Back in those days when one frequently encountered the distinctive odor of marijuana cigarettes in movie theaters, on city sidewalks, and while strolling along the Esplanade, unscrupulous dealers would leaven their product with oregano, an herb of similar green hue that delivers great results when sprinkled on pizza but fails to enhance the marijuana experience. Or so I’m told. That may be the inspiration for Catherine Chiofalo’s decision to try the reverse, adding “enough marijuana for six cigarettes in her meatball recipe” so her husband, a New York City police officer, would fail a drug test and be forced to retire. Mrs. Chiofalo expected her husband Anthony to take his pension in 2004 after 20 years of service. He did not retire and Mrs. Chiofalo, fearing he would “die of a heart attack or get killed” in the line of duty, turned to Plan B–or Plan M. Mr. Chiofalo was fired when he failed a random test and is challenging the decision. He and his wife have both passed lie detector tests about the spiked meatball story. (NY cop says wife spiked meatballs)
In the blur of class preparation, reading papers, meetings with students, social engagements, workouts, and late-night Patriots games my desktop has become jammed with articles and ideas. Since I can’t go back in time I’ll clear the slate with these brief posts and try to get back in posting rhythm.
First, Facebook Founder Finds He Wants Some Privacy reports on Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to force 02138 magazine (for those who do not “go to school in Cambridge,” 02138 is the Harvard zip code) to remove some “unflattering documents” from its website. A freelance reporter obtained the documents from the federal district court in Boston, where they were filed in connection with a lawsuit against Zuckerberg by the founders of ConnectU who claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea for a campus-based networking site after they engaged Zuckerberg for programming help. The documents include “include Mr. Zuckerberg’s handwritten application for admission to Harvard and an excerpt from an online journal he kept as a student that contains biting comments about himself and others.” The court rejected Zuckerberg’s motion to remove the documents without explaining his ruling.
Steven Kirsch–inventor, a serial entrepreneur, and philanthropist–has come up with a new way to stop junk email. Spam’s End? Maybe, if Time Allows discusses his scheme and his personal challenge in seeing it to fruition. Kirsch has Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a form of blood that is “considered incurable, although it can be managed beyond the five- to seven-year longevity that new patients are usually told to expect.” His spam-blocking technique relies on “the recognition that the ratio of spam to legitimate e-mail is individually unique. It is also a singular identifier that a spammer cannot manipulate easily. By assessing the combined reputations of the recipients of any individual message, the Abaca system determines the “spaminess” of a particular message.” Kirsch is approach his illness like an engineer, treating it as a problem requiring a solution.
Adult website Perfect 10–described by a defendant in a lawsuit as “a serial filer of nuisance copyright claims”–has come up short in one of its suits. This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal from the 9th Circuit’s decision in Perfect 10 v CCBill LLC. In one of those coincidences that makes teaching–especially teaching Internet law–so much fun, the Court denied Perfect 10’s appeal on Monday of a week in which we are reading and discussing Perfect 10’s copyright lawsuits against Google and CCBill. To be fair, the 9th Circuit did remand the case against Google for further consideration of some of Perfect 10’s claims.
Last for this desk-clearing exercise, there have been numerous articles written about the suicide of 13 year-old Megan Meier. The story in a nutshell:
Meier met a 16-year-old named “Josh Evans” on MySpace. Her mother reluctantly gave permission to add Josh as a friend and visit with him online. They became close, but he suddenly turned on her, calling her names, saying she was “a bad person and everybody hates you.” Others joined the harassment, and the barrage culminated in Meier’s Oct. 16, 2006, suicide, just short of her 14th birthday.
Weeks later, Meier’s parents learned the boy didn’t exist—he’d been fabricated by a neighbor, Lori Drew, the mother of one of Meier’s former friends. The girls had had a falling-out, police say, and Drew wanted to know what Meier was saying about her daughter.
Drew managed to stay under the radar for a while but eventually she was outed–a Google search for “Lori Drew” yields about 59,000 hits and a search for <“Lori Drew” helicopter parent> yields almost 370 hits including Judith Warner’s piece in the NY Times: Helicopter Parenting Turns Deadly. Outrage and venom notwithstanding, the local prosecutor announced this week that he will not charge Drew in Megan Meier’s death because her conduct did not violate any criminal statutes. reviewed laws related to stalking, harassment and child endangerment before making his announcement. “[Prosecutor Jack] Banas said harassment and stalking laws both require proof that communication was made to frighten, disturb or harass someone. In this case, he said, the fictitious MySpace profile was created not to bully Megan, but to find out what she was saying about the neighborhood mother’s then-13-year-old daughter, a former friend. There are a few statements at the end that are a heated argument,” he said. “That’s why you have a hard time making a harassment case.””
The mission of the Universal Digital Library: Million Book Collection, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University is to
create a Universal Library which will foster creativity and free access to all human knowledge. As a first step in realizing this mission, it is proposed to create the Universal Library with a free-to-read, searchable collection of one million books, available to everyone over the Internet. Within 10 years, it is our expectation that the collection will grow to 10 Million books. The resultwill be a unique resource accessible to anyone in the world 24×7, without regard to nationality or socioeconomic background.
One of the goals of the Universal Library is to provide supportfor full text indexing and searching based on OCR (optical character recognition) technologies where available. The availability of online search allows users to locate relevant information quickly and reliably thus enhancing student’s success in their research endeavors. This 24×7 resource would also provide an excellent test bed for language processing research in areas such as machine translation, summarization, intelligent indexing, and information retrieval.
It is our expectation that the Universal Library will be mirrored at several locations worldwide so as to protect the integrity and availability of the data. Several models for sustainability are being explored. Usability studies would also be conducted to ensure that the materials are easy to locate, navigate, and use. Appropriate metadata for navigation and management would also be created.
Bookmark the UDL’s home page and search form and use the site often. It deserves support.
Maybe Mark Zuckerberg’s youth–he’s 23–explains Facebook’s ham-fisted schemes to weave its users’ personal information into skeins of gold. I don’t believe his purposes are nefarious. As Facebook Beacon and Facebook Social Ads show, he does have a knack for letting dollar signs get ahead of his judgment. He is developing a skill for reversing field when what looked like a great idea around the boardroom table runs into the buzzsaw of user opinion.
First a recap. A few weeks ago Facebook announced Facebook Beacon, “a new way to socially distribute information on Facebook.”
The websites participating in Beacon can determine the most relevant and appropriate set of actions from their sites that users can distribute on Facebook. These actions can include posting an item for sale, completing a purchase, scoring a high score in an online game or viewing of video. When users who are logged into Facebook visit a participating site, they receive a prompt asking whether to they want to share those activities with their friends on Facebook. If they do, those friends can now view those actions through News Feed or Mini-Feed stories.
In other words, if a Facebook user lists items for sale on eBay or buys a movie ticket on Fandango, a pop-up asks whether the user wants to share this news–and on Facebook this is considered news–with their Facebook friends. The breathtaking narcissism of such newsy updates aside, Facebook Beacon takes a giant step towards a future when we will all be defined by the commercial value of our online data trail. Facebook stated “[i]n keeping with Facebook’s philosophy of user control, Facebook Beacon provides advanced privacy controls so Facebook users can decide whether to distribute specific actions from participating sites with their friends.” However, those “advanced privacy controls” are less assuring than promised. Yesterday a student and I read through Facebook’s user agreement and privacy policies to see whether one could elect not to participate in Facebook Beacon, other than by not using Facebook. Users can elect not to distribute to friends news of specific transactions, but to date there is no one-stop mechanism to opt-out entirely.
Facebook Social Ads are another part of the story. They “leverage the power of Facebook News Feed by serving relevant stories about friends engaging with your business.” Here’s how Facebook pitches them to businesses:
Reach the right people.
Instead of creating an advertisement and hoping that it reaches the right customers, you can create a Facebook Social Ad and target it precisely to the audience you choose. The ads can also be shown to users whose friends have recently engaged with your Facebook Page or engaged with your website through Facebook Beacon. Social Ads are more likely to influence users when they appear next to a story about a friend’s interaction with your business.
The concept is brilliant–every Facebook user can, through association with purchases, downloads, ratings, and other digital flotsam, become his or her own brand. Facebook “friends” (which should always be in quotes in this context) could follow my data trail and decide “my father is sort of like Professor Randall, so maybe he’d like a pound of Malabar Gold Espresso, No Country for Old Men (the book, not the movie–he’s old school, remember), and Lindsay Mac’s Small Revolution for his birthday.” Or, back in the real world, cool hunters will track young fashionistas to decrease the lag between cutting edge and The Gap. Clickstream data, just laying around waiting to be turned into skeins of gold.
Brilliant. Except for the backlash.
Facebook: What Would Google Do?: There is something astoundingly tone deaf about how Facebook has handled its recent advertising initiatives. Mr. Zuckerberg is right: there are lots of people who would find it cool to tell the world what movies they just rented and even what color socks they just bought. But they’ve got to know that others would find this intrusive. And they couldn’t have picked a worse way to implement the Beacon system first: automatically telling your friends everything you did on participating sites unless you found and pushed a button to cancel the disclosure. (This timeline shows how hard it was at first to figure out what was going on.)
Are Facebook’s Social Ads Illegal?: There is at least one problem with this idea: It may be illegal under a 100-year-old New York privacy law. The statute says that “any person whose name, portrait, picture, or voice is used within this state for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without the written consent first obtained” can sue for damages. Moreover, such a use is also a criminal misdemeanor.
MoveOn Launches Privacy Campaign Against Facebook Social Ads: Calling Facebook’s new Social Ads strategy an invasion of privacy, MoveOn.org is asking Facebook members to sign a petition against the social network’s new ad plan.
Facebook’s “Fan-sumers:” Do Social Ads Violate Users’ Privacy?: [Law professor and privacy expert Daniel Solove] noted on his blog, “Facebook . . . assumes that if people rate products highly or write good things about a product then they consent to being used in an advertisement for it. Facebook doesn’t understand that privacy amounts to much more than keeping secrets — it involves controlling accessibility to personal data.”
Zuckerberg isn’t stupid, just surrounded by true believers who can’t view Facebook from outside the bubble. After ten thousand slaps upside the head Facebook has made Social Ads opt-in rather than opt-out. Under Pressure, Facebook Modifies Social Ads Program: “As of late Thursday, Facebook users must now proactively consent to alert friends whenever they take various actions, such as renting a DVD or purchasing a pair of sneakers . . . Now, as part of the changes enacted on Nov. 29, consumers who make such purchases will receive notices that Facebook intends to inform others about their actions—but only if they approve by clicking an “OK” button.” Problem handled, until the next wrong-footed product roll-out.
From Information Week: Windows XPP Significantly Outperforms Vista, Tests Show. “[R]esearchers ran a mix of tests comparing existing versions of the operating systems — the original Vista and XP SP2 — and versions that had been patched with the latest updates — Vista SP1 beta and XP SP3 beta. Tests were also run on machines with 1 Gbyte and 2 Gbytes of memory. Windows XP trounced Windows Vista in all tests — regardless of the versions used or the amount of memory running on the computer. In fact, XP proved to be roughly twice as fast as Vista in most of the tests.” (Emphasis additional) From when I purchased my first personal computer in the late 1980s, I bought a new system and upgraded operating system about every two years. It’s been four years+ since I bought a new desktop. I keep patching this Windows XP machine with new hard drives, fans, cables, and disk drives because the prospect of a spanking new machine with Vista is so disheartening. If this system melted down tomorrow I’d seriously consider buying a Mac and using Boot Camp to run XP.
Recently, articles about law school and the legal profession have captured my attention more than is customary. I’m not certain why. There are obvious reasons: I’m nearing the bottom of my pile of to-be-written LSAC recommendation letters, I’m talking often about law school, I’ve had retrospective discussions about law careers, and Damages recently concluded its initial season. Uncanny how that show captured the essence of my first year of practice in the municipal finance department. Murder, intrigue, double crosses, nights at the financial printer’s proofreading offering statements . . .
This time I’ll point to Legal Blog Watch, where Carolyn Elefant has done all of the heaving lifting in a post titled Law School Rankings to Students: Don’t Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want. The entire post and its linked materials (except the Spice Girls’ lyrics) are worthwhile to those interested in law school. Briefly, law students rank “quality of teaching, bar passage rate, placement rate at nine months, practical skills training and faculty-student relations” as most important in evaluating law schools. The U.S. News law-school rankings don’t “consider quality of teaching, practical skills training or faculty-student relations” and give less weight to bar passage rates and placements. U.S. News bases 25% of its rankings on reputation among law professors and deans, 15% on reputation among lawyers and judges, and other factors declining in significance.
Trying to put the U.S. News Rankings into perspective for prospective law students can be frustrating. The rankings promise to impose order on the difficult choice of selecting a law school but like many analytic tools, people wield them without understanding how to do so or try to make them do more than they can. There’s just something irresistible, atavistic even, about numbered lists. I recall a student deciding between two schools who was convinced that a school ranked 63rd by U.S. News would provide him with a materially better education and job prospects than one ranked in the mid-70s. That’s nonsense. Finish at the top of your class in either school and you’ll have excellent job prospects in their markets. Finish in the bottom half of your class and it won’t matter if your school is ranked in U.S. News’s top 20. Many wanna-be law students forget that half of them will finish in the bottom half of their class, at least until Lake Wobegon Law School opens its doors.
The disconnect between law students’ wants and the U.S. News ranking factors reflects the yin and yang of law school education. Does law school introduce students into analytic thinking that is the backbone of legal problem-solving or does it teach a trade? Which is more important for a law school graduate, sophisticated understanding of legal principles or knowing how to search a title? This should not be binary question; lawyers should know the how and the why of law. There are extremely smart attorneys who are flummoxed by law’s mundane, boring, and necessary details and law mill practitioners churning out form documents who can’t see the forest for the trees. Elefant agrees with a blogger who “wonders whether law student[s] are sufficiently qualified to evaluate the quality of a law school, or to know what aspects of legal education are important.” She says “the most important skills that law school teaches are (1) writing ability and (2) analytical thinking.”
I think the answer is more complicated. Recent posts have discussed the difficulties some law graduates have finding jobs that pay enough to cover their law-school loans. Many students enter law school without any clear understanding of what lawyers actually do only to discover that (1) they don’t like doing it, (2), they aren’t good at it, and/or (3) it is not at all what they expected. The practice of law is stratified, with the handful of top graduates (not all of whom graduated from the U.S. News top-ranked schools) landing the best paying jobs at corporate firms and everyone else finding their niche along the continuum from “interesting and challenging” to “mind-numbingly and soul-suckingly dull.” Learn to analyze, learn to write, but if you are in the bottom half of your class at a lower-ranked school and $150,000+ in debt, you had better come out of law school knowing how to do something besides spot issues.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear the appeal in Parker v District of Columbia, the March 2007 decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the D.C. law banning possession of handguns. The Court will hear arguments next March. This challenge to the D.C. handgun ban, which I discussed in one of the Second Amendment posts earlier this year, could provide a definitive ruling on whether the Second Amendment embodies an individual rights or collectivist theory of the right to keep and bear arms. Whether it reverses the D.C. circuit and upholds the constitutionality of the D.C. gun ban or not, the decision in the midst of the presidential campaign is certain to polarize a deeply-divided country.
. . . except when it doesn’t. A friend sent me an article from Bloomberg titled Credit Market Collapse Claims Victims as Lawyers Exit, reporting on dismissals from law firms that service structured finance, private equity, and mergers and acquisition transactions. So far the numbers of dismissals is small but expected to increase. The article quotes a source from Citi Private Bank’s law firm group: “You’ll see firms use this slowdown as an opportunity to raise the performance bar and clean out the bottom 5 percent of their performers.” It is indeed a schizophrenic time for BigLaw associates. One day starting salaries increase to $160,000, the next senior associates are axed because the work isn’t there. And associates aren’t the only ones feeling the pain: “Chicago-based Mayer Brown fired or demoted 45 partners in March that the firm said were underperforming.” No, it isn’t all camel rides.
Follow up 11/28: Law.com reports that, barring a quick turnaround in the credit markets, Thacher Profitt and Wood will lay off 24 non first-year associates in January. The 350-lawyer firm also offered 29 first-years “the option of taking four months severance and leaving the firm.” The article did not report what option faces those first-years who decline the severance. 53 lawyers = 15% of firm professionals.
. . . when you are a summer associate. Last week I was comparing notes about our legal careers with an acquaintance. We met when we overlapped briefly at a large Boston firm–I was on my out the door to become general counsel with a real estate development company, he had just come in as a lateral from another Boston firm. He stayed for about five years, went into private practice, and is now very happy as general counsel for a travel-services company. Our reasons for leaving BigLaw were similarly family-driven. As he said “I got to see all of my kids’ school plays, coach their baseball and basketball teams, and be part of their lives.” I thought of this conversation and our mutual gimlet-eyed view of the BigLaw experience when I read this lead paragraph from Legal Blog Watch:
Summer associates gave their firms overall good reviews in The American Lawyer’s 2007 Summer Associates Survey, and why shouldn’t they? After all, what’s not to like? Some found exotic adventures abroad, with one traveling four-and-a-half hours by horseback across the Egyptian desert and another put up in a fancy apartment in Paris. Others were treated to skyboxes at baseball games, cooking classes, musicals, symphony concerts, whitewater rafting trips and scavenger hunts. In New York, there was Kobe beef and Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art, while in San Francisco there was helicoptering under the Golden Gate Bridge and debauchery at Half Moon Bay. All that and a paycheck of nearly $3,000 a week.
I’ll put it like this. None of our recollections of BigLaw life involved Paris apartments, camel rides, or helicopter rides below or above the Golden Gate Bridge. And the debauchery did not occur at Half Moon Bay.
A section of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (summary) unanimously approved this week by the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee would require universities and colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs to “develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity.” In other words, institutions of higher learning subject to the act must offer students subscriptions to music- and other file-sharing sites approved by the recording and motion picture industries and must beef up technological obstacles to such file-sharing, or face consequences. An official from Educause, which represents college network operators, is quoted here saying that “[t]he language in the bill appears to be clear that failure to carry out the mandates would make an institution ineligible for participation in at least some part of Title IV (which deals with federal financial aid programs).” On the other hand “[h]ouse committee aides respond that failure to craft those antipiracy plans would not imperil financial aid awards. A fact sheet distributed by the committee this week attempts to dispel “myths” that it argues are being circulated by “supporters of intellectual property theft.””
I’ve not read the draft bill, which is reportedly 700 pages long, so I don’t know the exact language of the anti-piracy provisions. Whatever they say, I question why this committee is seeking to impose on colleges and universities the duty to become what the New York Times referred to as “copyright cops.” This quotation from the assistant director of federal relations of the Association of American Universities captures perfectly my objections to these provisions: “You have the federal government requiring a nonprofit educational institution to develop plans to help a for-profit industry to earn more revenue from their students.”