Friday, November 30, 2007

Not Very Revelatory Realizations

1. Having pizza brought to you at 10:30 pm after a long day of working and not eating is very nice, and even better if the person bringing it to you is very nice.

2. It is nice even if you had pizza for lunch, and pizza for dinner the day before, but of course they couldn't have known that.

3. It takes about three days to get sick of pizza.

4. But it takes only one day of rest before you can eat pizza again.

5. But it took two years before I could eat pizza at all after all of the "free pizza" at law school student org meetings and public lectures. I stopped eating pizza entirely from 2005 to 2007, really. "Pizza will be served" was on every frickin' flyer during law school, and I got enough of it it between 2002-2005 (I stopped eating it, actually, around late 2004, my 3L year) and only half the time was it decent pizza from the fake NY style pizza place. Here there seems to be no fake NY style pizza (alas), but there is "gourmet" pizza if you stay away from the chains. So now that I actively avoid the law school, I never eat pizza unless I actively seek it out, and I only eat "good" pizza. Thus, pizza is back on the list of acceptable foods.

6. Flannel sheets are very warm, especially when combined with a down quilt (curiously, Ikea no longer makes them) and a coverlet from Target ($19.99). And they were on sale for $12.99 at Target.

7. Fire alarms are very annoying, especially when you've only just settled down at the law library. This, again, affirms my decision to avoid going to the law school. I do not need to lose my hearing, as I am already losing my patience.

8. It is even more annoying that once settled in the Music School's Library, I am interrupted by some undergrad wanting to do a survey. Of what? Normally I would assent to helping budding social scientists, but not unless they ask by first identifying the nature of the survey (do you want to take a survey does not work for me; because if I say yes and you ask me stupid questions like "do you think Paris Hilton is a bad role model for girls" I will get very upset), and only if they ask in public places where you are not interrupting people's work and can actually talk out loud. Go to the student center or student quad! So much of a survey/interview is in the framing and execution!

9. After a couple of years of being a sporadic social coffee drinker (I am a big black tea with sugar and milk drinker though, a cup or two a day), I am utterly amazed how much just one cup of coffee in the morning affects my mental alertness for the whole day. It is as if I have gone up five points in IQ. I am not sluggish, have no headache, and I think clearly and quickly. Of course, to preserve this effect without requiring more each time, this means going off coffee the rest of the year. But for the next two weeks, I am a genius (and I suppose that means for the other 50 weeks I am an idiot). Ah well, it's better for my health anyway to drink less coffee and more tea, and I am naturally so hyper and high-strung that everyone in my immediate orbit should be grateful that I limit the mg of caffeine I have daily.

10. For some reason, a list doesn't look right when it ends at #9, and so you have to make up some fake realization for #10.


Pretty Tough To Think About The Beginning Of December


You fell down of course
and then you got up of course
and you started over
forgot my name of course
then you started to remember
pretty tough to think about
the beginning of december
pretty tough to think about

And just for TC, HLP, TPW, TRC, TI, TM, and 1L+:


In Which I Confess My Illiteracy To You Judgmental People

Things are busy. I am eating cereal, sandwiches, pizza, and takeout. Actually, it's mostly cereal and pizza and whatever food is magically delivered by The Miracle Man.

I actually have much to tell about the new methodology for my dissertation and incredibly BIG news that I am going to try to transfer to a "real" PhD program (well first I must apply and gain admission to the other department) if it only adds one year to my grand plan to be gainfully employed before I qualify for Social Security (but you all will yell at me, won't you), but until then, apropos to a conversation had with TC tonight on many things, a few glaring admissions for this bibliophillic English major, who is seemingly elitist:

  • I have never read Laurence Sterne, although I did watch that Tristram Shandy movie. I recently bought Tristram though, so I will read it, along with A Sentimental Journey.
  • I hate Don DeLillo's writing.
  • I have never read Thomas Pynchon, but know that I should.
  • I have never read James Joyce's longer works, in particular the most difficult of his long works, "Finnegans Wake." I plan to before I die.
  • I have never read Stendhal, or Marie-Henri Beyle. I don't know why.
  • I have never read William Gaddis, and am not convinced that I must.
  • I am not a big fan of "experimental fiction" in general
  • I seriously question the moral character and sanity of any person who claims to only like and/or purports to write "difficult fiction" or defends it too vigorously.
  • I hate Julian Barnes' pretension and self-conscious style, although maybe this has to do with negative association/taint with a former friend I also consider despicably pretentious who loved Julian Barnes.
  • I hate yuppie books by the likes of Benjamin Kunkel, Claire Messud, Bret Easton Ellis and Thom Wolfe.
  • I like "train/beach books" so if you judge me for liking "Shadow of the Wind" or "Captain Alatriste" and other swashbuckling/intriguing stories from Spain, don't sit next to me on the train.

I am somewhat deservedly elitist in that I love the poetry of T.S. Eliot, love Faulkner, have read most of the Russians (and love them), and that length is not the barrier to me reading a book, but rather unnecessarily impenetrable prose or use of some ridiculously pretentious style. Then I just don't think the effort that must be put into the reading is worth it, even if the story is good.

This doesn't completely make sense, because I will read Faulkner, Joyce, Sterne, and Eliot. Maybe I just have a thing against contemporary writers who are just being annoying since the modernist and post-modernist writers that preceded them alreeady did the work of destroying (in more beautiful and then-revoluntary ways) narrative, language, context, and historicality.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Request for Advice: Winterproofing Home

Hey you Readers Raised in Cold Weather:

My house is charming, but it was built in the early 20th century (drafty even with storm flaps, not well-insulated to begin with) and is a coverted garage on the bottom floor of a tree-shaded house. It's built on a big slab of concrete and has lots of single pane glass windows. It is thus very, very cold sometimes, since it's the least energy efficient house with the cold-retaining concrete, aluminum window frames, and single-paned glass. The ugly carpet insulates some, but I just accept that I have to wear thick socks and slippers. But the heat loss through the windows is what bugs me the most. Single pane glass sucks! The living room has four large windows, and my bedroom has two small windows and a large window seat type one behind my work desk. My roomate has a large window in her room as well, as does the kitchen. All told, our house has nine windows.

There's hardly any point turning on the heater, since the heat just goes right out the windows anyway. And that would raise our energy bill, and I'm stingy about stuff like that. Plus, it's bad for the environment. I try to just bundle up as much as I can and use limitedly my space heater for my bedroom (and thus barricade myself against the winter in my room, which sucks because I would like to enjoy the rest of the house), but even using a space heater is energy inefficient, increases costs, and I still lose more heat than I generate. Right now I'm wearing a thermal sweater, fleece sweat pants, a long fleece robe, thick socks, and slippers. This is a ridiculous amount of clothing, and it is weird wearing my wool coat all day.

My questions to you, my Cold Weather Friends who are Handy: How Do I Insulate My House In The Winter?!

I grew up in Southern California and have lived in mostly new buildings with miracle advances like double-paned windows, central heating, and a working water heater. While this house was awesome when we moved here in June, it is not quite as awesome as it used to be with the onset of chilly weather.

Options I've found by googling "how to insulate single pane windows":

1. Heavy Drapes. The problem is trying to custom fit rods in each weirdly sized window, and drapes can get expensive. I might be able to use curtain wire to suspend the curtains to fit my weird-sized, recessed windows, but it would depend on the weight of the curtains/weight-bearing capacity of the curtain wire or suspension system.

2. Insulating Energy Film: This supposedly adds an extra layer to single-pane glass, to prevent heat loss up to 38%. Couple that with draft/crime-blocking seals, this would be the easiest and most economical option.

What do you recommend?! Any cheaper alternatives? Moving is not an option. I like my house except for this. I doubt my landlord will pay to replace ALL the windows in our house, and I don't want him to increase our rent if he does so or make us pay for it (I have to look up rent control laws). Even if I could afford to replace the windows myself, our lease prohibits us from modifying the house too much.

Any help would be appreciated, either in the comments or by email. Many thanks!


Procrastination: Tomorrow Always Dies

Interesting follow up to the previous post in which I contemplate going on a Circadian clock and decide not to (although I have been up since 4 am my time after going to bed at 1 am, which is still stupid even if I don't make this a three-week survival strategy):

Jeremy Freese, mighty sociologist (click on the link!) and blogger, writes the following about procrastination and how tomorrow never comes with the most interesting analogy to riots and other such social movements that require some precipitating event in the post "Tomorrow Never Comes":

Procrastinators have all kinds of things they want to do, they just don’t want to do them today. Maybe they don’t feel like it; maybe there are so many other things they feel like they must do today they can’t possibly contemplate embarking on the others. The problem is that it is always today, and so if you don’t do tasks some today, you will never do them. Sure, one might think changing “someday” to “some today” involves just deleting the middle syllable, but if that was the case then why are there so many things I’ve been meaning to do someday that any realistic appraisal would indicate I’m never going to get around to?

An interesting counterstrategy I read in a book once was to pick some day on the calendar several weeks hence and write “SOMEDAY” on it. As in, “You said you were going to do this ’someday’ and here, with plenty of advance warning, ’someday’ turns out to be Thursday the nineteenth.” Writing “SOMEDAY” rather than “Organize office” or whatever else is the task in question might help reinforce to oneself that this is a task that one is never going to get around to without some kind of cognitive artifice to underscore its tendency to fall into the Vortex Of Tomorrow. And if someday does come and one still doesn’t do it, at least it can prompt reflection on whether waiting for someday was really the problem or whether one is delaying doing the task for other reasons.

With somedays like “I really need to start a diet someday soon,” I wonder how much it’s like the way people talk about the causes of riots. There are background conditions–as in, expanding backside background conditions–but these don’t manage to mobilize great effort to reverse daily routines all by yourself. After all, how much of a difference is it really going to make for your long-term situation if you start that diet tomorrow instead of today, and besides you already messed up today with that donut you had with breakfast. (Except, of course, the great illusion is that ‘tomorrow’ is a place in time that’s less than 24 hours away; instead, 24 hours from now it will still be ‘today.’) So, then if the diet ever commences at all, it’s because of some precipitating event, as if the Rodney King verdict had been about your fat ass. Seems like many people who have lost a lot of weight on a diet have some story–and, more often, multiple stories from multiple episodes of loss in a yo-yoing weight career–of an event that pushed them over the threshold of resolved and changed “someday” into “now.” As people who’ve known me for any length of time know, I’ve had my own struggles with weight and my own “preciptating event” stories, which I was going to launch into here but this post has gone on long enough. Someday, maybe.

At any rate, I need to return the thing I was procrastinating on while procrastinating on other things. I'd write a follow-up post to this, but, like Jeremy, I'll say "someday, maybe."


The (Circadian) Rhythm's Gonna Get You

This is the home stretch of paper writing for all grad students: write 3 or more papers, each 25-30 pages, in three weeks. It is not impossible, but it is painful, even if you did a lot of the lit review and research throughout the semester. And I'm a quick writer when I finally get to writing. But it will be a lot of focused time in front of the computer, and my normally speedy typing reflexes and mental reflexes slow down the more tired and demoralized I get. So a 24 hour day really isn't enough.

I was contemplating going on a 27 hour Circadian clock to get more done in a day (work for a period of hours, sleep for a short period, work for a period, sleep for a period...), which I have done to get through short term deadlines: grading midterms, writing proposals, etc., but then The Dude told me something my non-scientific mind forgot: light cues matter. Crap. I work from home mostly, but sunlight has a tricky way of filtering in the blinds even though I live on the bottom floor of a shade-sheltered house. Also, while I can go for hours without leaving the house, I do occasionally open the door. So either I really hunker down and turn this house into a bunker, or I abandon the Circadian plan.

I just might anyway, because it's a stupid idea. Look what happened to Scott Moss when he tried to create a 30 hour day in law school:

  • If I happened to be up at hour 23 or 24, I was near collapse -- literally. One day, I was studying at a coffee shop (caffeine!) 5 minutes from home and lost track of time; it turns out I was approaching hour 24. I almost couldn't finish the 5-minute walk home.
  • My social life got complicated because every day my bedtime moved 6 hours later. I took to putting a graph paper chart on my door for my roommates showing when I'd be sleeping each day (I'm not kidding). I'd just started dating someone new, and it wasn't wonderful to have to respond to a dinner suggestion with, "unm, tomorrow I'm scheduled to be asleep 2 pm to 10 pm; can we make it an early lunch, which will be my dinner?"
  • Some days I was nocturnal (e.g., sleeping 8 am to 4 pm), which was creepy and depressing.
  • As I entered weeks 2 and 3, I still was getting a lot done, but I was getting dumber. My ability to focus remained, but I was getting... slow.... It was like I was living Flowers for Algernon. This is confirmed by the fact that my grades on my four finals were in the exact order I took them; the last of the four finals was the easiest but was my worst grade.

Ultimately, I concluded, the 30-hour day would be great for a few days but was close to a disaster, on both a personal and an academic level, when extended into weeks. The human body often can survive pushing its limits for a short time, but not for that long.

So, maybe I'll try to stick to being normal and sleeping 7-8 hours, and working 12-14 hours with meal, exercise, and dare I say it, even a weekend break.

Too bad, it'd be fun and interesting to be a human guinea pig and try to see how I survive on the 27 hour clock. I don't think I'd fare as well as Scott did though.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007


In the interest of sanity, and to reduce signal-to-noise distortion, I have decided to focus on one particular industry in my particular state, figure out how to conduct a survey of compliance to a federal law when there is already concurrent state law that is more generous in leave benefits, and divide the survey into organizations of 50-249 employees, and 249+ employees. I will interview the management and when I can have access, the employees. Thus, the industry, human capital requirements, organizational environments, geographical area, and laws are all relatively homogenized factors, so I can focus on organizational size, structure, culture and gender composition to explain differing levels and typology of compliance.

This is a dissertation, people. I don't have the time or money to conduct a nationwide survey of hundreds of different types of organizations in different industries. Let's wait until I get tenure-track and an NSF grant for that one.

For now, I am happy that the parameters are roughly defined and manageable so that I can begin a pilot study in the spring and the real fieldwork in the summer.

So much of a dissertation is having a refined, feasible research question and methodology and not spending all of your time on the literature review (which can be endless if you don't stop at some point). So much of an empirical study is setting limits so that you can actually collect some useful data to work with, so that you can actually work and not sit there staring blankly at the screen.


Monday, November 26, 2007

I Blame The Hierarchy

Here at Liberal College Law, the law students are permitted to attend faculty candidate job talk paper presentations, and to have a separate meeting with faculty candidates to ask all manner of substantive and interesting questions. I have never before attended one of these presentations or panels, but last week found the experience interesting, illuminative, and an awesome inversion of academic hierarchy.

The presentation and panel went really well, I thought. The Candidate is one of the giants of his/her field (I am not indulging in hyperbole here) and is a up for a lateral tenured position from an extremely high ranked law school to our more modestly high ranked law school. It may be like, climbing a step or so down from a ladder, but because we are in Awesome Part of the Country with a particularly strong set of faculty in his/her area, well, the move has all sorts of subjective considerations. It would be a big coup for our school, which already has excellent faculty in this subject area. No, I cannot be more specific than this, it is, like all academic subfields, a small community.

This wasn't the first time I sat in on a faculty colloquium paper talk--at my last law school and this one, they are always open to students. Occasionally students participate in the Q&A, which I think is really cool. The paper talk last week was interesting and presented a novel framework, and the questions asked by the faculty (four of whom wrote in The Candidate's area) generated great discussion. The students, typically cowed by authority, kept quiet this time around.

What is different about Liberal College Law is that students are allowed a separate meeting with the faculty candidates. There's a formal committee for this, and all of their meetings are open to all of the students. This is not an interview per se, but students ask the candidates questions about their scholarship, their teaching interests, views on mentorship and interest in supervision of student research and advisorship of student organizations, etc. Feedback is then given to the school's Faculty Hiring Committee.

It's a neat feature of our school. I can imagine such talks going very badly if the students ask insensitive or dumb questions (yes, there are such things), but the questions asked were very good. This Candidate in particular drew out the J.D./Ph.D grad students, and so questions were asked about the paper's central thesis that were as good as questions asked by other faculty. That generated some interesting discussion. And further questions about The Candidate's attitudes towards academic and institutional obligations were good: I think it is fair of students to ask how interested a potential faculty is in teaching a certain course that the law school typically farms out to adjuncts; as well as the Candidate's willingness to supervise student research given that our school is trying to produce more academics.

Students have particular institutional needs from their faculty: while I don't endorse a students-as-consumers model, I do think that students have every right to certain academic expectations: good, fair, "tough" teaching; a certain degree of mentoring (case-by-case basis; the student receives what s/he invests, e.g. not letters of rec on demand, but letters of rec on merit) and support. Faculty should be open to being a part of their institution by supervising student projects and advising student groups and journals and attending to curricular gaps if they can. I know that faculty are already overstretched by their scholarship demands, teaching loads, and committee and administrative work, but you are there to teach and be a part of the life of the school. That means interacting with the students inside and outside of the classroom.

In sum, I think that students do have an important role to serve in the selection of faculty candidates. I hope that our feedback is taken seriously, and am not so cynical as to think that all of our reviews are discarded. If anything, at least the students got a chance to talk to The Candidate, who is now apprised of the students' questions and concerns. That is not without intrinsic value. Students are the life and blood of a school, and their particular needs and ideas should not be disregarded.

Interestingly, this post comes on the heels of another post by Rick Garnett asking whether students should participate in dean selection committees. I participated in a panel to select the new dean of my old school, and found the experience valuable. And so yes, I think that students should be a part of the process. For all the above mentioned reasons, students should have a certain degree of input into who teaches them and who is the steward of their school.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pretty Perks: Just Cosmetic, Not Transformative

Employment perks are nice, but they don't substantially alter the workplace environment enough to redefine rights and responsibilities. That is, you're still working terrible hours--you just feel a little bit better about it. I don't deny the benefits of "benefits," but they are largely symbolic additions rather than structural changes: free dinners don't alter the fact that the employee is working late, and that these long hours make it difficult to juggle work and family care, and thus non-parent/non-primary-caregiver employees (primarily men) are better able to perform the tasks and thus enjoy the perks. A significant perk would be paid family and medical leave, free on-site day care (not just nannies), and a reduction in the billable hour requirement and workday so that you don't need the emergency nanny. But these aren't going to happen soon or easily. So enjoy those yoga lessons and catering services.

See, e.g:

Life's Work by Vicki Schultz

In Defense of Paid Family Leave by Gillian Lester

Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What To Do About It by Joan Williams

But anyway, for a glossy take on benefits, the New York Times delivers:

For Lawyers, Perks to Fit A Lifestyle

Even lawyers need a hug. When workdays stretch into worknights and the pressure to meet the quota for billable hours grows, lawyers and staff members at the firm of Perkins Coie can often expect a little bonus.

In Perkins Coie’s Chicago office, members of the firm’s “happiness committee” recently left candied apples on everyone’s desks. Last month, the happiness committee surprised lawyers, paralegals and assistants in the Washington office with milkshakes from a local Potbelly Sandwich Works, a favorite lunch spot.

“That’s the whole beauty of it all — it’s random acts of kindness,” said Lori Anger, client relations manager of Perkins Coie, which is based in Seattle. “We have pretty strict hours, so it’s a nice way to surprise people.”

The benefits go beyond the laptops and BlackBerrys, late-night rides home, Friday beer-and-pretzel fests and sports tickets that are standard fare at many large and midsize law firms. Many of the new perks recognize a lifestyle change that law firms are just coming to grips with.
“Money is not the only thing that drives these lawyers right now,” said Marina Sirras, who runs a recruitment firm in New York for lawyers. “They want to be able to have a family and enjoy their family. This has never been as hot an issue.”

Law firms have been slower than some other businesses to award benefits, in part because of their smaller, and often complex, private structures.

On offer now are concierge services, in which a lawyer can have the equivalent of a personal valet pick up theater and sports tickets, the dry cleaning, take a car to the repair shop or even choose a Halloween costume.

“We compete in terms of having a life,” Ms. Anger said. “We don’t compete by dangling a lot of material perks.” Unusual in the industry, Perkins Coie offers pet insurance.

At the same time, law firms have begun demanding more from associates, raising minimum billable hours over the years.

To combat burnout, some firms also offer extended sabbaticals for a wide range of pursuits — to study classical piano, for instance, or work on political campaigns.

But while some of these benefits take the form of highly practical solutions — like on-site child care — others raise questions whether law firms are subsidizing a cushy lifestyle.

It is true that many of the perks have a lifestyle flavor. O’Melveny & Myers, a large California-based law firm with offices in Asia, holds yoga classes at its Newport Beach office for lawyers and their staffs. And Kilpatrick Stockton, a large firm with offices throughout the Southeast, has a nap room in its Raleigh, N.C., office, complete with a reclining chair, sofa and travel alarm clock.

“Yes, it gets used, “ said Carol Vassey, the chief administrator in the Raleigh office, though rarely for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Increasingly, having a life means having company-sponsored child care.

Arnold & Porter, based in Washington, was among the first to offer on-site day care, in 1995. Only a few firms, including Crowell & Morning, have followed suit — deterred, among other things, by insurance and zoning issues.

Some firms have come up with variations. Dechert, a 1,000-lawyer firm based in Philadelphia; Fried, Frank; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and Fulbright & Jaworski provide emergency nanny services, in which the firm will find and send a nanny to a lawyer’s home.

While some lawyers scoff at what they consider frivolous perks — Baker & McKenzie calls its sabbaticals and training “meaningful benefits” — the virtues of the new benefits are in the eye of the beholder.

“Forget the pet insurance and concierge services: that’s setting up people’s lives, and I find that appalling,” said Mitchell S. Roth, a principal at Much Shelist Denenberg Ament & Rubenstein, a comparatively small firm based in Chicago. “The perk we offer in our world is a culture of collegiality and training.”

Still, Mr. Roth acknowledged that Much Shelist occasionally brought in a masseuse.

“It’s for morale,” he said.


Bon Vivant Belle

Law and Letters is about The Law, Literature, and Life--things that start with "L."

Even though food is a part of life, it is not a part of this blog so much. I don't blog recipes here, as I figure it is pfouffy enough with all the poetry.

Plus, I have not migrated my template from Old Blogger to idiot-proof Google Blogger because I put so much work into my template and learning basic html. So if I were to blog a recipe, I'd want it to be easily tagged and findable, in order to have an efficient online repository of recipes.

Thusly, my fellow gastronomes, I have created a separate food blog:

Bon Vivant Belle is for all things epicurean and delicious. I'm a decent cook and a fairly good baker (although a poor drinker). I cook at least a few times a week and bake at least once a week. It's my favorite way to warm up my cold house, show friendship and affection, be generous, and de-stress. After a long day of reading and writing, I like to make something nice and share it with someone. But since I do this for the people in my household and immediate orbit on a fairly regular basis, I thought I'd spread the love and share it with you all, my devoted readers (I know who you are, even if we have had a huge influx from other sites--new readers, welcome! Old readers, I love you!).

There will always be a link to it under my picture and "Email Me," but you may also independently subscribe to its feed. It won't be updated as often though--only when I make something blogworthy and remember to take a photo of it.

But it should be a fun addition to the sidebar. Enjoy!


Friday, November 23, 2007

OMG! Bruce Willis Was A Ghost?! (Review of Oldboy)

What does it say about my sick mind and how it got twisted and perverted by a year of research on the federal regulation of the sexual exploitation of minors (happily abandoned, by the way), that I intuitively guessed both of the plot twists of the Korean movie Old Boy wayyy early?

Seriously! I'm not lying! I should have said my [SPOILER ALERT, skip to next paragraph] "hmm, I think that's her brother" and "hmm, I think that's his daughter, and man, that's twisted" hunches out loud as I was watching the movie. TD will never believe me. I really liked the movie, as it is so weird and Tarantino-esque, but without the annoying detraction of actually being made by Tarantino himself (the man greatly annoys me and weirds me out, although I enjoy a few of his films).

Basic plot summary: Oh Dae Su is released from 15 years of bizarre imprisonment, during which time he was accused of murdering his wife. He has five days to figure out why he was imprisoned and seek vengeance on his captor, which brings further punishment (the ultimate punishment, actually) on himself. Awesome, incredibly violent, WEIRD stuff ensues, and there are two very sick elements to the story, which is ultimately redemptive and humanity affirming (because so much of the movie was about dehumanizing, this is nice and not too Lifetime Original). It is a completely awesome movie, has great fight scenes, very gross violence, and is seriousy twisted, with the aforementioned two key plot revelations. It was not my choice for a Sunday night movie, and indeed I had a scary dream about scissors that night, but it is really worth seeing. I just would not see it alone, but that's me and my fear of knives (makes cooking thrilling!) and sharp implements. Gun violence I can handle, just not torture and sharp stabbings. I think I missed 1/4 of the movie because I kept turning away, much to the probable annoyance of TD. However, this was the pick after I told him "anything but a movie with knives, stabbings, gouging, etc," so I don't feel too bad. Plus, did I mention my nightmare?!

For those of you have seen this movie, maybe you will think "Whatev, I totally called that movie." To you, I also say "whatever" right back, and because I am from Orange County, California, I can say that with authority. Because I learned English too formally to adopt any local inflections (in fact, in my head, the English occasionally comes by way of Dickens and Hardy), I can't say "whatever" with the proper intonation (not that I really think Valley girls exist, they are like unicorns, no?), but I can do the "W" sign with my fingers.

But seriously though, my ability to grasp those two plot twists is by my standards, extraordinary. When I watched The Sixth Sense in 1999, I was actually totally blown away by the revelation at the end that Bruce Willis was a ghost. Yes, I graduated from college, and even went onto good law schools. So stop calling me a dumb fuck already.

I wish I could have blamed it on being only 19 and innocent in the ways of the world, but apparently, even children get the plot twist of that movie. Maybe it's just the way I get drawn into narrative, until I am as impelled forward by the plot as much as any of the characters, until I am totally absorbed. It has always been this way, even with novels, in which stories unfold so slowly and carefully that surprises are rare. Maybe that's the mark of a good mystery story or plot twist in a novel: that you can surprise a reader is an awesome feat.

I don't want to anticipate the writer. I don't want to be merely self-congratulatory for my own cleverness and ruin the story for myself. I like to enjoy the process of raeding as much as its plot payoff. Maybe it's because I once had wild, crazy, I-am-such-a-bad-immigrant's-daughter fantasies of being a writer myself. I like stories, and I've always had problems finishing the ones I come up with myself . I worry incessantly that any story I could tell isn't a story worth telling. I may do okay stylistically, but what happens in my stories of any consequence? Will the reader become absorbed in the characters and events enough to feel, as I do in a good story, compelled and impelled forward? And no, I do not believe you, Philosophical Werewolf, that you "totally" thought the ending of Atonement was "predictable." I would call it, as TC, does, a "suckerpunch" ending.

With movies, it's different. I don't really have that excuse. I respect the craft of film making, but I don't have that self-control desire to check my anticipation of the narrative. So I could, in theory, shout directives at the screen and smugly call out plot twists. But I don't. Because I never get them. I am frequently the one who says "wow, I didn't see that coming," like when the pretty girl goes into the dark room and then some seriously bad shit happens to her, or when the moderately attractive guy gets drunk and goes home with that too-hot-for-him girl and seriously bad shit happens to him.

What then, accounts for my sudden prescient perspicacity? Is it that movies are becoming more predictable and formulaic (very possible, but this one was a GOOD movie), or is my mind just becoming more sick and twisted and thus able to anticipate sick twists?


Thursday, November 22, 2007

My turn to poetry-blog! Mine! Mine!

Since it's Thanksgiving today (Happy it!), a pair of classic holiday treats, the first by e.e. cummings, the second by my photographic personality-sake, Byron. (The latter is perhaps a bit grim, but so ferocious! And such a great winter poem.)

one's not half two. It's two are halves of one:
which halves reintegrating,shall occur
no death and any quantity;but than
all numerable mosts the actual more

minds ignorant of stern miraculous
this every truth-beware of heartless them
(given the scalpel,they dissect a kiss;
or,sold the reason,they undream a dream)

one is the song which fiends and angels sing:
all murdering lies by mortals told make two.
Let liars wilt,repaying life they're loaned;
we(by a gift called dying born)must grow

deep in dark least ourselves remembering
love only rides his year.
            All lose,whole find


I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires--and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings--the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire--but hour by hour
They fell and faded--and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash--and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd,
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twined themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless--they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again;--a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought--and that was death,
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails--men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devoured,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress--he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they raked up,
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects--saw, and shriek'd, and died--
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful--was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless--
A lump of death--a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge--
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon their mistress had expir'd before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them--She was the Universe.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sir Mix-A-Lot


If a mix is not made for you personally, is it still a something you would enjoy as much as a personal mix tape/CD? Or would you feel like you just got someting made by a competent amateur DJ or heard a truncated playlist from a weirdly cool radio show--in other words, would it feel oddly distant, professionalized, and not only less meaningful but meaningless? Without that intimate connection of being made for you by someone you know because they want to provoke some kind of feeling in you (let's party! cheer up! I'm sorry your friend died!), might you just as well be listening to the radio?

It seems as though there is no shortage of free mixes (I would, as a contrarian traditionalist and owner of four (five?) analog watches, call them mix tapes, but as most people make mix CDs now or go all techie and upload a single file online) available for download. They are created by cool people: music aficionados, elitists, freaks, what have you.

However, this is not very personal. It was not specially made for you. I have only ever given/received personalized mixes, and they obey no good mix rules: I repeat artists, I sometimes stick with one genre/style, I don't always mix periods well--oh, the sins abound. But they are very personalized. I tend to make mixes based on some sentimental theme to either cheer up a friend or to help her wallow in misery. Or sometimes just differently themed ones, like "Cool Kid Music" (Nick Drake, the softer songs of Wilco, the cheerier songs of Cowboy Junkies). They always come in my specially printed CD sleeves along with homemade cards and little gifts in a big care package. What my mixes lack in quality they make up for in stuff.

This is The Philosophical Werewolf's take on one of his public mixes, although he is a college radio DJ (does that make him semi-professional?) and way cooler than I am:

It's not personal—or rather, what personality it has is purely inner-directed, since I only made the thing to satisfy what you might call my "muse" (BL: I have tried to change this to Roman to clarify that this is not entirely meant in earnest, but for some reason can't un-italicize this particular word and am bad at html. So, the scare quotes are mine, the sardonic intent his, and the interpretation entirely yours.). Being personal is not a necessary quality of good mixiness, though.

There is some logic to this argument. Good mixes are good mixes, independent of their intent. It's like the law, really. A useful, clear, well-crafted law that does what it means to do--whatever the motivations underlying the enactment--well, that's a beautiful, rare thing. I'd still prefer a personal mix to a random one, but fortunately I know The Philosophical Werewolf, and I will get one from him.

This is Sarah Vowell's take from Take the Cannoli:

While I was reading Hornby's book (BL: High Fidelity, a better American movie than a book, and full of obsessive rules for making mix tapes for someone you want to cajole into loving you), I happened to glance at an ad in San Francisco Weekly that read, "I'll tape record albums for you. Reasonable ratse, excellent service. Pick-up available. Bob." And it gave a phone number. Prostitution! That's what I thought anyway. Paying someone to make a tape for you seems a whole lot like paying someone for a kiss It is traditional to cover for one's inability to articulate feelings of love through store-bought greeting cards. It's another thing entirely to pass off a purchased compilation tape, a form which is inherently amateur and therefore more heartfelt. To spend money on such a tape would be a crime against love. Aphrodite herself might rise from the ocean to conk such a criminal on the head with the seashell she rode in on.

Okay, whatever, her argument has as its central conceit the love mix tape, the one you make for somone you want to romance. I dont' talk about that on my blog at all, if you recall, and so I will make my argument that third party mix tapes devoid of sentiment or personal direction are still a little whiffleballesque even if they are intended to be totally platonic and ambient. E.g., if they are message mixes, the message is "hey, there, how about a hi-five" and if lacking a message, then it's just good background music. There's lots of reasons to make a mix tape--a party mix, a dinner party mix, a road trip mix, a boudoir mix--so, if you're not making these mixes yourself, isn't usin' and groovin' to someone else's mix tantamount to buying a TimeLife CD compilation of Greatest Hits from the Golden Age of Soul?

Plus, mixes are independent works of art--and like any painting, the brushstrokes will vary. Some tracks will not be to your liking, and if you had received it from someone you know, you will think "aw, well, that's interesting" and if you don't know them, you just think "dude, this sucks."

In any case, I occasionally enjoy the free mixes on the web, but it makes me feel like I'm outsourcing my music mixing. I'm getting something for free, yes, but it's like getting free pre-printed cards in the mail during Christmas from real estate companies. Well, that's not a very apt metaphor, since these cool people spend a lot of time on their mixes. It's like getting free cookies in the mail from someone you don't know. One the one hand, cookies! On the other, no lingering warmth in the belly because they weren't made by anyone you know or particularly care for. It is, indeed, like getting a TimeLife CD.

So I listen to TPW's free mixes, and like them well enough, but I it doesn't give me the warm fuzzies the way I do when I listen to TC's mixes (but she is awesome and indulges my love of bizarre themes and '80s pop). I'll wait to get a TPW personalized mix. And I'll make him one of my own. In a big ol' carepackage that will make him squeal with delight like a little girl at a basketful of kittens.

For more evidence of my obsession with mix tapes:

My post arguing that you can apply canons of statutory interpretation to mix tapes, and that they can be so ambiguous that you just might want to.

A terrible mix I made for myself in a fit of self-indulgent self-pity. Hey, it was a blah-inducing summer, which is why this Fall is so awesome by comparison.

My public wish for Teh Mix Tape, a mix so awesome and High Fidelity-ish that I would be transported, as the ancients would say, to 1997, the last time I got such a tape (and it was a real audiocassette tape!). I've gotten some really great mixes this year from TC, The Screenwriter, and The Journalist, but they aren't Teh Mix Tape.


Play Nice

Apologies for the extreme time-delay in comment moderation--I am usually good at approving comments as soon as they are made, since my fingers seem to be attached to my keyboard. But between a heckish day of travel yesterday and running around town on various errands today and taking care of the children, well, I'm slipping behind.

So I disabled comment moderation. Play nice. I approve pretty much everything but the spam comments. Actually I can't remember why exactly I enabled moderation, except maybe that in the height of last year's LL.M drama I was worried that some of the dramatic French people who took issue with how I characterized our school's fundraising campaign (I think I may have used some really pejorative epithets like "indecent" and "extortion") would get all vindictive in the comments and give identifying details about me or my institutional affilitation. Instead, they just sent bizarre line-by-line responses using track changes in MS Word and really nasty letters (what is the opposite of "billet doux"?), so I guess I needn't have worried about being outed, as I was only pilloried.

Of course I approve all comments that disagree with me, even snarky or mean ones. I do ask, however, that you try to keep a civil tone, engage the issues substantively (while I'll approve "you suck, you dingbat" type comments, I just don't think they do much to further the discussion), and don't go psycho. The comments to the left are excellent examples of the types of comments loved by Law and Letters: interesting, substantive, civil, and often as long as the original posts--they're mini posts themselves! But don't be put off by the length. Pithy people are always welcome, and in fact, enviously admired.

Also, as my computer is being fixed by my engineer brothers, I will be much slower to post and slower to respond to emails for the next couple of days. But please do email me, stop by, comment, and and check out the continuing discussions!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Decline of Tenure Track

From the NYT, Decline of the Tenure Track Raises Concerns:

Professors with tenure or who are on a tenure track are now a distinct minority on the country’s campuses, as the ranks of part-time instructors and professors hired on a contract have swelled, according to federal figures analyzed by the American Association of University Professors.

“I think we part-timers can be everything a full-timer can be,” Ms. Zendlovitz said during a break in a 10-hour teaching day. But she acknowledged: “It’s harder to spend time with students. I don’t have the prep time, and I know how to prepare a fabulous class.”

The shift from a tenured faculty results from financial pressures, administrators’ desire for more flexibility in hiring, firing and changing course offerings, and the growth of community colleges and regional public universities focused on teaching basics and preparing students for jobs.

It has become so extreme, however, that some universities are pulling back, concerned about the effect on educational quality.

Many state university presidents say tight budgets have made it inevitable that they turn to adjuncts to save money.

“We have to contend with increasing public demands for accountability, increased financial scrutiny and declining state support,” said Charles F. Harrington, provost of the University of North Carolina, Pembroke. “One of the easiest, most convenient ways of dealing with these pressures is using part-time faculty,” he said, though he cautioned that colleges that rely too heavily on such faculty “are playing a really dangerous game.”

“Really, we are offering less educational quality to the students who need it most,” said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, noting that the soaring number of adjunct faculty is most pronounced in community colleges and the less select public universities. The elite universities, both public and private, have the fewest adjuncts.

“It’s not that some of these adjuncts aren’t great teachers,” Dr. Ehrenberg said. “Many don’t have the support that the tenure-track faculty have, in terms of offices, secretarial help and time. Their teaching loads are higher, and they have less time to focus on students.”

Dr. Ehrenberg and a colleague analyzed 15 years of national data and found that graduation rates declined when public universities hired large numbers of contingent faculty. Several studies of individual universities have determined that freshmen taught by many part-timers were more likely to drop out.

Tenure, a practice carried from Germany to the United States, was designed to guarantee academic freedom to professors by protecting them against dismissal. Some argue that it also protects incompetent or lazy teachers and sometimes leaves universities saddled with professors in disciplines that have lost currency.

The lack of tenure can leave adjuncts vulnerable. In a number of cases, professors outside the tenure track have been dropped after run-ins with administrators over everything from grading to opinion articles in newspapers.

Several unions have been organizing adjunct faculty in recent years. In Michigan, the American Federation of Teachers has successfully organized full-time, nontenure-track professors at Eastern Michigan University, as well as part-time and full-time adjuncts at the University of Michigan campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint.

“They are so exploited, the only difficulty in organizing adjuncts is finding them,” said David Hecker, president of the teachers federation.

Keith Hoeller, who has been teaching philosophy for 17 years as a part-timer in Seattle, described it this way: “It’s a caste system, and we are the untouchables of academia.”

Yes, this is a very worrisome trend, and one I've been remarking on since my own undergraduate days--and I graduated five years ago. It just doesn't seem fair to students or teachers.

By the way, undergrads, another tip: they say take more than one class from a professor you like in a subject you like to build the rapport necessary to get letters of recommendation, someone to supervise your senior thesis, etc. They are right.

I would also caution: choose a tenure track faculty member. Their letterhead carries more import, and they can do more to help you. They are also likely to stick around, as adjuncts tend to come in on an year-to-year contract.

Unfortunately, when I went to UC Irvine, no one told me this. And all of my public law/constitutional law/jurisprudence courses were taught by adjuncts. If I had stuck with international relations (relatively strong then) then yes I could have gotten a tenured faculty to supervise my thesis and write my letters. Unfotunately, that was not my primary area of interest, and those professors were so tapped out anyway by the flood of requests. So I had adjuncts write my letters of rec, and an adjunct supervised my senior thesis on Rehnquist Court devolutionary federalism and jurisprudence.

My education in the School of Humanities/Department of English Literature was much stronger, mainly because I was lucky--I was interested in American modernist fiction, and we had several tenured faculty for that subject area. We had tenured faculty for Victorian literature as well, which would have been my other choice. But if I had wanted t write a senior thesis on post modern or post colonial literature (and despite the fact that UCI was #1 in postmodern critical theory), I would have probably encountered a similar set of problems, as a thesis on Asian American literature would have gotten me into adjunct land fast.

I feel somewhat shortchanged as a product of an adjunct education--I was taught well, but there was no stability to the education. I have to hunt down some of my professors, not knowing their current institutional affilitation, to tell them what I'm up to. My political science education felt cobbled together at best, and shallow at worst.

All in all, a very depressing article, trend, and portent.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Advice to Undergraduates Part III: What you should study in college.

This is the third post in a sequence of indefinite length designed to rescue undergraduates from the fate of finding themselves in law school or otherwise having messed up their lives. (Well, it's a sequence now. I've declared it to be one.) See the previous two posts: Some Loosely Connected Musings on Passion, Regret, Law School, and Class Privilege, with Advice to Prospective Law Students; and Why you shouldn't go to law school. Also see Belle's post on undergraduate majors: Thoughts on Undergraduate Majors, Well-Roundedness and Fluency. The basic premise of this sequence is that undergraduates don't have enough information to make the choices we ask them to make. Without some years of experience in the higher education system or in life, or very good advice, it's easy to make academic decisions that will have life-long consequences without any idea what considerations one must take into account.

And don't think this is just condescending paternalism from some old fogie blogger either. I speak to this and to you from personal experience. I started college several years early, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life except for a vague plan to go to law school. Consequently, I did much of what I'm now trying to warn you to avoid: I substantially wasted my undergraduate years, e.g., never taking calculus, only taking one language course, only taking one major, not taking any time off. I've largely escaped the consequences by virtue of a) having started young enough that I could go back to grad school for a second career without having wasted too many years; b) having a contemptuous disregard for my own financial well-being; c) having a certain kind of intellectual chops which isn't necessarily better or worse than any other, but which, combined with overweening ambition, the willingness to sacrifice a social life to work, and a knack for finding opportunities to buff my resume, did enable me to do cowboy-type things like teach myself calculus before grad school, and gave me a fairly good chance at a variety of life courses beyond the constraints of my path-dependent background. Many of the readers of this blog will have c), but a) and b) are much rarer and b) is possibly rather foolish (although those of you with family wealth can get by without it). So don't follow my path. (I think, however, that my next post in the sequence will be something like "So you went to law school: how to get out of the mess; OR: Being Paul Gowder")

Part A: Your Choice of Majors

You should have two long-term objectives in college. The first is to learn what you love and try to make a life where you can be personally fulfilled and hopefully contribute something to the rest of the world, be it in art, in politics and community service, in knowledge, or (even) in wealth. The second is to handle the economic realities of the world and maximize your human capital to enable you to meet your material needs. (This advice is of course not directed to those with inherited wealth who need not worry about such things. I suspect the over-privileged rich can get along quite fine without my advice. Also, this post is unabashedly directed to the reasonably talented. I strongly suspect that the readers of this blog are all capable of sustaining full courses of study in the fashion I suggest below and doing well. The blogosphere is already a pretty highly educated and skilled group, and this blog is a particularly involved and intellectualish part of that universe. So this post is mainly directed at the talented poor.)

Often, however, those two objectives are hard to reconcile in one major. If your passion is, say, painting, you have to confront the fact that the probability of getting a good career out of painting, one that meets your material needs, is fairly low. So unless you want to find yourself doomed to a career involving flipping burgers or directing telephone calls, you need to find something that will lead into more lucrative jobs. Likewise, if you pick your major for the money, you'll end up practicing law or medicine, or doing investment banking, or god only knows what else, and most of your life will be spent doing things in which you have no intrinsic interest.

Thus, I advise a double-major. Every university of which I'm aware allows you to do this. Major first in that which you love most, and try first to make a career out of it. Don't consider the economic consequences of that choice at all. If foucauldian social analysis or renaissance poetry or jazz dance or video game design (god help you) is what really makes you unbelievably happy, then do it. As you graduate, seek out opportunities in that area. There's some positive probability that you'll succeed. If you do, I'm really happy for you. If not, at least you'll have a strong background in something that you love, that you can pursue as an avocation while you fall back on your cash major.

Because that's your second major. Figure out the minimum income that you feel you need to live a good life. Then find out the average yearly income of the people who have done careers following study in the various majors offered by your school. Now major in the most interesting and enjoyable of those majors which offers an average income at least at your minimum. (Hopefully you've learned enough statistics [see below] to look for the variance in this income too and understand what it means for the risk you're taking.) This will give you a reasonably good shot at a good enough life if your passion doesn't pan out as a career. Be sure to follow the advice in my first post and take some time off mid-schooling to do internships or similar experimental incursions into that career to ensure that it is what you've been led to believe it is.

The idea here is what I'll call the maximax-minimax strategy. (Miximax?) Pursue a course that simultaneously maximizes the chance you have of getting the best possible life (maximax), subject to the minimax condition, and maximizes your happiness in the lowest state to which you're likely to fall (minimax), subject to the maximax condition. I can hear the souls of a million decision theorists screaming in unfathomable agony as I suggest this, but who listens to them anyway? I'm pretty sure miximax can't be expressed as a nice closed form function, bears no simple relationship to pure utility maximization, conceals all sorts of tensions, etc. etc. So be it.

Part B: Other Things That You Must Learn in College

In addition to the choice of majors, here's what you ideally shouldn't get out of undergrad without knowing:

  1. A basic consumer's understanding of statistics and probability. Most human knowledge is expressed in terms of statistics. Moreover, an understanding of statistical and probabilistic statements will enable you to more effectively reason about your own life even if you have no intellectual interests whatsoever. Without some understanding of probability and statistics, you will never be able to judge the riskiness of your personal and financial decisions, evaluate medical claims, or be an informed voter on environmental, crime, and economic issues. I really think this is the single most important body of knowledge out there. Without an understanding of, e.g., conditional probability and Bayes Rule and why it's really really important, or why (and when) the gambler's fallacy is a fallacy, or what a normal distribution looks like and why we care, or what a confidence interval and variance are, or the law of large numbers and regression to the mean, you will get a lot of stuff just wildly wrong.

  2. At least one foreign language. Why wouldn't you want to greatly expand your communicative potential, learn about other cultures, and gain a better understanding of English by learning how the parts of speech work in other languages (I'm given to understand that Latin is particularly good for that)?

  3. Basic computer programming. The object here is to increase the range of things that you can do. You can learn facts out of a book. Skills require instruction and concentrated practice, and one skill that becomes more important every year is the ability to make a computer do what you tell it to do. (Possibly some logic goes in here too.)

  4. Evolutionary theory. Right now, our politics are being grossly distorted by a bunch of charlatans and their cronies who take advantage of public ignorance about the science behind evolution to ruin the education of America's children with their ridiculous propaganda. If you don't have the intellectual tools to resist their bogus arguments in your own mind and contribute to the public debate on behalf of actual science, you're part of the problem. More than just that, however, evolutionary science is importantly different from many other kinds of scientific reasoning -- it's functionalist, it's non-optimizing, it relies on stochastic processes -- and the modes of thinking that you'll have to pick up to understand evolution will serve you well in the rest of your life. See also above re: being an informed voter.

  5. Basic microeconomics. Try and not drink the republican kool-aid when you take this one, but it'll give you an understanding of why your world is the way it is. Marx gave us the concept of an ideology -- a distorted system of beliefs about the way the world is which (generally, loosely) presents the contingent as necessary. An understanding of microeconomics will help you understand why the contingencies that present themselves to you in your day-to-day life are contingent, and on what: why prices behave the way they do, who gains and who loses from your commercial behavior, how to act within the marketplace to achieve your goals. Again, see also above re: being an informed voter.

  6. Calculus. This should be obvious. If not, see the discussion in the comments to the law school post. Also, you'll need it to understand the microeconomics and the statistics.

  7. Ethics and political philosophy (SELF-INTEREST ALERT: your taking this advice might lead to my personal gain for obvious reasons...). First, see yet again also above re: being an informed voter. Second, I think part of the hold that religion has on people is this notion that it gives us the only reliable source of normative claims -- and this is a good way to be disabused of that notion. Third, human beings have to live together, and it will be a lot easier and more pleasant for the rest of us if you have the tools to stop and think when you engage in serious actions which affect us all.

And now, my pets, I have a plane to catch (provided the airline doesn't delay it yet again). Until next time, don't do anything I would do. When that next time comes, I'll tell you how to do what I would do and nonetheless get away with it.


Thoughts on Undergraduate Majors, Well-Roundedness and Fluency

A civil discussion/blogfight of epic proportions is currently being waged in the comments to Paul Gowder's previous post on Why You Shouldn't Go To Law School. I urge you to check it out. Join the fray, if you wish.

For my part, I'm largely staying out of this debate, because it's just going in circles, albeit in interesting patterns.

I'd say that for myself, I didn't do badly by majoring in English literature, doubling in a social science, taking advanced statistics courses, and taking college level natural sciences, as was required by my university. And because of all of this I can read Finnegan's Wake, likely with greater ability than most science majors because of all of the training in literary analysis. I can write quickly and well, when I get around to it. I can do statistical analysis on a computer or by hand, and am going to take graduate level statistics courses this year, being primed enough by my previous training. I can at least read some science articles, and feel comforted that not even my very smart science friends really get Bayes' Theorem, so it's "not just me." I remember the Krebs' cycle. I am not anti-science--I wanted to be a scientist when I was younger, and my entire family is trained in science. I am, however, very pro-humanities. I think the study of humanities and social science has been devalued ever since Sputnik--if you look at where the money is going in a university, it is not going to a linguistics department. I am grateful for my courses in philosophy and art history no matter how "useless" others might think them, and yes, I think they make me better rounded.

Roundedness is not merely the stretching of the self to one polar extreme or another, as that's just being pulled in different directions. Well-rounded educations are a little bit of everything. I never said that it was sufficient for a humantities major to take more humanities courses and call it a day. I said that it behooved any person to do more than one major, preferably in two different cognate disciplines. I have two different diplomas, because they were awarded by different schools--the School of Humanities and the School of Social Sciences. Along the way I learned things outside my discipines of literature and political science, and that is where my roundedness comes from. I would not be more rounded if I had only done English literature and taken a few science and math courses. My circle of knowledge would have expanded if I had added more math and science to my repertoire of literature, political science, anthropology, sociology, economics, philosophy, language, and art than I had already done by virtue of college-level statistics and biology.

It is not an either-or proposition, humanities or sciences. It is a what-ratio-to-what, and in-addition-to-what proposition. I am fluent in two disciplines, and well-read in others. But even then, as I further specialize in my graduate program, my fluency levels change again. No longer am I so fluent in literary criticism and analysis, nor political theory and science. What I do now is nominally similar to my undergraduate training, and hell, law school training, but so interdisciplinary (the sociology of law) and at the same highly specialized (employment disrimination) as to become my dominant field of study to the near exclusion of others. I may continue to read in other disciplines, but I will always be a dilettante--relatively well-read, and conversant and able to understand, but by no means extraordinarily fluent. This, I imagine, is the case with anyone who is trying to read something they no longer study deeply or only study informally, be they a scientist trying to gread difficult modernist ficiton, or be they a humanities scholar trying to read a scientific journal. If you read widely enough, and have good reading skills, even the moderately informed may figure out a table, a chart, or a particularly difficult passage. Fluency comes with time and effort. One must make a choice between being well-read and reading widely.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why you shouldn't go to law school.

[Note: this is part of a series, which also includes Some Loosely Connected Musings on Passion, Regret, Law School, and Class Privilege, with Advice to Prospective Law Students, and Making the Transition from the Law to Grad School, the latter of which lists other posts, possibly to be added in the future.)

In my very first post on this blog, I promised more detail about why the jobs that one might expect after law school aren't anything to look forward to. I'm fulfilling that promise here, and moreover offering some more reasons why you, yes you, dear undergraduate reader who is applying to law school, should decline to go there. Most of my examples come from litigation, because that's what I know, but I'll bet one could come up with an equally good set from transactional work too. My aim here is to come up with the definitive anti-practice-of-law essay, one to which I and others can point bright-eyed undergraduates to for some time to come.

What follows is a loosely divided list of things that you might not know about the practice of law, and which should give you pause before you invest three years of your life and countless thousands of dollars in tuition and opportunity costs to go to law school. Law school really has little value other than to prepare you for a legal career of some sort. If you want to go into business or consulting, an MBA is quicker and provides more useful skills ("Thinking like a lawyer" is a bug, not a feature.), and, while lawyers do enter other careers (prominently writing for some reason) there's no reason to believe anything they got in law school put them there. With no further ado:

The Jobs Suck

There are three basic types of job that one can get out of law school. (I exclude here legal academia, which is a great job, but one which is reportedly nearly impossible to get unless you've either law review + super clerkship at a top 3 school, or phd plus some combination of above, etc.) They are as follows:

1. Corporate Serf. You will work for a big firm. You will make a lot of money. But you will have no time to spend it. You'll work sixteen hour days, and in the beginning of your career, those sixteen hour days will be spent doing things like rooting through warehouses of documents looking for privileges to avoid disclosing things in discovery. Needless to say, this work is incredibly boring. Or you could be doing piles of research on minutiae of securities law in preparation for a bloody negotiation. You'll have neverending pressure to bill more and more hours, and much of your work will be morally dubious at best, actually wicked at worst. (Consider, for example, how many lawyers must have been involved in the efforts to bury all the incriminating tobacco company documents.)

This is the job that everyone wants. But you don't know what you're trying for. Don't believe me. Believe the data (Zaring & Henderson, "Young Lawyers in Trouble" (2007)):

In this review essay, we compare Kermit Roosevelt's and Nick Laird's bleak portrayals with findings from a unique dataset on law firm profitability, prestige, hours worked, and various measures of several associate satisfactions. We also mine the findings of several empirical studies that track the experience of lawyers over time. We observe that higher firm profitability is associated with higher salaries, bonuses, and prestige. Yet, higher profits also have a statistically significant relationship with longer hours, a less family-friendly workplace, less interesting work, less opportunity to work with partners, less associate training, less communication regarding partnership, and a higher reported likelihood of leaving the firm within the next two years. Nonetheless, graduates from the nation's most elite law schools tend to gravitate toward the most profitable and prestigious (and most grueling) law firms. The attraction of the most elite firms may be superior outplacement options. Or perhaps, as both novels intimate, it may stem from a reluctance to make hard life choices.

2. Underpaid Do-Gooder. You'll work for a public interest outfit. You'll make a pittance -- you might still have roommates (especially if you want to live in a major city). You'd better hope your law school has a good loan forgiveness program. For all that, the work is more interesting. You get to fight for causes in which you believe -- most of the time. But you'll have moral ambiguities here too. Even an ACLU lawyer is sometimes asked to take up causes and clients about which (s)he's not sure. And the work won't be that much more interesting. Because litigation is still litigation, and contains an outrageous amount of discovery. But now you're in an organization that can't afford paralegals. Who does the dirty work? Who reviews the 12 bankers' boxes of internal procedures from the government agency you're suing for sex discrimination? Yep. You. The low lawyer on the totem pole. At least you'll get to show up in court occasionally.

3. The Sucker. This is the club for those who don't go to a top ten law school. You get the boring work and the moral difficulty of the corporate serf, with the terrible salary of the do-gooder, because you're working in some small firm doing family law, or criminal law, or wills and trusts, or real estate. I can't put it any better than did Cameron Stracher in the Wall Street Journal:

The legal profession is really two professions: the elite lawyers and everyone else. Most of the former start out at big law firms. Many of the latter never find gainful legal employment. Instead, they work at jobs that might be characterized as "quasi-legal": paralegals, clerks, administrators, doing work for which they probably never needed a J.D.

Although hard data about the nature of these jobs are difficult to come by (and rely on self-reporting, which is inherently unreliable), the mean salary for graduates of top 10 law schools is $135,000 while it is $60,000 for "tier three" schools. It's certainly possible that tier-three graduates tend to gravitate toward lower-paying public-interest and government jobs, but this lower salary may also reflect the nonlegal nature of many of these jobs and the fact that these graduates are settling for anything that will pay the bills.

At $38,000 a year for law school, plus living expenses, law-school graduates certainly have a lot of debt ($60,000 on average, upon graduation). For this price, college students and their parents should be thinking harder about their choices. When I went to law school, nearly everyone tried to convince me that doing so would "keep my options open." All this really means is: "You can still be a lawyer."

* * *
It's time those of us inside the profession did a better job of telling others outside the profession that most of us don't earn $160,000 a year, that we can't afford expensive suits, flashy cars, sexy apartments. We don't lunch with rock stars or produce movies

The point being that these job options suck. There are boring, immoral jobs that pay better (investment banking). There are moral, low-paying jobs that are more interesting (investigative journalist). There are boring, low-paying (or high-paying!) jobs that are less immoral (foundation fundraiser). Why take the worst of all possible worlds?

Lawyers are Unhappy

Everyone knows some happy lawyers. I know a handful of lawyers who are genuinely happy with their work and their careers. But those are special cases, and special people in special situations. The data over the entire population of lawyers are much more grim. Notre Dame's magazine summarizes some of the studies:

Lawyers suffer from depression, anxiety, hostility, paranoia, social alienation and isolation, obsessive-compulsiveness, and interpersonal sensitivity at alarming rates. For example, researchers affiliated with Johns Hopkins University found statistically significant elevations of major depressive disorder (AMDD@) in only three of 104 occupations: lawyers, pre-kindergarten and special education teachers, and secretaries. Lawyers topped the list, suffering from MDD at a rate 3.6 times higher than nonlawyers who shared their key socio-demographic traits.

Lawyers also suffer from alcoholism and use illegal drugs at rates far higher than nonlawyers. One group of researchers found that the rate of alcoholism among lawyers is double the rate of alcoholism among adults generally, while another group of researchers estimated that 26 percent of lawyers had used cocaine at least once -- twice the rate of the general population. One out of three lawyers suffers from clinical depression, alcoholism or drug abuse. Not surprisingly, a preliminary study indicates that lawyers commit suicide and think about committing suicide more often than nonlawyers.

The divorce rate among lawyers appears to be higher than the divorce rate among other professionals. Felicia Baker LeClere of Notre Dame's Center for the Study of Contemporary Society compared the incidence of divorce among lawyers to the incidence of divorce among doctors, using data from the 1990 census. LeClere found that the percentage of lawyers who are divorced is higher than the percentage of doctors who are divorced and that the difference is particularly pronounced among women.

Why do you think you can defy the data? You probably can't.

You'll be Surrounded by Jerks

The lawyers-as-jerks stereotype is one that has more than a grain of truth to it, in my experience. In about four and a half years of actively practicing law, I came across numerous examples of utterly atrocious behavior, often in litigation. It's not always big things -- though big things are the ones that hit the news -- but patterns of obstreperous behavior and downright stupidity that can wear you down over a day-to-day basis. Bickering over stupid document production requests, delays, phantom schedule conflicts... all these things add up. Contemporary lawyering is often an expensive form of childish game-playing with the rules of civil procedure. It's psychological warfare for minute tactical advantage.

Then there are the lawyers in your own firm, who have been embittered by years of this crap and by long hours. And then there are the clients, who are paying an outrageous amount of money (if you're at a firm), or have been badly screwed and are consequently distrustful and hostile toward the entire world (if you're at a public interest group). Not surprisingly, both groups of people act like jerks too.

And it's not just a matter of the pressures of the law turning people into jerks. I think we can easily believe that jerks select themselves into the practice of law. Autoadmit. 'nuff said. (Also, consider the sheer number of college debaters and similar hyper-aggressive sorts that end up in law school.)

Have I mentioned the debt?

And not just the debt. But also the massive opportunity cost of three years of your life. Compare this to grad school, where top phd programs tend to be funded. Or to an MBA program which is a year shorter (and sometimes two years shorter). Or to working at something that you might find interesting, where you can learn, build human capital, and get paid, all at once.

Stracher again: "Rather than keeping options open, the crushing debt of law school often slams doors shut, pushing law students to find the highest-paying job they can and forever deferring dreams of anything else."

The law will make you into the worst kind of person.

If you believe that one's personality is shaped by one's life experiences, then you should be very worried about what the practice of law will do to you. I suggest that you should fear the inculcation of the following highly negative personality traits:

Unintellectualism. Contrary to popular belief, the law is not a particularly "intellectual" profession. Most of the reasoning in legal argument is patently casuistic. Legal arguments are often made in a "kitchen sink" fashion, throwing every conceivably plausible argument into a brief, regardless of the relative strength of the arguments or coherence of the submission as a whole. The practice of law is the development of a habit of extreme intellectual dishonesty where the routine is to state one's opponent's arguments as uncharitably as possible in aid of weakening their impact and conceal every possible fact or principle that is against one's interest which one isn't explicitly required to disclose.

Arrogance. A lawyer is surrounded largely by non-lawyers who come to him/her for expert advice. That alone can encourage some arrogance, but even more is necessary for the psychological warfare between lawyers. Lawyers often try to use extreme false confidence (a.k.a. arrogance) to intimidate one another into tactical concessions, e.g. by making the other lawyer think that they've screwed up, that "things are always done this way," etc. That is a tactic especially used by older lawyers against younger ones. The younger ones need to develop their own armor of arrogance to resist it.

Pettiness. As I've been emphasizing, much of the nastiness in the practice of law is in small-minded disputes about nothing points of procedure and other maneuvering for tactical advantage. Do you really want to practice being the kind of prick who demands that pleadings be thrown out for being one day late?

Uninterestingness. The practice of law takes so much of one's time that one can engage in few activities with the rest of one's life. It is also so stressful that one tends to obsess about it. The result is that lawyers can become very boring people, with nothing to talk about except their ugly jobs.

Impatience. See above with respect to stress. Also, the law is a very deadline-driven occupation, especially in litigation. There's always more work to do than there is time to do it in, and there's always a court and opposing counsel breathing down your throat with respect to strict deadlines. If you miss a deadline, the consequences can be terrible: a lost case, a malpractice claim against you, etc. Don't be surprised when this spills over and you find yourself swearing at people who walk too slowly while crossing the street.

Aggressiveness. Again, the psychological warfare between lawyers rewards this.

What to do instead?

Something you love. Something that makes you happy. Something that you value for more than money or status or perceived glamour. I wholeheartedly endorse Paul Graham's brilliant essay, How to Do What You Love. Read it. I also recommend my previous post on this topic.

As I said, there are some people who are happy with the practice of law. But the data are not in your favor. Make this decision very carefully. Don't just drift into it because you're not sure what else to do with a humanities degree.

Addenda, 11-16-07:

On the Six-Minute Billing Increment
Commenter DGM reminded me of another really unpleasant aspect of the practice of law: one's life becomes divided into six-minute intervals. Lawyers traditionally bill clients in 1/10 hr increments, so one actually has to keep track of every six minute period in one's working day. Anyone who works at a human rhythm rather than a machine rhythm will find this difficult and somewhat distressing. What do you if you zone out for a few minutes/start a distracted game of solitaire in the middle of some powerful boring research? "Hmm, well, I think I spent maybe 4 minutes on that, and I worked for sixteen minutes before and 74 minutes after, but I was interupted by that nine minute phone call, so, ok, call that 1.3 hours. I think. I'm really not sure how many minutes any of those activities were, and was I really paying attention the whole time?" This applies to public interest lawyers too (though not government lawyers), because public interest lawyers often get to claim statutory attorney's fees from the other party after winning a lawsuit (whether or not the client was actually charged anything), so they often have to keep track of six minute intervals too. I feel like the six minute thing is a source of a lot of small ethical compromises and a miasma of bad feelings about oneself. If you're like me, you start to feel a constant sense of low-level guilt about not being quite sure about how much time you spent, about sometimes rounding up (cheating the client) and sometimes rounding down (cheating the firm, making yourself look bad). It's not pleasant at all.

Public Interest Law Revisited
I also wanted to say an extra word or two about public interest law. In my experience, public interest lawyers are indeed the happiest among practicing lawyers. But many public interest careers are practically inaccessible to people with large law school loans and no loan forgiveness program. And over the years I have known many, many law students to go to law school planning to do public interest work and then fall off the rails by third year. It usually goes something like the following: work for a public interest organization the first summer of law school; decide to "try out a firm" the second summer; get a permanent job offer from that firm; decide to go there "temporarily," for "a couple years," to "pay off loans" or "buy a house;" never leave. The money gets addictive.

Also, the early years of being a public interest lawyer will be particularly hard for you if you actually care about what you're doing. There is a fairly steep learning curve in the practice of law, and for the first two years, you are just not competent. At the same time, many clients of many public interest outfits (especially legal aid, etc.) have suffered very badly, and you're the last person to whom they can turn. Moreover, many public interest outfits can't afford a lot of training, and are sufficiently understaffed that young lawyers get thrown right into important tasks and often running their own caseload mostly on their own. These facts add up to a reality where you feel really incompetent, but you have people who you care about, who have suffered injustice, relying on your competence to get them through major life problems. It's terrifying to think that Sally and Tom could get evicted by their slumlord because you don't have enough experience. One of the reasons that I left the legal aid job was because I had started to dream about my clients. Burnout is a big problem in this business.

And as DGM points out, many public interest jobs are very hard to find. I'd edit that remark a little. It's not that hard (relative to big firms and elite public interest jobs) to find jobs in legal aid, prosecution, or public defense. It's not super-easy, because law schools are still spitting out far more lawyers than the market can absorb, but it's not harder than the legal market generally. But the best public interest jobs -- the ones that people stay in for years and are happy and have to be carried out on their backs -- are the elite advocacy organization jobs. By that I mean the ACLU, NAACP-LDF, Earthjustice, IJ for libertarians, certain divisions of the Department of Justice, so on and so forth. Those jobs are really, really hard to get. The organizations don't have nearly enough money to hire lawyers, and people do tend to really like those jobs, so few openings come up. Even graduates of top law schools have trouble getting these jobs. So while those are in my opinion the best law jobs (you get to work on issues you care about, you're surrounded by really smart people doing really high-level work in things like constitutional law, you don't have to worry too much about clients directly suffering because of your incompetence), the chances are that you will not get one, and especially not early in your career. Do not rest your hopes for a happy career on that low-probability outcome.

This post is getting some really valuable comments; those who want other perspectives on the practice of law should read them.

Addendum 2, 11-21-07: some additional thoughts on public interest and government work.

This morning, I received an e-mail from someone who I greatly admire, taking me to task for my comments about public interest jobs, and particularly about direct legal services. I think she was right about a few things, and I'd like to take a few things back and clarify some others.

First, I know many happy public interest lawyers, including those who provide direct legal services (legal aid, etc.). I also know some unhappy ones, and I myself had a pretty bad experience in that area. But all generalizations are somewhat inaccurate.

Second, I should not have said simply that issue-advocacy-type organizations like the ACLU are just better than direct services jobs. There are many people who are in the direct services jobs who wouldn't take an ACLU job for twice the salary. There are many who find a lot of personal fulfillment in those jobs. I apologize to people in that category who I inadvertently insulted (at least one of whom, a commenter, used to be my boss's boss's boss's at legal aid). While I personally was much happier in my second law job (which involved much less direct service work), and while I think the relative turnover rates at the various types of public interest organizations matches my experience, generalizations are just that -- generalizations.

However, I think there are a lot of people for whom the intense emotional involvement that you get in direct legal services leads to a lot of burnout. And that burnout leads to poorer service for the very people who we care about. This is why I think what I have to say is important not just for the young would-be lawyers, but for the clients who are being served. Because poor matches between person and job leads to unhappy lawyers who burnout and leave after a year or two. It's much better to get good matches who will stick around and become experienced and skilled and get to know the community and can be real forces for good.

Let's separate out two audiences for this post, for whom I have two different pieces of advice.

Audience 1: People who are already in law school, or done with it. I think the best chance for happiness within the law is to do one of the aforementioned do-gooder jobs. I certainly wouldn't recommend any other kind, unless there's nothing -- and I mean absolutely nothing -- more important to you than money. But it's not a panacea for the problems with the practice of law.

Audience 2: People who are considering going to law school. The point of my post is that you should not go to law school planning any kind of career without all the information, and many people only get one side. The original post was deliberately one-sided in order to, as it were, balance the scales somewhat. There is some merit to going to law school to plan a public interest career, but you need to know that there will be a lot of obstacles in the way, and that if you make it, the career will not be all roses and advancement of social justice.

I think the following quote from my correspondent (whose name I am deliberately leaving off, as I haven't asked her permission to post this) is particularly important: "Let's say you are right that there are unhappy public interst lawyers. Is the solution for no one to go to law school and for there to be no one to do gay rights, civil rights, or especially to represent poor people? Or is the solution for people to be better educated about what they are facing and perhaps to push for change (such as better funding for legal services or the new national loan repayment program)?"

Mea culpa on that. If you're really committed to public interest work, I encourage it, but I also encourage you to organize to make the working conditions better. For that matter, it's a nationwide scandal that the working conditions of many who try to contribute to the public interest -- not just lawyers -- are so poor. Lawyers don't have it as bad as some -- these guys, for example, have it much worse.

In a related vein, some people (see Michael Froomkin's post) have suggested that government work is a route that offers better quality of life and still allows one to do good work. There's some truth there, although many of my comments do still apply, particularly the bits about intellectual dishonesty and moral ambiguity (imagine working under an administration whose policies with respect to the subject area of your office are, in your lights, unbelievably wicked -- like being a liberal working in EPA under Bush!). And many of the government lawyers I've met have been all-around jerks (inside joke to one potential reader: "whinging"), though many have also been stand-up people.