Small Town Dirt, Served Fresh Daily

Small towns in rural America are putting their own spin on social networking: “they write and read startlingly negative posts, all cloaked in anonymity, about one another” on sites hosted by Topix such as Mountain Grove Forum.  The New York Times reports in “In Small Towns, Gossip Turns to the Web, and Turns Vicious” that

Topix, a site lightly trafficked in cities, enjoys a dedicated and growing following across the Ozarks, Appalachia and much of the rural South, establishing an unexpected niche in communities of a few hundred or few thousand people — particularly in what Chris Tolles, Topix’s chief executive, calls “the feud states.” One of the most heavily trafficked forums, he noted, is Pikeville, Ky., once the staging ground for the Hatfield and McCoy rivalry.

Anonymity, website immunity under federal law from liability for defamatory content created by third parties, and long-time social connections and population stasis of small towns combine to make online gossip popular, riveting, and divisive. And good business:

Topix said it received about 125,000 posts on any given day in forums for about 5,000 cities and towns. Unlike sites like Facebook, which requires users to give their real name, Topix users can pick different names for each post and are identified only by geography. About 9 percent are automatically screened out by software, based on offensive content like racial slurs; another 3 percent — mostly threats and “obvious libel,” Mr. Tolles said — are removed after people complain.

An Historic Performance

The first 11 responses to a Google search one minute ago of <historic collapse>–not  <historic collapse Boston> or  <historic collapse baseball> or  <historic collapse sports>–concern the Red Sox’ failure to make the playoffs after holding a 9-game wild-card lead 26 days ago.  Under the first response, from NBCSports.com–“With historic collapse, Red Sox miss playoffs“–Google helpfully provides a link to “6309 related articles.”  One need not dive deeply into this echoing tale of woe to read that “Boston became the first team to miss the postseason after leading by as many as nine games for a playoff spot entering September . . .”  The story line is familiar.  Before 2004 it’s what Red Sox fans expected, just one more way for the team to shatter objectively-reasonable hopes. Now the 2004 ALCS comeback over the Yankees, the World Series Sweeps of the Cards and Rockies, the hype about this being the “best team ever”look like feints to set up the biggest sucker punch yet: “the greatest choke in baseball history.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, your 2011 Boston Red Sox.

Cost of Patent Trolls

In Study: patent trolls have cost innovators half a trillion dollars Ars Technica reports on findings of three Boston University professors who studied the economics of patent-infringement lawsuits filed by “non-practicing entities”–business entities that exist only to own patent portfolios and sue for infringement.  The cost for publicly-traded companies since 1990 is $500 trillion and lately has run at about $83 billion a year. The researchers used stock market event study analysis to calculate the cost.  Read the article to learn more.

Lefty Gilday

The death last week of William “Lefty” Gilday provided another journey to the past. Lefty Gilday was a career criminal, a murderer–a cop killer–, a bank robber, the target of the largest manhunt in the history of New England, a baseball player, a jailhouse lawyer, a relic of the confluence of opposition to the Vietnam war, radical leftist politics, and criminal opportunism. He died at the age of 82 after almost 41 years of incarceration for his role in the murder of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder during a robbery of the State Street Bank in Brighton on September 23, 1970.  He robbed the bank with other members of the Weather Underground, an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which included other ex-cons and two Brandeis students, Susan Saxe and Katherine Ann Power. They robbed the bank to obtain funds for their political activities, netting $26,585. Gilday was arrested five days after the robbery, tried, and sentenced to death. His death sentence was vacated by the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia, which struck down death penalties across the United States. Saxe eluded capture for five years, eventually being tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison. (Saxe was represented by Nancy Gertner, who later became a United States District Court judge and, among many accomplishments, presided over the copyright infringement trial of Joel Tenenbaum mentioned in the preceding post.) Power turned herself in 1993, 23 years after the robbery, and served six years in prison.

I may have met Gilday when I did legal work in the Massachusetts prisons from 1975-1977, but I’m not certain of it. I met and had ongoing relationships with many notorious criminals, jailhouse lawyers, and larger-than-life personalities in those years. If I did encounter Gilday it was brief and one-off, but he was part of the fabric of that time and place. In the ethos of prison culture shaped by revolutionary rhetoric Gilday possessed cache.  The notoriety of his crimes, status as a prison elder, and skill as a jailhouse lawyer meant one often heard his name inside the joint. He also received frequent mentions in the press: when co-defendant and fellow revolutionary Stanley Bond accidentally blew himself up inside Walpole State Prison, when Suxan Saxe was apprehended and tried, when Power turned herself in.  News of his death, and of his incomplete attempt at remorse when he was near life’s-end, brought it all back.

These articles provide some background:

Court Reinstates Tenenbaum Damage Award

The First Circuit reinstated the jury’s $675,000 damage award to Sony BMG in its copyright infringement case against music-sharer Joel Tenenbaum, but the decision did not reach the merits of District Court Judge Nancy Gertner’s holding that the original award was so excessive as to violate Tenenbaum’s Constitutional right to due process. Instead the court ruled that before addressing the Constitutional issue Gertner should have used her power of remittur (“the procedural process by which a verdict of the jury is diminished by subtraction,” Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Ed.*) to reduce the award, which would have given Sony the choice either to accept the reduced award or seek a new trial. Sony wins this round with a warning that the court or Congress may drop the other shoe.

*Old I know–it’s the edition I bought in law school.  The current edition is the 9th.

Political Devolution

It’s stating the obvious but I like how she says it:

The Republicans are now the “How great is it to be stupid?” party. In perpetrating the idea that there’s no intellectual requirement for the office of the presidency, the right wing of the party offers a Farrelly Brothers “Dumb and Dumber” primary in which evolution is avant-garde . . . So we’re choosing between the overintellectualized professor and blockheads boasting about their vacuity? The occupational hazard of democracy is know-nothing voters. It shouldn’t be know-nothing candidates.

Maureen Dowd, Egghead and Blockheads, The New York Times 18-Sep-11

Time Machine

Saturday night Judy and I attended a party that was like traveling back in time.  The band was the venerable Roomful of Blues, who I saw perform often during the 1970’s, the first in 1972 at Club Zircon on Beacon Street in Somerville. (I couldn’t remember the name of the venue but saxophonist Rich Lataiile, the remaining original band member, dredged it up.) The party venue was the Cambridge Boat Club, where Judy I and were married in 1980 and which we’ve not seen the inside of since. The Cambridge Boat Club has the same unadorned 1950’s-waspish atmosphere I remember and Roomful is still a great party band. It was all just like I remember–except the night ended a lot earlier.

Olive Roulette

For dinner I made a salad of mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, feta, slivered almonds, and Kalamata olives.  The olives, from Whole Foods, are packaged in a container labelled pitted–as in “we’re olives without pits.”  Except about half of them contain pits.  Maybe my prosthodontist switched labels–these are a broken tooth waiting to happen.  If I were a products liability lawyer I’d say the label should read pitted olives–may contain pits.

Important Fourth Amendment Case

This November the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in United States v. Jones, “the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade” according to New York Times reporter Adam Liptak.  The issue is whether police must obtain a warrant to attach a GPS unit to criminal suspect’s vehicle and then track its movements for weeks. Last year the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in Jones that such GPS tracking required a warrant.  A split exists because the Seventh and Ninth Circuits have upheld the use of evidence obtained from GPS tracking.  The NY Times article reports that many lower courts addressing this issue have cited George Orwell’s 1984, which I describe in the Introduction to my Internet Law Casebook as “describing a world in which governments control all information and omnipresent Big Brother monitors everyone through two-way electronic devices.” My Casebook mentions it because 1984–and Orwell’s similarly-dystopian Animal Farm–were two of the books Amazon.com deleted from its users Kindles after the holder of their copyright claimed Amazon.com was not licensed to sell the books.

George Orwell would be proud of his prescience.

Clearing Clutter

Semester start is signaled by the influx of student emails.  This year the influx made it clear that I’m not interested in–or no longer have interest in–most of the non-personal email that fills my inbox. I’ve unsubscribed from a passel of periodicals I no longer care to read, products and companies of whom I need no reminding, services I don’t want, and other noise.  I’ve also created Gmail labels and filters to send categories of other emails directly to archive or trash.  My email nirvana is an empty inbox, which means I’ve read, responded to, or accomplished every item with a claim on my attention. It happens rarely and does not last long, but that’s why it is nirvana.