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October 31, 2003

Ms. Weaver, Meet ISO 9000

Someone has decided to do a project post-mortem of the aliens movies.

OK, it might not be funny for law students, but for (ex-)project managers, it's pretty funny. (Hat tip to NTK)

October 30, 2003

This thing's been around for ages...

But now it seems all the blawgers are doing it: the Political Compass.

For reference, I'm:
Economic Left/Right: 5.38 (where positive is Right)
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -0.92 (where negative is Libertarian

I can assume I'd be just about opposite of Serious Law Student...

October 29, 2003

This study renders men acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in defence, full of resources

Some days the humour fades, the eyes get heavy, and the spirit seems weary and unwilling. No matter how one tries to put a brave face on it, the smallest things start to bring one down, even when you are caught up in your work and feeling like you understand the law--or at least your lessons. Today my nemesis was the pressure to pay $100 to Barbri for bar examination test prep, not because that's on my horizon at the moment, but because it's the last day to do so before they threaten to raise prices. LSATs, tuition, commercial outlines, Barbri, Bar exam fees--there are times when it feels like your whole point in existence is to pay for exams.

In this mood I wandered into Contracts, where I sit in the front row. Prof. Contracts, a cheerful curmudgeon who is constantly telling us to look at our cases with a healthy dose of cynicism, bore the full brunt of my own. "You know, I started this education with the thought that 'LAW IS A RACKET.' It makes so much more sense when you look at it that way." Then I obstinately chomped on a jellybean provided to me by Barbri as yet another of the peripheral bribes one finds here.

To his credit, he asked what I meant and listened when I said that sometimes it seems there's an obscene amount of money floating around this school and the legal system in general. He commented on the parts of the debate that are old: whether the bar exam is guild-like, and whether the third year of law school is actually necessary. Then he started class, and briefly commented on what he'd just been talking about.

His response was just to quote Edmund Burke, in his statement to Parliament regarding their soon-to-be-rebellious colonies. Along with English descent, a tradition of democracy, religious fervor in the north, manner and mores in the south, and the trials of distance, Burke specifically cited the strength and prevalence of a legal education as one of the foundations of Americans' love of liberty.

In no country perhaps in the world is the law so general a study. The profession itself is numerous and powerful; and in most provinces it takes the lead.... I hear that they have sold nearly as many of Blackstone's Commentaries in America as in England.... This study renders men acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in defence, full of resources. In other countries, the people, more simple, and of a less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle. They augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.

And then we went on to discuss the parol evidence rule and the meaning of the word 'chicken.' But whatever, it put things into a bit of context for me, into a bit of purpose. There's a time and a place for cynicism, but you don't live there.

Disappointed by Epstein

Grrr. Epstein is going to cost me some time.

Today in Torts, we addressed the issue of affirmative duties, which in the Epstein casebook is covered largely by comparing works by four torts scholars: Ames, Epstein himself, Posner, and Bender. The problem lies the Bender article, "A Lawyer's Primer for Feminist Theory and Tort."

Epstein seems to have pulled a few paragraphs from the article which I can't believe are representative of the work as a whole. It's emotive to the point of weepiness, a "we're all in this together, and let's stop pretending that humans are equations" argument. It reminded me (and it seems, Prof. Torts) of John Donne's Meditation 17, and I almost expected the author to advocate banning a party from sending for whom the bell tolls.

Simply put, there has to be more to the argument than that. Even if I'd disagree with it, I feel almost honor-bound to find the article and educate myself on Bender's viewpoint, just to make sure my mind doesn't have this residual impression left. But the article isn't on Lexis or Westlaw, so a trip to the law library will be in order, and I'll burn about an hour trying to figure out what the real story is.

Normally, I like Epstein, both his textbook and his outside works. But that kind of 'dirty trick' in a casebook really left a foul taste in my mouth.

October 28, 2003

Simple Lessons I have learned in law school

A lot of people think this lawyering malarky is difficult, or that the first year of law school teaches you a bundle of rarified or complicated matters, mostly involving words like 'jurisprudence,' 'stare decisis,' or my old favorite, 'promissory estoppel.' But really, after half a term I think that's all overblown, that the things you really need to know, and pick up from the casebook method, are all fairly simple rules.

A.: Contrary to popular belief, bathrooms are very dangerous places, in which people slip and fall on wet floors, are scalded by showers, cut their hands on negligently manufactured faucets, and otherwise ended up bruised and bloodied. Despite the obvious health and hygiene advantages, you might want to avoid them.

B. If you're ever in Massachusetts, do not eat at the Childs Dining Hall. [1]

C. The responsibility for an individual being able to stand on their own two feet generally lies with the owner of the land upon which they are standing.

D. Become a cowboy, become a lawyer, become a piano player at a house of ill-repute, but do not become a Regent of the University of California. (A Lexis search turns up 679 hits with 'Regents of the University of California' as a party. These guys are the only people on earth who get more summons in the mail than offers for low-interest rate credit cards.)

I'll fill in more as time goes by.

[1] Friend v. Childs Dining Hall, 120 N.E. 407 (Mass. 1918) (Nail found in food); Ash v. Childs Dining Hall 120 N.E. 196 (Mass. 1918) (tack found in blueberry pie); Jacques v. Childs Dining Hall, 120 N.E. 843 (Mass. 1923) (customer falsely imprisoned by cashier due to mistake in check).

Amazon is honking me off

If any of you get errors leaving comments on the site: it's because Amazon's web server is sending the following as 'valid XML':

The server encountered an internal error or
misconfiguration and was unable to complete
your request.


Please contact the server administrator,
webtech-admin@amazon.com and inform them of the time the error occurred,
and anything you might have done that may have
caused the error.


Because the MT-Amazon plugin doesn't seem to handle this properly as an error, the page doesn't rebuild. Consequently, even though your comment is stored (and will show up the next time I rebuild the site or make an entry, assuming Amazon has its act together) it doesn't show up immediately.

I'll probably revise the way my system works (i.e. hard-code the damn thing) this weekend. Until then, bear with me.

Update: After 16 hours of Amazon Web Services being useless, I've pulled my XML feeds. They'll be back once Amazon gets its act together.

October 27, 2003

Fluorescent Relativity

I no longer mark time by weeks or hours, or the rising of the sun or the appearance of the moon. No, after this long in law school, I mark time in the passing of yellow highlighters, the third of which has now given up the ghost since the beginning of my course.

Kate Michelman is George Bush's best friend

If you know who Kate Michelman is, that headline might be a bit surprising. She's the head of NARAL, now apparently known as Pro-Choice America. (Check out the website. For a non-profit, it's surprisingly good, and has had some obvious money put into it.) But given the recent outcry against Senate passage of a bill to 'outlaw' so-called 'partial-birth abortion,' you have to think she's working for the other side.

Ampersand has already given a good summary of why many Republicans don't want to see the issue go away, and are quite happy to see it struck down by the courts. I won't restate what he's put so well, except to say that it's an issue with a high instinctive 'ick' factor and a lot of very complicated and debatable underlying issues that will never reach popular debate. A moderate Republican senator who needs to shore up his support with a pro-life base gets the ultimate hat trick by giving it his vote: (a) whatever else his right-wing constituents say, he can always pull the 'But I oppose partial-birth abortion' card out of his back pocket, and keep their votes; but (b) he knows full well that so long as he throws his voice solidly behind the exclusion of an exception for the health of the mother, O'Connor will never let his vote see the light of day; and (c) he can sit back and watch the money roll into his re-election fund every time a pro-choice activist vehemently protests the act, thus riling his base that bit more. There's nothing to lose, except a bit of integrity, and what do you do with that on Capitol Hill?

It's item (c) which makes me ponder the strategy of the pro-abortion cause, however. (For those who've not been reading, I'm actually against restrictions on abortion, but I don't believe it's beyond the scope of the powers of a state government.) I can confidently predict that I'm going to be seeing a lot of the statements of Ms. Michelman in the next few months. They will appear on the numerous fundraiser letters, Presidential Action Fund requests, and 'surveys' from the Republican National Committee that constitute a goodly percentage of the junkmail I receive. She'll be selectively quoted, of course, but the best bits will be quotations from TV appearances or magazine articles--'proof' that the media is a right wing conspiracy.

Every time I see someone like her on television, a little dollar-sign appears next to her, and my ears hear a 'kaching' in the coffers of the Bush re-election fund.

What's the strategy here? I can't imagine that the money or the influence that NARAL (or similar organizations) receives from the national publicity is worth the funding they give to their opponents, and in this case it's for a law that even if it were to pass constitutional muster (it won't) would be unlikely to stop a single abortion. Even were it to be enforced (it won't), it would not ban alternate procedures. Even were it the start of a slippery slope (it isn't), it would be a very gentle slope covered with a lot of velcro.

And that's not to say that NARAL shouldn't talk about the issue: it should, and loudly, to its own base in its own targeted marketing. But it can cede the field on this issue and lose absolutely nothing, while spending time talking about issues that brings not only its base to the polls, but a broader public to its side. Provision of medical treatment in Africa, for instance, or any of the various Bush-era executive orders with regards to choice. The hyperbole here over a procedure that, whatever its medical merits, is extremely rare and very difficult to defend on a marketing basis (leaving a discussion of the merits to medical professionals) makes any victory pyrrhic at best.

Ah well. At least I get to look forward to entertaining fundraiser letters.

Sympathetic Machine

So you're one of those people who think that no man is an island, and the pain of any one man or woman is the pain of us all? Now you can prove it! Feel the global pain!

(Link via The Register)

October 26, 2003

Legal scholars should not do this to first year students

As part of our reading for tomorrow, we're reading Linda S. Mullenix's Another Easy Case, Some More Bad Law: Carnival Cruise Lines and Contractual Personal Jurisdiction (Texas International Law Journal, Spring, 1992), a rather histrionic account of the Supreme Court's decision in Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute 499 U.S. 585 (1991). At first reading, I stumbled over the following passage:

The Shutes had once again prevailed in their efforts to sue Carnival Cruise Lines locally, rather than being haled to Florida.

I did a bit of a double-take, but then figured that maybe it was an ambiguous clause: Carnival was a Panamanian corporation, and so even though its main place of business (and preferred jurisdiction) was Florida, maybe it could still be haled there. But then it happened again:
While it is interesting and true that ships travel to many ports of call, and that their corporate owners have an interest in not being subjected to litigation in multiple forums, these self-evident truths do not suggest why it is any better or fairer to force an injured plaintiff to be haled into some distant court of the defendant's pre-arranged choosing, or forego the right to sue altogether.

[emphasis mine in both quotations]

Have I completely missed the point of several weeks of civil procedure? I was under the impression that a plaintiff (through a complaint) haled the defendant into court, and that a defendant wasn't the one doing the haling. Maybe a forum-selection clause could limit the places in which a plaintiff could summon, but he can't be forced to bring a suit, can he? I thought the whole point of this jurisdiction stuff was that the defendant was the only person being forced to go anywhere, and that jurisdiction was the limitations of his choice.

Mullenix is pretty overwrought in her language, so this might just be another example thereof--but can one of you fill me in if I'm missing something?

Update: Someone tell me this is another howler: "The burdens placed by a state upon an absent plaintiff are similar to and of he same magnitude as those it places on an absent defendant. Where an out-of-state plaintiff is summoned by a defendant through a non-negotiated, nonconsensual forum selection clause, the plaintiff is faced with the full powers of the State to render a judgment against it." True, she's reversing the language of a Supreme Court ruling, but she then states, "This paragraph does not stretch the imagination."

Help! I'm lost!

October 25, 2003

Five Minute Book Review--Sci-Fi

I find I've done a book review at least once a week for about the last three weeks, and I think I'm going to keep doing it. This week, in the spirit of my comments on There.com, I figured I'd list a few books of virtual futures. After all, you can't read law all the time. So:

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: Even if you don't like science fiction, this book is great. Although the thoughts aren't as deep as The Diamond Age (proposing a world in which the fundamental economic dilemma has been resolved), the light-hearted and irreverant drama combines with Stephenson's gripping narrative style to make a dazzling good read. And besides which, what's not to like about a dystopian future in which all pizza delivery services are openly run by the mob?

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling: It's not entirely common knowledge that the first computer was more a thing of brass than silicon. A 'steampunk' novel of an alternate past in which the Victorians had credit cards and the primary battles of the Information Age are fought between the British and the French.

Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis: Wondering what that 'Spider Jerusalem' reference was in my posting about blogging anonymously? If you can handle a combination of gonzo social commentary and bizarre future societies in a graphic novel format, then check out the ravings of a swearing, chain-smoking, neo-anarchist tormenting 'the system' and poking violent fun at the powers that be.

(An excerpt from Transmetropolitan:

Makers are great. No argument. You turn to your maker and say, “Give me a roast dog leg, tossed salad, a black linen shirt, and a taser,” and bang, out it all comes. Makers aren’t particularly bulky, nor power- thirsty, and an average middle-class family can afford a good one.

But.

Makers are designed to operate with base blocks -- superdense chunks of neutral matter which the maker breaks down and recombines into whatever you’ve requested. And base blocks are horrendously expensive. Out of a middle class family’s price range. So the stores sell a converter, that allows the maker to use ordinary garbage as the base. Not as efficient, and the mileage stinks, but there you go.

Which leads me to the city’s new pest. Middle class families raiding the backyards of the lower classes for garbage -- because if you’ve got a maker, you don’t make garbage. Only those without makers buy prepackaged food and clothing... )


Over There

And now there's something over There.

I've been chatting with some friends of mine about There, a virtual reality experience (no plot, so I'm not sure that 'game' fits) which is planning to survive off its own economy. In a short form, you can build things, do things, buy and sell things, and those who do will get 'Therebucks.' But those who don't, but want to see or experience them, can make purchases with Therebucks, and can buy them with real money.

I can only imagine that economists, game theorists, and other scholars used to imagining 'what if' scenarios are salivating at the thought of observing this. If not, they should be. To my knowledge, this is the first online, interactive environment of its type and complexity which is plotless and relatively without the swords-and-sorcery background of an Everquest or Ultima Online. From what I've been told, the avatars (your virtual representation of yourself) can be remarkably varied, and some can be surprisingly honest. In other words, there are pot-bellies. Human beings have a fundamental interest in interaction and community-forming, and online groups have always profited from this. There might have found a way to turn this into a business.

One strong reason for my interest in a 'playworlds' concept is that if you can convince participants to be suitably serious about the results which occur within them, you can draw some remarkable conclusions about human interaction. Economists have looked at roleplaying games for a while, especially when the property was being traded for real money. I haven't found any studies by sociologists, but I'm fairly convinced that this is because I haven't worked very hard. I'm particularly interested in how such concepts might play out in law.

Unfortunately, such an experiment is not likely to be conducted for many years, because most virtual worlds have fixed laws, and thus nothing in the way of a legal system. (If A can loan B a hoverboard in There, and be absolutely certain he will get the board back because the database says he 'owns' it, no 'contract' is necessary.) The worlds are not yet suitably complex to require detailed conflict resolution systems (conflict resolution in fantasy systems is, generally, a whopping big sword, not tort law as such), nor confident enough to allow players, as opposed to designers, to write those rules. I think the time is coming for a virtual-reality system to play with those rules, though, and something like There might be a beginning.

Imagine, for instance, if the creators of There backed off from their god-like roles, and programmed separate rules for 'possession' of an item and 'ownership' of it. Possession would be a fixed rule of the system, but 'ownership' is determined by some form of agreement among participants. It would be possible to steal something that had value, and for uncertainty to arise in a trade or transaction. ("I'll buy that hamburger today for $1,000 Therebucks on Wednesday.") Similarly, you might be rewarded for returning a 'stolen' item.

How would different groups resolve their disputes? Imagine that certain players are given the ability to fix ownership of objects (judges) and possession of objects (police), and that these are both democratically elected, or even fixed at random. In this world, would individuals prefer judges who are formalist in their methods, or legal realists? Under what conditions would those preferences change? What if a judgeship is assigned to an infrequent player--how does the infrequent application of justice affect anti-social behavior? Given the ability to create 'islands' of users, such a virtual world might provide some indication of 'what if' scenarios currently argued within the legal academy.

I certainly won't be participating in There--there's too much going on in my life to put time into a virtual one. And There has a number of pitfalls and hurdles to clear before I'd be confident of the business model. (There are, it seems, regulatory hurdles to the conversion of Therebucks to real money, although those hurdles don't stop people from trading Everquest items on E-bay. Expect similar markets to develop.) But this is one story I'll definitely be keeping an eye upon, especially if There starts to attract not only item developers, but arbiters of disputes.

October 23, 2003

Ignobilis Vitae

Over at the Annals of Improbable Research, the 2003 Winners of the Ig® Nobel Prize have been announced. If you've never seen these, you should. There's proof that politicians have uniquely simple personalities, information on how to rent an entire nation, and the only Peace Prize ever to be given to the Association of Dead People.

Matters upon which I'm singularly unqualified to comment

I'd like to apologize to whoever came upon my site searching for the following terms, upon which I can pretty much guarantee they received no help:

hell and file sharing
The theological implications of copynorms escape me. Professor Solum, perhaps?

cockroach fresh direct
I've just done a search, and Fresh Direct doesn't deliver these on their website. If you got one, it's a freebie.

how lemons become lemonade
These days, via the magic of Minute Maid

japan women allowed to watch sumo wrestling
Yes, they are. Now at least that's answered

percentage of convicts who become better people
Not my speciality

packing with the devil
'The two of us just wanted to get away for the weekend--someplace with warmth, clean air, the silence that you can only get away from the persistent wailing of the damned.'

misty rain piercing
I'm going to hope that this person was searching for how to get their ear pierced on a foggy morning in Hyde Park.

solution to black cultural identity confusion
Well beyond my competence

law student stripper
Man, you're really looking in the wrong place.

high school days sex thoughts
I don't share those here. And I don't want yours, either.

October 22, 2003

The Euro, The Dollar, and Oil

There's a 'story' making the rounds on the blogosphere that one reason America went to war was that Iraq was threatening to denominate its oil trade in euro rather than dollars. (I've seen this most recently at The Muted Drum, but it's popped up in a lot of places. In various forms, it claims that the US feared that the dollar would be replaced as a reserve currency, and so we invaded Iraq in order to stop it.)

This seems to me like an economically illiterate 'tail wags the dog' story. The article I've linked to makes a number of post hoc errors, takes no consideration of the scale of the numbers involved, and uses these distortions to paint a pretty disturbing picture. Nonetheless, I can't buy it.

Does anyone have a link to a compelling counter-argument by a respected economist? I'd prefer to have a reference or link to use next time I see this urban myth.

A New Millenium

I did a lot of talking about Millennium Enterprises, Inc. v. Millennium Music, L.P. 33 F.Supp.2d 907 (Ore. 1999) today in Civ Pro. (Apologies to my classmates if I bored them to tears.) The case addresses the issue of whether a company who puts up a website targeted mainly at its local markets may be be required to answer a complaint in a foreign state due to 'purposeful availment.' In the case, Millenium Enterprises sued Millenium Music for trademark infringement, and tried to bring the case in Oregon under the theory that Music's website, being accessible in Oregon, provided a grounds for personal jurisdiction.

I hate it when I have to disagree with a court's opinion: after all, I'm a law student, what do I know? But applying the standard of 'purposeful availment' to a website seems to me to be a serious problem. So much of what is done by a 'real world' defendant occurs automatically online. You don't have to print out advertisements, because a Google spider will list you in a search engine. You don't have to send out advertisements, because your traffic will come to you--they may even link. True, active measures help, and in fact will make the difference between your project being a success or a failure. But if you put a site online, unless you specifically disclaim that you will use it to do business throughout the nation, I think you should be held to personal jurisdiction throughout the United States.

Still, if this case is any indication, courts today disagree with me. Which is, I suppose, a good thing, since it makes it that much less likely that anyone will successfully sue me for Three Years of Hell.

October 21, 2003

Anonymous Blogging

(Well, this started out as a short post on a topic that had been close to my mind recently. It just sort of turned into something larger. I'm afraid it's not very well-edited, since I don't have time to go over a work of this length, but I'm leaving it here for those who might find it useful.)

PART A: ANONYMITY
Recently, some of the virtues and vices of blogging anonymously stirred my interest, for reasons that I won't go into here. For the most part, I disapprove of blogging anonymously in any blog written for public consumption, particularly if you want to talk about your social setting.
Some people, like the Curmudgeonly Clerk, have good reasons for not putting their name to their blogs: federal rules may prohibit it, and there's no real point in them losing their jobs. But in the main, I find it a bad plan.

Before anyone accuses me of blatant hypocrisy, I have blogged anonymously in the past, both on sites like Deadjournal and some bulletin board sites (way back in the day). But these were always what I would call 'community journals,' writing intended specifically for a very narrow audience of friends and family who already knew who I was. If you weren't a member of that audience, you might 'stumble' on the journal--but otherwise you'd have to be a pretty damn dedicated stalker, in which case you've got worse problems. One key element of such journals is that they have a security model: in most of them, access to the writing was limited either to members of the community, or at the very least could be limited if I wished. At least to the target audience, it wasn't so much blogging anonymous but under another name.

'But that was in another country,' and besides, this is a different kind of blog. Most of the people I link to from Three Years of Hell, or who leave comments, are either professionals, students, or academics. We move within a very, very narrow world, and if our writings are going to be interesting at all, we have to write about the people with whom we work or play, those who make us insanely angry or profoundly grateful. Most of the problems of blogging anonymously arise from this 'small world' effect:

1. It doesn't work anyway
As I said, most professional (or school) bloggers move within a world circumscribed by a very limited number of real-world walls. This means your anonymity is inversely proportional to the actual value of figuring out who you are. In other words, if you're a Harvard blogger but I'm at Columbia, I'm unlikely to be interested in whether you're 'Webbed Lightning' or 'Alfred Pennyworth.' I'm not likely to meet you casually, and unless I've got some real-world friend in your area (always possible), I'm unlikely to care. But then, I'm not going to find your real name that useful anyway.

But if you're at Columbia and so am I, finding out who you are is pretty easy. First of all, blogging is at its heart an exhibitionist endeavor, and you're going to tell someone. They won't keep it quiet. And in a law school, rumours move fast.

But even supposing you're a model of discretion, you're going to write about things around you. If you're a law school blogger, you'll write about something funny that happened in your classes, or one of your social events; if you're a professional, you might talk about a client; if you're a doctor, you might mention some freaky disease. From that observation, or a number of them over time, you'll get found out. And once one person figures it out, forget it: you can't climb back into the bottle without scrapping the blog and starting over. From a new IP address.

Oh, yeah, that's the other thing: anonymity presumes you know the bits of the net that don't leave a trail. If you don't know what WHOIS does, how IP addresses work, or what's written in the source code to your site, don't even dream that you're anonymous. Sure, you might be, but you'd be surprised what a sufficiently determined (and skilled) net detective will figure out.

2. It gives the illusion of safety
But an anonymous blogger, thinking they're safe from detection, may quickly develop a sense of security that's wholly unwarranted. Blogs are similar to diaries, after all, and it's very human to put some comments into a personal diary: "That damnable right wing nut was at it again today, griping about persecution of Christianity." "Hasn't he noticed that his coat makes him look like a woolen version of the StayPuft Marshmallow Man?" "And with regards to the kid eating next to me, three words: no more onions." (And these are just things people could say about me.)

If you have that under lock and key beneath your pillow (or, in digital terms, behind some password-protected page), so be it. But if you don't, be sure that the guy next to you on the elevator is hearing about it. Even if they don't read your blog, someone they know will be. And maybe, just maybe, they'll put two and two together.

Here's a thought experiment: go to Friendster.com. If you don't have a profile, make one. Then search for one of your (relatively web-savvy) friends on the east coast, and link them to you. After that, search for a friend or two on the west coast who has almost no connection to the first friend. If you're like me, you'll find that the two friends are linked by at most three or four degrees of separation, via people you don't even know. Now think how much closer that is in law school. Or your office.

Bottom line, folks: if you talk about someone, no matter how careful you are, they're going to figure it out. If not every time, probably at the worst time. No one will expend the mental effort to determine if you're the person who held the door for you this morning, but people will hunt for the guy you slagged off for making that awful smacking noise with his gums.

3. It makes other people nervous
Now, imagine the blogger whose secret is out. Their Batman has suddenly been revealed as not-so-millionaire law-student Bruce Wayne, and he's had some pretty nasty teeth behind that cowl. Well, the result there is obvious. But let's suppose our Mr. Wayne has been the model of discretion and decency, or at least been justified in whatever bile he's spat during his 'Batman' phase. How are people who he talks to daily going to react, wondering if the next thing they say is going to be broadcast to the world at large?

So, anonymity doesn't work, gives a blogger a shield made of candyfloss, and can alienate their real world friends. In which case, I really find it's best to just go ahead and put your name on the work to begin with. You don't have the security, and it makes you think that much harder before you start running your mouth.


PART B: SOME RULES TO LIVE BY
Let's assume that some bloggers haven't been web-heads since NCSA Mosaic 1.0, just got their Blogger account, and want to start writing away. What are some good rules? Well, from my experience:

1. Would you say this to your mother?
Re-read everything you write, and ask if you'd say it in real life. In fact, ask if you'd say it in answer to one of your professors, over the microphone in your largest lecture hall, to all of your assembled fellow students. OK, no teacher is ever going to ask this kind of question, but if they did, would you want to be remembered for the answer? That's the test that goes through every one of these entries, every time. (Largely, I'll admit, because I've made serious mistakes in the past. Heck, you can check some of the archives here, though they're hardly my worst.) If I won't say it in real life, it's not going on here.

Everything you say on a blog will be remembered: even if you remove it, there's the off chance you didn't get to it before the Googlespider did, and trying to get something you've said out of that spider's cache is a royal pain. Even worse is trying to get it out of the hands of people who have read it already.

2. Grant your victims their anonymity.
As I said, you're going to mention people you know, the people you talk to every day. After all, unless you're someone like Prof. Volokh, with some cutting-edge professional things to say, what you're talking about is your life, and very few of your readers will be wanting to hear your personal opinions: they're here for your life. But the people you write about have not, in general, asked to be there. My attitude is to treat each and every one of them, no matter how much you like them or are being complimentary, as your victims.

I'm serious. If you assume an adversary relationship even to the mention of your best friend, you're less likely to run into trouble. When I wrote the story below about advising a friend to invite her young man up to New York when he felt like it, I asked the woman for permission, giving her a full copy of the post before I posted it. If she's said no, you're be down one story. I can write about something else, and stories are a cheaper currency than friends.

In these cases, honesty is overrated. If you get a story from me, you're getting at best a half-truth. I feel perfectly free to change the location of the action, the sex of the actors, anything except the essential action of the story, if I feel that the person involved doesn't want to be identified. I know what I'm trying to say, and you'll get the point, hopefully with a laugh at the end. I'm not going to give you enough to find my 'victims' unless you were there. It's only fair to them.

3. Self-censor. Frequently.
I can already hear the comments as I'm writing this: "But... but... if I do things like that, my readers won't be getting an authentic idea of what the law school experience is like." But they won't get that anyway--at the very best, they're getting facets of your law school experience, filtered through your own particular opinions. Unless you're going to spend an inordinate amount of time blogging in a day, your readers will get disconnected vignettes, small glimpses of the highs and lows of your experience. They're not getting 'authenticity' anyway, they won't miss it because you decided not to slam some gunner you didn't happen to like.

There's a lot of topics that are dear to my heart that don't make it to here. There's some political issues I won't address, not because I don't have feelings on them, but because I do and I know they'll offend some people unnecessarily. Much as I'd love to tell you about my love life, my relationship with my family, or the juicy gossip of the law school, it's not getting published.

And make sure it's not just political opinions you're censoring. That's an exception to the rule above. It would be relatively easy for anyone, at least at the school, to figure out who my professors are. I'm not going to contact them every time I write something, and indeed so far as I know, none of them read Three Years of Hell. But in return, I'm not about to say anything unkind about them, or even anything less than approval. Most law students will find this practical (don't peeve your examiners--a good maxim), but more importantly, it's polite.

4. When you're done self-censoring, do it again
And by this, I mean 'watch your language.' The occasional four-letter word isn't a killer, but they are words that wound, and raise your risks of getting into trouble with your readers. Besides, very few people will think better of you because you can use the word 'cunt' as a descriptive term. Ask if you need the word there, and if not, lose it.

When you get the urge to let it loose, go read Warren Ellis' blog. There's a man who can curse. When you feel like being Spider Jerusalem, ask yourself if you can live up to the hype. If you can't, drop the act.

5. It's not just on your blog
All of the above, by the way, applies whether you're a blogger or someone leaving a comment. Most blogs don't have a very tight security model, and it's sometimes tempting to comment from anonymity. All the warnings above apply to you too.

I generally comment with my real name, or if not, with a link to Three Years of Hell, to avoid the temptation to start acting like a jerk. But even if you don't want to leave your name, remember that what you're saying will be read, and especially if you're commenting anonymously, your words will represent everyone who's mistaken for you.

How would you feel if a colleague, a workmate, or a professor wrote to ask you, "What's going on at Company X? Your colleagues are swearing like sailors and acting like children." He then gives you a link to a 'debate' which features foul language, unveiled insults, and personal attacks, all signed by "A Member of Company X" or "Another Secretary at Company X." Not pretty, is it? Many of the blogs you comment on have readerships in the hundreds, if not thousands, and you give you and your associates a reputation.

(Note that, as mentioned on the 'About' page, I reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and have done so in the past.)

None of this is revolutionary, nor even particularly original. It's common sense. I can't claim to always get it right. I've annoyed a number of people (and usually apologized for it) with things I've said here. Bloggers are only human, and we won't get it right all the time. Still, these are the rules I'd like to live by. If anything because I'm less likely to lose the affection of my friends or the respect of my peers if I do so.

(If my readers have gotten this far, and have any other suggestions for good blog etiquette, I'd love to see it. I apologize for the disjointed nature of this post. I'll probably edit it a bit over the next few days to make it more coherent.)

Another good saying

As I've said before, although I love Contracts as a class, it's almost more fun playing 'Spot the Quotation' with Prof. Contracts. I missed Blazing Saddles, got The Jew of Malta, and today learned what 'having the smell of the lamp' means. Apparently, it means overly academic. ("This case does not have too much of the smell of the lamp about it.")

I have to find some chance to use this.

Strange Asceticism

When I said earlier that the worst thing you can do in law school is get behind, I did not mean that you should spend every moment of your life in a kind of law-related aesceticism. It's simply not healthy: no one should like law that much. This weekend I had a conversation about just that with one of my classmates:

Ms. A to Ms. S: Yeah, I really like him, but I've told him not to visit before Christmas, because while he can come up here from [his city] on a weekend, I'll just spend all my time wanting him and I'll never get any work done.

Me: (while closing my books) A., trust me on this one: ask him up. You will spend as much time staring out the window and wanting him, as you will enjoying his presence, and both will keep you from your work. But having him will make your other hours joyful, while keeping him at arms length will merely make all your hours miserable, and you will grow to hate your work for keeping him from you.

Ms. A.: Y'know, that sometimes how I feel about marble chocolate fudge cake...

Case in Point: The Song of the Strange Ascetic, G. K. Chesterton

Slightly Overwhelmed

Dear Wormwood:

Here's a good suggestion for surviving 1L: don't get behind.

Really. Feel like that movie on Saturday, but know you shouldn't? Don't. See that pretty girl at the bar (and yeah, that's you she's looking at): well, you've got to get up early tomorrow, boy, and sleeping in until noon means you're not finishing the outlining you promised your study group. Don't even think about it.

When all of your task list is red and glaring at you, the guilt alone is enough to get in the way of real work. No matter how much sleep or relaxation you've had, just looking at the enormous and growing pile of work awaiting you is enough to let exhaustion creep over your body. OK, you enjoy your weekend, but you do penance the entire week.

Seriously, Wormwood, don't get behind. The only real upside is the feeling of accomplishment you get when (if) you get caught up again.

October 20, 2003

Addictive (courtesy of my brother)

A deceptively simple, highly addictive game. I take no responsibility for you failing to listen to your lecturers while playing this.

Volokh on Solomon and Perspective

I spent a good bit of this weekend discussing various gender rights issues with a very charming young lady from a California law school, who was in town to attend the Lavender Law conference at Fordham.

As a result, the Solomon Amendment came up again, as it seems to be doing more and more frequently in the blogosphere, law schools, and the newspaper. The 'wisdom of Solomon' is certainly being called into question as never before.

Which is why I was happy Prof. Volokh linked to his old article on Solomon and perspective. I've remembered this one ever since I read it, on the basis of practicality alone:

Some boycotts are purely instrumental: They aim to make things costly for some entity, so that the entity changes its ways to avoid those costs. But surely this isn't the issue here. If the military changes its policy, it won't be because they're having a slightly harder time recruiting lawyers; the boycott just can't make that sort of practical difference. What's more, officers coming from (say) Yale Law School would likely be more tolerant of homosexuality than the average officer. As a purely practical matter, discouraging Yalies from joining the military may make the military slightly less gay-rights-friendly.

So, of, course the boycott isn't really about practical questions — it's about morality and symbolism.


Indeed, one would think if you wanted to change the military as a system, your best bet (if you're straight but sympathetic) would be to join JAG. Certainly military experience might teach some campaigners the wisdom of not ceding a field to one's enemies.

Eccentric Legal Knowledge

Prior to my contracts reading regarding Laredo Hides Co, Inc. v. H & H Meat Products Co., Inc, 513 S.W.2d 210 (Texas 1974), I didn't know the difference between a heifer and a cow. In case you'd like to know, a heifer has had no more than one calf, whereas a cow has had two or more. Apparently their hides are worth different values.

I apologize to my readership for not having anything new up this weekend: after the Legal Methods exam I spent a fairly law-free weekend. Oddly, everyone I've talked to have said they did very little in the way of work this weekend. I guess after the exam, we all needed a bit of brain rest.

October 17, 2003

Senatorial Asylum

And in one moment, the blogosphere rose up in massive agreement. Check out Balloon Juice's description of why the new Congressional resolution to transform some of the money being spent to rebuild Iraq into a loan, which will be forgiven if other donor nations write off their Saddam-era debt. You have to scroll down a ways, but you'll see the list of the members of the blogosphere of every political persuasion who think this is dumb.

The most charitable interpretation of this is that it gives the U.S. a card to play to get countries like France or Russia to fold up their debt claims. From a game-theory perspective, that might not be a bad plan. From a moral (or hell, a public-relations) view, it's like holding up a beat up child and saying, "Gimme back this kid's money or I'll beat it out of his hide." It's insanity incarnate. Words fail me.

Why I've been feeling old today

Detailing how the exam went can wait: I'm feeling like a decrepit old fogey. Never mind the fact that my brother sent me this article, wherein little rugrats critique the Atari games that I grew up on. No, it's worse.

I went to see Kill Bill after the exam, with two of the people in my course. After the movie (which I will review, since I thought it was horrible), I mentioned that the eponymous Bill (who you don't see in the first film) is played by David Carradine.

"Who?" from my first companion. This followed by a blank look from a young lady who only a moment before I might have considered the salt of the earth, despite her obviously tender years.

"David Carradine? You know, from Kung Fu?"

Blank. Real blank. For a moment, I tried to console myself with the phantasm that both of these people were in Another Section, and that maybe Columbia specially segregated those of us with vast cultural knowledge into my section. [1] Then I realized that they'd made a remake of Kung Fu called "The Legend Continues" in the mid-90s that was diabolically awful: so if it were just poor taste, they'd know him from there. My classmates obviously have better aesthetic sense than that. [2]

No, there was no escaping it. I was just... old.

Okay, you whippersnappers, that's fine, make fun of me! You know what they say about age and... erm... hold on, my memory's not what it used to be...


[1] Yes, this is patently ridiculous, but their response was making me feel old. The human mind will perform some stunning feats to defend its ego. Have some sympathy.
[2[ See, I told you. At this point the obvious conclusion was that not only did they have better sense than that, but they have better taste than I.

October 16, 2003

Morituri te salutamus

...because, after all, law doesn't have enough latin maxims.

No, seriously, the day's study has gone well. I started too late and so finished too late, but I feel as prepared as I can be, and I figure the exam can't be that great of a shock now. And I appreciate Columbia's pedagogical practice of giving us what, for all intents and purposes, is a practice exam.

In many ways, it's been a real wake-up call. It's highlighted the fact that I've not done enough work over the last month, but it's also focused me on what I need to do. There's a lot of very simple things (putting page numbers on my notes, organizing outlines, putting things in binders) that I've done for legal methods which will serve me well in my other classes. It certainly means I'm not going into those exams half so cold.

One thing I'll miss, though, is the lack of formality of Oxford exams. Wearing a suit and gown and pinning a flower to your lapel, is hardly practical if you take exams every term. But it had a certain romance that I'm going to miss, sitting in an exam hall with jeans and a shirt on.

So tomorrow at 10:30 AM, wish me luck. For now, I think I'll get a good night's sleep.

Legal Methods Studying

While the rest of the law school may tell you 'don't spent that much time on legal methods,' when you're a 1L, don't listen to them. Looking back over this stuff, I wish I'd mastered it, instead of merely knowing it. Also, start studying a bit before the exam.

I've got a load of observations from this process, most of them more pedestrial than brilliant (always page number your notes, auto-outline functions that are helpful for review, etc.) but I'll post them after the exam. For now, I want to read over this stuff before I run out of time for sleep.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a post from E Land, which explains why we lawyers are such rat bastards. It's not a bad post, but I think he's a better engineer than he is a biologist, since I think he's misusing the term 'parasite.'

October 14, 2003

Attention Marvel Fans...

This has to be a combination of the two worst ideas ever: high quality lithographs of super-heros and inspirational messages at SuperLithos.com. Now if they could get the great villains at Despair.com, that might be an accomplishment.

Linked from The Hulk Diary. You would not believe what you can find with Google's 'I feel lucky' button.

See through the Elvish Propaganda!

In an old post at gTexts, the author puts forward the view that Sauron's true aim was radical politics, and that Rivendell was the Augusta Country Club. It's tough to tell whether his tongue is in his cheek, out of his cheek, or in both cheeks, but it's worth a giggle.

Politics and Politenesses

Dear Wormwood:

I ventured up to the Center for Public Interest Law today and found that, if there is the panel for Public Interest from the Right, they didn't seem to know of it. On the other hand, I think my fellow student was referring to the (quite helpful) OPIA's Guide to Conservative Public Interest Law, which lists a number of organizations useful as contacts for a conservative who wishes to go into public interest. Perhaps ironically, it's a copy of a pamplet written by Harvard. Anyway, it's a good read if you're in shoes like mine. They've copied it with a neon pink cover, you can't miss it.

In other news, the furore over military recruitment (previously commented upon by The Curmudgeonly Clerk among others--see post for references) showed up in the front hallway today, where there is now bulletin board requesting that, if you wish to interview with the military, you do so off-campus, complete with quotation from the Dean. All told, I'm happier with this than with attempts by various groups to ban JAG recruiting from law schools. "Excuse me: this is offensive to us, would you mind not doing it in here?" is a much better strategy, in my opinion, than not inviting the recruiters or in some other way excluding them by force. (There are, after all, presumably some law students who wish to join the military and support the current 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue' policy, if not a stricter one--the university would seem to be doing its students a disservice by not helping them with their careers.)

I'm not likely to sign up for military service, but if I were, I'd be inclined to take a bit of extra effort and interview elsewhere. I could see a compromise wherein the military is allowed to recruit here, but as a sign of respect for the feelings, if not the opinions, of fellow students, those interested were willing to wander to some neutral location. The JAG's audience being elsewhere, it wouldn't show up, even if allowed to do so.

(Related note: if you want the ins and the outs of the issue, The Last Best Hope presents a summary of Richard Epstein's 'debate' last year over this policy, held at NYU. I have apparently overestimated the presence of liberal academics at New York City institutions, since when invited to a debate by the author of my Torts textbook, not one fellow academic was willing to show up...

If you're a JD2B, I can't imagine this issue will have gone away by the time you get here.)

October 13, 2003

Shame, shame, old man!

In an amazing Paul Krugman piece entitled Lessons in Civility, Mr. Krugman opines:

But there's more going on than a simple attempt to impose a double standard. All this fuss about the rudeness of the Bush administration's critics is an attempt to preclude serious discussion of that administration's policies. For there is no way to be both honest and polite about what has happened in these past three years.

And generations of gentlemen, indeed the ghosts of gentlemen past, shake their heads disapprovingly. A well brought up man may be polite about anything, and his failure to do so is not the limitations of the world, but merely a reflection of his failings.

Shame, shame, Mr. Krugman.

This Imp May Have to Eat His Words

It's only hearsay so far, but I've been told by a classmate that the Center for Public Interest Law here (with whom I've not always seen eye to eye) is doing a panel on Pro Bono from the Right. Given past experience, the temptation is to be suspicious, and you can guess what has run through my mind thus far. But it's only fair to be open-minded about it until given reason to assume otherwise. I'll keep you posted, and look forward to the panel.

Solum's Law

I'd not noticed it before, but Professor Solum has published all his miniature 'lectures' into the Legal Theory Lexicon. This year's 1Ls can follow along as he creates this work, which will probably be a pretty good brush-up on key facts and a good source of advice.

Next years 1Ls will have a whole year's worth of them to read before they even start. The lucky bastards.

October 12, 2003

(Non Law) Questions I Need Resolved

Law seems to be going well. Some other things are not.

  • Can someone jog my memory as to the relationship between National Review and Andrew Sullivan? I could have sworn the latter worked on, if he wasn't the editor of, the former for a number of years, though my mind may be failing. I remember him being insightful, humourous, and quite a good read, back in the day when I enjoyed National Review more for being well-written, irreverant, and not half as nasty as it is today. I've just read Sullivan's 'statistics don't matter' [1] postings on gay marriage and a mean-spirited 1 September rebuttal by one of my favorite magazines, and it leaves a 'plague on both your houses' bitter taste in my mouth. Is there some kind of bad blood between them?
  • Second, do any of my readers have knowledge with Microsoft Sharepoint Services? I've installed it on my Windows 2003 box, but neither the default website nor the admin section will let me log in, I get an error when I try to go to the default page (either 'You are not authorized to view this page'--and I'm the bloody admin--or 'Application error' and the ASP.NET yellow error boxes). If anyone might lend a hand here, I'll send them the URL and password. Any suggestions welcome.
  • [1] Since as soon as I wrote it someone asked me to explain the 'statistics don't matter' jibe: Sullivan claimed that 'A poll this week for USA Today found that 67% of the 18-29 age group believe that gay marriage would benefit society.' He later admitted (or rather, was forced to admit when criticism came down upon him like a ton of bricks): "It should be that 67 percent thought it would be harmless or a benefit to society. An innocent mistake, I assure you. And the point endures." But does it? He still refuses to split the numbers down in the poll, which were specifically listed in the USA Today article: only 10% thinking it would make things better, and the rest say 'no effect.' (More important from a polling standpoint, USA Today only gives the language of the 'harm to society' response. Those of you who remember To Play the King will remember what insidious tricks you play in that game. That 'no effect' would be completely different if the question were asked 'harm our society' or 'harm the status of marriage in our society,' especially depending upon the introduction and lead-up to the questions.)

    On the question of whether a pro-gay marriage policy should be carried out, moreover, the poll is split three ways, between 'yes,' 'no,' and 'don't care.' Again, I'd wager that depending on how you asked the question, you could get the third who said 'don't care' to split either way: you can't evaluate the poll number without knowing what the question was. (And that assumes the question, as here, was neutral: if it wasn't, it might already be substantially slanted one way.)

    But one way or the other, Sullivan's argument was either a hideous mistake deserving more of a mea culpa than he put forward (at least mentioning the 57% discrepancy directly), or was patently dishonest. The Sullivan remember reading... hell, the Sullivan whose blog I read when I started reading blogs, just wasn't like that. What happened?

    (Most links taken from NRO's The Corner.)

October 11, 2003

Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary is one of those delightfully curmudgeonly books that I've had on my shelves for ages, and that follows me no matter how low I am on trunk space. A great many authors have tried since to capture the level of acerbity and wit of the original ("Forefinger, n The finger commonly used in pointing out two malefactors"), but few ever manage it.

John Derbyshire has attempted, in the Sept. 29th National Review, to compile a new list of terms. They're right-wing biased, some of them are mean-spirited instead of curmudgeonly (a fine line), and some of them just aren't that good. But two, in particular, caught my eye as having a certain Bierceness:

judiciary, n., A body of citizens charged with making those laws that Congress has omitted to make.

marriage, n. An archaic institution for the oppression of women and the abuse of children, from participation in which homosexual couples are cruelly and unjustly barred.

Though I'm not sure it improves upon the originals:

marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two.

Good ol' Ambrose, he's tough to beat.

It all comes down to this

I think that in the years to come, yesterday will be the day that I remember law school actually starting.

Everyone's been working like crazy this weekend, or at least so it seems. You walk through the law school and there's a fever of outlining, revising, practice exams and other business. I felt as if my own efforts were nowhere near enough. That's changed.

Some people learn through the slow accretion of knowledge gained daily, fact after fact filing on top of one another. Some of us, however, learn through endless hours of drudgery combined with momentary and sudden flashes of brilliant clarity. (Or, in my case, months of somnolence followed by a minute of near-adequacy. The principle is the same.)

Something like that happened yesterday, as I was reading an Emmanuel's outline on the torts work I'd done last week. Suddenly, a lot of things fit together: not just negligence and battery, res ipsa and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, but everything I'd been doing. This IRAC thing: how does it fit with the application of a case to tort law? How does combining those two items with a knowledge of our exam structure lead to an effective and efficient form of outline? Why does that particular fish need this particular bicycle? Boom, there it was.

After that moment of procedural satori, I sat back and took stock of where I was. I'm about four weeks behind, really, but that's not so frightening, because if I'd been working enormous hours the last four weeks, I'd still be four weeks behind. I'd be ripping everything up right now and starting afresh--or worse, trying to get MS Word to rearrange my notes. Not only that, but I'd be far more tired than I am now. OK, I've not made my first move on outlining torts or contracts, but now I know what they should look like.

Following standard practice following my moments of zen, I grabbed some light work-related reading (Chirelstein's chapbook on contracts), walked briskly over to Nacho Mama's, and drank two margaritas whilst refreshing myself on promissory estoppel[1].

I can imagine my fellow students wondering exactly what the hell I'm talking about: many of them probably figured this out last month. But hey, everyone learns differently, and we all have our own path--if I sound like an idiot writing with such excitement over something so small, well, at least I'm a happy fool. I woke up this morning not only looking forward to getting to the law school, but with thoughts of a contract outline forming in my head. It wouldn't be too much to say I was enjoying the prospect of leaving the shower and making my way here.

So it begins.

[1] Yes, Martin, I get it now, well enough to write your sitcom. It should hit the screens fall 2005.

Next bit of outside reading

Recommended to me by Prof. Torts, this book has the stories behind some of the classic torts cases, like United States v. Carroll Towing or MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co.. I'm waiting for this one to arrive from Amazon.


October 10, 2003

"What Happens When You Slam Hansard and MATLAB together Really Hard"

Also from NTK this week, one of the coolest web applications I've seen in ages. Behold, The Public Whip.

This webscraper pulls the votes of Members of Parliament off of government websites, aggregates the information, and lets you see what a member of parliament is doing, if there's any rebellions, and if you really feel like it, a little pointalistic map of voting patterns. Pulling this off is beyond my skill, but it's all publicly available code: someone do this for Congress, for god's sake!

Someone tell me this is patently ridiculous

From The Register comes the story of SunnComm suing a university student for having revealed that you can get around some copy protection technology by... gasp... holding down the shift key.

Basically, it disables the autorun feature in Microsoft Windows when the CD is inserted which keeps the CD from installing a file on your machine. Personally, I'm annoyed at any music CD that tries to alter my hard drive without my consent. As the Register describes it:

In which case, SunnComm's technology is indeed flawed, and the company can't argue the student has damaged its reputation. We'd say it did that itself by relying on a technology that any user - and indeed many already do - can circumvent perfectly legally. Bypassing Autorun by holding down the Shift key is a documented feature, after all.

Link found from NTK: "They Stole Our Revolution, Now We're Stealing It Back."

Public Disinterest

Dear Wormwood:

If you're the type of person who has a burning interest in social justice, a determination that life's unfairnesses should be bludgeoned out on the anvil of law, or a desire to take up arms and journey into the raging havocs of identity politics, then Columbia University offers something for you: a mandatory 40 hours of pro bono work that you must do to complete your degree. In the past few weeks, I've received emails inviting me to help battered immigrant women, work studying 1st amendment restrictions since 9/11, or campaign for prisoners' rights, among other ideas for the great and worthy. It this is your cup of tea, I can't recommend the program more highly.

If it isn't, I recommend you keep reading this blog. This requirement is likely to be a recurring theme for Letters to Wormwood, and I'll give you every bit of my help on getting through, and even enjoying, this requirement. If nothing else, you'll get to learn from my mistakes.

The topic comes to my mind because of a conversation I had during the Dean's drinks reception last night (a beautiful event, incidentally), with a young lady whose path to law school was preceded by a great deal of human rights work. Obviously, our views differed over the efficacy of the pro bono requirement: to her, this was a part of the law that we should all know about, like contracts or torts; whereas I tend to look at it as a sort of tax, wherein I give forty hours of my time to some cause I probably don't believe in for the receipt of a degree. My charitable work will be done elsewhere, in areas that probably don't involve law, as befits someone who thinks law is a poor tool for social change.

The argument for this requirement is always that it does a lot of good, and that certainly everyone can find something to do that doesn't clash too badly with their beliefs. And perhaps that's true, although I've already mentioned how The Center for Public Interest Law is not always the most welcoming place to members of my political persuasion. But being forced to do forty hours of public service takes much of the joy, and all of the virtue, out of tasks that I might choose to pursue anyway. Near as I can tell, a 'public service program' here is pretty much defined as 'opposing a monied or conservative interest.'

But I must confess to a certain excitement about the requirement, keeping in mind G. K. Chesterton's axiom that "an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." As my companion last night pointed out, the requirement will force me to do something I wouldn't otherwise consider. I'm sorely tempted to sign up for something like prisoners' rights or anti-death penalty work, simply because it gives me a chance to test my beliefs while in the line of fire. Obviously were I (or you, dear Wormwood) to choose to do so, it's incumbent upon me to give every bit of my effort to whatever cause it is, but that's a challenge that should not prove insurmountable. And armchair faith is tepid in comparison to something proven.

I have to pause and smile, however, when I consider that those who say one should challenge ones faith are very rarely those who actually do so themselves. One of my friends here confessed to the fact that before Columbia they'd never really had a friend who was Republican. Nor do I expect to see those who are reflexively anti-Christian signing up to spend time in a missionary soup kitchen. Those who most advocate sleeping with the enemy seem to do so only at the suggestion that it is their bedchambers to be opened.

Take heart, though, dear Wormwood: at least metaphorically, it suggests that we're better in bed.

October 09, 2003

Limp Bizkit and the Breach of Contract

Limp Bizkit is being sued for cutting short a concert to 17 minutes, as reported by the Smoking Gun. I have no idea of the accuracy of the report, since I don't know the site.

Given the 'quality' of their music, I'm having a hard time deciding whether reducing their concert to 17 minutes makes them liable for breach of contract, or cuts down their liability under tort law. (Is there a tort of intentional infliction of bad taste?)

Thanks to my brother for sending me the link.

A Travesty, A Tragedy

For anyone who thinks that all conservatives liked the California recall, I recommend George F. Will's scathing A Conservative Travesty. A taste:

These Schwarzenegger conservatives -- now, there is an oxymoron for these times -- have embraced a man who is, politically, Hollywood's culture leavened by a few paragraphs of Milton Friedman. They have given spurious plausibility to a meretricious accusation that Democrats are using to poison American politics, the charge that Florida 2000 was part of a pattern of Republican power grabs outside the regular election process.

Break Open Onion, Weep Tears of Joy

I needed this Onion headline for a laugh before going to bed tonight.

IBM Emancipates 8,000 Wage Slaves

October 08, 2003

The Abolition of Marriage

An incredibly cool paper on the advantages and disadvantages of eliminating marriage as a legal category: For and Against Marriage: A Revision. I'm only a short way into it so far, but I recommend it.

(Link from the The Legal Theory Blog)

October 07, 2003

My Name Is Not Daniel, My Faith Is Not That Strong

Until today, I didn't have anything really to add to the 'conservatives in academia' discussion on Volokh (here, here, or here) or The Curmudgeonly Clerk. But since I'm pretty much caught up with my reading (still the laughter in the gallery, please) I thought I'd go along to the 2003 Supreme Court Round Up held this evening.

In one sense, I got what I wanted: a short summary of the interesting Supreme Court cases of the 2003 term, and a very brief look at things to come. But the vast bulk of the evening was taken up with Gratz, Grutter, and Lawrence v. Texas. I took two sections of notes: what was said in a factual and informative manner, and notes for the general tenor of the meeting. I won't quote from the latter other than to say that there was nothing nice said about Scalia save for a backhanded compliment, Rehnquist was described as disingenuous twice, and all three of the above rulings were considered self-evidently correctly decided, save perhaps that they didn't go far enough. (Needless to say, nothing nasty was said about Kennedy or Ginsburg, though one can suspend disbelief about the latter and say that's because of her Columbia connection. You don't speak badly of Cardozo here, either.)

The academics present were smart, witty, and highly knowledgable: indeed, I'd gone specifically wanting to see one of them, since I'd be pleased if I ended up in one of her classes one day. But (and perhaps this is the signs of some naivety on my part) I'd imagined that in a formal panel put forward by Columbia Law School there might be a whisper of dissent between the four panelists. If there was, I missed it. Nor were any of the floor questions particularly challenging, though some did result in some explanation or elaboration of views already stated. If one might think that the dissent in Grutter or Lawrence has any steam at all, you'd not have known it from the discussion this evening.

This isn't what I was used to during my undergraduate days: panels were expected to have some disagreement (or, if that was absolutely impossible, to at the very least address the points of the opposition). David Bernstein from the Volokh Conspiracy was here last week, speaking about his new book, but I didn't see him because I read him quite a lot. As a guest of the Federalists, it looked like he'd be preaching to the choir: not, in my view, the best use of my time. But he'd have made a great addition to this panel.

What sprung to my mind by the end was, "Who are these people talking to?" Maybe there were a lot of closet conservatives in that room who remained silent, but I didn't see any of the usual 1L suspects I know. Is it really good policy to describe the term 'public interest law' as if it must by definition exclude conservatives? To hold quite emotive panels, without giving a voice to contrary views? Indeed, given the tenor of the questions, wouldn't it have made sense to ask for contrary or challenging questions--from the floor if nowhere else? I would have thought that at a university, such uniform agreement would be just as disturbing. Besides, if everyone in the room already agrees with you, why bother talking?

Which brings one to the obvious question: young man, why did you stay silent? To which I can only say, read the title above. One of the depressing things about Grutter is that ostensibly it's put in place to ensure that there is diversity not of race but of experience and viewpoint in academia, to which diversity of race is supposed to contribute. If that's the case, the panel was hardly a good sign.

Update: Thinking on it, there was a question I wanted to ask, and forgot. The panel skipped over a free-speech case, Nike v. Kasky, in which I have a very strong interest. (Samuelson on Kasky can be found for a good layman's summary.)

Why are you buying my condoms?

Having taken a quick look around the Alice website here at Columbia, I'm struck by exactly how much of it deals with sex and (in many cases particularly simplistic) sexual information. This was only reinforced today when I saw their booth at Lerner Hall, in which they had a 'guess the number of condoms in the jar' competition, and were handy out that party favor of the naughties, free condoms.

Free condoms have to be one of those dividing lines between the social liberal and the more doctrinal conservative. I can understand every practical argument in favor of giving out condoms for free: there are externalities at work. Prevention of disease in any population lowers risks for everyone--for that matter, there's even a free-rider problem in that people who do practice safe sex are lowering the risks for those who do not. And indeed, maybe that's a free-rider 'issue' more than a 'problem.' The economist in me understands the solution.

But I've never taken a free condom from a health service, and I just can't bring myself to do so. Sex is or should be a voluntary, pleasant activity engaged in between two [1] consenting adults, and it is a purely optional part of life. There's something distinctly ungallant, if not unromantic, about expecting a bureaucracy or student organization to subsidize my sex life. I don't think I can make a consistent stand against nationalized health care and at the same time think this should be free.

Call it a Chestertonian conceit, I suppose, but there is a point where economic man should yield to some principles, and a good starting point is that if the general public shouldn't be financing my affairs, that should include affairs of an intimate as well as economic nature. In any event, I felt it a pleasant irony that the 'guess the number of condoms in the jar' raffle was for a t-shirt, since the obvious prize was the jar of condoms itself.


[1] After some thought, I felt I should clarify that, depending on circumstance and your imagination I might need to clarify 'this to 'two, or more.' If you find any other such 'inaccuracies' in this piece, please assume I've corrected them inclusively, or omitted such corrections for the sake of the person who found this site searching for 'I'm 11 years old and wish to be a paleontologist.'

Health Tip: Your Back Will Thank You

Since every law student I know is complaining about the weight of the books we carry around every day, I figured I'd draw attention to Stressbusters, a volunteer student massage service at Columbia. Between noon and 1 PM on Wednesdays, they do free neck massages.

Don't say I never did anything for you.

the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelids flutter

Walking back home from the library, Civil Procedure fresh in our heads, I was chatting to one of my friends from the Malebolge about identity politics. I trotted out one of my well-used maxims ("I don't really think identity should extend much beyond, 'I am.'") and she immediately asked, "Do you like E. E. Cummings? He thought like that an awful lot."

I'll admit to liking his poetry but not knowing his philosophy: I really hope what she said was accurate, because I'd like to be in his company on that one. But it led to us quoting what we could remember in our walk back home, which put a truly fine ending on a long and productive weekend. For the record, the two works we quoted:

since feeling is first (source of the title above)

somewhere i have never travelled

It's actually been quite a day for poetry, or at least me lending it out. My shelves are now down one book of Chesterton and one book of Cummings. I wonder if there's something about this point in law school that makes one scuttle for good books of verse? (I have Frost and O no Komachi left, if anyone wants them.)

Otherwise, it's been a good weekend, all told. I've not gotten quite as much done as I'd hoped as far as study goes, but I'll have a new lamp soon (more light will increase my productivity in the House of Fire and Motions to Dismiss), made certain I won't go over my budget for the year, and installed a removable showerhead in the dorm shower. It's amazing how small touches like that can make things much more enjoyable.

October 06, 2003

Could I NOT link to this from Three Years of Hell?

To go along with the Mr. Snaffleburger Corporation, you may now enjoy my latest favorite corporate parody, We Want Your Soul, Inc.

Quite possibly the worst movie I'll never see

What in heaven's name convinced Hollywood to produce The House of The Dead? I mean, the kiss of death of movie advertising should be "Based on the Best Selling Video Game."

On the other hand, this is the franchise which spawned the well-reviewed not-so-classic PC hit The Typing of the Dead. There's something oddly beautiful about killer-zombie typing tutors: this is the kind of project that ends up being beautiful because the developers were given a dead-end project that no one expected anything from, and proceeded to exceed pitifully low expectations.

If you're concerned that you'll be forever behind in law school because you can't type, or would like to use your keyboard for stress relief, here's the product for you!

October 05, 2003

[I] Am Urged By Your Propinquity

I've heard a common litany here at law school that I just can't believe: "There's no way I'll date anyone from my class at law school." The very idea's been described as 'madness,' 'insane,' or 'that would be stupid.' And I can't help but think, "Yeah, sure."

Human beings being what we are, we find our romantic attachments basically by propinquity. Considering the compressed and stressing nature of law school, the fact that few of us have external ties to New York City, and the little time many of us spend outside the cloisters of Columbia, I can't see that the rule of propinquity is going to be overturned any time soon. Given time, I rather expect such resolutions to be consigned to the dustbin, next to, "I'm going to brief every case."

Besides, the risks and reasons normally given against are overstated. If we were a class of one hundred, certainly, I'd find it as bad an idea as dating within one's workplace. But with over a thousand students of various classes, this place is big enough to get lost in without dramatics. I've not met all the 1Ls yet: not meeting any particular one would be simple. This reminds me more of the larger offices I've worked in, where office romance was not uncommon, if sometimes slightly strange.

I'm reminded Osaka, the day I transferred into a division at A Major Japanese Corporation. On the first day of my two week internship in that department, a young man came up to our boss Kacho-san and handed him a small letter, explaining that he was to be married. The boss congratulated him, opened the letter (a wedding invitation) and blanched. "But... you two don't even like each other," he blurted, losing his cool for a second before returning to congratulations. The young man was marrying the girl who sat across from him.

As I pieced together later, when people were willing to explain in slower and simpler Japanese, the two of them had been dating for a year or so. They kept their relationship secret during the early days so as to avoid any discomfort among their colleagues if it ended. As things grew more serious, they kept it secret because company policy would have been to transfer her to another division, if not pressure her to resign if she intended marriage. Since she was actually on a management track and not a secretary, this wasn't a work disruption she wanted to consider.

Over the year, they'd developed the habit of low-level sniping at each other across the desk in order to throw people off the scent. In particular, the lady involved could be pretty brutal, and both had a degree of skill that had kept things from seeming overacted or obvious. As a result, when they did announce their wedding, most of the division seemed obviously surprised.

Not that I expect to see this kind of thing at law school, but such things do happen. I rather expect that over time, some of my classmates will come to eat their words on the subject.

(Title from Edna St. Vincent Millay)

October 04, 2003

Crazy people

In a lighter vein than typical in the last few days, I finally got my search terms report working. People have found this site searching for the following:

"am I too old to become a lawyer"
If I'm not, you ain't.

"is it possible to become the devil?"
Nice to know you're aiming high, mate, but I doubt it.

how to know if a person is the devil
Look for the horns, kiddo, and beware folks who wear hats all the time.

are homosexuals the devil?
No. Unless they're becoming lawyers, in which case the answers above apply.

Actually, you would not believe how well this site seems to index for the term 'homosexual.' In case you're wondering, I seem to have the number one google result for this question, and at least three people have searched for this. Disturbing. Who in all creation is linking to me, and with what?

Update: I did a bit of searching, and this doesn't put me in good company. There's a lot of particularly virulent anti-homosexual sites that come up when you google for 'homosexual,' and it gets worse when you cross it with 'devil.' Yuck.

howard dean the devil
Somehow I doubt it. The devil has better dress sense.

is trent lott the devil
Man, I hope not. I always hoped the Devil had a more refined accent.

pictures of kitchen's which do not come up to health & safety rules
See, Columbia, I'm makin' you famous!

i want to be a paleontologists i am 11 years old
This wins the 'cute kid who really shouldn't be coming to this site' award

how to become a judge
Y'know, this site's almost more useful for how to become a devil.

how to get on columbia law review
See above. Winner of the "Looking in the wrong place, mate" award...

folksy sayings
Well, at least someone is recognizing my raison d'etre

idiot sayings
Or maybe not...

ann coulter resume, tiger woods girlfriend powerpoint
and how did the peanut become georgia's symbol?
Huh?

grateful dead ice cream cone kid
The mind shudders... "Riding that train, high on cocaine, Davy Jones you better... watch out for the ice cream cone kid???"

the strangest definitional arguments ever made
And here's my newest reader...

And my personal favorite:
boob jobs from hell
I can only imagine why this person thought my site was worth clicking through.

Fear and Anxiety in Gotham City

Dear Wormwood,

Yesterday afternoon I had what I can only describe as a panic attack.

In hindsight, I think it was foolish to plan an afternoon's studying immediately following a look at my finances to see if I'd make it to December. The sudden adrenaline worry of watching MS Money's alerts go off one by one, and simultaneously being surrounded by some heavily-studying law students and two study groups, just flipped a switch, and suddenly my enjoyment of a four-day weekend was gone. Everyone seems to have serious human rights interests, extracurriculars, and still have time to have fifteen pages of outline finished.

It's not like I hadn't had a productive day. I'd gotten most of my tax situation in England sorted, billed a client on a small translation project, and even taken a look at some extra torts reading. But you look across the tables and see people with two commercial torts outlines, or a study group that's meeting for the second time in a week, or just someone who is there whenever you're at the library, and you begin to wonder, "Am I doing enough?"

Columbia does not give one much in the way of benchmarks to go by. Prof. Torts is in her first year teaching here, so I have no past papers for reference, while Prof Civ Pro has only put one up on the network share. I suppose this is fair--we're all grown ups, and don't need handholding, but it means that the question "Am I doing enough?" is inevitably answered by "How many more hours do you have left?"

It's actually this insecurity, rather than any kind of competitiveness, that causes me stress. Serious Law Student has been desiring her own study group; I'm wondering if mine meets often enough. The implied answer, of course, is, "no." I promised myself I'd be blithely unconcerned with class rank when I got here, and so far I'm keeping to that promise. But even with a goal to do 'tolerably well,' you can't really get away: the level of work required for 'tolerable' is no clearer than for 'top of the class,' and the only thing you have to go by is what you know of your fellow students, which is (if you're honest about it) precious little.

Ah well. My former teammates back at my web company knew full well that 50% of all coding gets done in the last week of the project, and I'm not sure that if I were pushing myself to exhaustion right now, I'd have the stock of energy I'd need to get myself through the heavy examination months. Perhaps my near-ancient age comes to advantage here: I've learned enough to know that it's better to wait until you know what you're doing before you waste a ton of effort on something you'll just have to do again. Then again, maybe that's just what I'm telling myself.

I went home and finished my accounts, cleared everything else (except, unfortunately, laundry) off my task list, had a pleasant evening with one of my flatmates from the Malebolge. Today I am ready to hit Torts with a passion, having repeated before bed my mantra that, "It's only law school." All the worry yesterday wasn't very productive, so Wormwood, when you start law school, remember that keeping your head about you is worth a dozen outlines and a hundred hours study. Or, as I might say in big, red, friendly letters:

Don't Panic

October 03, 2003

I feel unclean... so unclean...

As part of Legal Writing and Research, we had to do Lexis Nexis and Westlaw training this week. I have never felt so bribed in my life. Hoping to learn something about how to look up citations, do research, or make sure my case law is up to date, I instead found myself subjected to an hour's worth of sales patter regarding Rewards Programs, Bonus Points, Redeeming Points, and advantages over "the other system." I'd expect that at a time-share condo pitch or maybe from Tesco's[1], but not from two organizations ostensibly helping me to learn about the law.

Is it too much to ask that I be expected to make my choices on legal research tools based upon the quality of information they provide and their usability? The brief and rubbish introduction I've had leads me to believe that Westlaw has the edge on usability, while Lexis owns Shepards, and so might (but I certainly couldn't tell you from the presentation) have an edge on telling me which cases are up to date. In the meantime, I've come away with a mug, a light-up pen (which will be sent to my brother for his amusement), several hundred 'bonus points' and a bad taste in my mouth.

If anything, this has convinced me further of the malign influence of money on the legal system. [2] There's just so much money sloshing about that it fosters these perversions. Think about it: OK, providing students with free access to your databases makes sense, as it means you've got a trained user base to sell to later. (I've commented before on how software producers will refrain from prosecuting students with pirated software for just this reason.) But the elaborate and lavish system of rewards, incentives, bribes, and free chocolate! (Am I the only person who found that very grade-school?) The cost for this has to be recouped somewhere, and it's in higher prices to the law offices that use these systems, and ultimately, to their clients.

Right now, a good assignment that would allow me to use either system to get some worthwhile legal research experience would be far more useful than a hundred light-up ballpoint pens. And in the meantime, if I'm going to sell my soul, it's got a higher going rate than a goddamn coffee mug.

I need a shower now.

(Entry title from The Mr. Snaffleburger Corporation Childrens Show. Motto: Conform! Consume! Obey!


[1] Please don't get me wrong: Tesco's is a sterling organization with a wonderful IT department and the kind of company from which I expect rewards patter. I have no intention of drawing it into my 'plague on both your houses' opprobrium against Westlaw and Lexis. [2] Is there a bit of irony or hypocrisy in people who are happy to support McCain-Feingold because of the obscene amount of money in politics looking forward to highly-paid jobs in law?

October 02, 2003

Cell Phone Etiquette

I'll admit to not knowing the entire body of cell phone etiquette, but my general policy is not to let a cell phone interrupt a social occasion or business meeting, unless I know the call is desperate. I try not to take those calls in public. If I think I might disturb someone, I send a text message. Really, these are the basics, but I've noticed how some of the undergrads in the Malebolge pay no attention. I was telling a friend of mine how I got onto an elevator with three young women, all three obviously going to the same place, all three chatting on their Nokias.

To which she gave me an even more powerful image. While she'd been studying outside the Lowe Library, she saw a couple strolling towards Lerner Hall on the way to a social function. They were young, dressed to the nines, and as she put it, "Very beautiful. Very." He had his arm around her, and you couldn't see daylight between them. And yet, as they're walking hip-to-hip, both are holding cell phones in their opposite hands, chatting to someone or other. Physically there, mentally elsewhere.

My mental image of the event was somewhat sinister. I'm sorely tempted to try to find people to recreate the event and get it on film. I've been wondering what I'd do for The Lovers in my Columbia Tarot, and I couldn't imagine anything more appropriate.

Ruining your law school productivity

Yes, the Matrix: Revolutions trailer is out.

Sadly, it looks like it's Man vs. Machine vs. Smith, which is a bit trite considering how well I thought the second one went. But I'm willing to believe there's more plot than you can see in the trailer.

October 01, 2003

Dinner, Dessert, Torts

Sometimes, as much as it goes against every grain in my body, I enjoy cooking for vegetarians. It gives one a chance to branch out. So tonight's dinner was a fruit salad I've been meaning to cook for a long time, topped with sauteed portobello mushrooms. The recipe:

1 1/2 teaspoons of soy sauce per mushroom
1/2 teaspoon of worchestershire sauce per mushroom
(above measurements are approximate--basically splash the two sauces together in tasty proportions)
Salt and a dash of garlic powder
(if you add 1/4 cup of red wine, it'll taste sort of like beef, too)

Cook for long enough to sing a verse and a half of Cat Steven's Portobello Road. If you're not alone in your kitchen or apartment and you sing as badly as I do, sing in your head.

Top the salad with poppyseed dressing, and serve the mushrooms over it.

Serve with Franziskaner Dunkel (odd, since it's a dark beer with a salad, but trust me here).

Dessert was even easier. Halve a pink grapefruit, spread honey on top of it, broil for 10 minutes until the honey browns.

Very simple, but very pleasant. I've now got enough vitamins to hit my books.

Sweet Home Alabama

ESPN reports: Man shoots at son's head after Bama defeat.

You gotta love Alabama. People ask where I spent my formative teenage years...

Giving The Devil His Due

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