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Law dean calls grads on night before bar exam to try to bribe them not to take it

[ 26 ] July 29, 2015 |

HL mencken

Not the Onion.

There’s nothing like a last-second call from the dean of your law school telling you that you’re about to fail the bar exam to boost your confidence. These are the reports that started pouring in last night from various sources at Arizona Summit Law:

The dean of ASLS is calling several bar sitters trying to talk them out of sitting for the bar exam tomorrow. I do not know if any accepted the offer. I spoke with an acquaintance that received a call from Dean Mays at 5:40 p.m. last night. The bar sitter was so upset by the call that she couldn’t clear her mind and hardly slept.

Another tipster told us that the bar exam deferral stipend being offered by Dean Mays was $10,000 — in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s the same amount Arizona Summit pays to its repeated bar failures as some sort of a consolation prize.

Capt. Louis Renault is shocked to report that the school in question is one of the Infilaw outfits. The Infilaw schools started cutting their admissions standards from “very modest” to “carbon-based life form” about four years ago, and now various chickens are beginning to roost.

The collapse of bar passage rates for the schools’ grads could in theory lead to the ABA Section of Regulatory Capture Legal Education yanking the schools’ accreditation, although since Infilaw has managed to get a bunch of its shills embedded deep within that august body, this is roughly similar to expect Roger Goodell to do an excellent job at reviewing Roger Goodell’s previous decisions.


This is the business we’ve chosen

[ 30 ] July 28, 2015 |

hyman roth

Dybbuk is in fine form at OTLSS, where he lingers over the program at the annual Southeastern Conference of Law Professors, at the Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort and Club, before bringing the sardonic heat:

The lawprofs can attend a discussion of role-play and other innovations in teaching constitutional law. Then they can hobnob at the dozen or so receptions, galas, luncheons, and the, uh, teen pizza party. Some of these foodfests are sponsored by legal book publishing companies. (Explain again, law “prawfs” how there are important pedagogical reasons to assign $200 casebooks instead of instructing students to print out or read particular cases online). Lots of “sponsored breaks” too, not to mention “a myriad of unforgettable” on-site restaurants and bars, so no law prof need role-play constitutional history or articulate his or her baseball and the law insights on an empty tummy.

They can hear what Indiana Tech Law honcho and jet-setting party animal andre douglas pond cummings has to say about Ferguson. Then they can hit the links at either of the resort’s two exclusive 18-hole golf courses. (West Publishing is sponsoring a golf tournament).

They can ponder whether Edward Snowden is a “Patriot, Traitor, Whistleblower, [or] Spy.” Then they can rejuvenate at the 50,000 sq. ft. spa, rated No. 1 in the world by Conde Nast, and designed to look like the Nasridian royal digs in Granada, Spain, with stone arches, cypress-lined gardens, and Moorish-style windows. I dread the day when the crisis in legal education has reached such proportions that lawprofs are forced to have their prestigious bods exfoliated at a spa that does not resemble a medieval palace.

They can attend a panel on “International Comparative Inequality,” or listen to the head of the oh-so-progressive SALT (Society of American Law Teachers) organization advise fellow law faculty on “navigating identity” and “finding your voice.” Then they can pluck refreshments from the trays of silent low-wage immigrant caterers.

The resort boasts seven pools, four on the waterfront with personal butlers and cabanas. Granted, the lawprofs deserve a few moments of tranquility and ease after gifting a suffering planet with their advice on “International Crisis: Ebola, ISIS, and Late-Breaking Events.” If only the personal poolside butlers were authorized to pass out Nobel Peace Prizes along with tropical-themed drinks.

There is a panel called “Innovations in Academic Support and Take-Aways for Law School Pedagogy.” Isn’t that fine professorial wording? Much better than “Adjusting to the Fact that Our Students are a Lot Dumber than They Used to Be Because We Keep Lowering Admissions Standards to Keep the Money Flowing.” Afterwards, the law professors can take resort shuttle boat transports to “half a mile of golden private beach.” Because the real “Take-Aways” of this event are callous self-indulgence and exploitation.

On a purely economic level, when a law professor blows a couple or three thousand dollars a year of student tuition money (most law schools, and all low-ranked law schools, are largely or almost wholly tuition-funded operations) on these kinds of “free” vacations masquerading as academic events it doesn’t have much effect on the $40,000 to $90,000 per year cost of attendance at these institutions (With an average student to faculty ratio of around 13 to one these days, each student is kicking in a couple of hundred bucks per year — the cost of just one textbook! — toward his or her professor’s well-earned summer, or winter, or spring vacation.

On a symbolic/psychological/can’t-we-at-least-pretend-to-maintain-some-integrity level, it’s another story.

Jeff Harrison attends a Commercial Monetary Policy Conference:

I have been in hot water lately with most academics because I took a vacation and did not figure out a way to get my School to pay for it. Several faculty complained to the Dean. I was so out of line, I complained about me.

Problem solved. I was checking out of the 7 room Volcano Hotel and asked if they took US dollars. They do but I did not quite have enough to cover the tab. Together the manager and I determined how many dollars and how many Iceland Krone (the coins are so cute, the have fish on them, more fish more value).

We took some time and I realized we were having a CONFERENCE on Contract Law and International Currency. And, it was kind of a conference version of cinema verite. So I had some programs printed up and they looked like this:


July 15, 2015

Volcano Hotel (about 10 miles west of Vik, Iceland)

Meeting Room: Check Out Desk in Entry Area

Speakers: Jeffrey Harrison
Jeff’s wife, Sarah

Papers Delivered: On the Complexity of Dividing Everything By 750.

Skype is available for those unable to attend.

Registration Fee: $500
Late Registration $300
No Registration $200.

20 Feet From Stardom

[ 96 ] July 22, 2015 |

let it bleed

In the midst of what is something of a golden age for documentary films, 20 Feet From Stardom stands out as a truly extraordinary work. The film documents the careers of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear, and Judith Hill, among others. All these women have spent most of their lives in the music industry as backup singers. Almost all of them remain completely unknown to the average music fan (This being the internet someone is going to post that they have every single recording on which Darlene Love has ever appeared, which is fine, but the film is called 20 Feet From Stardom for a reason).

I’m not particularly knowledgeable about music, but this film literally changed the way I hear a lot records. Here’s a clip:

Mick Jagger’s expression at 2:34 says it all.

The film is also a fascinating glimpse into the largely invisible collaboration that is behind a lot of art, the randomness of fame, and the arbitrary nature of what has been called in another context the politics of glory.

. . . along similar lines, a reader recommends this, which took eight years to make, and another seven to raise enough money (apparently a kickstarter campaign played a key role) to pay for the licensing rights that allowed it to be generally released earlier this year.

. . . this also looks pretty great.

And it was so much better than it is today

[ 142 ] July 16, 2015 |

disraeli gears

I’ve been doing some archival research in the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, and I just came across this document, which appears to have been some sort of crude mimeograph produced by somebody calling himself The Last True Leftist. It’s dated August 8th, 1974:

If there is anything that can drive a genuine leftist to despair, it’s narcissistic self-indulgent pseudo-radicalism of today’s youth. Over the last decade, it’s become increasingly clear that people born after the second world war are under the impression that radical politics, like sex, drugs, and rock and roll, didn’t exist until they came along, and that their elders were nothing but a bunch of conformist squares, whose idea of political progress was a successful UAW strike. To set the record straight:

A few decades ago, left wing politics meant getting your skull cracked by company goons rushing a picket line, not listening to Disraeli Gears while doing bong hits. It meant getting millions of people to cast their presidential votes for a man who the U.S. government feared enough to put in prison, not for a former bomber pilot whose leftism consists of being more liberal than Richard Nixon (No offense to McGovern . . . BUT COME ON PEOPLE!)

Left politics meant dangerous on the ground organizing of workers in the face of straight up corporate and state violence, not theater of the absurd bullshit like “levitating the Pentagon.”

Seriously, political marches are fun, they’re energizing, they have their place — but they’re just marches. Afterwards everybody goes home and nothing much has happened.

But with this new generation, it’s all marches, and slogans, and posters, and “protest songs,” all the time. At best! Because kids today talk as if going to a three-day music festival where everyone smokes dope and then throws up in the mud is also a revolutionary act. A “cultural revolution.”

But the worst is yet to come. Forty years from now today’s kids will have become the biggest pain in the ass generation of old people ever. If only because there’s so many of them! Their kids (and grandchildren) will never stop hearing about the good old days, when “we” “stopped the War” and a bunch of other equally preposterous claims. Through sheer demographic force, they’ll probably ensure that some kid born in 1995 can sing along to Beatles and Stones songs, if not Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad!

At this rate, they’ll end up electing Ronald Reagan president, without ever noticing the Summer of Love ended a long time ago.

Dirty fucking hippies.

Alice Goffman on the run

[ 213 ] July 15, 2015 |

on the run

That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Huckleberry Finn

This morning, a couple more pieces were published regarding the growing controversy over Alice Goffman’s much-lauded book On the Run.

Steve Lubet, who first raised serious questions about the book’s veracity, and was as far as I know also the first person to point out that On the Run ends with Goffman admitting to engaging in a conspiracy to commit murder, has an article in the New Republic that raises yet more questions about both issues. First, Lubet reveals further problems with Goffman’s reliability, in this instance surrounding her description of the death of her friend Chuck, whose murder makes up the book’s narrative and thematic climax:

To that point, Goffman’s version closely mirrors the police account of events. The Chinese restaurant in West Philadelphia, the head wound, the younger brother at the scene, the victim’s age and race, the downtown hospital, and the time of death all match. According to police reports, Chuck’s girlfriend was in his hospital room when detectives arrived in the morning, as she was in Goffman’s version. And another friend of Chuck’s was there as well.

But one person who wasn’t in the hospital room when the detectives arrived, according to the police reports, was Alice Goffman. Detective Francis Mullen, one of the lead investigators on the case that day, told me that they would have recorded the name, race, and gender of anyone who was in the hospital room—as they did for other individuals.

“I am 100 percent certain there was NOT a white female” there, he said in an email.

Goffman is adamant that she was by Chuck’s bedside when the detectives arrived. Asked about this discrepancy, Goffman said, “They were definitely in the room, and they were asking Chuck’s girlfriend questions while I was in the room. And they didn’t ask me any questions or say anything to me.”

The conflict between these narratives is of a piece with a lot of other things which anyone who decides to read the book critically will end up discovering. On the Run is full of inconsistencies, incongruities, improbable stories, and, in least a couple of cases, on their face impossibilities. I’m not going to go into these matters here, except to note that when someone points out one of these things in relative isolation, it can appear that the critic is making a mountain out of a mole hill. But there comes a point where a sufficient number of mole hills piled onto each other will begin to resemble a mountain, and by the end of the book On the Run has very much reached that point, as I will discuss elsewhere.

Second, Lubet points out that Goffman’s response to the claim that she admits to having committed a serious felony calls her overall reliability into further question:

Goffman has defended herself by asserting new facts that dramatically alter her narrative. In a response posted on her University of Wisconsin website earlier this year, Goffman writes that the manhunt was actually all a charade, a mourning ritual intended only to satisfy the “neighborhood’s collective desire for retribution.” While the name of Chuck’s killer was well known, “it was common knowledge in the neighborhood” that he “had fled,” she now states. The repeated nighttime searches were really just play acting. In her revised version, “Talk of retribution was just that: talk.”

But if it was all just a performance, why did she omit that crucial information from the book itself? Why did she instead tell us in such gripping detail that Mike kept his hand on his Glock during the drive and tucked the gun into his jeans as he lay in wait for the suspected 4th Street Boy? Why write about sitting in the car with the engine running, ready to speed off, if Goffman really believed there would be no violence?

I cannot really fault Goffman for changing her story about the events of those nights, given that the account in On the Run unequivocally implicates her in a felony—less serious because no one was shot, but no less criminal because the manhunt failed. And even if it had not been a crime, it was no less unethical and immoral to have risked the lives of her potential target and any innocent bystanders.

By belatedly absolving herself of participating in a murder plot, however, Goffman has admitted to another failing: putting drama ahead of the truth. She is asking readers to trust her. But how can we trust her if she has altered her story in ways that go well beyond simple anonymization?

Third, Lubet points out that Goffman omits to provide readers of On the Run the story of what happened to Chuck’s killers, which is a significant omission for reasons that his article makes clear. He also emphasizes that Goffman’s admitted conduct raises serious questions about the ethical obligations of social science researchers in general, and ethnographers in particular.

After reading Lubet’s article, Jesse Singal’s latest defense of Goffman in New York Magazine is pretty shocking. Singal comes off as both remarkably credulous in regard to Goffman’s veracity, and even more remarkably indifferent to her admitted averred conduct. As to the first issue, Singal’s explanation for the awkward circumstance that some of the stories Goffman relates as simple fact are both incredible on their face and impossible to verify is that she sometimes gets sloppy about distinguishing between things she’s been told by her informants and things she confirmed actually happened:

Given that there’s no evidence Goffman lied or intentionally embellished in On the Run, the most likely explanation for these discrepancies is that she simply didn’t heed her own advice about credulously echoing sources’ stories; it might be that important details about how these events unfolded got lost along the way.

There are a couple of big problems with this defense, such as it is:

(1) It would obviously be a huge breach of both basic journalistic and academic norms to present dubiously sourced or completely unsourced stories as representing incontrovertible fact, yet Goffman does just this in On the Run on numerous occasions. Singal seems to overlook that one “important detail about how these events unfolded” that may have “got lost along the way” is whether these events actually happened at all, which is something that can be asked about a number of incidents in the book.

(2) In several instances, Goffman presents herself as an eyewitness to such incidents, which potentially implicates a much more serious breach of academic and journalistic norms than reporting a poorly sourced story in a misleadingly credulous way (which is not meant to minimize the seriousness of lapses of the latter sort).

Singal simply glides over the distinction between (1) and (2), even though in at least one instance Lubet has questioned directly whether Goffman actually witnesses something she claims to have seen (Apparently, Singal doesn’t consider his own inability to verify any aspect of that particular story, despite his attempts to do so, as evidence that Goffman may be lying).

As for the second issue, Singal appears to be completely unconcerned with either Goffman’s frank admission claim in On the Run that she participated on several several separate occasions in a conspiracy to commit murder, or with her unconvincing (to put it mildly) attempt to walk that story back.

All this leads to Singal’s conclusion that On the Run “is, at the very least, mostly true,” which is a rather astonishing standard to apply to a work of either scholarship or journalism.

Say hello to my little friend

[ 146 ] July 14, 2015 |



This wasn’t nearly the worst thing to happen to America’s favorite xenophobic demagogue in this news cycle, however:

Joaquín Guzmán Loera ‏@ElChap0Guzman Jul 12

Sigue chingando y voy hacer que te tragues todas tus putas palabras pinche guero cagaleche @realDonaldTrump


It can’t happen here, until it does

[ 141 ] July 9, 2015 |



One of the most compelling points Rick Perlstein makes in his excellent The Invisible Bridge is that Ronald Reagan was consistently and radically underestimated as a potential political force by the national media, public intellectuals, DC insiders, etc., until practically up to the moment he was on the edge of winning the GOP nomination in 1976.

This makes me at least begin to wonder if something similar might not be happening with Donald Trump. Now obviously there are enormous differences between the backgrounds, the careers, and the personalities of the two men, but there are also some striking similarities:

(1) Both mastered the art of manipulating their contemporary media environments.

(2) Both manifested a fine understanding of how to make outrageous statements in a way that ingratiated them with their political bases, precisely because the national media reaction to those statements allowed them to pose as victims of supposed media and/or elite bias.

(3) Both spent a good part of their lives as at least putatively wishy-washy Democrats, before discovering that selling racial demagoguery to the contemporary Republican party base was about as hard as selling beer at a baseball game on a 90-degree day.

(4) Both spent most of their careers being dismissed as clownish lightweights.

In a GOP presidential field that isn’t exactly stacked with political talent, the notion that Trump can’t win the nomination is at least premature. As is the idea that he can’t be elected president.

The Cesar Cedeno All-Stars

[ 180 ] July 8, 2015 |


In honor of the impending Midsummer Classic(tm) this post seeks nominations for the Cesar Cedeno All-Stars. To qualify for the CCAS, a player has to have had such a great start to his career that he had one foot in the Hall of Fame well before the age of 30, but then had the rest of his career be a major disappointment, to the point where he wasn’t even considered a marginal HOF candidate by the time his name appeared on the ballot.

Cesar Cedeno piled up 40 Wins Above Replacement by the age of 26, and was probably the best player in baseball in the early 1970s, although this was obscured by the fact he played for a bad team in a horrible hitter’s park while wearing a hideous uniform that looked like it was designed as a joke by the least sartorially gifted of the Gibb Brothers after a night of doing lines at Studio 54.

After that he played another decade, and for no apparent reason had only one season where he was worth anything.

I’m going to throw three more nominees out there before opening the floor to the teeming millions.

Vada Pinson

40.2 of his 54.1 WAR was racked up through age 26.

Dave Parker

One of the most talented players in history. Pretty clear what happened here.

Will Clark

Maybe not an ideal case as he remained a reasonably valuable player for a long time after his mid-20s, but he was clearly a superstar for about four years and then suddenly he was just an ordinary player.

Movie scene bleg

[ 25 ] July 1, 2015 |

Help out here all-knowing LGM collective consciousness.

I have a vague memory of a fairly recent film (like in the last 10-12 years) in which police interrogators try to intimidate a suspect they’re interviewing by pulling their guns and laying them on the table in front of the witnesssuspect. I think this might have been a Ben Affleck movie (The Town?) (Gone Baby Gone?).

Does this ring a bell? Also, extra kudos to anyone who can find a Youtube clip.

. . . actually I’m interested in any film (or TV show episode) that features this scenario, not just the one I sort of remember.

Comparisons between Loving v. Virginia and the gay marriage cases aren’t apt

[ 33 ] June 26, 2015 |

I discuss the differences, which are more significant than the similarities.

Remarkably, a majority of Americans, and a huge majority of white Americans, continued to say they were opposed interracial marriage until the late 1990s, 30 years after Loving v. Virginia. (I suspect the number of people willing to say they’re opposed is actually a good deal smaller than the number who are actually opposed). The situation with gay marriage is quite different:

First, contrary to claims of cultural conservatives, the Supreme Court’s ruling today can’t be characterized as the imposition of elite political preferences on the nation as a whole. The solid majority of the nation as a whole supports gay marriage, and it seems likely that within a very few years, opposition to the institution will be as marginal a position as (at least open) opposition to interracial marriage is today.

Second, the history of opposition to interracial marriage indicates that a Supreme Court decision by itself will often do little or nothing to sway public opinion in regard to this sort of issue. In 1967, the Supreme Court of the day threw down a legal gauntlet to one of the most powerful – and, as it would develop – intractable symbols of institutionalized racism in America. That decision seems to have had almost no effect on public opinion, which changed very slowly, and largely if not wholly for other reasons.

By contrast, today the Supreme Court is merely putting its stamp of approval on a political movement that was already winning the battle in the court of public opinion. And that stamp will probably have little effect on the cultural processes that determine how quickly gay marriage receives something closer to universal public acceptance

Thoughts on the Lions winning the Super Bowl

[ 38 ] June 25, 2015 |


You read it here first.

The most underrated baseball player ever?

[ 77 ] June 22, 2015 |

sweet lou

Which one of these guys has the highest career Wins Above Replacement total?

Derek Jeter
Reggie Jackson
Gary Carter
Frank Thomas
Eddie Murray
Lou Whitaker
Tony Gwynn
Ryne Sandberg
Carlton Fisk
Roberto Alomar

If you’re a baseball fan, you can easily guess the answer based on the title of this post.

Lou Whitaker has the 18th-highest career WAR among all position players whose careers are encompassed by the last half century of MLB (A category that includes almost half of all MLB players ever. As for active players who are likely to pass him, the only two with a good shot are Miguel Cabrera and the ridiculous Mike Trout).

Here are the 17 players ahead of him, in no particular order:

Ozzie Smith
Griffey Jr.
Chipper Jones

Every one of these players who is eligible is already in the Hall of Fame, except for Bonds and Bagwell. Bonds is of course being informally banned for taking steroids, and Bagwell seems to be getting the same treatment, although AFAIK nobody will come out and say it, given that the evidence against him is purely conjectural.

Meanwhile, Whitaker got 2.9% of the vote in his first year of eligibility, meaning he didn’t even stick on to the ballot for another year.

This was par for the course for him. Sweet Lou won the Rookie of the Year award in 1978, but was almost completely ignored in award voting after that. Amazingly, he appeared on anyone’s MVP ballot only once in 19 major league seasons, in 1983 when he finished 8th in the voting (In a typical year, about 25 players will appear on at least one voter’s ballot, since voters can rank up to ten players). He did make four all-star teams, which is far fewer than everybody on the two lists above, except for the strange case of Robin Yount, who made only three all-star teams despite winning two MVP awards.

Now to be fair, framing the case in terms of career WAR makes the strongest argument for Whitaker’s nomination as the most under-rated MLB player ever. The causes of Whitaker’s relative obscurity among great players are several:

(1) He was a terrific all-around player, as opposed to doing one thing — such as hitting for a high average, or hitting lots of home runs, or winning the gold glove every year — that tends to catch fans’ and voters’ attention. All-around players are, all other things being equal, invariably under-rated relative to specialists.

(2) He didn’t play in one of the giant media markets.

(3) He had lots of excellent years, but never one career year of obvious MVP quality.

(4) He was a quiet guy, rather than a rah-rah type. He also developed a bit of a reputation for being somewhat spacy (he once forgot his uniform when he went to an all-star game, and had to play in a makeshift jersey that had his number drawn on it with what looked like some sort of magic marker).

Here, the comparison with Alan Trammell is revealing. Whitaker and Trammell were by far the longest-lasting double play combination in MLB history. They were also remarkably similar players. Points (1) and (2) above apply to Trammell equally well. Point (3) doesn’t, as Trammell had an obvious MVP-quality season in 1987, but finished second to George Bell, back in the days when sportswriters didn’t realize there were more than three statistics by which to evaluate a player. Point (4) also doesn’t apply at all, and I remember Bill James argued on a couple of occasions that the relative attention given to Trammell over Whitaker, given their almost uncanny similarity as players, was in large part race-based. (Trammell has gotten double-digit support on the HOF ballot for all 14 seasons that he’s been eligible, topping out at 33% of the vote a couple of years ago.)

Anyway, the argument for Whitaker as the most under-rated MLB player ever, at least in terms of overall career value, is very strong.

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