Star Mapping the Law Docs and ‘Digg’-ing Legal Opinion

Great press release from the fed-facing open-source activist site public.resource.org.

The news in the announcement is worth celebrating and well worth the wait: a huge, free, digital archive of federal case law, including all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754!

But what I really like is the last paragraph, explaining how open-source archives circa 2007 are taking the extra step to convert two-dimensional, law record formatted content into the online sphere:

Public.Resource.Org intends to perform an initial transformation on the federal case law archive obtained from Fastcase using open source “star” mapping software, which will allow the insertion of markers that will approximate page breaks based on user-furnished parameters such as page size, margins, and fonts. “Wiki” technology will be used to allow the public to move around these “star” markers, as well as add summaries, classifications, keywords, alternate numbering systems for citation purposes, and ratings or “diggs” on opinions.

Jack Fuller on Free Expression Theory and the Tribune’s ‘Waterboarding’ Blunders

When Jack Fuller pens an op-ed in the Tribune criticizing the media, it’s worth taking note. Fuller was the president of Tribune Company’s publishing group until late 2004 after working his way up through the reporting ranks and editing ranks over 30+ years at the Tribune.

But I couldn’t help but note the irony today, that soon after listening to On the Media‘s lead piece examining newspapers’ definition of “waterboarding” — I stumbled upon Fuller’s “News sells more opinion, at cost of sincerity” in the Trib.

“The concern with large news media corporations has been that they would stifle diversity of political opinion,” wrote Fuller. He picks on MSNBC’s and FOX News’ commercialization of political opinion slanted “toward whatever attracts a crowd.”

Now, with the fragmentation of media and audience, there is no clear commercial argument against presenting the news with a point of view.

But there remains an atmosphere of politicization and “stifling” in print, take for example the Chicago Tribune’s definition of “waterboarding” as explained on the aforementioned On the Media very uncomfortably and definisively by deputy editor Randy Weissman:

Our official definition is — effective today — “an interrogation technique that simulates drowning a prisoner, comma, creating the sensation of imminent death.”

OK. Just as inefficient a definition as the New York Times (“simulated drowning”) or the LA Times (“an interrogation technique simulating drowning that dates to the Spanish Inquisition”) but its his awkward defense that seems to reveal political motivation behind using “simulate” and “sensation.”

Weissman:

Simply put, if you look in Webster’s, drowning is death, and waterboarding would only fit that definition if, if the prisoner died. Ask most people if a person drowns what happens, you — I would be willing to bet you that they would say he died.

Even after On the Media host Brooke Gladstone reiterated that drownING is the gerund and surely someone who is drowning can still be saved, Weissman blamed the politicization of the Trib’s semantics on Webster’s (where the gerund is not defined):

Well, I will go along with Webster’s New World Dictionary, which says “to die by suffocation in water or other liquid.”

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