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April 30, 2004

Admit it, folks, I'm right.

Some folks disagree with me. Some folks disagree with me a lot. Some folks disagree with me on almost everything. So when searching through my referrer logs, I like to find people who may hold differing views. The following person, however, seems to disagree with almost everyone. They found me by searching for:

admit it: you are Paris Hilton

I think any of my readers, all of my classmates, and hopefully anyone who knows me slightly will join together in agreeing that I am not, indeed, Ms. Paris Hilton. Nor are you going to find much of interest here about artistic breasts, and I can claim no expertise with regards to gay slave and master contracts.

However, the four people who have found this site searching for John Kerry Sex Tape must know something I don't.


Today, I simply flaked. I've not cracked my texts, and it's after seven. I just couldn't force myself to look at them, and actually remained in bed until noon. Let's put it this way: I've been so non-productive I've not even scanned my daily websites.

This isn't good: I still have two large sections of Con Law to review, and I need the weekend for Criminal Law.I was hoping to have it done by today so that Monday and Tuesday would be nothing but review. This doesn't look likely.

The worst part about spirals like this is that you kick yourself for the fact you've not done the work, and that doesn't inspire you to do it. So in the last fifteen minutes I've started four loads of laundry, I'm ordering food, and I'm prepping to be up until the early hours in repentance. One way or another, Con Law outlining ends this evening...

April 29, 2004

Faint Praise?

Via Ambimb, I find JohnKerryisaDoucheBagButImVotingforHimAnyway.com.

Brain dead from Con Law and now literally speechless, but I figured I might as well share in my amazement. Take a five-minute break from studying and have a look. Forget the content--someone paid to buy that URL...

UPDATE: I can now make this a Ridiculous Bipartisanship post by showing you what might be the worst political website I've ever seen. It's The Lord of the Political Rings. (Note spelling error in URL.) I apologize if politically-inclined Tolkien fans like Serious Law Student or Heidi suffer any psychological trauma from viewing this.

From Memepool. I'm going to bed now. That was awful.

April 28, 2004

Gotta Love the Clerk

I take no stand on the issues involved in the Clerk's latest post, but it's an example of one of the reasons I love to read him. I mean, who other than me uses the term slattern these days?

OK, back to Con Law...

Outline Update

Status of Outlines and Preparation in General:

Con Law Outline: A triumph of Formatting over Knowledge.
Perspectives Outline: A triumph of Vocabulary over Comprehension.
Reg. State Outline: A triumph of Duty over Necessity.
Crim Law Outline: A triumph of Hope over Reality.

Last term I was in fairly good shape. This term, I am merely doomed.

John Kerry: "Give Me The Power To Revolutionize the World!"

From the John Kerry Blog, a post provocatively entitled "Why Am I Here?" Blog Editor Ari Rabin-Havt writes:

I sat down with some friends over the weekend and made a list of all the things that would change the day John Kerry becomes President and the list was staggering. Looking at the list, we all agreed that as President, John Kerry will show our country real courage and real leadership.

What's on your list? Make your list and post it on the comments!

Might I suggest that the hopes of some Kerry fans are a bit... optimistic:
The number one thing on my list is that we will truly become a compassionate country again and that a new sense of honesty will prevail.

This is hardly an outlier response. Politics is one thing, but these guys seem to be seeking some sort of national... the term escapes me... apotheosis? paradigm shift? second-coming? It just seems a lot to expect from the creaky gears of democracy. Aren't these the same folks who want to keep religion out of public life?

(Bonus points to the first person who spots the reference in this entry's title.)

UPDATE: A reader writes to ask, "Why didn't you include a counter-example from the Bush site and file this under Ridiculous Bipartisanship?"

Sheer laziness, actually. As previously reported, the Bush Blog doesn't have comments. (Will Baude, take note.) I suppose I could trawl the net looking for a pro-Bush blog that has comments, but... did I mention exams?

Have you filled out your course evaluations? Have you? Have you???

My classmate Serious Law Student is perfectly justified in her criticism of the Columbia administration's use of email. Given that she asks a lot of good questions, I'd like to take a stab at some answers:

Honestly, I've gotten more information on such things from word-of-mouth and scouring the enormously inconvenient Columbia Law School website than I have from direct email communication from administration. On the one hand, it makes sense that we're all adults and that Columbia thinks we're responsible enough to figure such things out on our own. On the other hand though, apparently the same doesn't apply to something like course evaluations or the ice cream social or all the student activities going on at school, for which we're by now accustomed to getting three dozen emails a day.

How about a nice email outlining the class selection lottery, or descriptions of classes for next year? How about a little email telling us the procedure for journal competition, for which rumors abounded for weeks until the official journal meeting a few weeks ago? Or would it be asking too much to find out what the grading curve looks like, or the length of our respective exams, or about when the library starts on the exams schedule? Or perhaps the procedure for subletting your university apartment, or the procedure for applying for the housing lottery for next year? Why is it that EVERYTHING that I learn about this school is through word-of-mouth?

All perfectly valid criticisms, although by no means limited to the law school. The CLS administration, like most bodies, simply doesn't use online communication effectively. Email's virtue and its vice is that it's a simple-to-use and ubiquitous information-push medium. If you want to make sure everyone's notified, it's a great tool. However, given the vast diversity of interests at the law school and the (laudable) high frequency of events, consumers of this information suffer from information overload.

SLS's cry of frustration (which she repents of slightly in a later post) doesn't differ much from those of a hundred thousand cubicle drones with mailboxes bulging to a near-burst. And the law school could address the problem quickly with a few best-practice tools and tips cheaply implemented. In truth, putting such systems in place would probably save their staff a great deal of time and effort. It's all a matter of matching the type of information with the proper tool:

Bulletin Boards and Email Opt-Ins: Take the student events emails. Most of these advertise some student society's event, or a guest lecture, happening in the next few days. These are most suitable for a bulletin board system, or even a heavily-modified blog. Instead of mailing thousands of people with information they don't need, student services could post events which would automatically be displayed based upon date, and in subsections based upon the subject matter or group-affiliation of the event.

But won't most people miss all the events because they never check the system? Most bulletin board systems allow users to subscribe or unsubscribe to threads, sending them reminder emails only when they want them. I can already hear the cry: "But Tony, most people aren't tech-smart like you. [1] They'll never be able to figure out how to subscribe." I generally find that underestimating user ability is a mistake, but in this case it's no impediment. Set up every user account presubscribed to every thread. (People would get the same mails they do now.) I guarantee you that in order to avoid the persistent noise of unimportant emails, they'll learn.

This is nothing that couldn't be set up in two man-week's worth of work. Software like Ikonboard, PHPBB or the like is already out there to deal with such issues. It would take a bit more modification, but you could even do all of the above on Moveabletype.

Persistent Lore: Learn to Love The Wiki: Similarly, there's a lot of knowledge in the law school that's passed down from word of mouth, or through the website, or even from looking at old CLS blogs, that should really be structured for the use of the school as a whole. Serious Law Student mentions the 'rumours' regarding the write-on competition--something I still don't understand, since the meeting conflicted with another event--or Moot Court policies and traditions or selecting courses. Ideally, information on these would be centralized, but students who had been 'through the mill' would be able to add their own information, subject to some central editing.

Fortunately, there's already a tool available to manage this knowledge: it's a Wiki. Basically, a Wiki is a collection of easy-to-update articles managed off a central server. Readers can add new articles or edit them as and when, linking them to other articles as necessary. An example of the system in use (and an excellent resource on damn near anything) is the Wikipedia.

Take a look at the Wikipedia, and imagine going to a page called "Write-On Competition." Imagine that at the top there's a list of all our journals, and short snippets about their policies and application procedures. (Journals which wanted one could easily add a page--very little HTML knowledge required.) Further, students who had bits of advice or helpful suggestions have left them at the bottom of the page, under the editorial control of the Student Senate. You got to this page because it was linked from the Bulletin Board, and although you missed the meeting, at least you have an idea of who to talk to.

Each class that comes here absorbs a body of knowledge from the class before. As Serious Law Student notes, however, most of this knowledge exists only as a kind of oral history. The beauty of Wikis is that, while they start slow, as soon as they have a critical mass of information they begin to become the source to which one turns when stumped.

The Proper Use of Email: Of course, this wouldn't eliminate all the emails going to students, and it shouldn't. Some events are properly the concern of everyone. The important career services panels, the meetings on selection of courses, events which we hope will be attended by one or more classes: these are the proper subject of email broadcast. And because they're not buried in 300 messages regarding the new board of the Esperanto Speakers Law Review Society, they have that much more emphasis.

A Final Note: Systems Integration: One more plaintive wail is undoubtedly rising from my Columbia audience: "Tony, do we really need more systems in this place? I can't remember which of the thirty-five passwords for the multiple online systems I'm supposed to use already." And this complaint has some justification.

So far this year, I've used Quickplace, Columbia's internal Courseweb system, LAWNET, and the innumerable Career Services websites in order to retrieve critical information about my courses or the law school's offerings. These systems seem to have evolved, rather than been implemented with strategic considerations in mind. [2] As a result, students and teachers are forced to learn complex and redundant systems just to get by.

The beauty of the systems I've mentioned above is their flexibility. They can be repurposed and reapplied for multiple uses, meanwhile keeping a clever framework in place to minimize the hassle users face. With a little work and some innovative cookie-work, you could get close to single-sign on: users log in once, and for the most part stay logged in as they go through different systems. (Coursewebs, for instance, seems to do nothing that PHPBB doesn't.) The key thing is that new systems are used to solve old problems, and new technologies aren't allowed to be used unless they fit into this strategic framework.

Of course, these are questions of strategic architecture: not just solving the immediate problem, but making sure that the solution fits with other solutions existing or foreseeable. This isn't easy, and in case anyone thinks I'm being overly critical of the CLS adminstration, let me make it clear: these are suggestions for best-practice methods that many if not most organizations don't get right. If they did, my last company wouldn't have been able to charge high hourly rates to solve these problems.

'Eating Your Own Dog Food': All of this is empty advice. I'm coming up to finals (hence this article gets 1/2 an hour of my time), and even during the rest of my law school career I doubt I'd have a chance to make these changes. But as some of you might have noted (you may have gotten the email), I'm now treasurer of a student society. As a result, I'm going to be running this organization's website, as soon as I've negotiated the hurdles set up by the Law School and University IT departments. Already we're going to have three mailing lists (one each for members, alumni, and board) and a webpage updateable through Moveabletype. It's a small step, but I'm sort of hoping this will prove a best-practice example. At the very least, I'm hoping the number of spams we send out to the law school at large will decrease.

[1]: Isn't it funny how most people compliment you like that when they want to tell you that your ideas won't work?

[2]: For instance, Quickplace requires a code-snippet to display its 'drag and drop' file system. This snippet, last I tried it, wouldn't download to most University computers, because it violates their security restrictions. This is one of those simple but annoying oversights that pester any strategic implementation.

April 27, 2004


I've done a great deal of Con Law reading, but the conversation that inspired the entry below has me a bit befuddled. And as is often the case when logical exposition doesn't quiet the soul, I'm happy to turn to fiction. So a question for my readers, particularly some of my older readers, since I think this one is slightly before my time.

I'm looking for an anthology that has Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" in it. Folks have been telling me to read it for years, and this summer seems like a good time to do so. Amazon is only helpful inasmuch as it gets me to a very expensive kiddie-reader and an even more expensive collection of short stories. (The latter looks astoundingly good, which is why I've included a link below.) Barnes and Noble is similarly unhelpful.

Any suggestions?

April 26, 2004

Something in the bucket...

As I've mentioned before, I don't really like marches. They tend to jumble up messages and become nothing more than incoherent imagery. They raise tempers without raising the level of debate. As I've been watching Chris take on Irishlaw bicker over an image from the "March for Women's Lives" in Washington, it's merely strengthened my general distaste for such 'action.'

I've only linked to the image here because (a) it's almost certainly subject to Reuter's copyright, and (b) it's somewhat distasteful. To describe it briefly, a man stands defiant in the midst of the march, holding up an image of a bloody fetus on a poster with the hyperbolic "ABORTION IS GENOCIDE." Around him, three women appear to be taunting him or dancing around him, holding posters of their own or showing off their t-shirts. The photographer captures a sense of antipathy and confrontation that evokes a sense of reasoned horribleness.

It's images like that which make me waver in my politically pro-choice stance. Unlike IrishLaw, I can see practical policy reasons for leaving the choice to carry a life to pregnancy in the hands of a woman. But at the end of every abortion, there's something that ends up in the bucket. We can bicker about whether that something is a 'human life' before or after a viable birth, but it's a potential, a something different from a tumor or a rotted tooth. Under different circumstances, it might be a subject of love and warmth, intelligence and kindness. And there it is, bloody.

I'm pro-choice, and I'm willing to accept that fact. I have no respect for those who picket abortion clinics or harass frail and nervous women after they've made or are making their choices. But there is also a cost to this policy--that something in the bucket--and I don't ever want to forget that fact.

I'm sure the counterdemonstrator is there to cause a disturbance: that's his intended role. Doubtless he's done his share of aggravation, and kicked up what trouble he can. Put him in front of a clinic, and I'm not likely to love an image of what he'd be doing. But his other purpose is to remind those of us who are pro-choice exactly what it is we're choosing: that we're making decisons about life and liberty, freedom and responsiblity. I can see ignoring him. I can even see pausing respectfully to observe him. What I can't condone is the taunting, the amusement, the confrontation, the dancing apparent in the picture. Because that image he's holding is what's being chosen by those marchers as a matter of policy: that is their end. Whatever rational reasons we may give ourselves to allow it, it's a horror not to be celebrated.

In the comments section of Chris's post, he takes me to task for describing the women as filled with "Distasteful hysteria, the triumph of identity politics over any reasonable moral principle." But really, I'm granting them the benefit of the doubt: that they're inspired by the heat of the conflict, women embroiled in a 'women's rights' march, and not by a genuine conviction that the image before them is forceless, costless or even laudable. Otherwise the marchers face that picture shouting, "Look upon our works, ye mighty, and rejoice!"

I'll stand by that statement of hysteria as one of hope, simply because if the women in that image are not hysterical, then they are horrifying.

April 25, 2004

I've Always Wanted to Say This: What Do You Want?

We all have one: the Prize. Something that we've promised we'll buy ourselves as a reward when we get through all the exams, write all the papers, and slide into that shiny new job. After all, you don't slave for three years and work yourself to death in order to get money. You sell your soul for the things that money buys.

Since we're all stressing like mad over exams, the Prize is probably more on our minds than normal. So in the name of fostering avarice everywhere: tell us what it is. Just leave a comment with your particular prize, or if your a blawger, just make sure to track back to this entry. Eventually we'll have a master-list of law school avarice, and then we can... we can... erm... I'm sure we'll find a use for it somehow.

Oh, a few rules: (a) No beauty-contestant answers, like "A job working for world peace." That's very sweet, but it's not what we're looking for. (b) Answers are limited to things you want to buy yourself. Again, it's nice that you want to buy your parents that yacht they always wanted, but 'tis not the point. (c) If possible, include a link to an example, so we can all see.

Must Be Very Upset That All Those Profits Towards World Peace Went Nowhere...

Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry's fame, has a nifty little parody of The Apprentice, Trump Fires Bush.

Oh, and since Ambimb mentions that I'm blogging a lot for someone with exams coming up, it's worth mentioning that when I'm writing on here most often, I'm ironically at my most productive. After all, I'm sitting in front of a computer, and that's productive, isn't it?

(link from Venturpreneur)

April 24, 2004

"And You Don't Seem to Understand..."

So, from the Blog De Kerry, we learn that John Kerry has issued a "Contract with America's Middle Class":

Unlike the Republican “Contract with America” of 10 years ago that divided America and worked against our values, Kerry said his contract will bring us back together by honoring our values, expanding the middle class, making our economy stronger and our nation more secure.

Well, you can go to his website and read his speech, but really, the important thing to note is that Kerry is trying to steal the thunder of the Contract with America in the most vapid way possible. The real significance of the Contract wasn't what it said, but how it said it. It was "a written contract with no fine print." Whatever you felt about the agenda itself, the Contract dedicated its members to a particular set of legislation, to be enacted within a set timeframe. Kerry's 'contract'?

I will reform out of control spending by putting in place budget caps that assure Washington has to live within its means. I will cut waste and abuse out of our health care system by giving incentives for smarter more efficient systems.

I will reform corporate America by requiring corporations to report to their shareholders and what they report to the IRS. And I will reform our tax code by ending incentives for companies to send jobs overseas.

Government should take less money from the middle class, and do more to make sure their hard-earned tax dollars go to solve their real problems.

For example, we have to invest more on health care if we're going to keep businesses from cutting jobs and going under. But putting more money into the health care system won't do any good if we don't reform it to get health costs under control-which is exactly what my plan does.

Erm... yes. Well, the devil's in the details. At time of writing, the "Contract with America's Middle Class" doesn't appear as a document on Kerry's website, nor is there a promise that it will. It's a verbal contract, and not much of one at that. Besides a host of platitudes and "I won't be Bush" statements, there's nothing concrete. Missing is the Contract with America's timeline. Gone is its promise for particular pieces of legislation. There's nothing by which a President Kerry could be judged to be in default.

A pity. The original Contract worked as a piece of political theater because whatever its positions, it was a measurable roadmap by which leaders who were elected could later be judged. (Well, 'measurable' in Washington terms, which I'll admit isn't much.) Newt Gingrich took that risk, and should be credited for its success. Kerry seems to have taken a page from Newt's book, but not read it carefully at all.

Quick Political Website Commentary

And to finish off my glorious wireless blogging this lunchtime, a few quick observations on the political web:

Memo To Bush:
Number of times John Kerry's face appears on JohnKerry.com today: 6.
Number of times your face appears: 0.

Number of times John Kerry's face appears on GeorgeWBush.com today: 6.
Number of times your face appears: 0.

I know negative campaigning is endemic these days, Mr. President, but this is ridiculous. Get your face on your homepage and a real message up there.

Bush Hate Site of the Day:
For my readers who just can't get enough inane anti-Bush bile.

Someone at Bush headquarters didn't manage to snag Bush2004.com. Headline on this parody site: "Al Qaeda Bombers Endorse Bush--Terrorists Thank Allah For America's 'Holy Idiot.'"

Personally, I hope this gets as much exposure as possible. This is the kind of thing that makes the rabid anti-Bush folks look... well, speaks for itself, really.

Defending John Kerry

Now this doesn't happen very often, but since I'm on my lunch hour, I'll note this. Colbert King of the Washington Post questions John Kerry's commitment to racial diversity. Mainly he's alleging that Kerry's 'inner circle' is completely white, with people of color, alternative sexualities, gender, etc. brought in only to talk to their particular communities:

Regardless of how much the Kerry press releases make it sound as if those "all-stars" and "senior advisers" are the Dream Team, they aren't the people calling the shots. They don't have a hand in positioning the candidate or in guiding his campaign. That is the special preserve of the [allegedly all-white] inner circle.

As most of you probably guess, the color of John Kerry's 'inner circle' is a matter of supreme indifference to me. Still, the charge seemed strange, so I though I'd take a quick look to see if I could find some data, without doing what Colbert King did: calling spin-central and seeing what popped up. I mean, at the very least, it would be cool to find out what Kerry blogmeister Dick Bell looks like.

In so doing, I found the Civic Actions Wiki, a sort of roster for Democratic campaign staff. The data on the Kerry campaign is here. There's no 'inner circle' listing, but I went to what I cared about--who runs the website. And at least here there's diversity: one, possibly two hispanic men, a woman, and white guy. A quick glance through shows that the Deputy Campaign Manager, Marcus Jadotte, is an African-American. Not that the racial mix matters, but since they do run a good blog [1] (even if I'm not a Kerry fan), it's nice to see them front and center.

I'm not sure if that answers Colbert King's question: maybe these people are functionaries and the 'Inner Circle' that's 'calling the shots' is indeed all-white. But looking through his campaign staff and reading a bit about them is a fun experience in and of itself, so it's not been a wasted lunch.

[1]: Having looked at the Bush and Kerry blogs and websites over the last few months, I regretfully give the edge to the Kerry site. The Bush site is slightly better technically, but the Kerry site's lighter, more open site design is less of a trial to look at. Bush's site could really use an overhaul: there's too much stuff on the homepage, and it's just too confusing.

That said, both sites need some stylesheet help. Senior browsers are a key audience, and neither site's fonts increase when you use IE's "Text Size" feature. For older Americans, this has to be annoying.

Gaming the System

A lot of my friends have been getting GMail accounts, web-mail accounts through Google now offers with a Gigabyte of storage.

Most of the discussion on this has focused on privacy concerns: GMail scans your mail for keywords and delivers it with little Google ads. Personally, this doesn't bother me--most people have such poor security, especially with ubiquitous wireless, that automatic scanning of email doesn't seem such a big deal. I just wonder if this might be one of Google's less-successful experiments.

Most people don't have a gigabyte of email. My Outlook archive is only 650 MB, and it goes back more years than I care to think. I'm willing to bet that Google's 1GB promise is premised on the idea that the typical user will never get anywhere close to their limit. But there's a very good use of 1GB of online storage that might threaten Google's business model: backups.

For instance, every week I burn my critical files to a CD, and every two weeks I back up my data to DVD. But with a GMail account, I could zip my critical law school files--all of them--into a 50MB zip file and mail them to 'myself.' If I ever need them, there they are.

Why is this a problem for GMail? Well, it seems that Google expects this to pay for itself through the targeted advertisements people read when they check their mail. But in the example above, I'm only checking my mail when I need to access the backups. Which is almost never. Since they get paid every time I see an ad, this isn't good new for Google.

Of course, Google may have thought of this, and placed a limit on the size of files you can receive in an attachment. Or maybe they figure only a few people will feel the need to treat their Gmailbox as a GB of online storage. But it does seem like a bit of a loophole.

UPDATE: Arvin at Rebuttable Presumption thinks people might be put off of using Gmail as a backup tool by fears of security. I'm not sure this is really a deterrent for most people. I mean, for the things that I need to backup most--my law school papers--there's not a huge market out there, and frankly, if they're stolen, they're not going to make anyone enough money to recover their investment, much less make them rich.

April 23, 2004

More Google Pagerank Musings

Just a few musings about PageRank before I break for the day. It's been a good day's work, so I figure I've got a right to talk a little bull.

There's now two blogs similar to mine with a PageRank of 6, rather than 5. Well, there was, until I checked Not For Sheep, which on my bar has fallen to a PR5, and Serious Law Student, whose hopped up to PR6. So, the question becomes, what differentiates both blogs in their linking and link styles?

I'm not certain. Here's a couple of guesses:

Few Links, but Good Ones: Neither have exceptionally long blogrolls, and both link to sites which are authorities for those keywords. (For instance, SLS recently linked to Text Twist, a game which certainly owns that term. I wonder if there's some kind of balancing going on here: Google giving PR to sites whose links point to sites which are authorities for that term. I've not heard of that being done, but it's semi-plausible.

Fewer "Conversations": I like to link to folks engaged in various oddball discussions with me. Most of us--with the exception of Crescat--have PR5s. I wonder if this causes some kind of 'reciprocity' effect. I know that link reciprocity can result in the value of a particular link being lowered, but I'm unsure how it effects PageRank.

Aged Links, Google Likes Girls, Proper Goats Sacrificed Under the Right Full Moon, etc: To be honest, I really can't explain the SLS/NFS exceptions. There doesn't seem to be a reason for NFS to have fallen or SLS to have jumped up a notch. It could be both of them are borderline--PageRank probably has more gradations than show on the Toolbar--and so very small changes make a noticable difference. But for the moment, it really beats me.

Investigation continues...

Desolate Distraction

And your daily distraction from the rigors of studying: Ghost Town, a photo-essay by what has to be the world's most dedicated, and possibly insane, biker. With nothing more than motorcycle leathers, a little Japanese crotch-rocket, and her daddy's scientific access pass, she set out to document the devastation that is Chernobyl. Apparently you're OK if you stay on the asphalt, which doesn't absorb radiation that well. Ummmm, yeah.

Take a minute and look. You need to put all that environmental law stuff in perspective, right?

(Hat tip to the Modulator.)

April 22, 2004

Law Students And Sharing

Dear Wormwood:

As my final hurdles of 1L-hood seem ever-closer, the school is gearing up for exams. Or rather, some of us are gearing up for exams, while others have already retooled, refueled, repainted, geared up, and are actually threatening to push that big button labelled "NITRO." As my last class in Foundations of the Regulatory State (read 'Law, Econ, and Policy') was today, I'd like to cast a critical eye over the market that's emerging here: that in outlines and notes. The market is characterized by three classes of individuals:

Non-Market Participants: These are the people who have their notes locked in small safes hidden in their floorboards and their outlines under guards moonlighting from the Federal Reserve. Their study groups started the semester with blood-pacts never to share group work product, and probably had several pages worth of contract defining what was 'shared group work product' and what was 'acceptable personal trade collateral.'

Some of these folks have put immense amounts of effort into creating the ideal outline, and have done so in all their classes. From a Reg State point of view, they're not participating in the market because it's unlikely that any item on the market could be worth the polished jewel of legal knowledge they've managed. The less benign Non-Market Participant, however, has accepted the zero-sum nature of the grading curve and figures that anyone who needs his help must perforce be destined to a lower rank than he--no point in helping.

Note that any outline wrenched, stolen, or otherwise acquired from a Non-Market Participant is, to their credit, likely to be very good indeed.

The Jawas, Pokemon Masters, Poker Sharks, Market Makers, Influence Peddlers, and Other Related Traders: It's here that the market for outlines is made. Individuals in this group have either a single great outline, or a number of 'working copies' that they can share around. These individuals belong to multiple study groups--sometimes ignoring the blood-pacts--and are perfectly willing to swap information with you, so long as you've got what they want.

Quality of these outlines will vary, as will their heritage. Jawas who have garnered premium outlines may hold out for 'complete sharing' agreements, in which counterparties offer to share all their information; others may be willing to make one-on-one trades. Trading often occurs more aggressively towards the end of the semester: more product is available on the market, making for higher liquidity, and many Jawas want to 'hold out' to make sure they don't get cheated or lose out on later deals.

I've not seen it yet, but I'm waiting for the ultimate Jawa to evolve: the person who doesn't actually read any of the outlines, but just wants to see if he can collect whole sets in order to trade them.

Freeloaders, Freelovers, and Butterflies: I group these together because they're often indistinguishable. The first two either do no outlines and try to snag them off others, or are perfectly willing to share what they've got with whomever. The 'Butterflies' treat outlines as cocoons: the real benefit of an outline is the effort put into creating it, which can't be transferred. They really don't care what happens to the shell after they've emerged from it.

The quality of outline from this group is varied, but higher than you might think. A good Butterfly may have better notes than a Non-Market Participant, but simply not buy into the zero-sum game.

Anyway, Wormwood, this is a rougher taxonomy than I might otherwise construct for you, but I want to get back to writing up my Con Law outline. I'm sure I've missed one or two subspecies, and maybe my readers will fill out the evolutionary tree. Please don't take any of my words above as ones of condemnation or approval: each member of the Law School ecosystem has their own little part to play, and I'm sure they're all a valuable part of the Circle of Life as it exists in law school.

April 21, 2004

AMBIMB LIES! (OK, fibs. OK, maybe not even that...)

My friend Ambivalent Imbroglio writes:
I've got good outlines for every class. No, I didn't make a single one. Yes, I know that's not how you're supposed to do it. If you're a law student, I'm telling you this to boost your confidence. Think of this as my gift to you: You are more prepared than I am, so rest easy.

No, I'm not more prepared than he is. He at least, has a plan. This might be a better indicator of my present state. (Credit due to my old lead-tech in my prior life as a project manager.)

April 20, 2004

Because we all like to waste time on stupid games

I give you Matazone's latest Night of the Zombie Kittens...

April 19, 2004

OK, Am I Wrong, or Is It Just John Kerry?

This is the kind of thing that's really frustrating to read when you're studying Con Law. From John Kerry's new ad:

Title: Direct Response Choice

Narrator: The Supreme Court is just one vote away from outlawing a woman's right to choose. George Bush will appoint anti-choice, anti-privacy justices. But you can stop him.

Now, is Kerry trying to tell me that if Bush is re-elected, all of a sudden Scalia is going to become a judicial realist and start concocting constitutional reasons why abortion is not only subject to control by the states, but positively must be outlawed by them? Is the Supreme Court really in the business of outlawing things, rather than saying things may or may not be outlawed? Can I cite a presidential candidate to Prof. ConLaw as authority for the Supreme Court having the power to outlaw abortion?

Well, I suppose I could, but I'd have to be an idiot. Thankfully, Kerry and his campaign don't have to pass a Con Law exam. Of course, with Kerry's luck, there wouldn't be a separation of powers question.

Or am I just wrong? Someone tell me, because it's just over two weeks until I have to know this stuff. And it's not like Casey isn't enough of a mess without John Kerry whispering in my ear...

Ezula, I Hate You

I spent a lot of time I should have been working today fixing computers. If you're at Columbia--or indeed, using the 'Net at all--I strongly recommend that you read my update about Ezula, and if you're having any of the symptoms--strange search windows and odd pop-ups--that you follow the instructions for removing the software.

I only mention it again because of four computers I looked at today, three had ezula.exe sitting right in their C:\ drive...

April 18, 2004

Not Entirely Welcome Headline Change

The World Star Gazette is an organization that I know nothing about but seems in the business of making a 'newspaper' out of other people's blog entries. Today they seem to have lifted a choice paragraph from my entry on dating across party lines and made it part of a 'point-counterpoint.'

Whatever the merits or not of this "gazette," I'm not sure I'm entirely in favor of their editorial style. My original title, Here's Hoping My Children Have Left Feet and Right Feet has been replaced with the rather more provocative "I've Slept With Too Many Liberals to Hate Them All."

That does make me sound rather a man of loose moral virtue, wouldn't you say?

April 17, 2004

Who pays any attention to the syntax of things

Spring is here: I'm walking to and from the law school in short-sleeved shirts with no jacket, and as I wandered home I wondered at the strange gradations of color that pass for sunset in New York, where the horizon is the next block of buildings and the 'sky' is that thing you can see when you look straight up. This morning students were out reading on the college lawns as I wandered schoolwards, and going back the same way this evening there was some event with food and music in front of the Low Library. The air is warm with the clean smell of thawing winter (rather than the stench of coming summer), and the street fair on broadway was full of shiny organic fruits and vendors hawking overpriced ethnic food.

I've lowered the Exam Stress warning to "guarded." While at the library today I covered my last section of Con Law: each topic I've either read in Chemerinsky, briefly covered in Legalines, or suffered through in Sullivan. There's only a little more Crim reading left to do, and even Reg State is down to a manageable minimum. With just under two and a half weeks left, it's now down to outlining and preparing. Since most of my preparation is the act of synthesizing my notes (and I've given up hopes of Law Review), much of the terror has abated. The Rubicon is before me, and tomorrow the bridges get burnt.

So tonight I'm wandering the city with my girlfriend, our evening's agenda still unknown. When she arrives, I think we'll walk down Broadway for a couple of stops, take in the final moments of twilight as it drifts away, and then head out for adventures unknown.

Incidentally, if you're lucky enough to find a companion during your 1L year, seize that particular opportunity with both hands. I'm going to break my standard policy of not talking about my personal life to say that finding someone understanding of a 1L's schedule, who can put up with the fact that you're available only at odd hours and that your one instant topic of conversation regards your workload, is an circumstance of tender mercy. If she knows how to cook brilliant halibut cooked with saffron, yogurt and shallots, all the better. But during this madcap silly season, having someone to share with is really the crowning glory.

A 1L I was chatting to yesterday murmurred something about being happy that they were single, because "otherwise my grades would be suffering so badly." To which I can only quote the poem from which I stole the title of this post:

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
--the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter...

OK, sappiness over. I promise I'll say something political or curmudgeonly tomorrow, when it's back to work, but I'm off for the evening.

Two Blogging Points

A couple of thoughts and annoyances on blogging. Sorry for the self-referentialism.

Page Rank 6: For a while, my site had a PR6 on Google. Then they changed their policies, largely wisely, and I fell back down to PR5. These days, I don't know of a single individual law student blog that has a page rank consistently higher than five: Serious Law Student, Letters of Marque, Ambimb, Sua Sponte, Wings and Vodka, and even the oft-linked Jeremy Blachman have all sat solidly with me at PR5. (The sole exception, Katherine's Not for Sheep, hovers between PR5 and PR6, but is mostly PR5. I'm trying to differentiate between her link patterns and everyone elses, since this is the only observable exception to otherwise similar sites.)

Meanwhile, group blogs like De Novo, Crescat Sententia, or law professors' blogs like Professor Bainbridge or Professor Solum have PR6s. The first makes sense: the group blogs are more active and have many more inbound links as a result. Law professor's substantive posts get more inbounds as well. The combination--law profs and group blogs--seems even more powerful, given the success of the Conspiracy. So either I need to become a law prof or clone myself, I guess.

It's not really important, but I'd like to get my PR6 back. It makes it that much easier to conduct small side experiments when I want to know how Google works on some esoteric point. Of course, that involves getting my head above the parapets for a while, putting my mind to writing some truly interesting stuff, and getting links from some of the big-boys. Probably more work than it's worth in exam season.

Annoyances with ATOM: I don't read sites like Lawdork, Shetai, Wings and Vodka, or indeed Prof. Crimlaw's Punishment Theory Blog as much as I'd like. For reasons of time, I generally restrict myself to what's on my blogroll at right and what's on the Continuum. Which means, essentially, sites that have RSS functioning.

So why did BlogSpot have to implement ATOM instead of nice, standard RSS? This would have solved my problem nicely.

Perspectives and Reg State Help

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: if you're a Columbia 1L looking for a good overview of Perspectives and Reg. State terminology, you could do far worse than Lawrence Solum's Legal Theory Lexicon. Besides covering the basics, like what positive and normative mean, in the past few weeks he's covered an awful lot of territory that is useful review as exam season approaches. For instance, he's given good summaries of the following terms for Perspectives:

And for Foundations of the Regulatory State, the following might be helpful as an overview:

Of course, now I've shared, and thus eliminated some slight advantage on the curve. What the heck, I still think law school's all about sharing. Of course, it's just one author's ideas, and not a replacement for the vast amount of reading we've done this term, but for a one-site brushup, you could do worse.

April 16, 2004

One for the Good Guys

Professor Bainbridge today praises Spirit of America, and posts a favourable Opinion Journal article regarding the charity. Basically, they're trying to collect things needed to help rebuild Iraq. After identifying local needs through his contacts with the Marines, Spirit of America sends them over to Iraq where they can do immediate good on the ground. His latest project is to try to put together an Iraqi TV station before the handover, thus providing an alternative to Al-Jazeera.

The charity's primary advantage is the ability to avoid a bureaucracy suitable for equipping a massive military force in order to accomplish small acts of good. Remember when I was excoriating Take Back the Night Marches? Well, this is the opposite: a bundle of people seeing a problem and working to actually come up with a solution. It won't solve everything, it won't band-aid the world, and it doesn't raise all that much 'consciousness.' Just some folks getting the tools they need to build something. The guy who runs this, Jim Hake, gets my respect for his effort (and some of my money).

The Course Evaluation Email Mob

If you attend Columbia Law School, one perpetual annoyance is that rather than having online bulletin boards or subscription-only email lists, your account will be set up to get every half-important email from any random association conceivable. You'll read these simply because every so often, there's a single email sent out about something you need to know: journals, or EIP, or clinics next year. But they'll be hidden in a forest of things you don't have any desire to know about. Nowhere is this worse than with course evaluation emails.

The University puts great stock in their course evaluations, despite the fact that first year evaluations are pretty pointless. After all, you can't choose your professors, so the best you can hope for is that someone says something nice about the challenge that faces you. Or you can develop ulcers reading some of them.

But whatever, the University wants you to fill them out. In an attempt to aid future first years, I've put together a taxonomy of course evaluation reminder emails.

The Santa Claus Emails: So-called because the powers that be seem to think you're waiting for evaluation season like Christmas. "Please note that in three weeks, you will be able to access the course evaluation websites." You'll receive about three of these.

The On Your Marks Emails: These I got today. They remind you of the surprising fact that you're taking a course, and that the course can be evaluated. One email per course, incidentally, telling you to go to the same website. Actually, that's not true--they sent me two reminders for Perspectives.

The In Loco Parentis Emails: These emails are sent automatically by the course evaluation system, or so they claim. Since you're obviously missing your mother, they decide to nag you in a maternal fashion about the fact that you've not filled out your evaluations. [1] If the system knew that you'd not finished your outlines, sublet your apartment, signed up for next years courses, or gone to the gym in two weeks, it would probably happily nag you about that too.

These can also be named the Perfidy Emails, because they promise that if you fill out the evaluations, the emails will stop. More than likely, they lie.

The Course Evaluation Mob Emails: These come only towards the end of the evaluation period, just before the website closes. Like an enforcer asking for protection money, they're not directly threatening, but they're more firm than the In Loco Parentis kind. You almost expect them to mumble, "You've got a very nice outline there, kid. Nice formatting, pretty nice size. It'd be a shame if anything... happened... to it. Know what I mean?"

There's only one nice thing about any of these emails. The evaluation period closes before exams. While this means that you can't leave behind wisdom for future students on the only thing they (or you) are likely to care that much about--how tough is the exam?--so long as you're still receiving reminders, exams aren't upon you yet.

[1]: NOTE TO ANY MATERNAL READERS (particularly my own mother): This is not to say my own mom nagged me when I was a child--she was actually very good about that. I'm merely employing stereotype here.

April 15, 2004

Change of Allegiance II

Some of you may remember that a while back I decided to use Barnes and Noble for my book links instead of Amazon.com, because I was annoyed with Amazon's disclosure of its own-site purchase policy.

Well, today I'm rescinding that, just because the annoyance has now outweighed the importance of the principle. Barnes and Noble works well for some things, it delivers to New York faster, and has a better range and reliability of textbooks. But its user interface is worse, the prices are generally higher, and most importantly, they have fewer cover images for their books. On the other hand, Amazon's web services still crash the site much of the time.

So from here on in, I'm using whicher I feel is more useful to myself or my readers. For instance, here's a book that was mentioned in my Crim Law class today, which I'll probably get from the library here. The Mask of Sanity discusses the psycopathic personality, a topic in our class today. I've used the Barnes and Noble link for this because they have it in stock and have a cover image.

On the other hand, I've used Amazon to highlight the latest bit of relaxation I've done, an anime series titled Serial Experiments Lain. Kim's Video may not have the greatest collection of Japanese movies--and I've pretty much exhausted it--but they do have a strong selection of anime. If you were disappointed by the fact that The Matrix Trilogy had great effects but didn't say anything very interesting about the relationship between a real and virtual reality, this might be the series for you. It's short, eclectic, doesn't answer all the questions it raises, but certainly provides food for thought. If you're trying to practice your Japanese, it's pretty good because (a) it doesn't have a lot of slang, but (b) the language is pretty complex and challenging, especially if you don't cheat and turn on the subtitles.

The Mask of Sanity

Danger is the Nature of the Darkness

This is one of those entries that gets me into trouble. Still, though my curmudgeonly nature creates conflict in my life, sometimes it just won't be denied. So I'm just going to come out and say it: I really can't summon much respect for 'Take Back the Night Marches.' And there's a large one going on tonight.

I don't wish to be misread as trivializing the problem of violence against women, any more than I'd trivialize the problems of violence against anyone, group or individual. Domestic violence, street crime, date rape, etc. are all difficult and real problems. Unfortunately, 'Take Back the Night' isn't a real solution, for at least three reasons. Two of these are admittedly quibbles, but the last is a serious objection: naming, coherency, and efficiency.

1. Impossible Dreams and Inevitable Nightmares: You can't 'Take Back the Night,' not even in a figurative sense. Danger is the nature of the darkness, and has been since the first of dawn of days. The night was never 'taken' by anyone: it's the natural ally of those who act under the cover of darkness. We may make our cities and our streets safer, surely, but evil deeds will always best be done away from other eyes.

2. When You Say Everything, You Mean Nothing: Of course, the first point is merely an aesthetic reaction. The March could be renamed a "March for Women's Night Safety," if the organizers gave two hoots about my fetish for appropriate names.

But no mere descriptive title can bear the load which the organizers are placing on it. Advertisements around the university blare in bold capital letters that tonight's marchers will be marching because "X percent of young woman have experience date rape" or "Y percentage of men or women were victims of domestic abuse." Because "Z number of transgendered individuals have been assaulted in the last year" or "A% of women are victims of domestic abuse." Indeed, apparently "B number of men report having been abused by their partners." [1] The motivations thus cover violence against both sexes, violence against all ages, and violence which is in no sense limited to the nocturnal.

Again, this is not to trivialize these issues. It's just to point out that if the organizers are to be believed, this is nothing more than a march against violence in general. If we're concerned about men as victims as domestic violence and women being assaulted at night, we might as well be concerned about men victimized under cover of darkness. Here we object to violence in general. And once we've reached that point, we're now marching about something that almost no one--except possibly the irredeemably criminal--disagrees with. If there is a greater message, it has long since passed the point of coherency into some vaguely altruistic blancmange. Which leads us to the final and most significant objection...

3. There is No Point to Pointless Activity: Violence against women is an important subject, doubly so for violence at night: I take seriously the complaint of women that they can feel less confident than I walking the streets after they've been to a bar. But if we're serious about this, there's many effective things we can do. With far fewer people than will be showing up at Barnard this evening, we can start neighborhood watches. Back at Oxford, I volunteered for 'nightwalk' services (men who agreed to stay sober and walk ladies home after dark). Nightbus services can be funded, equipped, and staffed. When it comes to domestic violence, I have nothing but the strongest respect for the people who spend time working on the domestic violence courtroom advocacy projects here at Columbia.

These things require effort and dedication. Those who do them command respect for their self-sacrifice, and to that I'll tip my hat. But marching down a well-lit street in a relatively safe area of New York at night, raising a rucous and thus raising 'consciousness?' Please. First of all, if the Columbia/Barnard crowd were any more 'conscious' we'd explode in a spontaneous burst of enlightenment. Everyone here can sing the words to this old familiar song. Secondly, the 'audience' that might need to hear the message--abusers, muggers, predators of all kinds--are simply not at the march, nor listening. Thus this kind of march becomes a masturbation of virtue, which I'm sure will make the marchers happy with themselves, but accomplishes so remarkably little that it approaches nothing. Indeed, depending on how annoyed onlookers get such 'consciousness raising' on other issues can even be counterproductive.

As I said, whenever the curmudgeon in me can't restrain himself and I write something like this, I brace for impact. Obviously, several hundred people disagree with me as to the usefulness of the endeavor, or they wouldn't be wandering out on a still-chill spring evening so close to finals. [2] And perhaps there will be someone inspired or shamed or in some way changed, and in some intangible and never-to-be-measured sense good will be accomplished and I will be wrong. But the entire thing seems such monumental effort for such slight gains that I have to question if the emperor has any clothing.

UPDATE: Heidi Bond suggests that I've missed one of the points of a Take Back the Night March:

For some marchers, their goal is not to prevent future violence. Their goal is to try and combat feelings of powerlessness and irrational fear harbored by themselves and/or co-marching loved ones. For them, marching is not about saying "I'm walking down the street, raising consciousness about rape in the general population, thus preventing further violence." It's about saying, "tonight, I"m walking down the street at night with no fear. For me, this is a really big step. This is my way of saying there are things I can do to keep the fear at bay. I am no longer powerless: I have this one power tonight, in a crowd, to walk where I could not walk before. I am taking one small step tonight, and maybe tomorrow I will take a larger one, like going to the store at night with a friend and not freaking out."

Heidi's point isn't trivial, but I think it's one of those cases of "what I wish the march had said" as opposed to what it did say. Having spent the better part of the last ten years either in University, living near Universities, or living in University towns, I've seen more than my fair share of them. Indeed, I've observed ('participated in' might imply more sympathy than was there) two of these on "don't criticize what you've not seen" grounds. Any of the admirable aims Heidi mentions above were far outweighed by a mixing of messages that lead to incoherence. Most charitably, it's difficult to see how you get date-rape into this equation, since there's nothing of particular affinity with the night--at least in the sense of the unknown and the fear of the stranger that Heidi is highlighting--in that offense. It's a different evil.

And that's most charitably, since a colorable argument could be made for date rape's inclusion. However, what of the speeches during these marches on pornography, domestic violence (not an incident of 'the night' or the unknown, but quite the opposite), and in one instance the Labour policy for women-only shortlists? Whatever virtues they may have had quickly got diluted into a kind of generic 'women's rights' march. Perhaps other's mileage varies, or the English ones I saw were outliers, and Heidi's seen a well-focused, well-organized therapeutic demo. My experience has led me to concentrate on walking women home from bars when I'm sober, supporting and encouraging nightbus and nightwalk services, and voting for 'tough on crime' politicians, leaving the speechifying to others.

(Indeed, I have my doubts upon Heidi's example. She mentions that her answers are based upon a discussion with a march organizer who excluded men from such functions. But if the march is indeed about opposition to violence, and is indeed about therapeutically telling a woman that the night is a place that is safe for her, surely excluding those men whose presence and support help to make it safe is counterproductive? Certainly we are worrying about the dangers in the darkness, which does not include the entirety of the sex?)

I rather doubt that the Damascene experiences Heidi describes are either that common nor that effective, but even so, I'd wonder if there weren't a way to achieve them at lesser cost. If the event is truly about helping women who've been wounded, a bit more somber an attitude than skipping and blowing of whistles (the racket of the recent night) might be in order. Smaller group outings that don't block traffic nor have the air of a propaganda parade. And of course, the relentless advertising of this Columbia event would be wholly unnecessary if Heidi's reasoning were the focus of the efforts.

Heidi at least grants that I'm trying not to be callous, but even if a Take Back the Night march has such salubrious effect, I can't help thinking that there's more focused, more respectful, and simply better ways to do it. Of course, those don't have the effect of 'consciousness raising'; they don't speak the language of effortless virtue; they simply don't have the air of a political rally. But let's be clear--the aims Heidi's discussing are virtuous and should be supported in a better fashion.

[1]: I'm paraphrasing here, because I don't have time to go around the school getting the quotes precisely right. The range of reasons for marching is accurate, even if the expression isn't exactly correct. Indeed, I've tried to be more charitable.

[2]: Although I'm reminded of the P. J. O'Rourke line that student newspapers never read, "HUNDREDS OF COLUMBIA STUDENTS STAY HOME, EAT PIZZA, GET DRUNK, HAVE SEX, STUDY A BIT."

April 14, 2004


RE: Your Junk Bulk-Mailing ”Strategy”

Dear Sirs:

Today, for the second time, I received an offer to consolidate my student loans through your company. Just like the last time, your offer was masquerading in the form of a bill: the outside of the envelope is stamped SECOND NOTICE and there's a subject line reading "RE: Student loan payment."

I was very tired today, and when I pulled your letter out of the mailbox, I just saw the bright red unfriendly SECOND NOTICE. Thinking it was a bill, I opened it immediately, only to see a 'pre-approval' for consolidation.

Now, let me write this in simple words, so that even your obviously obtuse marketing department can understand. Under no circumstances will I ever use your services. I would not entrust thousands of dollars to a corporation who believes that sending me advertisements trussed up like late billing notices is a good idea. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth to get your 'exciting offer' right after you've summoned up visions of late fees and service cancellationsf. Even supposing such a strategy is ethical, it's very, very dumb.

Yours truly,

A. Rickey

Everything Can Be Blamed On Bush

Yes, if you're Slate, you can say with a straight face that the Alternate Minimum Tax is a secret Republican plot against Democrats.

Note the unstated presumptions:
a) No evidence in the article that the tax actually hits Democrats more than Republicans. It might, but some data would be nice.
b) No evidence that Republicans are blocking bills put forward by Democrats to get rid of AIM.
c) No evidence that if Republicans put such a bill forward, the 'secret tax on Democrats' would be killed with Democratic support.

This is really silly to be run as a leader article.

Extreme Textualism

While using AOL Instant Messenger in class:

BoredInClass: LOL :)
MoreBored: You sit three seats in front of me. I can see you. You're not laughing out loud!

Inappropriate Banner Ads

One more before bed. When I checked out this week's Onion lead article (screenshot), there was a particularly inappropriately placed ad for John Kerry. Certainly someone should have prevented this?

Link to the original Onion article. If you look towards the bottom, you'll see fake Bush ads...


A small whiff of smoke suddenly rising in a dull and dusky desert. Then, looking towards where the sun should be setting, a rising cloud of black dust which seems oh so far away. As you watch it, you realize that with every second, it's taking up an ever-greater portion of the horizon. 'Sunset' has come early. When finally you can't see both ends of the approaching storm at once, you realize that not only is this cloud moving faster than you expected, but it's not so much a cloud as a dust storm, and it's going to take the flesh right off your bones.

Until today, this was roughly my feeling about my Con Law exam.

Today I've managed to concentrate on it, and at least figure out how much has to be done. It's manageable: I made headway even though I stopped to fix a computer, bought a new belt, filed an extension on my taxes, and spent part of my evening at a mock trial. It's not pleasant, but it's doable.

You'll probably not see as much of me around here for a while, though. Sorry for the interruption--it's these little 1L exam things.

April 12, 2004

Too much

The threat warning just went up.

There is just too much to do. I tried to be pro-active today, and I got a lot of things done. Still, I'm down to my last pair of slacks, my task list still glares at me with disapproval, and as night closes in I can't help but think that I'm never, ever getting done with this. Particularly Con Law. I can't figure out if I should just stop reading the impossible amount in the casebook and resort to Legallines, read Chemerinsky, or just plow through what I can of Sullivan's and deal with the fact that it's not making sense.

Tonight I can't face it, so I'm going to sleep. I'm going to bed before midnight, even though reading for tomorrow isn't finished. I'm sure there's a special level of hell reserved for Con Law students who've not done their preparation, but I guess it's just gonna get one more inmate.

With the pricking of my thumb...

Today, with the workload ramping up and my sanity slipping, was not the day I needed computer problems. I've talked to two other students here at Columbia who've been hit with the same trojan horse. The symptoms are annoying and obvious: I've found at least seven different types of spyware installed on my PC. Both of my fellow sufferers had the same spyware, which suddenly appeared on their computers.

If you suddenly find yourself being deluged with pop-up ads or strange search bars appearing on your computer, the following might be helpful:
a) Run your virus scanner. If you're at the law school, a free version of Symantec anti-virus software can be downloaded from the school's website. (If you don't know where that is, email me.)
b) Get LavaSoft's Ad-Aware, make sure to update it once installed, and run it. Don't be surprised to see 100+ pieces of spyware.
c) Get Spybot Search and Destroy, update it, and run it. Again, don't be surprised by over 100 pieces of spyware.

I don't know who created this garbage, but I really hope something nasty and litigious happens to them.

UPDATE: It seems that the vile scumware installed on my machine, and a few others around here, is Ezula. Removal instructions for it may be found here. Since I never accept 'free software downloads,' I'm unclear as how it got on here, but it's vile. Basically, even if you uninstall the software in your Add/Remove Programs dialogue box, it will recur, because Ezula places an executable in C:/WINDOWS and sets a registry key that reinstalls the software in the background without user intervention.

You'll find that when you try to uninstall some of this software, it asks you several times if you REALLY WANT to lose the IMPORTANT BENEFITS that it gives you. One particularly insidious search bar makes you confirm three times that you want to remove it, and the answers to the questions phrased such that the 'correct' answers are YES, NO, and YES.

I really didn't need to spend 1.5 hours figuring this out just before finals. Considering that I never installed this software, I really hope that some nasty litigation drives these jerks into legal oblivion.

April 09, 2004

Google Agrees With You

I just looked at my search engine referrers for last week. For once, the top result isn't "Paris Hilton." Bad news: the top referrer is now "crazy."

Didn't you always know?

Congratulations to Professor Yin

Congratulations to Professor Yin and his wife, on the arrival of their child, Nicholas.

All I can say is that the advent of blogs is going to be a horrible thing for teenagers fifteen years or so from now. It used to be that parents broke out their baby pictures in order to embarass young men when they brought their dates home. Now the young ladies in question, with the help of Google, will be able to look up the pictures themselves...

Washington Revisionism

I've not really commented on Richard Clarke's 'accusations' yet, simply because it doesn't seem that much of an issue to me. Whatever Rice testifies, whatever the screeching over at the Daily Kos, I can't see this making much difference. I'm sure that a careful evaluation of Clarke's critique, taking into account his self-interested tale, remaining mindful of the protective instinct the Bush administration will have towards its reputation, and remembering that everyone is wise after the fact could result in some helpful insights that would inform policymaking decisions over the next few years.

But this is an election year. I'm more likely to give birth to a baby in the middle of my Con Law exam than I am to see reasonable bipartisanship come out of a Congressional committee. Furthermore, as I have a firm conviction that the American people are more sensible than they are normally credited, I doubt this will change all that many minds. Any fair critique of the whole debacle would praise President Bush's hidden economic plan: while it is all being done at government expense, the demand for talking heads, network cameramen, and other hangers on may be singularly responsible for improved job figures.

There's been some good coverage of this particular brand of silliness, in which one side would like to assure us that if only Alpha-Male Al had been in the White House, Clinton's 'get tough' policy of random bombings would have saved the day, and the other side is so dead set on insisting no mistakes were made that you almost expect Condi to come out and claim that 9/11 was all part of a deep, ingenious Bush masterplan to end international terrorism once and for all. Some highlights:

  • Easterbrook gives an alternate history of the Bush presidency if we'd invaded Afghanistan prior to 9/11. It could only be improved by more quotes from those indulging in the luxury of hindsight. Say, Ted Kennedy.
  • Robert Samuelson writes sense: that all of this drama revolves on false premises.
  • Back when I lived in Alabama, I remember a classmate saying to a forgetful young man, "I hope your phallus is longer than your memory." (Well, he said something else, but you get the drift.) Professor Bainbridge makes one wonder the same thing about Chris Matthews...

Ruthless Barbarism

There are days when I really, really wish I'd studied Arabic as well as Japanese. I know full well that the perspective one gets of a society from reading its own news in its own language is dramatically different from glancing at CNN. And when I read that an Iraqi terrorist group is threatening to burn alive an 18 year old boy, a 34 year old woman, and a 32 year old man unless Japan withdraws its 1,100 troops, I really want to know what's going on in the heart of Islam.

The instinctive reaction isn't pretty: this is barbaric, grotesque, inexcusable. Of the three people involved, the boy was in Iraq to study the effects of depleted uranium on Iraqi children. He's actually against the war, and the previous occupation. And yet in Al-Jazeera's news piece, it can't even bring itself to call kidnappers threatening to burn three aid-workers to death 'terrorists.' Indeed, there's not a hint of disapproval.

But my instinctive reaction is tempered by awareness that I'm not informed fully. There are almost certainly those who've spoke out against this, who are shouting with their full voice that this has nothing to do with them, with their religion. While others will respond that 'it goes without saying,' surely there will be some major figure making sure that it's said anyway?

According to the Washington Post, this is the work of an Islamic group, Saraya al-Mujaheddin. I can't imagine that, were the shoe on the other foot and some fundamentalist Christian group were threatening to put three individuals to the torch, there wouldn't be outcry from the Pope downwards throughout the Christian world. Even with the invasion of Iraq, which historically isn't an anomaly as far as warfare is concerned, there have been those--Noam Chomsky springs to mind immediately--who have dissented and been quick to condemn Western action. Perhaps it's not a majoritarian view, or perhaps it is, but it's there and it's vocal.

Whereas I've been spending an hour here looking for official--or even unofficial--condemnation of Saraya by even a single Islamic group. The Muslim Student Association has nothing on their website, although to be fair their last news update seems to have been March 28th. The Muslim Public Affairs Council is similarly out-of-date, so can't be presumed silent. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has a press release up which admits only an anaemic "three Japanese hostages are being threatened with death," one line in a piece on 'ongoing violence.' So far, that's the only reference I've got.

So I'm going to put a request out to my readers, some of whom doubtlessly have more information than I do. Here's three non-military personnel being threatened with immolation, supposedly by a group acting under color of their faith. Some of you certainly have better contacts within Muslim organizations, a better knowledge of the Iraqi blogosphere. Can anyone find me a whole-hearted, unconditional condemnation of these men? I'm sure it's out there, but without a better knowledge of Arabic and the relevant areas of the Web, I can't find it.

NOTE: The question above is honestly made, because I want to find what I'm asking for. The blogosphere is not always the most considerate of places, however, and it strikes me that some might take this as an invitation to leave tasteless or hurtful comments. Please remember that I reserve the right to delete comments, ban commentators, or take other action as I see fit. On this entry, more than most, I mean this: mind your manners. Please be assured that offensive comments will be removed, and if you find one that hasn't been, it simply means that I've not had time to edit yet.

April 07, 2004

Screwtape is right again...

Will Baude comments upon two pieces here and then tries to defend the idea that casual accusations of stupidity can be part of good humor. I'm far more skeptical. I don't disagree at all that humor and even mockery has its place--most readers of Three Years of Hell will have noticed I put a reasonable amount of mockery in my posts--but I think that place is more limited than Baude asserts.

For one thing, mockery should normally target not people but their actions. The wisest man will occasionally do the dumbest of acts, and it's both valuable and amusing to point out that the emperor has no clothes. [1] There's a big difference between this style of mockery and the direct insult: "George Bush is stupid," "Bob Dole is humorless," or "Jack Schmoe needs to get a life." As Baude points out, both may be funny--but the latter, no matter how witty, is purely insulting and I'm not convinced should be acceptable.

Secondly, if one is going to mock someone else, then the accusation has to be just, or else the joke risks stating more about the speaker than his intended victim. Suppose, for instance, that prior to Martha Stewart's recent fall I had caught her making some very small error in dress sense, and decided to highlight it, attaching perfectly withering commentary. Anyone who didn't already share my (hypothetical) loathing of Ms. Stewart would be unimpressed, particularly if I didn't have stylistic credentials to back up my bile. Indeed, to someone who approved of Ms. Stewart in general, I'd look rather petty.

I think that in many cases 'humor' is used as an excuse for behavior that would otherwise be inexcusable. As is often the case, the argument here can be better made by C. S. Lewis' demon Screwtape. (Remember that he's teaching a young tempter how to corrupt a soul, and that the 'Enemy' is God.):

The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English, who take their "sense of humour" so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is "mean"; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twists his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer "mean" but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful--unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke. And this temptation can be almost entirely hidden from your patient by that English seriousness about Humour. Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as "Puritanical" or as betraying a "lack of humour."

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.

--C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter XI

[1]: But as far as this kind of humor goes, even here mocking the subject is a kind of back-handed compliment. To quote Neil Gaiman, "It has always been the perogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But the half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor." Mocking the actions, or even opinions, of George Bush or John Kerry is tolerable precisely because whatever I might say about them, they remain powerful and influential people. Were I to mock a rising-1L in the same way, however, I'd be justifiably viewed as arrogant and uncouth.

O'Rourke Alert

One big advantage of Gulf War II: looks like we'll get a sequel to Give War A Chance.

Yes, there's another P.J. O'Rourke book on the horizon...

Here's Hoping My Children Have Left Feet and Right Feet

A combination of talking to one friend about online dating and another friend about the Daily Kos led me to Act for Love, an online dating site that 'lets you "take action" while "getting action."' To let the site's description speak for itself:

When you use Act For Love, you have access to a network of over 1,000,000 personals via our network of Spring Street partners (including very cool folks like Salon, The Onion, the Village Voice, etc.). So yes, your "one in a million" match is out there. And if you want to search just for fellow activists, you can do that too -- just check "Search only profiles from Act For Love" under "Advanced Search."

Now, by 'fellow activists,' I think we can assume that Act for Love means 'left wing activists.' Certainly, Spring Street used to provide personals for 'cool folks' like The Economist, and I'm sure they're in cahoots with other rightish websites as well, but they aren't mentioned. Furthermore, a look at the list of projects supported isn't exactly screaming bipartisanship.

I'm sure you're asking, "So what? There's a dating site for young and sexually active liberals. This, Tony, shouldn't be worth your time. Go read Con Law."

Well, yes, I should. But that last statement--"if you want to search just for fellow activists"--troubles me. Try as I might, I can't see limiting myself in a choice of bed partner, lover, wife, life-partner or whatever by political affiliation. And I sort of wonder about people who do.

Maybe going to a wedding recently has got me thinking about things more carefully, but I can't think of a single reason to check such a box. I can say without hesitation that I've dated across the political divide more times than I've stayed on my own turf, and it's generally been emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Not only that, but I think it hones tolerance in one of the few ways that's really important: it forces you to divide your feelings about a person from your feelings about their ideals.

There's a good reason that I rarely insult Democrats--either as a whole, or specific Democratic political candidates--by calling them stupid, pathetic, or anything of the sort. I can't do it without also implying that I've loved people too stupid to vote for such a candidate. Since I've shared beds with some hard-core lefties, such accusations that the left has more than its share of morons suggests I have a strong taste for idiots as bed partners. I'll always be happy to attack their positions--especially the ones that are stupid. But it's perfectly possible for smart men and women to hold stupid opinions, as anybody who's kept a diary for ten years and glances back at it occasionally can tell you. Show me a Republican married to a Democrat and I'll show you someone who's learned the fine art of diplomacy. [1]

Anyway, Reg State reading still awaits tonight and I have other things to consider. But if any of my readers decide to click through to Act for Love and sample the world of online-dating, please don't check that box. After all, even after Lawrence v. Texas, the one place that consenting couples of any sexuality are not allowed to share is the voting booth.

UPDATE: The Class Maledictorian takes issue with my point by making it: "I venture to say that most of the people on Act for Love don't just think that Republicans are wrong, but that they are bad: a morally deluded or intentionally wicked force for evil." She concludes with: "If a very sweet and intelligent person holds morally repugnant beliefs, I think they should be held accountable for those beliefs instead of given a pass because they are "nice." Of course, not everyone ties goodness to acceptance of proper philosophical positions as I do."

But as flattering as it is to belong to the 'evil' party, a dogmatic view that a right-wing activist must be not only incorrect but morally suspect is rather what I object to. Furthermore, let's be clear what we're talking about here: people who believe that they should limit their dating pool on an online dating service to people who affirmatively support their political positions. By clicking that box, one is likely eliminating anyone who isn't a left wing activist, even if they're politically neutral. [2] This would seem to take those checking that box outside the realm of the tolerant and into the realm of the dogmatic: those for whom politics has become a religion, and a particularly fundamentalist one at that.

[1]: Where diplomacy is defined as 'the art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way as they look forward to the trip.'

[2]: Actually, they're also excluding any left-wing activists who have signed up through The Onion, Nerve.com, etc., which given the left-wing tilt of that area of the internet seems a bad dating strategy altogether...

April 06, 2004

Prof. Perspectives Meets Monty Python

Long ago, in my high school days, I was faced with an exam question on philosophers of the Enlightenment. Since I had a bit of time at the end of the exam, I used a quick mnemonic tool to make certain I'd covered all my bases. That tool was Monty Python's "Philosophers Song."

Now that we're reaching the end of our Perspectives in Legal Theory class, it's surprising just how useful the song might be again. Authors we've studied in bold, authors who've been mentioned in lectures or reading in italics:

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the raising of the wrist,
Socrates himself was permanently pissed...
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away
Half a crate of whiskey every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
"I drink, therefore I am"
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed!

So it seems we're more of a 'second verse' class this time...

How to Torture an Asimov Fan

Send them a link to the new trailer for I, Robot.

Asimov's old Robot stories posed questions on the 'Three Laws of Robotics' that kept coming back to me in my Legal Methods and Perspectives courses. (If you're looking for good examples of the problems of statutory interpretation and indeterminacy of meaning, you could do worse.) One of the cardinal rules of most of Asimov's robot stories was the the rules worked, the robots actually were attempting to follow the three laws, and whatever injury occurred was a problem of interpretation or, often, human nature. But this trailer makes the film look like a bad rehash of Terminator 3.

UPDATE: This comic seems to agree...

Dog Bites Air, Misses Man

Apparently while I was gone, much of the blogosphere has been decrying events at DailyKos, where it was written:

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

I hate to take on both Instapundit and Prof. Volokh, but I really don't see why so much digital-ink has been spilled excoriating Kos. As a political blogger, he is thorough and a useful source of links to raw data, but his commentary as never been much more than histrionic vitriol. Sure, he's gloating over the deaths of some human beings and the desecration of their bodies, but a quick glance through his subsequent commentary shows that he knows himself that he's not always discreet, and that it hurts him. In the meantime, he's feeding his core audience: people who not only are liberals, but quite literally hate their opposition.

So why the shock and awe that his political and ethical indiscretions now reach aesthetically distasteful proportions by revelling in the deaths of human beings? This isn't even 'dog bites man' stuff. Instapundit's headline "LEFTY BLOGGER KOS DOES HIMSELF NO CREDIT" is about as surprising as "THREE YEARS OF HELL REVEALS ITS CONSERVATIVE SLANT--AUTHOR DECLARES HE MIGHT VOTE FOR BUSH."

DailyKos isn't on my reading list for the same reason that I don't take Rush Limbaugh very seriously--though Rush has a better sense of humor and in the old days could laugh at himself. A crowd of people whose politics are driven by hatred, no matter how smart they are, are simply unedifying to mind or soul. The last time I said this I took a great deal of flack, but it holds true. If you want left-wing news, there's better places to look than those who dismiss their opponents by assuming a lack of intelligence, or are blinded by passionate fervors.

April 04, 2004

Love, Memory, and the Kindness of Old Friends

I'm writing now from the third of a trio of houses, where I've been loaned a computer and internet connection. For the past three nights, old companions have offered to put me up in their homes, often with little to no notice. They have given me wine and food and gossip, offered up spare beds and couches, taken hours from their days in order to welcome me back into their fold. This comfort has framed six hours in an English manor watching an old friend embark on a new and fantastic phase of her life. It's resulted in a great deal of overly-purple prose, and I'm almost embarassed to share this with you, but at the same time this short trip has left me refreshed, grounded, and grateful in a way that's almost religious. I hope you'll forgive me for inflicting the excess verbiage on you, and take it as an honest wish to somehow feebly share this.

First thing's first...

Forget the flight, an eminently moderate affair with the normal number of screaming babies, obnoxious fellow-travellers, and cramped legroom. Leaving customs I was met by three of my college friends with a house near Gatwick. We didn't get back from the airport until 1 AM, and they'd offered to drive me to the wedding the next day, but Mr. R and Ms. G (who will be getting married themselves this summer, when my job will keep me from attending) opened bottle after bottle of wine from her father's survey of French vineyards. Glasses got refilled, and discussion moved from movies we'd seen to the more serious topic of weddings and babies. We've reached the time of life when such things are becoming more common among our acquaintances. We're growing old.

The Wedding

R. and Mr. M, one of our oldest friends, drove me off in the morning, still slightly hung-over. A combination of expectation and jet-lag played merry hell with my metabolism, and it was a good thing that M. was there to navigate. The bride had picked a lovely but rather isolated manor house as the backdrop for her wedding, and as the car inched its way up the narrow lane to the venue we were never convinced that we weren't lost.

I arrived a little early and waited for the wedding party to appear. Langshott Manor, though claiming to date from the sixteenth century, shows itself quite well for its age. Most of the tudor-style rooms were of adequate height, although I had to duck in some of the doorways. White china and tablecloths set against a background of oak, plush and ornate chairs, crisp and thoroughly polite staff--the Bride had arranged a paradigmatic English wedding. It's not often that I dress in my best suit and a pressed white shirt and yet feel frumpy and somewhat out of place.

My present had been unwrapped early by the security screeners at La Guardia, and hastily rewrapped before my arrival, its original elegance somewhat overwhelmed by the hasty, clumsy, and somewhat drunken application of Scotch Tape. If anyone noticed, however, they were kind enough not to comment.

It's tempting to describe the ceremony in detail, but that somehow feels an invasion of the privacy of the Bride and Groom. I'll limit myself to a few brief glimpses. The couple managed everything except the weather (also typically English). The Bride's party consisted of friends, local family, and a large contingent who had flown from Thailand; the Groom's party spanned family to friends. Somehow, the ceremony combined an air of elegance and informality: the Bride and Groom themselves were models of grace, but the onlookers were warm and genuinely delighted. I've sat through weddings before where patience as been a duty exercised on behalf of friendship, but this was infused--every second--with an honest joy for the couple that radiated from all involved.

Even the Gods of Irony seemed to take the day off, and although my creaky camera batteries seemed determined to fail, they perked themselves up long enough to snap a few frames after the Bride and Groom signed the wedding register. I have one photo that's fixed in my memory. She's looking up at him, and he's standing behind her, and for a moment they've turned away from the cameras in front of which they've been dutifully smiling. And in that instant, when they're looking at each other... there's something being said between them that I'm certain that I don't understand. It's some kind of culmination--that the ceremony is over, that their life is beginning, I don't know. But it's beautiful, and every so often over this weekend I've been taking my little digital camera out of my bag and calling up that image as a reminder of a moment of utter, utter joy.

Just in case they read this: Mr. and Mrs. W., thank you very much for inviting me to your wedding. Sometimes people as cynical as I need these road to Damascus moments to scrape the plaque off our souls. It reminds us that when we caution others to be wary and careful, when we remind them of all the ways in which the world is a painful and dangerous place, we are simply and utterly wrong. If a mind can make a hell of heaven, still every so often heaven makes its whispers heard.

Much Regained, Much Remembered
After the ceremony, one of the Bride's friends approached me with a little bundle of irony. Remember that dictionary that I lost in the post when I returned to America? The one that I bought again last month? Well, long ago I had two of them. One, however, I loaned to a friend of the Bride's in my second year of college, almost ten years ago. At the wedding, this friend introduced herself again, and gave me a small bag with the first Nelson's I ever bought. So once again, I'm back at college with two copies of the same dictionary.

Events like that tend to echo strangely with me. A few years ago while I was living in Oxford, another American student brought me a glass butterfly with broken wings so that I could repair it. This I did, but she never quite came back to pick it up. When I left to return home, one of my Oxford friends offered to keep it until I could take it home with me safely. I picked it up again tonight so that I can take it home and mail in to Boston, where its owner is getting married next month.

And then to Oxford
I'd left the fury of New York exam preparation barely thinking about what I was going to do when I got here. I had arranged somewhere to stay on Friday, and on Sunday, but on Saturday I was only saved by the intervention of Ms. F, who kindly offered the couch in her home. Her fellow housemate and landlord, Mr. A., didn't object to unexpected visitors, and so I got to recover from the unexpected emotion of the wedding by indulging in one of my favorite Oxford rituals.

Ms. F. lives in a house with an attached conservatory, which although colder than the rest of the house is very nicely ventilated. Over the years, Ms. F. had often invited me to have dinner or drinks, and one of us would bring port and the other cigars. Neither of us smoke that often, but we'd settle our nerves by fiddling with cigar-preparations, sipping cheap-but-cheerful tawnies, and doing our best to keep the bloody cigars lit as the conservatory filled with bitter, flavorful smoke. I'd tell her of my latest romance, or we'd talk about our work, or she'd hint about her writing.

This time I'm afraid that I was less than coherent, because if my description of the wedding above is unpolished in recollection, immediately after the fact it was made blurry by the nearness of emotion. And after I'd spoken out the rough draft, she sighed and smoked and told me about her own changes. She and her own romance (the Mr. M. mentioned above) are soon to leave Oxford on a year's trip around the globe. As she told me of their plans for America and Asia, I twirled my port glass and wondered about how things were changing.

The Oxford Thai
That was last night. I woke up late today and wandered off for lunch with Ms. F. Afterwards her landlord insisted that as it was raining, he'd drive me to the last of my three shelters. There I found six or seven of my old friends sitting around an obscure and complicated board game in the front room. It was a familiar Sunday ritual, and when I saw it the wave of nostalgia that had been washing over me was complete. I was back in Oxford.

When I say 'Oxford,' I often mean not only the university, but the Cowley area to the east where many of the older students and young working adults live. It's small and vibrant, with a strong ethnic community from India and Pakistan. (If you're in Oxford, this is the best place in the city to get a variety of quality curry.) With the sun shining through a cold breeze, Cowley has a smell completely different from New York: the same auto exhaust tinged with slightly more diesel; Morrocan, Indian, Thai, Chinese, or Polish restaurants open their doors and expel brief hints of meats and spices; and despite the traffic and the commerce, there's a hint of trees and gardens. This time of year, there's even the promise of barbeques to come.

Most of my friends live around this area, congregated in house-shares. They give their houses creative, amusing, or ironic names like "Fraggle Rock" (cheerful, happy people), "Little Shop" (with one man, two women, and a really scary plant), or "Bosnia" (a poorly-maintained but inexpensive residence which after the housewarming party looked like a bomb had hit it). Every summer some people swap houses or new ones open up. And here I was, walking into a front room again, and listening to them welcome me back to the fold. Whatever else had changed, this was constant.

And suddenly I realized that even if things at Columbia went as badly as I could imagine, even if I never became a lawyer, this would be here: friends, companions, people who collectively or individually knew all my secrets. For an evening I let every concern I had drift back to New York, and greedily let them fill me with comfort and protection and acceptance.

Finally 8:30 rolled around, and we bundled together in cars and drove to the Oxford Thai. Mr. M. and I had first come here--an unpretentious place with simple furniture, modest prices, and great Thai food--as a weekly habit several years ago, shortly after it opened. Then he invited a few friends, as did I. They invited others. In two years, this has now snowballed to the point where not only do we often take up the whole basement on Sunday nights, but we're often spilling over onto the ground floor as well.

And here the story of this trip comes to a fitting and circular ending. Because the owner of the Oxford Thai knows me. I was introduced to him all those years ago by the mother of the Bride. Tonight I got to tell him about her getting married yesterday, just before I slipped down into basement to follow me old friends, where I could listen to how their lives were changing, learn how they were growing older, and meet the newer additions to our circle of friends.

As I write this, Exam Watch reads just over thirty days to the moment when I'll sit down to start my Constitutional Law exam. Before I left, I wondered if I could justify the time this trip has taken, the classes I'll miss on Monday. But now that my friends have gone to bed and this weekend is over, I'm sitting here writing with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart and a strange and quiet determination. The work can be made up. The money this cost can be earned, paid back with interest. And when I sit down to take that still-fearful exam, I'm going to do it with perspective: that this law I'm studying is my dream, and I want it not because of my grade-obsessed myopia but because it's the life I've chosen. And if I work myself near to madness for grades and career, take an eighty-hour job for money and foresake marriage or family, it will be because--and this is true--I deeply, dearly love this odd and strange thing called the Law. And if that choice doesn't give me the smile on the face of the Bride in that photo, or the merry laughter and cheery openness of my friends as I walked into their parlour, then I have merely made a wrong choice. Choices can be undone. The world will remain the same wonderful, joyful place that we watched as the Groom said his vows; people will remain the same lovely, bewildering madness that they have always been. And to my friends who welcomed me this weekend, I'd like to give thanks for providing me with their comfort, their friendship, and the standards by which I should measure my decisions.

April 02, 2004

"An Unmitigated Disaster"

This would describe the current state of my Con Law outline. And I'm about 100 pages behind in the reading, although in my section that means about a day.
Frankly, no other course is better off as far as prep-work goes. Expect my 'CODE RED' warnings to appear much earlier this term.

Which is of course why I'm heading off to England this weekend in order to see one of my best friends get married. I'm doing all sorts of things to tell myself that I'll use the plane flight time productively. I've printed out a bundle of old outlines to reference, printed out a past exam for each class, and even cut up my Con Law book so I can take just the pages that I need with me.

But who am I kidding? At least I hope I'll come back more at peace with the world and ready to buckle down...

April 01, 2004

Orthodoxy (or, Hey guys!)

Professor Bainbridge blogs about how the American Constitution Society is the least necessary organization in legal education. (Well, he doesn't so much blog about it as link to this story.) I'm not sure I'd go that far, although I'm sure it would annoy Professor Dorf. But sometimes I do wonder about the prevailing orthodoxy here at CLS. You can never quite figure out who's supposed to be the oppressed, who's dominant, who's in need of re-education. Take this email that I received today regarding an upcoming event by a student society (not ACS):

Think “You Guys,” “Chairman,” and “Spokesman” are ok to say? Join us for a student-led workshop and discussion about exactly what’s wrong with this language—and how language contributes to oppression of women and people of color. The connections between racist and sexist speech will also be discussed. Pizza and cookies (from Camille’s) will be served!

Note the emphasis: not a discussion on what might be wrong with this language, but what is wrong with it. Whatever the 'discussion' is going to be about, it certainly doesn't seem to be a debate on whether there is something wrong with 'Chairman.' The conclusion to that matter has already been reached.

The email certainly leads me to wonder exactly which students the author was hoping to draw to the event. Presumably those who think that such language isn't acceptable are already well-versed in why they think so, and hardly need a workshop. Which means that--and here my inner-marketer is speaking--a rational announcement should be appealing to those who aren't already true believers. While 'come see how you've been oppressing women and minorities' might be a good pitch to someone who is looking for a bit of self-flagellation, I doubt the audience for re-education sessions is that large. And the language does not seem to be designed to reach to those who disagree but might be willing to be convinced.

Perhaps there's more debate involved than the email suggests, or perhaps the organizations involved have a smaller target audience than I'm assuming. Perhaps I'm reading the email less charitably than it deserves--with exams approaching stress makes me ever more curmudgeonly. Certainly more and more of the mails I've received recently have had an air of, "Now you see the violence inherent in the system!"

Giving The Devil His Due

Admit it, folks, I'm right. (1)
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Ezula, I Hate You (4)
falkin42 wrote: You might try Hijackthis. It saves ... [more]

Not Entirely Welcome Headline Change (3)
Paul G wrote: The World Star Gazette, looks like ... [more]

Who pays any attention to the syntax of things (3)
Life and Law wrote: Sorry for all the trackbacks. I ch... [more]

Two Blogging Points (14)
Anthony wrote: What, the explanation above about '... [more]

Perspectives and Reg State Help (0)
One for the Good Guys (0)
The Course Evaluation Email Mob (3)
Alison wrote: FWIW, the do actually stop once you... [more]

Change of Allegiance II (0)
Danger is the Nature of the Darkness (3)
Anthony wrote: Indeed, much more appropriate!... [more]

Harold Guerney wrote: Someone please ask Mrs. Wrenn if sh... [more]

Everything Can Be Blamed On Bush (2)
Anthony wrote: But MG2, that's the point: it a... [more]

Extreme Textualism (1)
Chris Geidner wrote: An important -- and appreciated -- ... [more]

Inappropriate Banner Ads (3)
Len Cleavelin wrote: Ah, but do you think the Kerry ad p... [more]

Triage (0)
Too much (11)
Jon Rowe, Esq. wrote: If the readings are too much, then ... [more]

With the pricking of my thumb... (3)
Len Cleavelin wrote: I'm not familiar with Ezula, but it... [more]

Google Agrees With You (0)
Congratulations to Professor Yin (2)
A. Rickey wrote: :) So as to avoid having to comment... [more]

Washington Revisionism (0)
Ruthless Barbarism (13)
bkp wrote: I don't know what the hell goes thr... [more]

Screwtape is right again... (4)
David Mercer wrote: Not so S.D. If one says "Mayor G... [more]

O'Rourke Alert (0)
Here's Hoping My Children Have Left Feet and Right Feet (17)
cc wrote: I believe that I am a reasonable pe... [more]

Prof. Perspectives Meets Monty Python (1)
Lyndsey wrote: I love this! While I've never quite... [more]

How to Torture an Asimov Fan (1)
Jonathan Link wrote: What do you expect from a Will Smit... [more]

Dog Bites Air, Misses Man (5)
Anna wrote: "A crowd of people whose politics a... [more]

Love, Memory, and the Kindness of Old Friends (5)
Kathy wrote: To both Tony and Martin - it's been... [more]

"An Unmitigated Disaster" (5)
cristina wrote: that, and no one else can drink as ... [more]

Orthodoxy (or, Hey guys!) (8)
BLS wrote: If 'actress' disappears, shouldn't ... [more]

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


Projects I've Been Involved With

A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

Syndicated from other sites

The Columbia Continuum
Other Blogs by CLS students

De Novo
Theory and Practice
Liberal Federalism?
Good News, No Foolin'

Nancy Pelosi covers her head and visits the head of John the Baptist.
Vlogging in from Austin.
Omikase/"American Idol"

Jeremy Blachman's Weblog: 2007
Happy Passover
Looking for Advice re: LA
Google Books

Stay of Execution
What I've Learned From This Blog, or My Yellow Underpants
The End
Mid Thirties

Legal Theory Blog
Program Announcement: Summer Programs on the Constitution at George Washington
Book Announement: Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy by Whittington
Entry Level Hiring Report

The Volokh Conspiracy
Making the Daily Show:
Civil unions pass New Hampshire House:
Profile of Yale Law Dean Harold Koh:

Crescat Sententia
Hillary II
Politics and Principal/Agents

Law Dork
Election Approaches
Following Lewis
New Jersey High Court: 'Same Rights and Benefits'

Surveying the revival
Birds of paradise

Half the Sins of Mankind
Cheney Has Spoken Religious conservatives who may ...
Does Ahmadinejad Know Christianity Better Than MSN...
Borders as Genocide In discussions of climate chan...

For lovers of garden gnomes...and any China-freaks out there
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Does SOX explain the flight from NY?
More Litvak on SOX effect on cross-listed firms
What did the market learn from internal controls reporting?

The Yin Blog
Iowa City = Riyadh
Jeffrey Rosen's "The Supreme Court"
Geek alert -- who would win between Battlestar Galactica and the U.S.S. Enterprise?

Letters of Marque
And there we are

Signing Off

Dark Bilious Vapors
Jim (The Waco Kid): Where you headed, cowboy?
Bart: Nowhere special.
Jim: Nowhere special. I always wanted to go there.
Bart: Come on.
--"Blazing Saddles"

Technical Difficulties... please stand by....
The Onion should have gotten a patent first....

Legal Ethics Forum
Interesting new Expert DQ case
Decency, Due Care, and The Yoo-Delahunty Memorandum
Thinking About the Fired U.S. Attorneys

Ex Post
Student Symposium- Chicago!
More Hmong - Now at Law School
Good Samaritan Laws: Good For America?

Appellate Law & Practice
Those turned over documents
CA1: courts can’t help people acquitted of crimes purge the taint of acquitted conduct
CA1: restrictions on chain liquor stores in Rhode Island are STILL okay

the imbroglio
High schoolers turn in plagiarism screeners for copyright infringement
Paris to offer 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations to rent by the end of the year

The Republic of T.
The Secret of the Snack Attack
links for 2007-04-04
Where You Link is What You Get

Distractions for stressed law students

The Other Side: Twisted AnimationsSomething Positive, a truly good webcomic

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