Friday, June 25, 2010

Law School Deceit, Tokyo's Funk, and iPhone 4tune

Schools Cheating on Law Students' Grades

If you’re looking for a lawyer, don’t hire one who graduated within the past ten years.

That’s basically the advice from a recent article in the New York Times which reveals the growing practice of law schools artificially inflating grades so their graduates can score jobs more easily.

How about that: law students being enabled by their schools to lie. Who’d have thunk?

Apparently, this trend has been on the rise for the past decade, as law schools across the country have tried to make their graduates look better to prospective employers. It’s become a big game, boasting of graduation-to-employment rates to not only promote the school to prospective students, but create a halo effect for their graduates in the job market.

And while many law practices profess to already be wise to this deceit, more and more schools have been climbing on the grade-falsification bandwagon. So much so that they’re defeating the purpose: as the Times article points out, when everybody cheats to beat the average, the average just rises along with the cheating. It’s a warped version of a rising tide raising all boats.

Perhaps the funny thing about all of this is that even now that the secret is out, most law schools have no plans to stop the practice. And even though some defenders of the scam claim old grading curves were similarly unfair and distorted, nobody seems bothered by what all of this means: people who supposedly are being trained to administer the law in this country are being indoctrinated into believing that what you actually learn is less important than what you appear to have learned.

It’s not so much about the client and the law as it is getting these students in high-paying practices so they can re-pay their student loans.

And people wonder why the legal profession seems thin on scruples.


Tokyo as a Second-Tier City

A friend who recently returned from a trip to Japan sparked my curiosity about Tokyo and its status as a World City.

Granted, whether Tokyo is a World City may not be a question that nags you. But as you've undoubtedly learned by now, I'm... different.

I'd recalled an article by urban sociologist Saskia Sassen who coined the term "Global City" to describe, based on some prestigious parameters, our planet's most important urban centers. Her first study of Global/World Cities, in 1991, yielded three: New York (of course!), London, and Tokyo. However, subsequent analysis of Sassen's criteria within the last decade put Tokyo on shaky ground, primarily because of its fizzling national economy.

And sure enough, the latest ranking of our world's major cities, from 2008, moves Tokyo to the second tier, leaving New York and London as the two current burgs with World City status.

For virtually 99.998% of people on our planet, this may seem irrelevant. Sure, New York and London are big, important cities, but what difference does it make if Tokyo falls to the number two level?

Actually, for demographers, business leaders, politicians, and international professionals, no longer having a city as stunningly cosmopolitan as Tokyo in the rare air along with New York and London carries significant implications.

Despite an economy which any third-world country would relish, Japan has been languishing – albeit in comparative terms – in an economic funk for almost two decades. Sure, the Land of the Rising Sun still ranks in the top five for world economies, but considering their recent high-flying past, today's Japan seems but a shadow of its former self.

For a while during the 1980’s, it seemed as though the Japanese were going to buy everybody out. Sony was an entertainment titan. American executives actually went to Tokyo to study their brand of management. When midtown Manhattan's iconic Rockefeller Center fell into Japanese hands, New York City virtually panicked.

But those were Japan's glory days. Flash forward to today, and Rockefeller Center has returned to American ownership. Chinese has replaced Japanese as the must-learn Asian language, and Toyota's stunning reliability fiasco seems to have smacked down the remaining gasps of nationalistic pride onto which the Japanese have so valiantly clung.

Meanwhile, the multicultural stew which had been brewing in Tokyo, attracting foreign investment and dispensing the Yen to far-flung outposts, has gone from boil to simmer. People don't beat a path to the Ginza like they used to. Beijing, Bangalore, and even Baghdad get more press coverage and fortune-seekers than Japan’s capital.

Not that Tokyo has hit the skids. Good grief – perhaps only Tokyo could fall to second-tier status and still retain all the glitz that masks such a noteworthy shift. And even at second-tier, Tokyo shares some prestigious company, including Hong Kong and Paris. But perhaps more disconcerting to the Japanese is that of the eight second-tier cities, all but two (Paris and Milan) are in Asia – a region Japan had dominated since the Second World War. That reality surely rubs some proud Japanese the wrong way.

While we Americans are known for our patriotism, how many of us would dive-bomb the plane we were piloting into an enemy warship? The Kamikaze perfectly epitomized the nationalistic fervor with which the Japanese have idolized themselves.

Of course, the Japanese are too industrious to fall apart over a slide in status most of the world didn’t even know happened. Nobody denies Tokyo’s continued dominance in global affairs. Indeed, as an example, just this spring, American Airlines fought tooth and nail to renew its industry alliance with JAL and its hub in Tokyo.

Even though JAL fell into bankruptcy at the same time.


First Adopters are Made for Each Other

Have you heard the new term buzzing around those long lines of desperate customers waiting to buy the latest iPhone? They're "first adopters" or "early adopters," instead of socially-stunted autotrons controlled by Apple guru Steve Jobs.

Indeed, reporters who canvassed people waiting in lines across the world yesterday found many of these young adults - eagerly anticipating paying through the nose for Apple's latest plum - bristling at such notions posited to them as:

  • that, if indeed they even had jobs, they appeared to be bad employees (did they call in sick today?),
  • that they spend their money poorly (don't they know you can get phones for free now?),
  • or that they simply don't have a social life outside of their lines at the local Apple store (you waited how long to get this gadget?)

More than one iPhone 4g customer tried to make themselves appear sophisticated and relevant by calling themselves "first adopters," like they're doing society a favor by wasting time in line to buy phones and test them before dweebs from the general public have access to them.

And then when they started going home to play with their new toys, many customers of the iPhone 4g started experiencing reception issues. No, not reception issues from their friends, whom they were ignoring. Telephone reception issues. In other words, the phones weren't working right.

As if Apple hasn't twisted their customer base around their pinkie already, Steve Jobs got online and said his customers weren't holding their new phones properly.

Uh-huh.

How does one hold a phone? In your hand, with fingers around the edges, right? Well, dissed Steve Jobs: don't do that. Apparently, he wants his customers to hold it by their thumb and forefinger, grasping the front and the back - not the sides or edges. How customers are supposed to make calls and use the built-in camera is their own problem.

Ahh, can you feel the love?

Actually, it's hard to deny the amazing functionality and sleek aesthetics of Apple's products. They're New York's Museum of Modern Art next to Microsoft's Smithsonian. Steve Jobs seems to be the only computer geek out there who actually understands how to take clunky technology and make it uber-appealing to the masses; not based just on what it can do, but how it does it and what it looks like. Indeed, Microsoft seems to have hit the silicon ceiling, whereas Apple keeps churning out products that defy the pundits - like the iPad.

That's how Apple has eclipsed Microsoft to be the world's most highly-valued technology stock.

And why Steve Jobs can tell his customers they're holding their phones wrong.

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