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April 27, 2005

It was the worst of Dell, it was the best of Dell

Irony of ironies, just before exams my computer decides to break down. Specifically, the cord on the AC power adapter finally gave up the ghost and would no longer power my computer. Given that the overstressed battery won't last an hour without the charger, that's a real burden.

So I spent two hours on the phone with Dell trying to order a new one today. (So much for Corporations studying.) Needless to say, I experienced Dell's legendary customer service: calls transferred endlessly hoping to find someone in authority to fix your problem; connection quality that ensures the Dell employee sounds like he's not only halfway across the world (he is) but in a deep well; and endless repetition of customer numbers, order numbers, and service tags.

Finally, while waiting on hold, I went to their website and discovered a new (to me, at least) feature: their "Chat with a Service Representative," an instant-message style interface. Some friendly "Agent" answered my chat request almost immediately. He asked a quick list of questions, assured me that he could send me a part overnight or second-day-air, and apologized for the fact that "arranging the dispatch" would take about 10 minutes before he went off to do it. While I was still on hold with phone support, he solved the problem, gave me a tracking number, and signed off.

Several years ago, there were a number of consumer gurus who swore blind that customers would prefer "personal" service either face-to-face or over the phone, because we valued that "human touch." What these people failed to consider was the careless zombie touch that quite a few service industry humans inflict upon customers. Seriously, if you've got Dell support problems, this IM support thing is the way to go.

April 26, 2005

New Blog on Corporate And Commercial Litigation

For those of you who, like me, are procrastinating over studying for a Corporations exam, you might want to check out a new blog on Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation. (Via Ideoblog.)

April 24, 2005

New York Times Wrong Again. Anyone Surprised?

Over in the New York Times, A. O. Scott is making hay about how derivative Sin City is, especially in its reliance upon Tarantino:

The structure of "Sin City" - three loosely linked tales told out of chronological order, one of them starring an exhausted-looking Bruce Willis - owes an obvious debt to "Pulp Fiction," just as the garish, jokey mayhem of "Kung Fu Hustle" could fit comfortably between the two volumes of "Kill Bill."

I know, it's no surprise anymore when the New York Times doesn't do much research, but they could at least have made some effort here. Sin City was almost fetishistically faithful to Frank Miller's source material, to the point of annoyance. The stories already used loosely-linked tales told out of chronological order. (Indeed, to the extent that That Yellow Bastard both begins and ends the movie, the movie becomes more chronological than its source.) But Miller's stories were published between 1991 and 1996 (with the interweaving beginning in the first two books) while Tarantino's Pulp Fiction doesn't come on the scene until 1994.

Indeed, given Tarantino's known likes and reading habits, it's not entirely impossible that Miller was an influence on him in making Pulp Fiction.

Ah well, it's the Times. You wouldn't expect to get the full story, would you?

April 23, 2005

New Naming?

For a while, bloggers have used a term called "instalanche" to describe the effect on a blog when it's linked from Instapundit. It's sort of a smaller form of getting "slashdotted". Twice in the last few weeks, though, I've noticed similar boosts in traffic when people get linked from the Volokh Conspiracy. The first time I noticed a slight spike in traffic when I'd trackbacked to one of the Conspiracy's posts. It was much more obvious when I saw the surge in traffic at De Novo when Prof. Kerr linked to their symposium on law reviews.

What does one call this effect? "Volokhlanch" doesn't scan quite as well. "Volkhanic eruption" sort of muddles the Conspiracy's name. "The site became the victim of the Vast Volokh Conspiracy" doesn't sound like a positive consequence of site traffic. Any suggestions?

UPDATE--The best so far:

  • Any link from Prof. Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy is a Kerr Package.
  • One suggestion that a blog linked from the VC has been Volokhed. (But the phrase "You know when you've been Volokhed" will probably make more sense to my British readers who have seen to many Tango commercials.)
  • Any post linked from Prof. Solum at the Legal Theory Blog has been officially Solumized. [UPDATE: The wordplay is on "solemnized." I just found out that some of my readers have minds in the gutter.]

More as they come.

See, This Would Be A Selling Point For Some Potential Employees

Via Jewish Buddha, I have learned that Covington & Burling appears to be the (naturally un-)official law firm of the Illuminati .

If I'd known that, I'd have given them greater priority when I signed up for the Early Interview Program. Funnily, it didn't feature in their recruiting materials.

Anyone else know of any other law firm/conspiracy theory connections?

April 21, 2005

Ethics Question

I've been asked by a surveying company to put a link to a survey regarding legal recruiting, with the idea that anyone who fills out the survey would may get some small compensation, and I'd get a cut as well.

Oddly, if someone had just sent me an email saying, "We've got an online survey for law students to fill out," I'd probably put a link up. But someone being willing to pay me for a link seems strange. I couldn't give you a good argument why it worries me, but it does. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Should I post it? Would anyone want to fill it out anyway?

The Lonely, Homeless Left Finally Has A Place At Harvard

Via Prof. Yin, I see that a new online journal has started at Harvard: Unbound: The Harvard Journal of the Legal Left. Seeing that reminds me of the old joke about magazines like Maxim: when they publish "The Sex Issue" every year, what exactly do they think the other eleven issues are? But apparently conservative barbarians aren't just at the gates at Harvard, they've stormed the faculty houses and are busy breaking the china, fouling the (very progressive) hand-woven carpets, and putting little barbarian horned-helmets on the Dean's dog:

Like many on the legal left, we feel a bit homeless. Others have built substantial "progressive" organizations and law reviews that support, channel, and house their political and intellectual endeavors. While we often sympathize with and participate in activist projects that advance economic redistribution, human rights, and racial, gender and sexual equality, we are unsatisfied with the constraining language of liberalism within which such projects tend to operate. We'd like something spicier and more satisfying, a place where we can refine our ideas without having to justify our existence to unsympathetic critics.

In today's legal world, conservatives have convinced many that legal decisions must be made on the basis of "original understanding" or "economic efficiency," terms which are not facially invalid but which often mask more nefarious goals.


Yes, the nefarious goals of the members of the Vast Right Wing Legal Conspiracy. You can identify us easily by the Snidely Whiplash moustaches that we like to twirl menacingly.

But of course, I didn't go check out Unbound for the political discourse. My interest was in discovering the technology they use to generate their content, given my recent interest in content management systems for journals. Sadly, my brief search of the code didn't find anything that let me identify their system, and for all I know it's hand-coded. On the other hand, the code does hold one surprising metatag:

META NAME="AUTHOR" CONTENT="ShitBegone Paper"

Indeed. On the meta-level Unbound does seem to be creating a whole new style of discourse.

Update: Hmm. Or perhaps the journal just believes in truth in advertising. One of the graphic designers of Unbound is Jedediah Smith Ela, who is also behind the 'long term art project' known as ShitBeGone toilet paper. That explains that, then.

April 20, 2005

Law Review Symposium

I'd be remiss if I didn't note the symposium on Law Reviews going on at De Novo.

April 19, 2005

Finally This Ship Can Sail Full Speed Ahead

Some of you will note that while I write about things lacking etiquette, I'm not averse to sitting in a glass house chucking stones at passerby. In particular, I'm really bad about linking to other blogs, especially those that link to me, even if I do read them.

Up until yesterday, there was a reason for this. My blogroll used an RSS feed reader that was invoked every time this site rebuilt itself. The more entries I had on the blogroll, the longer it took to rebuild. This meant that when my readers left a comment, or another blog pinged me, the whole process could time out and cause errors.

No longer. Now the blogroll regenerates every hour, and has been shunted into a handy server-side include. So now I have no further excuse.

In the short term, say hello to Ambivalent Imbroglio, Carey Cuprisin, Republic of T, the Fool, and Left2Right, all of whom should be showing up in the next hour or so. If anyone thinks they've been left out, do tell me.

Congratulations to Joseph Ratzinger (UPDATE: Papal Roundup)

...now Pope Benedict XVI.

Update: The reaction--particularly among those who are too "progressive" for this Pope--has been priceless. The counter from Prof. Bainbridge has been funny, too.

Fixed, maybe?

Thanks to some skillful UNIX help by one of my classmates, I've managed to upgrade this rickety boat a bit. For one thing, people leaving comments and trackback pings should now find that the site rebuilds fast enough that they don't get error messages. For another, the blogroll in the right column should now automatically update at five minutes past the hour.

Regular blogging should resume tomorrow: I worked on this in lieu of writing anything...

April 18, 2005

Whole New Meaning to the Term "Rent Boy"

Sometimes I get trackback spam from organizations that seem so preposterous you can't tell if they're real or a scam. Such is the case with RentMySon.com, who trackback spammed me earlier this morning.

Some days you've just got to love the internet. This has got to be a parody. Either that, or it's poor marketing. Either way, it's spam.

And here I am giving them Googlejuice. What am I thinking?

April 17, 2005

Wrong On So Many Levels

The site that where I saw this (warning: sound) described it as "Hitachi Hard Drives Meet Schoolhouse Rock," and they weren't kidding. If my data ever dances to disco, I'm changing computers.

(Via the never work-safe I Love Bacon)

April 15, 2005

The Decorous Gentleman of NYU

Following up on my comment on the tacky reception Justice Scalia got at NYU, the student involved, one Eric Berndt, has just had his rather histrionic justification outed at Wonkette. It's reads like something you'd expect from a high school sophomore:

Do not presume to tell me when and with how much urgency to stand up for our rights.

I am 17 months out of a lifelong closet and have lost too much time to heterosexist hegemony to tolerate those who say, as Dr. King put it, "just wait." If you cannot stomach a breach of decorum when justified outrage erupts then your support is nearly worthless anyway. At least do not allow yourselves to become complicit in discrimination by demanding obedience from its victims. Many of our classmates chose NYU over higher-ranked schools because of our reputation as a "private university in the public service" and our commitment to certain values.


Apparently Mr. Berndt thinks etiquette isn't one of those values to which NYU should be committed. Thankfully, it certainly appears that he's in the minority.

Actually, the problem is very much one of values, particularly the all-too-common value judgment that "if something is not legally prohibited, it must be proper behavior." I'd expound further, but Will Baude has beat me to the main issue, and puts it rather well:

There's no particular reason that the notion of "privacy" for purposes of academic and social etiquette should perfectly track the notion of "privacy" for purposes of constitutional law. Etiquette is a bottom-up institution determined by the evolving standards of society. Law (at least written constitutional law and statutory law, if not common law) is laid down in written rules set forth in large books. It would be passing strange if the legal standards devised by the 39th Congress and ratified by mid 19th-century citizens rose or fell with the evolving standards of etiquette.

Strange indeed. Further, if a university can't invite a Supreme Court justice to an awards ceremony without his being insulted--if this is the atmosphere to which a university will submit its guests--then what kind of intellectual climate can it hope to foster? What good is NYU's much-vaunted dedication to diversity if it acts to oppress intellectual engagement? Does it really matter if your mob is rainbow-coloured?

Fortunately, it appears that NYU's Dean has no time for such things. I have no word of any action taken against students or protestors, but it's nice to see at least this condemnation.

Hell Is... IRS Logic

One reason I'm a Republican: the Earned Income Tax Credit. OK, I didn't make a lot of money last summer, and I'm living off loans. But there is neither moral nor logical justification for me to be receiving more money back in taxes than I paid to the government last year. (Given that foreign income gets no withholding, the amount there was zero.) Of course, Clintonesque tax policy doesn't require morals or logic.

There's something vaguely unclean about taking the money back. I mean, that won't stop me from taking it, of course, but it seems rather odd.

April 14, 2005

NYU and Columbia

Prof. Ann Althouse suggests that those making the Columbia/NYU choice focus mostly on the USN&WR rankings:

How many people get into both Columbia and NYU and feel they must go to Columbia because it's one tick higher in the U.S. News ranking, and then the whole time they are there they have this sense that life is so much better down there in Greenwich Village? Don't pretend you took anything more than that into account! List a lot of diverse factors to assuage your pain, but in the end, you know what you did.

Maybe, maybe not. But I hope, looking around my law school, that no one here is tacky enough to use an award ceremony as an opportunity to query a Supreme Court justice about his intimate relations with his wife.

More from Ex Post.

(Full disclosure: I only applied three places, didn't even know about USN&WR until after I'd accepted, and none of them were NYU.)

Maybe I'm missing something

TaxProf Blog is commenting on a WSJ story ($$ required) about people who paid no tax in 2001:

The Internal Revenue Service says that of the 2.6 million individual tax returns that reported income of $200,000 or more, there were 4,119 taxpayers who owed zero federal and foreign income taxes for 2001, the latest available year. That was up from 2,320 in 2000 and only 1,562 as recently as 1997. Typically, there is no one explanation for achieving tax-free status. It usually is a combination of factors, such as large amounts of tax-exempt bond interest, medical bills, charitable contributions, casualty losses (such as from a fire or earthquake), business losses and investment losses....

Is it surprising that number would rise between 1997 (when the economy was booming) and 2001 (when it was relatively sedate)? I would have thought most of the effect would come from those in 2001 who made money in that year but were declaring losses from 2000. (I've not looked up the article on Lexis yet, so I don't know if the question is answered therein.)

Questions like this just make me want to take a Tax class next year. Doing my own taxes is confusing enough. I don't know if someone who was carrying over losses from a prior year (say, in an S corporation) would be counted as not having the income in the present year (thus, being under the $200K income limit) or as having an income over $200K but deductions bringing taxable income beneath that.

It's a confusing topic. Me, I'm probably filing an extension anyway...

There's None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See

Brian Leiter links to an analysis by the the New York Review of Books, which is one of those great holdouts in the "were the Dan Rather Memos faked" story. It just thrills my heart to see how some can keep to this lost cause. Leiter quotes the following:

CBS did rush to make inadequately verified allegations public and it was slow in responding to criticism. The report's conclusions on the other points are not, however, persuasive. Surprisingly, the panel was unable to conclude whether the documents are forgeries or not. If the documents are not forgeries, what is the reason for the report? The answer is: to criticize the newsgathering practices of CBS, whether the documents are authentic or not. As such, the report is less than fully credible.

Well, no disagreement there: the report was a whitewash. Nevertheless, the NYRB evaluation is an exercise in cherry-picking which experts to believe, and muddying otherwise clear waters. After all, both experts the NYRB counts upon commented on the signatures, which weren't really the interesting issue.

It's amusing to see a law professor quoting this favorably. Last I knew, if one puts forward a piece of evidence--either as a lawyer or a journalist--it's actually one's responsibility to authenticate it. If the opposition questions the typography in the document, it's not enough to say, "It fits with the rest of our case." You actually have to explain away the fact that the documents shouldn't be able to be created in 1973. The problem with the Rather memos is that they were such bad forgeries as to be immediately recognizable as such.

Now, Leiter's contention is that the blogosphere "missed the story." But what does that mean? Is the story that "Bush is liar," presumably because anything else is uninteresting. But for a law professor, this presents some interesting conundrums. After all, a prosecutor who--honestly believing the defendant to be guilty--recklessly submits forged documents into evidence isn't going to be able to use, "But he was guilty, your honor" in an eventual ethics hearing. Law professors themselves look unkindly on document forgery, at least where it involves their students. I'd suspect that a prosecutor submitting forged documents--even if it were in an open-and-shut case--would be a story. So is it only not a story if the "bigger picture" is that it hurts G. W. Bush?

To me, the story is: how did supposedly impartial news organization broadcast as genuine a set of documents that can't be reproduced by any machine actually available on the market at the time they were supposedly created? Why did they look to the naked eye to be the output of Microsoft Word? That's either recklessness or evidence of significant anacronism. Maybe Leiter thinks that a time-travelling PC isn't a big story. Me, I think it's worthy of a Nebula.

April 13, 2005

Clincal Excellence

I've written enthusiastically before about my clinical experience, though not in great detail. The Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic presents its students with a unique perspective on legal practice. We focused on how technology affected legal practice, and thus some of our projects were less traditionally legal, and instead blended into a combination of legal research, trial practice, information architecture, and process consulting. The legal questions are different. For instance, how can you automate work processes so that lawyers can handle high-volume workloads while still meeting court filing requirements? How can a pro-bono office organize its evidence so as to present it more effectively to a judge? More importantly, how can they organize information to present it more effectively to their clients? Such things can mean the difference between success and failure to organizations with resources that Biglaw would consider unmanageably scarce.

As a result, the clinic's output often consists as much of websites and databases as brief and filings. One such project, for Parents for Inclusive Education, an organization that advocates for inclusive education for children with disabilities in New York City launched recently. While it might not look like a legal project, there's more law there than you'd expect: one of the beauties of technology is how it can be used to bring those with legal rights to assistance to those who can assist them, without the direct intervention of lawyers.

Like most projects in a legal clinic, confidentiality requirements mean that you can't say anything directly about most of the projects. This one's an exception: besides having client permission, the project benefits from every bit of Google juice it can get. If you've got a spare moment and could give it a link, I'd be much obliged.

April 12, 2005

Kicking The Tires on My Hosting Provider

In the last two days, Chris Geidner has had links from Atrios and Salon.com (Subscription/Annoying Ad View Required). Many congratulations to him for the exclusive!

I have to admit to surprise that my host and my MT installation kept up with the increased server load without much of a hitch. I wonder what's going to happen to AI's Blawgcoop if all the sites suddenly get 'lanched at once. It's not like I ever set this thing up for high traffic, and I've certainly never stress-tested it...

Finally Get To Say Hello to Jeremy

So for the longest time, I've forgotten to read Jeremy's Weblog because, as a Blogspot user, he didn't have an RSS feed. Pity, because he's one of the funniest bloggers about. Thankfully, today I remembered to ask if I could create one for him, and now he appears in my blogroll. (In case anyone's wondering, you can now get Jeremy via RSS at: http://feeds.feedburner.com/JeremysWeblog)

Instructions for others wishing to do this are, as always, here.

Ethics, Symbolism, and Bad Television Shows

Here's what I imagine is a common fact pattern in a legal ethics class regarding disqualification. (Something similar certainly showed up in mine.) Lawyer A works for Firm X, who represents Company M in a case. Lawyer A, however, is a low-ranking associate who had nothing to do with the Company M case. He then leaves the firm for Firm Y, who starts representing Company K in a case against M, relatively the same matter as Firm X works on for Company M. Firm Y--which didn't know about this possible conflict of interest when they hired this young fellow--immediately makes certain that the files on K v. M are hidden from young Lawyer A, makes sure that he's not involved in the case, and no one talks to him about it. Nevertheless, Firm X and Company M bring a motion to disqualify Firm Y.

I'll not address the legal question, which most law students will get to at some point and would bore my non-legal readers to death. Instead, I had a good laugh looking at the legal history of what you call the isolation process that Firm Y goes through to cut off Lawyer A.

The most common term is probably the erection of a "Chinese Wall." Makes sense, one would suppose: the Great Wall of China was certainly taken seriously by those who constructed it, worked reasonably well to keep things on one side or the other, and is famous enough that most people will get the reference.

But the term wasn't politically-correct enough for California courts. Indeed, at least one judge in the First Appellate District of California damned the term for having "an ethnic focus which many would consider a subtle form of linguistic discrimination." See Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. v. Superior Court, 200 Cal. App. 3d 272, 293 (1988) (Low, P.J., concurring). The Northern District of California agreed. See Employers Insurance of Wausau v. Albert D. Seeno Construction Co., 692 F.Supp 1150, 1165 (1988). The court opted for the considerably duller but possibly less inflammatory "ethical wall."[1]

On the other hand, the key case in our textbook, Nemours Foundation v. Gilbane, 632 F.Supp. 418 (N.D.Del. 1986), takes a completely different view. Opining that the ethical obligation lies with the individual attorney, it opts for the term "cone of silence." An interesting ethical debate rages between these courts as to exactly how this metaphor fits in with the ethical rules, but I couldn't read it without giggling.

After all, the Delaware court decided to get its symbolism from the 1960's spy spoof Get Smart!. In so doing, the judge opines that "the more logically consistent, honest, and straightforward approach is to credit members of the legal profession with a certain level of integrity." How can one do that while envisioning Don Adams and Barbara Feldon beneath a cheap plastic canopy of a stage prop? And besides, as my textbook points out and my memory confirms, the cone of silence was notoriously unreliable.

Ah well. Perhaps the judge felt that the legal profession is of insufficient interest to the agents of KAOS.

[1]: (UPDATE) Actually, I think the term is more apt than the Peat, Marwick court gives it credit. After all, the Chinese Wall is rarely used as a term of disrespect, is generally put forward in order to convince people of its sturdiness, and at least makes a plausible historical fit. Certainly better than calling condoms Trojans, which has never made a lot of sense to me, given that their defenses were most notable for being breached.

Back in My Hometown

Via Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy, I learn that a Huntsville lawyer caught in flagrante in his pickup truck raises an interesting legal issue. The key, it seems, is that if you're going to have sex in public, you might have a defense of being married.

Man, there's days I love having gone to high school in Alabama. Imagine the trouble this lawyer would have gotten into had he been using a sex toy.

(UPDATE: Yes, I know the Alabama law only banned the sale of sex toys, not their use. Just joking.)

Is the New York Times Parochial, Or Just Full of Bad Writing?

You decide. Chris and PG have almost sufficiently taken the NYT to task for its bad writing this weekend. I say almost because PG doesn't, I think, deal harshly enough with this article on Spamalot! that only outstrips its stereotyping of homosexuals with its stereotyping of straight men. (UPDATE: What did they put in the coffee there this weekend? Jeremy's assumption is that the New York Times is on crack. )

But I'm confused by the following, which is either very poor reporting or very unclear English:

As such, there's also probably a small cultural movement at work here, too, as evidenced by the rise of recent adaptations of many of the ur-texts of male geekdom, from the blockbuster film saga "The Lord of the Rings" (which is also being turned into a musical) to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," a movie being released this month. (And the BBC recently announced that Dr. Who was coming back.)

(emphasis mine) This, frankly, is befuddling. The BBC didn't merely announce that Doctor Who is coming back: it's in the middle of showing new episodes. Indeed, the American ubergeeks that the NYT finds so hard to fathom are probably downloading it on Bittorrent as we speak. So is this parochialism? Doctor Who isn't really "coming back" until it comes back to these shores (despite its UK pedigree)?

That's one possibility. The other is just sloppy language. Ten days before Jesse McKinley wrote his piece, the BBC did announce that they're commissioning a second season of the new series, albeit without Christopher Eccleston. Does the Times normally refer to a series as "coming back" when it's in the middle of its run, just because it's been renewed? And certainly to those not well-versed in the "ur-texts of male geekdom", wouldn't it have been better to say "coming back for a new season"? After all, not every homosexual male (or New York Times staff writer) queuing up for theater tickets has access to fine blogs like this to clarify the point for them, and it's important for one to keep track of the new trend-setters in fashion and entertainment. . . .

(yes, tongue is in the cheek, there)

Playing With Open Source Toys

As I mentioned before, I've been playing around with Open Journal System from the Public Knowledge Project of the University of British Columbia. Like most open source products, you have to consider it a kind of "working beta" software, but for the most part it does everything one needs to run a journal.

It's half-tempting to set up a journal here at TYoH, with an editorial board digitally distributed throughout the blawgosphere. My initial thought is a parody review: The Review of Law and Social Parody. Either that, or a journal of student notes rejected by other law reviews.

Worth a thought, I suppose. I wonder what Wings and Vodka would think...

April 10, 2005

Sin City Review (Warning, Spoilers)

Only a week after it opened, I finally got to see Sin City. After the rubbishy mess that was Constantine, I would have settled for a reasonably faithful translation from spot-colored comic to celluloid fantasy. The movie easily exceeded those expectations, even if it's not a perfect movie.

First, the positive: for those who liked Frank Miller's starkly minimalist style, the bold, dark contrasts of the film don't disappoint. I knew the plot of all four stories [1] (and let's face it, Miller's Sin City plots were always pretty thin) well before I bought the tickets, so I could sit back and admire what they'd done with the camera. For once, a comic translation felt like it was drawn, not filmed, with the actors standing out as "real" focal points in a world of flat panels. Elijah Wood as the freakishly-calm Kevin and Rutger Hauer as Cardinal Roark manage the effect particularly well: somehow, they make realistic bodies contort in animated motions. Even two hours into the film, when the effect had begun to wear thin, a few shots still startled me: "Oh, so that's how they're going to do that scene."

But while the visuals are beautiful, the timing is a problem. As other reviews have complained, the film drags, particularly in the middle. Most of this derives from the near-inexplicable decision to sandwich The Big Fat Kill between The Hard Goodbye and That Yellow Bastard. The Big Fat Kill never had much of a plot to speak of: it develops Old Town and lets Miller feature Miho, the typical annoying character that the author clearly loves. But the book was only useful in developing Sin City as a setting: Dwight's real story is told in A Dame to Kill For, which like The Hard Goodbye and That Yellow Bastard is at heart about a flawed man, his relationship with a unique woman, and resulting trouble. Whatever the other attractions of The Big Fat Kill, it's a political story with little human interest.

As a result, Clive Owen gets to look pretty, but neither he nor Rosario Dawson can make the audience give a damn about their respective characters. Indeed, some of the lines barely make sense if you don't know the backstory: when Dwight goes on about his new face and having killed a cop, you almost wish Miller could have annotated the film. And without some kind of human element, the whole Old Town storyline just gets silly: it's broads in lingerie carrying improbably amounts of military grade hardware with absolutely nowhere to carry the ammunition.

Which leads to the second flaw: the violence. Many negative reviews have blamed Roderiguez for not restraining Miller by beefing up the script and toning down the violence. I actually felt the opposite: Sin City's fight scenes remind me of Roderiguez's miserable Once Upon A Time in Mexico (or Tarantino's Kill Bill), where violence is lovingly and pointlessly fetishized. While Miller's graphic novels are brutally violent, the savagery comes in short, quick frames that one glances over as you move through the plot. [2] The final fight between Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Kevin (Elijah Wood) comes closest to the feeling of the books: sharp, edgy, loud, tense. Cut about half the frames from the other scenes and it would be just about right.

In short, it wasn't a bad film for a comic buff. The Tarantino-style violence didn't bother me too much, and if you know where it's coming from, you can ignore The Big Fat Kill's rather hollow plot and just enjoy seeing how Miller filmed Old Town and the Pits. [3] Meanwhile, just as I didn't read Sin City for the storyline--Mickey Spillane is still in print, you know--I watched the movie for the visuals, a treat right to the last snowy frames outside The Farm. But if you've not read Miller's comics, I'd recommend you pick them up before you see the movie, at the very least A Dame to Kill For. This is definitely one where you get out of it what you brought into it, and without context I'd imagine it's two hours of torture.

[1]: Besides the main three stories, the film opens with The Babe Wore Red.

[2]: Again, The Big Fat Kill stands as an exception, one more reason its inclusion in the film seems so odd.

[3]:Given Will Baude's love of Gilmore Girls, he might enjoy seeing Alexis Bledel in a less-innocent role. Actually, she does fairly well as Becky, though one almost wishes they'd left the blue eyes for... well, Blue Eyes. Actually, that might be an explanation for choosing The Big Fat Kill over A Dame to Kill For: if you're trying for an ensemble cast, it's got a lot of characters with considerable screen time.

April 09, 2005

DEMOCRATIC POLITICIAN MAKES MONEY ON THE STOCK MARKET - THREE YEARS OF HELL EXCLUSIVE!!!

OK, that title is utterly ridiculous, as we all know. No one would ever publish that headline, not even the New York Times. Much as Democratic politicians may play the populist card, may campaign against "big business interests," or otherwise make money from those whom their constituents consider the forces of darkness, that's rarely newsworthy. Indeed, when a Democratic politician does something out of character--say, go duck hunting as a photo opportunity--it's not a sign of hypocrisy, but "outreach" to middle America.

But Republicans aren't allowed outreach, at least if you're the Times. Chris rightly takes the paper to task for reaching a new low, reporting on a Republican consultant's gay marriage (congrats to him, by the way, though the marriage happened in December) in a totally non-news event. The article's excitement comes completely from the fact that Mr. Finkelstein has represented some pretty conservative Republicans.

Let's strike a blow for equality here. I'm heterosexual, at least on days that end in "y." Despite that fact, I'm allowed to believe that some political positions are more important than my sexuality. Given the difficulty in enforcing restrictions in sexual behavior (e.g. anyone who really believes there are no sex toys in Alabama is willfully ignorant), I'm quite happy to say that a politician's view of taxes, judicial appointments, or federalism easily trumps whatever disagreements he and I may have on the state's role in my sex life. There's no reason to assume that my homosexual counterparts don't have that same right.

The NYT might have had an interesting article if they'd delved into why a homosexual man might hold conservative beliefs, asking sensible questions and really wishing to find the answer. This piece is no such beauty: instead it's just one more excuse to raise the spectre of the "cracking Republican Party."

Folks, we're a big tent. Not all Republicans agree with one another, but guess what: P. J. O'Rourke wasn't so wrong when, describing a party that was big enough to hold Lloyd Bentsen and Jesse Jackson (let alone someone like Sen. Byrd), he characterized the Democrats as the "Cat/Canary Love Association." Politics is like that.

Perhaps living in the Republican Break-Up Fantasy Land makes NYT editors feel good, but in the meantime Chris is right: it makes the Greying Lady look tacky.

Ingenious Little So-And-So

While browsing Amazon over the last few weeks, I'd noticed they'd seemed to kill off their "Gold Box" feature. (You know, the one where they gave you a "special" set of offers, basically a discount on something that you had to buy in the next 60 minutes?) The old gold box was pretty annoying, since it gave you ten offers per day, and you could only see the next offer by rejecting the previous one. Still, I'd look at it (mostly during a dull lecture) just to see what Amazon was marketing to me. Mostly they seemed to be pushing jewelry they couldn't sell or power tools I didn't need, and since I wasn't (at that point, at least) in the market, it was a pointless exercise.

Well, today the Gold Box came back, but with a new and interesting twist. Now it displays two offers, and you have two choices: either accept one of the two, or "hold" one in order to see the next offer. In my case, they started out with a book (tenuously-related to the last thing I'd been browsing) and a piece of software. Curious, I decided to "hold" the software offer and see what came next. There seems to be an interesting logic to it: if I held the same piece of software, it showed me more software twice, then picked something from a different section. The rules of what's chosen for you next offer don't seem too fixed, but do seem to make decisions based on my actions.

Anyway, I'm impressed: the Gold Box has gone from being an annoying curiousity to a tool for compiling even more customer data. For one thing, it's more likely to show me a product I'm interested in, thus increasing their sales. On the other hand, information about the product I hold reveals preferences, allowing them to target additional products to me more intelligently. And they get this from one rule change. Nifty.

April 07, 2005

I Want

My brother gave me a USB-powered coffee cup warmer for Christmas, and I thought it was the most useless tech toy ever. Oh no. I was wrong. Behold:

The USB-powered Fondue set.

Everyone should have one of these.

April 05, 2005

Technology and Law Reviews

Over at The Conglomerate a discussion is raging on the ethics of "expedited review." Since Prof. Smith has already explained it so well, I'll just quote him:

Here's how it works: the author submits her paper to tens of journals (say, 40-100) and awaits offers. When the first offer arrives, often from a journal ranked in the lowest quartile, the author contacts all or some of the journals ranked above the offering journal to request expedited review. The author explains that she has an offer outstanding from the ________ Law Review, but would be pleased to ditch them in favor of higher-ranked journal. The only catch is that the higher-ranked journal needs to respond before the offer explodes. In some instances, this might be a couple of weeks, but in other instances it may be as short as 24 hours.

Heidi (infinitely more qualified to talk about this, since I'm increasingly less thrilled with the entire "law review" method of legal scholarship) hasn't weighed in on this yet, but in my opinion the "expedite" process seems to be one more extension of the legal tendency towards heirarchy, another status game. On the one hand, authors have an incentive to move their offers up the ladder through the use of expedite requests; on the other hand, journals have an incentive to use "exploding offers" to discourage it. There's an amusing Reg State question here, but the whole thing seems to create a lot of extra work for everybody.

I've recently been looking at the peer-reviewed production process used by the rest of academia. Mostly I've been reviewing it because A. N. Other Law Review asked me to look into ways of allowing them to accept online submissions, and I came across the Open Journal Systems project of The University of British Columbia. It's a cool piece of kit: it will generate your entire journal online, handle the workflow process for peer-review, and send email notifications to everyone involved. Setup time was a bit over an hour for me, but would be about 15 minutes if you weren't trying to kick the tires too hard, and the software is wonderfully free.

What it won't do is cater for the idiosyncracies of the law review process: there's no feature to easily handle expedites, you'd have to set your staff members up as "reviewers," and many law reviews would have to shift their work processes a bit to use the software comfortably. (Then again, given what it allows and the low price, it may be worth looking into.) And the more that I look at how peer-reviewed journals handle these things, the more I wonder about the inefficiencies inherent in the standard law review editing process.

Of course, the software's open-source, so it wouldn't be difficult for a dedicated law review to tweak it out of its peer-reviewed simplicity. Better yet, the next version is planned to support multiple journals under one implementation: in other words, all of a law school's AnyLawSchool Journal of Law and Something Else could accept online submissions and publish online, assuming they were willing to work together and collectively pay for the hosting costs. (Actually, the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications has already modded a prior version of OSJ to not only run multiple journals, but allow subscription by credit card. I couldn't get its version to install properly within the hour I was willing to spend testing, but the problem is obvious and would take no time to solve.)

I have a sandbox version of the software up and running: if you're the sysadmin of a law review and would like to have a look, just email me and I'll give you a password, so long as my bandwidth holds up.

Right. Didn't I have some reading to do at some point?

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Activist

Prof. Larry Solum looks at the usefulness, or lack thereof, of the terms judicial activism and strict construction in his latest entry in the Legal Theory Lexicon. (Those of you studying Perspectives and Reg State, I highly recommend the whole series.) In turn, T. Moore over at Ex Post argues that activism isn't wholly useless as a term.

Prof. Solum is going to be here at Columbia today, and just like last year, I'm going to have to miss his lecture. Given that he was one of the people who helped me when this blog was young, I feel lousy about the fact that I've never been able to hear him when he's been in New York.

Useful Tool

In the past few days, I've had a number of folks ask me to help clean some particularly pernicious spyware off their machine. (All were playing around with Grokster, I guess to see what all the Supreme Court fuss was about.) A lot of this wasn't removed automatically by Adaware, and required me to use HijackThis! and manually search through running processes to see what was going on.

Which makes it handy that the ever useful tech site Inter-Alia links to ProcessLibrary.com, a resource giving good descriptions of most of the processes you might find running on your machine. Ever wonder what EM_EXEC.exe is? No? Well, now you know anyway.

A Few New Facts, A Few New Allegations, and What Passes for Democracy In Our Student Senate

With regards to the Student Senate Election controversy I blogged about a few days ago, a few clarifications, new facts, and announcements have come out that deserve comment. First of all, I was contacted by the Columbia ACS folks and given a bit of information so as to reconcile my comments with their announcement about the elections. Essentially, they've told me that the slate of candidates was mailed to their listserv by a board member, albeit with a large disclaimer that it was not official ACS policy. Nonetheless, the listserv was supposed to be for board members on ACS matters only, and thus the board member involved has been sanctioned. [1]

[Since this is very "inside baseball" for CLS, I'm putting the rest of the article, including a comment policy, below the fold. Sorry to bore my other readers.]

Meanwhile, the Petition Signatures have been notable for three things. First of all, those leaving "non-signatures" (i.e. those protesting the petition) share the slate's promulgator's fondness for anonymity. (So do some of the supporters.) Second, the same protestors have a very expansive opinion of the proper use of the term "sour grapes." [2]. Finally, I note with interest the following left by a frequent commentor on this site:

I was encouraged to vote for a subset of the write-ins on the basis they were excluded by "bureaucratic mistakes." It appears now that that was a lie. I don't much care about Student Senate, but I do think there is no place for subterfuge in the community. But the high-minded "democracy worked" comments below are amusingly silly, and unsurprisingly anonymous.

Indeed. Between the anonymity of the "slatists" and the anonymity of their supporters, one begins to wonder if there's anyone among them not afraid of their own name. But is there place for subterfuge in our student community?

Well, it seems so. The Student Senate sent out its final decision just after midnight Sunday night, complete with a statement from the President. (If it ever shows up on the web, I'll put a link up.) The latter mostly pleads for an end to the acrimony and for all of us to rally in support of the new Senators. The former contains a formal statement that all procedures were followed and the election was legitimate.

The argument of the Election Committee shows a respect for process that borders upon a beautiful textualism: all procedures were followed to the letter, and the rules were not broken.

Candidates wishing to appear on the ballot submitted their materials to the Election Commission by the specified deadline. In response, the Election Commission posted their candidacy statements on the Student Senate bulletin board and on the Student Senate website. These privileges were rightfully reserved for those candidates who submitted timely nominations. No other candidates appeared on the ballot, the bulletin board, or the website.

The Senate Constitution provides the option for write-in candidacy. Such candidates do not and did not appear on any Senate election materials, including the ballot. To cast a vote for such a candidate, a voter must write that candidate's name on the ballot. A write-in vote is counted as one of the 15 potential votes an elector may cast. Individual students presented identification to the poll monitors who gave them ballots on which they selected the candidates they best felt would represent them on Student Senate. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that appearance on the ballot guarantees election as any student could successfully write on.


Fair enough, but that's an impoverished view of democracy, and not enough to give an election a feeling of legitimacy. The purpose of a ballot is not merely to bless those who conform to a set of protocols with some free advertising. It also sends a signal to the electorate about what is actually being contested, thus framing the debate and setting expectations. A reasonably functioning democracy should encourage candidates to get on the ballot and reserve write-ins for exceptional circumstances.

Of course, our voting rules are not particularly complex or robust, especially in comparison to either shareholder proxy rules or the fiendish federal election rules. This is both because the stakes are not as great, and because we are supposed to be a group of students dedicated to high ethical standards. This makes the President's reminder that "we are all colleagues" particularly ironic: given that this faceless cabal of "student leaders" showed no interest in soliciting my vote, nor any interest in treating much of the university as colleagues prior to the election, why should we be surprised if they receive similar respect afterwards? Perhaps some would say that running a slate of candidates without revealing the organizers, or running said slate only to select groups of students, represents the highest ethical standards of candidates in an election. Me, I'll grant you it fits to the rules.

In this case, a group still too... shy, perhaps?... to name itself put forward a slate of candidates, and instead of campaigning to the class as a whole publicized its existence to a selection of students, in at least one case through misuse of a listserv. [3] Despite the present President's plea ("I respectfully request those who are challenging the legitimacy of the new Senate to take a different approach."), it is certainly proper--and yes, legitimate--to question whether we wish to approve such tactics.

Don't get me wrong: there is a certain Machiavellian beauty to what the Slaters have achieved, and it's in my nature to admire the coupling of such skullduggery with a clever use of information technology. Many compliments are due to the organizers of this strategem, whoever they may be. Nevertheless, I wouldn't dine with them, not only because I have a preference for dining with gentlemen, but because I'd be worried about what they might put in the soup.

Important Note on Comments: I don't have a moderated comment system, so I'm not opening this post up for comments in the normal method. If you wish to leave a comment, please email me (tidying up the mail address), and I will copy the comment into this post. Two rules: no anonymous messages will be posted, and nothing slanderous. I reserve the right not to post it, too.

[Note: Publication date on this entry has been changed. I wrote it on April 4th, but didn't publish it until the 5th. I'm thus changing the date listed to the latter.]

[1]: The word used was "chewed out," for what it's worth.

[2]: "Sour grapes" is generally a reference to Aesop's fables. See here. One could lay an accusation of "sour grapes" upon a candidate if they said, "The Student Senate isn't worth that much anyway." This is pointed out by one of the petitioners.

[3]: It is impossible for me to say whether the officer abusing a listserv was a promulgator of the slate or merely a promoter of it. One of the frustrations of anonymity is that it makes accountability quite difficult.

April 03, 2005

What is it about the Papal Eulogies?

True, today the world lost a pope, but it's always nice to know that when it comes to the faceless orthodoxy of major American newspaper op-ed authors, the old-time religion is alive and kicking. Just look at the New York Times:

The long, bitter fight over the unknowing Terri Schiavo was a stark contrast to the passing of this pontiff, whose own mind was keenly aware of the gradual failure of his body. The pope would certainly never have wanted his own end to be a lesson in the transcendent importance of allowing humans to choose their own manner of death. But to some of us, that was the exact message of his dignified departure.

"Some of us" obviously meaning "editorialists who just can't resist getting our licks in, no matter how nonsensical." Since when was "the transcendent importance of allowing humans to choose their own manner of death" the value of any major religion, much less Catholicism? Death is, if anything, the great despiser of choice, showing little care to any man's wishes as to his "manner of death." That's hardly a Catholic concept: ever since the days of Norns or Moire, man has known that Atropos is not a gentle mistress.

But hey, the New York Times will draw its own lesson, and that's not going to stop them from singin' that old time secularism, even if they could have had the grace to shut up.

Worse yet is the Washington Post:

He could be -- and was -- called conservative in matters of Catholic doctrine, in his determination to maintain such institutions as the male celibate clergy and in his strict adherence to the church's positions on birth control and abortion. He provoked debate and dissent within the church with his stands in these areas, as well as opposition from outside, including from these pages, for policies that affect the temporal realm, especially in matters of population control.

(emphasis added) In the obligatory "conservative" paragraph, the Post can only focus on one thing: sex and its consequences. H. L. Mencken once wrote that Puritanismwas "[t]he haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." When did modern liberalism become the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might disapprove of some act of sex?

April 02, 2005

Webmonkey Makes New York Times Look Tacky

Sad as the news of the Pope's death was, his passage seems to have revealed an enduring truth about the New York Times.

Geez, guys, learn to keep the webmonkeys on a leash. (via Instapundit)

Unexpected Drama

Now here's something I never thought possible. Elections to the Columbia Law School Student Senate just got acrimonious. I'll admit to being asleep at the wheel last week (too much work), so this came as a bit of a surprise.

According to the Official Student Senate election site, in my year there were 16 candidates competing for 15 seats. As Prof. Yin would probably agree, a reality show with this election as a premise would be a real snoozer. Accordingly, on Wednesday I "changed channels" and went to a lecture of securities law in Asia. I didn't vote. Little did I know that over on the Senate Broadcasting Network, the news bulletin equivalent of the Kennedy assassination was in the works.

You see, this wasn't really the list of candidates. Or rather, it wasn't the only list. Over at this website, an alternate slate--with additional write-in candidates--had been put forward. I certainly hadn't seen this site, and if it was emailed out generally, I missed it. But I have it on good authority that it was specifically emailed out to the mailing lists of LALSA, and SALSA[1], as well as the American Constitution Society. This stealth campaigning seems to have been magnificently successful: the majority of candidates on the slate seem to have won. Meanwhile, some long-standing incumbents in my year lost their seats.

Hence, an election I expected to be a foregone conclusion wasn't. There's some acrimony within the student body, as well as a petition to overturn the elections. I won't pretend to know enough about how the Senate elections work, so I couldn't tell you if the petition has a chance. So long as write-in votes are allowed, this the outcome has the feel of something legitimate, and a sterling example of the use of information to change outcomes. The targetted emailing of supportive groups, the attempt to charge up small constituencies to build grand coalitions... it's a set of tactics Karl Rove could love.[2]

On the other hand, there's the whiff of the smoke-filled room about this. One would have thought the entire point of there being a ballot was to advertise the presence of those running to those who might be casually interested. Meanwhile, who were the directors of this bit of political theater? (According to the site, "This election initiative and the final slate of candidates that has been put forward were established by consensus within an informal working group composed of student leaders in both public interest and identity groups at CLS, which has met periodically throughout the year to collaborate on issues of mutual interest." Is that a Montecristo I smell?)

That I didn't have notice of this is a pity: a real election campaign would have been grist for a lot of good writing. (Well, a lot of writing, anyway.) And imagine if it had inspired the Federalist or the Republicans or whomever to put up their own write-ins? I might actually have been inspired to vote.

As I'm typing here with torrential rains splashing down and winds worthy of Fujin beating at the windows, I'm wondering how much weather and politics we can import from Florida. Because emotions are running high among some of the parties involved, I'm turning comments off on this entry. (Anyone with updates or disagreements can mail me, though I don't promise to respond.) In the meantime, I heartily await seeing what the reaction to this will be in the next election: after all, if selective campaigning for unballoted candidates is a winning strategy for one group, what will happen when everyone is doing it?

[1]: For those not familiar with the acronyms, that's the Latin American Law Students Association and the South Asian Law Students Association. I'm sure they weren't the only identity groups to get the slate forwarded to them, but I think that's enough for one to get the point. A full list of student organizations is available here.

[2]: Those of you who read me on a regular basis, by the way, will know that's not an insult, although I rather imagine some of the candidates would find it an uncomfortable comparison.

UPDATE: I'll probably make a few grammar and spelling changes to this entry, which I'll probably mark via strike tags, since I won't have comments in which to post corrections.

RIP

As almost everyone has noted by now, the Pope has died after long-failing health. Nothing I could write about this could measure up to a series of posts by Professor Bainbridge today, so I'll direct you there for a better view.

Rest in peace.

Giving The Devil His Due

It was the worst of Dell, it was the best of Dell (6)
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DEMOCRATIC POLITICIAN MAKES MONEY ON THE STOCK MARKET - THREE YEARS OF HELL EXCLUSIVE!!! (0)
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I Want (0)
Technology and Law Reviews (0)
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Activist (3)
Tony the Pony wrote: It's easier to think about it comin... [more]

Useful Tool (1)
Oana wrote: Cool link, thank you!... [more]

A Few New Facts, A Few New Allegations, and What Passes for Democracy In Our Student Senate (1)
Dom Camus wrote: In my view there are no communities... [more]

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martin wrote: Fortunately I didn't say any such t... [more]

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