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December 31, 2004

New Years, And No Resolutions

Although you've not heard much from me recently, don't worry: there will be a lot to write in the New Year. In the meantime, friends, please go out, party, and see this year out and welcome the new.

December 26, 2004

Words Fail

I really don't know what to say about the tsunami that's struck throughout Southeast Asia today. I just don't have the words, though I've been browsing through news reports continuously today.

The word "tsunami" to me summons up thoughts of Hiroshige's prints. That image just hasn't cut it today.

Thousands dead. I really don't know what to say.

Christmas Posting

Dearest Wormwood:

I know that most of the time I write you with advice on surviving law school. Just this once, however, I'd like to give you an advice on survival of a different nature, it being the holidays.

Sledding down hills on dubious pieces of foam and plastic is a great deal of fun when you are between the ages of three and, perhaps, twenty. The pleasures can vary from the innocent to the dubious: at the age of seven, one can wonder at the pure joy of speed and the illusion of escape from gravity. Towards adolescence... well, let us just say that sledding downhill with members of the opposite sex has long been a source of amusement for northern teenagers. Even above such an age, it is great fun to go watch young children sledding.

However, getting three grown men averaging over two-hundred pounds and thirty years apiece on a flimsy piece of unpadded plastic, and then hurtling them down a barely snow-covered hill at high speeds towards a very large bump... this is not a good way for said men to behave. It leads to bruises and pain, although the resulting jumbled pile of limbs at the bottom of the hill does seem to provide amusement to the younger children at the top.

As a circus performer once said to me when I was heckling him, "This is why animals in the wild eat their young."

Congratulations, Jeremy

It appears that one of the great "blawger" mysteries got resolved whilst I was away yesterday: Jeremy Blachman has been revealed as the author behind Anonymous Lawyer. I only read the blog every now and then, but I've had six or seven people at Columbia ask me, "So, do you think he's a real person?" Which, I think, meant something along the lines of "Do I think the author is really a hiring partner?" I have to admit, I normally said, "Probably."

Jeremy's done a fine piece of work here. My first impression of his project back when it started was highly negative, simply because I have an objection to anonymity, and the blog did seem to be a real person indulging in some serious backbiting. But then the site announced it was a work of fiction and my only objection evaporated.

I'm glad it's worked out for him, although I do wonder exactly how much truth there is in the whole tale. On the one hand, anonymous conversations have a tendency to bring out only griping. Namelessness is reserved as a shield for those complaining, while those with kind words have little need of protection. On the other hand, one impression I've had of this entire legal industry, for a very long time, is that the pursuit of money through a cartel is slowly grinding away at most of those who work in it. With any luck, the dark mirror of Jeremy's invention proves some kind of catalyst for change.

Oh, yes: Jeremy's real-life blog is here.

December 23, 2004

Why I Read Brian Leiter

Someone emailed me yesterday and asked why, given that I find his non-scholarly arguments so hysterical, I bother the occasional read of Brian Leiter's Leiter Reports. Besides the general idea that one should read the loudest voices of the opposition even when they aren't the best, it's posts like his on "scholarly diversity" that make me grin. For instance, let's look at a post from another blog that he quotes approvingly, excerpting this segment:

[W]hile I have always been in favor of diversity of viewpoints on a faculty, and our own faculty ranges from very liberal to quite conservative -- although we see no need to hire the right wing kooks who seem to be taking over the world -- I have lately begun to wonder about the intellectual diversity argument. The right wing has taken over the government, radio, part of television, a significant part of the newspaper world, and certain religiously based universities. Having taken over much of the world, is it really necessary that they be given a major voice in universities too? They’ve done pretty well without a major foothold at lots of universities. Why give these nuts still more power?

Read the rest of the post, which is authored by the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law. It's as reasoned and temperate a post as you'd expect, including such passages as "Terrific: I can hardly wait until Heinrich Himmler applies for a professorship at Harvard," and "But because they all seem to be following the code of silence -- isn’t this called omerta or something? -- as a way of trying to have all the matters of dishonesty at Harvard blow over, it’s dollars to doughnuts that they will not respond." Well worth a ten-minute study break.

In the meantime, the passage Leiter quoted reminds me of the old joke that Prof. Volokh often quotes about two rabbis reading newspapers in Jerusalem. One's reading the Jerusalem Post, and notices that the other is reading an Egyptian newspaper full of anti-Israeli bile. The first fellow, justifiably startled, asks the other why he'd read such a rag, to which he gets the following reply: "Well, if I read the Post, the news is all bad. There's bombings, beheadings, terrorism, and worry of invasion. Whereas if I read this paper, we control the United States, the international media, the U.N...."

December 22, 2004

Lock In

Now that I'm about to be a TA for my Regulatory State class, there's a new thing I can't blog about: students. (Simply put, it would be an invasion of their privacy, probably worry some of them, and besides would just be crass. Not gonna happen.) But so many things I'm considering now lead my mind to consider their Reg. State implications.

For instance, Heidi responds with a mostly reasonable post detailing how it would make more sense for our archetypal grandmother to run Linux if her support (that is to say, her grandchildren) were Linux users. She is, of course, correct that much of the dominance of Windows is due to network effects, path dependency and lock in. There's a lot of interesting debate on what such effects signify, especially in the economics literature, and of course Linux/Windows is not the first lock-in issue to come down the pike. Of interest to readers might be--if they can find it, which I can't online--an article entitled The Fable of the Keys. 33 J. L. & Econ 1 (1990). There's also a brief rebuttal available here, and a counter-rebuttal from Stan Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis available at Reason. All interesting stuff.

But of course, Heidi then ends her piece with a statement of dubious merit indeed:

If you don't care about any of [the supposed advantages of Linux], you probably found this post befuddling. Bully for you. You don't have to run Linux.

But you'd be a lot sexier if you do.


No doubt some of her usual flippancy, so I'll answer with my own. It is true that I've yet to meet someone who found Windows "sexy." I suppose that a Linuxphile would respond that this is because Windows simply isn't sexy, a statement with which I would very much agree. I'm left wondering why any person hoping to be reasonably sexy was spending time fetishizing an operating system.

Christmas Wars Indeed

I love reading E. J. Dionne. The man is an expert at sounding limitlessly reasonable whilst talking utter rot, in this case about how we must avoid government expressions of "Merry Christmas" in order to avoid oppressing religious minorities. As is usual, Foamy the Squirrel has more sense than the Washington Post Op-Ed page. (Though I'm sure the factual basis of his rant about children's Christmas plays is slightly overstated.) Dionne would probably class as Foamy's "neo yuppie scum."

My take on the entire "Happy Holidays" v. "Merry Christmas" fiasco is pretty easy. Minority religions should be respected by the government: that means everything from no forced conversions and the ability to practice their faiths unmolested to no particular advantages in government hiring. But our Establishment Clause jurisprudence is an unholy mess of trying to reconcile a fetish for "church-state separation" with the fact that we are a Christian nation.

Take, for instance, the simple name of this site. I'm an agnostic, and I get to cherry-pick my religious references. I could have called it Three Years of Gehenna. [1] Though I know far less about it, there's nothing that kept me from calling this Three Years of Naraka. Indeed, there's a vast array of names I could have chosen. But when I went searching for a metaphor, I chose Hell, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense.

To say that the United States is a Christian nation isn't to say that we aren't--or shouldn't be--tolerant of other religions. But just as I'd not say I'd started to understand Japan without studying Buddhism and Shinto, and I wouldn't start to examine the Middle East without sitting down with a Koran, Christianity is the one and only religion without knowledge of which one can fairly be said to be ignorant of American literature and culture. We've had two Great Awakenings, and they weren't awakening us from Samsara. And when we search for a metaphor for otherworldly suffering, we reach straight for that box labelled Hell.

So I guess what it comes down to is, we all have these holidays off because we're celebrating Christmas, and if the majority religion should respect the minority by not interfering with their religion, the minority should have a similar amount of respect, and realize that saying, "Merry Christmas" isn't a sign of the next great Crusade. Having children sing "Silent Night" or dress up as Mary and Joseph in a school play doesn't mean they're all of a sudden going to give up their parents' holy books, but it does mean they'll know something about the larger part of the culture in which they reside.

If you'd asked me about this when I was sixteen and attending high school in Alabama, I'd likely have answered you differently. There's a line to be drawn, and growing up in the South, I can see how that line was often drawn in shaky ways. But that line is miles away from insistence that we must have a happy holiday season, and not simply a Merry Christmas.

Not even I am that curmudgeonly.

[1]: Indeed, given that the period of one's stay in Gehenna is supposedly temporary, this might even be considered more appropriate.

December 21, 2004

If I'm Debating God and Cheese, I Really Should Go To Bed

Serious thoughts are forthcoming tomorrow. For the moment, however, my attention has been drawn to the fact that Heidi and Will are debating exactly how much God was in the pasta she cooked for her and her boyfriend, in comparison to the amount of cheese therein.

I write only to comment that I believe Heidi may have made an error when she claims that, "Although cheesiness is next to (in fact, above) godliness, it's not quite the same thing. And I didn't add God to my pasta; I'm fresh out of powdered deity."

There is always the possibility that she did in fact add God to her pasta through the addition of cheese. While I'll admit my evidence for this is rather scant, I bring both party's attention to the traditional ordeal of iudicium offoe, or ordeal by blessed morsel. The morsel in question was normally "a piece of bread and a piece of cheese" through which the intercession of God was invoked to determine the guilt or innocence of the party eating it.

Perhaps this solves the dispute between Bond and Baude, or at least gives them some further food for thought. All I know is that in the research for this piece, I ran across The Bible According to Cheese, but was completely unable to include it. Sad, really, since a lot of my cheese-obsessed friends will enjoy it.

Uptime

Heidi Bond bemoans the fact that because of ExamSoft, she has to reboot her computer and lose her precious uptime. Now, I'm no fan of Examsoft, but I can't say I'm that worried about the loss of uptime. In general, I shut down my machine every time I move it, so it doesn't matter that much anyway.

But uptime is mostly important for servers, and for what it's worth, the server back in my dorm room (Windows) hasn't been rebooted since... eh, since I took back my apartment over the summer, if I recall correctly. (I installed a new card when I came back, and I assume even Linux boxes have to be shut down before you attach electronics to the motherboard.) It chugs on just fine, although I admit it does nothing more than act as a webserver and occasional file storage. The only thing that's even asked me to reboot was, oddly, an Adobe Acrobat update, and I just ignored that.

In any event, I suppose I've pretty much tired of the OS Wars, and the various debates about which operating system is most wonderful. LINUX has its uses, but to date no one has been able to convince me it's worth switching for my PC. I'll consider it when I meet the casual LINUX user.

What do I mean by that? Simply put, every LINUX user I know is a computer specialist. Command prompts hold no fear for them. Mentally mapping a directory structure, and keeping track of locations without a visual interface doesn't terrify them. Rebuild their whole system from scratch? Not a problem.

Now while none of these things hold any fear for me--I remember IBM DOS 2.0, when the command "gwbasic" was actually useful--they're also not something I'm passionate about. Further, they're not things that any of the people I help with technology are passionate about, either. Usually, if I use a term like "uptime" around anyone with a computer that I'm fixing, my next words are something like, "That's how long your computer has been on for." To which eyes will roll, lips will mumble, and hopes that I can actually get their term papers recovered will be expressed.

I can't imagine these users installing or operating LINUX. Maybe Macintosh, a system probably more focused towards task-based users than even Windows, but not anything that requires--or even encourages--them to know what "grep" means. The need and the urgency isn't there, nor even the care for the computer itself. Many of the users I have worked with, personally or professionally, have brought me machines in states that can't hardly be blamed on the OS. This would include hinges falling off due to having been squashed in overful cases, corners damaged from frequent bumps and clangs, monitors with keyboard impressions... you get the point. These are not people who are going to dote over their hardware, much less their OS.

Which is why, at the end of the day, I can't get into the hate-Microsoft mentality. LINUX, to me, will be a great operating system when people are teaching their grandmothers to store recipes on it, and most of its "stability" advantages seem to me to consist of having much more educated users. Yes, Microsoft does its annoying thing occasionally, but it's not particularly bad if you know what you're doing. And if you don't know what you're doing... well, let's put it this way: I felt it a great leap forward for computing when terms like "Shut Down" started being replaced by "Turn Off." However much I may sometimes like a command line, I don't really want to see us go back to the age of Grep.

(For what it's worth, this blog runs off a LINUX server, and all of my blog maintenance involves Telneting back to England. As I said, it has its place and its uses. But whatever its other faults, Microsoft's proven quite good at moving computers from the fringes of usefulness to ubiquity. I'm not sure LINUX is helping that progress.)

A Few Days Of Paradise in Three Years of Hell

Sorry for the break in my normal commentary. Soon the stress of writing The Note will begin. Soon I'll be worrying about courses for next year, how I'll finish up all my other projects, and everything else that's gradually making an ulcer not only likely, but likely to become sentient.

But for now I have cocoa, I'm sitting in front of a roaring fire, I'm watching DVDs of television series with my family, and my brain doesn't want to write anything that would be worth you reading. Every so often, usually in the shower, I think of something I want to talk about. But then I look out the window at sheets of white powdered snow spread across a frozen lake, and just keep looking. They keyboard loses its appeal.

I'll try tomorrow. Really I will.

December 16, 2004

Brief Study Note

My study partner's comment on our preparation for Friday's test:
"I usually do a bit more work for an exam, but this time I am reviewing the course de novo."

Bad after midnight study puns. What did my readership do to deserve this?

December 15, 2004

Advice Accepted

Right... so I concentrated a bit too much on my other courses (one of which, it turns out, is unexpectedly pass/fail), so now I've got a little under 41 hours to learn all of Property Law.

Anyone with advice at this point is welcome to comment. In the meantime, the next twenty four hours are likely to be a triumph of cramming over preparation...

December 14, 2004

So much to say, but.... no.

The fact of pressing exams and deadlines has, unfortunately, hit me like a brick to the back of the head. There's a lot I'd like to write about, but if you don't hear from me for a couple of days, it's because I've secluded myself in the belly of some deep, hidden library in a desperate attempt to figure out what a "system of estates" is and why anyone would ever care about one.

UPDATE: Given my chronic lack of time at the moment, I can only fear that I'm going to agree with Heidi when she says:

So many more tiny threads make sense. The timing is better. Weird stuff comes together. The theatrical version was just too short.

Those of you who know what she's talking about don't need to be told. The rest of you haven't been marking your calendars.

But given the overwhelming time pressure I feel at the moment, the prospect of feeling a compelling urge to watch five hours of movie fills me with a paradoxical dread.

December 13, 2004

Two Views of Sheer Hell

For those who've been keeping track, there's two new trailers for Constantine. Neither inspire much optimism.

The domestic trailer is up at MtV. (It's also showing in theatres before certain showings of Blade 3. Aren't you glad I saved you going to see that?) Meanwhile, in proof that cinema really is better overseas, you can see the international trailer here. Mostly the same, except a bit more explicit and seemingly with a better logo.

OK, fine, the international one does have one other advantage: the only scene shown so far that looks like it was taken from original source material.

December 11, 2004

Study Break: La Llorona

Don't get me wrong: I love the law. It's a fascinating field, and the academic study of law holds a deep fascination. But it's not the only thing that fascinates me, and one concern I have is that as I get further into the profession, my rather eclectic magpie-nest of knowledge will get ever more narrowly-focused. I'm deeply resenting having to stop reading The Hebrew Goddess in order to focus on Property this week. Not because there's not interesting things in Property, but because the last two weeks have been a bit law-heavy.

I'm addicted to little bits of useless knowledge, things that spice up a world-view and keep one's wonder at the breadth of experience alive. In order to share a bit of this, every so often I'm going to post a "Study Break" on here: a link to some source of obscure trivia that won't help you at all with law, won't change your political perspective, but might just be a bit of fun. How will this differ from my other trivialities? Who knows--but maybe you'll enjoy it.

So for the first topic, let's try La Llorona, a bit of hispanic legend. The link above has various versions of the legend, with a fair degree of background. It's a sort of tying-together of ghost stories, each involving a few common features: a wronged woman, a murdered child, and in most cases a river. Many versions have much in common with Medea: the concept of killing one's child to spite a powerful but wrongful man. Another version of the story, from my old haunt of El Paso, can be read here.

In true magpie fashion, I tie my interest in this legend together with my recent commentary on Philip Pullman and his anti-Christian children's story, as the first version of the story I ever heard tied it in with a similar revolt against a Patriarchal figure. She figures prominently in children's tales from homeless shelters in Miami, where she has been merge with other figures from another pantheon. On the other hand, the mythological revisioning of these children is far less comforting than Pullman's.

Update on Introspective Wonderland and the Ideologically Balanced Academic World

Just a few more data points for consideration:
Via For the Record via the (ever-dependable) Brian Leiter, we have Mel Gilles. To quote Prof. Leiter, "[B]e sure to get to the bit about the victims of domestic violence." I really couldn't agree more. And note, of course, that For the Record is written by two assistant professors, currently seeking tenure and their own slot on hiring committees. Just a bit to whet your appetite:

But really, why should I be surprised that right-wingers are generally not very good at good argument ? We progressives really are "bleeding hearts"---not only for all those who are presently being oppressed by the pitiless imperatives of corporate capitalist warfare, but also for those poor suckers who for one reason or another keep shooting themselves in the foot in the voting booth, endorsing various unsustainable prejudices, believing repeatedly refuted falsehoods, willingly submitting to the unlistenable propaganda spewed by Fox News, Bill O'Reilly and the like (or the more sophisticated but equally delirious Wall Street Journal and National Review), and (though it is practically taboo not to do so) gullibly embracing various religious hallucinations. We progressives continue to think: surely such people are not intrinsically stupid, mean, greedy, and/or reprehensibly credulous. Rather, they must be victims of some sort, operating under brainwashed false consciousness, who would embrace the good, the just and the true if only they were made aware of it.

But why think this? If the people who currently hold the prejudiced, factually corrupt views and attitudes that characterize the American right were inclined to be open to exposure of these views as prejudiced and factually corrupt, then (again, with exceptions) they probably would already have given up these views. It's disingenuous to pretend that we think that "intelligent people can disagree" about the value of the progressive agenda. This agenda is correct, by every reasonable factual standard and nearly every reasonable moral standard (such that provincial prejudices and antiquated religious dictates are not enshrined as virtues). And it may well be that those who have failed to perceive its correctness by this point are, shall we say, not operating under appropriate epistemological standards. Supposing so, why think that it is possible to get through to them using reasoned argumentation?


(internal links omitted, emphasis in the text mine)

But don't just stop there: be sure to read about how Republicans are abusers. I'm sure this is a brilliant way to get those who pulled Red-levers last time to switch Blue.

Hollywood Hates Us

No sooner have I given Hollywood the benefit of the doubt about not turning His Dark Materials into a literally godless train wreck than they turn around and kick my optimism in the ass again.

Seven words to ruin your Saturday. The first six:

Cruise. Spielberg. War of the Worlds.

Final word of the incantation? Modernization.

Say it with me, folks: This is gonna suck.... For less than a movie ticket and a bag of popcorn, you can read the original in hardback instead:
cover


December 10, 2004

God, Profit, and Philip Pullman

Will Baude and Maureen Craig both express regret that Hollywood will be casting God out of the movie version of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials movies. In a sense, I'll agree without much surprise: I mean, given the hash they're making of Constantine, what did anyone expect? Hollywood doesn't deal well with the whole "Heaven/Hell" thing.

If the news story is true, and they're rewriting it so that the Authority is some secular force, then I wonder if Hollywood hasn't misread Red State America again. Despite New Line's claim that, ""You have to recognise that [making money on such a movie] is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America," I get the sense that much of Red State America would flock to see a special-effects laden film that purports to tell a story of a God-who-could-be. If sensitivity were absolutely necessary, there are a dozen sensitive disclaimers one could run at the beginning of the film.

But I'm not about to go so far as to say that, in Will's words, this movie will be "a gladiator thrusting at lions of his own imagining." I appreciated Pullman's books because he has a gift for beautiful, descriptive language; because the worlds and the metaphysic he put forward held a depth and richness seldom seen in children's fiction; and because--I'll admit it--much of it took place in an alternate Oxford, so there was that ring of familiarity. All of that will likely remain in the movie if it's handled carefully. As for the "battle against God" that is supposed to be the heart of the book: I'm not sure that losing it will lose that much.

I don't remember the specifics of the books all that well (and I gave away my copies when I left England), so I can't say more than my remembered impressions, but I know that it struck me as the sort of argument against God made by atheists for atheists: a fairly interesting idea, but one that basically detailed a war against a Gnostic demiurge. Further, the characters who were supposed to be the most driven by either rebellion, religion, or corruption, especially Lord Asriel and Ms. Coulter, just didn't strike me as real. Certainly I remember being unsatisfied by the conclusion of their tale. Let's put it this way: I enjoyed the books themselves, but I've never felt the urge to use any of Pullman's theological ideas as an example in a 4 AM coffee/alcohol-inspired college chat session.

So perhaps--and this is a big maybe--taking the God out of the novel will be an improvement: by the end, the characters might be a little less pantomime, their fullness not lost against the backdrop of the War in Heaven. True, it's a slender reed on which to hold out hope, but perhaps?

covercovercover

While I'm at it, can anyone recommend (or otherwise) the following two books? I'll need a bit of holiday reading in a few days...
covercover

December 08, 2004

Introspective Wonderland and the Ideologically Balanced Academic World

Since the election, the Democrats have been pretty clearly fated for some "What's next for our tribe?" self-examination. Some Democrats--e.g. Chris Geidner--have recommitted themselves to reaching out to convince others of their views. Yet others have determined that the Democrats failed because they just weren't liberal enough. My sympathies lie more with the former than the later, but what do I know? My knowledge of what works for Democrats extends mostly to New York, where overwhelming numerical superiority makes any need for strategy irrelevant.

But speaking of overwhelming numerical superiority and a lack of outreach, take a look at the non-news from academia. A few weeks ago the New York Times notes that liberals outnumber conservatives in academia. One would have thought a brief trip through the faculty lounge at NYU would have been sufficient, but no, the NYT reports on actual studies and all:

One of the studies, a national survey of more than 1,000 academics, shows that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. That ratio is more than twice as lopsided as it was three decades ago, and it seems quite likely to keep increasing, because the younger faculty members are more consistently Democratic than the ones nearing retirement, said Daniel Klein, an associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University and a co-author of the study.

In a separate study of voter registration records, Professor Klein found a nine-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford. That study, which included professors from the hard sciences, engineering and professional schools as well as the humanities and social sciences, also found the ratio especially lopsided among the younger professors of assistant or associate rank: 183 Democrats versus 6 Republicans.


So academia is a fairly liberal place, something that certainly hasn't shocked any of us, even at such staunch conservative bastions as Columbia. (Hey, compare us to Berkeley and NYU and we're practically Red-State material!) That's led to some interesting and introspective commentary the new Leftie Professor blog Left2Right (Tagline: "How can the Left get through to the Right?"), which has had a bit much of the "Conservatives in the Mist" mentality decried by Jonah Goldberg, but has proven an occasional good read. Says David V.:
The exit polls show that Kerry won 55% to 44% among those with post-graduate degrees, but this split pales by comparison with the reported disparity in party affiliation among university faculty. (I have no idea whether the latter reports are reliable. Opinions?) Of course, academics are especially likely to have been alienated by the rightward shift in the Republican Party -- in particular, by the anti-intellectual spirit of that shift, as expressed in the administration's attacks on science. But I think that our blithe confidence in the integrity of our hiring practices is disingenuous. We are well aware that biases can be unconscious. Why, then, are we so quick to believe our own protestations of impartiality? Shouldn't we at least entertain the hypothesis that we are unwittingly influenced by subtle signals of a candidate's political views?

Whatever else one has to say about such ponderings, they're politically quite astute: "Hey, we don't like the Academic Bill of Rights, but maybe we are a little one-sided here, and putting our house in order would take some gunpowder from our opponent's arsenal." Not half bad politics: besides the compromise with is the very lifeblood of electoral success, the proposal seems in tune with the concept that an academia that becomes ever more divorced from the populace at large is unlikely to continue to enjoy public support. And some of the opposing commentary has been really eye-opening, including this comment by Timothy Burke.

But then there's the other side of the liberal debate, which seems determined to make certain that no further heart is won or mind is turned. Personally, I think we conservatives should link, re-link, and keep re-linking to such people, since any moderate who sees their words can't help but move a bit more towards our cause. In that vein, I requote with little commentary:

Philosophy Professor Ron McClamrock of the University of Albany, SUNY:

We outnumber them because academic institutions select for smart people who think their views through; and if you're smart, open-minded, and look into it carefully, you're just more likely to end up with views in the left half of contemporary America. Which is just to say: Lefties are overrepresented in academia because on average, we're just f-ing smarter.

And the always dependable Brian Leiter, in the comments to the Left2Right post:
As to [the intellectual merits of Republicanism], surely there isn't going to be a real argument about the fact that a lot of standard Republican positions (not conservative, not libertarian, but the kinds of positions taken by George W. Bush, the "miserable failure" as you, among others, dubbed him) are rather hard to defend if one is fully, or even partially, informed.

(Ah, I can't let that pass without comment: so the vast majority of Democratic-voting professors find "a lot of the standard positions" of the Democratic Party to be easy to defend? Oh yeah, this is the guy telling me I'm a naif because I don't expect to be drafted in Spring 2005.)

And one other priceless commentator from Left2Right:

Or look at the political inclinations of the undergraduate student body at Harvard, which, in a recent survey, went only 19% for Bush. Considering that a very large number of the undergraduates are accepted in virtue of what amounts to Red State Affirmative Action, that number is impressively low. (Moreover, I'm pretty sure I recollect that, at least in the breakdown by classes in the 2000 election, even the incoming freshmen in very dramatic proportions inclined Democratic.) Now Harvard, to this day, gets an extraordinarily high proportion of the very best students across America, as suggested by the number of National Merit Scholars, SAT perfect scores, Intel Science Award winners, etc. It's hard to look at this without concluding that there is something about intellectual ability that inclines one Democratic.

While one might think that the supersmart righties just go on to business or professional schools after college, and stay away from academe, it's very hard to see in figures like 19% (or indeed lower if one eliminates the considerable effects of Red State Affirmative Action) how that can possibly be true to any significant degree.


Let's put these comments on posters and t-shirts in some of those Purple-but-Might-Lean-Red states, especially the first comment. Such expressions of... let us be charitable and call it "confidence"... are not thought to be massively appealing to moderate voters. The marketing budget the Republicans will need to pick up gains in 2006 might fall by half.

December 07, 2004

Evaluation

How do you know it's winter at Columbia? Your inbox floods with messages reminding you to evaluate courses.

This year, they've started a competitive contest between the three classes to see who fills out the most course evaluations. They've revised the website we use to leave comments. And they've set up an automated spambot to send me endless reminder emails. The frequency of these emails currently surpasses even that of offers to enlarge my manhood, sell me a fake Rolex, or provide me with investment opportunities in the funds of African dictators.

Look, I used to do consulting work. You don't have to sell me on the idea of evaluations: 360 degree evaluations, bottom-up evaluations, project autopsies, I'm all for them. But one key thing about these evaluations? Unless they're going to be followed-up later, they should happen when the project is over.

My classes are not finished. In what kind of rational universe should I be evaluating them yet? And my last property class ends just five hours before the course evaluation deadline, which means if I really want to be serious about this, I have a very narrow window. In reality, we should evaluate courses after the exams, so that we can give future students answers to their most important question: how well does what you learn match up with what you're tested on. But for that we rely on word of mouth, not course evaluations.

In the meantime, I wonder if I can set up an autoreply to spam the course evaluation spammer?

A Little Levity, and A Wish for the 1Ls

So, today I'm talking with a 1L who's about to start exams, and who is worrying about whether they're up to speed. This got me to thinking: where was I about this time last year?

Well, I was panicking much as everyone else was, and looking forlornly at the tattered mess that was an MS Project Study Plan. Dazed and uncertain, I was clinging to the scraps of my life as a project planner, using whatever tools I could to make myself feel confident. Looking back and reading, it wasn't half as fun a time as this exam period, in which I'm vaguely worried, but not half as stressed.

But here's the thing: look back and read those entries, and then read the last few days here. Back then, the blog was a lot funnier.

Yeah, sure, it was gallows humor and late-night posts. But I was also trying to spin interesting reflections of things that were shiny and new. Unlike this year, I didn't feel so constrained in what I was writing: it's not like anything I was doing had confidentiality requirements. The text itself seemed to have a bit more craftsmanship, with entries that weren't meant so much to convince but entice.

(This year's been rough on my sense of humor in a lot of ways. I probably need more sleep and more (read: some) exercise to get the brain making those strange whimsical connections again. But the need's definitely there.)

Anyway, if you're a 1L and you're stressing out right now, take a minute or two between study hours and read some of the 2L blogs from last December: Heidi or Ambimb or Serious Law Student, to pick some at random. We all made it. Don't worry about the entry that says I had a project plan: Gulliver's Travels had more basis in fact than that Gantt chart. We were all pretty much where you were now, and we made it. However bad it looks, you'll get through too. And the beer after that last final before you pack up and go home? Brothers and sisters, it tastes like ambrosia.

The best of luck to you all. Keep it in perspective.

Late to the Bandwagon

Notes From the Legal Underground wants other bloggers to declare that an idea is officially cool. Personally, if that's what he wants, he probably should have kept me as far away from it as possible, but who am I to question the guy's strategy?

So here it is: NftLU wants some publisher to let The Anonymous Lawyer convert his magnificent satire of a weblog into a book. This is an idea so cool that really, no words can do it justice. But if any of my readers have a father, mother, uncle, aunt, ex-girl/boyfriend, or hamster who happens to be in tight with the Big Boys of the Publishing World, please, slip a little buzz their way.

December 06, 2004

Not In My Tribe

[Unlike most of what I print here, the piece below is based primarily on anecdotal experience, more essay than editorial. It should most definitely be taken in that vein, as your mileage may vary considerably.]

Over on Half the Sins of Mankind, PG has an interesting essay on a topic close to my heart: the desires of some members (particularly parents) of some ethnic groups to make sure that their children "marry within the fold":

Sadly, I have become so Americanized that I'm skeptical, not only of this prioritization of information, but even of the necessity of marrying an Indian guy. It would be nice to marry one, but sort of in the same way that it would be nice to marry someone who made enough money that I wouldn't have to produce income and could sit at home and write romance novels if I felt like it. (And if anyone can find me a guy who would respect that as a career, please forward his bio-data immediately.)...

I strongly suspect that many of the people who consciously seek out a spouse of the same ethnic or religious background do so because they know it matters to their parents. And certainly my parents would much prefer a beach-loving, country music-hating, BS in computer science-carrying Republican who was a Hindu Indian to anyone who otherwise fit my preferences perfectly but was not. Still, I've seen enough Indian kids marrying non-Indians to think that our parents are actually more tolerant and fonder of us than we think.

If you bring someone home and everyone says, "He's a nice guy, but he's not the right race/religion/whatever," then they'll probably get over that problem eventually. If everyone thinks he's an asshole, that might be a Sign. People can become honorary members of your group -- oh, the white people we have taught to eat with their hands! -- but asshole-ness is forever.


I can understand the sentiment, if only from the other side of the equation. When it comes to dating, a quick glance at my past history would give the impression that I'm dangerously close to Politically Correct. [1] Never having really had a "type," I certainly see no reason to stay within my race, ethnicity, or geographic affiliation when choosing a partner.

I've been fortunate in this: I have two parents who have had only one real concern when it comes to my dating habits. They'd like me to be happy with my partner. They've been really, seriously supportive in almost every relationship I've had, even with partners who I'm quite certain didn't fit their ideal conception of marriage material. (Let's put it this way: if you come from a family of staunch Republicans, imagine the fear of innumerable Christmas dinners with an outspoken Democrat in-law...) I've rarely been concerned that when bringing someone home they'd be treated with anything but respect.

On the other hand, I've been in relationships where I was the outsider. It's never comfortable, and I'll admit that I'm unlikely to do so seriously again. The difficulties are too severe for me anymore: no matter how strong the love between two people, blood runs thick. On the one side, there's always family pressure to "look at this good boy--he's a friend of the family, you should at least meet him, even if you are seeing X." On the other side, the knowledge that there's a perpetual fifth-column at the very least passively trying to undermine your relationship can foster a certain sense of paranoia. Perhaps other people manage it well, but it's not been pleasant in my experience.

But of course, our troubles are sometimes our best teachers, as are our scars. I know I'm sensitive to some things I probably shouldn't be. (I've been known to leave conversations where the term shiksa, which I find horribly offensive, was used by one or another party.) On the other hand, I'm ever more committed to the idea that all humanity really shares the same heart, a point best expressed by P. J. O'Rourke:

Finally, people are all exactly alike. There is no such thing as a race and barely such a thing as an ethnic group. If we were dogs, we'd be the same breed. George Bush and an Australian aborigine have fewer differences than a lhasa apso and a fox terrier. A Japanese raised in Riyadh would be an Arab. A Zulu raised in New Rochelle would be an orthodontist. I wish I could say I found this out by spending arctic nights on ice flows with Inuit elders and by sitting with tribal medicine men over fires made of human bones in Madagascar. But, actually, I found it out by sleeping around. People are all the same, though their circumstances differ terribly."

Which is, in actuality, the reason I throw my support behind these cross-cultural unions. A partnership based upon love can resonate beyond the two individuals involved, and be it through conflict or gradual acceptance, break down these clannish barriers. They're proof in flesh of the silliness of those insisting that love can be found only within one tribe, or that the happiness and blessing of the universe falls only upon those marked by birth.

But then, even the most staunch conservative believes in some tradition that's not worth keeping.

[1]: This is just one more example of my Bad Republicanism. As one English friend pointed out, I use public transport, my last car got over 35 miles to the gallon, I'm quite comfortable with premarital sex and interracial dating: the fellow is still seriously concerned that I'll get kicked out of the Party one day.

778

The most well-known maxim of Aleister Crowley must certainly be, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Although most commentators would claim that the old British occultist was speaking with an almost Kerryite nuance when he made that statement, it's safe to say that the majority outside the Crowleyite community have considered this priniciple to be a Very Bad Idea Indeed.

To those of us facing an upcoming property exam, however, Crowley's first principle begins to gain an almost unholy appeal. Forget its implied ideas of license or licentiousness. When one is busily trying to cram a melange of sixteenth-century common law tradition and 1940's legal realism into one's head; when one's outline looks like a crazy mass of seemingly unrelated charts; when one can't tell the head of a household from a fee-tail... well, the idea that the whole of the law can be summarized in four simple words seems damnably attractive.

Besides, no professor in the world could build a difficult hypothetical around just four words of code, could they?

S-Code: Spam Begone

For the first day in a very long time, I've not had to clean any spam comments off the site. For this I have two people to thank:

(a) James Seng, the creator of the S-Code plugin for MoveableType.
(b) My readers, for putting up with a slight annoyance whenever they want to post a comment.

All I can say is, thanks! Now I can spend more time actually blogging, and less time maintaining.

(Headline font courtesty of BlamBot fonts.)

How? In God's Name, How Did He Do That?

Handful of Sand has put up a page that has an Amazon link to every book he owns. It is remarkably cool.

What I want to know is how he did it. I mean, it's obvious that he's used some kind of script. But did he do it by having the author, title, and ISBN number in one file, and the script read out, or did he do something clever with MT Amazon, so that he only had to have the ISBN.

I must find out. Indexing every book I own would be the perfect Exam Procrastination Device...

December 05, 2004

Y'know, because I have free time

So, I'll admit, I'm intrigued. Henry Waxman comes out with a real "Minority Report": a paper by the "Special Investigative Division" of the Minority Staff of the Committee on Government Reform, basically alleging that there are serious scientific errors in federally-funded Abstinence Based Education (ABE) programs. Both Heidi Bond and Amber Taylor write mocking, critical pieces based on this report. (Neither of them mention its rather partisan origin.) But most intriguingly, they both take the kind of risk that immediately pricks my ears up: relying on highly partisan source material without going back to the original sources.

Amber gets particularly upset about a story in a rather ridiculous little textbook called Choosing the Best Soulmate. (See UPDATE) Lest one think I'm actually for ABE, let me declare my skepticism here: given how little I think of most state-provided services, I'm not about to have a lot of enthusiasm for a textbook that purports to tell high school students how to find a soulmate. My guidance counselor wasn't much help in picking out a university: with due respect to the excellent faculty of my high school, they can stay far away from my love life.

Nevertheless, Amber's becomes annoyed at a paraphrase of a story found in CTBS. She cites the report:

One book in the “Choosing the Best” series presents a story about a knight who saves a princess from a dragon. The next time the dragon arrives, the princess advises the knight to kill the dragon with a noose, and the following time with poison, both of which work but leave the knight feeling “ashamed.” The knight eventually decides to marry a village maiden, but did so “only after making sure she knew nothing about nooses or poison.” The curriculum concludes:
Moral of the story: Occasiona l suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.

Heidi, on the other hand, is annoyed by a table. Again, she cites the report:
In a chart of the top five women’s and men’s basic needs, the curriculum lists “sexual fulfillment” and “physical attractiveness” as two of the top five “needs” in the men’s section. “Affection,” “Conversation,” “Honesty and Openness,” and “Family Commitment” are listed only as women’s needs.

Now, both of their critiques are rightfully mocking assuming that the report is accurate. On the other hand, a cursory look through the report shows that it's hardly a dispassionate, objective study. Waxman wasn't interested in writing a piece that was fair. (Nor, incidentally, would one expect to see something that came out of the Majority's version of a "Special Investigative Division" to be fair. Washington is a place with little respect for the facts.) I'm not sure that this assumption is warranted.

I've spent some time today looking into the background of the report, and learning some of the reasonable criticisms of it. This is difficult, of course, because partisans on both sides heavily invested in using questionable data to buttress their claims, and both sides are heavily adept at spinning. And there's a couple of areas seemingly uncritiqued on the blogosphere that I wanted to address. So I started writing a piece, but found that I couldn't finish it. Essentially, there's no way to evaluate claims like the two above without actually getting a copy of the original material, reading it, and seeing if Waxman's critique is correct.

So I've sent off to both publishers, and a couple of New York state organizations that use the materials, asking for scans or photocopies of the relevant sections. It's not that much work, and should turn up some interesting data. It turns out that some of the books are actually being purchased (I have no idea if they're used) in the school system where I went to high school, so if any of my old high-school friends, or even better, one of my old teachers, has any of the following, please get in touch:

Choosing the Best Soulmate, by Choosing the Best Publishing, LLC, page 51 (or, preferably, 50-53). It might be noted that this book post-dates the latest round of SPRANS grants, so hasn't really received federal funding.

WAIT Training, Abstinence and Relationship Training Center, page 199 (or, preferably, 198-200).

In the meantime, it's worth taking a look at the websites. Any site with that many kids grinning in an "I'm not having sex, and I'm happy and healthy, damn it" manner is deeply, deeply spooky. It brought back my worst memories of "Healthy Teen" handouts and the various other paraphenalia of middle- and high-school health classes. Is there any government grant we can give these people such that they can afford to get their marketing done by somewhere other than Stepford, Inc?


(Update: Someone has written asking how I know that the CTBS textbook is "rather ridiculous." I'm afraid that what I meant here was not as clear as what I said. As is clear, I've not read the textbook yet, merely the website advertising it. However, given my memories of quite a few "health" or "sex ed" textbooks, I can't think of one that wasn't rather ridiculous: they had a tendency to talk down to students, gloss over important distinctions... come to think of it, most of the things Waxman is griping about. And they mostly had freakishly-happy looking teens on them. I really didn't enjoy my Health classes back in middle- and high-school, and I'm afraid it came through here.)

Then again, unless the Waxman Report makes the entire Knight/Dragon story up out of whole cloth, I'm at least willing to give it this criticism: what in heaven's name is a book targeted at junior and seniors doing using such crap metaphorical fantasy stories in order to make its point? No student is ever likely to be a knight nor a dragon, unless Hollywood becomes suddenly prescient. Leave aside whatever it says about gender roles, why is this considered effective presentation in the first place?

December 04, 2004

Making some changes

I'm currently making a few changes, and comments may not work for an hour or so.

Update: I've now added the SCode plugin to comments. Before you can submit a comment, you must now type in a six-digit code that changes randomly. I hope it's only a minor annoyance for you--if it isn't, or if anything about the process can be made simpler, please leave a comment.

Adam's Back

Just a quick note to point out that Adam Wolfson is back and blogging in a new location, Don't Know It From Adam. (Links go to the same place, I just linked twice to give him some Google juice.)

For those who don't know, he's another University of Michigan student who disagrees with me on almost everything (who doesn't?), used to run a site called Cicero's Ghost, and knows one of the slickest recipes for a sidecar I've ever seen. What more could you want?

Words You Don't Want To Learn

So today I got Crapflooded. Basically this is a tasty little tactic by a number of jerks akin to a DDOS attack. The jerk in question left over seven-hundred messages, some of which were spam (may be a different jerk) and some of which were just garbage: no URLs, just scraps of random words.

I've found some very useful sites on the subject, and have been thinking of some ways to cut back on the maintenance I do here. Heidi helpfully suggested MT-Close, which closes off entries to comments after a certain amount of time. It's an interesting idea, but though rare, I actually do get some valuable comments on my old entries, and don't want to cut that off.

What I am thinking of implementing is a plugin called SCode, which requires commentors to type some text from a generated image before their comment is accepted. This would definitely cut down on the spammers, but puts one more hurdle between myself and my readers.

So if you have a moment, could you tell me if this would be a bridge too far, or a minor imposition you'd be willing to accept as part of commenting? Please feel free to leave a message below, unless you're a spammer or a crapflooder. In which case, please die a horrible death at your earliest convenience.

December 01, 2004

Scheduling Strategies, Revisited

My Dearest Wormwood:

Once again, so sorry you haven't heard from me in a while. What they tell you about 2L year is completely true, so long as what they tell you involves mind-breaking amounts of work and hellish stress. Of course, when your time comes you will have the benefit of your uncle's copious mistakes. (In)human nature being what it is, this merely guarantees you'll make new ones. Nevertheless, here's a few strategies that might make your life easier when you're choosing courses for your 2L fall term.

The joy of 2L classes is that you get to choose the particular brand of torture you will undergo over the course of the semester. Unlike the 1L year, when all students are squeezed into the same Procrustean bed (with the same Socratic pillows), you can now choose seminars, clinics, or more giant lecture rooms. This gives you a couple of strategic choices.

Strategy 1: Misery in November
You know how I've been complaining so highly about my workload, Wormwood? Well, this is because I chose the Misery in November strategy for this term, albeit without much strategic thought. This involves getting most of my credits this term from seminars and a clinic. With the exception of my Property course, I've had no "traditional" classes, and almost all of my work this term has involved the writing of a paper, the creation of a legal database, or translation of Japanese court documents.

The downside of this has been a very rough November. Trying to balance clinic work with translation, preparation for papers with job searching, or any of the other medium-term deadlines in my courses has probably done more to make my hair salt-and-pepper than any other experience. Misery in November invovles a "here a deadline, there a deadline, everywhere a deadline" life from almost the beginning to the end of the term.

The payoff to this strategy comes in December. Sure, I still have endless hours of work to do before the clinic project is finished and I've not put a word into the seminar paper yet, but for the most part these deadlines are semi-flexible. As you can tell by looking at Exam Watch, I've only one exam coming up. Due to the vagaries of Columbia exam scheduling, I even have a study week: my Property exam doesn't sit until a week after the course ends.

Strategy 2: Misery in December
I'll admit, Wormwood, that I can't tell you as much about this strategy first-hand. We each get to go through this process once, and adopting one strategy would seem to foreclose all others. Nevertheless, I think the experience of Buffalo Wings & Vodka may be typical here:

When I made myself a t-shirt that said "I Am the God of the Course Schedule--Wanna Make Out?" I felt that I was completely justified. No classes on Thursday or Friday. Nothing before 10:30 am. All efficiently located. A well-placed lunch break. Hot 2L's in every class. I did a good job. But one thing I didn't pay attention to was the finals schedule that went with that classload.

Next week, I have four finals in three days, two of which are at 8:30 am. I am a goddam fool.


Here's the catch, Wormwood: at least at Columbia, you can't really pay much attention to the Finals schedule, because during pre-registration for the next term, the schedule's not available. (I could be wrong here--comments to the contrary appreciated.) But the Misery in December option involves taking mostly lecture courses with timed exams at the end.

Again, my impression is that the payoff, and the pitfall, is the flexibility in scheduling. It's much easier to miss a lecture course for the sake of an interview than to miss a smaller clinic or seminar session. If you get behind, there aren't as many interim deadlines to catch you up. On the other hand, you can get very behind.

Meanwhile, 2L exams aren't preceded by any set study period: I know people who are facing a Monday exam following a final class the prior Thursday. This back-loads the stress.

Legal Journal Strategic Modifiers
The last thing to consider, Wormwood, is the ebb and flow of 2L workload. During August and September, a good deal of your time will be spent convincing firms to give you offers of summer employment, and then choosing from the offers you've received. Ideally you'll get most of this out of your schedule by November, but if you're like me it'll bleed over into later months. In the meantime, if your journal requires a Note, you're likely to have a number of interim deadlines during October and November. If you've chosen Strategy 1, these deadlines won't make things any easier.

So how should one decide? I can't give you any more than what I've written above, advice that I wish I'd had when I was choosing courses for this term. In addition to this, I have only one more piece of advice. The clinic work I've done this term has by far been the most fulfilling experience I've had as a 2L: it's good work in and of itself, of course, but it's also taken me outside the law school and given me things to talk about in interviews. However, if you are thinking of applying for Law Review and think you'll make it, I'd consider delaying your clinical experience until at least the 2L spring. Managing the project and the note have taken me very nearly to the limits of my time management skills.

In the end, Wormwood, it is all about borrowing time from Peter to give Paul the attention he deserves. I don't think anyone has enough to make adequate preparation for everything they're doing: it's a choice of what goes by the wayside.

Epstein v. Moglen, Steel Cage Deathmatch Edition

OK, maybe not world-wrestling material, but the Columbia Federalist Society recently hosted a debate on Intel v. Hamidi. You can watch it on Realplayer here if you weren't able to get ringside seats.

Giving The Devil His Due

New Years, And No Resolutions (3)
Tony the Pony wrote: This year I'm not doing Resolutions... [more]

Words Fail (4)
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Christmas Posting (2)
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A Few Days Of Paradise in Three Years of Hell (1)
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A. Rickey wrote: Martin: If the point you think I... [more]

Hollywood Hates Us (1)
martin wrote: I dunno. While there is much to lik... [more]

God, Profit, and Philip Pullman (5)
Chris wrote: I just tried to post, and I think i... [more]

Introspective Wonderland and the Ideologically Balanced Academic World (27)
A. Rickey wrote: Mike: Whilst it's conceivably <i... [more]

Evaluation (8)
David Mercer wrote: At the University of Arizona it wor... [more]

A Little Levity, and A Wish for the 1Ls (4)
Lonny wrote: Just wait till the beer after the b... [more]

Late to the Bandwagon (1)
linda wrote: anthony, do you really think AL's w... [more]

Not In My Tribe (5)
A. Rickey wrote: I have to admit that I've given up ... [more]

778 (2)
Julie wrote: I find in profoundly amusing that y... [more]

S-Code: Spam Begone (0)
How? In God's Name, How Did He Do That? (8)
Gabe wrote: If I were a Mac person, I would use... [more]

Y'know, because I have free time (5)
Anthony wrote: Unfortunately, my research on this ... [more]

Making some changes (2)
A. Rickey wrote: Well, this is the first 24 hours I'... [more]

Adam's Back (0)
Words You Don't Want To Learn (4)
A. Rickey wrote: Hi, Mark. Yeah, SCode is what I've... [more]

Scheduling Strategies, Revisited (0)
Epstein v. Moglen, Steel Cage Deathmatch Edition (2)
Tony the Pony wrote: Link appears broken---have you anot... [more]

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