MBTA On Time

After my many philippics against the MBTA, I should give the T credit for being nearly 100% on time this week (at least within five to ten minutes of target), so much so that I am often sprinting to catch the train because I had gotten used to it being late.  That the trains are only half-full due to people’s vacations must be related. So maybe the long-term solution is to alienate enough riders that they leave the system?

[Tags]MBTA, Boston[/Tags]

Jason’s Lesson’s Learned About the Legal Academy and Getting In

Pelican has decided to abandon his efforts to scale the walls of the legal academy and proposes this simple eight-step program for others who would follow in his footsteps:

  1. Don’t do interdisciplinary work. The legal academy doesn’t know what to make of it unless it is economics.
  2. Don’t go to a school without a law review or grades. I did and it was a huge problem.
  3. Get on law review, clerk, write.
  4. Check the faculty listings at most law schools. Go to the most often listed schools: Harvard, Yale, etc. It does matter as law faculty select their own, usually. I was told by a faculty member as a 1L expressing interest in the academy that I should transfer immediately to Harvard if possible. I didn’t.
  5. If you think you want to be a legal academic, look at what is on the FAR form in your first or second year. Orient your academic career to produce a good looking FAR.
  6. Remarkably, the legal academy does not care about your ability to raise research money or bring in grants.
  7. Don’t publish in interdisciplinary journals. Publish only in law reviews writing only dense and impenetrable texts.
  8. Demonstrated impact of your work in policy or law is not relevant.

This critique could be extended broadly to much of the academy (not just law schools). I had once thought I might like to teach law, but now I can only really see myself as a clinician.

Two contradictory academic trends:

  • The tendency toward dense, impractical writing that only makes sense to other insiders. This is often but not exclusively the influence of postmodernism. Steve recently brought Chomsky’s response to postmodern thought to my attention. It boils down to this: sure, it might be complicated. But there are lots of other fields that are complicated–quantum mechanics, nanotechnology, even game theory–in which an expert can still explain to a bright layperson the contours of the field sufficient for the layperson to get the gist of it, even if they can’t grasp all the details without extensive study. This doesn’t seem to be true of postmodern philosophy. Is the emperor naked? Paul Graham’s How to Do Philosophy reflects a similar attitude with less of a political bent, although my friends pursuing philosophy doctorates claim Graham has got it all wrong.
  • The tendency to reduce all disciplines to a science, particular the humanities and social sciences. This can either mean approaching the study with some method that approaches “scientific rigor” or literally basing the analysis in an already recognized science, preferably neuroscience. While I can see some sense in incorporating neuroscience, cognitive science, and certainly psychology into fields such as economics, I don’t think this is a good thing to the extent it overwhelms other modes of analysis, particular for literature. Neuroscientist/author Jonah Lehrer discussed this phenomenon (and its drawbacks) with Christopher Lydon in an episode of the newly-revived Radio Open Source. (Warning to Debian readers: Radio Open Source has very little to do with open source software.)

[Tags]Law, Legal Academy, Postmodernism, Neuroscience, Jonah Lehrer, Paul Graham, Philosophy, Noam Chomsky, Christopher Lydon[/Tags]

Media for Kids

One great thing about kids — especially kids who have not been overexposed to TV media — is how easily entertained they are. We recently showed Esther some Looney Tunes cartoons from the 1940’s (on a real TV, no less!) and she couldn’t stop laughing. It is refreshing to see someone spellbound by animated content that didn’t require a rendering farm to create. I’m sure she’ll be jaded soon enough, but we’re trying to drag it out as long as possible by providing only very occasional small doses.

This piece on the end of reading as a cultural activity is chock full of interesting statistics. This excerpt, in particular, is relevant here:

In August, scientists at the University of Washington revealed that babies aged between eight and sixteen months know on average six to eight fewer words for every hour of baby DVDs and videos they watch daily. A 2005 study in Northern California found that a television in the bedroom lowered the standardized-test scores of third graders. And the conflict continues throughout a child’s development. In 2001, after analyzing data on more than a million students around the world, the researcher Micha Razel found “little room for doubt” that television worsened performance in reading, science, and math. The relationship wasn’t a straight line but “an inverted check mark”: a small amount of television seemed to benefit children; more hurt. For nine-year-olds, the optimum was two hours a day; for seventeen-year-olds, half an hour. Razel guessed that the younger children were watching educational shows, and, indeed, researchers have shown that a five-year-old boy who watches “Sesame Street” is likely to have higher grades even in high school. Razel noted, however, that fifty-five per cent of students were exceeding their optimal viewing time by three hours a day, thereby lowering their academic achievement by roughly one grade level.

It certainly doesn’t surprise me that television–even educational TV–is generally not good for kids. The “inverted check mark” bit was a surprise, though. Who would guess that two hours a day is optimal for the nine-year-old brain?

On a related note, Kiddie Records Weekly (recommended by about.com here) is an astonishingly extensive source of free children’s books in MP3 format. It’s also an excellent example of the increasing relevance of bittorent in enabling wide economical distribution of legitimate content. The content is primarily (exclusively?) digitized vinyl records from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Fortunately, Alice in Wonderland gets no worse with age.

To complete the nostalgia circuit, who can forget “loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter” (via sketchelement, quite a while ago):


These are good times to be a kid. Or maybe just to be a parent.

[Tags]Looney Tunes, Alice in Wonderland, Reading, TV, Cartoons, Sesame Street, Bittorrent[/Tags]

Gabe and Max

Via Steve Via Ze: Gabe and Max’s Internet Thing. “Very funny.”


A sequel. “Also funny”:

Proof of Winter 2007


We were hit pretty hard in Boston. My office was shut down and deserted by mid-afternoon, but I decided to stay until late afternoon — big mistake. You might think the trains wouldn’t be as affected by the snow. And they weren’t — it only took me twice as long to get home, while it took my brother over six hours to drive from Somerville to Roslindale.

Still, it was a pretty extraordinary scene at South Station around 4:30pm. It was packed inside and out. A few trains arrived, and no one got on or off. I was wondering if they were ghost trains until finally things started moving.

The odd color balance in this photo set is because these were all taken in the dark with very long exposure times. But the apocalyptic cast may actually be appropriate.

Earlier: Proof of Fall 2007, Blizzard 2007, Blizzard 2005, First Snow 2004, Winter Sunset 2005.

[Tags]Boston, Roslindale, Snow, Blizzard[/Tags]

Doonesbury on Pandora

A sign of cultural permeation: both Doonesbury and my father have discovered Pandora.

[Tags]Pandora, Doonesbury[/Tags]

Facebook Privacy Dialogs

James provides an overview of some of the legal privacy problems with Facebook Beacon: first, in law school essay form, then, as a sitcom dialogue complete with laugh track. I recommend the latter, unless you’re in law school or a practicing lawyer.
[Tags]Facebook, Beacon, Privacy, James Grimmelmann[/Tags]

Success as a Parent

Success as a parent is when your two year old recognizes and demands, at various times, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney (particular tracks), They Might Be Giants, and the White Stripes. And when she knows how to operate her own portable CD player and navigate your cell phone photo library.

These are skills that the Class of 2026 is going to need.