Category: Culture


Panic! More Private Data Lost

The Birmingham News reported, yesterday, that a computer with private employee data from supermarket chain Bruno’s was lost. An employee with Deloitte put his notebook in checked baggage at the airport. Naturally, it did not reappear on the baggage belt. (The story does not clarify whether the bag didn’t appear, or whether the bag arrived sans laptop.) Apparently the folks at Royal Ahold (the owner of Brunos) have ongoing problems in this regard. Last May, another Ahold supplier lost a computer containing private employee data. Nobody thinks this is a good thing, but is it really newsworthy?

We have seen several stories, recently, about lost or stolen laptops containing troves of private data. These incidents do introduce a risk that the data will be converted to improper uses – most obviously identity fraud – but I suspect that, in most cases, the ultimate recipient of the computer was seeking, well, a computer. In any case, one thing is clear: the media like to find stories that fit into existing news frames. In particular, they like to find stories that fit with growing social anxieties. Thus, a few years back, a couple of drivers went nuts on the road, taking shots at drivers in other cars. Some savvy writer coined the term “road rage”. Suddenly, aggressive acts by drivers – even those that would have been too mundane to report – became newsworthy as proof of surging “road rage.”

So it is, I fear, with misplaced computers containing private data. The good news for Brunos employees is that, given baggage handling norms, the compuer is likely inoperable. And even if does work, it’s probable that the thief – if there be one – simply wanted some additional computing power. On the other hand, maybe that notebook is for sale this very day in at the nation’s lost baggage depot – The Unclaimed Baggage Center – in Scottsboro, Alabama. If so, identity thiefs would be advised to hustle on down before a local farmer buys the unit and accidentally erases pages of highly valuable private information.


The Sixth Borough

phillylove.jpgA bunch of New York advertising students were asked by a local paper to create a campaign to draw New Yorkers to Philly. My favorite is featured to the right. Others are here (including a racy one not appropriate for this blog, but which would be worth posting in the West Village).

Of course, the general idea of the campaign seems to be extension of the sixth borough tripe concocted by the Times last August. I resent this trend. But I’d sure like to see a growing population in town.

The weird thing for me about this campaign is that you rarely see one American city target another American city’s residents as potential immigrants in this way (exceptions: the Gold and Land Rushes of the 1800s; Florida and Arizona’s retirement booms). And the idea actually seems somehow unlawful (even though it isn’t). Philadelphia can try to steal New York’s residents, but can’t ban its garbage?


New Postal Wonders


As many of you know, I routinely look to the U.S. Post Office (as well as church elections) to see exactly what’s happening in America. Today I noticed two interesting commemoratives: “Wonders of America: Land of Superlatives” and “Amber Alert”. The Wonders series features 40 stamps, each boasting of a “highest”, “hottest”, “windiest” or otherwise super-est American landmark or feature. (Not surprisingly, the largest delta is the Mississippi River Delta. But did you know the largest flower is the American lotus? Or that the windiest place is Mount Washington? And did our representatives lobby to have features of their own states included? Why was there no “deepest mine”? Or “furriest peach”?)

The great thing about this series is that, with its subtitle “Land of Superlatives”, it seems to be tongue-in-cheek or at least a bit ironic. This is indeed the land of superlatives and hyperbolia. And so in this vein it seems appropriate to celebrate? commemorate? acknowledge? the Amber Alert, one in a series of initiatives produced as a result of moral panic about child abduction. The media has been relentless in flogging the issue of child abduction and murder, generating near hysterical fear among suburban parents. In reality, of course, there are probably fewer than 400 serious abductions of children by strangers each year. (There are far more child kidnappings in total, but these are almost all by non-custodial parents. Amber Alerts can address these crimes, but the creation of Amber Alerts was hardly inspired by concern over custodial disputes.)

As Eric and Dan have discussed, our media live and breathe overheated rhetoric. Is that really something to commemorate and celebrate? The USPS apparently thinks so, but whoever created that Wonders of America: Land of Superlatives series probably knows better.


Toto, We’re Not In Alabama Anymore


I’m in Denver for a conference. Pulling away from the international airport terminal I noticed a portion of the exit road set aside for bikes. Bikes at an airport? And more particularly, bikes on the Arrivals pick-up ramp? They must sell a ton of tandems here in Colorado!

I’m just not sure where you put your suitcase.


Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair

My colleague Bennett Capers (Hofstra) has written a fascinating, and rather disturbing, article at the intersection of law and art. Writing about Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair paintings, he asks a series of probing questions – about who the viewer imagines in the chair, and about death as a public spectacle. In this excerpt, he talks more about presence/absence in the paintings:

ReSizedWarholElectricChair.jpgIn Warhol’s Electric Chair series, just as the condemned is both absent and present, so is the State – and this is comforting. Complicity is shared. No one is to blame. Our system of capital punishment thrives partly because of this (joint) presence and absence. The state is present in the very bureaucracy of execution, from the legislative decision to authorized capital punishment to the judicial sanctioning of death-authorized juries. At the same time, the state creates its own absence in diffusing authority among the cast of participants: legislators, prosecutors, jurors, trial and appellate judges, governors with their ability to grant clemency, the executioner himself. And this is what I mean by absence. To borrow from another commentator, the diffusion allows everyone to say, “I’m only doing my job. I’m just a cog in the wheel. I didn’t kill him.” The room is empty, even though it is full.

The article was recently published by the California Law Review.

Photo Credit: Andy Warhol, Electric Chair I (1971), Warhol Family Museum of Modern Art


Best Of Birmingham. Food, That Is.


It’s the long weekend, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to co-opt the Co-Op and do what so many of us have always wanted to do: announce our own Best Of list. Since I’ll be leaving Alabama in the next couple of months, I thought I’d share some of my own opinions about the good life in Birmingham and beyond. Admittedly, relatively few of our regular readers will be touring the Magic City in the next few weeks. But some will. And a surpsingly number of our visitors arrive via a search engine, rather than their morning web surf routine. So for anyone willing to listen, here are my opinions about food and cheer in Bama.

Best CafeLa Reunion. I’ve previously blogged about the virtues of Starbucks in a town like Birmingham. But I gotta tell you: charging a zillion dollars for wireless really steams me. La Reunion is funky, they inexplicably serve H&H bagels (prepared in NYC, cooked by Marcus Specialties in Birmingham, and offered, as far as I can tell, nowhere else in town), and the wireless is gratis. Also, it’s across the street from V. Richard’s, a gourmet market that offers the city’s best weekend breakfast.

Best Cafe Feature Big City Folk Didn’t Know Existed – The Starbucks Drive-Thru. Imagine this: a prof on spring break, a sleeping baby in the back seat, a Starbucks drive-thru, and the New York Times. Turn your uber-uncool Sienna van into a mobile cafe. Bukowski never had it so good.

Best Feature of Alabama Mealtime – Unlimited refills on all cold beverages. Virtually everywhere. And all restaurants – even chains – give in to the basic demand of all Alabama diners. Sweet tea. I mean SWEET tea. And yes, Virginia. You can order your tea half sweet, half unsweet. I do it all the time.

Best Sushi – Many people will recoil from the very notion of sushi in Alabama. And I did that too until I accepted that a) I was gonna be here awhile and b) its all flown in from far away anyway. Still, one of the more vexing restaurant phenomena in Birmingham is the standard attachment of sushi bar to Thai restaurant. And while Surin West, arguably the best Thai in Alabama (which is not saying that much), has decent sushi, I’ll give the nod to Sekisui. (You’ve got to visit the website just to hear the painful theme song.) Get this: Sekisui is a MEMPHIS (??!?) sushi chain that’s opened up shop in Birmingham. I wonder if Elvis might have been a tad more svelte if he’d dined on a bit of raw albacore once in a while. But no. Always peanut butter and banana.

Best LoxSam’s Club. Let’s face it. I could rename this entry “best reason to move to the northeast.” For those lox lovers who find themselves permanently in Birmingham, there’s always Noshville. Three hours away, that is.

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Harsh Reality: You’re Fired!

So we’re down to the final two of in the latest iteration of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” Ironically, I believe the show has a great deal to teach about the law of the workplace. The show highlights the at-will employment rule, and emphasizes common misunderstandings about the extent of workers’ job security.

Donald Trump’s cavalier method of dismissing his would-be underlings at the end of the show is distressing and troubling. In real life, being fired is a traumatic event. The loss of a job almost inevitably results in financial instability and often a diminishment of one’s professional and personal identities. To see a firing enacted in such a harsh and casual way should be emotionally difficult to watch. Yet the boardroom discussions and Trump’s catch phrase apparently are among the most popular aspects of the show.

When I’ve asked people – especially my students – why the firing on “The Apprentice” appealed to them, a few themes emerged. Some said that they empathized with Trump, because he was dismissing those who had performed poorly. Others, in a display of schadenfreude, admitted that they were happy to see others dismissed, just as long as it wasn’t them in that situation.

As Professor Pauline Kim (Wash U) has empirically documented, many non-unionized workers (and, presumably, many ‘Apprentice’ watchers) do not fully realize the extent of their own job insecurity. Often, people believe that if they show up at the office and do their jobs, absent any obvious difficulties with management or economic downturns, their employment will last. They believe what they think the boss has promised them: continued employment for hard work. But that is not the law.

Indeed, while it may be good management practice to document reasons for firing someone, the law does not require it. Under the at-will employment rule — the law in all jurisdictions but Montana — an employer may fire an employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. Although federal and state anti-discrimination statutes, whistle-blower laws, and other legal provisions put restraints on an employer’s ability to use a bad reason to fire an employee, the underlying at-will regime remains substantially unchanged. The reality of the worker’s bargain looks a lot more like Trump’s deal.

Altogether, reality TV’s portrayal of employment presents a realistically bleak picture for workers. You can work hard, but you still might get fired without notice.

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Senate Vote Suggests Fear Of Gay Love Trumps States Rights

So a Senate subcommittee voted 10-8 to send a bill to the floor banning states from recognizing same sex marriage. Arlen Spector voted for the measure, though he says he opposes it, and perhaps other in the majority did so as well. But this suggests, at minimum, a new level of confidence among conservatives. No longer need they oppose rulings like Roe on states rights grounds. The truth, it appears, is that they don’t care about those rights very much at all. At least those rights pale in the face of gay marriage. I wonder if those many Federalists who take states rights seriously will speak out. I hope so. Perhaps we’re just seeing solidification of a realignment. Democrats increasingly support states rights, and fear the courts. Republicans increasingly love the courts (or at least don’t fear them) and now can stake out fresh territory regulating the typically state-organized institution of marriage.

And a new generation of thinkers will have to decide if abstract meta-issues like states rights are serious business or just a means to an end.


Hi Mom!

Mommybird.jpgToday is mother’s day.

I could do a blog post on the social construction of motherhood; Joan Chalmers Williams’ work about discrimination against mothers in the workplace; or review historian Annelise Orleck’s book about mothers who became political activists.

I could do some, any, or all of these things here, but as I’ve brought my mom to NYC for the weekend, I need to make this brief so that I can spend more time with her.

Therefore, I’ll end with a gentle reminder to call your mom (or other nurturing figure in your life…) today. Otherwise you’ll risk the ire of the plaintiff’s attorney featured in the New Yorker cartoons, who to paraphrase loosely says: “Have your kids forgotten about you? We sue negligent children!”