Sunday, February 15, 2009

Meet Jane Roe

I may be a month late to this party, but at first I dismissed it as an insignificant piece of bizarro non-news, the opposite of a human interest story. More of a human freakshow.

A single mother of six, undergoes in vitro and has octuplets. The public reaction ran the gamut, the full spectrum of human emotions.

At least the range between outrage and disgust.

In the wake of this story there have been editorials, investigations, calls to regulate the fertility industry, and now death threats. The criticism seems to be universal - left and right; religious and secular; feminist and chauvinist.

Then a thought occurred to me - why is any of this our business? If, as the left claims, that the abortion debate is really about "choice," then shouldn't we celebrate this woman's choices? Isn't this the ultimate expression of Roe? If there were calls to regulate abortions clinics en masse following a single doc's display of poor ethical judgment, wouldn't NARAL be up in arms? "Get your laws off my body!" and all that?

This woman exercised her choice, and is being villified for it. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How to have a college football playoff system in four easy steps

The infrequent blawgger returns to post about college football? Yeah - it's my blog. Deal.

As it currently stands, and I am intentionally oversimplifying here, the college football championship is currently decided by consensus. The BCS is a system that is supposed to pit the two best teams against each other in a single championship game. Using a complex formula that takes the average of two human polls and six computer rankings, the BCS puts their top two teams on the field against each other.

Except when it doesn't work. In 2003, USC was ranked number one in the AP poll, which doesn't participate in the BCS system. This is not insignificant – the AP poll is historically the most significant football poll, and before the BCS was the most influential poll in the game; to end the season ranked atop the AP poll meant a championship. It is still the poll that rules the roost in the regular season; if the AP and coaches polls split on the number one spot, most media (at least the ones who don't have a stake in the BCS system) use the AP poll as the definitive rank.

When the bowl season came around, USC remained atop the AP poll but was number three in the BCS – meaning that Southern Cal was shut out of the national championship game. USC handled Michigan in the Rose Bowl, a 10-2 team and ranked number four in all polls and who had beaten five ranked teams, to remain number one in the AP poll. However, because USC was not invited to the BCS national championship game the BCS title went to LSU, who beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

While this season will not produce a split championship, the system again showed its flaws. The so-called power conferences produced six one-loss teams. Utah finished an undefeated season out of the supposedly second-tier Mountain West Conference.

I intentionally used words like "so-called" and "supposedly" to demostrate that a lot of the BCS still depends on perception. The perception was that this year the Pac-10 was soft; therefore 11-1 USC got shut out of the national champisonship again. The perception was that Utah's 12-0 regular season should be discounted, because the Mountain West isn't at the same caliber as the SEC or the Big 12. Perception has its place – consider the alchemy that NCAA basketball tournament selection committee must do to determine which schools make the cut, and whether to seed a particular team as a two or a three.

Perception shouldn't be the overriding factor, however. The overriding factor should be how good the team plays on the field. This year, both USC and Utah played very well, Penn State and Alabama respectively (both 11-1 teams from "power" conferences). Determining a championship should depend solely on the play on the field.

In other words, we need a playoff.

How to have a college football playoff in four easy steps: The current system has survived because of parties that are deeply committed to the status quo: the conferences, the media, the bowl committees, the sponsors. Creating a playoff would require taking on (and taking down) these purveyors of stasis. Here's how to do it.

Step One: Form a Committee. That's it, that's all. Just call yourself the National Championship Committee and incorporate. What many people don't unsderstand about the bowl system is that the bowl games have no official connection to the rest of the college sports establishment. The NCAA doesn't actually award the championship in its highest profile sport. Instead, the completely private and utterly secretive bowl committees do it.

Step Two: Get $300 Million.
Okay, that step may not be so easy, but the current system throws money around like a sailor on liberty. The BCS pays the five power conferences $18.5 million per year, and the five "lesser" conferences $9.5 million a year. That's $140 million to the conferences alone. To get the conferences into a playoff system, you're simply going to have to outbid the existing system. Sure, the SEC may love to talk about history and tradition on the football field, but when push comes to shove it's about the Benjamins.

Step Three: Spend the Money. Dangle $20 million in front of all eleven conferences. The conferences lacking an automatic bid to the BCS will jump at the substantial increase in their money. The other conferences, which do very well under the current system, will not see an additional $1.5 million as much of an inducement, and the BCS could easily match it for the power conferences, who hold a good number of the cards.

So move out to the second tier – the BCS currently pays any conference that places multiple schools in the BCS an additional $4.5 million per team. This year, the SEC, Big 12, and Big 10 all placed two teams. Under a sixteen team playoff system, with automatic bids to the eleven conference champs, five at-large spots are available. Here is where the Playoff Committee can separate itself – pony up $10 million per additional school. Since four conference champs this year finished out of the BCS top 16 – Virginia Tech (ACC), Troy (Sun Belt), East Carolina (C-USA), and Buffalo (MAC) – that leaves space for the five highest ranked non-champs: Texas (Big 12), Alabama (SEC), Texas Tech (Big 12), Ohio State (Big 10), and Texas Christian (Mountain West). Under my proposal, the SEC, Big 10 and Mountain West would get $30 million each, the Big 12 $40 million.

This is big money and would greatly encourage the conferences to maintain high quality from top to bottom. It would also undo the inherent unfairness in the current situation – the Big East, for example, has an automatic bid into the BCS, even though they haven't had a BCS quality squad since Miami left to join the ACC.

Step Four: Seed the Teams and Watch the Game Become Relevant Again. This is the fun part, what all this talk is all about. It's the reason the basketball tourney is so enjoyable for the fans. Lots of games, all meaningful. Do you think people would tune in to watch #1 Oklahoma take on #16 Troy? Well, do people watch the 1-vs-16 games in March? Damn right we do! Take a look at what some potential first round matchups would have been this year:

  • #3 Texas vs. #14 Virginia Tech
  • #7 TCU vs. #10 Ohio St.
  • #8 Penn St. vs. #9 Boise St.
  • #4 Alabama vs. #13 Cinncinnatti
Those would have been some really good games, particularly when you consider just how badly some of the so-called power schools folded in the bowls. Win or go home, then do it again. That's how champions do it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why law school sucks, part I

Imagine you are a medical student. What if you were allowed to ignore an entire system of the body in order to study something cool and very difficult to get into, like plastic surgery? You wouldn't be much of a doctor - even plastic surgeons need to know about the digestive system.

Imagine now that you are a law student. Your first year was prescribed to you with required courses - civil procedure, contracts, torts, criminal, constitutional, and property. After that, you are on your own to decide what you will study. Your schedule permits you to choose between family law and international human rights.

Not only would likely choose the latter, law schools more or less encourage you to do so - despite that fact that the most common legal matters people face are probably in family court. That's right - you don't actually have to study an entire field of law, even though it impacts arguably the greatest number of people. I ask you - would you be much of a lawyer?

It would seem that this is a problem - but the law schools don't think so. In fact, most law schools would probably encourage their students to choose human rights over family law. I do not have statistics readily available, but I suspect that most law schools only offer a single course on family law.

How can the legal education system possibly justify this? Failing to require study in family law, even though everyone is virtually impacted by this seems completely untenable. So why do they do it?

To hold out the false hope of the mega payday. And it is a false hope - Biglaw represents a very small slice of the hires for newly graduated lawyers, yet the law schools do their damndest to push the students toward the mega firms, because it pushes up their median starting salaries, which is one of the metrics that potential students consider. Biglaw doesn't do family - supposed bottom feeders do.

This is kind of rambly and incoherent, but I think this is the beginning of a bigger idea. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Worst. CLE. Ever.

I am at a CLE, Internet Law Update.

This is the worst waste of time I have ever had the displeasure of sitting through. The speaker on Web 2.0 and the law clearly did not use or understand Web 2.0 technology. In fact, he only spoke about Second Life, which he admitted he doesn't get. The legal issues in discussion are also a couple of years behind the times.

Memo to PBI: let me teach it next year. I know and understand internet life and culture, I actually use a whole host of internet technologies, and I am much more up to date about these issues than any of these speakers. Really. I promise not to speak about things like sweepstakes and contests, or talk about internet gambling, even thought internet gambling was effectively barred by Congress in 2006. I won't get dragged down into a long talk about copyright, because the coming issues will all revolve around Creative Commons.

I even look good in a suit. Seriously.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Does this mean we can have real forks again?

Hat tip to the brilliant (no exaggeration) John Wesley Hall for this. He writes in his Fourth Amendment blog that Homeland Security is considering requiring all airline passengers to wear an electronic ID bracelet with a - wait for it - built in taser. Sarcastic post title aside, this has me seriously ticked off.

This might reveal my September 10 way of thinking, but why should I trust an airline employee with the power to incapacitate an entire flight? Wouldn't this only force the "terrorists" - whoever they may be - to pose as a members of a flight crew? We already put up with airline security measures that range from the sensible (like scanning electronics) to the completely ridiculous (like taking off our shoes). Now, they expect to wear little ID bracelets with the power to injure us?

I try not to get political in this space, but there are clearly legal ramifications about this. It is almost inevitable that these bracelets will malfunction at some point - who will be liable for that? The airline? DHS? The manufacturer? What kind of training will these people have? And how can we trust that these things will only be used to deal with real security issues, and not on some drunk guy who wants an another Tom Collins?

And there are some real constitutional issues here as well. Take it out of the air travel context - could the government force its citizens to wear a portable taser generally? Of course not - so why is air travel that much different? Because it is seems to be the only answer.

This is a slightly ranty post, but I am angry.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Some thoughts on marriage, and the nature of rights

I had a thought earlier, and it was on the nature of rights- the right to act automatically includes the right not to act. In certain contexts, it is easy to conceptualize: the right to free speech includes the right not to speak; the right to privacy includes the right to be open (ever more relevant in this age of internet oversharing).

And then I thought about the right to marry. Same-sex marriage advocates argue (convincingly, in my estimation) that marriage is first and foremost a legal status that conveys rights and responsibilities upon the parties to the marriage. In a very real property law context, only married spouses can own property as tenants by the entirety, a status that allows the couple to own property as if they were a single (as in unitary) person.

If marriage is a fundamental right, as SCOTUS held in Loving v. Virginia, then it stands to reason that there is also a fundamental right not to marry, just as the freedom of speech carries with it the freedom not to speak. Couple who, for whatever reason, choose to remain unmarried are being discriminated against by the restricting entireties property to married couples only.

This distinction is ultimately just as arbitrary and artificical as the anti-miscegenation law at issue in Loving (and the laws barring same-sex marriage now at issue everywhere). Some committed but intentionally and happily unmarried couples will try to buy a home and demand the same benefits as married couples. I can think of no reason why they should not receive them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Everything I hate about schools all wrapped into one.

I hate the stupid decisions made by [EDIT: corrected typos] school administrators, but this is egregious- to teach the kids of El Camino High in Oceanside, California that driving drunk has consequences, the school had police interrupt 20 classes and announce that 26 classmates had been killed in a massive DUI car wreck. The kids, understandably, became very upset, some becoming inconsolable.

Then they learned it was all a hoax, and the kids became, understandably, furious.

The school actually WANTED to make the kids upset. "They were traumatised, but we wanted them to be traumatised," guidance counsellor Lori Tauber reportedly said. "That's how they get the message."

No, Ms. Tauber, the lesson the kids got was that you (and the people of your ilk) lying sacks of shit. That teachers and cops will lie when it suits them. That their feelings do not matter. That teachers are petty and cruel.

To get the message across, the school basically (and admittedly) intentionally inflicted sever emotional distress on its students. I say sue the bastards, and make them think twice before doing it again.