Friday, September 26, 2008

International Right to Know Day: Sept. 28, 2008

Gee did you know that Sept. 28 is International Right to Know Day? Neither did I! And, it appears, neither did most other folks in the USA. I only heard of it because we have a new professor at Suffolk, Alasdair Roberts, who announced it along with a speaker on secrecy in the current administration.

I went to look for some nice, central website to post for OOTJ to announce International Right to Know Day. I can find 2003 - 2007 listings for Ghana, for Bulgaria, even for the United Kingdom. I cannot find anything for 2008. And nothing at all recent in the U.S. I supposed it's less of an issue in countries with a free press. But, this speaker coming to Suffolk does have some things to talk about. The current administration is the most secretive in recent history, running the government on a need-to-know basis. And we don't need to know.

Here is the only announcement that I could find that seemed to be a current year discussion of International Right to Know Day generally, though in part, it announces that the Cayman Islands are discussing an FOI (Freedom of Information) audit for Sept. 28 this year.

I feel so left out.

Cheer up, America!

I have a swim buddy who is a Romanian emigre. She told us about an article she had been given recently by a fellow Romanian, translated into English. The article had run in a Romanian paper some time ago (it turns out to have run in 2001). She finally e-mailed it to us all. It sounds just like all the internet hoaxes that float eternally with made-up back stories. So, I checked it out at, one of the great hoax-checking sites. I am delighted that it turns out to have been a real article that ran.

In the midst of a financial crisis and a presidential race that is turning predictably ugly, when I start to hate looking at news, I thought this was a very good thing to see. At one of the most terrible moments in American history, Sept. 11, 2001, a Romanian citizen watched our response and considered our country. I am so touched and cheered by this piece and hope you will be too.

My friend sent this: excerpt from a Romanian Newspaper. The article was written by Mr. Cornel Nistorescu and published under the title 'C'ntarea Americii, meaning 'Ode To America ' in the Romanian newspaper Eveniment ulzilei 'The Daily Event' or 'News of the Day'

~An Ode to America ~

Why are Americans so united? They would not resemble one another even if you painted them all one color! They speak all the languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations and religious beliefs.

Still, the American tragedy turned three hundred million people into a hand put on the heart.

Nobody rushed to accuse the White House, the Army, or the Secret Service that they are only a bunch of losers. Nobody rushed to empty their bank accounts. Nobody rushed out onto the streets nearby to gape about. Instead the Americans volunteered to donate blood and to give a helping hand.

After the first moments of panic, they raised their flag over the smoking ruins, putting on T-shirts, caps and ties in the colors of the national flag. They placed flags on buildings and cars as if in every place and on every car a government official or the president was passing. On every occasion, they started singing: 'God Bless America!'

I watched the live broadcast and rerun after rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was, or of the Californian hockey player, who gave his life fighting with the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting a target that could have killed other hundreds or thousands of people.

How on earth were they able to respond united as one human being? Imperceptibly, with every word and musical note, the memory of some turned into a modern myth of tragic heroes. And with every phone call, millions and millions of dollars were put into a collection aimed at rewarding not a man or a family, but a spirit, which no money can buy.

What on earth can unite the Americans in such a way?

Their land? Their history? Their economic Power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases with the risk of sounding commonplace, I thought things over, I reached but only one conclusion...

Only freedom can work such miracles.

Cornel Nistorescu

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Political Action takes a new turn!

Tip of the hat to Jim Milles for Tweeting The Great Schlep! Click on the title to this post to visit and view a short video. Sarah Silverman is urging Jewish youth to visit their grandparents in Florida to urge them to vote for Obama. She is a comedian, so it's funny. But it's a real political action effort. Visit and see. Besides, what a nice excuse to visit your bubbula.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Check your moral compass

Click on the title to this post to visit a website that researchers are using to test their theory that there are perhaps 5 axes on which people's values range and which tend to describe conservative and liberal biases in terms of modern politics. This link was brought to my attention in the excellent Edge e-mag article, "What Makes People Vote Republican?" by Jonathan Haidt. It's a thought-provoking essay that roughly describes the moral values behind liberals as being in the strain of John Stuart Mill -- valuing individual liberty and balancing it against care or protecting others from harm. The conservative ethos tends to follow more closely Emile Durkheim, adding to the first two values, loyalty to group, respect for authority and purity or sanctity. The essay is very interesting and so is the test, which helps you see where you place along the spectrum of conservative to liberal, and also helps further the research.

Ahoy, maties! It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Click on the title to this post (or right ahead) to visit They claim it's international, and I guess anything on the web is international. This site is also pushing a book about "pirattitude." What would a book just for us look like? Librattitude? Reference with an attitude? Hmmm.

I was seduced into decorating this post with the cover of their book, which, I have to say, is cute, merging the traditional skull with sabers and a little red tie. Smirk. Arrgh, belay that!

Law Net's "Smart Headnotes"

LawNet is a smaller competitor to Westlaw and Lexis. I rarely read their e-mails just because they come several times a week. But today, they caught my eye with "smart headnotes" in the subject line. Here is their come-on:

SMART HEADNOTES (TM) Equalizer 7.0 introduces Smart Headnotes. Using computer algorithms we pin - in the search results, directly under each caption - the most relevant paragraph from each opinion based on your search term(s).

Outmoded West Headnotes were invented in the 19th Century to keep you from reading all the opinions in the library. Human Taxonomy was fine for book research. But, you don't use books do you?

With a Keyword Search you ARE reading all the opinions in the database. Yet, Westlaw still looks and feels like book research! How is it Westlaw is the Gold Standard but you're still wasting time slogging through 20 headnotes to find the one you care about?

The overwhelming majority of appellate opinions resolve three, four, five or more issues. Smart Headnotes from reflect the reality that with any given search you're focused on a single point-of-law.

--One Click To Most Cited Opinion
--One Click To Most Recently Cited Opinion
--One Click Sort By Relevancy
--One Click Sort By Jurisdiction

--Boolean Search: and, or, not, near, within
--Search By Statute, Rule, Regulation or Case Citation
--Natural Language
--One Click Citation and Multiple Citation Lookup
Has anybody used Law Net out there? I would be very interested in hearing about their "smart headnotes."

One of the things that intrigues me about this ad is that it aggressively contrasts their service as designed digital against the Westlaw model which still has deep roots in the print predecessors. I wonder how that sounds to practitioners, paralegals and firm librarians today? I value many of the print-born features of Westlaw and try to teach my students how to make the best use of them. Anybody willing to comment or blog about this?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Supremes' Loss of Influence

Here is an article from the New York Times by Adam Liptak describing the United States Supreme Court's "waning" influence among courts around the world. Liptak cites figures from Canada and Australia to buttress his argument that other countries' courts have become reluctant to cite the United States Supreme Court, preferring instead to "cite the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning equality, liberty and prohibitions against cruel treatment." Liptak points to a number of factors that have contributed to the Court's "fading influence." Among them are the "rise of new and sophisticated constitutional courts elsewhere," which are "generally more liberal that [sic] the Rehnquist and Roberts courts ..."; the United States's "diminished reputation" due to the Iraq war, embrace of torture, and perceived lack of respect for international law; and some Supreme Court justices' "adamant opposition the citation of foreign law in their own opinions ... " Those opposed to the citation of foreign law sometimes point to American exceptionalism as a reason. Professor Steven Calabresi, a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society, argued in a 2006 article that the "Supreme Court should be wary of citing foreign law in most constitutional cases precisely because the United States is exceptional. 'Like it or not,' he wrote, 'Americans really are a special people with a special ideology that sets us apart from all the other peoples.'" This argument strikes me as arrogant. Even if the United States is exceptional, can we not learn from the jurisprudence of other countries? No judge who has cited foreign authority has argued that it was binding; at the very most, it may help to illuminate and provide a different perspective on the issues before the Court. Why should this be a threat? Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Scalia are on record as opposing the citation of foreign legal opinions. To the extent that their viewpoint carries the day and causes the Supreme Court to slip further in the estimation of the international legal community, it will be yet another unfortunate legacy of the Bush years.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Democracy 101

If we are not willing to think for ourselves, we are not fit for a democracy.

The image is a painting by John Trumbull, of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was commissioned 1817; purchased 1819; placed 1826 in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Vanishing Act

Law librarians have been concerned for some time about the preservation of information generated by the federal government. The problem is particularly acute when it comes to digital information, whether that information takes the form of email messages, websites, "born digital" reports, or other official records. An article in the September 13 New York Times should be required reading for anyone concerned about the ability of researchers to access federal information in the future. Some examples that I found particularly shocking were:

- "The Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency lists more than 50 'broken links' that once connected readers to documents on depletion of the ozone layer of the atmosphere."

- "At least 20 documents have been removed from the Web site of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. They include a draft report highly critical of the civil rights policies of the Bush Administration."

- "Federal employees ... store many official records on desktop computers, so the records are not managed in a consistent way."

- The Government Accountability Office ... "described widespread violations of federal record-keeping requirements" in a recent report.

- Email messages of federal officials are not being preserved in a consistent fashion.

- At many agencies, federal employees don't even know what their obligations are as to record keeping.

The problem is replicated at the state and local level. The article describes initiatives that would begin to address these problems, but the author doesn't seem particularly sanguine about their success.

Thanks to Vicky Gannon for pointing out this article to me.

Clickers Redux

Last month, I told OOTJ readers that I was going to use clickers (student-response devices) in my Advanced Legal Research class, and that I was worried lest they become distractions rather than enhancements. I wanted to report back on the results of the experiment so far.

For the first class, I had prepared a twenty-question diagnostic quiz that I hoped would bring out some of the themes of the course. Unfortunately, due to a software glitch of my own making, I was unable to get the polling feature to work and I ended up showing the slides as a PowerPoint show and asking students to raise their hands for every question. Many of them were reluctant to answer the questions even though I assured them that their answers would not play a part in their grade for the course. After this mini-debacle, I pulled out the instruction manual and figured out what I had done wrong.

Since then, I have created a short exercise (between five and ten questions) for each class that we do at the beginning of the class. The questions are meant to review and reinforce what students learned at the prior class, and to provide a jumping-off point for discussion. I always used to go over the prior class at the beginning of each class session, but there was no participation at all on the students' part unless they had questions.

Writing questions takes a little bit of time because I have to think about the information I want to emphasize. However, I am finding that the more questions I write, the easier it gets. The students are unanimously in favor of using the clickers, and are very animated during the exercise. In fact, using the clickers at the beginning of the class serves as an ice breaker and makes them more involved in the rest of the class. These are just my impressions, but the response is positive enough that I am happy to continue the experiment for at least the rest of the semester.

Twitter Redux

Last month, I stirred up a bit of controversy on this blog by posting an op-ed piece on Twitter that had appeared in the Boston Globe. The author of the article, Alex Beam, wondered what was the point of Twitter, and I had been wondering exactly the same thing. The comments that were made about my posting and subsequent postings on this blog about Twitter and other social networking sites have opened up my mind on this subject, but I still wonder how anyone has time to be on Twitter and Facebook, do their job, and still have a life.

Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine carried an article that addresses this question. The article traces the development of Facebook and describes the uproar over the News Feed feature when it was first introduced. Users were initially concerned about their privacy, but ultimately embraced the feature because they were "so much more connected to their friends." In fact, "Facebook users didn't think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive." I was surprised to learn that there is " name for this sort of incessant online contact. ... "ambient awareness." Of course, Facebook is not alone in offering this kind of contact. This is the sort of thing that Twitter offers its users. "This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update--each individual bit of social information--is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends' and family members' lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible... The ambient information becomes like 'a type of E.S.P.' invisible dimension floating over everyday life."

One Twitter user was interviewed for the article. She is following 677 people on Twitter and 442 people on Facebook. This woman has two small children and travels a lot on business. How does she manage to follow so many people? Her take on this dilemma is that "[A]wareness tools aren't as cognitively demanding as an e-mail message. E-mail is something you have to stop to open and assess. It's personal; someone is asking for 100 percent of your attention. In contrast, ambient updates are all visible on one single page in a big row, and they're not really directed at you. This makes them skimmable, like newspaper headlines; maybe you'll read them all, maybe you'll skip some."

Of course, the reason she can do this is because many of the people she "knows" on Twitter and Facebook are "weak ties," which the article defines as "loose acquaintances." Here's what I found fascinating--these "'weak ties' greatly expand your ability to solve problems." Your friends--the real kind, not the virtual kind--probably have the same contacts you have and thus won't know anything you don't know. Your remote acquaintances, however, "will be much more useful, because they're farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out." One woman said that she "'can solve any problem on Twitter in six minutes.'"

The other insight I gained from the article was that social networking tools may be fostering "a culture of people who know much more about themselves" because the "act of stopping several times a day to observe what you're feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It's like the Greek dictum to 'know thyself,' or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness.'" As the article concludes, "In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself."

Visualizing Data

Scientists at IBM's Watson Research Center have created an experimental site, Many Eyes, that allows "users [to] upload the data they want to visualize, then try sophisticated tools to generate interactive displays. These might range from maps of relationships in the New Testament to a display of the comparative frequency of words used" in political speeches. This website was the subject of an article, "Lines and Bubbles and Bars, Oh My! New Ways to Sift Data," that appeared in the New York Times on August 31. The idea of visualizing information is particularly interesting to me because so many students today are visual learners, and Many Eyes seems to have great potential as a teaching tool. The site "offers 16 ways to present data, from stack graphs and bar charts to diagrams that let people map relationship." I wonder if it would be possible to map the relationships among litigants in a complicated lawsuit, or between cases, as a way of enhancing students' understanding.

Thanks to Vicky Gannon for pointing out this article to me.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Textbook Publishers VS Pirate Students

Click on the title to this post to read the Chronicle Online's Wired Campus article about textbook publishers chasing Textbook Torrent from host to host. Most interesting is the dialog that the owner, known as Geekman, wants to open with the publishers. Reading the comments at the end of the article gives some flavor of the arguments that Geekman would make in favor of free access to textbooks. The article notes that both sides believe they have the moral high ground, but then never reports on Geekman's actual statements about why he feels students are entitled to post and copy the full text of textbooks. I actually registered with the site as it exists today to see if there were statements there. To tell you the truth, the closest the site came to any rationales were:

Textbook Torrent: Because you can't torrent beer

In the site rules: don't upload materials related to cheating; this will result in an instant ban. The site is to help students learn, not cheat (and later on, they repeat this and add: "The internet is a large place, you can find what you're looking for elsewhere.")

Also in the site rules: follow what the moderator says: "Practice safe anti-authoritarianism."

And a section in the site rules on giving back (that is, upload and help maintain torrents). They have a little icon that appears by a user's name to show the ratio of downloading to uploading.

Thus, I guess the comments at the end of the Chronicle online article are the best statements of reasons for the textbook torrent folks:

Students are tired of being gouged. We’re tired of bookstore policies that make it difficult to buy texts anywhere but on campus. If we can’t get the books at reasonable prices, we turn to alternatives.

Wake up publishers. Shutting down a few sites won’t stop this. You’re following the same path as the MPAA, and we all know how successful they’ve been.
open source is increasingly making textbooks legally free to students. [and] he future of college texts may well lie in Open Access. The Rice University ‘Collaborative Statistics’ project is a good example of one approach, and there are many other possibilities. [That is, Rice University purchased the rights to distribute the textbook of that name on campus through the Connexions file sharing site for educators to share material]
textbook authors should have pity on students and not put out so many new editions every year.
I see no justification for new textbooks running from $100.00 to $200.00, especially when you can’t get even half for that book from the bookstore. Even the used books can be $70.00 to $110.00 per book. If it weren’t for college there is no way I would pay that much for anything. My school books can run over half my tuition and it keeps getting more expensive. Enough already.
Textbook publishers have gouged the public for years. Thankfully technology has finally caught up to them and now maybe they’ll follow the way of the music industry. It’s their own fault they are now finally getting payback…
And speaking of pirating, the image is courtesy of, a site that offers jewelry and buckles on those themes.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarah Palin--Against Freedom of Expression?

I already had plenty of reasons to think that Sarah Palin was a less than inspired choice for Republican vice-presidential candidate. This Time magazine article gave me yet another reason to oppose her candidacy. As mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, Palin ordered city department heads not to talk to reporters without her permission. According to John Stein, her predecessor, defeated by Palin in the mayoral race, "as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. 'She asked the library how she could go about banning books,' ... because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. 'The librarian was aghast.' That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving 'full support' to the mayor." Banning books is hardly a new phenomenon, but it seems more important than ever that librarians support freedom of expression by participating in the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, which this year is September 27-October 4.

Grade Inflation

The link in the title to this post will take you to an article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education, "Just Say 'A': Grade Inflation Undergoes a Reality Check." Thomas Bartlett and Paula Wasley write an in-depth examination of the current debates and recent efforts to rein in grade inflation. For instance, grade inflation was already being decried in 1894 at Harvard. And currently, some academics argue that the rising numbers of A's and cum laudes reflect increasing competence among students based on rising standardized test scores.

But the issue has been debated at my school, along with the unfairness of some profs grading harder in one section than another. We tried unsuccessfully to impose a mandatory curve on ourselves. The closest we came was a recommended grade distribution in courses with anonymous grading. The article lists many pressures against such efforts, some of which came up in our own discussions:

1. Harder grades hurt recruitment and retention. Our discussions focused on the extra burden our students faced in interviewing for jobs, when they had to explain that Suffolk's median grades are one-half to a full grade point lower than comparable courses at other area schools, not because of lower performance but because of efforts by faculty to grade tougher.

2. Pressure by students trying to keep grades up for scholarship requirements, or by parents helicoptering around the students.

3. Students' evaluations of profs and complaints from students are factored into tenure and promotion decisions. And some profs feel a pressure not to grade tougher than their easier colleagues, both from students and from a subtle peer pressure. One of the profs in the article is quoted: "You can write that A or B, and you don't have to defend it. You don't have students complaining or crying in your office. You don't get many low student evaluations. The amount of time that is eaten up by very rigorous grading and dealing with student complaints is time you could be spending on your own research."

The article lists a number of other efforts on institution levels, and notes the varying successes:

1) Publish grade distributions and trying to standardize teaching practices in the large lecture classes (those that tend to be gatekeeper courses, I believe). University of Colorado says this has dropped the College of Arts and Sciences' grade point average "...from an average of 2.99, in 2004, to 2.94, in 2007." On the other hand, at Cornell, similar efforts to publish the median grades by course resulted in students cherry-picking classes and profs by the easy A.

2) Either add class rank to the grade point data (law schools already do this), or add other data that helps the reader evaluate the student's performance relative to peers.

3) Modify the grade point calculation to help refine the information. This was the part of the article that was most intriguing to me:

Spurred by a report in 2000 that showed a steady rise in grades at Chapel Hill, a faculty committee proposed a GPA alternative called the Achievement Index, a weighted class-ranking system that measures a student's academic performance relative to those of classmates.

Andrew J. Perrin, a professor of sociology who is one of the system's backers, likens the index to the "strength of schedule" system used in basketball to compare teams from different leagues on the basis of wins and losses against common opponents. Similarly, he says, the Achievement Index formula takes into account not only how a student performs vis-à-vis others in the course section, but also how those classmates fare in all of their courses.

The index is a resurrected version of a 1997 proposal by a Duke University statistician, Valen E. Johnson, who found that positive student evaluations correlated with lenient grading. The algorithm he devised was intended to neutralize differences in professors' grading practices and remove incentives for students to choose easier courses to inflate their GPA's.
To date, this weighted "achievement index" has not been passed either at Duke or at Chapel Hill. Students object that it would increase the competition among students. And professors seem to be hesitant because it seems like a complication of the intuitive GPA. They are not certain how it would work. At this point, Chapel Hill students will see their index ranking when they check grades online, but it will not appear on transcripts. Perhaps time will settle whether the information is helpful or even valid. An interesting solution to a complex problem.

The image is courtesy of

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hey, didn't y'all already pay for these once?

Click on the title to this post to read an article in the Santa Rosa, CA Press Democrat about an access rights activist who is posting California regulations online for free. Apparently the state claims copyright in its laws and regs. Nathan Halverson writes the story about Carl Malamud's campaign. Thanks to Rich Leiter for pointing me to Boing Boing which linked to the article.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

For All You Baseball Fans

I confess that I am not a baseball fan. In fact, I do not follow any sports at all. However, I was interested to read the story below that appeared in today's New York Lawyer. It is about Shysterball, a blog about "baseball from the shyster's point of view." The blog is the creation of Craig Calcaterra, a litigator at Thompson Hine, a firm in Columbus, Ohio, who started the blog last year. He posts about ten items a day despite the demands of a full-time job and a young family. Shysterball is an offshoot of an earlier legal blog Calcaterra wrote, but that blog never engaged him. One line of the story really stood out for me: "I realized that to blog, you really have to have a passion for what you're writing about, and it just wasn't there with the law." The other aspect of the story that I thought was interesting is that his firm is aware of the blog, and doesn't object if he blogs during work time. Calcaterra says: "The firm is really good about giving associates and nonpartners autonomy--as long as you do your work and take care of your cases." It sounds like a great work environment.

Lawyer's Baseball Blog Is a Hit

New York Lawyer
September 2, 2008
By Zach Lowe
The American Lawyer

Craig Calcaterra, 35, is a senior attorney at Thompson Hine, where he's been since he lateraled in 2003 from Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. He's a litigator who's represented elected officials in alleged corruption scandals and contested elections. But, at least among sports fans in the blogosphere, he's better known as the man behind Shysterball, the baseball blog Calcaterra started last year. We spoke with him about posting ten items a day while holding down a full-time job.

Did you expect to post every day when you started the blog?

Absolutely not. It started as an offshoot of a legal blog I had, called Shyster. I realized that to blog, you really have to have a passion for what you're writing about, and it just wasn't there every day with the law. So I started writing baseball items, and I figured I'd write one every two or three days. But every day there seemed to be more things I wanted to write about. At the end of last season, I was up to three posts a day. Now, if I don't get to six, it's a terrible day. Some days it's as many as ten.

Did you tell your bosses about your decision to blog about baseball?

There was never a meeting with the firm. When I started writing about baseball, I made the decision not to write about legal topics--and to use my real name.

You post either very early in the morning or at night. Occasionally you post during work hours. Did you talk to the firm about this?

That is a conversation we've had. I think the firm realizes there is not a lot of functional difference between a lawyer reading The Wall Street Journal or checking his fantasy team during a break, and me taking ten or 15 minutes to scan the news and do a quick post. The firm is really good about giving associates and nonpartners autonomy--as long as you do your work and take care of your cases.

So how do you manage to post so often?

I wake up really early in the morning. I've got two small kids (ages 3 and 4), and I'm not a morning person. But I try to wake up before they do. The vast majority of it is done between 5:30 and 7 a.m., and after work. I'm usually in bed by midnight.

You have some prominent readers, including Rob Neyer of When did he start linking to your blog, and what did it do for your traffic?

It was last July. He linked to a post I did about the number of blacks in baseball. Every year some university does a study saying baseball is less inclusive because the number of black Americans playing is not the same as it was in the 1970s. It's misleading, and I challenged the alarmism of it. Neyer linked to it and the hits just went off. At that time, I was probably up to 100 hits per day. That day, I got 5,000.

You've landed freelance gigs at The Columbus Dispatch and AOL's Fanhouse blog, and even a book review with the New York Post. Did you tell the firm about the gigs?

Before my story for the Dispatch, I did ask for permission to write it, and for them to use my photo. But not for Fanhouse; it's just indistinguishable from what I'm doing at Shysterball.

All very interesting, but let's get to the important stuff. You lived in Michigan until you were 11, and then moved to West Virginia. Who's your team these days?

Now it's the Atlanta Braves. My baseball DNA is the pre-1985 Detroit Tigers. [The Tigers won the World Series in 1984]. I still have a great affection for that team, but when I moved to West Virginia, thanks to [TBS], I probably watched every single Braves game--most of them losses.

And your favorite players?

Before the Braves, it was [Detroit shortstop] Alan Trammell. The fact that he's not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty, on a personal level. I've also grown to love Greg Maddux.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day 2008

This Labor Day, the Boston Globe has an article about Lawrence, Massachusetts honoring one of the victims of the "Bread and Roses" strike in that city in 1912. Erik Moskowitz writes:

Under other circumstances, John Ramey could have been remembered as a martyr, an immigrant mill worker speared by a militiaman's bayonet. He was killed in a strike that started over a wage cut of a few pennies a week to laborers who toiled in unsafe conditions and earned barely enough to survive.

But Ramey is hardly remembered at all. No memorial marks the site where the young man was struck down; little is known about him, and even his age is a question mark. For half a century, Lawrence buried the story of Ramey and the textile strike of 1912, one of the most significant in the country's history. Those old enough to have participated spoke little about it, the fear of being branded anti-American lingering even after the textile industry had vanished.

"They stopped talking, and history was being covered over," said Jonas Stundzia, a 54-year-old Lawrence native and local historian who has led a movement to recognize and revive the city's industrial-labor heritage and the Bread and Roses Strike of 1912.
The recovery of the history and memories of the immigrants' story in the Bread and Roses strike is a fitting effort for Labor Day. I worked in St. Louis with labor law Prof. Susan (Toni) Fitzgibbon, who once remarked to me that she thought the efforts of unions to rebalance power in the U.S. possibly saved the country from socialism. I was startled by the remark, but on reflection thought it was very interesting and probably true. In my own family, my paternal grandfather worked in automobile factories in Indianapolis at around the same time as the Bread and Roses strike. My father recalls him calling for unions. But, like the families of strikers in Lawrence, there seemed to be a backlash against the union efforts in my own family. I have been interested to learn more about the early years when underpaid workers in dangerous mines and factories struggled to establish a collective voice to push back against owners' greed. Unions have been vilified in many ways, but I thought Toni had a very interesting point -- the stability of the capitalist society in the U.S. may owe a great deal to the unions' efforts. Here is a link to a site that has both more details about the Bread and Roses strike and the lyrics to the song, "Bread and Roses," originally a poem by James Oppenheim. the poem begins
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
The strike was largely (but not entirely) women textile workers, mostly immigrants. According to this website Big Bill Haley of the IWW (International Workers of the World stated that this strike was run as a democracy. That's an amazing thing to consider.

The image is an album cover by the Byrds, courtesy of