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.

May 11, 2004

Competing Interests

I'm going to break my normal rule of not blogging whilst inebriated. (My Perspectives final is done, the Reg State one holds little fear, and frankly, cheap Stella Artois is too good to pass up.) So forgive me if the spelling is pretty grim, but this makes a good Reg State topic.

Will Baude is hoping that the new policy in some areas of Britain--to encourage kids to have oral sex and thus delay intercourse--is going to be a good thing. He thinks it will discourage teen pregnancy. I have my skepticism. States Baude:

I know that oral sex isn't necessarily 100% safe from disease (or from whatever moral decay some people think attaches to certain kinds of sex), but it is 100% safe from pregnancy, which is especially important when some kinds of birth control are unavailable to the young (though the British system of medicine is different from the one we have here).

Well, let's look at the 'evidence' put forward by the scheme's proponents?
Now the government will recommend the scheme, called A Pause, to schools throughout England and Wales following the success of the trial in 104 schools where sexual intercourse among 16-year-olds fell by up to 20 per cent, according to Dr John Tripp of the Department of Child Health at the University of Exeter, who helped to design the course.

But does that tell you anything? How many of the girls involved were having oral sex at 16, and graduated to straight intercourse at 17? Are we any better off as a society because those acts of intercourse were delayed by a year? How much of this was merely a delay of the problem by a statistically meaningless fraction? We don't know. (Though the study does say that, "Schoolchildren, particularly girls, who received such training developed a 'more mature' response to sex." How lovely.)

More to the point, oral sex carries its own risks. Baude mentions that "I know that oral sex isn't necessarily 100% safe from disease (or from whatever moral decay some people think attaches to certain kinds of sex), but it is 100% safe from pregnancy, which is especially important when some kinds of birth control are unavailable to the young (though the British system of medicine is different from the one we have here)." You'll excuse me if the idea of raising a generation of girls with a higher rate of oral herpes or genital warts--both nicely spread through unprotected oral sex--doesn't seem like a sterling policy victory.

My dismay at this program basically rests in its uselessness. Somehow I can't imagine that British teenagers need training in the fact that oral sex is a 'safer' alternative to normal sex, expecially with relation to pregnancy. I base this on the fact that even the benighted young gentleman of Alabama, where I spent my youth, were often quite ready to encourage a young lady to participate in fellatio as a sign of affection that didn't risk pregnancy, and I never got the impression that the men or women of England were substantially less-inclined to the obvious. In the meantime, by encouraging oral sex as a way-point, you might actually be promoting health problems, a far cry from the Observer's conclusion that this "dispel[s] the fears of family campaigners who believe such methods actually arouse the sexual interest of teenagers."

To make this conclusion, you'd need more than the Observer's hope and assertion: you'd need data that these women (and, let's not forget, their partners) didn't suffer from a greater rate of oral herpes or genital warts. You'd need some idea of the baseline number of girls who were engaging in fellatio anyway. You'd need, in short, a solid defense and reasonable data, instead of the sort of article the Observer likes to print because it can score cheap points against "family campaigners."

The relationship ot Reg State, of course, is that this is the kind of hole you have to pick in a fact-pattern: how did the proponent of the idea fail to get from X to Y. But mostly, it's just an example of why I think the Observer isn't a particularly good newspaper, unless you already agree with what it says. In which case, I can't imagine why it's useful.

April 17, 2004

Perspectives and Reg State Help

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: if you're a Columbia 1L looking for a good overview of Perspectives and Reg. State terminology, you could do far worse than Lawrence Solum's Legal Theory Lexicon. Besides covering the basics, like what positive and normative mean, in the past few weeks he's covered an awful lot of territory that is useful review as exam season approaches. For instance, he's given good summaries of the following terms for Perspectives:

And for Foundations of the Regulatory State, the following might be helpful as an overview:

Of course, now I've shared, and thus eliminated some slight advantage on the curve. What the heck, I still think law school's all about sharing. Of course, it's just one author's ideas, and not a replacement for the vast amount of reading we've done this term, but for a one-site brushup, you could do worse.

February 25, 2004

Pick Up Lines That Should Be Illegal

Overheard today by one of my classmates:

"Hey, baby, what do you think of moral hazards?"

That never works...

February 16, 2004


This has been on so many blogs now I don't feel the need to point out all of them.

It's strange. I think it's Ayn Rand on some serious drugs. If you're really good, you might be able to work it into a Reg. State essay.

January 27, 2004

Wormwood, I Haven't Forgotten You

Dear Wormwood:

Please do not think that I've not heard your plaintive moaning with regards to our correspondence. "Yes, yes, we understand you like the technical aspects of blogging, and RSS is nifty tech. True, true, a postmodernism generator is cute. But you do remember, once upon a time, that you promised to blog about law school, correct? Have you really grown so big-headed that the point of our project has escaped you?" And your complaint has a great deal of merit, for which I have to apologize. My heart really hasn't been in it.

Partially, I think it's just the glumness one gets from attending a law school in a city with a harsh but graceless winter. New York doesn't have the Januarys I've loved in the past: cold, clean snows blanketing the horizon, wind whipping white 'dust' devils over ice-topped lakes.

Winter in the city is summer in the city with the annoyance of cracked lips and muddy boots. Even in a blizzard, it's almost as if snow falls from the sky pre-grey. Walking outside at night is an education in natural selection: oil-black rats are much more visible hopping through drifts of white. Frozen landscapes in the countryside are accompanied by a clean, almost filtered scent to the air, but here winter's only mercy is that large bags of trash left out on the street are too frozen to rot.

As I said, Wormwood, I've been writing about technology largely to spare you in case what I'm suffering is some seasonal depression. No point in inflicting upon you what is probably more vitamin deficiency than rational thought.

With that in mind, what has been happening?

Classes: I think most of my classmates would agree that the classes in the second semester at Columbia are much more theoretical than practical. Of the four major classes, Regulatory State and Perspectives on Legal Thought remind me more of undergraduate lectures in economics and philosophy. Not that this isn't interesting in itself, but it's territory that many of us have covered before. Indeed, my 12th grade government class read Hobbes, Locke, Aquinus, Rawls, Bentham. [1] Even in the face of good lectures or interesting reading, there's a certain 'been there' feeling that keeps me from feeling the same degree of excitement I felt when this was all fresh. (Then again, perhaps I'm temporarily jaded.)

Don't get me wrong: there's a good and solid argument for these courses, and I'm sympathetic to it. Given the role of lawyers in our society, as not only advocates but judges and politicians, it's for the good that we get a broader historical view, and that this is informed by economics. But they're not the 'classic' law school courses: property, evidence, etc. They're more familiar, and they don't inspire the same feeling of terror. (To be fair, that one is a lecture course, and the other rather kind in its Socratic method, goes a long way to explaining this feeling. I imagine that as exams get closer, the trepidation level increases.)

That said, there's still Crim Law and Con Law, with plenty of reading for them, particularly the latter. I'm certain that Con Law will become more engaging as the semester progresses. No matter how important Marbury v. Madison or McCulloch v. Maryland may be, they're difficult to read with any passion. So much seems so settled. [2] Still, these courses remind me more of last term, so that's good.

Grades: Finally all my grades are back. All I can say on this is that overall I'm pleased, and that so far the great law school maxim is true: you do best in the classes you were sure to do worst in, and vice-versa.

Job Search: A task on which I should have spent far more time already, I'm getting a few resumes out the door every day. One thing I'd advise, Wormwood, is that you start the process far more quickly than I did, because otherwise it will become that nagging task that you leave at the bottom of your list, buried under a huge pile of reading. It's just as important, and you should treat it as such. Progress on this front remains hopeful: I've had my share of interviews, and we'll see how it goes.

I hesitate to go further, Wormwood, as already I wonder if the blizzard that is rumoured to be arriving tomorrow and my chronic lack of sleep are combining to make what I'm writing less encouraging than it ought otherwise to be. In any event, I'm glad I did bring myself to mention a few of the things happening here at law school, before this descended into a purely political blog.


[1] Admittedly, my high school government teacher was a bit unusual: he taught a 'great books' curriculum and used Socratic method at least as well if not better than many of my professors at Columbia. But then, I'm not criticisizing the Columbia program as much as I'm explaining why I'm not feeling as engaged as in months past.

[2] At this point, I'd like to break with my common habit of not being overly critical of my courses to be scathing in one respect: the textbook Constitutional Law by Kathleen M. Sullivan and Gerald Gunther should never be inflicted upon any student, anywhere, possibly under 8th Amendment restriction. First, it has all the weaknesses common to the University Casebook Series. The book itself is a physically unhelpful size, nearly 8 1/2" x 11", impossible to fit alongside a notebook on a classroom desk. The formatting of the text is diabolical: it's extremely difficult to figure out what is a heading, a sub-heading, or what is not within a hierarchy of headings to begin with. By the time you get to the fourth or fifth levels, there is no way to keep things straight. A simple table of typefaces would go a long way to curing this defect. If a single effort was made in terms of helpfulness to the student, it certainly doesn't show.

While the weaknesses of the series aren't helpful at the best of times, the writing in Constitutional Law makes no effort at all to be accomodating. Even outside the cases (Con Law will never be for those who like plain language), the wording is unnecessarily prolix (two uses of 'exegesis' is sure to please wordhounds like me, but it's sadistic for a casebook), complicated, and in some cases just downright confusing. For anyone who has the casebook at hand, I put forward the second full paragraph of p. 78 of the 14th edition, a paragraph which would be better structured if the order of sentences within it were reversed. I'll concede that Constitutional Law is almost certain to be cryptic in many respects--no one who ever read Gasparini would accuse Supreme Court Justices of silver-tongued clarity, and their task is often more one of precision--but shouldn't a good casebook help, not hinder this?

Perhaps I'm missing something and the book will grow on me, but after 150 page, it's easily my least favorite casebook thus far.

January 23, 2004

Disputing the Communitarian Malaise--One Mouse Click at a Time

After utilitarianism, distributive justice, and libertarianism, we've now gotten to communitarianism as a normative theory for law and regulation. Much as I dislike the reading, Michael Sandel was certainly thought-provoking. (It's not often that I write "I WISH I HAD MORE TIME TO THINK ABOUT THIS" in the margins of my reading.)

That said, Michael Walzer's The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism, 18 Political Theory 6, 6-18, was a particularly frustrating and disappointing piece of work. The centerpiece of the reading focuses on "Four Mobilities" that are limiting the bonds of our communities: geographic mobility, social mobility, marital mobility, and political mobility. Walzer, writing in the heart of the internet explosion--academia--during the beginnings of the internet boom, sees these forces as eating out the heart of community, and places the blame squarely on a liberal society. What he doesn't mention [1] (or rather, dismisses in a single sentence) is that increased availability of communication has made those forces less destructive to a sense of community, at the same time that it changes our very ideas of what communities are. They're more communities of choice and idea, and less communities of geography, but this is simply a byproduct of the 'death of distance' [2].

To make the (lighthearted) point, I'd like to see if I can transcend Walzer's Four Mobilities during Reg. State itself. I can do this with the newest and most disruptive of communications technologies, Instant Messaging. The way I figure, I need:
1: Someone from one of my old homes (preferably England) to conquer Geographic Mobility.
2: Someone from a former social set (perhaps an ex-teacher, or someone from one of my non-white-collar jobs)
3: An ex-girlfriend (OK, it's not 'marital' mobility, but I'm not getting married for the sake of this point)
4: A democrat, preferably one who remembers me back in the days when I was a democrat. Since I was eight at the time, this may be most difficult. I'd consider this condition satisfied if I were chatting with someone who knew me when I was a more rabid Republican--say, high school.

Volunteers welcome. :)

[1] At least, he doesn't mention it in the reading we're assigned. We do admittedly have an excerpt, so it might be elsewhere in his article. If I'm doing a disservice to Walzer with this critique, my casebook is doing at least as great a disservice to me. I'm pressed for time at the moment, but over the weekend I'm intending to look up the whole thing on Westlaw and examine it more thoroughly.

[2] The tales of the 'death of distance' have always been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, tales of death by distance are pretty common, and generally shared by those waiting for a connecting flight at O'Hare.

January 21, 2004

For God's Sake, Someone Shut Up Robert Nozick!

From today's Reg. State reading, Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick:

In a free society, diverse persons control different resources, and new holdings arise out of the voluntary exchanges and actions of persons. There is no more a distributing or distribution of shares [of resources] than there is a distributing of mates in a society in which persons choose whom they shall marry.

Strike this man off our curriculum immediately, before he gives the next generation ideas. His argument obviously cuts both ways, and let's face it, ugly people are discriminated against heavily in the selection of mates. [1] Good looks are, arguably, inherited from your parents as much as wealth, and certainly something which isn't related to the merit of the individual. So how long will it be before someone decides to start requiring dates with ugly people?

(Of course, fellow students might point out that I'd be a strong net beneficiary of this system, but I'm still wary in principle...)

[1] Perhaps not in the selection of marriage-partners, but that's another question.

Update: Wow, I didn't know Nozick had such fans, and that my sense of humor was so bad. To make it explicit, I know what Nozick is saying, and mostly agree with him. The post is a joke: I found it funny that while he's making an 'X is ridiculous, thus Y is ridiculous' argument, the flip side of that is that if you find Y is not ludicrous, you might re-evaluate your opinion of X.

January 20, 2004

Positively Normative

Prof. Reg. State briefly covered the difference between normative and positive arguments in legal theory. A bit more detail on the difference between the two, as a nice stopgap until we get to it in more detail, can be found at the Legal Theory Lexicon.

I suppose I should just put a generic link to this page up at some point...

January 15, 2004

Extreme Keynsianism

Dear Wormwood,

So, second day of the Columbia Foundations of the Regulatory State class. I've looked over the syllabus, Wormwood, and I think that if you're wondering what to expect from the course, you'd be better served if you consider the class to be Economic Analysis for Lawyers and Policymakers. Maybe there's more to it than that, but the discussions of Pareto, Kaldor-Hicks, and even Jeremy Bentham are giving me flashbacks to my high school economics class.

So, let's suppose, dear Wormwood, that you're considering attending Columbia Law, you've just been accepted (it's about that time of year), and you're thinking, "I've got lots of time to prep. What I'd really like to do instead of hitting the beach and enjoying my last days before law school, or earning a little money to defray loans, is fill that huge hole in my educational history that I dug by never taking any course that bordered on economics."

Well, first, if you're thinking this, you need professional help. Go hit the beach, Wormwood, really: if economics were thrilling to you, you'd have studied it by now, and you'll have plenty of time. But supposing that you've just discovered your deeply buried love of economics, but being out of college you don't have any way to satisfy this burning desire, I suppose I should regretfully recommend a good book or two. Obviously, this is personal experience, but I've found the following to be helpful.

First, there's Economics by Begg, Fischer, and Dornbusch, a relatively accessible economics textbook with a good index and plenty of charts and graphs. This was my 'teach yourself macroeconomics' textbook that I used to prepare for an old AP test back in high school (so it's not too dense) and it's served me well ever since. If you think 'extreme Keynsianism' might be something in the X-Games ("hey dudes, Pareto just did a gnarly Kaldor-Hicks and a half pipe in that tube"), it'll put you right.

But supposing you want to spend some time on the beach during the summer. You want sugar with your cereal, or at least something closer to Dawson's Creek than Anna Karenina. You want intrigue, devious Senators, and high school politics. In that case, I'll recommend a book I've mentioned before, The Invisible Heart, the only romance novel ever published by MIT Press. I'll warn you, though: as a romance novel, it's a very good overview of economic policy failure. Prepare to cringe at the puppy-love flutterings of two people you'd never want to date.

But frankly, Wormwood, I'd recommend just hitting the beach. (For any current CLS students, I'm happy to loan either book.)

The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance
The Invisible Heart:
An Economic Romance


Giving The Devil His Due

Lock In (6)
Anthony wrote: Erm... which comment? ... [more]

Competing Interests (9)
herpes virus wrote: Oral sex is not that safe... You ca... [more]

Perspectives and Reg State Help (0)
Pick Up Lines That Should Be Illegal (3)
A. Rickey wrote: You guys really, really scare me.... [more]

Trippy! (0)
Wormwood, I Haven't Forgotten You (6)
A. Rickey wrote: Mark: Granted, the paper's nicer... [more]

Disputing the Communitarian Malaise--One Mouse Click at a Time (0)
For God's Sake, Someone Shut Up Robert Nozick! (11)
Paul Gould wrote: Life is like this, where there is g... [more]

Positively Normative (0)
Extreme Keynsianism (2)
Austin wrote: I'll agree with Alison--I found Nak... [more]

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