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True Detective

[ 55 ] January 22, 2014 |

True Detective is an eight-episode series on HBO, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The first two episodes have featured a compelling performance from McConaughey, as a disturbed former undercover narcotics man trying to get himself together under less than ideal circumstances. Harrelson seems to be largely reprising his character as the charming hit man from No Country For Old Men, this time as a Louisiana homicide detective, who admires McConaughey’s work ethic while questioning his metaphysical commitments. This is the kind of thing HBO does really well, and you may want to check it out.

States with the highest percentage of people who don’t pay any taxes

[ 64 ] January 21, 2014 |

I am of course using the phrase “people who don’t pay any taxes” in the sense given to it by the contemporary Republican party, i.e., “people who have zero or less than zero net federal income tax liability after credits and deductions.”


The average man

[ 52 ] January 20, 2014 |

He looked as though he were nine years old but was really eight and given out for seven. It was hard to tell whether to believe this or not. Probably everybody knew better and still believed it, as happens about so many things. The average man thinks that a little falseness goes with beauty. Where should we get any excitement out of our daily life if we were not willing to pretend a bit? And the average man is quite right, in his average brains!

Thomas Mann, “The Infant Prodigy”

Scott has posted a couple of times recently regarding David Brooks’ interesting theory that the explosion of wealth in America over the past few decades is a product of the moral uprightness of the American people. But is the average American really getting richer? (All figures are in 2012 dollars)

10th percentile of household income

1972: $11,206

2012: $11,490

30th percentile of household income

1972: $28,944

2012: $29,696

50th percentile of household income

1972: $47,237

2012: $51,179

Real GDP per capita (in 2009 dollars)

1972: $24,432

2012: $49,226

So average Americans are slightly more than twice as rich as they were 40 years ago, yet on average their household income remains almost exactly the same. It is a mathematical and economic puzzle, that probably has something to do with disorganized postmodernism.

Fully funded

[ 66 ] January 16, 2014 |

In re Rob’s recent post regarding the academic precariat, Rebecca Schuman writes in Slate about people running up huge debt loads while pursuing graduate degrees.

Kelsky, proprietor of the consulting service The Professor Is In, knows every intricacy of the academic hiring process—and for a price, she will navigate you through it. She has an open, ruthless skepticism of the “ivory tower” that can only come from being locked inside it. But for those who have the dough, she’ll get you in there, too.

Unsurprisingly, Kelsky—who tells me her website got 1.3 million views in the past four months—is a polarizing figure in the vaunted “profession.” In a recent blog post, she responded to a conference panel at which a tenured professor insisted that reducing the number of graduate students admitted each year would be “professional suicide.” Kelsky quipped: “Professional suicide is what graduate students are already committing on a daily basis as they confront the reality of Ph.D.s that cannot be turned into meaningful work, and the looming default on what are often hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans.” This did not go over well.

“Commenters immediately expressed skepticism that any humanities Ph.D. would have that amount of debt,” she tells me. This is a refrain repeated throughout academia: If you must get a PhD, which you shouldn’t, make sure it’s fully funded. But, Kelsky says, even students with “full” funding packages still end up with “significant five- or six-figure debt by the end of a Ph.D. program.” She knows this, she says, “because so many of my clients have this level of debt.”

Anecdotes are not data (until they are), but this makes for some pretty interesting reading.

With the average time spent acquiring a PhD in English now apparently falling just short of a decade, it’s easy enough to see how taking out just a few thousand dollars per year in supplemental loans (at 6.8% interest, which starts accruing when the loan is disbursed) could lead to six figures of educational debt.

A series of unrelated events

[ 63 ] January 10, 2014 |

June 1, 2012

Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin said Wednesday that he makes hiring decisions based on what the wives look like.

“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife,” Franklin said on 104.5 The Zone in in Nashville. “If she looks the part, and she’s a D-1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal.

“There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a woman, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.”

September 18, 2013

Vanderbilt University on Tuesday dismissed wide receiver Chris Boyd from the football team and athletic program four days after he pleaded guilty to helping cover up an alleged on-campus gang rape.

The star athlete accepted a yearlong probation sentence and agreed to testify against four men accused directly in the crime.

Vanderbilt’s athletic administration conducted a review of the case, including information disclosed at Friday’s hearing.

“The review concluded that Mr. Boyd’s admitted actions are clearly inconsistent with the high standards of behavior expected of our student-athletes,” a vice chancellor said in a statement.

After prosecutors laid out the case against him, Boyd pleaded guilty to one count of being an accessory after the fact. As part of his plea deal, Boyd said he will willingly pay court costs, face 11 months and 29 days of unsupervised probation and “testify truthfully” against the men he helped in June.

Friday’s court hearing revealed information about the prosecutors’ case against the four former Commodores players charged with rape.

Davidson County Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman alleged in court that early on June 23, Brandon Vandenburg took an unconscious Vanderbilt student into a building on campus. Thurman said he was joined in his dorm room by three others also charged with rape — Cory Batey, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie.

“Different individuals” then sexually assaulted the young woman, the prosecutor said, as captured by CNN affiliate WSMV. Vandenburg texted the 21-year-old Boyd a picture of her, which Boyd promptly erased so his girlfriend wouldn’t see it, Thurman said.

Soon after that text, Vandenburg called Boyd, “saying the victim had been messed with in the hall and sexually assaulted in the room, and he needed Mr. Boyd to come over,” Thurman said.

Boyd went over and, with two other people, moved the woman — who was lying in the hall unconscious, partially clothed — to a room, put her on a bed and then left, Thurman said.

Subsequently, Boyd exchanged texts with Vandenburg and Batey, Thurman said. In one, Boyd said, “Tell the boys to delete that sh**. I’m looking out for your a**.” Boyd also texted his girlfiend that he “got everything cleared up” and “deleted everything,” Thurman said.

More texts followed the next day, including one in which Boyd detailed how he had helped move the young woman and said “she doesn’t know anything that happened.” Boyd also talked about it with Vandenburg, Batey, Banks and McKenzie at a Popeyes restaurant, Thurman said.

October 28, 2013

Penn State announced Monday it will pay $59.7 million to settle claims by 26 young men who said they were sexually abused by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, capping a year of negotiations.

News of some of the settlements has been trickling out in recent months. The university said six claims are still outstanding. It has rejected some of them and is in talks to settle the others.

“We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State,” University President Rodney Erickson said in a statement.

“We cannot undo what has been done, but we can and must do everything possible to learn from this and ensure it never happens again at Penn State.”

Sandusky, 69, is serving 30 to 60 years in prison after being convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse last year.

November 13, 2013

Court filing in Vandy rape case seeks text messages from coaches

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A new court filing in the case against four former Vanderbilt University football players charged with rape seeks evidence of text messages sent by “coaches” that lawyers for one of the ex-players think could shed light on what happened.

The filing by attorneys for one of the players offers the first suggestion in court proceedings that members of the Vanderbilt football staff might have had some level of involvement in the incident that would be relevant to the criminal investigation.

California-based defense attorneys for former player Brandon Vandenburg said in their motion that a “large amount” of evidence has not been provided to them by Davidson County authorities as it should have been under the rules of discovery in criminal cases.

January 9, 2014

Reporter: USC Passed On James Franklin Due To Vanderbilt Players’ Ongoing Rape Case

Unlike many other reporters, Wolken took a look at some of the downsides to hiring Franklin, including the pending rape case against several of his players at Vanderbilt . . .

“I know for a fact that that is the reason that he was not in the mix at Southern Cal. They took a look at that situation, they knew about that situation, and he was not in the mix at all for that job primarily because of that.”

January 10, 2014

Penn State offered Vanderbilt’s James Franklin its head-coaching position on Wednesday after a long meeting with the search committee in Florida, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Franklin, 41, is expected to decide Thursday, according to the report.

There have been many conflicting reports regarding the Nittany Lions’ coaching position. The Penn State beat writer for the Centre Daily Times tweeted after the Times-Tribune story that a high-ranking PSU official said nobody had been offered the job.

Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, has become one of the hottest coaching names with his success with the Commodores, winning 24 games over the past three seasons.

Baseball Writers’ Association of America takes away Dan LeBatard’s vote because he made a mockery of the process

[ 75 ] January 9, 2014 |

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves:

Dan Le Batard won’t be voting in future elections for baseball’s Hall of Fame — either on his own, or as proxy for Deadspin readers.

Le Batard was stripped for life of his Hall of Fame voting privileges Thursday, one day after it was revealed he filled out his ballot based on the results of a poll of Deadspin readers on who they felt belonged in Cooperstown.

In addition to banning Le Batard from future voting, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, whose most tenured members vote on the Hall of Fame, also suspended him from the organization for one year.

“The BBWAA regards Hall of Fame voting as the ultimate privilege, and any abuse of that privilege is unacceptable,” the organization said in a statement.

The opinionated South Florida sports journalist received his membership through the Miami Herald but now works for ESPN. Only members of the BBWAA who have been with the organization for at least 10 years are allowed to vote.

“I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it,” Le Batard wrote on Deadspin in explaining his reasoning.

Le Batard said he is bothered by “all the moralizing we do in sports in general,” especially as it pertains to the snubbing of baseball greats who were linked to steroids, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Le Batard’s ballot did not make or break any Hall candidate’s election bid.

Not voting for somebody who used steroids, or might have used steroids, or played a time when some players used steroids — that’s fine. Also, not voting for overwhelmingly qualified candidates because your favorite marginal candidate hasn’t been chosen yet, or sending in a blank ballot every year for the sole purpose of annoying “sabermetic geeks,” (h/t Brien Jackson) is perfectly acceptable. But allowing ordinary baseball fans the tiniest voice in the process — that makes a mockery of the Hall of Fame vote.

What you need you have to borrow

[ 315 ] January 7, 2014 |

The DOE’s proposed budget for FY2014 extends the benefits of the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) plan to everyone’s eligible Income-Based Repayment (IBR) loans. As of now only people who hadn’t taken out any federal educational loans prior to October 2007 are eligible for PAYE.

These plans work like this: if the federal government (or, prior to 2010, private lenders participating in the FFEL program, but not other private loans) lends you money to go to school, and you suffer a “partial financial hardship,” you can pay a reduced amount on your loans as long as the hardship exists. The definition of a partial financial hardship is that the portion of someone’s adjusted gross income that doesn’t exceed 150% of the federal poverty line isn’t subject to debt repayment as long as the hardship exists. So if you don’t make more than 150% of the federal poverty line you don’t have to make any payments on your eligible educational loans. As for AGI 150% above the poverty line, you have to pay 15% of that under IBR, and 10% under PAYE, toward your loans as long as you’re eligible (eligibility gradually decreases and can eventually disappear to the extent that someone’s AGI increases faster than inflation).

Here’s a concrete example, using the more generous PAYE provisions, rather than the original IBR system. Suppose Bill takes out $100,000 in federal educational loans while going to undergrad and law school, and graduates with $100,000 in principal debt (Bill’s total debt will be higher, since interest will have already accrued on all of the loans that are unsubsidized, which at the post-graduate level is now all of them, but let’s stipulate that Bill paid the interest on the loans while in school to keep this simple). Bill gets a job that gives him an AGI of $40,000 (this is probably about the median for current law school graduates), and he gets raises that outstrip inflation by 25% each year for 20 years. At the end of that period, Bill will have made $74,000 in payments — an amount which will have covered just slightly over half of the interest that accumulated on the loans over this time (interest on federal government loans in income contingent repayment plans does not capitalize, but it does accrue).

Bill will at this point still owe $100,000 in principal and $73,000 in unpaid interest. This combined amount is then forgiven, and the sum of $173,000 is imputed to Bill as income.

Now one one level this is a “good” deal for Bill, who has not been tossed in debtor’s prison, or had his wages garnished (technically speaking anyway), or had liens placed on his property should he have acquired some, etc. In addition, using a standard discount rate Bill has made $44,000 in payments, reduced to net present value, so in terms of NPV he only paid back 44% of a $100K interest-free loan, which is certainly a better deal than he would have gotten from Tony Soprano or Chase. (Depending on his current economic circumstances he may have a big tax bill though. The good news is that if he and his loved ones are still broke he won’t).

On the other hand, what this “deal” adds up to is, under current tax law, a 23% annual hike in what would otherwise be Bill’s effective tax rate, for each year over the next two decades.

IBR and PAYE, in other words, constitute a gigantic functional backdoor tax hike on (primarily) the middle class and striving working class and poor youth of America, by a political establishment that would rather allow higher education to feed unmolested at the trough of government loans, while passing the costs of doing so onto college attenders and taxpayers via the kind of massively regressive and grotesquely generationally-skewed tax hike that could lead to actual social unrest in even this sleepy republic, if it were not so cleverly disguised.

Is it better than nothing? Absolutely. Is it in anyway an acceptable alternative to returning to a system of higher education that allows those who had the poor judgment not to be born to the Quality to pursue that education at a price that won’t require them to indenture themselves to the government? Absolutely not.

Ten years gone

[ 134 ] January 6, 2014 |

Apparently Iraq is once again on the verge of full-blown civil war:

On Thursday, The New York Times startled many—and should have outraged and depressed many more—when it reported that Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda were starting a serious uprising in Anbar province in Iraq and threatening to take over Ramadi and Falluja.

You remember those cities—scenes of so much bloodshed in the years after our trumped-up 2003 invasion. In fact, one of three American lives lost in the ten-year war expired in “pacifying” Anbar. Then there are the tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost in that province, and the utter devastation of Falluja (and lingering health defects). What a tragedy, what a waste, even as war criminal Bush draws praise for his paintings of dogs and Cheney earns applause on Leno. The Times reported:

The violence in Ramadi and Falluja had implications beyond Anbar’s borders, as the Sunni militants fought beneath the same banner as the most hard-line jihadists they have inspired in Syria—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. That fighting, and a deadly bombing in Beirut on Thursday, provided the latest evidence that the Syrian civil war was helping breed bloodshed and sectarian violence around the region, further destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq while fueling a resurgence of radical Islamist fighters.

Then yesterday came word that Falluja has fallen to the Al Qaeda rebels and also the key town of Karma (yes, that’s the very apt name). One senior police official in Anbar said Saturday that “Falluja is completely under the control of Al Qaeda.” Helluva job, Bushie.

Then, this morning, Richard Engel of NBC tweeted: “Both US and iran offering to help baghdad fight off al-qaeda in western Iraq. If attack on area comes, could be start of s/t big.”

Law School Lemmings

[ 104 ] January 6, 2014 |

Law School Lemmings is a two-month old web site, that features Twitter messages from prospective and current law students. In legal cyberspace, “lemming” has become a metaphor for the behavior of naive mostly young people, who heedlessly hurl themselves into a world of enormous non-dischargeable debt and poor employment prospects.

The site also provides readers with a handy compendium of resources for prospective law students who are willing to research what they’re thinking about getting into before they actually get into it.

The tweets suggest that among the main reasons people apply to law school are:

(1) The belief that people with law degrees make a lot of money, and that they make a lot of money because they have law degrees.

(2) The belief that being a lawyer (a status which the authors of these tweets conflate routinely with having a law degree) is a prestigious social identity.

(3) The recognition that enrolling in law school provides people with a respectable three-year response to the question, “so what are you up to these days?”

(4) The realization that student loans can pay one’s rent.

(5) Legally Blonde. I’ve never seen this movie, which given my professional interests seems like a major oversight (It really is amazing how often it’s cited as an inspirational text by prospective students, usually in the sort of half-joking way that is itself revelatory).

Anyway, the site is by turns mordantly amusing, sobering, depressing, and inspiring — it’s both a reminder of the vast improvement in the quantity and the quality of the information available to prospective law students today (this week marks the third anniversary of the publication of David Segal’s front-page New York Times article, “Is Law School a Losing Game?”), and of the degree to which the facts about legal education and the legal profession are still percolating slowly into the general cultural consciousness.

What is college (and professional school) for?

[ 146 ] January 2, 2014 |

This post isn’t making an argument. Instead it presents some thoughts and questions regarding higher education, in the context of various recent internet items.

(1) Today’s New York Times features a piece about the arguably predatory tactics of the private agency the federal government employs to help collect student loan debt. Unlike almost any other debt, student loans aren’t dischargeable in bankruptcy except under very narrow circumstances (circumstances that the agency featured in the article has fought successfully to have narrowed even further).

Supporters of the agency’s tactics say they are necessary to hold borrowers accountable. “For every dollar that the aggressive debt-collection firm fails to recoup, that’s a dollar that someone else is going to have to pay,” said G. Marcus Cole, a law professor at Stanford University.

Professor Cole added that if it were easy to discharge student loans in bankruptcy, lenders would simply not lend money to students without clear assets or prospects. “We need a standard like that to be able to allow students who can’t afford an education to be able to borrow,” he said.

This is an odd position to take, given that, after the Obama administration’s 2010 reforms, the overwhelming majority of educational lending in America is now done by the federal government, rather than private lenders. Taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize bad loans, but neither should the government be using student lending as a revenue generator. As a practical matter, egalitarian-sounding arguments about “access” end up being arguments for letting schools charge prices that don’t bear a reasonable relation to whatever return students and their families can expect to get from attending those schools, and then sticking somebody other than those schools, namely students, their families, and taxpayers, with the bill.

(2) On the other hand, higher education is to some extent a public, rather than a merely private, good. As such, arguments for a certain amount of public subsidy make sense. But that subsidy should be direct, rather than channeled through a massively inefficient system of public lending. Speaking of which, I was looking at tuition prices for universities in the 1970s, and was struck by the extent to which the cost of going to even the best public universities at that time was almost purely opportunity cost (which of course is itself always significant).

For example, here’s 1975 undergraduate resident tuition at the flagship university of a state whose government at the time was apparently under the control of communists:

Nominal: $390
2013 Dollars: $1,690

That state is (or rather was) Texas.

(3) Last week the Wall Street Journal published an interesting book review, decrying how in America today undergraduate students and professors (the piece was clearly written from the perspective of a tenure-track professor, rather than that of the precariat of contract instructors/adjuncts who do more and more of the actual classroom teaching at our universities) are locked in what the reviewer termed an invidious mutually assured non-destruction pact:

Education thus has degenerated into a game of “trap the rat,” whereby the student and instructor view each other as adversaries. Winning or losing is determined by how much the students can be forced to study. This will never be a formula for excellence, which requires intense focus, discipline and diligence that are utterly lacking among our distracted, indifferent students. Such diligence requires emotional engagement. Engagement could be with the material, the professors, or even a competitive goal, but the idea that students can obtain a serious education even with their disengaged, credentialist attitudes is a delusion.

The professoriate plays along because teachers know they have a good racket going. They would rather be refining their research or their backhand than attending to tedious undergraduates. The result is an implicit mutually assured nondestruction pact in which the students and faculty ignore each other to the best of their abilities. This disengagement guarantees poor outcomes, as well as the eventual replacement of the professoriate by technology. When professors don’t even know your name, they become remote figures of ridicule and tedium and are viewed as part of a system to be played rather than a useful resource.

To be fair, cadres of indefatigable souls labor tirelessly in thankless ignominy in the bowels of sundry ivory dungeons. Jokers in a deck stacked against them, they are ensnared in a classic reward system from hell.

All parties are strongly incentivized to maintain low standards. It is well known that friendly, entertaining professors make for a pleasant classroom, good reviews and minimal complaints. Contrarily, faculty have no incentives to punish plagiarism and cheating, to flunk students or to write negative letters of reference, to assiduously mark up illiterate prose in lieu of merely adding a grade and a few comments, or to enforce standards generally. Indeed, these acts are rarely rewarded but frequently punished, even litigated. Mass failure, always a temptation, is not an option. Under this regimen, it is a testament to the faculty that any standards remain at all.

As tuition has skyrocketed, education has shifted from being a public good to a private, consumer product. Students are induced into debt because they are repeatedly bludgeoned with news about the average-income increments that accrue to additional education. This is exacerbated by the ready availability of student loans, obligations that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

In parallel, successive generations of students have become increasingly consumerist in their attitudes, and all but the most well-heeled institutions readily give the consumers what they want in order to generate tuition revenue. Competition for students forces universities to invest in and promote their recreational value. Perhaps the largest scam is that these institutions have an incentive to retain paying students who have little chance of graduating. This is presented as a kindness under the guise of “student retention.” The student, or the taxpayer in the case of default, ends up holding the bag, whereas the institution gets off scot free. Withholding government funding from institutions with low graduation rates would only encourage the further abandonment of standards.

So students get what they want: a “five year party” eventuating in painlessly achieved “Wizard of Oz” diplomas. This creates a classic tragedy of the commons in which individuals overuse a shared resource—in this case the market value of the sheepskin. Students, implicitly following the screening theory that credentials are little more than signals of intelligence and personal qualities, follow a mini-max strategy: minimize the effort, maximize the probability of obtaining a degree. The decrement in the value of the sheepskin inflicted by each student is small, but the cumulative effect is that the resource will become valueless.

Of course faculty complaints about student apathy and fecklessness are as old as the university itself, but that cautionary historical fact doesn’t mean that structural criticisms of this sort are mistaken.

A friend who teaches undergraduates at a research university told me recently that he is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the enormous pressures pushing in the direction of simply not caring about teaching. Chief among these is that he’s well aware he will never be rewarded by either his administrative superiors (who only care about research, or rather publications) or his students (most of whom only care about receiving the maximum grade for the minimum effort) for the effort he puts into trying to make sure somebody learns something worth learning.

(4) Then we have this curious plea from a law professor, who asks whether we want to treat the education of lawyers like that of hairdressers and people who repair televisions:

Most schools of hair dressing, television repair and the like are free-standing, and not located in universities. The instructors are not called professors, and they do not receive either the pay or the prestige associated with being a professor. There are few, if any distributional requirements. Rather, instruction is devoted almost entirely to the skills necessary to find employment as a hair dresser, television repair person and the like.

One hundred years ago, law schools made a self-conscious decision to be a part of the universities. . . law professors began to teach such subjects as constitutional law because they wanted to be part of the university and not be considered employees of a trade school. Persons teaching law wanted to be professors. They wanted the pay and prestige associated with being professors. Most important, they came to believe that a university rather than a trade school education was necessary for a well-trained lawyer, even if that entailed significant time teaching subjects and skills that might not immediately help the student find employment and writing articles that were not of immediate use for judges. Both lawyers and those who trained lawyers, the founders of modern legal education believed, needed to be aware of developments in the humanities and social sciences, and that such knowledge could be gained only if law schools were vital parts of universities.

What’s curious about this is that the relevant parallel for law schools (post-graduate institutions training people to join a profession) would seem to be medical and dental and veterinary schools, which as far as I’m aware spend almost no time teaching their students about “developments in the humanities and the social sciences” (that is, on liberal education in classic sense). Also, humanities and social science professors may be amused by the notion of law professors wanting “the pay associated with” their particular vocations.

The political aesthetics of marijuana legalization

[ 49 ] January 1, 2014 |

As you’ve probably heard, Colorado has embraced reefer madness. Ironically, Denver was the site of the opening salvo in the federal government’s long war against the semi-innocuous substance:

Seventy-six years ago, a guy named Samuel Caldwell became the first person arrested and prosecuted under a federal charge of selling marijuana, after drug-enforcement agents busted him with 3 pounds of cannabis in his apartment at 17th and Lawrence streets. So historically significant was the moment that the nation’s leading anti-marijuana crusader, Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger, came to Denver to watch the trial.

“These men,” Anslinger said of Denver authorities afterward, “have shown the way to other district attorneys throughout the nation.”

A key element in the politics of legalization has involved transforming the optics of the reform movement:

For decades after, [Isaac] Campos said, marijuana activists had little traction in debating prohibition. Cannabis users were a marginalized group numbering far fewer than the masses who agitated to overturn alcohol prohibition. The 1960s and ’70s placed marijuana within the nation’s counterculture, but Campos said that also spurred a backlash against pot when it became a symbol of the culture war.

But in the early 2000s, activist groups pulled themselves together and found several big-money funders, pushing marijuana into the mainstream in a way that is challenging prohibition across the country.

“Now you have these kind of buttoned-up guys in suits with short hair saying, ‘Look, these policies are irrational,’ ” Campos said.

Enter a guy in a suit with short hair in Colorado in 2005.

Five years before Mason Tvert arrived in Colorado, voters in the state had approved medical marijuana but little had yet come from it. Tvert’s goals, though always incremental, were much bigger: He was gunning for legalization. Starting with a campaign on college campuses comparing the harms of marijuana to alcohol, Tvert branched out to municipal campaigns in Denver and a failed statewide initiative before helping launch the successful legalization campaign in 2012.

His strategy was pretty basic. He wanted to get people to care less about marijuana, not more.

“The overall progression is that people care less and less about this issue,” Tvert said. “There might be more interest in it, but overall there’s less hysteria, and it’s becoming more of a normal, public policy issue. It’s become more boring.”

Nevertheless the legal status of the drug in Colorado remains in a gray zone. The drug’s sale for both medical and recreational purposes is still illegal under federal law, even as the current federal government gives assurances that it’s not going to really enforce its laws on the matter. Still, medical marijuana clinics find it’s very difficult to get financing from banks, or credit card companies, because the feds have let it be known that they’re not inclined to tolerate actually loaning money to a legal business if they don’t like that kind of business. It seems likely this attitude will be even more pronounced toward the recreational sale of the substance.

In addition, it’s not yet clear whether the state bar association will permit Colorado lawyers to provide useful legal advice to those in the newly legalized business.

Still, today marks important moment in the nation’s slow march toward more rational policies in regard to mind-altering substances.

A pettiness

[ 118 ] December 31, 2013 |

“Law Grad Working Retail” is a new blog, authored by a 2013 law school graduate who got no-offered by a fancy firm (This means he wasn’t offered a post-graduation position as an associate, after he spent the summer following his second year of law school working at the firm. Such an offer is normally the only way to get an entry-level lawyer job with such firms).

At present, he is spending the Christmas rush season selling perfume at an upscale Chicago department store. The blog seems to be down at the moment, but it is full of mordantly hilarious and sometimes touching vignettes of life as an over-educated and under-employed twentysomething, trying to make sense of what remains, given lifelong exposure to propaganda about the economic value of higher education, a profoundly confusing situation.

The author’s co-workers quiz him regularly on legal matters:

“LawGrad, you a lawyer,” Shaina began, “can Julian sue the store?”

“For what?”

“You know, accusing him of stealing because he’s Mexican.”

“But he was stealing.”

“So he can’t sue?”


Bitterness sometimes threatens to overwhelm him, such as when he realizes that a photograph behind the perfume counter features the very building in which he spent the summer after his 2L year, or when he ducks behind that counter to avoid being seen by a former classmate. But for the most part he retains a healthy sense of perspective on his situation (which includes the practical challenges of living in what sounds like a fairly dreadful $800 per month apartment with his wife, another underemployed recent college graduate, in the Ukrainian Village section of Chicago.)

The blog’s December 28th entry is the best one yet, describing the emotions of people who come to the counter not to buy anything, but to use a bit of the store’s samples of classic colognes to capture a redolent memory of a lost love, or some other moment from their past.

I hope the author finds success and happiness, perhaps as a lawyer, but perhaps more plausibly in the literary world.

Anyway, I let the author know I admired his work, and gave him some unsolicited advice about avoiding repeating some sexist remarks that marred some of his early posts. In the sort of coincidence that poets love and logicians loathe, I shortly thereafter got a call from a very prominent legal academic, who has been vigorous supporter of my work critiquing law schools. Prof. X wanted to give me his view on my two posts last week regarding Prof. Nancy Leong. That view is:

(1) Leong was wrong to file a bar complaint against one of her on line critics.

(2) A lot of Leong’s scholarship is bad.

(3) A couple of Leong’s more recent pieces on remedies, in particular one in the Virginia Law Review, are quite good, and represent the kind of work legal academics in particular can do which may have practical and/or scholarly value.

(4) I don’t know what Leong’s motives were for blogging extensively about her online critics, and filing a bar complaint against one of them, and I shouldn’t have imputed crass careerism as a primary motivator for her actions.

(5) In short, while some of my criticisms of Leong’s actions were justified, I mishandled those criticisms in a way that distracted from legitimate issues (the abuse of the bar’s disciplinary process; what sort of legal academic work has value, and how much should students be expected to subsidize it., etc).

It seems to me on reflection that Prof. X’s observations regarding this matter are just, and that I should apologize to Leong for imputing base motives for her actions, although I still believe that she was very much in the wrong to file a bar complaint against an online critic of some of her scholarship. And so I do so now, in the spirit of the coming New Year.

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

D.H. Lawrence

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