21 May 2010

Friday Means Only Two More Workdays Until Monday

  • Education shock horror: the American education system doesn't teach even the "best and brightest" how to write. I look at this from the opposite point of view: The difficulty is not with grading and/or feedback; it's that the curriculum doesn't have students reading the good stuff, largely because the good stuff is politically controversial. For example, high school students encounter Orwell's essays — if at all — in college prep classes their senior year, or perhaps the junior year in honors classes. If you want to learn how to write an essay, you can't go far wrong by dissecting "Shooting an Elephant," or "A Hanging," or "My Country Right or Left." But Orwell was a socialist, a furriner, and not an evangelical xtian... so his work doesn't make it into the standard curriculum. Instead, we get second- and third-rate stuff used as exemplars. That's like trying to teach piano using Carl Czerny's teaching exercises as the only example of what the final product is supposed to look/sound like.

    Of course, it doesn't help that we won't send good writers to work in high schools, or keep them there. Too often, the teachers doing the grading are not really competent to do so... especially if there isn't a publisher-provided answer key.

  • Here's an interesting counterpoint on the purported "liberalism" and "radicalism" of law school faculties, arguing that law professors tend to be more conservative than the rest of the university. This is at least in part because tenure requirements are different: Synthesis — including new synthesis of existing material — is an acceptable foundation for writings leading to tenure at a law school, but not in the engineering or arts and sciences faculties (which require "original research," whatever the hell that is in, for example, literature!). In turn, that distortion in the tenure system has led a great many faculty in the rest of the university to engage in hyperbole and experimental criticism, because it qualified as "original."

    Then, too, the reputation of universities as "radical institutions" has always been overblown. But that's for another time... or at least another forum.

  • From the department of bureaucrats with nothing better to do: New Jersey rejects biochemist's BIOCH license plate as "obscene" while still allowing specialty plates for encouraging violations of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Another law professor advocates abolishing A Uniform System of Citation (17th ed.) (aka the Blue Book) in favor of a simplified system. Professor Somin doesn't go nearly far enough, though: Even the "simplified" Maroon Book continues to use the same, inefficient, misleading meme: volume-source-page (maybe date).
  • Professor Picker muses on marking, razor blades, catalogs, and the public domain. That I find this stuff interesting says more about me than you probably want to know.
  • The IP Finance blog discusses the impact of the endowment effect on valuing intellectual property... and vastly, vastly understates its conclusion. All that one needs to do to understand the impact of the endowment effect on the valuation of intellectual property is look at the inflated valuation (and ego) apparent in tax deductions taken for creating depositories of "papers"... and the willingness of repositories to play their part in the game. And perhaps — just perhaps — actually represent an individual infringement plaintiff and do a client-screening interview or three. Ironically, in this particular instance anecdotal evidence is more persuasive (and valid) than statistical manipulations!