Begging The Question

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Home Cookin'
Via Yoni Cohen's excellent College Basketball Blog, I saw this story noting (somewhat critically) that before Thursday night's game at NC State, the Duke basketball team hadn't played a "true road game" since February 2004. This season, they've played a handful of games on neutral courts, but nothing in another team's gym. Of course, saying "since February 2004" makes it sound like a longer streak that it is, because even forgetting about the off-season (April to November), several of the games in that stretch were ACC and NCAA tournament games, which are always played on neutral sites. So it seems like a very skewed position, and a misleading story.

Still, Duke doesn't play a lot of road games early in the season. Part of that is they're usually either in a pre-season tournament off in Alaska or Hawaii or somewhere, and don't want to add a bunch of road games to that slate, or they agree to be in made-for-tv matchups like those against Oklahoma in Madison Square Garden, or against Davidson in the Charlotte Coliseum. My guess is that those teams would rather split the gate from those games than take what they can get from an on-campus game.

Another reason, I see in this story, is that they play a lot of road games later in the season, again because of tv. The ACC's tv partners choose games they think are going to get the highest ratings, and those, historically, have been Duke on the road late in the year. So they cherry-pick a few games, and the league sets the schedule accordingly. One of the lowest-rated games recently has been Clemson at Duke, and so for about three years in a row, Clemson at Duke has been the ACC opener for both teams. The upshot of it all is that Duke vs. North Carolina is always the last big ACC game of the year (although they do rotate the site of that late-season match), which I don't really find surprising, but which of course Gary "Inferiority Complex" Williams, the Maryland coach, sees as one more example in his mega-conspiracy theory. For more on all this, see this take from the Duke Basketball Report, the premier fan site on the internet.

I don't know what's so hard to grasp about the networks trying to arrange for highly-rated games. The NFL is going to be doing the same thing next year for "Monday Night Football." If it has the effect of helping Duke early in the year, it also makes their late-season sked pretty tough. The fact of the matter is that the ACC is usually a very tough league, and Duke has simply dominated it the last six years or so (that will likely change this year, though). Complaining about the particular sites of games, or when who played whom, wouldn't have changed many of those results. This year, the rest of league can take their shots and see how well they do, and I hope they feel so much better about themselves. I'm sure it will totally validate them as human beings and a basketball program if they just beat bad ole Duke. Huzzah!

Friday, January 14, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
From the episode where Dale gets in a legal fight with the Manitoba cigarette people:

Dale: "They subpoenaed my records. That's the first step. The second step will be to kidnap everyone I've ever known and erase their memories. The third step will be to kill me!"
Hank: "Dale, they're suing you, they're not going to kill you."
Dale: "Wake up, Hank! These people kill 400,000 of their own satisfied customers every year!"

Fifty Book Challenge #2 and #3 -- Lucky and Trespasses
I wanted to talk about a couple of books I read in December, but I couldn't ever figure out where I wanted to go with the post. One is called Trespasses, by Harold Swindle, and the other is Lucky, by Alice Sebold. They are both about rape.

For a while I thought about writing a bigger post about rape, but I could never get a handle on it. But both of these books have stuck with me, and I didn't want to let them pass unmentioned, even though I didn't really want to do an ordinary book review about them. But then the Fifty Book Challenge comes to my rescue. I know it might not fit within someone's rules (I'm not picking on you, Amber, just giving you a link). But I said that I would make mine a fifty-two book challenge so the math would be easier. Anyway, I'm counting these two, and I don't care if the other challenge-takers disqualify me from whatever they're competing for.

Okay, enough joking, because these books are profoundly not funny. Trespasses is subtited "Portrait of a Serial Rapist." It's the story of the Ski Mask Rapist, who terrorized Dallas in the late 1980s, raping dozens of women. Swindle, a former Dallas Morning News editor, chronicles the events, but does not dwell on the details of the assualts. It's amazing how many women left their doors or windows unlocked, though. The rapist, later identified as Gilbert Escobedo, would break in after the women went to sleep, cover their faces with a pillowcase or nightshirt so they couldn't see, and rape them. He wasn't terribly violent with them, but did threaten some with a gun. He was chatty and polite for the most part. He stole some jewelry. He studied his victims and chose them carefully, according to a preferred type. Sometimes he would break into the place when no one was there, so he could familiarize himself with the layout so he would be able to navigate in the dark. The police eventually zeroed in on Escobedo as a suspect, but they soon realized that they had almost no chance of capturing him unless they caught him in the act. After a long time -- years -- and many rapes, even after Escobedo was the prime suspect, they finally did catch him when he was trying to break into an apartment. Swindle interviewed Escobedo several times in an attempt to better understand the psychology of rapists. This is the fascinating part of the story, where we start to get a fuller picture of Escobedo. He's a womanizer and a manipulator, but he has plenty of success with women. He always has a girlfriend and more women interested in him. The jewelry he stole from his victims often became gifts for his girlfriends. He had plenty of money, lived in a big house, and ran his own business. Amazingly, he even ended up dating one of his victims -- I guess he really did like her type. Swindle discusses some of the modern theory of rape, but is never really able to draw a precise bead on Escobedo. At some level, I think, Escobedo just saw rape as a short-cut to what he wanted, and he remained convinced that many of the women enjoyed his visit. Swindle doesn't spend a lot of time dealing with the victims, but there are as many reactions to the rapes as there are rapes. Some are actively involved in the investigation, some just want to forget it and move on, and some surely don't even report it.

That point is superby illustrated by Alice Sebold (more famous as the author of The Lovely Bones, which I haven't read) in Lucky, her memoir of her rape as a college freshman in 1981, and the aftermath that she still endures. The book opens with a brutally vivid, moment-by-moment, and blow-by-blow account of the rape. Her rapist, Gregory Madison, is not polite and is violent. From there, Sebold deals with the aftermath, and the constant let-downs from people who don't understand. She fears that no one will. Their reactions baffle her at times. It bothers her that the fact that she was a virgin and not dressed provocatively will make a difference at the trial. And there will be a trial. Sebold is determined to pursue the criminal case, because that's her way of "owning" the rape. Madison is caught after he passes Sebold on the street and says, "What's up?" She goes through the ordeal of the lineup and the trial, but it's not a legal procedure book. It's a book about Sebold coming to terms with her life post-rape. And that includes telling people. She endures the looks she gets from "nice boys" once they learn of it, and worries if any guy will ever accept her. She becomes a beacon on campus, and she hears the whispers of "There's that girl who got raped." Happening into a group's conversation about the event, she hears a girl she never met declare that the victim was her best friend. I won't give away a major narrative turn in the book, but Sebold spends a lot of time trying to understand why her reaction to the rape is so different than some other rape victims'. As she instinctively learned soon after the rape, Sebold draws power from telling her story, and the book is her way of finally taking ownership, by going back to the beginning and tracing the scar to the present day. It is truly powerful, one of the most moving books I've read in some time.

I don't purport that these two books give me any kind of comprehensive understanding of rape. Instead, it's like two sides of a coin: Escobedo a rapist and Sebold a victim of rape. I won't try to offer here any deeper thoughts about men and women and sex and power, but these books gave me a lot to think about. There are probably some newer books, or some that are more thick with psychology than Trespasses, but it's pretty good as a focused study of one rapist. Lucky, though, is highly recommended.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Hank: "What the hell were you thinking, digging a tunnel under my house?"
Dale: "You should be flattered. Think of it as a two-way friendship tube. I can escape to your house when the Feds come a-knockin', and you can slip over to mine when some jealous husband comes looking for you."
Peggy: "There will always be husbands jealous of Hank for marrying me. There is no place on earth he can hide from them."

All-Request Weekend: Growing up Abilene
Abilene, Texas. The city of my birth. The Big Country. Home to three private religious colleges; Dyess Air Force Base; Joe Allen's barbecue; and more churches per capita than any other city in the country - yet it also has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country (note the ironic use of "yet").

Shall I describe its geography? Look at your desk. See how flat it is? How dry? Now imagine it covered in red dirt, cactus, mesquite brush, and dead grass. In the distance, picture a ring of low, flat-topped hills. Imagine that it is 105 degrees and the humidity is hovering at about 15 percent. The wind is blowing, but it's a hot wind. And it never stops. Ever. When it's not summer it's winter. The wind still blows, but the temperature drops. The winter wind is bitter cold and will cut right through you. It travels nonstop from the Rockies and you can't wear enough clothes to keep the chill off.

Basically, that's Abilene.

I was born there but I didn't live in Abilene until my family moved to town in the summer between the sixth and seventh grades. Nothing much to note about middle school. I played football and did pretty well despite my small size. In fact, I made some good tackles on a guy who went on to play running back at the University of Oklahoma. In my "gifted and talented" class I created a strategy board game about the Pacific Theater of World War Two. I rode the bus.

I went to Abilene High School, which wasn't so great in the beginning because all my friends from middle school ended up attending Cooper High School on the other side of town. I made a few friends on the football team. I caught a bunch of touchdowns my freshman year, but our varsity team was the district punching bag and I didn't really like the coaches so I quit football at the end of my freshman year. My dad was not pleased with that decision.

As a sophomore, I joined the golf team. I played golf for awhile until the constant practicing made me hate the game. I had to quit the team just so I could enjoy golf again. Oh, and I shot a 111 on the first day of my first tournament. No, that is not a typo - one hundred and eleven strokes, a/k/a 39 over par. In my defense, we played in a freezing rain and I had a 19 on one hole. I also broke 3 clubs that day. One I lost because the rain made my glove so slick I slung the club up into a tree on my tee shot. Another broke when I made contact with the ball. The head separated from the shaft (don't you hate it when that happens). I broke the third club by backing over it in parking lot. I loved that 2-iron, but it betrayed me.

Junior and senior years. Hmm. I tried out for the cheerleading squad as a sophomore. That was real fun. We had to perform a cheer in front of the entire student body. That's the entire 2,500-person student body. No, that wasn't embarrassing. Not at all. At least I didn't fall on my ass like one kid did. He had the crowd on its feet, but they weren't laughing with him. I don't think he ever lived that down.

So, anyway, the best part of cheerleading, aside from the constant accusations from football-player types of being a "fag" or "homo," was attending cheerleading camp during the summers. Imagine if you will, 2 weeks in San Antonio surrounded by literally hundreds of teenage girls in short shorts and cheerleading skirts. Contrast that with football two-a-days, which involved hanging around with literally hundreds of sweaty smelly teenage boys. Yet I'm the one who endured the jeering.

Actually, I take that back. The best part of cheerleading was the 3 and 4-hour long bus rides to Odessa and Lubbock to cheer the football team at their out-of-town contests. We travelled in luxurious chartered busses filled with teenage girls in cheerleader skirts (including 2 sets of twins!).

I wish I could regale you with stories of my adventurous youth in west Texas, but I don't have any, really. Our cheerleading team competed at Nationals in Dallas, taking 4th and 6th place. Once, one of the girls broke my nose falling from a pyramid. Other than that, I spent most of my free time in the late summer ("fall") and early summer ("spring") hunting doves, quail, turkeys, and deer. Probably the most exciting thing I can tell you is that I did not go to prom. Instead, I went to Dallas for the weekend with two friends. We played golf for four days and saw Willie Nelson in concert at Billy Bob's. Willie drank a fifth of Jack Daniels during that show. It was cool.

Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?
Hold on a minute. You're telling me that while I'm driving to work in a beat-up '89 Ford Bronco, Chris Tucker is cruising around in a private jet? Seriously, where the hell did I go wrong?

In other news, my job sucks.

Is Arnold the Best Governor in America?
I don't mind admitting that I was highly skeptical of Arnold Schwarzenegger's ability to be an effective governor, especially of a state like California. I think all my posts about Schwarzenegger are linked in this comment. There are still things about the man I don't like, and I don't think he should be President, but I think I've come around on his governorship.

The latest news is Schwarzenegger's State of the State speech, in which he laid out a bevy of proposals, some of which were fairly radical, as these things go. Plus, he outlined a lot of specifics rather than "make the pie higher" rhetoric. For a general overview of news from the Golden State, see Stateline's California page. If you want to see the full text of the speech, they've got that here. For more on the speech, see Prof. Yin's comments, with which I agree. Sacramento Bee blogger Dan Weintraub says that the Democrats in California were caught off-guard by some of Schwarzenegger's budget measures.

One proposal that's getting some notice is Schwarzenegger's goal of taking redistricting out of the hands of legislators, and appointing a nonpartisan panel of retired judges to draw the lines. For more on that, see Peter Beinart's piece in The New Republic (sorry, subscription only) and Rick Hasen here, citing Mickey Kaus.

Beinart and Kaus support this idea, and I do too. The current state of gerrymandering has taken all the fun out of local political races, unless somebody does something crazy like abscond to Oklahoma to prevent a quorum. But we're seeing way too many uncontested Congressional races. (Or maybe we should just expand Congress.) Beinart suggests waiting until after the next Census to do this, but the only reason I can see for waiting is that it would break the tradition of only redistricting once every ten years. I'm willing to let Tom DeLay accuse me of hypocrisy for criticizing his mid-decennial redistricting if it means ending DeLay-style gerrymandering.

I say "Kudos!" to Gov. Schwarzenegger for proposing the nonpartisan line-drawing plan, and I hope it passes. Yes, the Dems might lose a few seats in California, where they've drawn the Republicans into oblivion, but they might gain a few in places like Texas and Florida and Pennsylvania. But democracy would be the real winner, because more contested races means more debate about the issues and fewer radical ideologues in office.

But more importantly, kudos to Schwarzenegger for actually being a governor, instead of just acting like one. I had assumed he would take it about as seriously as Jesse Ventura took his tenure in Minnesota, filling his time with stunts like refereeing wrestling matches and annoucning football games. Schwarzenegger seems genuinely interested in doing the job, and from this remove, it looks like he's doing it pretty well. That doesn't mean I agree with everything about his agenda, and I still think he has some character flaws. My point is just that he's doing more as a governor than I ever expected him to, and more than a lot of his colleagues across the nation.

A Few Thoughts About Blogging
Long-time readers now how much I like meta-blogging. I read with great interest Fitz's post about how aggregators are changing the way people read blogs. I think it's inevitable that if the way people access blogs changes, content will change to follow (or lead) readers. I don't know enough about aggregators to even conceive of writing to suit them, if such a thing is possible. But the whole thing has intrigued me enough to start using an aggregator and seeing what all the fuss is about.

I'm not sure what I think about this contention from the article Fitz cites: "[I]n a subscription age, where publishers don't have to entice you back each day with a flood of new content, quality trumps quantity. Once they've won you as a RSS subscriber, it requires an active decision on your part to unsubscribe. This puts a premium on the thoughtful post, no matter how infrequent, and discourages floods of random miniposts designed to drive return traffic." Take, for example, two blogs I like, but read very differently: How Appealing and Trivial Pursuits.

I probably check How Appealing more often than I check my email, and I check my email a lot. I don't end up reading every news story Howard links to, but I read a few, and I know that Howard is going to be as fast as anybody to make mention of a big decision somewhere. Using an aggregator probably won't change the way I read that blog, because (a) I click on enough stuff over there that it's easier just to go the page via my blogroll link, and (b) I would likely check the site as often as I would peek at my aggregator. If the "random miniposts designed to drive return traffic" are of a sufficient quality that I read them, that undercuts the article's argument somewhat.

Trivial Pursuits, on the other hand, I could probably check once a month and not feel like I'm missing much. Part of my reason for having a blogroll is that I tend to forget to check certain blogs if I don't see their names all the time. But it would be a waste of time to click over to TP every hour, or even every week. That site is perfect for an aggregator -- I get all the posts as soon as they arrive, and I don't have to worry about checking for them all the time.

Most blogs, of course, fall somewhere in between HA and TP. And there are some blogs where I click on a lot of the links in the posts (like Mr. Poon's), and some where I don't (oh, say, Election Law for example). So, for me, an aggregator would have to allow for a lot of flexibility in how I interact with these blogs for it to ever overtake my current blogroll/right-clicking interaction.

That's assuming, of course, that aggregators don't start driving content, even in ways that we can't foresee now. Again, I don't use one (yet), so I'm not sure how much that would be the case. And I agree with Fitz that comments are essential to this blog, and I think it's (highly) doubtful that something could change enough that we would drop them. I wish I had a way to wrap up this part of the post, but I suppose it's the kind of thing we'll be thinking about for a while, maybe without ever coming to clear conclusions. Anyway, I welcome your thoughts about how you read/interact with BTQ, how that has changed, or might change in the future, what suggestions you might have for how we can accommodate readers coming here both from "old-fashioned" linking as well as via aggregators, and anything else you have to share about the subject.

On a somewhat related subject, I'm frustrated with the way I've been interacting with BTQ lately: not as much as I'd like. Not only have I had a wicked case of writer's block for a while (thank you, all-request weekend!), my computer troubles at home are getting worse. It's such a long, boring story, but the upshot is that it's becoming a hassle to post from home. I can write the posts, but extended uninterrupted internet time, crucial for links and publishing, is scarce. It's actually gotten so bad that it has spurred me to finally do something about it, but it will be a while before I have time to do it.

What I really wish I could do is switch my life around so that I could just work at home and blog from work. Most of the work I've been doing lately is just reading briefs and writing bench memos, and I could do that at home in my pajamas. And, thanks to my internetlessness at home, I've been doing more blogging at work and taking work home. I ought to talk to the Judge and formalize this policy, huh? (As an aside, speaking of pajamas, I once saw a commercial -- I think for toothpaste -- with a guy wearing pajams that had little tires on them and the phrase "I'm tired." I would love to find those if someone had a pointer. Thanks.)

Now, to change the subject a bit. I'm happy with the way our little experiment at Clearly Erroneous has been going, although I won't tell you which of the posts over there are mine, if any. But we have a bit of a buzzkill in our comments over there, and of all people it's Mr. Poon. A couple of times he has written in to ask why certain posts couldn't have been published at a contributor's regular blog, but instead wound up at double-secret anonymous CE. Well, the obvious -- and to me, sufficient -- answer is that they didn't want it there. Some of the contributors just don't post about certain topics, or don't post certain types of posts, at their own blogs, and I for one like having an outlet for doing that if I want to. Yes, I realize that no one is censoring me here, or would get really upset if I, say, told an off-color anecdote from a date I once had. I simply choose not to do that. It seems bizzare and ludicrous to nitpick at the content selection of someone else's blog, given that the whole idea of the medium is that I can write about whatever I want. And (see how nicely this ties in), given the "long tail" and power law distribution mentioned in Fitz's post, I'm sure whatever I write will find an audience, even if it's very small. Fortunately, we've been able to cultivate a following and regular readership, and we're very thankful and proud and happy about that. And sure, we want to give the audience what it wants -- that's the whole point of the all-request weekends, after all. But we do that because we think that what the audience wants generally synchs up with what we want to write about. And I've got to tell you, if those ever come into conflict, "what I want to write about" is going to win. I love that you're reading this, but I would still be writing it if you weren't. (For a more confrontational example of this phenomenon, see Scheherazade here.) I just don't understand sniping at the choice of content on someone's weblog. I mean, I don't go through Poon's posts and analyze whether they fall into his declared categories of "law, golf, politics, pop culture, sports, [and] inanity." (And does that mean that golf's not a sport?) I hate to pick on Poon, whose blog I love and whom I think is a great guy and an inspiration to me (no sarcasm). But (a) I know he can take a little gentle criticism, (b) I doubt he's alone in his critique of CE (and even I agree with him that I like the contributors' own blogs more than I like CE), (c) he was man enough to say what he felt and sign his name, (d) but really, I find it so odd that Poon would quibble over the content of a blog. Color me disappointed, I guess. Anyway, that's my defense of the content on CE.

And now a defense of the content of BTQ. A few people have commented that, well, to put it charitably, our "King of the Hill" Quote of the Day feature isn't their favorite thing about the blog. That's fine. I know that not everything we post is going to appeal to everyone. To take a one example, I'm not a cook, so Fitz's brisket post didn't do a lot for me, but Soup recently declared it to be the best piece of writing from the blogosphere all year. (To clarify, I liked the post, and thought it was well-written and great for what it was, but it just didn't do anything for me.) So tastes differ. And we've had several people tell us they really like the "King of the Hill" quotes. The reason I decided to start doing it was because I like the show, doing the posts makes me happy, it's easy, and it's a way to guarantee something will show up on the blog every day. I also saw it as a way to spur me to write more, both because I would already be posting something, so why not something else, and because I share our readers' frustration when it's the only new thing up. Really, though, that usually only happens on the weekends, when we used to not post anything -- so would you rather have nothing than the quotes? And if you're using an aggregator, as mentioned above, does frequency of new posts even matter? Look, I really endeavor to post, as often as possible, something with some meat on it. But I can't always do that. But I like the act of blogging, the habit of it. And being as much of a creature of inertia as I am, I need that routine or I fear I could get out of the habit. So posting the quotes gets me in the blogging mood, because I'm publishing something, and it gets me blogging more, because I want to publish something else. I'm not saying I see the quotes as a punishment -- it's just that I don't want that to be all that's on BTQ any more than any of you. I realize it's an acquired taste not everyone has acquired. We have, though, and the great thing about blogs is that's good enough to make it bloggable. So, the quotes are here to stay (at least until I run out), but I'm also always trying to find other things to post. Like this. And so, even though I think I could go on a lot longer about all this, I want to have something new at the top of the page. So I'm hitting "publish."

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Hank: "When I was your age, we had these things called songs. They were two-minute stories about falling in love or burning down Georgia. But I guess Hollywood decided we needed more criminals yelling about their lady friends'... baby-places."

What Do I Have to Look Forward to Now?
I've now read through Booker (124-page pdf) once, although a few passages got skimmed. Thanks to SCOTUSBlog, How Appealing, and Sentencing Law & Policy for not crashing this morning under the barrage of "refresh" hits I sent their way, waiting for word of the opinion. A shout-out is owed to Prof. Berman, for having his blog cited by Justice Stevens (see page 7, n.4 of his dissent in the slip opinion). I will spend a lot of time thinking about this decision, and I'll see if I can (both in the sense of "am able to" and "am permitted to") offer some more thoughts if I have them. But there's already a bunch of great stuff at Prof. Berman's blog, so check it out for all the buzz.

I've clearly been anticipating this for a long time, super-law-nerd that I am. We'll see how happy I am when I start having to deal with the fallout of the opinion! Anyway, off to re-read...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Dale: "What's this about guns being dangerous?"
Hank: "That's right. They kill people."
Dale: "Guns don't kill people, the government does."
Bill: "Hank, guns have been around for years. If they were dangerous, I think someone would have said something."
Hank: "Most deaths in the home are from guns and gun accessories."
Dale: "Let me ask you this: A guy breaks into your house, but you don't have a gun. How are you going to shoot him?"
Hank: "Dale, that's straight out of the NRA Magazine August issue."
Boomhauer: "I tell you what, man, that dang ol' NRA is all right, they got that insurance...somebody blows your dang ol' arm off, you get $20,000, man."
Hank: "I can't believe you guys. Dale, the NRA is a Washington, D.C.-based organization. Are you telling me you support Washington, D.C.?"
[long pause]
Dale: "That's a thinker."

Hot Rod Lincoln
So there's been a lot of fuss in The Corner and by Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic about a new book claiming Abraham Lincoln was gay, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Well, always one to hop on the topic du jour, and always one to fall back on song parody when I don't have anything intelligent to say, I decided to comment on this controversy in my own special, campy, musical way. I was trying to decide what song to parody, and someone whom I don't want to drag down to my level suggested the old Commander Cody classic "Hod Rod Lincoln" (done more recently, and very well, by Asleep at the Wheel and Junior Brown, I think). It's a rollicking rockabilly tune, and a lot of fun.

I may regret this in the morning; it's quite juvenile at times. But it's all in fun. I think this speculation makes Lincoln even more fascinating than ever, but it doesn't matter to me whether he was really gay or not (or, as Sullivan asks it, just how gay he was). Anyway, here you go:
Have you heard the story of the Hot Rod Abe,
The one the libruls are saying was a closet gay?
That story is true, I'm here to say,
'Cause I shared a bed with Honest Abe.

Ol' Mary Todd was a mighty fine mess,
'Cause Hot Rod Abe used to wear a dress,
He used to dress me up in tux and tails,
And we'd have a good time just splittin' rails.

In Springfield he was a-practicin' law,
Had the best darn diction you ever saw.
Got sent to Congress, was against the war,
But what mattered to me was that he didn't snore.

Now and then he had to keep things hid
And give crazy Mary another kid.
He debated Douglas for a Senate seat,
And cried on my pillow when he got beat.

Well, every night I'd give a kiss
To my Hot Rod abolitionist.
He'd yell out as he took my hand,
"A house divided cannot stand."

He knew the South would up and leave
If election victory was achieved,
But Abe stuck to his platform plank,
And deeper in love this poor fool sank.

He was a long tall man with muscly thighs,
Had a scratchy beard but dreamy eyes,
In the Lincoln Bedroom we'd play games
That woulda made Bill Clinton ashamed.

At Gettysburg he said some words,
And he fought to keep the Union preserved.
But our love had to be denied,
At Ford's Theater, our union died.

Every day since I've told the tale
Of broken hearts and splittin' rails,
It don't matter what the homophobes are thinkin'
'Cause I'll never stop lovin' my Hot Rod Lincoln!

RSS feeding frenzy
Hits from RSS feed aggregators like Bloglines and Kinja are showing up more and more in our visitor statistics. In fact, Bloglines ranks third behind only Google and Southern Appeal in terms of numbers of referrals to this site in the last 1000 hits. Kinja ranks in the top 15 referrers. Three months ago this was not the case. Bloglines and Kinja were not in the top 100 referrers. A year ago, we didn't even know that feed aggregators existed. And what about a year from now? Hard to say, but if the trend continues, it won't be too long before the majority of hits to this site will come from feed aggregators (and people googling the phrase "begging the question"), which raises the question, "What does all of this mean for BTQ?"

Thanks to Al Nye the Lawyer Guy, I found this post by Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine) in which he addresses that very question. In "Blog Design in the Age of RSS" Anderson suggests that the success of any particular blog will be driven be the quality of the content rather than the number of posts or even the visual appeal of the site, because eventually everything that is external to the RSS feed will fall by the wayside. Writes Anderson:
With the exception of specific tasks, such as search and transactions, the Web for me has mostly turned into another text-and-minimal-graphics stream that automatically delivers content of interest, differing from my email only in that it's not personal and doesn't require my response. In other words, the age of curiosity or routine-driven surfing may be ending. [snip]

That represents two big shifts. First, it's a significant aesthetic retreat, from the pretty to the practical (following the Google model), and from the entire package to the single post. Second, it's a behavioral change on the part of the readers: in a subscription age, where publishers don't have to entice you back each day with a flood of new content, quality trumps quantity. Once they've won you as a RSS subscriber, it requires an active decision on your part to unsubscribe. This puts a premium on the thoughtful post, no matter how infrequent, and discourages floods of random miniposts designed to drive return traffic.

The risk is no longer of losing readers with an insufficient volume of posts, but of annoying readers with insufficiently interesting posts. In my original article, I argued that Long Tail tactics* discourage overthinking the quality question. Throw it all out there and let the marketplace sort it out, I urged; good will rise to prominence and bad will fade to obscurity. But the problem with RSS is that it isn't a marketplace. Once someone's subscribed to your feed, they get everything, whether they want it or not. Bad content is as prominent as good content, and one can tarnish the other. So what are the new Rules of Push? Is there a Push threshold--a post worth pushing? If not, what to do with it?

The reason I raise this is that I've got to figure out what to do with my "Long Tail comment elsewhere" sidebar, which will probably get updated more often than the main posts. It isn't part of my feed, so it's only readable by people who come to the site. If my experience is like that of other bloggers I've spoken to about this, that will soon be a minority of my readership. So the value of any blog content that isn't in the feed, from sidebars to the overall design of the site, is diminishing.
I'm not sure I agree with everything in Anderson's piece, but if his prediction proves accurate, if the success of a blog will soon hinge on the quality of the RSS feed and nothing more, does that mean it's curtains for BTQ? Of that I'm even less certain.

We've never been on the cutting edge of site design, and we have few extras or goodies that don't show up in the RSS feed, with the notable exception of our comments section. For all the witty quotes we've run under the title, I don't think that any reader comes to BTQ for anything besides the content and the comments.

Did I say notable? I meant crucial. Comments drive this blog and are, in my opinion, the best measure of success in this venture (despite the occasional great post that goes without comment). I feel like we're doing something right because we've attracted a fairly loyal group of readers who respond to what we're writing. In fact, I would not be doing this but for the comments-section interaction with our readers. If this blog was just two losers talking about nothing, I'd save all that time typing and just use the phone.

Fortunately that's not what BTQ is, because even our readers who check BTQ via feed aggregators still contribute in the comments. For example, three of our regulars, TP, Soupie, and Dylan have at one time or another used blog aggregators to read BTQ. Yet they still participate in the blog through the comments, which means that although they read our posts via an aggregator, they continue to click over and actually visit our site. And that participation is what makes this blog work. Even our readers on the vanguard of the feed aggregator movement aren't wholely satisfied with BTQ as an RSS-only experience. And because of that, I'm not sure that the trend Anderson predicts will necessarily hold true for small blogs like ours that are heavily driven by reader interaction. At least I hope it does not.

I was going to stop there, but then a couple of other issues came to mind as I tried to imagine BTQ as a RSS-only experience. The first is that some bloggers rely on in-text links to convey humor or even information - think of them as sorta like the prop-comics of the blogosphere. However, RSS feeds do not always display in-text links. Our readers may have noticed this and Mr. P's Bloglines readers are no doubt aware of the problem caused by RSS feeds not displaying links in text. Without links let's face it - SMP? is not that great (see here for example). It's like taking away Gallagher's hammers and watermelons - it's just not funny. With links, however, SMP? kills. Kills, Jerry! Until aggregators successfully display in-text links, I think this factor will inhibit a RSS-only evolution of blogs.

The same is true for images. Feed aggregators don't display images. We don't post images as often as some people, but we post pictures often enough that our posts would suffer from a RSS-only environment. We might survive, but some blogs rely on images as heavily as others rely on in-text links. Can you imagine Go Fug Yourself without images? Neither can I.

I've forgotten where I was going with this, or maybe there wasn't a point at all, except to highlight the growing popularity of blog aggregators and link Chris Anderson's post on the potential ramifications of said popularity. I guess my point was that in the end I don't think BTQ will become a feed-driven blog, no matter how many of our readers switch their blog-reading habits from the traditional blogroll/bookmarks to feed aggregators. We're too different. Too special. We're not like the other blogs.

Actually, I'm not really sure what I make of all this "the future of blogs" business and I don't have a clue what it means for BTQ. If the prose is a little jumbled, if my articulation of the ideas fell a bit short of "world class" I beg your indulgence. The last half of this post was mostly my thinking out loud. Truly, what I hope you take from this post is an awareness of the growing prominence of blog aggregators and the implications of that for your own blogs. Because, you know, blogging wouldn't be blogging without a daily dose of navel-gazing.

* For more of Chris Anderson's take on marketing, "the Long Tail" and the "Rules of Push" check out his article The Long Tail. For related thoughts, check out Clay Shirky's post Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality. Interesting stuff, especially for anyone with a penchant for economics.

Inside Baseball
While I'm waiting for Booker/Fanfan this morning, I thought I would note a couple of developments around Blogtown.

First, I wanted to note the return of Sam Heldman's blog Ignatz, which I learned of via How Appealing. I don't even remember how I first found Sam's blog, but it was one of the first ones I read regularly, and I missed him when he was gone. So I'm glad he's back.

Second, the gang at Begging to Differ -- the second-best blog with "begging" in the title -- have a nice new site redesign, and have started a bulletin board to allow for more interactive discussion. An interesting venture, and one I hope succeeds.

Finally, as has been noted in several places, I and several other bloggers have started a blog called Clearly Erroneous. It's just what it sounds like: such a bad idea. It's a place where we can post (a) things we don't want linked back to us, or (b) stuff that for whatever reason just doesn't fit on our own blogs. I think you'll like at least some of it, but even I don't like all of it. Anyway, please check it out, but note that some content is decidedly mature.

Monday, January 10, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
In honor of Fitz's beautiful story:

Hank: "We don't fish for the fish. Ninety percent of what I like about this sport -- and it is a sport -- is sitting in the boat doing nothing. And the icing on the cake is when God smiles on you and you hook one. And then when you're reeling it in, everything else falls away. You don't think about taxes or traffic or that pushy gal that's trying to get into the Citadel or who's going to take care of you when your mother and I are old and incapacitated. All there is is a man, a rod, a lake and a fish."

All-Request Weekend: You can't make this stuff up.
Per kmsqrd's request from the December All-Request Weekend, I give you a story. A story told as if my hands were tied behind my back and gun was held to my head. Now, Ms. kmsqrd insisted that story involve either Milbarge or me and that it be a speculative piece. Well, I'm not much of a fiction writer, so I will instead give you a fact-based account of the best fishing trip ever. This is not a story about big fish or scenic settings, though it has those, too.

So, I like fishing. [fg]I like it a lot.[/fg] In fact, the summer after my first year of law school I probably averaged 6 days per week on the water. I worked as a research assistant for 8 hours a day (beginning at 7 am) and spent the afternoons on the local rivers with a couple of fellow research assistants. I didn't make much money, but it was a relaxing few months and it beat the job I held during the summer prior to first year (running a tractor, hauling feed, cleaning stalls and watering arenas at the local rodeo/events center).

After a long summer on the local streams, I had grown tired of the usual fishing spots. I decided to check out one of the local mountain lakes as a diversion from the routine. It was not a long drive from town to the trailhead nearest the lake, but it was about a 5-mile hike from the trailhead to the water. There were rumors of big trout in the water, and I hoped that the remoteness of the lake kept it from being fished regularly.

I arrived at the national forest trailhead late on a Saturday morning and to my dismay another truck was already there. Though a little disappointed, I realized that a lake would be plenty big enough for them and me. Besides, they might not even be fishing. The national forest was crisscrossed with hiking and biking trails. For all I knew (and hoped) they were into that whole single-track thing.

I gathered up my daypack and fishing rod and headed out. The trail climbed gradually away from the road and wound through a densely wooded forest. And wouldn't you know it? Just about the time I was out of sight of the truck, I heard the low rolling thunder. Although the sun shone bright and clear, the sky opened up and soon I was drenched by an afternoon rainstorm of the kind so typical for these mountains. I pulled my jacket from the pack and continued on, mostly dry under my gore-tex hood. Yes, I could have turned around, but rain makes for good fishing, and I suspected that the storm would not last for more than an hour or two anyway.

After a couple of miles of slogging up the steep muddy trail, the path suddenly opened onto a wide, grassy meadow. This meadow was the first break in the trees since I left the truck. Looking up at the sky I saw a brilliant rainbow formed across the sheets of rain. The hues were so vivid I just stopped for a while and simply stared at the sky. But beautiful or not, there is only so much staring at the sky I can do before my neck begins to rebel. So I rubbed my neck, picked up my pack and rod and, low and behold, I spotted a yellow lab bounding across the meadow toward me. Ha! So the other guy was at the lake. And he was giving up because of a little rain? Quitter. And he brought a dog fishing? Amateur. No serious fisherman brings his dog along, no matter how cute the dog.

I met the pup about a hundred yards across the meadow, and he eagerly approached. After several pats on the head and scratches behind the ears we continued on our way, the lab having decided to take up with me. No big deal, as his owner could not be too far beyond the meadow.

Indeed he was not. Presently, the dog's owner appeared on the far edge of the meadow, some 200 yards away. Actually, I noticed there appeared two people. At first I paid little attention to them, but before long I noticed that, while one of the pair was clearly a guy (and very likely a frat guy) and carrying a fishing rod, the other was very clearly a girl. As I closed the distance with them, I could see that she was quite attractive - tan, blonde, and long-legged. More to the point, she was clad only in short shorts and a clinging white t-shirt soaked through by the rain. It was a beautiful moment, because I had a long, clear unobstructed view of this lovely young woman in all her rain-soaked glory and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I knew it, the guy walking with her knew it, and she sure as heck knew it. And she didn't seem to mind one bit.

Behind the safety of my sunglasses I could avoid the pretense of averting my gaze. Though I tried, I'm sure the grin that spread across my face was not so well-hidden. The moment was too pure, too unexpected, too delightful. It was a perfect moment, and she was perfect. Perfect in every way.

Anyway, as I closed to within about 10 yards of the couple, the dog ran ahead and joined the guy with the fishing rod. He nodded a curt hello as I stepped to the edge of the trail to allow him to pass. The girl followed along several steps behind him and flashed me a smile as she walked past.

"Ma'am," I said, tipping my cap.

"You're welcome," she replied, looking back and giving me a wink.

And that, friends, is the story of the best fishing trip ever. Did I mention that the fishing was great, too?

The General and the Specific
I was looking around for things that have been happening around the country, and got to browsing at Abstract Appeal, where Matt Conigliaro noted a case (9-page pdf) from Florida's intermediate appellate court. Matt says that a concurring judge suggested "an amendment to the standard sex offender probation conditions that would help keep sex offenders away from children." I'm always interested when judges make suggestions to legislatures in opinions, so I read the case.

In short, the defendant, Hicks, was on probation for an unspecified sex offense with a minor. Part of his probation was a condition that he not "work for pay or as a volunteer at any school, day care center, park, playground or any other place where children regularly congregate." Hicks ran a pet store at a flea market when all this started, but later moved to a storefront at a strip mall. All this was approved by his probation officer or the court, but Hicks couldn't employ anyone under eighteen and had to post a sign prohibiting unaccompanied minors from entering the store. Later on, Hicks enters into a deal to sell turtles and fish at a kiosk in the mall. The booth would be staffed by an employee, and Hicks's involvement was limited to dropping by to supply it. As it turned out, Hicks was spotted at the kiosk, but no kids were around at the time, and he appeared to just be minding the place while the regular guy was briefly gone.

Anyway, they charge him with violating his probation for running this operation in the mall. The court held that "reasonable people may differ" as to whether a mall is a place where children may congregate, and said that the probation officer seemed okay with it, so Hicks had no way of knowing that it was a problem, and he was doing the best he could. Also, the places listed in the probation condition were places that, unlike malls, were specifically designed or run with kids in mind.

The concurring opinion is interesting from a law-nerd point of view. That judge, Judge Villanti, noted that the kiosk was "just feet away" from a Build-a-Bear store and the Disney Store. The Judge noted a canon of statutory construction instructing that when a list of specific items is followed by a general term, the general term is construed to mean similar in kind to the specific items. And that's what we have here: specific places like schools and day cares, followed by a general term encompassing other places where there are going to be a lot of kids. Judge Villanti, however, points out that there is another canon of statutory construction which instructs that when the opposite is the case -- when a general term is followed by specific examples -- the specific items are generally construed to be examples and not indicative of the entire range of the general term. So, according to the Judge, if the condition said "No working anywhere there are going to be kids, including schools, day cares, etc.," then Hicks would be prevented from working at other places that aren't anything like the listed items. He suggests "libraries, zoos, theme parks, or malls."

Fitz can tell you better than I that legislative intent can be perceived very differently depending on the ordering of a few words. But it's interesting to me that by simply switching these two clauses, and not changing any of the words, the legislature could turn a fairly narrow prohibition into a fairly broad one. Again, Fitz the Scrivener could tell us whether legislatures really pay attention to decisions like these when they draft statutes. But statutory construction can be a tricky thing. I don't really have a larger point here; I just thought it was an interesting case.

Fifty Book Challenge #1 -- Destination: Morgue!
My first entry in the Fifty Book Challenge is James Ellroy's Destination: Morgue!: L.A. Tales. Ellroy is most famous as the author of L.A. Confidential. This book, the first I've read from Ellroy, is a collection of shorter nonfiction pieces and a couple of novella-length fiction stories. All are noirish tales of the underbelly of Los Angeles.

Often, when I'm trying to decide whether to read an author's work, I like to pick up a short story or essay collection, to try to get a sense of the author's style and see if I'm pleased enough to want more. It's like a sampler platter for me. Based on Destination: Morgue!, I don't think I'll be sampling any more of Ellroy. The non-fiction was much more interesting to me than the novellas, partly because the latter involved some of Ellroy's recurring characters. I'm sure those would be more appealing to devotees who wanted every scrap they could find about, say, the Danny DeVito character from the movie version of L.A. Confidential, the publisher of the tabloid "Hush-Hush."

The essays were mostly gonzo-style riffs on either Ellroy's petty criminal past, or his investigations into various crimes. There's his ode to Mexican boxers, whom he used to watch with his father, to tales about cracking a cold rape case from a neighborhood near his, to some thoughts on how the death penalty is applied in Harris County, Texas (not at all an L.A. story), to Ellroy's thoughts on the Robert Blake murder trial. The one I liked the most (perhaps not surprisingly) was a portrait of the new Los Angeles District Attorney, and his struggles in running that ship.

Two final thoughts. The book is a quick read in large part because of Ellroy's style; call it alliterative hipster staccato jive. A representative passage, from the Robert Blake essay, "Little Sleazer and the Mail-Sex Mama":
He denied all guilt. He detailed the Victim's bunko scams. He flung the fuzz a nebulous knot of her nameless enemies. His blood pressure pressed up prestissimo. He hospital-hid overnight. He hired a crack criminal lawyer. Said shyster shivved and sheared the Victim postmortem. The Suspect sulked submissive. The Suspect submitted to search warrants and gave up his guns. They passed ballistics tests bellissimo. Cops carted off cartons of the Victim's belongings. They cried out her criminality and signed in as sick souvenirs.

Days dipped by. A dumped Dumpster delivered the murder piece. The bin stood near the crime scene. The bin was deep with debris from May 4th and 5th. The roscoe reeked of gun oil. The roscoe was fingerprint-free. The roscoe's registration remained anonymous. No way to sully the Suspect. No way to hitch him to some hired hit man.
If you think that might get a little old, I'm with you. Not every paragraph is like that, but there are a few in every essay, and the whole thing reads like bullet points that never got connected into prose. Obviously, that style has been wildly successful for Ellroy, but it didn't do much for me.

The final thing was one line I really did like, and may adopt as a personal motto, depending on how things work out: "I was an aquired taste that no one ever acquired." Well, Mr. Ellroy, quite a few people have. Just not me.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

All-Request Weekend: "Fear Factor" Lawsuit
The Hot Librarian commented with a request for thoughts on the guy suing the tv show "Fear Factor" because watching people eat rats on that show made him ill and caused him injury. Volokh has a little more here. Trust me, this "four-page handwritten complaint" will get all the attention it merits, so I won't belabor the obvious here -- this thing is going nowhere, fast. He filed the suit in Ohio, so I did a quick search for some Ohio law on emotional distress claims, and found this nice quote:
The standard we adopt in our recognition of the tort of intentional infliction of serious emotional distress is succinctly spelled out in the Restatement as follows: "One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress, and if bodily harm to the other results from it, for such bodily harm." [snip]
It has not been enough that the defendant has acted with an intent which is tortious or even criminal, or that he has intended to inflict emotional distress, or even that his conduct has been characterized by "malice," or a degree of aggravation which would entitle the plaintiff to punitive damages for another tort. Liability has been found only where the conduct has been so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community. Generally, the case is one in which the recitation of the facts to an average member of the community would arouse his resentment against the actor, and lead him to exclaim, "Outrageous!"
The liability clearly does not extend to mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other trivialities. The rough edges of our society are still in need of a good deal of filing down, and in the meantime plaintiffs must necessarily be expected and required to be hardened to a certain amount of rough language, and to occasional acts that are definitely inconsiderate and unkind. There is no occasion for the law to intervene in every case where some one's feelings are hurt.
(I realize now that I lost the cite to this case, but I'll fill that in on Monday. Most of it a quote from the Restatement and the commentary there anyway.)

So, that should give even non-lawyers an idea how hard it would be to succeed with a suit like this. "Fear Factor" obviously meant to cause some distress, but I can't see a judge or jury calling it "intolerable to a civilized community." Another thing. This is the kind of suit that lots of people hear about and grumble, "F---ing lawyers!" So it's worth nothing that the plaintiff brought this suit pro se. They should disbar any lawyer who would bring a suit like this.

Anyway, THL, if you were looking for something more specific, let me know. But I think it's safe to say that this one will be tossed forthwith.

UPDATE: I meant to add that I know we have a couple other requests from Friday to get to. But I have had a busier weekend than usual, and Fitz has been snowbound. We'll get to them this week, we promise. Thanks again for all the suggestions!

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Hank: "Bobby, I never thought I'd need to tell you this, but I would be a bad parent if I didn't. Soccer was invented by European ladies to keep them busy while their husbands did the cooking."
Bobby: "Why do you have to hate what you don't understand?"
Hank: "I don't hate you, Bobby."
Bobby: "I meant soccer."
Hank: "Oh. Oh, yeah, I hate soccer. Yes."

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    The views presented here are personal and in no way reflect the view of my employer. In addition, while legal issues are discussed here from time to time, what you read at BTQ is not legal advice. I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. If you need legal advice, then go see another lawyer.

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