Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ban on Electronic Devices in New York?

New York Lawyer reported on July 22 that local attorneys are protesting interim rules that severely limit their ability to bring laptops, cellphones, and other electronic devices into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse located in lower Manhattan. The rules, which are linked to from the article, require an attorney to get a court order to bring specific devices into the courtrooms. At a hearing held yesterday, attorneys aired their objections to the interim rules and also attempted "to fend off proposed stricter permanent rules on the use of the devices, which one lawywer called 'an essential part of modern life.'" Underlying the interim rules are two concerns on the part of the judges: 1.) the possibility of a laptop or other device concealing an explosive; and 2.) the possibility of someone using an electronic device to televise or transmit proceedings live from a courtroom. The second concern was raised on June 29 at the sentencing of Bernard L. Madoff when a woman tried to record the proceedings. The device was seized, and the woman issued a summons. The judges are also concerned that witnesses or jurors could be photographed, potentially jeopardizing their safety. The court is "accepting written comments [on electronic devices in the courtroom] until July 31 ..." Stay tuned.

Google and Civil Rights

Betsy's recent posts about the meeting convened at the Boston Public Library to discuss the Google Book Settlement were fascinating and whetted my appetite for more information on the topic. I was at AALL's annual meeting earlier this week and left on Tuesday. I wish I had known that the Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice of Howard University School of Law was sponsoring a forum the day after, Wednesday, July 29. I would have attended the forum, "Equalizing Access to Knowledge," which featured a number of very high-profile speakers, including Rhea Ballard-Thrower, Director of Howard's Law Library. The forum is discussed here and here. The speakers agreed that "Google's ambitious book digitization will democratize access to knowledge for members of minority and other underrepresented groups ... " Rhea was quoted at some length.

The idea that a student in Boston at a very exclusive private school can read the same books that a student somewhere in an underfunded, urban public school, that they can have the same access to the same materials is actually just amazing ... Books are the great equalizer.

I agree with Rhea, but question whether it should be the role of Google, a corporation, to equalize access to education and knowledge. Shouldn't that be the role of our public schools and libraries? The articles about the forum were generally very laudatory of the Google project, but did mention some of the objections to the settlement that have been raised, including possible antitrust violations, and issues surrounding "orphaned books" and privacy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

More on Google Books Discussion at Boston Public Library

Take 2: Hal Abelson:

The notes I made the other day skipped over some major points of the discussion at the Boston Public Library on the Google Books Project and Settlement proposal. For instance, I did not cover Professor Hal Abelson, who, not being a librarian, had some pretty interesting things to say. As I mentioned in my first blog post, none of the speakers really got to turn loose, and it was obvious that they had lots more to say than they had time to speak. It was a little frustrating in that way, and it would be a wonderful symposium program at some upcoming meeting (hint, hint!) to pull these speakers back together and give each of them more time to talk. Maybe have round tables so that each of them could host audience members to talk, because the audience members also had interesting things to contribute to the discussion.

Prof. Abelson teaches electrical engineering at MIT, and appears to be a very popular professor, with lots of very interesting projects both past and present, including visits to Google. His first comments were that the Google Books Project raises antitrust issues (though he did not really pursue this in detail). Then he commented, “The future is here; it just doesn’t come to all at the same rate.” Which I took to be a brief conversational gesture at the issue of the deepening information divide between information haves and have-nots. Abelson then went on to talk about the Google Gospel, as it were: The way that Google believes it is marching toward a Manifest Destiny of total control of all information, the transformation of all written culture. He mentioned the example of how moving music from CDs to the I-pod changed listening experiences as listeners now shuffle their music in ways that could not happen before (classical to rock to jazz to whatever). Abelson said the new arrangement breaks things up and allows us to rework them in beautiful ways. It is easy to get caught up in the beauty and the excitement of the new rearrangements and overlook what is being left behind.

Then Abelson offered a very interesting comparison. He noted that the King James translation of the Bible was the most popular book in the English language. Yet it is not available in full anywhere on Google, because, apparently, each text scanned is claimed to be under copyright. Abelson then shared a chilling little anecdote about one of the major translators of the Bible into English, William Tyndale, was burned at the stake during the reign of King James (actually, I checked, and it was Henry VIII who ordered him arrested for heresy n 1536, and they did, at least, strangle him before burning http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tyndale ).

The other very cool thing Abelson said was the very last comment:

What is going to happen to library values (that is, as the pressure builds with prices rising, budgets tanking, patrons’ demands surging?)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

University of California Considers an 11th, Electronic Campus

The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 22, 2009, reports in a story by Marc Beja, that the dean of the U.C., Berkeley, Law School, Christopher Edley, Jr., recommends opening a new, electronic campus for the University of California. Due to severe budget cuts, the system may not be able to enroll as many students as before. Apparently, system president Mark Yudof (another former law dean!) has listened with great interest to the proposal. Here are the main points from the interview that Dean Edley gave to the Chronicle, but it's worth reading the article in full, which (alas) requires a password and subscription.

1. Racial justice issues: apparently the online University of Phoenix has been enrolling disproportionate numbers of minority, transfer-ready community college students. Dean Edley hypothesizes that issues of convenience, the ability to take part-time classes, save money on commuting and campus housing, continue working part-time or full-time jobs all contribute to student interest in online education, and these issues may disproportionately affect poor and minority students.

2. Dean Edley expressed confidence that the University would be able to raise the large up-front costs required to start-up an online university from private sources and do it well.

3. Faculty reaction has been mixed, but only a few people have out-right rejected the idea. The details will be important. Many people on his campus think that a Master's program may be the right way to explore an online program, but Edley disagrees. He would like to see both undergraduate and graduate programs offered at the online campus, from the beginning.

4. To ensure that the quality of the online campus meets the level of the other University of California campuses, Edley proposes
A. using the best full time U.C. faculty and excellent production values;
B. Each course must have the same content assessment and grading as regular campuses;
C. Tuition must support the online campus fully, so that it does not draw money away from the existing campuses. In fact, Edley proposes that the tuition be equal to the other campuses' tuition, to signal equal quality.

5. Edley thinks students would derive enough savings and other benefits from the online campus that it would still be a draw. They would save money from not living on or near a campus or commuting to school. He did not mention convenience here, or the ability to maintain part time work, but it was mentioned earlier. He does talk about how adding online courses could relieve the pressure on gateway courses that are currently over-enrolled. He does not actually discuss anything about how many extra faculty the university would be adding in order to start up this online campus.... if you simply add online courses without adding faculty, that is NOT going to relieve any pressure.

6. The interviewer asked if the online campus would be restricted to California students. Edley did not actually answer this, but commented that he thought it might be of great interest to students across the United States and the world, who might see it as a better alternative to what was available to them locally.

7. The interviewer asked whether new faculty would be hired, or if existing faculty would be used to staff the new online campus. Edley here says he thinks that existing faculty can do it: "core tenure track UC faculty. ... the best faculty would teach regular courses and some cybercourses would be included in their course mix." He does talk about having an instructor of record supplemented by graduate students for one-on-one contact and grading purposes. But this seems like an insane way to try to stretch your existing faculty, if you really consider adding an entire new campus' worth of undergraduate and graduate courses! Even spread among 10 campuses of faculty that's a lot of extra teaching load to add. Unless you intend to record classes?

They go on to ask if Edley has ever taught an online course, which he has not, but expresses interest in doing. He also expresses great impatience to get this campus up and going, for fiscal reasons if nothing else. This is a fascinating idea and an interesting experiment. But I have to say I am very glad it is not happening in my state. Good luck, California! I suspect that they might be very wise to talk to the various people who have successful online operations, like University of Phoenix (who might not be willing to talk to them) or the online law school Concord (who might).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Google Book Project & Settlement Discussion at Boston Public Library

I went to the program hosted at Boston Public Library last night, titled, “Expanding Access to Books: Implications of the Google Books Settlement Agreement.

Speakers:

* Daniel Clancy, Engineering Director, Google Books (bio here)
* John Palfrey, Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources, Harvard Law School (bio here)
* Ann Wolpert, Director of Libraries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (bio here)
* Hal Abelson, Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (bio and more here)

Moderated by Maura Marx, (brief profile here) Executive Director, Open Knowledge Commons (which sprang out of the Open Content Alliance, see OKC’s blog here http://blog.okfn.org/2007/10/23/the-open-definition-and-creative-commons/ and its Facebook page here http://www.facebook.com/pages/Open-Knowledge-Commons/51161711056 ), (Ms. Marx is also a librarian by training, and formerly worked at the Boston Public Library).

From the original announcement:

What:
Google Book Search is an ambitious project to digitize the world's books. Six years, many million works, and two U.S. lawsuits later, the project is now set to change dramatically. Google has reached a settlement agreement with authors and publishers that, if approved by the court, will have sweeping implications for writers, readers, scholars, librarians, and the public at large.

Join Boston Public Library and our panel of speakers for an explanation and discussion of the settlement. In addition to engaging with one another to dig deeply into the agreement's impact, the panel will have an open Q&A with attendees.
Betsy’s take:

Well, they did not dig deeply; there was not time. They did debate back and forth, with Dan Clancy manfully lobbing back the objections that the other speakers produced against the Google Books Project and the proposed Settlement, which is still pending. But because it was limited to one and a half hours, and because there were 4 speakers, and the audience, while fairly informed, was not all lawyers, the level of discourse was superficial. There were some excellent questions and points raised in a few questions from the audience. It could have been a few day seminar and still not have been enough time for the speakers to really unload. These were very well-qualified speakers who knew a lot and had strong opinions. It was frustrating to watch them cut themselves off or have to hold themselves back because there was not time.

It was a notably civil discussion, with the various speakers giving Google high marks for standing up to pressure from censors, for instance, and recognizing Google as generally being well-intentioned at the present moment. Nobody was willing to say that Google and the Authors Guild and Publishers were in collusion in working out the Settlement agreement, although one attorney in the audience raised that issue as something that should be considered in every class action settlement – not that there was collusion from the beginning, but that the parties to the settlement at some point began to see that the arrangements of the Settlement could benefit all of them, and negotiated them for their mutual benefits, with no party in the room to speak for the public interest. He was speaking of the arrangements of the Books Registry, which appears at page 65 of the proposed Settlement Agreement.

The Registry sounds innocuous enough. It is to be set up as a not-for-profit organization to create and maintain a database on ownership for authors and publishers; to locate rightsholders to receive payments – especially problematic for the body of books out of print, but still under copyright whose copyright holder is either in question or has not come forward to claim the copyright. The registry will hold payments made to Google Book Project from users of such books for five years. Some of the payment will be used to search for the copyright holder. If the copyright holder is found, there is a formula for sharing the payments. But if the copyright holder cannot be found, what happens next is very disturbing.
(1) first, to defray reasonable and necessary operational expenses of the Registry that are related to its performance, on behalf of the Rightsholders, of the functions described in Section 6.1 (Functions) and, as determined by the Board of Directors of the Registry in the exercise of its fiduciary duties, maintain reserves for such expenses on a proportional revenue basis with respect to revenue from licensees of the Registry other than Google, (2) then, any remaining Unclaimed Funds will be paid on a proportional basis to the Registered Rightsholders until all such Rightsholders of a Book have received, in the aggregate, together with all
amounts paid to such Rightsholders under Section 4.5(a) (Obligation to Pay Revenue Share), seventy percent (70%) of the Gross Revenues received by Google for such Book, and (3) then, for any Unclaimed Funds remaining thereafter, to not-for-profit entities described in Section 510(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code chosen by the Registry after consultation with Google and, acting through the Designated Representative, the Participating Libraries and the Cooperating Libraries. The Registry shall choose not-for-profit entities described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that directly or indirectly benefit the Rightsholders and the reading public, and will include entities that advance literacy, freedom of expression, and/or education, and, for avoidance of doubt, will not include the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers or other trade organizations. “Gross Revenues” means all of the revenues received by Google from the Revenue Models identified in this Section 6.3(a) (Unclaimed Funds), and only such Revenue Models.
It is very nice that they will send the remnants to not-for-profit entities after reimbursing however much the Registry manages to spend first, maintaining a nice little reserve for Registry expenses, and then topping up the payments for the registered rightsholders. The point that several speakers made was that, using images donated by libraries that were partially underwritten by taxpayers (either as tax exempt educational private institutions or some landgrant universities were involved), Google monetized a previously near worthless resource – these out-of-print books. (Admittedly by adding value, but keep in mind that some of the value was added with money and staff assistance from the participating libraries). The attorney who commented on the issue of collusion finished his comments by quipping, “What do you call something that is not your cheese? ... Not your cheese!” Several other speakers clarified this point; they were bothered by the fact that there was no voice for the public interest in setting up what essentially puts a nice new stream of revenue in place for the Authors Guild to manage. And the Settlement gives them an incentive to spend as much as they can.

Besides this, the major points:
* The pending settlement creates a situation where it is very unlikely that a competitor to Google will create a similar digital library, leaving Google with a monopoly. Libraries have had a very bad history with monopoly pricing – Ann Wolpert from MIT gave the audience the example of the American Chemical Society, a not-for-profit organization that has a monopoly in publishing several important science journals. She said that MIT spends $3million a year for that single publisher’s subscriptions because it charges such high prices to underwrite its various organizational activities;

* Google Books, at this point is offering either by-the-item pricing or subscriptions for libraries, but has offered no firm prices for either. Dan Clancy was only willing to talk in generalities about “market pricing models,” and Ann Wolpert was very fierce in coming back at him in reply about library experiences with vendor/publisher abuses of such things. At the end of the discussion, John Palfrey made an excellent comment that Google is dropping its Google Books Project on libraries in the middle of a perfect storm for us: we have seen our budgets slashed in recent years at the same time that publishers and vendors have been raising prices well beyond the consumer price index, and our patrons are relying more heavily on us, demanding more services and databases than ever before. Palfrey called for librarians to act for once, rather than simply react, to get in front of events and shape them. He commented that librarians are becoming more important than ever and need to recognize it and take charge.

I will post more tomorrow or another day, soon! There is more. This is just such a long post already!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Government Web Sites

NextGov has a nice graphic presentation entitled "Best Practices for Government Web Sites." It focuses on five agencies--NASA, the Library of Congress, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Social Security Administration, and the Transportation Security Administration--and presents their sites, pointing out ways in which they meet the needs of their users. It gives those of us involved in Web design--as most librarians are these days--a lot of good ideas to improve our libraries' sites. The short accompanying article makes the point that the five sites highlighted are not necessarily the best federal sites out there, but all do employ "best online practices" for Web design. "They don't all make use of the latest and greatest in Web 2.0 technology or sport cutting-edge designs, and that, we've learned, can be a good thing." The sites also provide options for users who do not have access to the most up-to-date computers. What all five agency sites have in common is that they "paid careful attention to what their users wanted to see and do online." That seems like the basis of any good Web site, no matter who is responsible for it.

More on laptops in the classroom


The Chronicle Online has a free article today about how much more engaged students are when laptops and computer presentations leave the classroom. In When Computers Leave the Classroom, So Does Boredom, Jeffrey R. Young covers removal of computers from classrooms at Meadows School of Arts at SMU. He also briefly mentions an article in the British Educational Research Journal, April issue, which surveyed British undergraduates to find that students found that PowerPoint presentations were the most excruciatingly dull lectures of the 50% of the boring lectures they endured. At the SMU school of Arts, the dean removed computers from lecture halls, partly because of budget as they needed to upgraded or trashed. But then many professors found that students became more engaged in classes.

More than anything else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather than using it as a creative tool. Class time should be reserved for discussion, he contends, especially now that students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web. When students reflect on their college years later in life, they're going to remember challenging debates and talks with their professors. Lively interactions are what teaching is all about, he says, but those give-and-takes are discouraged by preset collections of slides.
Dean Bowen is not an anti-technology Luddite. He has used podcasts and videogames he helped produce to teach his students about jazz history. But he avoids PowerPoint, and he does rely on debate and class discussion to draw students into using the knowledge they just got from lecture and reading. This sounds so much like the discussions I hear from my colleagues at the law school, who want to get the students to close the laptops and talk to them. Law school is about student engagement -- it has to be, finally, more than note-taking and transcription. And the best professors realize this and push the students.

The article in the Chronicle notes that the biggest resistance to the changes comes from the students. At the undergraduate level, they are expecting lectures. They did not sign up for Socratic dialog, dammit and expect to be spoon-fed, more than law students, I imagine. But the professors manage to shift student expectations, when the students begin to realize that it's better than being bored senseless by dry lectures and death-by-PowerPoint. The article also makes a nice point that not all PowerPoint is bad... it's just over-used and often done poorly.... and used as a substitute for engaging students in dialog.

And Just for fun Here is Stop Killing Students with PowerPoint (with a cite at the end to Don McMillan's Life after Death by PowerPoint here on YouTube).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

For folks who need to find a lawyer, a new resource

LegalMatch.com is a new free web service that offers a matching service for folks who need to find a lawyer. I get these from the home page: You, as the legal consumer send information about your legal problem and location. The system will send your notes to pre-screened attorneys who practice the type of law you need, in the area you need. You will be contacted with offers from the lawyers, and can choose from the offers, knowing ahead of time what the lawyer will charge you. There is no obligation to hire a lawyer through the service. You don't disclose any personal information until you have made a decision about selecting a lawyer. You don't pay anything to the website, only after you have agreed on terms with your lawyer. And all the lawyers are in good standing with their relevant bar associations, and pre-screened by the website. Legal Match offers a consumer rating system from previous users, as well, and allows you to rate your own experience.

In addition to the lawyer-matching service, Legal Match offers what they call a "law library." This consists of short articles written in easily accessible non-legal language explaining legal concepts. There are not links to statutes or other resources on the site. But it does offer decent explanations on the links that I explored. It looks like a nice consumer resource that might be very helpful for pro se patrons and for courts that need to help lay people deal with legal matters by linking them up with lawyers. It also looks like a good way for lawyers to market their services. The site has a recommendation from the Better Business Bureau, which I liked.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sotomayor and Foreign Law

I thought the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor were a bit of an anticlimax--did we really learn anything about her that we didn't know before? As has become typical of recent confirmation hearings, the purpose seemed to be to give the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee an opportunity to grandstand and to ask questions to which they already knew the answers or to which they knew the candidate could not or would not reply. One thing that became more clear, however, was Judge Sotomayor's "cautious openness to foreign laws," as the title of an editorial in yesterday's Boston Globe put it. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, whose potential career on the federal bench ended when his nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee over concerns about racist comments he had made, "took [Sotomayor] to task for merely posing the question in [a book] introduction of 'how much we have to learn from international courts and from their male and female judges about the process of judging and the factors outside the law that influence our decisions.'" The book, The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World's Cases, was co-authored by the author of the editorial, Daniel Terris. Click here for a video from the Carnegie Council on the subject of the book featuring two of the co-authors and Judge Stephen Schwebel. Critics of Sotomayor and other judges who believe it is prudent to look to the courts of other countries for insights about judging and about international legal issues, allege that such an approach is tantamount to deferring to foreign law. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As Terris concludes, "[A] burgeoning respect for judges and courts from overseas should help further the heartening idea that the United States is not a nation unto itself, but a nation among nations, working toward justice for its own citizenry and for men and women around the globe." This respect would help to undo some of the damage to our standing in the world community caused by the policies of the Bush Administration.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Confluence: Unemployment, Underprepared Workforce

Looking at Sabrina Pacifici's BePacific.com today, I was struck by the confluence of several stories:
1.

Broad Unemployment Across the U.S.
New York Times interactive graphic: Broad Unemployment Across the U.S. - "Under a broader definition of joblessness, some states have rates higher than 20 percent. This rate includes part-time workers who want to work full time, as well some people who want to work but have not looked for a job in the last four weeks."
2.
The Ill-Prepared U.S. Workforce: Exploring the Challenges of Employer-Provided Workforce Readiness Training
"During the second quarter of 2008, The American Society for Training and Development, The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed 217 employers to examine corporate practices on training newly hired graduates at three educational levels: high school, two year college, and four-year college. The findings indicate that employers are struggling to correct for an ill-prepared workforce. While almost half of the companies surveyed provide readiness or remedial training programs for new hires, the majority report less than strong results. The low scores may be linked to the fact that the programs offered often do not match employers’ greatest needs. Employers are also unable to report how much they are spending on these programs, which makes it impossible to assess their impact on the bottom line." [Stuart Basefsky]

This actually is confirmed by local corporate groups that have pushed for higher education standards (this was before the No Child Left Behind effort). In the Boston area about eight or ten years ago, there were groups of educators and business leaders who were meeting about the problem of employers who were having to retrain their employees who did not know how to read or make change. I do not know how real or how wide-spread the problem was, and did not hear about it being a problem for employers of 4-year college grads or even 2 year associate degree holders. This was focusing on high school graduates. But to continue with Be Pacific:3.
FTC Testifies About Crackdown on Scams Tied to the Economic Downturn
News release: "The Federal Trade Commission testified before the U.S. Senate today on the agency’s campaign to crack down on scammers who are trying to take advantage of the economic downturn to push a variety of scams, such as phony job-placement and debt-reduction services, get-rich-quick schemes, and bogus government grants...In response to the rise in financial distress scams, on July 1, 2009, the Commission announced “Operation Short Change,” a joint initiative with 14 states, the Department of Justice, and other agencies that included more than 120 law enforcement actions."
Hearing - The Economy and Fraud: Protecting Consumers During Downward Economic Times - Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance: "The reality is that with the economic challenges we face, families are more vulnerable than ever to financial scams, predatory marketing practices, and economic fraud. We all see the news every day about more layoffs, plant closings, soaring prices and more cutbacks in West Virginia and across the nation. No one deserves the potential ruin these schemes threaten. We have a responsibility to uncover them and provide consumers with the tools they need to avoid becoming victims of fraud and abuse.”
So, this is the dark cycle. Underprepared workforce. Unemployment. And the unemployed seek to support themselves through preying on others and their past employers. Ugh. Keep in mind, though, that this is looking at overall trends, as opposed to micro-focus on specific job areas, like either legal jobs or library jobs. Though the joblessness ripples through the economy... It does not immediately impact your sector.

If you follow the link to read the depressing Underprepared Workforce Findings report, you will discover some actual, helpful comments. Apparently, the interviewed companies wanted employees with more critical thinking skills. Here is a detailed list from North Central Regional Laboratory of Learning Point Associates (a K-12 consultant group) of Macro and Micro skills to be taught in critical thinking skills. It's a very interesting list from a law school point of view, actually. There are 35 items, ranging in 3 major groups, under

Affective strategies (fairmindedness, independence, intellectual courage and perseverance, self-confidence in reason, for example);

Cognitive Strategies - Macro Skills (refining generalizations while avoiding oversimplification, developing analogies, transferring insights to new situations, reading/listening critically, Socratic dialog, for example;

Cognitive Strategies - Micro Skills (thinking precisely about thinking, using critical vocabulary, distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts, evaluating evidence and alleged facts, recognizing contradictions, for example.

There are lots more items; it's worth a long look. The other important point for young job seekers is that the employers are seeing young, inexperienced workers coming into the workforce competing against older workers who are not retiring. Workplace readiness training could possibly assist such young employees by filing the gap in their preparation. While many programs are un-even in their results, some have had some success.
Successful companies provide workforce readiness training within an overall company culture committed to training and to employees thoroughly screened for their job readiness. They design strategic partnerships with local colleges and focus on integrating workforce readiness training with both job-specific skills and career development training. Finally, companies that report success in their training programs were constantly re-evaluating them to align their content with current and future company needs.
Improving Workforce Readiness— What Business Can Do
These steps are not the only ones business can take. If business wants a better prepared workforce, it needs to:
• Communicate to the public at large that new workers must come prepared with both basic and applied skills.
• Participate with educators on developing workforce readiness skills through mentoring, internships, and other learning opportunities.
• Adopt better internal tracking of training costs and quality to document the cost of poorly prepared new workforce entrants.
• Encourage focused spending of corporate philanthropic funds on workforce readiness.
• Use its corporate voice to focus public policy discussion on the need to link k-12 education, technical schools and college education with workforce readiness skills so that our education and workforce systems prepare young people to complete post secondary education and make successful transitions to career path employment.
Libraries, for instance, need to implement internships, and track the results of the processes to improve their training methods. We need to work with our nearby library schools to assist in training our future employees. While I don't imagine I have the oomph to move philanthropic dollars into training librarians and lawyers for workforce readiness, I certainly can join wider organizations' efforts.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And, Heeeere's the Bar Exam!


Well, it's too late already for the helpful hints of yesteryear about prepping early for the bar, and pacing yourself and all that crap. Ooops. I mean, helpful information.

It's either here, or looming on the horizon. Check here, at the National Conference of Bar Examiners for your favorite state bar exam date to see if OOPS! you missed it.

So, what's left to tell you?

Don't stress out!

Don't Panic! Oh, let me say it nicer: don't panic, dear.

I've been writing about the bar exam for some years, and patting hands for far longer. I took the bar in 1981 (geez, has it been that long?!), and the trauma still seems fresh. Here is my cynical point of view from a 2006 post here at OOTJ:

While the California bar is notoriously difficult, it is clear that bar examiners nationwide have been raising the bar. Meanwhile law schools play the blame game -- "Oh, gee, we shouldn't be taking students with LSATs below XX! The students with lower scores just cannot compete."

"We should be tougher in our grading; our bar passage rates look bad, and it's not fair to take the students' money when they have no hope of passing the bar after paying us all that tuition."


"Our students need to practice more on
(a) writing; it builds analytical skills and is essential to essay writing and bar passage (and oh yeah, as well as being a good lawyer);

(b) multiple choice exams; our students need to practice these for the multi-state portion of the exam (not that it affects lawyering, but what the heck);

(c) skills; more and more bar exams are including a skills portion where the hapless students have to draft a memo or contract or do some other lawyerly activity under fire."

Actually all those things are true; they will help students pass the bar exam, as will adding courses that give at-risk students academic support. You can also give some bar preparation during law school, just as long as the law school experience does not turn into a bar prep course itself.

However, all this hand-wringing over bar-passage rates really gets to me. Can we keep in mind that the bar exams, while sold as a remedy and preventative for poor lawyering, is largely a guild? Its main purpose is preventing too many lawyers from entering the field and diluting the market value of the degree. I hate to be so crass about it, but that is essentially what this is about. The bar examiners set a percentage that they will allow to pass. You are above or below that cut. Boom. That's it for that exam period. Does that have anything at all to do with quality of lawyering, skill in representing clients or ethics? It has some, but not as much as we would like to think. And in the law schools, we would like to think it's all the students' fault; they are already carrying all the burden on this one, folks! Let's at least be honest with ourselves about what is going on.
I don't want to bum you out if you are facing the bar. But be honest with yourself. You are either above or below the cut off line. The exam is not really measuring your quality as a barrister. So don't beat yourself up over the exam. Drill on the exam prep materials regularly. Take the preparation seriously so that you are in the percentage that is above the X% that the bar examiners, in their wisdom, decide is the cut-off this year. So you don't have to live through this again.

BUT, if, for whatever reason, you don't make the cut-off this test. Do NOT call yourself bad things. This is a simple, mechanical process that is about nothing but protecting the business interests of those already in the bar association. It does not make a judgement about you as a potential lawyer, or you as a law student. Do not link your sense of self worth to your passage of the bar exam. It says nothing about you as a person, as a potential lawyer or as a law student.

Manage your thoughts and attitudes. When you start to think "I must..." or "I have to ...," stop right there. Examine the thought for some underlying irrational thought. If you "must" or "have to" do something, what will happen if you don't? Probably NOTHING at all! How you talk to yourself about goals has a powerful effect and can interfere with your progress and drain your energy. Watch those "must" statements!

Manage your time. It's too late for a lot of things, but you can still manage your time to schedule studying. Don't skip or skimp on it. But also allow time to exercise and laugh a little every day... I believe that some folks miss passing the bar just from being wound too tightly. Try to schedule some exercise, some laugh time and lots of studying into every day.

When the exam is over, don't agonize about it. It's over, and worrying about it won't do you any good. Drop it and have a good time. You've done enough agonizing already.

Job Search Tips from a Recruiter - Boston Globe


The Boston Globe today offers a nice set of 8 tips for online job hunting here. It's a helpful little list, with sound advice including being careful with your e-mail address (don't use hotmama@yahoo.com!), scanning your social network sites BEFORE putting your resume out (remove all those wonderful pictures of you partying with friends), but also some that maybe won't have occurred to folks, like naming your online resume folder carefully (don't name it draft or with an older date!). Also, apply to older postings, which may not have been filled. Take a look at the article if you are in the job market!

Here are some earlier OOTJ posts on job hunting both for law grads and for librarians:

When the Going Gets Tough (mostly law students, but some tips for librarians, too)

Negotiating a Tough Job Market (law students)

Interview Tips (librarians)

Job Search Tips for Law Librarians

More on Job Tips (librarians)

Why Do Librarians Eat Their Young? It's metaphoric -- I swear!

And finally, only loosely connected -- I hope!

Help for Stress & Depression AND

Send your brain on a spa day!

I illustrate this post with an early photograph of Otto Lilienthal (1848 - 1896), a German pioneer of flight. I think it is a poignant image of what it feels like trying to launch your career, and I hope you enjoy the post & the illustration. If you would like to know more about the intrepid Lilienthal, see here, www.flyingmachines.org/lilthl.html.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Google vs. Microsoft?


I ALWAYS read Hiawatha Bray in the Boston Globe, so today's column about the new tangle between Google and Microsoft, "Heavyweights Trading Punches in Digital Faceoff," caught my eye.

The two most powerful companies in digital technology are openly invading each other’s most lucrative markets: the office productivity software and computer operating systems Microsoft makes, and Internet search, which Google dominates.

Last week, Google declared an end to “beta,’’ or test status, for its online office software, Google Apps, as part of a new effort to sell the service to corporate users. Then the company said it’s building Chrome OS, a full-fledged operating system for personal computers that will compete with Microsoft Windows. It’s due next year.

Office software and operating systems happen to be Microsoft’s two core businesses, generating most of its $60 billion in revenue and $22 billion in profit in 2008. (snip)

Meanwhile, Microsoft has stepped up its efforts in Internet search. In June, Microsoft unveiled Bing, an upgrade of its Live Search service that has won strong reviews from analysts and consumers.

According to Hitwise, an Internet company that tracks website visits, Bing’s popularity grew steadily through June, even after the first buzz of publicity for the site began to fade. Still, Bing attracted just over 5 percent of US Internet searches, compared to Google’s 74 percent.

Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of consultant website Searchengineland.com in Newport Beach, Calif., said Microsoft is on the right track with Bing, despite Google’s immense lead. “I think it’s important that Microsoft has been challenging them,’’ he said. “They see that there’s a lot of money to be made there, and they feel they should get a slice of it.’’
But for once, I found that the last word really belongs to somebody else. While Hiawatha Bray does a nice job of looking at the two companies trading business punches, his analysis really doesn't go much of anywhere. And that's a bit unusual, actually. The New York Times contributor who wrote the excellent column here, Robert Cringely, takes a longer view.
This is all heady stuff and good for lots of press, but in the end none of this is likely to make a real difference for either company or, indeed, for consumers. It’s just noise — a form of mutually assured destruction intended to keep each company in check.

Microsoft makes most of its money from two products, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. Nearly everything else it makes loses money, sometimes deliberately. Google makes most of its money from selling Internet ads next to search results. Nearly everything else it does loses money, too.

Neither company really cares because both make so much from their core products that it simply doesn’t matter. But companies, like people, strive and dream and in this case both dream, at least sometimes, of destroying the other. Only they can’t — or won’t — do it in the end, because it is against the interests of either company to do so.
The vast majority of Google searches are, of course, done on PCs running Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer. It is not in Google’s real interest to displace these products, which have facilitated so much of its success. Chrome products are given away, so they bring in no revenue for Google, and they don’t even provide a better search or advertising experience for their users, the company admits. So why does Google even bother?

To keep Microsoft on its toes.

What Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, has to fear more than anything else is that he’ll awake one day to learn that the Google search engine suddenly doesn’t work on any Windows computers: something happened overnight and what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. It would have to be an act of deliberate sabotage on Microsoft’s part and blatantly illegal, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Microsoft would claim ignorance and innocence and take days, weeks or months to reverse the effect, during which time Google would have lost billions.

So Google Chrome and Chrome OS and Android are all intended to keep Microsoft on the defensive and less likely to push its own Big Red Button.

This makes even more sense given the recent advent of Microsoft’s Bing search technology, which performs precisely the same competitive control function against Google. Bing hasn’t a hope of toppling Google as the premier search engine and Microsoft knows it. To date, Bing’s success has actually been at the expense of Google’s competitors, not Google itself.

But thanks to Microsoft’s deep pockets and fierce screwball reputation, Bing has already accomplished its main purpose: reminding Google executives who they’re messing with.

It’s not as if these companies are gearing up to produce automobiles. The engineering teams for any of these products are, at most, 20 to 30 people — immaterial for Microsoft, which has 90,000 or so employees, and Google, which has 20,000. Nor are all of Google’s products even guaranteed to ship, being as they are in that semi-solid technical state called beta test and subject to cancellation on a whim.

Yes, Google would love to get a toehold in the netbook and smart-phone markets, especially at Microsoft’s expense. The Chrome OS and Android are both ideal for pushing Google’s net-centric view of computing. But the company worries far more about protecting its current cash cow — search — and says as much when it is unwilling to claim that Android and the Chrome OS will be better for Web-based applications than the platforms they are intended to supplant, which is nominally Windows. (snip)

Some company with a new idea and no legacy products to defend will eventually arise to clean Microsoft’s clock. Or maybe Microsoft’s market will simply disappear as PC’s are subsumed into cars and mobile phones, possibly leaving Windows behind in the process. Whatever happens, it won’t be Google’s doing because Google is too busy defending its own turf to seriously encroach on Microsoft’s.

And don’t forget Apple, which with the iPod and iPhone has shown an ability to revolutionize markets other companies saw as mature. Microsoft and Google have yet to do something like that.

I wish they would. I wish these companies had more guts, that either would make a true bet-the-company investment in changing the world, but they won’t. Google engineers are allowed to spend 20 percent of their time on new ideas — yet of those thousands of ideas, the company can really invest in only a dozen per year, leading to dissatisfaction and defections as the best nerds leave to pursue their dreams.

Maybe they’ll leave for the startup that finally topples Microsoft ... or Google. But until then these companies will posture, spend a little money on research and development, and keep each other in check, while reporters and publications pretend that it matters.
The decoration is from the Boston Globe article.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Academic Women Suffer When They Have More Than 2 Children

The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 10, 2009, has a poignant article in the Workplace section, B16-19 (in print) titled, "Is Having More than 2 Children an Unspoken Taboo?" by Robin Wilson. Interviewing women in many different academic fields (but not librarians), Wilson finds

...a very small number of academic women with three, four, or more children. In academe, where having even one child can slow down success, trying to manage multiple kids can be a career-stopper.

Women with many children are seen by their peers and supervisors as less than serious about their work in a profession that often expects nothing short of complete devotion. Even administrators who consider themselves supportive of female professors with children may question the wisdom of those with more than one or two. (snip)

Managing both a career and several children can be a challenge for any professional woman. In academe the prospect seems particularly perilous. True, an academic career can be flexible -- at least after tenure. But the dozen or so arduous years spent earning an PH.D. and building a career makes academe one of the less friendly professions for women with children, say researchers who study the issue. (snip)

In a 2006-7 study of 8.400 graduate students on nine University of California campuses, only 29 percent of the women and 46 percent of the men said they considered research universities to be family-friendly places for tenure-tack professors to work.

Meanwhile, a national study of about 5,000 professors in chemistry and English, completed by researchers at Pennsylvania State University in 2002, found that female professors had an average of only .66 kids each. The average American woman by comparison, has about two children.

Yet another study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the university of Utah, found that academic women were 27 percent less likely than doctors and 17 percent less likely than lawyers to have babies. It also found that male professors fathered fewer children than their male counterparts in those other professions. (snip)

Academic women, meanwhile, are well aware of the harm that having children can do to their professional lives. In the national study of English and chemistry professors, 26 percent of women — double the proportion of men — said they had fewer children than they would have liked in order to achieve academic success. "The cultural line in academe is that one child is acceptable, maybe two, but three are not," says Marc Goulden, a Berkeley researcher who has completed several studies on academic women and children.

Julianna Baggott knows full well that the third child is often considered the third rail of academe. That's why, when she is asked how it feels to be a professor with five children, she has one word: "subversive." Ms. Baggott's husband stays home to watch the kids, but that hasn't made her feel any more comfortable about her large brood. She displays no photos of her children in her office in Florida State University's English department, and she never tells colleagues that she can't make a meeting because of the children, who range in age from 14 to 2. "I just say, 'I'm sorry, I have a conflict,'" she says.

"Academia assumes that a woman, once she has kids, is not going to be able to maintain her career at the same level," says Ms. Baggott, an associate professor. She just earned tenure and has written 14 books, including six for children. "I'm a workaholic," she says during a cellphone interview between stops on a West Coast tour for one of her latest books, The Prince of Fenway Park (HarperCollins, 2009).

Some women say it is academe's focus on the mind, not the body, that makes being a pregnant professor — or one with kids — so unusual and unwelcome.

"In academia, the mind/body split is operative," says Nicole Cooley, an associate professor of English at the City University of New York's Queens College and a contributor to Mama Ph.D.: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life (Rutgers University Press, 2008). "Academia's grounding in the clerical tradition means that a lot of your identity is your intellectual work, and you don't sully yourself with domestic arrangements and bodily things."

Andrea O'Reilly directs the Association for Research on Mothering at York University, in Canada, where she is an associate professor of women's studies. The idea that mind and body don't mix in academe is more than theoretical, says Ms. O'Reilly, who has interviewed 60 academic women with children. "Academia is a very competitive environment. You're supposed to be this cutthroat go-getter, and your work is your life. You're not supposed to be encumbered."

Women with several children say colleagues and supervisors alike are not shy about sharing their scorn over the women's ├╝ber-fertility. Two years ago, when April Hill, an associate professor of biology at the University of Richmond, had her third child at age 38, one administrator remarked, "Aren't you a bit old for that?"

Elisabeth R. Gruner, an associate professor of English at Richmond who contributed an essay to Mama Ph.D., says: "There is a distaste that you'd want to spend a lot of time with little kids — an idea that you may not be very smart."

Saranna R. Thornton, who heads the economics department at Hampden-Sydney College, was at a picnic with faculty and staff members nine years ago when she shared the good news that she was expecting her fourth child. A senior administrator looked at her and asked, "Don't you know what causes that?" Ms. Thornton even got quizzical looks from close friends and colleagues, who asked her why she was having another child. (The short answer, for Ms. Thornton and several other women who spoke to The Chronicle: They simply really enjoy children, sometimes much to their own surprise.)

Georgia Frank, an associate professor of religion at Colgate University, says she senses an attitude from some in academe that anyone who has more than two children has surpassed an invisible quota. "There is something greedy about going for just one more," says Ms. Frank, whose own children are 15, 12, and 7.
There is a lot more to this article, including some fascinating pointers on how the successful women have made it work. On the other hand there is one heartbreaking story of a young woman who had to throw her career away on the verge of tenure when she accidentally became pregnant with her sixth child -- she knew she could not balance that and manage the career as well. The women interviewed often acknowledge the stress of balancing work and home, as well as the joys of their children. One woman, who chairs the English department while nurturing her three children, aged 10 - 17, does not want to give her young women students the misimpression that, "You can do this, no problem." She suffers from three autoimmune diseases, and has had marital problems at times. She is quoted in the article: "I don't want to send the message to young women that there aren't costs and there aren't risks." But I think they also want to convey hope, along with their warnings. It's a very poignant article, and one that should make women angry.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Time to put our money where our mouth is!


Lt. Dan Choi, was dismissed from the Army...

"After 10 years of service to our country - including leading combat patrols, rebuilding schools and translating Arabic in Iraq for 15 months - the Federal Recognition Board issued its recommendation on Tuesday that I be discharged from the Army for 'moral and professional dereliction' under the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy," he wrote.
According to a Washington Post story dated July 2, 2009, while Dan is conducting an online petition gathering signatures for President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to ask them for reinstatement and abolishment of the "Dont Ask - Don't Tell" policy that was adopted under President Bill Clinton,
groups such as the Center for Military Readiness say assertions that the policy hurts national security are bogus, and more than 1,100 retired flag and general officers for the military have lobbied Mr. Obama and Congress to stop any attempts at allowing gays to serve openly.

On Monday, Mr. Obama addressed 300 gays and lesbians at the White House, saying he understands their frustration with the lag in fulfilling gay rights campaign promises.

Evan Low, the Campbell, Calif., vice mayor, was in attendance Monday. He said he had been worried Mr. Obama was "backpedaling" on his promises, but welcomed Mr. Gates' remarks on "don't ask, don't tell."

{snip) The Pentagon signaled it was aiming for a temporary fix to"don't ask, don't tell" before President Obama fulfills his promise to repeal the policy, as an Arabic translator was dismissed from the Army Wednesday for being openly gay.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department earned praise from gay rights groups for avoiding the pursuit of a transgender discrimination case.

Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic translator who has been the public face for advocates who want to see "don't ask, don't tell" overturned, was recommended to be discharged Wednesday under the policy banning gays fromserving openly in the military. It must be approved by the Army before it is final.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters this week the Pentagon is looking for a "more humane way to apply the law until the law gets changed."

Also Wednesday, the Justice Department did not appeal a ruling upholding a transgender discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress.

Diane Schroer, an Army Special Forces veteran of 25 years, had been awarded the maximum allowed compensation by a D.C. district court after suing for discrimination because the Library of Congress had rescinded a job offerafter she revealed she would be undergoing a sex-change operation. An official had told her she wasn't a "good fit" after learning about the pending surgery.

Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the solicitor general decided not to appeal the district court's ruling based on the facts and legal arguments.
If you want to sign Dan Choi's petition, GO HERE.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Preserving Guatanamo's Records


A dedicated law professor, librarian, and attorney are working together to create the Guatanamo Bay Detention Center archive, which will be a "repository of the records and first-person accounts of hundreds of defense lawyers who have worked on detainee cases." The story is reported in the July 10 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The individuals involved are Mark P. Denbeaux, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law and director of its Center for Policy and Research, which put out an important series of reports on Guatanamo; Michael Nash, director of New York University's Tamiment Library, known for its collections on labor, politics, and public policy; and Jonathan Hafetz, who is a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project and an adjunct professor at Seton Hall. Both Denbeaux and Hafetz have represented Guatanamo detainees. The archive will be housed at Seton Hall and at the Tamiment Library, according to a recent press release. The project is the brain child of Denbeaux, who marched at Selma in 1965 and now regrets the "'million details' that went unrecorded." He wants to make sure the same thing does not happen with Guatanamo. Because all of the detainees will probably not have public trials, "the archive may turn out to be one of the few public sources of information about what really happened at Guatanamo."

As a librarian interested in the preservation of digital information, I was interested to learn that the Guatanamo archive is likely to be "one of the first collections to make its debut under a digital-archiving project called Web-at-Risk: Preserving Our National's Cultural Heritage," which is fully described here. The Chronicle article describes librarians' role in digital preservation projects, and concludes that good institutional partners are a must if a large-scale project like the Guatanamo archive is to be done successfully.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Boston Public Library and Google Books Project




presents

Expanding Access to Books:
Implications of the Google Books Settlement Agreement


We'd like to invite you to the Boston Public Library for an informative panel about Google's efforts to make books more accessible, and explore what the Google Books settlement agreement means for the academic, library, and business communities.

Speakers:
Daniel Clancy, Engineering Director, Google Books
John Palfrey, Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources, Harvard Law School
Ann Wolpert, Director of Libraries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Hal Abelson, Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Moderated by Maura Marx, Executive Director, Open Knowledge Commons,

What:
Google Book Search is an ambitious project to digitize the world's books. Six years, many million works, and two U.S. lawsuits later, the project is now set to change dramatically. Google has reached a settlement agreement with authors and publishers that, if approved by the court, will have sweeping implications for writers, readers, scholars, librarians, and the public at large.

Join Boston Public Library and our panel of speakers for an explanation and discussion of the settlement. In addition to engaging with one another to dig deeply into the agreement's impact, the panel will have an open Q&A with attendees.

Where:
Boston Public Library
Rabb Lectcure Hall
700 Boylston Street, Copley Square
Boston, MA 02116

When:
Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
6:00 pm

Click here to RSVP. Seating is first come, first served, and not guaranteed so please arrive early!


Michael R. Colford
Regional Administrator
Boston Regional Library System
700 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
617.859.2389 (voice)
617.424.8617 (fax)
mcolford@bpl.org
I don't know how self-serving this will be, but it sounds interesting. John Palfrey has been a good critic of the Project. and, considering the population of Boston, it could be a very combative discussion. We'll see if any tea gets dumped into the harbor this time.

A Ghost Story for Librarians


My husband, also a librarian and a voracious reader, recently introduced me to M.R. James, a Victorian writer known for his elegant ghost stories. His work, in my husband's words, is "not big on fright, but remains treasured for its rich evocation of atmosphere. Even now, in the short story 'The Tractate Middoth,' one feels a chill of recognition with the disappearing book, the musty smell, the difficult patron. ... [L]ibrarians are not uncommon fixtures in stories of the supernatural. Perhaps the most famous literary representative of our profession was Mr. Jonathan Harker, who made the ill-advised career move to organize the library of Count Dracula." I hope you'll enjoy this story as much as I did.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Book Reviews--We Need More of Them

Sanford Levinson has a wonderful article in the May 2009 Texas Law Review, "The Vanishing Book Review in Student-Edited Law Reviews and Potential Responses." What he does not mention in his excellent article is how much a librarian like myself relies upon book reviews for collection development and reference. A good review compares a book to others in the field and points out its strengths and weaknesses. The New York Law Journal's book reviews have helped me develop reference skills. I would like more reviews of practice books, something Levinson does not mention. I don't like relying on publishers' blurbs. Law reviews from the 1950s and 1960s evaluated practice books. Those articles are so valuable. I have used them to help me weed collections. I need reviews on current publications.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Distraction and Attention

I am still catching up on my reading after being on vacation. Last night, I read an article in the May 25 issue of New York magazine by Sam Anderson entitled "In Defense of Distraction." Anderson launches the article with a discussion of multitasking and its effects on attention. As a teacher, I have questioned students' claims that they can multitask without any ill effects on their academic performance, and so I was interested to get Anderson's take on the larger issue.

Many commentators have pointed to an attention "crisis" which is "chewing its hyperactive way through the very foundations of Western civilization. Google is making us stupid, multitasking is draining our souls, and the 'dumbest generation' is leading us into a 'dark age' of bookless 'power browsing.'" Anderson calls this alarmism "silly," pointing out that critics have always complained about new technology and that we can't put the toothpaste into the tube--"our jobs depend on connectivity." For Anderson, the question is how we as a society can adapt to the flood of information and distractions to which we are exposed every day. Anderson consulted one of the world's experts on multitasking, David Meyer, of the University of Michigan's Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory. Meyer did not offer any words of encouragement; in fact, he is extremely pessimistic. "He sees our distraction as a full-blown epidemic--a cognitive plague that has the potential to wipe out an entire generation of focused and productive thought." His own life has been "negatively affected by the new world order of multitasking and distraction." Meyer and other researchers have proven that multitasking is a "myth. When you think you're doing two things at once, you're almost always just switching rapidly between them, leaking a little mental efficiency with every switch." The brain "processes different kinds of information on a variety of separate 'channels' ... each of which can process only one stream of information at a time." Meyer concedes that multitasking can work efficiently when "multiple simple tasks operate on entirely separate channels," which is a fairly rare occurrence. The more common scenario is constant distractions--some self-imposed--each of which costs us about twenty-five minutes of productivity.

Anderson also interviewed Winifred Gallagher, a behavioral science writer and cancer survivor, who wrote Rapt, a recent book about the "power of attention." Gallagher believes that attention is "'not just a latent abiity, it was something you could marshal and use as a tool.'" The best tool for marshalling attention is meditation, which can "make your attention less 'sticky,' able to notice images flashing by in such quick succession that regular brains would miss them." Because attention is a finite resource, "our moment-by-moment choice of attentional targets determines ... the shape of our lives." We have to make choices about how we spend our attention, which is not easy to do in a world full of distractions. Some have called for the use of "neuro-enhancers," while others have joined the "grassroots Internet movement known as 'lifehacking,'" which "seeks to help you allocate your attention efficiently." Some of the techniques seem pretty obvious to me, while others are rather ingenious; some are very low tech, and others are very cutting edge.

Anderson finally concludes that "focus is a paradox--it has distraction built into it. The two are symbiotic ... We need both. In their extreme forms, focus and attention may even circle back around and bleed into one other." The article ends on a hopeful note: "As we become more skilled at the 21st-century task Meyer calls 'flitting,' the wiring of the brain will inevitably change to deal more efficiently with more information. ... [T]he human brain might be changing faster today than it has since the prehistoric discovery of tools. Research suggests we're already picking up new skills: better peripheral vision, the abiity to sift information rapidly. ... Kids growing up now might have an associative genius we don't--a sense of the way ten projects all dovetail into something totally new." Anderson's article is a fascinating and entertaining read.

New Delhi High Court Decriminalizes Gay Sexuality


The New York Times reported yesterday that New Delhi's High Court overturned a colonial law from 1861 criminalizing homosexual behavior. Before that time, Indian law did not apparently address same sex behavior.

“The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognizing a role in society for everyone,” judges of the Delhi High Court wrote in a 105-page decision, India’s first to directly address rights for gay men and lesbians. “Those perceived by the majority as ‘deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracized,” the decision said.

Homosexuality has been illegal in India since 1861, when British rulers codified a law prohibiting “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.” The law, known as Section 377 of India’s penal code, has long been viewed as an archaic holdover from colonialism by its detractors. (snip)

Britain legalized homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967, but many of its former colonies, including Singapore, Zimbabwe and Malaysia, still retain strict laws against same-sex relations.

India’s society is generally unwelcoming of homosexuality except in the most cosmopolitan circles. It is not uncommon for gay men and women to marry heterosexuals and have families, while carrying on secret relationships with members of the same sex.

In their decision, Chief Justice A. P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar declared Section 377, as it pertains to consensual sex among people above the age of 18, in violation of important parts of India’s Constitution. “Consensual sex amongst adults is legal, which includes even gay sex and sex among the same sexes,” they said.

The old law violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees all people “equality before the law;” Article 15, which prohibits discrimination “on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth;” and Article 21, which guarantees “protection of life and personal liberty,” the judges said.

Acceptance of homosexuality has thawed somewhat in recent years in some urban areas. Gay pride parades in Indian cities last weekend attracted thousands of marchers, and several recent Bollywood movies, like “Dostana,” have included gay themes and characters, often played by Bollywood’s biggest heterosexual stars.

Still, the decision was condemned from many corners in India. “This is wrong,” said Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, a vice chancellor of Dar ul-Uloom, the main university for Islamic education in India. The decision to bring Western culture to India, he said, will “corrupt Indian boys and girls.”

The High Court’s decision should be overturned, said Murli Manohar Joshi, the leader of the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. “The High Court cannot decide all things,” he said.

The ruling comes after a decade-long, broad-based campaign organized by gay rights advocates, authors, celebrities, lawyers and AIDS awareness groups from around the world. India has one of the world’s largest populations of people with AIDS, and Section 377 was viewed by many advocates as a hurdle to education about safer sex.

Now that the High Court has ruled against Section 377, some say the next step is a change in the way that society views gay people.

“The real problem is still the stigma attached,” especially outside big cities, said Ritu Dalmia, one of India’s best-known chefs, who lives with her girlfriend in New Delhi.

Change particularly needs to happen in rural India, she said in an e-mail message Thursday afternoon. “I have met women who were forced to sleep with men so that they could be ‘cured’ of homosexuality,” she said.

“Today is a historical moment where at least some tiny steps have been taken, but there is still a very, very long road ahead,” she said.

Rare New Copy of the Declaration of Independence

Just in time for Independence Day, British researchers say they have found and verified a rare original copy of the American Declaration of Independence. It appears to be from the first printing, the Dunlap printing, which may only have numbered 200 or so, to be distributed to the leaders of the time for reading to the public. The Associated Press note is pretty short, but you can read it here. Happy Fourth!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The High Cost of Debt

I found Betsy's blog post earlier today on the new rules for student loans to be particularly timely given an article in the New York Times about one would-be lawyer in New York State who has been barred from practicing law because of an unusually large amount of student debt and penalties--over $400,000. The subject of the article, Robert Bowman, has had a string of bad luck, to say the least. He was in foster care as a child, survived a devastating accident after which he spent nearly six years in rehabilitation, and then had another accident while swimming. Nonetheless, he graduated from college and law school and earned an LL.M. He passed the New York State bar exam on the fourth try, and the Character and Fitness Committee, which "interviewed Mr. Bowman, studied his history and the debt he had amassed, and called his persistence remarkable," ultimately "recommended his approval." Despite this positive recommendation, "a group of five state appellate judges decided this spring that his student loans were too big and his efforts to repay them too meager for him to be a lawyer."

The Times points out that "New York's courts have overlooked misconduct like lawyers' solicitation of minors for sex, efforts to deceive judges and possession of cocaine," offenses that "have led merely to temporary suspensions from practice." The article quotes Professor Deborah L. Rhode, an expert on legal ethics. According to Professor Rhode, "'It usually takes a pretty significant record of some underlying misconduct to keep you out permanently' ... Excluding someone for having too much debt was odd, she said; the hard questions about loans usually involve applicants who have used bankruptcy to try to escape loans, she said, and Mr. Bowman has not." Unfortunately, Mr. Bowman has never repaid any of his debt, which seems to be the sticking point for the judges who denied him entry to the bar. He vows to fight to become a lawyer, however, and is planning a lawsuit against his lender. Mr. Bowman's situation is troubling given the number of law students who are graduating today having amassed large amounts of debt.

New Student Loan Rules as of July 1!

As of July 1, students with loans have new and better rates for repayment. And students who need to get loans have better deals and rates. Visit Studentaid.ed.gov to see lots of helpful information.

Repayment plans includes several plans:

1. A standard plan where you pay back in 10 years, which can reduce the amount of interest you pay;

2. An extended plan where you can take up to 25 years to repay in smaller monthly payments (but you must meet certain qualifying standards);

3. Graduated payments where your payments start small, but get bigger as you *hopefully* earn more money after being in the workforce for a longer time;

4. Income-based repayment. This is the big change that became available July 1.

a) If you are a government employee, or work for a not-for-profit employer, you can pay off your loan with income-based payments, after 10 years or 120 payments based on your income;

b) If you make less than certain amounts, depending on the size of your family, and meet other qualifying tests, you may qualify for income-based repayment regardless of the type of employment you have, under the 25 year plan. After 25 years of reduced payments, the remainder of your loan is considered as taxable income.

The types of loans eligible:

Any Stafford, Grad PLUS or Consolidation loan made under either the Direct Loan or FFEL program is eligible for repayment under IBR, EXCEPT loans that are currently in default, parent PLUS Loans, or consolidation loans that repaid a parent PLUS Loan. The loans can be new or old, and for any type of education (undergraduate, graduate, professional, job training).
Consolodating your loans will get you greatly reduced interest rates now, too! Be sure to check out the new reduced interest rates both for new loans and for existing loans. They are the lowest they have ever been! For pre-existing loans not in default, interest rates can be as low as 1.88%! There are lots of other helpful information at the website so go and visit and explore.