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March 30, 2004

Annoyances in Education

The trouble with wanting to be a lawyer is that you have to go to law school. The trouble with law school, at least for me, is that I've never really 'fit in' with the academic paradigm. When I was younger, I used to question why I was being put through academic hoops that made little sense to me. [1] Years of experience taught me that while you learn a lot of things at any level of school, the primary function of education is a kind of sorting hat, where the skills your tested on bear some peripheral relationship to what you'll eventually do upon graduation. In other words, an employer can count on the fact that by hiring 'the best' graduates, he can't guarantee an employee will be good for his firm, but he's less likely to have to fire them later.

In any event, my standard attitude towards inexplicable pedagogy these days will be to approach it as a client project: (a) figure out what my professor wants, and (b) hand that in as an answer. That's not as grim as it sounds. Some professors want creativity in their responses, and that's good. Some just want to see that you can use the tools they've been teaching--even if there are better ones about--and for those, you stick with the tried and true. Not as exciting, but it gets the job done quickly and with a modicum of fuss.

Every so often, however, I'll get a problem, or an assignment, or just a task, and that onery youngster in me pops out. "You can't draw that conclusion, even though it's what's wanted," he says. "Yes, this all works within the bounds of the question, but what happens to someone who tries this in real life?" Mostly, I tell the kid to shut up--it's the advantage of age.

But every so often, I look at him fondly and quiet him with this almost certainly apocryphal story about Niels Bohr:

The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen:

"Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer."

One student replied:

"You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building."

This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed immediately. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case.

The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did not display any noticeable knowledge of physics. To resolve the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer that showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn't make up his mind which to use. On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:

"Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer."

"Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper."

"But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T =2 pi sqr root (l /g)."

"Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up."

"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building."

"But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor's door and say to him 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."

The student was Niels Bohr, the only Dane to win the Nobel Prize for physics.


Even Snopes considers the story to be a garden-variety academic legend. Still, sometimes one should give the inner child a bedtime story.

[1] I was assured by my fourth-grade teacher that these things would make sense to me when I got older and went out in the working world. What I found when I reached the working world was that those to whom obscure matters of pedagogy made sense had often remained in academia. It is possible, however, that I am simply refusing to grow old/up, an opinion on which I will defer to my readers.

March 29, 2004

Google Trickery and Other Acts of Search Engine Optimization

Will Baude at Crescat Sententia laments that the site is only the ninth entry in Google for university of chicago blog. I confess to being quite surprised, given that everyone and their dog links to the site and it's got a page rank of 5. (That's the same as this site, and as you might notice, Serious Law Student and I duke it out for the top spot for Columbia Law Student Blog most days.)

Being the ever-helpful fellow that I am, and in the process of trying to solve a small query with regards to Crescat's trackback feature anyway, it seemed a good time to list some basic search engine optimisation advice. This is nothing but the basics, but maybe some fellow bloggers would find this kind of thing helpful:

1. Target search terms in your TITLE tag: Pages are generally more authoritative for terms found in their TITLE tags. Crescat's tags, for instance, say only "Crescat Sententia." If they want to own the term "University of Chicago Blog," then changing their title tag to include those terms would help greatly. For instance, my site's title tags now say "A Columbia Law Student Blog - Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil." Because everyone links to me with either my name or the words "Three Years of Hell," I pretty much own those terms whatever is done with the TITLE. It was only after I changed the tags, though, that I was anywhere near competitive for terms involving Columbia.

2. Include metatags: Google doesn't give metatags a lot of weight, but it's one of the few areas where you can really help yourself out in search engines. And Google does occasional actually use the description metatag to describe what a page does, so using them can be quite effective. When you write your description and keywords, you should make sure to target the terms that you want search engines to associate with you, even if it makes the wording a bit stilted. For instance, for this site I use:

<META content="Columbia Law School, Law, Law School, JD, Applying to Law School, First Year, Law School Experience, Three Years of Hell, Becoming a Lawyer, Anthony Rickey, 1L, First Year, law student, new york, legal"
name=keywords>
<META content="Anthony Rickey, a Columbia Law School student describes application, preparation, and survival of a JD degree." name=description>

3. Measure: Google changes its rankings quite often, and if you really want to be on top, it pays to pay attention every so often. As you can see in the sidebar, I use the Googlerank plug in to do this, but just searching Google for the terms you care about every now and then works as well. If you like to do things manually.

I should get back to my Con Law reading. With any luck, someone finds this helpful...

パスポートを見せて下さい

The phrase above ("Please show me your passport") was the first I ever learned in Japanese. And for a moment this weekend, I was living in dread of it.

As I've mentioned before, I'm heading off this weekend for Old Blighty, to see one of my closest friends get herself hitched. I've been really looking forward to it, enough so that I stayed here during Spring Break to get myself a bit more caught up and prepared. I've been looking forward to visiting the Oxford Thai (an old haunt of mine), seeing old friends, and in general chilling out.

And then I realized that though I'd bought a ticket, remembered to take my suit to the cleaners, and made a plan for how to use both legs of the airline trip as effect study hours, I'd forgotten one important point. My passport expired last December.

Hence my frantic bout of organization this weekend. I realized that I'd been so focused on law school and the upcoming exams that I'd let other responsibilities like my accounts, my taxes, and my friends sort of slide. And it was just going to get worse.

This morning saw me leaving the Malebolge at 7:00 AM to scurry towards Hudson Street and the New York Passport Authority. Fortunately, they let me make an appointment, and tomorrow I can pick up a shiny new passport. There are some big advantages to living in a big city, I guess. And sometimes I get incredibly lucky.

Exam Threat Warning

Having found a few good parodies of the Department of Homeland Security's Advisory System (via Chris), I decided to make my own Exam Threat Matrix. The new Exam Stress Advisory will appear under Exam Watch, with a brief explanation of my current Exam Stress Condition (ESC).

Incidentally, those who were enjoying the Bush new feeds in Ridiculously Bipartisan News--I've had to remove them. The Bush servers weren't fast enough and they were affecting my site's performance. (Bonus points for the person who can make the cheapest shot off that statement.)

Frantic

I'm sorry you haven't heard from me for a while. Life has all of a sudden gone sort of hectic. I've been making plans to be in England next weekend for one of my oldest friend's weddings, and managed to leave one of the most important items off my list.

This, in turn, kicked off feelings of self-loathing at my chronic disorganization, resulting in me resolving to clear my task list and manage my 'to-dos' more effectively. As a result, I've spent most of the last two days organizing papers, getting laundry finished, getting (slightly) ahead or at least caught up in my reading, and in general turning myself into a giant ball of stress.

(A note of thanks goes out at this point to my girlfriend. When she arrived Saturday night she found a maniac who had somehow covered his room in stacks of bills, debt statements, and account summaries. Instead of wondering what had happened to her boyfriend, she very calmly took it in stride and began organizing the stacks of paper by date. As a result, hours of labor this morning became... fewer hours of labor. Two inches of otherwise-sure-to-have-receeded hairline owe her their eternal gratitude.)

As of this evening:
a) All my accounts are up to date. This means that I can tell you to the penny how much I owe the Access Group. Suddenly I'm much more inspired to work.
b) I have contacted the Inland Revenue, various family members, and some other people to whom I either owed or was owed money, and made good/notified the debt.
c) My task list currently reflects reality, rather than being a hodge-podge of overdue tasks that either needed updating, performing, or triaging.
d) Crim and Perspectives are done for tomorrow. Con Law is in the first stages of (effective) outlining. And thanks to another member of the Group, the study group has its first real preparation project.

All in all, not bad. Nothing like a solid disaster (more on this later) to focus the mind.

March 25, 2004

This is not what is meant by a Windows Box

A man who built an entire PC inside a Windows box.

Then he made it so it works with Linux too.

The final step was to take an assembly language MBR boot loader program and modify it to read the state of the tilt switch and make it boot the partition containing Windows XP or the partition containing Linux. To those that don't know the secret of how it works it looks like magic. It boots the right O/S for the box it is in.

(Link thanks to What I Learned Today.)

Ridiculous Bipartisanship

You all know how scrupulously objective I am, right? Not a partisan bone in my body. No. Never. Quiet back there in the peanut gallery.

So I'm going to start a feature, Ridiculous Bipartisanship. In the interests of proving that lefties may be liberal and righties may be conservative but neither of them are sane, I will provide you with similar craziness from both sides of the political divide. With any luck, I'll be able to find features from similar groups, making similar logical errors.

For my first trick, I present to you:

  • Move On's new video trying to convince us that Rumsfeld 'lied.'
  • Brain-Terminal's Pin the Tale on the Donkeys video 'proving' Democrats to be similar 'liars.'

I make no claims as to the accuracy or sense of either. There's a reason I'm calling this bipartisanship 'ridiculous.'

To inaugurate the event, I've started Ridiculously Bipartisan News, a new RSS feedset at the bottom of my right navbar. Included are the latest George Bush and John Kerry blog feeds, and a handy George Bush News Script.

The news script is actually quite cool: a one-line cut-and-paste .aspx script that's dead easy for a blogger to embed. (I'll include a Kerry news script if anyone can email me one. I couldn't find it on the Kerry site.)

Next on deck: My next act of Ridiculous Bipartisanship will be a review of the Bush and Kerry blogs, both of which make some inspired technical choices to meet the unique challenges of blogging at the presidential candidate level. Ideas for new bipartisanship ridiculousness should be sent to iambipartisan-at-threeyearsofhell-dot-com.

UPDATE: A big boo to Kerry for putting an image as a headline to a blog entry and not correcting his RSS feed. It made my inaugural update of Ridiculously Bipartisan News look bad. (Incidentally, the Bush blog makes much better use of RSS.)

Writer's Block

You know, one of the hideous things about blogging is that occasionally I get writer's block. I feel guilty, because I know there's people who drop by for a daily dose of whatever, and are disappointed to find only a banal comment or two.

Lately the writer's block has been worse than bizarre. I've made mental notes to write things down in the shower, in bed, while walking to class. But then I'm faced with the blank page, and those ideas have scurried away faster than yesterday's classroom mouse.

Every minute that I spend writing something here is a minute that I'm not spending organizing the mess of my finances, or clearing out the mountain of dirty laundry, or starting to work on revision. I think that's aggravating my trouble.

Wait for the Flash of Enlightment, then Develop the Outline

Dear Wormwood,

Once more I've been failing to give you advice with regards to your law school future. For some reason, the 1L blogs are blossoming with wisdom to give to you, while your Uncle has been falling down on his job.

Unfortunately, there's not much useful advice I can give you. If you're a JD2B looking at multiple offers, choose the one you like best. When you started applying, I'm sure there was a school you had your heart set on, and if you were lucky enough to make it in, you should say yes. Beyond that, it's a very complicated decision which I'd hesitate to advise you on.

The one thing I can give a bit of counterintuitive advice with is outlines. I think having a good outline is very useful, don't get me wrong. But I'm all for procrastination when it comes to law school review.

Basically, law school is as much time management as any great skill at anything else. And time management is the realization that you have a certain number of tasks you have to accomplish, a limited amount of time, and a point of maximum efficiency. And I don't believe you can outline a course efficiently until you're at least halfway through.

I'd have given you exactly the opposite advice several months ago, but I've found that Sherry's words have rung true. It's not until you're already immersed in the subject that you'll start to see how things hang together. Not until you have a mass of data do you start to understand how it all hangs together. If I'd started my outlines two months ago, I'd be rewriting them now.

There's some exceptions to this. Prof. Perspectives told us how the course would hang together on the first day of class, and he's been completely true to his word. But that class isn't being taught by a case method, and the case method doesn't really lend itself to up-front structure.

So, my concise advice about outlining? First, wait until you have that burst of insight as to how the the course hangs together. For me, that was my Con Law TA session today. My TA said something about how the exam was structured, the evolution of Supreme Court doctrine, and the relationship between equal protection and the dormant commerce clause. Suddenly the image of an outline appeared full-fledged in the mind, with issues sorted into key cases followed by a short history of evolutionary cases, and a column for cross-referencing between issues.

This brings us to the next point: don't outline until you've studied past exams and know what you'll be allowed to bring into the exam room. Preparing an outline for use in an exam is very different from preparing one for memorization, and you should know what you're trying to do.

In any event, dear Wormwood, I'll do my best to update you more often. It's only now, after Moot Court is a fading memory and the Exam Watch counter flips T-40 that my mind has had a chance to focus its wandering.

March 24, 2004

Really Random

OK, this is very surreal. For the last two classes, we've had a mouse running around the room. This has to be the oddest classroom disturbance I've ever seen...

Just to note, our professors were really good about working the mouse into the lectures. Credit to them, I guess.

Yin's Back!

Professor Yin has made the jump from Blog City to Typepad. His feeds won't break my blogroll anymore, so I've added him back.

Welcome back, Prof. Yin!

Justice and Virtue?

The Curmudgeonly Clerk reports on the story of an 18 year old Bristol lesbian who is selling her virginity on the internet in order to avoid graduating with student debt.

Fortunately, high as law school debt might be, this will never happen here. Leave aside the legal impediments such as prostitution laws:

a) Law school tuition is so excessive that selling mere virginity would never cover half of it. You'd have to sell your virginity three or four times.
b) No one would believe that any form of virtue survived three years of law school anyway.

Having finished my moot court oral argument last night, I'm feeling a bit tired (and more than a bit hung over), so you'll have to excuse the cynicism.

March 23, 2004

Moot Court Musings

I'm sorry I've not been that focused recently: my moot court oral argument is tonight, so all of my effort has been on keeping up with my work and yet also managing to prep myself for my first formal legal-style argument. Needless to say, I'm more nervous about it than I'm letting on.

On a lighter note, one of my best friends here today has pointed out that Sheik Ahmed Yassin (spiritual leader of Hamas recently assassinated by the Israelis) looks suspiciously like Saruman. Now whenever I see the news reports on him, I get a soundtrack in the back of my head of "Da da dum DUM DUM DUM"...

March 20, 2004

Geek News Update at the End of Spring Break

Well, there's good and bad news from Hollywood recently.

Can'tStantine: It appears that Warner Brother's Constantine, in which Keanu Reeves may actually achieve four facial expressions, has now been delayed from a summer launch to the dead-zone of February, 2005. As one fan said, "With any luck, I'll be dead by then." Not quite the appropriate comment: with any luck, the project dies by then. Can a movie die in post-production? (Bad news: the script seems to be a particularly poor telling of Dangerous Habits.)

King's Travesty in Critical Condition: ABC's bastardization of Lars von Trier's The Kingdom, which they hoped would get by on Stephen King's name and a dumbing-down of the plot, is suffering acute audience hemorrhage.

It Oughta Be a Sin: Finally, not content with screwing up Constantine, Hollywood has decided to take a crack at Frank Miller's Sin City. Possible stars include Bruce Willis and Leonardo DiCaprio, who as we all know would work well in a cynical, violent, film-noire setting. Following on from loose adaptations like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Constantine, no word yet on if they're setting Sin City in a quiet town in southern Italy...

(Last two sourced from Sci-Fi's Sci-Fi Wire, first sourced from Straight to Hell.)

March 19, 2004

Amusing Google Tricks

I used to joke that the NYT was so left-wing it should only publish on the left-hand side of the page. A new source of partisan confusion in website authoring seems to arise from Bush the Elder's foundation. From NTK:

one of these URLs not afraid to go against public opinion like the others: http://images.google.com/images?q=left+arrow&imgsz=icon ...

This sort of thing is one reason why code that doesn't otherwise seem 'exposed' needs to be checked thoroughly and needs to meet good coding standards: what you think sits on the back-end can become prominent in different contexts. We ran into problems like this a couple of times back in my project management days. This one's not a big deal, obviously, but it's kind of cute.

March 18, 2004

Things to be thankful for

A quick list of things to be thankful for:

a) I went out to dinner with a very kind young lady last night, and had fried clams. They were superb. That's one desire out of the way, then.

b) As a result of going out yesterday evening, I fell much, much better about the amount of work I have to get done this term. It's hellish, but doable.

c) My Nelson's character dictionary arrived today. It's a new edition, and certainly better than the one I bought back in 1993. Lousy color, but it's much better to work with.

d) Tonight I met someone I'll be working with over the summer. As a result, I'm looking forward to my job even more avidly than I had been yesterday.

All told, it's been a good day. One to be thankful for.

March 17, 2004

If I were really good, I'd have seen this one coming...

I'd heard a bit here and there about a book by John Kerry from 1971, The New Soldier, and decided to start looking about for it. A quick Googling took me to this article about the skyrocketing prices for the book on E-bay. Apparently the cover of the book has several anti-war soldiers planting an upside-down American flag, making it a bit of an instant collector's item. Meanwhile, conspiracy theories abound that Kerry and his campaign were 'rounding up existing copies.' My guess is that's silly--trying to track down copies of a book that old would be tough and counterproductive--but who knows?

Sure enough, there's one selling on e-bay for over $100.

I knew about the book, because believe it or not, it came up in a 'mock campaign' we had back in middle school. (This was during the 1988 campaign, and certain kids in my history class had to take a current candidate, speak for them, and see how the class voted. I represented Gary Hart, and lost miserably.)

When I think how much of my law school tuition I could have paid off had I cornered the market for this book even a few months ago...

STRESS!!!

With Exam Watch reading less than 50 days until my Con Law exam, the tension is starting to kill me. I don't feel I can relax, even if this is the middle of my spring break. I've really, really got to get out of the law school.

Besides all the law-related stress (such as my non-existent Con Law outline), there's the little matter of Japanese. I'm going to be working at a Japanese law firm over the summer, and they'll expect me to be fluent. Which I am--or rather, I was. But between a relaxing summer break last year and the sheer weight of all the law I'm learning, it's like the Japanese has been squeezed out of my head. So now, on top of all the other stress, I'm trying to review 30 kanji and read at least one article from Nikkei.net every day. This is what I should have been doing from last October, obviously.

This adds to my already ridiculous budgetary woes, because last year the UK postal service lost my two most expensive dictionaries. While I can replace the Green Goddess more cheaply when I get to Japan, I just can't survive on electronic dictionaries anymore. So Nelson's, at the very least, has to be replaced. There goes $50, although thankfully Barnes and Noble will do me next-day delivery.

Finally, I seem to have run into a bind with my flight to England. I used American Airline's site to find my tickets, and found a nice, cheap fare leaving at 7AM Friday morning. Today, though, I found out that there's a slightly more expensive fare leaving Thursday night that I'd much rather be on. Having done this kind of thing before, I phoned up and asked if they might change my flight to the earlier, more expensive one.

Nope. It seems that they've changed policies, and won't waive the $200 charge to change the ticket. Don't ask me why--it means I've got to wake up at 3AM to catch my flight, and AA is out the $60 difference that I would have paid them for the differing flight.

Certainly it's not right for me to develop an ulcer during spring break, is it?

New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary: Based on the Classic Edition by Andrew N. Nelson
New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary: Based on the Classic Edition by Andrew N. Nelson

Blog City is really annoying me now...

Blog-City's RSS feeds have been doing stranger and stranger things lately. Finally they've made it impossible for Moveabletype to update my blog successfully, because the server would timeout trying to process the feed. This also meant that when users tried to comment, they'd receive an error message.

So, regretfully, I've had to pull Professor Yin and the Punishment Theory Blog from my feeds list. Please be assured that they'll return as soon as BC gets its technical act together, or I can find a workaround.

Are the Anti-Bush forces really this desperate?

Heidi Bond and Ditzy Genius are both a-titter at an 'idiotic' desktop screensaver the George Bush campaign has put up on its website. Because, you see, the workers shown are holding slips of paper that are pink... y'know, pink slips... so on Bush's 'strong economy' desktop he's showing workers that.... Oh, let Ditzy tell the joke:

That's right, this is an image touting the economy and the creation of new jobs, yet the average joes in the picture are holding PINK SLIPS, the universal sign of getting canned. I don't know if these folks were actually laid off or what, but the subconcious message this picture sends is interesting indeed.

How clever. How droll. Except of course, that a 'pink slip' is just a figure of speech, a holdover from bygone ages. Very few letters of termination are written on pink paper anymore. The various-colored cards the men have are almost certainly some kind of operations card. I can't tell exactly what kind--my father would probably have a much better idea--but they're not termination notices.

Take a look at the guy on the left. He's holding a pink card, and he's got a pink and an orange one in his pocket. I suppose Ms. Bond and DG will now be telling us how stupid Bush is for putting a member of the Orange Order on his campaign site? And for showing a worker that seems to have been laid off twice? And if any of these men are actually, or even implicitly holding 'pink slips,' why are they smiling?

The "Bush is Stupid" crowd long ago outlived their usefulness, particularly when they have to make such stretches into the 'subliminal' to make their point. What they manage to do is make themselves look as petty as the last decade's Clinton-haters did.

March 16, 2004

Wow, I've been avoiding work, haven't I?

Hmm... it seems like I'd better stop browsing the web--I can do that during term-time, and right now I need to study. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a site full of head-tripping flash animations and some John Kerry Doonesburies from the 1970s courtesy of my friend Martin Lloyd over at Monograph.

"from his mother’s womb Untimely ripped"

I'm a C-section baby, born a month premature in a particularly silly breech-birth with the umbilical cord busily trying to strange me. Besides proving that I was uncoordinated even prior to birth, it's one reason I've been following the Utah case of a woman charged with first-degree murder for allegedly refusing to undergo a Caesarean with some interest. According to prosecutors her refusal to submit to the procedure was purely aesthetic.

Facts on the case are particularly difficult to find, and even if it goes to trial I'm unsure things will get sorted out. According to the NYT, the woman involved claims she was never informed of the danger to her babies. Others state that the idea that she wanted to avoid surgical scars is absurd because she had already had one or more c-sections. (I've only seen this claim in one place, though I'm looking for more.) So I'm withholding judgment on the merits of this particular case.

On the other hand, I'm disturbed by the reaction of people like Sherry Colb in her Findlaw column. My libertarian-leanings agree with her on principle: that forcing a woman to go through a C-section for any reason is an unwise policy and against our conception of liberty. But she seems absorbed by the same impetus that dominates many pro-abortion advocates, a kind of moral blind-spot that instinctively makes me question why I agree.

Look through the column and you'll find that she makes a strong, if not compelling, case for bodily integrity and against 'Good Samaritan' laws. You'll find that she questions the facts of whether Rowland really was motivated by cosmetic concerns. But in a column in which she spends inches making a questionable statistical case (see below), she spares barely a line to indicate any moral qualms about even a hypothetical woman who chooses to risk her child's life for reasons of her bodily aesthetic:

To avoid creating the impression that I take the responsibilities of pregnancy lightly, let me be clear in stating that I believe a woman who intends to carry her pregnancy to term has a moral obligation to attempt to avoid situations and activities that will harm her unborn child.

Note that even this line doesn't indicate any belief that a woman has a moral--not a legal, but a moral obligation--to take actions that would save her unborn children at the risk of slight bodily harm. This unwillingness to confront the fact that such a choice, even if the legal right of a woman, is ethically disturbing makes it difficult for me to credit much of the rest of Colb's argument.

One of the reasons I'm willing to hold what libertarian beliefs I have is a conviction that even without use of legal and governmental force, there are social factors which will--and should--control our actions, and that impose social costs upon those who transgress them. One of those social processes is the public condemnation of some choices that are socially unacceptable, even if legal. Choosing to risk the life of your child in order to avoid a scar visible only to your lovers is deplorable, pure and simple. If that's not what happened here, so be it, but it disturbs me that Colb seems unwilling to make that statement plainly and outright.

What small common-cause I hold with the anti-abortion movement lies on this fact: that the arguments frequently used by pro-abortion proponents often trivialize the intrinsic sanctity of life, indeed the sanctity of anything except a certain subset of personal preferences. The process of pregnancy presents men and women with often incredible moral choices. The man who listens numbly as the doctor explains that his wife is unconcious, they can't stop the bleeding, and there may soon be a choice between saving the life of the woman he loves or the child she's carrying--the man who is either implicitly or explicitly being asked to guess which his wife would choose--faces decisions that I hope to God never to make. But a life or scar tissue? I can't believe it's even a question.

Explanation of "a statistically questionable case": One thing about Reg. State, it helps in that class to keep an eye on what people do with statistics. Colb's probably right that we perform too many C-sections in the U.S. (my intuition from other sources) but she gives a questionable array of statistics leading to that conclusion. Simply put, you can't get there from here:

As it turns out, though, the premise that an obstetrician's surgical recommendation ought to be followed is itself questionable. In the U.S., approximately one quarter of all babies are delivered by C-section. According to the World Health Organization's Safety Standards, however, there is no justification for a C-section rate of higher than 10 to 15 percent.

That is, roughly one half of the C-sections in the U.S. are performed unnecessarily. Furthermore, as it turns out, the risk of maternal death is between twice and four times greater when a woman has a C-section than when she undergoes a vaginal delivery.

But doesn't the U.S. offer the best obstetrical care in the world? No. If we look at comparative C-section rates across industrialized nations, the U.S. rates -- as of 1995 -- were higher than those of at least ten other countries, including England, France, and Spain, where infant mortality rates were also lower.

C-sections are thus risky not only to pregnant women but to their babies as well -- a fact that certainly has some bearing on whether doctors who recommend surgery are necessarily practicing good medicine.


(emphasis in original) The troupble with this is that she implies causation between numbers without it necessarily being there. For instance, the reason that maternal death during c-section may be higher than vaginal birth may simply be that they include emergency c-sections--like mine--where the mortality risk in vaginal birth was desperately high as well. That's why the c-section was chosen in the first place. This might be a compelling number if it were restricted to elective c-sections, but that's not clear here.

Similarly, are the unnecessary c-sections the one which result in greater rates of death or infant mortality? It might be true, but it's unclear from the statistic given, which doesn't separate things out between emergency or elective c-sections. Further, is the difference in infant mortality between the U.S., England, France, and Spain a result of a greater number of c-sections, or a result of other differences between the women involved (e.g. average age, prevalence of drug-use among the pregnant, diet, etc.).

On those numbers alone a practitioner's suggestion to have a c-section shouldn't be questioned. There may be other reasons, of course, but they're not there.

Law School Grades

Nick Morgan over at De Novo takes on the law-school grading establishment, with a great deal of justice. I doubt I have much to say about pedagogical method--I'm a lousy teacher, although I can explain economic concepts fairly well--but I was struck by one comment:

The obvious counterpart is that what students are expected to learn—and how they are expected to demonstrate learning—is up for grabs too. And that’s what makes being a law student wonderful, at times. I wouldn’t dare suggest that law schools normalize their pedagogy. Instead, law professors should more carefully examine the considerable challenges facing students who must not only learn the law, but learn each professor’s peculiar vision of the law, each professor’s unique and often unshared theoretical assumptions. Misunderstanding these assumptions could easily be the difference between an “A” and a “C”—a misunderstanding that may reflect a student’s mind-reading prowess, but little of the student’s legal potential.

I couldn't agree more strongly, with one caveat: that testing someone's 'mind-reading' potential isn't actually a bad thing for anyone who's going to be in a service industry. Obviously I've never practiced law, but I've found 'second-guessing' what my professors want to be a process very similar to guessing what my clients wanted when I was a web consultant. Indeed, it's nowhere near as frustrating as guessing what some of my former bosses wanted, especially the one for whom every project constituted a test of my 'business acumen.'

I'm spending the week starting my exam preparation for this term the same way I did last semester: putting together a project plan listing each of the topics covered by my professors, and allocating a bit of time to cover each. When I write my outline, the first thing in my mind is, "What does Prof. X want to hear about this?" Often this is substantially different from what I'd like to say, but in this sense my professor is my 'client,' this is my 'job,' and the final product of an exam paper is simply the milestone which has to be handed in.

It's not a great strategy for learning, but I've never found that I learn very much that's useful in classrooms anyway. (Believe me, if top-ranked firms offered apprenticeship programs that would allow me to pass the bar without attending law school, I'd not be here.) It is a reasonable strategy for pleasing clients and, by extension, law professors.

I'm reasonably certain that it's a useful skill in a lawyer, too. I'll be surprised if legal clients are any better at accurately estimating what they actually want or need than the clients of a marketing agency. So to the extent that it's 'tested,' inadvertently or not, in law school, employers may actually find that beneficial.

Strange indeed

Twice this week I've been contacted by New York firms looking for 1Ls to work in their Japanese offices. After innumerable rejection letters from firms over the last couple of months, I feel almost guilty saying to them, "I'm sorry, I've accepted a position at another firm for the summer. But please keep me in mind for next year."

I mean, I know they're not heartbroken, and they'll just go to the next name on the list. Still, I almost want to go interview just to make the nice voice on the other end of the line happy. Mostly, I try to mitigate this by pointing them to a colleague or two who might still be looking.

The whole thing is very irrational, but there you go.

Fie on Thee, Ironical Gods!

I have a peculiar relationship with the universe. Every so often I make a decision, and the universe seems dead set on telling me how wrong I was. For instance, I'd considered sucking it up all term and buying a ticket to England for this vacation, so I could catch up with my friends on the other side of the Big Lake. But knowing I'd be going to A.'s wedding soon, I figured I'd be better off spending the break studying, and taking a little impromptu 'vacation' of my own later. A law student should be responsible and at least sometimes wise, I thought to myself.

The universe, it seems, disagrees. First of all, I learned this morning that a fair number of my friends who worked for a certain technology company were laid off. They'd not been paid on time for several months, and now they've been 'made redundant,' to use that peculiar British phrase. I really, really wish I could be there right now, because when my old company went through hard times, they were there for me. If any of them are reading, best wishes, folks, and if you need to crash in NYC for a bit of R&R, give me a bell.

This all hit me before I'd even opened my curtains this morning. When I did, however, I found that the universe had pulled its latest practical joke. That strange chill that was in the air all evening? Oh, yes, it's snow. Yesterday, the sun spilled over campus, women were in shorts and short skirts, and I failed to recognize a friend because without sunglasses you couldn't see for the glare. Today, visibility is similarly slight, but because the city is in blizzard conditions.

I stopped for a Starbucks and watched the flakes fall forlornly as my the silver frosting on my coat melted to wet. So far there's been no accumulation, but it's taking longer and longer for each snowflake to melt...

Fie, fie, I say!

March 15, 2004

Continuum Conundrums

I have no idea what's happening over at Blog City, but their RSS feeds are doing the loopiest things. Every hour I get a Cron Daemon report telling me that one or another of the Blog City feeds has failed. Indeed, the Daemon has become my hourly correspondent, but there's no rhyme or reason to which one fails, and they all check out if you test them manually. Prof. Yin and the Punishment Theory Blog, on my sidebar, both have hiccuping feeds.

(Meanwhile, both Dr. Solum and the Volokh's feeds in the right bar are out of date--but that I can't blame on Blog City.)

But worse, for reasons completely inexplicable to me, Serious Law Student's RSS feed now claims to be written by "Jason Bell - Java Development." Now, while SLS blogs anonymously, I know for a fact that her name isn't Jason Bell, and if she's a Java developer, she's kept the fact well-hidden from me. No, I think it's safe to say this is a mistake, and one made on the back end as Blog City goes through upgrade woes. But since most blog-owners don't check their own feeds regularly, this is the kind of mistake that owners are unlikely to catch, and quite unfortunate.

What's going on over there?

March 14, 2004

Subject to Summary Judgment

Since Mr. Blachman has already announced it, the successor to the group-blog En Banc, De Novo, is launching at midnight tonight.

So relaxed I'll slip into a coma

The weekend has passed quickly, and with nary a legal thought. It's amazing how spring break brings out the crazy repressed flutterings of my mind. Over the last two days I've been to a friend's birthday dinner, accompanied a young lady to the Frick Gallery, and watched almost an entire season of Black Adder Goes Forth. The mind has not been this relaxed or limber in ages, and I think it's now feeling borderline insane. A number of strange conclusions I've come to in the last few days. If the conversation below seems a bit more whimsical than you're used to around here, give it a day and we'll be back to normal: tomorrow starts the Great Catch-Up.

Who are the wealthiest people on the WB?: Imagine a world in which Smallville, Dawson's Creek, Star's Hollow, Sunnyvale, Everwood, and all the other WB TV-show cities actually populated America. I'm always wondering why we think wealth distribution would be the same in this world. I mean, the wealthiest folks about in Smallville (the ubiquitous Luther Corp.) are fertilizer magnates. The Gilmores became rich from insurance. And in Angel, the wealthy gits who run the world are of course demonic lawyers.

And yet, given the number of broken windows and fractured doors which appear in a weekly episode of Smallville or Angel, it's clear that the industry to be in is window manufacture and fitting, followed shortly thereafter by door and lock maintenance. No one ever seems to be thrown against a sturdy, well-reinforced wall. Since insurance pays for this, I'm unsure how the Gilmores stay solvent. Similarly, Luther Corp should have been purchased in a leveraged buy-out by Home Depot.

Strange Addictions: For weeks now, my subconscious has been begging me to find it some fried clams like they used to serve at Howard Johnsons. But the old, faithful HoJo of my youth has decided it wants to be a hotel chain, and its website doesn't even mention if its hotels have their old restaurants, much less their classic clams. The vastly-overrated Tom's Restaurant, of Seinfeld fame, doesn't serve them, and even if it did, I'm not sure I'd want to suffer their lamentable service and questionable coffee to try them. Which leaves me stumped. I can find Ethiopian food, Thai food, Turkish food, Japanese food, and Korean food, and that's without leaving Broadway. But can anyone tell me where to get good, cheap fried clams in New York City?

Politics Be Damned: On a slightly more serious note, there's this slight matter of a national election coming up in a few months. Opinionated fellow that I am, I'm likely to say more and more about this as November gets closer. And sensible fellows that you folks are, you're likely not to want to hear about it.

So I'm considering resurrecting and improving an idea from one of my old projects: the dual blog. I can employ an MTExclude function to produce two versions of Three Years of Hell: (a) one that has all the thrilling cut-and-thrust debates regarding the salient topics of the day, and (b) one that cuts out all those tedious murmurings about Republicanism, Senate scandals, and homosexual marriage. I figure it would be easiest just to come up with a non-political stylesheet that you could choose using the stylesheet selector in the top margin.

Of course, that's one more project for Spring Break. It may or may not get done.


March 13, 2004

Absent thoughts

Dear Wormwood:

This is probably the longest break from blogging that Three Years of Hell has seen since its inception, and I probably owe you an apology. This week has been the roughest I've had at law school, and it may only get worse.

Following my Moot Court brief, I managed to come down with a pretty horrible head cold, which settled in and made itself comfortable for most of the week. Thus whatever happened in the last five days was seen through a perpetual scrim of NyQuil and DayQuil, and was only half-real to begin with. I found myself walking away from conversations with friends and colleagues wondering what I'd said and why I'd said it. There's a good reason for me never to become a drug addict, I guess.

As a result, I'm probably a week behind in my reading, a complaint common to a lot of the Columbia 1Ls. (The terror of the first semester must be over, because I'm finding that class attendance is down in general: you know the sessions that will help you on your finals and the ones that you might as well spend the hour at home reading.) My Reg. State paper was finished just before the deadline, there's an ocean of Perspectives to catch up on, and even my task list hasn't been updated in a week.

The good--or bad, depending on how you look at it--news is that next week is spring break. I'm always bad at planning for vacations, and since it's been years since my vacations weren't taken at my discretion, spring break kind of snuck up on me. New Orleans or Florida seem to be

I'm going to a wedding in England in a few weeks, so there's no money for another plane flight, and that and my workload convinced me to stay in New York and just get caught up and ready for the sprint to exams. But as some advice, Wormwood, if you're in this situation next year, plan ahead. Knowing that you won't have Spring Break to catch up will keep you on your toes, so you don't fall behind beforehand.

In any event, I'm not that concerned about staying in New York. For once I have a reason to spread my wings a little and go see this strange and curious city in all its glory. At the moment, I know little more than what goes up and down Broadway and the cloistered campus that is Morningside Heights. With any luck, I'll start correcting that soon.

March 09, 2004

More Watchful of Exams

Thanks to my Moot Court partner, Exam Watch has now been upgraded. Instead of me having to manually post when an exam is done, it now recognizes that an event has occurred in the past and marks it done.

Many thanks to her!

March 08, 2004

Solum, Again...

If you're in my Perspectives class, it's worth looking at Prof. Solum's Legal Theory Lexicon entry on Rules, Standards, and Principles.

As far behind as I am, every little bit can't hurt.

March 07, 2004

CODE RED: Moot Court Brief

I'm about three pages away from having my moot court brief finished, thanks to the kindness and patience of my partner. I'm so tired that I may be about to submit a recipe for chicken soup to my judge. Walking home in the rain last night, I caught a cold, so as a consequence I'm sniffling with every citation. The most I can say for it is that it seems correctly Bluebooked and contains an argument with several sections and very pretty heirarchy of text.

A winning argument? You must be joking.

March 05, 2004

Captain Euro And the Boggling Mind

I have no idea what to make of Captain Euro. Except if this gets made into a movie, the comic-to-big screen migration will have hit the lowest of all possible lows.

This, on the other hand, is pretty amusing.

(Both links from NTK.)

Ignorance is Bliss, and Apparently Not Criminal

Finally, the Senate Report on the 'hacking' of Judiciary files by Republicans has been announced. The technically illiterate, such as the Washington Post, or those willing to jump to conclusions like Calpundit are amazed at what they seem to describe as dramatic new revelations. Of course, if you've been reading here over the past few weeks, you know the score.

Except there is a dramatic revelation: the stupidity of Senator Leahy's flunky is even worse than I might ever have guessed. Now, knowing how careful I am to avoid unnecessary offense, some of you might be surprised at the strong words. I use them only because I'm furious.

This entire scandal is only happening because some untrained newbie was assigned to the Committee, and made the most basic mistake: he didn't secure the home drives of new committee members. That Senator Leahy can show his head in public is amazing: this is a staffing error of the most magnificent incompetence. Whatever should happen to the Republicans involved, some Democratic heads should roll on this one, starting with a Chief of Staff. [1]

The details are in the cut below. I probably don't have time to do this kind of analysis, but I think it's important that someone who's been there speaks out on this one.

What the Report Said Happened
The report gives a very clear idea of what happened. Calpundit has leaped to a number of bizarre conclusions, such as that, "whatever method Lundell used couldn't have been all that obvious if he had to watch a computer tech in order to figure it out." But this is ridiculous. I wouldn't stumble on this flaw, not because I don't know how to do it, but because on any system on which I've been involved, no mistake this dumb has ever been made.

Let's give a step-by-step, idiot's guide to how the files were 'hacked,' that you can play along with at home if you're on a network and running Windows XP. (If you're a CLS student on Columbia's netware network, this may indeed work a treat. Your mileage may vary, though--if you're not on a client-server network, you are running a different operating system, or your system administrator didn't get his training from a CrackerJack box and he's limited your access, none of this may work.)

1. Double click on My Network Neighborhood on your desktop.
2. Click on the 'View Workgroup Computers' link on the left. (Your mileage may vary from here.)
3. You should now see a selection that allows you to do all sorts of things. I'm on a competently-run network right now, so my access is limited, but you should be able to see a network directory, your connections to other computers, and a certain number of share directories. You can map these to network drives, if you'd like. This is perfectly acceptable, 'good practice,' and something a 'power user' ought to be permitted to do.
4. Now, if you're on a corporate network, you might run across a directory somewhere that says USER, or something like that. After hitting these folders, you should start getting all sorts of interesting errors. "You do not have access to this folder," for instance. You might even see what looks like folders assigned to specific users, but not be able to enter them. Unless you're on a server run by Senator Leahy, in which case, go to town.

(This process, incidentally, is almost certainly what the user saw over the SysAdmin's shoulder. It's not basic computer use, but it doesn't take rocket science, either. Many of my users knew how to do this back in the Senate, mostly because they didn't know how to use their network drives. The only reason I'd not have stumbled across this is that it's too damn easy: unless you were conducting a security audit, no one who knows about this would even bother to try it. Unless your SysAdmin's a monkey.

My guess is that what happened was this: The SA comes over to fix Mr. User's computer. The User watches with interest, because, well, he's got not much better to do. The user understands how Network Neighborhood works. At some point, SA wants to get some files off his machine, or some other directory, and although he's still logged on as Mr. User, he clicks directly into his home directory. "Hmmm?" says Mr. User, who figures something's not right. "That shouldn't happen. If I can get into the SysAdmin's folder, who else has vulnerable folders?" It's not that the process is complex, as Calpundit implies: you'd just assume that no hole that blatant was there until you saw someone do it.)

A Brief Digression on Incompetence
The SAA report linked to above is 'redacted,' which means that every actor is mentioned as 'Mr. ________.' Trying to figure an accurate chronology from a document in which all the actors are the same is difficult, but piecing it together, the salient bit is this:

Our investigation revealed that some user home directories were set to “open” permissions and other home directories were set to “strict” permission. This appears to be a result of the Judiciary Committee Network having two System Administrators during the time frame in question. One System Administrator had very strict account policies in place and the other did not. An analysis of the creation date and permissions of various user accounts was performed and supports this. (Attached at “M” is a chart H: Drive Permissions Analysis Including Start/Creation Dates).
Users accounts created prior to August 2001 were generally created with “strict” permissions; those established after that date were “open.” Of the 126 users whose folders were available for forensic analysis, there were only nine exceptions to this general pattern. Four of these exceptions were Nominations Unit staff whose files Mr. _____ admitted protecting.

This is a bit misleading. One system administrator didn't have an 'open' policy. The report strongly suggests he simply didn't know what he was doing. I've worked on more networks than most people my age, and I've never met one with unsecured user home drives. Securing a user's home directory is one of the basics of Senate systems training, and anyone who's been to the course will have nicely printed step-by-step instructions. Of course, Senator Leahy didn't require this:

Like some other Senate offices, the Judiciary Committee has historically been staffed with Systems Administrators who preferred to perform most computer-related tasks themselves. This has been true even if they had only minimal technical experience before becoming the Committee’s System Administrator. There is no minimum level of proficiency required to obtain a System Administrator position, and there was a considerable variance in the proficiency levels of the Committee’s different system administrators. Notably, the records of the Senate Joint Office of Education and Training reflect that Mr. _____ only attended two technical training classes during his tenure, neither relating to the NT Administration.

The SAA is correct in this respect, but fails to mention exactly how ridiculous this is. Most staffs have highly technically-competent SysAdmins, or at least they did in my day. I don't recall meeting anyone who would have thought this was a reasonable security setup. These are home directories that were unsecured. And Leahy obviously didn't require whoever he hired to attend even a simple five-day course.

I'm being scathing of Senator Leahy particularly because there's no excuse for this, and it's endemic of a problem I experienced while I was at the Senate. Despite the Sergeant At Arms providing amazing training courses, the time which Senators will give their (often underpaid) staffers to attend them is often miserly. In this case, it cost the Senator dearly, because this is the kind of security problem that should never happen. Words do not exist to express my disdain for a man who puts an almost completely untrained college graduate in charge of a server on a highly partisan network.

Why Does This Matter
OK, so Leahy doesn't train his people, and the staffer involved wasn't barely competent. Why does this excuse the Republican staffers involved? The answer lies in the way that computer security operates.

Throughout this scandal, there's been a lot of debate, both here and elsewhere, about the appropriate metaphor which can be used to relate this to the technologically inexperienced. Simply put, I've abandoned this approach, because I'm not sure such a metaphor exists. Is it 'keys left on the table' or 'wallet lying in the Capitol rotunda?' Such questions are futile. A computer system is metaphorically similar to 'space' in a way, but because a server is configured, it's also similar to a 'servant.' We can dance around the issue like this all day long, but the only thing it will prove is that no comparative given by a Sysadmin to a non-administrator will be absolutely relevant.

The basic idea of a client-server network is that the user, through a client computer, makes requests of the server. The server, which is administered by a systems administrator, then checks whether the user has been authorized. If she has, the computer serves up the information, be it a listing of directory contents, a file, or a piece of system data. When you log on, you identify yourself, and the network should then be able to tell what you have access to see, and what you don't.

This means that the SA's role is key. He's the agent to whom the owner or operator of the network (in this case, Leahy) gives the responsibility of assigning permission. He's the man who grants access, and if access is improperly granted, it's on his head, not the users.

There's good reason for giving him the responsibility: an SA's responsibility should be the protection of his users. He's supposed to be more skillful, more competent, and more aware of his network than anyone wandering about it, so that his users don't have to worry about unauthorized access. Indeed, by definition no access of a user who is properly authenticated can be unauthorized: whatever authorization he has derives from the permissions assigned to him by the SA. Only if he 'hacks' the system, i.e. exceeds the permission given to him by the SA can his access be unauthorized. Simply put, Miranda didn't steal any files because Senator Leahy gave them to him.

Why make this distinction? It protects users who aren't skillful against trouble. The last time I posted about this, I gave a concrete example, which I'll repeat here:
Click this link.

Congratulations. You're now seeing a directory listing Three Years of Hell's images, which I've left completely unsecured. You can take a peek in any of the directories to see some of my artwork, the pictures I occasionally post here, and whatever else. However, you could always have seen that directory without me explicitly linking to it. If you've got even a layman's knowledge of HTML, right clicking on my homepage and looking at the code would have shown you that directory. Now, suppose I had some private information in there--my grades from last term, for instance, which I'd uploaded so that an employer could check them--and you opened it up.

Do you think you would have done something criminal? Immoral? Why? Sure, right-clicking on my page and reading my source code is a bit more involved than most users bother with, but it's not rocket science, and anyone who's set up a blog would know how. Because I 'obviously didn't mean to provide it?' But I'm a trained and experience professional--indeed, my training is exactly what a Senate user should expect it to be--and I can be expected to secure that which I think should be secret. It's a viable assumption that I simply didn't care.

The fact that the onus is on me to secure my files may encourage those with ill-will to go snooping. But it also protects people from liability for what they think is perfectly innocent. The model is that you're permitted to see whatever the owner has instructed the server to serve. In this case, Leahy delegated the task very, very badly, but that doesn't change the basic assumptions that lie underneath network security from day one.

But certainly this is all ungentlemanly, isn't it?
Some of you are saying, "Well, that's all very technical, Tony, isn't it, but this is just wrong. Whoever did this knew they were acting unethically, whatever the view from the SysAdmin's office?"

I'm sure they knew it was naughty, but that doesn't mean unethical. Indeed, it's one of those cases where the more you know about the activity, the further from unethical it looks. To the New York Times, this is 'hacking' and thus obviously theft. To a Democratic systems administrator, it's an ethical lapse on the part of the Democrats. As he points out, if Leahy were the head of several types of companies, he might be facing criminal charges right now.

But don't take my word for it. Take Senator Kennedy's.

Late last year, one of his aides opened her mailbox to find an email from a staffer in Senator Hatch's office. Attached to this email was a memo that was clearly misdirected. Nonetheless, she sent it on to several colleagues. Senator Kennedy's talking points on this matter include the line: "There was no impropriety, as the information sent to [Olati Johnson] was not confidential or privileged information." Kennedy had no problem with an aide handing on a document that clearly didn't belong to her when it had been misappropriated through the fault of a user. But when it was misdirected through the fault of an administrator, a standard which should be higher, he's talking of the next Watergate.

Simply put, Kennedy wouldn't have any problem with "impropriety" if it hadn't been Democrats caught with their pants around their ankles. And despite the fact that even Democratic security specialists think this is pathetic, there's not a sign that Leahy or Kennedy have any appreciation of the egg on their face.

Once more I'll say that I'm not really happy with how the Republican staffers handled themselves. In a certain sense, this is ungentlemanly, and whatever I think of Kennedy's standards, a gentleman's should be higher. But this shouldn't be criminal. Making in 'unethical' exposes actually ignorant users to the risk of breaking the law without knowing they've done it. And frankly, it didn't require several thousand dollars and months of the Sergeant at Arm's time to figure out what any SysAdmin could have told you months ago: if you put someone untrained in charge of the castle gates, don't be surprised when the drawbridge is down.

[1] I've probably just made certain that I never get hired in the Senate again, since insulting Chiefs of Staff isn't a great career option. But in this case, whoever was responsible deserves it.

"Much excitement and feverish activity, but little concert of thoughtful purpose"

We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction. There are many voices of counsel, but few voices of vision; there is much excitement and feverish activity, but little concert of thoughtful purpose. We are distressed by our own ungoverned, undirected energies and do many things, but nothing long. Woodrow Wilson

Wilson spoke those words in an address about pre-war America, not about a 1L searching for jobs, but the feeling translates.

For me, at least, it's over. Today I accepted a job for the summer. While the details are under wraps because I'm not certain my employers would want to be mentioned here, suffice it to say that after exams I'll be trading in New York Starbucks coffee for the better blends one gets in Tokyo kisaten. Even now I'm sweating bullets and brushing up frantically on my spoken language skills. The "feverish excitement" of job searching has turned into focused preparation--and a bit of relief that I can concentrate on exams.

I'm quite happy now, the entire process has been more bruising than I might have expected. Prior to my life as a law student, I've rarely applied for jobs or universities that were on a 'beaten track.' Thinking outside of the box hasn't just been my strong suit but my way of life. I got into university in a rather oddball manner, and was lucky that my tutor's wife was American, so she could translate my test scores for her husband. When I've looked for jobs, I've done a few carefully-crafted resumes targetted at just the firms I wanted to work for, and had a great deal of success. [1] Part of the equation was always reducing competition, using lateral thinking to make sure I fit precisely into a hole I'd identified in an organization.

Not this time. I probably sent out a hundred envelopes, soulless form letters. I was a cookie-cutter candidate applying for cookie-cutter positions. A few I hand-crafted out of habit, to firms that I felt some affinity towards, but for the most part I did nothing more than cast 1L spam upon the waters and see what returned.

What returned was rejections of various levels of interest and politeness. I can't prove it, but I'm almost certain I've been rejected by firms to which I didn't even apply. Opening the mail every day became a matter of dark humor: will the product of my mail-merge be another mail-merged document, or might it be something... different.

I doubt I handled the process very well. Wormwood, when you come to Law School remember that the law firm interview is a quite intense and tiring schedule: a good night's sleep will prepare you better for a few hours meeting new people than almost anything else. Looking back at some of the interview sessions, there's moments for which I could absolutely kick myself. For instance, one moment I was called upon to speak in Japanese and simply froze. I couldn't mumble a single thing, forgetting the word kaisha (company), which I still recall was on the list of twenty vocabulary words for my first day of my undergraduate degree.

This isn't to complain of my fate: obviously I'm estatic with the outcome and looking forward to the summer--if I can just get past the exams. In keeping with the past, the firm I'm working with isn't one of my spam victims. But over the last few weeks I've received more rejection letters than I have in the entirety of my life combined. I know that it's mostly the collision of impersonal forces: my scattershot resumes becoming datapoints in hundreds of recruitment databases. But it has still worn the soul a little thin, and I'm very glad it's over.

[1]: For just one difference, these were almost the first resumes I've ever written to recruiting staff. When I've done this before, I'd spend time searching the web for just the right person in the organization I wanted to work for. I'd find a news article about them or something they'd written, and write directly to them. It gets an interview more often than not, and shortcuts the hurdle of the recruiting office. Somehow, though, I didn't want to try this in a law firm.

One Man, One Note

I'm currently trying to decide whether I want to ditch the system I've been using for note-taking in class, and adopt Microsoft's One Note. Ah, penury!

The idea of paying $100 for some note-taking software this late in the game is cringeworthy, but having tried out the demo version tonight I'm sorely tempted. It's a more spontaneous, speedy system than Microsoft Word. The ability to drop text anywhere on a page give it a note-pad like feel, and you can scribble graphics and charts (useful for Reg State) using just the mouse. From an organization standpoint, it looks ideal.

I'm just not sure about the money, and the transition cost of moving all my notes into a new system halfway through term. Then again, this looks like a marvelous way to do an outline.

March 03, 2004

Continuity Glitch

Because The Columbia Continuum is a crazy mishmash of my own code, a program called Rawdog, spit and toothpolish, it's not really good at error handling, changing traffic conditions, sudden alterations in the space-time continuum, or whatever passes for a bug infestation out on the web.

Meanwhile, a large number of my CLS bloggers use Blog-City, which is apparently undergoing some upgrades, hiccuping its RSS feeds, and otherwise making life for aggregator programs an unremitting misery. So for the next few days, you may find that the Continuum isn't updated quite properly, or that posts get repeated. Sorry, there's not much I can do about it.

March 02, 2004

Only 7:30?

It's been a long, long day.

My moot court second draft got handed in, a bit late, but with something approaching a coherent and ordered argument. Not a winning argument, as I'm backing a police department that I have every reason to suspect acted like a real louse, but an argument nonetheless.

I ended up speaking at a panel on affirmative action. A lot more fun than I expected, really. One thing about law school: if you end up in a debate with people, they're likely to be both entertaining, informed and polite. The best bit had to be two commentators, one who believed that affirmative action was great if you were a socialist correcting a social problem, and the other who believe that, in fct, it was good because it brought us closer to capitalism. Hey, it's a level of debate you don't get on the New York Times op-ed page.

Job search situations and a mountain of laundry, as well as Reg State, are gobbling a significant portion of my evening. Why did I bother buying a TV card, when I'm never going to have time to watch it?

March 01, 2004

in the Practice, full of Errour and Imposture; And in the Theory, full of unsound Imaginations...

My classmate Josh, in the midst of a serious discussion on the President's changes to his bioethics council, laments:

The president is free to do whatever he wants with his bioethics council. He can stack it with witch doctors and alchemists and propose a 10 billion dollar plan to turn lead into gold. He is the president, and thats the prize you get for winning the election.

I think Josh has hit on something great, here, though. Knock the budget back by a factor of ten, and what he's got isn't so much an enormous boondoggle but an episode of Mad, Mad House. And while I'm generally not in favor of government intervention in entertainment, I might be willing to bend the rules here:
  • $10 million is less than Sci-Fi probably paid making yet one more reality show.
  • The show could run on C-SPAN (let's face it, are witch doctors and alchemists less sensible than most of what you'd see there? and is anyone watching?), widening its demographic greatly.
  • The new show would thus free up time on Sci-Fi for them to bring back Farscape.
  • Alchemists included kabbalists, Christian thinkers like St. Aquinus, Arab scholars from antiquity, and some of the best thinkers in the sinophone world. Witch doctors (to the extent that the term is used for shaman) have even wider range. (And those are just the ones I know of.) Can you say, 'multicultural!'
  • The Presidential Alchemy Panel would do a lot more towards teaching our kids Latin and mathematics than Mad, Mad House.
  • Democrat's have often complained that Bush has the devil's own luck--let's put it to use! Who knows, against all expectations of anyone at all, it just might work. It's as good a solution as anything else Bush has done to eliminate the deficit thus far.

Update: How do you guys write so fast? Another reader points out that listening to Paul Krugman rant about 'budget alchemy' when he means it literally would be another plus.

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