May 24, 2011
Tornado!
Posted by Gordon Smith

All of the dreadful news about tornadoes in the Midwest brought back childhood memories of sitting in the basement of our Wisconsin home, waiting for my world to crumble around me. For me tornadoes were not just an imaginary concern because a tornado actually struck our family farm when I was about eight years old.

On that occasion -- in the middle of a summer night -- I wasn't in the basement, but in the upper bunk in an upstairs bedroom. I didn't know about the tornado until morning, several hours after it touched down. When I awoke, my older sister was in the bottom bunk, which was unusual because that bunk belonged to my brother, who was away at college. I said, "What are you doing in here?"

"Our barn was blown down by a tornado."

I didn't believe her, of course, so I ran out to the hallway, which had a window facing the barn. Or, rather, the place where the barn used to be. It looked like photos I had seen of buildings that had been bombed in WWII. Fortunately, the walls of the bottom floor of the barn were made of cinder block, which withstood the tornado, and all of our animals were safe, if a bit scared.

Later that day, our farm was swarmed by neighbors who came to help us clean up. They offered to help us build a new barn, but we ended up just selling the whole farm and moving to the City of Osseo. The scariest part of all of this was finding the rail from the hay mow buried six feet into the lawn just a few yards from our house. It had been flung like spear about the length of a football field and deposited there by the tornado. 

And that's why I always went to the basement when the siren for a tornado warning sounded in Osseo.

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February 15, 2011
My Poet/My Novelist -- Happy Belated Valentine's Day!
Posted by Christine Hurt

Yesterday, I drove three hours to Dekalb, IL and back to teach in a bar review course hsoted by Northern Illinois University.  ON the way back, I was enjoying my NPR app and was laughing out loud to this Studio 360 segment called "My Poet/My Novelist."  A real-life couple, one a novelist and the other (you guessed it) a poet, narrate their day together.  (The novelist keeps asking the poet how much she's written today, and she keeps reminding him it doesn't matter because they are all going to die.)  The Internet was cutting out between I-80 and Bloomington, so I had to look for it this morning to finish it.  I would suggest listening to it with your (dog person/cat person or chocolate person/vanilla person) significant other!

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February 10, 2011
Miscellany Redux
Posted by David Zaring
Perhaps it's time to catch up on a few observations by fellow academics.
  • Daniel Drezner argues that Europe is likely to come out of the current crisis pursuing even more integration, and I must say, I'm betting on that as well.  It's all well and good to decry the loss of control over monetary policy that the Euro represents, but it's also quite the form of status quo bias (and the decrying is the province of the always far-seeing macroeconomists, for that matter).  In fact, I can't really see how seeking the Euro breakup is different than arguing that Massachusetts ought to be able to mint its own fiat Romneys, or whatever, oh, and also reinstall border controls and implement free trade policies with other states in its own unique fashion.  And if that seems silly, why would Portugal want to do the same thing?
  • Stephen Bainbridge is now distinguished, and not just by his impressive holiday recipes.
  • And Brian Galle opens what - as he himself will tell you - is a sure to be transfixing series of posts on unemployment insurance, which I'm sure he seeks to own the way I own American foreign investment regulation.

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January 27, 2011
Linx
Posted by David Zaring
  • Sally Katzen's testimony on the REINS Act - she sees a possible take care clause problem with the statue and otherwise makes the argument that when one act amends hundreds of them, there might be an issue.  Both are worth thinking about, but what Congress giveth, it can taketh away, I think.
  • Adler on the REINS Act, if you haven't seen it.
  • Suzanne Craig on the financial crisis commission report - the highlights.
  • Here is a Davos version of nobody-knows-what-to-do-about-banking.  The banks themselves appear to be using the forum to complain about how they - your friends and neighbors - are tired of being demonized.

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December 31, 2010
The Merit Badge Knot
Posted by Gordon Smith

From time to time on this blog, I mention the scouting accomplishments of my twin boys. When I blogged about their merit badge accomplishments on New Year's Day 2010 (here), I felt some ambiguity about whether they had completed all of the merit badges, given that the Boy Scouts had approved some new merit badges and announced the reactivation of some historic merit badges at the end of 2009. Standing at the end of 2010, the ambiguity is gone: Christian and Conrad have finished all of the merit badges! 

One of our local scout leaders is fond of telling the boys about the value of doing hard things, and I completely endorse this message. Earning all of the merit badges has been hard, not just for the boys, but also for their parents and leaders. Nevertheless, I have watched them grow immensely during these last years, and I am grateful for their willingness to do hard things. I am also grateful to their Mom, who deserves a great deal of credit for scheduling, prodding, and guiding.

We have asked Troy Pugh to add them to the list of Merit Badge Knot achievers. Given that they are only 14 years old, I suspect that Conrad and Christian will add to their merit badge talley before all is said and done, but congratulations are due now. Congrats, boys!

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November 21, 2010
Thanks Again
Posted by Jeff Schwartz

Thanks again for having me!  

I’ve very much enjoyed posting for the last couple of weeks and hope to have contributed some food for thought.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 15, 2010
Links: Litigation Finance, Litigation Finance, Tanier
Posted by David Zaring
  • I participated in the Penn Journal of Business Law/Journal of International Law symposium on Friday, on a panel with Bill Bratton, Chris Brummer, Eric Pan (academics all), and former SEC Enforcement chief counsel Joan McKown.  Joan relayed the discomfort the business community has with Dodd-Frank's whistleblower provisions, which basically turn the statute into a qui tam arrangement - that is, the uncoverer of fraud gets a chunk of the recovery.  When paired with foreign corrupt practices practice - Siemens just paid out a billion dollars in fines to various regulators for an Italian bribe - you can see how you're talking about real money.  Anyway, the Times has an overview of the implementation issue - my own sense is that qui tam arrangements work worst when quasi-wrongdoers (someone who saw the bribery, but didn't say anything about it) or corporate compliance officers (once you discover wrongdoing, should you tell your bosses, or try to retire on the news, via the government?) get to recover.  You can imagine the conflicts, and the SEC has proposed exempting these sorts of people from recovery.  We'll see if that's what Congress wanted.
  • And of course, there's this litigation finance story too.
  • I think that David Post is late to the Mike Tanier admiration club, which I've belonged to since he started at the Times, and others in the olden, Football Outsiders days.  He's totally right, though - Tanier can really write.

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November 08, 2010
Thanks for Having Me
Posted by Jeff Schwartz

Many thanks to Gordon Smith and everyone at the Conglomerate for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts over the next couple of weeks.  I have been a frequent reader and look forward to contributing to the discussion.

My scholarship focuses on the law as it pertains to investing and finance.  I’m particularly interested in the regulation of mutual funds and hedge funds; the philosophical and regulatory theories that underpin securities regulation (and regulation in general); behavioral finance and the behavior of financial markets; and the role of the stock market in society and retirement savings.  I plan to touch on these areas in my upcoming posts.

 

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November 01, 2010
My sister was right!
Posted by Gordon Smith

I have two older sisters, both of whom spent a great deal of energy and time manipulating me. Most of their attempts are pretty standard fare ...

"If you swallow chewing gum, it stays in your stomach for the rest of your life."

"If you cross your eyes, they will get stuck."

"Santa Claus doesn't really exist."

You get the idea. Occasionally, they raised the stakes, like dressing me up as a ballerina ("You look cute in that tutu"), when everyone knew I was really Batman.

One of the most memorable events of my early childhood was a trip to Disneyland. While boarding the Matterhorn, one of my sisters enjoined me: "Stay in your seat! Last week a kid unbuckled his seat belt on this ride and died!"

He died on this ride?! I was about four years old and that scared the bejeebers out of me. Indeed, I trace my ongoing fear of fair rides to that day.

At some point, I concluded that my sister had invented that story to keep me safe, but it turns out she was right, at least about the most important fact. From Wikipedia: "Mark Maples, age 15, was killed on the Matterhorn in May 1964 when he unbuckled his seat belt and tried to stand up as the cart was approaching the peak of the mountain. He lost his balance and fell onto the track below and crushed his skull." This didn't happen the week before my visit to Disneyland, but it was only a couple of years prior.

Sorry I doubted you, Sis. As of today, no more crossing my eyes.

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October 08, 2010
"Every two weeks, the last fluent speaker of a language dies"
Posted by Gordon Smith

So many are already gone, but researchers recently discovered "Koro" -- spoken in the foothills of the Himalayas -- which still has 800 or so speakers. Listen.

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September 27, 2010
Read Lately
Posted by David Zaring
  • Do businesses benefit from government stasis?  The Times had one guy do a bank of the evenlope calculation; he "defined 'governmental gridlock' as a period when no single party controlled the White House and both chambers in Congress. From 1926 through last year, an index of large-capitalization stocks returned about 7 percent, annualized, when there was gridlock, compared with about 12 percent when there was not."
  • I've got a short paper on the way that's going to delve into Ken Feinberg's tenure as the pay czar for the special seven TARP companies, and to that end, I went to hear the man speak at this Wharton conference (I gave a paper there, too).  He was at his best - just resigned the job to focus on mediating the often rather speculative claims of injury coming out of the Gulf oil spill.  No big reveals, but it's worth noting that the AIG people wanted cash now, rather than long vesting stock, even more than most, and it's worth noting that he got his consultants Lucian Bebchuk and Kevin Murphy (the one from USC) to agree that the stock grants were the way to go.  Now that's skilled mediation!
  • Who will be the educational institutions that grok and enjoy a reputation for doing so for Islamic finance?  They may not be American

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The Future of the Public Library
Posted by Christine Hurt

I love libraries.  In college, I worked at the George & Helen Mahon Public Library in Lubbock, Texas.  I was a shelver; I made minimum wage and got a 15 minute break for every 4-hour shift.  I read Love in the Time of Cholera in 15-minute increments when it was a "NEW" book.  I started out shelving in the 300s and the 600s under the Dewey Decimal system.  (The 300s are how-to books, including The Joy of Sex, which I reshelved every morning after retrieving it from wherever a patron squirreled it away -- no one ever checked out The Joy of Sex.)  I was promoted to the Easy section, which is the hardest because toddlers never reshelve, then enjoyed a relaxing seniority stint in Fiction/Detective/Science Fiction.  I think I have had a library card in every city in which I have lived.  I am a regular at "Friends of the Library" sales.

So, this headline seemed sort of ominous:  Anger as a Private Company Takes Over Libraries.  Yikes!  Are corporate raiders toilet-bowling libraries now, selling off books, shelving and microfiche readers?  No.  Municipalities are outsourcing management of public libraries to private concerns.  Whew.  Except some people are quite up in arms.  The fear is that if we run libraries like private businesses, there will be "greater cost, fewer books, less access."  Protests are held.  Petitions signed.  But it seems that the constituency that will lose out are employees, who were public employees with public pensions, and now might be private employees with 401(k)s.  (Of course, in some states I know of, having a 401(k) seems preferable.)  States may well be attracted to moving some of its liabilities on to a different ledger.  Another concern might be if volunteers do a lot of a libraries' work -- people may not volunteer if they see the library as a private, for-profit concern. 

In Champaign, we've had a library crisis of our own.  Here, there is a proposal to require out-of-county folk to pay extra for a library card instead of having reciprocal lending privileges.  Apparently, these "reciprocal" agreements are fairly one-sided, with non-Champaign resident use vastly exceeding use by Champaign residents at out-of-county libraries.  (Ours is new, beautiful, etc.)  The proposed fee is (gulp) $200, the average amount in taxes that a property owner in Champaign county pays to the library each year.  I guess there's no such thing as a free library.  That is a number that made me pause.  That's more than a Netflix account.  (I understand that a bricks-n-mortar operation is much more expensive than a nationwide website with huge economies of scale, etc.).  but $200?  How many families would pay that voluntarily to have library access?  We are heavy users of the library.  We are there most weeks.  But some people probably don't go, and are subsidizing me.  (Of course, I've had the same 3 Netflix movies on my counter for six months, so I'm subsidizing some 24 year-old who stays up a lot later than I do.)  But there are also a lot of families who have less-than-average tax bills, or who rent, who could not come up with $200 a year, but who use the library's services. 

The article never mentioned (and our local debate has not touched on) the reality of public libraries that I experienced during my time as a shelver.  Public libraries are ports in the storm for a lot of people.  They serve as small refuges during the day for all kinds of people from the homeless to latchkey middle schoolers to moms of toddlers who just need a diversion for an hour.  These are challenges to all public libraries, and many embrace all of these populations, others not so much.  So, I would be interested to see if changing the management changes the philosophy in how welcoming libraries are to all comers.

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August 17, 2010
Links
Posted by David Zaring
  • I've been listening to the transactional instruction conference podcast from Emory, and if you've been noodling about adding some transactional instruction to your classes, you might enjoy a listen as well.  In my view, the critical problems for this sort of instruction is the work required of the instructor, and the scalability of the exercises.  I can use TAs, but law professors can't.  And I've got a city full of adjuncts.  Most people don't.  A semester-long deal class still looks like a post-tenure luxury (be nice to expose my students to a modest drafting exercise though).
  • An actual real finance lawyer on Basel III, and he writes well.
  • Watts on Zaring on Jotwell.
  • I'm teaching freshmen, starting in three weeks.  Eager to make sense of the modern young person, I've tried to make it through a Fred video (his feature film drops this fall), and I checked in on Justin Bieber's twitter account, assuming that it must be pretty good if it has 4 million followers.  The takeaways, in addition to a renewed commitment to keep the age divide unbridgeable: bangs are popular, and short form expression is getting even shorter.

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July 16, 2010
Study like a scholar, scholar!
Posted by Gordon Smith

An Old Spice spoof from BYU's library ...

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May 04, 2010
The Strange Intersection Between Business Law and Wellness
Posted by Christine Hurt
As a corporate law professor, you may think that I would not be an expert in the dynamics of the American family.  However, after reading way too many cases on family partnerships, LLC's and closely-held corporations, I did not need the New York Times to tell me that sometimes parent-child  (and sibling) relationships deteriorate "after a conflict about money."  Article sympathizing with parents who are alienated from their children here.

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