Category: Just for Fun


The Opposite of Dog Eat Dog

At a Faculty Meeting years ago, our distingished new Dean, who’d been Dean elsewhere, President of a University, and CEO in the private sector, began by saying how people often ask him: “What’s the difference between the academic world and the corporate world?” 

The Dean said he replied: “In the corporate world, it’s DOG EAT DOG, whereas in the academic world, it is exactly the other way around.”  Those assembled at the Faculty Meeting laughed knowingly.

Just as the guffaws died out, my great and wonderful friend, a learned faculty member, and former Dean,  quipped: “Do you mean, in academia, it’s GOD EAT GOD?”  Louder knowing laughter erupted and I still laugh about it today.

Academia can be a wonderful place. Yet it’s no Ivory Tower and can be viscious , especially for younger scholars, doing graduate work at elite institutions.  It usually gets better but it can be tough later too. 

There are many ways to cope. One is remembering to research and write for yourself, in the first instance, not to please or even influence others.  Of course, it can be rewarding to have those effects and, especially, to be cited favorably, but that usually comes in due course.

Keeping a sense of humor and some sobriety about also helps.  Whenever I hear about the lion cages of graduate study, or vexing insecurity during early years of untenured appointments, I share the foregoing memorable scene.

The Business Section of “The Last Newspaper”

The New Museum of Contemporary Art has hosted an exhibit called “The Last Newspaper” the past few months. Part of the exhibit centers around newspaper-based art. Another focus has been a “hybrid of journalism and performance art,” as groups of editors and writers developed “last newspaper sections” in areas ranging from real estate to sports to leisure. I co-edited the business section, which is available here in a low-res copy. I’m posting our editorial statement below.

I like how the various articles (contributed by entrepreneurs, theorists, designers, and others) hang together. The terrific design work is a refreshing change from the barren pages of business blogs, law reviews, and academic books (though it looks like some legal scholars are renewing interest in visual aspects of justice).

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Credit Where Credit is Specifically Due

An Andy Rooney-esque musing to close out the week: Why do we tend to acknowledge useful feedback from colleagues in a single “thank you” footnote at the beginning of an article, instead of at specific points throughout? The former seems to be the preferred practice, but the latter seems more appropriate in many cases, and I’m not sure why it’s so rare.

My own impulse is to treat colleagues and outside readers just like any other source, and to drop footnotes indicating their specific contributions. If someone gives me an idea that I would have footnoted had it been a published source, it seems that the person should get credit in precisely the same way—that is, at the spot in the article where the idea appears. And while my impressions are admittedly totally unscientific, it seems to me that such footnotes (i.e., “Many thanks to X for bringing this point to my attention.”) are pretty rare.

Maybe the single “thank you” footnote ensures that all the people who contributed to the article will have their names noted by casual readers, who are unlikely to scan any footnotes beyond the first. Or if the purpose of footnotes isn’t so much to give credit as it is to help interested readers pursue their own research, maybe it’s less troubling when a human source goes uncited, since readers are presumably unlikely to follow up with individual people directly. Or perhaps most feedback from colleagues and outside readers is not specific enough to be attributed to any one part of an article.

All of those strike me as plausible explanations, though I’m not sure any of them accurately explains why authors do things the way they do.


Mad Glee-actica: The Virtues of Extreme Recycling

I don’t watch much TV.  So, I am hardly the person to make strong claims about its quality or trends.  That said, I find it fascinating that three of the best shows of the past few years—Battlestar Galactica, Madmen, and Glee—share a really odd structural feature:  They have all taken ridiculously bad ideas from cringe-able eras and turned them around completely, made them not only fresh, but evocative, disturbing, intriguing.

Where's the goo?

They are, in short, evidence of the virtues of extreme recycling.

Just imagine the pitch meeting for Galactica:  We’ll take what has to have been one of the dumbest pop-culture packing peanuts ever and make it stronger, faster, better:  How about an allegory about civil liberties and faith after 9/11 using Cylons and vats of goo?

Or what about Madmen:  Let’s explore the most virulent cancers on our culture with lovingly pornographic attention to detail, to demonstrate the complex symbiosis among banality, beauty, evil and exculpation.  Madmen is the money shot of commodity fetishism, proving once again the truth of Chomsky’s admonition that if you want to learn what’s wrong with capitalism, don’t read The Nation, read the Wall Street Journal.

And Glee?  Well, all I can say is:  Don’t Stop Believing.

Which may lead you to this question:  No one really takes the “and everything else” part of CoOps’s desktop mantra seriously, so what the frak does this have to do with law? Read More


Church-owned Cows and Inflation

I recently taught Sherwood v. Walker, the famous case involving a Michigan cow named Rose 2nd of Aberlone, as well as a number of other mistake cases in contracts dealing with cows. I’ve got bovine jurisprudence on the mind. It seems that the same is true for Eugene Volokh, who recently noted a case involving a “church owned cow.” The cow in question was owned by the Mormon Church and seems to have negligently collided with a motorcycle. In the interests of extending our jurisprudential understanding of cows, I can’t resist adding another twist to the church-owned cow story.

The Mormon Church’s involvement in agriculture is a legacy of the nineteenth century practice of Mormons paying tithing in kind to the church. As a result of this practice, in the nineteenth century, the church acquired large herds of cattle as well as other food stuffs. It then issued so-called “tithing scrip,” which was in effect private currency. The holder of scrip could redeem it for foodstuffs, including beef, at church storehouses. The scrip then circulated as money, in effect providing liquidity to the perpetually cash starved economies of the Intermountain West in the nineteenth century. Because the currency was in effect backed by cows, however, it was subject to some odd monetary pressures. For example, when a particularly harsh winter killed off a large proportion of the church’s cattle herds, it was forced to reduce the purchasing power of tithing scrip at church storehouses because there simply wasn’t as much beef available as previously. The result was price inflation as the value of the scrip declined.

As part of its efforts to raise revenue during the Civil War, the U.S. government passed a series of banking acts designed to decrease government borrowing costs. All nationally chartered banks were required to hold their reserves in the form of treasury bonds, and non-federally chartered institutions were hit with a heavy tax on the notes that they issued. The effect was to slap a punitive tax on any bank depositor who did not loan his or her savings to the U.S. government. During the 1880s federal prosecutors in Utah decided that the various scrip-issuing bodies of the Mormon church were subject to this tax, and demanded decades of back taxes, eventually killing off the scrip and replacing it with currency issued by federally chartered banks.

Taxes. Regulation. Inflation. Cows. Some things never change.


A Little Literary Diversion

Compare and contrast is the name of the game today.

Openings are vital to a novel and maybe any writing. I was reading an older text, and it reminded me of another beautiful opening from an even older work. I thought I’d share short portions above the fold, to whet your appetite. Larger excerpts are below the fold for those who wish to see the full passages and revel in the glory of great writing. (For fun, you might try and guess the sources).

1st passage:
All the world was before me and every day was a holiday, so it did not seem important to which one of the world’s wildernesses I first should wander.

2nd passage:
Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

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A Great Horn Section and Some Wild Clothes to Brighten Your Day

Most of the country is facing some rather grim weather. Classes have begun. Grades are in. The holidays are over. There is work to do. Many things may be getting you down. So I offer this tune as a small pick-me-up for those who may need it. If the music doesn’t work for you, perhaps the outfits and the early special effects will. Enjoy.


Sherlock Holmes and The Sparks

Here’s just a little free association for what I hope are ongoing happy holidays for everyone. Sherlock Holmes opens on Christmas Day and is a front runner for holiday films I want to see. I happen to think that Robert Downey Jr. is in a great groove. I loved his acting in Chaplin and am quite pleased to see that his career as bloomed. Whether Guy Ritchie can make this one good remains to be seen. My guess is that like Star Trek some annoying we-have-to-do-it allegedly new action sequences or martial arts inspired skills and fights will make their way into the series. As William Goldman noted, film is a business; idealized versions of a story don’t often work in that arena. So perhaps this potential nonsense is necessary.

As a fan of the original works, I am sure to be disappointed and think that House is a better modern version of Holmes than this film’s idea. But that is the fun of open culture. Folks get to play with types and see what works. Indeed, theorists can track the way in which Holmes is portrayed and examine how a given era sees the character (Check out the difference between Bogart’s 1941 Sam Spade and the earlier, 1931, version to get a sense of how much a character can morph; or think of the ever-changing, yet stable, James Bond. Les Liaisons Dangereuses provides another example. The Marquise de Merteuil is quite different in Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont).

Regardless of my concerns, there is a chance people will discover the original works and enjoy them as well (free at the link). Or maybe the film will introduce you to the Sparks, a band that I happen love for its lyrics which are rather good at poking at society by mixing cultural references into their music. For instance you might enjoy the song Mickey Mouse (I especially enjoy the introduction which discusses the mouse as a general matter but this version has better sound and some fun mashup). The song I Predict may seem too familiar to lawyers and law students with its refrain “Are My Sources Correct?”, but it also refers to transsexuals, Elvis, Lassie, Maxim’s, marketing, and the oddity of prediction in general. Cool Places seems to pick up on theme of society’s obsession with being, well, cool. And after the jump there, you can check out The Sparks and their comment on Sherlock Holmes. Believe it or not, the song is a love song of sorts (the ironic tone makes it hard to be a straight forward ballad). Here is a teaser

“Fog matters to you and me, but it can’t touch Sherlock Holmes
Dogs bark and he knows their breed
And knows where they went last night
Knows their masters too
Oh baby, hold me tight.

Just pretend I’m Sherlock Holmes.”

Who knows? Maybe The Sparks predicted what the film industry hopes happens with the film: millions will want to be (or be with) Sherlock Holmes (but as the song points out, they can’t be).

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