Category: Weird


Interesting Facts You Learn From Reading Supreme Court Opinions

“‘Golds’ are permanent or removable mouth jewelry, also referred to as ‘grills.’ See Mouth Jewelry Wearers Love Gleam of the Grill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Feb. 4, 2007, p. 5, 2007 WLNR 2187080. See also A. Westbrook, Hip Hoptionary 59 (2002) (defining a ‘grill’ as a ‘teeth cover, usually made of gold and diamonds’). -Thomas, J., dissenting in Smith v. Cain.


To a Worm In Horseradish, the World is Horseradish

I can across this saying recently in a post about the perils of blogging by Todd Henderson.  It allegedly is a Yiddish proverb, made popular in a speech by Malcolm Gladwell.  I’m actually not so sure it’s a real piece of Yiddishkeit.  None of my (Hungarian) Yiddish-speaking relatives have heard of it, and I can’t find the real Yiddish version anywhere.  Rather, I think the expression is best sourced to Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote an English short story with the expression in the title, and who used variants in several other pieces. (If anyone knows different, please feel free to comment.)

Anyway, it’s a useful expression for someone who feels trapped by a bad situation.  I thought I’d pass it along.  It’s an illustration, incidentally, of how bizarre associations can make writing more vivid.  (What’s the worm doing in horseradish?  Why horseradish?  Are worms kosher for Passover?)  It’s also a useful reminder, in this new year, that it’s pretty bad to be a worm in horseradish.


Space Law and Richard Posner

So I was doing research on space law (don’t ask), and I learned something new–Richard Posner’s first publication was a book review in the Harvard Law Review entitled “Law and Public Order in Space.”  You can find it at 77 Harv. L. Rev. 1370 (1964).  My favorite line is:

“The most glaring example of the authors’ unwillingness to recognize that their subject has any bounds is the chapter on “Potential Interaction With Advanced Forms of Non-Earth Life” (ch. 9, pp. 974-1021). The problem of men from Mars (and elsewhere) is still, mercifully, in the realm of science fiction, and it is therefore not surprising that the authors have almost nothing to contribute to its solution.”


My Holiday Card to Concurring Opinions Readers


Final Examination
Professor Graham
Holiday 2011 Semester


1. You have three hours to complete the exam,
which consists of a single question.

2. This is a closed-book exam.

3. Assume that the facts as given are true, and take place in the fictitious State of Confusion.

4. Good luck!


On Christmas Eve 2011, Santa Claus landed his sleigh atop the roof of the Adams household. After squeezing down the chimney, he left gifts for the Adams family, ate the milk and cookies that had been left out for him, and then shimmied back up the chimney to the roof.

As Santa prepared to board his sleigh, he slipped and fell on an icy shingle. Santa tumbled down the roof and crashed into the bushes below, hurting his back. Mr. Adams had seen the ice on his roof earlier that day, but decided not to clear it off; the task seemed like a lot of work, it was cold outside, and there was a good football game on TV. As Santa lay injured in the bushes, a partially unwrapped gift—a Chia Pet—inexplicably fell from (or was disgustedly tossed out of) a window at the Adams residence, and clobbered Santa on the head.

The tumult caused Santa’s reindeer to panic and fly off without him. The out-of-control reindeer and sleigh crashed into and pulverized the chimney at the nearby Batista household. Meanwhile, the Chen and Davis children had been “nice” this year, but received no presents due to Santa’s injury and the runaway sleigh. Believing that Santa considered them “naughty,” the Chen and Davis kids suffered serious emotional distress.

Later that night, one of the gifts that Santa had left for the Adams family, a Sniggie® blanket (like a Snuggie, only cheaper), spontaneously burst into flames. The ensuing fire burnt the Adams house down to the ground.

Finally, the events related above caused some scales to topple onto a woman standing at a train station in Brooklyn.

Identify and evaluate the torts implicated by the foregoing facts, taking care to consider, inter alia:

1) Whether Santa is best classified as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser at the Adams household, assuming that the State of Confusion continues to adhere to these categories;

2) Whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies to the defenestrated Chia Pet;

3) Whether Santa would be liable for the chimney damage in a “fence out” jurisdiction;

4) Whether any duty existed to protect the Chen and Davis children from the harms that they suffered; and

5) Whether Santa can be held strictly liable as a “distributor” of the defective Sniggie® blanket.

Happy Holidays!


Progress and Pumpkins

The great state of Delaware, which brought you most of your corporate law and some nasty traffic jams in Newark, hosts the annual Punkin Chunkin competition this weekend.  The object is to throw a pumpkin (by mechanical means) as far as you can, without having the pumpkin become pie in midair.  I was looking at Wikipedia’s reporting of the “competition” results, and I noticed the following trend:


Do you see what I’m seeing?  Basically, the same kind of “lost decade” that we’ve seen in other fields — ranging from employment, to the 99’s% wages, to innovation in the pharmaceutical pipeline.   Actually now that I think about it, if we take seriously Bainbridge’s idea that law is a “mature industry,” that curve starts to strike pretty close to home.

It’s depressing to think that after only 20 years, the technology to create an air cannon that will throw a pumpkin over a mile has already reached its apparent apogee.  At this point, we might predict that rather than rewarding skill, the Punkin Chunkin competition really will turn on luck — puffs of wind, pumpkin skin viscosity, humidity, the passing pigeon’s path.  Nevertheless, we’ll probably come to believe that the winners in the pumpkin chunkin competition are virtuous and the losers defective, and that the results reflect some kind of fair & stable & natural ordering.  That view would be wrong.


Which Yale College Has Produced the Most Law Professors?

If JE were around today, he'd be a law professor.

I was talking to my college classmate Rafael Pardo (JE ’98, teaching at U.W.) at the AALS hiring conference, and we came to conclude that Jonathan Edwards College dominates Yale’s inferior colleges in the number (and quality) of law professor alumni it produces.  (And, needless to say, Harvard’s “houses” aren’t particularly relevant to this discussion.) Off the top of our heads, we came up with a bunch of folks — which, in a previous version of this post, I listed.  On reconsideration, and after being told that the AYA prefers not to use the search function in this way, I’m taking down the list in an abundance of caution. People should feel free to use the comment thread to continue inter-college rivalries as they like. And folks who didn’t participate in odd & goofy Yale College traditions should celebrate the interdepartmental units in their respective undergraduate institutions that they belonged to, and tease those who didn’t.

As they say, JE Sux!  Anyone have a different view?


Facebook, Bullet Not Dodged Yet (Part Deux)

In June, I blogged about the dreaded question (for parents of teenagers): “Mom, can I have a Facebook profile?”  At the time, we talked about its benefits and drawbacks.  On the one hand, it’s a gateway to socializing that she had been missing given her late birthday.  Different sports leagues had Facebook groups, perhaps she needed to join, and other activities would as well.  On the other hand, her privacy and reputation could be jeopardized, by her own hand or her “friends.”  Facebook’s privacy settings are notoriously whimsical, and more importantly as Steve Bellovin’s work shows notoriously misunderstood–setting up an account was indeed a game of chance, or as Bob Keller notes, like giving your kid a pipe of crystal meth.  We gave our thirteen year old kid the choice and told her to talk to us when she was ready to get started.  The summer came and went and all was quiet.  So now, a good five months later and a good five months wiser, my kid has decided that she wants to think about getting a Facebook page again.  And the conversation went something like this (she did all of the talking):  So I’m feeling excited about this.  Facebook would let me stay in touch with my sleep-away camp friends who live all over the place and I could friend kids that I meet from other schools in the area, at games, mixers, etc.  And I am jazzed about this new close friends feature that everyone’s been talking about.  This way I can share photographs only with my five best pals and I don’t have to worry.  (Pause).  But, I really want to friend the kids from camp and want them to see what I am up to, so this close friends feature may not work.  And what if those camp friends have weird friends or end up being strange themselves.  I can’t de-friend them, can I and still pal around at camp?  And I don’t want other people making judgments about me based on what those not-so-close friends are up to?  Will colleges see what I am doing, when it comes time?  And what if someone goes on my close friend’s computer and copy and pastes my silly remarks and it goes viral, like the Friday girl who ended up getting death threats and harassed.  Can I put up my favorite artists?  I definitely can say I like the Beatles and Elton John, but can I say Kesha?  Will people think I am appropriate if I put Kesha down or Katy Perry?  Some of their songs are, err, a little inappropriate.

After all of that, my kid said she needed to think about it, it all seemed so, well, complicated.  That seemed just the right word: complicated.  But the question seems even more tricky now than it did in June.  Who is she doing this for?  Taking cues from Erving Goffman, life is a performance.  Some of it is just for you–a way to develop oneself, experiment, play, and figure out who you are as much as who you are not.  Much of it is for others.  We perform different roles for the people in our lives: friends, parents, co-workers, coach, priest/imam/rabbi, acquaintances, and strangers.  Some performances are oppressive: we cover or pass as best we can in the face of stigma and prejudice.  And we perform at a time of extensive social and political surveillance.  We feel watched, and for good reason.  Companies give us social influence scores.  Employers, marketers, and businesses use those scores to benefit some, leaving others less favored and less fortunate.  Maybe we perform online for them?  Colleges look at social media profiles.  (danah boyd has a great piece about a question a college asked her about a student’s MySpace page, which seemingly contradicted his college essay.)  Do young people perform for them?  At the same time, government monitors our online presence, searching for threats to critical infrastructure and the like.  Government 2.0 social media sites may be keeping track of the stories we like, the friends we make, and pictures we post.  Who knows?  Agencies aren’t promising not to watch us, so maybe being careful is smart.  Are we performing for fusion centers and our government social media friends?  All of this watching brings to mind Julie Cohen’s book Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2011, see her talk here)–more on that in early 2012 in our online symposium on the book.  Navigating those questions every time one posts on Facebook is bewildering, especially because we can’t really control what happens to the information posted there.  A commentator on my previous post basically said that I had better get a grip on reality, that nothing I did or said could influence what she did and she would hate me anyway.  I guess we just fundamentally disagree.  Parenting is a huge responsibility, and lots of what my kid is mulling comes from long, long conversations we have had about being a responsible and smart digital citizen.  I am looking forward to talking it through again, once she has a better idea of what she wants to do.

P.S. Sorry about the light blogging, working on my first book on cyber mobs and hate (forthcoming Harvard University Press).

H/T Susan McCarty (who helped me find the db piece) , JJC


Public Service Reminder: Baby Selling is Illegal.


For less than the price of a new car, police said, Bridget Wismer, 33, of Brookside Park, Del., sold her month-old son to John Gavaghan, of Old Newtown Road near Tremont in Bustleton.

The transaction is believed to have occurred between Sept. 28 and Sept. 30, when police executed a search warrant on Gavaghan’s home and found him with the child, said Cpl. John Weglarz of the New Castle County, Del., police.

Police there said they began their investigation on Sept. 4, when members of Wismer’s family expressed concerns that she might be trying to sell the newborn to a man from Philadelphia.

Despite investigations and interviews, police were initially unable to confirm the allegations. Then Gavaghan was caught on video filling out papers about the sordid transaction while at Delaware Park and Casino in Wilmington, Weglarz said.

“It sounds ridiculous . . . but he was on video surveillance seen completing documents regarding the sale of a baby,” Weglarz said. “It was clearly visible.”

This kind of illicit and unregulated sale of children is, of course, exactly what Posner said results from the current adoption regime.


(H/T:  Law student A.D.)


Armenian genocide and the Third Amendment

As Tom Bell has noted, the Third Amendment gets no respect. It is as likely to be mentioned by comedians as by courts, and holds a position of honor among the odd clauses of the Constitution, where it is so infrequently used that even non-uses draw attention. But this neglected amendment has one potential application today, where it could play an important role in a somewhat high-profile case.

Etchmiadzin CathedralI’m talking, of course, about the Armenian genocide litigation.

Here’s a snippet from a recent story in the Armenian Weekly (with emphasis added):

In July, Armenian American attorneys sued the Republic of Turkey and its two major banks, seeking compensation for confiscated properties and loss of income. A new federal lawsuit was filed last week by attorneys Vartkes Yeghiayan, Kathryn Lee Boyd, and David Schwarcz, along with international law expert Michael Bazyler, against the Republic of Turkey, the Central Bank, and the Ziraat Bank for “unlawful expropriation and unjust enrichment.” The plaintiffs are Los Angeles-area residents Rita Mahdessian and Anais Haroutunian, and Alex Bakalian of Washington, D.C. The three Armenian Americans, who have deeds proving ownership of properties stolen from their families during the genocide, are seeking compensation for 122 acres of land in the Adana region. The strategic Incirlik U.S. Air Base is partly located on their property.

That’s right. Armenian-Americans are seeking to recover property seized by Turkey during the Armenian genocide. And significant portions of that land are currently used to quarter American troops. Read More


The Pink’s Paradox: excessively long food lines as overly strong signals of quality

There is a great hot dog joint here in Los Angeles called Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs.  I love their delicious chili dogs.  I am a huge fan of the location’s classic L.A. style (parts of the best film ever made were filmed on the site, and there’s a probably false rumor that Orson Welles got obese because he was addicted to Pink’s chili dogs).  They’re located a quick drive from where I work.  And I never, ever go there.

What explains this apparently counterintuitive result?  Why don’t I patronize this nearby beloved eatery more often, or at least some of the time?  My reason is simple:  The wait is way, way too long.  Pink’s doesn’t  just have a 15-20 minute wait at meal times like many local eateries. Rather, at almost any time of day, the line to get a Pink’s chili (or any other) dog snakes through a few switchbacks, up La Brea, and back into their parking lot, frequently lasting a good hour.  At peak times, the line has been said to approach 1.5 or two hours (and here, I’m going on word of mouth because, as you’ll gather from this post so far, I’m deterred by the long line and haven’t actually experienced it).

Classic L&E would suggest that this isn’t a paradox at all, and that the line merely reveals the unusually strong preferences of the public for Pink’s chili dogs, meaning that they really are worth the interminable wait.  And while this is an empirical question, and while tastes are subjective and highly variable, I can’t buy that account.  I can understand waiting in line for hours, say, to obtain critical medical services, or in a bread line in Soviet Russia where the only alternative is starving.  I can even imagine waiting in line for a couple hours to get tickets for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see your favorite performer appear live.  But for chili dogs?  No way.  Something more than simple preference satisfaction has to be going on.

So what explains the Pink’s paradox?  Why is it that demand for these chili dogs continues to grow, even as the experience costs and actual costs associated with its food increase at an even greater rate (and appear to swamp the benefits of eating even the tastiest chili dog)?  And what does this tell us about the rationality (or irrationality) of line-waiting generally?  I discuss possible conjectures responding to each of these questions below the fold.

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