel didn’t know it either.’

6. Postpone an answer

Perhaps the most annoying of all responses to a judge’s question is this: “Your Honor, I’ll get to that point later. First, . . . .” Go where the court wants you to go! Besides offending the court’s dignity, you invite the judge to conclude (as most will) that you have no effective response. And you invite suspicion that the promised “later” will never come.

When following our advice not to postpone an answer, refrain from saying something like “Your Honor, I was planning to address that point later on, but since you ask I shall come to it at once.” Frankly, the court doesn’t care a fig whether you were planning to address it later or not—you’ll get no points for that even if the judges believe you. And the clear suggestion that the nasty ol’ judge has ruined your orderly plan of presentation will not be well received. Just answer the question.

7. Overstate your case

You’ll harm your credibility—you’ll be written off as a blowhard—if you characterize the case as a lead-pipe cinch with nothing to be said for the other side.

Nothing, perhaps, so detracts from the force and persuasiveness of an argument as for the lawyer to claim more than he is reasonably entitled to claim. Do not ‘stretch’ cases cited and relied upon too far, making them appear to cover something to your benefit they do not cover. Do not try to dodge or minimize unduly the facts which are against you. If one cannot win without doing this—and it is seldom he can by doing it—the case should not be appealed.

8. Tell stupid jokes

In Roe v. Wade, an assistant attorney general for the State of Texas, who was arguing against two women lawyers, led with what he probably considered courtly Southern humor:

"Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court. It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they’re going to have the last word."

No one laughed. Onlookers said that during an embarrassing silence, Chief Justice Burger scowled at the advocate.

* * *

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