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Category: Culture

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The epicurean ecumenical

One effect of living in a religiously plural society is an ability to reap epicurean rewards. I’m reminded of this every time I take the opportunity to stock up on Passover Coke. Passover Coke is made with sugar, rather than corn syrup. As such, it is acceptable for Passover use by observant Jews. It is also considered by most Coke drinkers to be a tastier beverage, and so non-Jewish buyers like myself take advantage of this opportunity to buy tastier Coke.

(When I buy Passover Coke, I only do so from full shelves. My inner ethical meter won’t let me buy the last, or even close-to-last bottle of Passover Coke from any store. I find myself imagining that such action on my part would affect some poor observant Jew shopping at the same store few minutes later — that I would deprive her of her chance to buy Coke, and she would have to sit through a Passover without Coke because of my selfish actions. So, no last bottles for me — but if the shelf is full, I make sure to stock up.)

It’s not just Passover Coke, either. It’s fun to hit a diner and order some Matzo ball soup. (That stuff is tasty, particularly on a chilly New York day) Also, during Hannukah, my old law-firm cafeteria sold cute little Hannukah chocolates that I regularly took home for the kids. And so on.

I hope that this epicurean ecumenicalism isn’t a one-way street. I hope that some of my Jewish friends enjoy the (probably more limited) epicurean benefits of Christian holidays — chocolate Easter bunnies and Cadbury eggs, candy canes and gingerbread.

And while I don’t want to overstate the point, I can’t help but think that enjoying the tasty celebrations of other religious groups has to have a salutary effect on inter-group tolerance and understanding. Perceptions of a group’s gastronomic profile can certainly affect society’s thinking. If lies about Jewish dietary habits (among other things) spread by the Czar’s secret police can lead to pogroms and hatred, then can’t a shared bowl of Matzo ball soup, washed down with some Passover Coke, lead to greater understanding and appreciation of diverse religious culture and tradition? I like to think so.

In the meantime, there’s a strictly-vegetarian Indian place up the 15 a ways, next to a Hindu temple, that I’m hoping to get to some time soon.

28

A Feminist Gets Married

I got hitched Saturday. Beforehand, I had been sheepish about telling my students I was getting married. It seemed inconsistent with my professional persona as an independent, fearless, freedom-fighting law professor. So I waited until the last possible minute to mention it. “OK, I have a quick announcement,” I began a recent Criminal Law class. “I do apologize, but I have to cancel next Thursday’s class because… um… well… my partner and I have decided to get married.” My students then began to clap. Gads, this was worse than I’d imagined it would be. The applause grew.

“No, no—please don’t clap. This is a truly freakish event that was never supposed to happen to someone like me.” Applause turned to laughter. Now I’d gotten myself in a fix.

Gavin had faced none of this angst. He had told his journalism students months ago, and he’d enjoyed their applause, while I skulked around my school as if I had a dirty little secret.

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Mobbing in Academia?

This article [registration required] in the Chronicle claims that academia is rife with mobbing, or:

‘an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker.’

To flesh out the concept, [an academic] drew up a list of 45 mobbing indicators. It amounted to an impressive catalog of bureaucratic nastiness: ‘You are interrupted constantly’; ‘you are isolated in a room far from others’; ‘management gives you no possibility to communicate’; ‘you are given meaningless work tasks’; ‘you are given dangerous work tasks’; ‘you are treated as if you are mentally ill.’

Notably, this work bears many similarities to Prof. Livingston’s post on law professor happiness, discussed here not so long ago. The article explains that mobbing is (allegedly) quite prevalent in universities:

[I]nstitutions where workers have high job security, where there are few objective measures of performance, and where there is frequent tension between loyalty to the institution and loyalty to some higher purpose.

To be honest, I just don’t see the problem here. Even if “mobbing” were a real phenomena, and even if it occurred at relatively higher rates in institutions, so what? Most faculties have a few marginalized folks. Most for-profit enterprises do not. Because the for-profit enterprises fire people who don’t fit in. Bearing with irritating colleagues is the trade-off that academics have made to retain tenure. Since tenure isn’t wildly unpopular among professors, I imagine that people think it is worth it.

Thus, I doubt the article’s claim that “mobbing” could be reduced by changing governance structures or training better administrators. If you can’t fire people who offend, and setting up positive incentive structures is similarly difficult, managing behavior will be left to informal social sanctions. Like shunning, and shaming, and, I suppose, mobbing.

Law of Conservation of Responsibility?

Back in 2004, a Florida judge angrily sent 11 defendants—mainly traffic offenders—to a jail cell for hours because they happened to be in the wrong courtroom. He’s now trying to keep his job, and claims in his defense that he had undiagnosed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I think the case raises fascinating issues, less for the judge’s defense (I have no idea whether it’s accurate or exculpating), than for the cultural effect of such defenses. Are support groups for people with ADHD glad to see such defenses raised in court, since they add legal heft to diagnoses? Or are they worried that opportunistic defendants are going to discredit ADHD as one more tool to “get around” conventional notions of responsibility? I’d love to hear more on this type of debate, either in the criminal context (over the insanity defense) or in civil contexts. It’s a bit topical, given that the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Clark v. Arizona on April 19, to determine whether defendants have a constitutional right to an insanity defense.

All I’ll say for now is that this is not just a scientific question….

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Relative Deprivation, Location, and Lawdenfreude

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As a recent buyer of a “luxury” (read: habitable) condo in a not-so-fashionable precinct of Jersey City, I obsessively read about the “housing bubble.” It’s about as irresistible as kitschy old TV shows. The latest installment is this interesting piece by Dean Baker, arguing for governmental intervention designed to pop the purported bubble “sooner rather than later:”

If mortgage rates were pushed back to more normal levels (e.g., 7 to 8 percent), it would almost certainly lead to a sharp reduction in housing prices. Deliberately destroying trillions of dollars of wealth may seem like perverse policy, but it is important to recognize the context. If there is in fact an unsustainable run-up in housing prices, then the question is not whether prices will fall, but rather when prices will fall. The wealth is not really there. It is an illusion.

Housing economists can have a field day debating the wisdom of this proposition as a policy matter—I defer to their opinions. What piques me is the notion of “illusory wealth.” The housing bubble story reveals something fundamental about “wealth creation” via certain assets that mainstream economic measurement tends to ignore. For the 68% or so of people who own a house, rising real estate prices bring security and well-being. But for the rest, they can cause real anxieties. In many commodities markets, rising prices can induce more suppliers to meet the demand. But in many urban centers, there is little space left next to public transit or desirable amenities. Supply can’t rise to meet demand. So what we really have is a bidding war for prime space. Does this have any implications for law?

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If anything, they should be rewarded

I’m not a particularly ardent fan of the U.K. version of The Office, but I’ve seen a few bits of it here and there, and they can be pretty funny. One of the classic exchanges is between David and Gareth, on the subject of, well, boobs:

[David is mocking a porn site, and reads off of the computer screen]

David: ” ‘Dutch girls must be punished for having big boobs.’ Now you do not punish someone, Dutch or otherwise, for having big boobs.”

Gareth: “If anything they should be rewarded.”

David: “They should be equal.”

Gareth: “Women are equal.”

David: “I’ve always said that.”

With that background, one can fully appreciate this recent news story: “A dancer has launched a $100 million lawsuit against the American musical Movin’ Out, claiming she was emotionally abused and lost her job because her breasts grew too large for her costume.” Yes, it turns out that, according to the lawsuit, some people are punished for having big boobs. Best of all, however, is her lawyer’s statement to the press, in the same newsclip: “In the ballet world, obviously, people are small-breasted. On Broadway, what happened should be an attribute.”

Or in other words, “if anything, they should be rewarded.”

Three Cheers for Categorizers!

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Dan mentioned an indefatigable blogger who’s now taxonomizing over 600 law-related blawgs. I’ve heard a lot of critics of bloggers complain about “navel-gazing” in this field. But this type of work is exceedingly valuable, as I try to demonstrate in a recent piece on “information overload externalities.”

In my view, categorizers are a uniquely beneficial “genus” in the information ecosystem, and they deserve special solicitude from copyright law. Categorizers should be able to provide small samples or clips from whatever works they organize or index, without begging for licenses from the copyrightholders who own the sampled work.

Unfortunately, categorizers have been getting some rough treatment by courts lately. For example, Google recently lost a battle against “erotic image purveyor” Perfect 10 because the low resolution images on its “image search” might reduce Perfect 10’s sales to the “cell phone viewing” market. The Author’s Guild (which appears neither to represent all authors nor to be a guild) is suing to stop Google’s digital book indexing project—even though Google permits any aggrieved copyright owner to opt out! They believe Google should have to work out, individually, permissions for each of the millions of books they want to index.

Imagine if uber-taxonomizer 3L Epiphany had to ask permission to quote or cite to any of the blawgs he compiled. Are we really going to let a few cantankerous holdouts veto an effort to archive and index the world’s expression? I hope not, for a couple reasons…

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Sour grapes from Proulx

So the film based on your short story — a great film, by the way — wins a bunch of awards at various venues, but loses the Best Picture Oscar in an upset. What do you do?

If you’re Annie Proulx, I guess you write an incredibly tacky piece for The Guardian, in which you call the Best Picture winner “Trash” and rail on the Academy, its voters, and the award ceremony in an extended rant that is neither smart nor funny.

I guess I’m still young enough to be surprised when smart, articulate people use their considerable skills — and access to major media outlets — to embarrass themselves in the most conspicuous ways possible. Proulx may be an author capable of a very good story, but she comes across as utterly classless in her Guardian piece, taking the description “sore loser” to a new level. To slightly adapt the old saying: Better to keep your mouth shut and let people wonder whether you’re an ass, than to open it and remove all doubt.

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Sexualizing Victims And Offenders

Rick Garnett blogged yesterday about a recent Eighth Circuit opinion in a sex abuse case. The appellate court reversed a trial court’s decision to close the courtroom during testimony of children allegedly abused by the defendant. A particularly interesting part of Judge Arnold’s short Sixth Amendment decision said:

The government implies in its brief that requiring children to testify in publicin this kind of case could only expose them to voyeuristic or prurient interests.

What did the government mean, exactly? Did it think that the defendant would get sexually excited during trial? Would pedophiles flock to the courthouse to witness the testimony?

I imagine that the government was suggesting that having a child testify about sex has the effect of sexualizing the child. Everyone watching this testimony, intentionally or not, would begin to see the child as a sex object. The government is probably right. Amy Adler has written a compelling piece arguing (in line with Judith Butler) that the criminalization of child pornography transforms images that would not otherwise be seen as sexual into sexual events. She suggests that, once we know child underwear ads might be pornographic, we’ll always look at these ads and ask: “is this this is a sexual image?” And of course once we ask that question, we’ve answered it.

In effect, the mere act of going to trial in a any sex crime case sexualizes the victim. We see that victim in his or her role as sexual object because that is how he or she is presented to us. If the right to a public trial is to have real meaning, Judge Arnold must be right that this phenomenon is no basis for closing a public trial.

This brings to mind an interesting post over at The Smoking Gun. TSG posted a series of mugshots under the heading “Foxy Felons.” One such canid, Casey Hicks, has threatened to sue TSG unless it removes her photo. It seems that she believes – based on blog commentary, no less – that TSG readers are using her photo for their own “private sexual gratification.” Perhaps Alabama, which is ever mindful of the dangers of sexual gratification, will add mugshots to its existing ban on sexual stimuli.

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Paper Discovers Trove Of Unseen Civil Rights Photos

Thurgood Marshall.JPG Today the Birmingham News published a treasure trove of photographs documenting the Civil Rights movement. These absolutely remarkable photos, featuring Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall (pictured at right in a group that included Constance Baker Motley), and other significant individuals and events from that era, can be accessed here. While some appeared at the time, many of these images have not been published previously. According to the account in today’s News, the photos were found accidentally:

[The discovery was] the result of research by Alexander Cohn, a 30-year-old former photo intern at The News. In November 2004, Cohn went through an equipment closet at the newspaper in search of a lens and saw a cardboard box full of negatives marked, “Keep. Do Not Sell.”

The accompanying article includes interesting interviews with News photographers and others discussing why many of these images never saw the light of day. One photographer recalled that “the editors thought if you didn’t publish it, much of this would go away.”

The News has changed over the years naturally. In 1988, it offered a tempered self-critique of its civil rights coverage saying: “The story of The Birmingham News’ coverage of race relations in the 1960s is once marked at times by mistakes and embarrassment but, in its larger outlines, by growing sensitivity and acceptance of change.” That remains a fair characterization of the broadsheet. The editorial board is iconoclastically conservative. It is anti-abortion and solidly Republican but unafraid to confront ideological inconsistency and social injustice. For example, the News recently reversed course on the death penalty, calling for its abolition. Why?

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