Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Matrix Revisited

I think everyone has seen the movie The Matrix.If you have not, it portrays the battle between being "real" and feeling good. In effect, machines have taken over the world and cultivate humans as an energy source. They--the humans--actually grow in really yummy looking little pods. They are content because whatever consciousness they have is simply the result of a computerized reality.

Some bothersome Moneylaw-type humans are actually fighting for real reality even though it means some unhappiness. In the movie, the evil forces are those who want to perpetuate the sense of well-being. Thus, the movie assumes, counter to what the current demand for mood-altering drugs indicates, that we are instinctively on the side of those who fight for the real reality. The movie skips over a question that philosophers have addressed one way or another for centuries. Are we actually on the side of the real? Descartes saw the issue as whether our consciousness is imposed by some outside force or the result of our free will. The idea is reflected in Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia when he asks whether we would willingly enter an experience machine. In the machine everything is dandy, and you do not recall that you opted into the machine. Nozick makes the case that there are reasons for not entering the machine.

Most law professors seem to crave the painlessness of the Matrix. In terms of the experience machine, it amounts to a preference for sensing that one is part of a productive endeavor over actually being part of a productive endeavor.Having gone through the contortions necessary to change perceptions of themselves, their schools and programs, they then begin to take satisfaction from those appearances as though they were real. In terms of the film, it is comparable to constructing the Matrix or Nozick's experience machine and then happily jumping in. The pull is irresistible to many. Indeed, the unhappiest people I have known in the academic world are those who are unable to suspend their disbelief sufficiently to enjoy the illusion.

Some features of the Matrix are:

1. A new professor is asked to write an article for a symposium by a senior colleague. The article is called "peer-reviewed” because no law review students were involved. The article comes out and the senior colleague publicly congratulates the new professor and reviews the article for tenure purposes.

2. A faculty member goes all out to be appealing to the students. Assignments are modest, demands in class low and there is plenty of outside of class mingling. The professor's teaching evaluations are very high and he concludes that he is an "effective teacher."

3. A new course is proposed and the faculty considers whether it is a 3 or 4 credit course. One argument in favor of labeling it a 4 credit course is that it could then be regarded as a full assignment for the faculty member teaching it.

4. A popular faculty member is proposed for tenure. His teaching evaluations are good to average. His volume of scholarship is high. In the file is a negative letter from a national expert asserting, correctly, that 30% of the candidate's work is recycled from earlier work. After twenty minutes of laudatory commentary at the tenure review meeting, nothing is said about the negative letter and its claim.

5. Another popular candidate is proposed for tenure. She, her husband, and their children are regulars at faculty social events. Dinner at her house is always fun. Her teaching evaluations are average and class visits reveal that she is, at best, an average teacher. In addition, even though she has met the numerical requirements for number of articles to be granted tenure, most of her writing came in the last year. Both of her last two articles--one of which was a fifteen-page symposium piece she submitted at the request of a friend--were in manuscript form when evaluated. The tenure vote is positive.

6. A faculty member travels to Italy where he has family members. He proposes starting a summer program in Italy. None of the students at your school speak Italian, your state has little trade with Italy, and United States law would be taught at the summer school. At least two other faculty would travel to Italy, at the school's expense, in order to do the teaching. The program is approved by the faculty.

7. Your faculty teaches twelve credit hours per academic year. This translates into six sixty-minute teaching hours per week. A faculty committee proposes reducing the teaching load to nine credit hours per academic year and reducing the class period to fifty minutes. An acceptable basis for reducing the class period is "We would still comply with accreditation requirements. "

8.In the course of arguing for a candidate a faculty member who knows the candidate expresses pleasant surprise that the candidate has been considered by the appointments committee. "What a wonderful coincidence." In the file that has been distributed there is a long letter from the candidate to that faculty member discussing the faculty member’s extended efforts to convince the appointments committee to recruit the candidate.

8. You have read this list and decide none of this has happened at your school.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Power Breakfast: Rerun

Here you go. To get you started in the morning.
Take one or two slices of bread. I personally like one thick slice.
Toast it or not, it's up to you.

Spread it with butter, margarine or one of the low cholesterol spreads.

Now sprinkle all over it dry roasted sunflower seed kernels. Lots of them! They stick nicely to the spread. I getting hungry just thinking about this.

Finally, jam, jelly, honey or what ever you like on top. If can skip the underlying spread and the jam and just use Nutella and put the sunflower seed kernels on top. Probably you should work your way up to this.

A wonderful breakfast that will supercharge you for the day.

Nutty and sweet -- just like my favorite people.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fast Five

Can a film be cause for celebration? Most, including me, would say no. If so, I challenge them to rethink their position after seeing Fast Five. It aims exclusively at the sophisiticated viewer and dares him or her to think about what a medium that has lost its way can be. The film is moving, inspiring, and likely to cause some to drive really fast when leaving the theatre. Directed by Justin Lin of "Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift" and written by veteran Chris Morgan, their effort is not simply award worthy, it is a life altering experience. Set in the dreary favelas of Rio de Janiero, the pulse of the film is provided by Sir Vin Diesel, fresh off his extened run as Macbeth the Old Vic; Mr. Dwayne Johnson, most recently of Westlemania 27; and Mr. Johnson's spectacularly aggressive biceps. It is good and evil with the prize the unborn niece or nephew of Dom, Sir Vin's character. The homage to Rosemary's Babe is touching and sincere. The chemistry between Sir Vin and Mr. Johnson might best be decribed as a testosterone bath culminating in the film's finest scene when Sir Vin has an opportunity to drive a monkey wrench into the skull of Mr. Johnson. This scene will immediately take viewers back to Citizen Kane or at least their film studies classes in which every instructor taught them if they did not worship Citizen Kane they better fake it or risk getting an F on the final exam.

A superb supporting cast includes Ludacris in the role of Ludacris and Joaquim de Almeida, reprizing the role he so-often played in "Miami Vice" opposite Crockett and Tubs. Sung Kang, however, steals the show with his understated performance as Han. Kang is the newest Belmondo and his performance is Belmondo at his best -- think Breathless, unless you have been under a rock.

Most of the audience will simply laugh, groan, moan, cry, eat milk duds and text message. The film is lost on them. They will not recognize the magic and the celebration of art in Fast Five. For the sophisticated viewer it is cavier and champagne.