Mar 132016

When I was a young reader I used to read Nancy Drew mysteries. And they scared me: I couldn’t take the suspense, so I often found myself flipping to the back of the book, checking out the last page, just to know that somehow the good guys were going to come through ok. Once I knew that, I could enjoy letting the rest of the book unfold.

I find myself in this election wishing I could flip to the back of the book just to know if it’s true that everything will be ok. Continue reading »

Feb 152016

Mass transit in the Bay Area is run by extremely local jurisdictions and only barely coordinated with the mass transit systems of any other local jurisdiction anyone might like to travel to. Which, as they say, is no way to run a railroad… Or a bus and ferry system, as is the case of Golden Gate Transit, which operates both the Golden Gate Bridge and mass transit in Marin County (the land to the north that the Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to).

Since that’s where I live I have a vested interest in seeing that it is as usable a mass transit system as possible. While I do own a car, I don’t want to have to drive it, especially not to the city if I have cheaper and more environmentally friendly options, like mass transit, available.

Unfortunately, while the mass transit offerings are essentially tolerable for commuting in and out of the city from where I live during basic commute hours, they aren’t great for less routine schedules that might require commuting earlier or, especially, later. If I want to stay in the city after 6:30pm, my transit options rapidly dry up, and they are extremely shriveled if I want to stay after 8:00pm.

Happily the Golden Gate Transit District is considering expanding service, at least somewhat, so I submitted a comment largely in support of the proposed changes. I’m increasingly recognizing how important it is for public agencies to have input from the public — they are hungry for it — to underpin their actions, and how much you can affect public administration in ways you care about by submitting it.

And having taken the trouble to do that, I thought I’d also share what I submitted on my blog, because surely that’s what blogs are for…

I note in posting it that I did slightly misstate the options for evening commuting: there is a 7:30ish and 8pm-ish #4 bus that runs locally through Sausalito, but there is still a gap between 6:30 and 7:30 and then too long to wait after 8. I also did not really focus on options connecting Sausalito to the north. To be honest, it’s not a direction I tend to look to travel via mass transit, in part because I have a car and in part because I tend to regard options as tedious and inefficient. But I do note that there are quite a few service workers in Sausalito who need to take transit to the more affordable neighborhoods in the north where they live, and these trips should be expeditious for them as well.

The comment begins below:
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Jan 082016

In my third year of law school I did a semester abroad in Germany. It was a poignant experience, particularly as someone Jewish, to go invest in a place that so recently had been so unimaginably evil to people like me. The school itself (Bucerius Law School) was not unmindful of this history. For instance, at one point it took us on a fieldtrip to Neuengamme, a concentration camp in a nearby Hamburg suburb. And at another point it put on a screening of Jud Süß, one of the Nazi propaganda movies from the 1930s.

What with recent discussion about Mein Kampf and Anne Frank’s Diary entering the public domain it seemed like a good occasion to revisit what I wrote back then about the movie. It seems particularly important given similar demonization I’m hearing in Germany and beyond about the Muslims in their midst.

Below is the original blog post I wrote in November 2005, and below that the comment the post received, which shows that this sort of extreme, xenophobic hate is not entirely in our past. But it’s only by freely talking about that past that we can keep it from plaguing our future.
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Aug 262015

The Washington Post has a letter today signed by various generals opposing the Iran nuclear deal.  But as “Emptywheel” noted on Twitter:

That guy? John Poindexter, who was implicated in the Iran-Contra affair for having helped supply arms to Iran in the 1980s.

Which made me think today was a good day to post the Iran Contra Nursery Rhyme I wrote way back in middle school, so we could better remember why it is we currently find ourselves in this diplomatic mess with an over-armed country we helped make over-armed:
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Jun 042015

Barbie may have said that math is hard, but Barbie was wrong.  With good teachers it isn’t very hard at all, and my high school calculus teacher was a great teacher.

Anyway, at the end of the year she asked all of us to write a letter to the incoming class next year so that they’d have some idea of what to expect and some suggestions for them as to how to best get through the class.  However, needing to do everything in my own idiom, as per usual… instead of a letter, my friend Amanda and I decided to write a poem instead.  The teacher liked it so much she had us record it, and I understand that she played it for incoming classes for several years to come.

It was also one of the first things I’d ever posted on the web, on my first site that seems to no longer be live.  But clearly other people like it, and it’s been interesting to see evidence of other math teachers using it in their classes.  So to help make our lovely poem available to generations of calculus students to come, I thought I’d cross-post it here.  Enjoy! Continue reading »

Jul 132014

A few things happened today: Germany won the World Cup, and I ended up in several unsettling conversations about the current contretemps between Israel and Hamas, which somehow led to a German friend saying something to the extent that the Holocaust was 70 years ago and it was time for Jews to get over their sense of victimhood.

I won’t debate that point here right now (I’ve already railed in unconstructive astonishment on social media…) but I decided that the convergence of events today warranted republishing this post I wrote in law school, during the semester when I studied in Germany.

I’m really enjoying my time here in Germany. I’m learning a lot of interesting law, meeting lots of really nice people, learning the language… I’m really glad I came, and as an American student I’m being made to feel very welcome at the school, in the city, and in the country.

But I’m not just an American. I’m also Jewish, and it’s hard to think about being Jewish in Germany without stumbling upon the elephant in the room: what happened 60-70 years ago. It’s the history we’ve all inherited – but to what end? I know relatives and acquaintances who refuse to set foot in Germany, not out of any sense of personal fear (although there probably is some distrust that the virulent anti-Semitism is truly a thing of the past) but more out of a lingering anger for those horrible crimes perpetuated against so many people, and particularly against people like us.

I can’t dismiss their feelings: they are a reasonable reaction to an incomprehensibly horrible tragedy that I would not want to minimize, nor encourage others to minimize. But at the same time, it’s completely unintuitive to me to dig my heels in and continue to punish a nation of strangers. On the contrary, it seems that the complete opposite is called for. Hatred festers in the distrust unfamiliarity breeds. The thing to do, it has always seemed to me, is to take affirmative steps to not be strangers anymore. Continue reading »

Jun 052014

The Bluebook. For non-lawyers unfamiliar with it, it’s a guide to a standard system of citation formats that legal practitioners often use in their court filings and academic legal writings.

Unfortunately, the Harvard Law Review claims copyright over it and has been using that claim to threaten others who might want to build tools implementing this citation system. Theoretically, the Harvard Law Review may legitimately have a copyright interest in aspects of the Bluebook book, such as the text explaining how to use the citation formats correctly.  But as for the citation system, this should not be copyrightable. See 17 U.S.C. Section 102(b):

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

However, in light of the recent ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit finding copyright in software APIs — something that should have been similarly precluded by Section 102(b) — I mused in a tweet:

It would be an absurd result contrary to the language of the statute and represent a fundamental change in the goals and legitimacy of copyright law, but under the Federal Circuit’s reasoning it would be a logical outcome.

It would also be the height of hypocrisy. For the Harvard Law Review to be able to claim infringement it would need to show that the claimed IP is unique to it. And it can’t, at least not for all citation forms. Take the system for citing blogs, for instance. The most recent edition of the Bluebook says that this would be the correct format to cite this blog post:

Cathy Gellis, The Bluebook Stole My IP, STATEMENTS OF INTEREST (June 4, 2014),

See Rule 18.2 in the 19th Edition. However, the 18th Edition prescribed something completely different (see Rule 18.2.4):

Statements of Interest, (June 4, 2014).

Which is, of course, a completely useless citation format. It doesn’t indicate author, it doesn’t indicate post title, it doesn’t indicate URL (which one needs to be able to search the Internet Archive for when online materials disappear).  It’s complete garbage. Which is why years ago I publicly declared it to be a stupid citation method and recommended that everyone instead cite blogs via a completely different approach.  See the first comment appended to this 2007 post (Christine Hurt, Bluebook Pet Peeves, THE CONGLOMERATE (March 13, 2007),

1. Posted by Cathy on March 13, 2007 @ 9:22 | Permalink

It’s weird how the Bluebook form plays up datestamps and plays down author’s names. I’ve suggested that instead blogs should be cited just like articles are cited. So, for instance, instead of this:

Susan Crawford Blog, (Apr. 27 2006 22:05 EDT).

which would completely ream someone like Howard Bashman, whose name is not part of his blog title or URL and therefore would never show up in the cite, it should be

Susan Crawford, Onward, SUSAN CRAWFORD BLOG, Apr. 27, 2006,

I can think of few instances where that form wouldn’t work. Well, ok, I can think of one: linking to a subjectline-less post on a teenager’s MySpace page. For that, the original Bluebook form would probably be better. It’s just kind of sad, though, that the Bluebook is keying its recommendation to that particular form of electronic media and failing to recognize the tremendous scholarship that lies out there on proper blogs and allowing us to effectively capture a reference to it.

This comment referenced this 2006 post on my now-defunct law school blog (Cathy Gellis, The Bluebook on Blogs, THE GREAT CHANGE: TURNING CATHY INTO A LAWYER (Apr. 30, 2006), available at, and was then referenced at this post by Howard Bashman (Howard Bashman, The method for citing to blog posts found in the 18th edition of The Bluebook “would completely ream someone like Howard Bashman,” HOW APPEALING (Mar. 15, 2007, 3:20 PM),, which I then cited to at this post (Cathy Gellis, Rumors of Howard Bashman’s reaming have been greatly exaggerated, THE GREAT CHANGE: TURNING CATHY INTO A LAWYER (Mar. 15, 2007), available at, and he responded to here (Howard Bashman, “Rumors of Howard Bashman’s reaming have been greatly exaggerated,” HOW APPEALING (Mar. 18, 2007, 5:54 PM),

With just a few tiny punctuation differences, the procedure I recommended for citing blogs is just what the 19th Edition now requires.  But note that I recommended citing blogs this way back in 2006, whereas the 19th Edition of the Bluebook wasn’t copyrighted until 2010, so that’s a hell of a lot of prior art showing how my innovation for how to cite blogs pre-dates any claimed by the Harvard Law Review. In fact, it looks like, if the Harvard Law Review is correct that citation formats are protectable intellectual property, that they are actually infringing on my IP.

But, hey, I’m easy. Tell you what, Harvard Law Review: if you don’t want any trouble with me, stop making trouble for the Carl Malamuds and Frank Bennetts of the world who are just trying to make it a little easier to promote the progress of arts and sciences for everyone.

Otherwise, just to be clear…

Dear Carl Malamud, Frank Bennett, and anyone else who would like to use my blog citation format EXCEPT THE HARVARD LAW REVIEW: you have my permission to do so.

May 252014

A few years ago, in response to the Susan G. Komen foundation pulling its support of Planned Parenthood, I tweeted in disgust, “Politicizing women’s health makes me sick.” This tweet then led to an interview with a writer for the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women for an article considering whether we were facing a “war on women.”

As part of that interview I called myself a “very reluctant feminist.” I’ve always thought that gender shouldn’t matter. People are people, and we all are just trying to do the best we can.

And yet, who are we kidding? The sua sponte spawning of the #YesAllWomen hashtag shows just how much a myth it is that women have an equal seat at the table of life.

I suppose I’ve always known this in some way, and after publishing my contribution to the #YesAllWomen tweetstream today I decided to repost something I blogged in law school considering this very issue. Continue reading below the jump.

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May 112014

Warren Agin’s blog post on the survivability of contracts during bankruptcy prompted me to resurrect this blog post I had written on my law school blog during my semester studying in Germany.

In my French class* yesterday:

Me (reading aloud): “La resolution de contrat, lorsque celui-ci est syn… synal… synallagmatique?”

Teacher (in French): “It’s the same word as in German.”

Me: [sigh]

Actually, the word exists in English too: “synallagmatic.” But it’s not a word I’ve ever encountered before, not even in law school. Although interestingly, says it means “bilateral” in Louisiana civil law. I suspect, however, that it may mean “bilateral” in a distinctively civil law sense. In the common law system of contracts, when we mean bilateral we say “bilateral,” but then our whole perception of the directional dynamics of a contractual agreement may be significantly different from those in civil law systems.

Take German law, for instance. German contractual law includes the concept of separation. This means that in any transaction involving the transfer of ownership of some good, there are at least three separate agreements bound up in the transaction:

– A contract for the sale of the good
– A contract to transfer the ownership of the good, and
– A contract to transfer ownership of the money used to pay for the good

These agreements may be thought of as three strands twirled into one rope. And, by analogous extension, as we all understand ropes to work, cutting one strand will not necessarily cause the whole rope to be cut. (This separate strand-cutting is known as the principle of abstraction.) In other words, just because one contract fails does not mean the entire deal fails too.

To a common law American, this situation may seem strange. If one of those strands gets broken, how can the rest remain? We generally see each strand as a condition necessary for the contract to retain its overall enforceability. For instance, if the ownership of the bargained-for good has been transferred, but the money has not been paid, how can the party who received the good still keep it? Under American contract law, he couldn’t. But even under German law he likely couldn’t either, although via different legal reasoning than American law.
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