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Archive for November, 2011

The New York Times tells us something lawyers have known for years

Yale Law School @ New Haven, ConnecticutNamely, that a law school degree does not prepare you to actually be a lawyer:

Law schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful, with classes that are often overstuffed with antiquated distinctions, like the variety of property law in post-feudal England. Professors are rewarded for chin-stroking scholarship, like law review articles with titles like “A Future Foretold: Neo-Aristotelian Praise of Postmodern Legal Theory.”

So, for decades, clients have essentially underwritten the training of new lawyers, paying as much as $300 an hour for the time of associates learning on the job. But the downturn in the economy, and long-running efforts to rethink legal fees, have prompted more and more of those clients to send a simple message to law firms: Teach new hires on your own dime.

And it gets better:

Law schools know all about the tough conditions that await graduates, and many have added or expanded programs that provide practical training through legal clinics. But almost all the cachet in legal academia goes to professors who produce law review articles, which gobbles up huge amounts of time and tuition money. The essential how-tos of daily practice are a subject that many in the faculty know nothing about — by design. One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier law schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced law for a single day. If medical schools took the same approach, they’d be filled with professors who had never set foot in a hospital.

So yeah, you spend three years and tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars to learn all about the rule against perpetuities. I’ve been telling prospective law students this for years.

They’re called legal clinics. If your law school doesn’t offer them, find a new law school.

Photo credit: Yale Law School @ New Haven, Connecticut by polytikus, on Flickr.

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Words matter when talking about pit bulls

Boxer/pit-bull close-up 2I came across a great post called “Pit bull awareness: words do matter” at the Love and a Six-Foot Leash blog (thanks, Meghan!)

It discusses how the words we use to support pit bulls and to try to educate people about them carry more weight than we often realize. People tend to hear what they already believe in other people’s words, and some of the words used to describe pitties have more than one interpretation.

You should read the whole post (go ahead, I’ll wait), but here are the highlights:

Don’t call them American Pit Bull Terriers.

Don’t call them bullies or bully breeds.

Don’t say “it’s all in how they’re raised.”

Don’t ascribe attributes — good or bad — based solely on appearance.

Here are my own thoughts on these points:

Most dogs now described as “pit bulls” aren’t pit bulls at all. They’re mixes of many, many other breeds.

For a very long time, I took the term “bully breed” at face value. I thought it meant that these types of dogs were more likely to be “bullies” in a schoolyard sense. That’s not what it means at all.

It’s not how they’re raised at all. It’s how they’re being treated right now.

Any dog can be the nicest, sweetest dog in the w0rld. Don’t judge a book by its cover, duh.

Photo: Boxer/pit-bull close-up 2 by bastique, on Flickr.

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Three Cheers for Austin Pit Bulls!!!

LokiI had the awesome and amazing privilege of attending Love A Bull’s Third Annual Pit Bull Awareness Day event this past Sunday, and to be their social media guy for the day. The weather was not as cooperative as I might have liked, but the park was full, the people were out with their dogs, and the dogs were phenomenal. I also had the honor to meet and hang out with Tim Racer and Donna Reynolds, the founders of Oakland, California’s BAD RAP, who rehabilitated many of Michael Vick’s dogs when so many other people just wanted them put down. I occasionally find myself at a loss for words, so I’ll just say this about them:

I have met a fair number of famous people, including politicians, actors, musicians. I have spent some time in our nation’s capital, and Capitol, and I have shook the hands of quite a few important people. Meeting Tim and Donna was a bigger honor than any of that.

Media coverage, as always, was a concern. Pit bulls are a popular target for people looking to score a few easy points for sensationalism and fear. Lazy journalists can just pop out a few scares about pit bulls for people who don’t know much about the breed, or who think that they know all they need to know because someone they know once got bitten by a pit or because they Googled “dog bite” and got 10,000 hits about pit bulls. As it happens, the day passed without incident in the park, although in a strange cosmic twist, a man on the hike & bike trail was bitten by a “pit bull type” dog, which could mean almost anything short of a chihuahua. How media outlets chose to focus its coverage is a good measure of how worthwhile those media sources are, as well as how worthwhile their reporters are. Here is my take on the stories put out by the media right after the event (please note these are my opinions, and mine alone):

1. Karen Brooks, CultureMap Austin. I name Ms. Brooks’ story on the event, and by extension Ms. Brooks herself, as the best coverage of the event by far. Her article, “With a face like that, what’s not to love? Pit bull festival celebrates a misunderstood breed,” has put the focus where it belongs: on the facts and figures from the people who know the most, and on the dogs themselves. After giving quite a bit of ink to the people and dogs enjoying the day, she drops this bit of awesome on us:

[Pit bull] critics trot out myths to back their vastly unresearched opinions, the most popular of which is the completely false one about pit bulls’ jaws locking on its targets and that unproven theory that pit bulls are ticking time bombs.

These people vigorously defend a mysterious willingness to decide that one highly publicized pit bull attack means all pit bulls are alike, much like the indefensible position that one undocumented immigrant from Mexico means that all Latinos swam the river to get here.

Among the most embarrassing and irresponsible factors in all this is the treatment of pit bulls by the news media.

We in the media like stories about bad guys, and we like stories that draw high ratings/hits/circulation numbers. Pit bull stories, unfortunately, make it easy to do both because they let us play on fear and ignorance while skimping on time and facts and increasing our audience.

But some stories simply don’t have two sides.

In covering Sunday’s festival, I’m not going to drag out the cursory anti-pittie quote from a victim because, frankly, while the experience was horrific, being bitten by a dog does not make them experts on an entire breed.

I’m not going to talk to your typical man-on-the-street because, frankly, while they may have consumed lots of stories about dog bites, simply watching TV does not make them experts, either.

And as a member of the media, I’m not going to be dragged into a CYA-inspired back-and-forth that gives ink to unsubstantiated rumors simply for the sake of appearing to be fair. This is a common trick of the media that occasionally fools even the most discerning viewer/reader/listener into thinking we’re actually being balanced.

(Allowing someone to parrot untruths unchecked is, actually, unfair and intellectually dishonest, and it’s time the media quit doing it. But that’s a WHOLE ‘nother essay…)

On Sunday, the story simply was that hundreds of beloved pit bulls and their proud owners turned out to show society that these dogs, like Justice, can be pure bundles of joy. And, with or without the audience, to just celebrate their dogs in a nonjudgmental environment.

2. Jim Swift, KXAN. With his article, “Pit bull lovers campaign for ‘underdog,’” Mr. Swift has done a good job telling Love A Bull’s story and showing how pit bull’s have become a victim of bad owners and stereotypes. He begins, alas, with stories of attacks by “pit bull-type” dogs around Austin over the course of several months, but he eventually gets to some good coverage of the event. Pit bull critics can read the first few paragraphs and then go about their business without having to challenge any of their previously-held assumptions. If I have learned anything, it is that some people cling tenaciously to Just Not Getting It (you might even say that pit bull critics cling to their arguments with their jaws locked down.) For those who care to learn, though, this is a good overview of Love-A-Bull and its mission to help pit bulls and their image. He extensively interviews Lydia Zaidman, one of Love-A-Bull’s founders, and Dr. Lynanne Mockler, an Austin veterinarian who knows these dogs well.

3. Fox Austin’s byline-less article, simply titled “Pit Bull Awareness Day,” waits until the fifth paragraph of an eight-paragraph article to mention the event, but at least it describes the dogs as “calm.”

4. Steve Alberts of KVUE is last, and very much least. He wrote an article entitled “Man attacked by dog at the Hike and Bike Trail.” He will be getting his own blog post, because I want to keep this one positive.

Something I noticed that gives me a sense of hope is the near-total lack of negative comments on all but one of the stories. An online article on pit bulls invariably brings out a few people who will post comments, sometimes being generous with their use of ALL CAPS, explaining how pit bulls are impossible to train and cannot be rehabilitated because yargle blargle wargle lalalalalalala and so forth. Pit bull advocates, though surely well-meaning, always end up sinking to their level in responding, calling them “ignorant” and whatnot.

Here’s the thing, though: I only saw those negative comments on the Fox story, and the only commenter I saw really phoned it in: some guy named Cody really doesn’t like pit bulls or Rottweilers. It’s hardly even worth trying to argue with him. It seems, though, that if an article gives pitties a fair shake, the haters can’t quite muster the steam to spew in the comments. To that I say hell yeah.

Coming soon: I take on Steve Alberts, and I calmly explain why pit bull critics are wrong.

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The American judiciary is not an event-planning service

Caveat emptor. Just look it up.

Seriously, though, few things in life are probably as important as good wedding photos. Possibly food, and maybe oxygen, but wedding photos are a very close third.

So it should come as no surprise that, in the face of sub-par wedding photos, a groom would seek legal redress.

[O]ne groom, disappointed with his wedding photos, decided to sue. The photographers had missed the last dance and the bouquet toss, the groom, Todd J. Remis of Manhattan, said.

Actually, yes, it does come as a bit of a surprise, and here’s why:

[W]hat is striking, said the studio that took the pictures, is that Mr. Remis’s wedding took place in 2003 and he waited six years to sue. And not only has Mr. Remis demanded to be repaid the $4,100 cost of the photography, he also wants $48,000 to recreate the entire wedding and fly the principals to New York so the celebration can be re-shot by another photographer.

If that were all, this might be an amusing footnote to the history of human weirdness. But of course that’s not all.

Re-enacting the wedding may pose a particular challenge, the studio pointed out, because the couple divorced and the bride is believed to have moved back to her native Latvia.

In case you are wondering, Latvia is outside of the subpoena power of any New York state judge. I think it’s in Europe somewhere. A judge has already dismissed most of the claims, but will allow the breach of contract claim to continue. The photographer therefore likely has little risk of actually having to re-stage the wedding. Who could say what the damages would be for a breach of contract here, though? How does one put a price tag on an 8 year-old wedding that led to a divorce three years ago, with the wife moving to the other side of the planet?

History will decide. In the meantime, if you are looking to recapture memories of yore, bring your own camera and leave the courts out of it. Sheesh.

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Austin animals need your help!!!

Austin’s animal shelter will be moving to its new location in one week, so they need help fostering animals! The following is from
Sarah Hammond, Foster Coordinator for Austin Animal Services:

Many of you have signed up to foster animals during our move or asked me how you can help and I’d like to let you know how YOU, yes YOU can help!

We are T minus 7 days before the move so the time is NOW to come pick out a pet you can foster. Dog, cat, kitten, puppy, no matter. As long as their stray time is over and they have no adopter waiting for them, they are available for fostering.

So how can I tell by looking?

Online: Visit www.getapetnow.com go to “Get a Pet” (the cat) from there, click on “View Adoptable Pets” and select dog or cat and the sex and age you are interested in.  Leave that blank if you do not care. Scroll though and jot down the ID number and the Kennel number of the pets you are interested in.

In the Shelter: Working off your list or off the cuff, look for animals you are interested in who have a GREEN “Let’s Go” sign (that means they are done with their stray time) and also do NOT have a PINK “Interest Pending” tag (which means there is already an adopter interested.) You can visit with these animals, pet them, hang out them and decide if you think them crashing at your place for 7-14 days is something that would be a good idea.

How do I take them home?

Visit with the Customer Service Reps in Building C – you want to be sure there are not any medical needs or behavior concerns that you were not aware of. If all looks good, let the staff member know you are ready to take them home and foster them for “The Move”.  The staff member will make sure your pet gets a microchip and a rabies shot (if they are old enough) before they go home with you.

How do I return them?

It will take us several days after the move to settle in and figure out how everything is going to work – be patient with us! I am guessing around the 15th, we will have a decent idea of how things work, how full we are and where we can put incoming foster pets. E-mail sarah.hammond@austintexas.gov and let her know you are ready to turn your foster pet and she will finalize the arrangements.

What if I don’t WANT to return them?

It happens to the best of us, if you want to adopt the pet you fostered, or found someone who is interested in adopting them, let Sarah know. We just need to make sure the animal is old and healthy enough for adoption and also MUST be fixed and chipped before going to a new home. Sarah can help you make these arrangements. If you are an approved foster, you are an approved adopter automatically. If you are a volunteer, you will need to complete the adoption process with customer service. If someone you know wants to adopt the pet, they do have to complete the adoption application with the shelter before they can take ownership of the pet.

No, I don’t want to keep them but I want to try to find them a home and keep them at my house until a forever home is found.

That’s GREAT! Even our brand new shelter is not as good as crashing in a HOME until a FURRever home is found.  Ask Sarah for more Marketing Ideas to promote your foster pet! And remember, they need wellness (shots, parasite protection) regularly so don’t loose touch!

If you can help (as Bob Barker would say) COME ON DOWN!!!

Sarah Hammond
Austin Animal Services
Foster Coordinator
Current Contact Info:
1156 W. Cesar Chavez
Austin, TX 78704
Phone: 512-972-6071
Fax: 512-972-6036

as of November 10, 2011
Contact Info:
Austin Animal Center
7201 Levander Loop
Austin, TX 78702
Phone: 512-978-0541
Fax: 512-978-0616

Photo credit: Kenphot from morguefile.com

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