Category: Weird


And now, from the Department of Ironic Advertising

Boing Boing

This weekend, Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing ran a story about DRM problems with Apple’s new iPhone; this follows up on prior Boing Boing posts criticizing Apple’s DRM, such as Apple’s iTunes/iPod tying.

And who is sponsoring these posts? Take a look at the page: One of the sponsors is Nike+.

Now, Nike+ is a pretty really cool idea (as Cory himself pointed out earlier). You put a chip in your running shoes, and a little doohickey on your iPod, and your iPod suddenly tells you your pace, distance, and so on. That’s really cool. (It’s actually one major reason I’m considering buying an iPod nano; I may actually get one if I can finesse a way to buy it with Amex rewards points). But Nike+ is also, frustratingly, tied to a single type of MP3 player — the iPod nano. Which kinda-sorta makes it a really strange sponsor for a series of posts blasting Apple’s business model for “lock-in” and calling the iPod line “a roach-motel: customers check in, but they can’t check out.”


My Political Compass Score

Following Professor Adler’s lead, I took the Political Compass questionnaire. I scored a -.88 on the Economic Left/Right scale and a -4.41 on the Social Libertarian/Authoritarian scale. According to the chart, this makes me look something like a libertarian version of Pope Benedict the XVI. Bizarre.

Criticisms of these tests persuade me that they are relatively useless at predicting political behavior in the real world. But it is worth a gander.


Comparative Sociology

Some worry that American political culture is hopelessly depraved, bitter, and nasty. Those pessimists’ horizons are, I think, too narrow. Take, for example, New Zealand, where one member of parliament giving the finger to another in live session was merely the fourth worse public insult of the year, according to a recent poll.

I will say, that any country who puts this dolphin-hurts-woman story as the lead of a major paper is worth visiting.

(Sorry, for what it is worth, about the low posting ratio. I’ve been very busy. Hopefully, the tedium of grading will motivate me to post more this week.)


Xoxohth 1.2: The Whys and Wherefores

[This is Part I, Section 2, of the project I announced here. (Part 1.1 is here.) The goal of today’s installment is to present a diversity of views on why people spend time on Xoxohth, drawing largely on the voices of posters themselves.]

inkblot.cgiI’ll start by acknowledging an uncomfortable fact. This project suggests, and perhaps even reinforces, that critique of academic life often bandied about by the popular press: I’m asking a minor question, focusing on the uninteresting choices of marginal members of society, and using a methodology of debatable validity.

I felt bad about this for a while. And then I realized that the next best use of my time is grading: a similar process, but with higher perceived stakes.

Forward. The issue for today is why people continue to spend substantial amounts of time on XO. The question arises from the obvious point that students and lawyers have many ways to spend their time. Most of those ways are unlikely to lead to professional embarrassment if publicized, and may even enable individuals to build reputations for probity and acuity. It is odd, then, that hundreds or thousands of students and lawyers devote significant chunks of their free time to talking anonymously on XO. What gives?

It seems to me that there are a few motivations in play: entertainment, a search for information, the need for community, and the pleasures of transgression. Before we begin, let’s get some reader input. What motivation do you think drives XO’s traffic?

Why Do People Spend Time on XO?
The Community
The Transgression!
Information (Giving and Getting)
Free polls from

Now that we’re done with the scientific polling, let’s look at the qualitative data.

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Supreme Court docket down; citations to bloggers up

Linda Greenhouse’s NYT article is fascinating, noting that:

The reasons for the decline all grow out of forces building for decades. The federal government has been losing fewer cases in the lower courts and so has less reason to appeal. As Congress enacts fewer laws, the justices have fewer statutes to interpret. And justices who think they might end up on the losing side of an important case might vote not to take it.

The drop in the Court’s docket is fascinating, and Greenhouse’s article sets out some interesting potential contributing factors (noting a decline in filings by the Solicitor General, for instance).

Of possibly even greater interest to the professional navel gazers blogging world is Greenhouse’s familiar citation to of the legal blogosphere in her article. She mentions a SCOTUSBlog post by Tom Goldstein (which seems to have provided some of the initial idea for her own article); she also casually mentions a blog post by Orin Kerr.

Blog readers everywhere have to be wondering if Greenhouse’s article doesn’t provide its own answer. Supreme Court case load down . . . cites to bloggers up . . . could the two be somehow connected?

There is no correlation; grasshopper, there is only causation. And this one is easy: Supreme Court case numbers are down because of legal blogs.

Orin and Dan and Eugene and Stephen Bainbridge and Gordon Smith (and so on, and so forth) are successfully solving problems before the Justices get to them, and blogging the answers in real time. And given the blogosphere’s growth, it’s just going to get worse. The Court’s docket will continue to shrink until the frustrated Justices eventually cave in and begin blogging themselves (instead of just lurking). So just you watch — by next term, all new clerks will be required to know Movable Type.

Remember, you heard it here first.


Lies, damn lies, and statistics

The Senate race is all about the Supreme Court, my friends tell me. If you want one type of Justice, vote Republican; if you want another type, vote Democrat. They’re right, of course. The Senate will have to confirm any appointments that Bush makes in the next two years. But just what kinds of results can we expect from a Democratic versus a Republican Senate? A quick survey of recent justices (excluding Justices Roberts and Alito, who are too new to really judge) shows:

Recent Justices Nominated by Republican President and Confirmed by a Democratic Senate

Clarence Thomas

David Souter

Anthony Kennedy

William Rehnquist

Recent Justices Nominated by Republican President and Confirmed by a Republican Senate

Antonin Scalia

Sandra Day O’Connor

The results are clear, aren’t they? If you would like to see justices similar to Justice O’Connor appointed, then vote Republican. And if you would like justices like Justice Thomas or Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed, then vote Democratic. History doesn’t lie, does it? Based on past history, for example, you can accurately tell your friends that you’re voting Republican this year because you didn’t much like Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist, and prefer Justice O’Connor.

I only hope this information doesn’t arrive too late to influence anyone’s political choices this election day.

Levity and Danger

gootube.jpgAndrew Sullivan has been doing a very funny series on “Worst 80s videos;” I think “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship (nee Airplane) wins, with a close second from Journey. Of course, everything’s coming from YouTube, whose potential copyright liability is a hot topic in the IP blawgosphere. But perhaps even more striking here is the potential liability of sites that link to infringing content on YouTube sites. The legal landscape is complex, and as Stacy Dogan has noted, there’s a wide range of ways courts may characterize the links when assessing secondary liability:

In the narrowest view, a link is no more than a citation, the relationship between linking and linked-to site no more significant than that between a scholar and the material that she cites. In the broadest view, the link achieves the “functional equivalent of transferring” the linked content, with the linker acting as a provider of the linked-to material. The choice between these competing views has obvious import in evaluating the legal responsibility of those who link. (from Infringement Once Removed: The Perils of Hyperlinking to Infringing Content, 87 Iowa Law Review 829 (2002))

It’s a pretty complicated area, and the hacker magazine 2600 learned the hard way that a link to material that helped people circumvent technological protections of copyright was itself a DMCA violation. [I had earlier, mistakenly, called this a criminal offense; see comments below.] The question after Grokster may well be whether a hyperlink to infringing content is a way of “inducing” infringement.

In any event, Google (which recently took over YouTube) doesn’t appear to want to take any chances. It’s a lot more willing to take on publishers than the big audiovisual content owners. Which raises one more interesting question: will the movie industry exert as much control over Google/YouTube as the music industry exercises over iTunes? And might it be a form of copyright misuse for big content owners to leverage control over copyrighted works into control over all sites that categorize or comment on (fragments of) their works?


Xoxohth, Civility, and Prestige: Part I

xoxo.jpgXoxohth claims to be the “most prestigious law school admissions discussion board in the world.” According to its marketing materials, it controls 70% of the online “market” for “higher education and career discussion”, with around 6000 posts a day on various topics. One of its founders reports that the site receives 350,000 to 500,000 unique visitors every month, making it significantly more trafficked than any other law blog, with the exception of Volokh. (By comparison, we get 60-70K unique hits a month.)


Among many legal scholars and administrators, there is a shared impression that discussion at XO is overrun by sexist, racist, anti-semitic, and just plain foolish talk. The well-known Leiter-XO engagement (see here) is just one example, but it isn’t alone. Based on correspondence, I have learned that multiple law school deans and assistant deans have dealt with the Board when trying to mediate online disputes involving their school’s students. XO has been threatened with legal action (at least twice) involving alleged defamation on the board, although the site is not, to my knowledge, involved in pending litigation. Some wish the entire XO discussion board was a hoax (although others think it may be providing a public service) and some, well, some are mad as hell:

If this is what other lawyers are going to be like, I want out. They make us all look like utter a[*******]. People should avoid law school because it sucks, not because of these jerks.

I’ve written a bit about the Board before, in the context of a US News citation dispute, and since then, I’ve been in contact with one of the Board’s administrators, Anthony Ciolli, a 3L at Penn Law. I think the board is pretty fascinating, primarily because its anonymity enables, and its format records, discussions among rising lawyers that are frank and heterodox (in legal culture) with respect to race, gender relations, and professional development. It isn’t the only forum for such discussions, but it may be the largest.

In subsequent posts, I will be exploring three basic questions about XO.

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Pay the Poor to Be Citizens

money.jpgA colleague suggests that there might be a relationship between a series of seemingly random observations:

  • A sudanese cell-phone billionaire announced a prize for good governance, to be awarded to current African leaders when they step down from office. According to news reports, “each leader awarded the prize will receive $5 million spread over 10 years after leaving office. If still alive when the initial prize is exhausted, prize-winners will receive another $200,000 annually until they die.”
  • The Arizona Voter Reward Act, which would establish a $1,000,000 prize whose proceeds would go to a randomly-selected voter, is on November 7th’s ballot. The state’s Chamber of Commerce is opposed: Harvard’s Info/Law project is more open minded. Most think the law would be plainly illegal preempted by federal law even if passed.
  • Jury pay rates are embarassingly low, if meant to be compensatory. Some jurisdictions are funding pilot projects to study if pay raises will increase compliance with jury service.

Here is the question for debate: is there any meaningful way to distinguish the African prize (which many legal commentators no doubt would celebrate) from the voting and jury service problems? Or, more provocatively, are the powerful the only people who we will allow to make money from being good citizens?

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