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Category: Blogging

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Thank You and Blogging Rate

Many thanks to Dan and all the folks here at Concurring Opinions for again inviting me to guest blog. I cut my teeth guest blogging here and at TruthontheMarket.com (where I am still a regular guest blogger) three years ago, and it is nice to be asked back. Thank you.

My hope is to blog about at least the following topics while I am here:
1. Prostitution
2. Other People Who Have My Exact Name (Elizabeth A. Nowicki)
3. Corporate Governance, Shareholder Activism, and Boards of Directors
4. Delaware Jurists
5. New Orleans
6. Women in Legal Education

Note, however, that you should not expect me to blog with the speed and volume of someone like Blog Emperor Paul Caron, because my long-harbored reservations about the potential impact of blogging make me a bit of a slow poster. Since my first blogging days, I have worried about whether I could accurately convey in a blog post things like tenor, nuance, and jest, and my concern about this and other blogging issues (such as typos, grammar mistakes, being impolitic, failing to link to others, etc.) tends to slow me down. Given that the readership of this blog is huge, I am cautious about posting something that I have not vetted, edited, and re-written.

Similarly, I remember when another academic blogger posted on his blog about not securing a particular consulting project due to a position he had articulated on his blog. I do a bit of consulting, expert witness, and media work, so I try to be mindful about not committing on a blog to positions I might want to reconsider if I were asked to be an expert witness or to comment for the media. The notion that I might articulate a view on this blog that I might want to disavow 15 years from now makes me squeamish.

Moreover, as a general matter, I try to avoid even the potential for offending large constituencies in the legal or academic communities with something I have posted on a legal blog. For example, for several days, I have stewed over what, if anything, to post about the former Villanova Law School Dean and the prostitution situation. I caught the “news” about the prostitution situation right when it broke, so I could have beaten Caron for the title of “First Mainstream Legal Academic Blogger To Post On The Topic.” But my worry about posting something that might offend my friends at Villanova or members of the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education, of which I am currently the Chair, or colleagues in my religious community kept me standing down, gnashing my teeth, while Caron blogged the news. To be sure, I have blogged before about prostitution, multiple times, so it would be natural for me to chime in, but the notion that I could, with a single post, offend a huge range of people gives me pause. The internet should be used with care.

That said, the fastest post I ever drafted and posted was my post on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta. I read the Supreme Court’s opinion and drafted my post in the two-hour window I had between classes on the day the opinion was issued, and I did not have time to re-read my post and labor over editing because I had to rush off to teach my second class. Yet the post has been one of my most well-received posts, and people seem to think it is at least decent. So I suppose I need to revisit whether my reservations about blogging, which prevent me from becoming a prolific poster, are actually based in fact. (Then again, the fact that Heidi Hurd’s sarcastic e-mails have led to likely unappreciated press solidifies my belief that releasing words across the internet is dangerous business indeed.)

Regardless, I look forward to posting here.

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Profile of SCOTUS Blog’s Tom Goldstein

goldstein-tomToday’s Washington Post has an interesting profile of SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein, a partner at Akin Gump and founder of SCOTUSBlog. From the article:

What makes the brash and balding 38-year-old such a hot media property is Scotusblog.com, the Web site he founded six years ago to obsessively track the high court. At 7:34 a.m. last Tuesday, an hour before news of the nomination leaked, he posted an essay on the likely lines of attack if President Obama picked Sotomayor. Had he guessed wrong, Goldstein says, he would have looked like “the world’s biggest idiot. I was out there on a limb.”

Three years ago, Goldstein joined the blue-chip Washington firm of Akin Gump, which also agreed to take on Scotusblog and is listed as the site’s host. Despite the unorthodox arrangement, Goldstein says his staff, which includes veteran Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston, has complete independence. “Lyle could write that our clients are completely insane and evil and there’d be nothing to stop him,” Goldstein says in his 12th-floor office with a sweeping view of the Washington Monument. . . .

A graduate of American University’s law school, Goldstein founded a small firm — soon joined by his wife — in the third bedroom of their Northwest Washington home. He pursued his goal, to become a Supreme Court practitioner, by cold-calling lawyers in cases that might be headed for high court review. Goldstein was denigrated by more credentialed members of the bar as an overeager ambulance chaser, but the strategy worked: He has argued 21 cases before the Supreme Court. (Goldstein still finances his old firm, which includes his wife and remains at his home, now in Chevy Chase, a few doors down from Chief Justice John Roberts. The firm is an Akin Gump subcontractor.)

White House officials had asked to consult Goldstein on the court vacancy, but by the time he returned from a weekend in Paris, Obama had made his choice. Determined not to miss the action, Goldstein canceled a meeting in Los Angeles with a top producer about a reality series based on his life, the rights to which were bought by Sony Pictures Television. (“They must be smoking crack,” Goldstein says.) A poker fanatic who plays with pots as large as $100,000, he also delayed plans to compete in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

For more, read the article.

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On Being an Ambassador for Pittsburgh

By popular request, I’m posting this link to my brief appearance in this morning’s New York Times.  (Well, the link is popular in certain quarters, and I did receive a request to post it!)   The story has to do with tomorrow’s mayoral primary, in which Pittsburgh’s young mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, front man for an emerging Democratic Party machine that someday may do the elder Daley proud, is certain to defeat his two challengers, Patrick Dowd, current darling of local progressives, and Carmen Robinson, a well-liked but under-funded African American lawyer and former police officer.

For most purposes, neither the story nor the interview that preceded it have anything to do with my academic life, though the Times gives me credit for being a professor at Pitt Law.  Instead, the Times piece, like a recent interview that I gave Dutch TV (watch for it!) and a piece earlier this Spring for CNN (teased here, then preempted by the tragic death of a certain skiing actress and replaced by this blog post) are the products of what one Burghosphere colleague (Burghosphere is the extravagant name that we Pittsburgh bloggers have given ourselves) calls my status as an “ambassador” for the city.  My five-year-old blog about the many futures of Pittsburgh, Pittsblog, was one of the first local blogs, and while it now has plenty of company, it is still one of the dozen or so that try to bring a little light to the heat generated by Steelers and Penguins fandom.  Media search for light-generating media; they find me; I become a momentary local celebrity because I’m in the paper of record.  Rinse and repeat.

Still, underneath the hood, there is a connection to my research interests, whether or not you care about the Steel City itself. 

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Alexander Meiklejohn, Blog Comment Policies, and Free Speech

I read with interest a couple of weeks ago the discussion on this and other law professor blogs about comments policies – whether to allow comments, whether to moderate them, and when and whether to edit and/or delete them.  The discussion reminded me of Alexander Meiklejohn’s famous conception of free speech as a moderated town meeting, where the diversity and quality of discussion was more important than any individual right to speak.  Meiklejohn argued that “the First Amendment … is not the guardian of unregulated talkativeness” and that the free speech guarantee was “not that everyone shall speak, but that everything worth saying shall be said.”

I think something similar applies to the moderation of blog comments – moderation in the pursuit of good discussion is a healthy thing.   Of course, there is always the danger that thin-skinned or intellectually dishonest moderators might edit in order to come out better in an argument, but this risk is lessened by the fact that there are lots of blogs, and (at least in the case of law blogs) there is a fairly robust set of professional norms and reputational consequences operating in the background.  So I think blog comment policies (like the one on this blog) are perfectly fine (even though I there us some irony in that the blog comment policy having comments turned off!).  But like Meiklejohn’s moderator, as long as the discussion is being moderated constructively, there are real gains from numerous moderated discussions.  In fact, since different discussions can operate under different conditions of moderation, some discussions can be tightly moderated (ie, books and newspapers), others can have little or no moderation, and at the opposite extreme there is the wiki model, where even the statements of others are subject to revision and alteration.  A wide variety of discussions and forms of discussion is, I think, the key to a robust and healthy discourse.

One natural objection to this line of argument is that we’re not really talking about the First Amendment here, since all of the blogs and fora of discussion are private actors.  I’ve increasingly come to believe that the values of free discussion and debate are too important to be left to the First Amendment.  (I make a mild form of this argument here in a recent article).  Newspapers, blogs, email, water-cooler chats and other forms of relatively public and relatively private discussion are the building blocks of a vibrant expressive culture, and if we only think about free expression from the perspective of avoiding government anti-censorship, we are missing (at least) half of the world.  For this reason, I think discussions about issues like blog comment policies are centrally the concern of free expression, and such discussions can benefit immensely from a little First Amendment theory.

Blog comments are turned off from this post (just kidding!)

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Exploring Commons Institutions

Thanks to Deven for the generous introduction and to Dan and the Co-Op team for inviting me to spend some time here this month.  The introduction intentionally saves space by not including a couple of things that I’ll talk about during my stay:  My other blogs, and my appointment as Research Dean at Pitt.  Both have something to do with my current work on commons institutions.  Over the course of this guest stint I hope to explain some of the connections and to generate suggestions and feedback that might help me see others.

 

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Are There Special TARP Appropriations for Silencing Bloggers?

The Paulson-Geithner-Summers regime has been remarkably adept at stonewalling people like Elizabeth Warren and otherwise avoiding transparency in the bailout. Now one of its main beneficiaries, Goldman Sachs, appears to be targeting mere commentators. They’ve hired a prestigious law firm to menace a writer who collects facts & commentary about the company at this site. As the Daily Telegraph reports,

Florida-based [Mike] Morgan began a blog entitled “Facts about Goldman Sachs” – the web address for which is goldmansachs666.com – just a few weeks ago. . . . [M]any of the posts relate to other Wall Street firms and issues. According to Chadbourne & Parke’s letter, dated April 8, [Goldman] is rattled because the site “violates several of Goldman Sachs’ intellectual property rights” and also “implies a relationship” with the bank itself.

How could anyone think Goldman itself would be affiliating with or authorizing a site that links it to devilry? Unfortunately, the strange range of results of UDRP decisions on similarly satiric sites mean that this is not an absurd legal argument. And given the apocalyptic consequences of the former investment bank’s “financial engineering,” perhaps a reasonable person would associate it with the “mark of the beast”–or guess that hellfire was just one more profitmaking angle for its partners.

Activity like this helps us understand why the wall of silence about the exact nature of and conditions (or lack thereof) on TARP/TALF funding are so important to Treasury. Imagine if we were able to track exactly how much more executives were being paid because of these funds than if they’d have been paid absent taxpayers’ subventions. What if we could track who was benefiting politically from donations by employees at the propped up firms? What if the firms in general start using their corporate welfare to silence more critics like Mr. Morgan? At what point does this become state action? And might we start asking whether the resistance to nationalization among policy elites might be due to a need to avoid state responsibility for what is essentially state-funded action by maintaining a fig leaf of “private ownership” over the banking system?

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Free Speech at a Cocktail Party

Yesterday, Dan posted a commenting policy for Concurring Opinions. Such things frequently bring forth muttered imprecations of speech control and the demise of the First Amendment. Of course the mutterers understand that Concurring Opinions, despite its obvious power and influence, is not a state actor, but still it seems like a public space. Shouldn’t we encourage the marketplace of ideas to let a thousand flowers bloom (to paraphrase Holmes and Mao)? Well no, not really.

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Blogging for a Living

The Wall St. Journal cites a rather questionable statistic about the number of bloggers who blog for a living:

The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That’s almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click — whether on their site or someone else’s. And that’s nearly half a million of whom it can be said, as Bob Dylan did of Hurricane Carter: “It’s my work he’d say, I do it for pay.”

Is the WSJ serious? Perhaps, the 452,000 people who blog as their primary source of income include any college or high school student who has a blog with Google Ads. Otherwise, the statistic seems quite dubious to me. According to a quote from the website where the WSJ cites as the source of the above statistic:

The average annual blogger revenue is more than $6,000. However, this is skewed by the top 1% of bloggers who earn $200k+. Among active bloggers that we surveyed, the average income was $75,000 for those who had 100,000 or more unique visitors per month (some of whom had more than one million visitors each month). The median annual income for this group is significantly lower — $22,000.

At Concurring Opinions, we get 100,000+ unique visitors per month, and sadly, our take home pay is far far south of $22,000. Where’s all the money? If it’s out there, it sure ain’t in our pockets, I’ll boldly state that we’re all keeping our day jobs!

Back to Basics

I’ve been a neglectful blogger, so I thought I might sign up for Robert Lanham’s “Internet Era Writing Course.” Despite my absence from Twitter, I’ve completed an embarrassing number of the prerequisites:

ENG: 232WR—Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll

LIT: 223—Early-21st-Century Literature: 140 Characters or Less

ENG: 102—Staring Blankly at Handheld Devices While Others Are Talking

ENG: 301—Advanced Blog and Book Skimming

ENG: 231WR—Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance

LIT: 202—The Literary Merits of Lolcats

LIT: 209—Internet-Age Surrealistic Narcissism and Self-Absorption

On a slightly more serious note, check out the legal issues raised by D.T. Max’s moving profile of David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker.

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