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The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism

[ 155 ] February 20, 2014 |

This commercial is getting heavy rotation during the Olympics coverage. Its social theory is that Americans live in multimillion dollar houses because they work harder than the latte-sipping denizens of various European welfare states.

Yes it’s “only” a car commercial. (I can practically see the smirk on Don Draper’s face).

Openly heterosexual running back may prove to be locker room distraction

[ 94 ] February 20, 2014 |

Per this summons, Baltimore Ravens’ star running back Ray Rice hit his girlfriend so hard that he knocked her unconscious. (She allegedly hit him first, so she’s also being charged with assault).

A video of the aftermath of what appears to have been a very one-sided altercation:

Law school stuff

[ 86 ] February 19, 2014 |

I’m going to be on Al Jazeera America (DirecTV 358 or possibly 347) at 7:30 EST tonight discussing the law school mess. Another guest will be Andrew Post, who graduated from USC’s law school at age 21 (he is apparently something of a prodigy as he enrolled in college at 13), incurring more than $215,000 in debt in the process. Post was unable to get a job as a lawyer, so he hung out his own shingle, with predictable results. He is now supporting himself as a full-time computer programmer, while living with his parents. Post reported his annual income as of last fall to be between $80,000 and $96,000, which means of course that he’s an excellent example of how a law degree is worth ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Over at JD Underground, LGM commenter ichininosan has put together a list of the 20 law schools which have seen the largest percentage declines in the size of their entering classes between 2010 and 2013. I’m reproducing it here along with some marginal comments/predictions:

2010 / 2013 (% Decline):

1. La Verne: 166 / 50 (69.9%)

Lost provisional ABA accreditation three years ago, causing enrollment to crater. Got it back again last year, but has probably suffered a fatal wound.

2. Thomas Cooley: 1583 / 582 (63.2%)

Maybe P.T. Barnum was wrong after all.

3. Hamline: 227 / 88 (61.2%)

It’s just absurd that the Twin Cities have four law schools, when the local legal market can barely support two. Will either close or merge with William Mitchell.

4. Widener-Harr. 178 / 74 (58.4%)

Located in Delaware, but has a random campus in Harrisburg. Could end up illustrating the survival strategy of offloading faculty onto a satellite campus and then letting that branch of the operation go under.

5. Case Western 236 / 100 (57.7%)

Karma.

6. Saint Louis 334 / 145 (56.6%)

Uh oh.

7. Pacific (McGeorge) 346 / 147 (54.6%)

Former faculty home of the most important man in the American legal system. Still teaches in the school’s “Salzburg summer program,” which sounds lovely (The hills are alive with the sound of school loans).

8. Appalachian 127 / 58 (54.3%)

You can rent a pretty nice two-bedroom apartment in Grundy for $300, so this place is probably a better deal than American or Brooklyn.

9. Iowa 203 / 93 (54.2%)

What happens when you refuse to slash admissions standards and your location is not amenable to trustifarian lifestyles.

10. Seton Hall 358 / 165 (53.9%)

Faculty just took a 10% across the board pay cut instead of laying off all the untenured tt faculty and rescinded a plan to lay off untenured faculty after enough senior faculty took buyouts (thanks to PaulB for the correction).

11. Golden Gate 320 / 150 (53.1%)

There are way, way too many law schools in the Bay Area.

12. Dayton 207 / 100 (51.7%)

Should have been done long ago.

13. George Mason 303 / 149 (50.8%)

What would Hayek do?

14. Western State 242 / 120 (50.4%)

There are way, way too many . . .

15. New York LS 641 / 322 (49.8%)

Sitting on an entire block of super-prime Tribeca real estate.

16. Liberty 135 / 68 (49.6%)

17. Duquesne 212 / 107 (49.5%)

18. Rutgers-Camden 269 / 140 (48.0%)

Will probably merge with Rutgers-Newark.

19. Florida A&M 288 / 150 (47.9%)

20. Florida Coastal 808 / 441 (45.4%)

There is a passage in the Buddhist sutra on mindfulness called the Nine Cemetery Contemplations. Apprentice monks are instructed to meditate on a series of decomposing bodies in the charnel ground, starting with a body “swollen and blue and festering,” progressing to one “being eaten by…different kinds of worms,” and moving on to a skeleton, “without flesh and blood, held together by the tendons.” The monks were told to keep meditating until they were calm and a smile appeared on their faces. I describe this to Arpad and Ron, explaining that the idea is to come to peace with the transient nature of our bodily existence, to overcome the revulsion and fear. Or something.

We all stare at the man. Arpad swats at flies. “So,” says Ron. “Lunch?”

Mary Roach, Stiff

21. Roger Williams 198 / 111 (43.9%)
22. Tulsa 146 / 83 (43.2%)
23. Ave Maria 203 / 117 (42.4%)
24. Penn State 228 / 132 (41.7%)
25. New Hampshire 132 / 77 (41.7%)

Can you spot the invisible people in this graph?

[ 36 ] February 19, 2014 |

Delinquency rates overall have been steadily improving since the crisis. Overall 90+ day delinquency rates are at 5.0 percent, much improved from the peak of 8.7 percent reached during the first quarter of 2010, with declines in the individual 90+ day delinquency rates for mortgages and auto loans and a slight increase in the delinquency rate for credit cards.

graph

h/t Matt Leichter.

Football workers of the world unite

[ 142 ] February 18, 2014 |

This is really Erik’s beat, but the NLRB is holding a set of hearings this week on the nascent movement among college football players to organize a union. The first witness was former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter (he exhausted his eligibility last semester and plans to graduate in June). Colter is trying to convince the board that major college football players are first and foremost employees of the university, and only secondarily — indeed one might say incidentally — college students.

Some highlights from his testimony (which hasn’t concluded yet), as summarized by a friend who is following the hearings live:

-Colter said players were prohibited from scheduling classes before 11 AM because it interfered with practice.

-Colter said players can’t take eight-week classes in the summer. They conflict with a training camp.

-Colter detailed training camp schedule. Said during training camp (aug 1-31) the day is 6:30am-10pm.

-Colter: “I absolutely hate when people say we get a free ride or a free education.” Says they work for everything.

-Colter testified about a company hired by Northwestern tells players how to manage their social media. He says players’ speech is trained and closely monitored.

-Colter testified that players have a 40-50 hour work week during the season (for football-related activities alone), and that their football-related workload is around 30 hours per week during the off-season. 60 hour work weeks are typical during spring and fall practices, which together last seven weeks.

– Says he knows of only one player who has stayed home and missed summer workouts.

– During the nine-month school year players are separated into weight loss, gain and maintenance categories for meals. Colter was “sad to say [he] was on weight loss for a bit.”

Says “football makes it very hard for you to succeed academically. You have to sacrifice one and we’re not allowed to sacrifice football.”

Football players are discouraged from majoring in areas (like engineering) that would require too much studying to stay academically eligible.

Colter’s main point is that football players at Northwestern are primarily university employees rather than college students. NW’s coaches exercise significant control over their day-to-day activities (much more so than the typical boss in an ordinary workplace), the players are compensated by NW for playing football, and that most fundamentally they have what is in all but name full-time jobs — jobs that generate enormous profits, of which the workers see almost nothing.

What sorts of profits? TV rights alone for the new college football playoff will generate billions of dollars over the next decade:

The group that will administer the coming major-college football playoff agreed in principle for ESPN to broadcast the playoff games and “selected other games” for 12 years, it was announced Wednesday by the group formerly known as the Bowl Championship Series. The four-team playoff and the broadcast deal will begin after the 2014 season.

A person familiar with the negotiations said it is worth about $470 million annually or $5.64 billion for the duration of the contract

Another crucial point in all this is that, as major college football programs go, Northwestern is known for being close to the far end of the spectrum away from being a true “football factory” — the school won’t admit just anybody with a fast 40 time and an impressive bench press, the players are actually expected to go to class, etc.

If this is what major college football looks like at Northwestern, what does it look like in the SEC? (The answer to this rhetorical question is, “like the NFL if NFL teams had minimum wage payrolls and no labor union to deal with”).

Fear of a black planet

[ 137 ] February 16, 2014 |

I have a piece in Salon on the Dunn verdict.

Unlike the George Zimmerman trial, the Dunn case featured a straightforward application of Florida’s stand your ground law. That law works like this: if Dunn had a reasonable fear that he was about to suffer “great bodily harm,” then he had a legal right to shoot Davis to death, rather than, for example, choosing to protect himself by driving away, even if Dunn knew that driving away would have protected him from harm.

If you think that sounds crazy, you haven’t heard the half of it. Because the stand your ground law creates an affirmative defense for criminal defendants, the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dunn’s claim that he had a reasonable fear he was about to suffer great bodily harm was false. Such laws, in effect, put the victim rather than the killer on trial, which is exactly what happened in this case.

Down and out in Paris and Utah

[ 83 ] February 15, 2014 |

Earlier this afternoon, I put up a post linking to Tom Perkins’ most recent comments, in which the billionaire venture capitalist argues (apparently sincerely) for the principle of one dollar, one vote. I also linked to an essay by Linda Tirado, about the psychological burdens of poverty, and pointed out that last year Perkins may well have paid a lower effective tax rate than Tirado, given the low capital gains tax rate, and the relatively high payroll taxes even the poorest wage earners pay.

I then did a bit more looking around, and discovered that Tirado’s description of her situation at the time she posted her essay was problematic in a number of ways (Short version: Tirado comes from a fairly privileged background, and while she did fall into genuine poverty in her late 20s, she was by last fall in a far less dire situation than she had been in a couple of years earlier, and her essay was misleading on this point. Interested readers can find a sympathetic account of her actions here, and a more critical one here).

Anyway, I deleted my original post a few minutes after I put it up, since I wouldn’t have used Tirado’s narrative as a counterpoint to Perkins’ latest idiocy if I had known more about its origins. Those origins point to a deep-rooted problem when it comes to exploring the world of people who are born into poverty and remain there all of their lives (this is in fact the fate of a very large percentage of poor people in America), which is that for obvious reasons such people almost never write books or craft eloquent essays about their experiences.

The points Tirado makes in her essay about what it’s like to be poor reminded me of some similar observations Orwell made nearly 80 years ago in The Road to Wigan Pier:

The miner’s family spend only tenpence a week on green vegetables and tenpence half-penny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less than three years old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes–an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ’tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread.

Orwell, at this point in his life, had a biography that was in some ways not too dissimilar from Tirado’s: born into what he famously termed the lower upper-middle class, he was a scholarship boy at Eton, then afterwards spent a few years at first conforming to and then rebelling against the social expectations of his class. He (more intentionally than Tirado it seems) immersed himself in genuine poverty for a year or two, before gradually beginning to live the life of a writer with very little money, but considerable reserves of social capital.

The sorts of backgrounds shared by Orwell and Tirado are much more likely to produce literary glimpses into the lives and psychology of the poor than those of people who have always been poor. It’s unfortunate Tirado gave a misleading impression about her own circumstances, as she is obviously a talented writer, with interesting things to say about downward mobility in America today.

The traffic in law degrees will be permitted, but controlled

[ 43 ] February 14, 2014 |

And there will be the peace.

Legal education has been ground zero for practically all of the major challenges facing higher education: rising tuition, rising student debt, a contracted job market, and resulting questions about the utility and value of the degree. Unsurprisingly, there has been a steady drumbeat of bad publicity that has exposed the sausage-making side of law schools to unprecedented scrutiny.

As a result, applications are down more than a third in just three years. First-year enrollments are at their lowest levels in almost 40 years and down 24 percent since the rec­ord high just three years ago. Moreover, declining Law School Admission Test registrations, a proverbial canary, suggest those enrollment trends have yet to bottom out.

That has led colleges to lay off faculty and staff members and to revisit pricing strategies; a few have even gone as far as lowering tuition to attract more students—an unthinkable move during the boom. But lost in the din of negativity is a milestone that deserves cautious celebration: Law schools, as a whole, are more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.

Readers of ITLSS may remember Aaron Taylor as the law professor who promotes the quasi-bankruptcy provisions of federal loan programs as “back end scholarships.”

Now he’s back, celebrating increasing law school “diversity” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Translation: Members of demographic groups possessing on average high amounts of financial and cultural capital, and the social options such capital enables, are fleeing law school in droves, and are being replaced by members of demographic groups with less capital and fewer options. (Median household income among Asian Americans is 34% higher than among Americans overall, and 21% higher than that of white Americans, and I am disaggregating the data on minority enrollment to reflect this).

Indeed the relevant numbers are a good deal more striking (or starker, depending on one’s perspective) than Taylor’s analysis reveals.

Consider:

In 2009-10 whites and Asian-Americans made up 43,546 of that year’s entering ABA law school class.

This past fall these groups sent approximately 30,375 matriculants to law school — a decline of 30.2%.

Meanwhile, while 8,101 members of ethnic minority groups (excluding Asian-Americans) enrolled in ABA law schools in 2009-10, approximately 9,300 members of these groups matriculated in the fall of 2013 — a 14.8% increase.

Highly qualified minority applicants are in great demand at elite law schools, and the proportion of minority matriculants at such schools has remained stable.

What appears to be happening is that sub-elite law schools, and in particular low-ranked law schools, are selling (quite literally) the social cachet traditionally associated with the legal profession to members of traditionally marginalized groups. The historical fact that members of such groups, and in particular young people in these groups, are especially vulnerable to exploitation by powerful social actors ought to raise a red flag for anyone considering the meaning of these statistics.

A painful case

[ 234 ] February 12, 2014 |

Although Clarence Thomas is still only 65 — i.e., practically a youngster by the late Politburo-style demographics of the contemporary Supreme Court — he seems to be moving into the Abe Simpson period of what is likely to be (check out these SSA demographic tables) a 40-plus year tenure on the SCOTUS.

Yesterday he regaled an audience at a college in Florida with these sociological observations:

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up,” Thomas said during a chapel service hosted by the nondenominational Christian university. “Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them — left them out.

“That’s a part of the deal,” he added.

Apparently it wasn’t until Thomas left his old Savannah home that he encountered real racism, at the hands of Northern liberal elites:

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites. The absolute worst I have ever been treated,” Thomas said. “The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”

This is just sad. As Jon Chait points out:

Maybe the reason race came up so rarely was not that the racial situation was better in 1960s Georgia. Maybe the reason race came up rarely is that the racial situation in 1960s Georgia was extremely terrible.

For instance, for the first 14 years of Thomas’s life, Georgia had zero African-Americans in its state legislature. Majority-black Terrell had a total of five registered black voters — possibly because African-Americans were so satisfied with their treatment that they didn’t see any reason to vote, or possibly because civil-rights activists in Georgia tended to get assassinated.

I wish I could say it’s incomprehensible to me that an African American man who grew up in deep south in the 1950s and 1960s (Thomas was 16 when the Civil Rights Act was enacted) could talk about racism in this country as if it were primarily a matter of “slights” and “hurt feelings.” But unfortunately it’s all too comprehensible, in a world in which old men become parodies of the young men they once were, and in which we are taught from the earliest age to lick the hand that feeds us.

Note too the bottomless anti-intellectualism of this sort of social analysis by autobiographical anecdote. Let’s assume that Thomas actually did encounter more racism at Yale Law School, at the EEOC, before the Senate Judiciary Committee etc., than he did in Jim Crow Georgia. What relevance would this purported fact have to a discussion of the changing role of race in American life? Clarence Thomas has reached a point where he is making Ronald Reagan sound like Malcolm X. This sounds like hyperbole, but compare:

When I was your age, believe it or not, none of us knew that we even had a racial problem. When I graduated from college and became a radio sport announcer, broadcasting major league baseball, I didn’t have a Hank Aaron or a Willie Mays to talk about. The Spaulding Guide said baseball was a game for Caucasian gentlemen. Some of us then began editorializing and campaigning against this. Gradually we campaigned against all those other areas where the constitutional rights of a large segment of our citizenry were being denied. We have not finished the job. We still have a long way to go, but we have made more progress in a few years than we have made in more than a century.

Ronald Reagan, speech to the first Conservative Political Action Conference, January 25, 1974.

Now I can’t get My Awesome Mix Tape #6 out of my head

[ 21 ] February 10, 2014 |

Thanks a lot Scott.

I have a piece in Salon about the affluenza defense, class stratification, and unequal justice under the law.

Various law school developments

[ 76 ] February 10, 2014 |

(1) A very significant thing happened at the ABA Section of Legal Education Standards Review Committee meeting (I can already see readers’ eyes glazing over) on Friday, which hasn’t yet been noted by the legal academic blogosphere. Per the ABA Journal:

At its meeting Friday, the committee also:

• Voted to recommend eliminating the current prohibition on granting academic credit to a student who participates in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.

This little nugget seems to have gotten lost amid the clamor regarding two proposals to require either six or 15 credit hours of “experiential learning” of every ABA law school graduate, but is obviously related to it in a potentially crucial way.

Coupled with the Section’s decision last August to allow a full semester’s worth of academic work to be done by “distance learning,” you don’t need a weatherman to see the way the wind is blowing, which is to eventually outsource the entire third year of law school to employers, thus essentially eliminating it as an academic matter, while at the same time still retaining the third year of law school tuition.

You also don’t need to be Mancur Olson to see why the forces pushing toward this outcome are going to be almost irresistable:

*For students, this will mean spending the “third year of law school” working instead of going to class and — mirabile dictu — even getting paid for it! I haven’t done a scientific survey, but I imagine a poll of upper level law students regarding the desirability of such an option would resemble a North Korean presidential election.

*For law schools, such an arrangement allows one third of the curriculum to be offloaded, with no loss of revenue.

*Employers will enjoy the advantages of quasi-indentured labor (if you quit your job you’re going to be dropping out of school, so you can’t quit — a circumstance that will no doubt be reflected in the compensation levels and working conditions associated with these jobs).

. . . These developments will have a negative effect on one group: People who have already graduated from law school, especially recent graduates, who will see a good number of traditional entry level positions destroyed by the entrance of cheap temporary labor, in the form of third year “students” doing “externships” for both credit and (now) money. As always, these sorts of putative curricular reforms do not create more jobs, which remains the central problem for the entire model.

It says something about the state of legal education that this set of developments is probably an improvement on the status quo.

(2) A few interesting statistics from the new 509 disclosures:

*33.7% of Florida State’s 2L and 3L classes are transfer students. FSU took 90 transfers last summer and 89 the year before (there are a total of 530 2Ls and 3Ls at the school this year). LSAT and GPA scores of transfer students aren’t reported to the ABA, and therefore don’t affect law school rankings. Speaking of which:

*25th LSAT percentile for George Washington’s 2010 part-time class: 162 (86th percentile overall). For the 2013 class: 154 (59th percentile).

*Median LSAT for Valparaiso’s entering class: 143 (20th percentile).

(3) The latest LSAC volume summary continues to indicate that applications this year will be down more than 40% since 2010, and approximately 50% off their 2004 high. This extrapolates to a likely first year class of around 35,100 (down from 52,500 in 2010). I would be somewhat surprised if by this time next year no ABA law school has announced it’s shutting down.

(4) This is very, very wrong, and anyone who laughs at it should feel terrible (I know I do):

Woody Allen responds

[ 343 ] February 8, 2014 |

Updated below

Here.

When I originally linked to Dylan Farrow’s NYT letter I did a little digging, and was surprised to discover that in all the back and forth regarding this matter there seemed to be no discussion of the potential significance of Dory Previn’s song “With My Daddy in the Attic.” The lyrics, written sometime between 1968, when Andre Previn’s and Mia Farrow’s affair broke up the Previns’ marriage, and 1970, when Dory Previn released an album featuring the song (along with the better-known “Beware of Young Girls,” which is about the Farrow-Previn affair), describe an incest fantasy. The protagonists are a young girl and her father — who, like Woody Allen, plays the clarinet. The scene of the trysts is an attic.

In his response, Allen addresses this issue:

Even the venue where the fabricated molestation was supposed to have taken place was poorly chosen but interesting. Mia chose the attic of her country house, a place she should have realized I’d never go to because it is a tiny, cramped, enclosed spot where one can hardly stand up and I’m a major claustrophobe. The one or two times she asked me to come in there to look at something, I did, but quickly had to run out. Undoubtedly the attic idea came to her from the Dory Previn song, “With My Daddy in the Attic.” It was on the same record as the song Dory Previn had written about Mia’s betraying their friendship by insidiously stealing her husband, André, “Beware of Young Girls.” One must ask, did Dylan even write the letter or was it at least guided by her mother? Does the letter really benefit Dylan or does it simply advance her mother’s shabby agenda? That is to hurt me with a smear. There is even a lame attempt to do professional damage by trying to involve movie stars, which smells a lot more like Mia than Dylan.

Now of course the song is not a completely unambiguous piece of evidence for the proposition that Mia Farrow coached her daughter to confabulate a false accusation against Allen. A zealous prosecutor could, one supposes, argue that Allen got the idea for his purported crime from the song. But it’s easy enough to see why no charges were brought against Allen.

What seems clear is that a terrible crime was committed against Dylan Farrow when she was seven years old. What will remain unclear is what that crime actually was.

Update: Dylan Farrow’s response to Allen’s op-ed is reproduced here.

Also, all this reminds me of what Newt Gingrich, family man, had to say at the time regarding a family tragedy:

“I call this the Woody Allen plank,“ said Gingrich, a fierce Republican conservative, of the Democratic Party platform. “Watch the Woody Allen case and measure:

“Woody Allen is not having incest with his non-daughter for whom he has been a non-father because they have a non-family,“ Gingrich said. “It`s a weird situation and it fits the Democrat Party platform perfectly.“

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