August 31, 2005
Bar/Bri Sued Again--Brewer v. West Publishing
Brewer v. West Publishing Co., No. 05-06211 (C.D. Cal. complaint filed Aug. 24, 2005). A second class-action antitrust lawsuit has been filed against Bar/Bri (the first was the Rodriguez case). The basic storyline tracks the Rodriguez complaint, but some tidbits alleged in the complaint (some of which also overlap the Rodriguez complaint) as evidence of antitrust violations:
* Bar/Bri bought out a NY competitor (Marino Bar Review)
* Bar/Bri uses non-compete agreements with its teachers
* Bar/Bri has a practice of tearing down flyers for competing programs (this one seemed particularly shaky)
* Bar/Bri pays off law school administrators to control physical access and prevent competitors from getting physical access
* Bar/Bri uses ABA-branded "scholarships" to price discriminate in favor of students who are considering competitors
* Bar/Bri shut down competition in Louisana, and the price increased accordingly
Thanks to En Passant for catching this.
UPDATE: Anayat Durrani of LawCrossing.com gives an update on the initial lawsuit.
Blogging Class...During Class?
Lydia Loren reminds her Cyberlaw students during the first class to sign up for an account on her blog. What happens? Students sign up right then and there--during class! (She knows because the account sign-ups are time-stamped). She wonders about the future: "Will my students be blogging my class during class?"
I think we all know the answer. Students engage in the full range of human activities during class--they sleep, they eat, they talk to others (especially over IM, although back in my day we used to pass notes), they play (especially computer games, although I was a crossword puzzle kind of guy myself), they flirt (not aware of that going further in class, although with cybersex, who knows?), they take care of administrative errands (in Lydia's case, signing up for accounts) and, yes, they probably even blog on all of the foregoing during class.
Frankly, of all of the foregoing activities, I think blogging about the class during class would be most consistent with my pedagogical goals. I'm happy any time a student does something a little extra with class-related material. But, no question, I'd also prefer if students could defer the blogging until after class. Personally, I've tried blogging on conferences real-time and I simply can't do it--I can't split my brain that way. Maybe my students are more skilled than I am, but if not, classroom-learning and blogging may be a zero sum game where one task wins at the other's expense.
Lydia's post is also a reminder that our activities in cyberspace leave data trails that others can notice and observe. In particular, this may be a reminder to students that we as professors are developing new ways to monitor your behavior. Personally, I'd love a to have digital avatar that could automatically detect a student engaging in an IM chat and insert a picture of my smiling face in the conversation saying "Hi! You might want to chat later. You've got some classroom learning to do first!" (Some of you may recall that the RIAA did something similar with P2P file sharers).
August 30, 2005
eBay / Shopping.com Merger Closes
The eBay/Shopping.com merger has closed. Congratulations to all involved. In honor of the merger, I wore my original eBay-logoed T-shirt from 1999 during Dina's birth. (In the old days, I had worn an Epinions shirt during Jacob's birth).
August 28, 2005
The Goldman Family Welcomes Baby Dina
Lisa, Eric and Jacob are pleased to welcome a baby girl to our family:
Dina Rebecca Goldman
Born August 28, 2005, 4 pm
Columbia St. Mary's Hospital, Milwaukee, WI
7 lbs, 4 oz // 19 inches
Everyone is healthy and very happy! Dina looks very much like her brother did when he was born, except that she has a little less hair that's slightly lighter in color.
Photos from the first day (click to see larger version)
August 27, 2005
Are All Law Professors Democrats?
The NYT runs a story about a forthcoming Georgetown Law Journal article assessing political contributions from law professors at 21 highly-ranked law schools. The findings:
* 1/3 of these professors gave to political campaigns
* "81 percent who contributed $200 or more gave wholly or mostly to Democrats; 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans"
* at the top 3 schools, the numbers were even more extremely skewed to Democrats: "91 percent at Harvard, 92 at Yale, 94 at Stanford"
* in a stat that surely throws doubt on the entire project, "University of Chicago is slightly more liberal than Berkeley"
What's going on here? Is all of legal academia filled with bleeding-hearts? I haven't read the full paper, but some obvious limits to the conclusions that can be drawn from the study (based on the NYT recap):
* sample size. The NYT references this obliquely, but I wonder how many people met the $200 threshold at each school
* criteria. By focusing on political giving, this may measure only people who have either deeply-held beliefs or money to burn, not the "average" faculty member
* sample pool. There are about 190 law schools in the country. Focusing on only top-ranked schools provides only limited insights into the entire pool of law professors generally
* misnomers. It's probably a mistake (or, at least, a gross generalization) to equal "Democrats" with "liberals"
* baseline. I wonder how the numbers would compare for other areas of academia. What numbers should we expect when doing this type of survey of academics?
The rest of the article is filled with surprisingly shallow stereotypes to explain why top-ranked law schooss might skew left and how that impacts students. Nevertheless, until we get better insights into the phenomenon, law faculty candidates who have conservative views and are seeking appointments at top-ranked schools should proceed advisedly.
UPDATE: Brian Leiter points out some problems (including some of the points above) with the NYT write-up...and maybe the underlying study.
August 24, 2005
VegNews Best of... Survey
VegNews is running its annual survey of the best of vegetarian products and services.
I voted for Native Foods (LA, Palm Springs, Palm Desert) as the best vegetarian restaurant. I was torn because I also cannot get enough of A Votre Sante (Brentwood; not purely vegetarian). When I travel to LA, I swing by A Votre Sante virtually every trip. But when I'm in Palm Springs, I make my trip almost daily. Honestly, I could eat at Native Foods for every meal.
[Addition: two other restaurants of note--Udupi Palace in Sunnyvale, a mandatory stop every time I'm in the South Bay, and Smart Alec's in Berkeley, another place I could eat at every day.]
I struggled with favorite vegetarian celebrity. There were many good choices! I admire Alicia Silverstone for her recent hard-core vegan wedding. Pamela Anderson has done positive high-profile work for PETA. Tobey Maguire is...well, he's Spiderman. They didn't even include Kelly Monaco on the list (I guess she was too low profile before Dancing with the Stars). But in the end, I voted for Natalie Portman. She's so classy!
I must confess to being shocked at the choices for best vegetarian cookbook author. Tanya's Native Foods cookbook is great (but complicated), so she was the best of the listed choices. But Nava Atlas' recipes are generally wonderful--where was she? And, even more critically, where was Mollie Katzen??? Mollie got my write-in vote.
UPDATE: The winners.
August 22, 2005
Taxes, Attention Consumption and Competition
The short story is that Intuit, makers of TurboTax, doesn't want the IRS to release tax-assistance software to its citizens--which presumably would cut into Intuit's franchise of helping people cope with paying their taxes. As Declan quotes Intuit's CEO, "Government should not compete with its citizens."
Wow, is this screwed-up?! Let's see if I can sort through the problems here.
Let's start with the fact that our government imposes 2 types of taxes on us. The government taxes our earnings, naturally, but the government imposes a second, less obvious tax: the consumption of our attention to prepare our reports on our income. We spend a lot of time hand-wringing about the first tax, but in some ways I'm more upset about the second tax.
Time spent on preparing tax returns is among my bottom-five least favorite activities in life. I simply don't derive any positive utility from the process. To me, it's just time spent in my life that I would desperately like to allocate in other ways. I know some people have fun figuring out ways to beat the tax man, but I'm not one of those people. I just want a fair deal with zero time investment.
Unfortunately, given our convoluted tax system, to get anywhere close to a fair deal requires significant time. In past years, it has taken me 20+ hours to sort and prepare my materials for a tax preparer. (Lisa handles the bulk of the preparatory effort now, but it still requires 5-10 hours of my time each year). If you think about it, if I spend 20 hours on taxes for a 2,000 hour work-year, the government is taxing 1% of my time to report on my earnings. (Yes, I know that I work more than 2,000 hours/year, but the point remains the same).
Furthermore, there are some tax issues that I cannot resolve regardless of the amount of time I spend. For example, I tried to do a rough calculation of our tax obligations when we were filing returns in both CA and WI, and it was simply beyond my skill set. There was no way for me to reconcile the returns without the help of a software program or a tax expert. I just couldn't figure it out.
For people (like me) who can't or won't pay the attention consumption tax with our own time, we can outsource some of this responsibility to software or a service provider. Intuit's TurboTax is one such outsource solution. I have nothing against TurboTax, but for us, TurboTax isn't the answer. Our tax situation isn't ungodly complex, but it's typically complex enough that I wouldn't trust a software program.
Instead, we outsource our tax preparation to a CPA. Thus, I pay the annual attention consumption tax with a combination of my time (and Lisa's time) and a few hundred bucks to a service provider. So, if the government came up with a way to reduce the attention consumption tax it imposes on me, through software or otherwise, I would be thrilled. From my perspective, this would be a tax reduction, just like if the government gave me a $300 credit for having another baby.
Instead, Intuit thinks this is unfair competition between the government and its citizens. THIS IS WRONG. Intuit has found a business niche helping people reduce the government-created attention-consumption tax. They are taking advantage of the government screw-ups in its tax policy. The solution isn't to preserve Intuit's business niche; the solution is to fix the government screw-ups.
Providing help to its citizens isn't the government unfairly competing with private industry. And if the government fixing its mess means that some arbitrage-y business niches shut down, oh well--Intuit had a good ride. Shame on Intuit for draping its venal self-interest in the flag of advancing citizen's interests.
Meanwhile, we all know that the tax code is a disaster. It has been junked up by a combination of special-interest favoritism and economist-advocated tax credits as a way to encourage socially-desirable behavior. (It always strikes me as weird to see economists favor taxes as a social policy, but they do). The combination has resulted in a hairball that generates extraordinarily high transaction costs.
I would strongly favor a system that reduced transaction costs and the attention consumption tax....like a flat tax. Just take X% of my income, and make it progressive so that higher incomes pay a higher percentage. I know flat taxes aren't perfect, but the reduction in transaction costs has to be better than our current system. Each and every year when I'm spending those low-utility hours on taxes, I beg and plead--please, just impose a flat tax, take my money, and leave me alone already!
August 19, 2005
I Am an Elite Frequent Flyer
Since the late 1980s, I've flown a few hundred of thousands of miles. However, I almost always pick an airline based on price/schedule instead of brand loyalty. As a result, I currently have a free ticket on a half-dozen different airlines, but I've never made it to premier status on any of them.
Until now. On my last trip, I finally crossed the threshold and joined the ranks of United Airlines' premier members for the very first time. I feel like I've entered the inner sanctum. Will this truly be the promised land of economy plus legroom, early ingress and egress, and bonus miles bonanzas?
It brings to mind an episode of Frasier where the brothers joined a snooty and exclusive health club. When they got in, they discovered there was another level of membership behind a fancy door. This started a sequence of social climbing to enter the increasingly more exclusive areas of membership until, ultimately, the fanciest door is the one that leads to the outdoors dumpster.
In my case, I have no desire to reach the 1K club. I spend too much time away from my family as it is. But once I delight in the privileges of premier membership, will I be able to gracefully regress back to common frequent flyer status if I don't continue to fly as frequently?
August 18, 2005
Airlines, Attention Consumption and Noise-Canceling Headphones
On almost every flight, I'm reminded of how airlines do not try to avoid unnecessary consumption of passengers' attention. Some of this is the fault of the FAA, which requires various announcements and disclosures. Other consumptions presumably are attributable to "failure to warn" tort doctrines. Yet other announcements are purely discretionary. Whatever the reason, in aggregate, I'm constantly frustrated with how often I am interrupted/disturbed by the flight attendants and pilots.
Consider, for example, the announcements at the beginning and end of a flight where the captain informs the flight attendants to prepare for takeoff and landing. If the communication is between the pilot and the flight attendants only, why is the announcement made to the entire airplane? If the airlines tried to conserve their passenger's attention, they would find a way to allow the pilots to communicate just with the flight attendants and leave the passengers out of it.
Otherwise, many of the announcements are untargeted. A welcome to frequent flyers (don't care). An invitation to join the frequent flyer program (already a member). The announcement about the movie starting/stopping (sometimes I care, other times I don't). And, of course, the safety demonstrations that most of us simply ignore. There's no way for me, as a passenger, to customize the information to my interests. All announcements are one-size-fits-all, and that means many of them are not relevant to me.
As a consequence, I find it very hard to nap on the plane. Now that I'm a parent, I do sometimes collapse out of exhaustion. Even when I do, though, the periodic stream of announcements keep any nap pretty short. But even when I try to work, especially on the computer, I find the announcements disruptive and unwanted.
I mention all of this because, on my last flight from San Jose to Chicago, I saw at least a half-dozen passengers using noise-canceling headphones. I tend to be a late adopter of technology (i.e., I still don't own a cellphone), but I've already queued this up on my wish list. With these headphones, I wouldn't care how many announcements the airline made; I could just tune them out and blissfully sleep/work away. I'm waiting for the price to come down, but I will definitely be getting a set.
Of course, the promulgation of noise-canceling headphones poses a problem for the airlines and the FAA. How will the necessary information be disseminated if everyone has checked out, technologically speaking? Will the airlines/FAA ban the use of noise-canceling headphones during some announcement phase? Will some form of "assumption of risk" develop? (i.e., if you miss the necessary disclosures because you're using noise-canceling headphones, tough bunnies for you). Will the airlines use more invasive forms of disclosure and consent like the current charade of "I need to hear your verbal assent" for passengers in the exit rows?
To date, the FAA and airlines have felt no incentive to consider the attention consumption costs of their announcements and disclosures. They have had no real incentive to manage the consumption of passenger attention, so they have gotten gluttonous. Now, technology is striking back. Will a technological arms race between the FAA/airlines and passengers ensue?
UPDATE: Vic at the Conglomerate discusses his experiences with noise-canceling headphones.
August 16, 2005
The Ubiquitious Internet, Part 2
Car camping is down 28% since 1998. Backpacking down 33% in the same period. How to stimulate interest in these activities?
Some campground operators think they have found a solution: offer wireless Internet connections at the campground.
I'm a big fan of Internet connectivity when I travel, and perhaps global wireless Internet coverage is inevitable, but for now, I have mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, Internet connectivity when I camp could be a real plus. It would provide a good way to get real-time weather reports and trail/road conditions, a non-trivial consideration. It would also allow me to get more information about attractions, such as history, trail maps, etc. I definitely have informational needs when I'm camping, and easy access to the Internet could solve many of those.
On the other hand, one of my great joys in camping is being unconnected. I don't own a cellphone and I can't use my laptop when I camp, so I am truly unplugged. In June, I camped 3 nights in Death Valley, 2 of them at a campground at 8,000 feet in the Panamint Mountains. What a great way to decompress and reflect!
If I had an Internet connection, the temptation could very well have proven irresistable. Instead of doing information detox, I would have been perpetuating information overload. There's a value to wild spaces, and wireless Internet coverage perhaps changes the nature of these spaces in modest but significant ways.
In any case, the advent of electricity and wireless Internet connectivity ultimately will portend the end of car camping for me. Currently, if I go to remote enough areas, I can still find car camping that isn't like camping in downtown Manhattan. However, I think those days are progressively ending; it will become harder and harder to find a remote enough area. Eventually, I think I'll have to give up car camping and go backpacking to find truly peaceful areas. The double bonus is that I don't have any intention of lugging my heavy laptop in my backpack!
August 13, 2005
Conglomerate on the Disney Opinion
My colleague Christine and her compadres at the Conglomerate have been gang tackling the recent Disney opinion. And the New York Times has noticed. Congratulations to Christine and the Conglomerate crew!
August 12, 2005
Update on Bar/Bri Antitrust Litigation
An American Lawyer story recaps the lawsuit and some of the developments. Lawschool.com reports that a motion to change venue was denied.
UPDATE: The Daily Journal ran an article as well.
August 09, 2005
JD Power Survey on Hotel Satisfaction
JD Powers released its survey of hotel satisfaction. A couple of paragraphs caught my eye:
"While many brands push the envelope to introduce new amenities and innovations such as satellite radio or Internet check-in, the study finds that brands that improve on offerings in the tried-and-true comforts of home that make for a convenient in-room experience tend to receive considerable boosts in customer satisfaction scores. Amenities of particular interest to consumers include a complimentary breakfast, in-room refrigerators and coffee makers, pillow top mattresses and high-speed Internet access.
An example of this is Omni Hotels, which improves dramatically to rank highest in the upscale segment. Omni Hotels is the first upscale hotel brand to offer free wireless Internet access in guest rooms. Three top-ranking Hilton brands all offer free high-speed Internet access: Hilton Garden Inn, which ranks highest in the mid-scale full service segment; Hampton Inn & Suites, which ranks highest among mid-scale limited service hotels; and Homewood Suites by Hilton, which ranks highest in the extended stay segment. In addition, Hampton Inn & Suites and Homewood Suites by Hilton also offer complimentary hot breakfasts."
Yes, yes, yes! I hope hoteliers are listening. In my perfect world, every hotel would give me free Internet access and a refrigerator/microwave. The former lets me get the information I need. The latter lets me control my meals. This is especially important because sometimes my vegetarian options are slim, but I can pick up a frozen meal at the grocery store (that I locate through my Internet connection).
A great example of what not to do. I spent two nights this weekend at one of the higher-end hotel chains. $16/day for Internet access! $2 to make a call to an 800 number! No refrigerator or microwave, so I was forced to eat out every meal. I would have been far happier in a Hampton or a Homewood hotel at a significant discount price-wise.