How to Stop Coughing

For those of you who know I am a fan of Vicks™ on the feet, and think that this post is going to reiterate that, think again. I have something better that works like a charm. It seems magic, it works so well. It works for adults as well as children.

A couple of years ago during a particularly bad cold where I could not stop coughing no matter what, I wanted to determine what a cough was exactly so that perhaps I could then figure out how to stop it. I had been coughing for days, couldn’t sleep, and was sick to death of the constant tickling in my throat and ache in my head from coughing and coughing and coughing.

I figured out that a lot of cough is a reflex designed to prevent pulmonary aspiration, promote the movement of cilia in the lungs, and to clear airway debris. The reflex is partially triggered by blood in the throat. The purpose behind plasters (covering the chest or feet with different ingredients) to stop coughs is to pull blood away from the vessels into the throat. The point then, of putting Vicks™ or its equivalent on the chest or feet is to draw blood away from the throat, thereby relieving the cough.

I became a major fan of the Vicks™ approach because it worked so well on my baby daughter, who was age one at the time. I figured this out and was suffering mightily from a cold as well. I had given her the children’s version of cough medicine and it wasn’t working any better than the adult version was working for me. My research also brought up medical study after medical study showing how ineffective cough medicine really is. When I put Vicks on my baby’s feet, her coughs would stop within a minute. It was miraculous. She would be sleeping peacefully within minutes.

Yet the Vicks™ approach did not always work so well for me during a particularly bad cold this fall. I have a friend who complained it did not work for her at all. Lying awake coughing one night, I pondered this. Why would it work so well for small children and not adults? The answer it seemed to me was that the soles of the feet of adults are thicker than those of small children. One part of the Vicks™ on the feet approach that I did not like was that I had to spread it on really thick and cover my feet with socks, otherwise the sheets would get covered in petroleum jelly, the ingredient in Vicks™ that holds it together. I scanned my body, considering all the places where blood vessels would be near the surface that would take blood away from the neck. I realized that the wrists are just about perfect. The veins are right there near the surface of the skin, and wrists are far away from the neck.

I started putting Vicks™ on my wrists. It worked much better than feet. However, there was still the issue of petroleum jelly getting all over everything and leaving an oily residue, even after washing. The ingredients in Vicks are camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus. (Incidentally, I never actually used the Vicks™ brand because it is stupidly expensive and the generic version is exactly the same thing.)

Then one afternoon my teenage daughter pointed out that the ingredients in pain relieving cream (aka BenGay™, Icy Hot™, Mentholatum Deep Heat™, and the lot) are virtually identical, except without the petroleum jelly. We had a couple of tubes of generic pain relieving cream. The next time Milla had a cold, she used this on her wrists and claimed it worked better than anything we had used to date. The ingredients are camphor, menthol, and methyl salicylate, which is essentially wintergreen oil. The best part about this stuff is that it is extremely cheap (I paid $2.39 for a 4 ounce tube), and because the veins in the wrist are so close to the surface of the skin, you do not need much to get a result. The cream is not greasy and doesn’t leave any residue on the clothes. Plus the wintergreen smells good. I was also able to purchase a menthol stick designed for sore muscles, which is the best approach of all. Menthol has become our new coughing charm.

My 5-year-old has had a cold for about a week. She sleeps with me and started coughing several nights ago. I keep a stick of menthol rub on the bedside table. She coughs, I rub a small amount on her wrists, the coughing stops in under 20 seconds and she stays asleep for several hours. It’s miraculous. One night, I felt a tickle in my throat that kept on long enough I thought it would erupt in a huge cough. I rubbed on a small amount of menthol. The tickle disappeared. We are both getting sleep, and sleep is the best remedy to cure the cold that causes the cough in the first place.

One small caution: menthol is painful if you get it in your eyes. Be sure to wear long sleeves and cover your wrists after applying so that if your arm is up near your face, you don’t get it in your eyes. I’ve applied it to the inside of the elbow with the same success as the wrists, but with less risk of getting the menthol into the membranes of the eyes.

This works. I can’t recommend it enough. Want to stop a cough? Put menthol on your wrists or anywhere else you see veins near the surface of your skin. It works.

Interestingly, over the summer, we spent a weekend at the coast. I’d had a bit of a niggling cough off and on. Nothing major, but irritating periodically. I did not bring any sort of menthol to the beach with us. Lying there awake with the niggling cough, I considered what else might work. I had read that toothpaste has menthol in it, and it certainly has peppermint oil, which is the original ingredient in menthol. Worn out I figured, why not? I got up, got the travel toothpaste, and smeared some on my wrists. The cough ceased. Both nights we were there it worked. I slept and the cough was never able to really take hold.

One thing to note, if your cough is caused by inflamed lungs, smoking, or something more chronic, this won’t work. This is for the cough that is caused by blood in the blood vessels of the throat. If the cough is caused by something other than blood in the blood vessels in the throat, this is not the remedy.

If you try this, let me know how it worked for you in the comments section. I’m sure others would love to hear of your experience as well.

Craigslist Ad for the Misogynistic Lawnmower I Needed to Get Rid Of

Craigslist Ad for the Misogynistic Lawnmower I Needed to Get Rid Of.

Wearing its Wifebeater T-Shirt

I have an evil lawnmower that needs a new home. It is possessed by a demon, so the new owner would need strong exorcism tendencies. It does not like women, so the new owner would best be male. In the alternative, a female who can seriously kick its ass would also work. I’ve tried. I’m done. I bought it brand new from Sears. Paid like 400 bucks or some ridiculous amount. Says right on top, EASY START. Well, I can tell you that unless you are a man, that is a bunch of shit. It has a mean streak, for sure. I bring it out to mow. I push that little red button three times that brings the gas up from its bowels. I wait a bit. Then I pull the string. Do you think the bastard easy starts? No. Of course not. Then the nice male neighbor across the street, or my brother, or the other neighbor down the road happens to notice my kicking and screaming at the useless misogynistic piece of crap and offers to help. One pull. One damn pull and the fucker starts right up. I’ve tried being nice. I go out there and promise I will not get mad, I will not get mad. I bought it nice new spark plugs. I changed its oil. I give it fresh gasoline. But does that work? Noooooo, of course not. I’ve had it with it. Years of this. Years! I can’t stand it anymore. I would like to sell it and buy another, more woman friendly lawnmower, one that does not take pleasure in making me look like a helpless female. Or I would like to get one that doesn’t use gas or electric, one of those old-fashioned push along mowers that just clips the grass. I don’t mind raking clippings. That would take less time than I already spend trying to get the current evil piece of spiteful junk to start. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that the plastic cover thing on the outside does have a crack in it. That is because I kicked the shit out of it one time when it would not start. This does not affect its running capability, but it does give it a scarred look. Makes it more manly, I think. So if you’re interested, and want to give the evil thing a whirl, email me and we’ll set something up. Make an offer on the price. Like I said, I just want to get something that doesn’t make mowing the lawn an angry experience.

It’s About Winning

This article has been published at the Huffington Post and can be seen here.

What I realized yesterday after I saw the cover of a newspaper filled with cheering American faces at the capture of the Boston suspect is that the reason these crimes are ignored and expanded is that Americans as a whole (for the most part, minus some small dissent) agree with the policies. Ours is a bloodthirsty, punitive, and judgmental nation. Full of hypocrisy, we pound our chests in glory at the murder of those we feel have sinned against us, while concurrently seeking to murder ourselves, using revenge as justification, regardless whether there is accuracy in those beliefs, and in spite of our own atrocities against other nations. Our leaders are simply symbols for all of us.

To keep reading, click here.

America’s Grave Double Standard

If 3 Americans are killed in a sporting event, it is an act of terrorism. The US kills children with drones, and it is collateral damage. Our country MURDERS CHILDREN! I am not a wingnut conspiracy theorist. This is a fact. We, the unholy abusers, scream so foul when anyone dares harm an American, but we have no problem killing the children of brown people in nations where we have the holier than thou audacity to decide it is okay to MURDER CHILDREN, claiming somehow it is justified in our “war on terror.” WE are the terrorists!

How would you feel if some country came and killed your child? Some country that doesn’t even have the guts to allow an actual human to place that child in its sights? Instead we let some “soldier” sit in an air-conditioned room and murder children from afar, kind of like a video game. How would you feel? No wonder people in these countries want to terrorize us. I understand their sentiments. It isn’t Islam, it’s humanity. If someone killed my child for some fucked up, power grab, political reason, I would want to destroy them. Let’s just maintain the war machine. Killing their children ensures their rage, ensures new terrorists, keeps the war machine growing.

I admit it. I don’t want to be a part of this country, the greatest abusers on earth. We should be ashamed. We should all be ashamed of the terror we inflict on innocent people so that a few plutocrats can buy some more yachts. In our complicity, we are responsible. Letting this happen and refusing to speak out makes us accomplices.

If you can stand to look at the sad picture of a toddler lying dead in the sand, read THIS ARTICLE. I have taken from it the names, ages, and genders of children killed by the United States. It should turn your stomach. Is it okay to kill a child of 2 if her last name is Mohammed, is that it? Is it okay because she is brown? What is your justification? I don’t have a justification, you might say. It isn’t me! But if you support our military, if you support our government, if you support OBAMA, you must somehow justify this murder. Read these names. Read their ages. Then ask yourself if any of it is okay. If your answer is yes, at least be honest and admit it that you support murder.

PAKISTAN

Noor Aziz, age 8, male
Abdul Wasit, age 17, male
Noor Syed, age 8, male
Wajid Noor, age 9, male
Syed Wali Shah, age 7, male
Ayeesha, age 3, female
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Shoaib, age 8, male
Hayatullah KhaMohammad, age 16, male
Tariq Aziz, age 16, male
Sanaullah Jan, age 17, male
Maezol Khan, age 8, female
Nasir Khan, male
Naeem Khan, male
Naeemullah, male
Mohammad Tahir, age 16, male
Azizul Wahab, age 15, male
Fazal Wahab, age 16, male
Ziauddin, age 16, male
Mohammad Yunus, age 16, male
Fazal Hakim, age 19, male
Ilyas, age 13, male
Sohail, age 7, male
Asadullah, age 9, male
khalilullah, age 9, male
Noor Mohammad, age 8, male
Khalid, age 12, male
Saifullah, age 9, male
Mashooq Jan, age 15, male
Nawab, age 17, male
Sultanat Khan, age 16, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 13, male
Noor Mohammad, age 15, male
Mohammad Yaas Khan, age 16, male
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 17, male
Abdullah, age 18, male
Ikramullah Zada, age 17, male
Inayatur Rehman, age 16, male
Shahbuddin, age 15, male
Yahya Khan, age 16 |male
Rahatullah, age 17, male
Mohammad Salim, age 11, male
Shahjehan, age 15, male
Gul Sher Khan, age 15, male
Bakht Muneer, age 14, male
Numair, age 14, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Taseel Khan, age 18, male
Zaheeruddin, age 16, male
Qari Ishaq, age 19, male
Jamshed Khan, age 14, male
Alam Nabi, age 11, male
Qari Abdul Karim, age 19, male
Rahmatullah, age 14, male
Abdus Samad, age 17, male
Siraj, age 16, male
Saeedullah, age 17, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Salman, age 12, male
Fazal Wahab, age 18, male
Baacha Rahman, age 13, male
Wali-ur-Rahman, age 17, male
Iftikhar, age 17, male
Inayatullah, age 15, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Adnan, age 16, male
Najibullah, age 13, male
Naeemullah, age 17, male
Hizbullah, age 10, male
Kitab Gul, age 12, male
Wilayat Khan, age 11, male
Zabihullah, age 16, male
Shehzad Gul, age 11, male
Shabir, age 15, male
Qari Sharifullah, age 17, male
Shafiullah, age 16, male
Nimatullah, age 14, male
Shakirullah, age 16, male
Talha, age 8, male

YEMEN

Afrah Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 9, female
Zayda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 7, female
Hoda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 5, female
Sheikha Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 4, female
Ibrahim Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 13, male
Asmaa Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 9, male
Salma Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, female
Fatima Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 3, female
Khadije Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 1, female
Hanaa Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 6, female
Mohammed Ali Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, male
Jawass Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 15, female
Maryam Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 2, female
Shafiq Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 1, female
Sheikha Nasser Mahdi Ahmad Bouh, age 3, female
Maha Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 12, male
Soumaya Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 9, female
Shafika Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 4, female
Shafiq Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 2, male
Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari, age 13, male
Daolah Nasser 10 years, age 10, female
AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout, age 12, male
Abdel- Rahman Anwar al Awlaki, age 16, male
Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki, age 17, male
Nasser Salim, age 19

Tired, Tired, Tired, Tired

My insomnia is chronic. I wanted to say my insomnia is more than chronic, but it isn’t. Chronic is chronic; something can’t be more than that. Chronic is just one of those overused words. Acute? Unabating? Ceaseless? Persistent? Severe? Okay. I’m sounding like a thesaurus. That’s me. The 2 a.m thesaurus. Come to me for all your thesaural needs. Thesaural. Now there’s a word. I made that one up. I like it. I like it a lot. I can put it in my wallet and take it with me. I’m soooo tired. It must be apparent from what I’m typing here. I have dabbled off and on with morning pages.I don’t keep up with them, for two main reasons. First, the chronic, acute, unabating, ceaseless, persistent, and severe insomnia. Once I actually fall back asleep, I want to assure as many precious minutes of the stuff as I can. This means that consistently rising 10 or 20 minutes earlier is not going to happen on any sort of regular basis. The other reason is that most of what I write is silly nonsense. Silly, silly, silly. Foolish, stupid, unintelligent, idiotic,brainless, mindless, witless, imbecilic, doltish; imprudent, scatterbrained, featherbrained; frivolous, giddy, vacuous,inane, immature, childish, dotty, scatty, loopy, wingy, ditzy, screwy, thick, thickheaded, birdbrained, pea-brained, dopey, dim, dimwitted, halfwitted, dippy, blockheaded, boneheaded,and lamebrained. That time I did consult a thesaurus, as I think is evident. Because my brain is all of these things without sleep, I would not be able to compile such a list on my own. I might not even be able to during my sharpest hours, which really are rather dull these days because of the interruptions in my sleep. It’s amazing I can type. Or spell. My fingers do have an automatic bent to them when it comes to typing. They even know when I type a typo before I do and go back and fix it hardly before I have had a chance to notice anything is awry. Oh, and back to morning pages… I guess there isn’t anything more to say about morning pages, except I rarely write them, blasted insomnia being a big reason why.

I guess I should try to go back to sleep. It’s not yet 3, but heading there. For the longest time I thought I woke up at 4 or 5, but lately, I’ve decided to look at the clock and have determined that it is much earlier than I suspected. I also think I must lie awake longer, because light is usually creeping around my light-blocking shades and I’m still lying there awake. No wonder I’m so freaking tired all the time.

Being an insomniac and writing this in the middle of the night will probably not stop the immediate liker from a blog that isn’t really a blog. I swear, these sites must set up some computer to like stuff automatically. I’m not sure the benefit to it. Maybe they think I’ll click back to buyabigscreentv.wordpress.com. The likers and followers have gotten increasingly more commercial of late. I don’t like the whole like and follow thing anyway. I prefer the way it used to be when people mostly actually commented. But everyone is facebooking everything. Gag. Anyway, there is no way some of these sites could have had a human read what I say and like it as fast as they show up. I hit publish, and simultaneously I get an email telling me some advertising site liked me. Oh, boy! They liked me, they really liked me!! Whatever. I won’t click on a blog with a name that is obviously selling some crap and isn’t a person. Also there seems to be a proliferation lately of sites claiming one can make a million sitting at home typing stupid crap on their computer. Sure, right. Tell me some more whoppers. I’m gullible. I don’t sleep. Bring it on. Just wait until I nap.

Law School is a Sham — Salon.com

This article was shared from Salon.com and can be found here.

Law school is a sham

Excerpted from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis”

“In the spring of 1974 — purely speculatively, I told myself — I took the Law School Admissions Test.
— Scott Turow, “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School”

Unlike Scott Turow, I always wanted to be a lawyer. Once I entered law school in 1976, it never occurred to me that using my JD to earn a living would be a significant challenge, or that my student loans from college and law school—roughly $50,000 in 2012 dollars—would be anything other than a minor inconvenience. I’d heard stories about unemployed lawyers driving taxicabs, but they were irrelevant to the life I’d planned. In that respect, I was similar to most of today’s prelaw students, who are convinced that bad things happen only to someone else. The difference is that the current prospects for law graduates are far worse than my contemporaries’ and mine ever were. Over the past two decades, the situation has deteriorated as student enrollments have grown to outpace the number of available new legal jobs by almost two to one. Deans who are determined to fill their classrooms have exploited prospective students who depend on federal student loan money to pay tuition. The result has been an unsustainable bubble.

Law school applicants continue to overwhelm the number of places available for them, ignoring data that on their face should propel most aspiring attorneys away from a legal career. Only about half of today’s graduates can expect to find a full-time position requiring a legal degree. Meanwhile, law schools have grown in number and size to accommodate demand without regard to whether there will be jobs for their graduates. The first part of the equation— student demand—is the product of media images projecting the glamour of attorneys’ lives, the perception that a legal degree ensures financial security, and law school’s status as the traditional default option for students with no idea what to do with their lives. The second part of the equation—the increase in law school supply—was made possible by a revolutionary change in the method of legal education more than a century ago. It gave educators an easy way to transform law schools into profit centers for their universities. Decades later, student loans would provide the funding.

Today there’s a lawyer for every 265 Americans—more than twice the per capita number in 1970—but for future attorneys, there won’t be enough legal jobs for more than half of them. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that for the ten-year period ending in 2018, the economy would produce an additional 98,500 legal jobs. In 2012, after the Great Recession decimated the market for attorneys, the BLS revised that estimate downward, to 73,600 openings from 2010 through 2020. Another prediction considered attrition in combination with the number of anticipated new attorneys on a state-by-state basis and concluded that through 2015 the number of new attorneys passing the bar exam would be more than twice the expected number of openings. Whichever of these statistics turns out to be closest, there’s little doubt that law graduates are already feeling the crunch. Fewer than half of 2011 graduates found jobs in private practice. Nine months after graduation, only 55 percent held full-time, long-term positions requiring a legal degree.

Along with their degrees and dubious job prospects, 85 percent of 2010 graduates from ABA-accredited law schools carried debt, and the average debt load was almost $100,000. Average law school debt for the graduating class of 2011 broke six figures, and that number has been growing in tandem with unemployment rates for new graduates. Even if a career in law turns out to be the right path, the financial burden can be staggering. If the law ends up being the wrong path, then debt becomes the rock that Sisyphus had to push uphill for the rest of his life.

* * *

For most lawyers, the idea of pursuing a legal career comes early in life. One-third of respondents to a survey of recent applicants said that they had wanted to attend law school since childhood and, while still in high school, made the decision to apply after college. Another third made the decision as undergraduates, in either their freshman or sophomore year. One reason for this phenomenon is the media: popular images make a legal career look attractive to young people long before they get to college. Any middle school student who reads “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) or “Inherit the Wind” (1955) takes in an image of the admirable lawyer-statesman. Recent portrayals include the CBS hit series “The Good Wife,” which continues a legacy of noble lawyers in television dating back to Perry Mason and proceeding through “The Defenders,” “L.A. Law,” “Law & Order,” and others. Every week, an episode of “The Good Wife” focuses on junior associate Alicia Florrick, a single mom who was raising two teenagers by herself until her philandering husband, a former state’s attorney, got out of jail near the end of the first season. Regularly she finds herself in tense courtroom scenes cross-examining key witnesses in high-stakes trials. While making a lot of money, she finds clever ways to unearth critical facts, reveal truth, and vindicate clients. Then she goes home every evening in time for dinner with her kids.

There are negative images out there, too, most notably in the work of John Grisham. For example, no pre-law student should want to emulate the crooked attorneys in “The Firm,” his 1991 best seller about lawyers who operate their enterprise as a front for the mob. But they also should be wary of identifying with the novel’s protagonist, Mitch McDeere. He follows the very track to which most of them aspire: he graduates from a top law school and joins a high-paying law firm to earn big money. However, he gets swept away by the billable-hour culture, which deprives him of sleep and a home life, and his marriage deteriorates. These pressures, which nearly destroy him, are wholly apart from the underlying criminality that his firm’s partners pursue.

Yet most pre-law students ignore the persistent warnings. Somehow those negative images can’t compete with the positive ones. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in economics, may have a partial explanation. Kahneman researches and writes about a universal human characteristic: clinging to preconceived notions, even as contrary information and unambiguous data undermine them. The phenomenon is a variant of confirmation bias, the tendency to credit information that comports with established beliefs and jettison anything that doesn’t. In the context of the legal profession, most prelaw students think they’ll be the exceptions—the traps that ensnare people like Mitch McDeere won’t get them.

* * *

Another reason that people become lawyers is to make money. But if prospective lawyers allow themselves to be dazzled by headlines about the wealthiest attorneys, such as the partner who recently left one big firm to join another where he’d earn a reported $5 million a year, they’re making a mistake. Nine months after graduation, members of the law school class of 2009 fortunate enough to have any full-time job had a median salary of $72,000, comparable in buying power to the $50,000 median salary for new lawyers in 1990. That may not sound bad, but even that number is misleadingly high, as it masks a skewed income distribution. Each year 10 to 15 percent of graduates get jobs in big law firms, where the starting salary can be as high as $160,000. But those firms constitute only a tiny slice of the profession, and it’s shrinking. Furthermore, the median salary has been falling. For all law firms, the median starting salary for the class of 2011 was $85,000; for all lawyers who graduated that year, it was $60,000 (a 17 percent drop compared to the $72,000 median starting salary for the class of 2009). Even those numbers overstate new graduates’ financial reality for another reason: they’re based solely on salary information for the 65 percent of graduates reported to be working full-time in a position lasting at least a year.

For most employed lawyers, the money gets better. The median annual income of all practicing lawyers in 2010 was $112,000—double that of all US households. The nagging problem is that the seemingly decent (but shrinking) payoff usually isn’t sufficient to justify the enormous investment in time and money. Professor Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt University Law School calculates that for the vast majority of graduates, getting a legal degree will never yield a return equal to the financial cost of becoming a lawyer.

* * *

Some people go to law school because it’s the last resort of the liberal arts major who doesn’t know what to do next. In that respect, the decision to enroll has long resulted from a process of elimination that proceeds something like this: being a member of a profession is the ultimate achievement, but medical school requires science-oriented interests and talents that don’t fit most students in the humanities; postgraduate degrees in history, philosophy, English, and the social sciences are for future professors; business school is for those whose principal ambition is to make lots of money. That leaves law school, which offers students a three-year reprieve from the world while they pursue a noble course that presumably creates even more options. Sometimes that plan works out okay; for too many others, it leads to a place where dreams go to die.

Proof that law school is a default solution for the undecided lies everywhere, even in newspapers’ sports pages. In the fall of 2011, twenty-six-year-old infielder Josh Satin made his major league debut for the New York Mets. An article about him included this line: “After graduating as a political science major from Cal, Satin was selected by the Mets in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. And like any number of 20-somethings with a liberal arts degree and nebulous career prospects, he kept law school applications at the ready.”

* * *

On the supply side of the lawyer bubble, some of the necessary conditions for its creation date to a nineteenth-century innovation in legal education—the case method. Credit for that development goes to former Harvard Law School dean Christopher Columbus Langdell. Prior to 1890, no other law school used the case method of instruction that he pioneered; today it’s pervasive.

Langdell didn’t set out to create what became an essential basis for the current mass production model of legal education. Rather, he was simply pursuing his penchant for thoroughness. He viewed the law as a science and believed that its ultimate truths could be discovered through the study of primary specimens, namely, the decisions of appellate court judges. Law students could divine general principles that, once mastered, would enable a graduate to practice anywhere. As Langdell saw it, differences in state law were inconsequential to the overall jurisprudential picture.

The large body of common law itself created a challenge for Langdell’s approach. No student could read every reported decision going back to Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, an eighteenth-century treatise that first summarized the English common law as part of a unified system. For his Harvard contracts course, Langdell instead collected a selection of reported cases (there were more than two thousand at the time) from which an entire classroom of students could induce general legal principles.

The Langdell case method was a radical departure. Previously, prospective attorneys had learned the law from secondary sources as rules to memorize and skills to hone before engaging in one-on-one apprenticeships. For example, after a year of study consisting of the traditional lecture and drilling at the University of Michigan in the 1870s, Clarence Darrow received on-the-job legal training while working for an attorney in rural Ohio. He then proved his competence to a few lawyers before whom he literally sat to be examined for the bar. Darrow passed. A system that required students to learn specific legal rules and then receive training with practicing attorneys constrained the number of new lawyers admitted to the bar each year.

Langdell changed that model with what he regarded as a noble aim. Practical aspects—simply learning the rules—weren’t the key. Instead, a true lawyer’s most important work was to understand the governing principles so as to “be able to apply them with consistent facility and certainty to the ever-tangled skein of human affairs.” One by-product of the approach was that large groups of students could receive simultaneous legal training from a handful of instructors. The system became an early building block in the current business model of legal education.

Langdell’s new teaching protocol didn’t create the current lawyer bubble, but it provided an essential foundation that facilitated the mass production of attorneys. From 1890 to 1916, the number of law schools doubled from 61 to 139, but the schools themselves became larger, so the number of law students increased fivefold—from 4,500 to almost 23,000. As recently as 1963, there were still only 135 law schools, but total JD enrollment had doubled to 47,000 students.

During the next decade, baby boomers made their way into higher education as the Vietnam War popularized three-year law school deferments from the draft. Enrollment doubled again to 100,000 by 1972, but there were still fewer than 150 law schools. As the last of the boomers made their way through law school, enrollment leveled off, hovering around 127,000 through the 1990s. On a per capita basis, the United States had 1.58 lawyers per 1,000 citizens in 1960; by 1980, the number had grown to 2.38 lawyers per 1,000. But that was only the beginning.

In the 1990s, U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings began to gain in popularity and became a key element in the competition for new students. Meanwhile, as applications to first-year classes rose generally, universities increasingly saw law schools as profit centers worth expanding. Recently the Maryland Department of Legislative Services concluded that the University of Baltimore School of Law sent 31 percent of its 2010 revenue back into the general university budget. For private schools the data are difficult to uncover, but the University of Baltimore report corroborates a widely held view that universities in general impose a “tax” amounting to between 20 and 25 percent of their law schools’ gross revenues.

Law school enrollments climbed even as tuition rose faster than at undergraduate colleges. In 2003, there were more than ninety-eight thousand applicants to the first-year class that enrolled about forty-eight thousand students nationwide. Average annual tuition for private law schools was $26,000. By 2010, it had increased to more than $37,000. Even as law school applications declined sharply after 2010, private law school tuition went up annually by 4 percent—more than twice the rate of inflation—to an average of $40,585 per year in 2012. Public law schools have followed an even steeper curve: for in-state residents, average tuition doubled from $11,860 in 2003 to $23,590. In 2012 alone, it went up by more than 6 percent.

When U.S. News published its first rankings in 1987, total law school enrollment in the 175 ABA-accredited institutions had remained around 120,000 for a decade. Since then, twenty-five more law schools have come on line and enrollments have steadily risen to more than 145,000. By 2010, there were more than 1.2 million lawyers in the United States—almost 4 for every 1,000 citizens. In the United Kingdom, the comparable number is about 2.5 per 1,000; in Germany, it’s slightly more than 1.5.

* * *

Law school deans defended the growth and proliferation of law schools after 2000 as a market reaction to student demand. After all, an excess of applicants over available spots sent an unambiguous signal: consumers wanted more openings in law schools. Anyone running a business would respond as most deans did: raise tuition, increase profits, and add capacity. Wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of free markets and individual choice, even deans at some of the best law schools avoided important disclosures, including meaningful employment and salary data for their recent graduates. After all, better information about the limited opportunities actually available to new attorneys might reduce student demand.

Of course, some of the widespread career dissatisfaction among attorneys is the fault of college students making shortsighted and unsound judgments about their future. But bad information shares the blame for what turned out to be a poor career choice for many of them. Law schools operating on the outer perimeter of candor to fill their classrooms worsened the problem. But without free-flowing student loan money for which law school deans never have to account, the entire system would look much different.

The law school business model permitted (and still permits) a perverse market response—increasing tuition in the face of declining demand for lawyers—for two reasons: student demand for law school still exceeds supply, and students have little difficulty borrowing whatever they need to cover the cost of a degree. For decades, lenders faced no risk of default because the federal government guaranteed the loans.

Then in 2008, out of concern that the credit market freeze would leave insufficient financing for student loans, the government essentially took over most such lending directly. Two years later, it completed the transition from insuring all loans to issuing the vast majority of them. Meanwhile, revisions to the bankruptcy laws essentially bar students from ever discharging public or private educational debt. In its totality, the current regime insulates law schools from the problem of graduates who can’t find jobs needed to repay their student loans, while giving schools no incentive to control tuition costs. Of the various parties involved—students, government, private lenders, and law schools—only the students and, to a growing extent under new income-based repayment programs, the federal treasury bear any significant risk that such borrowing might turn out to have been imprudent.

The combination of irresponsible lending and inadequate law school accountability has been deadly for many attorneys and the profession. It’s a story of good intentions gone awry.

The origins of the government student loan program generally date to 1958, when Congress followed the recommendation of economist Milton Friedman in creating a system of direct federal loans for higher education. When it expanded the program in 1965, existing federal budget accounting rules required booking direct student loans as total losses in the year made, regardless of whether they would be repaid in full with interest. But the rules also provided that a loan guarantee didn’t count as a federal budget cost item—not a penny. At the urging of economists, Congress finally revised the budget rules in 1990, but the most important feature remained: federal guarantees of all private and public student loans.

For lenders, such guarantees mean no risk of nonrepayment because the government picks up the tab for any shortfall. For students, they mean the growth of another industry that will chase them forever: debt collectors. When someone defaults on a student loan, the government turns it over to private collection agencies. In 2011, the US Department of Education paid more than $1.4 billion to such companies. Summarizing that industry’s attitude, a business consultant described his thoughts in 2011 as he watched Occupy protesters at New York University wearing T-shirts with the amounts of their student debt scribbled across the front: “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent—for our industry. It was lip-smacking.” His article included a picture of some students in their T-shirts, including one with “the fine sum of $90,000” and another with “a really attractive $120,000.” Another consultant suggested that student loans might be the accounts receivable industry’s “new oil well.” Something is terribly amiss in a society where policies and incentive structures make debt collection a growth business.

In addition to government guarantees, private lenders gained another layer of protection against losses from their student loan portfolios. As noted previously, today such debt almost always survives a young lawyer’s bankruptcy filing. The cumulative impact of these policies is becoming clearer. As one recent graduate observed, a federally guaranteed student loan may be “the closest thing to debtor prison that there is on this earth.”

It wasn’t always so. In the early 1970s, the federal student loan program was still relatively new and the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sought to avoid any negative public image that might tarnish the young system. The agency proposed making government student loans nondischargeable in bankruptcy unless a borrower had been in default for at least five years or could prove “undue hardship.” Enacted in 1976, the undue-hardship requirement placed student loans in the same category as child support, alimony, court restitution orders, criminal fines, and certain taxes. No data supported the suggestion of a student loan default problem, but anecdotal media reports of isolated abuse carried the day.

The concern was moral hazard—the fear that graduates on the verge of lucrative careers would avoid responsibility for the federal educational loans that had made those careers possible. But as the legislative history makes clear, the basis for such concerns was “more myth and media hype than reality.” A lead editorial in the July 25, 2012, edition of the Wall Street Journal reveals the enduring power of that myth thirty-five years later: “After a surge in former students declaring bankruptcy to avoid repaying their loans, Congress acted to protect lenders beginning in 1977.” That’s simply not true. Although a House of Representatives report and analysis from the General Accounting Office had confirmed that abuse was “virtually non-existent,” the provision found its way into the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978.

In 1990, Congress extended the requisite five-year default period, requiring a seven-year wait as a precondition to relief from educational debt. In 1997, the Bankruptcy Reform Commission found no evidence to support claims of earlier systematic abuse. Even so, in 1998 Congress amended the statute to provide that no amount of time would render federal educational debt dischargeable in bankruptcy. In 2005, Congress extended nondischargeabilty to private lenders as well, although, as Senator Dick Durbin asked in 2012, “How in the world did that provision get into the law? It was a mystery amendment. We can’t find out who offered it.” A fruitful place to begin the search might be with lobbyists for the banking industry.

Apart from the unwillingness of any legislator to claim responsibility for the now orphaned provision, there was little factual justification for it or the earlier revisions that eliminated bankruptcy relief from federal loans in the first place. Nonfederal loans accounted for only 7 percent of all student borrowing in the 2010–2011 academic year. Repeated legislative inquiry yielded no empirical evidence to validate stated fears about systemic abuse for either private or government loans. But now that the limitations are in place, some have theorized that returning even to pre-2005 rules could lead to a parade of horribles, including higher interest rates for all students, reduced affordability, and tighter credit requirements throughout the system.

Two recent examples of the undue-hardship requirement illustrate the daunting task facing a debtor who seeks relief from educational debt today. In May 2012, a sixty-three-year-old Maryland woman had more than $330,000 in school loans dating back to her enrollment at the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1992. She didn’t graduate. Later, she received a master’s degree from Towson University and a PhD from an unaccredited online school. The judge decided that the debtor’s Asperger’s syndrome qualified her for relief from student loan debt. Expecting that she could “ever break the grip of autism and meaningfully channel her energies toward tasks that are not in some way either dictated, or circumscribed, by the demands of her disorder would be to dream the impossible dream.” Even the debtor’s attorney expressed surprise that his client had succeeded in discharging her debt under the demanding undue-hardship standard.

In July 2012, a sixty-four-year-old woman who had worked on an assembly line earning $11 an hour until she received a layoff notice obtained discharge of loans she had first taken on in 1981, when she was thirty-three and enrolled in Canisius College. After pursuing a five-year partial repayment plan under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, she’d whittled only $2,400 from her loan balance and still owed more than $56,000, most of which was accrued interest on her original $17,000 loan. The court concluded that the debtor was “at the end of her ‘rope’ at age sixty-four, facing job loss and no prospects other than Social Security,” and ordered her loans discharged.

Such cases in which students get relief from burdensome student loan debt are unusual. In fact, the applicable legal standard for discharge isn’t even consistent across the federal circuits. Some appellate courts require judges to predict the future and conclude, as a prerequisite to discharge, that a debtor will never be able to repay the loans—that is, the “certainty of hopelessness.” One attorney described how he jokes about the absurdity of the standard: “What I say to the judge is that as long as we’ve got a lottery, there is no certainty of hopelessness. They smile, and then they rule against you.”

More attorneys are finding themselves in plights similar to that of the thirty-four-year-old lawyer with more than $200,000 in school loans and a job that would never pay enough to retire them: “It’s a noose around my neck that I see no way out of.” It takes little imagination to foresee the domino effects as she and similarly situated others become unable to fund their children’s higher education. The accumulating social costs over generations could haunt America for a long time.

* * *

As a consequence of these dynamics, some not-so-funny things happen to many of those who choose law school for the wrong reasons—or for no particularly good reason. The promise of a secure future at a well-paying job is often illusory. The persistent problem of lawyer oversupply rose to crisis level, and the market for new talent has remained weak. Compounding the difficulties with which they began law school, newly minted, less-than-passionate, and deeply indebted lawyers are now having trouble finding the secure, well-paying, and exciting work they thought would be waiting for them when they graduated. For most of the nation’s forty-four thousand annual graduates today, those positions were never there at all.

Because students rely on rankings to choose a school, such listings are now a critical element in the prevailing law school business model. U.S. News & World Report publishes what everyone regards as the gold standard. As a consequence, deans use its methodological criteria to run their institutions. Single-minded self-interest in selling a law school education—and the failure of colleges and law schools to offer a competing perspective that challenges students’ assumptions about most lawyers’ actual lives—has disserved many graduates and damaged the profession. But try telling that to deans who pander to the annual U.S. News rankings.

Excerpted with permission from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis” by Steven J. Harper. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2013.

De Facto Abusers

 

A couple of weeks ago, The New Yorker ran an article (see it here) detailing alleged sex abuse at Horace Mann, an elite boys school in the Bronx. It should come as no surprise that nearly institutional abuse at Horace Mann was uncovered. Like so many cases before it, from the Catholic church, to Jerry Sandusky, to Robert Berman, and on and on, the problem lies less with the abuser than those who would do nothing to stop him. These abuses proliferate because the people who have the ability to stop the harm are more concerned about their own reputations than protecting innocents. They are willing to sacrifice the truth and integrity in order to maintain the status quo for themselves. They lie and tell these children who come to them to keep things quiet and not “make waves” because it won’t stop the abuser. They refuse to speak out because to do so might bring shame upon themselves. In their cowardice they maintain the status quo in order to remain anodyne, leaving their images intact and their lives unruffled. No matter if other’s lives are destroyed in the process. We need a means to hold these souls accountable for doing nothing, saying nothing, turning the other way as the accounts multiplied. They are equally wicked accomplices because in doing nothing, they consent.