20 July 2012

Friday jukebox: Harry Nilsson

Music for your lunch break.

18 July 2012

Hurricane season approaches and I'm not ready

Hurricane season officially starts at the beginning of June, but I don't tend to think of it as being a real problem here, so far north of the Carolinas, until we cool off a little in September. So while I feel as though I have a lot of time to spare, I've been taking some time today to look at my pantry cabinet and take stock of my emergency supplies.

And I'm low! What started as a little project to organize my pantry turned out to be a wake-up call that I don't have much at all beyond my minimum 2-week supply of nonperishable or ready-to-eat foods. That is to say, I have a good 2-week supply, but I'd be eating canned beans 3 meals per day toward end of those 2 weeks.

Off to the grocery store, but maybe not until this evening after the heatwave breaks. Among other things, I need to replace some single-serving, ready-to-eat rice packs, which I'll rotate out of storage and eat today and tomorrow since they're about at their best-by date. Single-serving, ready-to-eat, shelf-stable, fully cooked rice. We really do live in the future. I don't even want to know the carbon footprint of this stuff (though the rice is grown in the U.S., the final product is imported from Spain) but it's a brilliant addition to my emergency supplies.

Not that I truly, truly need a 2-week supply of instant or ready-to-eat food. In my section of the urban hellhole I can expect to be first in line for utilities to be restored after a storm. If they fail at all, that is. My water has never gone out; my electric goes out maybe once per year; and the only time my gas has ever gone out was when PGW shut it off deliberately for an infrastructure improvement project a few years ago.

That said, I think the derecho at the end of June put the fear of god into me. When much of West Virginia had no power for a few days, local officials and the Red Cross had to organize "mass feedings" (CNN). Evidently everyone had their power back 12 days later, but a lot of people were completely and totally unprepared for the situation. That's really uncool and I don't ever want to be in that position, unlikely as it would be for me in my location.

Romney's tax returns are out there and have been for 4 years

Sometime in 2008, as part of John McCain's vetting process for a vice-presidential candidate, Mitt Romney "reportedly provided McCain's team with more than 20 years of tax returns, significantly more than the amount of information Romney has made public this time around" (CNN). McCain didn't pick Romney for veep, so maybe there's some causal there there. Or maybe the causal there there is simply that Romney doesn't look as good as Sarah Palin does in a red leather jacket.

But my point, and I do have one, is: Oh, lordy. Will someone please, please, please leak these old tax returns already? Aw, man. They are out there. It can't possibly be the case that every last copy was shredded or deleted off all the hard drives when McCain picked Palin over Romney. It would be so easy, just one little click on "send" -- and we don't need all the schedules and attachments, either, just the 2-page 1040's (and only the second pages of those, at that). And we'd get to see if they prove Noz's theory that Romney was living the tax-free high life for some of those years.

17 July 2012

Talking with new law students in the new no-law-jobs economy

I spent a few hours the other day talking to some students who are about to embark on their first year of law school. This wasn't the first "welcome the students" event I've ever attended, but it was the first one where I was very upfront about my employment situation. The question comes up all the time from these enthusiastic, bright-eyed young people, who see the next 3 years as just the merest obstacle between them and a personally fulfilling career pursuing justice for the oppressed or making big bucks in a prominent firm: "So, Glomarization, what kind of law do you practice?"

This time my answer was, plainly, "I'm underemployed in my solo practice doing [practice area] for [type of client], and I'm actively looking for a law firm job or employment in a different sector altogether. I get an interview about every other month, but mostly I'm not working as a lawyer, though I have a few volunteer gigs doing [REDACTED] that keep me busy."

One student gamely continued the conversation, talking about their interest in non-patent intellectual property (where there are absolutely no jobs outside of the non-hiring large law firms). I pointed out the jaw-droppingly low hiring rate for 2011 grads: only about 50% have full-time, permanent jobs where a J.D. is required, and some 15% have no job at all. That leaves about 35% who are working part-time, in temporary jobs (not necessarily clerkships, either), or in jobs where they don't need a piece of paper that cost $150,000 plus 3 years of unemployment. I said that I'm self-employed, but after a decade as a small business owner, I don't like being an entrepreneur. I went to law school so that I'd have a job at the other end of it. And not in an entitlement kind of way, but in an "I did this to better my life and I jumped through all your hoops, and now I find that there are no lawyering jobs, and my degree makes me less employable as a non-lawyer once people see the J.D. on my resume, what the fuck gives?" kind of way.

The student's response to this was something along the lines of, well, finding a job, it's all a matter of personality, really.

I can't talk to these people. They're operating from some different worldview, a completely different paradigm than I'm operating from. It's like when talking with a friend of mine from my undergraduate days who is an actual, real-life young-Earth creationist. Different paradigm. We cannot have a conversation when one of us sincerely, absolutely believes that the planet and the universe are literally younger than 10,000 years old. Our basic understandings of reality are irreconcilable, and it's the same between me and this shiny new law student I was speaking with. See, there's a 90% chance that the student will end up in the bottom 90% of their class -- but they will not allow that concept into their reality. Or if they will, they're assured that they'll beat that 50% employment figure anyway and that it's just a matter of personality as to whether they land a real lawyering job out of law school.

There's absolutely nothing I can say to this student. But I do promise that I won't say, "I told you so" to them 3 years from now, even though their comment was, at bottom, not very nice at all.

Penn State-style groupthink needs its own term

Are you familiar with the phrase "going to Abilene"? It's an aspect of the concept of groupthink. Specifically, it's a paradox where someone in a group suggests a course of action; everyone agrees to follow it though individually nobody actually wants to; the group takes the course of action anyway; and in the end everyone is disappointed, upset, uncomfortable, saddened, or even angered that the course of action was taken. The practical results include opportunity costs and wasted time, money, and other resources, not to mention legal risks.

Note that this is not a problem of a charismatic leader persuading people to dangerous, illegal, or unspeakable acts. It's a phenomenon that occurs when no one wants to rock the boat or go against the grain -- but everyone fails to check the group's assumptions and speak up for themselves honestly.

This is similar, though not exactly the same as, the kind of groupthink that was happening at Penn State, which the Freeh report discusses: a "cocoon" where decisions were made not based on right or wrong, but based on the "Penn State way." Penn State adds a wrinkle, though. There's no charismatic leader, just an overly powerful individual in the organization that the institution's leadership fears to piss off and defers to, in service of a larger-than-life personality and a decades-long tradition (and billions of dollars in revenue).

Other schools, from the tiniest colleges to Penn State's peers in the category of oversized land-grant universities, must have dynamics like this going on. Since "going to Abilene" isn't exactly apt, I humbly suggest a new phrase for dealing with university sports-program groupthink: Going to Happy Valley.

Throw Joe Paterno under the bus

So the Paterno family is rejecting the Freeh Report, a document the production of which was headed by a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and which involved combing over literally millions of communications and hundreds of personal interviews to determine who knew what and when they knew it. Instead, the Paterno family, like O.J. Simpson, has vowed to launch their own investigation to find the real harborer of child rapists at Penn State.

I humbly suggest that the Paterno family needs to shut up and enjoy the proceeds of JoePa's ill-gotten estate. Or, even better, they should throw dear old dad under the bus (suggest: "We're horrified that Joe -- we won't even call him our father any more, but 'Mr. Paterno' -- allowed Jerry Sandusky to rape those children. We're shocked and saddened at the Freeh report and have nothing of substance to add to its almost certainly true and correct findings") and donate the Penn State contract settlement money to a charity that addresses child sexual abuse (suggest: "We've calculated that about $6 million in cash of Mr. Paterno's estate derives directly from his work at Penn State, and we are presenting a check today in that amount to RAINN, on the express condition that they do not name any funds, buildings, or legislative initiatives after Mr. Paterno. P.S. We are never speaking to the media again").

I mean, you are allowed to throw a family member under the bus, even your dad. When your dad protects, allows, and even enables child rape for years, you are allowed to throw him under the bus. You don't even have to wait until he dies.

Scaling up: Allentown School District versus Penn State

The Allentown (Penna.) School District has settled a lawsuit by agreeing to pay $825,000 to 4 plaintiffs who alleged that a 12-year-old boy sexually assaulted them at school, by getting them alone in bathrooms and then attacking them. The lawsuit asserts that the school's response to complaints about the boy, who leaders at the school knew had a troubled history, was "wholly inadequate" (WPVI-TV).

How much does that kind of settlement translate to the Penn State situation, where a predator with a known troubled history assaulted victims in bathrooms (Harrisburg Patriot-News)? How should it scale? Keep in mind that Jerry Sandusky was some 40 years older than his victims; his victims numbered 10 (at a minimum; that was the number in the criminal case); and Sandusky's rapes took place over years, if not decades, while the Allentown assaults spanned only a few months (PDF, p. 2).

The Allentown School District had an operating budget surplus of some $10 million in FY 2010-11 (PDF, see the school district's Finance Reports page); and its FY 2011-12 operating budget contemplates revenues of nearly $260 million (PDF). As I've mentioned before, Penn State has an endowment of over $1.5 billion (PDF); and its proposed FY 2012-13 operating budget contemplates general funds income of nearly $2 billion (PDF, see Schedules I and III).

How much should Penn State pay Sandusky's victims? How should Penn State scale up the Allentown School District's $825,000 for 4 victims to Sandusky's 10? Should it matter that there's a distinguishing factor here, that is, that the perpetrator in Allentown was another minor student, whereas Sandusky was an adult employee, or at least a colleague? Because that said, both institutions were mandatory reporters, whether literally or through the Clery Act, and both failed miserably in their legal duties -- not to mention their moral duties.

10 July 2012

An apologia for avoiding an "inhumane result" in Sandusky's case

Philly.com op-ed by Drexel Law prof Daniel Filler fails to use the term "child rape" to discuss what Jerry Sandusky did and what Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz, Tim Curley, and others (including the campus rent-a-cops) at Penn State failed to report to the police and the federal government:
But there is another lesson to be learned from this horrible story, and it's time we acknowledged it. Penn State's administrators might have buried the charges against Sandusky partly because our national anxiety about sexual abuse has resulted in a lattice of laws so toxic that people are afraid to report it. Although Penn State officials may have wanted Sandusky to stop, they also may have feared the overwhelming consequences of reporting the crime.
Oh, wah, wah, wah! Mike McQueary saw Sandusky raping a boy in the shower, and his bosses "feared the consequences"?
There's no doubt that Penn State administrators were trying to protect the university and its football program. But they were also trying to protect Sandusky and themselves from the tsunami that would follow. I take Spanier at his alleged word that he feared an inhumane result. He isn't alone: Some recent research suggests that some prosecutors shape their charging and plea-bargaining decisions to moderate the effects of current laws.
Here's where, if I were worse at my rhetoric, I'd say that I wish prosecutors seeking to moderate the effects of current laws would get child-raped themselves. But I don't wish that, really I don't. I don't even wish child rape on law school professors. What I'll do instead is point out that a law school professor would have ridiculed me for not distinguishing between a case where the result is "inhumane" and child rapist Jerry Sandusky's case.

An "inhumane result," as even the Georgia Supreme Court figured out, was Marcus Dixon's, where prosecutors won a conviction and a 10-year sentence on an 18-year-old charged with felony aggravated child molestation, rather than misdemeanor statutory rape, for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, and guess which one of the couple was white and which was African-American. Here, McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a child in the shower in 2002, when Sandusky was 57 and his victim about 10. Sandusky remained unindicted for another 9 years and unconvicted until a year after that. Which is the "inhumane result" now?

Former president of Pennsylvania State University Graham "don't want to be inhumane, you understand" Spanier in 2003, 2 years after he learned that Jerry Sandusky was a child rapist but did not report the rape to police.

I've got a lot of friends and colleagues, and, you know, I'm not the president of a university with a very important football team, but I have to think that if I learned that a friend or colleague of mine were raping children, I'd report their ass to the police. But, hey, maybe that's a particular character trait of mine that explains why I've never been able to claw my way to the top of a Big 10 school with an endowment of over $1.5 billion (PDF). I've never been a law school professor, either.

09 July 2012

Media starting to notice Pennsylvania's little mass disenfranchisement problem

Today's Daily News offers up an unsigned editorial warning that over three quarters of a million registered, otherwise eligible voters will be disenfranchised in November if the courts decline to block the Commonwealth's voter ID law. The editorial goes on to assert that this was almost undoubtedly the GOP's plan from the get-go:
According to figures released a few hours before the July 4 holiday, 758,939 registered Pennsylvania voters don't have a Pennsylvania driver's license or alternative PennDOT identification. That's 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania's 8.2 million voters. In urban Philadelphia, a full 18 percent of registered voters -- 186,830 -- do not have PennDOT-issued ID.
[ ... ] Compare that to the claim by Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, repeated without documentation for months before and after the passage of the law, that just 1 percent of Pennsylvania voters (a not-insignificant 82,000 citizens) do not already have acceptable ID.
[ ... ] Aichele and [Governor Tom] Corbett also have long ignored the fact that there is no hard, or even soft, evidence of a need for a law preventing voter impersonation in this state or others. In fact, a group of Republican lawyers could document only 400 voter-fraud cases in the entire country over a decade, less than one case per state per year.
[ ... ] A couple weeks ago, [Pennsylvania House majority leader Mike] Turzai [R-PA 28] let the truth slip out. In bragging about the law to the state Republican committee, he crowed that it "is going to allow . . . [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
I'm blogging infrequently and I'm a voice in the wilderness, but I told you so. And when I was telling you so, why wasn't the Daily News demanding proof from Aichele? Her statements were like a live-action Wikipedia [citation needed]. November is going to be horrible.