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.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, it is worth noting the historic event taking place this evening. Tonight, forty-five years after Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Senator Barack Obama will accept the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States. This is tremendous progress and something that I think Dr. King would have been proud to see happen. This race is not about race, or at least it should not be and I do not intend to make it, but the event taking place this evening says a lot for America and her ability to change and move forward. I love our country.

Senator McCain too noted the importance of this occasion.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hot and Sexy

Bankruptcy is.

A Weil Gotshal & Manges associate who switched from corporate to the bankruptcy group told New York magazine that bankruptcy is the "hot and sexy" practice area right now. Weil Gotshal's bankruptcy group is hiring 14 new associates, up 100% from last year. Seventy percent of summer associates chose a bankruptcy rotation up from 55% last year. The firm's business reorganiation practice handled more chapter 11 business reorganization cases than any other firm this year.

Hat tip to Prof. Steve Ross.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Learning Law

As we prepare to start another semester, I have been thinking about the differences and similarities between law students and legal studies across cultures. Chinese universities are ranked, although not by US News, and I was fortunate to be hosted by one of the better ones, the University of International Business and Economics. The appeal for my research was UIBE's top flight antitrust center, but more about that another day. The school is known for expertise in law, economics and languages - all viewed as "girly" subjects compared to the hard sciences, so the students were about 60% female, and their English was superb.

Many, but not all, of the students I met were only children, the first in their families to go to university, and their parents had been saving for years to give their precious children a chance at a better life. These modern kids are sometimes referred to as "little emperors," but they are under great pressure to succeed, and later in life will be responsible for supporting their parents. They are admitted to university based solely on their scores on a 2-day, national examination, a time of high anxiety for students and their parents alike.

Chinese law students may take 10 courses per semester plus extracurricular activities, and the time pressure is intense. But, UIBE sent a law school team to Vienna for the VIS moot court competition, in which PSU participates. It was the first time abroad for team members. Many are from distant provinces, so they were far from home and got to visit their families only at the major holidays. By and large, they lived in student dorms - 6 students per room and lights out at 11:00 - not exactly like law school in the US. Law books are expensive, and I will always recall the gasps when I brought a suitcase full of books into my antitrust class and handed them out. Some of the students couldn't believe the books were theirs to keep, and I was actually asked to autograph some.

But the real contrast came in the classroom. Chinese education is primarily by lecture and students are expected to reproduce the knowledge given to them by the professor standing at the front of the room. This learning style follows a long tradition in art as well. By contrast, I called for American-style law school dialogue, analysis and critique. Some students were resistant, but others took to analytic thinking - and chance to talk in class! - eagerly. Perhaps the most difficult taboo to overcome was the reluctance to criticize judicial authority reflected in an opinion or question a court's reasoning. I explained that respectful critique can help a court to rethink legal issues and improve the substantive law, and we had a good example in antitrust just last term in the Leegin case.

Law students have many things in common, too. The eagerness to learn, to prepare for a career, and make a contribution was evident in Beijing and I'm looking forward to seeing it here as PSU starts classes next week.

The Beach is Behind Beam

Sand volleyball behind Beam at 2p.m. tomorrow. The game is on, rain or shine. Thanks to Modi Susham.

(Why is it so hard to find a non-lewd photo of beach volleyball?)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Red Lion Reports Welcomes Professor Beth Farmer

We welcome our friend and colleague PSULaw Professor Beth Farmer as a guest blogger. Professor Farmer has just returned to 美国 from 中国国家. She spent Spring 2008 semester on a Fulbright fellowship to research and lecture on antitrust law at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing, 中国国家. Check out Yellowbridge for English Chinese translation.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Good Old Competition

Tonight, I experienced my first ear-to-ear grin while watching the Olympics. The smile was put on my face by the men's 400 meter freestyle relay team as they "smashed" the world record and, in the process, the French team. I was watching NBC after the U.S. beat France by .008 of a second, when a commentator mentioned that just before the race the American boys overheard the "Frenchies," as they called them, trash talking the U.S. team. (How do you like them now?) I can't be sure, but I bet that fueled their fire to kick Frenchie swimming butt and inspired their infectious jubilation upon winning. The last 50 meters of the race were incredible. Kudos to Jason Lezak for pulling the team through as anchor and helping Phelps keep his bid alive for 8 gold in '08.

I have never been to France, although I hear it is a lovely place and that the people can be quite nice as well. I hope to visit someday. However, I have discovered that Americans, at times, have a special disdain for the French. I can't honestly say that I know its origins, but I find it entertaining. I only ask that the Francophiles out there indulge me for a minute, because I just loved watching our boys win.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Childlike Wonder

Friday night I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics with childlike wonder, and perhaps a little uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. The ceremonies, impressive and poignant in their beauty, symmetry, scale, and sophistication, also provoked concern over the magnitude of what is happening "behind" the Great Wall of China. The dynamics of a totalitarian regime mixed with a capitalist economy are, well, yet to be fully seen. Perhaps the ceremony was just a foretaste of what is to come. Is modern day China what you get when you arm an authoritarian state with the vast wealth and resources that capitalism brings? How does our new global economy respond to China if it is rapidly gaining the economic foothold to thumb its nose at human rights concerns? Do we care more about market engagement than human rights? Is our engagement in the market China's best hope for reversal of its human rights record?

Our very own Professor Farmer recently returned from her sabbatical in China. She enjoyed observing the culture and would love to share her thoughts. Look for a brown bag lunch with Professor Farmer on campus this fall, hosted by the Federalist Society. Perhaps we can engage in some lively and thoughtful discussion about China and how to respond, in light of all that may emerge during the games.

Would we have been better off to send an unequivocal message to China by boycotting the Olympics? Is that fair to our athletes who train so hard for years on end? Is it better to send our athletes and spectators to China, with hope that they can take with them a message of liberty to the people behind the Great Wall? Is China affected by our presence, or are we too impressed by China to make an impact?

Interestingly, Christianity is on the rise in China through the house church movement and in spite of the government's persecution. Penn State's own Philip Jenkins has written extensively on global Christianity, and notes that China's increasing disaffection with communism has tracked with its "healthy Christian growth."

In America we know how closely the pursuit of religious freedom was tied to liberty at our nation's founding, and continues today. The very first amendment to the Constitution, the first article of the Bill of Rights, addressed religious freedom before it even mentioned freedom of speech, or the press, or assembly. We can only hope that Christianity's growth and eventually religious freedom will also lead to liberty and human rights protections for the Chinese people.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gender Determination Lab

On Sunday, Jennifer Finney Boylan--the author of a wonderful autobiography, She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders--published an op-ed in the New York Times about sex testing at the Olympics. The organizers of the Beijing Olympics just announced that they have set up a "gender determination lab" to test female athletes suspected of being male.

All I can say is that I'm conflicted about this. On the one hand, I understand why we segregate Olympic sports according to sex. On the other hand, I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of a committee of "experts" testing to determe a person's sex.

No deep thoughts. Just thought I'd share.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Law & Theater

I just returned from Niagara on the Lake (NOTL) in Canada where I again enjoyed the amazing quality of theater provided by the Shaw Festival. I have said it before but the theater there and in Stratford Canada (the Shakespeare festival) are some of the best in North America.

All you Shaw fans out there might enjoy this fun video provided by the Shavians.

I would love to teach a class on Law and Theater - focusing on plays with legal themes. Some choices are obvious: Merchant of Venice, Inherit the Wind, Witness for the Prosecution, Saint Joan, A Man for All Seasons, the Winslow Boy...

Any other suggestions?