Monthly Archives: January 2006

In Case You Were Having Doubts

Ska-Punk (!) words to live by from Reel Big Fish: Don’t Start A Band.

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Jeb Bush’s Florida

Florida’s funding for its public schools ranks 49th out of 50 states. For the fourth-largest state in the union, that’s nothing short of a national disgrace.

Posted in Florida | 4 Comments

Tuesday Morning is Off to a Great Start

Something called HTCPIP.DLL is trying to access My firewall blocked it. Normally when a new program tries to phone home, I do a search of my disk to find out what directory it lives in, to see if it is part of something I approve of. And I do a google search to see what other people say it does.

In all the years I’ve been doing this, this was the first time both searches turned up negative. Regedit reveals one entry with the value HTCPIP.DLL in the registry at My Computer\HKEY_CURRRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Explorer Bars\{C4EE31f3-4768-11D2-BE5c-00A)C9A83Da1}\FilesNamedMRU\000\ (Type REG_SZ)

This is of course as clear as mud.

So I ran an online virus-checker. The only thing worth worrying about was a downloaded file carrying something that identified as “Backdoor.Win32.Breplibot.v”… but there’s nothing with that exact name at google either. (The Backdoor.Win32.Breplibot family doesn’t sound very nice, though.)

Have I got a virus so new that no one has recorded it? Is it sitting in some Sony-rootkit-like partition I don’t even know about?

Posted in Software | 4 Comments

More On Law School Grading

In There’s something about law school, a law student frets about “The arbitrariness and randomness of law school grading”:

This is not a major revelation I’ve recently had, but this semester, more than any, underscores this point for me. After each of my three exams, I felt worse about my performance than I had following any other law school exams. And yet, I had my best semester in terms of grades. Only in law school can you leave an exam not only having no clue how you did, but thinking you might’ve actually failed (well, that’s not true – I knew I never failed but I’ve definitely left exams thinking I got a C or C+) and then end up with a good grade.

Here’s another example that emphasizes how grades have no correlation to actual knowledge or skill. Let’s talk about two students, named X and Y. X had the same Business Associations prof I did. Y had a different prof. X got an A. Y got a B. X did a lot of reading but by the mid-point of last semester was only reading High Courts – she basically read in their entirety maybe 5 cases over the final half of the semester. X never participated in class because Prof. BA didn’t care whether you participated and in fact created very little opportunity for students to get involved. Don’t get the wrong impression – X is not lazy by any means. X just decided that in doing all the work necessary for law school, it was not productive to wade through 12-15 pages of mind-numbing minutiae for every case. Y did all the reading and participated a lot, which Y thought was important because Y’s prof said participation will be counted in the final grade. Y’s participation added a lot to the class discussion because Y had intelligent things to say; Y wasn’t just raising her hand to open her mouth.

So what’s the problem? X, who got an A, basically knows nothing about business, corporations, finance, economics and money, etc. X is more into history, sociology, creative writing, etc. Y, who got a B, worked for 6-7 years before law school in a field where one need to know about business, finance, economics, corporations, etc. (I know by using these terms I’m not exactly summarizing all that BA is about, but you get the idea – some people are going to do corporate transactions because they’re good at that stuff; other people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about business, finance, economics, etc. … I’m not saying one person is smarter than the other, just that people have different aptitudes for different things.) Basically X could never have even been hired where Y worked. And I guarantee if you take X and Y at the same law firm and give them the same assignment, if the task is business-related, Y would do a better job.

But X got a better grade. When X and Y apply for jobs, someone will look at Y’s transcript and see the BA grade and think something like “He doesn’t really get it” but they’ll think X does “get it.” But that’s incorrect. Y gets it and X doesn’t. Yet X got a better grade.

I tried to post comments there, but for some reason the blog wouldn’t let me. So here’s what I tried to say:

I wouldn’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that “grades have no correlation to actual knowledge or skill,” both because it is so different from my experience as a student and also because I know I wasn’t alone.

My experience was that on the rare occasions when I thought I did great, I didn’t do so great. And frequently, when I thought I did badly, I did very well. I came to believe that on time-limited exams, if you were able to put down everything you knew, which tended to cause a happy feeling, it was usually a sign you didn’t know enough. On the other hand, if you could think of 20 more things you coulda shoulda said, which tended to create a bad feeling, it was a sign you knew the subject pretty well.

Yes, the facts you describe relating to your own experience may be consistent with the “arbitrariness” theory you offer, but they are also consistent with an “unreliable subjectivity” theory that I think I experienced. And, for that matter, in classes with curves they are also consistent with a “Well or badly as I did, it was worse (or better) than the next guy” theory. Or maybe you knew some subjects better than others?

Without lots more info, it’s not that easy for you, or me, to know which of these stories might be right in any given case. So, I say: go look at your exams. Read the model answers if any are provided and compare them to your answers. Ask the prof what you did wrong. It might be informative … and you might even learn something.

As for the sad tale of student X and student Y, I am much less sympathetic. Who knows what they put in their blue books. It’s blind grading — all the stuff in your head is not going to help much if you can’t get it on paper. And, yes, there are other skills that matter for lawyers too — like the ones reflected by in-class participation. But at the end of the day, if you can’t get it on paper, that’s an important fact.

I know people who didn’t do well in law school who are terrific lawyers; sometimes that was evident in school, sometimes it manifested later. I also know a small number of great students who are not great lawyers, but I have to say that this is a rarer phenonenon. In other words, high grades do tell you something very likely to be meaningful about the person who earned them; the reverse is not as reliably true, and that’s why smart employers also consider things like writing samples, recommendations, experience.

Posted in Law School | 1 Comment

Student Evaluations & Lateness

After we turn in our grades — long after, in my case — we get our student evaluations. I wish the students filled them out after the exam: it would more fairly represent what I’m doing. But instead the administration has them fill them in about 2/3 of the way through the semester, just when they are most anxious.

I got mine today. Like every year I get dinged for talking too fast — but it’s genetic. And I do tell the students to stop me if I go too fast. The best ones do.

This year, unusually, I got substantial amounts of hostility for part of my class policies. You see, I require that all male students come to class in a coat and tie, and female students must wear comparable professional attire. Students must address me as “sir” and each other as “my esteemed colleague” or words to that effect. No one — other than me, of course — is allowed to talk for more than one minute. No one is allowed to miss more than one week’s worth of classes without an excuse from the Dean of Student’s Office; miss more than that and it counts as negative class participation and can hurt your grade. Anyone who is late is marked as having half an absence, so more than six latenesses can hurt your grade.

Ok, I’m kidding. Actually, the only parts of the above paragraph that are true are the parts about being late and missing class. And the part about the hostility this policy engendered. Yes, I take attendance, in part because the ABA rules say that by turning in a grade I’m certifying that my students went to class. (And as the Dean of Students will write an excuse for just about anything, the true sanction, for people with a minimum of common sense, is the minor hassle of getting a form filled out and signed.)

I penalize lateness because late people disturb others, disturb me, and likely have unprofessional habits that could use some push back. I used not to penalize latenesses, and students just drifted in in droves during the first 10-15 minutes of class. (Then they complained they couldn’t follow what was going on….) I had ten people out of 60 come in late one day. It was ridiculous.

So while I want to be sympathetic to student concerns, and might even experimentally lower the tariff next year to, say, lateness equals 1/3 of an absence, I just don’t see why expecting people to be on time, and incentivizing them a little, is such a terrible thing.

Am I hopelessly behind the times here?

Posted in Law School | 17 Comments

Conspiracy Theories Are Made of Stuff Like This

Secrecy News, the cool new blog from the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, has a great tidbit for the tinfoil-deprived:

The Mystery of the Two James Baker Statements: In a 2002 statement presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee, James A. Baker of the Justice Department Office of Intelligence Policy and Review questioned the constitutionality and the necessity of a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine to lower the legal threshold for domestic intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. persons from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion.”

But for yet unknown reasons, Mr. Baker’s remarkable statement is found in two distinct versions.

“If we err in our analysis and courts were ultimately to find a ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard unconstitutional, we could potentially put at risk ongoing investigations and prosecutions,” Mr. Baker said in the more expansive version of his statement.

Moreover, “If the current standard has not posed an obstacle, then there may be little to gain from the lower standard and, as I previously stated, perhaps much to lose.”

Yet even as Mr. Baker was expressing concerns about lowering the probable cause threshold, the government was doing precisely that in the NSA domestic surveillance activity.

Baker’s testimony was highlighted last week by blogger Glenn Greenwald and cited in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Strangely, however, the testimony in which Mr. Baker presented those concerns cannot be found anywhere on the public record except for the Federation of American Scientists web site.

The testimony that is posted on the Senate Intelligence Committee web site does not contain the three paragraphs in which Mr. Baker questions the propriety of going beyond the probable cause standard as proposed by Senator DeWine.

Likewise, only the truncated version of Mr. Baker’s testimony was archived in the Nexis database and published by the Government Printing Office in its printed hearing record.

Pretty spooky, eh?

Posted in Politics: Tinfoil | 1 Comment