Monday, March 31, 2008

Why Moral Universalism is a Good Thing, pt. 90276009246x10^847 (sorry Daniel)

a.k.a. "Okin was right pt. 90276009246x10^847: Multiculturalism really is bad for women.

(Subtitle: Venezuelan man assaults woman for declaring feminism, declares feminism form of U.S. "colonialism.")

(h/t Amber)

Edit: Nor is this particularly an issue about "foreign" cultures: among the cultures, whose advocates claim it is deserving of protection, that leads to violence against women is U.S. majority Christian culture... moral universalism doesn't just save us against the "others."

While I'm on my universalist, cosmopolitan high horse, Phoebe makes an excellent point (in the midst of rightly yawning about some random stuff about some fancy-ass school that got its knickers in a twist about some facebook group, blah blah) -- because of the utterly bizarre way in which we construct race in this society, Jewish people (i.e. members of a really good candidate for the most oppressed group in history) count as white and are, in otherwise civilized liberal classrooms, treated as if their ancestors participated in the worst of the early U.S. crimes -- slavery, slaughter of Native Americans, etc. Solution: dump what David Hollinger aptly calls the "ethno-racial Pentagon" -- the moronic idea that people have to be classified in one, or a combination of, five racial groups in this country, and the associated idea that these groups express some kind of culture or shared affinity. Hollinger's alternative -- prefer voluntary to involuntary cultural affiliations -- would nicely solve that problem, make it harder for various groups to participate in the oppression of women, and nicely express universalist autonomy values, all in one.


While I'm plugging other blogs...

Everyone should read my [internet-] friend Helen's blog. It's hilarious and mad and 100% New York City, in the least annoyingly obnoxious possible way that one can be 100% New York City. Also, cooking with math, and multiple deep and worryingly comical connections between fashion and Nazi Germany.


A really smart idea from some logician.

From some blogger called "infinite injury" (whose blog I've never seen before, and which seems to be pretty random), the following extremely good idea:

Instead of those individuals with the best defenses taking them trial we see just the opposite happening in the RIAA cases. While there are many individuals whose cases raise tough questions about the accuracy of the RIAA’s identifications or whether merely making songs availible constitutes infringement the case that was most throughly defended so far was that of Jammie Thomas who insisted on claiming she hadn’t even made the songs available despite the singularly strong evidence showing this to be a lie. Unsurprisingly the jury saw through the blatant deception and convicted her without reaching any of the serious issues.

Some might dismiss this as an isolated oddity but I think it reflects fundamental incentives that our system creates when large companies sue individuals for massive damages while offering cheap settlements. Given the fact that under the American rule even a successful defense might cost 60-100k any reasonable individual is likely to swallow their pride and pay the couple thousand dollars of bribe money, even if they know they were misidentified. This creates a situation where only the copyright analagos of tax protestors or the judgement proof are likely to defend their cases. Hardly providing ideal test cases. Certainly foundations and charities like the EFF and ACLU can help offset this problem but not every situation is popular enough to attract these deep pockets and our justice system shouldn’t require charitable aid to produce fair results.

One might be tempted to move to the English rule but while this rule would help even this seems to leave a dangerously imbalanced playing field. Corporations are likely to sue private individuals in such a fashion only when they hope to gain massive deterent benefit while the individual can only hope to gain a few thousand dollars. For instance suppose you produced a mix tape pushing the boundaries of fair use which you gave away for free. A group like the RIAA may have a large financial stake in convincing others such behavior will be punished while your potential gain from pursuing the lawsuit under the English rule is just the few thousand the settlement offer proposes a rational defendent will still stimply pay the protection money and give the corporation their example. Besides, the English rule risks unfairly deterring individuals from suing corporations lest they get left with the massive bill the corporation ran up on lawyers.

Hopefully some clever economist can imagine some clever scheme that results in even better incentives but it occured to me that a partial solution to both this problem and the dangers of the English rule more generally might be the following. Create a system where by default the lower pays their own attorney’s fees and gives the winner the amount of money he (the loser) spend on attorneys. This would then minimize the harms of the English rule (you still control the maximum risk you undergo) while giving some extra incentive for ‘example’ defendants to go to trial in hopes of winning a relatively large payout since their example status likely means a great deal of lawyers fees were paid out in selecting and pursuing their case.

I like this idea a lot. There would have to be a lot of thinking about unintended consequences (for example, are there some kinds of litigation where one side inherently has most costs than another? And what about contingency fee litigation?) But the basic notion would be a great way to reduce the effect of deep-pocketed litigators like the RIAA, as well as the land developers who file SLAPP suits.


Specialization is for Insects: Why Don't I Follow International Law Anymore?

I just saw the new Prime Minister of Australia speak at the Brookings Institution today. It was a really interesting talk, mostly about economic and strategic cooperation between Australia and America, and the pressing need for Western countries to really "understand" and engage directly with rising economic/political/global powers of China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Asian region more broadly.

I used to be very interested in international relations and law, and have even TA'd U.S. foreign policy and global security classes. But since college, I've let this interest completely drop. I didn't take any comparative law courses in law school, don't read international law blogs (other than Opinio Juris), and have reverted back to just being an educated lay reader. My best friend works in international policy, and so I could/should know more, because I'd have someone to talk to about it. Also, as a responsible "citizen of the world," I feel like I should pay more attention.

But I don't. I have limited time, resources, and mental space, and so I just do my work, read the national (and not even local) news, and the errant novel here and there.

I feel like a bad 21st century person. But I have to ask you, overeducated readers: how interested are you in international affairs, and how closely do you follow them? Do you read "The World" section of the newspaper religiously? Do you keep up with international elections, economic developments, and culture?

The last thing I want to be is one of those ignorant, insular, jingoistic Americans. Not only because it's bad, but also because I can't stand it when foreigners make fun of me.



Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Dismal Science, in a couple of lines.

From the freakonomics people's nytimes interview with a couple of prostitutes (h/t: Amber):

Q: If men pay by the hour, they would want to consume as many acts per hour as possible. How do sex workers feel about this?

MINDY: I’m trying to be delicate with my answer: this usually doesn’t happen.

DOROTHY: Is he kidding?

(Noting that the question wasn't proffered by one of the freakonomics authors -- presumably they're not that stupid. But I'll bet it was proffered by someone who had just walked out of an undergraduate micro class... or read something of Gary Becker's.)


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Summer Funding

Filed Under Real Life Grad School Tales, alternate title Grad School Reality--It Sucks, So Keep Your Day Job:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a grad student who is not fully funded is cheated by his or her institution, and should not go to that grad school. One exception is if the grad student is attending a professional school, where there is never funding. And that's me, The Sucker. So I'm scrambling to find funding for the summer, and looking ahead to 2009-2010, when I'll be on approved research status (my dissertation year) and have no financial aid or funding. Help me.

I find it kind of sad that teaching summer school classes here at Liberal University pays so little--less than I would get maxing out research assistantships. If I finagled my way into TA'ing a class (and finagling it is, since my stupid degree is not attached to any cognate disciplines, and thus I am on the Law School Fantasy Island), I would have to attend lectures and TA sections 3-4 days a week--a lot of work, twice the amount--for half the pay during a normal semester. This is what happens when they don't give you fee remission. So not only would I be working twice as hard, I would be paid half as much. And this work takes me away from my own work. Yes, research and writing is a job, and so it is ironic that you have to fund your job by getting another job. I resolve to not take any jobs that do not actually help with my project, or do not compensate commensurate to its degree of attenuation. So I'm looking for RAships this summer with professors who do similar work, or at least will give me some skills I need (like coding cases) and faculty relationships that will be good to have.

Searching for funding is the hardest part about being a grad student, especially if you're in an anomalous, sui generis program like mine. As an SJD, I'm not eligible for most fellowships that other grad students are, although perhaps this will change once I advance to candidacy next Spring 2009.

Paul Caron is most awesome for identifying all the fellowship and VAP programs out there
, and I'm seriously considering doing one of these before I go on the market. I wish that there were a list of fellowships law grad students are qualified for. It's hard to figure out. Are we professional students? no. are we eligible? I have no idea. How many American SJD students are there that are eligible for fellowships based on their citizenship but not based on their program? Probably lots, but at my school, I'm the only one, and so no one here is in much of a position to advise me.

One day, I am going to pay it forward (stupid feel-good expression, but there's no one to pay back, so little supported am I at my school) and help out other American SJDs. First and foremost, by telling them to go back in time to the age of 21 and do a joing J.D./Ph.D instead. And then tell them how to get out of the hell of being in a program with no institutional support that doesn't much care about its students, because it's largely just a cash farm for the school through the extortion of money from naive international students.

Bitter much, you ask. Only a little. Because of the great freedom of the program and the fact that they don't care about me until I get a placement, I've attached myself to any and every other department at the school to get actually useful and interesting interdisciplinary skills. The law school is better than the program I'm in, and the university better than the law school, and so this is a good place to be for someone like me--someone with little or no sentimentality or fealty to her actual program, and is willing to carve a new path rather than sit on the sidelines. It's a little mercenary, yes, but until they create an actual law Ph.D out of the SJD program, there's little else to do for American advanced law degree programs, except jump ship to a Ph.D program. Which I almost did, if the sunk costs weren't so much of a factor. If only I had a timeship.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Dear Republicans, Credit Card Industry Goons, Democrats Who Voted for the Bankruptcy Bill, etc.: I Told You So.

I've been railing against both the credit card industry and the bankruptcy "reform" act for years now. Here's, in relevant part, what I said in March 2005 (in a blog comment, along with a variety of less temperate things):

Third, how about abusive practices as to consumers as well as to the democracy? The fact that the credit card companies DELIBERATELY TARGET THE FINANCIALLY UNSOPHISTICATED -- as can be seen most dramatically by setting foot on most any college campus (especially large state universities) about the start of the academic year, when they sucker college freshmen into signing up for these cards, on no income or credit history, and get them mired in debt right from the start -- gives them no claim to any moral high ground. These are predatory lending practices -- and this is before we even get into predatory mortgage loans, payday loans, etc. Any industry that deliberately targets the unsophisticated and inexperienced for deals that they don't have an understanding of should be punished, not supported with legislation.

In July 2005, I said the following in an editorial for the Oregon State Bar magazine:

On the other hand, the finance industry will benefit richly. Advocates of the act repeatedly claimed that all consumers, except the highest-risk borrowers, would benefit as finance industry profits were passed on in the form of lower interest rates, yet they have been unable to explain why the record profits of the credit card industry in recent years were accompanied by increased interest and fees. Credit card industry profits in 2004, measured by return on assets, were at their highest since 1988. If past behavior is any guide to future behavior, the profit increases attributable to this act will similarly not be passed on to consumers.

Ironically, the credit card industry has driven much of the supposedly "irresponsible" behavior that they and their Congressional allies condemned. Every fall, college campuses are saturated with credit card company representatives giving out t-shirts and beer coolers to induce college freshmen with no income, no work history and no financial education or experience to accept credit cards. Not surprisingly, those students frequently incur huge debt loads. In 1997 and 1998, Oklahoma college students Sean Moyer and Mitzi Pool committed suicide because they were overwhelmed with credit card debt. (Bankruptcy "reform" will increase this "irresponsibility": with less bankruptcy risk, lenders have even more incentive to exploit students.) Even off-campus, widespread "irresponsibility" is a myth. A recent study by professors at the Harvard Law and Medical Schools showed that fully half of bankruptcies were related to medical expenses, not "irresponsibility."

It's now three years later. What's happened? Well, let's see...

MBNA almost immediately blew up and got acquired by Bank of America.

The credit card companies largely continued their practice of "universal default," where a default on some other obligation (i.e. to someone completely different) triggers an increase in credit card interest rates.

Interest rates continued to rise through 2006. They started to level off around the end of 2006/beginning of 2007 (source: the fed), and have been dropping recently, but only thanks to the fed's reduction of interest rates generally, not, because, say, the risk of default is lower because of this new bankruptcy law. In fact, the average rate for all accounts is higher now than it was in 2005, when the bill was passed, even though the federal funds rate is the same as, or lower than, most of 2005.

At best (so far as I can tell by eyeballing without serious quant work), the rates have been generally following the funds rate, not decreasing (contra the predictions made by the bill's advocates).

How about the demand side? Did the bankruptcy bill, by increasing the cost of credit, restrain "irresponsible" borrowing? Weeelllll, at the end of 2005, revolving consumer debt was 825 billion dollars. In January 2008, it was 947 billion dollars. (source: the fed again) Some of that might just be the W-and-housing-caused economic death spiral, but it doesn't look good for the bankruptcy bill proponents.

So what about the housing blowup? Well, some market-types think the bankruptcy "reform" bill contributed to it.

Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Washington Mutual Inc. got what it wanted in 2005: A revised bankruptcy code that no longer lets people walk away from credit card bills.

The largest U.S. savings and loan didn't count on a housing recession. The new bankruptcy laws are helping drive foreclosures to a record as homeowners default on mortgages and struggle to pay credit card debts that might have been wiped out under the old code, said Jay Westbrook, a professor of business law at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and a former adviser to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

``Be careful what you wish for,'' Westbrook said. ``They wanted to make sure that people kept paying their credit cards, and what they're getting is more foreclosures.''

Washington Mutual, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. spent $25 million in 2004 and 2005 lobbying for a legislative agenda that included changes in bankruptcy laws to protect credit card profits, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington group that tracks political donations.

The banks are still paying for that decision. The surge in foreclosures has cut the value of securities backed by mortgages and led to more than $40 billion of writedowns for U.S. financial institutions. It also reached to the top echelons of the financial services industry.

* * *

Even as losses have mounted, banks have seen their credit card businesses improve. The amount of money owed on U.S. credit cards with payments more than 30 days late fell to $7.04 billion in the second quarter from $8.37 billion two years earlier, according to data compiled by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

In the same period, the dollar volume of repossessed homes owned by insured banks doubled to $4.2 billion, the federal agency said. New foreclosures rose to a record in the second quarter, led by defaults in subprime adjustable-rate mortgages, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington.

`Let the House Go'

People are putting their credit card payments ahead of their mortgages, said Richard Fairbank, chief executive officer of Capital One Financial Corp., the largest independent U.S. credit card issuer. Of customers who are at least three months late on their mortgage payments, 70 percent are current on their credit cards, he said.

``What we conclude is that people are saying, `Honey, let the house go,''' but keep the cards, Fairbank said Nov. 5 at a conference in New York sponsored by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

The new bankruptcy code makes it harder for debtors to qualify for Chapter 7, the section that erases non-mortgage debt. It shifted people who get paychecks higher than the median income for their area to Chapter 13, giving them up to five years to pay off non-housing creditors.

No Help Left

The court-ordered payment plans fail to account for subprime loans with adjustable rates that can reset as often as every six months, said Henry Sommer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. Two-thirds of debtors won't be able to complete their payback plans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

``We have people walking away from homes because they can't afford them even post bankruptcy,'' said Sommer, a Philadelphia- based bankruptcy attorney. ``Their mortgage rates are resetting at levels that are completely unaffordable, and there's nothing the bankruptcy process can do for them as it now stands.''

* * *

Washington Mutual spokeswoman Libby Hutchinson in Seattle, JPMorgan spokesman Thomas Kelly in New York and Bank of America spokesman Terry Francisco in Charlotte, North Carolina, declined to comment on the bankruptcy law.

``The law had an unintended consequence of taking away a relief valve that mortgage borrowers used to have,'' said Rod Dubitsky, head of asset-backed research for Credit Suisse Holdings USA Inc. in New York. ``It's bad for the mortgage borrowers and bad for subprime investors because it means more losses.''

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 was the biggest overhaul to the code in more than a quarter of a century. The old law, the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 that was signed by President Jimmy Carter, had loosened requirements for debt forgiveness.

Lobbying Effort

Financial companies began a coordinated lobbying campaign for bankruptcy reform in 1998 when the American Financial Services Association, a trade group representing credit card companies, joined the American Bankers Association to form the National Consumer Bankruptcy Coalition.

Campaign contributions from the coalition and its members totaled more than $8.2 million during the 2004 election that gave Bush his second term in office. Two-thirds of the donations were given to Republicans who supported the bankruptcy changes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group, later renamed the Coalition for Responsible Bankruptcy Laws, has since disbanded. Its members included Washington Mutual, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, MasterCard Inc., and Morgan Stanley.

Ford Motor Co., General Motors and DaimlerChrysler also were members. They won provisions in the new code that changed the way car loans are treated in bankruptcy.

Reform the Reform

Congress may soon take action to ``reform the bankruptcy reform,'' Zandi said. The House Judiciary Committee is working on legislation to let bankruptcy judges restructure home loans by lowering interest rates and reducing mortgage balances to reflect current market value.

Banks including Washington Mutual, Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co. sent a letter to the committee opposing the change, saying such restructurings should be done privately.

Countrywide Financial Corp., the largest U.S. lender, said last month that it will modify $16 billion worth of adjustable-rate mortgages. Washington Mutual said in April that it will spend $2 billion giving discounted rates to help customers with subprime loans refinance at better terms.

So far, most lenders have been reluctant to change loan agreements. About 1 percent of mortgages that reset in January, April and July were modified, according to a Sept. 21 Moody's Investors Service report that surveyed 16 subprime lenders that account for 80 percent of the market.

Congress probably will approve at least a limited measure to permit loan modifications, said Westbrook, the University of Texas law professor.

``They are going to have to figure out some way to address the problem,'' Westbrook said. ``I don't think our economy or our consciences can handle the number of foreclosures we'll see if they do nothing.


And students? Still being suckered:

A new survey, The Campus Credit Card Trap, from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), finds widespread student support for restricting aggressive marketing practices on campuses. The survey also describes strategies banks use to gain access to students — about a quarter of whom say they’ve used their credit cards toward tuition costs.

“Banks are marketing aggressively through a variety of channels. They’re calling students on the phone, they’re mailing to students, and they’re using a combination of on-campus and off-campus tables where they give away products, ranging from offers for sandwiches, offers of food and pizza, all the way up to iPod shuffles,” said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG. The organization manages the “Truth About Credit” campaign.

“We are asking campuses across the country to change the way they either market on campus to students directly or the kinds of exclusive marketing arrangements they have to provide students with a university-branded credit card,” Mierzwinski said.

The survey, of more than 1,500 students at 40 campuses in 14 states, found broad support among students for limiting credit card marketing on campuses. Eighty percent said they supported at least some limits. There was strong support for restricting access only to promotions for cards with fair terms and conditions, and opposition to colleges’ sharing or selling lists containing student contact information. “Many credit card companies encounter no difficulty in securing information of current students at colleges for marketing purposes,” the report notes. “It is also true that some state public records laws compel public universities and colleges to sell their lists of student information as public records, to anyone.”

The issue of sharing or selling student data has attracted a lot of attention in Iowa, in particular, due in part to a September Des Moines Register series on the subject. The U.S. PIRG report devotes significant space to the University of Iowa-branded Bank of America card marketed to students ("Imagine the convenience of being able to purchase supplies for your classes, without worrying about carrying a lot of cash"), and the roles of the university and Alumni Association in providing the bank with contact information for undergraduates. University alumni associations, like Iowa’s, benefit financially from the affinity, or university branded, credit cards, by lending the university’s name in exchange for fees.

In an interview Thursday, Steve Parrott, the spokesman for the University of Iowa, said the terms of the agreement with Bank of America have since been renegotiated. They are no longer providing student information to the bank, he said. But, he added, under Iowa law, any information in the directory not restricted by individual students, staff or faculty is publicly available under state open records laws.

Nor, under the new terms of the agreement, Parrott added, can the bank directly market to students on campus through tabling at the student union, for instance.

In the U.S. PIRG survey, about three-quarters (76 percent) of students said they’d stopped at a table to either apply or consider applying for a credit card — with the best strategy for getting students to stop being free gifts (T-shirts, Frisbees, food, etc.). Notably, the possibility of banning free gifts gets less support from students than all the other restrictions on campus marketing practices proposed.

Mierzwinski added that in some cases, even when colleges might impose limits on commercial vendors, companies can gain access by renting table space on campus from student groups — either for a certain set fee for the day or for a dollar or two per credit card application completed.

The survey found that 25 percent of student respondents had paid at least one late fee, 15 percent had paid at least one over-the-limit fee, and 6 percent had at least one card that had been canceled for non-payment.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently began investigating colleges’ ties to credit card companies. And the Ohio Attorney General, Marc Dann, has been working with Ohio State University’s law school to challenge deceptive credit card marketing practices on campus. In 2007, his office filed suit against Citibank, Elite Marketing, and Potbelly Sandwich Works for alleged deceptive practices because advertisements on Ohio State’s campus promising free Potbelly fare didn’t include the catch, Dann said — that students complete a credit card application first.

None of this -- casual review of the data subject to complicated causal processes, a study conducted by advocates of the side I agree with, etc. -- is particularly strong evidence for the proposition that the credit card companies are still gleefully screwing people. But there's no evidence at all that anything's gotten better after the bill.

Told you so.


I Wish I Could Quit You, or The Book That Got Away

I borrowed about 20 books or so from TD, pillaging his shelves and absconding with printed treasures. Yes, I talk this florid and purple prosey in real life--and only occasionally is it adorable, although I'd hope that it was adorable all of the time. Alas, it is but a false hope, thrown into the aether. (See?!) I must have borrowed 6-7 Murakamis, and a smattering sample of other contemporary authors (Henning Mankell, Carl Hiassen, Zola, Hemingway). Yes, it disturbs me deeply that a chem/econ major has read more than an English lit major. Dude, I went to law school, which kind of killed my fun reading for a few years, because I was stupid enough to think I didn't have enough free time to read for class and for fun and do all of my other stuff (being highly involved in student organizations, visiting my parents every weekend...yeah I should have screwed the institutional involvements). I'm trying to get back into fiction reading, and I have, although I'm just not blogging the reviews as fast as I read the books--and I'm not even reading that fast. I read a lot, but not all of it ever really gets finished efficiently, and I often have to drop novels for that damned interminable course reading/research.

I know that this is a stupid argument: if not for school, I'd be so much smarter! But really, I have too little time, with all of the articles I have to read whether or not they're related to my work. I'd wear a t-shirt that said "I'd Rather Be Reading," except that I am always reading, and making distinctions between "fun" reading and "work" reading make me want to cry. I try to dupe myself into thinking that reading for my work, since I chose this career and subject matter, is fun. Yay!

Anyway, I have about 5 books I'm currently reading, for fun and for profit. Well, one day I'll make money at reading, just you wait and see.

So, I'm currently reading, and will one day finish:

-Saturday, Ian McEwan
-Faceless Killers, Henning Mankell
-On the Rule of Law, Brian Tamanaha
-American Inquisition, Eric Muller
-Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

I will not rest until these are read.

But this is not a post about books you are reading and just can't finish timely enough because life gets in the way.

No, this is a post about the book that got away. You know I always take the laconic, long route to my point. There's plenty of reasons for not finishing a book within the week, or the month that you thought you'd allot to it. But there's deeper seated reasons for just never finishing that one book. The book that disappointed you halfway through, or the book that seemed to have no point. Or the book that was just too difficult. You stopped reading the book, and put it aside, and yet years later, it still bothers you that you never finished that book.

With my paucity of free time and mental space, I do not waste time on books. If I don't like a book, I stop reading it. But when I stop reading a book because I got too busy, or if I just gave up on it without being sure that was the right decision--well, it bothers me.

For me, that book is Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, which is the most Kafka-esque of the Ishiguro books (which I haven't read many of, to be honest--The Unconsoled did it in for me for Ishiguro for a while). I've always wanted to finish it, and read the first 2/3 twice. Twice!

It's at my parent's house. I'll be visiting them again this June. It lies there in wait for me, tauntingly, invitingly, suggestively. I think that I will try to read it again, for the third or fourth time in ten years.

It's the one that got away. What's that book for you?


Stuff "Everyone" Should Know

This is a post intended to provoke comments. Consider this your personal invitation.

I was talking to TD tonight, which is awesome as always. TD does financial analysis and consulting (mainly project finance) for a company in some industry in some part of the country. TD graduated with degrees in economics and chemistry from an Ivy League school. TD is really widely read in multiple disciplines (for fun), and has spent a significant amount of time in what I call "the real world", working various jobs for various companies in various industries. Except for the chemistry degree, it appears that his previous studies are relevant to the various jobs he's held. Thus, what he does is both narrow and broad: he has a job that requires him to do a lot of analysis and number crunching, but he has to read up on a lot of law, accounting and policy in order to do that job. Couple that with his broad undergraduate education and continuing education in the form of recreational reading, and he's quite a dilettante, and a good one.

Compare him to me: I am a legal academic, or at least am trying to be. I am in an advanced law degree program at a top 10 law school (but for the immobile top 5...), but my scholarly focus is both narrow and broad: I focus on employment law and employment discrimination (and one day, contract theory and administrative law), but with a sociolegal approach that draws from organizational studies, sociology, and behavioral economics (or at least micro-foundations of organizational behavior). I graduated with degrees in English literature and political science from a big, not-so-great state school, neither of which I use anymore. I also have a J.D. from a top 20 school with a concentration in Critical Race Theory (civil rights, writ narrow) and an LL.M. in which I wrote a craptastic thesis on federal criminal regulation. I've spent absolutely no time in the real world, but I do know a lot of different theoretical approaches--and no, TD, that is not a waste of time and life. I also read a lot, but my reading is either for my already too far-flinging work or for pure pleasure, and thus I hardly read non-fiction that is not directly relevant to my work or at least legal in its focus and analysis. I would pass over any economics or science lay text for the Nth book on constitutionalism any day.

Thus, what I do is now completely different from what I did, and I am a total dilettante in the worst way: I used to know a lot, but I don't know much anymore. I know a lot about a lot of different subjects, just because I kept moving around so much in my 8+ years of higher education. But the further I advance in my education, the more narrowly focused I become, and my own individual intellectual habits are not conducive to acquiring, or even sustaining, the former breadth of my knowledge. This is not to say that I am smarter because of all my education, or more expert because of my focus (although I'd like to think so): more that like all insects, I have specialized, and with each year I cast off the dross and keep what I consider to be the ore.

However, there's a good deal of human capital that I've acquired and then sort of cast aside. Dudes, I am aware that everything I read and learn suffuses my general intellectual approach, style, and outlook, so yes I am glad that I read a lot of Victorian literature and jurisprudence, and yes I feel good about myself. (hugs self) Obviously, all of my legal training has been valuable even when I question its utility, so I don't regret that part. Part of the specialization process has been to deepen my knowledge of the law, even as I figure out other approaches to understanding it.

But back to the human capital I've cast aside in the last 4-5 years of legal education and specialization: what is the stuff that every well-educated (or moderately-educated) person should know? I'm not just talking about high school shit like the Pythagorean theorem or the the formula for calculating force. I am not asking a Jay Leno type stupid question in which I query stupid people on the street and show some ha ha demonstration of how stupid people are. I know that "most" people in America don't know these things. I am asking you, readers, what should a person who has graduated from college know? What should someone of my quite high level of education know?

The problem with this question is that it is rather reductionist: with the great disparity in quality of education, even at the higher education level, and with the great diversity in majors (especially given the explosion of little ___ studies departments), it's hard to say what every college graduate should know. When education was more tightly regulated and in the stranglehold of Old White Men, it was relatively easy to graduate with the same basis of knowledge: classics, sciences, literature, math, philosophy. I remember reading that a lot of the old guys who started up the most successful investment banks in NY were philosophy or literature majors--what you learned in college wasn't important (college is not a trade school, and it used to be a gentleman's grooming school), but what you learned on the job was. Then the model of education opened up even as it became more professionalized, and as David Horwitz would say, all hell broke loose. So many majors, too little consensus. Even with required "general education" courses, there's very little homogenity of experience within an institution, let alone across a state, let alone across the nation. There's a great deal of choice in gen ed requirements. There's a great deal of choice within a major even, so I was able to fulfill my lower-division requirements with a comparative literature series rather than the standard English lit offerings--and thus, I have never read Paradise Lost. Oh, judge me now, bitches. But seriously, college education is too heterogeneous to generalize the knowledge produced.

So when TD asked me, tonight, whether I knew what the "time value of money" was, I said "yes"--but only because I vaguely remember learning it in my non-essential Political Economy class in college, that got repeated just last semester when I was taking Micro Foundations of Organizational Behavior. I learned this as a concept though, not the precise formula or definitional terms. He also asked me if I knew what "NPV" meant--and no, I did not know it stood for "Net Present Value", nor what that meant and how it was calculated. Supposedly, I should know this. It was an interesting data point that I knew one without knowing the other. I find though, as I become more expert in my already too disparate focuses on employment law, I forget the stuff that I used to know, and thus don't know the stuff that "everyone" should know." And I definitely didn't count "time value of money" as one of those things. Is someone who doesn't know this (or whatever other test of knowledge) less educated or somewhat intellectually impoverished? (For the record, he did not say that, he is too awesome, I am editorializing).

It's a hard test to make: what someone should know, given the great disparity in college educational experience, upon graduating from college. I say that the tests should be if not major-specific, then at least discipline-specific.

But what would you count as something everyone who graduated from college should know?

I would nominate:

-The Bill of Rights (yes, all 10)
-The structure of government (three branches, Federalist 10, 51...)
-Westphalian sovereignty (too much to ask?)
-Some philosophy, any philosophy: Intro to Ethics, Intro to Epistemology (too much to ask?)
-What are the tests for statistical significance (come on, now)
-Basic passage analysis and criticism and how to write a term paper (come on, again)
-What is game theory
-The concept of rational choice/rational actor
-Supply-side economics
-Market forces
-What cognitive dissonance means
-US/Western History, at least broadly and barely
-Marxist theories of capitalism
-What is Deconstructionism

This is obviously centered on the social sciences and humanities, although I can't really come up with quick tests for English literature. The study of literature is a process and approach, not a subject that generates quick quizzes.

What ideas/concepts/facts do you think everyone should know upon graduating from college?


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Random Stuff Because I Am A Personal Blogger/Raging Narcissist.

1. Reading review essays on subjects in which you have no interest merely to get the idea of format and structure is really boring. Sigh. Well, how else are you supposed to learn. When I am done, and if this is accepted to publication, I am writing a template formula for review essays and posting it on Scatterplot.

2. I spent three years in Los Angeles learning how to wear stilettos because that's what everyone wore, even with 20 lbs of school stuff strapped to their backs. I spent only the last year and a half in a crunchy granola liberal college city, where I can wear hiking shoes all day with my performance outerwear jacket and totally belong. I can't wear heels anymore, too great is the pain. As in, more than two blocks, and I want to die. This makes the secret fashionista in me want to cry a little, even though the feminist in me should be rebelling against the Beauty Industrial Complex to begin with. So now I feel unfashionable and guilty. Great. Well, at least TD seems to prefer me in hiking shoes and not "stupid shoes."

3. Learning how to knit is exciting, even though I worry that this will turn into a knitting blog and that I might become one of those hipsters on the subway. This is a greater worry for me than TL, because again, I live in a crunchy granola liberal college city. People here wear tea cozies for hats, and use variegated yarn to dubious effect. I do not want to turn into That Artsy Indie Girl.

4. Playing with puppies is good for me, even though I don't like to be licked on the face. I didn't grow up with dogs, and I was terrified of them as a little girl (they used to chase me, I feared biting). But thanks to Jackson, Pete, and Sophie, I have become totally rehabilitated. I am thinking of getting a dog when my living space and life can accommodate one. I must have a docile type, but lap-sized. I am thinking Boston Terrier, Bichon, or Dachsund.

5. I want to invite Paul Gowder and Daniel Goldberg to a dinner party one day, should we end up in the same city, but I want them to promise not to talk about vaccinations or moral imagination. I want them to eat homemade chocolate pudding and talk about how awesome my blog is.


Making Chemistry Relevant to Grrrls

Alternate title: Young Female Scientists Expose the Truth of the Beauty Industrial Complex. That is way too charitable. I am going with: How to make chemistry more relevant to girls, because mixing cool stuff that explodes or Mentos + Diet Coke is not enough, here's a gem from the NYT:

Along with 10 other girls chewing over rumors of ingredients like skunk oil and pulverized fish scales, the two had traveled with parents in tow to the Museum of Science here three weeks ago to attend a Saturday seminar called Cosmetic Chemistry.

In a basement classroom decorated with a wall chart of birds’ nests and a glass display case containing a stuffed swan, the students performed what amounted to a dissection of various brand-name lipsticks. Then they cooked up their own balms.

Breaking down cosmetics into component parts served to reinforce the basic scientific inquiry process — purpose, method, results, conclusion — a system of logic familiar to any student who ever took a lab course.

PURPOSE With a red apron firmly tied around her waist, Chi-Ting Huang, a museum volunteer, opened the class with a brief overview of cosmetic ingredients. Dr. Huang, whose Ph.D. is in biochemistry, is a scientist at a company that makes cancer drugs.

Dr. Huang, whose mother used to work as a chemist who formulated shampoos, designed the course last year with fifth to seventh graders in mind. She wanted to pique young women’s interest in science by teaching them a bit of chemistry about everyday consumer items, she said.

Dude, WTF. Little girls don't want to learn about curing cancer from a cancer research doctor, or don't want to blow up stuff? And TD wonders why I study gender theory in addition to my empirical work. Man, this paper blows.

I still would rather read the NYT than the local crappy newspaper, but I swear, picking at the NYT must be a rite of passage signaling the transition from youth to adulthood, the natural state into the social contract, blithe ignorance to bourgieness. You are just an over-educated adult living in a major metropolitan area with too much access to alternate media and original sources due to your academic proxy server--until you learn to criticize the NYT. This means that I have made it. Take that, impoverished and ignorant childhood!

When I was little, there was no better paper to me than the NYT, even though I grew up working at the LA Times. Of course, when I was little, I used to sleep on bales of newspaper while my parents worked at night, and reading newspapers was how I learned to read higher than my age level. I have grown beyond that now. I sleep on real beds, read insufferably dense academic texts, work at night doing non-physical labor, and can tell good papers from bad papers. Now, there's no great paper out there at all, not even the WSJ. This makes me sad. The little eight year old kid in me who didn't know the meaning of "pecuniary" wants to cry. Now, I'd rather read the LA Times than the NYT. Take that, Sulzbergers.

Every time I read about some immigrant kid missing the point of The Great Gatsby and being written up as a little refugee from reality, I want to break something. Let alone when I stupidly read a Modern Love column that will become yet another crappy book. Or the most recent pointless essay that makes me want to slap some sense into Francophones, aka New Yorkers with disposable income. The NYT sucks.

Why do I keep reading the NYT? Why, when we're having breakfast on Sunday, do I want to spend $5--$5!--for a paper so that we can exchange sections, read, bitch a little, exchange sections, bitch some more, over pancakes that cost less than our paper?! Part of me feels like the girlfriend in the tedious relationship that's being dragged out after no longer being good for either person, but is just pointless ritual--a habit, a daily fix, and I'm too lazy to look for something better. Also, I like to complain. And what else would I blog about?


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Many Ways That Child Abuse is Still Legal.

Warping the minds of your children with lies about science: child abuse.*

Exposing your children to cult-like thought control: child abuse.

Refusing to protect your children (or the public) from disease because you can't do math or, big surprise, because you think some spook in the sky said so: child abuse.**

Refusing to educate your children, because then they might get out into the world and realize there are alternatives to your stupid religion (a.k.a. to your religion): child abuse.***

Refusing to give medical treatment to your children (or allowing your children to refuse to treat themselves) because you think a book written by a bunch of dead hucksters and delusional maniacs tells you not to: child abuse.

None of it should be permitted. The first two are protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment, I suppose, but should brainwashing be protected?

Yet instead of worrying about these real kinds of child abuse, we get a constant hue and cry about violent video games.

Sometimes I think there's no hope whatsoever for this country, at least not until all the religious fanatics kill themselves off through stupidity (or each other, through religious wars like the one Ann Coulter wants to wage against Islam), hopefully not taking the rest of us down with them.

* Just watch the video. Just watch. But make sure you haven't eaten for at least two hours beforehand, or you WILL throw up all over your computer.

The most terrifying moment is about seven minutes in, where a child mocks evolution, successfully indoctrinated by the godliars.

** Daniel will give me shit for this one -- but then again, Daniel and I basically agree on nothing as far as I can tell. I think it's pretty clear, however, that a rational decision-maker -- a good Bayesian -- updates on the overwhelming expert medical opinion in favor of vaccination.

Also: fuck lawsuits. Think jail time.

*** I seriously think Wisconsin v. Yoder is one of the worst cases in the history of the Supreme Court. It's certainly in the top 10, and, in the latter half of the 20th century, its only competition is probably Buckley v. Valeo. Make no bones about it: the express reason the Amish gave for refusing to educate their children was that it would interfere with their religious brainwashing:

Amish objection to formal education beyond the eighth grade is firmly grounded in these central religious concepts. They object to the high school, and higher education generally, because the values they teach are in marked variance with Amish values and the Amish way of life; they view secondary school education as an impermissible exposure of their children to a "worldly" influence in conflict with their beliefs. The high school tends to emphasize intellectual and scientific accomplishments, self-distinction, competitiveness, worldly success, and social life with other students. Amish society emphasizes informal "learning through doing;" a life of "goodness," rather than a life of intellect; wisdom, rather than technical knowledge; community welfare, rather than competition; and separation from, rather than integration with, contemporary worldly society.

Formal high school education beyond the eighth grade is contrary to Amish beliefs not only because it places Amish children in an environment hostile to Amish beliefs, with increasing emphasis on competition in class work and sports and with pressure to conform to the styles, manners, and ways of the peer group, but also because it takes them away from their community, physically and emotionally, during the crucial and formative adolescent period of life. During this period, the children must acquire Amish attitudes favoring manual work and self-reliance and the specific skills needed to perform the adult role of an Amish farmer or housewife. They must learn to enjoy physical labor. Once a child has learned basic reading, writing, and elementary mathematics, these traits, skills, and attitudes admittedly fall within the category of those best learned through example and "doing," rather than in a classroom. And, at this time in life, the Amish child must also grow in his faith and his relationship to the Amish community if he is to be prepared to accept the heavy obligations imposed by adult baptism. In short, high school attendance with teachers who are not of the Amish faith -- and may even be hostile to it -- interposes a serious barrier to the integration of the Amish child into the Amish religious community. Dr. John Hostetler, one of the experts on Amish society, testified that the modern high school is not equipped, in curriculum or social environment, to impart the values promoted by Amish society.

The Amish do not object to elementary education through the first eight grades as a general proposition, because they agree that their children must have basic skills in the "three R's" in order to read the Bible, to be good farmers and citizens, and to be able to deal with non-Amish people when necessary in the course of daily affairs. They view such a basic education as acceptable because it does not significantly expose their children to worldly values or interfere with their development in the Amish community during the crucial adolescent period. While Amish accept compulsory elementary education generally, wherever possible. they have established their own elementary schools, in many respects like the small local schools of the past. In the Amish belief, higher learning tends to develop values they reject as influences that alienate man from God.

And the Supreme Court decided the case for exactly that reason:

The conclusion is inescapable that secondary schooling, by exposing Amish children to worldly influences in terms of attitudes, goals, and values contrary to beliefs, and by substantially interfering with the religious development of the Amish child and his integration into the way of life of the Amish faith community at the crucial adolescent stage of development, contravenes the basic religious tenets and practice of the Amish faith, both as to the parent and the child.

Liberty doesn't mean the liberty to shelter your child from all views that disagree with yours. In fact, that's pretty much the opposite of liberty -- the opposite, that is, of the child's liberty.

The state of Wisconsin tried to point this out, but Justice Burger dismissed their concerns with a total non sequitur about the fact that the Amish don't commit many crimes.

The State attacks respondents' position as one fostering "ignorance" from which the child must be protected by the State. No one can question the State's duty to protect children from ignorance, but this argument does not square with the facts disclosed in the record. Whatever their idiosyncrasies as seen by the majority, this record strongly shows that the Amish community has been a highly successful social unit within our society, even if apart from the conventional "mainstream." Its members are productive and very law-abiding members of society; they reject public welfare in any of its usual modern forms. The Congress itself recognized their self-sufficiency by authorizing exemption of such groups as the Amish from the obligation to pay social security taxes.

(Of course, the Amish aren't particularly law-abiding either. In fact, when it comes to violence against women, well... in my fantasies, Burger said "oops" when he learned about this, then went for another swig of Scotch. Susan Okin could have told you that. I would only add that multiculturalism is bad for children too -- especially religious multiculturalism.)


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Unfortunately, it's not illegal to be just a jerk and a bully

In the workplace, under Title VII, workplaces of over 15 employees can't hate/discriminate on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or religion; under the ADA workplaces of over 15 employees can't hate/discriminate on the basis of disability; and under the ADEA workplaces of over 20 employees can't hate/discriminate on the basis of age. Sexual orientation is not covered,

But otherwise, you can hate/discriminate for any other reason. Just hating a person for living isn't covered. Sexual harassment is discrimination on the basis of sex, but any other kind of harassment--merely being a bully, is not illegal. In fact, such abrasive behavior is often characteristic of the management class, and is the stuff of so many movies.

Anyway, interesting arguments to outlaw workplace bullying:

An eye roll, a glare, a dismissive snort — these are the tactics of the workplace bully. They don’t sound like much, but that’s why they are so insidious. How do you complain to human resources that your boss is picking on you? Who cares that a co-worker won’t return your phone calls?

Unlike the playground bully, who often resorts to physical threats, the work bully sets out on a course of constant but subtle harassment. It may start with a belittling comment at a staff meeting. Later it becomes gossip to co-workers and forgetting to invite someone to an important work event. If the bully is a supervisor, victims may be stripped of critical duties, then accused of not doing their job, says Gary Namie, founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group based in Bellingham, Wash.

This month, researchers at the University of Manitoba reported that the emotional toll of workplace bullying is more severe than that of sexual harassment. And in today’s corporate culture, supervisors may condone bullying as part of a tough management style.

But the tide may be turning, thanks in part to a best-selling book by Robert I. Sutton, a management professor and co-director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford. Among other things, the book argues that workplace bullies are bad for business, because they lead to absenteeism and turnover.

The New York State Legislature is considering an antibullying bill, and in several other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, lawmakers have introduced such measures — without success so far.

Business groups often argue that existing laws are adequate to protect workers. But bullying generally does not involve race, age or sex, which have protected status in the courts. Instead, most workplace hostility occurs just because someone doesn’t like someone else.

“Many of these situations fall between the cracks of existing state and federal employment law,” said David C. Yamada, a professor at the Suffolk University Law School in Boston, who has drafted antibullying legislation. “There is a real gap in the law that someone could be tormented and subjected to humiliation and really be suffering because of it, but the courts are saying it’s not severe enough for us to allow the lawsuit to go forward.”

The antibullying bills are often referred to as “healthy workplace” legislation. The name is more palatable to businesses, but they also acknowledge the serious health toll bullying can have. Some victims become physically ill from the stress, with depression, anxiety and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Surveys also suggest that victims of office bullies call in sick more often — although it’s not clear whether they really are sick or just avoiding the abusive environment at work.

A large share of the problem involves women victimizing women. The Zogby survey showed that 40 percent of workplace bullies are women.

“She gave this employee totally inappropriate assignments, setting him up to fail, and then punished him when he could not complete the assignments,” said the reader, who asked not to be named. “She eventually did not invite this employee to the Christmas party.” The worker finally quit.

Still, it can be hard to distinguish between normal personality disputes and the incessant torture of workplace bullying.

Some of the behaviors — glaring, failing to return calls, not praising a worker — may seem trivial, but they take a toll when repeated over and over again.

“It can be damaging to be constantly dismissed in front of your peers,” Dr. Neuman said. “The thing that is upsetting about it is that people come to expect it and say, ‘Well, this is what it’s like around here.’ It shouldn’t be part of the culture, but often it is.”

This is all very interesting. I am exceedingly pessimistic about attempts to reform the workplace, even though this is my life's work. But if these bills are successful, that will do a lot to restructure the narrative of workplace interaction. While legal mandates are hardly ever enough to change workplace culture, they do change rights consciousness. And organizations will adapt to at least give the appearance of compliance, and that is not always a hollow, empty gesture.

If this works, this will be great--Title VII is very limited, and does not even cover discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or appearance. While I am not a flaming liberal such that I want all social interactions policed for civility and PC politeness (to do so would be to dilute claims of real discrimination on the basis of the protected categories), I do think that workplace bullying is a serious problem. Whether I think that we should regulate eye-rolls and glares is quite another. Also, I worry about the disaggregation of asshole behavior from discriminatory behavior. While there's some irrational animus out there ("I hate you for breathing"), I am also uncertain how much of this very subtle discrimination can be teased apart from gender/race/sexual orientation/religious/national origin discrimination. Sometimes, there are equal opportunity jerks. Other times, I'm not so sure that their hate is as indiscriminate as it appears.


Monday, March 24, 2008


I don't quite know what to make of this. My first instinct is to delete every social networking account before I go on the market, and come back with a nothing profile and re-find all of my real friends, or else give up entirely on this social networking thing:

There was a time when professors did not outrank music premieres on television. They were buttoned-up authority figures, like the legendary fictional Professor Kingsfield, portrayed by John Houseman in “The Paper Chase.”The personal lives of professors could only be imagined from the sparse clues of clothing, handwriting and the contents of offices.

These days, the clues are usually digital and are broad invitations to get to know the person behind the Ph.D. It is not uncommon for professors’ Web pages to include lists of the books they would take to a deserted island, links to their favorite songs from bygone eras, blog posts about their children, entries “written” by their dogs and vacation photographs.

While many professors have rushed to meet the age of social networking, there are some who think it is symptomatic of an unfortunate trend, that a professor’s job today is not just to impart knowledge, but to be an entertainer.

Certainly, professors have embraced the Internet since its earliest days, using it as a scholarly avenue of communication, publication and debate. Now it is common for many to reveal more personal information that has little connection to their work.

Some do so in hopes it will attract attention for a book or paper they have written; others do so inadvertently, joining Facebook to communicate with students and then finding themselves lured deeper by its various applications.

Many, though, say that by divulging family history and hobbies, they hope to appear more accessible to students.

Nate Ackerman, a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, whose Web page includes information about his wrestling achievements and photos of him with his cats, agreed. “It’s better when your professor’s human,” he said.

Some scholars suggest that the need to present oneself so chummily is indicative of student demands. Sam Gosling, a psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who has about 300 students on his MySpace page, said there are students today who think professors are not doing their jobs unless they convey information in zany, interactive ways.

But there are those who prefer to be more opaque, at least in cyberspace. “I can see it if somebody’s using a Web page to store syllabi and articles and store biographies, store vita and that’s fine,” said Stephen Eric Bronner, a political science professor at Rutgers. “But just to say ‘I shoot pool’ or ‘I play poker,’ this kind of thing, what does it really mean? You humanize yourself in front of your students. You don’t have to do it through that.”

There are many reasons professors have embraced the Web and other media to reveal more of themselves. Mr. Gosling, whose studies include personality and virtual environments, noted that people are far less formal in all areas of life. “Twenty years ago, many fewer professors would have been wearing jeans and sneakers to work,” he said.

It is also possible, he added, that some professors are doing online what they have long done in their offices: displaying family photos and personal artifacts, decorating with posters, literally keeping their doors open.

Mr. Friedman of mtvU said it is the nature of the age. “I think it’s part of this increased transparency,” he said.

Paging Eszter Hargittai. And Danah Boyd. I wonder, what would Eszter/Danah think? (I always wonder, whenever I read a social networking/web 2.0 article, WWE/DT?).

Although Prof. Bridget Crawford has a sensible perspective on the utility of social networking sites. But it sounds like she uses it the way most professionals use LinkedIn, not the way most grad students (i.e, future profs) use Facebook.

I should really delete my accounts, unless deleting every wall post and untagging every picture will do the job in rendering my profile Too Little Information.

Incidentally, TD "doesn't believe" in Web 2.0. He's still old school tech.

What do you think?


Lenny Dykstra's "Scholarship Kid"

According to my New Yorker, Lenny Dykstra's kid, Cutter, will attend UCLA in the fall on a baseball scholarship. Lenny Dykstra is richer than God. UCLA is a public university, and in California, one of the two premier public universities for California residents. I say, "not fair." True, I went to college on scholarship, but hey, my parents were very poor, and my scholarships were as much merit-based as need-based.

I actually do like baseball a lot (go A's!), so this isn't an anti-sports sentiment (in fact, I am not overly concerned with the bulldozing of the old oak trees at Berkeley to make room for a new athletic center). But I just take umbrage at the thought that Dykstra's kid is going to school on scholarship, when clearly his father can afford to pay. There should be some rule that unless the kid is an independent, if the parents can pay, then the financial aid/scholarships are redistributed in a need-based way to other students. Isn't this what Harvard does?

This is not the case of some middle class or upper middle class family strained by bloated tuition costs and too many kids and the subprime mortgage crisis--Dykstra is obviously rich, and should pay for his kid to go to school. California taxpayers' money should not go to pay for trust fund babies' educations.

Am I being unreasonable here? Discuss.


Open Thread Day

I am on vacation. Open thread day!

Honestly, I got nothin'. All I've done for the past few days is eat, sleep, read Henning Mankell, play with a puppy and watch Major Barbara (which I must say is one of the funniest, wittiest, shrewdest plays about war and morality, topping All My Sons).

At some point this week I am going to return to work, mainly coming to the same conclusions that work/life is impossible, and feeling depressed. But right now I am happy.

So, what's new with you? What are you thinking about?


Friday, March 21, 2008

Lost In the City

This is a picture of my foot, outside the Library of Congress (taken by accident of course), circa spring break, 2007. That pretty bag is full of law review articles, and those stylish shoes barely ventured out of the library. Who says that the life of a legal academic isn't glamorous?

I really loved this collection of short stories, set in and around D.C., by Edward P. Jones. I highly recommend them. In any case, I am going to take this blog on the road for spring break, 2008. I don't imagine much will change, unless I decide to live-blog my knitting lesson and various blog meetups.

See you tomorrow.
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I'm scrambling to get work done, catch a train, get to the airport, and figure I'll sleep for the first time in three days on the plane, but I can't go without at least putting up a link to Olderwoman's amazing personal essay on family/life and caring for her mother.

I know people who do research on long term health care issues so I know what the structural realities are. We are facing the same kind of thing that lots of families are facing, many with fewer resources than we have. Nothing we are facing surprises me nor makes me feel that we are in any worse situation than anybody else, but it brings it home. When my mother got out of the hospital, she could not be alone, so she and my sister hired a 24-7 health care aid at $225 a day. My mother has some assets but is not wealthy, and this is not a viable long-term solution. (There is a cheaper service that is $125 a day that they may try. They picked the more expensive one because they thought it was better if the people doing the work were earning more. But then you run into the ability to pay issues for the long run.) My mother does not need high tech help, at least not yet. Many patients are being sent home with families expected to do high-tech medical procedures at home that used to be done only by licensed professionals in a sterile hospital environment. So I know that things could be much worse.

I’m not complaining. Aging and infirmity are part of life. I know from other research that many families find themselves forced to choose from among terrible options as they deal with these issues. Force your parent into group care? Quit your job so you can stay with your parent? Raid all your financial assets to pay for care? Divest the parent of assets and go on Medical Assistance? Look for low-wage exploitable labor? How do you factor the well-being of your parent and the well-being of others? How do you operate as a family when you live spread out all over the place and everybody has a job and a house? The important sociological question is this: What would good social policies look like to help people as they become infirm? At the moment, I don’t know the answer. But I do know that more and more people are asking these questions.

Work/family issues are what I'm working on now, and I am sometimes paralyzed by the seeming intractibility of the problem, the lack of politically/economically feasible solutions, and my anger at the rhetoric of choice, both in the "opt-out revolution" of Caitlin Flanagan and Lisa Belkin and the "it's your responsibilty to work" Linda Hirschman critique.

It doesn't help that I am pulling late hours, and that TD is pulling twice the late hours, and that what we say most often to each other is "your job sucks." But there's not many other choices for us right now, and there will be even fewer in the future as we get more responsibilities.

At any rate, more on work/family and structural, cultural, institutional, economic, and globalization effects/constraints tomorrow, after I have slept off some exhaustion and find myself in DC with my best friend next to me and either a puppy or a laptop on my lap. More likely the laptop. This is a working vacation.


Law and Social Science Damns Me to Heck

As Huck Finn says, "well then, I'll be damned!"

I occasionally worry that I'm veering too far off the doctrinal path into the murky shadows of social science. This is scary because I am not properly trained in social science. And yet, I persist. Why? You have to do what you want, and I am just not good enough at gaming the meat market in order to want to do that.

I always try to link my work back to the doctrinal analysis of law--otherwise, what's the point of writing a law review article, and otherwise, what is the point of my article if I am not arguing about law. However, for once, I am going to not talk about the law so much.

Yes, I am up right now reading review essays in Law and Social Inquiry. Very interesting stuff, trying to situate a literature in a broader theoretical framework that identifies debates, gaps, and inconsistencies and questions. Very hard coming up with your own review.

I am slightly nervous, over-caffeinated, and quite tired.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why Not Heavy Gas Taxes? Why Carpool Lanes?

Someone explain this to me, because I do not get it at all.

We have these things, carpool lanes (HOV lanes in the east), that are supposed to encourage people to drive less often, and share cars. They impose a cost on people who drive alone (in the form of lost time and additional burned gas), and transfer some -- but not all -- of that amount to people who drive in carpools, in the form of gained time and (presumably, since gas burns faster in traffic) less burned gass.

However, there are numerous counterproductive consequences of this program. Workers lose productivity. More gas gets burned, and thus more emissions produced, than by a method that reduces traffic an equivalent amount without causing congestion. And some of the costs thus imposed on drivers are paid out to the oil companies, in the form of profits. Some environmental program!

A heavy gasoline tax would have none of these problems. If the gasoline tax were raised such that it provided the same disincentive to driving (alone) as does the carpool lane now, as measured in the number of drivers, it would lower, not increase, fuel consumption and emissions for all drivers. It would not slow anyone down (except possibly those who currently get to use the carpool lane). It would transfer the benefits to the state, rather than to the oil companies. And those who share cars (or drive hybrids) would still benefit: they'd save on gas as before. They'd just benefit a little less.

BUT, one might object, that would be regressive. All sales taxes are regressive, and a sales tax that primarily focuses on those who drive to jobs (and, not coincidentally, those who can't afford to live close to work) would probably be particularly regressive.

That's fine, except that the current system is regressive too. Who do you think are the people who can afford hybrids? Not the working class! Who is sitting there stuck in traffic burning gas and wasting time? Is there any evidence that the gas tax would be *more* regressive? (Specialists, I'm calling you!)

Moreover, the beauty of a regressive tax, as opposed to a regressive grant of entitlements like we have now, is that the funds are easy to redistribute back to the people who are worst off. The state will have all this new money from a gas tax, why not use it to fund public transportation for low-income neighborhoods? Why not use it to subsidize the purchase of those incredibly expensive hybrids so that someone worse off than the upper-middle-class can afford one?

THis seems like a total no-brainer to me. Am I missing something? Or are we all just the victims of really moronic public policy/oil industry lobbying?


Tablet Notebook vs. Regular UltraPortable

Okay, now I'm thinking of getting this Thinkpad X-series Tablet PC.

Can you give me reasons for choosing a Tablet over a regular laptop? Will this thing break off the hinge or something? Will I actually be able to write notes and is this a useful utility? Why are tablets better? Will they rock my world? Also, I need my laptop to last at least 3+ years.

This will a belated graduation present for me, because technically I graduated in May with some fake advanced law degree. I have to persuade the siblings with jobs that I need this as opposed to this regular (faster) Thinkpad X-series Laptop, which is cheaper.

Of course, the sibs just may invoke the Dell business account laptop, in which case I am stuck with the 1.2 GHz Lattitude.


Shamus Khan is Human, and He Rocks

Shakha at Scatterplot writes an open letter to academics:

In short, what lots of folks tell me is they are happy when we seem like actual humans, and not simply people who are huddled up in an academic monastery. Therefore, let me publicly affirm what I have been privately conveying to others.

1.) I watch television. I make no apologies about this. It does not make me a worse academic or a worse person.

2.) I sometimes think about quitting. More than sometimes really. Often it is daily. This does not mean that I hate sociology, or my work (although at times I do). For all its rewards, our job is taxing. Particularly taxing is the sense that I am never done. This makes me want to quit. And I entertain the idea.

3.) I take days off. Sometimes I take multiple consecutive days off. I am not necessarily doing anything productive on these days (I am not bettering myself by going to art museums or traveling around Europe). Sometimes I choose not to leave my apartment on these days. I order in food and watch movies or catch up on watching TV (see #1).

4.) I feel anxious about my work almost all the time. That it’s not good enough. That I’m a fraud. That I should be doing more of it. That it will never be done (see #2).

So if you feel the same way, I’m just here to say, you’re not alone. Wow. That was cathartic. It may not be smart to reveal these things on such a public forum. But I think that by collectively denying them we make it worse for all of us. You may not be in completely the same boat as I, but I suspect there are some similarities for all of us. Now I’m nervous that I wrote this (see #4). Anyone else in my club?

I'm as human as Shakha, just not as accomplished. But I am all for admitting our humanity, insecurities, and failings, even as we try to bravely put on the face and tweed elbow-patch of academics. Anyone notice how gendered this all is? This is why I love Shamus' post all the more. I blog pseudonymously for a reason--I feel awful nervous when I admit that I am behind work, avoiding my advisor because I am so behind, struggling with elementary statistics, so sick with allergies or anemia that I can't work for days, and for the first time in six years, having a personal life that gives me great happiness and support (and the career benefit of making me organize my time better so as to have work/life balance). I admit all sorts of personal stuff on this blog. I've posted pictures of myself passed out with the flu. People often question me for this. But I imagine, also, that my actual regular readers are glad to read the human side, and sympathetic to everything that is going on with me as I try to become an academic.

This is why I really enjoy my research on work/life balance. While I am not always in favor of first-person narrative as a methodological tool for my actual research, I do like reading alternate stories about work and working--it is not always so easy. The narrative of work in academia, especially at R1 or TT or T14 schools, is "work first, life later"--this is a very limited view with great disparate impact on women, who, as gendered expectations of family work will show you, are less able to give 70 hour work weeks. But female faculty are good workers too. It's all in how you define a good worker or a good academic. One can still be productive and useful when constrained by other life choices. One can be a good academic even if one is human and full of insecurity and failure. Even now, without the burdens of family, I am struggling, and I'll be the first to admit this.

Shamus' admission of humanity is valuable because it's an alternate story of work and self. It's great. I am in his club. Are you?


The Racial Tipping Point and Title VII

Yale Law professor Ian Ayres blogs for the Freakonomics blog!:

1. African-American cab drivers, on average, were tipped approximately one-third less than white cab drivers.

2. African-American and Hispanic passengers tipped approximately one-half the amount white passengers tipped.

African-American passengers also seemed to participate in the racial discrimination against African-American drivers. While African-American passengers generally tipped less, on average they also tipped black drivers approximately one-third less than they tipped white drivers.Passenger discrimination against African-American drivers was not subtle:African-American drivers were 80 percent more likely to be stiffed than white drivers (28.3 percent vs. 15.7 percent).

But as in all empirical studies, you have to ask whether the results are robust. Do black servers generally receive lower tips, and if so, why?

[A] new study co-authored by the world’s leading number cruncher on tipping, Michael Lynn, has found a similar effect in a Southern restaurant. His article, “Consumer Racial Discrimination in Tipping: A Replication and Extension” is based on 140 surveys that he and his co-authors:

…collected during three lunch shifts (11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) at a [large national chain] restaurant located in the southern United States.

Focusing on just blacks and whites, the study once again found that:

Consumers of both races discriminated against black service providers by tipping them less than white service providers.

A cross-tab of the raw data (generously emailed to me by Lynn) shows that white customers tipped black servers almost four percentage points less than white servers and that black customers tipped black servers half a percentage point less.

But as a law professor what is most interesting about Lynn’s article is his suggestion that an employer might be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for establishing a tipping policy that has a disparate impact against African-American employees.

Lynn has a pretty good argument that restaurant policies are a “but-for” cause of at least some of the racial disparity. If the restaurants posted “no tipping” signs or instituted “service compris” (instead of putting a place on the credit card receipt for customers to write in the tip), the size of the racial disparity would almost certainly decrease.

But the harder question is whether the racial disparate impact of tipping is legally justified by the legitimate interest of businesses to enhance customer service. Not all employer practices that produce racial disparities violate Title VII. But the employer bears the burden of proving that the policy of promoting/allowing tipping is “consistent with business necessity.”

Today we think of tipping as beyond the scope of legal regulation. But in researching my Yale article I was surprised to learn that in the early twentieth century, progressives in seven states passed anti-tipping statutes that, to varying degrees, outlawed tipping.

Tipping was attacked as bribery and as “the training school of graft.” In “The Itching Palm,” a 1916 manifesto against the practice, William Rufus Scott said that tipping is a form of “flunkyism” defined as “a willingness to be servile for a consideration.”

Lynn’s small study of just 140 tips may illuminate another potentially unattractive aspect of gratuities — that they may facilitate a species of employment discrimination. There is a probably apocryphal story that the word “TIP” originated in British pubs, where signs with these three letters were posted on boxes as a reminder that gratuities were welcome. The letters were an acronym for the phrase “To Insure Promptness.” But the evidence from Lynn’s and my earlier studies are suggestive of a new acronym: “To Insure Prejudice.”

No comments for now, will comment later. Interesting Title VII issues, obviously


i'm glad i hitched my apple wagon to your star

Some people hate and denigrate YouTube posts. I am writing paper proposals today, and reading bunches for class tomorrow (yes, class on Friday!) and then I am taking a red-eye to D.C. So give me a break!

This is the band The Boy Least Likely To. I got this from The Journalist. I put this on a mix CD for TD. Who doesn't listen to lyrics. So now he thinks that I like music with scratching washboards and twangy things. Still, this is pretty awesome. I guess I do like washboards and twangy things.


For Those of You Interested in the Bear Stearns' Debacle

In terms of FAR interests, I have greater interests (and ability) to teach Contracts or Civ Pro (and probably more Contracts), but I really loved Corporations in law school. Yes, me, who was That Annoyingly Sanctimonious Progressive Girl in law school. I hate the idea that progressive/public interest/social justice types can't be, or are anomalous when, they are interested in corporate law. It's interesting! And all this stuff does dovetail (eventually) with my clear interest in employment law.

Of course, my main focus is employment discrimination law, but there's all sorts of interesting corporate law issues now that I want to study ED from an organizational perspective. I really should learn more about stocks so that I can analyze the risk-taking behavior of employees who do not diversify their 401(K) portfolios from a micro-organizational perspective. Clearly, they are totally screwed when the company tanks when it discharges its fiduciary duty (i.e., royally fucks up) or is just plain cooking the books (Enron, need I say more). Not that every bit of work I do must have an anti-discrimination law or social justice angle, but yes, there are such issues when you deal with big organizations and their workers and what it means for securities law. Of course, I know nothing about securities law. Maybe I should learn more. Hmm, next year. Man, I hope someone does an empirical analysis, unless I get magically good at statistics. Otherwise, there are plenty of theoretical micro-organizational issues, and employment law/employment benefits/ERISA issues for me.

Of course, my interest is academic and theoretical. I always manage to turn everything interseting and "real-world" into something largely useless and esoteric. But TD actually works in this world, and he follows such things as they directly affect his industry. We talked about this over dinner the other night, arguing about who is in the best position to insure against loss: the corporation, or its employees? Whose behavior do we want to affect/regulate/incentivize through legal mandates or economic incentives? But then we had a movie to watch, and the dog to walk, and now he's out of town, (at some work thing with a BSC banker!), and then I'm going out of town (on Friday, for a week to Washington D.C, say hello) and so the discussion is paused. Well, it continues by email. So here's a bunch of links I collected from the blawg side (I do think we have the best analysis) for him:

This will strike a little dagger into Paul Gowder's heart (as he thinks corporate law is "boring"), but may discussions of the complex legal, economic and public policy issues in the Bear Stearns' debacle bring closer together you and the one you love.


Advise Belle: Laptop Shopping

I am looking to buy an ultraportable laptop, under 3 lbs, max 4 lbs. I need to be more portable when I start fieldwork and dissertatin', even though I am going to take bunches of classes next year too. Right now I have a 17", 8 lb clunker that hurts my back, so I leave it at home and try to use school computers or gasp! write by hand. This is inefficient.

I'd like for it to be under $2,000, preferably $1,500 or cheaper. A Mac is not an option. I am not that kind of girl. I'm sorry, you hipster boys with blog crushes on me.

In terms of tech specs, all I do is use MS Word and other publishing programs, some statistical software, and blog. I don't need that much power. A good-sized hard drive is handy, as is 2GB of ram. I don't really care what kind of processor I have, believe it or not. Software-wise,I am resigned to Vista and Office 2007. You can't fight the future, even if it sucks for now.

I like this Lenovo Thinkpad. The problem is, there's no touchpad, only the eraser button. I hate those. Also, no integrated optical drive. That kind of sucks. But the price is right, and it is very light.

I also like this Dell Lattitude. Price is totally right, it is light, there is a touchpad. Again, no integrated drive. Is this a necessary sacrifice?

I also like this Sony Vaio. Pricier, but integrated drive and touchpad.

Thoughts? Other suggestions? Personal experiencs? I have only ever used Dell computers, and I like them fine, especially if I can get a three-year warranty.