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Farewell, Inside the Law School Scam

Blogger Paul Campos of Inside the Law School Scam is giving up blogging. The message of his blog, and many others, is that American law schools (1) are unjustifiably expensive and saddle their students with huge debts; (2) send graduates into a shrinking job market, thus setting them up for unemployment and financial ruin; and (3) have been trying desperately to conceal these facts for years, using techniques that amount to a 'scam'. According to Campos, the message has been received:

19 months and 499 posts later, it turns out that the core message of this blog – that legal academia is operating on the basis of an unsustainable economic model, which requires most law students to borrow more money to get law degrees than it makes sense for them to borrow, given their career prospects, and that for many years law schools worked hard, wittingly or unwittingly, to hide this increasingly inconvenient truth from both themselves and their potential matriculants – has evolved from a horrible heresy to something close to conventional wisdom

That enrolling in law school has become a very dangerous proposition for most people who consider enrolling in one is now, if not a truth universally acknowledged, something that legal academia can no longer hide, either from ourselves, or – far more important – from anyone who doesn’t go out of his or her way to avoid contact with the relevant information.

...People have asked me how I can continue to be on a law faculty, given my views.  This question – when it isn’t simply a hostile attempt to derail conversation – is based on a misunderstanding.   I very much believe in the potential value of higher education.  And I believe that legal education can and must be reformed radically.   (On one level the most important short-term reforms couldn’t be simpler:  the cost of law school attendance must be reduced drastically, and the number of people graduating from law school must be decreased by a significant amount. In the longer term, the American legal system will need to confront whether it is either pedagogically justifiable or financially viable to continue to require the basic law degree to be acquired through postgraduate education).

I found ITLSS consistently witty and brave. And Campos is enough of a scholar to marshal evidence, not mere snark. His very long, very thorough description of the crisis facing American legal education is here.

I've followed this story with interest since I'm in legal education, and I sometimes wonder whether it has relevance to Germany, either because (1) Germany may be facing similar problems; or (2) There will be spill-over effects from the American crisis on the German legal scene.

As to #1, I doubt it. The main difference, of course, is that German law students, like university students in general, either pay no tuition fees or very low ones. One major driver of the sense of crisis in the U.S. is that the average law student graduates with something like $100,000 in debt, but jobs that pay enough to service this debt are few and far between. That is not a problem in Germany. However, I do think that some of the structural changes to the American job market -- outsourcing, temporary contract work, much more price-conscious clients -- could well begin to be seen in Germany.

As to #2, I also think the effect will be marginal, except perhaps that some American law school graduates might relocate abroad, either to find any kind of job or to make a 'fresh start' where debt collectors will find it hard to trace them. Again, though, this doesn't seem very likely. Anyone who comes to Germany or France fresh out of law school will soon face the harsh reality that an American legal education is well-nigh worthless in most European countries. Also, as non-EU citizens, Americans can be legally discriminated against in favor of EU citizens. Nevertheless, I can imagine an increasing number of law graduates -- especially ones who have cultural or personal ties to Europe -- trying to establish themselves across the pond.

What say you, commenters, especially Pageant? By the way, since comments are now moderated, you no longer face the horrible prospect of typing a long comment only to see it magically 'disappeared' because you unknowingly used a spam key-word.

Did Not Progress Beyond 1979

Scarfolk: Unhallowed. Eldritch. Unnamable.

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. "Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay." For more information please reread.


Factorydeaths Witchcraft

German readers, where are the German sites celebrating the moldy, unwholesome, somehow fungal design motifs of the 1970s?

When Your German Surname Mocks You

One of the many advantages of learning German is that I can return to the United States and inform the 50 million Americans of German ancestry what their last names mean. All these Totenbergs, Fickens, Himmelfarbs, Rosenthals, Koenigs, Knapps, Wagenknechts, Sensenbrenners, Schwarzkopfs, and Schoenemanns are usually blissfully unaware that their last names mean something (or at least imply something) in German.

Sometimes, the results are shock and dismay, other times bemusement. Heck, I could probably turn a profit from offfering this service.What made me think of this was an article in the American online magazine Salon about celebrities who are atheists, a group which apparently includes Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Keira Knightley, and Julianne Moore. (Almost all the celebrities mentioned in the article are American, by the way).

The author, apparently an atheist herself, says 'As I watch the Academy Awards each year, I’m always left wondering: Aren’t there any atheist celebrities? ... Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s awards ... the presence of many of these performers on the red carpet is certainly something to celebrate.'

The author's name: Laura ... Gottesdiener.*

Continue reading "When Your German Surname Mocks You" »

Moderation of Comments and the Röhm Purge: How's that for a Non-Sequitur?

Hi there!

First of all, kudos to Theresa for correctly guessing the origin of the picture I posted yesterday. It was the cover illustration for Max Gallo's book The Night of Long Knives, an account of the Röhm purge:


The illustration comes from one of my favorite blogs, Pop Sensations, in which an English professor presents the juiciest items from his collection of 1950s-1960s pulp fiction paperbacks. Drink-sodden gun molls, lesbian seductresses, hard-boiled private dicks, 'shockingly frank' depictions of suburban orgies -- you name it, it's there. If you've never visited before, say goodbye to your afternoon. The 'gay' section is particularly revealing -- although somehow Pop Sensations didn't tag the Röhm book as gay. A rare Bildungslücke.


And now to housekeeping. I'm switching to moderated comments from now on. There was too much spam, and the counter-measures kept snagging genuine comments (you know, serious discussions about penis enlargement or carpet cleaning in Flagstaff, Arizona). I'm sorry for the inconvenience, and hope everyone will still keep up the great stuff in comments, which for a long while has outshined the idle noodlings I post.

Cultural Trivia Quiz: Where Did this Hideous Image Come From?

Browsing the Interwebs, I found this image -- this unhallowed, accursèd, brain-scorching, crotch-freezing Unding of an image -- embedded in its original context, which I cropped it out of. And before you guess it came from the late, lamented Gay Nazi Sex Ads website, it did not. Kudos to anyone who can identify its original context.


Practice your English by Moving to Berlin!

Julie Colthorpe on the expat takeover of Berlin:

Don’t get me wrong: nobody’s expected to know the der-die-das of it all the moment they step off the plane. The problem is the blasé nonchalant attitude that some expats adopt when it comes to speaking the language of their adopted country: they don’t. It’s bad enough to hear these smug shirkers yapping away on the U8 every Friday night. What’s worse is when they start opening restaurants.

A year and a half ago, the Tagesspiegel published an article expressing the general outrage felt by Berliners at being forced to grapple with their rusty school English in American joints like The Bird and White Trash. Wally Potts, the American owner of White Trash, does in fact speak very good German – it’s just his staff that don’t, or won’t, or didn’t.

But that’s nothing compared to Neukölln – aka Little Melbourne.

Recently, my German boyfriend and I tried out a new Australian place in Reuterkiez. Not only was the food lousy and overpriced, not one of the staff could speak any German. Even the menus were English-only – I ended up translating practically the whole thing for my boyfriend. When the waitress came over, I asked for “zwei Kaffee, bitte”. She didn’t understand a word, and she wasn’t even embarrassed. So while waiting for our food (it took forever) we bitched about her in German. No one noticed.

Two observations. First, I've never seen a city lose its charm faster than Berlin. Rents are skyrocketing, boutiques are opening, tourists are everywhere, and places that used to be funky and/or quirky are being remorselessly auctioned to the highest bidder. Vast portions of Berlin are now identical to other German cities, and are quickly becoming as expensive if not more so. Soon, Berlin will be just another interchangeable enclave for the upper-middle class and above. The flow of expats is just a symptom of the increasing homogeneity of the city. It's not that I don't like the place -- I do! But the capital paradoxically has much less of an identity-preserving regional pride than many other parts of Germany, and large parts of it hardly seem German anymore.

Second, I sometimes wonder whether, in the course of the next few decades, German, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, etc. might begin to actually wither as viable languages. I can envision a future in which globalization has advanced to the point where ever-larger sections of commercial, academic and social interaction shift irreversibly into English, simply on grounds of efficiency. Poor people and those living in rural areas will still speak German much better than English, but that fact itself will become a subtle class identifier. German-language academic journals will die out in all but the most language-dependent fields. Corporations will simply transact all their business in English, even in German branches staffed entirely by Germans. Even expats who will be here for years will no longer be expected to learn German, since it will not be seen as a worthwhile investment of their time and energy. Dubbing movies and TV shows into German will be abandoned as a needless extra expense (this last I would rejoice at).

Obviously, this sort of thing is already happening, but it will be interesting to see how much farther it goes. Perhaps it will provoke a backlash! That would be something to see...

Condorcet v. The Circle-Squaring Cranks

Hobson_3While cloistering myself in the Natural Sciences Library to finish an article, I happened upon a book called Squaring the Circle, which is a minute historical exploration of that famous scientific problem, written in 1911 in impeccably dry English scientific prose by one E.W. Hobson, Sc.D, LL.D., F.R.S., Sadleirian Professor or Pure Mathematics, and Fellow of Christ's College, in the University of Cambridge. This biography of Hobson observes that he was '[b]rought up in rigidly Low Church surroundings ...' but 'developed strong views of rationalism, becoming ... an avowed radical and agnostic'. On pages 3 and 4, he notes that attempts to solve this famously insoluble problem* have occupied uncounted cranks over the centuries:

The solutions propounded by the circle squarer exhibit every grade of skill, varying from the most futile attempts, in which the writers shew an utter lack of power to reason correctly, up to approximate solutions the construction of which required much ingenuity on the part of their inventor. In some cases it requires an effort of sustained attention to find out the precise point in the demonstration at which the error occurs, or in which an approximate determination is made to do duty for a theoretically exact one. The psychology of the scientific crank is a subject with which the officials of every Scientific Society have some practical acquaintance. Every Scientific Society still receives from time to time communications from the circle squarer and the trisector of angles, who often make amusing attempts to disguise the real character of their essays. The solutions propounded by such persons usually involve some misunderstanding as to the nature of the conditions under which the problems are to be solved, and ignore the difference between an approximate construction and the solution of the ideal problem.

It is a common occurrence that such a person sends his solution to the authorities of a foreign University or Scientific Society, accompanied by a statement that the men of Science of the writer's own country have entered into a conspiracy to suppress his· work, owing to jealousy, and that he hopes to receive fairer treatment abroad. The statement is not infrequently accompanied with directions as to the forwarding of any prize of which the writer may be found worthy by the University or Scientific Society addressed, and usually indicates no lack of confidence that the bestowal of such a prize has been amply deserved as the fit reward for the final solution of a problem which has baffled the efforts of a great multitude of predecessors in all ages.... It is interesting to remark that, in the year 1775, the Paris Academy found it necessary to protect its officials against the waste of time and energy involved in examining the efforts of circle squarers. It passed a resolution, which appears in the Minutes of the Academy, that no more solutions were to be examined of the problems of the duplication of the cube, the trisection of the angle, the quadrature of the circle, and that the same resolution should apply to machines for exhibiting perpetual motion. An account of the reasons which led to the adoption of this resolution, drawn up by Condorcet, who was then the perpetual Secretary of the Academy, is appended. It is interesting to remark the strength of the conviction of Mathematicians that the solution of the problem is impossible, more than a century before an irrefutable proof of the correctness of that conviction was discovered.

Apparently the problem is insoluble because pi is a transcendental number, a fact which was proven in 1882. After this introduction, Professor Hobson proceeds, over hundreds of inadvertently Kafkaesque pages, to minutely detail every single failed attempt to solve this problem. One of the more exotic ones gave rise to this diagram:


Continue reading "Condorcet v. The Circle-Squaring Cranks" »

The Wende Museum Los Angeles

I am surprised to find out that there is a museum dedicated to Eastern European design in Los Angeles called the Wende Museum:

So why would a museum that examines the histories of Eastern Europe during the Cold War be located in Los Angeles? According to the museum, “their location in California provides independence and critical distance from current political debates in Europe, and also facilitates the questioning of preconceived ideas about our past and present. Moreover, the Museum’s physical remoteness from Central and Eastern Europe has enabled it to attract significant artifacts and collections that might otherwise have been destroyed as a result of emotional and political reactions.”

The Wende Museum was founded by Justinian Jampol in 2002 with a mission to preserve the quickly disappearing cultural artifacts and personal histories of Cold War-era Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Via. A few samples from the collection:

Europe's Puritans on the March

So reports the Guardian and Gawker:

Iceland could (but probably won't) become the first Western democracy to censor Internet porn. Halla Gunnarsdóttir, an adviser to the interior minister, explains the country's anti-smut rationale to The Guardian:

"We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech..."

This is Iceland, after all. Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir is the first openly lesbian government head in the world. It's already illegal to print and distribute porn within the country, and since 2010, strip clubs have been prohibited as well.

The bill would try to target what opponents describe as 'hateful' or 'violent' pornography, but there's no information as to who would get to define these terms. Apparently the chances of this bill actually passing are almost nil, which is reassuring.

As I've so often had the occasion to remark, trends hit Europe with about a 10-15 year lag time after they hit the United States. Anti-smoking laws, shaving customs, freedom-of-information statutes, you name it. What we appear to be seeing now is the late 1980s-early 1990s alliance of a certain strain of feminism with cultural conservatism -- epitomized by Andrea Dworkin' book Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Here's a representative sample from one of her speeches, held in 1993:

Men use sex to hurt us. An argument can be made that men have to hurt us, diminish us, in order to be able to have sex with us--break down barriers to our bodies, aggress, be invasive, push a little, shove a little, express verbal or physical hostility or condescension. An argument can be made that in order for men to have sexual pleasure with women, we have to be inferior and dehumanized, which means controlled, which means less autonomous, less free, less real.

I am struck by how hate speech, racist hate speech, becomes more sexually explicit as it becomes more virulent--how its meaning becomes more sexualized, as if the sex is required to carry the hostility. In the history of anti-Semitism, by the time one gets to Hitler's ascendance to power in the Weimar Republic, one is looking at anti-Semitic hate speech that is indistinguishable from pornography --and it is not only actively published and distributed, it is openly displayed. What does that orgasm do? That orgasm says, I am real and the lower creature, that thing, is not, and if the annihilation of that thing brings me pleasure, that is the way life should be; the racist hierarchy becomes a sexually charged idea. There is a sense of biological inevitability that comes from the intensity of a sexual response derived from contempt; there is biological urgency, excitement, anger, irritation, a tension that is satisfied in humiliating and belittling the inferior one, in words, in acts.

We wonder, with a tendentious ignorance, how it is that people believe bizarre and transparently false philosophies of biological superiority. One answer is that when racist ideologies are sexualized, turned into concrete scenarios of dominance and submission such that they give people sexual pleasure, the sexual feelings in themselves make the ideologies seem biologically true and inevitable. The feelings seem to be natural; no argument changes the feelings; and the ideologies, then, also seem to be based in nature. People defend the sexual feelings by defending the ideologies. They say: my feelings are natural so if I have an orgasm from hurting you, or feel excited just by thinking about it, you are my natural partner in these feelings and events--your natural role is whatever intensifies my sexual arousal, which I experience as self-importance, or potency; you are nothing but you are my nothing, which makes me someone; using you is my right because being someone means that I have the power--the social power, the economic power, the imperial sovereignty--to do to you or with you what I want.

I confess that I don't really understand this argument, in fact I'm not even sure it is an argument. I simply present it to give you a flavor of what was fashionable on American university campuses in the early 1990s. You could be forgiven for thinking that Dworkin is actually arguing that all heterosexual intercourse is a form of violence (like many female anti-pornography crusaders, she appears completely unconcerned about gay pornography). These sorts of arguments are now out of fashion in the U.S. -- during the late 1990s and early 2000s, this sort of scolding, Puritan style of argument lost favor, especially at the hands of sex-positive feminists. One of them critiques Dworkin this way:

[T]he problem with Dworkin's attitude to porn sums up everything that can now be held against her. Her definition of porn and what is considered harmful is hugely misleading. In Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Dworkin used the word pornography knowing that it was different from society's understanding of the term. It was not just sex between adults recorded to inspire erotic and sexually arousing feelings; it was any sex act that involved degradation of women in a sexual context. "Pornography is a celebration of rape and injury to women ... " and by her definition, it was.

The deliberate blurring of these definitions is Dworkin's fundamental error and led ultimately to her malignment and the ease with which (male-led) society was able to demonise her. But it got her good headlines at first and if you court such controversy you play a very dangerous game. Dangerous not only for yourself, but for the women you claim to represent.

Dworkin redefined sex workers as helpless, passive victims - whereas before they were viewed as fallen, evil women....

But as Ana Lopes, founder of the British Sex Workers Union and a committed feminist, explains: "That has not changed the conditions under which women perform sex work. It has done nothing to improve their lives. On the contrary, they [radical feminists] have been a huge barrier to sex workers' empowerment and self-organisation. Sex workers need the support of advocates and allies in order to gather enough resources to stand up for their rights successfully. The women's movement is one of the most obvious allies - but if feminists are busy protesting against prostitution and pornography as a concept, it is clear that sex workers cannot count on their help."

The American crusade against pornography went nowhere, and has now pretty much been abandoned. At the time, it was lustily mocked in Europe -- the land of Page 3 and even Page 1 girls -- as laughable puritanism, just as the fact that prostitution is illegal in 49 American states has been mocked in Europe as a sign of America's puritanical double-standards and refusal to acknowledge human nature.

But what do we see now in Europe? Iceland contemplating a ban on pornography, and a massive lobbying campaign by womens' groups to try to get the European Union to ban prostitution:

More than 200 women's rights groups are calling for laws to make paying for sex a crime across the European Union.

Campaigners presented key policy recommendations for legislation to MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday.

"Prostitution is a form of violence, an obstacle to gender equality and an open door for organised crime to develop," a campaign spokeswoman told the BBC.

But opponents say the move is likely to drive the prostitution industry further underground.

The European Women's Lobby (EWL), which leads the campaign, wants EU member states to implement six key policies, including the criminalisation of all forms of procuring, and the creation of effective exit programmes for sex workers.

"The most important thing to understand about prostitution is that imposing sexual intercourse with money is a form of violence that shouldn't be accepted," EWL spokeswoman Pierrette Pape told the BBC.

Yet more confirmation of Hammel's Maxim #14 of transatlantic cultural influence: The more vigorously an American trend is mocked by the European commentariat, the more likely it will be adopted by mainstream European society within 10-15 years.