Friday, April 30, 2010

Also, I hear the streets are paved with cheese.

Dutch police push for tolerance of public sex in parks across the Netherlands. Constant Readers will note that this blog has followed the debate for some time. (via)

Intellectualized discussion is not the enemy.

I was following this post pretty well until it started attacking logic. If you can't make a logical, consistent argument for your positions on "justice and social privilege and real-life inequality," then you've already lost the game.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not you guys again!

Why is Harvard Law School a magnet for crazy-ass drama? Despite its graduates being quite similar in qualifications and prospects to those from other top schools, HLS is, as one blogger put it, "unique in its shitstorms." Why?

1a. Size matters. It's 2-3 times as big as its peer schools. More students, more nutbars.

1b. No, size really does matter, your ex lied to you. With 500+ students per class, there's a critical mass of people with just about any belief or interest. Some of those beliefs are racist. People who would have elsewhere had to keep things to themselves, under the impression that nobody else thinks those thoughts, find kindred spirits! And they talk about crazy things! And sometimes, they get a little too comfortable and let slip some of those crazy things in mixed company.

2. What is best in life? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women. Every student group is large enough to constitute a faction and to include at least one wannabe Roberts/Obama type. And if a member of an opposing faction can be discredited before s/he starts that meteoric rise, it's all for the good of the country.

3. If I get stoned and sing all night long, it's a family tradition!: HLS has a long and storied history of drama. Elena Kagan presided over years of relative peace in the faculty ... maybe the drama torch has been passed to the students?

4. Say my name: I'm sure media sites have data on this sort of thing, but I would bet money that putting "Harvard" on a post or article title gets more clicks than either no school name or a less-famous school name (even if the school is equally good).

5. I don't know how to put this but I'm kind of a big deal. If there is anyone who pays an even more disproportionate amount of attention to Harvard drama than your mom reading the NYT website, it's the students themselves. Asserting yourself against bigotry at Fancypants U is Taking A Very Important Stand, not just calling out an asshole for being an asshole.

This episode isn't the first bit of swirling HLS drama and it won't be the last. Of course, it would help if HLSers tried a little harder to not be racist or plagiarize people's work.

UPDATE: Isabel Archer on how events like this may drive epistemic closure:
Apparently it is never appropriate for an attorney or future attorney to venture to say "Controversial Idea X may be true, or Opposite of Controversial Idea X may be true" in samizdat private e-mails to one's friends. Rather, members of our honored profession are only supposed to discuss controversial ideas behind locked doors. Preferably in whispers. ...

Tarrings and featherings like this deter some conservatives and libertarians from wanting to speak or write anything remotely controversial. Put another way, PC increases the marginal costs of controversial speech.

Some conservatives or libertarians of more moderate temperaments are less willing to pay those increased marginal costs. Some people aren't willing to pay costs, once they rise above a certain level. They'll happily retreat to blogging about lemon tarts and polka dot dresses (not that there's anything wrong with that!) That leaves the Ann Coulters and Michelle Malkins of the world, who aren't deterred easily by raised stakes to free speech. So one winds up with a chattering class that's disproportionately slanted to the intemperate -- and thus the emergence of the epistemic closure phenomenon that everyone's discussed so much.
This is not just about the chattering classes---it is potential career suicide for a practicing attorney to make attributable, controversial statements of any kind, as discovered some years ago when I tossed off a post about how eating certain foods raised unwanted memories of financial insecurity, which somehow turned into "Amber hates poor people!" with predictable opprobrium. You can be sanitized for your own protection or you can be Ann freakin' Coulter. But there's not a lot of comfortable space in the middle.

Some friends have complained about how recent nominees for SCOTUS and other appointments lack substantial records---that they haven't taken positions to engage with or assess. This is why.

Queen Kong?

Is this true? I only saw the new King Kong once.
It struck me that any article I read about the movie would start from the point of King Kong being a male character, when nothing in the picture itself says so. It could be an asexual creature. And it could be female. Kong makes no particular reference to masculinity except that the creature is strong and the blonde is weak.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why The Verdict is an Evil Movie

When I was a 1L we had a professor as our "section leader" who did not teach any of our 1L courses, but who was supposed to do activities with us, answer questions, and the like. One of the very first things we did as a section was watch The Verdict with Paul Newman. This, along with my very first assignment in law school, made me question the decision to attend.

The Verdict is a powerful, well-acted, and well-directed film. It is also one of the most prominent examples of the glorification of lawyers violating both their moral and professional duties. This is, to put it mildly, NOT what you want to be inculcating to newbie law students.

The premise is that negligence by doctors caused a young woman, Deborah Ann Kaye, to be in a persistent vegetative state. The burden of caring for her is significant and her sister and brother-in-law elect to sue the hospital on Kaye's behalf, in the hope that they can procure a settlement that will pay for her care. They hire an alcoholic attorney (Newman), who uncovers the negligence that led to Kaye's injuries. Eventually it becomes obvious to the defendants that the jig is up. They offer Newman a generous settlement. This is what his clients wanted all along. Kaye's care would be guaranteed. However, taking the settlement means there would be no public exposure of the hospital's negligence. Instead of presenting the settlement offer to his clients, Newman turns it down immediately, placing the fate of an entire family in the hands of a drunken has-been. He's taking this to trial!

Of course, Newman wins the case after a dramatic courtroom scene and Kaye's care is safe. But the entire point of an attorney's representation is to act on behalf of his client, in that client's interests. Not the interests of the wider community (unless the client agrees). Not in the interests of himself and his desire for redemption. If the client wants to take the money, that is their choice. You cannot take that decision away from them by concealing a settlement offer and remain an ethical and responsible member of the bar.

I don't know why anyone would think that this is a good thing to show new law students. Ideally, you should show them something that presents them with information leading to a counter-intuitive conclusion (e.g. an attorney making a decision in accordance with his ethical duties that seems wrong to an outsider but which ultimately is the right thing to do). It's not Birth of a Nation or anything, but it's a bad movie and if you are an attorney and like it you should feel bad.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pop quiz, hot shot.

You're at a major American airport and approach some seats near the gate. You ask people nearby if a seat with a small insulated lunch bag on it is available.

"There was some lady here, I think it was hers, but she left a long time ago and didn't come back," says one woman. The man on the other side of the empty seats agrees. You all exchange somewhat green-about-the-gills looks.

You could scoot the bag over and sit in the seat. Or you could be a good little citizen of the homeland and report the "suspicious package" to the TSA and possibly cause an evacuation of the terminal leading to hundreds of people missing their flights.


(I found this entire episode a sad vote of no-confidence in our government. We'd rather assume the risk than invoke the massive and disproportionate response of the present security apparatus.

N.B. the bag was still there, unclaimed, 30 minutes or so later when everyone got up to board. It did not explode.)

Open up that Golden Gate!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dou-Dou-Double Vision

Would you clone yourself? Would you expect Extra Crispy You to enjoy being raised by Original Recipe You? I don't have a moral problem with cloning if it can be accomplished without creating damaged versions along the way (big if). And even if your clone was likely to suffer from some genetic defects, it shouldn't be banned any more than people with known genetic defects should be banned from exercising their narcissistic reproductive preferences.

However, I support noncoercive means to discourage Bryan Caplan from cloning himself, or, alternatively, development of technology to send Bryan Caplans Junior and Senior back in time to the 1880s. (Or maybe doubling of Bryan Caplan's X chromosome to clone him as a woman. And then Bryan could accompany Bryanna back in time for a refreshing womens' history course.)

When Steve Sailer is the person making the most sense in a discussion thread related to human genetics, you know things have gone drastically off the rails.

Happy Tree Friends Safe Again

I don't understand how anyone could have thought this law was going to get upheld.
§ 48. Depiction of animal cruelty

(a) Creation, Sale, or Possession.— Whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

(b) Exception.— Subsection (a) does not apply to any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.

(c) Definitions.— In this section—

(1) the term “depiction of animal cruelty” means any visual or auditory depiction, including any photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, electronic image, or sound recording of conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if such conduct is illegal under Federal law or the law of the State in which the creation, sale, or possession takes place, regardless of whether the maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding, or killing took place in the State; and

(2) the term “State” means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and any other commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States.
I mean, this could apply to cartoons of hunting. It's the CDA all over again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cat Blog

No dignity.

Rape Apologist Roundup: Foreign Edition

Yemen still hasn't outlawed child "marriage," despite publicity brought by the newest related atrocity:
A 13-year-old Yemeni child bride[, Elham Assi,] who bled to death shortly after marriage was tied down and forced to have sex by her husband[, Abed al-Hikmi], according to interviews with the child's mother, police and medical reports.
(You may remember when Yemen previously made international news for its tolerance of child rape, when a nine-year-old ran away from her husband and petitioned for a divorce. And there's more!) Because we need both sides of the story, the Western press interviewed Sheik Mohammed Hamzi, an official of the Islamist Yemeni opposition party Islaah, who's against the proposed ban on raping little girls.
“I am against the child marriage law because it restrains the freedom of others. When a certain age [for marriage] is set, it violates the rights of others. For example, imagine a young man of 13 or 14 years of age who wants to have sex. … This is a violation of his rights,” Sheik Hamzi told The Times in an interview at his Sana home last week.
Imagine, a young man wants to have sex. His father buys him a child bride fair and square. Keeping him from raping her is a rights violation! Won't someone think of the (male) children? He also gets in some shots about how the only reason Western feminists care is because we are ugly and jealous that nobody would marry us. Every day I mourn that nobody sold me into sex slavery before I lost all my baby teeth.

It's sad when this:
Al-Hikmi took [Elham] to a nearby medical clinic, asking a doctor there to administer her tranquilizers so she would not resist his advances. The clinic said it refused.
is the most optimistic sign in the whole piece. Of course, he ended up raping her to death anyway. (via esquiver)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Put the bunny back in the box.

PROTIP: When you're charged with having sex with your roommate's rabbit, your "motion in limine to preclude the government from mentioning anything related to this [bestiality] charge or anything related to sexuality, sexual habits with rabbits or other references designed to communicate the sexual violation of rabbits”? Unlikely to be granted or effective.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No word on whether they also condemned natural hair.

I quit reading Above the Law for the same reason I quit watching television news: Its sole purpose is to foment anxiety. Jill brings one of their recent posts to our attention, in which some staggering sexism in the legal profession is highlighted.

The Chicago Bar Association held a What Not To Wear Fashion Show that provided “guest judges and fashion industry experts” to critique law students selections for “professional attire.” Money quotes from the panel:
“Looking sexy in a law firm is disrespectful."
“[L]adies, have some respect for yourselves. There are a lot of married men at law firms and you do not want to tempt them.”
If you work in a law firm where your career prospects are affected by wearing hoop earrings, ponytails, large engagement rings, or boots, or by carrying the wrong brand of handbag, RUN AWAY.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Somehow it's terribly sad that Penelope Trunk was named by Time, Inc. I also want to see her sketchy master's thesis.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"And if you are a woman, decide whether you'd be happier being a nun or a whore. Or hope some nice free peasant marries you. You have my sympathies."

This pair of posts about whether women were better off, by libertarian lights, during the Gilded Age, reminds me of this old post at Tyler Cowen's about time travel to 1000 AD. Lots of affluent white dudes getting all excited about how awesome they would be, not much attachment to the reality of lived experience at those times for the massive numbers of people who were not affluent white dudes. For most women, going back in time would make our lives nasty, brutish, and short.

Married women in the Gilded Age had no right to their own earnings. Effective tax rate by husbands: 100 percent.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fun with landlord/tenant law

I hear all this crap about how hot the DC housing market is right now, but I'm not seeing the hard evidence. Also, having people view your home sucks and if DC tenants are within their rights to keep people out, bully for them. This risk should have been priced into their leases.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Demanding the right to be flip AND taken seriously

Just so y'all know, this:
your whole enterprise here, the whole long and short of it, appears to be an edifice designed to give you a platform that paws at discourse while denying the possibility of you ever getting called on anything. I mean the whole apparatus of the place. It’s like this constant recursion of LOLspeak/serious speak/LOLspeak, this Russian dolls style thing you’re so enamored with. It’s just a mechanism to introduce a self-limiting aspect on what you want to say; you want to be heard and to be taken seriously, but you want the out to be able to say that you were just goofing. Well, goof away, it’s the Internet, and it’s your dime, but understand that you are denying intellectual rigor when you do so.
is what this blog was founded on.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

ALIENS: An unplanned pregnancy leads to complications.

Uncomfortable plot summaries: The best parts are the repeats, like how every Neil Gaiman book is actually "Misfit discovers he is special person in secret world just beside our own." (via)

It is a bit of a Marty Stu, for a very specific value of Marty Stu

This is probably the most terrific Harry Potter fan fic to come out in years.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Twin Studies

You see lots of social science research based on twin studies. Are parents of twins put on some sort of mailing list when their kids are born? Do researchers procure lists of twins from hospitals or the SSA to troll for subjects? I'm imagining the scientific equivalent of nonstop telemarketing.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Weekend Bake: Lemon Meringue Pie

I have always been defeated by meringue, but this recipe is the best meringue I've ever made.

Meringue Topping

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix cornstarch with 1/3 cup water in small saucepan; bring to simmer, whisking occasionally at beginning and more frequently as mixture thickens. When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, remove from heat. Let cool while beating egg whites.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix cream of tartar and sugar together. Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Beat in sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time; until sugar is incorporated and mixture forms soft peaks. Add cornstarch mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks.