Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Blog for Everything

There is an entire blog dedicated to photos of people jumping in front of pieces of art.

I'm not kidding.

Who thinks up these things?

When the cherry blossoms come out I am totally jumping for joy in one of the Smithsonian sculpture gardens. Someone bring a camera.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Also, the State of the Union

In non-football news, I posted a re-cap of President Bush's final State of the Union address over at the GW Law Student Blog. Check it out (plus comments!) here.

You Know You're Sick When You Can Read All of TMQ in One Sitting

Isn't Gregg Easterbrook just dreamy?

In today's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Easterbrook gives significant space to the New England Patriots cheating scandal and the NFL's clumsy cover-up-like handling of it:

The NFL promised to get to the bottom of the Patriots' cheating and reveal the truth to the public; instead, the NFL destroyed the New England documents and refuses to say what they contained. If the documents vindicated New England or the NFL, it would have been strongly in the league's interest to say so. Instead, the NFL has stonewalled us, so what does that make you think? Until we know what was on the videotapes and in the documents the NFL destroyed, there will always be a cloud of suspicion over the Patriots. How much of an advantage did they gain by cheating? Did they really hand over everything to the league? Are they still cheating now? Most important by far, have they cheated in the Super Bowl? No matter how well New England plays Sunday, every victory the team earned this season -- and perhaps victories in previous seasons, too -- is tainted until such time when we learn what was in the material the league destroyed.

In case you have an hour or so to spare, check out TMQ for enlightened discussion of cheerleaders, Congress's economic policy, important football players besides quarterbacks and running backs, global warming, and the Boeng 787, among others.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saturday Usage Tip #3 (On Sunday)

Sorry for the delay. I've been sick.

farther; further. Both are comparative degrees of far, but they have undergone differentiation. In the best usage, farther refers to physical distances, further to figurative distances--e.g.:
  • "After popping in to say hellp to Sue's dad, we walked further [read farther] up Main Street to the Maritime Museum."
  • "But the sheriff's department did not investigate further after YMCA officials were unwilling to pursue the matter."
  • "Some people walk no farther than the synagogue on the Sabbath."
  • "But the employees at One Marine Midland Center take teh spirit of giving a step farther [read further]."

The superlatives--farthest and furthests--follow the same patterns. Furthermost is a fairly rare equivalent of farthest (not furthest)--e.g.: "That was the furthermost [read furthest] thing from the company's mind."

Garner's Modern American Usage, 2003, p. 340. Quotations and citations omitted.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm Popular... for the Wrong Reasons

Sai Sai is a Burmese hip-hop star, model, and actor. He was born in April 1979. He was "into the game in 1997." Before that, he wasn't a "player" but a "normal skool guy." His newest album, Happy Sai Sai Birthday, was released in 2007. Visit his website here.

I am not Sai Sai. But my email address,, is apparently enough for Sai Sai's legions of fans to write to me to say how much they, like, totally LOVE my music. A couple recent examples:

Hello, First i would like to introduce myself. I am one of ur
audience. I want to friendly with u. Can u accept that? I have invited u on
gtalk. Plz answer it. I was so glad to know u and to get ur mail. I will be
always ur audience. I hope ur reply mail or something if u have free, try to
give me ur time of busy. I really request u. Always be successful more than now.
Have a lovely day. One of ur audience Girl.

Dear sai sai, i'm a one of your fans.i can bask and feel all of your songs. may i tall you that your are a geneous in music-specially hip-hop. i can think that 2009 is your year. may be happy and got much of vistory. your fan, phyo lwin oo

Sometimes I just hit the "spam" button and go on with my day. Other times, when I'm feeling particularly patient, I'll write back and correct these devoted fans on their mistake. Invariably, when I do this, the folks write back and ask me to be their pen friend or help them with their English. I don't want a pen friend. I don't want to teach anyone English. Am I obligated? Why is this Sai Sai character giving out my email address anyway? Are people assuming that I am a Burmese pop star because of my email address? Assuming is bad. Didn't need to go to law school to learn that one.

I'd write to Sai Sai to get his help, but he has neglected to post an email address on his site. Wise man.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Regis, I'd Like to Ask the Audience

Over at the GW Law Student Blog, I wrote a little about one of the agonies of law students everywhere: grades. What happens when a forlorn 1L, who didn't do as well as he'd hoped, turns to the masses for advice? Some people get just plain mean, but for every 20 jerky jerks there's at least one nice person just trying to give a kid a little bit of hope. More here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sharing My Affections

As of today, the GW Law Student blog is unofficially online! (The official launch will probably be in a week or so, when we have, among other things, a name.) I'll be posting a couple of times a week over there, but I'm still going to try to maintain this site as well. The most logical-seeming thing to do is to put the hard core law related stuff up there, and to put more random stuff up here. I'll be cross-posting, though, so my legions of fans (I think there are six of you now?) will be able to get access to every precious word that flies off my fingertips. You don't want to miss a single post--you'll fall behind and then the cool kids at school will mock you and take your lunch money. Or not.

Anyway, today I posted over yonder about how US Paralympic Athletes are both too good and not good enough to get equal treatment from the various bodies that control their sports destinies.

It remains to be seen which site will be my mistress and which my wife.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Best Medicine

So I'm home this evening, feeling a little sick and a little gross, and playing around on the internet looking for other blogs by law students. A chain of clicks led me to In It But Not Of It, where I laughed so hard I almost cried. One more thing to read during class...

The Love of Chocolate Milk

It's 6:26 on Sunday evening. My wife and I sit on the couch, watching the Cowboys/Giants game. A large glass of chocolate milk sits in front of her. My wife loves chocolate milk. Normally, she is a 28 year old woman. When it comes to chocolate milk, she acts like a child. Nothing in the world gets her quite as giddy as the potential of drinking Hershey's syrup mixed with milk. If she ran a marathon, she would have people strategically placed at various points around the course to hand her chocolate milk, instead of water. If she had cancer, her dying wish would be to swim in an Olympic-sized pool filled with chocolate milk. If chocolate milk flowed through people's veins instead of blood, she'd be a vampire....

Click here for the whole post, and for your own safety, don't drink water while reading.

Saturday Usage Tip #2

Since it was brought up in last week's comments, this week we address the age-old question: to split or not to split? The answer, as it turns out, is not a simple "No."

split infinitives.

A. Generally. An infinitive is the tenseless form of a verb preceded by to, such as to dismiss or to modify. Splitting the infinitive is placing one or more words between to and the verb, such as to summarily dismiss or to unwisely modify. Although few armchair grammarians seem to know it, some split infinitives are regarded as perfectly proper.

B. Splits to be avoided. If a split is easily fixed by putting the adverb at the end of the phrase and the meaning remains the same, then avoiding the split is the best course:
Split: "It is not necessary to here enlarge upon those points."
Unsplit: "It is not necessary to enlarge upon those points here."
Such capriciously split infinitives only jar the reader.

Wide splits are generally to be avoided, specially with piled-on adverbs--e.g.: "We encourage both spouses to utilize the best efforts to understandingly, sympathetically, and professionally try to work out a compromise." (A possible revision: We encourage both spouses to try to work out a compromise understandingly, sympathetically, and professionally.)

With correlative conjunctions, a split infinitive simply displays carelessness--e.g.: "There are already enough problems with trying to get all parents to either make sure their children are in car seats or in seat belts." (A possible revision: There are already enough problems with trying to get all parents to make sure their children are protected by either car seats or seat belts.)

C. Justified splits. A number of infinitives are best split. Perhaps the most famous is from the 1960s television series Star Trek, in which the opening voice-over included this phrase: to boldly go where no man has gone before. The phrase sounds inevitable partly because it is so familiar, but also because the adverb most naturally bears the emphasis, not the word go.

And that example is not a rarity. Consider: She expects to more than double her profits next year. We cannot merely move the adverbial phrase in that sentence--to "fix" the split, we would have to eliminate the infinitive, as by writing She expects that her profits will more than double next year, thereby giving the sentence a different nuance. (The woman seems less responsible for the increase.)

Distinguishing examples [where unsplitting the infinitive would either create an awkwardness or change the sentence] from those under (B) may not be easy for all readers. Those who find it difficult might advantageously avoid all splits.

D. Awkwardness caused by avoiding splits. Occassionally, sticking to the old "rule" about split infinitives leads to gross phrasing--e.g.:
  • "Linda Dishman siad Monday that Mahony was attempting unfairly to deflect attention away from what she said was illegal demolition of a city-protected landmark." (What was unfair: the attempting or the deflecting? Read either was unfairly attempting to deflect or was attempting to unfairly deflect.)
  • "Democrats fought for an increase in the minimum wage and hope quickly to pass [read hope to quickly pass] an expansion of the family leave act."

E. Ambiguities. When the first of several infinitives is split and the initial to is the only one, an ambiguity results--e.g.: "The legislation would make it a federal crime to physically block access to clinics, damage their property or injure or intimidate patients and staff." There's a problem in interpretation: does physically modify the verbs damage, injure, and intimidate, as well as block? One hopes that the problem is merely with the journalist's paraphrase and not with the legislation itself.

Garner's Modern American Usage, 2003, pp. 742-744. Quotations and citations omitted.

Friday, January 18, 2008

An Unwise Choice?

A $2,500 car (seats 4, goes 60mph, is cute) has just been released by Indian car manufacturer Tata. The Nano, about the size of its iPod namesake, makes car ownership a real possibility for lots of just-shy-of-poor folks in the developing world. Of course, as Anne Applebaum points out in Slate, lots more cars means lots more emissions:

There must be a way to reconcile mass car ownership with global warming, but, at the moment, we haven't found it. There is no profound reason why good environmental policies have to come into conflict with economic growth, but, at the moment, they often do. In many countries, the desire not to be poor is, at the moment, stronger than the desire to breathe clean air.

It's tempting to count on human ingenuity: if it gets us into an even bigger mess, eventually, in the name of self-preservation, it'll get us out of it. Won't it?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Economics of the Baby-Daddy

In the Undercover Economist this week, Slate has two excerpts from Tim Harford's new book The Logic of Life. Yesterday's excerpt, "The Economics of Marriage", focuses on how rational choices in an environment of stiff competition explains the behavior of young black men and women in areas where a high percentage of black men are in prison.

There are a lot of African-American single moms around, and some commentators are inclined to blame this fact on "black culture"—whatever that phrase might mean. But "black culture" doesn't explain why the single moms are disproportionately in the states where lots of young black men are in prison. Economics does: women's bargaining power is badly dented by the imprisonment of potential husbands. The better-educated guys stay out of jail, and they are smart enough to realize that with the competition locked up, they don't have to get married to enjoy themselves. "Culture" is no explanation; that women respond rationally to a tough situation is a much better one....

The more capable women become of looking after children by themselves, the less men need to bother. It's a textbook case of free-riding: with highly-educated women in excess supply, men have realized that they can get sex, and even successful offspring, without ever moving too far from the La-Z-Boy chair and the potato chips.

In classic descriptive-not-prescriptive style, the article begs the question, "well, okay, so what now?" Maybe I have to buy the book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I was going to write about the patent case the Supreme Court heard this morning (Quanta v. LG), but then I realized I don't really know enough about patent exhaustion or conditional licenses to make any sort of reasoned statement about it. Instead I'll focus on an issue of extreme importance to law students all over the country...

Scrabble is moving to take down Scrabulous! Scrabulous, for the uninitiated, is the Facebook application whereby members can play a Scrabble-like game with each other. Apparently the US and Canada rights to Scrabble are owned by Hasbro; Mattel has the rights everywhere else. No telling so far which company has internet rights. I'll keep you posted as the story develops. (Hat tip: Likelihood of Confusion.)

UPDATE (10 minutes later): why is Scrabble under copyright - as opposed to patent - protection? Isn't it more like an invention than like a written expression? This requires further investigation.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy Birthday James! And, Laughing Babies Rock

Today is my little brother's birthday. Happy 15th, James!

You know those AIG ads with the laughing babies? Slate's Ad Report Card reviews the series here. I saw one of those ads - the little kid with the great laugh ripping paper - sometime early last term, and since then I have been, you could say, slightly obsessed, watching it on YouTube just about everyday. Since the clip makes me happy, and it's a happy day, I thought I'd share it here. How can this not make you smile? Watch for the fall at 0:36. Hilarious!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Wrong Person?

[I wanted to share a hilarious little piece in this week's New York Times Magazine, "Consumer Man," by comedian and writer Paul Mecurio. The first part is copied below; click the link for the rest of the story. Happy Sunday!]

I’m one of those people who yell at store clerks. Not just any store clerks, but the ones who are rude, incompetent or indifferent. In other words, all store clerks. I’m the guy who always has to speak to the manager. In my head, I’m “Consumer Man”: a superhero fighting on behalf of oppressed consumers the world over. In my wife’s head, I’m crazy.

“Someday you’re going to scream at the wrong person,” she says. “And you’re going to get shot.” This “wrong person” has figured into so many of our conversations that I feel as if I know him, even though I really know only two things: 1) he’s “wrong” and 2) he’s going to shoot me.

One day I called a computer company and tried to reach a human in customer service. As I ran a gantlet of voice prompts, I couldn’t get the automated female voice to understand me when I said “yes.” Repeatedly, she asked if I’d like customer service. Each time, I said “yes.” She kept asking. I could feel consumers everywhere being oppressed. So, standing there in my superhero costume (boxers and T-shirt), it was Consumer Man to the rescue. Instead of saying “yes,” I tried other one-word responses.

“Would you like customer service?”


“Would you like customer service?”


“Would you like customer service?”


As this insane tirade took place, my wife and 8-year-old son looked on in shock. I vowed to change my ways — or at least to tell my wife that I was changing them. A new, more tolerant me was born. Someone else would have to fight for the rights of consumers. I had a family to not “frighten to death” anymore.

[Click here to read more!]

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Saturday Usage Tip #1

New feature! Isn't this exciting?

I will attempt to post, on each and every Saturday, a tip from Bryan A. Garner's Dictionary of Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2003), "the authority on grammar, usage, and style." (See here for David Foster Wallace's review of the dictionary in Harper's - and read the footnotes, because they're hilarious.) Why bother posting about such things? Well, as implied in the last post, I am kind of a weirdo, okay? So I get all hot under the collar when I see a misplaced apostrophe (Coat's On Sale - ugh!), and I cry to the heavens when someone scornfully says the opposite of what they mean ("I could care less" - oh yuck). And since this is my blog, I'm going to go ahead and get on a grammar-spelling-usage soapbox once a week, and if it makes just one person stop using the word irregardless, I'll have done my part for the world. Let's begin, shall we?

reason is because. This construction is loose because reason implies because and vice versa.... [T]he type "the reason is because" (instead of "the reason... is that") aches with redundancy, and is still... inadmissible in Standard English. After reason is, you'll need a noun phrase, a predicate adjective, or a clause introduced by that.
The best cure for reason is because is to replace because with that--e.g.:

  • "Perhaps the most difficult shot in golf to consistently master is a high, soft, flop shot off a tight lie. Part of the reason is because [read reason is that] to effectively hit the shot requires a looping swing and accelerated clubhead speed."

Variations such as reason is due to are no better--e.g.: "It's a challenge for any athlete to come back after four years of inactivity. The challenge is even greater when the reason is due to injury [read the layoff is due to injury or injury is the cause]".

Garner's Modern American Usage, 2003, pp. 674-75. Quotations and citations omitted.

Friday, January 11, 2008

You're Not Famous 'til You Have a Project

It's just past the wire on Friday night. I was hoping to post every day this week - I seem to have missed the mark by several minutes. Well, you can't say that I didn't try.... Anyway, onward!

This past Wednesday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a voting rights case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which Dahlia Lithwick promptly wrote about over at Slate. (Courtesy of SCOTUSblog, you can find the case history here, the transcript here, and the blog's comments here. How great is that?) At issue in the case is whether requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls is constitutional. It's an important case with considerable political overtones and potential ramifications, and Lithwick doesn't seem to think that it went so well for the voters, though the Court has yet to issue its opinion. As interesting as that all is, though, that's not really the point of this post.

In linking to the appellate decision in the Crawford case, which it calls "the most readable piece of legal writing in history" (big words!), the Slate article directed me to a website called Project Posner, which is dedicated to the opinions of formidable 7th circuit Judge Richard A. Posner. Now, I'm a pretty big geek, but I was really happy to learn that someone had had the sense to collect all these great opinions in one place where they're fairly easily browseable and searchable. Now if only there were similar pages about Judges Easterbrook and Kozinski, I'd be in geek heaven. (There is a pretty neat page about Judge Kozinski, but it only lists a few of his more famous opinions.)

Oh, and also: Judge Posner is himself a blogger! You can read his stuff over at the Becker-Posner Blog, which he co-authors with Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Operation Soda Mountain

While reading Today's Papers, I picked up that on Tuesday the military launched an offensive in Diyala, Iraq. The name of the operation: Phantom Phoenix. This got me thinking. Whose job is it to figure out what to call a particular military operation? There is no small number of these! And they have names like Ivy Serpant, White House, Tiger Clean Sweep, and the totally mean-sounding Devil Siphon. Arrowhead Blizzard! Panther Squeeze! Bulldog Mammoth! And of course, because we need a double entendre in at least every other post, let's not leave out Operation Desert Thrust. Uh! Seriously, some officer somewhere really, really enjoys his work.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Easterbrook on Easterbrook

Recently, TR favorite Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote a characteristically witty opinion in FTC v. QT, Inc. (see comments at Decision of the Day). QT et al. marketed and sold the "Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet," available in both "silver" and "gold" (actually, both made of brass) as a miraculous cure for chronic pain. Easterbrook cuts to the chase and calls the claims "techno-babble" and "blather." Here's one representative (and fabulous) excerpt, in case you need more convincing to spend the 5 minutes to read the opinion: Defendants might as well have said: “Beneficent creatures from the 17th Dimension use this bracelet as a beacon to locate people who need pain relief, and whisk them off to their homeworld every night to provide help in ways unknown to our science.”

In the most recent Tuesday Morning Quarterback, the other (Gregg) Easterbrook gave a shout-out to his big bro in this week's Family Moment.

Last week, Official Brother Frank Easterbrook, a federal appeals judge, upheld a large judgment against the maker of Q-Ray bracelets, saying its claim that "Q-rays" exist and confer fantastic health benefits is "poppycock" and "a form of fraud." Q-ray bracelets supposedly deliver astonishing "bio-energy." Frank found they were just metallic trinkets.

Yet here's a true story: In 2002 and 2003, the Official Wife of TMQ experienced persistent pain in her right hand, probably from too much keyboard time at work. She was taking ibuprofen and naprosyn, plus attaching pain patches (local analgesic) to her hand and right wrist, and was still in pain. The family was in Colorado for a while in conjunction with yours truly teaching at my beloved alma mater, Colorado College. I suggested she get a copper bracelet, especially one made by a Native American; she scoffed. We took the kids to see Manitou Springs, an old cowboy town that hosts craft shops. I went from shop to shop asking for not just a Native American-made copper bracelet but one that had been blessed by a medicine man. I found one seller, an Arapaho jeweler, who said his work was blessed by a shaman. (Probably later he said to his wife, "Guess what, today I had a customer from Maryland who believes in the medicine-man stuff.") Nan put the bracelet on. Her pain was gone in two days and has never returned. True story.

#1 Unofficial Market: Law Students

From Slate's Human Nature:

A study suggests a drug [orexin-A] can compensate for sleep deprivation. Monkeys that were kept awake for 30 to 36 hours were "significantly impaired" on cognitive tests, but in those that got a peptide dose just before the tests, "cognitive skills improved to the normal, non-sleep-deprived, level." Official market: "patients suffering from narcolepsy and other serious sleep disorders." Unofficial market: truckers, "shift workers, the military and many other occupations where sleep is often limited." Caveats: 1) The drug didn't enhance performance in well-slept monkeys. 2) Let's check it for side effects before troops and truckers start using it.

In the kind of coincidence that writers pray for, apparently the drug is particularly potent when taken through the nose.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Exclamatory Disclaimer

Sorry for all the exclamation points in the last few posts. I've been finding myself drawn to them recently. Maybe the combined excitement of starting school, electing a party representative, and cheerful sun are getting the better of me. Anyway, for the sake of your cynicism, I'll try to tone it down from now on.

New Hampshire Day!

Today is the day of the second big primary of the season: New Hampshire! Obama eked out a victory in the first round of the Democratic primary in Dixville Notch (pop. 75), winning seven whole votes, and John McCain was the big winner in the Republican primary with four. Good job, dudes!

For lots more news on the NH primary (even China is reporting!), I've already done the hard work for you here.

All this shaking-hands-kissing-babies is fun! Who doesn't love to see grown men and women jostling for position in every possible medium? See e.g. the photo below of a streetcorner in New Hampshire, taken by my Hillary-supporting, half Persian, half Cajun, totally effervescent cousin Leila.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Freakish Weather

Tomorrow's set to be 70 degrees! In DC! In January! Woohoo!

The one thorny bit about the wacked-out weather patterns up here is wardrobe-related: just as I get ready to finally (finally) put away my cute summer ballet flats and swishy skirts, a day like this pops up and my closet remains perpetually crowded.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Back with a vengeance

So I'm fresh off of vacation, back in DC and ready to start a new semester with little memory of the disappointments (sigh) of the last. A new day is dawning, people!

On the schedule from January 7th through April 15th:
1. Civil Procedure continues with silver-haired and -tongued law professor extraordinaire Peterson.
2. Contracts continues with charismatic charmer and section 12 favorite Cunningham.
3. We begin the study of Constitutional Law with Barron, the fellow who wrote the book.
4. And finally, Communists beware, we embark on the study of property with a new gentleman, Overton.

The desk is clear, the backpack is full, the mind is ready to absorb. Excitement abounds! Stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, content yourselves with GWLaw's namesake, former President Washington. Isn't he handsome?