Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Duelling Henry James Quotes in the New York Time

It was deja vu, all over again. I read last Sunday's New York Times article about Bernardo Bertolucci the other day, and it starts out his quoting a passage from a Henry James story, "The Middle Years":
“We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”
A great line about artistic endeavor. So great, another writer used it in another article. I only just finished the book review section, and in the concluding essay, "Working on the Ending", by Gail Godwin, she uses the same quote, albeit without the great last line about madness:
“We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task.”
Was this a recent quote of the day on some desk calendar? It was also used in the Times a few weeks ago, in an article about a museum opening, at which the quote was recited by a speaker. But besides this recent cluster, this quote has only appeared four times since 1981 in the NYT, and only once prior to that, according to their archives search.

Explanation? I'll have to defer to someone I'm much more likely to quote myself instead of Henry James:
A star fall, a phone call
It joins all

It's so deep, it's so wide
You're inside

Effect without cause
Sub-atomic laws, scientific pause

Full blog post...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CSU Hurricane Predictions: A Six-Year Track Record Summary

The 2010 Hurricane Season ended two weeks ago. Since then, like every year, I have not seen a post-season review of how well the hurricane prognosticators at Colorado State University did. I’m sure someone somewhere is tracking this, but the Times-Picayune, the local TV stations and the national media all seem to take a pass on this or, at the very least, do not give it the same prominence they give to the original predictions when they come out in the Spring.

So, as a public service, here, all in one handy chart, are the CSU predictions for the past six hurricane seasons, and the statistics for what actually happened in each season. (The sources for the CSU predictions are the rote news stories that come out each April when they announce their initial predictions; the data for the seasons themselves come from the obsessively-detailed summaries of each season at Wikipedia.)

2005-2010 Hurricane Seasons: CSU Predictions vs Reality

Of course, their predictions are usually not to far off the historic averages, so a 20% error of margin when they predicted four major storms for 2010 and we actually had five belies what you could argue was a pretty good effort.

When these predictions are publicized each year, they are given weight like they have an impeccable, infallible body of evidence and methodology behind them when they’re really what our former mayor C. Ray “School Bus” Nagin called S.W.A.G: a Scientific Wild-Assed Guess. You can see how random some of these "predictions" are by looking at the two years after the 2005 season: after completely under-“estimating” everything about that season, they over-compensated for the 2006 and 2007 seasons and guessed that there would be more named storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes than actually occurred that years.

The bottom line is only a third of the time are these predictions within a margin of 25% accuracy, and this is for an annual six-month season of fairly well-understood meteorological phenomena. And yet we also give similar weight to other wild-assed predictions of a much less understood phenomena: the cause and effect of variations in numerous factors that may or may not impact global temperatures over the course of the next several decades.

Full blog post...

Deaccessioning Gone Wild

The catalogers at this library are a little too exuberant in their weeding duties:

I found this in a random “weird pictures” feature at some news site, and then did a TinEye image search, through which the second hit was to a blog that had another image of it:

And which had a subsequent link and said it was an installation by an artist named Alicia Martin, who apparently works pretty exclusively in the medium of books, with further information about this installation says it was in Cordoba, Spain, with yet more images.

That blog ultimately led to a Spanish-language news story and several more pictures.

Yes, its a slow night at the reference desk with exams in full swing and little motivation on my part for slogging away at another CALI Lesson.

Full blog post...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NYC Radio: December 8, 1980

I had the MP3 of this at one time, and might still have it, but I found it online and thought I would post it here today.

After John Lennon was killed thirty years ago, someone randomly tuned his FM stereo up and down the dial and recorded bits and pieces of what was being broadcast that night in New York city.

No one is sure where this came from: the WFMU page for this clip, from which I embedded it in the above player, talks about how it was found on Napster back in 2001, and links to various debates about whether it is authentic (bottom line, probably yes). Amazing little time capsule of a tragic night, from a pre-digital age now preserved forever on-line.

Full blog post...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy 235th Birthday to the Marine Corps

Here is my third annual traditional Marine Corps Birthday joke. Hadn’t heard it in a while, and I like this version from the Its Humor blog the best.
The Best "Dear John" Letter ever...

A Marine stationed in Iraq recently received a "Dear John" letter from his girlfriend back home. It read as follows:
Dear Ricky,
I can no longer continue our relationship. The distance between us is just too great. I must admit that I have cheated on you twice, since you've been gone, and it's not fair to either of us. I'm sorry.

Please return the picture of me that I sent to you.

The Marine, with hurt feelings, asked his fellow Marines for any snapshots they could spare of their girlfriends, sisters, ex-girlfriends, aunts, cousins etc. In addition to the picture of Becky, Ricky included all the other pictures of the pretty gals he had collected from his buddies. There were 57 photos in that envelope....along with this note:
Dear Becky,
I'm so sorry, but I can't quite remember who you are. Please take your picture from the pile, and send the rest back to me.

Take Care,
Semper Fi!

Full blog post...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Bluebook and Daylight Savings Time

Turning our clocks back last night reminded me of this minor, minor citation issue. Wow - its so minor, I can’t believe I’m taking time to write about it. But I haven’t been writing so much in here lately, and since one of the things I used to do regularly is complain about other people’s sloppy citation errors, I thought I would sling some more mud around. Remember, this is a minor, minor issue.

I had to cite some e-mails in an article I wrote a couple of years ago, and did some searches to confirm that a lot of people really don’t pay any attention to this. Bluebook Rule 17.2.4, E-Mail Correspondence and Listserv Postings, says “[w]hen citing personal e-mail messages...[t]he date of the message and the time stamp may be needed for specific identification of the message”.

Yes, the date would be useful, but why the time? I guess if the author were citing a near-real time e-mail exchange, putting the time-stamps in the citation would help clarify the order the e-mails were sent. And though its not a strict requirements, most folks seem to do it. And many people botch the time stamp of e-mails.

Consider the Eastern time zone. Searching Westlaw’s JLR database for the abbreviation of “Eastern Daylight Time”, I found mostly correct usages, but the seventh document I came across had it wrong:

Leslie Gielow Jacobs, Bush, Obama and Beyond: Observations on the Prospect of Fact Checking Executive Department Threat Claims Before the Use of Force, 26 Const. Comment. 433 (2010):
Persuasive communications by executive branch officials have included formal speeches,123 Sunday talk show appearances,124 congressional testimony,125 direct media postings,126 and documents delivered to Congress and released publicly.127

126E.g., Posting of Jesse Lee to the White House Blog, The New Way Forward--The President's Address, http:// www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/01/new-way-forward-presidents-address (Dec. 1, 2009 21:35 EDT).
(Emphasis added.) December would actually be Easter Standard Time, i.e., “EST”.

Maybe people just don’t realize that the abbreviations for the time zones change according to whether we’re on Standard time - in the winter - or on Daylight time - in the summer. If they realize that, its easy to mix them up because its counter-intuitive: summer is “daylight” time and the winter is “standard” time. It seems that it would be the other way around. After all, we move our clocks back and forward twice a year so farmers have more daylight, right? And isn’t the winter the darker time of the year, when we need to save the daylight? But, no, it’s the other way - winter is standard time and summer is daylight savings time. As the National Institute of Science and Technology’s Physical Measurement Laboratory puts it:
At present, Daylight Saving Time in the United States ... begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ... ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.
So only one of the first ten articles I found with a time stamp that included “EDT” got it wrong. I thought I would also try “EST”. That turns up a lot of French phrases or titles. But the second time zone abbreviation I found is incorrect:
Cynthia Baker, Robert Lancaster, Under Pressure: Rethinking Externships in a Bleak Economy, Clinical Law Review 17 Clinical L. Rev. 71 (2010):
Additionally, default rates for student loans of recent law school graduates have increased sharply.FN24

24Access Group, Inc., a primary originator and servicer of private education loans for law students, reports that the default rate for law student loans jumped between the law school classes of 2007 and 2008. E-mail from Jeffrey E. Hanson, Dir., Borrower Educ. Servs., Access Group to Cynthia Baker, Dir., Program on Law and State Gov't, Ind. Univ. Sch. of Law-Indianapolis (Aug. 11, 2010, 3:42 p.m. EST) (on file with authors).
(Emphasis added.) August is actually part of Daylight time, i.e., EDT. Funny thing is, another six of the first ten time stamps that include EST were also incorrectly used for e-mails or postings sent on dates during Daylight times, for a rate of only a thirty percent correct usage. Don’t know why many more people use “EST” wrong than “EDT”.

But no one can be blamed for getting this wrong in a law review article since the example in the Bluebook for this rule muffs it at well:

Bluebook Rule 17.2.4

September, yes, is, and always has been, part of Daylight time.

Full blog post...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Justice Elena Kagan and Empathy versus Compassion

Completely separate from any jurisprudential significance of one third of the Supreme Court now consisting of women and all the news today that mentioned that fact now that Justice Kagan took her place on the high bench, we now have two justices that President Obama has appointed to the Supreme Court and who both, presumedly, meet the President’s criteria of possessing “‘empathy’ for "people's hopes and struggles’”, that he said was important when he faced his first Supreme Court vacancy last summer.

I tracked down a lot of resources and articles about empathy and jurisprudence for a professor this summer, and with Kagan’s “First Monday” today I was reminded of a blazingly obvious problem with the use of the word. Obvious, at least, to anyone who consults a dictionary.

President Obama, in “The Audacity of Hope”, characterizes empathy as “a call to stand in someone else's shoes and see through their eyes.” (No direct cite available on-line, but the quote is referenced both here and here.)

That’s pretty on point with the OED definition of empathy (gotta have your own local subscription/access to follow that and the next link):
The power of projecting one's personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation (specifically the second definition, which is the one most relevant to the present discussion of judicial philosophies).
Contrast that with the OED definition of compassion:
The feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it; pity that inclines one to spare or to succour.
Explicit in the definition of compassion is that the subject of our compassion is suffering or in distress and if we’re compassionate we will be moved to work to spare or succour the party that is suffering or in distress. In contrast, the strict dictionary definition of empathy says nothing about what, if anything, is happening with the subject of our empathy, and also says nothing about whether by being empathetic we will be motivated to do anything about the subject of our empathy.

My ultimate point is that, very strictly speaking, empathy is value-neutral, but the empathy that most commentators have written about, and that President Obama wrote about in his book and spoke about when nominating Justice Sotomayor, is definitely not the strict, value-free dictionary-definition variety of “empathy”; the better word to have used in all these instances would have been “compassion”.

But with politics being what it was, and with President Obama lacking, as I said in another context, the courage of his convictions, he would have faced even more scorn for using “compassion” to describe his ideal judicial candidate than “empathy”. And I think that’s probably why “empathy” has been used in all the legal scholarship I found this summer: it’s a more academic term, a slightly less “touchy-feely”, greeting-card term, but strictly speaking, I think Obama and his fellow travelers want judges and jurisprudence that are compassionate, not empathetic.

One could, strictly speaking, say you feel empathetic for the homeowner who blew away a burglar with his shotgun and was acquitted because of justifiable homicide (to use a random, bizarre example that came to me when thinking about all this). That would be an awkward use of the word, but not incorrect given the OED definition (the more commonly used term would be sympathetic, of course).

Again, since empathy is defined as “the power of projecting one's personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation” it says nothing about what that object of contemplation is or what the object it. I think we could legitimately argue that the majority opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick that was truly empathetic: empathetic with the the legislators, citizens, and lawmen of Georgia who passed, supported, and enforced the anti-sodomy law that the Supreme Court upheld in that case (to take another random example that comes to mind). But that’s not the empathy that the legal literature contemplates because the “wrong” party prevailed in that case: the party that was suffering, distressed, and which were deserving of pity and to which most commentators were inclined to spare or succour, to use the terms from the OED definition of “compassion”, but not the definition of empathy.

To use a related, but more current, example: Obama surely hopes that now with Justices Sotomayor and Kagan on the bench, when California's Proposition 8 reaches the high court, a majority of the justices will be compassionate to the "suffering or distress" of the same-sex couples denied the benefit of marriage by Prop. 8 and not empathetic to the majority of citizens represented in that case, those who passed Prop. 8 in the first place. The value-neutral OED definition of empathy would seem to require a cold, value-neutral weighing of the “full comprehen[sion]” of the various “object[s] of contemplation” and rule on the side that had the most numbers, regardless of which side warranted "the desire to relieve" any afore-mentioned suffering and distress, as a compassionate approach would require.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Blogging Drought?

Almost two months with only two blog posts to show for these hot summer months? And with two years now and 150 or so posts this far!!!???!!! (What the hell did I write about in all those posts?)

Guess when I’m working on something substantive I have less time and energy to bullshit blog. I must be such a disappointment to my one “follower” and all the Taiwanese porn spammers who make it past the CAPTCHA screening.

Full blog post...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010 New Orleans Saints Who Dat Nation Membership Quiz

On the occasion of the start of the regular season today, all Saints fans should take the following quiz to determine their true level of committed Who Dat-ness!

1) The 2010 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints were:

A) The greatest team fielded by the Saints in franchise history.

B) The greatest team fielded by any NFL franchise in league history.

C) The greatest team ever fielded in any sport in all of history from the dawn of time to the end of the universe.

2) The Saints' successful on-side kick at the start of the second half of Super Bowl 44 was:

A) The gutsiest play ever called in a Super Bowl game.

B) The gutsiest play ever in any football game.

C) The single most significant strategic decision ever made by a human being.

3) Tracy Porter’s fourth-quarter Super Bowl interception that took the Saints to their decisive 31 to 17 winning lead was:

A) The best turnover play in the history of the Super Bowl.

B) The best and most decisive victory-sealing play in the history of sports.

C) The single greatest accomplishment in human history, surpassing agriculture, writing, and the discovery of fire.

4) New Orleans Head Coach Sean Peyton is:

A) The best coach the New Orleans Saints have ever had.

B) The greatest coach ever to walk the face of the Earth.

C) The most supreme strategist ever to command men, usurping all other piker wannabes like Napoleon, Rommel, and Sun Tzu.

5) New Orleans Saints Quarterback and Superbowl 44 MVP Drew Brees is:

A) The greatest quarterback in Saints history.

B) The greatest athlete ever in human history.

C) So amazing and all-encompassing in his athletic skills and leadership abilities that he transcends human experience and cannot be fully appreciated by such mortals as we who are merely fit to touch the hem of his jersey as we grovel before him and avert our gaze from his face.

Answer Key: If you answered anything but “C” to any of these questions, burn all your Saints memorabilia and gauge your eyes out before game time because you do not deserve to call yourself a true member of the Who Dat Nation.

Full blog post...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Do "Hi and Lois" Live on the Gulf Coast?

I thought that at least the Sunday comics would give me a reprieve from the Oilpocalypse coverage. But, no, apparently not.

It's probably just a printing error - or so I thought at first. In the last panel of today's "Hi and Lois", the family is at the beach:

That looks like some particularly nasty black, oil-fouled water. But if this was a subtle effort at drawing further attention to BP's environmental catastrophe and its effects on the economy of the Gulf Coast during this holiday weekend, then why are they letting their kids swim in the petrol-muck? What the hell, Hi?

But then - look at the sky behind the clouds! They're as black as the apparent oil slick in the ocean. If the GIF at the ComicsKingdom web site above didn't have a black sky as well, I would have thought the local Times-Picayune printing plant had screwed up.

Maybe this is the start of a cross-over series of strips and next week Lois's brother Beetle Bailey will see his platoon deployed to the Gulf for clean-up assistance duty. (I spend WAY too much time thinking about newspaper comic strips for a man my age.)

Full blog post...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Groucho Marx on Father's Day

Not sure why I thought of this, but in honor of fathers everywhere this Father's Day, here is Groucho Marx on the Dick Cavett show lamenting the lack of songs about Fathers, compared to the amount of songs about mothers, and singing the two songs about fathers he knew:

He did this same basic routine - though a bit tighter - in his Carnegie Hall performance of his 1970s one man show, An Evening with Groucho. As a kid I wore out the album made from the recording of that show. Someone has parts of that recording on YouTube with subject-specific still photos accompanying the audio, but I didn't see the segment with the Father's Day routine on it, but another site has the entire album on-line as separate downloadable MP3s.

"Because according to our Mother, you're our Father! And that's good enough for us."

Full blog post...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TO: Barack Obama, President; FROM: The Nation; RE: Oilpocalypse

President Obama addressed the nation while sitting in the Oval Office, which, every pundit told us several times, he had not done so far in his administration and thus speaking from the Oval Office signaled the seriousness of his message and the anticipation for some substantive proposals and a call to action was thicker than the black crude choking the turtles and pelicans in the Gulf.

Then... Then...

What that it? Was that FREAKIN' IT??? BP is to come up with a reparations fund that will be administered by a neutral third party? That was ALL the President has? Where is the rumored excise tax to fund a massive public works coastal restoration fund to undo the coastal wetlands damage inflicted by decades of oil drilling and dredging of the Mississippi River? Where is the Kennedyesque moon-shot call to action? Obama's predecessor forty-eight years ago knew how to exercise authority and mobilize a nation from that desk where Barry O. now takes up space:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. (President John F. Kennedy, We Choose to Go to the Moon, speech at Rice University, Texas, September 12, 1962)

The most concrete thing suggested tonight is probably not something that the president can do. President Obama said he would "inform" the chairman of BP that "he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness."

Or, to put it in other words, Obama will tell BP that the rule of law and due process no longer apply to their company and that they should just hand over the company checkbook so the feds can dispense BP's as they see fit.

Douglas Brinkley, formerly of Tulane University and now teaching in Texas, has been in several media venues over the past week touting how his White House sources had let him know that Obama was going to propose a massive TVA-style public works project to save the wetlands. He was on Anderson Cooper 360 June 9th and said that a new "conservation excise tax" was going to fund this needed restoration effort.

Brinkley gave more details about this supposedly soon-to-be-announced project on Garland Robinette's local show Monday here on WWL 870 AM, and suggested that Obama's plan would call for $10-20 billion dollars to re-direct the Mississippi River into the wetlands to help flush out the oil and replenish them with the sediment that is now flowing off the continental shelf. He said that this would come both from BP initially and from the afore-mentioned "conservation excise tax". The full interview can be heard through WWL.Com:

(Or peruse the sloppy computer-generated auto-transcript.)

These are the sort of dramatic, decisive proposals that many of us were expecting from President Obama tonight. And we got nothing. NOTHING. Is Brinkley sucking up in hopes of getting an administration position? Sorry, Doug, the position of Policy Pimp in Chief is already taken.

Mr. President, you do NOT have the courage of your convictions. You hardly talk the talk, let alone walk the walk. And you trick notable public figures like Douglas Brinkley into floating your trial balloons to see what the public reaction will be. One question for Professor Brinkley: Did Obama at least have the courtesy to give you a reach around? We didn't get one.

Full blog post...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Obama Kicking Ass, Media Kissing Ass

Playing the “if a Republican did that” game is boring because the results are nearly always the same: a republican wouldn’t get the same free pass from the media that a democrat often gets. In an alternate universe President McCain would not be receiving the kid glove treatment from the media that President Obama is getting over the Gulf Coast Oilpocalypse. A republican president so detached, so cool and so removed from this catastrophe would be flayed alive by the pundits.

The president hasn’t personally talked to the top dog at BP? McCain would be accused of letting his big oil buddies run the show with minimal federal oversight. But when President Obama, on Matt Lauer’s “who’s ass to kick” Today show interview assured the nation that “we have communicated”, with BP officials, that was that: OK, no problem, we can check off that minor criticism because Obama says he has it covered because, essentially, “my people have called his people”.

Similarly, in that same interview, President Obama gave a relatively optimistic prediction that many of the coastal areas damaged by the spill may bounce back sooner than the more pessimistic prognosticators have stated:
[T]hese ecosystems are more resilient than I think we anticipate right now, if we act swiftly, if we act seriously. There are going to be marshes, for example, where the oil goes in and the sea life that's there is decimated for a season, maybe two. But potentially we can preserve those estuaries and those marshes so that three years from now things have come back; things have bounced back.
(See full transcript.)

By the end of the interview there were surely officials from environmental groups all over the country preparing statements to counter what the President had said, but which would be worded in such a way that they will essentially say, “ummm, excuse me, mister President, but with all due respect the effect on the Louisiana shoreline may be a good bit more serious and long-lasting than your statement would lead folks to believe”.

But if a President McCain had made a similar statement of tempered optimism, we would have every environmental activist and political commentator in the country belching a fire-and-brimstone torrent of hatred about how clueless the president was and how the oil along Louisiana’s shore may very well damage the entire regions’s wetlands for our lifetimes (such similar and unfounded apocalyptic predictions weren’t true in Prince Williams’ sound after the Exxon Valdez spill, either, and its bounced back better than most anyone expected).

And if a President McCain, when asked about it, admitted that he didn’t know whether his head of MMS had been fired or had resigned, he’d be portrayed as being too far removed and hands-off from the day-to-day operations of his administration to ever be an effective chief executive of anything, let alone of the United States. Ans, yes, admittedly the MMS is one of many minor agencies, but it had been at the forefront of the crisis by the time Elizabeth Bernbaum left over a month after the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded and sank.

Speaking of former MMS director Birnbaum, she was an Obama administration appointee, not a direct holdover from Bush the Second, though she had formerly worked at the Department of the Interior for a short time under both the Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations. This is another point glossed over amidst the many vague allusions to how MMS is chock-a-block full of Bush-era oil industry crony holdovers. That was the point alluded to in Friday’s June 11th Times-Picayune letter to the editor from Tulane School of Law Enviro-shyster Oliver Houck, who I’ved ragged on before about sloppy cites and mis-leading sources about Jazz Fest and Global Warming (long story - read it for the full details). Professor Houck’s main point echoed one of the major themes in the media coverage of the Obama administration’s response to the spill:
“But harsh criticisms of the White House for something set up by its predecessors and over which it has few viable options is not helpful.” (Houck, Don't Blame Obama for Inherited Oil Problems, Times-Picayune, June 11, 2010, at B6)
So, again, Obama gets a pass though he’s been in office for sixteen months and hasn’t been able to bend the federal bureaucracy to his will, but Bush completely owned all responsibility for 9/11 after being in office only eight months and had inherited a gutted intelligence apparatus from the “it’s the economy, stupid”, foreign-policy ducking Clinton administration.

There’s no shortage of ways the media has been kissing up to Obama in their oil spill coverage. If a President McCain had had the similar ill-fortune and bad timing to have said, coincidentally just three weeks before the platform explosion, that “oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills”, that singular video clip would be repeated during every news story about the oil spill from now through perpetuity:

Yes, Obama’s lack of precognition in making this statement has been noted, but it has been reported with the air of “tsk-tsk, isn’t that a bad spot of the wrong words at the wrong time” by Obama’s media sycophants, not the “He was wrong, blatantly wrong, couldn’t be more clueless, we can’t believe a thing this president says” that the same story would have if McCain had made this statement. (For the full transcript of Obama’s comments, see Remarks at Celgard, LLC, and a Question-and-Answer Session in Charlotte, North Carolina, DCPD-201000228, Friday, April 2, 2010.)

And imagine if it had been President McCain’s administration that was the subject of this news story:
May 21st, 2010 CBS Evening New with Katie Couric:

COURIC: We just heard Chip Reid in Cheryl`s piece. Now he`s standing by at the White House. And, Chip, last week, President Obama was accusing BP and other companies involved in the drilling operation of playing the blame game, and, clearly, White House officials are concerned that some fingers are starting to point at them.

REID: Well, Katie, they`re doing everything in their power to make sure that does not happen. At the briefing today, very contentious as you saw, Robert Gibbs did not give an inch. He insisted over and over again the federal government is in charge and they`re doing everything humanly possible to respond to this disaster. In fact, they continued fighting back even after the briefing was over, calling reporters, some reporters, one by one, up to the West Wing to criticize them for asking the same questions over and over again for weeks.

And, you know, they`re right-- we are. But I think the reason is that there`s a growing frustration in that room, on Capitol Hill and in the region that some questions about what the government is doing still haven`t been adequately answered. Katie.
If a republican president’s press secretary had chided the White House Press Corps because they were asking too many questions about the oil spill? Meltdown! White House in full crisis! MacCain’s administration can’t even handle the media asking legitimate questions about the federal response to the oil spill! Can this administration survive with any shred of credibility???

On a related point, I never heard new stories mention how President Bush always traveled with state of the art communications equipment so he could stay in touch with his cabinet and other government and military officials wherever he is, but I’ve heard the media shills for Obama mention that. So its OK if Obama isn’t in the White House when something happens and we don’t hear from him for three days after someone attempts to bomb an airplane on Christmas, or if he has played more golf in sixteen months than Bush II played in eight years. Yes, these things have been mentioned by the press, but as criticism they’re the pats on the wrist that a parent gives an adorable toddler when they misbehave compared to what would be heaped upon a republican president.

So after floundering in a sea of perceived inattention, the administration decided the best way for President Obama to show a little backbone was to say he’s talking to experts and advisors to find out “which ass to kick.”
“And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick, right?”
And this wasn’t even the first time a nebbish Milquetoast of a democratic president tried to butch himself up by saying “ass”: back in 1979, President Carter was asked about the possibility of Senator Edward Kennedy challenging him in the upcoming presidential election. Carter said that if Kennedy ran, “I’ll whip his ass”. One big difference is that back then the networks weren’t as comfortable airing the word “ass” and, like the Time magazine story in that link says, “Tom Brokaw of NBC'S Today show mumbled slyly about a ‘three-letter part of the anatomy that's somewhere near the bottom’”. The other difference is that at least’s Carter’s comment was completely off-the-cuff and honest. Obama’s ass-kicking comment was so carefully preceded by the reference to how his administration isn’t a college seminar that there is no possible argument that this key statement in his “interview” with Lauer wasn’t anything but a very carefully vetted and scripted sound byte.

Full blog post...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Most Amazing - and Impractical - Library Design Concept Ever

This looked like the world’s coolest - but least practical - library ever:
(Direct link to full-sized image.)

When I saw this, my breath was taken away like, I imagine, most fellow librarian/book-geeks would be (and, yes, we’re not librarian because we “love books” - most of us love helping folks find information they need in the never-ending quest for each new answer that is daily service at the reference desk), and not all librarians are book geeks, nor are all book geeks librarians, by a long shot.

But - sigh - this isn’t a photograph of an existing facility: it’s apparently a rendering of an architectural design/proposal for the Stockholm Library. I found information about this image at something called the Long Now Foundation (a non-profit co-founded by Stewart Brand that strives to “creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years” - sounds very cool and very impressive: did they get part of their name and/or inspiration from the “Long Range Foundation” in Heinlein’s Time for the Stars? Jeez, now I’ve got to go track that book down and read it again.)

As gorgeous as this looks, its, of course, ridiculously impractical as a functioning library, unless it’s closed stacks or an archive, and even then: only three “skyways”, apparently, to get to the books, then all those stairs, which should be on the outside of the balconies/rows/whatever, instead of flush up against the books.

But it looks SOOOO COOOL!!! Which, apparently, is the whole point - a link from the Long Now page leads to a discussion at a computer graphics/digital design site. So this may have just been a “concept” and not a full, practical, serious proposal for the Stockholm Library but rather just a “wouldn’t it be neat to have a single, giant wall of books for an entire library” idea.

The comments on the Long Now blog post are both practical and clueless:
With sunlight falling right on the books?
Good point - it looks like the direct sun, even diffused, on the books on those top rows would bake the bindings in a few years.
As for the problem of reaching the top shelves – libraries do this all the time. They put books that are hardly ever used where they can only be reached after going through some trouble. For example using a sliding ladder.
Ummm, no, we don’t organize books by how often they’re used.

I couldn’t find a good picture of it on-line, but this sort of reminds me of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville: roughly half is the museum and the other half is the working archives of the Country Music Foundation. The archive half is enclosed in glass walls that you see from the museum half so that from most of the museum you can look into the archives where all those rows of compact shelving hold their collections and you can watch the archivists and staff at work. Its pretty awe-inspiring, like this fantastical library concept would be on a much larger scale, to see such a vast accumulation of material all in one sweeping view.

Full blog post...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Law Professor Self-Cititillation Presented with Additional Symptoms

Routine cases of what would normally be considered minor instances of self-cititillation not worthy of note may approach the level of pathology when manifested in combinations with other citation pathologies. A case in point:

Kathryn Abrams, Exploring the Affective Constitution, 59 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 571, 593 (2009)

These insights aren't unique to the constitutional area, but there are particular advantages to acknowledging the role of emotion here, because the claims of dispassion and objectivity are particularly prominent, even exaggerated, in this area.122

122The confirmation hearings for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which were marked by acute anxieties on the part of several Senators about the threat to objectivity implied by the nominee's “wise Latina” remarks, provided a vivid illustration of this tendency. See Kathryn Abrams, Empathy and Emotion in the Sotomayor Hearings (Oct. 1, 2009) (manuscript on file with author).
Thus in this case the patient presented both an instance of self-cititillation and premature publication, the cited reference being both one "written" by the author herself, and which had not, yet, technically been published.

In fact, this was a cite to not even a draft article, but an unpublished speech (which, of course, the professor may be turning into an article), that she gave at at Ohio Northern College of Law last fall:
Dr. Kathryn Abrams will speak on "Empathy and Experience in the Sotomayor Hearings" to kick off the Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law Dean's Lecture Series in the Moot Court Room on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009, at 11:30 a.m.
(See http://www-new.onu.edu/node/22101)
Also, notice that in the article, she doesn't indicate the "manuscript" is from a speech. And that's another rant for another day: citing AS AUTHORITY something that is "unpublished" and which only the author, or the law review, has on file. I admit the possibility of some LEGITIMATE use of doing this: if, for example, you're citing to some rare document you viewed at the national archives, I guess. But... oh, God - I just ran a quick search in Westlaw's JLR, just to see how often this is done, just trying the first thing that came to my mind:

"unpublished manuscript" /5 "on file"

And - just guess - well, I don't really have any readers, but if anyone ever comes across this, think to yourself how many hits you imagine this would get. I was thinking MAYBE one or two hundred, at the most, and THAT would have been excessive. But, no. Wow. This query maxes out the Westlaw search engine and returns the default TEN-THOUSAND hits.

I do NOT have time to process that. TEN THOUSAND cites to unpublished manuscripts? I know that a few law reviews are putting these "on file" resources on their web sites and are including links to them in the articles, but most are not.

OK, concluding point to the original blog topic: Yes, if you’re the top, leading expert in a narrow area of law, and you’re building on some earlier research that you published, citing your own work is acceptable. But to support a statement that, basically, says the debate about the role of "dispassion and objectivity" in judges' interpretation of the Constitution is on-going and controversial, and how Justice Sotomayor's confirmation hearings dealt with that debate (said hearings and accompanying were, I believe, well-covered in the news last summer, right?), by citing to your own unpublished speech transcript is both lazy and self-aggrandizing.

Full blog post...

Friday, May 7, 2010

BP Oilspill and Possible Related Graffiti?

My update Tuesday about Professor Houck, Jazzfest, and Global Warming is sort of a minor issue these days here in town because of the largest Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 30+ years that’s now threatening Louisiana and the rest of the central Gulf Coast. Technically, its not a “spill” since its still flowing out of this uncapped well; I think “oil spew” is more accurate, even if #oilspill is the main Twitter hashtag for this event (I really liked #oysterocalypse, @agramsci’s hashtag, but I think he and I were the only ones using it, and I think we both realized as funny as that is, this isn’t really a situation to make light of.)
This is tragic in so many ways, the main way, I think, is that no one is sure how much oil is flowing out of this uncapped well and just what the long-term consequences may be. I’ve seen statements that the flow may have already exceeded the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez, and that at the current rate, the Valdez spill will be matched in a month or so.

And as bad as all this sounds, some perspective is helpful. For example, the low end estimate of the flow, 210,000 gallons a day is, like the PBS site linked above notes, is the equivalent of filling up one olympic sized pool every three days. Yes, it doesn’t take much oil to contaminate a lot of water, but how many olympic sized pools could you fit into the Gulf of Mexico? We’re probably talking about the equivalent of a few drops in a bathtub, right?

I’ve also seen several references which mentions that seven million gallons of oil and fuel were spilled in southeast Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. One contemporaneous news story I found backs that up:
44 Oil Spills Found in Southeast Louisiana, MSNBC, Sept. 19, 2005
This story notes - and this was three weeks after Katrina - that by then “1.3 million gallons had evaporated or dispersed”. As nasty as all that oil on the open water is, its not going to be an ocean of black sludge forever, or possibly even into the near future. Some of it will evaporate and much of it will eventually be dispersed naturally: the Gulf of Mexico is BIG and as horrific as these images are, and as bad as New Orleans has smelled a few days this past week, the lingering effects will probably not be as horrific as some of the current predictions suggest. A few stories I read even noted that, yes, crude oil is biodegradable. All of it isn’t just going to evaporate and biodegrade overnight but, yes, it bears repeating, crude oil is biodegradable. I even found an authoritative source that supports this:
Biodegradation, in The Environment Dictionary By David D. Kemp
Ahh - and a story on the National Geographic web site I just read (Twitter really is most useful during events like these), mentions that the smell we smell when the wind is coming our way, and which people down on the coast are apparently smelling all the time, is
[T]he pungent scent of evaporating surface oil, which rises into the atmosphere and gets broken down by sunlight.
So there are natural processes at work that will help mitigate the oil spew. We shouldn’t wash our hands of BP’s culpability and leave it at that, but, no, its probably not going to be the end of the world for the Gulf Coast and the fishing industry.

But it’s the unknowable aspect of this that is most alarming and, like many other people have said, its like watching the possible projected path of a Cat 5 hurricane when its three days out: you just don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, and you feel completely helpless while you’re waiting.

And on a possibly related tangent: inspired by one of the only blogs I look at regularly, What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today (the excellent photo-journal/blog of a nameless fellow bicycler), I’ve started carrying my small digital camera with me. And Thursday, while taking a varied route to work, I saw this stenciled message on Prytania:
Oil Dances Unihibited

Since I don’t ride by there regularly, I don’t know if its new, I’m not sure what it means, and I’m not even sure if this has anything to do with the BP oil spew. No references online to the phrase “Oil Dances Uninhibited” that I could find. Is it a comment on the oil spill? On dancing? An exhortation that we should dance in as uninhibited a manner as the oil spill is dancing over the Gulf waters? I’m baffled.

Despite my possibly unfounded optimism, I am still concerned, so concerned I put that PBS Gulf Leak Meter up on the right there. Yes, like a lapel ribbon, it shows my sincere, deep concern.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jazzfest, and Global Warming: The First Annual Update

Well, “first annual update” since I initially addressed this last year. In brief summary, Professor Oliver Houck of Tulane School of Law, in his article Can We Save New Orleans?, 19 Tul. Envtl L. Rev 1 (2006) (PDF), mentions several possible effects of climate change on New Orleans, including:
Here in Louisiana we will be warmer in summer (think, maybe, 103 degrees at Jazz Fest) .... Houck, 19 Tul. Envtl. L. Rev 1, at 27.
But the source he cites to:
Envtl. Prot. Agency, Climate Change and Louisiana 3 (1997) available at http:// yosemite.epa.gov/OAR/globalwarming.nsf/UniqueKeyLookup/SHSU5BURCA/$File/la_ impct.pdf
merely says:
[It] is projected that by 2100, temperatures in Louisiana could increase about 3̊ F (with a range of 1-5̊ F) in spring and summer, slightly less in winter, and slightly more in fall. Envtl. Prot. Agency, Climate Change and Louisiana 2 (1997).
(Yes, I found that on page 2 of this report; I didn't see any discussion of temperatures on page 3 like Prof. Houck cited. And the EPA report is no longer at the URL he provided in his article - a perfect example of link rot in law reviews - so I put it on Google Docs.)

Last year I finally got around to researching the average temperatures of all Jazzfests during the past 40 years and, long story short, its never been so hot at Jazzfest that a 3 degree increase (or even, at the high end of the EPA range, a 5 degree increase), would get us anywhere close to 103 degrees: the hottest Jazzfest ever was 2002, with a average daily high temperature of 89.7 degrees (and, yes, I know, I know, you can argue that Prof. Houck was just being all folksy and informal, essentially saying “gosh-its-gonna-be-a-hunnert-an-three-at-Jazzfest-if-we-don’t-DO-something!!!”).

But this WAS written in a leading environmental law journal published by one of the country’s top fifty law schools and if this is the level of argument that counts as serious scholarship, then law professors everywhere should give up all pretense at objectivity and logic and just preach what they think the law SHOULD be. (Most of them are already doing this, but if they didn’t bother with “supporting” sources, citations, and footnotes, all these beleaguered law review students could be saved a lot of needless effort doing their sub-and-cites.)

So here’s my update of the charts I made last year, now including this year’s average temperatures at Jazzfest. (For the methodology, read last year’s post.) This year’s Jazzfest was in the cooler half of all 41 Jazzfests, with an average daily high of 81.0 degrees. Here’s the charts:

First, the average temperatures of all 41 Jazzfests, in chronological order:

Jazzfest High Temperatures, Chronologically

Yes, we had a very mild week and a half of Jazzfest, a full 2.6 degrees cooler than last year. And, yes, the climate change alarmists will say that normal variations may results in an unusually cool week and a half in a certain location despite “global warming”, but you’d be hard pressed to find one say that, by the same reasoning, normal variations may also result in an unusually hot week and a half (like Jazzfest was in 2002). The bottom line is we’re 23 degrees away from Prof. Houck’s apocalyptic - and totally unsupported by the source he cited in the relevant footnote in his article - prediction, and in the four years since he wrote this Jazzfest temperatures have been trending down.

Here are the 41 Jazzfests ranked hottest to coolest:

Jazzfest High Temperatures, Hottest to Coolest

And ranked coolest to hottest:

Jazzfest High Temperatures, Hottest to Coolest

Conclusions, like last year, to be drawn are that, yes, the planet got measurably warmer in the past century but temperatures have reached a plateau and stayed at about the same point for the past decade, despite predictions that global temperatures should keep increasing steadily.

Even some of the anthropogenic global warming alarmists will admit this, though they can't all keep their stories straight. Last month, in his New York Times Magazine cover story, Building a Green Economy, Paul Krugman wrote:
Second, climate models predicted this well in advance, even getting the magnitude of the temperature rise roughly right. While it’s relatively easy to cook up an analysis that matches known data, it is much harder to create a model that accurately forecasts the future. So the fact that climate modelers more than 20 years ago successfully predicted the subsequent global warming gives them enormous credibility. (Id. (Emphasis Added))
Except that, according to a story on NPR - which you would expect to be hand in hand with Krugman and the New York Times on this:
Global warming skeptics have made quite a fuss over the fact the planet hasn’t actually warmed that much over the past decade, and there lies a genuine scientific mystery. The planet has been receiving more solar energy than it's been releasing back into space. Heat ought to be building up somewhere but scientists can't find it. Richard Harris, Examining A Climate Conundrum, All Things Considered, April 27, 2010.
So which is it? Is the planet warming like the scientists predicted or are they baffled by how global warming has stalled in the past ten year? The NPR story at least references a few scientists and articles, which Krugman does not, and it concludes with a discussion of one scientist who has what is apparently the only working theory on this, and that he is finding
[E]vidence of warming deep in the ocean. He's still analyzing that data, so he can't yet say whether it will explain the entire paradox. But he says it will explain at least a chunk of it, and thats how science proceeds: mysteries, explanations, more questions and gradually deeper understanding. (Id.)
So the data is still fresh, but the scientist is sure it will explain away the “apparent” lack of warming in the past decade. Thus NPR placates the alarmists with a pat re-assurance that this new research will explain the lack of predicted warming in the past decade and that - oh, relief - yes, mankind IS causing a catastrophic increase in global temperatures, but its just not evident right now. So please continues buying carbon credits from Al Gore.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Self-Cititillation Syndrome (SCS)

After seeing one too many law review articles where every other footnote seems to cite to one of the author's earlier articles, I think I found the term to describe this: Self-Cititillation Syndrome ("SCS"). Definition: "the propensity of some law school professors to overly cite to their own earlier published works", from "cititillation", "the excessive pleasure taken in seeing someone else cite to your own article or other publication".

Possible usage:

"Yes, its a good article, but he better be careful - he comes close to excessive self-cititillation a few times."

"I had to stop reading after two pages because she kept self-cititillating herself."

"There's nothing wrong with a little self-cititillation. I mean, everyone does it. Just do it in moderation."

Full blog post...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Times-Picayune, Judah Benjamin, and a Poor Choice of Words

I almost choked on my oatmeal when I read this over breakfast. In a decent article in today's Times-Picayune about a nice-sounding exhibit on one of the most significant figures in Louisiana legal history, Judah P. Benjamin, the article mentioned that the driving force behind the exhibit was a state congressman's wife. She was interested in Benjamin because he is a distant relative, or, as the article put it:
Even in Louisiana, "very few people have heard of Judah Benjamin, unless they are Jewish or Civil War buffs," said Laura Cassidy, a fifth-generation descendant of Benjamin through his sister, Rebecca Benjamin Levy. (Emphasis added.)

(Jonathan Tilove, Resurrection: Groundbreaking Statesmen Judah Benjamin is All But Forgotten Today, But a New Exhibit Could Change That, Times-Picayune, April 20, 2010, at A1.)

Yeechhh!!! She's descended from Benjamin and an incestuous union with his sister? Very, very, sloppy, poor choice of woods. Yeah, obviously she's not a "descendant" of Benjamin, but of her sister. Maybe a "descendant of Benjamin's family through his sister..." or, even better, "her great-great grandmother was Benjamin's sister, Rebecca Benjamin Levy". But not descended "through his sister". Sounds like another sequel to Mandingo.

Full blog post...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

March Netflix Report

February 2010 Netflix SummaryArrived at HomeReceived at NetflixDays at HomeMonthly Average Days at HomeCost Per Movie
Cutter's Way 03/03 03/11 8
Hurricane Season 03/05 03/11 6
The King of Marvin Gardens 03/08 03/10 2
Assassination Tango 03/11 03/26 15
Ballast 03/12 03/19 7
Cirque de Freak: The
Vampire's Assistant
03/12 03/16 4
Up in the Air 03/18 03/22 4
The Boondock Saints II:
All Saints Day
03/20 03/30 10
Brothers 03/23 03/31 8
The Men Who Stare at Goats 03/27 04/01 5
An Education 03/31 04/13 13
March 2010 7.5 $1.68

I kept up a good pace of movie-watching this month: 11 from Netflix, and it would have been more except for the Curse of the King of Marvin Gardens.

I'd love to know more about Netflix's internal statistics, like the how many movies per month the average viewer watches, how many days they keep it, BUT particularly I'd love to see their statistics on damaged discs and on how often the a damaged disc is replaced with another copy of the movie that turns out to ALSO be damaged.

This is a screen capture of part of my rental history this month:

I got three copies of that disc that were all damaged. And by "damaged" I don't mean just scratch - these discs was cracked like they all had been crushed by a heavy package during shipping. This happened to me once before and I swear I got the same damaged disc twice, but this time I noted the cracks and I swear it was three different damaged discs they sent me before I got one that was in playable condition. How many people are out there trying to watch The King of Marvin Gardens? Actually, probably a good number, given how great a lot of other Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern movies are, a lot of folks probably got suckered into putting this on their queue thinking it would also be a good flick. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Some interesting characterizations and, yes, Nicholson and Dern are playing against type and have their typical movie personas reversed here but, jeez, I don't mind movies where "nothing happens" - all those Eric Rohmer movies I saw back in college about French people on vacation come to mind - as long as the characters are people you care about or find intriguing. But that's not the case here.

Cutter's Way was another one that was built up in anticipation: I guess the New York Times weekly DVD new releases story has to fill up its column inches with something; it featured this movie when Jeff Bridges was riding the build-up to Oscar night for Crazy Heart, and so I put this at the top of my queue. Notable for John Heard's portrayal of a early, proto-typical "crazy" Viet Nam vet, but there's wasn't much else that stayed with me.

The two best recent movies this month were Up in the Air and An Education; my wife said An Education made her want to go to London, and I said it made me want to go to 1962. And I thought Up in the Air was probably the best of all the best picture-nominated movies I've seen so far, but I think Hollywood was really desperate to demonstrate their relevance and after a series of really lame Iraq/Afganistan war movies, they anointed a decent one made by a female director to be best picture of the year.

But the best surprise this month was Ballast; this was a Netflix recommendation based on other things I've watched and rated highly, and these recommendations don't always pan out but in this instance they got the algorithms right. This movie felt more real than anything I've seen in a long time and though slow-paced it is compelling and populated by characters that were real and made me hope they prevailed by the end. You don't really know whether they do, but that's part of the real-life feel of this movie.

Full blog post...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bad Beatles Fan Art

I saw this down in the French Quarter last week and snapped a quick picture:

The Beatles as jesters, harlequins, whatever, huh?

I can't imagine what the hell the painter was trying to do here. Maybe this was the result of a challenge, an attempt at deliberate, cheesy, bad-taste anti-art? Trying to think of something more ridiculous, considered, maybe, a portrait transforming the Rolling Stones into a bunch of sad puppies on black velvet. Or something by someone who's both a Beatles fan and a Lion King fan:

Or, vice versa, a Lion King fan who is also a Beatles fan:

Here we have perfect examples of the type of internet-enabled media mash-up that I referred to in an earlier post. (The Jester-Beatles poster could have even pre-dated the Web 2.0 internet revolution; it sure didn't need the internet for someone to pull it out of their ass.) Is the world a better place because someone spent time creating these works?

Full blog post...

Friday, April 9, 2010

CBS News Typo in Justice Steven’s Retirement Letter

One of our professors forwarded the text of Justice Steven’s retirement letter to the faculty listserv, but with an obvious typo:
My dear Mr. President:
Having concluded that it would be in the best
interests of the Court to have my successor appointed
and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of
the Court's next Term, I shall retire from regular
active service as an Associate Justice, under the
provisions of 28 D.S.C. § 371(b), effective the next
day after the Court rises for the summer recess this

Most respectfully yours,
John Paul Stevens

I figured the professor hadn’t transcribed it, but had copied it from somewhere and, yes, CBS News, among other sites, apparently did a rush OCR/transcription of the letter.

Here's a screen capture for when they catch the error:

CBS News Typo of Justice Stevens’ Resignation Letter

The PDF copy of the letter, also from the CBS News web site, of course did not have the typo:

(Wow, the embedded version from Issuu.Com looks like crap - click to view it full size.)

Full blog post...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Peter Singer, the Internet, Libraries, and "Crowd-Sourced" Content

Maybe 5% of what I see via Twitter is worth reading. This wasn't really among that 1%, but was short enough for me to scan:

Peter Singer, The Unknown Promise of Internet Freedom

Yes, its that Peter Singer, but he's tackling less-controversial topics here. He notes that even as Google has decided to stop kow-towing to China, the Austrailian government is planning to go into full nanny-state mode and start blocking all manner of offensive stuff on the internet.

Most of this article summarizes several well-worn points about information and the internet: "[e]ven with censorship, the Internet is a force for change" and "we are still only beginning to grasp the extent of what [the internet] will do to the way we live", but the passage that ticked me off is some boilerplate about the vastness of the information on the internet:
Today, if you have an Internet connection, you have at your fingertips an amount of information previously available only to those with access to the world's greatest libraries – indeed, in most respects what is available through the Internet dwarfs those libraries, and it is incomparably easier to find what you need.

Remarkably, this came about with no central planning, no governing body, and no overall control, other than a system for allocating the names of Web sites and their addresses. That something so significant could spring up independently of governments and big business led many to believe that the Internet can bring the world a new type of freedom.
Wait - take away the government and big businesses contributions to what's on the internet and you have, what? Wikipedia (where the article on Britney Spears - 8512 words today - is longer than the one on George Washington - 7719 words today), 10,000,000 blogs mostly about mindless drivel, and all the cutting-edge political back-and-forth in most news site's discussion and comment forums? The internet dwarfs the world's greatest libraries only if you consider that all great libraries lack an authoritative, sixteen-thousand entry encyclopedia about Pokemon.

Singer seems to be fixating on the Clay Shirkey "Here Comes Everyone" aspect of the internet. All this user-generated stuff from the countless unwashed masses is great for the millions of niche obsessions and hobbies for which you can find kindred spirit(s) on the internet, but its crap at producing anything of enduring value. For example, I've been slowly trying to watch every available Audrey Hepburn movie and after seeing one that was new to me, I stumbled upon a fan site for her that is fantastic - it looks great and has a lot of interesting content, but its mostly trivia and photos scrounged up elsewhere on-line. Its a great example of what the internet can do (and apparently mainly the work of one guy), but if I really wanted to learn something substantive about her life, I'd read that recent biography about her that was well-reviewed in the New York Times a few years ago, not the brief Wikipedia overview that this fan site gussies up with some additional pictures. Similarly, although its amazing that a fan ther has painstakingly dubbed her version of some of the songs from My Fair Lady onto those clips from the movie, I'd maybe watch that on YouTube once for the minor novelty of it, but it would only make me want to watch the full movie, on DVD, not streaming wherever it might be available on-line.

Full blog post...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

February 2010 Netflix Report

Jeez, only seven movies again last month? Well, there WAS Mardi Gras and the Saints WINNING THE SUPERBOWL!!!!

February 2010 Netflix SummaryArrived at HomeReceived at NetflixDays at HomeMonthly Average Days at HomeCost Per Movie
Zombieland 02/05 02/10 5
Cinderella Liberty 02/05 02/25 20
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell 02/06 02/10 4
Jumper 02/10 02/23 13
Black Snake Moan 02/10 02/25 15
Sorority Row 02/26 03/02 4
Brothers in Arms 02/26 03/04 6
9.6 $2.65

Zombieland was a lot of fun - don't know why I missed that one in the theaters, it would have been fun to see it on opening weekend. And I see at IMDB they have a page for Zombieland 2 and the studio may apparently go ahead and greenlight two sequels. Sorority Row was a decent slasher movie - I saw the previews for that so many times I had to eventually see it (I guess coming attractions saturation works afterall, eh?) And I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell was as stupid as everything I read indicated it would be, but was worth watching as its proof that any minor publishing success - on-line and/or in print - can lead to a movie deal if a studio thinks a property will have a large built-in audience.

The best movie from Netflix this month was Cinderella Liberty. I had just read The Last Detail and learned that another book by the author, Darryl Ponicsan, was the source for this movie. Like The Last Detail, its a gritty, realistic portrayal of Nacy life. Marsha Mason was great in it and maybe I've come to associate James Caan with Sonny Corleone too much, but I thought he was mis-cast in this and I didn't really buy him as the directionless, needy sailor. I picture someone like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy mode being better for this role. But still a great flick. And I hadn't realized before I saw it that it was set and filmed in Seattle - I recognized some of the settings, and it must be a great record of what the city looked like in the late seventies, pre-urban renewal.

Full blog post...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

World War II, The New Yorker, and Fact Checking

I know there's at least one web site devoted to taking pot-shots at The New Yorker, but its more about the people writing for it and gossip and such and I don't think they quibble over factual errors. And I'm sure there are other folks catching errors when they know a lot about a particular subject, but one error in the current issue was glaring to me and I had to check it out.

In a review of HBO's new (airing this Sunday) mini-series "The Pacific", Nancy Franklin talks about the various source material the writers used (and one of those, Eugene Sledge's book, is one of the best first-person war narratives I've ever read). One source Franklin mentions is the war experience of "John Basilone, who was a hero of Guadalcanal and the first enlisted marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor." (Nancy Franklin, Hell On Earth: HBO's The Pacific, The New Yorker, March 15, 2010, at 68.)

I couldn't keep reading until I did a little research on this. Back in boot camp, we were drilled about the big historic Marine heroes until we knew the details back and forth. This included the two Marines who won two Medals of Honor apiece: Smedley Butler and Dan Daly. I was pretty sure that Daly was an enlisted Marine and that he pre-dated World War II. And, yes, twenty years later my spotty memory was right on those points: as a private in 1901 Daly won his first Medal of Honor in China and fifteen years later, as a Gunnery Sergeant, he was awarded his second one for action in Haiti. (Oh, and THANK YOU Wikipedia - jeez - for the clarification that Butler and Daly were the only two Marines awarded dual Medals of Honor for separate actions: it used to be possible for two Medals of Honor to be awarded for the same action - the Drill Instructors at Parris Island didn't go into that level of detail.)

So on its face this part of the review is completely wrong. How about putting a charitable spin on it? There was another recent factual fudge that stuck in my craw and some other fellow scifi fans noticed the same thing: in the January 25, 2010 New Yorker profile of Neil Gaiman by Dana Goodyear, this passage appears towards the end:
"A boy with curly red hair and glasses sprang up and offered his [copy of a book]: Max Calderon, aged twelve, the great-grandson of the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein." (Dana Goodyear, Kid Goth: Neil Gaiman's Fantasies, The New Yorker, January 25, 2010)
Other folks, more knowledgeable of the master than I am, noted that this kid is actually the grandson of a close friend/obsessive fan of Heinlein's from way back when (and God help this poor kid, born a dozen years or so after Heinlein died, if he really goes around introducing himself at book signings and scifi conventions as his great-grandson). That error is maybe understandable: the article is just providing what the kid said, and it would have taken a too-long explanation to clarify who he really was. But the "Heinlein's great-grandson" aside is pretty damn extraneous to the whole article, so why stick it in there anyway, especially if its completely wrong?

So maybe Franklin, to look at her statement about Basilone in the most favorable light, meant that he was the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II? Wikipedia's detailed information on the Medal of Honor gives all the recipients, by war, and says Basilone's was awarded for actions at Guadalcanal on October 24-25, 1942. (And, yes, I completely trust Wikipedia as a source for names and dates in this matter: enough military history buffs and descendants of these men are out there to police these articles and ensure their accuracy.) But scanning the list of WWII Medal of Honor recipients turns up another enlisted Marine, Clyde A. Thomason, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at the Island of Makin (where the hell is that?) on August 17-18, 1942. His separate entry even says that he was "the first enlisted Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II." (And the awards's correct name IS just the "Medal of Honor", though it is often referred to as the "Congressional Medal of Honor"; the citation mentions Congress but Congress is not actually involved in the process of awarding the Medal, in most cases.)

The only other possibility I can think of is that maybe the date of Basilone's actual Medal of Honor citation came first: since Thomason died earning his, and they needed to get Basilone back stateside to sell war bonds, its possible his Medal of Honor was the first one issued for an enlisted Marine in WWII. But that's really stretching things: I think most historians focus on the action behind the award, not when the award was presented (and though you can find the text of most of these Medal of Honor citations on-line, Thomason's didn't have a date on it.)

So the most you can say about Basilone, then, is that he was the first enlisted Marine to receive a non-posthumous ("prehumous"???) Medal of Honor. (And that is a significant distinction: a majority, like three-fourths or so, of all modern Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously.) In Franklin's article, that wouldn't take much clarification to state correctly. So is the New Yorker just getting sloppy and folks with any sort of specialized knowledge or command of trivia in certain subjects can point these things out when they come across an article in their area of expertise? (Or even "area of passing acquaintance" - I'm no expert in Marine Corps history or the Medal of Honor.) John McPhee even wrote a great piece last year ABOUT New Yorker fact checkers and all the effort he's had to put forward meeting their demands during his decades writing there; even little errors like the details of Basilone's Medal of Honor wouldn't get by the fact checkers he described.

OK, that's enough of a rant. Don't get me started about how the New Yorker, like all other publications, don't capitalizes "Marine". (Allright, just a little bit of a start: "soldier" and "sailor" are generic terms, because there are other armies and navies. There are the "British Royal Marines" and such but only one "Marine Corps", whose member are "Marines", capital "M". Like members of a particular political party. Or a religion. Especially like a religion.)

Full blog post...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Good Work, Google Books!

One of the most useful things I've learned recently via my fellow law librarians on Twitter: Google books has scanned in a full run of the Weekly World News! (Thanks, Sarah Glassmeyer!)

I'm not positive if it's a FULL full run; the main page shows the front cover of an issue from 1993, and I don't know when the WWN started publishing. But FINALLY I can get the digital images from the issue I have framed and which I hang up in my office during carnival season:

As well as the interior pages for this story that I didn't save:

Excellent! (A little tweaking of the method described here, together with only some mild aggravation, got me the images I wanted without doing a lot of screen captures.)

Full blog post...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Professor Kingsfield's Secret

How did Professor Kingsfield maintain his sharp legal mind throughout his career? The answer is revealed in one of the episodes of the Paper Chase television show (which I've been plowing through recently):

Yes, Gilbert's Law Summaries! Not once, but twice:

In this episode (Season 1, episode 6, "Nancy", with guest star Elyssa Davolos, playing the titular, this-episode-only girlfriend of Hart), he's seen carrying a Gilbert's around!

Obviously, Kingsfield doesn't need to consult Gilbert's for Contracts, and if you zoom in on the first picture, you can sorta make out the title and see he's boning up on constitutional law:

Perhaps he finally got tired of the statute of frauds, the speluncean explorers, and all that crap and wanted to teach Con Law for a change?

Full blog post...