Podcast of the Week: Radiolab – 60 Words

Podcast of the Week: Radiolab – 60 Words

From the description of the latest episode of Radiolab, this week’s featured podcast from among the 75 to which I subscribe (recently whittled down from about 85…):

In the hours after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a lawyer sat down in front of a computer and started writing a legal justification for taking action against those responsible. The language that he drafted and that President George W. Bush signed into law – called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) – has at its heart one single sentence, 60 words long. Over the last decade, those 60 words have become the legal foundation for the “war on terror.”

BuzzFeed’s Gregory Johnsen helped Radiolab adapt his longform article on the subject for the podcast. It’s a fascinating episode, whether you’re an international law geek or not. Follow the link or use the player below to listen to the episode.

Subscribe to Radiolab in iTunes or via RSS.

Gabriel García Márquez on life as literature

Gabriel García Márquez on life as literature

The recently deceased García Márquez, in an interview published in the winter 1981 issue of The Paris Review:

My mother asked me to accompany her to Aracataca, where I was born, and to sell the house where I spent my first years. When I got there it was at first quite shocking because I was now twenty-two and hadn’t been there since the age of eight. Nothing had really changed, but I felt that I wasn’t really looking at the village, but I was experiencing it as if I were reading it. It was as if everything I saw had already been written, and all I had to do was to sit down and copy what was already there and what I was just reading.

I have never read his work (a sin of literary omission I will soon remedy), but in this story García Márquez perfectly described a sensation I have at least once a week. It’s why I started writing fiction again recently after a long drought.

Go read the rest of the interview, it’s great

Om Malik on digital advertising

Om Malik on digital advertising:

Is a page being auto-refreshed on an open tab in your browser really useful “attention?” I don’t think so.

I saw this first-hand in a previous job. Here is a pro tip: You can be sure much of your traffic is open-and-forget (and therefore useless to advertisers) if you have an auto-refresh (as many news sites do) and your average session duration is equal or nearly equal to that refresh interval.

Anyway, Mr. Malik always has safe advice for business owners and writers alike, so go read the rest of his article.

Plagiarism in Legal Briefs

Plagiarism in Legal Briefs

Gerard Magliocca, writing at Concurring Opinions:

If I cited [someone else's] brief in an attempt to fairly attribute the source when I made the same point, then I’d look like an uncreative doofus. If I did not cite the brief, though, then that would (or could) be plagiarism.

It would be an interesting bit of research to determine how many sentences are copied without attribution from the briefs of other attorneys. I suspect it happens often.

I don’t think it’s uncreative to cite another lawyer’s brief. Legal writing is a game of cites. If anything, an uncited thought may raise questions rather than project creativity.

The real creativity in legal advocacy, as far as I have learned in law school, working as a litigation paralegal and reading far too much legal writing for “pleasure,” is in the optimal juxtaposition, creatively, of the cited facts and the thoughts of your forbears.

No one wants to see a newly minted physics professor work out the proof for E = MC2. The formula is there as a shortcut so others can build, creatively, upon the concepts for which it provides a shorthand.

After all, what judge prefers your lengthy version of an angle you could just as easily refer to with a short quote and a cite to a previous brief?

Whatever you think of this, a quick search turned up a bit of further reading on the issue and I’ve included a few links below. The question certainly isn’t settled, so I’m as interested as Mr. Magliocca in hearing other opinions.

Further Reading

You don’t have to tweet for Twitter to consider you an active user

You don’t have to tweet for twitter to consider you an active user

Yoree Koh reporting at The Wall Street Journal:

Twitter said it has 241 million monthly active users the last three months of 2013. Twitter defines a monthly active user as an account that logs in at least once a month. By Twitter’s standards, a person does not have to tweet to be considered a monthly active user.

I would think active users tweet and passive users only read. If I was considered an active user of every platform I sign into in a month, I would be considered far more active than I really am.

Government agency NTIS charges for docs you can get online for free, loses money doing it

Government agency NTIS charges for docs you can get online for free, loses money doing it

Good thing a bipartisan bill aims to end that embarrassing situation.

The things the National Technology Information Service does which don’t involve charging hundreds of dollars for free stuff and bleeding money doing it will be absorbed by the Commerce Department under the proposed bill.

But why does Obama want to add $19M to the failed agency’s budget in 2015? I don’t mean to sound like a melodramatic RNC ad, but it seems like a bad idea.

The DATA Act and legislative definitions

The DATA Act and legislative definitions

Andrea Peterson reports1 at The Washington Post the Senate has passed a bill, the DATA Act, which would require federal financial data be published in a common format. It sounds like a great idea and something those nerdy data journalists are going to love. The bill is likely to pass in the House as well, and the President is expected to autograph it.

However, a part of the bill Peterson pointed out makes me nervous.

The version passed by the Senate doesn’t set a specific format for the data standard but does require it to be “a widely-accepted, nonproprietary, searchable, platform-independent computer readable format”

Now, to be clear, it’s probably better not to name a specific file format because those may come and go. But I’m hoping the final version of the law defines every word in that quoted bit, excepting “a” and “format” because if it doesn’t, implementation is going to be even slower than usual and enabling high-volume computerized public scrutiny of federal spending is really a the-sooner-the-better sort of topic.


  1. The WaPo headline reads “The DATA Act just passed the Senate” but it doesn’t look right to me. The Senate is the legislative body, which voted to pass the legislation. Not the other way around. Editorial picking of nits? Yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an improvement.