Friday, August 30, 2002

SOLUTIONS TO HOUSEHOLD EMERGENCIES:

Ice cream sundae on the carpet? Wipe up the spill with a damp cloth. Before the stain sets in, soak the area with a bit of club soda.

Too many science fiction novels lying about? Render them unreadable by pouring club soda on them.

Spilled spaghetti sauce on blouse? Splash club soda on everyone in the room, distracting them while you quickly change clothes.

Thirsty? Drink water. Conserve your supply of club soda for more serious emergencies.

Ruined priceless artwork by spilling club soda on it? Quickly neutralize the damage by applying still more club soda. Club soda can get anything out.

Need to create a stain that even club soda can’t get out? If club soda wants to do this, it can. Just like if God wants to make a rock that even He can’t lift, He can ask club soda for help.

Earth on collision course with giant stain-causing asteroid? Mix 1 part club soda with 2 parts alcohol. Drink

Out of club soda? Out of luck. Let’s just say you are up a certain creek with neither a paddle nor any kind of club-soda based propellant.
THANKS TO THIS HUMOR POST, I'm getting some traffic from people searching Google for nudist colonies. To all you weirdos who reach the site via that query: Welcome!

Thursday, August 29, 2002

SKYSCRAPER ENVY. Check out the diagrams at SkyscraperPage.com. It's a truly amazing site, containing diagrams of almost 5000 different sykscrapers from around the world. I spent a good deal of time just scrolling through them in the default order (by height), but you can also view skyscrapers by year (including skyscapers that haven't yet been built), or most interestingly, by city. I have to say, the skyscrapers in the East (for instance Shanghai or Hong Kong) seem to display much more artistry and innovation in design than the boxy towers of New York or Chicago, or even more staid, Toronto.

Perhaps this seeming western blandness stems from its familiarity to my eyes, though I really do think there are some genuinely innovative designs being tried in the eastern pacific rim (check out the beautiful towers being constructed in Gold Coast, Australia). Is this a sign of artistic stagnation among architects in the West? Differences in building codes?

Or perhaps the difference stems from the purposes of these towers. Skyscrapers in cities like New York are utilitarian -- they exist to do business, and function may dictate form: they fit the most people into the most space. While the same is no doubt true in burgeoning economic centers of the pacific rim -- who still have cool designs anyway -- the hyper-artistic skyscrapers in places like Riyadh are probably more driven by conspicuous consumption, constructed -- like pyramids -- to demonstrate power, wealth, and technological knowhow, not to compensate for a lack of ground-level office space. Still, Riyadh's "Kingdom Center" does look pretty cool.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

SOME PRETTY GOOD IDEAS for improving America-Third World relations from Douglas Turnbull, based on the example of the Roman aqueducts. Of course, the brutal subjugation by superior military force of any group that wanted political independence also worked for the Romans, though that's probably an approach we'd be better off not emulating. In any event, these problems aren't new; empires have been facing them for a long time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

DISABLED SWIMMER REDUX. I recently posted some comments regarding the story of Hunter Scott, the disabled teenage swimmer whose actions in attempting to get an accommodation have helped cause results that some pretty serious commentators have criticized. While my initial speculation regarding the flipper fin didn't pan out the way I expected, it did prove fruitful in other ways. Through the miracle of people actually reading this stuff, people close to the Georgia swim league drama -- on both sides of the debate -- have emailed me their responses.

Hunter's mother Amanda sent me various materials, including a statement of the case the Scotts had prepared. While obviously she is not a neutral party, the story as she tells it -- a story not inconsistent with the counter-story, by the way -- casts the events in a substantially different light.

Hunter Scott was born with Proximal Focal Femoral Deficiency (“PFFD”), a condition which ultimately led to one of his legs being largely amputated so a prosthesis could be attached. After swimming for a while, Hunter's prostheticist recommended a swim leg of the kind some disabled divers use. Because PFFD has left Hunter with virtually no femur or quadriceps in his left leg, he does not have the muscle structure to do the push/pull motions necessary for using a flipper in the traditional way. Nor does the flipper, used by divers, float. It simply helps balance out his body in the water, something which happens automatically for "bipedally perfect" swimmers.

The clash between the Scotts and the swim league is described as follows. Hunter swam with the flipper during the 2001 season without anyone commenting. In fact, Hunter's coach went to the swim board and received permission to use the prosthetic device. Hunter also swam with the flipper in his middle school league. In 2002, as Hunter started becoming competitive with other swimmers, the swim league president told Hunter he could no longer use the flipper because it was a "flotation device." While a flipper could be a lot of things, a flotation device is not one of them. While the Scotts challenged this ruling, the league said it had made its decision, despite having never actually examined the flipper, or conducted any analysis regarding the effect of the flipper on Hunter's swimming. Hunter swam without the leg, but sent in documentation from his prostheticist that when used by Hunter, the flipper was only a stabilizing device. The Scotts also quoted from a letter from the Georgia High School Association approving Hunter's use of the flipper in competition. The league not only never changed its position, but never discussed the operation of the flipper with Hunter or his prostheticist or actually inspected the flipper. Indeed, to Amanda Scott's knowledge, none of the board members ever actually observed Hunter swimming with the flipper.

At that point, the Scotts prepared to file an action seeking an injunction. Then, as has been reported elsewhere, the board -- citing fear of liability -- disbanded, depriving 3,000 Atlanta-area youth of their recreational swim league. Blame for this is heaped on the Scott family's litigiousness. But the above account, which is largely missing from news reporting and commentary on the matter, hardly make it look as if the swim league proceeded in a very reasonable way. While the ADA certainly does not mandate that every accommodation sought in sports be granted, something Casey Martin v. PGA makes clear, the league should have to give at least some consideration to the disabled athlete's specific situation. For instance, in Martin, the claim that walking was a part of professional golf that could not be dispensed with was defeated in part by the fact that whatever "fatigue" walking induced in normal players, Casey Martin's condition guaranteed that he would always be much more fatigued than other players even if he used a cart. Of course, there was much more to the case, as "walking" was found to be "not fundamental" to the game of golf. Perhaps not using a flipper to stabilize an asymmetrical body is "fundamental" to swimming. It very well may be. However, it's clear that as a matter of law, the league doesn't simply get to say X is fundamental and have that be the end of the matter. If it was, the PGA would have won in Martin. Indeed, the league's refusing to examine the requested accommodation -- whether they would have ultimately rejected it or not -- makes the Scott's dissatisfaction with the league's actions more understandable, as well as their expectation of success in court.

Some people, of course, say the whole clash between the league and the Scott family is the result of the ADA's ambiguity. I disagree. While it certainly may be the ADA's "fault" that the clash happened, I actually think the ADA was doing its job by empowering a disabled child and his family in the face of a board that not only rejected their request, but wouldn't even do due diligence in formulating that response.

Now, it's possible to have a different vision of the ADA. Someone close to the board who asked me to remain anonymous wrote: "Hunter Scott was not denied his statutory right to compete,...only his desire to go faster. I believe that is beyond the scope of the ADA. Otherwise, we would have swimming competitions using jet skis." I've got to admit, this is nice-sounding rhetoric. Nonetheless, Casey Martin v. PGA was not just about access: it permitted the disabled Martin to use a golf cart on the pro tour, where the other competitors were required to walk. While I doubt any court will compel a swim league to allow someone to use a jet ski in swimming competition, and no one is asking for that, it's at least possible that a device to correct a balance problem able-bodied swimmers don't have, that doesn't provide propulsion to the particular swimmer, could be held analogous to Casey Martin's golf cart. While I admit that the full scope of Casey Martin remains largely unknown, that doesn't make the decision or the ADA wrong. Precisely defining general contours laid down by the Supreme Court is a task often left to lower and later courts, and the contest between the Scotts and the DeKalb swim league is part of this process.

The other problem that commentators complain about is that the swim league's lack of funding means this case doesn't get settled by a judge and jury, but by the Scott's greater willingness-to-pay, and for that reason it's a tragedy and a sign that the ADA should be repealed or narrowed. Frankly, I think such claims are a little strained. People more able to pay do win law suits; suits settle outside of court all the time; parties take into account the desire to win versus the cost of litigation and the probabilities of victory. This is not limited to the ADA. It is part-and-parcel of the American legal system. So I'm a little skeptical when see this general critique of our system is brought out as though it's a special critique unique to the ADA. Secondly, it's not like the board didn't have any options. The ball was in its court. It could have agreed to let Scott swim with the flipper, and all its problems would have gone away. Instead, it disbanded the league, taking away recreational swimming from 3,000 children, to send a message to one disabled child and his family. One might call this principled, but given that the board apparently never even looked into Hunter's condition and the functioning of the flipper given his disability, the league's treatment of the situation seems less than ideal.

Monday, August 26, 2002

LET US HOPE these poor law students don't actually have to endure this.

Seriously, it's been quite flattering how much attention my law school advice has received.
GTEXTS PRIMER ON COLONIALISM. There are many different kinds of colonies...

British Colonies. Hong Kong. India. Egypt. The great colonies of the British Empire. Fighting for the Queen, Her Majesty’s forces maintain order with pith helmets and a stiff upper lip.

Ant Colonies Much like in Britain, ant colonies fight for the Queen. But instead of pith helmets, the ants sport tough exoskeletons. And while the Brits have stiff upper lips, the ants intimidate opponents with their stiff, biting mandibles. Also, contrary to popular belief, very few Brits live in dirt mounds.

The 13 Original Colonies. New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, and about ten others comprised the original 13 US colonies. Breaking away from British rule, the colonies were instead ruled by Democracy. A stiff right to bear arms and the helmet of town hall meetings enforced Democracy’s harsh mandates.

Nudist Colonies. An offshoot of the 13 original colonies, nudist colonies believe in “the right to bare arms, and everything else.” Nudist colonies are among the most obedient of the colonies, maintaining order with stiff penal codes for lawbreakers.

Bacterial Colonies. Proof positive that “microscopic” doesn’t mean “can not have colonies.” In fact, these microorganisms have built a huge network of colonies, maintaining complete control over the unwitting human natives.

Baloney Coloney. A crude misspelling for the sake of rhyme, the Baloney Coloney is of little use to anyone outside a small circle of Oscar Mayer executives.

Leper Colonies. Inside the leper colony, limbs are strewn all about. Tree limbs. Inside the Body Part Bank? Money and jewels. Leper colonies are really earthly paradises, hidden from the public with a carefully executed public relations campaign.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

THE SECOND I START BLOGGING about how anemic weekend blog traffic is, I get a respectable traffic spike (for my humble little blog) thanks to kind weekend linkage from Meryl Yourish and then Jurist over at University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Thanks! While my blog is not soley dedicated to law -- I write about whatever interests or amuses me at the moment -- I do post about law school and law-related issues often. If that's what you're after, see my commentary on law school advice, lighthearted game-theoretic discussion of the federal clerkship hiring freeze, argument against a proposal to create term limits for Supreme Court Justices, numerous posts on disparate impact, musings on "lawyerblogging", a joke about summer associates, discussion of Islamic reading requirements and the Establishment Clause, some posts on takings and libertarians (here, here, and here), thoughts on the meaning of neutrality, an argument that the vouchers and pledge decisions are more consistent than many would like to admit, a look at the paradoxes of the "marriage penalty", an admittedly bizarre post on whether we use a rule or standard to differentiate between rules and standards, and my take on Lexis and Westlaw. My most popular pieces, however, have generally been the humorous (and nonlegal) ones, particularly my posts on Elves, Towers, and English History. Wow: looking back on it, I've generated a modest mountain of text this summer. Hope you find some of it useful, interesting, provocative, entertaining, or at least distracting.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

ANEMIC WEEKEND BLOGREADING. Everyone knows blog traffic dips on weekends, but do we know why? To the extent that blogs are a competitor to traditional print media like newspapers, one would expect Sunday to be the highest-traffic day of all. I can only conclude that people who read blogs -- lazy officeworkers -- lose the desire to read blogs when there isn't any work to be shirked.
DOLPHINS HAVE MORE FUN. This picture of a thresher shark leaping out of the water is pretty cool.

Friday, August 23, 2002

SIGNS OF GLOBALIZATION. At the same time as this, Meryl Yourish is blogging on international spam.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

GTEXTS GOES MULTILINGUAL. (Thanks to Pedro Jorge Romero -- it's always nice to hear your text is "tremendamente divertido," because that's exactly my goal.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

SELL YOUR CELL PHONE. But not because it causes cancer. Cancer is not really what concerns me about cell phones, unless by "cancer" you mean a malignant tumor on the body of normal social interaction. The social effects of cell phone mania are far more disturbing than any attenuated evidence of their carcinogenic properties. Below I discuss a number of the symptoms. (Admittedly, my results are based solely on observed interactions among post-collegiate twentysomethings in Boston and New York. If you have data from different cultural substrata or age cohort, please contact me and we can pool our data.)

Cell Phone Users View the World Asymmetrically. Eschewing archaic, pre-cell-phone notions of "being considerate," cell phone users often call their friends while the cell phone user is in transit home and have a discussion to pass the time. Upon arriving home, the cell-phone user says "dude, I'm home, gotta' go" and hangs up, seemingly not cognizant of the fact that the other participant in the conversation has themselves been at home the whole time, and, in fact, has been interrupted in what he or she is doing. This behavior pattern suggests the cell phone user perceives the world asymmetrically. While this is speculation, such behavior may be the beginnings of a technological caste system.

Cell Phone Users Are Incapable of Medium- and Long-Range Planning. When setting up weekend plans, the majority of subjects within the twentysomething age cohort rely on cell phones. While they could agree ahead of time to meet at location X (an agreement which could be negotiated over cell phones or through more conventional media like email), the convenience cell phones offer has caused the ability to think that far ahead to atrophy. Requests to meet at location X at time Y will be met with quizzical looks and a response such as, "dude, just give me a call Saturday night on my cell, and we'll see what we're up to." However, the need to make plans ahead of time evidently did not prove an insurmountable barrier to social interaction during the vast majority of human history, during which cell phones were not easily available. Despite the seeming quaintness of "planning," as the twentysomething age cohort becomes older, their wholesale inability to plan even 12 hours in advance may present a risk to national security, as members of this group ever become policymakers.

Cell Phone Users No Longer Live in the Present. Certain African languages lack words for the future; those cultures focused on the past and the present (with what we might call "the future" also lumped into the present). By contrast, American culture is rapidly moving toward a discourse where only the future is of social significance. This concern with the future is somewhat surprising because of the atrophy of medium- and long-range planning discussed, supra, but planning social activities and the social activities themselves have become so compressed that social activities increasingly consist of little more than planning immediately subsequent social activities. At any representative social grouping of members of the twentysomething age cohort within the New York ecosystem, at least one-half of the group members will spend their time not interacting with anyone in the group, but calling others on their cell phone to plan a second social gathering, at which the main activity will be to plan a third activity. By itself this trend may appear to have negative social results, as opportunities for face-to-face human interaction are reduced. However, this is at least partially offset by benefits; as cell-phone planning of "what to do next" becomes the primary "party" activity, more harmful activities formally popular in the twentysomething age cohort such as heavy drinking and drug use are increasingly falling by the wayside.

Cell Phone Conversations are Highly Spatial. Unlike traditional, "land-line" conversations, cell-phone discourse is dominated by spatial elements. Example: "Dude, I'm at 51st and Broadway, just passed Starbucks, almost to the subway." Approximately 70% of cell-phone conversation is locational, reminding the listener that yes, the speaker is on a cell phone and is mobile. Experts are in disagreement about whether this is a positive development. Traditionalists argue that most of this spatial information is useless surplusage, and that the new emphasis on spatial discourse is undermining cell phone users' ability to reason in the abstract. Postmodernists, on the other hand, claim that all language is contextual, indeed, that its meaning cannot be separated from its socio-geographico-spatial context, and that the inclusion of this information is inherently useful. On this front, cell phone usage is a wash.

On the whole, cell phones are destructive of healthy social interaction. Sell your cell; toss your cancerbox.


ALL HAIL BEAUJOLAIS. My favorite "studying" wine gets a nod from the New York Times. (And note the appearance of fellow-Garrett Garrett Oliver, who I've actually met.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

GTEXTS PRIMER ON ENGLISH HISTORY. Looking at England today, you might say “there’s not much there,” or, “what a bunch of wankers.” If you had no power of speech whatsoever, you might just not say anything, or you might scribble the word “wankers” on a nearby napkin. Despite this, England has a long and glorious history.

The glory began in 1066 when William the Conqueror conquered England. He and his Norman nobles only spoke French. Though helpful for ordering at fine French restaurants, the fact that there were no French restaurants at the time rendered this skill useless. In angst, William commissioned Domesday Book, a comprehensive survey that was ironically also useless.

Later on, the War of the Roses divided the country between the House of York, the House of Lancaster, and the International House of Pancakes. Just as it seemed that York would win, a dark horse candidate named Henry Tudor forged an alliance with rural Shropshire wankers and secured victory at Bosworth Field.

Soon, the bones of the hapless IHOPers were plowed under, and the fields of war become fields of bountiful peace. Then the Black Knight came along. No one liked him.

That Black Night was Benjamin Disraeli. It was also William Gladstone, Pitt the Younger, and Winston Churchill. With so many future Prime Ministers stuck inside a single suit of armor, it was uncomfortable, especially since none of them would be born for hundreds of years.

In the wake of the Black Knight’s reign of terror, several Roundheads began lording it over the common folk with ne’er so much as an “if you please.” The Roundheads, the Shropshire wankers, and the ruthless Sicilian merchants all went to war just as a severe case of “Rump Parliament” broke out. With their strong immunities to the Rump Parliament, the Long Parliament, and the Bubonic Parliament, the wankers triumphed, ushering in the Glorious Revolution under William of Orange. Mysteriously, citrus fruits were scarce that year.

Not long after that, Sir Francis Drake left on one of his famous profiteering voyages. Upon his return one year later, he was surprised to learn that absolutely nothing had changed. After his next voyage though, he learned that everything had suddenly become modern, and that his pantaloons were seriously out of style. The Industrial Revolution had happened, and London was filled with smoke. Glory. Triumph of the Machine. Smoke. Glory. Wankers. On second thought, not much had changed.

One thing that had changed was worker unrest. The Liberals and the Tories clearly could not survive in the era of mass cries for reform, and the Wanker Party was finally formed to institute the eight-hour workday and the minimum wage. On the outside, everything looked good, but underneath this façade the Wankers were insidiously fighting World War I, depleting England of its former great-power status.

Also, imperialism. Parliament. The Beatles. Mad Cow Disease. That should bring you up to date.
ON THE ROAD. It was December of nineteen hundred and forty-six when Dean Moriarty and I, Sal Paradise, decided we had to get out of this crazy and noisy city. New York was dead to us, and we counted the days from here to San Francisco. Dean stole a beautiful machine, a real cruiser, and we got out town faster than the cops could touch the powdered-sugar surface of a donut to their lips. Given the donut in their hand was of the powdered sugar variety, of course.

On the way to San Fran we got a ticket in Dakota, burned through Texas, met some girls in Denver and somehow ended up washing dishes in a Bogota way-station. The whole way there I ate nothing but apple pie while Dean ate large sandwiches. He had a way with waitresses. He would wink and smile and give them extra money, and they would make him an extra-big sandwich. Finally we breathed the fresh air of the Pacific.

San Francisco. Dean and I knew that like the ancient Hebrews we had finally reached the Promised Land. Dean was ecstatic. Ecstatic until he realized that he had left his toothbrush back in New York. So we filled the tank for another cross-country trek.

Dean took a wrong turn, and we somehow ended up in Seattle. We took the I-90 East exit number 11 and headed towards Spokane. “No one understands our generation,” Dean said to me.

Dean Moriarty. What a bundle of pure emotion and American emotion-bundles. But there was no time to talk about Dean. “Merge ahead!” I screamed, as Dean was about to crash the cruiser into oncoming traffic. From there we took I-94 East exit number 58B towards Madison, kept left at the fork in the ramp, merged onto I-280 E, took the CR-508 East exit number 17A towards Jersey City, got in front of some guy who was in a hurry and drove really slow just to see his face, merged onto the turnpike, and got on Newark Ave. just like we always do.

“You know, I never really got it until now,” said Dean. “We’ve spent so much time worrying about trying to get somewhere that we never really realized how great it is to be on the road. Forget San Francisco. The road is America’s aorta,” said Dean, with the kind of emphasis that suggested he might jump into his own aorta and cause a self-induced heart-attack at any moment. Luckily, such an act wasn’t really possible.

“Dean, please stop talking crazy talk,” I said anyway.

That was when Dean got really excited. “But there’s so much more,” he countered. “Imagine a highway of billions of computers all talking to each other at the speed of light over synchronous optical networks. Imagine an extremely farfetched system of ansibles connecting space outposts throughout the galaxy. We could be there, surfing the vast information superhighways of the future. Or we could ride two cantankerous donkeys from Ur to Nineveh in Ancient Mesopotamia. Wait, that wouldn’t be so great. But the other stuff would be fantastic—on the road, two wayfarers musing about life incessantly like two wayfaring characters in a book that isn’t really that good but my mom gave to me as a present so I kind of read it.”

Dean and I have been “On the road” ever since.
PRO PLAYERS HOLDING OUT for better contracts is not merely an American phenomenon.
ORDER WITHOUT LAW...BUT WITH SURFING! Just saw Blue Crush, grrrl power paean to surfing. Not knowledgeable on surfing myself, but was interested in some of the portrayals of surfer subculture. Despite being a formally anarchic community with no legal rules, gangs of surfers form which create a semblence of order. As when the lead character decides she wants to surf a "double-overhead" pipeline and the leader of the local surf gang says: "You think your girl can surf it for real? You think you can surf it for real? . . . we'll get all the boys to block for you," meaning that they would make sure no one got in her line, endangering her surfing that pipe safely. "Surfer gangs" may seem like a bunch of deadbeats, potheads, and burnouts -- and they probably generally are -- but they also enforce norms that generally redound to the good of all in the surfing community.

This prelegal surfing community is governed by rules similar to those prevailing among Shasta County ranchers, as described in Robert Ellickson's Order Without Law. Litigation or formal rules are never resorted to, but reciprocity, shunning of those not conforming to the subculture's norms, and various types of signaling (for instance, using a special dialect of English) preserve a remarkable degree of order within the community, despite -- or perhaps because of -- the absence of legal rules. Of course, the dark side of insular norm-driven systems is seen in the way surfer community norms protect only internal interests, caring nothing for externalities they impose on those outside of the community. For instance, when the main character brings an NFL quarterback she meets out to a secret and hidden spot for surf lessons, the gang of local surfers shows up and invokes the "locals-only" norm: "Hey bro! This is a locals-only beach. You flew here, we grew here. [starts fight]" In doing so, they are protecting a secret spot for the good of the local surfers, but presumably not taking into account the utility of nonlocal surfers.

Monday, August 19, 2002

WHO KNEW HAIRSTYLISTS' SCISSORS were so pricey? Probably a lot of people, but not me.
THE NEW MEDIEVALISM. One of my "bits" I bring up when I'm in a pretentious mood (which, as you can tell, is quite often) involves stating that modern America is really feudal. We pretend like we're in some kind of democracy, but vast swaths of society's resources are controlled by corporations and other nondemocratic institutions. Though shareholders may be dispersed, ownership does not mean control; in reality, a small number of corporate princes have power over these resources. Corporations are structured as hierarchies, and many of us, like modern feudal tenants, spend a lot of our time working for mesne lords in these hierarchies, trading our labor for a crust of bread. The whole structure is bound together by duties of loyalty, a "punctilio of an honor the most sensitive." (Meinhard v. Salmon). Sounds feudal to me!

Turns out this spiel -- which I've repeatedly gone to during lulls in conversations over the last couple of years, may be preempted by actual scholarship. See Developments in the Law--The Law of Cyberspace, 112 Harv. L. Rev. 1680, 1688-89 (1999) (footnotes omitted) (defining the "New Medievalism" as "an approach to international relations that asserts 'a secular reincarnation of the system of overlapping or segmented authority that characterized' pre-Reformation Europe. As the world has become increasingly integrated, it is argued, authority patterns have dispersed into a variety of overlapping layers, much like the overlapping medieval authorities of emperor, pope, prince, and feudal lord."); id. at 1689 ("New Medievalists note that states have gradually ceded sovereignty over significant social and economic issues to supranational institutions including the European Union and the World Trade Organization. Likewise, technologies such as the Internet has have enabled individuals to create 'new commonalities of identity that cut across national borders and challenge governments at the level of individual loyalties.'").

Though the emphasis there seems to be a touch different from my canned rant, it is both amusing and a bit frightening that people are actually taking seriously something not tremendously different from it.
ERRATA: Turns out my post on the swim fins was wrong. Someone close to the Atlanta swim league (who asked to remain anonymous): "The 'flipper' in question is in fact a standard diving fin adapted to attach to the end of his leg at the knee." So much for my dorsal-fin theory.

I could go on a rant about the strange yet widespread norm against resorting to the legal system even when you have a colorable claim (shades of Vosburg v. Putney, where the judge admonishes the parties that the case should never have come to court while finding for the plaintiff), but instead I'll just note the magic of the blogosphere; where news stories were unclear, I had the confusion resolved by someone actually close to the issue finding my post and sending me an email. Truly amazing.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

SHELTERED FROM THE SUMMER HEAT today by going to see the film Possession, which turned out to be a pretty good flick. The story of two academics (Gwyneth Paltrow and some guy) unearthing the previously unknown affair of two Victorian-England poets (played by two other non-Gwyneths) was delightfully self-conscious of its pretension. The juxtaposition of the 19th century stilted wit in the flashback scenes with the unrefined blather in the present made the dash of humor in this ostensible love story just right (though the love story was pretty weak). Anyway, one of the best of many good lines was this (rough paraphrase from memory):
RUDE LIBRARIAN AT BRITISH MUSEUM: Oh yes, now I remember...you're the American. How are you enjoying Britain?
AMERICAN ACADEMIC: It's wonderful. It's our favorite colony.
LAW SCHOOL ADVICE: DON'T LISTEN TO IT. Lots of advice for law students floating around the blogosphere. There's Ipse Dixit, Dahlia Lithwick, and something would-be law students should probably take more seriously, advice from from an actual law student of the modern age. As (1) a law student myself and (2) a remorseless windbag and busybody, I can't resist putting my two cents. I'm a law student too, after all. (though keep in mind my experience reflects the local color of being a student at Harvard Law School; I imagine other places are not radically different because of the general acceptence of Langdell's model for law schools, as well as "cross-pollination" and all that, but no doubt each school offers its own, slightly different experience).

Advice on Advice. Really, it's all a load of manure (my advice included). I once heard Dershowitz say that when you ask people for advice, they just tell you what they did. If you follow advice, you just end up living other people's lives. I think this is largely very true -- you can ask a C student for advice and they'll tell you "what worked for them" during law school. But even if you ask the ten top students in the class, you'll probably get about ten different answers. Indeed, the best students are often independent and iconoclastic. Reject slavish conformity to other people's lives, whether they are successes or failures. You really should try to find your own best way; indeed, muddling through it all on your own is the point of law school, nay, life. (I'm not suggesting being some kind of "lone wolf" -- nor am I suggesting not lone-wolfing it -- but I am suggesting listening to lots of people, but making decisions for yourself).

That said, I can't resist giving you my advice. There's something fundamentally broken in humanity: we all think we have something worthwhile to say.

Embrace Confusion. If there is one part of the transition from other disciplines to law school that is tough, it is the need to cope with confusion. When you are confused in law school -- which will happen often -- the first and very understandable impulse is to try to reason your way into a clear answer, to shut the door on confusion. If you do this, you are generally moving backwards. Law itself is very confusing and there are a lot of tensions. For all their posturing and presentation of the illusion of clear answers, law professors are going to split the doctrine right down the middle of major tensions on their exams. During the year, when you realize you are confused, don't despair -- celebrate! Usually you have just identified one of those legal fault lines. Instead of convincing yourself of ways to make things straightforward, explore your confusion, dissect it, understand it, learn where it comes from. Finding ways of systematizing and exploiting legitimate confusion is the key to law school; it's why people are constantly shaking their heads over getting an A when they thought they flunked and getting a C when they thought they aced an exam. When every answer you give is clear and one-directional with no detours, you've missed the nuance; you've failed to embrace law school confusion.

Talking: Shut Yo' Trap. Before I started law school, a very wise law student told me not to talk much in class. This was good advice for me. As you can tell from my blogging, no matter how bad my ideas may be, I'll still vomit them up and share them with whoever will listen. But, I consciously restrained myself, and it turned out not raising my hand and trying to jump into the fray was pretty easy after the first few weeks. I talked when cold-called, and tried to impress, and raised my hand when I has something really good to say, but generally I bided my time.

But wait, why shouldn't you talk? For one, all the other law students will make fun of you if you're a "gunner". But a better reason is the power of law school karma -- for some reason all the people who are huge gunners early all end up doing badly. (You won't hear them talking much second semester). While many simply chalk up this "karma effect" to divine providence and leave it at that, I think there's a logical reason big talkers so often end up getting burned. The big talkers don't realize that they are part of the law professor's show; when the professor encourages them, and keeps going back to them, it is most often because they are getting one side of the issue out. The big talkers get so caught up in stating and defending their position that they miss the whole, the chorus of competing views and philosophies. As a noninvested listener -- and you should listen to the windbags, they have a lot to say -- you start to see patterns, and you start to systematize the kinds of conflicting arguments people bring to bear on legal problems. Generally speaking, when a professor asks student A for an answer, and then asks student B why student A is wrong, neither student's answer is the point, nor is the point which view is stronger. The point is the interaction of those answers: they're a lesson on the nature of legal conflict. You miss this when you're in the fray; you get it when you watch it patiently, day after day, from the sidelines.

Scheming Machiavellis will note that if you don't talk, you won't build up rapport with any professors, whose all-important recommendations are a valuable commodity come 2L year and clerkship season. Ipse Dixit offers his solution: "Pick one class you find especially interesting...and excel in it. Know each day's material in this class backward and forward, even if it means spending time on it that "ought" to be spent just keeping up with another. Your goal is for the professor in this class to consider you the number one student in the class. You'll be wanting recommendations in a couple of years, so start earning them the first month." I think the instrumentalist sentiment here is fine, but the way Ipse Dixit proposes going about it is risky and may not maximize returns. Trying to "excel" in one class almost guarantees you'll do worse in that class on the exam than your other classes, because you'll apply your collegiate standards for "excelling" -- knowing every answer in some rote form. When you try to "excel" you'll become a gunner, you'll try to make things too clear, and thus miss the all-important and totally legitimate confusion. Plus, it's a gamble. Law school grades admittedly are somewhat unpredictable -- it's just one, blind-graded test at the end of the semester -- and you're better off seeing which class you get your best grade in and then doing some research for that professor later, and developing a more personal relationship then.

Briefing, Outlines, Study Groups. The debate over these practices is bunk. People spend a lot of time agonizing over how to study, but I think it's largely a matter of personal style. I will say that it seems very important to work past exams in groups, say small groups of 2 or 3; especially when you don't have an answer key, this can be very valuable. But it's only valuable if you take disagreement the right way -- you shouldn't treat exam discussion as too much of a debate with one right answer; instead, view differing answers as opening your mind to the other side of the argument, a side you missed. Even if you don't agree with each other's answers, all of your actual exams would be stronger if they acknowledged those other interpretations and approaches and then struggled with ways to resolve the conflict. Indeed, when you work the actual exam, if things seem clear, you're probably doing something wrong. It seems counter-intuitive, but find ways to make yourself confused about what the right answer is, explore them, and propose -- with some humility -- a way to resolve the confusion. Acknowledging counterarguments is a time-honored rhetorical technique for boosting your crediblity, and law professors eat this kind of stuff up.

Semicolons. Get used to them; for some reason, since entering law school I can't write without using them constantly. I think the law school mentality of compiling arguments lends itself to lots of semicolons; on the other hand, it could just be their pretension value.

Reading. Seriously consider reading The Bramble Bush during your first year. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

RUBEN BOLLING is a comic genius.

Friday, August 16, 2002

FLIPPER or FIN? Professor Volokh has a post about the disabled swimmer with a prosthetic leg who started wearing a flipper. Well, it's a flipper according to a L.A. Times story, but a fin according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution story and subsequent Atlanta letters to the editor. I tend to suspect the Atlanta paper of being right about an event in Atlanta area swimming.

Now, "fin" and "flipper" could mean the same thing, but I envision a fin as dorsal, while when I hear flipper I immediately think of the big flappy feet scuba divers wear, analogous to a dolphin's fluke. Hunter Scott, the disabled swimmer, claims the fin is not a propulsion device and merely stabilizes his lopsided body and prevents it from rolling; opponents of the fin say it gives him an unfair advantage. Scott's claim makes little sense unless the fin is dorsal. Additionally, as a halfway-decent high school swimmer (if I do say so myself), I can certainly attest that a true scuba diver's flipper could make anyone faster than an Olympian, but a mere dorsal fin on one leg (I'm imagining something like a shark's fin attached to the prosthesis, sticking up) would not offer much in the way of propulsion; indeed, unlike a scuba flipper, it would be useless to a "normal" bipedal swimmer. If, as seems likely, Scott was using such a fin, I think it is a pretty sensible accommodation. An improvement of 4 seconds in 100-yard races is too small of an improvement to have been caused by a scuba flipper, but is a quite normal improvement coming from growth and training between ages 13 and 14.

I agree that it is a shame that the decision as to the fin's permissibility is being made through simple outbidding in litigation -- though I suspect you'll rarely find Professor Volokh quite so troubled by wealth inequalities in other contexts. But despite this agreement, I think that the L.A. Times article may have slightly skewed the story by using "flipper" instead of "fin," evoking an idea of a radical advantage rather than a quite sensible device designed specifically to compensate someone missing part of one leg rather than just "even out speeds." Now, as I've said above, I'm only theorizing that this is a vertical fin, but it seems plausible from reading the L.A. Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the L.A. Times word usage has skewed the debate. To me at least, if it turns out that we are talking about a stabilizing fin rather than a scuba flipper, the league's opposition seems far more unreasonable and the Scott family's litigiousness suddenly makes much more sense.

While some may make blanket statements that any accommodation in athletic competition is always inappropriate, I think the details of the particular accommodation are important and relevant to the discussion. A scuba flipper would simply be unfair, but a stabilizing fin for someone whose body "rolls in the water" because of legs of differing buoyancy seems not so far from contact lenses worn under the goggles of a championship swimmer, who wouldn't be able to swim straight without them.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

CHEATERS, JUDGES, & LAW STUDENTS. Great post over at Who Stole the Tarts fitting the current federal judicial clerkship "hiring freeze" into the prisoner's dilemma model. (see also How Appealing for a description of one federal judge's recent "defection", though he hasn't actually hired any early-bird clerks, as best I can tell from the post).

As a rising 3L fortunate enough to have secured a circuit court clerkship for 2003-2004 during the "good 'ol days" of last year, I can sit back and take merely intellectual interest in this whole brouhaha. But I do think that while Who Stole the Tarts offers a perceptive application of the prisoner's dilemma model, she doesn't factor in the other side of the equation: student behavior. What can we say about students cheating? The "cheating" judges ploy only works if the "best" students are willing to act as accomplices. But now that students have officially been told they not only can, but should wait, the impulse to "cheat" and get the jump on the clerkship race butts up against a strengthened impulse to procrastinate (perhaps the most powerful force in the student universe).

Additionally, presuming that most judges follow the rules and only a handful cheat, students who go for the "cheater" judges may have only a very small chance of acceptance -- if only a small number of judges defect -- and thus have a very good chance of being forced to repeat the application process at the official deadline, which most of the "sucker" judges may very well abide by (thanks to norms, signalling, inter-chamber communications, etc.). The result of rational student choice may very well be few students going for the early-bird clerkships, because of the low probability of return if everyone goes for it and the specter of duplicative reapplication.

The upshot: Who really knows what will happen?

UPDATE: Check out Alice's response to this post over at Who Stole the Tarts. Also, note the scare quotes I'm using with "cheater". While some have complained I'm being unfair, I only mean to encapsulate the game-theoretic concept of a defecting player in a collective action problem with this term. I asssign no ethical value one way or the other to such behavior.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

TOWER POWER or SOUR TOWER?. Wizards have always had a penchant for towers. One quickly thinks of Saruman's tower of Orthanc, or Merlin's tower (until it was dynamited by the Connecticut Yankee). Perhaps less well known, but no less a wizard, Raistlin was a tower-dweller, as was his Forgotten Realms counterpart, Elminster. The wizardly Aes Sedai of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time world occupy the White Tower, and while Rand al'Thor was peripatetic in his youth, in the later Jordan books he and his Asha'man cohort seem to be moving towards setting up permanent residence in the "Black Tower".

Why this love of towers? On first glance, one can see the appeal of towers for wizards: they offer a comfortable place of your own to run your experiments with unnatural abominations in peace, a haven to which to escape from the workaday world, a safe repository to pile up your collection of arcane spellbooks and tomes away from prying eyes, and a great view. Additionally, in an architectural landscape dominated by primitive hovels, wood houses, and occasional hobbit-holes, building a skyscraperish tower has tremendous conspicuous consumption value. (A nice tower is kind of like a "Wizard's Porsche").

On the other hand, rural towers are quite often disconnected from the real world, from bustling centers of trade and commerce. The logistics of just keeping the fridge decently stocked at Orthanc must have given Saruman a tremendous headache. Moreover, bustling centers of trade and commerce (whose zoning laws appear to disallow towers) inevitably attract thinkers and artists. Interaction with this milieu would no doubt be a valuable resource for your average wizard, generally depicted as being extremely intellectually alive and interested in new ideas as well as ancient lore. Furthermore, it is surprising that even the evil wizards -- who reportedly have an unquenchable thirst for power -- choose to reside in isolated towers, rather than in the capital, where they might actually have some hope of influencing political leadership. Indeed, towers seem to be ideal for retirement. While most wizards are quite old, usually they're bent not on retirement, but on world domination/salvation.

There is an important exception which bears mention. Gandalf didn't seem to have a home, much less a tower -- he just wandered. While this flies in the face of the standard dogma for conventional wizardly behavior, it in fact seemed to give him some advantage, as comparison with the tower-based Saruman reveals. Rather than becoming too attached to any one region, Gandalf's lack of a domicile gave him great flexibility (and maybe even tax advantages). While Orthanc bred both overconfidence and isolation-induced ignorance in Saruman, Gandalf's peripatetic ventures continually exposed him to useful information -- it was just this difference that led to Gandalf's knowledge of the usefulness of hobbits, where Saruman discounted them. Wizards are very smart, but they often fail to realize the importance of developing numerous and varied social connections; despite the extent of your magical powers, who you know is often just as important as who you can transform into a newt. You're never going to meet anyone if you just sit in your tower cooking up new spells all the time. Of all the wizards, only Gandalf really had a handle on this concept (though Merlin, in hitching his wagon to Arthur's star, seemed to have a sense of it as well).

Perhaps wizards in their towers share much with academics isolated in their iv'ry towers -- and maybe these towers are doing harm. Certainly Judge Richard Posner thinks that the ivory tower of academic specialization is damaging to the quality of public intellectuals.

But that is beside the point. The real upshot is this: If you're reading this and you're a wizard, you may want to reconsider how you invest in real estate. Despite the social status a nice tower provides in wizardly circles, towers may do more harm than good. I'm not saying you have to be as drastic as Gandalf -- he really took this idea to extremes -- but you may be better served by maintaining several modest residences in a number of different locales.

(And while you're at it, check out The Encyclopedia of Arda. These people blow me away. A real labor of love.)

Monday, August 12, 2002

BLAWGS. While my below post suggests that lawyerblogging is more something law types invent than some truly unusual phenomena demanding explanation, I thought I would note that others have already come up with a particularly apt name for its manifestations: blawgs (via Bag & Baggage).

Sunday, August 11, 2002

MEDIEVALBLOGGING. Digital Medievalist, responding to Sasha Volokh's response to my post on the apparent lawyerly propensity for blogging, argues that in fact the medievalist's high comfort level with glosses and other intertextual references makes them pre-adapted to life on the internet. It's an interesting post, and very similar to my initial statement about lawyer's pre-prepartion for blogging.

I do now wonder, however, if everyone sees their field everywhere they look. Lawyers view the web and note the abundance of lawyer blogs. Medievalists note the abundance of medievalist blogs. And then we start coming up with profession-centric explanations, when perhaps the real explanation is the general abundance of everything on the web, which becomes increasingly Gibsonesque in its vastness with each passing day. As we select and process the fragments of this whole we are most interested in, perhaps we start to feel that the corner of the web we have chosen to focus on is a larger part of what exists than it really is, and thus that there is some anomaly that must be explained. This kind of behavioral bias is certainly normal and expected -- I myself succumbed to it as much as anyone in my previous lawyerblogging post.

Just a theory.

Friday, August 09, 2002

A WORD IN FAVOR OF TERM UNLIMITS. In an interesting piece in today's Washington Post, law professors Akhil Amar and Steven (not Guido) Calebresi argue that the Supreme Court Justices should have term limits. While separation of powers principles embodied in Article III would probably prevent actual, set-in-stone term limits, Amar and Calabresi suggest a number of ways short of a Constitutional Amendment -- both informal and technical -- by which term limits could, in effect, be imposed on Justices. For instance, judges could be appointed to federal circuit courts for life, and be put on the Supreme Court merely "by designation." Or, upon confirmation, future would-be Justices could be made to promise they would retire after X years. Although such promises would carry little legal weight, Amar and Calebresi feel that "justices would feel honor-bound to keep their word.

What exactly is so wrong with having Justices on the Court for such a long time? As Amar and Calabresi point out, the current Court has had the same mix of personnel for longer than any previous Court (eight years and counting). According to them, the current Justices are all at least giving the appearance of waiting for the ideal moment to retire, when someone most like them in ideology can be appointed. This theory suggests that the liberal Justices want to wait until a liberal presidency to retire, while the conservative Justices are waiting for the possibility of a more conservative Senate less likely to knock out their "ideal" appointees. Amar and Calabresi suggest that when Justices are hanging on to their seats as they wait for the political constellations to come into perfect alignment, the notion of an independent, apolitical judiciary is undermined. Thus, Amar and Calabresi argue we should have term limits for the Justices.

I'm not sure Amar and Calabresi's characterization of the Justices' motives is either fair or complete, but even if the Justices are making retirement decisions based on the current alignment or misalignment of political constellations, so what? There is, I think, a basic tension underlying Amar and Calabresi's argument. Their premise is that politics influencing what Justices do undermines the judicial system. In general, I agree -- this is consistent with separation of powers, as well as the Framers' idea that a wholly unchecked democracy-of-the-moment is less than ideal.

But the cure Amar and Calabresi suggest is to increase the disease. Their suggestion is to remedy political influence on the Court by giving the political branches even more frequent control over the Court's composition. When Justices stay on the Court because they don't like the ideological balance likely to result from their retiring at the moment, they are being influenced by political considerations in a sense, but they are also preserving the Court's ability to stand in the way of democratic excesses. The Justices cannot stand in its way forever -- while it may not always seem that way, they are mortals, doomed to die -- and I think this is a sufficient escape valve.

When Justices hang on to their seats because they don't like the current political environment, they are in fact exercising their independence from the political branches, and maintaining the judiciary's proper function as a check on the political branches. Amar and Calabresi have arrayed a number of impressive arguments and clever solutions, but they seem to have missed this basic point. Nowhere is this better seen than in their own words: "Congress should try to nudge the justices toward a better model of judicial independence based on fixed judicial terms." But what kind of "judicial independence" can come from a Congressional nudge?
THE LIST OF PEOPLE IN ON THE CRUEL JOKE my parents played on me by naming me after Saturday Night Live legend Garrett Morris now includes Meryl Yourish.

Or, check out this Garrett Morris. (Fortunately not my namesake)

Thursday, August 08, 2002

AU CONTRAIRE! I am both alarmed and amused by the fact that a reputable thinktank like CSIS is drawing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for insights critical to our national security. See below.

In any event, after reading some of the characteristics of the so-called "Buffy Paradigm" (p. 4), I have to wonder, just what show were these guys watching? Charmed? While I think we can all agree that the CSIS report is certainly no Long Telegram, they could have at least done their research thoroughly. Specifically, I take issue with the following descriptions of the "Buffy Paradigm":
-- What expertise there is consists largely of bad or uncertain advice and old, flawed, and confusing technical data
-- Arcane knowledge is always inadequate and fails to predict, detect, and properly characterize the threat.
(emphasis added) Yo! Show some respect for Buffy's intelligence source, high-powered high-school librarian Giles. You go to this guy with a vague description of the episode's villain, he comes back five minutes later with the precise species of cacodaemon and what its weak points are. Whatever may be the contours of "Buffy Syndrome," a lack of good data is not one of them.

Indeed, I did a little digging, and it turns out that Giles has quite a following among librarians. Consider the following excerpts from GraceAnne A. DeCandido's essay praising "Giles: Hero Librarian":
[T]he appearance of school librarian Rupert Giles on television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done more for the image of the profession than anything in the past fifty years, with the possible exception of Katherine Hepburn in Desk Set. Giles, this wily and attractive professional, is our hero librarian: a pop culture idol whose love of books and devotion to research hold the key to saving the universe - every week....

Buffy's buddies...meet and conduct much of their research in the school library. Giles, whose collection development policy must be an extraordinary document, has access in the stacks to a vast number of volumes on vampire and demon lore, the occult, witchcraft, spellcasting, and other rarities....

It is a heady experience for any profession to find itself an integral part of a wildly popular TV series. How much more so for librarians, who have been bedeviled with a poor public image since at least the nineteenth century....

We have a librarian model who is elegant, deeply educated, well if fussily dressed, handsome, and charged with eroticism. In a world of teens where parents rarely make an appearance, he is a stable, friendly, and supportive adult. He stands by Buffy even when the powers that be require him to step down. He lives the faith that answers can be found, and most often found in the pages of a book....
The librarians say it better than me: the true "Buffy Paradigm" is not typified by a lack of information, but a wealth of it. One can only conclude that CSIS's blatant mischaracterization reflects their quite understandable jealousy of Buffy's far superior thinktank.
BLOGGERS TAKE NOTE. In Sci-Fi writer Dan Simmons' oustanding book Hyperion, there's a passage strangely apt for bloggers. (and note the reference to the historical Icelandic "All Thing", a very democratic legislative body, which you can read more about in this fantastic book)
For the first time in my life I became political. Days and nights would pass with me monitoring the Senate on farcaster cable or being tapped into the All Thing....My voice and name became well known on the debate channels. No bill was too small, no issue too simple or too complex for my input. The simple act of having voted every few minutes gave me the feeling of having accomplished something. I finally gave up the political obsession only after I realized that accesssing the All Thing regularly meant[] staying home...[I]f I stayed home I would turn into an All Thing sponge like so many millions of other slugs around the Web.
Science-fiction prophesy or present fact?
BUFFY THE BIOLOGICAL WARFARE SLAYER. Just came across this interesting report (via Meryl Yourish), which analogizes America's bioterrorism threat to the kind of diffuse, unpredictable threats Buffy must face weekly in Sunnydale.

The defense-industrial complex can be pretty dorky sometimes.
SHOW YOUR BLOGGER PRIDE. Boldly proclaim to the world that you are a "real winner" today by proudly wearing this fantastic cotton tee. For just $10.95, you can display your web-surfing induced gut in blogspot navy blue. Buy today: it's what the "cool" kids are wearing. If you wear this shirt, Blogger promises you won't get picked last for softball. Offer good only while supplies last -- don't delay!

Truly, we live in The Age of T-Shirts.

HIGH SCHOOL EUROPEAN HISTORY CLASSES everywhere are going to be electrified by this news. (via Common Sense & Wonder)

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

IT'S FUNNY TO EV.: On his blog, Evhead -- and note that his archive links work -- blogger creator and President/CEO of Pyra Labs Evan Williams quotes SF-legend Bruce Sterling, in the process giving us a taste of what makes Ev. chuckle:
It just amazes me how often people who know absolutely nothing about code want to tell software people their business. 'Why don't they just,' that's the standard phraseology. 'Why don't they just' code up something-or-other. Whenever I hear that, frankly, I just want to slap the living shit out of those people."
Hmmm...do you mean like when people ask "Why can't Pyra code up some archive links that actually work?"

(ducks Bruce Sterling)
ONLY BRENDAN O'NEILL would put his blogspot banner at the very bottom of his very long page. (scroll down) And all along I thought he shelled out the 12 bucks for ad-free blogspot...

Actually, it's a pretty good idea, though if too many people did it, the imperial Ev. would have to issue an edict prohibiting such "behaviour".
CHESS, JOURNALISM, FOOTBALL. Since Garry Kasparov is now writing editorials (and I'm expecting an even better one from Deep Blue any day now), I'll link to my totally irrelevant but hopefully entertaining chess-vs.-football piece.
NEVER TRUST A STATISTICIAN, but do check out this method for statistically disproving time travel.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

DOUGLAS TURNBULL in defense of the Constitution's undemocratic aspects, and against Mobocracy. Indeed, some of the Constitution's greatest strengths lay in its undemocratic or countermajoritarian tendencies. Which reminds me of one of my new favorite words I came across this summer: timocracy (rule by the propertied). From Rome to early nineteenth-century England, the franchise has often been limited to those with a certain amount of property. We're still a bit timocratic today, though in a much more informal sense.

Monday, August 05, 2002

JOURNALISM IN THE DIGITAL AGE. CNN.com's got yet another hacking-related story up. The gist of the story is mildly interesting, in fact -- it's about a push to make "self-defense" hacking (hacking the hackers) legal -- but that's not what concerns me here. What concerns me is CNN's choice of accompanying graphics. Instead of using pictures of the people they interview, the journalistic wizards at CNN.com somehow thinks nonsensical clipart is what keeps readers coming back. Take this beaut:


OK: we've got a key, a lock on a computer screen, and some kind of hallucinogenic magnification of a chip etching. If you recently stepped in a wormhole that transported you from the French Enlightenment to the present, this graphic may help you conceptualize this whole "hacking" thing. For the rest of us, while the content value of such a graphic may be limited, it does at least remind of the early 1990s, an unfortunate historical period known as the Bad Clipart Years. Graphics like this help to remind us why we should never again, as a nation, buy CDs filled with generic clipart.

Or take this one:


There it is guys: the "key" to hacking, the completely undangerous ps command, superimposed on some shadowy fingers. And as you can see from the segmentation fault, CNN photographers visited the front lines to bring you a scratchy screen image of some first-year CS major discovering a bug in her lexer at 2 am.

And finally there's this:


I can't begin to explain this one. It looks like some poor kid cut themselves on a spirograph and then got sick all over it.

I can imagine that CNN.com believes it needs an image on every page, or it will lose readers' attention. On the other hand, do we really need all three of these inane images in a relatively short article? To make matters worse, CNN.com reuses these three graphics and about two others in every cyber-story they do. As a consumer of investigative reporting, I prefer descriptive images, like the following one from an (only slightly) imaginative story on Google from Ftrain.



Now that's a picture that tells a story.
THE WHEEL CREAKS ALONG. Robert Jordan is now releasing prologues to his books as separate e-books. Book Ten in the Wheel of Time series, Crossroads of Twilight, won't hit stores till November, but you can read the prologue to the book now. If it's like most of Jordan's other novella-length prologues, it may take you until November to finish it.
WATCH OUT for Googlebots. (via §23).

Friday, August 02, 2002

AS EYES TURN TO THE FED, it's comforting to know Greenspan is there, as he has been through the ages.
SEANBABY, BABY. If you're one of the ten remaining people who still hasn't read Seanbaby yet, go check out the site immeditately. It's all brilliant, but his tour-de-force is the extended commentary on Superfriends. Additionally, the list of the 20 Worst Nintendo Games of All Time and his analysis of fan mail sent to Nintendo Power would be standalone, lifetime achievements for mere mortals. The amount of work put into these commentaries is mind-blowing; it truly is a labor of love.(Warning: some foul language on the site, but it's a small price to pay for the hilarity)

Who is this Seanbaby? Who is this Michelangelo of slacker commentary on TV shows and video games? I'm not sure -- his self-references are evasive. One can only conclude that he's some kind of rural genius whose prodigous talent has been directed only at a pastiche of pop culture, to the enjoyment of lazy office workers everywhere.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

SINCE INTELLIGENT COMMENTARY HAS TURNED TO SUPERHEROES, both Meryl Yourish and Instapundit, I'll relink my posts praising the Green Goblin and criticisms of Batman and Superman (here, here, and especially here).
ASSETS & LIEABILITIES. TV shows about young professionals abound, especially doctors and lawyers. But what about accountants? For years, studio execs have doubted the viability of a show based on the trials and tribulations of young accountants.

But now, post-Enron, all that has changed. Now the public consciousness of accountants has shifted. They can be criminals, and thus, they are dangerous. All a drummer for a Heavy Metal band can do is bash some heads, but an accountant cooking the books can bring world markets to their knees. Developments of late have had their negative side, but they have also accomplished something wonderful for the once-drab profession: Accountants are now sexy.

In today's environment of dangerous-but-sexy accountants, the prospects for an accounting TV series look good. Just imagine: the story of a Good Accountant, the moralizing and ostensible protagonist (well-built; glasses) versus a book-cooking Evil Accountant whose criminality is matched only by his sex appeal. The main love interest is the brainy-but-leggy SEC Auditor, torn between the Good Accountant and Evil Accountant, whose love for the irressistable Evil Accountant leads her to initially become an unwitting accomplice, looking the other way as he blatantly violates FASB-121(b). Meanwhile, the Evil Accountant is two-timing her with the female CEO of the firm he is cooking the books for, Femron.

Of course there are sideplots: the spunky office manager, the gruff veteran accountant with a heart of gold, and the nerdy historian of accounting who occasionally intervenes to tell stories about the Teapot Dome Scandal. There would be accounting humor ("I do not depreciate that remark.") and accounting tragedy (my pencil broke). The title, of course, would be Balance Sheets.

ER, move over.