(Batman’s) advice for new law students, part VI: “always mind your surroundings”

One common mistake of new law students is conclusory argumentation, as discussed in this post on avoiding “Monty Python” argumentation.  Another common mistake is incomplete analysis.  An essay answer might include analysis that scratches the surface but doesn’t explore deeper.  But it’s crucial to consider the strengths and weaknesses of any argument, and to explore valid counter-arguments.

Failure to consider and address valid counter-arguments may leave an essay answer on thin ice, as illustrated by Bruce Wayne in the movie Batman Begins. Below is a video showing Wayne (pre-Batman) being trained in combat by Henri Ducard, who later turns out to be the villain Ra’s al Ghul. Ducard/Ghul reminds Wayne to “always mind your surroundings.”  But Wayne, hoping for a quick and easy win, ignores the fragile ice below his feet, leading to an equally quick and humbling defeat.  At about 1:00 into the video the battle reaches its climax:

Wayne: Yield!
Ducard/Ghul: You haven’t beaten me.  You’ve sacrificed sure footing for a killing stroke.

Continue reading “(Batman’s) advice for new law students, part VI: “always mind your surroundings””

1934: Building a brick & mortar archive

The logo I’ve always used for the site is an image of the National Archives Building.  Amazingly, Congress did not approve such a building until 1926.  The architect was John Russell Pope, who also designed the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art.  Ground was broken in 1931 and the building was mostly completed by 1935.  According to the online history:

By the time President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone of the building in February 1933, significant problems had arisen. Because the massive structure was to be constructed above an underground stream, 8,575 piles had been driven into the unstable soil, before pouring a huge concrete bowl as a foundation. Another difficulty arose over the choice of building materials. Both limestone and granite were authorized as acceptable, but construction began during the darkest days of the Great Depression, and suppliers of each material lobbied fiercely to have the government use their stone. Ultimately, as in the other Federal Triangle buildings, limestone was used for the exterior superstructure and granite for the base.

Here’s construction images:

September 30, 1932

Continue reading “1934: Building a brick & mortar archive”

The hindsight of archives: “Popular Science” & incorrect technology predictions

Sci-fi and tech site IO9.com reports that Popular Science Magazine is now making its archives available online dating back to 1872.  The archives can be searched either at the magazine’s website or via Google Books.  In the archive, I was able to quickly find articles of historical interest, each showing a technological prediction that didn’t pan out.  Of course, for technology, such history can be shockingly recent.

Here’s a failed prediction of success.  1980s computer buffs may remember the venerable Amiga.  A 1985 article describes the $1295 machine in glowing terms.  Even with only 256 kilobytes of memory, the machine could run a Mac-like operating system, and with an emulator, also PC programs like Lotus 1-2-3 (a popular pre-Excel spreadsheet).  An Amiga representative predicted that Amiga would become “the new standard for home- and small-business computer needs.”  Needless to say, this prediction did not become reality, and the Amiga never became a widely used platform, instead outgunned and outnumbered by the less-powerful Macs and PCs of the era.

Here’s a failed prediction of failure, and a good reality check on how far we’ve come.  A 1995 article discusses the emerging use of the Internet:

Set aside for a moment the hype about what the Internet represents (“the assembly line of the electronic era”), what it could become (“the bedrock of the information superhighway”), or what it might turn us into (“a global community of data-seeking homebodies”).  Instead, let’s take stock of what it is.  This worldwide computer network you hear and read so much about is today little more than a high-tech candy dispenser for the eyes, ears, and mind.  It is fuzzy satellite weather maps, canned audio clips from the President, unfettered access to obscure college journals, and very likely, not one damn thing that will make a lasting difference in how you work, play, or live.

In fairness to the author, much of what he said was true in 1995.  He understandably bemoans the “impractical” nature of the web of its time, noting that “you can’t stop and make plane or hotel reservations” online.  But to be sure, the web very quickly made, and continues to make, a transforming difference in our lives.  But enough for now.  I have to pull up Expedia to get some plane tickets before getting back to the work I’m doing from home over Spring Break.  Later on, maybe I’ll order some coffee from Amazon, or watch some Hulu.  Or better yet, maybe I — a “data-seeking homebody” — should unplug and walk the dog, who could care less about computers and archives.

Sleepy sepia golden retriever

BoingBoing “unpublishing” blog posts

When is it ok to delete a blog post?  Dan Solove wrote about this a few years back at Concurring Opinions, where he points to additional posts at Prawfsblawg (here, here, and here). More recently, BoingBoing faced public scrutiny when one of its authors removed posts related to blogger and sex columnist Violet Blue, although nobody noticed the removals for about a year.  A message board dedicated to the issue has generated over 1600 messages since July 1, some very heated.  The moderator for the board writes:

It’s our blog and so we made an editorial decision, like we do every single day. We didn’t attempt to silence Violet. We unpublished our own work. There’s a big difference between that and censorship.

We hope you’ll respect our choice to keep the reasons behind this private. We do understand the confusion this caused for some, especially since we fight hard for openness and transparency. We were trying to do the right thing quietly and respectfully, without embarrassing the parties involved.

Clearly, that didn’t work out. In attempting to defuse drama, we inadvertently ignited more. Mind you, we weren’t the ones splashing gasoline around; but we did make the fire possible. We’re sorry about that. In the meantime, Boing Boing’s past content is indexed on the Wayback Machine, a basic Internet resource; so the material should still be available for those who would like to read it.

Oddly, BoingBoing speaks in terms of “unpublishing” rather than deletion.   (Their policy page states “We reserve the right to unpublish or refuse to unpublish anything for any or no reason.”)  Sure, “unpublishing” sounds less big-brothery than deletion, but I don’t really see the difference.

Moreover, “unpublishing” isn’t quite accurate: BoingBoing doesn’t mean “unpublished” in the sense of a book (or blog posting) that has yet to be published.  They mean disabling public access to something that has already been posted, like in the DMCA 512(c) sense where material is removed or access to it is disabled.  (WordPress does have an “unpublishing” function, but that’s still a misnomer.)  A more accurate term might be deposting, depublishing, or good ‘ol deletion.

Nevertheless, it’s useful to explore a potential distinction between deletion and depublishing, and other questions raised when a blogger wants to remove posted materials:

  • As a starting point, what is the meaning of “publication” in an age where materials can be changed or removed?
  • Under what circumstances is depublication justified?
  • What practices are needed to distinguish “depublication” from “deletion?”  Is a reservation of rights declaring a right of depublication sufficient?  Should a notice be posted where the materials used to be (as Dan Markel suggests)?
  • BoingBoing notes that the removed materials remain on the Wayback Machine web archive.  Do web archives help to justify depublication?
  • Does depublication serve an important social function by severing the association between author and depublished content?

Hat tip to Noam Cohen.  And a disclaimer: I did make some edits to this post after posting.