Monthly Archives: May 2013

Sounds like a plan

Unlike Elie Mystal, I can’t find it in myself to condemn the new strategy by law schools: offer a one-year “master of law” to those who have completed undergrad and spend a year in law school.  Mystal complains that it’s a useless degree, that no one needs it, schools can’t figure out what to charge, and that it’s just another way to make money.

Au contraire.  Anyone who thinks that a law degree is useful, but does not want to be a lawyer, could benefit from this.  Schools aren’t doing a typical 1L curriculum; rather, it’s things like environmental and natural resources law.  If you were a professional in the natural resources field, think that a legal background would help you, but don’t want to pay $70,000 per year for a three-year JD, then why not fork over for one year of law that is focused on what you care about?

Dirty little secret: most lawyers do not need the vast majority of what they learn in law school.  They need it to be eligible for the bar exam, and to pass the test once they take it, but an in-house lawyer at a tech company really doesn’t need to know the nuances of mens rea in homicide cases.  The people who want a JD, but do not want to be lawyers, need even less of the education.  In fact, they might need one year of highly focused education that is tailored to their own professions.

Non-lawyers can already practise in front of the USPTO; some of them may find value in taking a few patent law and intellectual property classes.  Compliance officers (named by Mystal as a group not in need of anything but a JD) could take a few courses in administrative law and law related to whatever the heck they are doing compliance for (e.g. medical devices, home loans, etc.).  Accountants and financial planners can take tax law and wills, trusts, and estates. It doesn’t make them qualified to draft a will, but it will help them to give a seamless, straightforward experience to their clients.  We don’t need to churn out 50,000 JDs every year, but we do need more people with an understanding of how the legal system works with their own professional area.

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Filed under Academia, Law

I’ve been saying this for years

But Alison Green says it better: don’t follow your passions.  I especially liked this part, because it so underscores how out-of-touch it is to say that you should “follow your dreams”:

“Do what you love” is privileged advice that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population works to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment. And even among the most socioeconomically privileged piece of the population—the segment that this advice is usually targeted to—it causes an awful lot of angst and even shame over not loving your career when people are telling you that you should.

I would go a step further: I bet that the majority of college-educated Americans go to work because it provides a paycheck, with which they can buy a home, put food on the table, and put clothes on the kids’ backs.  (As my dad always says, “That’s why they call it work.”)

I’ve done a lot of very interesting work since graduating from law school, but it’s been sporadic, comes without benefits, and at least once a year leaves me furiously chasing the next opportunity.  To some people, it’s glamourous – how many people can say that PBS set up a studio in their living room for the purpose of interviewing their fabulous selves? – but it’s stressful, unnerving, and inconsistent.   So I’m here to tell you that unless your dreams include eating Ramen noodles (without the meat-containing sauce packets), don’t “follow your dreams” –  or rather, follow your dreams on the weekends.  Or after work.  Or if you’re married to someone who can pay all the bills.  Because no one pays you gobs of money to save the world or be happy.

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The First Amendment for Me but not for Thee

In the 2008 campaign season, a young pro-life activist, Gianna Jessen, made a commercial encouraging then-Sen. Barack Obama to reconsider his position on post-birth infant protection.   Her ad never mentioned McCain; it was simply a plea from a woman who had survived an abortion to grant other children the same legal protections that enabled her to get medical care.  In response, the most well-financed Presidential candidate in the history of America returned fire, tying Jessen to McCain and calling her a liar.

It was deeply disquieting to watch a man, on the verge of becoming the most powerful person in the world, attacking young, relatively obscure woman for having the temerity to ask him to reconsider his position on a political issue.  The First Amendment is not merely about political speech: it is about the ability of the people, the citizens, to question their leaders or would-be leaders, engage in debate, and bring their own experiences and opinions into the public sphere.  By leveraging his huge campaign fund to attack (but not respond to) Jessen, Obama showed that he doesn’t think that a citizen has the moral right to question him – even as he campaigned to be the President of all such citizens.

It was despicable, authoritarian pandering – steeped in the idea that those who dare to publicly disagree, even mildly and respectfully, are liable to have their reputations dragged through the mud, to have the power of a six hundred million dollar war chest aimed directly at them.  The crux of the First Amendment is the right of the relatively powerless to speak out against the powerful, to restrain the exercise of political power – not the right of the powerful to beat down those with the temerity to disagree.

This was not an isolated incident: Obama had the private divorce records of his political opponents unsealed (even after protests by the ex-wife of said opponent; Jeri Ryan emphatically believed that what happened in the courtroom should stay there and not be fodder for discussion), leaving them to step down in disgrace or be creamed at the polls.  That repeated itself in 2011, when Herman Cain was destroyed by David Axelrod’s cronies.  Again and again, those who dare question Barack Obama’s political positions are mocked, destroyed, and personally attacked.

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Throwing some ideas out there

Mark Jenkins writes about the problems with Mount Everest: too many people, many of whom are not experienced mountain climbers, with little done to clean up the mountain.  He writes about being in a hundred-person traffic jam; about passing numerous corpses; of piles of human excrement.

The Boston Marathon is analogous to Everest: the crown jewel of its world.  The B.A.A. strictly limits the number of runners, and, unless someone is running for charity (a difficult process that usually requires raising $5,000 for a charity), the runners must post a qualifying time.  Perhaps the Nepalese government could limit the number of climbing permits, restrict them to those who have reached the summit on other difficult mountains, and give preference to those with the most climbing experience.  Although restricting the number of permits could cause the government to lose money, it could auction them off to the highest (qualified) bidders.

Years ago, the government began instituting a programme to clean up the oxygen canisters on the mountain – it paid people to return them to the base.  As grisly as it sounds, perhaps the same thing can be done with people’s bodies: climbers put up a bond that is returned to them if they arrive back down in one piece; if not, the bond can be used to haul the person’s body down the mountain (assuming it is accessible).  This has the double benefit of also returning the person’s body to his family. (I have no idea about the logistics of this, but it’s at least a thought.)

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With a government this large, the Tea Party will never be irrelevant

Kimberly Atkins opines that the IRS scandals have made the Tea Party ‘relevant’ again.  As the IRS is charged with enforcing key provisions of ObamaCare (and, I will add, the whole scheme only passes Constitutional muster because it is a tax), and the IRS has not been acting ethically, Americans are ready to fight ObamaCare again.

Atkins wonders if this is a mere blip on the radar screen, a temporary upsurge before the Tea Party fades into irrelevancy.  I think she misses the point: the Tea Party exists because our government is too large and too powerful to not be corrupt.  Our government can audit you, tax you for not buying a product, give out your money to its cronies, forgive certain debts but harass other debtors, and bail out some companies but drag others before Congress (remember Toyota, finally exonerated after its sales dropped enough for Detroit to be competitive).  Such an institution will necesssarily be corrupt, for it is too large, too powerful, and throws around too much money with too little oversight to do anything but attract the corrupt.  The entire scheme is a honey pot for the corrupt – an unguarded honey pot, waiting to be exploited. At this point, the Obama Administration’s best argument is that the government is too large for him to properly oversee – ironically, exactly what the Tea Party has been saying for years.

The Tea Party will not be “irrelevant” until the government is a mere fraction of the size it is now, with real limits on its power.  Yes, that is the point at which the Tea Party will have attained its goal.  In the interim, there may be points at which scandals are small and  outrages are few, but this type of abuse of power is inevitable.   Corrupt people aren’t going to join groups where the money flows in a trickle, where power is limited, and where oversight is real; they will swarm to the place where money is flung around with reckless abandon, no real constraints on power exist, and oversight is either impossible (as per Obama’s argument) or corruption is done with the full approval of the partisan hacks in power.

Washington, D.C. will be the centre of corruption until it is smaller, its power limited, and its budget curtailed.  Perhaps one day, normal average Americans like Kimberly Atkins will understand that this is not an isolated series of events, mere happenstance, but an inevitable result of giving a multi-trillion-dollar budget to an institution with no real constraints on its power.

As James Madison said in Federalist 51,

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Those “auxiliary precautions” should include putting limits on government power and largesse so that the corrupt will not be attracted to it like vultures to road kill.

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College Can Wait

Ed Zimmerman opined that kids should stay in college if they can. Zimmerman laudably wants students to remain in college to study the classics, history, literature, and economics; he condemns a “monomaniacal” focus on computer science and, barring that, dropping out to be the next Bill Gates.

There may be some world (or some university, perhaps Zimmerman’s alma mater, Haverford), wherein students are almost guaranteed to leave college with more education than they entered it.  However, it is ironic to pen such a missive only weeks after the now-infamous Bowdoin report was released. From Breitbart:

The Klingenstein report reveals some ugly truths: Bowdoin has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” There is no requirement for history majors to take even one course in American history. There is no class available in the history department about American political, military, diplomatic, or intellectual history. There are, however, classes in that department revolving around race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Bowdoin is one of about three thousand universities; however, if a top 10 liberal arts school is not requiring courses in American history, nor are many even offered, it’s hard to say how remaining in college would lead one to better understand civics or be more politically informed.

Zimmerman eloquently stated that computer science students benefit from studying economics and finance, to understand how their products will succeed (or fail) in the marketplace.  Yet the proposed solution – “stay in school!” is only effective for those who would actually sign up for an econ course or two; few universities make it a requirement of graduation.

Absent a culture (or school requirements) that encourages college students to study the classics, economics, literature, and history, there’s not much intellectual value for a student in school.  Besides, school can wait: there’s nothing stopping any entrepreneur, successful or not, from finishing his degree.  Students in other countries take gap years to hike around Europe; why shouldn’t some of ours take gap years to found companies, then return in triumph (and in a sweet car), or, having gotten their ears pinned back, to learn what they need to learn?  Returning students are more mature, focused, and driven. Perhaps our problem is really that we see college only as something worth doing, and the only thing worth doing, between the ages of 18 and 22.

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Angelina Jolie’s Breasts

Okay, I totally wrote that title just for the search engine traffic. Well, not really – Angelina wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about having a preventative double mastectomy.  Her mother passed away at the age of 56 from breast cancer; Ms. Jolie carries a mutated gene that gives her approximately an 87% chance of getting the disease.  She opted to have both breasts removed and reconstructive surgery.  (Please read the details of her surgery and her reconstruction; it’s fascinating.)

Breast cancer screening has gotten significantly better in the past decade.  Sometime around 2007, breast MRIs were introduced to the general public.  The test enables a radiologist to find cancer in the very earliest of stages, when it can be removed before it mutates.  The other advantage to the technology is that it works quite well even with dense breast tissue: young women have denser tissue that does not show abnormalities well on a mammogram, and renders mammograms less than useful for many women. As one physician said, in reference to getting annual MRIs, “No one needs to get cancer [with this technology]”.

That said, genetic breast cancer is particularly vicious: it strikes at a younger age (about 30% of women who get breast cancer before the age of 50 have a mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, compared to 15% of women who get breast cancer at all ages), is more aggressive, is more deadly, and is more likely to recur.  When faced with an 87% chance of that very grim future, it’s understandable that any woman would want a preventative double mastectomy , although the procedure might be extreme for a woman with no risk factors for the disease.

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Filed under Bioethics

Treating the symptoms

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has called for student loan borrowers to be given the same interest rates as big banks are given – 0.75%.  Her rationale is that if Americans invest in banks, they should likewise invest in education; the “little guy” should get the same treatment as the wealthy, connected corporations; and that student loan payments are crippling the economy.

Sen. Warren is entirely correct: student loan indebtedness is killing our chances of a recovery and will create long-term problems that we cannot fathom.  Lowering the interest rate will help graduates to spread out their payments over more years, lower their payments, or pay down the principal.  Unfortunately, it will also encourage universities to raise their tuition even more: reducing interest rates enables buyers to pay more in principal, so sellers increase their prices.  The end result is that young students will have an even larger amount of principal that they simply cannot pay off, and taxpayers who don’t have those loans will be irate at the thought of paying for them.

Likewise, Sen. Warren is correct that the little guy and the big guy should be treated the same way by the federal government;  she errs in assuming that both groups should beg (or bribe, via campaign contributions) the feds for help, and the feds should distribute largesse equally.  A far more sane system would reflect the pre-1930s view of the federal government – one in which it simply lacked the power to grant sweetheart deals to various corporations, give waivers to some companies but not others, or put taxpayers on the hook for student loans.  Giving sucg sweetheart deals to “the little guy” or “young people” is a patchwork fix for an entirely rotten system, akin to putting nicer tile on a floor that is rotting out.

I’m not advocating that we totally ignore problems unless they can be fixed entirely, and I see the value in popping an Advil when you’re waiting to see the doctor about that leg injury.  But these fixes are the type of things that worsen the problem; it’s not economic triage so much as repeating (and worsening) the same mistakes and refusing to acknowledge that there is an underlying problem.  Easy fixes would include things like making the universities co-sign the loans: the two-fold benefits would include fewer irate “I was responsible with my education, why am I paying for yours” taxpayers and a higher education system that would have to reduce overhead, operate efficiently, and rein in tuition increases.  One other fix would be to reduce the regulations that enable big banks to bury their community-bank competition in paperwork.  (Yes, big government means big regulations, which big business can handle better than little businesses.)  But those aren’t sexy fixes, nor anything that would get the Occupy crowd to march on D.C., so Warren isn’t suggesting them.

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When it comes to eating meat, I’m pro-choice

Flushing, Queens, NY: School 244 banned meat products from its breakfast and lunch menus; it will be serving all-vegetarian food to grammar school children.

I’m all for eating healthy, being animal-friendly, and helping the environment: that’s why I’ve been a vegetarian for almost fifteen years.  It’s great that the kids are getting whole-grain bread  and pastas, and that they are getting vegetarian options.  What is problematic is that there isn’t an option to throw 4 oz of sliced chicken breast onto a salad for picky eaters, kids with IBS, or anyone who wants a little extra protein.  Boloco (yes, the Boston-based burrito chain) gives customers the option of tofu or various meats; is there any reason School 244 can’t do that?

Kids can bring in meat products from home, but meat products spoil more easily than do plant-based foods.  An apple will not get grody if left in a locker from 7 am until noon; a chicken sandwich would.  Sure, kids have brought cold cuts and deli meat for lunch for generations, but those meats are more highly processed than other meats – hence the lack of spoilage. If the goal is healthy food, however, you would want meat-eating kids to eat healthy, fresh meat – and the easiest way to do that is to provide it in the cafeteria as an add-on to the vegetarian meals.

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Filed under Academia, Food

I should probably have deep bioethical thoughts about this…

…but I really can’t say anything that isn’t blindingly obvious. A man, nom de plume Albert Garland, wanted to have another child with his wife.  They went through fertility treatments, did IVF, and she became pregnant with twin boys.  Mr. Garland was horrified, wished that one was disabled so that it could be aborted, and wrote a whole diatribe about how horrible it is that they will be having two kids instead of one.

There are the usual points: this sometimes happens with child-bearing, and in case you missed the whole Octomom thing, happens more frequently with IVF.  Yes, IVF is expensive, but in the gamble between one round of IVF with multiple embryos, you lost – you got more embryos than you would have wanted.  Really, I don’t have anything earth-shattering to say here.  Garland’s complaints are so absurd that even Bioethics 101 refutes it.

But Mr. Garland said this, which deserves some consideration:

Two blessings, two bundles of joy. How could you not be happy, you ask? Of course I’m sympathetic to people who can’t get pregnant, or who spend a couple of years trying IVF after IVF. But having kids is a selfish endeavor, and in these cases it’s all very relative and highly personal. In our case, my wife and I know better than to think that life with three children is going to be perfect.

Er, no.  Having children is a selfless endeavour – and I say this as a childless thirty-something.  If you ever need a “It’s not all about you” wake-up call, have a child who is dependent upon you for food, water, shelter, and the basic human desire to not be wallowing in one’s own feces.  That there may be secondary benefits to parenting hardly trumps the fact that parents spend many years running their lives around their children’s well-being, and never stop worrying.

“It’s all relative and highly personal” is a pat way of getting around the fact that there are some absolutes when it comes to having kids. One of them is that you are signing up for the unknown: you have no control over whether you’ll have a boy or a girl, a sick baby or a healthy one, a smart kid or one who struggles, a nice kid or a holy terror.  But the child’s experience does not change basic parental responsibilities: welcome the child or children into your home and family; care for the child; be a source of unconditional love; and remember, always remember, that someone else wiped your bum, aspirated snot out of your nose, fed you every bite of baby food that you ate, cleaned up your vomit, and rocked you to sleep.

This leaves me thinking, Albert Garland, you did not spring forth full-grown from Zeus’s brow.  Rather than care about what strangers on the ‘net think of your parenting skills, ask what your own parents would think – and accept your children with all the love that you would have wanted as a child.  You were once a child – now grow up and act like an adult.

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