Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Suit Has Been Dismissed

As I explained the reporter at the Las Vegas Sun:

We settled with Righthaven because while we believe that a trial would have given a tiny judgment (if any) against us, the costs of proceeding to trial would have been tens of thousands of dollars — with no certainty that we would ever be able to recover those legal costs. We would have needed to come up with that enormous amount of money before going to trial. The enormous costs of going to trial in a civil suit effectively mean that if you aren't a multimillionaire, you can't afford justice.

We believe that the draconian penalties of DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) were intended primarily to punish file sharing of entertainment, which has enormous economic value (unlike old news articles). To use the enormous penalties of DMCA with respect to a few newspaper articles archived for a scholarly, public purpose, arguably within fair use, does not appear to be what Congress intended. The common — and industry standard — courtesy of contacting us would have caused immediate removal of the article in question. Even a request for reasonable damages — such as the $750 at the bottom of the statutory damages scale — would have (been) paid without argument. We believe that this approach would have worked with nearly all of the defendants that Righthaven sued.
I may have some more to say on this in the future.  I'm considering writing an article about the serious holes (and there are many) in our civil litigation system that this experience has revealed to me.  I'm not sure where I could get it published, but it is probably worth a try. 

First, I need to relax my frustrations.  Now, how do I get some of Steve Gibson's hair or fingernail clippings for the voodoo doll?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Movies: Where Do I Find The Time?

I'm incredibly busy preparing for class, and filling remaining orders for ScopeRoller--but I try to use the treadmill at least four or five evenings a week--and there's nothing quite as good as watching a movie to get me to stay with the treadmill.

High Security Threat Level?

You don't say.  September 29, 2010 WSB-TV reports that trucks were being stopped on I-20 in Douglas County, Georgia, as part of counterterrorism operations:

Trucks were being sorted into two lines, one with more rigorous screening. Agents used a variety of devices to check the exteriors of the trailers, including a large drive-through machine similar to a security tool used at the Super Bowl, and a tool that measures radiation.  

Remember when everyone said that the episode of 24 where the Muslim terrorists set off a nuke in Los Angeles was "jumping the shark"?  Afraid not.  I'm glad that I don't live in any large cities.

These Are The Things That Make Me Despair For My Country

This September 29, 2010 New York Post article about a Rutgers student who was apparently "outed" by two other students who used a webcam to film this guy having sex with another guy--and then put it on the Internet.  The student committed suicide.

I am shocked that anyone would commit suicide over something like this today, in a profoundly pro-homosexual society like ours.  I am sure that the two students being charged in this did not expect this result, either.  But so what?  This is the sort of barbaric lack of respect for another person's privacy and feelings that just enrages me.

More Action Involving Righthaven

I won't have anything substantial to say about those nice people at Righthaven until the dismissal is filed with the court.  In the meantime, you may find this article in the September 28, 2010 Las Vegas Sun amusing.  And is now being sued, according to this other September 28, 2010 Las Vegas Sun article.  It would appear that Righthaven is now up to 141 suits.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bizarre Movies

Zone Troopers (1985).  The plot description sounds incredibly cheesy: U.S. soldiers behind German lines in 1944 Italy are taken prisoner along with an extraterrestrial--and both want to get home.  It is actually a lot better than it sounds, with decent period detail, a Big Band sound track, decent dialog and a nice attention to 1940s pulp science fiction motifs.

Repo!  The Genetic Opera (2008) so bizarre in its description that just out of morbid curiosity, I watched the first couple of minutes.  No, a future where slashers repossess genetically engineered replacement organs just does not make sense as an opera.  Not even close.

Diploma Mills

Someone forwarded me this link to a presentation about diploma mills in Britain.  Really quite interesting and surprising!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Since I have pretty well dropped out of public interest sort of stuff (to make myself a less noticeable target to lawyers who can't find anything important to do), I have had more occasion to watch movies.  (I believe to make such lawyers happy, you are supposed to go to your job at the Ministry of Truth, then go home, get drunk, and watch football.  Can't do the get drunk thing, or watch football, so I watch movies.)

A lot of these are movies that I never got around to watching when I was younger, because I had important stuff to do--and just never got around to seeing.  One of these movies like Kevin Costner's Waterworld.  It starts out pretty well--sort of Mad Max on the ocean, with jetskis.  Indeed, the first thirty minutes are pretty good--and then, about half-way through, it goes completely thermonuclearly stupid--so bad that it is actually good, rather like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.  The sequences with Captain Hazelwood's picture, and the oarsmen--inspiredly bad!

I also watched Battlefield Earth, based on one of L. Ron Hubbard's novels.  John Travolta playing the alien Terl gets to chew up the scenery, and there's nothing quite as over the top as this memorable line he delivers:
Terl: Attention. This is Terl, your chief of security. Exterminate all man-animals at will, and happy hunting!
It wasn't quite bad enough to be funny--but not quite down at the level of the excrescences that Sci-Fi channel was showing for a while, like Pterodactyl (2005).  But wow!   They spent $44 million making Battlefield Earth?

How many really bad movies can you make with 2012 in the title?  2012 Doomsday was so bad that it was not even watchable while doing more important tasks.  It was not even bad enough to be unintentionally funny.  It was so bad that I could not even watch it as background noise.

2012 Supernova was also incredibly bad--but what made it tolerable as background noise was seeing how many different science and technical errors the screenwriter could stuff into a single turkey.  Had I not been using it as background noise, I am sure that the count could have been in the hundreds, perhaps even thousands.  Okay, I admit it: most people that watch movies like this do not have a clue where the atmosphere ends, what the consequences of a nearby supernova would be, how long the effects would take to arrive, etc.  But it does make me think we are living in the world of Idiocracy.

District 9: not really a bad movie--but I was expecting something a bit more than The Fly cross-bred with Alien Nation.  It seems as though someone decided that an action/adventure film with lots of exploding trucks (and people) was a lot more mass market than a thoughtful exploration of what happens we confront intelligent creatures so different that we start to regard them as inferior beings.  This was a film with real potential--but splat!  The potential exploded all over the lens (like some of the characters).

Solomon Northup's Odyssey (1984): this was a film for which I had very high hopes, and I was a little disappointed.  It is based on Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, describing a free black New Yorker's experiences after he was kidnapped, drugged, and sold into Louisiana slavery in 1841.  This is one of the great adventure stories--and all the more amazing because it is a true story.  Avery Brooks (who some of you may recall playing the very cool sorta good/sorta bad character Hawk in the 1980s TV series Spenser: For Hire).

I suspect that lack of funds might have been the problem on this.  Brooks does a decent job as Northup, and there are a number of recognizable actors, such as Mason Adams and Lee Bryant, playing various parts.  Some of the other actors were complete unknowns, and based on their performances, I can see why they stayed that way. 

Soundtrack, in particular, was a bit surprising by its deficiency.  There were many places where the lack of a soundtrack really impaired what could have been a very credible film.  You do not realize how much theme music plays a role in creating the emotional impact of a film until you see a movie like this, where the lack makes itself apparent.

I was also a bit surprised by the accents--or rather the inconsistency of them.  Some characters have recognizable regional accents: the U.S. Senator from Louisiana, for example.  But many of the other other characters should have had a Louisiana or Virginia accent--and did not.  The actors playing slaves are nearly devoid of correct accents and dialect for their time and place.  Perhaps someone made the decision that getting the accents correct would make the film much harder for a mass audience to appreciate--and that might well be true.  But at least you can have the actors at least suggest the accents and dialect without rendering it incomprehensibly accurate.

The film largely (although not exactly) follows Northup's book.  The most noticeable deviation is one that I can somewhat forgive.  I do not recall Northup at any point even implying that he took up with a slave woman while in slavery.  As the movie points out in the opening sequences, Northup, like many free blacks of the time, was trying very hard to achieve Victorian ideals about marriage and family life.  Northup was stranded far from his wife for twelve years.  He had no certainty, or even likelihood, of being able to get himself freed and back to her.  It would not have surprised me if he had fallen in love while on that plantation, and done what comes naturally.  At least the film portrays this in a dignified way--as a man with no certainty of returning to his home, and resisting the charms of a slave woman who was attracted to him.


I have been a big fan of both automated system regression test and unit regression test for many decades.  (It's a bad sign of how long you have been doing something that you can start to say something about your experience and say, "many decades.") 

My last consulting job involved writing many hundreds of unit tests in Visual Studio/C# for a point of sale product.  At my current job, the back end part of the software in written in Java and SQL.  While there were some unit tests in the code, they had not been run or maintained for a very long time--perhaps for a number of years. 

While waiting for others to make changes were blocking me from fixing stuff, I started looking at the existing unit test facilities.  It uses JUnit--and My Eclipse has a very nice interface to it, almost as nice as the unit test facilities built into Visual Studio.  In no time at all, I found the permissions problem that prevented the existing unit tests from running (most of which are now years of date), and fixed it.

In addition, one of the classes that I expect to change as soon as the DBA finishes his work needed a unit test.  It also needed a more elegant and robust interface to the SQL.  Let me explain, for those of you who have not had occasion to write code that interfaces to SQL.  In both C# and Java, there are libraries that interface to SQL stored procedures.  You call a method that executes a SQL command or stored procedure, and get back a series of returned rows.  There are two different method categories for retrieving individual columns from a row, so that you can store them into a class instance.  One category, which much of the current code that I am maintaining uses, retrieves each column by column number:

lastname = data.getString(2);
firstname = data.getString(3);
custNbr = data.getInt(4);

However, this is not a very robust technique.  What is someone changes the stored procedure, so that the last name column is no longer the second column returned, but the third or the fourth column? 

Instead, it is safer to retrieve based on the column name, not the number:

lastname = data.getString("last_name");
firstname = data.getString("first_name");
custNbr = data.getInt("cust_number");

The column name that the stored procedure assigns is what the various get methods use to retrieve the data for this column from this row.

Now, if the stored procedure does not assign a name to a particular column, retrieving by column number may be the only way to get the data--and some people who write stored procedures do not bother to assign a name to a column, even though it is dead simple to do so.  I am starting to change such stored procedures to assign names, for this obvious reason.  However, I wanted to make sure that my changes did not break anything, so I wrote a series of tests to verify that the data retrieval methods in this class returned the right data.  This way, when we start changing the table structure, and when I check in the changes to the stored procedure, I can painlessly verify that these data retrieval methods actually work the way that they used to work.

In addition, while writing these method tests, I found a couple of exception cases that did not return the correct data--so one more set of things to fix, and make sure that they will not come and bite us in the future.

Days like Friday are the days that I actually enjoy my job.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Imagine if a Republican Were President Right Now...

This September 24, 2010 Minneapolis Star-Tribune article would have already generated calls for impeachment:

The FBI raided the Minneapolis homes of five antiwar activists, including three leaders of the Twin Cities peace movement, Friday morning as part of what it called a probe of "activities concerning the material support of terrorism."

The Minneapolis office of an antiwar organization was also raided, protest leaders said. No one was arrested in any of the raids.
Could antiwar protesters be involved with terrorist groups?  I would not be in the least bit surprised.  Might the FBI have gone off half-cocked on this, or have received credible but wrong information that led them to this raid?  I would not be in the least bit surprised.  My point is not whether there is a real issue here--but it is amazing how much stuff in the Bush Administration was evidence that fascism was about to fall on America--but I rather doubt that anyone on the left is going to make similarly hyperbolic claims about Obama.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Famous Franklin Quote About Beer

You know, the one about "Beer is proof that God loves us"?  There's some question about that, but this does seem to be properly sourced:
Behold the rain, which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Democrats Engaged in Literal Witchhunt

Apparently, Christine O'Donnell, like many high school girls, played around with witchcraft in high school.  (Gee, do you suppose movies like The Craft might have played a role in this?)  Now the Democrats are engaged in a witchhunt.  Please, Christine, turn your "beareded Marxist" opponent into a newt.  I'm sure he'll get better.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Reader Is Running For Fountain Valley, California City Council

You can see his campaign blog here.  He clearly has weird ideas about being plain-spoken, instead of telling people what they want to hear.  Let's hope that this sort of trouble making works well on Fountain Valley voters!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Desperate Democrats

Walt Minnick is my Congresscritter.  Up to this point, I was prepared to grudgingly accept that he was an okay guy.  Yes, he's a Democrat, but he voted so sensibly in Congress concerning the stimulus disaster that you might have mistaken him for a Republican (to the horror and disgust of many Democrats here).  His initial missteps on gun control generated a firestorm of upset, and Minnick tried to very hard to bridge the gap with his constituents.

While I could respect Minnick, I was planning to vote for Minnick's Republican challenger for two reasons:

1. To remove Nanci Pelosi (D-Open Ward) as Speaker of the House.

2. His Republican challenger, Raul Labrador, seemed like a sharp conservative with whom I had significant areas of agreement.

All my willingness to accept Minnick as a good guy is gone.  Minnick is running an ad that misrepresents Labrador's position by quoting him out of context.  You can read the details in this September 17, 2010 Associated Press story.

My guess is that Minnick can see that the coming Republican tsunami stands a good chance of knocking Minnick out--and felt desperate enough to start playing dirty.  What makes this particular ad so desperate is that it was so transparently dirty.  People that I know who do not pay careful attention to day to day politics in our district  immediately saw the ad for what it was.  At the same time, Minnick seems to be part of the open borders crowd of the Democratic Party--and to be attacking Labrador on this basis is gross hypocrisy.

I guess it is time to call Labrador's campaign and get a yard sign.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Want To Have More Hope For The Next Congress

Real Clear Politics has its round-up of the current situation.  For the House, they are showing 205 seats Likely Republican or Lean Republican, with 37 seats labeled Tossups--meaning that they could go either way.  But only one of those 37 seats is currently held by a Republican.  If even half of those seats go Republican, that's a narrow Republican majority in the House--and this is a year when Democrats have a lot to fear.  The electorate that is going to vote is furious.

The Senate is almost as good: 45 seats are Likely Republican or Lean Republican (or a Republican holds the seat and does not have to run this year).  Six seats are Tossups--and every single one of them is held by a Democrat right now--including seats that should not be in play, such as Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Reid (D-NV), and Patty Murray (D-WA).  The Democrats might hold the Senate, but it won't be by much.

All that said, I really wish that I had more hope for the next Congress.  I fear that the same garbage that dominated the Republican Party for most of Bush's two terms is going to still be in charge--a crowd that is better than the Democrats, but not by much.  I hope the Tea Party is getting the message through to the tax and spend establishment Republicans--we are way past the point where more of the same is going to work.

There Really Should Be Something Between a Vertical Mill & A Chop Saw

What I mean, is something that does coarse cutting--but not as coarse as a chop saw. 

I started to switch over a few months ago from making the ScopeRoller assemblies entirely of acetal, to using aluminum tubing, with an acetal insert threaded to accept the caster.  Part of the manufacturing process that I use for making the acetal insert involves cutting diagonal slices off of a piece of acetal rod.  This is fine as long as you have six or seven inches or more of acetal rod to hang on to--but when you get down to the last three or four inches--you really don't want your fingers that close to the blade! 

I've come up with several fixtures for holding pieces that are already machined, and have threaded holes in them because of that, in position on the chop saw.  But what to do about a small piece that is not already machined?  Round stuff isn't real easy to clamp in place, especially when it is so short.  It would be really nice if there was a way to do roughly what a vertical mill does--but fast, and maybe not so accurate.  Something measured in tenths of an inch accuracy, instead of thousandths--but without power to make big cuts.

I have a band saw, but I confess that I seem to break blades a bit too often to feel confident in it.  If the blade is taut enough to not be waving all over the workpiece, kaching!  Broken blade.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Videos

I had a vague memory from junior high of videos from Colonial Williamsburg Foundation about colonial craftsmen, and I thought that I might find one or two that would be of interest to the class.  I found several short videos done in a docudrama style here.  This collection is more factual; here is one showing colonial chocolate making.  Another one there shows the casting of a small cannon.

At the Boise State library, I found Gunsmith of Williamsburg (1965), showing the making of a rifle.  Some parts of it are up on YouTube as well.  It is, perhaps, a bit boring by modern standards.  I can think of a number of ways to jazz it up so that it would hold the attention a bit better.  (This is one of the few cases where some more talking heads would actually help--explaining the social significance of firearms in the period.)  Still, it is well photographed, and if you are old enough, you may recognize the voice of one of the narrators.  Yes, it is David Brinkley, for many years, one of the two anchors of the NBC nightly news show.  I can't imagine any of the current NBC news anchors narrating something so awful--you know, with guns and other icky things in it.

I also watched Silversmith of Williamsburg which is, in its own way, quite equivalent.  However, silversmithing isn't quite as important to the Revolution, or the development of post-Revolutionary manufacturing techniques, so I am not using that one.

Another one that I watched was The Musical Instrument Maker of Williamsburg (which I can't find ordering information for on the CWF website, for some reason) in which we watch the making of a spinet and a violin. (And we get to listen to them as well--very elegant.)  For the same reasons as above, while done to comparable quality as the Gunsmith of Williamsburg, I elected not to use it, since spinets and violins were not significant factors in the victory over the British, nor did they play much of a role in developing our industrial capacity.

Not Intending To Offend My Lawyer Readers...

I have reason to believe that most lawyers are actually decent people--at least as decent as the general population, and this Righthaven debacle, as disappointing as it has been, has reinforced my impression on this.  (I'm impressed with the reaction of nearly every lawyer with whom I am have spoken about this.)  Nonetheless, while looking through Poor Richard's Almanack in preparing for class Friday, I ran into a number of Ben Franklin's aphorisms whose homespun wit tickled my funnybone--and none more than this:
A countryman between two lawyers, is like a fish between two cats.
A good lawyer, a bad neighbor.

Gratifying To See This Coverage

My friend Dan Gifford has an article at Big Hollywood about the emerging Christian, non-Hollywood based film industry.  He describes his experience when he had a small part in an X-Files episode that starred Victoria Jackson:
Between takes, atheist star Duchovny, a very smart guy in terms of an SAT test with degrees from both Princeton and Yale, made fun of Jackson by baiting her with cleverly worded, condescending questions about God, Christianity, sex and politics. To her credit, she did not respond in kind. But no matter what she said, Duchovny was right back on her with another sly sarcastic put down. Every so often, the torment would cause  Jackson to exclaim “I’m a Christian woman!” That just whetted  Duchovny’s appetite for more, of course, and he’d then begin needling her anew.
Worth reading in full.

Republican Overconfidence About November

I found this mildly rude picture here.

I am really hoping this is Photoshopped, or this was taken in a San Francisco theme park.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I'm Thinking of Closing Down ScopeRoller

The more I look at how easy it is to sue someone in federal court--and how expensive it is to deal with such a suit, even if you have essentially no involvement--the more clear it is that you would have to be an utter fool to do anything that provides an excuse for a suit.  Anything.

Ideally, you would not own a home, or drive a car, but at least you have liability coverage for those items.  Some things are hard to avoid--but running a business that helps people is clearly on the list of unnecessary things that open you up to great risk, unless you have a $400 an hour lawyer watching everything you are doing, and warning you about what steps you need to take before do something.

It is a really, really scary country in which we live.  I would be curious to know if the situation is this crazy in countries that don't have so many lawyers.

UPDATE: While trying to figure out whether to close it down, I have discontinued the ZeroMotion version of the caster product, not out of fear of lawyers, but because the German-made casters that I used for this turned out to be too inconsistent.  The first few shipments were really excellent.  Once locked down, they did not move even a little.  The last shipment was sloppy, and the manufacturer considers this sloppiness unfortunate but within spec.  (Even Germans don't make everything perfectly!)

The number of customers that actually needed the ZeroMotion version wasn't huge, but I was trying to meet a customer need.  Now I have to pay the restocking charge to return the half a case of these that I have.

Really Stupid: Burning the Koran

If you want to get media attention, saying you are going to burn the Koran does that just fine.  But it is wrong on so many levels.  Let's count them, shall we?

1. It anger Muslims, as opposed to persuading them.  There are a lot of serious criticisms that can be made of the Koran and Islam, but burning the Koran isn't a serious criticism.  It's childish.  That pastor should have organized a daylong serious analysis of the Koran's inconsistencies and the difficulties with reading its text that have been acknowledged by Muslim scholars since around 1000 AD.  Would it have converted many Muslims?  No.  But it would not have generated the...firestorm (yes, that's the word) of passionate rage.  It makes America look stupid.

2. Book burning has become a symbol of fascism.  Even the Catholic Church, when it maintained its list of prohibited books, did not burn books.  Great: a Christian pastor uses a symbol of the Nazis.  What were you thinking?  Were you thinking?

3. It provides yet another example of an ignorant Christian pastor for the news media (which is constantly ignoring the many equivalent Islamic radical imams) to use to portray Christianity in a bad light.

4. It almost certainly increases the risk that some Muslim fanatic is going to kill some American somewhere--and there is nothing that we get in return for that increased risk.  If some action that we took actually increased the possibility of winning the war against Islamofascism in exchange for that risk, it might be worth considering.  But what does burning Korans buy us?  Nothing.

I hope this pastor enjoys his brief moment of fame. 


Wow.  What an astonishing film--about a future where humans live their entire lives through robotic surrogates that give you all the sensations and experiences--but without the risks.  Of course, the robots don't age, or get fat, or ugly.  And if the surrogate dies, you can't get hurt.  Or can you?

To say that this is an astonishing commentary on our technologically deranged society is quite clear.  I would blog some more about this--but I think I will stop engaging in this surrogate social behavior of blogging, and go do something physical.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Student Loans

I ran into this disturbing page about student loans.  I just watched a Frontline documentary from earlier this year called "College, Inc."  While they put the primary focus on for profit colleges as the source of the problem, what concerns me is that I am seeing a lot of evidence that a lot of people are getting themselves deeply in debt for educations that are unlikely to allow the student to ever pay off those debt.  College is not for everyone.  It is especially not for those who have failed to master certain basic skills--and are misled into believing that they can go to college, pile up a mountain of debt--and then get a good paying job to pay off that debt.

My Granddaughter Is Twenty Months Old

And she has advanced to saying subject-verb-object sentences, and combining two adjectives as modifiers on nouns.  Okay, our family is a little...different on the things we boast about.

Had To Think About This One

I was in a McDonald's with my wife last night, and a young man walked in wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan, "Body Piercing Saved My Life."   He was so clean-cut--no obvious piercings--that I had to stop and think for a moment.  Then I noticed below the slogan--two hands with holes in them.

If you still are not getting it: "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." -- Isaiah 53:5.

I wonder how many conversations that sweatshirt starts!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I Am Starting To Grade The First Weekly Question...And I Am Very Pleased

Some years back, Idaho imposed a senior project requirement on all the high schools in the state, at least partly to make sure that graduating seniors could actually write.  I think it works.  In 2003, I was utterly floored at how few of the upper division history majors in my Constitutional History class could actually write at college level.  I had a student turn in a paper where 1/3 of the sentences--were not.  I had students tell me that this was only the second research paper that they had ever written--and did it show.  I would say that only five of the twenty-five research papers that I received that semester were what I would expect of upper division college students.

By comparison, these essays from the freshmen in my U. S. History class at College of Western Idaho (a community college) are gratifying.  They aren't perfect, of course.  But so far, of the ones that I have graded, many are good and several are actually quite good.  Most students at least know how to write competent sentences; some students are combining competent sentences into well-structured essays.  A few students have not achieved sentence structure competency (or competency in capitalization, or punctuation), but nonetheless, have well-structured essays.

There is room for improvement for all of them, so far.  Still, many of them are starting with what would have been considered high school level writing skills when I graduated from Santa Monica High in 1974.

A Reminder That Rapacious Lawyers Are Not A New Problem

I was reading through Hening's Statutes at Large; BEING A COLLECTION OF ALL THE LAWS OF VIRGINIA FROM THE FIRST SESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE IN THE YEAR 1619 in preparation for class yesterday, and I ran into this gem that reminds us that rapacious lawyers are not a new problem.
BE it also enacted, for the better regulating of attorneys and the great fees exacted by them, that it shall not be lawfull for any attorney to plead causes on behalfe of another without license or permission first had and obtained from the court where he pleadeth, Neither shall it be lawfull for any attorney to have license for mor courts then from the quarter court and one county court, and that they likewise be sworne in the said courts where they are so licensed, And it is further enacted that no attorneys plead in any county court shall demand or receive either for drawing petition, declaration or answer and for his ffee of pleading the cause of his client above the quantitie of 20 lb. of tobaccoe or the value thereof, nor that at any pleading in the quarter court shall demand and receive either for drawing petition, declaration or answer and for his ffee of pleading the cause of his cliant above the quantity or 50 lb. of tobaccoe or the value thereof, [Hening, Statutes at Large, 1:275, ch. 61, March 1642/3]
This doesn't mean that everything that they did was fine back then.  The 1620s statutes are awash in mandatory church attendance laws, and the 1630s statutes are various laws limiting the amount of tobacco you could plant, as a way to keep prices up.  Still, it is a reminder that some problems are not new.

By the way, if you visit that collection--someone did a lot of work to transcribe (not just scan) Hening's Statutes at Large, primarily for the benefit of genealogists.  It's just an amazing resource for historians.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dinosaurs That Don't Evolve, Die

Part of the rationalization that the stinker in chief at the Las Vegas Review-Journal uses for the Righthaven lawsuits is that newspapers are being driven out of business by bloggers infringing copyrighted newspaper articles.  While I agree that infringement is wrong (although usually unintentional), it is not particularly plausible that this is the source of the problems that newspapers are having, for a number of reasons:

1. It is true that if you copy too much text from a newspaper, it may discourage some readers from clicking through to read the article.  On the other hand, how many readers click through to read the article, if it was copied in full, anyway?  I know that I often find myself clicking through, even when a blogger has copied a substantial amount of the article--to see if they have quoted the article out of context. 

2. Traffic that bloggers get because of an alleged copyright infringement are a tiny fraction of the hits that a newspaper receives as a result of Google searches, links from Drudge Report, or even clickthroughs caused by bloggers linking to an article on the newspaper's website.  The problem that newspapers are having isn't because of bloggers, but the collapse of traditional dead trees publishing.  Bloggers linking to newspapers are almost certainly a net gain for newspapers--unless, of course, you decide to turn an innocent, one-time mistake (as my co-blogger on The Armed Citizen made) into a $75,000 suit.  At that point, the negative publicity and aggressive delinking from such newspapers is almost certainly going to turn such a lawsuit campaign into a net loss.

Yes, a newspaper deserves to get all the ad volume it would enjoy if everyone clicked through, instead of reading the article elsewhere--but there are polite, sensible ways to solve the problem, and there are impolite, irrational ways to do so.  My guess is that the editor of the Review-Journal wouldn't trim his fingernails with a chainsaw, or stop his car by slamming it into brick wall.  There are less drastic solutions--which nearly all newspaper organizations use, such as an email or letter demanding that you take down an infringement.  (At least, I've read that this is the case; I've never had a news organization make such a request.)

In nearly all cases, bloggers have made an innocent mistake, through ignorance of the law (which is very easy, since fair use law is extraordinarily vague), or excess enthusiasm for a particularly well-written article.  A blogger who ignores a request, or who keeps infringing again and again--I can see that a lawsuit might make sense there.  But to go directly from one article infringing to a $75,000 lawsuit is just crazy.

Anyway, all that to point to this article at Nieman Journalism Lab, which points to an innovative solution to the dinosaur news media problem:
It is a head-turner, which seems to be, at first, an only-in-Utah story. The Deseret Morning News, KSL TV, and KSL Radio, all owned by one company, the Deseret Management Co., a for-profit arm of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, are combining operations.
 Instead of each organization sending a reporter to the statehouse to cover an event, one reporter covers it.  The difference between radio, television, and newspaper is evaporating in the digital age.  The Review-Journal is trying to use the tyrannosaurus rex approach of ferocity to stave off the inevitable end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  (Unlike the movie Jurassic Park--where the T. rex at least has the good taste to eat the lawyer.)

Righthaven Is Now Suing Veterans Groups & Alan Gotttlieb

Yes, Alan Gottlieb, who runs the Second Amendment Foundation.  The September 1, 2010 Las Vegas Sun reports on suits against a big advertiser in the Review-Journal, a PR firm named Kirvin Doak, and against P.O.W. Network in Skidmore, Missouri, and Alan Gottlieb.

If Righthaven was run by people with a lick of sense, they would have filed a suit a month or something like that.  But filing this many suits--and sometimes against people like Alan Gottlieb who are wealthy enough to fight back--is incredibly stupid.  Building a collective enemy that numbers in the hundreds is really, really foolish.

It is quite gratifying to see this vote of confidence in the mental stability of gun rights activists, however.  They are suing The Armed Citizen, Second Amendment Sisters, and a guy who runs a gun rights group for those who think of the NRA as sissies.  If we were the crazies that some people in the news media think, this would be dangerous.