Legal Education Reform: Law School, Theory versus Black Letter Law

On legal education reform, from a friend who completed law school.

My friend went to a top ranked law school, and argued that law schools should offer concise teaching on black letter law, by offering students materials like the concise BarBri Conviser Mini Review, so that students can get a broad and focused view of how the law is currently implemented and actually works. So that they have more of a base to build upon in analyzing theoretical legal issues professors like to wax upon so much, so students can move on to higher level concepts and questions more quickly and confidently, with a more rigorous intellectual base/background to theorize upon–which professors often neglect to realize that their students may not have yet, or ever, in the process of their law school education.

“As many people may know, the legal education system in the US is broken and badly in need of reform. In law school you learn lots of theory, kind of. Due to the Socratic method of teaching, professors basically ask a few open ended questions, and students fumble for answers, and then class is over. Well, you do learn stuff, but my point is, there needs to be more focus on black letter law for students to learn the current legal system, a base of knowledge upon which they can then be better prepared to analyze and consider more theoretical finer higher level points of law. You can’t run before you learn to walk, and you can’t walk before you learn to crawl. Without a holistic view of how the laws actually work and are implemented, there’s not much intelligent theorizing that can go on–students are left to sort of float around meaningless. Plus, everyone knows that students aren’t prepared to actually practice law at all based on what they learn in school.

I probably learned 50% as much as I did in law school during the BarBri study period. The piece de resistance was the amazing BarBri Conviser Mini Review. This book is so efficiently and logically organized, that it would give just about anyone a great introduction to the workings of the law. It should be required reading for students before their first semester of law school. It should be required reading at least at some point during law school. Professors just hide the ball and let students wallow in chopped up and dismembered cases, lacking context, in aimless casebooks. Casebooks are for the most part pretty awful and most study guides are just okay. But the Conviser Mini Review is brilliant.

The thing is, students should be given a better education, a great overview, in all aspects of black letter law early on–so that they can gain context for the law and move on to more advanced and complex legal issues. Professors let students wander aimlessly, the professors ramble aimlessly, and many first year students have little context for the structure of the law–not an optimal state for learning and developing ideas and skills. I even had professors who discouraged the use of any study aids–which can give students a good idea of the scope and structure of the law, as opposed to just being a crutch. Law school is bizarre in this way. No overview and context is given for the law across many areas of the law in a tight, highly structured manner as in the Conviser Mini Review. Which is a shame–students’ learning behaviors and information processing habits have probably changed quite a deal since the early days of the Socratic method, law schools take note.

So, all future law students, buy a copy of the Conviser Mini Review on Amazon or eBay, and get ready for a better understanding of the law coming in, so that in three years you’ll be attaining levels of understanding and attacking interesting legal issues in an informed and well-developed manner. Law schools, take note once again. You are being very irresponsible in keeping such well-formatted basic information away from law students in favor of meandering casebooks and meandering Socratic method classroom interactions. No wonder so many law students are zoning out on the internet in class. They know they are smarter than what is required in class, they know the professors are lazily hiding the ball. Give students good holistic legal information and overviews instead of horrible casebooks and lazy lectures, a good basis for more advanced idea formation and study, and a new revived generation of legal scholars may emerge.”

I’m sure there are many good educational theory articles about students’ learning behaviors out there–has law school been studied in this respect?

The Economist: Unhappy America, Cheap and Cheerful

This week’s Economist:

One great article: Unhappy America

Many Americans feel as if they missed the boom. Between 2002 and 2006 the incomes of 99% rose by an average of 1% a year in real terms, while those of the top 1% rose by 11% a year; three-quarters of the economic gains during Mr Bush’s presidency went to that top 1%. Economic envy, once seen as a European vice, is now rife. The rich appear in Barack Obama’s speeches not as entrepreneurial role models but as modern versions of the “malefactors of great wealth” denounced by Teddy Roosevelt a century ago: this lot, rather than building trusts, avoid taxes and ship jobs to Mexico. Globalisation is under fire: free trade is less popular in the United States than in any other developed country, and a nation built on immigrants is building a fence to keep them out. People mutter about nation-building beginning at home: why, many wonder, should American children do worse at reading than Polish ones and at maths than Lithuanians?

Abroad, America has spent vast amounts of blood and treasure, to little purpose. In Iraq, finding an acceptable exit will look like success; Afghanistan is slipping. America’s claim to be a beacon of freedom in a dark world has been dimmed by Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and the flouting of the Geneva Conventions amid the panicky “unipolar” posturing in the aftermath of September 11th.

Now the world seems very multipolar. Europeans no longer worry about American ascendancy. The French, some say, understood the Arab world rather better than the neoconservatives did. Russia, the Gulf Arabs and the rising powers of Asia scoff openly at the Washington consensus. China in particular spooks America—and may do so even more over the next few weeks of Olympic medal-gathering. Americans are discussing the rise of China and their consequent relative decline; measuring when China’s economy will be bigger and counting its missiles and submarines has become a popular pastime in Washington. A few years ago, no politician would have been seen with a book called “The Post-American World”. Mr Obama has been conspicuously reading Fareed Zakaria’s recent volume

There are certainly areas where change is needed. The credit crunch is in part the consequence of a flawed regulatory system. Lax monetary policy allowed Americans to build up debts and fuelled a housing bubble that had to burst eventually. Lessons need to be learnt from both of those mistakes; as they do from widespread concerns about the state of education and health care. Over-unionised and unaccountable, America’s school system needs the same sort of competition that makes its universities the envy of the world. American health care, which manages to be the most expensive on the planet even though it fails properly to care for the tens of millions of people, badly needs reform.

One terrible article: Cheap and Cheerful

A challenge to the conventional wisdom is set out in a recent research paper* by Christian Broda and John Romalis, both of the University of Chicago’s business school. They argue that standard measures of inequality do not reflect differences in the way that the rich and poor spend their money. A person’s demand for a particular good or service does not rise in exact proportion to his income. As he grows richer, the pattern of his spending changes, as well as the amount. In particular, high-wage households spend a greater share of their income on services and a smaller share on “non-durable” items, such as food, clothing, footwear and toiletries.

For most of the past three decades, the price of non-durable goods has been falling relative to the price of the services—investment advice, personal care, domestic help and so on—that the rich spend more of their money on. If these differences between the inflation rates faced by the rich and the poor are taken into account, the rise in inequality is reduced and may even vanish.


Hey wow! I’m poor and can only afford to eat sawdust. But you know what? My inequality gap with the rich is smaller than it may have appeared because the price of sawdust is decreasing! The price of nice services like specialized health care is increasing, but that doesn’t affect me because I can’t afford them anyway, right?

Wow, let’s forget about the whole inequality thing! After all, I love eating McDonalds, potato chips, and bad quality food. As long as the junk I can afford and like to eat is cheap, let’s not worry about the income gap–nevermind there are no supermarkets in my neighborhood. Ooh, the price of meth and crack are falling too? No worry, we’re fine!

Just Blaze–90’s Flava Vol. 1 Mixtape

Just Blaze – 90’s Flava Vol. 1

Mixtape courtesy of the Smoking Section

Here’s another 90s hip hop mixtape: Eli, Vaz and Diplo

Courtesy of the Outside Broadcast

Understanding Polynomials: Polynomial Behavior, Turning Points, Why They Behave the Way They Do

Here’s a graph and chart I made to help you understand how polynomials and their turning points work. I think polynomials should always be taught this way: graphing the individual terms, and showing that they are literally the combination of all of the y values of all the terms. And all junior high and up students should be taught how to graph such terms and polynomials in the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel, not just graphic calculators–Excel should be a part of any modern junior high/high school math class as a stepping stone to lots of work they’ll be doing in the future in Excel and other more math-dedicated programs and languages.

The first column in the table below is the x value, the second column is the value of the whole polynomial 4(x-1)^3 – 12(x-1)^2 +15, the third column is the value of the first term 4(x-1)^3, the fourth column is the value of the second term -12(x-1)^2, and the fifth column is the value of the third term, the constant 15.

You can see per x value how the positiveness or negativeness of the first and second terms, plus the constant 15, how the size and sign of the first two terms combined with the constant 15 add up to make the net of the whole polynomial positive or negative (or zero) at different points on the x axis. I put in x axis grid lines so you could count off grid marks too see how for the same x value, sometimes the first term has a higher positive than the second has a negative, and vice versa (of course offset to a degree by the constant 15).

Chapter 8 of Algebra II for Dummies has some great info on polynomials and their turning points also. The chapter also has great information on finding roots of polynomials, patterns to look for in factoring, and the Rational Root Theorem, which basically helps you find rational roots (rational numbers have terminating decimals or decimals that repeat in a pattern). You may need a graphing calculator/computer to estimate irrational roots, as they don’t factor cleanly/evenly).

x 4(x-1)^3 – 12(x-1)^2 +15 4(x-1)^3 -12(x-1)^2 +15
-8 -3873 -2916 -972 15
-7.75 -3583.4375 -2679.69 -918.75 15
-7.5 -3308.5 -2456.5 -867 15
-7.25 -3047.8125 -2246.06 -816.75 15
-7 -2801 -2048 -768 15
-6.75 -2567.6875 -1861.94 -720.75 15
-6.5 -2347.5 -1687.5 -675 15
-6.25 -2140.0625 -1524.31 -630.75 15
-6 -1945 -1372 -588 15
-5.75 -1761.9375 -1230.19 -546.75 15
-5.5 -1590.5 -1098.5 -507 15
-5.25 -1430.3125 -976.563 -468.75 15
-5 -1281 -864 -432 15
-4.75 -1142.1875 -760.438 -396.75 15
-4.5 -1013.5 -665.5 -363 15
-4.25 -894.5625 -578.813 -330.75 15
-4 -785 -500 -300 15
-3.75 -684.4375 -428.688 -270.75 15
-3.5 -592.5 -364.5 -243 15
-3.25 -508.8125 -307.063 -216.75 15
-3 -433 -256 -192 15
-2.75 -364.6875 -210.938 -168.75 15
-2.5 -303.5 -171.5 -147 15
-2.25 -249.0625 -137.313 -126.75 15
-2 -201 -108 -108 15
-1.75 -158.9375 -83.1875 -90.75 15
-1.5 -122.5 -62.5 -75 15
-1.25 -91.3125 -45.5625 -60.75 15
-1 -65 -32 -48 15
-0.75 -43.1875 -21.4375 -36.75 15
-0.5 -25.5 -13.5 -27 15
-0.25 -11.5625 -7.8125 -18.75 15
0 -1 -4 -12 15
0.25 6.5625 -1.6875 -6.75 15
0.5 11.5 -0.5 -3 15
0.75 14.1875 -0.0625 -0.75 15
1 15 0 0 15
1.25 14.3125 0.0625 -0.75 15
1.5 12.5 0.5 -3 15
1.75 9.9375 1.6875 -6.75 15
2 7 4 -12 15
2.25 4.0625 7.8125 -18.75 15
2.5 1.5 13.5 -27 15
2.75 -0.3125 21.4375 -36.75 15
3 -1 32 -48 15
3.25 -0.1875 45.5625 -60.75 15
3.5 2.5 62.5 -75 15
3.75 7.4375 83.1875 -90.75 15
4 15 108 -108 15
4.25 25.5625 137.3125 -126.75 15
4.5 39.5 171.5 -147 15
4.75 57.1875 210.9375 -168.75 15
5 79 256 -192 15
5.25 105.3125 307.0625 -216.75 15
5.5 136.5 364.5 -243 15
5.75 172.9375 428.6875 -270.75 15
6 215 500 -300 15
6.25 263.0625 578.8125 -330.75 15
6.5 317.5 665.5 -363 15
6.75 378.6875 760.4375 -396.75 15
7 447 864 -432 15
7.25 522.8125 976.5625 -468.75 15
7.5 606.5 1098.5 -507 15
7.75 698.4375 1230.188 -546.75 15
8 799 1372 -588 15

Internal tag: math

Ion TTUSB Turntable

Ion TTUSB turntables are awesome. In the past I’ve tried digitizing vinyl into wavs and then mp3s using some USB digitizer device hooked up to a normal record player and stereo, with less than satisfactory results. With the Ion TTUSB turntable I was very pleased with the sound quality I got. The turntable hooks directly into a computer via USB port. Don’t use the software it comes with, EZ Vinyl or whatever, it sucks, download and use the free Audacity software instead, it’s much better. The one thing to keep in mind is that the volume/gain control knob is on the BOTTOM of the turntable, right where the USB cord comes out–that’s pretty bad placement, as you have to lift the turntable to adjust the gain. You’ll want to adjust the gain for each record–you don’t wan the sound too loud that it clips, or too low, when you digitize a record into Audacity, and different records have different volume levels. The turntable is great for if you want to buy vinyl-only releases, and/or have a ton of old records lying around you wish you had in wav and mp3 format. Convert them to digital and store them away in some storage locker!  Vinyl is cool but it takes up so much space (and is heavy)!

Golden Earring: Twilight Zone, Fist in Glove: Classic Rock Disco and New Wave

We all love disco-ified classic rock, here’s the video for Golden Earring’s Twilight Zone. “When the bullet hits the bone!” The new-wave-ish prog-rock-ish dance bass breakdown in the middle of the song is classic.

But the real treasure/gem is Golden Earring’s Fist in Glove: resplendent classic rock new wave/postpunk. Sounds like Pylon meets Shellac or something on a classic rock disco tip. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to a video or mp3 preview of the song anywhere.

George Hirota — Ancient Consciousness of Evil Spirit, Sahasurara album

George Hirota – Sahasurara album (mp3s)
George Hirota – Ancient Consciousness of Evil Spirit (mp3)

This was being saved to be put on as a Bumrocks guest DJ, we’ll see if that happens. Anyway, enjoy, it’s from the vinyl of the George Hirota Sahasurara album. George Hirota is the same as the Joji Hirota who made the amazing Wheel of Fortune album. It’s all incredible sample-ready jazz fusion prog rock. Check out the amazing funky flute especially! Another highlight is Point of Contact–check out the funky prog rock drums, and the great latin-tinged piano.

Check out the link to the whole George Hirota-Sahasurara album. Hopefully they’ll rerelease this to CD! For fans of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Tony Williams, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Arthur Verocai, Joji Hirota, Magma, etc.