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July 2009 Archives

July 6, 2009

The GM Sale--Skeel

Although GM is vastly larger and more significant than Chrysler, its "sale"-- which was approved by the bankruptcy court late yesterday-- has received far less attention.  There seem to be two reasons for this.

The first is a been-there-done-that effect.  After many participants and observers complained about the problems with the Chrysler sale, and the objections were brushed aside as expected, there was even less suspense and therefore less media interest with GM.  Chrysler's executives griped during their negotiations with the government that their company was being used as a "guinea pig" for GM, and so it was.

The second reason is that GM and the government adjusted the "sale" strategy to make it less egregious than the Chrysler sale.  Some of the troubling features remained (such as a bidding process that made other, genuine bids nearly impossible).  But the GM sale does not stiff the senior lenders, as the Chrysler sale did.  And after nearly universal criticism of the failure to make any provision for products liability claimants, New GM now has agreed to pay the claims of future victims. 

If anyone finds that these technical ramblings make you long for more detail, Professor Mark Roe and I have just finished a draft of a law review article that critiques the Chrysler sale in much more detail.   The link is here.

 

July 11, 2009

Calvin's 500th--Skeel

 Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. The anniversary didn’t make any newspaper that I saw, but there have been major celebrations in the church world, including a series of talks and sermons in Geneva that featured many evangelical luminaries. 

I’m no Calvin scholar myself. My greatest claim to Calvin devotion is also my most embarrassing: I brought Calvin’s Institutes of Religion on my honeymoon almost twenty-one years ago, and actually read some of it. 

One of the most surprising things about Calvin’s legacy is that he never set out to be innovative, at least in the contemporary understanding of that term. If innovation means inventing something that is entirely new, Calvin wasn’t truly innovative. It’s impossible to read Calvin without being struck by the extent to which Scripture was the starting point, and foundation, for all of his thought.  He brings his own perspective to bear, of course, but it is always Scripture he is expounding.
 
If Calvin was innovative, it seems to me he was innovative in a different sense: in his willingness to challenge conventional thinking. This didn’t mean inventing something entirely new, so much as looking at the timeless truths of Scripture with a fresh eye. 
 

July 15, 2009

Sotomayer and the Cost of Success--Stuntz

A couple days ago, David Brooks had a wise and interesting column on Sotomayor and the price of professional success. (Link: here). Plainly, Sotomayor has paid a price for her achievements—according to Brooks, her marriage appears to have been a casualty of her work habits. Equally plainly, the point applies to a great many lines of work, not just to the legal profession. 

This is the aspect of my job and of legal jobs more generally that has most surprised me over the years. When I started in law teaching in 1986, the universal expectation was that workloads would diminish, that workplaces would grow more family-friendly as women populated the higher reaches of the professions in large numbers. Instead, Sotomayor’s experience increasingly has become the norm. High-end professional jobs have grown LESS family-friendly, as men and women alike sacrificed their marriages and relationships with their kids in order to put in the hours needed for success. My job seemed leisurely in the 1980s; by the beginning of this decade, most of my colleagues were routinely working evenings and weekends, as I was. When I was a kid, I remember jokes about doctors playing golf on Wednesdays. You don’t hear those jokes anymore; nearly all the doctors I know work very hard indeed. Again when I was young, the phrase “bankers’ hours” meant something akin to a 30-hour work week. No bankers work such soft hours today—nor did they do so before last fall’s crash. The list goes on and on.
 
I’m not griping here: I love my job; working long hours has often been a pleasure. Still, an awful lot of my friends work too hard, as I did before I got sick and was forced to ease up a bit. Why is that? I wish I knew. Is it a good thing? On balance, I think not. Will it remain so after we come out of the current recession? Stay tuned.
 
 

July 21, 2009

The Apollo 11 Landing--Skeel

The Apollo 11 landing was one of the first public events I remember. My family was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we had returned from a family camp in Michigan the day of the landing. It was a long day, but like the rest of the country we stayed up and parked our selves in front of our big old black and white TV.

This was a happy time for me personally, but the public events I remember were faintly ominous, almost to a one. I remember my mother talking anxiously to a neighbor in 1967, but only much later realized that the threat I didn’t quite understand at the time was the Detroit riots, which were taking place a few miles away, not an invasion of hippies. I also vaguely remember the fraught political campaign of 1968, though again without many of the details.
 
The 40th anniversary coverage has focused extensively on the artificiality of America’s race to put a man on the moon, its role in the Cold War, and the extent to which NASA seemed to peter out afterwards. What doesn’t seem to me to have been emphasized quite enough is just how important it was to bring the nation together at that moment. It was a scary time in many respects, and watching Neil Armstrong hop along on the moon seemed to put a bounce back in everyone’s steps.
 
 

July 28, 2009

Sam Harris on Francis Collins--Skeel

That Sam Harris, one of the leading “new atheists,” criticized the president’s nomination of Francis Collins, a professed Christian, to serve as director of the National Institutes of Health in this New York Times op-ed yesterday was hardly news. But I found the column interesting in several respects. 

First, the tone was much more subdued than in Harris’s usual tirades against religion. Perhaps the Times’ op-ed editors tamed Harris’s prose, but I suspect the reasonableness of the tone is a tribute to Collins’s stature as a scientist.  I wonder if the religion vs. science debate might be a little less heated if it were more often conducted by scientists, and we evangelicals were less eager to credit any claim that seems to score points against the scientific community.
 
Second, Harris complained that Collins may stifle research in neuroscience that seems to suggest “that minds are the products of brains, and brains are [simply] the products of evolution,” since this calls God into question. My initial reaction was (and is) that Collins seems very unlikely to interfere with valuable scientific work, regardless of where it might lead.
 
But I also think it’s important to cast a skeptical eye, if not on the work itself, at least on the claims made for this work. This isn’t my field, but my sense is that the claims made for the neuroscience findings we have thus far often go far beyond any reasonable interpretation of the science. Some scholars claim, for instance, that criminal laws should not focus on “desert” (that is, the badness of criminal behavior) because criminal behavior is simply a product of our brains. This is an area in which I suspect that Christian lawyer-scientists might make important contributions.
 
 

July 31, 2009

More on Calvin's 500th--Skeel

A few more thoughts on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth, in this op-ed.

Although this obviously isn't a theologically oriented country, I've been surprised the anniversary hasn't gotten more attention in the general media.