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Category: Humor


Could It Be? Mermaids? No. – U.S. Confirms No Evidence of Mermaids

Great. Now the U.S. government thinks we need reassurance that there is no evidence that mermaids exist. Apparently after a Discovery Channel show, a couple people wrote in and asked NOAA about mermaids. Here is the NOAA post. Per the BBC

The article was written from publicly available sources because “we don’t have a mermaid science programme”, National Ocean Service spokeswoman Carol Kavanagh told the BBC.

Yipee! Our science world is moving towards trademark law’s reliance on a few people’s confusion as signifying many must be confused in ways that require some action.

I much prefer the Disneyland Voyage Under the Sea script

Captain Nemo: Others treat any concept of Atlantis as pure fantasy, along with legends of sea serpents and mermaids.

Mr. Baxter: Begging your pardon, sir. But, did you say sea serpents are mere fantasies?

Captain Nemo: Belay there mate! Anyone in his right mind knows there’s no such thing as a sea serpent or mermaids. Mr. Baxter, if you think you’re seeing mermaids and sea monsters, you’ve been submerged too long!


B is for Bentham, B is for Branson; Of Heads As Odes

What is it with Brits and busts? Bentham asked that his head be preserved (and his body) as part of the auto-icon. I was listening to Wendy Brown’s lecture on Bentham and she reminded me of this oddity. As she explained, Bentham seemed to think that statues were less utile than a preserve body. The effort failed in that the body was preserved but the head shriveled and a wax head was needed to replace it. Now Richard Branson is apparently following in Bentham’s footsteps but understands the transient nature of things. He has embraced that nature so much that his take on busts is an ice cube mold of his head. Yes if you fly first, oh excuse me, upper class, on Virgin, you too can have this treasure. The Colbert Report clip below is a blast. To me, the whole idea evokes transubstantiation. Or maybe for science fiction fans, Heinlein’s grok in that way the Martians do, you know eating the bodies of the dead. Branson, that clever man, had found he does not have to die for us to commune with him. We just need to join his upper class. Now what if we make a similar mold? Ah let the lawsuits begin!

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Richard Branson-Shaped Ice Cubes
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Santorum: Please Don’t Google

If you Google “Santorum,” you’ll find that two of the top three search results take an unusual angle on the Republican candidate, thanks to sex columnist Dan Savage. (I very nearly used “Santorum” as a Google example in class last semester, and only just thought better of it.) Santorum’s supporters want Google to push the, er, less conventional site further down the rankings, and allege that Google’s failure to do so is political biased. That claim is obviously a load of Santorum, but the situation has drawn more thoughtful responses. Danny Sullivan argues that Google should implement a disclaimer, because kids may search on “Santorum” and be disturbed by what they find, or because they may think Google has a political agenda. (The site has one for “jew,” for example. For a long time, the first result for that search term was to the odious and anti-Semitic JewWatch site.)

This suggestion is well-intentioned but flatly wrong. I’m not an absolutist: I like how Google handled the problem of having a bunch of skinheads show up as a top result for “jew.” But I don’t want Google as the Web police, though many disagree. Should the site implement a disclaimer if you search for “Tommy Lee Pamela Anderson”? (Warning: sex tape.) If you search for “flat earth theory,” should Google tell you that you are potentially a moron? I don’t think so. Disclaimers should be the nuclear option for Google – partly so they continue to attract attention, and partly because they move Google from a primarily passive role as filter to a more active one as commentator. I generally like my Web results without knowing what Google thinks about them.

Evgeny Morozov has made a similar suggestion, though along different lines: he wants Google to put up a banner or signal when someone searches for links between vaccines and autism, or proof that the Pentagon / Israelis / Santa Claus was behind the 9/11 attacks. I’m more sympathetic to Evgeny’s idea, but I would limit banners or disclaimers to situations that meet two criteria. First, the facts of the issue must be clear-cut: pi is not equal to three (and no one really thinks so), and the planet is indisputably getting warmer. And second, the issue must be one that is both currently relevant and with significant consequences. The flat earthers don’t count; the anti-vaccine nuts do. (People who fail to immunize their children not only put them at risk; they put their classmates and friends at risk, too.) Lastly, I think there’s importance to having both a sense of humor and a respect for discordant, even false speech. The Santorum thing is darn funny. And, in the political realm, we have a laudable history of tolerating false or inflammatory speech, because we know the perils of censorship. So, keeping spreading Santorum!

Danielle, Frank, and the other CoOp folks have kindly let me hang around their blog like a slovenly houseguest, and I’d like to thank them for it. See you soon!

Cross-posted at Info/Law.


Ben Stein and the ABA’s Facepalm

The American Bar Association is kicking off its 2012 tech show with an address by… Ben Stein. Yes, who better to celebrate the march of technological progress and innovation than a leading defender of intelligent design? Who better to celebrate rigorous intellectual discourse than a man who misquotes Darwin and fakes speeches to college audiences?

This is a pretty embarrassing misstep. The ABA is irrelevant in the IP / tech world, and this facepalm is a nice microcosm of why. (Wait, what is the ABA relevant to? Now that’s a hard question.) We geeks don’t like it when you dis science. Thanks anyway, ABA – maybe you should stick to having your judicial recommendations ignored.

Hat tip: health law expert Margo Kaplan.

Update: I found the perfect keynote speaker for ABA’s 2013 TechShow: Marshall Hall!

Cross-posted at Info/Law.


Some Words of Advice for Law Students, from 1811

As the year draws to a close, it might be worthwhile to review the following advice, provided to American law students (clerks, really) precisely two centuries ago.  These words of wisdom come from William Wright’s Advice on the Study of the Law, as published by Baltimore’s Edward J. Coale  with “additional notes for the American student” back in 1811.  (One can view the complete text here, on Google Books.)

  • The student should commence with a firm resolution to become one of the most eminent attornies [sic] of the age : and though the difficulties which he will at first meet with may be great, he should not despond; because despondency will produce negligence. Let him persevere, and he will succeed.
  • Genius is more equally distributed among mankind than is generally allowed. . . . If all men would accustom themselves to reflection, few would be ignorant; and their want of reflection proceeds from their own folly and love of leisure, and not from the insufficiency of their natural endowments.
  • Habits of attention and application, properly directed, produce what is commonly called genius.
  • The student should make himself most intimately acquainted with the practice which is likely to be the most useful.
  • Mankind will undoubtedly form their opinion of the morals and attainments of the young lawyer from those of his companions. . . . If he selects for his confidential friends the libertine, the dishonourable, the malevolent, the trifler, or the uneducated, among such he will himself be classed.
  • The companions of a student should be few; if they are numerous, he will probably be induced to sacrifice more time to friendship and pleasure than is consistent with his professional duties, and his hopes of honourable distinction.
  • Politeness, says Lord Chatham, is benevolence in trifles. This then is all I require of the student.
  • Young men should carefully guard themselves against forming any attachment, even upon honourable principles, till years shall have matured their judgment, and a proper course of study supplied them with knowledge sufficient to enter on the world and to transact their professional business with accuracy. Attachments formed too early in life are commonly of a romantic nature, and tend to dissipate thought and unhinge the mind, and seldom terminate so happily as lively imaginations are willing to expect.
  • An attorney should commence his professional labours with the laudable resolution of preventing litigation, as much as possible; for petty suits are always vexatious, and seldom productive of advantage either to the litigant parties or to society.
  • When consulted professionally, a young attorney should not, if he can avoid it, give his opinion hastily; but consider and re-consider.

Some Selected New Year’s Resolutions of the Federal Judiciary

Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit:

Write at least one opinion in which every word is a contraction

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts:

On June 29, at precisely 6:30 a.m., move part in hair from left side of head to the right side; change it back moments later

United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (retired):

Track down John Riggins; tell him to “loosen up”

Guido Calabresi, Senior Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit:

Climactic showdown with 101-year-old Ron Coase atop the Eiffel Tower

United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy:

Finally receive “SWNGVOT” personalized license plate from the Washington, DC, Department of Motor Vehicles


If any of you have heard of any other judge’s resolution, please feel free to relate it in the comments below.