Required Reading at HLS

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on September 20th, 2010 by bl1y

As reported on Above the Law today, Harvard has recently undergone a complete overhaul of its grading system.  But, they didn’t tell their students.  No letters, no e-mails, no bulletin board fliers.  Dean Martha Minnow had this to say about allegations of backroom reform:

Students were informed the same way that they were informed about everything.  We’ve concluded that the only way to be sure that we can be clear about what are the governing rules of the school is to say they’re in the Handbook, and you’re responsible for knowing what’s in the Handbook.

You concluded that the only way for students to be informed was to assume they would read the handbook?  Not just once, but read it every year to see if there are any changes from the last time.  Are you kidding me?  Fans of The Paper Chase TV series will recall that even Mr. Hart didn’t read the handbook.

Here’s what I have concluded is another, better option: inform the students of major changes to the handbook.

Capt. Ross: Corporal Barnes, I hold here the Marine Corps Outline for Recruit Training. You’re familiar with this book?
Cpl. Barnes: Yes, sir.
Capt. Ross: You’ve read it?
Cpl. Barnes: Yes, sir.
Capt. Ross: Good. Would you open it up to the chapter that deals with code reds, please?
Cpl. Barnes: Sir?
Capt. Ross: Just flip open to the page of the book that talks about code reds.
Cpl. Barnes: Well, sir code red is a term that we use, I mean, just down at Gitmo, I really don’t think that…
Capt. Ross: Ah, we’re in luck then. Standard Operating Procedures, Rifle Security Company, Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Now I assume we’ll find the term code red and its definition in that book. Am I right?
Cpl. Barnes: No sir.
Capt. Ross: Coporal Barnes, I’m a Marine. Is there no book. No pamphlet or manual, no regulation or set of written orders or instructions that lets me know that, as a Marine, one of my duties is to perform code reds?
Cpl. Barnes: No sir. No book, sir.
Capt. Ross: No further questions.
[as Ross walks back to his table Kaffee takes the book out of his hand]
Kaffee: Corporal would you open this book up to the part that says that where the mess hall is.
Cpl. Barnes: Well, Lt Kaffee, that’s not in the book either, sir.
Kaffee: You mean to say the entire time you’ve been at Gitmo you’ve never had a meal?
Cpl. Barnes: No, sir. Three squares a day, sir.
Kaffee: Well, I don’t understand. How did you know where the mess hall was if it wasn’t in this book?
Cpl. Barnes: I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.
Kaffee: Thanks. No more questions.

Because I’m feeling particularly froggy today, I am going to issue a bounty.  If you are a Harvard law student and write “TL;DR” in large red letters across the cover of your handbook and leave it at the front door of Langdell Hall, I will send you $10 cash money.  (Limit to the first 5 takers, in case this somehow catches on.)

You must take a close up picture of the book (so we can see TL;DR on it), and also take a picture further back so we can see that it’s actually at Langdell Hall.  E-mail pictures to nycbl1y@gmail.com, must be from your Harvard e-mail account, and if your pictures are satisfactory, I will reply and ask for your mailing address to send you your prize.

Also, I encourage all Harvard Law students to respond to any e-mail from the law school administration with a request that all further communication be made through the handbook.

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Racist Harvard 3L Kinda Reasonable Akshully

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28th, 2010 by bl1y

“Racist” Harvard 3L e-mail goes viral.  The 3L in question sent out an e-mail after a dinner with some fellow conservatives.  The e-mail clarified his point of view regarding genetics and intelligence.  Here’s the e-mail, courtesy of AbovetheLaw.com:

… I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

I also don’t think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to “explain” away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.

In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.

While this was obviously a dumb thing to memorialize in an e-mail, especially in the internet gossip age, I don’t think there’s anything inherently racist or sexist here.

Everyone agrees that some qualities are determined, or at least heavily influenced by genetics.  As the Harvard 3L points out, hair and skin color are basically genetic features, and many genetic features strongly correspond to race (black people tend to have dark skin, duh).  We also know that genetic differences are not skin deep.  Black people are far more likely than whites to have sickle cell, which can cause anemia, but also protect against malaria.  Women have monthly periods and their hormone cycle can affect moods.  (That’s not controversial, that’s just what hormones do, to fracking anyone, just think back to puberty.)  Girls develop language skills faster than boys, and boys are faster thinkers when it comes to spatial awareness.

But, despite all the known ways that genetics affect us, it’s racist to even suggest that there might be a genetic correlation to intelligence.  Bullshit.  If it’s there, it’s there.  It’s a question of fact, not of social policy.  And that’s what this all comes down to, policy.  The 3L did not advocate denying rights to people who are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.  There is a huge difference between what the facts are and the way we, as a society, choose to respond to them.

Human beings cannot fly.  Fact.  We still do anyways, because we’re human beings and built planes.

We can’t breathe under water, so we invented SCUBA gear.  We have vaccines to reprogram our immune systems and can surgically install a pig’s heart valve or a metal joint into a person’s body.

What makes being human such a special thing is that we can look at nature, decide we don’t like it, and tell it to fuck off.  If there is an ethnic group out there that is genetically less intelligent, we’re still allowed to treat them equitably.  And might not it be a good thing to find out, so that we can adjust our educational policies to put everyone on equal footing?

If dyslexia is genetic (and it very likely is), wouldn’t you want to know that it was genetic so that we can better screen for it and get help to kids as early as possible?  Although, with how widespread stupidity is, we may just want to try to treat the whole population, regardless of genetic markers.

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w0m3nz = n00bz

Posted in Dumb Ideas Girls Have on February 12th, 2010 by bl1y

Anyone who is at all amused by the locker room environment of blogs and forums will probably find this amusing.  The Summer 2009 issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender published an article by Ann Bartow on internet harassment and sexism.

The article points out that women are the internet are more likely to get attacked more, and have more gender-specific insults hurled at them.  The article’s purported reason?  Gotta be sexism.

This is a conclusion that reveals a lack of thoughtfulness and creativity.  It’s also a conclusion that requires ignoring people you quote to back up your position.  To back up her position, Ms. Bartow quotes Ann Althouse speaking in an an interview on “Blogging While Female.”

In the blogosphere, it’s sort of like the Wild West, and you actually can try to push people out. You can push women out. There’s a way of trying to get women to leave and because it’s a rough world where people are trying to climb to the top, they will use whatever techniques they can, you know? And so I think that makes you vulnerable as a woman, but you don’t have to be. There’s a positive side to it, too, that you can use. You get attention just for being a woman because it’s less common.

In this one little paragraph, Professor Althouse has implied two non-sexist reasons for the attacks women get online, but Ms. Bartow is apparently too lazy to do any sort of basic critical thinking.

“they will use whatever techniques they can” If you’re fat, they make fat jokes.  If you make typos, you’re called retarded.  If your a Jew you hide gold coins up your nose.  If you’re black you’re an affirmative action baby.  And if you’re a straight, white male, well… you’re the one posting the comments.

The point is that people often make facially sexist remarks not because they hate women, but because they know those remarks will sting, and something that stings is more likely to cause an emotional reaction, and emotional reactions often come in the form of dramatic responses, and those tend to be hilarious.  We don’t drop bombs on other countries because we love the rapid expansion of gasses.  We drop bombs because they’re effective, we’re indifferent to the physics.

“You get attention just for being a woman because it’s less common.” Women get more attacks online not because people really want to attack women, but because everyone gets attacked online, and women get more attention.  Making fun of the same stuff over and over get boring.  Boys have been making fun of other boys since they first learned to talk.  It’s not very interesting any more.

This is the same reason why I don’t make fun of conservatives very much.  Conservatives rarely say anything new.  Positions against gay marriage haven’t really evolved at all.  But liberals, or “progressives,” if you will, are always doing something new, which provides new material to laugh at.  Also, I don’t like making fun of conservatives because it feels like I’m picking on a retarded kid.

Anyways, since women rarely expose themselves openly to criticism on the internet, it follows that they’re going to get pounced on.  But, it’s not because people want to attack women.  They just want to attack something new and different.

In the end though, what really makes the internet a different place for women is that it is a locker room.  Boys have a home field advantage.  We grew up with this sort of behavior.  We don’t let it get to us and we know how to respond, or how to not respond.

Here’s what happens on the internet when someone makes fun of a girl:

Troll: “You’re a fat slut.”

Girl: “I’m not fat you asshole!  OMG!  Why would you say that!  You’re so mean!  You don’t even know me!  Why would you say something like that about me?!?!?!”

Everyone Else: “LOL.  What a dumb bitch.”

Here’s how the same thing goes down with a guy making fun of another guy on the internet:

Troll: “You’re a faggy douchebag.”

Guy: “Fail.”

Everyone Else: “Epic fail.  What a dumb bitch.”

Maybe if Ms. Bartow and the ladies at Harvard Journal of Law and Dugg Down watched this video, they’d have a better understanding of the contextual dynamics of playing the dozens on the internet: link [disabling embedding makes BL1Y a saaaad panda].

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Reason Not to Go to Law School #31

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on February 6th, 2010 by bl1y

Make believe is treated as fact.

I’m not referring to “counterfactuals,” hypothetical situations with premises known to be false.  I’m talking about the phenomenon in law school where anyone can say just about anything and it will be presumed true.  You’d think an environment like a law school would produce impeccable research, but more often than not, it’s just slop someone threw together at the last minute, knowing that everyone else would be as lazy, so there’s pretty much no risk of anyone calling you out on your bullshit.  It’s easier to just move on that to check sources.

To illustrate the point, I’ve decided to look at comments from the Spring 2007 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender Conference: Changing Social Norms? Title IX and Legal Activism. It’s not an entirely random selection; I wanted to pick something I’d find interesting, and I’m interesting in both sports and gender studies.  And, I’ve spent enough time around feminist academics to know that their writing is a treasure trove of bullshit, so I wouldn’t need to look far to make my case.

Though the comments are a rough transcript of what was spoken at the conference, they have been edited by the Harvard journal and had citations added to back up the claims.  Well…kinda.  Sorta…  Not really.  Citations were added, but they hardly back up what the speakers said at the conference.  You’d think the bright minds at Harvard Law School would have noticed this sort of thing.

Let’s start with the comments from Professor Deborah Brake (U. Pittsburg Law):

“recent reports have revealed widespread practices by universities requiring female athletes to give up their athletic scholarships if they become pregnant.” (p. 13)  The citation provided points to an article published on ESPN.com.

The article states “Most colleges have no formal rules, leaving athletic departments or even coaches to come up with a policy.  …Only 26 of the more than 270 Division I schools in the NCAA have written policies on pregnant athletes and just a handful include scholarship protections.”

So how does Professor Brake know the practice of requiring female athletes to give up their scholarships is widespread?  Either she has some other source which she just didn’t provide to the Harvard editors when they went asking for footnotes, or she just decided to engage in a little bullshit.  Probably the latter.

Next, let’s look at the remarks of Professor Ellen Staurowsky (Ithaca College or Sports Management and Media)

“First, while Mr. Pettine had stated that there was no way James Madison could “afford” to add more women’s programs, they were able to undertake the building of the $10 million Plecker Athletic Center during the timeframe in which program cuts were being considered. Even though the project drew significant donations, they fell nearly $3 million short of their goal, and therefore had to dip into institutional reserves (i.e. tuition money paid by women and men) and other non-tax sources to support building a facility that was primarily meant to support the football team.”

Two citations are provided; the first is information for fund raising, and the second is a press release about the Plecker Center.  The press release does show that the Plecker Center was short on funding.  James Madison says it had raised “more than 7 million” and that the facility would cost $9.8 million.  We can’t be sure the shortfall was nearly $3 million, but we’ll let Professor Staurowsky slide on that, she has bigger problems with her comments.

The information provided to potential donors describes the facility as including “an academic center, strength and conditioning facilities, a sports medicine complex, team meeting rooms, a new football locker room, an Athletic Hall of Fame, hospitality areas and coaches’ offices.” The press release gives a similar description, “The 48,000-square-foot center will provide an academic support area for student-athletes in each of JMU’s 28 intercollegiate sports, a sports-medicine complex, a strength-training area, a new football locker room, meeting rooms and coaches’ offices.”

So, where did Staurowsky get the idea the center would primarily support the football team?  Maybe the sports-medicine complex, strength training area and coaches’ offices would primarily be used by the football team, but without a source backing up her claim, we have to take it as pure speculation.  If anything, the information Staurowsky points us to suggests that while the football team does get a lot out of the new facility, it serves the school’s athletic program generally.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  You might think I’m just cherry picking facts and finding a few flaws in a very long (56 page) publication, but you can read it for yourself.  It’s full of faulty logic, plainly false or unverifiable facts, and even an ESPN sports commentator who can’t tell the difference between Division I-A and Division I-AA football.

And it’s not just this one article, or this one journal.  Professors coast through legal academia knowing that no one really cares, there’s no peer review, and no consequences for making shit up.  And then they teach it to your classmates, and they believe it and the world gets a little dumber.

The next time you read an article published by a professor, check the citations.  Just scan for where they cite websites, since those are easier to check, and see if their source even speaks on the issue it supposedly supports.  You’ll be surprised how often it does not.

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Reason Not to Go to Law School #12

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on January 13th, 2010 by bl1y

Useless Classes.

I’m not talking about the classes that are supposed to be useful but ultimately fail, I’m talking about the ones that don’t even purport to be useful. BitterLawyer.com ran a bit on this a while ago, highlighting 11 worthless classes, and I thought I’d revisit the topic, but see just how much crap I could churn up by limiting myself to only the Spring 2010 classes at the Top 5 schools.

Yale

Book of Job and Injustice. Not a class about injustice in the job market, but a class on how to use the Biblical Book of Job to understand injustice in the world. The class is basically “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” This was one of the many topics we covered in my philosophy of religion class in undergrad, which is precisely where it belongs.

Ethics in Literature. I understand the importance of having classes in legal ethics, and why some students are interested in Law and Literature (because they’re book nerds and it looks like an easy class), but Ethics in Literature? This class would be a thousand times more effective if you just cut out the books and discussed some of the more complex or intriguing ethical dilemmas (legal or otherwise) thought have been thought up during centuries of philosophical circle jerks.

Harvard

Democracy Of, By, and For the People: Reading Group. This is a class on “(1) community life, (2) self governance, and (3) accountability to the common good,” which requires students to “prepare periodic ‘one-pagers’ on mutually agreed upon topics.” Flimsy topic? Bullshit assignments? Sign me up!

Great Books: Reading Group. “This reading group is meant to be an antidote. Nowadays, law students arrive at law school having read less and less history and literature.” So what’s Harvard’s solution to this? Reading and discussing one “great book,” Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a book so great you’ve probably never heard of it. At least the class is only worth one credit. In my English Honors Seminar we read The Iliad, The Aeneid, Paradise Lost, Tom Jones, and Moby Dick. That’s how you make up for a lack of exposure to literature and history. Not with a class where “Soft drinks, wine, cheese and so forth will be provided.”

Jewish Law’s Response to Gentile Law: Internal Views of External Influences: Advanced Reading Group. Holy Moses, what a freaking waste of time. The class will “explore the language Jewish law uses to describe its own perception of its relation to Gentile law.” It’s not even a class on Jewish law, it’s a class on the linguistics of Jewish law. And what makes this an “advanced” reading group? You must be able to read Hebrew to attend. In other words: Only God’s chosen people are allowed.

The Past and Future of the Left. We all know universities tend to lean liberal, and law schools are no exception. But this class is quite literally about how students can get the party of “greater equality and empowerment” to overcome its current internal conflicts.

Stanford

Law and Creativity: Fiction and Nonfiction. I almost didn’t read this one, thinking it would be a class on intellectual property. But, I’m sure glad I did. This class is broken down into two components; in the first students “examine and discuss creative treatments of legal and professional issues in a variety of media (including film, fiction, and nonfiction),” and in the second they “submit their own fiction and creative nonfiction pieces for group discussion.” Basically, it’s watching A Few Good Men followed by a creative writing workshop where you’re critiqued by people with little or no creative writing background.

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Another wonderful reading group brought to you by America’s higher education system. This is pure discussion group, no lecture. And to make sure it is extra useless to lawyers, enrollment is capped at 16 students, and only half of those may be from the law school.

Columbia

Biblical Jurisprudence. Every school seems to have these worthless Bible classes. This noe is sure to prepare you for legal practice by exploring topics such as “the meaning of wars of extermination in the biblical narrative” and “the binding of Isaac as it relates to other practices of sacrifice.” In other words, it’s a class that explores the bad stuff Jews did in the old testament. Or, as Profs. Fletcher and D-Kal call it, “the OT.”

Leadership for Lawyers: “This course examines the responsibilities and challenges of lawyers who occupy leadership roles in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.” Hint: It’s exactly the same as the responsibilities and challenges of non-lawyers who occupy leadership roles in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

New York University

Retribution in Criminal Law Theory & Practice. The class basically centers around one question, should we use criminal sanctions for retribution, rehabilitation, or deterrence? Doesn’t sound too terribly useless until the end of the course description: “The seminar includes in its pedagogy experiments in freeing creative voice through weekly writing and theatre exercises and includes a close study of philosophy, history, psychoanalysis, novels, and plays.”

What. The. Fuck?

The Passion of the Christ: The Trial of Jesus. “For serious learners. Tons to read and plenty of hard work. Do not enroll just for curiosity.” I think that’s code for “This is a bullshit class, but I’m trying desperately to make people think I’m a serious academic.”

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