Friday, June 30, 2006

A Transitional Period

It is difficult to write substantive blog posts when you only have two kid-free days a week to pack and do all your errands before a big move. It's even harder when you've packed away all of your relevant-to-thesis law books and 5-reams-of -paper-worth law review articles, and especially hard if you're trying to back up every file on your 5 year old laptop (hey, it still works, and I'm waiting for MS Vista) and updating your entire music library on a higher capacity IPod so that your engineer brother can compltely reformat your hard drive and reinstall the entire operating system to ensure peak performance. Starting over means a blank slate, but it also means your mind feels largely emptied (or rather, everything is temporarily misplaced and shipping via UPS Ground) as well. I feel like I don't know what to write.

So I feel ill-equipped to write anything very legal right now, despite the fact that most resources I need are online. It's too bad, since right now is prime blawgging time what with the end of the current term for the Supreme Court and so many interesting cases. I just feel a bit too unsettled right now to write about federalism or war powers---and besides, the real blawggers are doing such a fine job of it. At night, after a day of kids or packing, I just like to read my 10 legal blogs and 6 academic blogs and 3 newspapers, talk to friends, write something for the blog, and finish around 2 am with a chapter or two of a novel. I don't really want to unpack a book or article just to find some reference to a law related post. It's not weariness with the law. It's laziness with the packing/unpacking I've been doing these past couple of months. And since I'm not well-read or well-written enough to do legal analysis cold (and for some reason, despite my non-use of drugs or alcohol, I can't remember anything and rely on abstracts/outlines I make myself of everything I read), ehh, I think I'll wait till after next Friday to do some.

So I'm going to be a bit kind to myself for the next week, and indulge in some navel-gazing. It's easier to write on the fly. There is no need to hyperlink every other word. Being naturally solipsistic, I think such writing will just flow from me (the way quick legal analysis flows for more experienced law profs (you know, not "aspiring) in which they can write substantively without reaching for a law review article or book to make sure they're correct about something they know expertly). But I'll try not to turn this into a teenage diary. No, what I want to do is offer meditations on transition. What it feels like to change.

Right now, I'm pretty tired, but happy. My nights ae more social now, spent chatting with friends old and new. When you move away, people like to say goodbye. Which is nice, and ironic since though I've told the entire world (or rather, that part of the world that reads me) and a few friends that I'm going for an LLM moving next Friday, I haven't sent a mass email update to that whole coterie of everyone-I-am-on-friendly-terms-with-from-college-lawschool-and-beyond. Happy as I am about my program and about moving to a new place, it's strangely depressing to realize this is the first bit of news, good or bad, you have to tell people. Readers of long novels will attest to the pleasures in reading about the quotidean, in the detailed telling of the mundane daily events and the color of the chintz that makes the reader part of that world. Well, that's only in novels where at least something happens every once in a while. My daily life has been quite boring and uneventful this past year. It's the thing I keep describing to you, though it never changes: watch kids. spend time with family. try to research/write on 3 days off. bake. Just as those who are under 25 cannot feel true "ennui" (you're just bored, you'll get over it), so too does the boring person (me) lack the ability to call the details of her life charmingly quotidian. It's just boring.

It hasn't really hit me that I'll be leaving my family and I won't see them for 4 months. I'm happy for the independence, but I will miss the kids even more than I miss the large and loud family. But that's not what I'm sad about tonight. I figure it'll hit me when I'm alone in my apartment, and it's really quiet and there's no kid shouting for me.

No, tonight what I'm sad about is leaving behind my books. Remember that scene in The Great Gatsby where Daisy is weeping over the beauty and opulence of Gatsby's shirts? How the shirts demonstrated Gatsby's economic power of ownership, how he wanted to use that power to win/buy Daisy, and how such power was at once terrible and beautiful?

I want to weep over my books. I'm packing only the law books (and not even the large case books!) on Critical Race Theory, federalism (of course), hate crimes, jurisprudence and legal theory, and references for academic legal writing. That's one whole box already. Then I'm packing a few choice fiction collections (Flannery O'Connor, Richard Yates, Russell Banks, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edward P. Jones, the Iowa Writer's Workshop), a few cookbooks (big though), and a few books to relieve stress (David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff), and of course, T.S. Eliot. That's another box.

That leaves hundreds of novels I've collected over the years, since childhood (David Copperfield, Huck Finn, Madame Bovary, Laura Ingalls Wilder) to high school (Willa Cather, Fitzgerald...) to my four years as an English major doing a comparative lit/classic lit/American modernist fiction combo (too many to count). This leaves behind so many books I love. This leaves behind so many books I never got around to finishing or even starting. This leaves behind my fairly extensive poetry collection (Eliot, Hart Crane, James Wright, John Donne, Keats, Yeats, Housman, Theodore Roethke, Whitman, Rukeyeser, Rilke, Holderlin, etc.). I want to cry. Cry for the hard work it took to collect all this. Cry for the hours I spent reading and re-reading. Cry for the books I only barely dipped into (e.g. the poetry). Cry for the beauty of the spines and leaves, and the terrible beauty that is ownership and letting go of your possessions.

There is no reason to bring all this up if I won't have time to read much fiction while taking 2 classes and writing 2 papers. Which makes me saddest of all, that in the last few years my fiction and poetry reading has declined. I spend much more time reading things that are "useful" to my studies and career, but not as much for pleasure. When my work was pleasure (e.g. taking 3 fiction classes), it was easy to feel like I was multi-tasking. Now, at 2 am, I barely have energy to finish a chapter of a book. It's nice to get sick sometimes and read a novel instead of a law review article, the excuse being that I'm too doped up on Nyquil to annotate. So I lay back and read, and it's great.

I look at my books, and I feel regret for the past year--nay, the past few years. Regret that I forgot most of their plots (again, despite my non drug-use), regret that I didn't read a good 1/4 of them (I buy used from library sales but don't get to everything), and regret that I can't bring them with me. I regret not re-learning Latin, such that my former Latin Honor Society grades have now slipped to a bare ability to recognize declensions and cases. I regret not picking up French, like I wanted to. There was so much I wanted to do in the year after law school that I didnt get around to doing because I was busy with other things, because I was reading other things, and because I was helping to raise 8 children.

But I guess it's better to regret what you didn't do, than to regret what you have done. I guess, looking back, I did a pretty good job with the things I did do. I got myself into graduate school, I have a decent stack of law books read, and I got my 3 year old to talk and use the potty and the 5 year old to add and subtract, and the 14 year old to understand why he must not use drugs.

Still, there's a lot to leave behind--and it's more than the books.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pictures and Patriarchy

(Cross-posted at Feminist Law Profs)

(Before you read this long post, read the original debate at PrawfsBlawg, about whether it's appropriate to remark that the new Prawf, Orly Lobel, is "easy on the eyes." Read in particular Prof. Ann Bartow's comments and the responses to her comments)

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Having been voted "Most Likely To Be Verbose" in high school, I tend to favor contextualizing and descriptive words over brute pictures. Pictures give you a glimpse, but sometimes you want the whole story. Portraiture is a delicate art---the best artists (John Singer Sargent, Gilbert Stuart) attempted to convey their subjects visually the way a novelist renders his characters linguistically: regal, maternal, courtly, warm and human, etc. There is much "art," and by that I mean both artistry and guile, in attempting to convey something complex in a manner that may be captured in an instant by the human eye.

I will not deny that the best pictures convey a sense of narrative, making the viewer privy to the artist's sight and interpretation. But what kinds of pictures tell stories? I would argue pictures that capture stories, that is, events in progress, the movement of humans/animals/nature, or extremely symbolic visual images that speak of a lengthy history or show a story that needs no telling: a single cross burning, the dangling body of a lynched man, or a malnourished child.

But what kind of story does a picture of someone's face tell? I guess it depends on what expressions that face yields to the viewer, so that it is not so much a story as it is a state of mind. And of course, the viewer shall interpret as s/he sees fit. The viewer will bring his own story to the face. Think of the Mona Lisa--is she smiling or is she sad? (a great Nat King Cole song comes to mind) Dr. Pozzi by John Singer Sargent, or any of Gilbert Stuart's portraits of the Founding Fathers--we know the biographies, generations later, but we only see one instant, one expression in the picture.

But all of the above, whether painted or photographed, is art by the masters to be gazed at in posterity--again, as both artistry and artifice. Our mundane lives call for much less narrative and biography, and endures much less. We take pictures of ourselves and our families, sometimes spontaneous, most often stiffly posed. We endured the humiliation that was "school picture day" for many years in starched collars, pimpled skin, and metal-laced teeth. Each year produced an even more appalling approximation of what we knew to be our essential goodness and desperate dweebishness. At least our parents thought we looked okay. And as we grow older and create our own individual memories, we like to document them. Arms around the shoulders of friends and boy/girlfriends, the first road trip with your buddies, innumerable parties with really cheap alcohol. And we grow up to have our own families and take pictures of collective memories and subject our own kids to portrait day.

Not that portrait day ends when you reach adulthood. For the perpetual student (like me) there will always be the problem of the student ID card and the school's facebook (not that online thing). Once you get a job, there'll be that employee ID badge for some. And if you're a professor, you'll probably be asked to submit a profile of yourself along with a picture. Often it's just your most flattering head shot (no one, not even the least vain, wants to look bad). Most law profs, male and female, are in suits. Few achieve a casual elegance in their pic, although some submit pictures of them with their families to demonstrate a sort of Rockwellian domestic quality that you don't get when you read their articles on Sarbanes-Oxley. But mostly it's just "look at the camera and don't blink."

I've often wondered about the importance of the profile pic. Is the purpose to humanize the professor to his/her students or the general laity? By that I mean is it meant to attach a human form to an otherwise disembodied scholarly voice? Really, what purpose does the profile pic serve? It is not for posterity, like art. It is not to record personal memory, like the family photo. It is not to record a moment in one's development, like the annual school portrait. Like the book dust jacket pic, the profile pic seems to exist only for the benefit of people who wonder what the professors they read (on law reviews, on blogs) look like.

Why do we want to know? I confess that I've clicked on the school homepages of every blogging law professor I've read. Sometimes, I'll go to the trouble of looking up a prof of a law review article, but only if there's some other reason I want to learn more about the professor. I often click on the homepages to read more about the professor I'm reading--where did s/he go to school? (answer: Yale or Harvard) Who did s/he clerk for? What else did s/he write? So it's as much professional interest (and the self-defeating desire to see if I can even come close to matching my credentials to theirs and land a law prof job) as it is a basic, human need to see what people look like. We are visual beings, even those of us who are verbose and like to read. I can carry on an email exchange with a fellow blogger for months and get to know him or her quite well (in personal details and personality) and still feel like I wish I knew what he or she looked like. And I suspect providing an audience of readers your picture is a way to connect in a very real way with them. You may not be able to see your readers, but you are allowing them access to your image, so that they might know you. It is not a bad thing to want to be known, or share your likeness. Indeed, it is very sharing and humble. Historically, it was impermissible to look at a "higher being"--you bow before a king, and you do not look royalty in the eye without permission. You are allowed access to "their person" only at the king or queen's pleasure. I remember in high school it was advised not to look at some gang members in the eye, or you'd get beat up. Looking at someone is powerful, and allowing someone to look at you is a gracious abdication of that power to form a common bond of humanity. The only reason I don't provide my picture is the pseudonymity thing. It's not a bad thing to want to know what your interlocutor or author looks like. In fact, it's a very basic human desire. What matters is what you do with the visual information, and what judgments you form from it.

An appalling example would be the racist reader who discovers that the author of this fine paper was Black, and immediately begins to question the integrity of the piece, or immediately wishes to question the academic credentials of the author. Or in the converse, that racist reader believing an article to be less sound or meritorious because the author is Black. Actually, substitute for all the categories any of your choosing: anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic (a category in which the author's identity may be easily "covered."). These are extreme examples however, and I'd like to think that they would be rather rare, particularly in the legal academic community (I would hope).

But let's move onto more subtle, but potentially invidious uses of visual information. What if a male reader sees a picture of a rather attractive law professor, and although he may respect her work, thinks only "wow, she's hot." Is he then ignoring her intellectual acomplishments and sexually objectifying her physical form? Is he, like most patriarchal society valuing only one part of the woman above others? Is the male gaze inherently and irrepressibly demeaning, demonstrating the hegemony of the male over the female, and alluding to the imbalance of political and sexual power? Is the male gaze always unwanted, or is it just more particularly so when the female professor wishes to be evaluated solely on the basis of her intellectual and professional accomplishments? Also, by evaluating her solely based on one axis of consideration--her attractiveness--the reader misses out the "story" behind the picture. No longer is she cum laude this, or editor of that--she's just a pretty face. And so between the picture and the profile, I'd rather the reader concentrate on the profile--if only to get a better conception of who I really am, rather than objectifying me into some essentialist, heteronormist fantasy.

I suppose the answer is to not post a picture--but like I said, there are other reasons for wanting to share your likeness with people and appear human in order to share humanity. In fact, is not posting a picture the answer? Does one elect out of the system of oppressive male gaze by discontinuing our association with socializing and humanizing forms and activities? If so, that's a crappy way out, and I'm not even sure it is a way "out." It seems like a poor choice to decide between objectification or being taken seriously just because you want to share your common humanity with others.

Yes, I admit, there is a "female gaze," although some feminists like Laura Mulvey argue that "the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification," and that besides, the female gaze is merely the co-optation of the male gaze. I would myself add that the female gaze is inherently different. While the male gaze objectifies and sexualizes, the female gaze is "emmasculated," that is powerless. Hear me out. It's a bit of a theory of mine. I would argue that while the male gaze is a reflection of male patriarchy's very real political, economic and social power over women, the female gaze lacks that same power (thanks to the patriarchy, of course). Thus, were a female reader of a blog/article see a male professor's picture and think/comment "Wow, he's hot," it wouldn't be the same objectification. In fact, her response might be diminished and patronized as being mere "schoolgirlishness." The male gaze communicates sexual and political power, the power to strip a woman of her intellectual credentials and essentializing her into a sexualized trope. The female gaze is just a cute little crush.

I will not deny that I have had professor crushes. Who among us hasn't? Contrary to stereotype, male students do have crushes. I was a TA for several classes, so to this I can personally attest, as do mine own ears when I heard quite a bit of banter at the lockers over this or that female law professor. I will say that my crushes are more intellectual than physical (not too hard, given the fact that in the aggregate, the law school professoriate will not win any beauty contests considering that half the faculty is emeriti wearing bow ties). And I will admit that, being human, in my human desire to know the face of my author or interlocutor, I have on many occasion personally remarked to myself their physical attractiveness. I am human. But I would never make such a remark on a public forum in which such a remark would not be relevant.

Part of wanting to be evaluated as a professional is acting professional yourself. What I may remark to myself at 2 am (when I often read blawgs and law review articles) is not something I would remark on the comments section of another person's blog--particularly if that blog was meant to highlight (but humanize) someone's intellectual contributions. It's like going to a colloquia and when the speaker is introduced, saying "hey, you're hot and smart!" in the "comments and questions" portion of the talk. No, I'm not just another humorless, "zero-tolerance" feminist (or maybe I am). I think there is a time and place for everything. For instance, I do not read a post or article by what I consider to be "handsome" law professor (I was going to name names, but decided not to) and laud his physical attributes in the comments section or in the letters to the editor of the newspaper. It just seems like an irrelevant point to make.

Being a mildly insecure person (not just woman) , I like external validation. I fish for compliments from my dates, train my kids to say "you are my favorite aunt," after cooking ask the rhetorical question "that is the best chicken you've ever tasted, huh?" and desperately seek validation from my professors and advisors that what I'm writing is of good quality (and the final validation of an "'A" is best). I am human. But I'm also a professional. I may actively and aggressively court compliments, but only when it's the proper place and time. I never ask "how do I look?" when I send out a draft of a paper or proposal. This is not to divorce my human, or "female" side of my personality from my "professional" role. It's just being sensible, professional and relevant to the topic at hand, and very, very conscious of our patriarchal society.

I think we all should be aware of the real objectification and devaluement of women's intellectual and professional contributions that goes on every day. Wage differences, the disparity in gender and race in the tenure rates at almost every school, the asymmetry of political power--these are very real. How we "look" at women, visually and conceptually, matter a great deal. "Pretty" women may be hired as secretaries over "unattractive" women, but it "may be a liability when women seek male sex-typed" employment" (think higher paying, "traditionally male," and managerial positions). It may seem innocuous, particularly if flattering, to make a comment about someone's looks, but in fact it's demeaning at worst, and distracting at best. Yes, we feminists can take a compliment (and a joke, for that matter). But it should be the right time for such a remark. And the best compliment would be if the other person conveyed true respect for our entire person--and in particular, our intellectual and professional accomplishments.


The comments thread at the original PrawfsBlawg post is still alive and kicking. In particular, check out Simon Dodd's comment that male law professors can be likewise objectified, and uses Article III Groupie as an example of this.

To this, I countered:

And with respect to Simon's comment, well, I too respectfully dissent. If you bring up A3G as an example of a "person" who would gratuitously comment on a male law prof's appearance, well, you should remember that A3G turned out to be a _man_, David Lat. This is an interesting bit of gender stereotype bending, as if Mr. Lat felt compelled to assume the persona of a "judicial diva" in order to make more risque and trivial judgments (bench slaps, judicial hotness meter, litigatrix). That is, to be more sexist and sexualizing, he probably thought it would be safer writing in the "female voice." But I hardly think that qualifies as a "turn the tables" use of the "female gaze"--it's just the male gaze in "drag." And in both cases, rather inappropriate and insulting.


Monday, June 26, 2006


Days before the big move: 12

Miles To Be Driven: Excessive

Duration of Trip, in Hours/Days: Can't Count That High/Don't Remind Me

Gallons of Gasoline To Be Consumed: Don't Want to Think About It

Brothers To Be Endured in Good Humor, Out of Gratitude for Help: 2

Number of LARGE Boxes: 7

Number of Which are Clothes: 1

Number of Which are Books: 2

Square Footage of Unfurnished Graduate "Efficiency" Studio: 260

Number of Rooms: 1

Number of Burners: 2

Number of Ovens, apart from Easy Bake Toaster Oven: 0

Cubic Feet of Provided "Mini-Refrigerator": 3

Amount in Rent: Don't Ask. Really.

Budget, in U.S. Dollars, to Furnish and Decorate: 500

Annual Tuition: More Than Many People's Salaries

Amount In Checking Account: Less Than a Summer Associate's Weekly Pay

Financial Aid: Yes, Please

Number of Students in LLM Progam: 50-60

Number of Which Are American: 2-5

Hours of Sleep Per Night, From Least-Greatest: 2.5-5

Number of Naps Per Day: 0

Number of Parents Freaking Out: 2

Number of Siblings Making Bossy "Suggestions": 5 + 3 in-laws

Number of Babies Clinging Out of Telepathic Awareness of Impending Departure: 6

Number of Teenagers Faintly Despondent/Resentful Over Departure: 2

Number of Diapers Changed Yesterday: Don't Remind Me

Number of Baths Given: 5

Number of Advil Taken to Relieve Lower Back Pain: 2

Number of Current Writing Projects: 2

Number of Pages Written This Week: 0

Substantive "Blawg" Posts Attempted and Then Abandoned in the Last Week Due to Preparations For All of the Above: 2

Apologies: Too Many To Count.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Farmhouse Semantics

Aunt Belle, holding up flashcard: L. Say "L."

3 1/2 year old nephew who didn't learn how to talk until age 2 1/2, which used to cause great concern in Aunt Belle: "L."

Aunt Belle: L is for LAMB.

3 year old: No, datsa SHEEP.

Aunt Belle: No, it's a LAMB.

3 year old: No, itsa SHEEP.

Aunt Belle: LAMB.

3 year old: SHEEEP.

Aunt Belle: LAMB.

3 year old, thinking it's a game, shrieks: SHEEP! SHEEP! SHEEP!

(3 year old collapses in laughter.)

So anyway, does it really matter? Should I stress this point? Is it just semantics? Like how many of you knew that a baby whale is called a "pup"? Did you get along fine in life before you knew this? Do we need to know the names of baby animals at the age of 3? My people don't eat lamb, and he doesn't sing that "Mary Had a Little..." song yet. So you know, can I just let this slide for now?

I know it's about matching up the beginning "L" to the name corresponding to the picture on the card, which is the only reason I'm trying to teach this kid "while it may look like a sheep, it's a little sheep, that is to say, it's an infant sheep, and thus, while you are correct as to its species, there's actually a more specific name for it, and so you should learn that being correct isn't the same as being precise....."

At which point the 3 year old will ball up his little fists in fury and become a post-structuralist, decide to major in semiotics, and grow up to reject my arbitrary attachment of names to objects and signs and signifiers.

Le sigh. Who knew that a flashcard could start so much trouble, the likes of which have not been seen since the Tower of Babel. The critical study of language is now deeply fractured, thanks to me and my dumb flashcard.


On Liking T.S. Eliot And Being Okay With It, Thank You Very Much

An argument tonight over literary aesthetics and the value of poetry/fiction (hard to believe, but there are those who would disagree with you on almost anything you would believe in) brought me back to one of my great loves--T.S. Eliot's poetry.

I've been reading poetry for a long time. I even tried my hand--often badly, sometimes successfully--at it. Since I was a young girl, I've aspired to be more intellectual than I actually am(to wit: a 11 year reads The Republic and Madame Bovary at an age where she didn't even know what an "allegory" was or what "cunnilingus" meant when the editor wrote a sordid mini-bio of Flaubert's sexual inspiration for the book). And so it is strange that my favorite book should be one from that incredibly naive stage. No, it's not Huckleberry Finn. Although that's close (I read that at 9). No, it's David Copperfield. What can I say, I love a good bildungsroman. To begin with "I Am Born" and to follow David from youth to experience--it's like a good Blake poem. Or rather, two volumns of Blake poems. It's just grand. It sweeps you into the character's life. I felt like I was growing up with David, just by reading his story. I recently re-read the book--it's still as good and as satisfying as I remembered it. I really like this book. It's one of those books I can get lost in and re-read, over and over again, without being bored by some of the technical ship descriptions in Moby Dick or feeling really depressed by reading You Can't Go Home Again.

I suppose I could have post-colonial anxiety about liking Dickens so much (I am a Dickens fan, having read most of his works)---particularly since he wrote the anti-Asian, "yellow peril" essay "Perils of a Young English Prisoner." But you know what, I don't. You can't view things too anachronistically or reflexively dislike something for being canonical or colonial. To be reflexively anti-canon bewilders me--what are anti-canonists or small-minded post-colonialists reacting to if they haven't read the primary texts? Try reading Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea without first reading Jane Eyre. Or try reading Ahab's Wife without first reading Moby Dick. You'll enjoy the retooled stories--but you won't get as much out of them. Similarly, I have found my understanding of Critical Race Theory to be deepened by my reading of Critical Legal Studies--a movement it broke off from and intensely critiqued. You know you like the anti-canon--but read the canon so that your arguments can at least be informed.

I say this defensively. I had a friend once who would say things like "I don't like Shakespeare" without reading him. She also said that a John Singer Sargent exhibit was too "eurocentric" for her liking. Come on! The exhibit was called Sargent in Italy, where he painted his best portraits of the aristocracy! Of course it's eurocentric! But it doesn't mean it's not good. And no, not everything created as a reaction by the dispossesed is necessarily good. The Color Purple has fine politics and themes that I'm very sensitive to. But in terms of its narrative structure and use of language--ehhh. Sorry, I'm just not a relativist in everything. I don't think all aesthetic judgment is merely subjective and thus epistemologically unreconciable with another's. It's not like I make an aesthetic judgment, which you then deem to be epistemologically unverifiable, because there is no way of ascertaining whether my judgment is "true" or how my judgment is based on any "knowable" knowledge. What is the good? etc. etc. Give it up! Even Descartes had to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, even if he wasn't sure he was really in bed or if the bed really existed. You can know things. Or at least try to. You cn judge things for their value, and there is "objective" criteria by which to judge. And though there may be different "versions" of the truth, that statement doesn't deny that the truth "exists."

I think most people aren't relativists. In the name of tolerance we will say that I am no better than you are, that my personal morality is no better than yours, my god isn't your god. But really, most think "I am right and you, because you are in disagreement with me, are wrong." If in my politics I can say that I believe in _____ (affirmative action, right to abortion, separation of church and state) and I believe my choice to be both right and moral--why can't I make the same determination with respect to aesthetic choices? Must everything be relative? Is an aesthetic judgment an essentially "moral" choice (we are talking about the "good"), or are we to submit to the vagaries of taste and individuality such that nothing can be declared as objectively "good"?

There is good art and bad art. And good literature and bad literature. And yes, there's objective criteria by which to judge what is "good." There are formalistic considerations--quality and fluidity of prose, plot, characterization, theme--you will know a "good" book from a Dan Brown book. Dickens is good. Heartbreakingly so--some of the saddest and most moving passages are in Dickens. I am moved by Dickens, and care deeply about his characters. His use of language moves me, and I can see the elephantine structures of industrial age London in my head. I believe that Dickens, notwithstanding the politics of his age running through his literature, or his personal politics, is good. You may disagree. But I still think I'm right. Just as a post-colonial anti-canonic deconstructivist may think s/he is right in disagreeing with me. The difference is, I won't call him or her a lunkhead, but s/he would probably call me a eurocentric "statist freak posing as a liberal. When it's just about "what moves you," it's a matter of preference. I can't argue with the point that you don't find Dickens' prose engaging or moving. But if you disagree with Dickens or refuse to read him on the basis of his him being a "colonial" writer--well, you and me 'bout to fight. The illiberalism of liberal discourse consistently astounds me. In the name of "liberalism" so many are so quick to reject anything as being remotely challenging to their own "enlightened" world view. And that's a shame.

So how does this relate to T.S. Eliot? I like him. He's good. He's one of the founding fathers of modernism. His poetry can be sometimes incomprehensible, but if you have a good translation of the Greek and Latin and the Upanishad excerpts, you're fine. And if you have a critical guide, you can pick up most of the literary allusions you didn't get through your own reading experience. Actually, in college, I made a comparison between "The Wasteland" and Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" that the professor considered "brilliant analysis"---and no, I didn't get that comparison out of a book. When I was in law school, nursing my wounds after a B or my first C, I held onto that moment as evidence that I should have gone to grad school.

What pisses most people off about Eliot is that he's a difficult poet to read--too many literary references, too much foreign language, too elitist--and wasn't he anti-Semitic? (there's still a debate about that, but if you want a real anti-Semite, go to Ezra Pound). If Eliot doesn't move you, fine. If you don't like him for his politics, or if you think poetry in general is contrived and too enslaved to formalistic requirements to be of real beauty--you and me 'bout to fight. Eliot may be elitist, and he may be accused of being personally anti-semitic, but his poetry is beautiful, from the early poetry that spoke of the fragmentation of post-War modern life to the the later poetry that was affected by his conversion to Anglicanism. I'm a secularist, and still I love The Four Quartets. Prose and verse may appear too "contrived" for realists--but that is their beauty. That humanity is capable of such invention, such pleasure. I am not one to endorse the Romantic vision of "art for art's sake"--I am more of the mind that it is art for humanity's sake--that things created to move and delight perform a necessary service to mankind. Through beauty, we are transported to a higher plane--not merely delivered from the mundane, but elevated to a greater consciousness of our intellectual capacity.

Evidence of Eliot's greatness? So many beautiful images. And no, he wasn't a slave to form--he reinvented it. His use of chiasma, lacunae--so effective. There are only a few poets I commit to my fractured memory. Shakespeare. Gerard Manley Hopkins. W.B. Yeats. Dylan Thomas. Ranier Maria Rilke. And Eliot.

I have three books on Eliot. The Collected Poems. An early 20th century edition of The Wasteland I had a friend pick up for me in London. A paperback of "The Four Quartets" that fits in my purse.

Some of my favorite passages from some of his poems:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

Come in under the shadow of this red rock,
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Those were pearls that were his eyes.

Let us go then you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Footfals echo in the memory
Down the passage we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.


Begging At the Feet Of Gods

Or at least, exalted professors who are leading authorities in their field.

I was social today and actually talked to real human people, instead of to myself by typing into this blog space...and needless to say, this blog has suffered. Apologies.

Other distractions: asking professors to be my advisor. Have you ever tried? It's like pulling teeth. Asking for a letter of rec: inconvenient, but not too cumbersome. There is already a generic version in your head. Your administrative assistant can type most of it up. But advising a student? Like, for a year? Reading bad drafts of shoddy ideas? Having to operate as teacher, editor, and life coach all at once? Let me think about that.....and I'll get back to you.


Dear Professor ________,

Hello, my name is Belle Lettre. I recently graduated from Bourgie Metrosexual Law School, where I concentrated in Critical Race Studies. I have been admitted to the LLM program at Liberal College Town Law School for the 2006-2007 academic year. I intend to research how the current federalism jurisprudence will impact the constitutional analysis of federal anti-discrimination statutes such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I believe that this question is timely, in consideration of two recent Supreme Court decisions. Gonzales v. Raich arguably expanded the federal government’s regulatory authority, and Rapanos v. U.S. left the determination of constitutional issues in Raich largely unchanged. I would like to interrogate the issue of whether Raich and Rapanos expand government regulatory authority over "non-economic" activity under the Commerce Clause, a power that had been retracted under U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison. I am particularly interested in how the jurisprudential shift affects state and federal initiatives to combat hate and gender-motivated crimes.

I am writing to ask you whether you would be willing to be my thesis advisor for this project. I read your articles ______ and ______ and _______ with great interest, and your work has significantly influenced me and has helped to shape the scope of my project. Attached is my research proposal. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Belle Lettre

Professor ________:


2 days pass

(more silence)

I am hoping it's a summer thing. I would love to work with Professor _______. He is the one of the leading scholars in this area. Such is the pitfall of asking a superstar (or heck, any law prof) to be your advisor. You want me to do what? You want me to commit to what?! For a year?! It's like they're long-term bachelors, used to a measure of independence, who find themselves on their wedding days facing unspeakable horror: advising a young punk who wants their job.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

William Kidder on the Impact of Affirmative Action on Asian-Americans

From Inside Higher Ed. Try reading this and not thinking "quotas":

[William C. Kidder's article] takes on the view that the primary beneficiaries of the end of affirmative action in college admissions would be Asian American applicants. The piece analyzes some of the same data that has been used to make that argument and says that what it really shows isn’t that affirmative action hurts Asian Americans but that “negative action” (in other words, discrimination) is placing a limit on the enrollments of Asian Americans.

‘Negative Action Versus Affirmative Action’

The article about Asian Americans comes amid many reports that they are the group that most benefits from the elimination of affirmative action. That supposition is important for several reasons, both practical and political. On a practical level, it counters the idea that colleges will be all white in a post-affirmative action era. Politically, these projections have been used repeatedly by critics of affirmative action, arguing that they are not “anti-minority” and to appeal for Asian support in referendums. One of the most dramatic studies on this issue came last year, when two Princeton University researchers analyzed data from elite colleges and projected that, without affirmative action, four of every five slots lost by black and Latino students would go to Asian Americans.

In “Negative Action Versus Affirmative Action: Asian Pacific Americans Are Still Caught in the Crossfire,” William C. Kidder takes issue with the Princeton study and similar findings by other scholars. It’s not that the demographic shift seen by the Princeton researchers wouldn’t take place in an admissions system that’s truly race-neutral, says Kidder, a senior policy analyst at the University of California at Davis. Rather, it’s the question of why those slots would go to Asian applicants.

The reason, he says, isn’t the elimination of affirmative action, but the widespread use of “negative action,” under which colleges appear to hold Asian American applicants to higher standards than they hold other applicants. Using the available data from the Princeton study — and not all of it is available — Kidder argues that the vast majority of the gains that Asian American applicants would see come from the elimination of “negative action,” not the opening up of slots currently used for affirmative action. Based on the data used by the Princeton study, Kidder argues that negative action is the equivalent of losing 50 points on the SAT.

Tracking enrollment patterns from 1993, when all of the law schools had affirmative action, to 2004 — when they all did not — and then to 2005, when Texas restored it, his results were surprising. Without affirmative action, the share of Asian American enrollments dropped at two of the law schools and increased only marginally at three of the schools — even though people assume Asian American enrollments will go way up without affirmative action. Kidder notes that during the time period studied, the percentage of Asian Americans applying to law school increased 50 percent, so the pool should have created the opportunity for major increases.

What does this all mean? Kidder argues that all the references to growing Asian enrollments in a post-affirmative action world encourage a return to the “yellow peril” fear of people from Asia taking over. More broadly, he thinks Asian Americans in particular aren’t getting accurate information about the real cause of their perceived difficulties getting into competitive colleges. Their obstacle, he says, isn’t affirmative action, but the discrimination Asian Americans experience by being held to higher standards than anyone else. He says that the differential standards appear to be growing and are similar in some ways to the way some Ivy League institutions limited Jewish enrollments in the first half of the 20th century.

“Whether an individual Asian American supports affirmative action or not, this is an independent problem, not because of affirmative action,” Kidder says.

The article also discusses Richard Sander's forthcoming article arguing that the attrition rate for black lawyers at law firms is higher due to the "mismatch" effect generated by affirmative action that allows the "underperforming" to go to law schools in which they can't compete intellectually. That, however, would involve a much longer blog post to argue against this terrible thesis, and frankly, I am a bit wearied by it (having spent the entire year my third year of law school caught up in the debate).


Ann Bartow on Flanagan and Hirschman

Always insightful, Prof. Ann Bartow says all I want to say--but better:

From the Department of WTF: Are Linda Hirshman and Caitlin Flanagan the Dominant Voices of Contemporary Gender Discourse?

The idea that Hirshman and Flanagan dominate the discourse about the status of women in this country is pretty alarming. The reason that this is so, however, is fairly obvious: They confirm some of the worst stereotypes about women generally and feminists particularly, and in so doing, they buttress the patriarchy magnificently. Flanagan attacks feminists for being opposed to nurturing and motherhood and sex, and Hirshman seems to confirm that feminists are indeed opposed to nurturing and motherhood, and are incredibly nasty and intolerant of dissent as well. Flanagan reinforces the patriarchy directly, by telling powerful men what they want to hear: women are happiest as willing, subservient helpmates. Hirshman provides the patriarchy with abrasive evidence that many negative beliefs about feminists are true: we despise motherhood and think only of our own self-interest.

This dominance of the mainstream gender discourse is bad for the women that Hirshman and Flanagan don’t speak for, and I count myself among them. As for what can be done about this, well, one solution is simply to try to drown both of them out.

Prof. Bartow goes on to recommend, in lieu of Flanagan's and Hirschman's books, this book by Katha Pollitt: Virginity or Death! : And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time for those looking for a more nuanced and balanced discussion. And, as Prof. Bartow says:

Pollitt has no appeal to the patriarchy she challenges so eloquently, but the patriarchy isn’t in control of everything! The feminist movement needs more “personified visibility,” and people like Pollitt can serve many of us a lot better than Hirshman....Walking around with that book in plain view in South Carolina is going to be awesome! Maybe I’ll get the cover silk-screened onto some tee shirts as well!


Top 10 Companies for Asian Americans

From the magazine DiversityInc:

While Asian Americans long have had strong representation in technical fields, their rise in U.S. management ranks has been slower. The Top 10 Companies for Asian Americans demonstrate a long-term commitment to this community and to recognizing, developing and promoting top Asian-American talent.

Consider these statistics about this Top 10:

• Asian Americans are 8.9 percent of the work force in this Top 10, compared with 7 percent of the Top 50, 4.7 percent of the bottom quarter of survey respondents (there were 256 participants) and 4.4 percent of the U.S. work force. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)
• Asian Americans are 12.2 percent of new hires in this Top 10, compared with 9.8 percent of the Top 50 and 6.3 percent of the bottom quarter of survey respondents.
• Asian Americans are 10.3 percent of managers in this Top 10, compared with 7.2 percent of the Top 50, 4.2 percent of bottom-quarter respondents and 5.9 percent of U.S. managers. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)
• Asian Americans are 5.7 percent of CEOs and direct reports in this Top 10, compared with 4.8 percent of the Top 50 and 1.7 percent of bottom-quarter respondents.
• Asian Americans receive 11.2 percent of managers' promotions in this Top 10, compared with 8.3 percent of the Top 50 and 5.6 percent of bottom-quarter respondents.
• Asian Americans are 10.2 percent of the top 10 highest-paid employees in this Top 10, compared with 7.8 percent of the Top 50 and 4.3 percent of bottom-quarter respondents.
• Retention of Asian Americans at companies in this Top 10 averages 93.7 percent, compared with 89 percent for the Top 50 and 84.6 percent for bottom-quarter respondents.

The top companies are mostly tech and pharmaceutical, but HBO made the list!:

1: Hewlett-Packard

2: Abbott

3: New York Life Insurance Co.

4: Merrill Lynch & Co.

5: Southern California Edison Co.

6: Sempra Energy

7: Novartis Pharmaceutical

8: Merck & Co.

9: HBO

10: Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.


Post to follow

The kids seem to sense that I'll be leaving in 3 weeks and are especially clingy. i had only a couple hours of productivity today. It's a shame. I've been meaning to blog since yesterday. Rapanos was decided on Monday. There was a lot to read (Kennedy's concurrence alone!), a lot of blog chatter, and a post of my own that I'm not finished with yet. There is something limiting about this "one long post every day or two" thing--if I was just a news aggregator with a "look at this" kind of approach it would be easier, or if I wasn't so determined to cull all the news/blawg sources into one post.

It's 2 am. Even an insomniac has to sleep. I'll try to post by mid-morning.


Monday, June 19, 2006

On Being A Young Legal Academic

As a young scholar, I can't really say I have a specialization right now, other than "anti-discrimination law." I don't do straight-up Critical Race Theory anymore--that is, I don't really theorize about the meaning of race, racial categories, or how the law creates and reifies such classifications. Actually, I've written two posts about how I've become somewhat disenchanted with and exhausted by theory. Even now, I don't focus as much on traditional anti-discrimination law topics, instead choosing to analyze how a different area of law--currently, federalism, in the future, welfare law--produces disparate racial outcomes. But I do write CRT-influenced articles, and I figure I'll find my way back to creating some grand theory about the meaning of race. Like maybe an article about Asian American feminism. One day.

And in a strange turn of events, I've found myself interested in going back to CRT-ish articles. I've been doing some research (not in the writing phase yet) on Asian American stereotypes in the workplace. I could write on almost anything employment related, not necessarily employment discrimination (ERISA, pregnancy discrimination)--but for some reason, I feel compelled to try my hand at this topic. Being an Asian American woman, with the attendant stereotype of Tokyo Rose or Madama Butterfly, I know what's out there. I had a friend called "Tokyo Rose" to her face, which is a hyper-sexualized trope (she did not take it well). I knew a guy who openly said he liked Asian women for their "fragility." Half the Asian girls in my section (including me) were semi-stalked by this creepy guy who tried to hit on us by talking to us in our native language and following us around. Whether we're fetishized or dismissed as demure shy violets, I don't like it. I know that Asian males are commonly emasculated into "bookish, introverted" stereotypes or as lacking "interpersonal" skills. We are the workers, but not the managers or team players. I don't like that either. And I want to interrogate the ways in which the case law on racial stereotyping has treated stereotypes about Asian Americans, and whether the Black-White paradigm of anti-discrimination law should be expanded to recognize more subtle cues of discrimination, such that what might pass for a "performance review" isn't discrimination unchecked.

It's an exciting time to be a young legal academic. There is nothing to hold you back, except for your fear of being accused of dilettantism and the desire to be able to market yourself as broadly but specifically as you can [e.g. "I can teach contracts (good first year course), employment discrimination (good second year course), and welfare law and policy (good seminar course)"]. But since I'm not going on the market for a while, it's fun to experiment a bit and try to find my way. My current master's thesis will focus on how current federalism jurisprudence affects state and federal initiatives regulating hate crimes. I just can't imagine doing anything else right now--I spent all day today reading about hate crime initiatives, and I found myself alternately disgusted by the potential for animus and inspired by the ways in which society can collectively punish those whose crimes are driven by hate. So I'm still an anti-discrimination scholar. Sort of.

I just hope my future advisor, whoever he/she is (I sent in my list of 1-2 professors I'd like to work with, I just hope they'd like to work with me) likes the idea. There are about 5 paper topics floating around in my head--that's the fun part, thinking up the ideas and reading the literature in the field. The hard part is the daily slog of writing the paragraphs and the extensive footnotes. And the part about making sure your argument is novel, interesting, and above all coherent and sound. Actually, the worst is this Crit's worst nightmare--making sure the argument is useful, and not likely to be brushed aside as radical and impractical. I want my papers to produce a real policy recommendation that can be implemented by judges or law makers.

Okay, so it's tough being a young legal academic. It's difficult work that requires a lot of time (and it can be mindnumbingly boring trying to Bluebook every footnote). There's a lot to consider about how what you write affects your marketability. There's a lot of catches about making your writing "good." But it's still exciting, and a pretty great time to be a young academic.


On Being A "Quasi-Adult," And A Freshman For The First Time

In many ways, I come off to people as very adult---I cut off about 8 inches of hair a while back and on a good day, I look like a newscaster--Ann Curry for example, and on an excessively pouffy day, I look like a politician's wife--like Tipper Gore. Moving back to Orange County (not the denizen of iniquity you'd think, but then again I just live in a mixed-income/ethnicity neighborhood almost on the edge of the "bad" part of town that neighbors a poorer city, not a gated community) for the past year has disabused me of my flashier Bourgie Metrosexual Law School dressing habits. Now I look like is an OC suburban mom.

It's a very particular look--capris, backless shoes (usually backless loafers or "dressy" flip flops"), a loose-fitting peasant shirt or button down, or a cotton polo. Studs in the ear. A nice watch. This is a look that will age you 10 years easily. I used to complain a lot about how young I looked and sounded, and how when I gave a lecture I had to rely on a lot of makeup and professional clothing in order to look older than my students. But this is a different kind of older that I'm looking right now. It's not "you're a professional, good citizen, and taxpayer" look--it's the "you look like you should be a wife and mommy with a mortgage" look. And while any young woman in her 20s can be the former, it's a lot of pressure to be the latter! I'm totally ready to be Professional Woman. I really wish people would mistake me for a major taxpayer. But I'm not quite ready to be Mommy woman yet. In my OC suburban mom costume, when I'm out with my 5 year old niece (I am 26, it's not such a stretch though) people ask me how old my "daughter" is. Because I have blatant and aggressive maternal instincts and a superior knowledge (compared to most of my friends my age) of how to take care of children, and because I look like an Asian Tipper Gore, I just come off as "not a co-ed" anymore.

And I have no idea why I dress like this when I'm in Orange County. I have no idea how to dress my age when I'm not with people my age. My sister, who is 35, dresses less conservatively than I do--halters, tank tops, whatever. I tend to think that's a mistake in the wrong direction (tube tops?). I don't know. Living with my parents, I tend to dress wayyy less risque, and I think that's a good thing. But there has been a decided drawback to cutting off the long, "sexy" locks and dressing like the wife in "Everyone Loves Raymond"---you look older, yes, but you feel like you're playing dress up. It was different when I was "dressing up" to look like a professor or lawyer--that is, when I had a job or a place to go to everyday. I can dress like a law school student, lawyer, or professor. But when you're dressing for yourself, it's hard to figure out who you'd like to look like, and what role you would like to play. Besides, what's the alternative? Go in the other direction and wear the other OC look--like a tarted up teen with "I Make Your Girlfriend Jealous" t-shirts, miniskirts, and that inexplicable combo of hot weather clothes and cold weather mukluk Ugg boots? I don't think so.

With the more "blawggish" tone my blog has taken recently, you might be thinking I'm being incredibly trivial right now. But really, I'm trying to make a point about the interstitial space between irresponsible young adulthood (the co-ed years) and true adulthood. On being a "quasi-adult." How do you recognize a quasi-adult? What does she look like, an how does a quasi-adult dress? Or more particularly, what does it mean to be a quasi-adult?

By all accounts, I can take care of myself like any other adult--I can cook, clean the house, keep my stuff organized. Heck, I've even been engaged once. But I've never really been through all the rituals of youth and "growing up" that make you adult. So I feel like in some ways, I'm doing it all for the first time and it's all very confusing about where exactly I am in life.

I never went "away" to college. I commuted the 8 miles on inside road from my house to my school. And when I went "away" to law school, really, I was only up there four days a week--from Friday to Sunday, I endured the long 2 hour drive home. Four hours of driving every weekend, while other people my age were studying or partying. It's astounding I even learned how to cook or host dinner parties--I spent so much time eating my mother's food. So I never had the "dorm experience," or the real "independent living experience." I don't know what I had--a very weird mish-mash of exceedingly sheltered experiences and mild experimentation. For the three years in law school, I lived in an all-women University-owned boarding house in sorority row. Very, very strange. I liked it there, even though it was basically a glorified dorm, because I liked my housemates (several of whom were in med school or grad school) , liked the 10 minute walk to school, and actually liked that there were no men around to see me in my pajamas. Best of all, because it was an all-girls house, my parents only called me once a week. I've written before about how strict and just plain weird about female independence my dad is--and so not being "checked up on" was reason enough to live in a 10'x12' room for 3 years.

So finally, a few months shy of 26, he's finally letting his little girl go. And this is a strange feeling to finally be able to go. Especially becaues I'm not your typical 26 year old. Sure, the first few weeks of my first year at law school I went to 4 different bars for "Bar Review"--but that experiment ended when I realized I didn't like paying good money for over-priced drinks. Thereafter, I found the benefits of living away from home, even if only four days a week were:

1. Going out to classical music and jazz concerts and plays. My father, the fun-hating puritan, would not let me go out at night, even to educational or cultural events. Actually, any amount of money spent on something other than books (and for a time in high school, he confiscated my novels so that I could concentrate on the textbooks, but he stopped when I declared my English major in college) is money ill-spent. So I went to my first play at the age of 22, and I learned to really love spending all of my entertainment budget for the month on one recital by Gidon Kremer.

2. Learning how to become an oenophile, even though I can't afford the best wines from the Loire valley. My father, the reformed alcoholic who now despises the vices of smoking and drinking, would kill me if he saw me drink something alcoholic. I do not drink in excess mind you. Nor alone. No, I am interested in vintages and in pairing wine with food. But my family, who believes that a drink with dinner is excessive, doesn't quite get this. It's a shame. They would love a good Riesling with their spicy Asian food.

3. Learning how to to throw dinner parties, even though it's an excessively pretentious thing to do. I love cooking gourmet meals. I like baking even better. This goes against every insular impulse in my family, the idea being that since you have 5 siblings to hang out with, you don't need friends. Going out = bad. Socializing outside of family = bad. Studying 24/7 = good. Conclusion: Belle = bad.

4. The strange joy of being out at night, after 22 years of going home before dark. It's hard to explain this, because many of you have been out after 6 pm before you turned 22 years old. But I still get a great feeling of excitement from being out with the night sky around me. I liked to go to movies at 10 pm and come back after midnight. I liked grabbing late desserts at cafes. Sometimes, to the horror of my friends who think this is an incredibly stupid thing to do if you live in an urban city, I would go for a midnight walk. I have frequent bouts of insomnia, and the worst thing about living at home this past year is that I can't just go out at 1 am and walk it off. It still surprises me how much exhilaration and beauty I find from a dark sky and the crisp air--as if this is borrowed time, and the sky is not supposed to be this dark and twinkling--and I am not supposed to be out right now.

5. Being normal. People my age, even slightly-introverted, broke, non-drinkers/partiers/clubbers like myself go out at night and on weekends. I like to have some semblance of normalcy in my life, if only so that I can gradually introduce people to the weirdness that was my childhood and the lateness with which I have received common experiences.

So, three weeks from now (so soon! wasn't it just last month I was saying "in four months..") I'll be moving to a new life and a new home. My home. For seven days a week. That means, including weekends. True, it will be a 260 sq. ft. graduate efficiency apartment, with only a small fridge, tw0-burner stove, and no oven--I'll do all my baking in my powerful toaster oven---but it will be mine. (it's kind of like that "Tiny House" Geico commercial, and I refer to my oven as "The Easy Bake".) It would surprise you how I can manage to tastefully decorate an unfurnished small space (lately, my tastes in architecture have leaned towards the early modernism of Louis Sullivan and the late modernism of Mies van der Rohe), on a budget of <$500. I can't believe that it's only three weeks away. In three weeks, I'll be living in a mostly law and graduate student apartment building--and not only with the female ones. There are some common spaces (laundry, study rooms, a cafe)--but everything in my apartment will be mine--no sharing the bathroom with siblings, no arguing with my mother on the proper way to make toast.

And maybe it is better that I have this adventure now, at 26, rather than at the age of 18. I am not celebrating my excessively strict and sheltered upbringing--but I am not entirely ungrateful for it either. I would not put my own child through that upbringing, but I will say I am glad that my first time truly away from home, I know a lot about myself. It is a knowledge that was hard-won given the strict limits that were put upon me. In many ways, I had to be creative about how I came to experience common things like "fun." Every experience, be it the first live baseball game that introduced me to the only sport I like or the first jazz concert that made me really, really love upright bass players, was really meaningful and memorable to me. And I'm glad that my "experimental phase" wasn't too crazy or alcohol fueled and drug-addled. I am glad that I know myself better now than at I did at the age of 22, when I actually agreed to go to bars I didn't really want to go to and actually considered going to the Law School Prom (otherwise known as the Barrister's Ball). No, I never went. No, I don't regret it.

There are some things you can't replicate--the real Freshman experience of living away from your parents at that young, incredibly naive and stupid age, and all the new experiences and mistakes that necessarily follow. I certainly won't try to replicate it, since it turns out I'm not very good at being at being a Freshman. I like looking at the world with new eyes, and I like the thrill of new experiences--but I don't like the stumbling towards self-knowledge feeling. It will be an interesting challenge, this living away from home, my parents, my siblings, and my kids--but it's a challenge I'm glad I'm taking now--a freshman at 26, a quasi-adult who looks and acts mature but has the wonder of a child--rather than at the age of 18, when I was so charmingly naive I said "yes" to a proposal of marriage to the first boy who loved me. I thought then I knew what it meant to be grown up, what being an adult would be--and now that I've crossed the threshold into adulthood (anyone under the age of 25 can't really claim to be adult or experience true ennui, but once you hit 25 you can apply for the role), I know now that I was just a really dumb girl. It isn't a costume you can just put on--it's a series of experiences and mistakes, which can happen at any age, that bring you to this new state.

So whether I have the experience of "moving away" at 18, 22, or 26, I guess it doesn't matter when I experience things or what I look like to the world (like Tipper Gore or Bourgie Girl)---I'm irreversibly moving in one direction, towards real (not imagined or perceived) adulthood, with my own space, my own career, and my own life. There's a lot I'm leaving behind. There's a lot more time that will be my own rather than my family's. There may even be a new family in the future for me to attend to. In any case, all I can hope for is some measure of personal and professional success, all I can plan for is to have a tastefully decorated apartment, and all I know is that the eyes I use to see that corner of night sky will be still fresh and new to the world.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Random Bloggenpfeffer

I am currently in the throes of proposal writing and faculty advisor finding (more like begging), but I wanted to take a minute to wish The Debate Link, run by the 20 year old aspiring law prof punk David Schraub, a Happy (2nd) Birthday! I think he writes with great intelligence and insight, but he's still a young punk (who will probably make professor before I do).

Random thought of the blog: It sometimes freaks this pseudonymous blogger out to check her Sitemeter stats and see that a few visitors come from the domain of her former law school. Considering my readership is now mostly law peeps, could this mean that some of my former professors are reading my largely unedited, sometimes personal, often political writing? When strangers read you, it's strangely comforting to share and not fear the consequence of awkward moments in the hallway. When your former professors, whom you'd like to impress with your edited writing read your stuff, the chance of that awkwardness is more likely. Kind of freaky.

It's 2:20 am Pacific right now. A post on the occasional illiberalism of liberalism to follow later today after I've woken up and decided which law professor to beg to advise me for a year. Also, the joy of condensing a 5 page research proposal into one page--strangely, it's harder to condense something than it is to write a lot of effluvia. And I was voted "Most Likely To Be Verbose" in high school. Also on the docket tomorrow: more employment discrimination research. The benefit of being a young scholar, so early in her career, is that I'm not yet pigeonholed into a concentration--heck, I'm trying to find my niche other than this broad category called "anti-discrimination law." I know I like federalism issues. I know I want to write about how federalism jurisprudence impacts hate crime statutes (including gender motivated violence) and other civil rights laws. But I definitely want to write about employment discrimination. And I really want to be a Feminist Law Professor one day.

But before I do that, I want to develop my not-for-profit-just-for-fun iron-on t-shirt company named "Iron Maiden Productions." Meaning, I want to make a few more t-shirts for myself and my friends.

Iron-On T-shirts I've already made for myself:

A pen sketch of a guy with glasses with the slogan "Nerd Love"

A pen sketch of Audrey Hepburn from "Funny Face" with the slogan "Empathicalist At Heart"

A drawing of one stick figure throwing a heart at another stick figure, and in the next panel the heart bouncing off and falling broken on the floor, with the slogan "Tough Love."

An artistic picture of McKinley being assasinated I got from an online newspaper review of Sarah Vowell's historical travelogue "Assassination Vacation," that I am claiming is fair use for personal rather than commercial reasons, even though it's probably not.

Shirts I'm planning on making:

A picture of a sandwich with a bite taken out of it with the slogan "I'm A Graduate Student And I Eat Sandwiches."

A picture of a highlighter and a red pen with the slogan "My Fate Is To Annotate."

A collage of high-falutin words (anthropomorphism? deconstructivist? deontological?) with the center words, in largest font and in bold, "Voted Most Likely To Be Verbose." Or else a picture of a girl who looks like a Mary Tyler Moore 1950s girl with a thought bubble with all those words and that slogan. What do you think? (No I'm not going to put a picture of myself. That's weird. Not as weird as admitting you're verbose, eat sandwiches, and annotate a lot, but still, weird.)

T-shirts I still like that I saw online:

A wheelbarrow with the slogan "Olde School"

A picture of Robert E. Lee with the slogan "Most Likely To Secede, 1861"


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Ephemerality of Art and Memory

From Michael Chabon (author of Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Cavelier and Clay), a lovely essay entitled "The Memory Hole":

Almost every school day, at least one of my four children comes home with art: a drawing, a painting, a piece of handicraft, a construction-paper assemblage, an enigmatic apparatus made from pipe cleaner, spangles, and clay. And almost every bit of it ends up in the trash. But there is just so much of the stuff; we don’t know what else to do with it. Of course we don’t toss all of it. We keep the good stuff, or what strikes us, in the zen of that instant between scraping out the lunchbox and sorting the mail, as good.

I will be haunted by the memory of the way my younger daughter looks at me, when she chances upon a crumpled sheet of paper in the recycling bin, bearing the picture, the very portrait, of five minutes stolen from the headlong rush of their little hour in my care: she looks betrayed.

“I don’t know how that got in there,” I tell her. “That was clearly a mistake. What a great dog.”

“It’s a girl kung fu master.”

“Of course,” I say. Then when she isn’t looking, I throw it away again.

Only it’s not just her artwork that I’m busy throwing away. Almost every hour that I spend with my children is disposed of just as surely, tossed aside, burned like money by a man on a spree. The sum total of my clear memories of them—of their unintended aphorisms, gnomic jokes and the sad plain truths they have expressed about the world; of incidents of precociousness, Gothic madness, sleepwalking, mythomania and vomiting; of the way light has stuck their hair or eyelashes on vanished afternoons; of the stupefying tedium of games we have played on Sundays in the rain; of highlights and horrors from the encyclopedic display of odorousness they have collectively put on; of the 297,000 minor kvetchings and heartfelt pleas I have responded to, over the past eleven years, with fury, tenderness, utter lack of interest, or a heartless and automatic compassion—those memories, when added to the sum total of photographs that we have managed to take, probably adds up, for all four of my children, to less than one percent of everything that we have undergone, lived through and taken pleasure in together.

The truth is that in every way I am squandering the treasure of my life. It’s not that I don’t take enough pictures, though I don’t, or that I don’t keep a diary, though iCal and my monthly Visa bill are the closest I come to a thoughtful prose record of events. Every day is like a kid’s drawing, offered to you with a strange mixture of ceremoniousness and offhand disregard, yours for the keeping. Some of them are rich and complicated, others inscrutable, others barely more than a stray gray mark on a ragged page. Some of them you manage to hang on to, though your reasons for doing so often seem hard to fathom. But most of them you just ball up and throw away.

This is such a moving, and true-to-life essay. I don't even have kids of my own and I have this problem. My oldest brother's two kids are at my house 4 days a week, and everytime they'r here they draw at least two crayon scribbles each. I can't keep all of it--after only a few weeks I have a a ream of paper's worth of drawings. I make them "recycle" by using the backs of printout mistakes or articles I've read and don't need to read again. So I have quite a bit of the "good stuff" I'm keeping on the backs of law school applications, law review articles, and printed out news articles. Two other sets of kids visit on Saturday, or else bring me pictures (again, mostly scribbles) they've drawn and bewilderingly enough decorated with glitter glue, such that everything is balled up and stuck together. I'm currently in the process of assembling a binder of the "good stuff," mostly the more elaborate pictures by the 5 year olds and the "silly faces" by the 3 year olds. I have lots of pictures of me (often with blond or orange hair) and the kids, princesses, fairy tale characters, Dora the Explorer, and yes, a girl kung fu master. Seriously. Although I think she said it was karate, not kung fu. Most prized in my possession is a picture done by my then 9 year old, now 12 year old nephew of a boy who climbed up a ladder (supported by boulders, this kid has a civil engineering streak in him) to the moon and watched the lion and the rabbit eat grass (in his world, the lions are vegetarians) while big stars hung in the sky. But most of it I throw away. I tell the kids "thank you, I'll keep it FOREVER!"--a bald faced lie--and I throw it away discreetly after they've left. And even then, I have a drawer full of pictures, of the "good stuff," though it doesn't compare to the closet full of lies I've told them about keeping the "other stuff."

It's funny that one month from leaving the kids, who miss me if I go upstairs and call me to come down and watch Spongebob with them (and you wonder why I don't blog more often?), I am terrified of losing my memories. Of losing the kids, as if their faces will recede from my memory as I know mine will if I don't visit every few months and call every week. The littlest babies will forget me and recoil from my touch, seeing me as a stranger the next time I visit. I wonder if I too will forget their faces, or be shocked at their growth and unrecognizable new hair growth. I just developed 160 pictures of the kids and arranged them nicely in a new photo album. I printed out 5x7s of the kids--just the kids--and framed them nicely so that I could wake up and they'd be the first thing I'd see. I am making them draw pictures and signing them (if they can write) "I Love You, Aunt Belle." I am considering tape recording their voices singing silly songs and saying "I love you." (I am big on external validation). I have figured out in my head which set of kids to call on which days every week.

I hate diaries, I barely use my daily planner (except for due dates) and I live for and in perpetual fear of the future. But in many ways I am trapped by the past, the fear that so much living and planning for the future--specifically, my future--will make me forget my origins, my family, the eight loves of my life.

I have the opportunity to make new memories and a new life for myself--just me. And yet I wonder if my greatest worry is not how I'll make new memories, but rather how I'll keep the old ones.

Hat Tip: Feminist Law Profs


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Truly Great Blog You Need To Read

Justin Cox and Sean Strasberg, currently 2Ls at Yale Law School, have a wonderful legal/political/pop culture blog called Opinion Work Product. Check it out! Great stuff there to read. What is up with Yale Law students and their good blogging? But if you're a little resentful and envious of Will Baude's acclaimed legal blawgging (and his writing for The New Republic), then be sure to lend your support to his classmates Justin and Sean.


The Pitfalls of Student Debt: Invest For The Future, At Prime + 2.75%

I was $60,000 in debt when I graduated in 2005, but thanks to savings and a little elbow grease, I've paid off about $12,000 so far. Don't applaud me yet--I'm about to go another $36,000 in debt, and that's just for the next year's tuition. I write rather candidly about my grad student poverty, ignoring for once my general distaste towards talking about money. I figure, better for future law and graduate students to realize that it won't be themed dinner parties and lattes all the time now rather than later. It sucks being poor. But you get used to it, only because you have to. I grew up poor, and although I now enjoy air conditioning and satellite TV and brand-name snack foods when I live with my parents, when I'm on my own it's lentils and rice. Seriously. I like Indian food, and so I learned how to make daal. I also learned how to make most pasta dishes, simple Vietnamese/Chinese food, and how to bake everything from scones to cake. I learned to cook by necessity--my budget allows me to eat two meals out a month (preferably under $10, but I'll splurge and go $20) at most, so I have to cook the rest of the time. It turns out, I'm a pretty good cook, and an even better baker. I eat a lot of sandwiches and generic cereal when I'm pressed for time and can't cook. I learned to cut out my latte habit and buy boxes of tea bags by the hundred from Little India (the BEST). I don't take expensive vacations, choosing instead (and I am a city girl) to go hiking and camping where you pay at most $20/week for a piece of ground and set up a borrowed tent for free. There are ways to make the impoverished grad student life enjoyable. In fact, you can make it an issue of moral imperative--rather than go into further debt, you choose the quasi-ascetic life, like an urban Siddhartha. Keep saying that, and maybe you and others will believe it.

I was a scholarship kid in college, so I didn't have to work as much and graduated debt-free--but I did my fair share of work, as a day care worker and university grader for lower division classes. Nowadays, I try not to work during the school year so that I can focus on school--a "luxury" I have come to view as a necessity if I want to do well and finish on time. It's a peculiar thing, to choose debt over income--but it makes economic sense to me, and I have expectations of living comfortably later even if I have to subsist on cereal now.

But it's not like the grad student life is entirely ascetic. You just have to make choices about what is most important to you to budget around. I do budget for certain luxuries--my monthly academic book fix, subscriptions to The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Harper's, at least three student tickets to performing arts events per semester, maybe one movie a month, some charities--but I learned, the hard way, to be frugal in all things except the nourishment of the mind (and even then, I wait for the paperback, depend on libraries and stand in line for an hour to get the cheap student seats). But it's just something you have to learn in grad school, the way you didn't in college when your parents were a little more generous about helping you out. I learned to stop shopping only when I realized that I couldn't move all of my shoes and clothes from my parent's house to my new graduate efficiency studio. I learned to embroider, bead and knit instead of buying those expensive "I could do this myself" kind of garments at Anthropologie. It's amazing how long it took me to stop buying everything I wanted, just because it's on sale, or just because I had a bad day--and i amazes me how most of my classmates never learned this. I think I could have been more popular in law school if I had taken up every invitation to go eat out at a Zagat rated restaurant, go shopping at Loehman's, go to a trendy bar and spend $15 per drink, or heaven forbid spend $100 for shooting lessons--apparently a fun thing some law school classmates like to do. But there are some things you just have to give up, however willingly.

I think I did all of this because I knew I wouldn't be making lots of money when I graduated. I knew I wanted to get an LLM and JSD, which would mean lots more debt. I knew that I couldn't afford to take out more than what was needed for tuition and living expenses. Knowing ex ante the burden of your educational debt can limit the choices you are able to make when you graduate--and knowing what you want to do when you graduate can affect how you view and use your educational debt. For me, it was always an investment that would take at least five years after graduation to pay off. That kind of made me reconsider going to Paris for Spring break. For my public interest friends, it meant deciding whether to work in a firm for a few years before going back to their public interest intent, or taking a second job at Starbucks.

You want more proof that educational debt is no joke, and that you should not finance your vacations or Nordstrom habit with credit cards (with their horrible interest rates of 15-20%) or money from your private educational loans (with their horrible interest rates of prime + 2-3%)? You want proof that planning a career in the public interest will require some hard financial choices? You want proof that we really do need a Second Bill of Rights for economic security for lower income people and those choosing lower paying (but greater good serving) jobs to ensure the betterment of our nation? Well then, read this article from the NY Times, "Forgive Us Our Student Debt":

In an era when an increasing number of students borrow heavily to finance their educations, are those with less debt, or no debt at all, more likely to stay in school longer? Will they choose a different career path upon graduation? Will they marry earlier, buy a house sooner or save more for retirement? In short, will they live different lives?

Most of the questions researchers ask about the links between college borrowing and behavior focus on what happens when students from low-income backgrounds are faced with high tuition and inadequate financial aid. In academic circles, this is called the "work-loan burden": the amount of money students have to come up with out of their own pockets to be able to attend school. Faced with a high work-loan burden, do they work for another year before attending college? Or do they go to a cheaper, two-year school instead of a more expensive four-year one? Should they study part time and work part time? For low-income high-school seniors, it's conceivable that virtually every decision made about college is influenced by their willingness to borrow. According to one recent estimate, 200,000 qualified students every year put off college for financial reasons.

"I think the key issue is that these students' aversion to debt is a rational choice," Nicole Barry, deputy director of the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, says. "If work-loan is a high percentage of their family income, then it makes sense that they would be averse to taking on such high levels of debt."

"By reducing their financial barriers," Shelton says, "you're allowing students to take on leadership roles on college campuses and spend more time focused on academics. Otherwise they would have been burdened with work or making lesser college choices." "The people who don't have to worry about debt, like the Gates cohort," he says, "are making life choices that are more contingent with their interest rather than to the market." Put simply, among low-income high-achievers, those who don't have to take out loans often make different life choices from those of their counterparts who borrow.

That's because loan forgiveness can't necessarily change how students think about debt and careers right after graduation. Perhaps the best research on this subject comes from the experience of several hundred recent New York University School of Law graduates. The pay disparities between public- and private-sector law jobs have widened over the past two decades to the point that law-firm jobs can pay three to five times what graduates earn in the public realm. Many elite law schools, and many bar associations and public interest law groups, have responded to the disparity with various pay incentives — mainly, debt-forgiveness programs that try to ensure that highly qualified lawyers will continue to take jobs as public defenders and in law enforcement. But from 1998 to 2001, N.Y.U. Law tried something called the Innovative Financial Aid Study. Of the participants who received aid, some students received loans (meaning they would graduate with large debts) and some received grants of two-thirds tuition (meaning they would graduate with smaller debts). This randomized arrangement came with conditions, however: students who received loans could have them forgiven if they took jobs in the public sector; students who received grants would see them converted into loans (and large debts) if they did not enter the public sector. N.Y.U. is tracking these students' job choices for 10 years.

For all of them, of course, the choice was the same: low debt if they took jobs in the public sector versus high debt if they went into the private sector. But the psychological difference between completing school with low debt (thanks to tuition grants) or high debts (albeit with a promise of loan forgiveness) proved significant. When Erica Field, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard, analyzed the early survey data, she concluded that grant recipients had a strikingly higher rate (between 36 and 45 percent) of first-job placement in public sector jobs than those who had received loans instead. "I think what my results suggest is that people are debt averse and there's a psychic cost to debt," Field says. "If you can reduce the amount of time that they're in debt, people will value this. You can influence their behavior."

The problem, and it's a big one, is not only that college can't be made free for everyone. It is also getting more expensive every year. N.Y.U.'s immense resources enabled it to explore the effects of big scholarships on schooling; only a handful of other institutions in the world can do that. To Jim Shelton at the Gates Foundation, the expense of the Millennium Scholarship Program (even with its $1 billion endowment) is such that he's certain the college-financing problem will never be resolved through private or philanthropic funds. Government must lend a hand. "The reality is that if we really want to address this issue, it will have to be at a public policy level," he says.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Newsflash: This IS A Blawg!

(Quick plug before the verbal assault: Go to Ian Best's Open Invitation for Additions to Taxonomy to submit your comments about how the taxonomy should be structured and who else should be included)

Despite my bad track record at having the answers to my own questions refuted by my subsequent behavior (check out the answer to the question "Is This An Academic Blog?"), a while back, I asked the question "Is This A Blawg or a Blog?", answering, "this is not truly a blawg, and I am not yet a prawf." I reasoned that:

When I think of my favorite law blogs, (I am not going to use "blawg" anymore!) I feel like what I do is so amateurish by comparison. I feel qualified to give a few general thoughts and maybe cite a little precedent, but by no means am I performing legal analysis. I'm just not qualified to yet. I'm still in my "student" phase, with all the crippling student insecurity. I won't be posting many case summaries/commentaries, or predicting which direction the law is headed. Like I said, I don't feel very qualified yet. The heck if I know which direction the law is going! This is why I'm getting an LLM and JSD! I need some more disciplinary training! I need to write more scholarship!

My answer on March 13, 2006 was affirmed by Ian Best, the Emile Durkheim of the Blawgosphere. I was included in Ian's original taxonomy, but a few weeks later, I was taken off for not being "legal enough"--that is, this wasn't a blog by a practicing lawyer, law professor, or judge, and the subject matter of the blawg wasn't sufficiently legal. That was a whopping three months ago, when my blog was considerably less law oriented--and more about being a disgruntled student/scholar. I'm still disgruntled, but I've laid off merely chronicling my grad student ennui and despair at not being able to write a decent page a day. But guess what folks, I finally made it! This IS a blawg! And you know what? I'm pretty happy about this too. I like being a part of the legal community. It makes me feel validated after taking out $60,000 in loans and spending my days changing diapers. And I also like being a part of the wider academic blog community and being able to kvetch about being a poor grad student with other grad students. So I guess I get to have the best of both worlds!

At the time, I was not offended about the fact that I wasn't considered a legal blog--hell, I said I wasn't writing a legal blog. But whether consciously or unconsciously, not being included pushed me to try harder to become a "blawg." I dared to try my hand at the very thing I most feared--legal analysis without an authoritative degree. I realized, "heck, I have a JD from a Top 20 law school--why shouldn't I blog a little bit about the things I've learned? Why shouldn't I introduce the world to critical race theory?" And so the adventure began, inspired in part by the challenge created by Ian and his taxonomy. I became more adventurous in mixing legal analysis and personal reflection. I tried my hand at explaining some legal principles. The "blawgosphere" noticed, and I got some plugs by high profile law blogs. I even somehow got a guest blogging stint at my favorite law blog. So thank you Ian, for not including me the first time around

You know, I still feel insecure about my ability to blawg, but I'm trying not to let the lack of extra legal degrees stop me from blogging about my passion--anti-discrimination law. I don't write more than a layman's guide to certain anti-discrimination principles, but I believe it's been a useful service. But despite taking on such subjects as employment discrimination law, restrictive covenants, critical mass theory, and pregnancy discrimination, I haven't stopped blogging about the cognitive dissonance involved in being an Asian-American feminist raised in a strict, patriarchal family--in other words, The Vietnamese Yentl. In fact, this blog has given me the space to write about both, which is why I was glad to have it classified as a more "general" blog rather than as a "purely legal" blog. In fact, I tend to do both, legal analysis/distillation one day, a mix of legal and personal reflection the next--it's the type of writing I employed in my Feminist Law Prof posts, and I like that it's a different type of blawg. After all, if Dan Markel can openly say that one of his interests is "wriggling with his osita (his wife)," and Kevin Drum engages in almost weekly "cat blogging," why can't I admit that I am more than just a a law school robot? Actually, the persons I would most want to model this blog on (besides Ann Bartow) are Gowri Ramachandran, who in her all-too-brief guest stint at PrawfsBlawg wrote one of the most honest, sensitive and thought-provoking essays about being a bisexual law professor, or Michelle Anderson, who in her all-too-brief guest stint at Concurring Opinions wrote a great essay about her surprise at finding herself a happily married feminist.

The presence of personal/political (blah blah personal is political, let us all sing the (true) mantra of newly politically aware college students) female bloggers such as Ann, Gowri, and Michelle make me feel less like the stranger at the gates to the ivory tower blawgosphere. It makes what I do feel less like "non-serious blogging" that should be taken less seriously merely because it involves some personal reflection. I don't know why "cat blogging" or talking about "wriggling" can be done without detracting from the scholarly seriousness of a blogger, but intellectual ruminations on the intersection between identity and scholarship cannot--but whatever. The very presence of Ann, Gowri, and Michelle in the blawgosphere, and my validation as a "blawgger" by Ian and Professors Solum, Filler, Bartow, and Hoffman go to show that the blawgosphere can be as multi-dimensioned as the law professors who choose to participate in it.

Next week: goldfish blogging.