Wednesday, July 30, 2008

AutoAdmit Trolls: Unmasked But Not (Yet) Undone

There is an article in Wired about the current status of the Autoadmit litigation: basically, it's completely FUBAR'd. Dan Solove is cited as an proponent of the new wave of anti-free-speech legal theory pressed in this type of litigation. Like my review of his book, the Wired article notes that a similar scheme has been tried with copyright, and the widespread abuses of DMCA takedown notices don't bode well for the future of online speech if Solove's positions take hold.(via)

Run home!

This is pretty awesome. I kinda hope she doesn't mace him in the face next time, though, since (as my friends were surprised to hear Monday night) mace is illegal in D.C. For those who choose to flout the Man's restrictions or live in more self-defense-friendly environs, this pepper-spray keychain is PTN-commenter approved.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Art, Status

Random theory, not particularly well-considered: there is a bell curve of artistic success. True starving artists are grateful for patrons. The marginal value of each patron is very high. Once a certain subsistence level is attained, grubbing about in the marketplace is seen as tacky and the artist may intentionally flout capitalist norms by refusing to charge a market clearing price or indeed any price at all. Artists who care too much about money once they have reached subsistence level or who attempt to capture more consumer surplus are looked down upon as sell-outs. At a certain point, though, the artist breaks through to the big time. Suddenly auctioning works of art is respectable, even if it means high or stratospheric prices. People don't sneer at Christie's the way they do at Ebay (or do they?). Is it a difference of kind instead of degree? Why is it okay for Picassos to be auctioned off for millions but not okay for small-time artists and crafters to capture more of the value of their work?

Semi-relatedly: Is ideology really driven by your desire to see certain groups attain high social status? I want the status of people who fob off novellas in novels' clothing to plummet. I like one commenter's suggestion that the Kindle will undermine incentives for publishers to demand books of a certain length. If only we could be sure that the prices for what amount to longish magazine articles (looking at you, Gladwell!) would be lower than those charged for books that truly warrant hundreds of pages. Perhaps I have no credibility, being a constant consumer of doorstop-sized SF/F novels, though.

Confidential to the dudes at pub trivia

Getting into law school? Not so deserving of praise that it warrants a nickname (creatively, "Law School") or shouting of said nickname in celebration of that group member's occasional correct answers. Practically any doofus can get into a law school.

Also, my already negative estimation of the Air Force Academy? Not buoyed by your obnoxious whoops and shaky grasp on career prestige.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Open Thread

In the spirit of the last post: what do you want to see on PTN?

Sugar and Shopping Diary

slynnro is going to track her sugar and shopping habits and post them for her readers.Good idea? Bad idea? Any interest here?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why do cats eat toilet paper?

Lily does this also. Never with her claws: always by chewing. Why???

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ho boy.

This cannot end well. I hope P.Z. and his family stay safe.

Urban DINKs FTW!

Tyler Cowen notes that price changes over the last few years effectively provide "a net subsidy to toy-loving, camera-loving nerds and a tax on commuting parents with large families." To this I say: ha-HA!

Why economics should be mandatory in all schools.

You have a small business. Your product is so amazingly popular that every new batch you post on your website sells out in minutes and crashes your server. If you accepted all the requests for custom orders, the wait would be over a year long. Your product is so sought-after that people wait in line to subscribe to book-of-the-month-style clubs that force them to pay for products that they don't even want just so they have a guarantee of getting something. Do you:

A) Raise your prices on your site, potentially angering your customer base but making a bundle?

B) Post your product on Ebay, confident that your increased profits will more than cover the extra couple of dollars in fees and that the price increase will be seen as a product of demand and not your arbitrary decision?

C) Keep your price the same as comparable product that has nowhere near the same demand, discontinue notifications for all new product postings, and just rely on customers' ability to check your website at the right time to allocate your product?

The whole idea that it's somehow better for the customer if prices remain low is paternalistic and offensive. First, it isn't best for the people who want to buy your product and cannot because your sales logistics suck. It's rationing by time and not by money. I guess if you want to reward people with whose time is extremely low in value and who can thus spend hours monitoring availability of your product, fine, but I believe in all that rot about the Protestant work ethic and think that if someone wants your stuff you should encourage them to work and save for it rather than to sit on their butts hitting refresh.

If someone wants to run something as a vanity project, that's fine, but then I don't want to hear any moaning about the wintry economic climate or the travails of running a small business. Businesses exist to make money. You are not "selling out" by charging people what they are willing to pay for your product. You are acknowledging the value of your own labor.

Hold on for one more day.

My five-year-old laptop is making loud rattly noises. Where can I go to get the fan checked on my Thinkpad? It might last for another year or so if I can get someone to pry out what is probably a hamster-sized lint ball from the intake vent.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Talk to me like I'm a five-year-old.

Can someone please explain why A Canticle for Leibowitz is supposed to be good? I read it a couple of years ago but it just seemed mediocre: no particularly striking ideas (regurgitated Santayana and "church versus state"? not original, not originally done), no good characters (especially female characters; women apparently sink into chattel status after the apocalypse and their experience tells us nothing of interest), no unique insights into the human condition, the prose is unexciting and the plotting only serviceable . . . . I hate to say it, but I prefer Starship Troopers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

DC's Finest

Not only can you walk away from an attempted burglary in the District, you can also apparently hit a pedestrian with your car, flee the scene, and get off with a citation for failure to yield. The only reason the driver didn't get completely away was that a law firm partner né DOJ attorney on a bicycle blocked the car in and called 911.

Considering that the MPD, under its "zero tolerance" policy, camps out in front of bars and restaurants and arrests any driver who blows .01 on a Breathalyzer, when said drivers haven't hurt anyone, how can they justify writing a $50 ticket to someone who put a guy in the hospital because he couldn't wait for pedestrians to cross?

Nothing like a useless pelvic exam to add to your existing trauma.

You know that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? That's apparently where all the rape kits go.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Knight Discussion [SPOILERS]

Steve and I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight, although waiting for the IMAX experience ended up being a dubious decision, what with the no trailers and the group of yoots who tried to jump us for taking two of the five seats they were attempting to save (their friends arrived 30 minutes into the movie, and it was a sold-out show; they were clearly tripping to think that they could take up a huge chunk in the dead center of the theater) and did I mention the total lack of a Watchmen trailer? Grrr.

Overall, I was pleased with the movie, although the Harvey Dent transformation was psychologically and physiologically unbelievable and the Batman voice effects were a tad distracting. Ledger is almost as good as the hype would have it, and Maggie Gyllenhaal does more with a small role than Kate "Oftom" Holmes could manage. Some quibbles and questions:

- At the end, Dent is lying motionless on the ground. Is he dead, or is his another faked death? In the penthouse at the end, does Bruce say that Harvey can never know or could never know? If Dent is already dead, that's a pretty weak criminal career for a prominent Batman adversary.

- Why are we repeatedly shown Gordon's son and his fascination with Batman when it's Gordon's daughter who grows up to be Batgirl? Gratuitous sexism?

- If they needed a fall guy for the people Dent killed, why not just blame the Joker or one of his minions?

- What's up with the lame Scarecrow scene at the beginning? I don't remember what happened to him at the end of Batman Begins, but if he was caught, how did he escape? If he wasn't caught, why is he conducting small-time operations in a parking garage?

- Watchmen foreshadowing: Note the emergence of Batman-impersonating masked vigilantes. We see that they are fundamentally sad sacks when one of them is captured by the Joker. Batman's tagged deposit of Lau is also an interesting parallel to Rorschach's more deadly deliveries.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Knockoff Knits

Because the audience here is mostly lawyers, I thought the views here might be interesting.

There is, as you might imagine, serious DRAMA in online knitting communities about people publishing patterns that are inspired by or based on other designs, particularly designs that some other person is trying to get people to pay for. I am not an expert in this area, but my understanding was roughly that:

  • You can't copyright a clothing design, although you can copyright the expression of a design. This is why knockoffs are legal.
  • Logos and "distinctive embellishments" are protected.
  • Many stitch patterns are in the public domain.
  • You can't assert copyright over a procedure, method, or process. This is why recipes are copyrightable insofar as the directions are concerned, but not "2 cups flour" part
So, legal readership: what do you think of patterns for the following (assume that in all cases the written instructions are not copied directly, although things like chart and abbreviations are in some instances, necessarily, identical):

  1. Someone reverse-engineers a sock based on a photo of Jane's design without ever seeing the pattern. The sock is constructed just like Jane's.
  2. Same as above, but the sock is constructed in an entirely different way or uses a different technique, making the directions substantially dissimilar. The end product looks just like Jane's sock.
  3. Someone studies a copy of Jane's pattern and figures out how to do the same things using a different technique or construction method. The end product looks just like Jane's.
  4. Someone takes Jane's sock pattern and changes the lace or cable on the top to a different type, but otherwise keeps everything the same.
  5. Someone takes the toe construction from Jane's sock pattern, the heel from Susan's, changes all the stitch counts to make it work with a thinner yarn, and adds in a public-domain cable pattern from a book compiled by Edith.
I think of patterns as being similar to recipes, especially since you often have to make substantial changes based on the particular yarn and needles you are using and sizing it to fit. This is why I will never publish patterns (I am currently musing on how to make a v-neck sweater with a Greek key motif--should the key strips go vertically over the sides of the bust, horizontally across just under the bust, or around the bottom and sleeve hems? I have been looking at other patterns for inspiration, but heaven help me if I actually succeeded and wrote up a pattern now, because "zomg copyright infringement!").

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Paul Gowder has a posse blog.

My ticket in the litigation lottery

I should hire this attorney and sue Paris Hilton.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Incest, Writing

Oh my. I just want to shake this kid so hard . . . . His letter is a prime example of the kind of overstuffed pretension that a seventeen-year-old would think was "literary." A brief visit to New York has already revealed him as an obsequious puppy, precociously able to drop old companions for the next cool thing to come along. His ambitions, though, are both enormous and sadly limited:
I just really like [Gessen's] ideas, just the way he portrays the sort of meandering young New Yorker. It’s kind of what I aspire to be, so it’s kind of really poignant.
The proper follow-up to an allegation of incestuousness is not adopting into the clan and promptly bedding all your new brothers and sisters. Honestly, these people are much less off-putting.

"I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be."

This makes sense, which means it will be ignored in favor of more shoe removal and giant concrete barricades.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

50 Book Challenge #44: Freedom & Necessity

(To Say Nothing of the Dog + The Prestige) - half a century + Marxism. Recommended for fans of epistolary novels and lefty fantasy.

It's my birthday and I'll drink if I want to.

Resolved: change my birthday to Amber's Birthday (Observed) so it always falls as to ensure a three day weekend.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not-So-Random Roundup

Here's a collection of recent posts from Bookninja, my new favorite literary blog:

  • What are the most controversial SF novels? It depends on whether we're talking in-group or out-group. Anything involving Harlan Ellison wins the former, but the latter would probably have to be something like The Satanic Verses (which I'll take others' word for as being genre; I couldn't get more than a few dozen pages in, it being, in the words of one reviewer, like "chewing sisal.")
  • Books that put you to sleep. My Corporations book was always good for this.
  • Google book recommendations?
On the random front: hot baths make guys (temporarily) sterile. My first thought was that this can't help the already-low Japanese birth rate. If I were a paranoid NBA player, I might want to invest in a Jacuzzi, or at least a heating pad.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What will people think my name is?

Incredibly lame Slate article links to curiously addictive photo rating site.

Been saying this for ages.

Privacy is dead. The only issue now is how to maximize transparency in government.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Please put on your turban."

I am really curious on how the family courts come out on this one: it has a wacky, unemployed, occasional-pot smoker mom versus a dad in a religious sect that marries off girls to strangers at seventeen, provides heavily censored education, and has rabbis examine your underwear. Note the part on the last page where they call for a religious consultation on whether men can listen to a four-year-old sing. It is interesting how modesty rules can simultaneously assume the existence and the impossibility of sexual self-control. Religion makes people do strange things.

There is an amusing anecdote in the Jezebel comments about a very religious doctor who wouldn't shake hands with a female patient or look her in the eye, but would conduct a proctological exam.

Weekend Bake: Cherry Pie


I highly recommend this pie. Unfortunately, I got really sick after making it so almost the whole thing is left. Looks like my colleagues are getting some pie.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pet Peeve - No Linkage

One of the most annoying aspects of internet discourse is when someone enters a discussion and attempts to engage substantively with an ongoing debate, but is derided or ignored because s/he hasn't posted prolifically in the forum before. It doesn't matter if you've been lurking for years; it doesn't matter if you're right: you're not part of the group, and therefore not worth listening to.

If you are genuinely interested in examining an issue, not just in shooting the breeze with your friends, it shouldn't matter what the motives of the new entrant are. It shouldn't matter if you think that s/he might have just surfed over for the purpose of participating in a particular thread, or is actually in substantive disagreement with you on a variety of other issues, or is (heaven for-freaking-bid) not posting under his/her own name. If s/he makes a logical point that you would take seriously were it coming out of a regular's mouth, it behooves you to can the territorial, exclusionary insults and address the substance of the person's position.

If you're not willing to do that, just make your clubhouse atmosphere explicit so the rest of the world will know not to bother attempting to engage with you.

UPDATE: So this doesn't turn into a Carly-Simonesque repeat of my cryptic post on internet romances from a few years ago: the impetus for this post was something from a literary blog, but if you're asking "was it [some other type of blog]?" because of what you've seen there, there's probably a good reason for that. It happens in a lot of places, and I am sick of it. It's especially galling coming from people who claim to be interested in ideas.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Rules of Attraction

"There is a groupie for every male endeavor."

Anyone can say "I'm somebody's fetish."

Are both valid? Either? Discuss.

P.S. I watched the movie from the post title recently. It was good, but frustrating, since I know that I never take away from these movies what you are supposed to. Here, it didn't seem like the characters' "excesses of sex and substance abuse [were] emotionally impossible." Universities across the nation are full of solipsistic young people from all socioeconomic strata who consume as many legal and illegal drugs as possible, blunder about oblivious to the feelings of those around them, and make unwise sexual decisions for muddled reasons. I fail to see what is so unique and terrible about this bunch, except that they were able to afford higher quality intoxicants, more stylish clothes, and shinier toys. Their lives would be just as empty were they driving to drug deals in Hondas and being rejected by people clad in Old Navy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why Bad Fiction Works, In A Way

The unique appeal and strength of bad fiction:
I have this thesis, well completely underdeveloped intuition, that the ways "bad" or "mediocre" prose interacts with its readers' imaginations is misunderstood and understudied. By lacking clarity & precision, "bad style" leaves space for readers to engage and participate with the text on their own terms.
There is a sweet spot for bad fiction. Too muddy a style will just confuse the reader, bouncing her out of the story so she can figure out who is talking, or why the tone changes for no reason, or why someone's eyes are blue in one chapter and violet in another. Authors with limited prose skills sometimes err too far on the other side, overburdening the reader with useless, repetitive descriptions and a shotgun approach to adverbs (see Jordan, Robert; Rowling, J.K.).

Sometimes you wish the prose were muddier, just to obscure your view of the trainwreck (Touched By Venom, represent!).

Inadvertent Hilarity

How influential is Amber MacArthur? She "co-hosts the fifth most-downloaded podcast amongst Canadians."

She's a lot better known than I am, so I don't mean to bash, but the phrasing was just priceless.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Deferred Gratification

I would really like to have watched Hellboy II and bought a new iPhone in the next twelve hours, but alas, I will not.

Unrelatedly, a British couple is facing six years for sex on a beach. Yet another reason not to go to Dubai.

Take away the tax exemption for churches while you're at it.

I don't find this especially objectionable; it's possible that people (like me) who would donate to charities for animals will now direct our money toward those that help people if we know that the A.S.P.C.A., for example, now has enough money to fund operations for decades. Anyway, it's much more offensive that people get a charitable giving subsidy for donating to horribly bigoted religious charities. Maybe we should just do away with the subsidy entirely.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ew, Texans!

Jared asked about my "worst experience of anti-Southern/anti-Texas bias." This had to be during the 2000 New Hampshire primary. As part of CMC's Washington semester program, we all had to go up to New Hampshire for the primary and work for a candidate. Being burnt out and apathetic, and out of perverse contrarian reaction to my then-boyfriend's McCain fetish, I worked on the Bush campaign. (Shut up! He hadn't done much of anything then! We didn't know! I had to pick one--who should I have gone with, Forbes? Bradley? Zzz. Anyway, I helped him lose.)

In just in less than an hour of holding a sign near a mall I had at least half a dozen people cruise by intentionally so they could harshly declare that we "didn't need any more Texans in the White House," with "Texans" pronounced such that I was in real fear that they would spit on me.

I actually lost my accent after going to a summer writing program at Simon's Rock College and having all the other teenage emo writer-wannabes ask me to say "fixin' to" over and over again.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Why I Intentionally Lost My Accent

Sounding southern makes you poorer:
[B]lacks who “sound black” earn almost 10 percent less, even after taking into account other factors that could influence earnings. One piece of interesting good news is that blacks who do not “sound black” earn essentially the same as whites.

(It turns out you don’t want to sound southern, either. Although pretty imprecisely estimated, it is almost as bad for your wages to sound southern as it is to sound black, even controlling for whether you live in the south.)

Nice to be back in D.C.

Actual line heard over the weekend in Texas (iirc):
How hard can your job be? All you have to do is make coffee for the partner!
I had forgotten, however, how incredibly fun it is to blow things up. All hail jurisdictions with basically no fireworks regulations.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Best Passage from a Supreme Court Case I Read Today

You would hope that this is something we could all agree on:
Our duty, like that of the court below, is fairly to construe the powers of Congress, and to ascertain whether or not the enactment falls within them, uninfluenced by predilection for or against the policy disclosed in the legislation. The fact that the compulsory scheme is novel is, of course, no evidence of unconstitutionality. Even should we consider the Act unwise and prejudicial to both public and private interest, if it be fairly within delegated power our obligation is to sustain it. On the other hand, though we should think the measure embodies a valuable social plan and be in entire sympathy with its purpose and intended results, if the provisions go beyond the boundaries of constitutional power we must so declare.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Technological Job

I feel like I am being tested by the gods of modern electronic devices. I have failed. I renounce thee, technology.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Literacy Tests and Gun Ownership, cont.

I emailed an aspiring law prof friend on whether conditioning gun ownership on a written test (effectively a literacy test) should be unconstitutional, potentially through some unholy blend of the pre-Slaughterhouse Cases understanding of the 14th Amendment's Privileges & Immunities Clause, Carolene Products footnote 4, and an understanding of the historical disarmament of African Americans in the South and how current prejudice against African Americans might contribute to imposition of anti-gun laws in urban areas disproportionately populated by them. At least one reader was skeptical. My friend's response:
I've always thought that the 13th Amendment's legislative history was important, because getting rid of the "badges and incidents of slavery," while ill-defined, has great power w/r/t literacy tests, the VRA, etc, and I imagine the same for gun laws, especially with your historical discrimination and disarmament argument. ... Footnote 4 is most interesting: substantive due process will carry the day here. There is nothing in the constitution about permissible abrogations of the right to bear arms, and so now that it is recognized as a constitutional right under the 2nd, the key, as you intuit, will be the 14th jurisprudence about substantive due process.

The key will be 14.1: "1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." and 14.5: "5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

I would back up your argument that this, in conjunction with Footnote 4, as applied to the newly interpreted 2nd amendment (and toss in the 13th) that onerous literacy tests create an undue burden on the P&I of historically discriminated minorities to bear arms. Congress should have the power to enforce the substantive due process claim by appropriate legislation, against state literacy tests. ... Again, think of the 13th, "badges and incidents of slavery," which is much broader than "former slaves."
I'm curious about whether one could push this even further and argue that the test violate a constitutional right even absent congressional action. Maybe not. Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sorites Paradox?

When does a blog stop being personal and start being real (corporate)? When you take on numerous guest bloggers? When you and the guest bloggers use the site in large part for promotion of your professional endeavors? When your readership rivals that of some magazines and journals of opinion? When you hire employees to help you run your blog? When it constitutes your primary source of income? When you set up an LLC to handle the legal aspects of your blog?

As someone who has conducted very personal relationships publicly on a blog, I have been tempted to delete references to previous associates wholesale, if only so I could peruse my own archives without a twinge of pain and embarrassment, but I haven't, because I own my past. Any changes in my opinions of particular individuals bear on who I am going forward, not who I was.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

50 Book Challenge #43: Inferno

No, not the Dante one. There is a story in here about bees that will not leave my mind. Recommended for people who don't mind being creeped out.

50 Book Challenge #42: Duma Key

Why am I the only reviewer who noticed that the title is a pun? A bad pun, at that. This is like a mashup of On Writing (horrible debilitating accident nearly destroys middle-aged man) with Rose Madder (oooh, magical paintings). Standard-issue King, meaning it's like a diner meal: heavy and not especially good for you, but tasty. Solid entertainment executed in workmanlike fashion.