Thursday, November 19, 2009

Legal Opinions...Brought To You By Google

The Web (in general) and Google (in particular) spent the better part of this decade wreaking havoc on the newspaper, which previously had mono- or duo-polies in their local (respective) markets. The next decade may be spent doing the same to a highly-profitable niche: legal publishing.

Legal research is dominated by two companies: WestLaw and Lexis-Nexis.

Judicial opinions are public documents. But by publishing a vast swath of judicial opinions (and assigning them "official" book and page numbers, West established a defacto monopoly over the way cases are referred to, as codified in the standard reference. West also summarized cases by subject matter, in a system called "Headnotes."

(As an example, Smith v. Jones(*), 5 F.3d 123 means that the opinion in the case of Smith v. Jones can be found beginning on the 123rd page of the 5 volume of the "F.3d" series of case reporters. But "F.3d" is a series of books published by West, and in order to find the case, you need to either refer to the physical book or sign on to WestLaw. Contrast with a Bible cite, like John 3:16, which refers you to the 16th verse in the 3rd chapter of the book of John, but which is independent of any particular Bible publisher.)

(*)-Fictional case.

Lexis-Nexis developed its own system of citation (independent of West's bound books), and the two companies have essentially shared a duopoly over computerized legal research since the 1970s.

So Monday's rather understated announcement on Google's blog that Google will make legal cases available (without charge) on its Google Scholar site has potential long-lasting implications. West and Lexis will need to find ways to compete, and it is unlikely that their margins will remain unaffected for very long.

URL citations have been creeping into legal briefs and opinions over the past few years; Google is betting that that trend will continue.

And with AdWords alongside them?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Value of the Gold Glove

The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is clearly the touchstone (minus of course, about 241 references to The Karate Kid) for Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball (the BOB)(*). But Simmons also clearly looks to another James book -- Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame -- as a way to try and re-define what it means (in the respective sports) to be a HOFer.

(*) About which more later.

One tool for both analysis is the contemporary voting on awards: MVPs, All-Pro teams, Gold Gloves. James' view on contemporary evaluation of players is summed up as follows:

I advocate that we pay close attention, in evaluating Hall of Fame candidates, to the player's performance in award voting while active -- MVP voting, Gold Glove voting, in-season and post-season All-Star teams. If a player hits .267 with 63 RBI, but wins the MVP award, what does that mean at the time? It means that there was a widespread perception, at the time, that the player's collateral skills (defense, baserunning and leadership) were of exceptional value. Similarly, if a player drives in 162 runs and is hardly mentioned in the MVP voting, what does that mean? It means that there is a widespread perception, at the time, that the player's skills were not good.
The baseball Gold Gloves were awarded last week, and two surprises occurred in the American League: for the fourth time in the last six year, Yankees SS Derek Jeter was awarded a GG, and in the outfield, Torii Hunter and Ichiro each won their ninth consecutive GG, together first-timer Adam Jones (BAL).

Hunter, Ichiro, and Jones are not necessarily bad picks individually by themselves(*), but as highlighted by AP fav Joe Posnanski, the three necessarily cause the omission of Franklin Gutierrez; as explained by JoePos, Gutierrez saved perhaps 31 runs over an "average" centerfield in 2009, although alternative statistics show more in the range of 10-11 runs saved. In any event, there seems to be growing consensus that Guiterrez should won a GG.

Jeter has become a favorite whipping boy for GG critics; his win this year (after two years 'off') restarted the debate around his 'value', although JoePos argues that whether or not he was deserving this year, he had a better defensive year than in the 2004-2006 period, when he won 3 straight. (Or more to the point, over his career, Jeter gets to about 91% of the balls that the average AL shortstop gets to, which means that Yankees pitchers give up an extra hit (a ball not handled) every other game.)

But the larger question is what do we learn from GG awards?

JoePos posits that "We all know that the Gold Glove has become something to reward good offensive players who seem to be pretty decent in the field too." And perhaps that's good enough.(*)

(*)- Of course, such a definition makes the Silver Slugger award -- meant to reward the best offensive player at each position -- superfluous. Such analysis also does not explain the multiple awards to Omar Vizquel (only one GG season with OPS+ above 100) and Eric Chavez (won two GG with OPS+ in the 104-108 range.)

But in a world where the statistical analysis of baseball has broken through, and OPS+ and VORP are cited by mainstream publications, what does it say about the democratic process (as exemplified by Gold Glove voting, which is currently done by managers and coaches (not voting for their own players)?

Or perhaps, like Joe Morgan, the managers and coaches in voting for the Gold Gloves are trying to maintain the power of the "insider."

After all, how good a fielder can Franklin Gutierrez be if he's never won a Gold Glove?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Understanding the Risks

Arizona Cardinals WR Sean Morey admitted that he played last week despite still suffering the aftereffects of a concussion. While such news would normally fall under the category of "dog-bites-man" in the NFL, there is one surprising fact.

Last month Morey was named Co-Chair of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. His Co-Chair is a doctor, the Medical Director of the NFLPA.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Burden of Command"

MSNBC interview with NY News reporter James Gordon Meek.

Owning Two Wars -- and the Presidency

A few weeks ago in the WSJ, Peggy Noonan wrote of the moment in which a President 'owns' his Presidency. (The context was, in typical Noonan fashion, passive/aggressive partisanship: At what point does the public make Obama responsible for the economy? Her answer: right about now.)

In the last two weeks, it appears that Obama has taken ownership of the role of Commander-in-Chief. In the early morning of Thursday, October 29th, the President paid a late night visit to Dover Air Force Base as the bodies of 18 American servicemen who had died in Afghanistan were returned home.

A week ago, on Thursday, November 5th, thirteen people were killed (and almost 30 wounded) by alleged gunman Nidal M. Hasan. Although Obama's immediate response was criticized by some, his speech on Tuesday at the Fort Hood memorial service was well-received.

And finally, yesterday, he laid a wreath at Arlington for the first time as President, and then stopped by Section 60 of the Cemetery; the visit was recounted in a moving piece by a journalist who was there "off duty."

Against the backdrop of a pending decision on strategy in Afghanistan, Obama seems to have grown into the role of C-in-C this past fortnight.

And his actions over the past few weeks bring into sharper relief the outrageousness of the "dithering" statement by former VP Dick Cheney.

All Your Information Are Belong To Us

Interesting story in today's Globe about Google decision to allow its users to quickly (and easily) see what information the company's servers are storing. Putting this information together in one place (and on one screen) is (at least for Globe author Hiawatha Bray) somewhat disconcerting.

From the looks of the comments, most readers are in contrast "underwhelmed."

AP has written about privacy and security on the net before, so the set of information that Google has accumulated (through voluntary decisions by users) is in fact, somewhat limited.

But the article serves as a good reminder of the scope of electronic surveillance, and its impact on individual privacy. And for that matter, individual and identity security.

There's an App for That?!?!

The growing proliferation of robots (corresponding to the ubiquity of technology and/or drop(s) in prices) continues.

The latest example: as mentioned earlier, a lab at MIT has developed a application for the iPhone that allows a user to connect to a relatively cheap ($5,000 or so) quad-rotor helicopter available from Ascending Technologies GmbH.

What is key to the application is that the robot is finding 'its own way.' As demonstrated in the video, the user simply identifies an end point, and the mini-UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) plots its path to the target. (Presumably avoiding obstacles, like the vertical column seen in the video, in the process.)

The UAV is equipped with a camera, making the military applications obvious: seeing around corners, looking at the top of roofs for snipers, examining possible IEDs. But the availability of the components (and lost cost thereof) will mean that 'bad guys' will also have the technology. In addition, one could imagine civilian users who might also use the device for less-than-admirable ends.

In her talk on Tuesday, Dr. Cummings alluded to the Federal Aviation Administration's concern about these micro UAVs. Indeed, the FAA has started to issue regulations and related certificates for such UAVs: Honeywell received one of the first certificates in 2005 to test an untethered UAV on the Laguna Indian Reservation (about 45 miles from Albuquerque); interestingly, the FAA, in issuing such a certificate, evaluates the airworthiness of the entire system, not just the drone. Among the FAA's current requirements, there must be a ground observer or an accompanying “chase” aircraft must maintain visual contact with the drone, to insure that there is no interference with other aircraft. In February 2007, the FAA published medical certification requirements for pilots who are 'operating' UAVs.

This field will clearly continue to grow, and the FAAs ability to safely manage US airspace will be an ongoing challenge. Introduction of such mini UAVs in a battlefield situation (over Afghanistan or Pakistan, for example) will require coordination between various service.

(As an aside, radio-controlled (RC) model aircraft are subject to other rules, and are not supposed to be flown more than 400 feet off the ground.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bird on the Refs

Larry Legend weighed in this week on the problems of NBA refs:

I know our league has got the best officials in the world. I think overall they do a tremendous job. There are different ways that different officials officiate, but we should be very honored we do have the best.

Does that mean the NBA officials are the best basketball officials in the world?

Or, considering that Bird was talking about the problems that baseball umps had in the 2009 post-season, is he claiming that NBA refs are the best sports officials in the world?


Wired for War Comes to Cambridge

PW Singer, author of Wired for War, spoke yesterday at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

Picking up on his book, Singer spoke to a full lecture hall that seemed evenly split between undergrad, grad, and faculty. He emphasized the fact that development of military robotics -- whether designed for defensive or offensive capabilities -- was outstripping (by far) legal, ethical, and scientific analysis of the impact that such new devices have on human's capacity to make war. Instead, he spoke of scientists and robotic developers who believed that such "non-scientific" concerns were not their concern, or that the developers would be able to maintain control over the robots (rather than policy-makers.)

Singer also spoke of the speed of this change, and the impact it has been having on both young soldiers (who can fly a drone over Pakistan from North Dakota, for instance, without even having a pilot's license) to senior policy-makers (whose understanding of the rate of deployment of such weapons is, at times, woefully behind the curve.)

There was some discussion of a recent New Yorker article about the Predator and Reaper (a more-heavily armed Predator) programs. The article expressed special concern about the drones operated by the CIA, which author Jane Mayer maintains, does not have the same experience or procedural limits on indiscriminate targetting as does the military. Indeed, the UN (through its Committee on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions) recently demanded that the US make showing that such CIA-operated drones are within the bounds of international law.

Singer was joined on stage by MIT Professor Missy Cummings, a former Navy fighter pilot. Her work is in the field of unmanned flight, and she discussed a few of her ongoing projects(*).

(*) - More to come on this.

Finally, it is clear that in the post-9/11 era, funding for robotics and related projects will be dominated by the Defense Department. From the Navy (like Japan) studying baseball-playing robots to self-driven cars, it clear that military uses (and plain old military research) will drive this field. And as Singer noted, such research funding comes with costs.

A recording of the Forum is expected to posted online shortly at the MIT Technology and Culture site.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Things That Make You Go Hmmm... (NBA Edition)

* Disgraced former NBA ref Tim Donaghy has written in book while in prison for the last year. After Triumph Books (an imprint of Random House) apparently bought the rights to the book last year, it is alleged that pressure from the NBA made them re-think, and ultimately decided not to go forward with the project. Deadspin has excerpts (also, in fairness, the source for the NBA-is-killing-the-book rumor) from the book, some of which are explosive (i.e., that refs regularly bet on games, or on events within the game that they had control over, like who would be the first to call a technical foul.)

The excerpts on fellow NBA referees are more damaging than any allegation of betting on NBA games. Here's what he has to say about Dick Bavetta:

Studying under Dick Bavetta for 13 years was like pursuing a graduate degree in advanced game manipulation. He knew how to marshal the tempo and tone of a game better than any referee in the league, by far. He also knew how to take subtle — and not so subtle — cues from the NBA front office and extend a playoff series or, worse yet, change the complexion of that series.

The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings presents a stunning example of game and series manipulation at its ugliest. As the teams prepared for Game 6 at the Staples Center, Sacramento had a 3–2 lead in the series. The referees assigned to work Game 6 were Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney, and Ted Bernhardt. As soon as the referees for the game were chosen, the rest of us knew immediately that there would be a Game 7. A prolonged series was good for the league, good for the networks, and good for the game. Oh, and one more thing: it was great for the big-market, star-studded Los Angeles Lakers.

In the pregame meeting prior to Game 6, the league office sent down word that certain calls — calls that would have benefitted the Lakers — were being missed by the referees. This was the type of not-so-subtle information that I and other referees were left to interpret. After receiving the dispatch, Bavetta openly talked about the fact that the league wanted a Game 7.

"If we give the benefit of the calls to the team that's down in the series, nobody's going to complain. The series will be even at three apiece, and then the better team can win Game 7," Bavetta stated.

As history shows, Sacramento lost Game 6 in a wild come-from-behind thriller that saw the Lakers repeatedly sent to the foul line by the referees. For other NBA referees watching the game on television, it was a shameful performance by Bavetta's crew, one of the most poorly officiated games of all time.

* While anyone who's ever watched an NBA game closely will tell you that particular refs can influence the flow of a game. Refs certainly have a role in other sports, as well, although their effect is rarely so pronounced -- or so discussed. Even when a baseball umpire misses a call (or two), it is seen as just that: a missed call. Not part of an orchestrated plan emanating from the Commissioner's office. (Indeed, the missed calls in this year's ALCS resulted in umpiring changes for the World Series. Missed calls in the NBA are treated with the transparency and openness of a failed Five Year Plan in the old Soviet Union.)

* Donaghy has creditability problems, no doubt. But Bill Simmons is a favorite of the league; his new book (The Book of Basketball) on the history of the NBA(*) is number one on the New York Times best-seller list, and his calls are taken by NBA Commissioner David Stern (see BOB, page 137, footnote 89)(**)

(*) - More to come on the BOB.

(**) - Referencing that Stern believes that the advent of cable TV had a bigger impact on 'saving' the NBA than the arrival of Bird and Magic; both events occurred around 1980] "How do I know this? I called the commish and asked him. We talked for 35 minutes."

* Simmons himself has written extensively on the problem with NBA referees, including during the playoffs last spring:

We still don't know why certain referees get assigned to certain games, why Bennett Salvatore always seems to be involved when a home team needs a win to change the momentum of a series, why Joey Crawford keeps getting assigned to Spurs games, why Danny Crawford keeps getting assigned to Mavericks games, why Bill Kennedy would get assigned to a big Celtics game only six weeks after an argument cost Doc Rivers money. We are told that referees don't matter, but that's the thing: They do...

One other thing to chart: Does the NBA "control" the outcomes of certain games by assigning referees with certain call patterns? For instance, the 2008-09 Celtics were the most physical team in the league. Let's say they were leading a series 3-2 and the NBA wanted a Game 7. Would it assign some of its most whistle-happy refs to that game? Or let's say the NBA needed Utah to pull out a must-win game at home. If it had one or two refs with a history of being intimidated by tough crowds, would it feed them to the wolves in Utah? So let's see this stuff on paper. We have hundreds of stat-obsessed lunatics tracking Derek Jeter's defensive range or unearthing new ways to rip off VORP; we couldn't find a few of them to pick apart officials and assignments?

* And in the BOB (page 131), here's Simmons on the 1977-78 season:

The bad luck extended beyond Walton going down: the league barely missed out on a Sixers-Nuggets Finals in '78 ("Thompson versus the Doctor!") and a thoroughly entertaining Spurs-Suns Finals in '79 ("Davis and Westphal take on the Iceman!") If Stern had been running the league in '78 or '79, you might have seen that decade's equivalent of Dick Bavetta or Bennett Salvatore reffing a few of those pivotal Spurs-Bullets, Sixers-Bullets, and Nuggest-Sonics games. And you know it's true.(FN 79)

(FN 79)- Four perfect candidates: Seattle at Denver, '78 (Game 5, series tied at 2); Philly at Washington, '78 (Game 6, Bullets leading 3-2); Seattle at Phoenix, '79 (Game 6, Phoenix leading 3-2); Washington at San Antonio, '79 (Game 6, Spurs leading 3-2). The less sexy team won all 4 of those games. Um, this never happens anymore. Not sure if you've noticed.

* Bavetta himself told the Orland Sentinel that he may retire at the end of the year.

* Unexpected retirements are an NBA tradition in the Stern era.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pedro Redux

After a losing -- albeit commendable -- performance in Game 2 of the World Series, Charlie Manuel gives Pedro Martinez the ball again tonight in Game 6.

And not unlike Grady Little back in 2003, Manuel stayed with Pedro past the 100-pitch mark, and it almost cost the Phils: after giving up just two hits (both of which were home runs), Charlie sent Pedro out for the 7th, and he gave up two straight hits before being relieved (the first runner, Jerry Hairston, Jr., eventually scored.)

The Phils' bullpen has been shaky all season. Pedro is almost sure to need help from the pen. 37-year old Andy Pettitte is pitching on short rest.

Must see TV indeed.

Another Look at Chicagoland's Past

Some more Chicagoland history: the above photo shows a temporary ski slope once built at Soldier Field (built in the mid-1950s, just before Old Man Daley took office.)

Hard to believe that these weren't more popular.

Hard to also believe that, given they were still being built in the late fifties, these couldn't be a complete "Mad Men" episode.

Here's one that gives AP vertigo just looking at it, from Vancouver:

Hat tip, Deputy Dog.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


On the day that Boston goes to the polls to determine whether Tom Menino should be given a fifth term, it is fitting to remember Mike Royko's classic portrait of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, "Boss."

Royko is a throwback to an earlier era of journalism: more urban (rather than urbane), a true child of the city, and one who is both attracted and repulsed by the exercise of power.

He also paints the portrait of a Chicago rife with racial tensions: "[c]ontaining the Negro was unspoken city policy. Even expressways were planned as natural man-made barriers, the unofficial borders. The Dan Ryan, for instance, was shifted several blocks during the planning stage to make one of the ghetto walls."(p. 137)

(This Chicago is different from, but the inheritor of, the one that met Barack Obama twenty years later, as portrayed in his book, Dreams from My Father. But Old Man Daley's Chicago is the one that First Lady Michelle Robinson Obama was born into, and grew up in.)

Other vestiges of the old Chicago live on. Son Richard Michael, the current mayor (since 1989; he will break his father's record for longevity if he serves out the current term), has a cameo in "Boss", but his influence on current politics is felt. Current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools; the younger Daley created the job of CEO after convincing the Illinois State Legislature to place the school system under his control. (Interestingly, the independence of the school board is played to political advantage in Royko's view, by the elder Daley.)

In "Dreams", Obama paints Chicago as his "native" land; the place where he learned who he was. But there is a history of that land, and Royko's portrayal of the elder Daley provides some insight as to the Chicago that met the young Obama.

A Breakout Season for Dementia

The 'epidemic' of head injuries among athletes may be turning a corner, as in the last ten days, the issue has broken through in the public consciousness:

* Malcolm Gladwell used his high profile column in the New Yorker to analogize the NFL to dog fighting (and somewhere, Michael Vick laughs. Or cries.) Gladwell also narrated a slideshow that provides graphic evidence of the effect that the sport has on brains.

* Last week, Congressman John Conyers held hearings on the effects of concussions and the NFL's response to them. Among the people testifying: NFL Commission Roger Goddell, and SLI representatives including Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Ann McKee, and Chris Nowinski.

* On Deadspin, a prominent sports blog, Michael Oriard, a former Notre Dame and Chiefs offensive lineman wrote about his own concussion history -- and perhaps a warning of its future:
One of Roger Goodell's worst nightmares has to be the possibility that football will come to be regarded as boxing is today: a potential and very violent path to celebrity and wealth that only the most economically desperate would consider and that the vast majority of Americans find unpalatable.

We need much more research — on large number of former players, over a long period of time — to know just how dangerous football is to the human brain. Knowing the answer might be a blow not only to the NFL but to all lovers of football. But continuing to not know might be considerably more painful for those who play the game.

(Disclosure: Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) is a client of Henshon Parker, LLP)