So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

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I wanted to say thanks to the folks at Concurring Opinions and to the readers for having me as a guest.

In addition, as some have posted about writing, blogging, and what it takes to write a novel (and perhaps even have it published), I offer John Scalzi as a lovely parting gift. As I mentioned before, John is one of my oldest friends. He also happens to blog at Whatever and his novel, Old Man’s War, has been nominated for both the Hugo Award (one of the top awards for science fiction writing) and the Campbell Award which goes to the best new writer in science fiction. So yes, his first published novel is nominated for both categories. John managed all this by publishing his novel in serial form on his Web site.

But lest you think that online, self-publishing works for novels at all times, John is quite honest (link fixed) about that:

[G]iven the choice between placing or serializing one’s work online, and creating a kickass blog/Web site that draws people in and has them returning on a repeat basis, I think it’s much smarter to build that kickass Web site. No one would have read either Agent or Old Man’s War if I had simply put them up cold

what it takes to be paid to write, and other matters of interest to bloggers and writers. Two recent interviews one at Meme Therapy and one at Some Fantastic (warning it is 2.2 MB pdf) give good slices of his insights and explain how blogging and being known by people like Instapundit affect writing.

I think John’s advice applies to anyone interested in writing. So if you want to see how one person has turned blogging and writing into a well-paid profession from home, take a read of the interviews and visit his site. Then send him email, tons of it, because he usually responds and I know he is finishing up the third novel in the Old Man’s War series.


More on Ranking Law Reviews

The Sullivan Scale

I’m a big fan of data mining (not the NSA variety, but the kind you do when you’re cleaning up your office), and there, nestled next to an article on rankings that I had lied to myself about responding to some day, was a pile of rejection letters from my Spring submission. As I was throwing them away, I noticed that several tried to ease the pain of rejection by informing me that I was just one of many who were also not quite good enough (many of these letters also solicited me to try again, as they had done the last 19 times).

Eureka, I thought, the perfect ranking system: ranking law reviews by number of submissions. One clear advantage of this method is that it does not necessarily reproduce the current hierarchies that dominate the other rankings.

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Crowded House (and Senate)

capitol_hill.jpgThe New York Times today reports on overcrowding on senators-only elevators at the Capitol. The article is of the mocking, “here’s-a-quarter-call-someone-who-cares” variety, but I think it nonetheless picks up on a real issue. Having spent this summer moonlighting as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can confirm that overcrowding is a big problem on Capitol Hill.

I have devoted my professional life to public interest law and now academia, and so I had not thought of myself as someone who cares about workplace amenities. But I was taken aback by the uncomfortable working conditions in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where I spent most of the summer. The elevators are painfully slow, and when they are arrive they are often jammed too full to allow anyone waiting to board. (I never attempted to board a senators-only elevator, as the NYT reported some staffers do, but I can certainly understand the temptation.) The eating options are abysmal, expensive, and packed during the peak lunch hours. More than once I observed staffers forced to “lunch” on popcorn from a stand in the basement – the cheapest and quickest way to ingest some calories in time to run back and deal with whatever crisis is brewing. And office space is a joke. Staffers with vital jobs are in windowless cubicles with little workspace, no privacy, and no opportunity for quiet contemplation.

So why should anyone care? Well, I don’t claim that improving working conditions on Capitol Hill should become a national priority. But nonetheless I think the time lost waiting for elevators, foraging for food, and trying to find a quiet place for a conference call is a net loss for taxpayers. And I wonder if it doesn’t create an atmosphere of anxiety, annoyance, and general frustration that infects the day-to-day interactions of staffers and senators with each other and the constituencies they serve.

But perhaps I take a good lunch a little too seriously.


Judge Posner and Limits of Smartness

brain.jpgRichard Posner, while explaining why he dislikes affirmative action, argues:

As discrimination declines, replaced by affirmative action, explanations for lagging achievement that are based on discrimination lose their plausibility. They were never entirely plausible, given Jewish achievement in the face of fierce discrimination, though it is argued by Stephen Pinker in a recent issue of the New Republic that discrimination against Jews in the Middle Ages, by forcing them into middleman occupations where intelligence is a more valued asset than in farming or soldiering, resulted in the more intelligent Jews having a higher birth rate (because they were better off) than the less intelligent Jews and so, through the operation of natural selection, discrimination can be “credited” with some of the responsibility for the high average IQ of Jews today–even its genetic component. (Hitler may have had something to do with this as well, as it is plausible that the most intelligent European Jews saw the handwriting on the wall earliest and left Europe in the 1930s before it was too late.)

Although I admire Judge Posner and have learned a great deal from his writing, I think it is fair to say that I disagree with much of this analysis. It isn’t just that the evolutionary science of intelligence is extremely complicated, which should lead us to doubt claims about the effect of time-limited selection pressures on economic outcomes. Nor is it just that Posner has violated Godwin’s Law.

The problem is rather that smart people are often anti-social geeks, who don’t make better life choices under conditions of uncertainty. It is true that there is evidence that intelligence and ability to perform statistical calculations under controlled conditions are related. But I haven’t seen any good real-world evidence that smarter folks are better able to discount those emotions/biases (such as patriotism, risk aversion, optimism) that would have led Jews in Europe to stay put. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that smarter people have weaker “street-smarts”, which is another way of saying they are likely to be bad at reading others for social cues. So even if intelligence were hereditable in the way Posner evidently postulates, it seems unlikely to me that the smarter portion of European Jewry escaped the Holocaust.


Class Absences and Grades

running man.jpgWith my move to Seattle University, the opportunity has arisen to re-examine my attendance and preparation policy for class. During the past two years, I required students in all of my courses to show up on time to class and to be prepared to discuss the assigned material. If they were tardy, absent or unprepared, I deemed them absent for that class session. My rule was to withdraw a student from the course who ended up being deemed absent for more than 25% of the scheduled class sessions. Having amassed attendance and grade data for 5 courses (2 first-year courses and 3 upper-class electives) and 223 students, I couldn’t resist the temptation to figure out whether class absences affected my students’ final grades. I’ve been crunching the numbers the past few days with Stata and have been surprised by what I found.

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Can Dead People Still Vote on an Electronic Voting Machine?

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With close votes apparently the norm for now and recounts causing all sorts of upheaval, one group has claimed that a certain electronic voting machine can easily be manipulated to change votes.

According to the Open Voting Foundation (OVF), Diebold’s TS voting machine has a major security flaw. (Note: The group and site are quite new. The link is to a press release on the home page, so it may move). OVF asserts that “with the flip of a single switch inside, the machine can behave in a completely different manner compared to the tested and certified version.”

OVF’s President has stated “Diebold has made the testing and certification process practically irrelevant,” … “If you have access to these machines and you want to rig an election, anything is possible with the Diebold TS — and it could be done without leaving a trace. All you need is a screwdriver.”

In addition, OVF claims that the model in question lacks a verified paper trial against which votes could be cross-checked. For those who want to see the innards of the machine OVF has posted pictures and the most important one is of the boot configuration.

Why does this matter? If this assertion is correct, “in the TS, a completely legal and certified set of files can be instantly overridden and illegal uncertified code be made dominant in the system, and then this situation can be reversed leaving the legal code dominant again in a matter of minutes” it appears that dead people can again vote and entire groups of votes can be excluded. As VerifiedVoting details the Help America Vote Act may have great potential to eliminate punch cards and other dubious voting systems but just because new technologies are available that does not mean that we should blindly assume the dangers of voter fraud and election rigging are gone. They may indeed simply be harder to detect.

HT: Slashdot


Wiretap Update, Now With Briefs

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Just a quick note. Declan McCullagh has an article updating the ATT wiretap flap. As the article notes the administration is arguing that “Permitting the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit to proceed would endanger national security and possibly expose classified information.”

For those wishing to read the opinion and dig into the arguments, the article has links to the opinion , the government’s brief, and EFF’s brief


Selecting Book Publishers

book-new1a.jpgOver at PropertyProf, our previous guest blogger Al Brophy (law, Alabama) has a very thoughtful post on selecting book publishers. For many of us, the choice comes down to the one publisher that will publish our book or nothing at all, but for those with choices, Al provides some sage advice. He writes: “[W]hen we you’re shopping a manuscript, if you’re interested in getting adoptions, it’s important to be sensitive to what presses typically charge for books.” He also notes: “Another factor besides price that is critical in adoptions is: how long a press keeps its work in print.” Both of these considerations are very important. Some academic book publishers price their books at obscenely high prices, all but guaranteeing that the book will sell only a handful of copies, mostly to libraries. The print runs on these books will be very small too, ensuring that once the few copies are sold to libraries, the book promptly goes out of print.

One thing I could never understand about academic book publishers is the extent to which they seem so uninterested in doing anything that will sell more of their books. A reasonable price, decent cover art, and a small bit of marketing can go a long way toward getting a book some sales. But sometimes publishers price a book at $50 and do no marketing, virtually guaranteeing it won’t sell. Perhaps the business model for these books is close to that of a vanity press. On the other hand, I think that it is great that some presses still publish books with an eye not always to generating lots of sales. An increasing number of academic presses are moving away from publishing more academic books and toward printing more general audience trade books. This is unfortunate, as the line between intellectual commercial presses and academic presses is quickly evaporating. Academic presses should be publishing books because they are excellent, not just because they are the most commercially viable.

Although academic presses should continue to publish books without always obsessing over commercial viability, they should at least try to give these books a fighting chance in the marketplace. There are many excellent academic books that could sell with a better price, a snazzy cover, and some good marketing.

So if you’re blessed with choices among publishers for your book, you should ask:

1. What is the estimated print run?

2. What will the estimated price of the book be?

3. Will there be a paperback edition of the book?