Monday, December 29, 2008

Something to Consider when Drafting New Year's Resolutions

Andrew Osborn writes in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about Professor Igor Panarin, a Russian academic and former KGB man who we have cause to hope is not a modern-day Cassandra.

Professor Panarin is possessed of a theory that the United States ". . . will fall apart in 2010" (see map of our multi-sundered union via link to WSJ above). Why? Because, ". . . mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war . . ." Oh no! When does all this start? Next fall. Perhaps the professor has cable and has been exposed to Lou Dobbs and Fox News.

In truth, though, the professor has been pitching this idea since 1998. Recently he has been given the Obama treatment by Russian state media (which at least has the excuse of being state media). The popularity in Russia of the specter of American decline and the fact that the end is nigh combine to render the professor and his prediction presently conspicuous.

If 2009 passes without the rumblings of civil war, and if 2010 passes without the actual thing, then Professor Panarin will have some explaining to do. Perhaps in that event he can join together with Oral Roberts and those folks in the '70's who predicted a new ice age (some of whom, without acknowledging their past certitude, are now putting spoons to highchairs on behalf of melting ice caps) and begin charging rich folks money to predict the future movement of the stock market.

If, however, the professor is right, the United States will break up into six pieces. Alaska is a piece unto itself, and will be subsumed into Russia (this at least answers the questions about Palin's future in the Republican Party). A piece which the professor calls "Atlantic America" is to join the European Union and so make up something very much like Orwell's Oceania. Many folks in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and South Carolina, if told that Professor Panarin has predicted that " . . . Washington, D.C. and New York [City] . . . " will join the European Union, might ask the professor when he will get around to predicting the winner of the 2008 presidential contest. They will certainly be surprised to find out their states, as constituents of "Atlantic America," are following Sodom and Gomorrah into the European vortex.

The great north of our nation will be annexed by Canada. But here, if only most conspicuously, the professor's theory seems a stranger to reality. Brave and valiant in arms are the Canadians, but a northern state could repel a Canadian invasion by dispatching a local Boy Scout troop. And too we have in those parts an apparently endless supply of shack-dwelling and prodigiously-armed hermit loons, who will not take kindly to the invasion.

In early January of 2004, I was in Spain's capital of Madrid. My trip coincided with the annual Desfile de los Reyos Magos (a parade and party featuring the three wise men, or kings; apparently the Spanish exchange Christmas gifts, rather sensibly, on the date that the three wise men are believed to have arrived at the manger). The city had come to a standstill, and the people had crowded into the streets and the tapas and the Parque del Retiro. Passing by a side street bordering the Calle de Acala, I saw a mother standing passively by while her nino heroically relieved himself into the sewer by the sidewalk. At the time, I considered the scene a vignette that Hemmingway could have turned into something special; indicia of the visceral soul of the Spanish people or some such thing. But now, inspired by Professor Panarin, I see that what I saw was a harbinger of Spanish moral collapse and that nation's impending absorption into Andorra (bitter-sweet for the Basque region).

The image is an Advanced Spaceborn Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer of Madrid: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Keynes Again

A once-so-cool economist, his name has been a political epithet for the last last two decades. Times are different and economists are scrambling for the next big thing. Are Keynes's ideas hot or not?

Keynes' 1936 magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money changed the face of macroeconomics in the early twentieth century. He advanced a way of thinking about a nation's entire economy at once. And he questioned the foundational assumptions of classical economics that economic activity would over the long run tend toward stability, full employment, and equilibrium.

William Barber says this about Keynes in in A History of Economic Thought 229 (Penguin Books 1967):
"The classicists were too preoccupied with questions of long-period economic growth to concern themselves directly with short-period instability; in any event - apart from the post-Napoleonic war years - the matter was not of major significance in their day and age. . . . Though some neo-classical writers made reference to ‘industrial fluctuations’ and to the ‘inconstancy of employment’, they were far more interested in the forces influencing output in particular markets than in those governing the output of the economy as a whole. Moreover, they were persuaded that full employment was the long run equilibrium position toward which the economy naturally gravitated and their analysis was built on this premise.

Even before his doubts about neo-classical presuppositions had crystallized, Keynes was suspicious of this attitude – ‘in the long run,’ he observed, ‘we are all dead’. As his thought took shape in the General Theory, economic analysis was reconstructed to bring short-period aggregative problems to the centre of the stage. The microeconomic questions around which the neo-classical tradition had been organized were pushed toward the wings. At the same time. Keynes was at pains to dissociate his position from the Marxist contention that capitalism was doomed. The essentials of the system, he maintained, could be preserved if reforms were made in time. An unregulated capitalism, however, was incompatible with the maintenance of full employment and economic stability."

Skipping through considerable detail, Keynes rejected the prevalent idea that an income depression (such as the Great One) was inevitably temporary and that once wages and prices fell far enough, firms would finally resume selling all they made and workers would all find jobs. Keynes said that inadequate consumer spending could cause an ecoomy to stagnate permanently. To end a depression, he said, spending had to rise. Although people could not be counted on to spend their way out of an economic depression-- a government could. And an initial increase in government spending, for example on New Deal style public works projects, would have a "multiplier effect" on total spending; an increase in total spending would cause consumption to increase and unemployment to fall and so on.

In Keynes' macroeconomic model, a decrease in spending leads to a decrease in employment, which leads to a further decrease in spending and so on. If people try to increase their saving (relative to spending) there will inevitably follow a fall in employment and production. The multiplier that made government spending such a panacea worked the same way in reverse to create what has come to be called the paradox of thrift. By attepmpting to increase the rate of saving, a society may create economic conditions under which the amount it can actually save is reduced.

Nascent neo-Keynesians should note that not saving hasn't worked out all that well. During the 1990's, the US personal savings rate fell from 8% to 2%. By 2005, it was negative. The good (or bad) news is that personal saving is on the rise. The Fed reported a positive savings rate in the last q of 2008. Economists are predicting that the rate will reach 4.5 % by the end of 2009.

The paradox of thrift rests on the premise that saved income falls through a hole in the floor and disappears. Not so. Saved income is standing by to purchase goods in the future. It shows up as investment in new factories, machines, education and other inputs for the product of future goods. In the long run (which Keynes dismissed as uninteresting) total demand and consumption doesn't fall because of increase saving relative to current goods consumption. It just changes form. In the short run, an increase in saving relative to current goods consumption causes some disruption. The current goods industry, so to speak, needs to lay off workers and adjust to reduced demand. The future goods industry usually can't move as fast. Future goods production depends on inputs like laws and scientific discoveries yet to be made, skills yet to be acquired and development of the next big idea.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Katz Building Sneak Peak

For those of you at home for Christmas and unable to tour the new Katz Building, we thought we would post a few pictures. The pictures are, in order (1) the Dean, working hard to make the move happen (2) the courtroom (3) the auditorium (4 & 5) classrooms.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Quick Diversion

Four exams down, one to go tomorrow . . . boy, am I tired! I am not sure about others, but I always seem to have some music running through my head and highlighting emotions or themes. Day to day the music will vary, but it never fails that with one day to go in a semester, I end up with "One Day More" from Les Miserables playing encouragingly in my mind. Les Mis is, by far, my favorite musical. Themes of redemption, justice, love, freedom, survival, and loss make this historical fiction incredibly moving and beautiful. Here is the original London "dream cast" singing at the tenth anniversary concert.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ecomonic Downturn Results in Commoditized Exams

A high school calculus teacher, confronted with a downward revised printing budget insufficient to cover the cost of printing his class' quizzes and exams for the school year, has resorted to selling ads in the margins of the quizzes and exams.

This is an example of out of the box thinking in the face of reduced circumstances; whether edifying or regrettable I can't say. The teacher plans for the ads to be temporary; until the government, in his view, steps up and pays for education like it is supposed to. Meantime, we have only to hope this novel example does not metastasize into theme based ads matched to test subject matter; a development likely to divide folks along ideological grounds (e.g. imagine what could show up on sex ed. exams, if there are such things as sex ed. exams).

Meantime too, maybe Dickinson can use the idea to relieve tuition a bit. Of course, only folks who haven't been to law school, and so don't know about the time pressures of a law exam and the related single mindedness of the tested, might be induced to pay for such ads.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Positive Aspect To Audio-Visual Legal Education

We have all heard complaints about Audio-Visual (AV) classes at the law school. To be honest I don't think it's that bad, just distracting when invariably something goes wrong each class. We are used to it though. We say to each other, "Par for the course. It's AV. What else do you expect?" Once one accepts that fact, it starts to feel normal. Good? Not good? I leave that up to the comments section.

I draw your attention, however, to one very important and positive aspect to AV: the power to record and watch later. This never seemed all that important to me until this past week when three of my professors scheduled their final review sessions, all at the same time! It appears that Wednesday afternoon is hot real estate in the final review market.

The good news? Because of our stellar AV capabilities I will be able to attend all three sessions, though I will have to pick and choose which sessions to view live and which to view recorded. In an AV-less world I would have to choose which session to attend, send my partner-in-law-school-crime to the other session, and we would BOTH miss the third. Or, we could always send an ambassador to the third.

All this to say: HURRAY! I have found something that makes me so very glad we have AV. What say you? Is it enough to outweigh the random glitches and snafus throughout the year?

Back to the negatives, from the teaching perspective, if students know the session will be recorded the professor may end up reviewing to a room of empty seats and a video camera. Hence, the image.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Debt Is The Slavery Of The Free" - Publilius Syrus

I emerge from studying to quickly draw our readers' attention to a recent fact noted by "The U.S. government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, to rescue the financial system since the credit markets seized up 15 months ago."

This fact is placed in greater perspective by an additional fact: the national debt (accrued from the late 1700's until today) as of 6:30 p.m. GMT on November 24th was $10.6 trillion plus. A little more perspective: the national debt has continued to increase an average of $3.93 billion per day since late September 2007.

For more on the national debt, check out this foundation which is presided over by David Walker. Walker served as Comptroller General of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) from 1998 to 2008. According to Walker, the "real" national debt is closer to $52.7 trillion. Considering his position within the government for the past ten years, I consider him a reliable source.

Back in September I wrote a post, to which I commented that my preferred course of action is: Let Them All Fail. In other words, do nothing (from the government's perspective). Click here to watch Peter Schiff, again on, make a similar argument in light of the fact that we are already so deeply in debt.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Crisis of Conscience

“I intend to give my brother burial. I'll be glad to die in the attempt, -- if it's a crime, then it's a crime that God commands.” . . . “God and the government ordain just laws; the citizen who rules his life by them is worthy of acclaim. But he that presumes to set the law at naught is like a stateless person, outlawed, beyond the pale.” ~Antigone

In Professional Responsibility this week, we discussed ethical issues surrounding Lieutenant Colonel Vandeveld’s resignation as prosecutor from the military commissions in Guantanamo. Among the many issues, one in particular stood out to me, the tension that LTC Vandeveld expressed over trying to reconcile his faith with his professional obligations. In his words, “I am a resolute Catholic and take as an article of faith that justice is defined as reparative and restorative, and that Christ's most radical pronouncement - command, if you will - is to love one's enemies.”

We don’t know the extent of LTC Vandeveld’s crisis of conscience, but I will say that I do not believe loving one’s enemies and ensuring justice is served are mutually exclusive. Christ also said to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.” LTC Vandeveld’s declaration is somewhat parallel to Antigone’s struggle in Sophocles’s play, and worth considering in that context. To the extent governing authorities in our lives conflict, which should ultimately prevail? As future attorneys, to what extent should our moral compass govern our zealous representation of a client?

Penn State Visiting Assistant Professor, Gregory McNeal has also posted on LTC Vandeveld’s resignation on his blog, here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Ideology aside, I am shocked by the reaction to the passage of Prop 8 in California via the very democratic process of the people voting. If the outcome is not favorable to some, there are other democratic processes by which to change that. Recall that Prohibition was later repealed by a constitutional amendment when the wisdom of the earlier amendment was called into question. We live under the Rule of Law, which as Judge Smith of the 3d Circuit recently reminded students at the law school, is a law of rules.

There are rules that we follow. There are ways to amend constitutions and ways to repeal those amendments. I encourage all those raging about Prop 8 to gather their senses and accept the current will of the people. Almost half of the country did not vote for President-elect Obama on November 4, but those who lost accepted the will of the people as such and resolved to respect that decision. Respecting the outcome of elections is critical to our success as a peaceful and law abiding people.

I heard San Francisco's Mayor, Gavin Newsom, suggest in an interview on CNN that perhaps Prop 8 was not a constitutional amendment and that the issue is now up to the California Supreme Court to decide. I merely refer the Mayor and any readers of this blog to a voter guide issued by California State itself. The website makes it clear that at least before the election's outcome the Secretary of State thought that Prop 8 was a constitutional amendment. Perhaps history will be re-written by four or more of the California Supreme Court's seven members.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bye Bye Blackberry

As long as we're talking technology, I shuddered to learn that President Elect Obama will govern without his Blackberry. Security concerns and the Presidential Records Act point towards e-mail blackout for our next president.

It both ironic and sad that the first president to run a laptop on the big desk in the oval office won't have access to e-mail. Sunday's New York Times reported: "For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his campaign."

He gave up smoking. But Blackberry blackout may be even harder.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Never Try to Steal a Law Student's Computer

A thief broke into a first year law student's apartment armed with a baseball bat and threatened to "smash his head in." The student allowed the thief to take his wallet and guitar, but when the thief attempted to take the student's laptop, that was too much. The student sprang to action, wrested the bat away from the thief, and landed him in the emergency room. The story is reported at The stress and pressure of law school should never be underestimated.

A law student's computer becomes an appendage in its own right. We rarely are separated from them for too long. Outlines, case briefs, class notes, and email are all part of our daily routine and are essential ingredients in a successful semester. No doubt portable computing technology makes law school life easier, but does being wired most hours of the day detract from education? We are a generation who is used to being plugged in, but being plugged into the virtual world may prevent us from being plugged into the environment (classes, conversations, home) physically present to us. Some sociologists see a positive correlation between the rise of connectivity and the decline of "social capital." In other words, they posit that as we are more connected through our computer screens, we lose connection with those who are co-present with us in the real world. (For more, see the Economist's Special Report on Mobility.)

In law school, the decline in social capital is a detached presence in the classroom; a decrease in the class collective, if you will. Certainly portable computing technology is efficiency-enhancing (a proficient typist can type more quickly than hand-write), and so the more insights can be captured coherently and legibly. On the other hand, being online (as opposed to just word-processing) is a distraction. Some have suggested banning computers in lectures, while others have recommended a wifi dead-zone in classrooms. The former seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water, and the latter seems paternalistic to me. After all, aren't we old enough to take ownership of our choices? Thoughts?

Thanks to Jim Vincent for the story tip. Illustration by Bell Mellor.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In All Things, Charity

In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity. Richard Baxter

This seems a wise creed for a free society such as ours. Translated into a modern-day political context, we might apply the creed as follows:

Unity in war,

Liberty as to who you marry,

And, of course, charity toward our political opposites.


An enthymene is a syllogism, one leg of which is implicit. So if I say to you, "in necessary things unity," you are coming into the proposition media res: you assume what constitutes "necessary things" is agreed upon. Surely I, the speaker, have some conception of what things are necessary. And my goal with respect to you is to have you ratify the principle without setting parameters:

In necessary things, unity. Yay!

A is a necessary thing. Therefore: unity with respect to A. (Oh no, we didn't agree with that!)

Consider: What are the chances a pro-life advocate would classify partial birth abortion under "doubtful things", to which liberty must be extended? And what strange things would a galloping environmentalist place under the "necessary things" rubric? And so on.

Classifications can get very muddled when, for example, the Supreme Court uses the text or extrapolations of the text of the 14th amendment or the Bill of Rights to extend the category of "doubtful things" to which we must extend liberty, by in effect calling them necessary things, to enforce unity.

So it seems that to say, "In necessary things unity; in doubtful things liberty; in all things charity" is to say, "In all things charity" when your audience is not sufficiently monolithic to inform, via the cake of custom, the terms "necessary things" and "doubtful things."

Therefore, and without meaning to play the role of cosmic killjoy, and while very happy that there are apparently many, many people in this country who felt for the first time in their lives Tuesday night that the promise of America was a promise to them, I offer my take on the message of "change:"

Change is value neutral; indeed content neutral. For example, I am currently sitting down typing this post. Should a malevolent MD rush into the room and force upon me a barium enema, I will experience change. I will even have forced upon me the hope for yet more change. As Frederick Douglass said, "all progress is change, but not all change is progress." (see enema example above).

President-Elect Obama has certainly brought change in two respects that I can indentify: the complexion and person of our chief executive and the perception millions (maybe billions) here and around the world have of America. Good news.

I agree with Charles Krauthammer that the President-Elect has both a first class intellect and a first class temperament. And I am counting on both of those faculties counseling moderation. The danger of course is that the message received from the victors is that the country (which does also include the 46% of Americans who voted for McCain) has voted for change, without limitation. The devil, as always, is in the details.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Virtue of Democracy

Barack Obama’s victory will go down in history as nothing short of remarkable. “America,” he powerfully stated, “is a place where all things are possible . . . The dream of our founders is alive . . . The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.” President-elect Obama’s campaign success will surely be studied for his effectiveness in mobilizing millions of supporters to not only vote, but to participate in the campaign process. Some have quipped, “When you have a community organizer on the ticket, you have an organized campaign.” But all the organization in the world could not ensure victory; I believe Obama’s true success is found in his ability to inspire and lead. As Senator McCain noted in his concession speech, “[Senator Obama] inspired the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president.”

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency is an example of a fundamental truth of human nature that we desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves. Barack Obama provided the people of this country with a vision they could follow: Hope and Change for the public good. His vision inspired action, and action produced results. The message of change resonates with everyone differently, but I think one of the most significant achievements of President-elect Obama’s campaign is, as Senator McCain indicated, that people believed their collective action could effect change and thus influence the public good.

Individual Americans do have the power to influence the political direction of this country; this is the virtue of democracy. The Americans who elected Barack Obama did not wait in lines on Tuesday as private actors pursuing their own best interests; they waited in lines as citizens of a nation united in their desire for change. In his victory speech, President-elect Obama said, “The change we seek cannot happen without the spirit of service and sacrifice . . . In this country, we rise and fall as one party, as one people.” The spirit of democracy is alive and well in the U.S.A., and if the citizens of this country continue to believe that through collective action the public good can be served, I feel hopeful for America.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

History Made

Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama for being the first African American in our nation's history to secure the Presidency. Not only did he win, but he won decidedly with the electoral college going in his favor, 2 to 1. What an awesome day for everyone in our country to see that as a people we can rise above the sins of our past.

For those who are Republicans, you have experienced four to eight years of bitterness on the part of Democrats towards President Bush. I call upon you to not give in to the temptation towards bitterness, cynicism, and fear. Instead, support President-elect Obama when you agree with his policies and speak with passion but respect when you disagree.

It's going to be an interesting four years. I know that in the years to come my children and grandchildren will ask me what I did on my watch. I want to be able to look them in the eye and have no regrets.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Divided We Stand

One day left until the election; I cannot wait. Certainly, the election will decide a number of important issues, but I am ready for people to get back to normal. Elections seem to bring out the suppressed zealotry latent in many of us. Throughout the campaign, the political-faithful have become more and more religious in their advocacy for their candidate. As the election draws closer, and the prognosticators louder, I can’t help but wonder what will happen on Wednesday morning. Will we know who the forty-fourth President will be, or will we re-live the nightmare (and embarrassment) of the 2000 election? Assuming there is a clear winner, how will he mend the ideological rift dividing the country? Politics, after all, is religion to many. Religious beliefs drive their vote, and those who profess agnosticism or atheism hold their political beliefs just as dearly as their pious brethren. With so many harsh utterances on both sides of the aisle, can we heal from the campaign?

In short, yes, of course. We are Americans, and Americans know how to roll-up their sleeves and get to work. We will be sore from the battle, but we must be unified in our goal of getting this nation back on the track to prosperity and peace. The divisions that separate our two major political parties will remain, and in that sense, there will be schism still. But, by loving our neighbors (even if their yard sports a sign that differs from that of our bumper sticker), and treating each human being with respect and graciousness, we can heal.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Spirits of the Dead

Thy soul shall find itself alone
'Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness — for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne'er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Edgar Allen Poe, Spirits of the Dead

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"All The Mavericks In The House Put Your Hands Up!"

For those of you who have been watching SNL, Amy Poehler did a great skit a couple of weeks ago where she rapped, "All the Mavericks in the house, put your hands up! All the plumbers in the house, pull your pants up!" I thought it was great and hilarious. On Tuesday night, 7,500 central Pennsylvanians showed up at Rec Hall to watch a Maverick not only put her hands up but also raise her voice in defense of conservative principles and policies.

Sarah and Todd Palin came on stage around 9 p.m. to a crowd that was energized by Zombie Nation and shouting, "WE ARE PENN STATE." I think they weren't sure what to expect that late at night in Happy Valley, but one thing is for sure . . . the Valley wasn't sleepy!

Due to my husband's insistence upon getting in line very early (thank you, honey) we got GREAT seats and were able to shake hands with the Palins as they walked onstage. It was an honor to shake hands with the second female VP candidate in American history. I missed Geraldine Ferraro in 1988, that was 20 years ago. Let's hope this isn't a once-every-twenty-years phenomenon, right ladies?

One picture shows me handing the Governor a notebook to sign for a little boy who was standing behind me while my husband looks over my right shoulder. The other picture is of Todd helping the Governor sign paraphernalia. The white shirt under her arm is a Lady Lions jersey. She was thrilled to meet them, being a basketball player herself, and posed for pictures with the team.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In Praise of University Towns

University towns consistently rate high whenever a magazine or other entity releases a list of 'best places to live' in the United States. It is not hard to see why. Cultural and sporting events, intellectual exploration, bucolic surrounds and annual renewal are just some of the soul-affirming attributes of the university town gestalt.

I traveled this week from State College to the even-more-venerable university town of Princeton, for the purpose of attending the 101st gridiron meeting between the Harvard Crimson and the Princeton Tigers (Harvard won, 24-20). Among other things, the trip afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the standard virtues of university towns (see above), and on some of the more charming characteristics of State College and Princeton.

During the academic year in Princeton, you are daily likely to encounter central-casting-egg headed professors making their way through campus and town on bicycles, sporting tweed jackets and embarrassing extra-large helmets (risk the head injury, doctor). Some professors walk to campus, as the retired John Forbes Nash (of A Beautiful Mind and game theory fame) still does from his nearby home. I have on two occasions sat next to Professor Nash: once in the erstwhile Bucks County Coffee Shop in Palmer Square and again in the Princeton Public Library. Both times he was writing out complicated equations on napkins, oblivious to his surroundings. It was a strange thing to be so close to an intelligence that differs from mine not in degree, but in kind.

In Princeton you may have to order your hot chocolate from a Che Guevara-festooned pin cushion of a barrista The favorite downtown coffee shop in Princeton seems to manufacture these types, and whatever their charm, they seem to be constitutionally incapable of holding the whipped cream. Try it sometime. They will even repeat the words, "no whipped cream". Minutes later they present you with the non-compliant thing and not even the look of consternation on your face will bring the barrista back in time to its cause. I have considered that their fondness for Guevara goes beyond his physical likeness: perhaps the barristas remain aware of the instruction but, knowing whipped cream to be an unqualified good, and, not having the option to summarily execute the patron suffering from false consciousness, they simply ignore the apostasy.

Princeton has more of the enduring hippie than does State College. They can be seen most weekends along Nassau Street, manning the barricades against the Iraq War, for example. Long after their contemporaries figured out that they could enter the offending institutions and change them from within, this rear-guard nurses its ideological purity and continues to cast stones from without. These too are in the coffee shops, stopping in for an espresso after the protest and leaning their home-made signs against the wall. On their grizzled and wistful faces you can see the recognition that their halcyon days have gone; and too the Revolution's. But their young companions in the struggle are yet undaunted, talking about the protest scheduled for next weekend and the TV lineup for the coming week.

One thing that Princeton does not have that State College does is a Bible Man. When he appears it is on the sidewalk on the campus side of the intersection of Allen St. and College Ave. He is not New Age, going on interminably about damnation. If I were interested to render his mission more successful, I would suggest he change his messaging. As it stands, he is preaching to a bunch of kids who think they are immortal that bad things are going to happen to them when they die. Even if a few of these kids give weight to his pronouncements, they are as likely to double-down on debauchery in the short term as they are to change from Saul to Paul on the spot; figuring either that they might as well make hell and damnation worth it or else that they will have plenty of time to repent later (in this regard they would be no different than St. Augustine in his youth, who reminisced in the Confessions, "Lord give me chastity and continency- but not yet.").

State College also has the Creamery, a local institution; and which in this financial environment and given its sales would fail to surprise if it were to announce its pending purchase of Bank of America. Folks in central Pennsylvania cling not just to religion and guns, but also to supremely outsized ice-cream cones.

And of course State College has Joe Paterno, to whom the kids might actually listen were he to sub for Bible Man.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Apropos of Dave's post, I thought I would share a Navajo prayer that a friend recently shared with me. As it was explained to me, the Navajos believe that a sickness can be healed by reconnecting with Beauty. To the Navajos, Beauty encompasses concepts such as morality, goodness, perfection, happiness, aesthetic, and blessedness. To connect with Beauty is to be in harmony with the world and to find balance in one's life. To walk in Beauty (the Beautyway), is to be at peace both internally and externally. Beauty is, I believe, God's prescription for pain and suffering. Beauty heals our souls and pierces our hearts; it speaks to us when words cannot.

In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.

Beautifully will I possess again.
Beautifully birds . . .
Beautifully joyful birds.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.

With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
A Navajo Indian Prayer of the Second Day of the Night Chant (anonymous).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

In Re: The Katz Building

We are past the day, if ever it dawned, when humanity could speak with one voice as to what is beautiful and what grotesque. Yet it seems possible we are capable of coming to a rough consensus whether something is, on the whole, closer to one pole or the other. To test this hypothesis, I offer for public determination the aesthetic status of the new Katz Building, which will be the architectural expression of the Penn State Dickinson School of Law on the University Park Campus of Penn State University (pictured above).

I stipulate the administration’s great efforts to bring this building to fruition and the continuing value the building will confer on PSULaw. I anticipate the thing will be a functional marvel. At issue here is purely outward aesthetics (such a judgment on the innards of the building awaits the day they are experienced).

It seems PSULaw professors will be hard pressed to be objective. They may regard the Katz building, whatever its appearance, as the thing that will emancipate them from the cinder-block mausoleum where their offices are currently housed, and from storm-lashed travel between classrooms in PSULaw's extant multi-building campus, and so find it beautiful.

Those of us who are PSULaw students may have our own trouble with objectivity, seeing the Katz building as responsible for the upward revision of at least one left-side decimal place holder on our student loan statements.

Still, the profession of law frequently requires objectivity; we are all capable, with a conscious effort, to bring it to the present question.

Third party judgments are of course both welcome and sought-after.

I will not come right out and state my aesthetic judgment on the building. Rather, I offer this observation that conveys my conclusion through implication: just as one can only run 1.5 miles into a 3-mile thick patch of woods before one in fact starts to run out of it, so, it seems, a thing can only become so ugly before it begins, progressing in the same direction, to become by degrees first ‘endearing’ then ‘interesting’ and, finally, beautiful.

There is this consolation to those in the PSULaw community who feel strongly that the building is unlovely. Find comfort in the fact that you soon will be going inside the building everyday, and in so doing will be making incidental use of Guy de Maupassant’s coping mechanism for dealing with unsightliness. Guy de Maupassant was a Parisian writer of the late 19th century. Unreconciled to the appearance of the new and omnipresent Eiffel Tower, Maupassant had lunch at the base of the structure nearly everyday. He had lunch there not for the quality of the food, but because it was the only place in Paris from which M. Eiffel’s offensive spawn couldn’t be seen.

Similarly, and even more in keeping with Maupassant's inspiration: for Katz-detractors in its line of sight but outside the PSULaw community, I note the Katz building will have a cafe.

Finally, and not as an indictment of the structure’s appearance, it seems worth noting that there is a non-negligible danger that an occasional plane intended for the University Park airport will land beside either end of the Katz building and attempt to off-load passengers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Red Lion Reports Welcomes David Hutchinson

Welcome our new contributor, David Hutchinson. Dave is a member of the PSULaw Class of 2009. As for personal information about Dave, you'll have to draw inference from this: he resents utilitarian explanations for the lovability of dogs.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Suddenly Under Water

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that nearly 1 in 6 homeowners is "underwater"-- they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. How does it feel to be underwater in your own house? Well, you don't feel like shoppping at the mall.

About 75.5 million U.S. householders own their homes. About 12 million householders, or 16%, owe more to their mortgagee than their homes are worth, according to Moody's Among those who financed their homes in the past five years, 29% are under water. (In 2006 about 4% were under water. Last year the rate rose to 6%.) Moody's Chief Economist, Mark Zandi, noted: "it is very possible that there will ultimately be more homeowners under water in this period than any time in our history."

The water is not equally deep everywhere. The WSJ online hosts a cool interactive map showing regions in the US that are knee deep, swampy, and bone dry.

It's Only Bankruptcy

The other day, Alison quoted from economist Jeffrey Miron who suggested that the current financial crisis might best be managed by letting troubled financial institutions seek refuge in bankruptcy. In today's Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius made a better point. Instead of firm by firm failure and either bankruptcy or bailout, wouldn't it be fantastic if the whole world economy could seek relief under Title 11 of the US Code?

Although the word bankruptcy is scary, the analogy to bankruptcy process is quite comforting. Ignatius writes: "Bankruptcy doesn't mean a company has run out of good people or ideas, or that it's going to stop making products. It means that it's out of money and must seek the protection of the government to continue operating. Bankruptcy, if properly managed, is a workout process that provides a pathway back to solvency. A company seeks protection from its creditors through bankruptcy court, which appoints a trustee to supervise an orderly unraveling of its debts and other obligations. Sifting through the claims can take years and creditors often receive less than full value, but there's a reliable process. Companies often reemerge from bankruptcy healthier than before; often, some assets are sold to other companies that can make better use of them."

That doesn't sound like a global financial crisis of historic proportions. That sounds like bankruptcy litigation, and entirely within the province of lawyers -- bankruptcy lawyers to be specific.

Sadly, there is no bankruptcy court that can take jurisdiction over the global economy. For the U.S. financial system, the equivalent of the bankruptcy court is the rescue operation cobbled together and headed by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury. Ignatius notes that these bodies traditonally supply liquidity where it is needed to lubricate a balky system. This problem, however, is bigger than just a little unexpected friction in the machine. Ignatius recommends a bankruptcy trusteeship as a new metaphor for the solution: "the task of trusteeship -- of supervising the orderly clearing of debts in an economy where trust has vanished, as is often the case in an ordinary bankruptcy."

The global economy has no ready trustee. Ignatius notes that the institution that was supposed to protect the global system, the International Monetary Fund has been "utterly impotent in the crisis." He calls for the establishment of a "Global Clearinghouse, a public-private consortium of the biggest financial institutions and central banks, that can ensure that trades get completed and losses are covered while the system works its way out of bankruptcy."

Monday, October 6, 2008

The First Monday in October

This is the first Monday in October and the first day of a new Supreme Court term. This is a fact worth remembering in unsettling times - following the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Court's first term was 1790, beginning an unbroken committment to the rule of law.

The first case on today's docket is Altria Group, Inc. v. Good, docket no. 07-562. The issue is an interesting one of federalism and pre-emption: "Whether state-law challenges to FTC-authorized statements regarding tar and nicotine yields in cigarette advertising are expressly or impliedly preempted by federal law." Forty-seven states and DC filed an amicus brief on behalf of respondents private plaintiffs seeking to sue in Maine state court under state law. The ABA is hosting the briefs in this case and, on a rolling basis, all others to be decided this term by the Court.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Law and Collective Responsibility

Tonight the PSU Law and Philosphy Society will meet to take up the question of collective responsibility for the current financial crisis. I regret I cannot attend the meeting set for 6:00 PM at Webster's Cafe on Allen Street. My role in collective responsibility for kids, dinner and laundry interfere with my freedom to sip coffee and talk about philosophical implications of just about anything.

If I could be there, I'd add to Plato's reflections, those of columnist George Will on the financial crisis appearing yesterday in the Washington Post and elsewhere. Will observes that "[w]e are waist deep in evasions because one cannot talk sense about the cultural roots of the financial crisis without transgressing this cardinal principle of politics: Never shall be heard a discouraging word about the public."

The public, he notes, typically admonishes government to run its budget the way households supposedly do, matching expenses with income. This time, though, the public decided "it would be jolly fun to budget the way the government does, hitching outlays to appetites." This time, it is painfully clear that all of us not-so-secretly delight in deficit spending, both for our household budgets and for our collective big one.

The usual populist riposte to government action, to contrast the virtue of the people with the vice of some unpopular minority, falls flat. The rhetoric that would in the past elevate the wisdom and thrift of Main Street above the greed and excesses of Wall Street belies the new truth that the folks on Main Street have been just as greedy and excessive. They bought real estate on speculation with borrowed money for more than they could afford. They knew exactly what they were doing. Now their only pretense at preserving virtue is the last defense of scoundrels, the devil made us do it.

This time, we are all in it together, the collective and the individual. The proposed legislation snaking through the House of Representatives today marks what may be a new era in our understanding of justice, freedom and the scope of government relative to individuals.

Best wishes Law and Philosophy Society. May the wisdom of the ages be with you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Argument In Favor Of Bankruptcy

Jeffrey Miron, an economics professor at Harvard, argues in his article at that bankruptcy, not a bailout, is the way to go.

A direct quote:

The obvious alternative to a bailout is letting troubled financial institutions declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy means that shareholders typically get wiped out and the creditors own the company.

Bankruptcy does not mean the company disappears; it is just owned by someone new (as has occurred with several airlines). Bankruptcy punishes those who took excessive risks while preserving those aspects of a businesses [sic] that remain profitable.

In contrast, a bailout transfers enormous wealth from taxpayers to those who knowingly engaged in risky subprime lending. Thus, the bailout encourages companies to take large, imprudent risks and count on getting bailed out by government. This "moral hazard" generates enormous distortions in an economy's allocation of its financial resources.

Thoughtful advocates of the bailout might concede this perspective, but they argue that a bailout is necessary to prevent economic collapse. According to this view, lenders are not making loans, even for worthy projects, because they cannot get capital. This view has a grain of truth; if the bailout does not occur, more bankruptcies are possible and credit conditions may worsen for a time.

Talk of Armageddon, however, is ridiculous scare-mongering. If financial institutions cannot make productive loans, a profit opportunity exists for someone else. This might not happen instantly, but it will happen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's a Deal

Early this morning, as most Americans slept perhaps restlessly in light of the current crisis, Congress came to agreement on a plan that has a little of what everyone was looking for: (1) big money injected quickly into the market (2) limits on golden parachutes for executives of failed firms (3) stock warrants for the government in return for the bailout (4) and as a nod to the House Republicans a market-based solution through insurance alternatives to the government buying distressed securities.

The details have yet to be put in writing, and that is the task for Sunday. Perhaps the market will know where things stand by the time the bell rings Monday morning. I have a feeling it will be years before we fully comprehend the effects of this momentous occasion.

More here at Breitbart.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Science as Art

With the turmoil of the financial markets making the headlines, good news can be difficult to find. This gem, however, deserves to be seen. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the journal Science, created the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge to celebrate the tradition of enlightenment through illustration. "Some of science’s most powerful statements are not made in words. From the diagrams of Da Vinci to Rosalind Franklin’s x-rays, visualization of research has a long and literally illustrious history." NSF Challenge Synopsis. The Challenge honors scientists who use artistic mediums to enhance appreciation and understanding of scientific research. Monica M. Bradford, executive editor of Science said, "Science and NSF instituted this international competition to reward scientists for using visualization techniques to demonstrate the beauty and wonder of science."
The competition is in its sixth year, and there are five categories: photography, illustration, informational graphics, interactive media, and non-interactive media. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, yet some of these "pictures" rendered me speechless. The competition winners can be appreciated here, enjoy.

Imaged are two of my favorites. The first is called Visualizing the Bible. From the description on NSF's site: "Each bar on the graph along the bottom represents a chapter of the Bible; the bar length corresponds to the number of verses in the passage. The rainbowlike arcs represent references from a chapter in one book to a chapter in another." The second is called String Vibrations, it is a photograph of a cotton string attached to a tiny motor. The photographer forced an atypical torque in the string and the exposure lasted for two seconds. Make sure you see, "Mad Hatter's Tea" From Alice's Adventures in a Microscopic Wonderland and The Glass Forest.

The Feeling is (Washington) Mutual

Yesterday, JPMorgan Chase acquired the banking operations of Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank. The Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) closed WaMu late in the day after a run on its deposit accounts. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) took over as receiver. The FDIC sold nearly all of WaMu's operations to JPMorgan for $1.9 billion. The acquisition is expected to wipe out WaMu stockholders.

The JP Morgan web site hosts the deal docs for the asset acquisition. More info about WaMu's failure and receivership are at FDIC and Treasury. No insured depositor will lose a dime.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some Damn Foolish Thing in the Balkans

That's what Bismark predicted would set off the war that seemed inevitable. The trigger turned out to be the assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne. The assassins were seven young men. All were members of a secret Serbian nationalist movement. All had tuberculosis which was a death sentence in 1914. The rest, as they say, is history.

Two days ago, at a Brookings Institute conference on Turmoil in Housing and Financial Markets, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers (now at Harvard's Kennedy School) observed that there is no single root cause of the current financial crisis and no simple single solution. The fix, he said, requires "multiple instruments targeted to multiple objectives." One response to the housing crisis currently getting most of the attention is to regulate institutions so they won't make mistakes again. People and businesses make mistakes and they always will, whether government regulates them or not. Summers offered another approach --reforming the financial system to make it safe for institutions to fail. The goal should be reduction of systemic, not individual risk of failure.

Summers noted that even without subprime mortgages, the US economy was still vulnerable to leverage bubbles and might still have found itself in crisis. Blaming the current financial crisis on submprime mortgages, he said, is like blaming World War I on the assassination at Sarajevo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where Did All The Capital Go?

On Monday, the American Bankers Association released a survey of banks to see what the government bailout of gse's (government sponsored enterprises) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will cost the banking industry. ABA found that 27 percent of banks surveyed hold preferred shares of Fannie and Freddie stock. Another 3.4 percent hold auction-rate securities backed by the GSE preferred stock.

What does this mean? ABA President Edward Yingling told the Treasury Department that the total loss to the banking industry is between $10 billion and $15 billion." Treasury's takeover and capital funding plan for Fannie and Freddie added an express government guarantee of GSE debt and mortgage backed securities. It left common and preferred GSE shareholders holding a bag of shares worth nearly nothing. In short, banks holding GSE preferred shares don't feel the least bit bailed out.

Federal regulators have described the GSE takeover plan as having only a minimal impact in the banking and thrift sector. Not so says the ABA. The survey reveals that 85 % of banks with GSE equity securities in their portfolios are community banks with less than $1 billion in assets,with the largest concentrations of affected banks in Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Virginia. (The Independent Community Bankers of America has accused bank regulators of essentially marking little banks in a con to promote GSE stocks as safe investments.) Banks stuck with worthless GSE securities must offset their losses by reducing their loan portfolios. Yingling said: "The credit crunch will be immediate: with capital difficult to raise in the market today, banks will have no choice but to shrink in order to restore their capital-to-assets ratio to previous levels," he wrote.

Where did all the capital go? The ABA figures it this way. These days the average ratio of bank capital to loans is about $1 in capital to support $7.60 in loans. Doing the math, with every $ 1 million loss in capital value, banks will reduce the amount they are willing (and able) to lend to customers by about $7.6 million. Yingling said GSE losses will "restrain even the best banks in this country from making new loans."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Modern Reeves?

Today is Autumn Equinox, the official beginning of Fall and one of the two calendar days with equal amounts of sunlight and darkness. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the pagan celebration of the Autumn Equinox was mixed with the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. St. Michael was seen as a protector against dark forces, and so it was appropriate to celebrate his feast on the day marking the transition to longer hours of darkness. Although St. Michael’s feast (Michaelmas) is now celebrated on September 29th, its connection to the Equinox remains, for both are celebrations of harvest and new beginnings.

Michaelmas, was recognized as both a day of obligation and a quarter day. It was one of the four days during the year that rents were collected, accounts rendered, new leases commenced, and annual dues paid. A Michaelmas custom worth noting is the election of a reeve from among the local serfs. The reeve’s duty was to oversee the completion of the harvest and account for any deficiencies to the landowner out of his own pocket. (Understandably, this was not a popular office.) Although we no longer live in an agrarian society, it seems to me that a reeve could be a useful corporate addition these days.

For more on the history of Michaelmas including some tasty-looking recipes, click here. The blackberry crumble certainly looks good!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


There are roughly fourteen-thousand newly minted J.D.’s each year. For as many lawyers as there are in the country (about 1.5 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007), there are probably as many ways to use a law degree. But figuring out how to use one's legal education can be stressful, and may often leave one feeling replete with self-doubt. Personally, I know the battle is between my ears; what my heart wants and what makes the most logical sense do not always coincide. In search of insight on the decisions in front of me, I have spent some time reflecting on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. I find that thoughtful reflection on philosophy and theology are useful tools when anxiety begins to creep into my days.

Heidegger postulated that we are shaped by the environment into which we are born. In his terminology, we are all thrown (Geworfenheit) into the unique nexus of situations (“worlds”) within which we dwell. In Being and Time, Heidegger was concerned with the issue of "Being," specifically, “being qua being” and our self-sentience vis-à-vis the world. Heidegger’s notion of Being was inseparable from the world itself. To understand ourselves in this way, as "Beings-in-the-world," is to accept that no two individuals have shared the identical set of experiences; for this reason, we each see the world and react to it in unique ways.

For Heidegger, we exist in one of two states: authenticity or inauthenticity. Authenticity manifests through concern for the world and those in it. Fueled by the recognition and acceptance of our finitude, the authentic self embraces his uniqueness and turns his attention toward fulfilling his potential. Inauthenticity, on the other hand, results from the failure to differentiate oneself from others. While we exist in the world with others, we cannot exclusively be defined by others if we are to lead "authentic" lives. Often the external influences can become stronger and louder than the internal influence. The problem, as Heidegger pointed out, is that inauthentic existence is irresponsible—it deprives oneself of accountability.

In law school, as a third year student, much of the dialogue with colleagues centers on interviews and career aspirations. No doubt there is a hierarchy of prestige associated with the career paths we choose. For those among us who elect not to follow the route of traditional legal practice, the discussions can feel more like a personal justification than a thoughtful exchange. For me, the philosophical framework helps me to center my attention more productively. My telos must be on how to fulfill the roles for which I am best suited; I need to appreciate that I am on my own journey. And while it doesn't take Heidegger to explain "just because Sally does X, doesn't mean you should," sometimes in life, the truth is not so obvious.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Too Big To Fail or Just Too Big to Fail Quickly?

Last night around 10:20 p.m. news broke that the Fed agreed to loan $85 billion to American Insurance Group (AIG). This is the latest in a recent run of corporations that needed fast cash or went bankrupt.

As I understand the situation, the loan is to give AIG time to liquidate some of its assets and get a handle on things before paying the Fed back in two years time. I like this. I like it better than straight bailouts. I get that AIG failing overnight could shake consumer confidence and perhaps induce people to start dumping stock shares left and right. I also get that AIG is in a precarious position and needs to take steps to turn the Titanic around.

Hopefully, the loan will be paid back and this won't be another example of naked corporate welfare.

Friday, September 12, 2008

We Can Work It Out

I am taking Bankruptcy this term, yes, with the Red Lion herself, and for three weeks now, I can't seem to get the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" out of my head when I read for class! It seems an appropriate anthem for a pre-petition debtor trying to avoid creditors' collection attempts. Strange how the mind works . . . In any event, it is a great song!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Federal Tax Treatment of Palin's Per Diems

The Washington Post recently reported on the amount of per diem and family travel expenses that Sarah Palin billed to the state as governor.

Tax professors have questioned what the tax treatment of those reimbursements should be. I won't rehash the whole argument here, but this post and the comments (including some from me) should give you a sense of the issues.

Here Comes the "Party A"?

In May of this year, the California Supreme Court held, "that the California legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples and may not be used to preclude same-sex couples from marrying." In re Marriage Cases and Marriage by Any Other Name Not As Sweet. The decision has been heralded as a milestone victory for the civil rights of gay couples. Regardless of how you feel about the decision, what is troubling to me is the subsequent "slap" to those desiring to wed using the traditional marriage terminology.

When my husband and I applied for our marriage license (in California), we filled out our respective "bride" and "groom" sections. That is, sadly, no longer an option for couples applying for marriage licenses in California today. The form has been modified to say, "Party A" and "Party B," instead. The modification, would not be problematic if there remained the option to be designated "bride" or "groom," but in California, that does not seem to be an option anymore. Here is the excerpt from the story found on couple had written the words "bride" and "groom" next to "Party A" and "Party B" because they wanted to be legally recognized as husband and wife. However, the Placer County marriage license was denied. "I received back the license and a letter from the Placer County Clerk/Recorder stating that the license 'does not comply with California State registration laws,'" Bird said in a statement from the Pacific Justice Institute. It was an "unacceptable alteration," the County Recorder's Office claimed the State Office of Vital Records determined.

Advancements in the civil rights of one group of people should not infringe on the rights of another group. If a couple desires to be legally recognized as a married couple using traditional marital terminology, I cannot understand why they would be precluded. Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Return (Again) to the Golden Wedding Anniversary

Prof. Sidney DeLong of Seattle University School of Law posted this interesting question to the AALS Contracts list. Former Contracts students who recall Hamer v. Sidway, especially those who are now exploring Trusts and Estates, may want to join the fun:

Suppose that at the family celebration William Senior said: "I have made a will leaving $5000 to William on condition that at the time of my death, he has not smoked, drunk alcohol, or played cards for money." Willy forbears from vice but, unbeknownst to him, Senior changes his will to eliminate the bequest to Willy. At the time of Senior's death, does Willy have a claim? I assume that one must impute to Willy the knowledge that wills are revocable. Did uncle make a promise? Does the announcement of a conditional bequest in a will constitute a unilateral contract offer? If not, does Willy's foreseeable reliance on the announcement constitute grounds to enforce the gratuitous offer under [Restatement (2d)Contracts] section 45, 90, or 87? If Willy has a claim on these facts, I think the law of wills will tremble but that is not our concern, or is it?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Discourse, Please, Not Drama

Whether you like the personalities on either side, or the respective interests they represent: an African-American on the Democratic ticket, a woman on the Republican ticket, and two old white guys on both tickets, this election should not be about race, gender, age, style, pop culture popularity, celebrities, scandals, or the like. What this election should about are policies, and where the two parties' policies will take our country over the next four years.

The choice, as I see it, is clear: should the American government be responsible for helping the American people, or should the American people be left with the responsibility of helping the American people? If the former, your ticket is Obama-Biden, if the latter, your ticket is McCain-Palin. It has nothing to do with the people, the color of their skin, how many kids they have, or anything else. It has everything to do with whether you think government should solve American's problems, or whether you think that Americans with the help of other Americans around them should solve their problems.

Senator Obama and his wife, Michelle, are perfect examples of the success that is possible when you are surrounded by a caring and invested network of people (for most people this comes in the form of family). The Obamas did not succeed because of the government, they succeeded because of the dedication of their families and their own hard work. They got where they are, despite their humble beginnings, not because the government helped them, but because Americans around them helped them. Why they think that formula should change and somehow won't work for the next generation is not clear to me.

I believe that Americans are generous and if left more of their own money (rather than being taxed at high percentages) they will use that money to help their fellow Americans. Not for accolades, but for street cred, I want you to know where I am coming from and that I put my money where my mouth is. Every year for the past four years my husband and I have donated around 18% of our annual income. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I am first generation higher education and have done everything from delivering phone books for cash to working in a law firm. I, like the Obamas, have been supported by a network of caring Americans who helped me along the way, and my goal is to pay it forward.

The difference between Senator Obama and me is that he wants me to give the government my money in the form of taxes so he can pay it forward for me, to who he wants to, when he wants to, with no reporting back to me as to the success of or return on the investment. I, on the other hand, want to "invest" my philanthropy dollars into organizations and people that I know, from having my own boots on the ground, are making a difference and having an impact in people's lives. The more the government leaves in my pocket, the more I have to pay forward.

Government should build our roads, provide infrastructure for growth, and fend off our enemies at the borders and abroad. Other than that, the American people should be left alone to take care of themselves and each other. You know you can take care of your neighbor better than a government office can, that's common sense! You can do it, we all can do it, we don't need the government to do it.

I add the caveat that the Republican party is not exactly the party of less government interference these days. With recent bailouts, corporate welfare seems to be on the rise. The Republicans, however, are still on the whole less inclined towards socialism than Democrats.

Click here for a related article, "It's Not About the Issues."

Play Prisoners Dilemma

Had enough Super Mario Bros.? Try your hand at Prisoners' Dilemma. When you've played until you can't stand any more, read Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (Basic Books, NY 1993) or The Arithmetics of Mutual Help, by Martin Nowak, Robert M. May, and Karl Sigmund, in Scientific American (June, 1995, pp 76-81).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fershee Op-Ed

Former Red Lion guest blogger, Josh Fershee, has an Op-Ed on government bailouts in the Lansing State Journal today.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

International insolvency law (and more signs)

An interesting piece of news on the international front just crossed my desk (dated July 29, but it is a UN document, not an organization known for intemperate speed). It reports that UNCITRAL, the UN Commision on International Trade Law promulgated a model law on cross-border insolvency (1997) and a legislative guide on insolvency law (2004), among many other documents and reports. The news is that an Insolvency Law Working Group is preparing for its 35th meeting (Nov. 17 to 21 in Vienna). High on the agenda are guidelines for multinational insolvencies and corporate bankruptcy. The U.S. is a member of the 60 state working group but the American negotiators aren't identified. Here are all the UN papers and background on the project:

Pivoting to antitrust, the UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) offers technical assistance on law and policy and has a draft model antitrust law. But, the UN is not in the forefront of global developments in this field. Antitrust harmonization (don't say convergence) is an important work-in-progress and some 90 national antitrust agencies established their own virtual organization outside the UN or any other supra-national entity. This group has been meeting - in person and virtually - for the past 7 years to hammer out areas of agreement, establish benchmarks and recommend consistent procedures for mergers, monopolies, cartels and other substantive issues. Gratifying progress is being made on many issues.

So, bankruptcy specialists - do you predict that the UNCITRAL model law will be influential? Is it necessary? Is UNCITRAL more authoritative in your field than UNCTAD has been in antitrust?

Finally, international signage seems to be a hobby for lots of travelers. Here are some of my favorites from China:

This apparently illustrates the proper form for falling into the lake.

It says, "Old person, children need to be led by adult to take escalator."

The Great Vegan Honey Debate

Here. Vegans, Honey, Flexitarians. Fascinating.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stronger Lessons

In the past few weeks I have taught some stronger lessons. A wise friend shared this poem with me. Whitman's question is for the learner. I now see that the teacher learns as well.

Stronger Lessons

HAVE you learned lessons only of those who admired
you, and were tender with you, and stood aside
for you?

Have you not learned the great lessons of those who
rejected you, and braced themselves against
you? or who treated you with contempt, or
disputed the passage with you?

from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1867)

What’s in a Sign?

I love observing signage in foreign countries, it offers yet another window into a culture. The sign on the right is from the metro in Rome, the phrase is translated: “She’s expecting. What are you waiting for?” You can almost hear the tone; Italians do have a way of colorfully making their points! Rarely does a sign strike me as overtly offensive, though this United Kingdom “Elderly People” sign has some individuals calling it stereotypical and negative.

According to London-based magazine, Design Week, the UK’s Department of Transport has “no plans to change the sign,” the sign “is to warn drivers that people with walking difficulties of any age could be crossing the road and may need extra time.” A spokesman for the Highways Agency said, “To change every sign in the country would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds - and a change in the law.” Perhaps such a change is - and should be - a low priority for government spending. The design is based on the winning entry of a children’s competition in 1981.

We share so much with our brothers across the pond, but would a sign like this be acceptable in American culture today? I guess the relevant question is whether the same message could be communicated as effectively in a different manner? The Department of Transport did remove the “Elderly People” placard from underneath the sign in 2003, saying the placard was “ageist.”