Good Biz

Posting early today because I’m off to judge a speech contest this evening.

Since the NY Times will soon put up a pay wall for its online content, I’m no longer linking to stories but will give the headline and pub date. This past Sunday’s (Jan. 9) business section was the first time that I’ve actually read one of the stories all the way through. In fact I read three articles in their entirety.

First with great glee, the page one story David Segal’s “Is Law School a Losing Game?” The subhed says it all: “Deans Say Graduates Are Working. They Don’t Say How Many Are at Home Depot.” The sadder truth is that even an orange apron may not be on the horizon for some graduates. The dearth of jobs that pay anything decent is made worse by debt they face after graduation. The star of the article owes $250,000, which he can’t discharge in bankruptcy.

Kimber A. Russell’s sharp prose and clear analysis in Shilling Me Softly give a less nuanced but needed viewpoint than Segal’s article. A favorite entry: “Hey, all you pampered law professors: STFU!” As a former victim of professors who couldn’t or wouldn’t speak above a whisper in a lecture hall with 200 and could only be bothered with students who sucked up, I appreciated the sentiment, if not the choice of words.

By the time I finished the Times article, the depression that was still lurking threatened to overwhelm me again. But I persevered, turning a couple of pages and encountering a reward in the form of “A Champion of Plain English” by Robert H. Frank. The lead picture gave me a laugh because the subject, Alfred E. Kahn, looked like he was holding on to keep his head from exploding. I despised his move to deregulate the airlines. Remember how flying was civilized, relaxing even? Well, it’s mostly his fault that we’re now stuck on crowded, late flights. Kahn had a good side, though. He urged legal beagles and econ freaks to write in plain English. His instructions were Strunk and White elegant: avoid the passive voice; use “here” instead of “herein.” The best: “If you can’t describe what your [economic] model says in plain English without provoking derisive laughter, it probably doesn’t say anything of value.”

Having fortified myself with a breath of Kahnian fresh air, I was thrilled to conclude with “I’m Making A Living From My Hobbies,” by Frank Hyman. This 50-year-old is living his dream by “working” at seven hobbies, or as he terms them, “callings” or “avocations.” The genius of his life is that he takes far more vacation time than the average American and maintains health insurance, which he describes as “inferior … but not bad.” I particularly admire his expenditures for education – at $1,000 a year, a much wiser investment than $250,000 for three years of law school.

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