Category: Culture

12

Post-Tenure Stress and Status

Thank you (I think) to Dan for this guest stint on Concurring Opinions and the generous introduction. My ambivalence (which might seem somewhat snarky) actually stems from stress, induced by the ambiguity of the task of guest-blogger on this particular blog if one is not a privacy or criminal law guru. What topics will be of interest? How does one generate reams of clever comments, inspire a vibrant cyberconversation? Should you keep writing even if you can’t find your copy of Thorstein Veblen or de Tocqueville to bolster your own petty musings? In other words, what are the rules for achieving some degree of success on Concurring Opinion?

These questions are related, in my view, to the particular nature of stress experienced by many already-tenured legal academics. This topic was raised in brief by a slightly tongue-in-cheek post on PrawfsBlawg last week, phrased as the guilt that, despite having “the best job in the world,” many law professors still consider themselves stressed. A few follow-up posts suggested that the only real stress in our job is achieving tenure – or perhaps those few rare occasions on which one looks like an idiot in front of 90 law students. I disagree – and in fact think that in some respects, this job becomes more stressful post-tenure. It all depends on how we define stress.

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2

Two-A-Days: Colonial Williamsburg Of The Eisenhower Era?

I’m in Birmingham for a couple more days, making sure that our pack and move goes smoothly. What luck! I’m here just in time to read the New York Times review of a new MTV reality show, Two-A-Days. Two-A-Days documents a season of Hoover High School football. Hoover, where I lived for almost three of my eight years here, is a classic middle to upper-middle American large suburb. Malls, Starbucks Drive-Thru, and expansive supermarkets dedicated to carrying every imaginable Kelloggs cereal. Hoover is in Alabama, but it is probably more typical of most parts of America than, say, any town in Westchester County, NY.

But today I didn’t have to read the Times to read the review. Page 1 of the Birmingham News puts it professionally. “New York Times Tackles Hoover’s Two-A-Days.” The article headline, however, captures the culture clash. “New York Times Takes Snarky Aim At ‘Two-A-Days’“. The News then republishes the review as Exhibit 1, with an italicized intro announcing that the review – presumably with a different headline – appeared yesterday in the NYT.

The review, with its local frame, effectively captures the Red/Blue cultural divide. Virginia Heffernan makes a weak effort at not appearing judgmental, opening her story “regionalist stories often double as time travel. If you want to visit the 19th century, when couriers crisscrossed polyglot cities with important messages…check out Manhattan today.” But she simply can’t help herself, as she continues: “And if you’re interested in the 1950’s – when high school players were titans, private doubts haunted them, and cheerleaders gave them comfort – you might want to visit Hoover, Ala., the Colonial Williamsburg of the Eisenhower era.”

She’s not entirely wrong. Some corny 1950’s traditions do continue here, and high school football is one of them. But I have two beefs with the characterization. The first is that I suspect that more of America is Colonial Williamsburg than Heffernan realizes. Are suburbs of Buffalo, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Milwakuee, Virginia Beach , Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, or Charlotte are so different? (Where do I get this list? I looked at similarly sized cities from the 35-50th largest metro areas in the US.) The second is the attitude. I’m not sure I really have the right to make the complaint – many of friends have heard me describe Mountain Brook, Alabama (a nearby affluent suburb, home of Natallee Holloway) as a throwback to the 1950’s – but the article completely fails to capture the manifold wonderful things that come with this approach to life and culture. Heffernan’s New York is important. But life in Alabama is as well. Here there are daily reminders that – for all of the deeply troubling underlying cultural and historical baggage that makes this possible – there are exquisite joys to be had in a smaller gauge life, filled with individual connections, with faith – perhaps in religion, perhaps only in the humanity, and with little generosities. This is not to make apologies for the intolerance that remains. But it is to acknowledge that there is much to be cherished, much that is also important in the daily life of both Alabama, and middle America generally.

2

This Is My Domain, Well Everyone’s Really: Google and Full Text Public Domain Books

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I remember watching Tarzan as a kid and hearing the declaration “The jungle…this is my domain…and I protect those who come here. For I am Tarzan, lord of the jungle” at the beginning of every episode. Well Google has taken up the public domain cry and in effect has said “This is public domain and we share it with all. For we are Google, lord of information.” Google’s latest cool offering is in Google books. As Google puts it “Starting today, you can go to Google Book Search and download full copies of out-of-copyright books to read at your own pace. You’re free to choose from a diverse collection of public domain titles — from well-known classics to obscure gems.”

The CNET article about the service notes that Google seems to be taking a somewhat conservative approach to the definition of what is in the public domain including screening access based on different country’s laws. Indeed Google cautions users to “please confirm the legality of your actions. The rules of public domain differ from country to country, and we can’t offer guidance on whether any specific use is allowed. Please don’t assume that a book’s appearance in Google Book Search means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.”

My guess is that the disclaimer is a way to combat some publisher who argues Google is liable for contributory infringement. And to me the country access restriction is an interesting way to try and honor differing countries copyright laws without only using the most restrictive definitions, but I wonder whether Google will use that same technology to honor reduced access to this information for political demands. This point was at issue with China already.

Finally some of you may want to check out Paul Heald’s (Georgia) abstract and summary for his empirical study of public domain and copyrighted best sellers. The study examines the hypothesis that copyright extension is necessary to ensure that copyright holders would “restore older works and further disseminate them to the public.” I heard Paul present the piece at the IPSC conference a few weeks ago and his use of the data to reach his conclusion about whether works are under-exploited is worth a look. I won’t tell you the conclusion because that would be a spoiler.

2

Jon Benet Ramsey And The Commodification Of Fear

There’s no real shock here. Since John Karr’s DNA didn’t match the DNA found at the scene of Jon Benet Ramsey’s murder, he won’t be charged with the offense. But this story shows us the intensity of public curiosity and anxiety that bubbles just beneath the surface. It’s almost possible to imagine a near-bankrupt media magnate, desperate to raise advertising revenue, creating a John Karr character simply to milk an existing story for a little more cash. (Smell a movie script here?) The Jon Benet narrative is like a natural resource. It was stored in our memory,virtually inert, until John Karr unleashed the expolosive power of our pent-up curiousity and anxiety. How many other stories are just waiting for re-ignition?

I suppose it seems strange to commodify crime and other horrors, but one thing’s for sure: somebody made money off John Karr this past week, and it’s not hard to figure out who. The same people who dread, yet will thrive upon, the next terrorist attack. Why wait, though? Pent up anxiety spells pent up revenue. No surprise, then, that outlets like CNN and Fox News routinely try to tap into our latent fears in order to immediately access some of the advertising dollars that would otherwise flow to the 195 other networks on our digital dial.

Since you can’t count on the likes of John Karr every day, a good media business will facilitate a more routine release of fear. Fear music, fear voice, fear font. Jon Stewart got that right. (Video link.)

8

Name And Status Changes On The Federal Bench

Reading a complimentary piece about the tough Judge Kristi DuBose, of the Southern District of Alabama, I recalled that Judge DuBose once visited my juvenile justice class at the University of Alabama. That was way back when, in 1999, during my first year of teaching. And back then, she was Kristi Lee – Senator Jeff Session’s chief counsel in Washington. In 2000 she became an Article I federal magistrate judge. And in 2005 she became a full fledged Article III district judge. Can the 11th Circuit be far behind?

I found two aspects of her life story curious. First, she changed her name while on the bench (ableit while she was still an Article I.) This must have been slightly disconcerting to attorneys who presumably then made mistakes in both filings and courtroom argument. But it’s also strikes me – and perhaps only me – as a little odd. One of the key aspects of the federal judiciary is that it feels solid and consistent. Although name changes are not substantive, it seems to me that they undermine a certain perception of continuity. Can you imagine if a Supreme Court Justice changed her – or his, for that matter – name? How would we deal with Justice Ginsburg if she divorced and remarried George Clooney. This could really happen! Would we then call her Justice Clooney? The Former Justice Ginsburg? Justice Clooney nee Ginsburg? Pehaps the stakes are lower on the district bench, but what of the circuit courts? All of this leads me to wonder: how many federal judges have sported more than one family name during their terms of service?

Second question. How often do federal judges make the shift from Article I to Article III? If it happens often, you’d think that the study of these creatures would be fertile ground for some empirical research. Does lifetime tenure really matter? If the transition is rare, why is that? Are Article I judges typically non-political creatures? You’d be hard pressed to find better preparatory job experience for an Article III position than a few years as a magistrate judge. If only there was an Article I Groupie around to ask these questions.

3

Score that as E 26.1303 or How to Prevent the Study of Evolutionary Biology

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The New York Times reports that “Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.”

The Department of Education has claimed the omission is an error. You be the judge. The list is apparently a standard list that normally includes evolutionary biology, “the scientific study of the genetic, developmental, functional, and morphological patterns and processes, and theoretical principles; and the emergence and mutation of organisms over time” as 26.1303.

As Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, noted students must use the code system to declare their majors and the claimed omission error “is ‘odd,’ … because applying the subject codes ‘is a fairly mechanical task. It is not supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation.’”

Furthermore as the article notes when one looks at the list there is a clear gap between 26.1302 and 26.1304. You can see the list here. Go to page 7 of the pdf to see the gap in question.

With the number removed, students in the National Smart (Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent) Grant program would not be able to receive the $4,000 grants available through the program if they declared evolutionary biology as their major. That means that while the country may want to develop the talent of “third- or fourth-year, low-income students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics; technology; engineering; or foreign languages deemed “critical” to national security” evolutionary biology may not be up to snuff.

My guess is we will never know whether the omission was a lame attempt to sneak one by the public or whether someone thought it was a funny thing to remove but failed to revert to the correct version for publication. Still as one person quoted in the article put it: “Removing that one major is not going to make the nation stupid, but if this really was removed, specifically removed, then I see it as part of a pattern to put ideology over knowledge. And, especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred.”

13

Podiatrists For The Hand

A brief email interchange with one of our readers – my mom – led me to a burning question. Why isn’t there a medical specialty for the hand? Feet have their own docs – podiatrists. And hands seem to get almost as much hard use as the ol’ dogs. What goes wrong with the hand, you say? There’s arthritis, carpal tunnel (which is certainly within the metro area, if not in the hand per se), and a host of minor catastophes when fingers show up where they oughtn’t be. Perhaps there are good medical or market reasons for this gaping hole in the medical service field. But if not, perhaps now is time for President Bush to issue a national call. Forget engineers. Forget chemists. Forget ethnomusicologists. (Oops, I think we already have.) Podiatrists for the hand, I say!

Which reminds me. If you’re going to be in NYC this weekend, let me commend to you an amazingly bizarre and fun pair of one-acts, Americana Absurdum, playing at the Lucille Lortel Theater as part of the NY Fringe Festival. The plays, written by Brian Parks, feature an odd character who sells “foot powder for the head.” Perhaps he’s on to something there.

17

The Pleasure Of Transgression: Foie Gras And Other Crimes

Two things people seem to like: duck liver and lawbreaking. Yesterday, in Chicago, diners and restauranteurs revelled in the transgressive pleasure of eating foie gras. They ate it on Connie’s pizza (and let me confess a profound soft spot for Connie’s, where my dad used to take me before White Sox games); they enjoyed it at Harry Caray’s; and they even chowed down at BJ’s Market & Bakery, a soul food joint on Stony Island (on the South Side, where I grew up.) But Chicago recently adopted an ordinance banning the sale of this fatty food product on the grounds that the ducks and geese that provide the delicacy are abused. The restaurants serving foie gras yesterday were breaking the law.

Both the Trib and the NY Times featured the story of the outlaws who ate the evil liver. (Curiously, these two stories covered remarkably similar ground. I’m thinking that either these reporters are copycats or someone put out a press release directing eager reporters to the same dining establishments.) It’s clear that restaurant owners and customers were downright happy to break the law. But wait a minute. This is the law here! That incredible institution that must be respected, lest the entire society be put at risk. Or not.

Law-breaking is a powerful source of pleasure for many people. We elect representatives to set speed limits, and routinely violate them. Those same legislators create open liquor ordinances which we flout at outdoor concerts, parades, and other festive occassions. They ban gambling, and we ignore them. Even Justice Rehnquist got into law breaking; his chambers sponsored the NCAA pool at the courthouse and he even he hosted an election night pool involving the ’92 Bush-Clinton race.

Crime isn’t the only transgressive pleasure. Take the briefest detour down the path of the Internet Porn Machine – or save yourself the effort, and read your spam folder – and you’ll soon discover a smorgasbord of socially-proscribed delights. Smoking cigarettes has become much cooler now that it’s prohibited everywhere. And let’s face it. Eating super-fatty meat products like foie gras has become a social violation in many quarters. But the truth is, people love actual lawbreaking. Sure, if nothing else is on the tube, we’ll watch the CSI team fight crime. But true TV pleasure comes when we root for Tony Soprano, cheer for the Hendrickson family on Big Love, or laugh with the 420-ready housewife on Showtime’s Weeds.

Many criminal laws are designed to protect society from serious harm. Others are less essential, and reflect the preferences of particular powerful groups. And in many respects, the best way to show opposition to the ruling majority – to take a public stand against the regulators and with our nation’s wild past – is to break a few laws. Or perhaps less dramatically, lawbreaking is one small way to assert one’s individuality against the rigidity of state regulation.

Over the years, I’ve met my share of self-described rule-followers. But scratch the surface and you’ll usually find these people have identified at least one offense that they deem unworthy of respect. Or simply well-suited to producing the pleasure of transgression.

2

AOL’s Treasure Hunt for Spammer’s “Nazi” Gold

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AOL is prospecting for gold. Literally. CNET reports that AOL won a $12.8 million verdict against three men one of whom is Davis Wolfgang Hawke, an alleged neo-Nazi and spammer sending ads pushing penile implants and diet pills. The judge in the case “granted a motion giving AOL the right to any property that Hawke left with his parents or his grandparents.” So AOL is planning on using sonar and radar to search Mr. Hawke’s parents’ property. His parents, Hyman and Peggy Greenbaum, (according the article Mr. Hawke changed his name from Andrew Britt Greenbaum to cover his Jewish heritage) are not pleased and think their son is not a spammer and that “their son would [not] be ‘stupid’ enough to bury gold bars on their property.”

Curiously, CNET reports that Mrs. Greenbaum believes gold bars do exist, just not on her property. She also thinks her son is hiding in Belize.

With all the oddity on the defendant’s side, AOL’s spokesperson may be the winner in the understatement category as he noted “This particular defendant may have a colorful and outrageous history–there are some conditions that might make this case unique” but asserted that AOL always goes after assets and property and cited past examples such as AOL’s taking a Porsche, a Hummer, and gold coins.

So my question is does AOL sell these items on its site or on eBay?