Category: Weird


Qua Qua Qua

The use of “qua” has always struck me as the worst kind of legalese. It’s a convoluted, inelegant way of saying “as” or “to act in the capacity of.”

For example, lists the following quote from Judge Richard Posner: “This might be thought a decisive objection to a federal judge’s writing about this subject even if the judge writes qua academic rather than qua judge.”

Not to knock Judge Posner (who must be admired intellectually, regardless of politics), but aren’t there better ways to express this thought? Is “qua” actually adding anything here?

Anyway, as much as I can, I’d like to encourage Qua to go the way of the dinosaurs. I have declared a moratorium on qua qua qua.


The Law of Geeks

Sorry, folks, this post is not about legal rules of interest to your typical fantasy-loving geek. Go. Elsewhere.

Rather, I am responding to William Saletan’s new column about Transhumanists, who I think share many of the characteristics of the old-time geeks of circus lore.

Saletan is sanguine about the socio/legal/moral implications of permitting Cat Man, Lizard Man, Cyborg Man, and other would-be Ousters to modify themselves with old-fashioned surgery, new fashioned IT, and newer fashioned DNA modification. He offers the following “analogy” paragraph to suggest the logic for permitting this activity:

Why do we shrug at botox, liposuction, and circumcision? Why do we think it’s no big deal if models, actors, and athletes have themselves cut open for professional advancement? Why did tattoos remain illegal in parts of the United States until three weeks ago? Why did we have “ugly laws” that ordered maimed people off the streets? Why did we operate on sexually ambiguous infants to “correct” their gender, often with disastrous results?

These examples raise a number of questions.

First, how strong is the normative argument for constitutionalizing the right to self-sculpt? Does it depend on the type of right? (Tattoo: very expressive/can be religious/little privacy content; Liposuction: less expressive/never religious/some privacy content; Cyborg: not expressive/possibly religious/high privacy content.) Second, would Randy Barnett’s libertarian constitution find a structural limitation to government’s power to prohibit cat man from adding a tail? Third, are there distinctions between self-sculpting methods that we can borrow from, say, consent theory – here, I’m thinking about work on alienability and inalienability. Fourth, how much of our thinking about this problem is distorted by the anarchic future of human-modification almost uniformly painted in sci-fi and other futurist works? Jurists value order uber alles: is the sci-fi anarchic frame leading us to be overly sympathetic to regulation? And finally, is it really “irrational” to make distinctions in legal rules between “gross” and “not-gross” sculpting?

By gross, I take it that Saletan means mutilation of the body that makes you look less like other people. By not-gross sculpting, I take that Saletan means mutilation that makes you look less like other people.* There are good reasons for the law to treat these two intents differently. For one, we might think -rightly or wrongly- that people who don’t want to look like other people, or want abilities that ordinary humans lack, are likely to behave in anti-social ways. Athletes and actors sure do.

So here’s the question: should the law encourage geeks, discourage them, or remain indifferent?

*Other definitions, such as attractiveness or desire to make money, don’t work. The Cat Man, for instance, is very strong on the copyright implications of his image, which is why I haven’t posted it here. So is lizard man. And attractiveness is a very person-specific concept.


An IPOD Top-10 List, and Other Diversions

Steve Bainbridge recommends that celebrities, politicians, and ordinary mortals create iPOD top-10 lists by accessing their 25-most played category. It is a troublesome metric for me. I wish I, like Nick Horby, spent time thinking about what music I like. But I don’t, so my iPOD tells me that I like eclectic, sometimes objectively weak, songs. But in the spirit of the news hole this holiday weekend, my top-10 list follows after the jump. Oh, and I’ll throw in a few lively sites that I read in the daily surf to divert you…

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If anything, they should be rewarded

I’m not a particularly ardent fan of the U.K. version of The Office, but I’ve seen a few bits of it here and there, and they can be pretty funny. One of the classic exchanges is between David and Gareth, on the subject of, well, boobs:

[David is mocking a porn site, and reads off of the computer screen]

David: ” ‘Dutch girls must be punished for having big boobs.’ Now you do not punish someone, Dutch or otherwise, for having big boobs.”

Gareth: “If anything they should be rewarded.”

David: “They should be equal.”

Gareth: “Women are equal.”

David: “I’ve always said that.”

With that background, one can fully appreciate this recent news story: “A dancer has launched a $100 million lawsuit against the American musical Movin’ Out, claiming she was emotionally abused and lost her job because her breasts grew too large for her costume.” Yes, it turns out that, according to the lawsuit, some people are punished for having big boobs. Best of all, however, is her lawyer’s statement to the press, in the same newsclip: “In the ballet world, obviously, people are small-breasted. On Broadway, what happened should be an attribute.”

Or in other words, “if anything, they should be rewarded.”


Suckering in New Collectors

The WSJ (free version) has a great article today on efforts made by collectors to try to maintain the market value of their goods by reducing costs for young entrants. Here is a taste

If new generations of collectors don’t materialize, the value of items will plummet. That’s why marble clubs, to generate enthusiasm, send free marbles to schools. The U.S. Mint has a Web site with cartoons and computer games to entertain kids about the thrills of coin-collecting. Indeed, children have shown considerable interest in the state quarters program . . . Some collecting groups have created unstated policies. The 650-member National Milk Glass Collectors Society — a group devoted to opaque glass — holds an annual auction. When the rare young person shows up to bid on an item, older collectors lower their hands. “We back off and let the young person buy it. We want them to add to their collections,” says Bart Gardner, the group’s past president.

Worth reading in full, if only to learn what the Oughtred Society does.


How Not to Turn Down a Law Job Offer

social-networks1.gifDianna Abdala, a young law school graduate, was about to start working for William Korman, a criminal defense attorney. Shortly before she was to start, Korman told Abdala that he had also decided to hire another attorney, and as a result, had to adjust her salary lower. She sent him the following email:

At this time, I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sew [sic]. Thank you for the interviews.

Korman called and left a message to Abdala to discuss, but Abdala left a voicemail turning down the offer again. Korman wrote to Abdala:

Given that you had two interviews, were offered and accepted the job (indeed, you had a definite start date), I am surprised that you chose an e-mail and a 9:30 p.m. voicemail message to convey this

information to me. It smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional. Indeed, I did rely upon your acceptance by ordering stationary and business cards with your name, reformatting a computer and setting up both internal and external e-mails for you here at the office. While I do not quarrel with your reasoning, I am extremely disappointed in the way this played out. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Abdala responded with this email:

A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance

until he did so. Again, thank you.

Korman responded:

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Professor for sale


Teaching salaries these days are so bad, it seems like you have to sell the shirt off your back just to make ends meet. Or perhaps rent the shirt off your back. And where would you do this? On eBay — where else?

French professor Corry Cropper at BYU is doing just that. From Cropper’s eBay ad:

Want to get your message to the coveted 18-25 year old market? Coaches aren’t the only ones with a marketable presence on campus. I am a well-liked professor at a major university in Provo, Utah and have been here for nearly 10 years.

This semester I am teaching two courses of French literature that meet two days a week. I have a total of 46 students but am seen by many more during the day as I walk between classes and around campus. If you win the auction, I will wear your T-shirt with logo to campus on the days I teach (during class, office hours, lunch, etc.).

If you win the auction, it is your responsibility to mail me the T-shirt in time for classes Feb. 21 & 23, 2006. I cannot wear anything that is offensive in any way and cannot advertise for alcohol or cigarette companies. I reserve the right to refuse to wear the shirt if it is inappropriate but will not charge you if I don’t wear it. If you have questions about the appropriateness of the T-shirt, please email me before bidding.

Wow – it’s that easy, and a cool $40 is in the bank. (I smell a new revenue stream for law professors everywhere!) However, I have to wonder how this development will be viewed by feminist scholars, race scholars, or property-and-personhood scholars like Margaret Radin. It’s all fun and games when you’re auctioning off the right to put a logo on a white male, but the dynamic differs drastically when we begin discussing women or members of racial minorities. For majority-group members, deliberately chosing to blur the line between personhood and property may be viewed as a fun and harmless diversion. For historically disadvantaged groups, however, the stakes are very different. The line between personhood and property is a hard-won right for many groups — members of such groups may have been treated as chattel property in the relatively recent past. This history means that any step towards reconceptualizing these people (again) as property could have negative effects in both perception and reality. (Thus, the classic bachelor auction is easy; the newer bachelorette auction is fraught with tricky fault lines.)

For that reason — uncertainty of effects on historically disadvantaged groups — I think that the sale of professors’ sartorial space (on eBay or elsewhere) is probably a bad idea.