Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sometimes it is hard to tell who is on which side.

The Miami New Times has a story today about Adam Finkel, a 26-year-old assistant state attorney in Florida. Mr. Finkel allegedly got into an altercation this weekend with the doorman of a club in South Beach. The altercation allegedly occurred with Mr. Finkel was told that he had to wait in line because the club was full.  After arguing with the doorman about having to wait, Mr. Finkel was told he was no longer welcome at the club. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

The standing desk is passé.

In Douglas Coupland's Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, he describes the cubicles in the one character's office as "veal-fattening pens."  However, some folks no longer aspire to be veal. Instead, they are getting on gerbils wheels.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has the story of some lawyers who have stopped virtually and started literally spinning their wheels by using treadmills as their desk.  Note that one of the attorneys mentioned spends up to four hours a day on the treadmill desk.  That must be quite a glow by the end of the day. I assume that Mr. Torvik will get one of these desks right way as it will allow him more time to make it all work.

I'd like to be able to say I understand this impulse. But I don't. I spent most of my  twenties and thirties at jobs that required standing all day. By the end of the day, my feet would really hurt. This was especially true on the days I worked a double shift. When people ask what I like about being a lawyer, one thing I mention is that I get to work sitting down. It is not the first thing I mention but it is in the top five.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Knucklehead, victim, or both?

Let's close out the week by hearing what Aaron Rodgers thinks about Ryan Braun now. Our previous coverage of Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Braun can be found here, here, and here.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this report on a press conference during which Mr. Rodgers discussed Mr. Braun.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Faulkner's heirs sue Woody Allen for copyright infringement

And lose.

This is a pretty good example of the craziness of our copyright laws. William Faulkner has been dead for over fifty years. Woody Allen had a character paraphrase one of his quotes in an utterly transformative way. Yet the film studio got sued for it and had to litigate.

At least Woody & Co. won, so that's some vindication for the law. But the case exposes two problems:

1) Copyright lasts too long. There is no reasonable justification for Faulkner's heirs to have a monopoly right to his works so long after his death. The main idea of copyright is to provide an incentive to produce works of art, etc. You could argue that providing for one's heirs gives some extra incentive, so a few years of posthumous exclusivity is justifiable. But current US copyright lasts for 70 years after the author's death. That's just absurd.

2) The contours of "fair use" are too fuzzy, which creates a playground for bullies and their lawyers. This creates a serious chilling effect. Particularly when there is a lot of money on the line, a copyright owner can threaten to sue for an injunction. Holding up a movie's release date is a serious threat that can do millions of dollars of damages in a very short time. So usually it's worth it just to cave in and pay some ransom.

It's all pretty nutty.

--Bart Torvik

Did Aaron Rodgers just lose a year's salary?

As Mr. Gillette points out, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers was a strong defender of Brewers' left fielder Ryan Braun when he was accused of juicing last year. His defense included the following exchange with a fan on Twitter:
Now that Braun has essentially confessed to using PEDs, many are saying that Rodgers lost his bet, which amounts to $8.5 million or so.

To state the obvious, there's no enforceable contract here because there was no consideration. But a tougher question, perhaps, is whether there was even a bet. Notice that Rodgers's statement is couched conditionally: "I'd put my salary next year on it." So he said that he would put his salary on it, but left unstated were the terms and conditions of the bet. People don't normally make "bets" unless they stand to gain something if they're right. So this seems like a challenge to make a bet, a dare, rather than an actual bet. There was no real offer, and no real acceptance. Most importantly, they never shook on it.

There is one countervailing piece of evidence, though: the hashtag comment "#ponyup." What does that mean? My colloquial understanding of the term is that to "pony up" means to pay up, especially after you lose a bet (particularly in a card game such as poker). Does Rodgers's use of #ponyup imply that he is promising to pay up if he's proven incorrect? Or is it a reference to winning bets he previously made to others before Braun was ephemerally #exonerated?

There's enough ambiguity in there that I would say Rodgers is not beholden under the Gentleman's Code to #ponyup this year's salary to Mr. Sutton or anyone else. But a big fat charitable donation to a worthy cause might be in order.

One final thought. I'm on record as suspecting that PEDs are rampant in pro and college football. In that light, Rodgers's over-zealous defense of Braun seems suspiciously defensive. The QB doth protest too much, methinks.

[Cross-posted at Adam's WI Sports Blog]

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mot Juste?

With the news that Milwaukee Brewers' slugger Ryan Braun is being suspended for the remainder of the baseball season, it might not hurt to review Mr. Torvik's excellent post about Mr. Braun from the last time he was in trouble for using performance enhancing drugs.

Also, Frank Schwab at Yahoo Sports does a nice job of reminding people that Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a bit of a knucklehead when it came to Mr. Braun.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Weather Myths

Some of you may have noticed that in the United States weather patterns tend to move from the west to the east. If you tell me it's really hot in Nebraska today, I will deduce that it will likely be hot here in Illinois tomorrow or so. I don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Another thing you might have noticed is that it gets really hot in the summer pretty much all over the United States. Normally this isn't news. It's really only news when the hot weather gets to New York. Because that, after all, is where the news people live.

So hot weather is in the news because boy is it getting hot in New York. My wife and elder daughter are there right now, live on the scene, and they can confirm the reports.

But we in the Midwest saw this coming, of course, because it's been scorching hot here for about the past week. Here in Chicago the last five days have had highs of 91, 93, 95, 96, and 94. At the blog's other headquarters in Minneapolis it had been just as bad in the four days ending yesterday: 89, 92, 94, 94. The heat finally broke today in Minneapolis, and it should break tomorrow in Chicago.

But Slate blogger Matthew Yglesias looked at today's high of 84 in Minneapolis and came to some false conclusions:
When I say you should move to Minneapolis, I often get weather-related objections. But check out today's heat map and you'll see the news isn't all bad for the Twin Cities in terms of weather. I wish I were there right now.
Yglesias apparently hasn't noticed that weather systems in the United States move from west to east. I can't say I blame him, since he's spent his whole life on the east coast, and the only weather news he hears is when his own home area is having a weather event. But this idea that Minneapolis is a temperate paradise during the summer is quite misinformed. Here are the facts:

July Hi Jan Low
New York 85 26
Chicago 84 15
Mpls 83 4

So, winters are terrible in Minneapolis, bad in Chicago, and okay in New York. But the summers are the same in each city.

Conclusion: Contra Yglesias, there is no weather-related reason to live in Minneapolis—unless you love long cold winters, as some Minnesotans have, bless their hearts, convinced themselves that they do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rankings in the bottom half are good, right?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has sponsored a study of people's health in the United States by county. Jason Sadowski at Slate discusses how these maps show the variation of life expectancy by socioeconomic status here. It is an interesting read.

As someone who grew up in a middle class or possibly upper middle class home, I wondered if the various counties I have lived in had good health scores.  Turns out they do not. The county I grew up in Iowa ranked 77th out of 99 counties. The county in Kansas that I called home as a middle school student ranks 70th out of 105 counties (although 3 counties weren't rated). I lived in two counties when I lived in Wisconsin. Those counties, Winnebago and Milwaukee, ranked 37th and 71st out of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Finally, my home county in Minnesota ranks 55th out of Minnesota's 87 counties.  To sum it up, I have only lived in one county that was even close to the top half of all counties in the state.

Despite these poor showings by my various home counties, I fully intend to fulfill my solemn oath to see the Tricentennial.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A different time

The July 12 episode of the Planet Money Podcast presents what it calls a one-page plan to fix global warming. Basically, it describes how a carbon tax could limit carbon usage to acceptable levels. The episode was somewhat infuriating because it did not acknowledge until the very end of of the podcast that a carbon tax would work best if every country did it. To put it mildly, that seems unlikely.  This post is not about that unlikely event.

"Traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods."

When the headline to a review of a play includes the word "peripatetic," the critic is not doing a good job of telling your readers whether the play is any good.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Are things going well for people who don't like big government?

David Weigel at Slate has a post today about how only 15 bills passed by the 113th Congress have been signed into law by President Obama. By comparison, Mr. Weigel notes that on  July 12, 2005, President George W. Bush signed 13 bills into law just on that day.

Our work here is done

Today someone found this blog by entering the following query into Google:

"jeffery toobin is always wrong"

I am so proud of this blog.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Man Bites Car

People sometimes do strange things when they're in the back of a police car. Consider, if you will, Ryan Frederick of Sheridan, Illinois, who was arrested for drunk driving and escorted into the squad car, presumably handcuffed. Under the circumstances, he simply did the best he could with what he had, and tried to eat his way out.

He failed.

--Bart Torvik

Farewell to a wonderful historian.

The New York Times reports that historian Edmund S. Morgan has died at the age of 97. One of my favorite biographies is his book The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. If you are looking to learn a little bit about the early history of New England, check out one of his books. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Two new saints

This is not a post about football. Let's get that out of the way first. If you are ever in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you might want to stop by the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. It is a beautiful church and has statues of two people in the news today.

The New York Times has the story that Pope Francis has named two new saints. One of them, Pope John-Paul II, was expected. The other, Pope John XXIII, is something of a surprise as only one miracle has been attributed to him. Normally a person needs two miracles attributed to them to become a saint. However, the Times reports that Pope Francis waived the two miracle requirement for Pope John. I did not realize this requirement could be waived. But I guess rules are made to be broken.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The last full measure of devotion.

150 years ago today 215 men from Minnesota saved our country. In doing so, 83% of them were killed or wounded. Among the survivors of that group was future United States District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota William Lochren. He described receiving the order to charge, this way:
Every man realized in an instant what that order meant-death or wounds to us all, the sacrifice of the regiment to gain a few minutes time and save the position, and probably the battlefield-and every man saw and accepted the necessity for the sacrifice.
That was 150 years ago. Every one of those men is long dead. Probably every person who ever met any of those men is also dead. We have not talked much about the Civil War on this blog. But 150 years ago today was probably the most important day of that war. It would not hurt to remember that war today and say a thank you that Judge Lochren and his fellow soldiers fought as gallantly as they did.