August 24, 2006

Grumpy Old Man Alert: "In My Day, We Didn't Have the 'SONI' System Like You Youngsters. We Read Two Hundred Spam Emails From Every Society Imaginable, And We LIKED It."

Forwarded from a current Columbia Law Student, from one of Student Services' fantastic new staff members:

We have put in place a new system, the Student Organization News and Information (SONI) System, which allows student organizations and journals to email students directly and allows you to select to which student organization and journal email lists you wish to subscribe or unsubscribe.
We hope that you find this system a helpful way to receive information from student organizations, and a good way to cut down on your email traffic.

The SONI system works as follows. All students in the Law School are initially subscribed to each student organization's email list. You may choose to unsubscribe from any list, at which point you will no longer receive email from that particular organization or journal. If you wish, you can later choose to resubscribe.

What a fantastic idea! I'm sure this entry will attract a lot of groans from the Class of 2006 and older, though. They can take heart: scuttlebutt is that you still can't avoid the daily deluge of emails from the public interest folks.

June 09, 2006

Cool Law School Tool

Dear Wormwood: [1]

I apologize for the short missive, but I felt this might save you some time in your first few weeks at law school. Check out Google's new home page tool. Instead of the austere and simple Google search page, the homepage allows you to clutter up your desktop with lots of little applets.

Most of these are not worth the screen space. But even if you're an austere minimalist and the thought of burdening Google's simple homepage offends you, it might still be worthwhile to add one tool: the USD Law School Utilities. (You may need to log into Google homepage for that link to work.) The toolkit includes links for looking up cases, bits of the US code, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the UCC. For some of the features, you may have to wait until you're given a Westlaw password, but most of the searches use free online sources.

Hope this saves you some time, dear nephew!

[1]: As longtime readers know, my Letters to Wormwood contain advice for those considering law school. I think it only appropriate now that I've graduated to treat Wormwood as if he has now been accepted to a major school and will start in the fall.

May 17, 2006

And So It Ends

Tomorrow (or actually later this morning) begins the first of two days of graduation. One is commencement, one is graduation, and I'll admit to being somewhat unclear as to what the significance is. The alchemy of law school is strange, and all that I know is that sometime after Wednesday morning and before Thursday afternoon the letters "J.D."--for better or worse--attach permanently to my name.

After the typical tribulation that comes with modern air travel, my family converged on New York today. Luggage was lost, gypsy cabs stumbled into, available relatives helped with packing my room, and yet we all managed to meet in a fantastic hotel bar just before it closed shop. (Through the normal combination of luck and prudence that blesses my family, we had just enough points from the right hotel chain to get good rooms.)

Leave it to my brother to make clear to me the wonder of it. As readers of my blog know, I meander across the globe with the air of someone never too certain of where he should be. Today he's in London! Tomorrow Osaka! The day after tomorrow . . . who knows? Living far from kith and kin is just my way of life. And yet every so often my closest family make a point to trek out to wherever I am. Long ago they joined me for winter in Kyoto, where in an out-of-the-way hotel in Arashiyama we were blessed with a blanket of crisp white snow on Christmas morning. I can't imagine what strings they had to pull to all come to England for my undergraduate graduation, but there they were. And today, despite lost luggage, missed flights, changed plans and the worst that air travel could accost them with, we managed to gather in the hotel bar and toast the coming few days of celebration.

I'll keep blogging through the bar exam, of course, because until then it isn't really over. But in the next two days, the current phase draws to an end. As it does so, I'd like to leave you with the signposts that mark my four corners of heaven:

  • A dirty Grey Goose vodka martini decorated with olives
  • A crisp Ketel One martini with a lemon twist
  • A Jack Daniels and water (old habits die hard)
  • A gimlet as Raymond Chandler liked it

Place these on the table and garnish with background to taste: bright billboards of Times Square, starlight reflected from the Kamogawa River or muggy autumn air from a back porch in Nowheresville, Michigan. Think what you will of the drinks themselves, but for me they mean paradise simply because I know who is seated behind them.

Also, thank you to those of you who've stuck with me throughout these three years, and for readers who joined along the way. I've loved listening to your comments, and I've enjoyed knowing you were there more than I can possibly say.

May 06, 2006

Finally finished...

I just realized that Thursday and Friday passed without me updating to say I'm finished. Suffice it to say, I've been recuperating.

Just a few more days until graduation, and then it's the bar exam. I promise to give you some updates between now and then. I've spent the last two days mostly sitting in the sun and reading fiction, and with my notebook on the blink outdoor updates are a bit tough.

April 28, 2006

Bad Timing

So right after my Securities exam is finished, I come home and, as a matter of habit, check my mail and glance on Amazon. The little Gold Box with daily special offers is blinking, so I click it to find that three of my ten offers are for... securities hornbooks.

April 09, 2006

Reflections on an Empty Classroom

I really need to settle down and get to work (less than 20 days to Securities!), so despite the fact that it's a beautiful sunny day, I'm sitting in one of Columbia's larger lecture rooms trying to do four days work of studying in an afternoon. I've spent hours--when you total it up, probably months--in this room, but only now that it's empty can I really appreciate some of the strange background noises.

For instance, I just realized that the ghostly murmur coming from behind me was the sound of air escaping through one of the cracked doors. It seems that there is some difference in air pressure or temperature between the large lecture theater and the hallway outside that causes a significant and noisy breeze.

I'm surprised it took me three years to notice that.

April 03, 2006

Interesting, From Amazon

No one even bothers to point out anymore that when a classmate sends "LOL" in an instant message, they aren't really laughing out loud. On the other hand, I nearly had an embarassing outburst in securities this morning when Amazon sent me this email:

[placeholder for winning team] Wins the NCAA Tournament!

Congratulations, [placeholder for winning team]! As someone who has purchased sports products from, we thought you should be the first to see our selection of NCAA championship products.

In case anyone cares about Amazon's pick in March Madness, you only find out by viewing the HTML version of the email, which boldly announces that "UCLA Wins!" I imagine Professor Bainbridge will be pleased.

I can't recall every having bought sports products from Amazon anyway.

April 02, 2006

Roundup of Posts on Olati Johnson

Surprisingly, there's still some posting going on regarding an New York Sun editorial attacking Columbia's hiring of Olati Johnson. (My post on the subject is here .) For those keeping track, here's the back and forth:

  • The original New York Sun editorial.
  • An American Thinker post supporting the Sun's view.
  • A De Novo post by Columbia-blogger PG arguing that allegations of Lee Bollinger's influence are untenable.
  • Dean Schizer responds to the New York Sun (via The Right Coast).
  • Professor Bainbridge updates his post with new information from Columbia professor Avery Katz. Katz specifically argues that CFIF could not prove that the memo taken from the Senate Judiciary Committee's server was reflective of "what actually happened in Kennedy's office." That's an intriguing assertion, and one I hadn't heard before. It makes sense as a possibility: a draft taken off a hard drive may never have been printed. [1] (A similar letter from Prof. Katz appears at the Right Coast, along w/ Dean Schizer's letter.)
  • Finally, the author of the original editorial, Curt Levey, responds to critics at the blog of the Committee for Justice. (This blog even got a humble mention, which explains one uptick in my server logs.)

Near as I can tell, that's it. Much like PG, I still find Levey's original allegations unlikely in the extreme, and without further evidence they can pretty much be relegated to the realms of conspiracy theory.

Indeed, if there's any concern over the appointment, I'd think Levey's looking in entirely the wrong place. The one at least somewhat undisputed allegation [2] to come out of Memogate involved Ms. Johnson forwarding an email misdirected from a Republican staffer to Democratic colleagues. As I mentioned at the time, I'd not think such a thing was illegal under the CFAA (though that statute is notoriously broad-reaching), and quite probably it doesn't constitute an ethical breach. Yet let's face it: capitalizing on an opponent's error in a highly partisan environment may be legal, ethical and even expected, but it doesn't pass the "do unto others" test. Were I a 1L again and assigned to Prof. Johnson's class--and a grade very important to law review, jobs and my future thus sat in her hands--would I feel comfortable, particularly were I a more outspoken conservative? I don't know. [3]

That, however, is a relatively minor concern. Indeed, if you want to mark such worries down as grade paranoia in a law student, you must realize that it's not half so off the ranch as Levey's original contention: that any offer from Columbia is inevitably tainted by Lee Bollinger, and that the faculty is inherently conflicted by his presence. [4] There's is no evidence the university president was involved in the decisionmaking, and reason to suspect he wasn't. Such shenanigans would require the silent and complicit consent of any conservative in the faculty, the staff and even in the student body. I find it close to incredible that if Johnson were appointed for any reason other than her scholarship--by all accounts excellent--Columbia students would hear no gossip, but learn it first in the unbridled speculations of a New York Sun editorialist who provides not a shred of documentation to back up his words. Heck, the Sun can't even drag the reporter's favorite playmate, the 'unnamed source,' out of the shadows!

This kind of "hit piece" in which a reporter rambles about appearances of impropriety and murmurs darkly about possible payoffs does nothing but wound the credibility of the reporter. Maybe Levey's co-blogger John Lott could explain how this is just as true when attacking professors as it is when one targets Justice Scalia?

[1]: Prof. Katz's argument with regards to the state ethics committee seems a bit strained: "In particular, the complaint that CFIF filed in New York state, the jurisdiction where Olati Johnson is licensed to practice law, was summarily dismissed on the merits -- a fact not mentioned in the Sun editorial." For the record, the ethics complaint against Republican Manuel Miranda, the other New York lawyer in Memogate, seems to have been dropped as well. I'm reminded about the humorous/apocryphal advice regarding how to guess on the MPRE: if asked what a lawyer is forbidden to do, never guess the option that seems least or most ethical. Is that really a guideline for what we want in professorial conduct?

[2]: One should take "undisputed" with a grain of salt here. I don't think I remember anything in that confrontation that wasn't disputed to some degree. I'm certain that I don't have all the facts.

[3]: For my liberal readers who find such a thought unthinkably implausible, I invite them to imagine that their 1L Con Law professor was the aforementioned Manuel Miranda. Then again, Prof. John Yoo seems to get along well enough at Berkeley. Well, okay, maybe not, but I can't find any Boalt students blogging about grading concerns.

[4]: Levey writes:

"Moreover, as my op-ed notes, the faculty should have thought about the message it was sending to Columbia's law students concerning ethics and conflicts of interest."

I think the message was right on target. Even assuming the Memogate documents were completely and utterly true in every way, Levey points to nothing that shows President Bollinger had anything to do with them (or even that he knew of them). I'm honestly befuddled at how Levey thinks we're being mislead about conflicts and ethics. I can't see him quoting a canon or a rule.

It's touching that Levey is worried about my education, so let me put him at ease: I do know that we don't get to make up conflicts rules for our convenience as we go along. There endeth the lesson.

March 28, 2006

Allah and the Taliban at Yale

Whatever the story with Columbia's new faculty member and misdirected email, it's certainly been overshadowed by recent events at Yale. As various and sundry have been reporting, Yale decided to admit Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former sort-of-ambassador of the Taliban, as a "special student." The predictable outrage shows no signs of quieting. Considering the situation this evening, two thoughts struck me. The first was a memory of Amy Lamboley's reaction to a comparison of Bush and the Taliban:

What bothers me most about the suggestion here that the Bush administration is equivalent to the Taliban is not that the comparison is unfair to Bush et. al., it is that it is unfair to the Taliban.

What made the Taliban a vile, despicable regime whose death went entirely unlamented was not the fact that they wished to enforce certain religious norms upon the population, but rather the brutally extreme measures to which they were willing to go in order to achieve that goal.

No question there. Buddha-busting throwbacks to the Dark Ages, Mr. Hashemi used to flack for folks whose idea of a good time was peeling off women's fingernails and tipping walls onto homosexuals. [1] No wonder these freaks didn't like religions that believed in reincarnation: such thoughts must be profoundly uncomfortable for the spiritual descendants of Torquemada who somehow misplaced his fashion sense. ("Our chief weapons are suprise, fear and a fanatical devotion to grubby-looking clerics in eyepatches!")

And then the second thought: what was Yale thinking? When millions of Afghanistani citizens could use a first-rate education, they're giving tuition subsidies to a former mouthpiece of the mullahs, ecstatic that they clutched to their busom a pre-renaissance man. (Apparently they were worried he might get scooped by Harvard.) What could this guy possibly have to offer? What could possibly be worth the inevitable--and justifiable--PR hit?

Then the answer hit me. Staring up at me from my desk was a copy of Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley's tale of a lovably devious spinmeister for the tobacco industry. When the protagonist Nick Naylor gets a bit down, one of his best friends and fellow sin-lobbyists tries to pick him up:

"Heyy," Polly said, taking him by the shoulder, "Where's the old Neo-Puritan dragon slayer? Where's the guy I used to know who could stand up in a crowded theater and shout, 'There's no link between smoking and disease'?" . . . [S]he was right. You want an easy job? Go flack for the Red Cross.

Well forget Big Tobacco: Hashemi used to do spin control for sadistic fundamentalist freaks to whom John Yoo's torture memos would seem less strained legal guidance than light foreplay. And maybe that's the answer. We all know that Yale is an institution in constant pursuit of excellence: maybe they were just trying to snag the very best.

[1]: Note to Yale: weren't some of you willing to go to the Supreme Court over don't ask, don't tell? Are the Taliban somehow more acceptable because they did ask?

March 27, 2006

New Professor at Columbia: Olati Johnson (and Electronic Trespass)

As my fellow Columbia blogger notes, our university faculty is soon to be graced with ex-Kennedy staffer Olati Johnson. PG notes that the new prof was involved in Memogate, one of the first topics on this blog that ever received wider attention. (Indeed, it's one of the two entries for which this blog has been cited in law reviews, albeit in an article by another one of the principals in the scandal. (PDF)

As you might recall, Memogate involved some confidential memoranda that were taken by a Republican staffer off unsecured drives on the Senate Judiciary computers. (For more information see here.) My interest in the case involved the meaning of "unauthorized access" under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but a memo supposedly by Prof. Johnson generated more heat among conservatives. (Source: CFIF. The memo itself is redacted.) After discussing the nomination of Julia Scott Gibbons for a seat on the 6th circuit with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Ms. Johnson wrote:

Elaine [Jones of the Legal Defense Fund] would like the Committee to hold off on any 6th Circuit nominees until the University of Michigan case regarding the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education is decided by the en banc 6th Circuit. This case is considered the most likely to go to the Supreme Court. [ed.--good call.] The thinking is that the current 6th Circuit will sustain the affirmative action program, but if a new judge with conservative views is confirmed before the case is decided, that new judge will be able, under 6th Circuit rules, to review the case and vote on it.

[Redacted] and I are a little concerned about the propriety of scheduling hearings based on the resolution of a particular case. . . . Nevertheless we recommend that Gibbons be scheduled for a later hearing: the Michigan case is important, and there is little damage that we can foresee in moving Clifton first.

Interestingly, however, this wasn't why I mentioned Prof. Johnson on my blog all those years ago. Rather, it was comparing the electronic "trespass" in Memogate with her own behavior with Republican email (sourced from here):
Late last year, [Ms. Johnson] opened her mailbox to find an email from a staffer in Senator Hatch's office. Attached to this email was a memo that was clearly misdirected. Nonetheless, she sent it on to several colleagues. Senator Kennedy's talking points on this matter include the line: "There was no impropriety, as the information sent to [Olati Johnson] was not confidential or privileged information." Kennedy had no problem with an aide handing on a document that clearly didn't belong to her when it had been misappropriated through the fault of a user. But when it was misdirected through the fault of an administrator, a standard which should be higher, he's talking of the next Watergate.

Suffice it to say, the literature on inadvertent disclosure is complex, lengthy and difficult, and given that I have seen no suggestion that the letter was a privileged legal document, the legal ethics rules probably aren't on point. (One discussion from New York is here.) I'll leave the nettiquette-level propriety of the act as a debate for my readers.

For the record, I think the "Johnson/Bollinger" collusion claptrap being muttered elsewhere is utter nonsense, and no credit at all to the conservatives spouting it. In other news, it seems Prof. Johnson has done at least some blogging, always a good thing.

March 22, 2006

Not-So-Sobering Numbers

Taking a few minutes away from his regular demands for the impeachment, defenestration or perhaps just plain old tar-and-feathering of President Bush, Ambivalent Imbroglio writes down a few suggestions for those 3Ls who feel they're "up to their eyeballs in debt."

I've never met Mr. AI, but all I can say is that he must be a very tall man. When I was measured for my cap and gown yesterday they claimed I was 6'3", and my debt load would seem to wholly block my vision.

At the end of three years, these are not sobering numbers. These numbers prompt the need for a very stiff drink.

Last Examwatch Ever

Astute readers will note that the last examwatch ever has now started....

The Last Spring Break of My Life

...was spent in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest Festival. I've wanted to see the festival ever since I worked for Sen. Gramm, but I'd never quite had the chance. Better yet, I was able to drive around a lot of east Texas in a Honda hybrid. I really need a car for next year, and that high gas mileage coupled with the really quiet and smooth ride seems very attractive right now.

Of course, nothing says "You're in the South, boy" like humorous church road signs:

I did my best, I suppose...

March 08, 2006

Reflection Two on Rumsfeld v. FAIR

Enough pixels have already fluttered regarding the constitutional repercussions of Rumsfeld v. FAIR, and I really have nothing to add to the kind of commentary that engages Con Law professors. My thoughts are slightly broader and less focused.

1) Broadly speaking I think the opinion comes out correctly. Law schools can't be forced to hire pro-Solomon professors, one supposes, but they must allow military recruiters on campus. The schools will continue to grant them access whilst posting signs in GREAT BIG CAPITAL LETTERS telling us what horrible people the military are, maybe in the future making applicants run a gaunlet of screaming protestors, but they can't close the door altogether. There's a justice in this: as I've said before, if you're going to take the king's shilling, you can't be upset when you get dragooned.

That's not to say that "don't ask, don't tell" is good policy: it isn't. (On the other hand, it's not disastrous policy: keeping homosexuals out of the military will result in, at the very worst, a slightly less-than-optimal allocation of resources to the armed forces.) We should change that policy, but to do so we'll need to change hearts and minds both within the military and without. To do that, at least insofar as JAG recruiting is relevant, the ivory tower of law would have to reconnect with the serfs living outside the keep, at least now that the legal equivalent of the Sacred Council of Cardinals has declined to intervene in more temporal affairs. Maybe this will provide the incentive.

2) Thankfully, Chief Justice Roberts and the rest of the Court soundly rejected the amicus brief of Columbia's law faculty. As a quick recap, the professors argued that when Congress passed Solomon, they meant to ban discrimination against military recruiters, and that an even-handed anti-discrimination policy on sexual orientation applied to both law firms and the military does not do that.

First, this argument borders upon an arid textualism. The military isn't disadvantaged if the rule is stated "we don't allow any employers to interview if they discriminate." Yet they are disadvantaged if we state a more robust rule: "we don't allow any employers to interview if they discriminate other than as required by law." Is it the honest opinion of the law faculty that in any other situation, they'd apply their anti-discrimination policy against employers who were complying with a statutory mandate? (If a law were passed stating that no declared homosexual would be allowed to pass the bar--presuming its constitutionality--would the law schools really shut out everyone?) Can an organization that accredits students who are presumably expected to comply with the law really say that their antidiscrimination policies should trump a valid act of Congress?

While I respect most of its signatories, the logic within the brief borders upon farce. How could many of the same professors who have spoken so favorably of legislative history in my classes be so parsimonious with it in front of the Court? From the legal realist perspective--and one of the signatories is one of my favorite of Columbia's realists--what possibly can the law schools have hoped to gain if the Court ruled in their favor? Unless the professors truly believed that Congress really intended such a stingy reading of Solomon--go ahead, take a moment to laugh--didn't they expect that a ruling in their favor would result in yet another revision to the statute, this time erasing the scintilla of doubt that might somehow be scraped from its text? At best, such a result punts the issue six months to a year down the road. Woohoo! We can bar the doors to the military for one year at the risk of draconian wrath from a Congress that--it's hard to realize this from New York--still sits in Red State hands.

3) It's worth placing this debate in its larger context. Rumsfeld v. FAIR follows Romer and Lawrence as part of a larger debate this country is having: is it acceptable for our society, or even subsections of it, to disapprove of certain sexual behavior? And here I find myself having--uncomfortably--to side with the social conservatives.

There is a difference between saying that one should stigmatize certain sexual behavior and that the country can do so through legislation. To say that anti-sodomy laws should be overturned merely requires the expression of a political opinion, and one I share. To agree with Lawrence is to fantasize that this country at some point collectively decided that anti-sodomy laws were so vile that our descendants should require a supermajority if such policies were to be instituted. To believe that discrimination against homosexuals in employment should be prohibited, one must merely think that Congress or the states have the power to do so if they wish. To believe in Romer, one must think that at some point a majority of us agreed that any other law was beyond the pale.

Me, I'm sure I do a lot of things of which other people wouldn't approve, simply because they're legal, fun and I don't feel they harm anyone else. (Some of my best friends are Mormon, and almost certainly disapprove of my Chestertonian fondness for wine.) But those others should still be able--electorally, if need be--to disapprove of my choice. To do otherwise not only trivialize their opinion: it trivializes my choice to disagree with them.

Such dismissive attitudes come with political cost. After Lawrence and Goodridge, after all, came a multitude of state constitutional provisions making obvious clarification. To paraphrase the intent of each such resolution: "Whatever we've said before about equality, it didn't change the common sense idea that when we say 'wife' we mean a woman, when we say 'husband' we mean a man, and when we say 'marriage' it means between a husband and a wife. If we were ever convinced otherwise, we would have mentioned it sooner. Judges, take note."

It's great that my law school doesn't think homosexuality--or even much in the way of consensual sex--should be verboten. But law schools accredit lawyers, and however much I disagree with folks who think sex should be limited by tradition, religion or what have you, they should have the right to have their lawyers too.

4) Finally, my favorite part of Chief Justice Robert's opinion occurs on page fifteen of the slip opinion:

The schools respond that if they treat military and nonmilitary recruiters alike in order to comply with
the Solomon Amendment, they could be viewed as sending the message that they see nothing wrong with the military's policies, when they do. We rejected a similar argument in PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U. S. 74 (1980). In that case, we upheld a state law requiring a shopping center owner to allow certain expressive activities by others on its property. We explained that there was little likelihood that the views of those engaging in the expressive activities would be identified with the owner, who remained free to disassociate himself from those views and who was "not ... being compelled to affirm [a] belief in any governmentally prescribed position or view." Id., at 88.

The same is true here. Nothing about recruiting suggests that law schools agree with any speech by recruiters, and nothing in the Solomon Amendment restricts what the law schools may say about the military's policies. We have held that high school students can appreciate the difference between speech a school sponsors and speech the school permits because legally required to do so, pursuant to an equal access policy. Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U. S. 226, 250 (1990) (plurality opinion); accord, id., at 268 (Marshall, J., concurring in judgment); see also Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 841 (1995) (attribution concern "not a plausible fear"). Surely students have not lost that ability by the time they get to law school.

(emphasis added) Thankfully, at least the Supreme Court sees law students as adults. Can we now lay to rest the fanciful idea that law students couldn't figure out the institutional stance on 'don't ask, don't tell'?

(Update: a few text errors, including the embarrassing mistake of confusing Romer with Roper, corrected.)

March 07, 2006

A Modest Pro Bono

Dear Wormwood,

I've slightly overshot Columbia's 40 hour pro bono requirement for graduation, or at least I suspect I will when I finally fill in the forms. On the other hand, quite a few 3Ls of my acquaintance have complained to me recently of their frantic efforts to fulfill their responsibilities under this dubious virtue tax.

At the same time, I've overheard a number of 1Ls murmuring that, despite a fresh influx of funds from Columbia, there are still not enough positions in the Human Rights Internship Program. Thus many fledgling do-gooders find themselves seeking summer jobs that may not be spiritually satisfying. It seems that while their elders are looking for work, they're looking for money.

It's a pity that Foundations of the Regulatory State is no longer a required class, because in my day almost every 1L covered the obvious solution to this problem. To ensure the maximum amount of happiness among Columbia students while making sure we contribute our fair share--whatever we collectively decide that is--we should institute a trading system similar to that used for pollution emissions. [1]

As you might expect, Wormwood, those who are inclined towards public interest (and not coincidentally, most often the political left) collect far more than the 40 hours they're required to contribute. On the other hand, those for whom the requirement is a mostly unnecessary hassle are swiftly heading towards more or less lucrative careers. The obvious solution is to allow 3Ls to bid for and purchase pro bono hours from overproducers. The funds could then be used to sponsor 1Ls summering in exotic and underserved locales such as South Africa, eastern Europe or the Bronx.

Collectively, there is no doubt this is a winning formula. It's not too much of an assumption to think that those who want to do pro bono work will do it more productively, so our "good causes" however defined will receive better resources. We would be able to guarantee a certain amount of public interest work: after all, there's a floor beneath which hours cannot fall, and we can raise that to much higher than 40 hours per student. At the same time, HRIP receives more funding without having to increase tuition across the student body, producing even more socially enlightened output.

Wormwood, this seems a most sensible course by any tangible measurement. Yet my tongue is firmly in my cheek and I would never expect such a system to take hold. At the end of the day, the pro bono requirement isn't really about making sure that good causes receive useful (or enthusiastic) resources. Nothing so grubbily consequentialist should enter the publicly-spirited mind! To talk to a true believer, it's all about opening our minds, enlightening our souls and making us think that an industry supporting starting salaries of nearly $150,000 at the elite level is being done in a spirit of "professionalism," that is to say in the service of the public rather than the practitioners.

I put it to you that at the end of three years of law school, it is very difficult to avoid the level of cynicism required to say that with a straight face. And if three years of law school doesn't isn't enough, a brief glance at your debt burden should do it.

Ah well. For me it's almost over. As I mentioned to one complaining 3L, don't think of it as enforced charity. Think of it as a virtue tax, in which you take from whatever you consider virtuous and pay to what the Center for Public Interest Law considers such.

[1]: Often called "cap and trade" systems, emissions trading works to reduce a negative externality through a pricing system. What I'm proposing wouldn't be a cap and trade system, as it has no caps. Rather, trading would be used to maximize a positive externality. On the other hand, "floor and trade" seems a particularly clumsy phrase, and so I haven't used it.

Reflection One on FAIR v. Rumsfeld

More on this decision tonight, but for now, two thoughts.

1) Boy, was I wrong.

2) Today we received an open letter from the Outlaws (Columbia's LGBT society) expressing their disappointment with an 8-0 decision. Fair enough, but why is this being forwarded through the Student Events listserv? There's no event attached to the letter. Whatever differences I have with the Federalist Society, at least I'll say this for them: when they want to express an opinion, they put it in the right place. If Outlaws wants to spend five hundred words pointing out the bloody obvious more power to them, but could they make sure the message didn't stink of spam?

February 25, 2006

Federalist Society Reflections Before Bed

  1. I doubt I could blog an actual international conflict and make it sound as interesting as PG has whilst blogging the first day's session for Ex Post. Ex Post is certainly the place if you want to know what the fuss is about.

    (She was quite appropriate in linking Prof. Waldron's speech today to the Waldron/Yoo debate held here last year. Waldron's references were torturously unsubtle. It's interesting that Waldron mentioned a passage from C.S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain in his speech. Lewis was also a too-the-core academic writing about why a real society in which practical choices must be made could not live up to an ideal of heaven on earth. I have always rather loved the author of Screwtape, but the quotation brought to mind Waldron's answer to the cursed and "corrupt" ticking-time bomb question, in which the Professor was quite willing to say that even were the loss of millions of lives unnecessary save for the sake of torturing a captive, he would still let the bomb go off. (See here at 29:00.)

    Lewis was a great scholar, a talented writer, and a great moralist, but he'd be one of my dead last choices for congressmen. Philosophers are the only people ever likely to elect philosopher kings.)

  2. I can neither confirm nor deny Will Baude's take on the first panel, but will be certain to post a link as soon as a webcast is available for you to set your own opinion.
  3. There are lots of people here, and lots of things to be moved. I'll blog more later, but it's an early start tomorrow, so I'm off to bed.

February 15, 2006

One, Two, Three, Four . . . Erm... What Exactly Are We Fighting For?

As mentioned in an other place, today the Student Senate held a town hall meeting on revisions to our guidelines for student groups. Apparently it's another recurrence of the now perpetual controversy: should groups like the Christian Legal Society be allowed to restrict their leadership to those who hold certain beliefs? The flashpoint, of course, is sexuality. [1] It's part and parcel with the kind of disputes that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education spends a lot of time litigating. The whole business seems . . . well, a matter of much heat and little light.

(I acquired a copy of the Columbia Law School's Christian Legal Society constitution and in party-game fashion counted the reasons I couldn't be an officer of theirs. Wholly without violating Romans 1:27, I count around fourteen reasons I wouldn't be allowed to run. Well, maybe thirteen if they define idolatry more stringently than I would, but in fairness it would be fifteen if I got invited to better orgies.)

I am, of course, considering this from my rather pragmatic perspective. Pragmatically, I'm going to put the rest of this long entry below the fold.

Continue reading "One, Two, Three, Four . . . Erm... What Exactly Are We Fighting For?" »

February 09, 2006

On Reflection, Maybe I Was A Bit Naive....

In the comments to my entry about how useful the Sony Reader electronic book would be for law students, Anon made a good point:

There's certainly a lot to be said for the new technology. Digitized texts save paper (read--fewer trees we have to chop down in the rain forests), spare our backs (read--fewer visits to the chiropractor), and bless us with shorter lines (read--fewer dirty looks from underpaid law school book store register clerks with watch timers set to ring at 5 p.m., the start of favorite bar's happy hour).

I wonder, though, whether these texts will quickly make the transition to paperless, digital format. Digital content is great for the user, but problems of piracy and copyright infringement loom large for the publisher and copyright holder. I suppose if the piracy protection were ironclad, we would be OK, but it seems that almost as quickly as new anti-piracy schemes are cooked up, ways to overcome the protections are crafted. At least if I were the publisher, all of this would make me think twice before digitizing all or part of casebook content.

To which I now feel I might have been overoptimistic in replying:
If I recall correctly from looking at the Japanese model, there's some reasonably robust anti-copying software involved. But I think law school textbooks would have even better protection. Each law student is told when we start school that our personal ethical record will eventually form part of our bar acceptance. Given the high price of tuition and the three years of lost wages, would a student really make illegal copies of textbooks if they felt it might prevent them from passing the bar?

I'm pretty certain that worries about bar passage would have some effect on illegally pirating textbooks. But taking a look at what I've spent on books over the last few years, I think I might be a trifle . . . shortsighted in my response above. Any thoughts from other students?

February 07, 2006

Where Were You in 2000?

Tomorrow the Columbia Chapter of the American Constitution Society will be hosting an NSA Surveillance Panel featuring Professors Michael Dorf, Lori Damrosch and Harold Edgar. I'm going to have to show up because it could be amusing. After all, there's a new accusation available about the NSA program, from a former spymaster:

"A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a--a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, 'Oh, Danny really bombed last night,' just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w--was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist."

Oh, I'm sorry: that's not a new accusation at all, nor is it about Bush's NSA program. It's an anecdote told on 60 Minutes way back in February 2000.

You know. The Clinton administration.

Now, back then we had a non-anonymous source making concrete and specific allegations about domestic spying (supposedly accomplished through the simple back-scratching tactic of Anglosphere Spy Agency A tapping everything forbidden to Anglosphere Spy Agency B and then sharing the data). As Cathy Young has pointed out, the events described above probably occurred prior to 1990--so pre-Clinton--but there's no reason to expect that Echelon suddenly went dormant when Clinton was inaugurated. Indeed, the European Union thought very much otherwise.

But if you look at the ACS, large-scale signals intelligence seems to be a bolt from the blue. Sure, the ACS wasn't around when 60 Minutes told its tales, but its panelists were. I've Googled and.... Lexis'd? (why isn't that a verb?)... for comments from any of them on signal intelligence prior to January 2001 and come up with a goose egg. (Maybe they've published on it, but I can't find it.) The national ACS site only turns up one hit for the word "echelon," in a discussion of Harriet Miers and whether she's in the top one. The Columbia ACS webpage has two or three posts mentioning the current debate, but Google doesn't find "echelon" on any page (or reference to any possible prior spying). Instead, Columbia's ACS feels that "America gazes into the mirror, confused, haggard, faintly recalling simpler times." When were these? Where were they?

The times weren't simpler. It just behooves some people to remember them that way.

So I think it's a legitimate question: are we worried about overuse of signal intellligence and spying on domestic conversations? Or is the panel there because it's particularly horrible when the packet sniffers are Republicans?

February 06, 2006

An Almost Perfect Technology

Too late for my academic years, Sony is finally releasing its e-ink Reader in the United States. The older generation argues that this won't replace paper (TCS) or gripes about DRM (Instapundit), but I think they're just being spoilsports. The technology is terrific: the text on a Reader looks remarkably close to paper. I an e-Libre (the Japanese version of the Reader, available in Japan two years ago): after installing a Japanese-English dictionary, it becomes a very easy way of reading books slightly beyond one's skill.

For law students, the benefits of an electronic book are even more obvious: imagine how much easier life would be if we carried all three years of our textbooks in a small, lightweight device. The lecture halls here at Columbia seem positively designed for such a device. During Securities Law, I'm forced to squeeze a Lord of the Rings-sized casebook, a larger statutory supplement and my notebook computer onto desk space smaller than a serving tray from a Bonanza steakhouse. If I were Sony, the first content providers I'd be contacting for license agreements would be Foundation Press and Aspen Publishers.

I suppose I should count my blessings. By the time I have disposable income such that I'll feel comfortable buying another $400 tech toy, Sony will have come out with the next generation of Reader.

January 27, 2006

Is This A School for Mice or Men?

Mice, it seems. The Columbia Spectator today reports that the law school's Lenfest Cafe failed its health inspection.

In its original inspection, conducted Dec. 8, 2005, the cafeteria received 35 points, all having to do with improper food temperature. When re-inspected, Jerome Green Hall was cited for two completely different violations: lack of a three-compartment sink to sanitize serving utensils and evidence of mice.

(Emphasis mine.)

In my first year, mice joined in on Crim Law and Prof. Waldron's Perspective's course. This year they've moved into my dorm. Now they're eating in the dining hall? At this point, I half expect them to scamper across the stage at graduation, receiving little mousy diplomas.

Kudos to the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for putting this information online.

(UPDATE: To provide a frequently-asked-for comparison, Hamilton's Deli scored better than Lenfest (23 compared to 43, lower is better), and their highest recorded violation available is a 38.)

January 25, 2006

More Thuggery, This Time At Georgetown

Via Ambimb, we see that there's been another infantile protest, this time of the Attorney General at Georgetown Law School. This act of staged immaturity consisted of five students in black hoods unveiling a banner with a 'quotation' from Ben Franklin: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

How cute. The quote's wrong--it omits the words "essential" and "little" in places that fundamentally alter the meaning--but hell, what's a little accuracy among those who seek to save us?[1]

As always, my annoyance at this kind of stage-stealing performance art doesn't spring from partisanship but a violation of comity. Attorney General Gonzales--someone I'm not averse to criticizing--was introduced by Dean Aleinikoff as a guest of the university, and the demonstration made him a very poor host. The five veiled freedom-fighters--yeah, you're a courageous bunch of fellows, aren't you?--were simply rude to those who organized the event. Freeloaders and freeriders upon the effort of others, they're no better than the bore who shouts down better-mannered guests at a dinner table.

Watch the C-SPAN coverage (if you can stand installing RealPlayer). There was no shortage of speech here. Gonzales' address was followed by a university panel organized to discuss the issue. These valiant defenders of free expression did nothing greater than hijack the footlights, content to bask in their reflected relevance.

If academia still recognized some sense of decorum, these students would be expelled. There is no sign that Dean Aleinikoff has done so.

UPDATE: Fixed a formatting error and link in the original post. Also corrected some bluebooking in the footnote below.

[1]: What are they teaching at Georgetown Law School these days? I'll admit that I'm not the best Bluebooker in the world, but shouldn't the banner read something like:

Those who would [sacrifice] liberty [for security] deserve neither. . . .

In his post, Scoplaw explains that the "paraphrase" was used because the true quotation wouldn't fit. I guess indicating the alterations (to be, you know, honest) would have been a lot less effective.

January 17, 2006

Something I've Learned My Last Semester in Law School

I'm squeamish about mice. Not being particularly bad with insects or spiders, I didn't expect that.

In my defense, this is a limited sort of squeamishness. It involves an unwillingness to clean my dishes six inches away from the garbage bin that seems to be the locus of the mouse infestation while the mice are actually scuttling back and forth. (These little blighters aren't shy, either: they will run from kicks or old sponges being thrown at them, but the mere presence of over six foot of graduate student isn't sufficient deterence. Are all mice this friendly?)

By contrast, I don't really consider my aversion to using the kitchen when there's a dead mouse carcass stuck to the sticky/gummy mousetraps squeamishness as such. I take it as a sign of egalitarianism and enlightened environmental consciousness. I don't partiicularly enjoy cooking with other people in the kitchen, so why should I discriminate in favor of four-legged co-chefs?

January 15, 2006

Law School Creativity

One of my classmates, now finishing her 3L year in England, has recently made it into the top 20 of the Community Communications Network short commercial competition. (See "Stay in Step" under "Community.") It always amazes me how people can find time to make things like this while still in law school.

December 20, 2005

Exams Are Over

Two longish blog entries making nitpicky legal arguments.

Well, you can tell exams are over.

December 15, 2005

Exam Hiatus

Yesterday, Federal Income Taxation. Today, Administrative Law. The exam season seems remarkably compressed this year, and I'm afraid that until they're over, I probably won't post much. The holidays should be a pretty productive period, though, so I'll see you then!

December 07, 2005

Do Law Schools Really Think Their Students Don't Believe Them That Credulous?

The oral arguments in FAIR v. Rumsfeld (RealMedia) make entertaining listening. The case has that make-believe feel one often gets in such civil rights cases, where everyone knows that the real argument is about the legitimacy of dont ask/don't tell, and yet we're tinkering about with issues that exist only in a hypothetical imagination, belief in which is necessary to get within the case law. Todd Zywicki has already excerpted one bit from the New York Times that neatly drifts into magical thinking:

The lawyer adjusted his focus. The law schools have their own message, "that they believe it is immoral to abet discrimination," he said.

This time, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took issue. "But they can say that to every student who enters the room," she said.

"And when they do it, your honor, the answer of the students is, we don't believe you," Mr. Rosenkranz said.

"The reason they don't believe you is because you're willing to take the money," Chief Justice Roberts interjected. "What you're saying is this is a message we believe in strongly, but we don't believe in it to the detriment of $100 million."

(emphasis added) It's nice to see that Chief Justice Roberts has such a humorous touch, and he's got a point. Like the old joke about Shaw and the lady's virtue, the FAIR case shows what passes for principle in higher education.

Nevertheless, I'm a bit annoyed at the law school coalition for ascribing such phenomenal ignorance and credulity to their students in front of the highest court in the land. Key to the Chief Justice's rejoinder is an acceptance of the dream that students don't believe law schools are opposed to the Amendment or find compliance immoral. While this blog has been running, I've received numerous and lengthy emails from the administration explaining the position on the Amendment. When I logged on to register for employer interviews each year, a special notice was attached to the military recruiters, one year in red lettering. They haven't forced students who interview with JAG to wear a scarlet B yet, but it doesn't seem out of the question.[1] If there is a law student at Columbia that believes that the school supports the Amendment, or that it is doing anything but going along because it's being strongarmed. . . . well, let's just say I'd wonder whether that was an honest belief, or mere posturing because it makes one's case before the Court seem stronger.

Justice O'Connor, if it sets your mind at rest, we got the memo.

(UPDATE: I think my use of "credulous" in the title is a bit confusing and ambiguous. I meant to wonder whether law schools thought students would actually buy that they feel we don't believe them. But as the pronoun confusion in the last sentence indicates, the thought there is a bit twisted. On reflection, the title "Do Law Schools Really Think Their Students Don't Believe Them" would be better.)

[1]: Actually, what letter would the school choose? You wouldn't want to use H (for homophobe) for obvious reasons. I figure B for bigot, but I'm sure someone will come up with something more ingenious.

November 30, 2005

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right. Columbia Greets Ashcroft

[EXT. LERNER HALL, ~18:00]

For your Three Years of Hell coverage of the Ashcroft protest and subsequent speech, we turn now to the TYOH roving reporter on the scene, Mr. iGor the iGuy. iGor?

Thank you, Tony. It's a warm and rainless night here on Broadway. We'd been worried that yesterday's downpours might continue, dampening the enthusiasm of the anti-Ashcroft lobby. Luckily, the weather's been more merciful than a reprieve from Guantanamo. Indeed, it's fine weather for a protest, and these folks seem to be making the most of it.

What exactly are the protestors up to, iGor?

Well, as you can see, most of the protestors have been cordoned off by police barriers. A little earlier a policeman came over and tried to remove us from the boundary of the protest. I'm not sure if he was convinced of our journalistic credentials, but the main attraction seems to be a guy with a megaphone, so it didn't really hurt to back up a few feet. And there's all kinds of people outside the barriers in a variety of outrageous get up. For instance, there's a woman in Guantanamo Orange, which I get, and a guy walking around on stilts. I'm not sure what the latter is supposed to be symbolic of, precisely, but he's certainly visible. There's a lot of signs.

And what they're saying?

I've just gotten here, Tony, and I'm afraid the crew will have to leave to go inside the auditorium pretty soon, so we're going to miss the heart of the protest. Nevertheless, so far it seems fairly sedate. I have to admit to feeling let down by the posters. "I WASN'T USING THOSE CIVIL RIGHTS ANYWAY" or "DETAIN ASHCROFT," all things you'd find on a CafePress t-shirt.

When we arrived, someone was leading a chant . . . . it seemed like the old chestnut "THE PEOPLE UNITED SHALL NEVER BE DIVIDED." Nevertheless, some of the people were out here cordoned off by blue sawhorses and some of the people were standing in line over in Lerner Hall waiting to get in. To his credit, the speaker on the podium was advising his crowd to remain civil and remain respectful. He finished by saying something to the effect that while Mr. Ashcroft has the right to speak here, he'll never get the respect of the guy on the soapbox with the bullhorn.

Any reaction from the Ashcroft crowd?

I didn't get a chance to question Mr. Ashcroft about it. I can only imagine he's crushed not to have the respect of folks with blowhorns addressing crowds with signs that say he's a terrorist.

Earlier today we'd been hearing stories about protestors making a human wall around Lerner and various other obstructive ideas. Any sign of that?

Well, no, not really. Actually, the line of people trying to get into Roone Auditorium is far more impressive than the number of protestors outside. The protest may get a bit bigger while we're trying to get seats, Tony, but it looks like a few hundred people at most. And while some protest sympathisers are hopefully trying to get inside, the security rules attached to the invitation are quite strict: no audio recorders, no cameras, no bag larger than a purse, and no posters.

Thank you, iGor. We look forward to your reaction to the speech.


So, iGor, you've heard the big speech, what was it like?

I was pretty skeptical about Ashcroft coming into this, and I have to say I came out impressed. There wasn't a huge display of intellectual force on either side of the stage,[1] but Ashcroft was charming, and chatted about crime, terrorism, faith, and public service, and cracked a lot of jokes. Here's a guy who'd obviously faced a hostile crowd once or twice before. I think the high point for me was a bit of tete-a-tete . . . . I have to go from memory since I didn't have a recorder, but it went something like this:

GEN. ASHCROFT: [telling "old governors never die" jokes] And of course, old prosecutors never die, they just lose their...

HECKLER: Bill of Rights!

ASHCROFT: [folksy] Well, I haven't lost my Bill of Rights, and from the sound of you, young lady, you don't seem to have either.

There was a lot more of this kind of thing. I think it's fair to say that if a major speaker who's used to one-line zingers comes to Columbia again, the peanut gallery is going to have to get better ammunition. It was strictly amateur hour from the back bench, Tony.

So a solid conservative victory?

I'm going to have to say no there. I've got no neck, but if my body weren't made of silicone I'd be shaking my head in shame right about now. Ashcroft came off pretty well, but there seemed to be a battle between Columbia's left and right wings to see who could make themselves look dumber, and it's impossible to tell who won. Close victory on points, is all I can say.

Too much hooting from the audience?

Too much from the audience, too much from the stage. The Columbia Conservatives opened with a fifteen minute whine about how they're picked upon. Look, I know that there's more video games in the undergraduate lounge than there are Bush-voting faculty in the undergraduate campus, but this really wasn't the time to mention the political leanings of the professorate. The moderator seemed to be doing his level best to live up to the worst liberal parody of what a campus conservative could be. And the introduction of Ashcroft...

[pause] iGor?

Sorry. I was trying to see if this rubberized body could shudder. Endless repetitions of his patriotism, the difficulty of his job, the trying times. . . . Look, the man was an attorney general, a senator, and a governor. His resume spoke for him even before he opened his mouth. The moderator didn't need to put a dress on a pig and call it Monique.

That bad?

Worse. The whole thing was subtle as a chainsaw through a screen door. The conservatives deserved credit for reading out questions from groups like the ACLU, but they didn't need to provide such emphasis. Gloating merrily didn't make their enemies any more wrong, but it did make the hosts less gracious. And it didn't stop there. Interruptions of the speaker to make comparisons to Michael Moore. Complaints--presumably humorous--by the moderator that Gen. Ashcroft was stealing his limelight. Completely unnecessary demonizations of the anti-Ashcroft lobby, which was by that point making enough of a fool of itself waving about a big yellow sign they'd smuggled in. Really unnecessary.

What was the crowd reaction?

On my way out, I heard one of the more moderate audience members mutter with what I'd consider a wry chuckle: "This kind of event really could raise the level of civil discourse here at Columbia, if the ceiling had fallen in during the middle of the Q&A."

And your summary?

Well, they say that Mr. Ashcroft used to be in a barbershop quartet. Maybe in another venue, he could have brought down the house, but in this case he was really let down by the opening act.

[1]: UPDATE As Ex Post put it, "He made a great case for his policies, though I'm sure there is plenty critical to be said of his rather 'campaign speech' platitudes."

It's Fun To Be A Columbia Conservative

So the big Ashcroft confab is going to be tonight. I don't think I'll be able to cover the protests, but I'm going to be sending an official Three Years of Hell Roving Reporter to give you all a glimpse of what's happening.

A few minutes ago, one of the protest groups resent their email instructing folks, "If you are against TORTURE, BIGOTRY, SEXISM, CLASSISM, AMERICAN THEOCRACY, and just plain mean people who can't sing [] JOIN the Campus–Wide 'Ashcroft Welcoming Committee.'" I'll be sure to send my roving reporter to interview, then, some folks who didn't show up and thus may be in favor of torture, bigotry, sexism, and really bad karaoke.[1]

In the meantime, my congratulations to Mr. Adam Pulver, whose letter-to-the-editor reprinted at the Columbia ACS blog actually goes beyond my ability at parody. Seriously, it already reads like a conservative doing a drunken rendition of "whiny liberal" in some bizarre party game:

For the past thirty years, the American conservative movement has used college campuses to develop a corps of ideologues, using its wealth to fund speakers and programs. These students become the party faithful, spewing rhetoric, challenging "liberal bias," and raising money while claiming to be "nonpartisan."

This is why it's more fun to be a conservative in law school. If you're a liberal, you just raise funds to bring in a speaker. Do the same thing as a conservative, and everyone thinks you're taking orders directly from Count Fosco.

[1]: A (quite liberal) friend of mine points out that those who can't sing are a grievously underrepresented group.

November 27, 2005

$22.32 cents from partaking in global protest

Friday was Buy Nothing Day, when people of good moral fibre are urged to abstain from participating in global consumerism, to meditate on the environmental effects of capitalist hegemony, or to collectivize with the culture jammers to put the third world developing countries less-developed countries on the global agenda.[1] Mostly, it seems, one does this by avoiding the after Thanksgiving Day sales.

Buy Nothing Day was a close-run thing for me. I've done my Christmas shopping early through Amazon, and as you can see from the reappearance of Exam Watch, I'm swamped with revision. Only a quick restaurant dinner (appetizer, really), a coffee and a tea, some Naked Juice, and an apple from Hamilton's Deli saved my reputation for capitalist iniquity. [2]

Fortunately, others were out there making sure that the cats stay fat, the pigs stay capitalist, and the rest of the animal farm is well-stocked with Uncle Ronald's Own Culture Jammer Preserves (™). For instance, Prof. Katherine Litvak gives details of the relationship between arbitrage markets and "doorbuster" special offers, as well as a rather clever argument in favor of enforcement of penalty clauses in consumer contracts. As she points out, though, those undertaking the Arbitrage of the Sales don't seem to be making a lot of money at it.

[1]: Joke shamelessly stolen from Yes, Minister, which come to think of it might have been a good thing to buy on Buy Nothing Day.

[2]: After writing this, I realized that it's not quite true. I forgot that I exhausted my coffee supplies while I was studying on Friday and made a quick pop into Starbucks to buy some beans. They're not the best, but they were passable and I was in a hurry. Anyway, I spent ten or so dollars at one of the symbols of global capitalism on Friday, so I haven't lost my place as one of the first against the wall when the revolution (finally) comes. Phew!

Quick Update: Also, Carrie Lukas at National Review gives thanks for WalMart. She has my hearty agreement.

November 26, 2005

Popcorn! or How Ashcroft and the ACS provide good reality TV show entertainment

For sheer entertainment value, Ashcroft's visit is paying off in spades droves before he even gets here. Just watching the lathered hysteria of the pre-arrival protest preparations is worth the price of admission. Speaking of such prices, it's worth looking at the Columbia Chapter of the ACS blog:

Next week, former US Attorney General John Ashcroft is speaking here at Columbia. Ashcroft — the guest of the Columbia Federalist Society, College Conservative Club, College Republicans and Young Americans Foundation — is delivering a speech entitled, "Law, Liberty and Security."

Naturally, questions at the event will be pre-screened, so send yours in to

In case you can't pony up $275 for the student rate(!) to attend the event, here's an Ashcroft gem for you to enjoy[. . . .]

(emphasis added, and you can go to the ACS blog to see the clip)

Cash-strapped as I am, I immediately worried that those pernicious folks at FedSoc were going to hand me my event ticket and hit me for a $275 bill they'd not advertised. Heart aflutter with worries of impending fiscal disaster, I pulled up the general message that went to the whole student body.

The invite lists two events: the speech (no fee mentioned) and a drinks-before dinner-after reception which has rates going from the aforementioned $275 to $1,000. (It also includes front-row seats at the speech itself.) As I'd not signed up for the personal experience, I remain free to spend my money on study aids for bankruptcy rather than filing for it.*

Perhaps I'm being unfair, but take a look at the CACS blog, and then consider what you know about the invite. Don't you think it was a wee bit deceptive to mention the existence of only the speech but the price of the dinner?

UPDATE: Now how's this for an Orwellian correction! The CACS Blog has not only changed the post,** but its update seems curiously stubborn. What can one make of this?

The entry fee and/or attendee qualifications for the speech are not specified in the Federalist Society email.

Few groups hosting a free event bother to "specify" that there is no entry fee. Nor has an entry fee been mentioned on any of the several emails, the innumerable posters, or the weekly event list sent around Columbia. It seems a safe assumption that it doesn't exist: why not just say that, instead of suggesting that there's some nebulous but unknown charge?

And what is this dark muttering about attendee qualifications? I'd not be surprised to find the hosting societies favor their members in choosing who attends, but if one wants to suggest there are "qualifications" that aren't being specified, why not make that accusation instead of hinting that the FedSoc hasn't stopped beating its wife yet?

There is something about Ashcroft. Perhaps together with Rumsfeld and Bush he forms some kind of right-wing Dirae, whose mere presence maddens otherwise sober men. This treatment of another student group's guest is singular in my experience.

*My understanding is that such dinners aren't uncommon among the political set, and that such ACS darlings as Bill Clinton have been known to have the odd $500/plate rubber-chicken dinner or two. For that matter, I once paid upwards of $200 for entrance into a charity poker game with a few of my professors. The organizers of this nefarious evening were none other than Columbia's Public Interest Law Foundation.

Whatever. Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe there are no fundraising dinners in the land of progressives and public-interest faithful, and reports to the contrary are just viscious rumors.

**It's notable that they don't follow standard blog practice of leaving the incorrect text in strike tags, either. A later reader will simply wonder what the fuss was about. Attention Will Baude!

November 23, 2005

Federalist Society Student Symposium 2006 to be held at Columbia, February 2006

Remember my criticism of conservative marketing last week, in which I complained that all too often conservative advertisements consist of little more than images of stuffy white males? Well, the website for the 25th Annual Federalist Society Student Symposium is now online and accepting registrations. The move away from portraits of the Founding Fathers is not entirely coincidental.

Sign up. It should be one heck of a party.

November 21, 2005

Well, Maybe I'll Bring Popcorn

The Big Brotherish posters aside, I'm quite in favor of John Ashcroft's visit. Controversial speakers who come to Columbia give us a lot to think about. The Waldron/Yoo torture debate held at the law school last year, for instance, may have raised some passions, but it remains one of the most informative and entertaining of my law school experiences.

Of course, this is Columbia, and we wouldn't be an elite Ivy League university without students wanting to show that they have both an unalienable right to free speech and a complete lack of self-restraint. The Columbia Federalist Society is hosting, so it's no surprise that the formal etiquette is impeccable. In an email today, they invited the student body to come up with questions to ask Ashcroft. But before that email arrived, this bit of hate mail popped into my inbox, forwarded by the ever-obliging student services mailing list:


NOVEMBER 30, 2005

If you are against TORTURE, BIGOTRY, SEXISM, CLASISM [sic], AMERICAN THEOCRACY*, and just plain mean people who can’t sing-

JOIN the Campus –Wide “Ashcroft Welcoming Committee”

Meetings are scheduled for:

Monday, 11/21- 10:00 PM in Lerner 555 – BRING POSTER IDEAS- quotes, stats, the works
Monday, 11/28- 10:00 PM in Lerner 555
Tuesday, 11/29- 6:00 PM in Lerner 501

This, of course, is what constitutes a "welcome" at the Ivy League. It's quite possible that the protestors are spending more time getting ready to mock Mr. Ashcroft than his hosts have given to marketing him. Considering the accusations in the email, I sincerely hope that they can hold the tune of "Kumbaya," or whatever the kids are chanting in unison these days. Wasn't loud and lousy singing outside Noriega's compound considered a form of torture?

Let me make it clear: there's nothing wrong with objecting to Mr. Ashcroft's ideas, and I've hardly considered him the most persuasive Republican spokesman. Nonetheless, he is the guest of three student societies sanctioned by the university to which the emailer belongs. To send out an email like the one above shows a stunning lack of class, tact, and comity with one's fellow students. To protest a guest of one's university not only suggests that one has no respect for one's fellows, but that one feels no duty to actually welcome a guest of the university to which one belongs. Sadly, such behavior doesn't reflect badly upon Mr. Ashcroft but upon us.

[1]: What if you happen to be against the overuse of ALL CAPS SHOUTING IN EMAILS?

November 16, 2005


I didn't realize I was a victim of discrimination until Outlaws (the CLS LGBT identity group) sent the following out over the Students Events mailing list today:



because we couldn't.

After Monday's blood drive, several students approached Outlaws members to address their surprise about the exclusion of some members of our community from this activity. For 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the nation's blood supply, has maintained a ban on blood donations from any "male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977." This discriminatory policy is unnecessary and outdated and worsens the current blood shortage at donation centers around the country. The policy represents an irrebuttable presumption of unsafe sexual practice and HIV or other infection by gay men. It is a simple-minded policy that ignores the realities of sexual practice among most gay people and even heterosexuals. We understand and appreciate the health concerns which some claim underlie the policy; however, even health experts question the validity of the ban.

To our friends at the Blood Drive table, we hope this explains why we passed you by. To all others, we support your past blood donations and encourage you to give in the future. We also hope that you will join us in noticing and resisting illogical discrimination wherever it is found.

For more information, we encourage you to visit the following website:

Columbia Outlaws

Cry me a river, boys.

I went to college in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996, so I can't donate blood either. I couldn't donate blood even if I swore in that blood and on my eyes that I was a vegetarian whose diet consisted solely of home-grown organic rutabagas. The evidence that CJD could be spread through the blood supply is nowhere near as strong as evidence regarding transmission of HIV through blood, but it's still too much for the FDA Red Cross. Yet I'd always suspected that my inability get my arm stuck constituted mere risk aversion. I never thought it was an "irrebutable presumption" about my diet so much as the idea that the Red Cross isn't a court, but an organization that needs to get as much blood as possible at the lowest risk and the lowest price. It doesn't make sense to allow a member of a group above a certain risk to "rebut" the presumption. Rebuttal, after all, is something that a lawyer does with a brief, not a nurse with a needle.

By these standards, the FDA Red Cross isn't merely unfairly judging anglophiles. Even if you are incredibly careful about choosing your tattoo parlor and go only to a practitioner with impeccable standards, you're out unless you got inked in a state that regulates your artist. What an irrebuttable presumption against Illustrated Americans! Ditto for those who go and live in malarial countries, irrespective of the frequency that they've taken anti-malarials and made every reasonable precaution. They're just dirty, I guess.

Of course, the truth is that the Red Cross FDA makes rules based upon an individual's relation to a risk group, a decision based upon cost, efficiency, and in no small part upon our torts system. (Imagine the lawsuits if the Red Cross FDA dropped this rule and, contrary to the implication from the Outlaws, it turned out that the decision did increase the risk of infection, and indeed resulted in some transmissions!) It may be that they are too risk averse, and that the standards should not be so strict. But no sensible epidemiologist is going to say that gay men are a lower risk group than many others who are excluded.

Even more annoying: the missive isn't just badly reasoned, it's spam. If Outlaws wants to put forth their policy viewpoints, I've got no real problem with it: let them start a blog. (Ask Chris, I'll host it.) But if they're going to moan about something over an events-announcement mailing list to which members cannot unsubscribe, couldn't they at least bother to organize an event for us?

(UPDATE (11/20): As helpfully mentioned in the comments, the rule is an FDA regulation followed by the Red Cross, not one of its own policies. I've changed the text to make this clear. The lawsuit point still holds, of course: if the FDA dropped the rule and the Red Cross did not maintain the policy, a tort action against it for any subsequent infections is to say the least not unthinkable.

The important point remains: there is no risk analysis that suggests that the average person who lived three months in England in the early 90s is a greater risk to the blood supply than someone who has had homosexual contact. The FDA might be more risk averse than it should be, true, in which case the Outlaws are finding common cause with Newt Gingrich's claims back during the Republican revolution of 94. But to claim that this is merely an anti-homosexual ordinance is to claim that homosexuals should be exempt from risk analysis. I'd prefer that the Outlaws not play politics with the blood supply.)

November 13, 2005

Those free Westlaw and Lexis Print Jobs

I know that it's "free" to send print jobs to the Lexis and Westlaw printers because the two services are trying to (a) addict us and (b) get us into bad habits that will result in huge chargeable bills when we get out into practice. Nevertheless, I've just seen the worst abuse (presumably unintentional) of this service pretty much ever.

A printout of the Federal Rule of Evidence 501 (two pages) . . . with Keycite (390-some pages before the job was stopped).

Thank goodness it's "free."

October 20, 2005

Wish I Could

I so wish that I could join in National Novel Writing Month, something I've always wanted to do. Sadly, this November just isn't going to have the time.

If only they'd have a second month over the summer sometime. Well, not this summer, when I'll be studying for the bar, but a summer in general. . . .

September 29, 2005

A Textbook Case

Heidi Bond is questioning a piece by Prof. Ian Ayres on textbook prices. Ayres is never short of interesting ideas. (You'll remember he's the one who wants to make reckless sexual conduct a crime.) But like most of his ideas, this one seems to protest too much.

Essentially, Ayres is suggesting that the textbook market suffers from too little competition among producers, and that universities should compensate for this problem by buying textbooks for their students and providing them as part of tuition. In a way, it's not a bad suggestion: he points out that the university will then care whether the professor assigns the most expensive textbook because it will at least partially affect the school's budget. The degree of this effect will be minimal, of course, to the extent that the money can be passed on.

But one wonders if, even excluding the pass-through, the net effect of this wouldn't be pretty marginal. First of all, universities would have to review each professor's textbook decision to make sure it meets a cost/benefit analysis. Since they already employ the professors to do precisely that, I'm not sure putting the oversight infrastructure in place won't outweigh the efficiency gains. (He contrasts this with textbooks in K-12 education, but ignores the fact that there's normally a standard statewide or local curriculum.) [1]

Prof. Ayres might be better off with a little less command and control and a little more reliance on market information. At least at Columbia Law School, the university authorities are a positive hinderance to cost competition. Every semester, I face the choice of going to our overpriced university bookstore (a Barnes & Noble affiliate with non-discount prices where I can't use my B&N membership) or Labyrinth Books, the quaint and predictably useless academic bookstore down on 112th. The former is brightly lit to the point of flourescent sterility, while the latter is cramped, untidy, and until recently forced you to leave your computer bag at the front desk if you wanted to walk in the store. (Your several thousand dollar IT investment left, of course, at your own risk.)

But these were my choices. Professors provide lists of the books they need to these two bookstores, and the only way I learn what I need is to walk over a few days before class. More annoyingly, sometimes the book only seems to be ordered by Labyrinth. Never mind that Amazon (or even B&N's online store) are usually much cheaper and offer discounts. Some of the books would have to be ordered weeks in advance, so without a booklist, I either do without the book for the first few weeks or I make my purchases bricks and mortar.

It wouldn't be difficult to get rid of these information barriers. Every book has an ISBN number that makes them exceptionally easy to index. For a trice of the administrative overhead of Ayres' system, Columbia could set up a website that lists the books required for classes and links to Froogle-like searches for the best price. (Students would also be able to see up-front which courses cost more due to pricey texts.) If you were really worried about costs to students, you could easily set up online markets in used textbooks, thus removing the middleman-costs of the used textbook market in the university bookstore. (Many of my classmates use the Amazon Marketplace or eBay for this already.)

Of course, unlike Ayres' proposal, which puts the power in the hands of professors and administrators, this lets consumers make choices and pits the producers against the power of the market. Indeed, if the system were made open and universities were encouraged to submit course lists to a central site, consumers would now be able to compare processes across universities. All without particularly high administrative costs.

[1]:He may also overemphasizes the conflict of interest involved in a professor assigning his or her own textbook: sure, Ayres earns $11 a copy on each textbook he assigns, but I have never for the life of me thought a professor assigned their casebook for the money. I usually put it down to wanting to teach from the book they helped write. Call it convenience or ego boost, as you will.

September 14, 2005

Good luck

At least according to the clerkship hiring plan, judges are to start requesting interviews tomorrow. To all of those who are applying, best of luck in the process.

(More than likely, I'll post my Letter to Wormwood about applying for clerkships tomorrow.)

September 13, 2005

Invest in Columbia Coffee!

Not having a car, I generally pay little attention to fluctuations in the price of oil. Nevertheless, if you're interested in making investments to offset the rising price of oil, one might look for a way to invest in the coffee served in the Columbia coffee bar.

Way back when I was a 1L, a small cup of coffee cost a little over a dollar. (About $1.10 with tax, as I recall.) They've kept jacking up the prices over the past two years, to the point where now the same cup--think a "tall" at Starbucks--costs $1.40, or $1.52 with tax. After this most recent price increase, I almost expect to catch a mention of the Lenfest Cafe in Alan Greenspan's next inflation report.

But maybe not. The price of coffee at Hamilton's Deli or the coffee vendor outside remains the same. This is very localized inflation.

September 11, 2005

Proud Member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

Let's face it, there's a really good reason to be a conservative at law school: it's just more fun. Take the latest breathless communique to hit my inbox from the Columbia Law School Chapter of the American Constitution Society, regarding Cass Sunnstein's presentation of his new book:

"Radicals in Robes" takes judicial philosophy out of the law schools and shows what it means when it intersects partisan politics. It pulls away the veil of rhetoric from a dangerous and radical right-wing movement and issues a strong and passionate warning about what conservatives really intend.

Dangerous! Radical! A movement so hidden in a veil of rhetoric that it takes "the least necessary organization in legal education" to tell us what it really intends! Just reading this makes me want to show up at the next Federalist Society function in a long black cape and a Dick Dastardly mustache. Sadly, they've not taught me the secret handshake, handed me the hidden decoder ring, or invited me to the smoke filled room where the folks really behind Judge Roberts nomination reveal their secret agenda. I blame it on the fact that I can't do a very good evil laugh.

A pity, because getting something like this from a law school group is really laughable.

August 31, 2005

Question on Managing Projects

Once again I've been silent for a while. A lot of things have happened, including a visit to my parents, a new computer, and planning my schedule for the new academic year, as well as more Law Review work than I'd really planned for. I've just not felt like staring at a computer screen for long enough to write anything recently.

Indeed, I'm having an organizational problem that, with any luck, you can advise me on. I have little problem scheduling projects with definite end dates, such as clerkship applications. (That was done using MS Project and Excel.) Day to day tasks for things like coursework, personal accounting, or remembering to back up my PC can be put into an Outlook task list. But there's a kind of intermediate category of tasks that fall off my radar.

There's a number of projects I've started that are second-priority: updating the Journal of Law and Social Parody, updating Three Years of Hell to be compatible with the new Sixapart style system, or working on a novel. These "when I have a minute" projects slip through the cracks and never seem to make much progress. Because they don't have definite due dates and generally are a bit amorphous, I don't set them up in Microsoft Project. On the other hand, if I were to include them on my Outlook task list, it would go on for more than the two pages it already covers.

Some of you will be saying, "You've got to be kidding me? You use the task list in Outlook? I can't even keep that up to date." But I'm sure one of my readers has a pretty good system for keeping themselves focused on these second-order tasks. Some of you might even have little techniques you use to make sure such things get done. Feel like sharing?

July 01, 2005

Natural Selection and The Strength of College Conservatives

Over at TPM Cafe, "Cold Cardinal" does some moaning about the weakness of college Democrats. I'll have to say, I've never noticed a lot of weakness, but apparently Mr. Cardinal thinks otherwise:

In short, the College Democrats I’ve observed are little league. Year after year, they get their clocks cleaned in the campus debates. Republicans are charismatic and articulate, while the Dems stammer and fumble their way through hastily assembled factoids and lame talking points. The liberal professors are reduced to cringing in the corner as we wonder what the heck happened to the insights we thought we were imparting in class.

Now, first let me say that I certainly can't say that my anecdotal experience would fit with Mr. Cardinal's in any but the weakest of forms. Columbia has a great and active Federalist Society, I suppose, but the ACS--other than having a weaker website--has never seemed too much out of its league by comparison. (Cardinal is, of course, talking about undergraduate education, so I may be comparing apples and oranges.)

Mr. Cardinal goes through a laundry list of reasons for why the conservatives are so much better off, some of them sounding like the standard conspiracy theories. We're awash in Scaife/Horowitz money, for instance. (One would think that this is outweighed by the vast institutional advantage that lefties get from the institution itself. For instance, one might make some kind of argument that the Public Interest Law Foundation or the Center for Public Interest Law are non-ideological. You can excuse me while I laugh.) He also mentions that while the left has a multitude of activist groups that dilute the talent pool, Republicans are more concentrated. As a conservative in higher education, however, I think I can point to two factors that present even greater advantage--if such advantage exists--to conservatives.

Continue reading "Natural Selection and The Strength of College Conservatives" »

May 10, 2005

Law School Deans Defend Judicial Independence

In a round-up of reaction to the letter by law school deans condemning "threats of retaliation against federal judges by members of Congress and others":

  • Prof. Leiter says shame on the three Deans who didn't sign;
  • Prof. Kerr asks how effective this will be anyway, since most critics of the judiciary aren't exactly unused to criticism from the signatories;
  • and Prof. Ribstein questions the wisdom of "a stampeding herd of deans signing letters."

I'm going to have to go with the last two, which are quite worth reading.

May 04, 2005

Not the Best Day In The World

Well, my inbox is now full of bounce messages from yesterday's virus attack, thus proving that whoever's infected hasn't solved the problem yet. This has been a huge distraction from both my (now finished) seminar paper and any hope of studying for Professional Responsibility.

Meanwhile, over at the Business School, there's this very silly parody (requires Windows Media Player). No one, and I mean no one should ever put the lyric "If Excel was a drug I'd sell it by the gram" in a song. Still, if you want three minutes and forty-one seconds of exam distraction, you could do worse.

May 03, 2005

Post Exam Rant

Don't worry: this isn't a post about how badly my Corporations exam went. (I mean, it didn't go well, and not only because Wings & Vodka would seem a paragon of preparedness compared to how I felt this morning. But I don't feel the need to complain about it, really.)

Rather, I want to say one more time--not that it matters--how much I hate ExamSoft, the cheating-prevention program used at Columbia to make sure that we future attorneys don't try to beat the curve by accessing the internet or anything. I am happy to go on record as saying that this software is the most ridiculous garbage I have ever inflicted on my hard drive--no, any hard drive, ever, including an old WWIV-based text games I half-finished in the early 90s. Dorothy Parker once reviewed a novel by saying it shoudn't be set aside lightly, but hurled with great force. Similarly, there is no feature of ExamSoft that justifies its existence, or suggests why every copy should not be wiped from any magnetic storage mediium, its source code run through some kind of randomizer, and the utterance of its very name proscribed on penalty of never being allowed to own a functioning operating system again. [1]

What's so wrong with this software?

  • It's pointless: We're supposed to be entering an honorable profession, and as my professional responsibility course points out, one of the purposes of a very expensive legal education is to provide a bond that ensures ethical behavior. Is there that much risk that someone's going to put $150K at jeopardy by accessing their electronic notes? (Besides, most of my law school exams have been open-note to begin with. Why not just let us use electronic outlines that are easily searchable?) We could avoid all these problems by saying, "You're on your honor, boys and girls. Cheat and we'll kick you out of here, and by the way, we're monitoring net usage during the exam."
  • It doesn't work: I have yet to attend a law school exam in which someone's computer didn't reject ExamSoft, forcing them either to start (and thus finish) the exam late, or handwrite the exam. This fantastically unfair to the person taking the exam--now stressing over whether their machine will hold up through the entire four hours, and quite often allows them to listen to students yakking about the exam on the way out of the room, while they're still working. One would think the certainty of the software failing would outweigh the utility gained by reducing the possibility of cheating.
  • It discriminates against non-Windows users: As I've mentioned, I have a stable of old laptops that I keep around specifically to give Macintosh (or potentially Linux) users around exam time. But these are old and clunky machines, and I'm sure Mac users would be happier with their one-buttoned clamshells and the little apple-shaped logo. (That said, if I saw the little bomb-symbol that Macintoshes used to throw up during a system crash on an exam, I might very well lose my mind.)
  • It's inconvenient: For those of us with widescreen monitors, exam-taking is an exercise in walleye-vision. In order to block your desktop, the ExamSoft window is forced to its maximum size, but there's no easy feature that allows you to resize the writing area. It always takes me a while to realize that just because my paragraph is only two lines long doesn't mean it's short: it takes a lot of words to cross a 15.4" screen.

Sadly, none of these problems look set to change any time soon. Thankfully, I only have one more in-class exam on Friday, and then I can once again uninstall this miserable excuse for a program.

[1]: Non-Windows users will inevitably insert some crack here about ExamSoft only running on Windows, and thus you didn't have a functioning operating system to begin with, natch. Guess we'll see which commentors take the time to read the footnotes...

April 21, 2005

Ethics Question

I've been asked by a surveying company to put a link to a survey regarding legal recruiting, with the idea that anyone who fills out the survey would may get some small compensation, and I'd get a cut as well.

Oddly, if someone had just sent me an email saying, "We've got an online survey for law students to fill out," I'd probably put a link up. But someone being willing to pay me for a link seems strange. I couldn't give you a good argument why it worries me, but it does. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Should I post it? Would anyone want to fill it out anyway?

April 15, 2005

The Decorous Gentleman of NYU

Following up on my comment on the tacky reception Justice Scalia got at NYU, the student involved, one Eric Berndt, has just had his rather histrionic justification outed at Wonkette. It's reads like something you'd expect from a high school sophomore:

Do not presume to tell me when and with how much urgency to stand up for our rights.

I am 17 months out of a lifelong closet and have lost too much time to heterosexist hegemony to tolerate those who say, as Dr. King put it, "just wait." If you cannot stomach a breach of decorum when justified outrage erupts then your support is nearly worthless anyway. At least do not allow yourselves to become complicit in discrimination by demanding obedience from its victims. Many of our classmates chose NYU over higher-ranked schools because of our reputation as a "private university in the public service" and our commitment to certain values.

Apparently Mr. Berndt thinks etiquette isn't one of those values to which NYU should be committed. Thankfully, it certainly appears that he's in the minority.

Actually, the problem is very much one of values, particularly the all-too-common value judgment that "if something is not legally prohibited, it must be proper behavior." I'd expound further, but Will Baude has beat me to the main issue, and puts it rather well:

There's no particular reason that the notion of "privacy" for purposes of academic and social etiquette should perfectly track the notion of "privacy" for purposes of constitutional law. Etiquette is a bottom-up institution determined by the evolving standards of society. Law (at least written constitutional law and statutory law, if not common law) is laid down in written rules set forth in large books. It would be passing strange if the legal standards devised by the 39th Congress and ratified by mid 19th-century citizens rose or fell with the evolving standards of etiquette.

Strange indeed. Further, if a university can't invite a Supreme Court justice to an awards ceremony without his being insulted--if this is the atmosphere to which a university will submit its guests--then what kind of intellectual climate can it hope to foster? What good is NYU's much-vaunted dedication to diversity if it acts to oppress intellectual engagement? Does it really matter if your mob is rainbow-coloured?

Fortunately, it appears that NYU's Dean has no time for such things. I have no word of any action taken against students or protestors, but it's nice to see at least this condemnation.

April 14, 2005

NYU and Columbia

Prof. Ann Althouse suggests that those making the Columbia/NYU choice focus mostly on the USN&WR rankings:

How many people get into both Columbia and NYU and feel they must go to Columbia because it's one tick higher in the U.S. News ranking, and then the whole time they are there they have this sense that life is so much better down there in Greenwich Village? Don't pretend you took anything more than that into account! List a lot of diverse factors to assuage your pain, but in the end, you know what you did.

Maybe, maybe not. But I hope, looking around my law school, that no one here is tacky enough to use an award ceremony as an opportunity to query a Supreme Court justice about his intimate relations with his wife.

More from Ex Post.

(Full disclosure: I only applied three places, didn't even know about USN&WR until after I'd accepted, and none of them were NYU.)

April 05, 2005

A Few New Facts, A Few New Allegations, and What Passes for Democracy In Our Student Senate

With regards to the Student Senate Election controversy I blogged about a few days ago, a few clarifications, new facts, and announcements have come out that deserve comment. First of all, I was contacted by the Columbia ACS folks and given a bit of information so as to reconcile my comments with their announcement about the elections. Essentially, they've told me that the slate of candidates was mailed to their listserv by a board member, albeit with a large disclaimer that it was not official ACS policy. Nonetheless, the listserv was supposed to be for board members on ACS matters only, and thus the board member involved has been sanctioned. [1]

[Since this is very "inside baseball" for CLS, I'm putting the rest of the article, including a comment policy, below the fold. Sorry to bore my other readers.]

Continue reading "A Few New Facts, A Few New Allegations, and What Passes for Democracy In Our Student Senate" »

April 02, 2005

Unexpected Drama

Now here's something I never thought possible. Elections to the Columbia Law School Student Senate just got acrimonious. I'll admit to being asleep at the wheel last week (too much work), so this came as a bit of a surprise.

According to the Official Student Senate election site, in my year there were 16 candidates competing for 15 seats. As Prof. Yin would probably agree, a reality show with this election as a premise would be a real snoozer. Accordingly, on Wednesday I "changed channels" and went to a lecture of securities law in Asia. I didn't vote. Little did I know that over on the Senate Broadcasting Network, the news bulletin equivalent of the Kennedy assassination was in the works.

You see, this wasn't really the list of candidates. Or rather, it wasn't the only list. Over at this website, an alternate slate--with additional write-in candidates--had been put forward. I certainly hadn't seen this site, and if it was emailed out generally, I missed it. But I have it on good authority that it was specifically emailed out to the mailing lists of LALSA, and SALSA[1], as well as the American Constitution Society. This stealth campaigning seems to have been magnificently successful: the majority of candidates on the slate seem to have won. Meanwhile, some long-standing incumbents in my year lost their seats.

Hence, an election I expected to be a foregone conclusion wasn't. There's some acrimony within the student body, as well as a petition to overturn the elections. I won't pretend to know enough about how the Senate elections work, so I couldn't tell you if the petition has a chance. So long as write-in votes are allowed, this the outcome has the feel of something legitimate, and a sterling example of the use of information to change outcomes. The targetted emailing of supportive groups, the attempt to charge up small constituencies to build grand coalitions... it's a set of tactics Karl Rove could love.[2]

On the other hand, there's the whiff of the smoke-filled room about this. One would have thought the entire point of there being a ballot was to advertise the presence of those running to those who might be casually interested. Meanwhile, who were the directors of this bit of political theater? (According to the site, "This election initiative and the final slate of candidates that has been put forward were established by consensus within an informal working group composed of student leaders in both public interest and identity groups at CLS, which has met periodically throughout the year to collaborate on issues of mutual interest." Is that a Montecristo I smell?)

That I didn't have notice of this is a pity: a real election campaign would have been grist for a lot of good writing. (Well, a lot of writing, anyway.) And imagine if it had inspired the Federalist or the Republicans or whomever to put up their own write-ins? I might actually have been inspired to vote.

As I'm typing here with torrential rains splashing down and winds worthy of Fujin beating at the windows, I'm wondering how much weather and politics we can import from Florida. Because emotions are running high among some of the parties involved, I'm turning comments off on this entry. (Anyone with updates or disagreements can mail me, though I don't promise to respond.) In the meantime, I heartily await seeing what the reaction to this will be in the next election: after all, if selective campaigning for unballoted candidates is a winning strategy for one group, what will happen when everyone is doing it?

[1]: For those not familiar with the acronyms, that's the Latin American Law Students Association and the South Asian Law Students Association. I'm sure they weren't the only identity groups to get the slate forwarded to them, but I think that's enough for one to get the point. A full list of student organizations is available here.

[2]: Those of you who read me on a regular basis, by the way, will know that's not an insult, although I rather imagine some of the candidates would find it an uncomfortable comparison.

UPDATE: I'll probably make a few grammar and spelling changes to this entry, which I'll probably mark via strike tags, since I won't have comments in which to post corrections.

March 28, 2005

Not Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed

Suffice it to say that this week has been difficult indeed. I've not really done anything this weekend, except work, which is why you've heard so little from me. I'll try and put an omnibus entry of interesting things together tomorrow, but as for having time to actually write something? You must be joking.

Two people have emailed me recently, however, asking one question: should I apply for law review? I'll point you towards two conflicting opinions: one from Heidi, who thinks you should try out so long as you aren't doing it for the wrong reasons. Somehow she works St. Crispen's Day in there, so I suppose she thinks it worth shedding blood with brethren for. On the other hand, there's an old post by Scheherazade, who pretty much thinks the opposite.

My opinion? Yeah, like I have time to give my opinion.

March 09, 2005

Well, That's Predictable

One more spam email, this one from the Student Senate, announcing a thoroughly predictable open meeting opposing the Solomon Amendment. We're going to pass (yawn) another resolution stating that we as law students object to legislation requiring us to allow the military to interview on campus.

I know, you're shocked, right? (Anyone betting against the passage of the resolution is advised to get very long odds.)

Suffice it to say that I will be spending my time not at the meeting (Thursday, March 10, 12:30 in JG 106) but having lunch, quite possibly a beer, and ignoring yet another piece of moral posturing by an elite group spouting off about their feelings of "academic freedom" being injured. The articles of the resolution are thoroughly uninspiring:

6. Recommend that the Administration supplement the asterisked note attached to Career Services e-mails and the posted flyers outside J.A.G. interview rooms with more effective means of ensuring the Students' accurate understanding of the issue based on current and future events.

(emphasis added) This makes CLS students sound rather thick, to be honest. We're already bludgeoned by information about this: does the Senate really think that the message just isn't getting through? Sure, the ALL CAPS EMAILS and the big blustery signs serve as wonderful bits of conformist intimidation ("Look: she just went into the JAG room! How dare she!") but I can't imagine supposedly intelligent law students need more to be put on notice. If one has gotten all the way to interviewing for JAG without hearing about the Solomon Amendment, one really shouldn't be hired by the JAG or anyone else (and should probably be checked for functioning vital signs).

The resolution is nothing but moral posturing. If this is really such a moral outrage, the Law School (and the Student Senate) are perfectly free to tell JAG never to darken their doors. Yes, they'd have to give away a lot of yummy federal money, but this is a moral issue, right? Certainly if we really think this, we should have the balls to turn away tainted cash.

Otherwise, if the University is going to take the King's shilling, it shouldn't be surprised when it gets dragooned [1]. In the meantime, I have enough trust in my fellow students to think that they can make their own moral judgments about the appropriateness of interviewing with JAG on campus without collective lecturing from the Student Senate, the administration, or anyone else. We are all supposed to be adults here, not high school juniors.

I'm all for politely asking those who wish to interview with JAG to interview elsewhere. After all, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is offensive to some of my classmates, and as a matter of comity a polite request should be met with a polite reply. Presumably we could act as gentlemen. But comity cuts both ways: those who do want to interview with JAG shouldn't be beaten over the head with warnings more appropriate for tobacco cartons, nor do they deserve moral lectures from a self-satisfied majority. [2] This resolution isn't about comity, it isn't a polite request, and its language does nothing to suggest that those who disagree with it should respond with any good will in turn.

[1]: Since one of my commentators objects whenever I use a word like this, I mean dragoon in this sense: "To exact free quarters from."

[2]: Imagine if NARAL, when they decided to interview on campus, were to have a big sign placed outside their door saying, "THESE INDIVIDUALS HAVE SUPPORTED THE DESTRUCTION OF XXX MILLION FETUSES LAST YEAR," maybe with some tasteful display of a fetus. Appetites for moral lecturing on employers generally depends entirely on whose axe ox is being gored [3].

[3]: Update... "axe being gored?" Slip of the tongue combination of "whose ox is being gored" and "who has an axe to grind." One more reason why friends shouldn't let friends blog on cough medication.

March 04, 2005

This is not a feature. It's a bug.

Oh dear. I had thought they'd fixed one interesting "feature" of the CLS bulk-mailing system that was a consistent thorn last year. It used to be that when a professor bulk-mailed a class, anyone hapless enough to hit the "reply" key would email not the professor, but the entire mailing list. This counterintuitive feature led to great annoyance and occasional hilarity last year.

I'd thought the problem had been thoroughly fixed. At least for the alumni, it seems not. There must have been a lot of alum with 60+ pieces of email yesterday:

Then the dean did what sounds like an innocent thing. He sent an email to all graduates, that is, alumni and alumnae, of Columbia Law School, with the entire editorial embedded in the email. In fact, I assume that the reason he reprinted his entire editorial in the email is that putting a link in the email wouldn't work because of the Sun's subscription requirement for Web access.

Perhaps you technology-weary can guess what happened next. Among the hard-working graduates of CLS were several lucky souls who were on vacation and had turned on out-of-office autoreply messages. Now, I just located the original message and hit "reply" (without sending, mind you!) to see how a return email would be addressed. It appears that, if one uses "reply" and not "reply all" that responses should go only to the sender. For some reason, however, those autoreplies, once they went back to the dean, were forwarded to the list. As were all the responses by all the people who became increasingly shrill as they received more and more and more email in response to the initial demands for removal.

Ah well. Multiple emails discussing the same thing with accidental replies sent to the whole list? For recent alumni, it must merely have invoked feelings of nostalgia...

February 28, 2005

The Lost Weekend, or Flu-Blogging

Sadly, this will not be a thrilling entry: my weekend has not been much to write about.

This was supposed to be the Great Productive Weekend. Any scrap of reading not yet accomplished was to be caught up and perused. The dorm room was to be cleaned to the extent possible with only one man and Formula 409. There was even the threat that outlines might have been started.

And then, at about 4:00 PM on Friday, my temperature rocketed to 101.4.

That's not too horribly high, until you consider that my healthy body temperature runs a little on the low side. Accompanying this fever was a splitting headache, which only got worse whenever I looked at a monitor. (Hence, the lack of blogging.) And by Saturday, things had gotten so bad that I spent most of the day sleeping, entertained by none-too-pleasant fever dreams.[1]

Saturday caused a bit of misery when my normal over-the-counter cold solution (Dayquil, Dayquil, Dayquil, NyQuil!) did absolutely nothing for fever or headache. At the advice of a nurse, I started taking Motrin, and thankfully that would break the fever for four hours, with the headache returning just near the end. So since then, I've been popping Motrin like an addict, and am very thankful to whatever man, woman, or beneficent angel invented ibuprofen.

In any event, that's why I've been running silent the last few days. Now I can just about bear to type on my monitor for half an hour or so. But annoyingly, the great "catch up with work so that I can take Spring Break off" initiative seems to have failed miserably.

Anyway, hopefully more entertaining news this week. As Scheherazade has advised, letting yourself get sick is one of the dumbest mistakes you can make.

(And a big thanks to everyone who brought soup, tea, oranges, and other needed supplies. I'm now in debt to you valuable members of the 113th Sheep Dog Brigade.)

[1]: Of these dreams, two stand out in particular. At about 5:30 PM on Saturday, I woke with the complete, if wholly irrational, conviction that one of my best friends from high school had died, though I couldn't for the life of you have told me why. I didn't call her--thank goodness, since that would have been an uncomfortable conversation--largely because her phone number was in my computer, and that screen-brightness thing made the idea too painful.

The other one, though, I wish I could remember, because it was a very complicated legal puzzle that I kept going back and forth with in my head. It had all the classics of good law school torture: paragraphs of questions that are left unanswered; critical ambiguities and a chronic lack of facts; and all I know is that I never found a reasonable solution. I think it deal with professional responsibility; if it comes back to me, I'll be sure to post it, although really, it probably wasn't actually lucid anyway.

February 22, 2005


It's been a day of pretty earth-shattering productivity. I've finally gotten my Note (revised a good deal from when I submitted it to the Law Review) to my note advisor for his comments. This makes me feel pretty good: while I still have some work to do, the project is less constrained by deadlines and more constrained by my imagination. I've actually found myself fondly researching it in the last few days.

Otherwise, I've been ticking tasks off my checklist at a fantastic rate, getting back up to speed with class reading, and generally finding my way back towards organization. Surely this trend cannot continue!

It's true what they say about your 2L year: they work you to death. On the upside, my father reminded me of a key fact after I lamented that I'd never be able to buy a bespoke suit. I'm heading to Hong Kong, where such things are slightly cheaper than Saville Row. Perhaps--not certainly, but perhaps--I can try my luck there.

February 08, 2005

One Little Recipe For A New (Not Quite) Anarchist's Cookbook

What with the discussion of Ward Churchill and the continuing controvery of Columbia Unbecoming (the film about supposed anti-Israel bias in Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies department), political controversy in the classroom has been much in the air here, and thus much on my mind. Believe it or not, political bias isn't as big a deal as a 2L: once you're completely in command of your own classes, you can determine the optimal degree of controversy you'd like to experience. (For instance, to make a quick daguerreo-stereotype[1], Corporations is a pretty good course for capitalists; Labor Law is comfortable for lefties. Reverse the prior sentence if you want a bit more "challenge.")

I doubt anyone would say that the classrooms here are politics-free, and not merely where it's relevant. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the irrelevant "humorous" asides cut pretty much one way. (Of course, other's mileage may vary: I'm sure somewhere there's a law student who can relate tales of continual extemporaneous Kerry-bashing.) Mostly it's harmless.

Continue reading "One Little Recipe For A New (Not Quite) Anarchist's Cookbook" »

February 04, 2005

I've Gotta Get Out Of This Place

Blech. I just returned from making a cup of coffee to find out that one of my new dorm-mates has taken the slimy disgustingness of my kitchen to a new low. Someone--I have no idea who--used my quality no-stick pan and three of my plates to cook some greasy dinner, and then "washed" them. Those scare quotes are there for a reason.

Disgusting. This weekend, now that the Note is done, will consist of a lot of planning for the next few months. "Figure out a way to move out of the dorms" just got pushed up the agenda...

January 27, 2005

The Lack of Refractive Qualities of Dorm Glass, or A Warning to the Afternoon Post-Coital Set

So I'm working on a relatively high floor of a university building today (location omitted to protect the guilty), chatting with a friend about a matter of great and principled import. I had listened to his point and was just managing to get passionate about a rebuttal--really managing some eloquence, or perhaps just some heated grumpiness--when I notice that his eyes are bigger than pie-plates, and he's not really paying attention anymore.

"Erm... what did I say?"

"Oh," he replies, "Nothing. I was just wondering why there's a naked woman in that window over there."

In surprise, I turned around, and sure enough in the window across the street there's a young lady's bare back on display. Somewhat in disbelief, I muttered, "No, it's just a skin-tone colored shirt and a trick of the light." But then she turned around, and... well, let us merely say that a room full of law students lost all reasonable doubt about the nature of the situation.

Neither she nor her apparent partner--who showed up near the window a minute later--evinced the slightest sign of realizing that they had become part of the scenery. And after a bit, they faded back into the room and out of sight.

Anyway, as a public service announcement for those living near Columbia, or even those who merely live in big, crowded cities: if you're wandering around in the buff, shut your curtains. After all, university campuses are filled with individuals who have homework, and virtually anything is a better distraction than doing that. There will never be a shortage of people looking out of windows, and more than likely they'll end up looking into yours.

January 26, 2005

Such a long day...

The day has been exhaustion upon exhaustion. Wednesdays are a sign of exactly how poor I am at scheduling. Every single one of my classes meets on Wednesday. Add to that a Law Review meeting, the need to plan out my TA session[1], and the ever-present pressure of my Note, and I think I understand why Wednesday evenings are so demotivating. My main goal tonight is to get to bed somewhat early.

One thing I loathe about this whole Note deadline: the guilt. I got back exhausted tonight, and something defiant said, "Screw it. I'm tired, I can't string a sentence together to save my life." So I picked up my copy of Kafka on the Shore, and for the next hour I revelled in the tale of a strange runaway called Kafka and Nakata, the crazy old man who can talk to cats.

Typical of Murakami, Kafka swims in an atmosphere of longing wonder. Similar in structure to Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, its chapters have alternating narrators, switching between first and third person, and tell stories that seem only distantly related. But unlike Hard-boiled, Kafka's stories don't differ as much in style or mood. Both characters are undergoing a similar strangeness, and both seem fractured in ways that feel consistent: you can see how the two stories will "fit" much more easily.

Reading Murakami makes me want to write myself. Though I worry a bit about if I'll have time--the young associate is supposed to have time for nothing but work--there's something in my that would like to use my early law experience as fuel for a novel. Sure, what I know of practice thus far isn't extensive enough to confirm my impressions, but it seems to have some very Murakami qualities to it: an environment with a rigid structure (upon which a more surreal or mythical character can be imposed); a number of characters of varying degrees of normality, helpfulness, and isolation; and mundane qualities that can be made magic. For some reason my heart says that practice is more likely to be a catalyst for whatever creative urges I have than law school is.

But whatever. None of this rids me of the guilt: two hours lost to the novel. I suppose I should sleep, so that tomorrow I may return to the Note.

[1]: At some point, I really ought to describe my classes/projects for the term on this blog. One more item for the to-do list, eh?

January 25, 2005

Minor Annoyance

I know it's a little thing, but I really wish that when Financial Aid sent out an announcement of a scholarship opportunity, they'd include more than just the words "Scholarship Opportunity" in the subject line. Since November 23rd, I've received nine such mailings, none of which have been of any use to me.

None of them have been useful because I am not: (1) domiciled in Bronx County; (2) a native of New York City; (3) of Polish descent; (4) Jewish and living in Queens County; (5) (second announcement of 2); (6) a resident of Passaic or Bergen County, New Jersey; (7) of Italian heritage; (8) a (presumably racial) minority law student; or (9) a woman.

Two of these I recieved today while I was working on my Note. Normally incoming email is a welcome distraction, and perhaps it's just the foul mood one gets while completing an unwelcome task, but I felt quite a letdown upon opening them. After all, the subject line basically says "APPLY FOR MONEY" while the body text says "NOT FOR YOU!"

For the most part, these seem to be private groups spending their own money, so I have no gripe against the concept of the scholarships themselves. Still, even if it's just grumpiness on my part, it would be rather nice if they'd put the relevant race/gender/location restriction in the subject line, so I could just delete the message and go on.

UPDATE: I've discussed this with a friend who pointed out that, despite having very little demographic similarity with myself, she's not eligible for any of the above either. Therefore, I think if I become wealthy enough to endow a scholarship in the future, I shall create "None of the Above" funds, available to any student unable to apply to any other scholarship offered by a participating university that year. That way everyone has at least one envelope to open.

January 24, 2005

Not quite hotter than hell, but...

It's about seven degrees outside. (That's Farenheit. For my English readers, that translates to "real bloody cold.") But my room is so warm that I have the window open. There is something deeply, deeply wrong with this.

January 19, 2005

My Belly Is A Science Fiction Double Feature

(OK, that's a pretty surreal headline.)

Let's take a break from my normal discussion of law, law school, and politics to discuss something else that's been weighing on my mind. Three forces are creating a perfect storm of discomfort in my life: it is very, very cold outside; law school might be considered the ultimate anti-diet of junk food and sedentary reading; and I am almost pathetically ignorant of the Way of the Gym. All of this is resulting in there being more of me than really is ideal.

When I lived in England, I didn't really worry about this because my lifestyle involved much more walking than I do these days. And my general attitude towards exercise has always been to do more when it looked like I might slip up a waist size: whatever I might lack in motivation or vanity, I rarely look forward to the prospect of paying for new clothing in larger sizes.

Now, however, a combination of age and being stuck to a desk seems to actually be doing me cardiovascular harm. Were it spring or summer, I'd start jogging, but right now every step outside involves an immediate desire to seek warmth. My schedule precludes attending a weekly martial arts class. And so with some reluctance, I'm thinking I should figure out where Columbia hides its gym.

Unfortunately, I have a phobia of gyms. Twice in my life I've joined them, once when I lived in D.C., and last summer in Tokyo. Both times I encountered the same problem: I am wholly ignorant of gym etiquette and formality.

For instance, what does one wear to a gym? I dimly understand that there's an entire industry of spandex and lycra that has to do with arcane subjects like "breathability" and cloth that molds itself to one's body mass. Variously remembered snippets of stand-up comedy suggest to me that those not already body-sculpted are advised to avoid them, and this seems prudent. But for a student gym, are old shorts and a t-shirt too much/too little? Are white socks gym attire, or has something changed since I've been last? What about shoes: black, white, striped, does it really matter?

As someone whose physical vanity can't normally be described as excessive (an exception should be made for suits, which I find more of a hobby than anything else), gyms are intimidating. In most situations I'd put together some outfit that combined my personal convenience with some aesthetic preference, and convince myself that the rest of the world can look elsewhere if they don't like it. (Needless to say, I'm not winning any "best-dressed" awards at Columbia.) But a gym seems to be an exercise in being looked at, and I find such nonchalance impossible there.

This summer wasn't so difficult, perversely because of the Japan factor. Wandering around as a foreigner can sometimes be annoying, but in the gym it's liberating. I wasn't going to buy the $250 worth of gymwear common to most of the other sweaty men in the weight room, but who cares if they stared at my t-shirt and old jogging shorts? I'm five inches taller than the average height, a completely different skin tone, and the only person trying to balance a bilingual dictionary on top of their magazine when using the treadmill. I had no illusions that I'd blend in.

Here it's more difficult. Between stylistic concerns, the normal comparative vanity that's involved in group exercise, and the fact that I really don't know much about how to do gym exercise anyway, I feel in need of some Virgil or Beatrice to guide me through the maze of machines and aerobic exercisers.

I hope most everyone has some area lilke this: a perfectly normal thing that they feel ill-equipped to deal with. It would make me feel vaguely less silly. Nonetheless, it's getting to the point where I have no choice but to solve the problem somehow. To quote the old Rodney Dangerfield line, "I'm so out of shape, when I die they're going to donate my body to science fiction."

January 14, 2005

Working, Fixing Computers...

As a few people may know, I spend some of my time at Columbia as a kind of low-level computer repairman: when someone's computer breaks, I'll do my best to get the data off and fix it. [1] For some reason, there's been a lot of it going around the last three days. I've come across three computers with faults in either the boot sector, the registry or a corrupt file in the C:\Windows directory. It's a fairly easy fix: load up a Windows XP CDROM, use Recovery Console to get to a command prompt, use the magic words "CHKDSK /p" and "CHKDSK /r"[2], and then wait two hours while the hard drive puts itself back together.

But I'm a bit mystified to see three of these at once: it's not a very common fault, at least in my experience. I'd expect to do this once a term, not thrice in three days. Anyone know of a virus going around that causes this kind of damage?

Anyway, that's why you've not heard much from me. My blogging time has been spent on other computers, doing some reading while gradually banishing the Blue Screen of Death.

[1]: Yes, I fix computers for Democrats, too. And I've never yet succumbed to the temptation to put a really big picture of Karl Rove on the desktop, then use the Profile Manager to disable their ability to customize the desktop...

[2]: Please note that this is no advice of any kind, only what I've done to fix things. Whatever you do, PLEASE don't base any attempted fix on what I've written above. Do your own research and find solutions from websites that claim to be competent to handle these things. This is a law student website, and that should tell you something about the quality of the computer advice you're going to get here.

December 11, 2004

Update on Introspective Wonderland and the Ideologically Balanced Academic World

Just a few more data points for consideration:
Via For the Record via the (ever-dependable) Brian Leiter, we have Mel Gilles. To quote Prof. Leiter, "[B]e sure to get to the bit about the victims of domestic violence." I really couldn't agree more. And note, of course, that For the Record is written by two assistant professors, currently seeking tenure and their own slot on hiring committees. Just a bit to whet your appetite:

But really, why should I be surprised that right-wingers are generally not very good at good argument ? We progressives really are "bleeding hearts"---not only for all those who are presently being oppressed by the pitiless imperatives of corporate capitalist warfare, but also for those poor suckers who for one reason or another keep shooting themselves in the foot in the voting booth, endorsing various unsustainable prejudices, believing repeatedly refuted falsehoods, willingly submitting to the unlistenable propaganda spewed by Fox News, Bill O'Reilly and the like (or the more sophisticated but equally delirious Wall Street Journal and National Review), and (though it is practically taboo not to do so) gullibly embracing various religious hallucinations. We progressives continue to think: surely such people are not intrinsically stupid, mean, greedy, and/or reprehensibly credulous. Rather, they must be victims of some sort, operating under brainwashed false consciousness, who would embrace the good, the just and the true if only they were made aware of it.

But why think this? If the people who currently hold the prejudiced, factually corrupt views and attitudes that characterize the American right were inclined to be open to exposure of these views as prejudiced and factually corrupt, then (again, with exceptions) they probably would already have given up these views. It's disingenuous to pretend that we think that "intelligent people can disagree" about the value of the progressive agenda. This agenda is correct, by every reasonable factual standard and nearly every reasonable moral standard (such that provincial prejudices and antiquated religious dictates are not enshrined as virtues). And it may well be that those who have failed to perceive its correctness by this point are, shall we say, not operating under appropriate epistemological standards. Supposing so, why think that it is possible to get through to them using reasoned argumentation?

(internal links omitted, emphasis in the text mine)

But don't just stop there: be sure to read about how Republicans are abusers. I'm sure this is a brilliant way to get those who pulled Red-levers last time to switch Blue.

December 08, 2004

Introspective Wonderland and the Ideologically Balanced Academic World

Since the election, the Democrats have been pretty clearly fated for some "What's next for our tribe?" self-examination. Some Democrats--e.g. Chris Geidner--have recommitted themselves to reaching out to convince others of their views. Yet others have determined that the Democrats failed because they just weren't liberal enough. My sympathies lie more with the former than the later, but what do I know? My knowledge of what works for Democrats extends mostly to New York, where overwhelming numerical superiority makes any need for strategy irrelevant.

But speaking of overwhelming numerical superiority and a lack of outreach, take a look at the non-news from academia. A few weeks ago the New York Times notes that liberals outnumber conservatives in academia. One would have thought a brief trip through the faculty lounge at NYU would have been sufficient, but no, the NYT reports on actual studies and all:

One of the studies, a national survey of more than 1,000 academics, shows that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. That ratio is more than twice as lopsided as it was three decades ago, and it seems quite likely to keep increasing, because the younger faculty members are more consistently Democratic than the ones nearing retirement, said Daniel Klein, an associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University and a co-author of the study.

In a separate study of voter registration records, Professor Klein found a nine-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford. That study, which included professors from the hard sciences, engineering and professional schools as well as the humanities and social sciences, also found the ratio especially lopsided among the younger professors of assistant or associate rank: 183 Democrats versus 6 Republicans.

So academia is a fairly liberal place, something that certainly hasn't shocked any of us, even at such staunch conservative bastions as Columbia. (Hey, compare us to Berkeley and NYU and we're practically Red-State material!) That's led to some interesting and introspective commentary the new Leftie Professor blog Left2Right (Tagline: "How can the Left get through to the Right?"), which has had a bit much of the "Conservatives in the Mist" mentality decried by Jonah Goldberg, but has proven an occasional good read. Says David V.:
The exit polls show that Kerry won 55% to 44% among those with post-graduate degrees, but this split pales by comparison with the reported disparity in party affiliation among university faculty. (I have no idea whether the latter reports are reliable. Opinions?) Of course, academics are especially likely to have been alienated by the rightward shift in the Republican Party -- in particular, by the anti-intellectual spirit of that shift, as expressed in the administration's attacks on science. But I think that our blithe confidence in the integrity of our hiring practices is disingenuous. We are well aware that biases can be unconscious. Why, then, are we so quick to believe our own protestations of impartiality? Shouldn't we at least entertain the hypothesis that we are unwittingly influenced by subtle signals of a candidate's political views?

Whatever else one has to say about such ponderings, they're politically quite astute: "Hey, we don't like the Academic Bill of Rights, but maybe we are a little one-sided here, and putting our house in order would take some gunpowder from our opponent's arsenal." Not half bad politics: besides the compromise with is the very lifeblood of electoral success, the proposal seems in tune with the concept that an academia that becomes ever more divorced from the populace at large is unlikely to continue to enjoy public support. And some of the opposing commentary has been really eye-opening, including this comment by Timothy Burke.

But then there's the other side of the liberal debate, which seems determined to make certain that no further heart is won or mind is turned. Personally, I think we conservatives should link, re-link, and keep re-linking to such people, since any moderate who sees their words can't help but move a bit more towards our cause. In that vein, I requote with little commentary:

Philosophy Professor Ron McClamrock of the University of Albany, SUNY:

We outnumber them because academic institutions select for smart people who think their views through; and if you're smart, open-minded, and look into it carefully, you're just more likely to end up with views in the left half of contemporary America. Which is just to say: Lefties are overrepresented in academia because on average, we're just f-ing smarter.

And the always dependable Brian Leiter, in the comments to the Left2Right post:
As to [the intellectual merits of Republicanism], surely there isn't going to be a real argument about the fact that a lot of standard Republican positions (not conservative, not libertarian, but the kinds of positions taken by George W. Bush, the "miserable failure" as you, among others, dubbed him) are rather hard to defend if one is fully, or even partially, informed.

(Ah, I can't let that pass without comment: so the vast majority of Democratic-voting professors find "a lot of the standard positions" of the Democratic Party to be easy to defend? Oh yeah, this is the guy telling me I'm a naif because I don't expect to be drafted in Spring 2005.)

And one other priceless commentator from Left2Right:

Or look at the political inclinations of the undergraduate student body at Harvard, which, in a recent survey, went only 19% for Bush. Considering that a very large number of the undergraduates are accepted in virtue of what amounts to Red State Affirmative Action, that number is impressively low. (Moreover, I'm pretty sure I recollect that, at least in the breakdown by classes in the 2000 election, even the incoming freshmen in very dramatic proportions inclined Democratic.) Now Harvard, to this day, gets an extraordinarily high proportion of the very best students across America, as suggested by the number of National Merit Scholars, SAT perfect scores, Intel Science Award winners, etc. It's hard to look at this without concluding that there is something about intellectual ability that inclines one Democratic.

While one might think that the supersmart righties just go on to business or professional schools after college, and stay away from academe, it's very hard to see in figures like 19% (or indeed lower if one eliminates the considerable effects of Red State Affirmative Action) how that can possibly be true to any significant degree.

Let's put these comments on posters and t-shirts in some of those Purple-but-Might-Lean-Red states, especially the first comment. Such expressions of... let us be charitable and call it "confidence"... are not thought to be massively appealing to moderate voters. The marketing budget the Republicans will need to pick up gains in 2006 might fall by half.

December 07, 2004


How do you know it's winter at Columbia? Your inbox floods with messages reminding you to evaluate courses.

This year, they've started a competitive contest between the three classes to see who fills out the most course evaluations. They've revised the website we use to leave comments. And they've set up an automated spambot to send me endless reminder emails. The frequency of these emails currently surpasses even that of offers to enlarge my manhood, sell me a fake Rolex, or provide me with investment opportunities in the funds of African dictators.

Look, I used to do consulting work. You don't have to sell me on the idea of evaluations: 360 degree evaluations, bottom-up evaluations, project autopsies, I'm all for them. But one key thing about these evaluations? Unless they're going to be followed-up later, they should happen when the project is over.

My classes are not finished. In what kind of rational universe should I be evaluating them yet? And my last property class ends just five hours before the course evaluation deadline, which means if I really want to be serious about this, I have a very narrow window. In reality, we should evaluate courses after the exams, so that we can give future students answers to their most important question: how well does what you learn match up with what you're tested on. But for that we rely on word of mouth, not course evaluations.

In the meantime, I wonder if I can set up an autoreply to spam the course evaluation spammer?

November 21, 2004

Advice on Accepting Any New Projects While a 2L

1) Estimate the amount of time it will take you to complete the project.
2) Double that estimate. This is Estimate A.
3) Determine the number of free hours you have left in the week.
4) Halve that estimate. This is Estimate B.
5) Figure out how much trouble you'll get into if you say no. Measure this in the number of hours it will take you to get out of the trouble. This is Estimate C.
5) If Estimate A is greater than Estimate B plus Estimate C, do not under any circumstances say yes. If Estimate A is less than Estimate B plus Estimate C, go back to Step 1 and reestimate everything, because you probably got your sums wrong.

A) If the person asking you to complete the project is a cute member of the gender(s) to which you are normally attracted, expect a trap and double Estimate A.
B) If the person asking you to complete the project is a Professor or other person who might affect your grades, be very careful: these projects may have higher than estimated values for C.
C) If the project involves any kind of cash payment, add 20% to Estimate B.
D) If the project has the words "quick task," "should be easy," or "minor project" attached, double Estimate A. Any project to which those words can truthfully apply is not generally subcontracted.
E) If the project is for a journal, add 50% to Estimate A. These are never as easy as they seem.
F) Note that Estimate C may be subject to the Time Value of Trouble: that is to say, trouble that will show up tomorrow is less important than trouble that will show up today. On the other hand, trouble involving the aforementioned cute member of the gender(s) to which you are normally attracted may tend to be amusing enough to justify negative values for Estimate C.

Feel free to add your modifiers in the comments.

October 04, 2004

Brief Thoughts About Computer Use In Exams

As I've mentioned before, Columbia uses ExamSoft in its in-class exams, in order to make sure that we cunning law students don't cheat by copying all of Glannon into our Civil Procedure Exams. Or something. Anyway, ExamSoft doesn't seem to play well with Macintosh, which proved a pain in the neck for some 1Ls last year. I think CLS was better about instructing student to buy PCs this year, but I'm sure there's some Macintosh irredentists about who come December will be scrambling for a notebook.

In the meantime, I've been given two old notebook computers by fellow students who were pleased that I'd helped them with data recovery. (I may get a third soon.) They're old, they're clunky, and they may not work perfectly, but I've got them. So what I'm doing--probably towards the end of November--is stripping them of all their data, putting a nice fresh copy of a Windows OS on them, and installing nothing but a copy of ExamSoft.

So if you're a Macintoshy 1L looking for a loaner computer come December, I can't promise anything, but it might be worth you tossing me an email as exams approach. I'll let you take the thing home and test it--make sure it stays running, etc.--and you can return it once you're done.

In the meantime, if anyone has any spare (LEGAL) copies of Windows XP that they don't use anymore and wouldn't mind donating to a good cause, send a thought this way. I've got a bundle of old copies of 98SE that I can use--relics of computers long since gone to dust--but I find XP easier to administer, and wouldn't mind upgrading these old clunkers.

August 18, 2004

Sorry for the Silence

Apologies that I've not written much of late. I've a lot I'd like to say--the interview program is coming up, course schedules have come out, law review work continues--but there's only so many hours in the day, and I do occasionally need sleep.

It reminds me of that old bit of office wisdom: when you're up to your ass in alligators, sometimes it's difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.

August 01, 2004


Ah, back and recovering from jetlag. Since 6AM I've been unable to sleep and trying to get this place in order. I've reworked my network, removed some rather virulent spyware/adware/trojans from my server, and once again this little corner of the Malebolge is operating at peak efficiency. By noon I hope my bags unpack themselves. After that, it's just reviewing things for Law Review and preparing for the morn.

Interesting conversation related to me by a friend in Roppongi:

"So I was talking here to a partner when we were working late, and I said, 'You've got the LSATs, then 1L exams, then Law Review, then interviews for jobs, then a job that takes up twelve to fifteen hours a day, then partnership. When does it end?' He was pretty heartening: 'When you've paid off your law school debts, you've got choices.'"

Remarkable the wisdom you can pick up in Roppongi if you keep your ears open.

As soon as I get done with unpacking, I'm hoping to clean a few things up around 3YoH. For one thing, I was thinking of adding a new skin/fixing the ones I've got, and restructuring the top menu bar, because readers have been reporting problems. (I'm not a particularly good programmer.) If anyone has suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

July 19, 2004

A bit of a change

If you're looking at this blog under the "Three Years of Hell Classic" skin, you may notice a slight change to the upper left-hand corner of the site.

I've decided that it's time to declare 1L year over. It's been a blast, and I hope you've had at least half as good a time reading as I have writing. Welcome to year two.

June 20, 2004

And on the 8th day, God saw Examsoft, and it was not good...

So your friendly neighborhood tempter in training is spending part of his day today hacking Examsoft. Or rather, that's a colorable interpretation of his actions.

More specifically, I'm playing around with alternate shells to Windows XP, because I like the way that some of the shells at Deviant Art look, and I'm feeling insufficiently vain about my current desktop setup. Specifically, I'm looking at Deviant Art's BlackBox gallery, for the popular BlackBox shell. (The other option is Aston. Any recommendations are welcome.)

My thought is that it's completely possible to make either of these shells look exactly like the standard Windows interface, but with a bit of tweaking, allow ExamSoft to load whilst enabling Alt-Tab-style switching. Which, of course, would defeat the entire purpose of the program. As long as I'm going to all the trouble of trying to implement a new shell, I might as well see if bugger up the software.

Now why would a rule fetishist like myself want to break ExamSoft, and even more so, why would I admit to it? Well, first of all, near as I can tell I'm not violating any rules. I'm just implementing a shell and making sure all my software still works: certainly the ExamSoft users agreement can't forbid that. But more to the point, I'm doing it because if I can publish a workaround that makes ExamSoft useless, Columbia might just decide to junk the piece of software I want least on my computer.

Ever since I've installed ExamSoft, I've experienced some system instability that I really despise. I can't tell exactly what it changed when it installed, but I have a feeling that it's one of those, "This won't cause problems on a standard machine, but if you've modded anything, good luck" programs. My machine is heavily modified.

And now ExamSoft has made my life even more difficult. I've switched over the language options on my machine so that the default non-Unicode code page is Japanese, the date and time settings are Japanese, the Office XP language is Japanese... basically conviced my machine that all it needs to be a Japanese version of Windows XP is change its Passport. (Sorry, bad techie pun.) But near as I can tell, this means that ExamSoft is going to encode any exam I take in the wrong codepage, and thus may not decrypt correctly when Columbia tries to read the exam floppy.

Trouble is, I can't tell. I know that when I encode two test exams with different Unicode code pages, I get different encryptions even though I have the same text in the exams. But I can't tell if this is a function of the code page, or merely ExamSoft's encryption method. But I don't feel like finding out in the exam itself.

So... if it does appear that the my shell shift will break ExamSoft, I'll be sure to publish it here.

May 16, 2004


Last night, New York was subjected to wind, rain, and lightning. It was pouring down rain, but my girlfriend and I wanted to watch the storm play its way through the city. We ran around the corner from my dormitory to Nacho Mama's, arriving under their awnings about 50 feet and half a minute later drenched to the bone.

Over the course of a lazy Saturday, we'd been having a debate about the merits of New York summer. The summer heat has never made me happy, and when it's dry in New York I can't walk through the streets without a hacking cough. Sometimes it's allergies, sometimes it's just 'particulate matter,' or whatever their calling the nasty dust which rises out of the streets here. I'm not a fan of the sun, and the humidity does not make me happy. All in all, I was negative.

Summer storms change that, though. They clean the dust from the air, and by driving most people into their homes, clean the crowds from the street. On a Saturday night, we could sit in a nearly-empty cafe, watching lightning play around the high-rises.

A storm in New York isn't like those in El Paso, where you can see the sheets of water speeding at you across the plain, or in Alabama, where the approach of the storm cell burst heralded by a sudden muggy thickness in the already jelly-like humidity. The whole thing is much more muted: down in the concrete maze of apartment blocks, you can hear thunder and see rain, but the lightning is reduced to muzzle-flashes in the distance. Meanwhile, the city itself spotlights the thunderclouds through the reflection of its ambient light.

Every so often, when the weather is right on top of you, there's proper lightning. Otherwise, it's like viewing the storm through tunnel-vision.

Exams are over now. I can spend some small time looking up at the sky, instead of down at my books.

April 28, 2004

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 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.

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.

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

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Signing Off

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the imbroglio
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Paris to offer 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations to rent by the end of the year

The Republic of T.
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Where You Link is What You Get

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