Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman (R.I.P) and The Interpretation of Laws

We all knew he was dying of cancer, but still, its heartwrenching. One of the ever-dwindling number of classic bright lights in Hollywood’s firmament of great actors has gone dark.

Everybody else will be quoting the obvious memorable lines from their favorite Paul Newman movies, but luckily YouTube has the scene with one of my favorite legal quotes from any movie, this one from Newman in Hud on how to interpret laws:

“Well, I always say the law was meant be interpreted in a lenient manner, and that’s what I try to do. Sometimes I lean to one side of it, sometimes I lean to the other.”
All the first year students are working on a research assignment this weekend, so today I announced that I won’t answer any question until they first tell me their favorite Paul Newman movie. Typical responses include “Who”?, “Ummmmm”?, “Isn’t he a singer or movie guy?” and “I know his salad dressing”. But one student said “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” right off the bat so there may be hope yet for some of this generation.

The final scene in Hud when he is left alone in the house is one of the saddest I know in any movie. Its subtle and underplayed because, though he’s won and the farm is his, popping open his beer is the only celebration available to him and we know the future only holds more of the same emptiness he now has all around him. Larry McMurtry, who wrote "Horeseman Pass By”, which Hud is based on, has written two sequels to “The Last Picture Show” that updates those characters, so I’ve always wondered if he had notes or ideas about what happened to the characters in Hud after this story ends. Particularly Lon - where did he go, what did he do, and did he ever come back or ask for his share of the ranch?

And, yes, everyone else is probably linking to this scene, but here is the classic “Plastic Jesus” from Cool Hand Luke:

But who else is quoting the text of this scene from the book? -

   Without a word, the Yard Man dropped a telegram on the blanket, turned and shuffled away.
   Luke looked at the telegram which had already been opened and read. He stared at it, threw in his cards, got up and went to his bunk. A few minutes later we heard Luke's banjo. He was playing very softly, picking out the slow melody of an old hymn on one string.
   Koko found out what was the matter. He went over to Luke's bunk and found him sitting on the floor, his bare feet tucked up beneath his drawn-up legs. He picked at his banjo, tears streaming down his face and over his bare chest. Koko looked at the telegram lying there on the floor. Luke's mother had died early that morning from a sudden heart attack.
   For the rest of the day the Building was hushed. Radios were turned low, voices were subdued. There was no horseplay, no yelling, no laughter. Luke was left along to brood by himself, the rest of us knowing what it was like to be on the inside while out families celebrated and suffered, struggled and mourned without us. Luke could send no flowers, pay no homage, convey no sense of his presence to the rest of his family.
Donn Pearce, Cool Hand Luke", p178 (Sphere Books edition, Copyright 1965).

Where can we send flowers and pay homage?

Full blog post...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Slavery Reparations Reference Question

One of the things I like about working in a law school library that is open to the public is working with public patrons who either are trying to deal with their own legal problems or who are just curious about the law for some other reason. Loyola New Orleans isn’t quite as readily accessible as some other urban law schools (like whichever Georgia law school is in Atlanta - their law library is apparently just across the street from the jail and/or police headquarters - I forget which).

Here is a reference question that was left on my voicemail this past summer; I’ve bleeped the name and phone number of the guy who called (and it’s a private, non-searchable Google “video”):

His question was a variation of the slavery reparations urban legend/scam.

I did call him back, explained to him while this reparations have been debated, nothing has been passed into law. I told him if he was interested in researching the different proposals and plans for slavery reparations, we could help him if he wanted to come into the library. But, as far as I know, he never came by. So I don’t know if he was motivated just by the possibility of getting his share of reparations, or if he was interested in the issue in general. I could have at least pointed him at these two opposing viewpoints on the issue:

National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America

This looks like an umbrella group advocating for reparations. The dates on their “News” and other parts of their web site are about three years old, so either they’re not that active any more or they need to fire their webmaster.

The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives’ “Slavery Reparations Information Center”

I haven’t heard of this group - guess they don’t get a lot coverage on CNN or in the New York Times. Several good articles here arguing against reparations. One notes the intellectual disconnect between warning that tax cuts threaten social services programs and advocating a trillion-dollar-plus government package of reparations.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hurricane Warning Escalation

In the days before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, the National Weather Service used some language that they have previously kept in reserve for storms that looked to be particularly lethal. The warning went out at 10:11am on August 28 and said, in part:

(See U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, service assessment: hurricane katrina, August 23-31, 2005 18 (2006) (available at:

Katrina weakened to a Category 3 and though it still had the highest storm surge on record, it was the failure of the federally built levees in New Orleans that resulted in the 1300 deaths here, not the direct effects of the storm.

So last week for Hurricane Ike, the NWS had to up the ante in their warnings. Many news stories mention the "certain death warning" given for Galveston:
(See, for example, 'Certain death' warning over Ike,

I haven't found the actual warning that contains that language on the NOAA/NWS web site, but though there have been a few dozen confirmed casualties, it looks again like the warning was again over-the-top. As it should be, I guess, though this didn't convince everyone to leave Galveston.

But then what will the NWS do next time? Nothing is much more dire than "certain death", so expect the next big hurricane to inspire warnings such as:
Maybe that will get people's attention.

Full blog post...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Ike on West End Boulevard

Ike is so huge that even here in New Orleans, on the south-western shore of Lake Ponchartrain, outside of the levee the lake was pushed by the wind and the edge of Ike's storm surge into the parking lot of Landry's seafood and over the docks of the adjacent marina. Hank enjoyed the temporary wading pool.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

“Google Racing”/Googlewhacking

How fast can new web pages containing unique phrases appear on Google? I’ve tested this twice now, with the same result of about three days. That’s how long some unique phrase takes to appear on Google. I haven’t found a term or jargon to describe to act of measuring this. “SEO” - search engine optimization - discusses issues related to this, like how long it takes for new terms on a web page to pull in related hits and how long a new web page takes to be indexed by Google. (You can measure the same thing on any search engine; Google is so ubiquitous and easy to make into jargon that its what most people use when describing any web-search phenomenon.)

What I’m curious about it how quickly Google indexes changes to a given page. I tested this earlier on my blog when I found a phrase that wasn’t found though Google when searched AS A PHRASE (i.e., with quotation marks around the two search terms) and thus which, for all intents and purposes, does not exist as a phrase on the web.

It took three days for my first test - the prhase “tarpaper kumquat” - to appear. And it also took three days for my unintentional second test - “Hurricane Evacuation Bingo” - to appear as a Google phrase search.

But then I got to thinking, this blog is new and isn’t linked anyway except my home page and, of course, blogspot/blogger is owned by Google. So a better test would be to post a unique phrase somewhere else and see how fast it appears on Google from that page. My home page is linked a few places, including CALI because of the legal research lessons I’ve written for them, so I should post a test phrase on my home page and see how long that takes. I should also create a test blog somewhere else and see when that is picked up. OR I could post a unique phrase in all three places and see which one comes up first, hence the jargon “Google Racing”, which I’m calling this until I find out that, of course, someone has done this before and calls it something else.

Another point is related to finding a unique test phrase. And this one DOES have jargon, but I forgot what its called. This may be it - Googlewhacking. Yes, I think that's it. I read a newspaper article a few years ago about this. Basically, two words - no quotes - and try to get the fewest results on Google. Any number below 100 is good, and surprisingly hard to do, and the closer to one the better. You can’t use proper names, and no fair looking through a dictionary for obscure words you’ve never heard of.

My first test: tarpaper kumquat

gets 731 results none of which, of course, had the words together as a phrase until three days after I posted them AS a phrase in sentence in my first test.

This shows why it is usually so pointless for reporters to blithely mention something like “Just Google [term1] and [term2] and you’ll get 30,000,000 results” to try to illustrate how popular or prevalent something is. The vast majority of those hits - for two terms NOT in quotation marks - will bring up pages where those two terms do NOT appear in relation to each other. There are a lot of forums, blogs, discussion boards etc., that contains dozens or hundreds of pages (if printed out) of text on one web page and, through shear probability, the chances of two words which are even at all someone common will appear many times on different pages is very likely. Its hard to find two words with few hits. I mean, jeez:

arsenic imagination

gets 195,000 results.

Anyway, its something to do when things are slow at the reference desk.

Oh, and it turns out that there actually is an education tool that IS Hurricane Bingo (though not hurricane evacuation bingo). Its recommended for grades six and up as a way for students to learn hurricane terms in a “fun, fast, atmosphere”. (Do kids have any concept of games that aren’t electronic?)

Full blog post...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Back at Work/Faculty Scholarly Productivity Study

The law school is back after losing a week to Hurricane Gustav. We’d had only two weeks of classes before that, so its almost like starting the semester all over again. I’ve got to re-learn the names of new faculty and staff that I’ve forgotten during our nine-day labor day weekend.

So I lost a week's work for the short articles and the new CALI lesson I’m writing, and for verifying Loyola’s data for professor Michael Yelnosky’s “Study of Scholarly Productivity of Law Faculties” in 3rd and 4th Tier Law schools. I got stuck doing that because I compiled, maintain, and update the the current faculty publications bibliography for our faculty.

Prof. Yelnosky has done a lot of good work, but I found discrepancies in the data he had for three of our faculty. We’ve addressed one of those three, and he’s going to get back to me on the other two, but that’s a 10% error rate for us. His student workers did NOT compile lists of the “qualifying articles” for each faculty, they just did the Westlaw queries - which they did compile and which Michael sent me - and, I guess, tallied the qualifying articles on a piece of paper. (“Qualifying articles” are those published by faculty in the list of top law reviews that he’s using.) So he can’t tell me what 4 articles Professor A at our law school he’s counting, he just needs me - and, presumably, someone at all the other 90-100 schools in tiers 3 and 4 - to verify his numbers and send him the discrepancies.

The thing is, this just screams to be some sort of huge, on-line collaborative project. Had he actually generated the lists of qualifying articles and put them on the web with his other data, we - meaning myself and any other borderline obsessive-compulsive types out there - could be cross-checking the results of OTHER schools ourselves. I don’t think that would be difficult to set up. Maybe I’ll post something on the ALL-SIS listserv and see if any other librarians have got ensnared in doing this at their law school.

Full blog post...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gustav Clean-Up: Four Days and 22 Trash Bags

We got back to New Orleans on Wednesday afternoon. The power was initially on, then blinked off and was out for about three or four hours. The funniest thing about this - thankfully brief - evacucation and return was hearing our neighbor on WWL call in and ask if they knew anything about why the power here in the Irish Channel was out again. Whoever was hosting then said they would check about it. The neighbor came out on his porch and we cheered him for getting on the radio and, honestly, not more than five minutes later the power came back on! I knew he had connections, but wow - that's impressive.

We lost one of our three palm trees in the back and had to cut down a lot of other stuff - some of which we had planned to do anyway - and it was a brutal over-haul. With that, sweeping, and cleaning out the gutters, we generated a LOT of yard debris - all of which, amazingly, has already been hauled away so I don't have an impressive photograph of the pile of trash bags like I did after we cleaned up post-Katrina.

Here's two back yard photos from earlier this summer:

Here's two from Wednesday before we started cleaning up:

and here's two from when we finished today:

Depressing... but the Tibetian prayer flags that Emily had picked up before Gustav even formed is a perfect way to fill in that corner with some color. Hopefully they will bring us good luck and help push Ike to Texas.

Oh, yeah - one last picture. My goal yesterday was to cut everything down and get it to the curb, including the stump of that palm tree. Well, I broke BOTH our shovels trying to dig it out, then I spent about an hour cutting at the roots with some small clippers. I was obsessed with getting it done and I had visions of running through the neighborhood swinging the stump around by its roots like a warrior and his victim's severed head. But Emily, Lauri, and Lauri's neice Cassie had just ordered pizza so I was content with a victory lap out to the debris pile on the street:

There can be only one! Tonight you sleep in hell, you vile palm tree stump!!!

Full blog post...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hurricane Evacuation Bingo!!!

My wife and I have a new game - Hurricane Evacuation Bingo!!! - just listen to the non-stop coverage on every channel and mark off common hurricane-related phrases like:
hunker down
mother of all storms
hurricane hunters
cone of uncertainty
gusting winds
and, when the storm and/or threat has passed, you can include additional phrases:
sigh of relief
dodged a bullet
co-ordinated re-entry
Its the game the whole family can play while packed in a Best Western in Greenville, Alabama or at gramma's house with the dog and four cats!!! (And even while driving 18 hours to Meridian, Mississippi! - just keep the radio on the local talk/news station!)
AND this is another good test case similar to my previous test case: how long until the unique phrase "hurricane evacuation bingo" is picked up by Google???
Full blog post...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Laborious Day

We made it to my Mother's house in Daphne, Alabama after only twice as long as a typical drive would take. My current cinematic reference point is Will Smith from Independence Day saying "I was supposed to be having a barbecue" whilst beating up the nasty tentacled alien who interferred with his 4th of July holiday. I'm in Daphne watching CNN, Weather Channel, whatever local Mobile TV news sounds worth listening to, and thinking to myself "I was supposed to have a day off to goof around and do nothing!!!".
Full blog post...