Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Alma Mater, Mater Mea?

"Alma Mater" roughly translates as "fostering mother," or "nourishing mother. Does that make your academic alma mater your mother in any real sense?

Maybe during the college years, which I hear are quite formative--it's the first time away from one's parents home, and the college becomes for better or worse the surrogate parent--atending to your educational, dietary, medical, and personal development needs. Tons of student organizations devoted to every type of obsession and pathology. Dorm formals, or "dormals." Dining hall plans. Broomball (apparently...brooms, a ball, some sort of goal other than idiocy). Student health clinics that train students in safe sex and help them deal, hopefully privately, with the repercussions of unsafe sex. Ultimate frisbee tournaments, Scrabble hoe-downs, any number of ridiculously orchestrated non-academic social events. In graduate school, it offers the same functions, but by then you are supposed to be more autonomous. You are supposed to be able to eat without a dining plan, figure out how to make friends yourself (although those awful school-sponsored kegs in the courtyard...), and hopefully know how to take care of yourself by this age. So really, does graduate school perform any sort of maternal or paternal function?

I was a commuter to my nearby state college, so I never had that nurturing feeling from school--but I spent so much time there by virtue of my two majors in two different schools (and plus commuting is a pain more than twice a day), that I felt like I spent a significant amount of time there five days a week. I volunteered in many feminist organizations, and edited the feminist newspaper. I belonged to the honors programs in each of my schools. I felt very much a part of the school, despite having to leave it every evening and hardly being there any weekend. I felt that college contributed significantly to my development, both intellectual and personal. When I graduated, I donated a bit of money--not much, but not bad consdering my charity budget then was exactly $100 a year.

I lived very close to law school, and spent even more time there--and the three years I spent in law school, though they passed quickly, felt as laborious and intense as four years in college. I spent many a weekend at the law library. I attended far more school functions than I ever had in college--public lectures, talks, brown-bags, symposia, social events (except bar review)--and this even when I hated law school the first 1.5 years. I didn't even wait till I graduated to give money back. My school has public interest think tanks that I gladly to which I gladly contributed, as well as a public interest law fund (and charity event) that I donated to every year. In law school, I found causes as well as reasons to contribute. It wasn't my mother, but I still felt a sense of duty to aid it in some of its endeavors. I supported the endeavors, and so I supported my school. I may indeed carve out some of my slightly enlargened charity budget to donate to the school fund--not just special projects, now that I've graduated I see that the entire school is a project that may deserve my support if it can continue with its many particular endeavors.

It's no different now that I'm in a post-graduate program, except that it's only a one-year program. I hardly go to school, having only two classes. I don't get much out of my school as an institution other than an opportunity to write and work with faculty--and this is something one may in theory do by oneself if one can develop such relationships independently. My school helps me get in touch with faculty and fixes me up with a main advisor--but a lot of the leg work is my own. So it's not a sense of ingratitude, but rather institutionally-bred detachment that I am looking at my "Class of 2007" contribution form with some wariness. I would much rather contribute to the public interest law fund, or a public-interest think tank here. At least until I feel like I really am a part of the school. Maybe that moment will come with my SJD.

It is slowly awakening now that I've been better integrating myself into the law school as a whole, and not just my program. It sounds silly, but taking classes in a particular program concentration or making friends with the "American" law students goes a long way to making LLMs feel a part of the campus community. It's like that first surge of school spirit I had when I represented my school at a colloquium, or my first school football game. It's the undefinable moment when you feel like you are a part of a greater institution doing great things, and not just using the school as a go-between or writing-coach.

The point is, I'm not fully there yet, and I wonder if it's the problem with such short, independent academic programs--I no sooner adjusted to being here than I am leaving. I'm not really integrated to the rest of the school, and it takes a great deal of effort to carve out time to join and attend extracurricular activities. And all in one year. I can't imagine what it is like for the internationals, who will go back to their countries. Yet they invariably donate to the class fund here. I appreciate their fervor, even as I can't really understand it. Then I think what it must be like to be a freshman at 18 living away from home for the first time. Ah, so the school has become their mother. I am so comfortable here with friends outside of law school nearby and family not too far away, that I don't feel need or compulsion to attend every social event or rely on the school too much to fulfill my personal needs. Maybe the school is an alma mater to my classmates, who are so far away from their own mothers.

I'm visiting my law school alma mater this week, and I will let you know whether I feel a resurgent sense of nostalgia and largesse, and whether I miss the hallowed halls because once I belonged there.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Gift: Wil Wheaton

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an abiding love for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I like being contrarian, but what I like more is being unexpected and improbable. Yes, I do watch a lot of Masterpiece Theatre, Turner Classic Movies, and movies with subtitles. Yes, I dress like a Wellesley girl, circa 1952. Yes, I watch a lot of legal procedure shows. And I love science fiction. I am not the only literate science fiction freak, but I am the only one in my immediate circle of friends. It is lonely.

I don't read it (too much of a time investment when I still have yet to read Finnegan's Wake), but I do like to watch it, very carefuly. I have what I call an "infatuated personality"--as distinct from "obssessive"--so I have to check the things I get on very quickly and off even quicker. I loved The X-Files for two years, from 1994-96--and havne't really watched an episode since. I had a revival with Quantum Leap a few years ago, and am currently obsessed with Firefly. I didn't start watching Battlestar Galactica out of fear--if I liked it, I would watch it, and that means time not spent writing about sexual harassment law. Better to wait for the DVD, which really works well for my personality. I can watch an entire season during a weekend with the flu, and the commitment is intense and brief, and there is the rest of life to return to after the weekend is over, and the main commitment is always there in the background. In many ways, I wonder if this is how my romantic life goes. Unless you're already there, the time to invest in a relationship is daunting, and I don't have much time, and am too autonmomous to shift around too many priorities. There is one main commitment right now, and that's about as much as I can handle--if I want to get my first tenure track job. I like the pure fun of the other Netflix dalliances, and secretly always hope that one day they'll become as abiding a love, but it's okay if it doesn't. It is like casual dating and hoping for love, even though you're too busy for either.

So yes, I do love Star Trek. When I'm at home and too tired or sick to do work, I catch it occasionally on Spike: The Network for Men (puh-leeze, with four hours of Star Trek a day and MXC, it is the network for Belle!). But as much as I love Star Trek, I hated, hated the nerd punk Wesley Crusher character. He was always too whiny and smart-alecky. And he became a big jerk towards the end until he became a "Traveller"--able to shift within the space-time continuum.

But now I realize that my years-long hatred of Wesley was misplaced. I should have hated the writers! Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley, says as much (he is quite candid). And he understands why people hated his character, even if it really bothered him growing up (and now I feel bad).

He's had a big come back on the net, and you know, it makes me like him better, and reinforces my love of my favorite TV show ever.

Here is his blog. It is weird and funny.

Here are his personal retrospective reviews of some episodes of TNG. They are HILARIOUS.



Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Poet for Saturday Afternoon: Thomas Hardy

Last Saturday featured William Butler Yeats, the bright little ray of sunshine that he is. I confess a weakness for wistful, romantic poems. I have great fondness for quotidean meditations, but poetry is the food of love, or so says Fitzwilliam Darcy. So if it nourishes love, might not love nourish poetry (a fine stout love, perhaps).

Hardy is one of my favorite authors in both poetry and fiction. The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of my favorite novels, and I love his bitter and wistful poems. I've been reading several reviews of Clair Tomalin's new biography of Hardy, and I covet it desperately--almost as much as I covet a collection of Hardy's poems.

But until I have my heart's desires, a few poems for the heart, whether yours is twisted in knots, wistful in reflection, or broken into pieces.

Yes, I too am a bright little ray of sunshine!

I Said to Love.

I said to Love,
"It is not now as in old days
When men adored thee and thy ways
All else above;
Named thee the Boy, the Bright, the One
Who spread a heaven beneath the sun,"
I said to Love.

I said to him,
"We now know more of thee than then;
We were but weak in judgment when,
With hearts abrim,
We clamoured thee that thou would'st please
Inflict on us thine agonies,"
I said to him.

I said to Love,
"Thou art not young, thou art not fair,
No faery darts, no cherub air,
Nor swan, nor dove
Are thine; but features pitiless,
And iron daggers of distress,"
I said to Love.

"Depart then, Love! . . .
- Man's race shall end, dost threaten thou?
The age to come the man of now
Know nothing of? -
We fear not such a threat from thee;
We are too old in apathy!
Mankind shall cease.--So let it be,"
I said to Love.

Between Us Now

Between us now and here--
Two thrown together
Who are not wont to wear
Life's flushest feather--

Who see the scenes slide past,
The daytimes dimming fast,
Let there be truth at last,
Even if despair.

So thoroughly and long
Have you now known me,
So real in faith and strong
Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise

Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
A guarded tongue.
Face unto face, then, say,

Eyes my own meeting,
Is your heart far away,
Or with mine beating?

When false things are brought low,
And swift things have grown slow,
Feigning like froth shall go,
Faith be for aye.

The Voice

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear?
Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day. I Suppose.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More Federalism For You

I'm for some reason always pleased to see my work crop up in the popular media, even if the framing is off.

From the NY Times:

States and U.S. at Odds on Aid for Uninsured

In the absence of federal action, governors and state legislators around the country are transforming the nation’s health care system, putting affordable health insurance within reach of millions of Americans in hopes of reversing the steady rise in the number of uninsured, now close to 47 million.

But the states appear to be on a collision course with the Bush administration, whose latest budget proposals create a huge potential obstacle to their efforts to expand coverage. While offering to work with states by waiving requirements of federal law, the Bush administration has balked at state initiatives that increase costs to the federal government.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has reported: “Health care reform was hot in legislatures across the nation in 2006, and the forecast for this session may be even hotter. Fueled by the increasing number of uninsured Americans, the declining number of employers offering insurance to their employees, the improved fiscal conditions in the states and the lack of federal action, states are leading the way in health care reform.”

Knowing they cannot count on a major infusion of federal money, some states are looking to their own revenue sources, including tobacco taxes, pools of money set aside for charity care and uncompensated care, and assessments levied on employers who do not provide health benefits to their workers.

State efforts face several potential pitfalls. The cost of coverage could spin out of control. An economic downturn could reduce states’ fiscal capacity. Moreover, a federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, could block any state program that requires employers to alter their health plans.

In Washington, health policy debates highlight the ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats over the proper role of government in helping the uninsured. Governors and state legislators tend to be more pragmatic.

Mr. Bush’s efforts, combined with the flurry of state activity, have forced Congress to face fundamental questions about the Children’s Health Insurance Program: If states run out of money, should the federal government bail them out? Should states be allowed to use the money to cover adults?

Interesting stuff. Among many other bratty, ill-considered positions, I used to consider myself a "21st Century New Dealer." Seriously. I wholeheartedly believed that a strong centralized government was the best authority to implement "good" public policy goals at a nation-wide level, and there was nothing to replace the imprimatur of authority and efficacy of enforcement that comes with federal action. Now I kind of know a little better. There is a dynamic and mutally constitutive relationship between the states and federal government. With the rise of the adminstrative state in which we are governed more by agencies and regulatory rules than legislatures and laws, there is a blurred line between state and federal government. In absence of federal action (see above) states are indeed "creative labs" of legislation, stepping in to regulate behavior that the federal government can't reach or enacting more far-reaching statutes than the federal government is willing to (particularly in the areas of environmental regulation, family and medical leave, pregnancy discrimination). So it's a lot more complicated than I thought when I was in college. Thank goodness.

The article highlights many interesting issues--how state initiatives can run into the problems of the federal budget, but I wouldn't say that they're "at odds" per se--but this administration in particular is frustrating the efforts of the states to extend coverage to adults. So much for states' rights rhetoric! Also interesting, though it isn't gone into in depth, is the potential for the Federal ERISA statute to preempt states' attempts to enact "play or pay" Big Box rules for empoyers of over 500--either these employers (i.e. WAL-MART) provide health insurance for their employees or are fined for non-compliance. Such play-or-pay rules likely run into preemption problems, as ERISA already has its own mandates about the provision of benefits by employers. So there are definitely some interesting constitutional issues here in addition to the general structural questions about the proper role of the statse vis-a-vis the federal government.

Federalism for you.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Law on the Books vs. Law on the Street

From the Washington Post,

"WiFI Turns Internet Into Hideout for Criminals":

Detectives arrived last summer at a high-rise apartment building in Arlington County, warrant in hand, to nab a suspected pedophile who had traded child pornography online. It was to be a routine, mostly effortless arrest.

But when they pounded on the door, detectives found an elderly woman who, they quickly concluded, had nothing to do with the crime. The real problem was her computer's wireless router, a device sending a signal through her 10-story building and allowing savvy neighbors a free path to the Internet from the privacy of their homes.

With nearly 46,000 public access points across the country -- many of them free -- hundreds of thousands of computer users are logging on every day to wireless networks at cafes, hotels, airports and even while sitting on park benches. And although the majority of those people are simply checking their e-mail and surfing the Web, authorities said an increasing number of criminals are taking advantage of the anonymity offered by the wireless signals to commit a raft of serious crimes -- from identity theft to the sexual solicitation of children.

"It's frustrating for officers," said Todd Shipley, director of training services at the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. "If a suspect is going from coffee shop to coffee shop and using free signals to commit crimes, the police probably aren't going to catch him. That's the reality."

Across the nation, 46 multi-jurisdictional Internet Crimes Against Children task forces have been created to carry out online sting operations aimed at ensnaring sex offenders because a man tapping away on a computer in Rockville might very well be soliciting a child in California. Every week, federal and local authorities cast their nets.

And although most sex crimes against underage boys and girls involve victims and suspects who know each other, an increasing number involve online interactions between strangers. Online solicitations -- in which pedophiles cultivate relationships with children and then arrange to meet them in public places -- are becoming more common, federal authorities said.

Those assigned to the task forces patrol the virtual streets for pedophiles and others who want to commit crimes against children. Using software and other tracking devices, the officers trace a suspect's IP address. But as technology improves, so too do the tactics of criminals. Closing cases is more difficult if the IP address originated from a wireless signal because it often leads back to the owner of the network instead of the criminal.

This is quite disturbing to say the least. I'm currently writing about the federal regulation of child pornography. I'm working at the macro-theory level of whether there is the power to regulate an illicit, fungible commodity for which there is an interstate market and whether the "materials in commerce" requirement is a sufficient jurisdictional hook. Thus, I often forget about the real-life, technical issues about the efficacy of regulatory authorities even if you assume there is such a constitutional power. Law on the books vs. law on the streets: you (or rather, I) watch Law and Order and Criminal Minds and watch them back-hack their way to IP addresses, triangulating cell phone towers, and figuring out how to unscramble anonymizing software that obscure IP and MAC addresses. It seems so easy for the not-really-geeky tech guy on TV. Of course, I have a layperson's understanding of the technology. But obviously, the law on the books finds rough translation to the enforcement of the law on the streets.

Even if the law is very broad, the feasibility of monitoring "private" behavior inhibit the reach and power of regulatory authority. The relevant law is Title 18, Section 2251 and Title 18, Section 2252(a).

The statutes are quite broad, so long as you solicit children through the channels of interstate commerce (which the internet very obviously is) or produce sexually exploitative images of children using materials that have moved in commerce or have been made with components that moved in commerce (camera, film, paper, etc) that is enough of a jurisdictional hook to trigger the federal regulation under the commerce clause. We think of child pornography as criminal behavior, and indeed there are federal criminal statutes--but there is no general federal police power. Such a power is reserved to the states and many states have their own laws (a lot of replication, which is why jurisdiction is a fun issue)--but what about child exploitation that transacts between a resident of one state to a child located in another? How can an individual state monitor and have jurisdictional authority over interstate crime? And this is where the federal goverment steps in. But how can the federal government reach this criminal activity that very often occurs in the private home? The commerce clause. And this, my friends, is why federalism matters to you and your family (and there are many other reasons, e.g. VAWA, the private, personal use of medicinal marijuana).

I am pro-regulation of child pornography--I believe in the interactive, mutually constitutive relationship between the states and federal government to achieve important public policy ends. I have nine nephews and nieces of my own, and I can't conceive of some pedophile in another state contacting any one of them without extreme pain. So while the connection between interstate commerce and child pornography appears to be very attenuated, I am pro-regulation. Made with materials that have moved in commerce? A fungible commodity for which there exists an interstate market? Taken to the extreme (the slippery slope!) the federal government would almost have the power to regulate everything and the very idea federalism would be a myth. Which I kind of think it is. There should be a role for states and there is definitely a relatively centralized federal government. But it's not a zero sum game, especially with the rise of the administrative state, in which lines separating the powers of the three branches of government and between powers traditionally reserved to the states or preemptively cornered by the federal government are increasingly blurred.

We may argue back and forth about federalism, the encroachment of federal criminal law, and states rights. But at the end of the day, the law on the books or in the realm of theory has serious mis-match with the law on the streets. I may be writing an article about governmental powers--but the real-life powers of the agents of the government seem very limited. Even if by lex fiat the government declares its agents to have this power to regulate, whether the agents actually can regulate effectively is quite another matter. Put simply, there is a great divide between saying "we have the power to get the bad guys" and actually being able to get them.

Altogether sobering. A definite reality check for this theory head.


Yeats' The Second Coming

Yeats' was Saturday's Poet of the Day, and I mentioned his powerful poem "The Second Coming" without reproducing it. A grave omission, but it didn't fit the hopeful, wistful theme of the day. But current events compel me to correct this error, so here it is:

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming!
Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I'm compelled to reproduce this poem because of the following article in the NY Times:

The Brookings Institution, the prominent Washington research organization, just released a report on the Iraq war entitled “Things Fall Apart.” When Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, took to the House floor last year to demand that President Bush present a plan for Iraq, he called his speech “The Center Cannot Hold.” Blogs are full of the observation that “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed” in Iraq these days.

These phrases all come from William Butler Yeats’s “Second Coming.” Yeats’s bleakly apocalyptic poem has long been irresistible to pundits. What historical era, after all, is not neatly summed up by his lament that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”? But with its somber vision of looming anarchy, and its Middle Eastern backdrop (the terrifying beast Yeats warns of “slouches towards Bethlehem”), “The Second Coming” is fast becoming the official poem of the Iraq war.

The pundits who quote it, though, are picking up on Yeats’s words, but not his world view. As Helen Vendler, the great Harvard poetry scholar, and others have pointed out, “The Second Coming” is really two poems. The first eight lines are filled with the pointed aphorisms that pundits like so much, while the rest of the poem suggests the unpredictability of how history will unfold. This second, less quoted part is the one that speaks most directly to the grim situation in Iraq.

But after those eight lines, the poem suddenly becomes, as Ms. Vendler notes, “oracular.” Like the Delphic oracle, this Yeats speaks cryptically. “Surely the Second Coming is at hand,” he says — but of course, “surely” here means its opposite: what follows is not certain at all. Yeats goes on to announce “somewhere in sands of the desert/ A shape with lion body and the head of a man” — an indefinite creature in an indefinite place.

The poem reflects, as Harold Bloom, the Yale professor and literary critic, says, Yeats’s belief that a “change in god” was coming, “and that the 2,000-year reign of Christianity was about to end.” But it does not reveal who this god will be. Its last two lines are a question: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”“The Second Coming” is a powerful brief against punditry. The Christian era was about the ability to predict the future: the New Testament clearly foretold the second coming of Christ. In the post-Christian era of which Yeats was writing there was no Bible to map out what the next “coming” would be. The world would have to look toward Bethlehem to see what “rough beast” arrived.

It is bizarre to see shards of “The Second Coming” appended to the Brookings report, or to any of the other plans and prognostications about the war in Iraq. Yeats, who grew up feeling “sort of ecstasy at the contemplation of ruin,” did not just welcome whatever new order his rough beast was ushering in. He believed the only way it could plausibly be spoken of was in the form of a question.

Very interesting, and a great reading of the poem. I have nothing to add. This is one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, and it never ceases to amaze me how every generation will find it relevant to describe the current apocalypse.
For more works that reference Yeats' "The Second Coming", at least what I can think of off the top of my head:

Nick Bantock's 3-D epistolary romance Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Poet of the Day: W.B. Yeats

Here are some choice selections for W.B. Yeats--notably missing is the powerful "Second Coming." Perhaps it's my particular mood right now, that these speak to me, suggesting the possibility of love, affirming the existence of beauty, and forgiving the youthful inclination to hope.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams...
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams...

Brown Penny

I whispered, 'I am too young.'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.
O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

The Rose of the World

Who dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?
For those red lips, with all their mournful pride,
Mournful that no new wonder may betide,
Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,
And Usna's children died.
We and the labouring world are passing by:
Amid men's souls, that waver and give place
Like the pale waters in their wintry race,
Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,
Lives on this lonely face.
Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
Before you were, or any hearts to beat,
Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;
He made the world to be a grassy road
Before her wandering feet.

When You Are Old

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced among the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Love Is A Mix-Tape, or Applying Canons of Statutory Interpretation to Music

I love making mix tapes. Even though they are actually CDs, I still call them mix-tapes. I make all sorts of tapes. Lately, with "new" friends, there has been the Belle in a Nutshell CD, or 80 minutes of my favorite rock and indie songs, for ill or worse with the caveat "judge not lest ye be judged." I have to segregate by genre, because my favorite R&B, hip hop, jazz, and country songs would not fit on an 80 minute disc with all my favorite rock and indie songs. Plus, I'm all about logical coherence and flow, and all my choices are moral choices. Never again shall Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra be on the same album I view this not unlike those anti-holocaust, anti-apartheid buttons I wore in college (kind of before my time, but the Center for Women and Gender Education that I volunteered at had some outdated buttons, I swear, there was probably a Vote for Geraldine button in there somewhere): Never Again. Therefore, they each get their own disc,

I reserve the right to revise Belle in a Nutshell or the country-western version, entitled " 'Cause I Missed You Somethin' Fierce" at any time. I haven't gotten around to making my "Babymakin' Slow Jamz To Shake You Down All Night Long" old school R&B mix yet (mainly out of modesty and embarassment) or the "H to the Izzo, Hypnotize Me Run DMC" hip hop mix (can't figure out how to work in a Tupac or Wu Tang lyric in that title without messing the flow). I have made "Dude, Your Grandmother Died, What's Up With That?" consolation CDs, "So You Want to Be a Hipster" guides, and "I'll Be The Captain to Your Tenille" cheer up care package CDs, I have made "The Hell With Love" breakup CDs. I have made a lot of mix tapes for my friends.

Not to say I haven't made ones for boyfriends or guys I secretly like but for now due to any number of circumstances (timing, distance, one-sided "obligations", the stuff of so many Ryan Adams songs) I can obfuscate under the cover of "just friends." It's all in the intent, not in the song choice. Go ahead, try to find a song that does NOT have "love" in the lyrics, reference or concern love, or obliquely refer to the abstract concept of love or the loss of love thematically (what other kind of lonely is there, besides lonely in love?). A CD without songs about love will probably be a CD filled with, I dunno, death metal by bands like Rammstein (and even then, isn't Du Hast Me sort of about love that ended?). So it's not about the song choice, except in an indirect way, think of it as trying to divine legislative intent rather than taking a textual approach. It's a good method actually, to apply canons of statutory interpretation to a mix tape. First start off with the textual approach (oooh, "Crazy Love" by Van Morrison). But do that contextually (oh, damn, "The River", or "Martha") and you'll see how one statute/CD will have conflicting and contradictory messages. Then, go off to figure out the institutional intent, that Holy Trinity long-pass throw--what could I possibly mean by "This Year's Love" by David Gray other than something akin to Sophie B. Hawkin's "Damn, Wish I Was Your Lover"? But even if you try to parse out the words or the intent of the person, you have the last resort of thinking more broadly and contextually--the whole Hart and Sacks purposive approach, or natural law superceding legal values approach. Whatever the song titles and lyrics say or the only meaning behind one song could be, you have to think of the CD in its entirety and it's the general purpose it is trying to effect. It is highly unlikely that I gave a CD to my best girl friend or Dynamic Law Prof with any other intent than "this is too cool for school, hope you like it, thumbs up!"

But if it could possibly be ambiguous with respect to yourself, then go ahead, apply the canons and resolve the ambiguities, how it should be applied to your particular case, and whether the language would support one construction or another and what my general intent and purpose had to be. Try to figure out why I chose this particular song by Elvis Costello over that one, or how a CD that includes angsty protest rock and folksy declarations of love and wistful rock ballads bemoaning the loss of love can make sense and what the heck do I mean? I choose songs carefully but appear haphazard, with a few directed hits---as if it really mattered which Van Morrison song you chose, because they're all about love in a way. And you can't not make mix tapes, and if you do you should never stop. It is my favorite way to cheer up friends, introduce myself to new ones. It is definitely my favorite way to be courted and to shyly declare my own feelings (the other being to tell my love while half asleep/in the dark hours/with half-words whispered low/despite the snow, despite the falling snow). True, there is the risk of aesthetic judgment. But love is blind. Or rather, deaf.

I'm not saying that the canons of statutory interpretation will lead you right in every case. It's hard to figure out these things. Legislative intent is hard to figure out, even with the Congressional records. And it changes all the time, per year and legislature. And how do we figure out what the legislature of 1964 really intended anyway, and does that even matter? We can presume, like Hart and Sacks, that legislatures are composed of rational beings seeking and fulfilling rational ends, and so there must be some point to the CD. So next time you get a CD from a person with whom you have an ambiguous relationship, try to figure out the intent (if you are unambiguous I pretty much declare my institutional intent like "songs to cheer you up" or "dude, update your IPod, we're not in the '90s anymore"). That said, intent can shift. And that's lovely.

Intent is a moving target, hard to pin down. It's damn near impossible to parse it, it's some kind of heuristic, and hardly anyone can figure it out. Except for my girl friends, or married friends or those men to whom I've explicitly declared a state of "just friendship" with out loud and uninebriated (awkward, but useful, like Roberts Rules of Order), it is difficult to divine the intentions behind a seemingly random collection of songs mix tape. And that's the beauty, the ambiguity. What starts as a friendly gesture can lead to much more, when both of you agree that damn, The Shins ROCK, and how empty was life before we grew mature enough to appreciate Neil Young? The ambiguity is great. There can only be one reason to write a poem for an unmarried person of the opposite sex (if you are heterosexual that is), but so, so many reasons to make a mix tape, and for a while, at the beginning (or maybe, for all of time), neither of you really knows. I often don't know myself why I make mix CDs, until I reach the declaratory judgment phase granting or denying relief for the pangs of the heart. So there's always a flush of excitement about making a mix tape for someone for whom I feel something, but it is something undefined and undeclared but is on the cusp of announcement. It's the greatest feeling in the world, next to actually being in love.

There are a lot of reasons for making mix tapes. love happens to be the best reason, unless your major relationship was in the late 1990s to early 2000s, in which case you suffered from the confluence of bad, bad contemporary music and youthful bad taste such that you included something as maudlin as Edwin McCain's "I'll Be" and jam banded your way into Dave Matthew's "Crash." And if you were unlucky enough to have an Awesome Part of the Country to Random Part of the Country long-distance relationship, you actually included Hootie and the Blowfish's "I Will Wait for You" off their totally not popular second or third album, you can't even remember, and the oldie throwback was Golden Earring's "Radar Love." And there are so, so many better long distance love songs (like the Mills Brothers' "Till Then", and for the return, Etta James' "At Last").

If you are in love, you don't include Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake, however good they are. But once that stupid relationship ended around the time you discovered David Gray, you start listening to so much Elliot Smith you think he's talking to you when he sings "do you miss me, Miss Misery", and you realize the genius that is Tom Waits' "Martha" and curse George Jones for singing"He Stopped Loving Her Today."

I'm in the process of making a few different mix tapes right now. Random themed "thumbs up!"ones (something to the tune of "Ambulatory Songs for Amblin' Folk"), random enough to have no disernible intent except for maybe one or two songs. But in my head, when it is the right time, I'm thinking up a list of songs that in their totality are not ambiguous and have no other possible interpretation, no matter what canon of construction you apply, other than "I Want To Be Your Yoko Ono."

Rock on.

Picture: Book that you must buy, Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rainy Day Music

It has turned from sun to rain in Awesome Part of the Country, which is yes, still awesome. I don't mind the rain. I hate driving in rain, but I like walking in the rain. I like being indoors as it taps expectantly against the window. It is the sound of waiting. It is as anticipatory as a pulsating heart, but can be as mollifying as an old song hummed underneath one's breath. It is the sound of breathing, slow then quick, sometimes rising to trembling crescendos. It is the sound of life itself.

So for a rainy day, some rainy day music by one of my favorite bands. The Jayhawks are one of America's best bands, and having spent much of this year with international students (I sometimes call them "the foreigners" but that sounds too xenophobic, although there is enough grad school drama involving them to make one xenophobic) I have become adamantly American. I think I spent most of college and law school being an Anglophile and grudging Francophone, watching BBC America and listening to Edith Piaf. It's funny how the tides turn--how rebellion turns on itself. Just as I'm now a better daughter/sister/aunt than I ever could have been ten years ago, I now have more pride in my American culture than I did as a punkass quasi ex-pat, and yes, we have culture. Yes to bluegrass by Gillian Welch and Allison Krauss, to George Jones and Loretta Lynn, to Tom Waits and to The Jayhawks' Rainy Day Music.

I can't for the life of me figure out how to add my blog to YouTube, so if you want to hear the song without clicking on an embedded clip, click on this link and it'll take you to the video for the song:

Save It For A Rainy Day

Pretty little hairdo don't do what it used to
Can't disguise the living
All the miles that you've been through

Looking like a train wreck
Wearing too much makeup
The burden that you carry
Is more than one soul could ever bear

Don't look so sad, Marina
There's another part to play
Don't look so sad, Marina
Save it for a rainy day

You neve make your mind up
Like driving with your eyes shut
Rough around the edges
Won't someone come and take you home

Waiting for a breakthrough
What will you set your mind to?
We stood outside the Chinese restaurant in the rain

Don't look so sad, Marina
There's another part to play
Don't look so sad, Marina
Save it for a rainy day


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Being In Sync, Syncretism, and Syncronicity, or is There Such a Thing as "The Law"?

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

synchronous (inflected and abbreviated as: in sync):

1. a. Existing or happening at the same time; coincident in time; belonging to the same period, or occurring at the same moment, of time; contemporary; simultaneous. Const. with. b. transf. Relating to or treating of different events or things belonging to the same time or period; involving or indicating contemporaneous or simultaneous occurrence.


1. Attempted union or reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices, esp. in philosophy or religion;


The name given by the Swiss psychologist, C. G. Jung (1875-1961), to the phenomenon of events which coincide in time and appear meaningfully related but have no discoverable causal connection.

Before going to law school, I didn't realize how splintered the study of law can be. When you are a liberal arts major in college and do not have lawyers in the family or as acquaintences, you kind of just think that you'll go to law school, you'll study the law, and be a lawyer. The definite and indefinite articles are important, reifying very abstract things. What kind of law will you study? What kind of lawyer will you be? You realize that these are questions you should have asked before going to law school.

I knew, as an avid fan of criminal procedure shows, that there was criminal law. I knew that in the criminal justice system, "the" people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate the crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders, and that these are their stories. I knew that.

But I honestly didn't know how I would be learning seemingly discrete topics of law taught in separate classes: civil procedure law, tort law (I didn't even know what tort law was before law school!), contracts, constitutional law, constitutional law (which you know, I thought was everything but apparently not), property law, and of course, criminal law. And then in the second uear, there were ever more different topics of law and permutations of those different topics to choose from: intellectual property law, tax law, land use law, environmental law, civil rights law, employment law, etc. etc.

But oddly, it wasn't until my third year of law that I realized, "Hey wait!" All these various topics and subtopics are not so different, they are all a part of the great corpus of "the law"--that there are tort, contract, criminal, procedural, constitutional, property issues in almost every legal case and certainly in every legal course. Okay, this may be a no brainer to you all. But when you think of how the law can be taught as a series of discrete topics, not until you take a holistic course like "Remedies" does it all really start to come together. And once I took Remedies, I began to think of the law holistically and syncretically. Employment Discrimination Law is one such great end-tying course, as it definitely integrates procedural, constitutional, tort, and contract law and remedies (to learn about laches in two courses was a revelation).

Which brings me to the above definitions: Do you, dear law professor people, try to teach your courses in a holistic manner? Do you try to impress upon the minds of your young, confused, "I went to law school because I rocked the LSAT and it seemed like a good idea at the time" students that "The Law" (unlike either political party) is a "big tent" and each seemingly discrete topic is inextricably related to any other? If you don't, it would be a good thing to impress upon students right away, the first year, that first course. I considered myself a "social justice" law student as a J.D., and didn't take nearly enough corporate law or tax courses thinking that they were irrelevant to my intellectual project and thus useless or "boring." And you know, now that I read articles on how the tax laws or bankruptcy codes have disparate impacts on minorities, I think "damn I should have taken those courses." No student should limit him or herself as being one "type" of law student or lawyer. We wil concentrate eventually, but while we are learning it would do us good to expose ourselves to many topics of law and think of legal education as an integrated enterprise. To go for breadth in addition to depth. To learn the law in all of its many forms and see how they are all related and inevitably become a part of the same corpus.

I wonder if professors limit their course's reach out of a fear that it'll be information overload for the students, or too complicated to understand. But for myself, I loved realizing that I shouldn't think of torts having this remedy or contracts having that remedy or employment discrimination as entirely separate from either, but that they're all different versions of the same legal problems. It somehow felt good to know that my education wasn't piecemeal, and that there was something greater, something bigger than me or any class that I was learning.

As an LLM, I'm only taking two courses in addition to The Thesis, and they are seemingly unrelated. Statutory Interpretation, taught by Avuncular Sweater Vest Prof, and Sociology of Law, taught by I'm A Sociologist Not a Lawyer Prof. And in each class I'm studying Title VII of the 1964 act. In each class, I'm examining the history and development of the EEOC as a regulatory body and how broader statutory interpretation increased the reach and enforcement powers of the EEOC. At first this appeared an almost random coincidence, a Jungian moment of synchronicity, until I remembered that I'm not just studying legislation or sociology--I am studying The Law, not just "A" type of law, (see how definite articles matter), and so it is natural that the two courses should overlap. It's not even syncretism, since these aren't truly different areas of the law--they're just different approaches to the same topic, a statutory construction approach or a sociological approach, which is still different from the employment discrimination approach. But I'm still studying the same thing--just from different angles. Everything is synchronous, or "in sync."

But when they overlap, what a thrill, to have my knowledge reinforced, to feel a part of something bigger. to realize that I'm a lawyer and a law student (again), but I'm always studying something that I can call "The Law."


The Grownup (Die Erwachsene)

Because I like to blog poetry, here is a poem.

Special shout out to Hipster Law Prof Dude (what else could be his cumbersome but not really opaque pseudonym given his penchant for The Shins, The Decemberist, and Joss Whedon?) in addition to my new Austrian friend.

I found this poem particularly poignant, and relevant to where I am in life right now.

The Grownup (Die Erwachsene)

All this stood upon her and was the world
and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
yet wholly image, like the Ark of God,
and solemn, as if imposed upon a race.

And she endured it all: bore up under
the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far-gone,
the inconceivably vast, the still-to-learn,
serenely as a woman carrying water
moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
transfiguring and preparing for the future,
the first white veil descended, gliding softly

over her opened face, almost opaque there,
never to be lifted off again, and somehow
giving to all her questions just one answer:
In you, who were a child once--in you.

-- Rainier Maria Rilke


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Law Like Love

It is oddly sunny and warm here in Awesome Part of the Country, bare-kneed weather, the swish of skirts marking each step with a sound more winsome than the plod-plod-plodding of winter boots. It is aberrant weather, and it's nice.

A beautiful distraction, for one who must not be distracted. I'm inside my apartment, my skirted legs hidden beneath the desk, and I am (was) doing something called "homework." Well, there is always work, and I usually do it at home, and I imagine that when I become a professor things won't change. I will always be reading and writing. But for now, as I am a student again, it is a different kind of work, on top of the usual article reading and writing. Cases, case briefs, precises, response papers, stat sets...you know, homework. I had a delightful conversation with Absurdedly Young Law Prof yesterday night, in which I told him that I almost resent that he is teaching classes while I am still taking classes. But all in due time. It is dues-paying time, and I got a tab. So it is okay. Young Law Prof paid his dues, is a few years ahead of me (very few), and deserves to be in the front of the classroom, and I'm where I belong, in the back of the classroom (actually the first row, what else could I be but an eager beaver?). But in the twain we meet, because as an LLM student I'm not longer a 1L, but then I'm not quite a law prof, so I guess my status is "would-be-colleague"--but hey, it's better than nothing.

Who cares about the Ides of March? Caesar? College basketball coaches? For my part, February is the cruelest month, breeding, not lilacs out of the dead land, but deadlines out of the overflowing syllabus. I have a self-imposed deadline this month for a significant chunk of my master's thesis, which I have scheduled the week after Valentine's day. I figure, if this hateful commercial holiday is going to spoil my mood, let it be for legitimate reasons of stress and work. Let me have to work so hard footnoting and bluebooking that I forget to check my mailbox for the card that is not there, or forget that there is no FTD florist buzzing my door. At least I live near an excellent chocolaterie and can buy the damned things myself. The law shall replace love, as it always does.

And then, damn it, W.H. Auden shows up, 34 years after his death, to tell me this truth, that I cannot escape love through the law, because law is like love.

Happy Early Valentines day. I'm for sure not going to mark the actual day with such bloggepfeffer, expect something on employment discrimination. I think it a cursed holiday, and this year (like in other years) I am Charlie Brown by the mail box, waiting for the Little Red Haired Girl to send me something. That is, if I wasn't upstairs, writing my thesis and eating Leonidas chocolates. Charlie Brown should have been a law professor.

Law Like Love

W. H. Auden

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.
Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree

Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify
Law with some other word,

Unlike so many men
I cannot say
Law is again,
No more than they can we suppress

The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.

Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyvay:
Like love I say.

Like love we don't know where or why,
Like love we can't compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Life (Law) Is A Beatles Lyric Waiting To Happen

Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I've never done before.

Most of you have experienced many moments your legal careers in which you really had to ask for help, unable to go forth alone. God help you, you couldn't figure out this legal issue and so you had to ask a more senior associate or partner for some direction, or ask the court for an extension of time. Even before that, you had to suck it up and admit you just didn't know and pass when called on in class, you had to go to office hours, to that extra review session, or endure the unspoken stigma of enrolling in an academic assistance program. Sometimes, you just need help. It's okay. There shouldn't be a problem, we should all be able to ask for help.
But those are but moments of "weakness," and the assistance needed is rather perfunctory in nature, and you probably only asked one person for help. You didn't need a village, you just needed someone to get your back. But imagine asking for a village. Imagine trying to assemble a village.

Such is the particular hell of trying to form a dissertation committee. For all of you Top Fivers and Supreme Court clerks who have never had to get an extra advanced legal degree to literally "break into" the academy, this concept will be foreign to you. But I'm applying to the SJD program here at Liberal College Law, just halfway through my LLM, before I have turned in any significant work on which to be evaluated, and when I have only had two professors (one of whom is a judge and not here full-time though he has a full appointment) in addition to my advisor, who is just starting to like me and my work. I have to say, it is tough trying to assemble a committee.

For three weeks I sent around emails asking for appointments to meet with academics working in my intended field. It is kind of awkward, "hi, you don't know me, but would you consider being my advisor?" I circulated my prospectus, CV, drafts of past work. Then I went to the appointments. In those meetings I begged and cajoled my way into their hearts and minds, trying to convince them that they would be useful advisors on the _____ aspect of the project, and tried to convince them that such work might dovetail with their work on _______. I intend to explore federalism issues in employment discrimination law, and it's my luck that we have several scholars in each area. Unfortunately, the project is more focused on the latter, and both of the most on-point faculty are on leave this term, and I have to assemble the committee by next month. I tried to e-meet them, or say "hey, I'm swinging by your school this weeek, we can meet at WASPy Privilege Law if you want!" (didn't work). So I cast my nets more widely, figuring that I could switch or add-in advisors once in the program, which is common in grad programs. I think I met with half the faculty here at Liberal College Law. I think that eventually, half the faculty would be on my committee.

The good news is that I retained my current advisor, Preeminent Federalism Scholar (so long as I can find a lively constitutional controversy for him to advise on), secured a general employment law (but not employment discrimination law!) scholar, and a conflicts of law/gender discrimination law advisor. Not bad, considering most other LLMs just turned in their appliations and hoped for the best. I have a full committee, and two willing to consider advising when they return from leave.

Why am I doing so much work? Because my advisor won't turn in a letter of rec until I turn in a significant chunk of my thesis, and that's not until next month. Seriously, and all the other LLMs have turned in nothing (whereas I turned in the introducation) and they got letters. Such is my luck with Old School Prof (his other pseudonym). And so the director of the graduate program told me to secure one from my SJD advisor. Problem is, the one I want the most is on leave and won't be able to meet until next fall. So I have basically an interim committee. And now I still have to wait until I get that letter of rec. And now I'm in limbo. I needed help. So I started begging around for more faculty to sponsor my application, saying that they would work with me and advise me if I was accepted into the program.

The good news is that the program will delay consideration of my application until I get a letter, and that I've done enough work securing a committee and can add on or substitute in advisors once accepted and as the project develops. I guess that could be construed as taking my application seriously enough to wait for me. Maybe that means they want me. Maybe it means that if it takes a village, well, then, I got a village.

The thing about being on a dissertation committee is that it is a sustained committment--here at Liberal College Law, two to three years. It's not a huge committment (except that you have classes to teach, articles to write, other students to advise, lives to lead), say a meeting once a month or so and mostly email communications. But it is a sustained committment to read and advise on several drafts. I do not dispute that I am asking a lot when I ask someone to be on my dissertation committee. I know that in "committee' There is the concept of "commitment," and so before we have even met I'm asking them to go steady.

It's not easy asking for help, and it's not easy giving help. But such is the nature of graduate education. Professional schools like law schools, with their take that "mentorship" means having a lawyer alumni take you to lunch once a year, is really bad at fostering mentorship. Graduate programs (I take half my classes in one such program) are built to facilitate mentorship between faculty and students, to assist you (and twist each others arms) in forming committees. So a self-directed search for an advisor, much less THREE advisors, is pretty tough. Especially for me, who never had the benefits of connections or what it's like to have consistent founts of advice and support. My dad worked several minimum wage jobs to put us through school, and my siblings were first generation immigrants who studied in the universal languages of math and science. I never knew what it was like to ask someone what classes to take, help on my law (or high school or college) homework, or how to get through law school without wanting to kill my section mates. I had a village, but not the right one for law school or for legal academia. Thanks to the blogosphere, now I do have a few people to ask for help, like Jim Chen and Larry Solum. Now for the first time in my life I am getting advice on which courses to take to maximize my scholarly skills package or academic network connections. But the short of it is that I don't know well how to ask for help, or who to go to. And being in a professional school environment that doesn't really foster a spirit of sustained mentorship on lengthy academic projects doesn't help. So it's a bit daunting, to ask for a village to support you when you feel like a stranger at the gates.

What I want to ask my readers is this: what makes a professor consider taking on a student? Is it a sense of professional responsibility, that you are not just academics paid to publish articles, but also teachers and thus mentors? If my research doesn't exactly serve your research interests but would contribute something important to the academy, is that enough for you to consider taking me on? Do you have to feel completely confident that you can advise every issue, or would just one part of of the dissertation be enough? How much substantive competence is necessary to be an advisor? Isn't that the point of having a committee, that each scholar takes on their area of expertise, even if you are not so expert (but generally knowledgeable) about this particular issue? In short, if a student comes to you for help, would you say yes? If she comes asking for three years for help, does that give you greater pause than just a quick question, or are both a part of your professional academic responsibility to at least seriously consider the request if you feel competent to advise? Also, do you feel you have to be in residence all three years? With the innovations of email and track changes, can't advisor-student relationships also evolve and be sustained over distance in case you take a visiting appointment or sabbatical?

Scholars I tag in particular to take on this issue and these questions:

And of course, anyone else who wants to weigh in on this.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Law and Letters Book Event: In The Shadow of The Law

One of the great things about traveling without your laptop (yes, you gasp, yes) is that you are pretty much foced to things printed on actual paper. It really dings your blog/blawg addiction, but you start remembering how great it is to physically read the newspaper, magazines, books. I try to read for fun in spite of law school, but I admit that with the attractions of the internet, even this bibliophile gets lazy.

So it was great to discover that one may enjoy insomnia--I picked up Kim Roosevelt's In the Shadow of the Law right before my trip (along with various maps, handy), and I could hardly put it down. Well, I had to at some points, but I can honestly say, and this is a mark of the book's greatness and not my trip's badness, that there were many moments during my tour of Other Part of the Country when I thought "I'd rather be reading Kermit's book."

So, onto the review: I liked it.

It is an interesting novel, ostensibly about a slightly evil law big corporate law firm, Morgan Siler. But in reading it, I found the main character to be something called "The Law." In that sense, it's kind of Dickensian, in that there is a well-plotted story with excellent exposition and imagery and some very good language, and there are a plethora of interesting characters to follow with interweaving storylines, but ultimately the book is about just one thing. For Dickens, it was usually about the machinery of rapid industrialization transforming the landscape--moral, real--of Victorian England; or the inexorability of poverty and its attendant tragedy; or well, there were a lot of novels, I'll stop here. Even in a classic bildungsroman like David Copperfield or roman a clef like Tale of Two Cities, the "main character" or trope was always a vehicle by which the more fundamental theme was articulated, and this theme so suffused the novel as to be called a character of its own. Oliver Twist isn't just about Oliver, it's about so many boys like Oliver and the historical forces that created a world in which Oliver could exist.

Such is the case with In the Shadow of the Law. You may think you're reading a Grisham-like novel about a firm (okay, I never read it, but I saw the Tom Cruise movie back in the early '90s, before he became really creepy); you may think you're reading about a bunch of lawyers, but really, you're reading about The Law. Or at least how The Law is regarded and shaped by its many characters.

It is strange to say that I fear "spoiling" the novel not by telling you its plot. I mean, I won't of course tell you "what happens," or what happens to its characters (nothing happens to them really, they service the ultimate theme, and so nothing hinges on a particular character's life or death). But it would be spoiling the story to tell you Kim's vision of The Law, and how he articulates this vision through the supplementary characters and story. In many ways, his novel is Victorian in spirit--many of the characters exist merely to serve the larger story, or the main character (what else would explain the existence of Dora in David Copperfield other than to show one part of David's character?). So as I was reading this novel, for the first quarter I was searching for some unifying theme that would tie together the two separate cases and the several lawyers, and so at first it was exasperating to cut back and forth between cases and characters. You learn about the rookie, and then the prodigy, and then the idealist, and then the burn out partner, you jump from the death penalty case to the mass tort case, and you wonder, what the heck are you reading and when is something going to happen, if something is supposed to happen?

Then you realize, ah, this is not about any character, or either case, it's not really even about the firm. It is about The Law, and how each character relates to it (clumsily, pragmatically, or idealistically), and how the firm serves or disserves it (in the latter years, more disservice), and how the prosecutors or public defenders offices are but cogs in its machinery except when they stick an evil wrench in it. What I most enjoyed was Walker Eliot's idealistic, perfectionist vision of The Law, and how completely he believed in it and its ability to lead man to The Truth. Most academics are legal realists, and I am a (way) lapsed critical race deconstructionist, and so it is generally with skepticism that I regard such exalted and objectified visions of The Law. Usually when CLS and CRT say "The Law," it's the same way they say "The Man," with a bit of Marxist edge, and if one fist isn't up in power, then it's holding a hammer, the better to dismantle the "master's house with the master's tools."

But you know, now that I've become a bit more nuanced and less bratty in my progression through ever more graduate degrees (if I had wanted to dismantle this institution it is a wonder I'm still in it, I must be using a meat mallet), the less I am about dismantling and being reactionary in my politics. I still have my skepticism--just not my nihilism. I do believe in the rule of law, and in the power of "The Law." And the more I read the Hart and Sacks' school of thought, the more sympathetic I am to the legal process model. I don't believe that there's some beautifully objective, neutral thing called The Law--but there is more to it than deconstructionists would say. Law is neither inherently evil or good. So it was enjoyable for me to read various visions of The Law as articulated by the characters. Sometimes the law allows man to be self-serving, sometimes it has a higher truth that cannot be circumvented despite man's most evil machinations, but most times it is surprisingly malleable, as the young associates find.

And it's that malleability that makes the novel convincing. The Law is what you make of it. At the end of the day, the young associates Do The Right Thing and in the end The Right Is Done. In a weird way, the novel went from talking about The Law to talking about Equity, like back in the day when there were two separate courts and two different types of remedies and questions. What I remember of equity from my Remedies class: Equity regards as done that which ought to be done.

In the end, certain oughts were achieved: the innocent were exonerated, the guilty will be punished, but I wonder what or who achieved this: The Law, or The Law as shaped and directed by human hands? That is, does man serve The Law, or is The Law but a tool for man to use for ends personal or public, just or unjust? If I take a hammer in my hand to chip away at the pompous marble edifice of The Law, would it be more effective to use The Law itself?

I read legal theory for fun, and find my hobby constantly reinforced by my classes here (I take half hard-core law, half jurisprudence and social policy). I like that for once, it's also reinforced by my fiction reading. The whole time I was reading this novel, I kept running the Hart-Fuller and the Hart-Dworkin debates in my head. Everyone agrees that H.L.A. Hart, the positivist extraordinaire, won both of those debates. I can't make up my mind who wins in Roosevelt's novel, if the theoretical abstractionist perfectionism of Walker can ever make a difference if there is such evil twisting by Morgan Siler and corrupt prosecutors and defenders; if the idealism of young, not-yet-broken lawyers like Katja and Mark can ever make a difference in the long run when evil is so cheap and plentiful and rewarding. Indeed, towards the end, they can't really Do the Right Thing because legal ethics rules about conflict of interest and client privilege would prohibit them from making full disclosures. They can kind of hint for someone else to Do the Right Thing. Like I said, it's that malleabilty (and verisimilitude, to his credit Kim doesn't take extreme liberties the way movies always do in service of plot) that makes the novel convincing. That's life, that's the weirdness of The Law, that Doing the Right Thing is not so easy, and that The Law can stand in the way of itself.

Anyone interested in reading about The Law, lawyers, law firms, legal cases, and legal theory should read this novel.

By the way, if I were to cast this book, because I know it's going to be made into a movie:

Mark Clayton: Topher Grace. Not to be confused with Tobey Maguire, who has already played too many confused young men and is a little too bug-eyed. Watch In Good Company and be convinced of his naturalness for the role.

Katja Phillips: Navi Rawat. You have to watch Numb3rs. She is the coolest smart woman actor in a long while. Approachably alluring but serious. Please, please do not get Katie Holmes, who always plays the same freakin' role of the smart but sultry girl, and she isn't even smart or sultry enough to deserve any of her roles. She was the worst bit of Wonderboys. Don't even go near any starlet that gets herself into In Touch or US Weekly. And no to Natalie Portman. You need someone tough, not ingenue-ish. Is Rena Sofer too old for the role?

Ryan Grady: Oliver Hudson. I've never actually seen anything this guy is in, but he always looks kind of smarmy. May be too good looking though.

Walker Eliot: Jack Davenport. It's funny that I have to go British to find the right combination of smart but bumbling and loserly enough to put taps on shoes. Or I guess David Krumholtz. Okay, yes, I like Numb3rs, which I've blogged about before. I can't really do math well, so I like to watch shows about it, and have a thing for those who can do math and science (so many lawyers are math-fearful and averse it's depressing, especially since you know they'd be in business school if they could hack it). Those who can do math always impress me, since I never even took the Calculus AP exam.

Peter Morgan: Gary Cole. Or a cosmetically aged Aaron Eckhart.

Wallace Finn: Jim Broadbent. Adorable old man. Or Tom Wilkinson.

Howard Fineman: Ron Rifkin.

Enjoy the book, I certainly did.


The Prodigal Daughter Returns

"She read the letter again and again, oblivious to fact that she'd missed her stop fifteen minutes ago." -- Adrian Tomine

I think I have more comebacks than Cher. Maybe as many as Barbara Streisand.

After finally having settled into the new semester with new classes, and after a three week search for a dissertation committee (more on that later) I somehow thought it would be a good idea to take a week-long journey through the Other Part of the Country.

What was I thinking? I now return to a stack of work higher than my 5'2" self, and a blog that I am somehow writing only monthly on, as if we were going back to the days fo the 'zine. Never again. Never travel with so many loose threads dangling.

It was a good and interesting tour of the Other Part of the Country, if strange. I spent two days in Charming Collegiate City, to visit WASPy Privilege Law School and a few friends. While it was wonderful touring Elite Science Institute and its underground tunnels with a cool new acquaintence (Poetic Scientist Guy) and extremely lovely meeting a blog fan (Aspiring Prosecutor Prawf), it was altogether too short a trip. Beautiful Majestic River moved me deeply and I daresay even touched my soul, but I spent far too short a time along its bank. Only in retrospect do I realize that it was a city I could have fallen in love with, if I was the falling in love type. Well, actually I am, just not the love-at-first-sight type, no coup de foudre for me, I am too resistant and contrarian. And I especially balk at falling for the obvious, for the city that supposedly everyone falls in love with, or if my guide happens to love it (and hate my own homestate), well then I am ever more resistant. I do not fall in love with the most popular jock. I do not fall in love with the obvious, objectively handsome dude. I am no lemming, and I do not leap blindly over cliffs' edges.

Still, Charming Collegiate City was lovely. I feel a particular fondness for it, because I spent one of the two days walking about by myself, exploring on my own. It feels "mine" in a way. I took the public transport system myself, but no, I did not miss my stop. I walked around two amazing campuses. I met two wonderful fellow aspiring academics. I had a conversation about T.S. Eliot and Thomas Hardy (and learned the chemical composition of that pink chrystalline stuff on the ground) as I walked along the Neverending Hallway with one; and discussed the vicissititudes of legal academia in a keepin' it real pub (with excellent Cape Cods) with the other. The next day was very simple: a brief tour of the charming streets, neighborhoods, and parks, and a lot of reading indoors while outside, the cold beat back against the windowsills. In retrospect, it was a lovely holiday, but all too short, and I did not see enough--I wish I could have seen some of the more historic sites, buildings, museums, I wish I could have spent time near stranger shores. But in due time. My Avuncular Law Prof friend will be teaching in Charming Collegiate City, and there will be another visit to make.

The second part of my journey was in Big Metropolis, which began auspiciously and ended weirdly. My bus from Charming Collegiate City was an hour late, and yet I managed to meet up with two friends, one coming in from France, the other, from the neighboring state (can not come up with a pseudonym), and we all arrived within 10-15 minutes of each other. Meeting a fellow student blawgger (though he is far more illustrious than I) was, well, awesome. Walking to Beautifully Cinematic Train Station together, I kept looking up at the amazing city skyline, and I felt really happy at my present location and with my present company. Between that beautiful distraction and the animated conversation I was having with Nice Libertarian Law Guy, it's a wonder I wasn't run over by one of the many angry cars. We talked of many things, did the usual law geek small talk of "who's your favorite justice, dead or alive," and said goodbye on a train platform, the stuff of so many movies. It was a great introduction to the city. Yet the rest of the trip was strange, as if I were always on the periphery and never quite in the center, and nothing of the trip was mine. There were no private discoveries, even if there were more days.

Apart from that quintessential Metropolis moment, a long walk along Historic Bridge of Poetry and Prose, and many stops along some charming cafes and bookstores in Boho-Bourgie Village, the rest of the trip was a blur hovering about the edges. I didn't get to go to many typical touristy sites, which is fine, that to me does not define a city (although its skyline does, which is why I'm glad I got to see that from bird's eye view). I lived in Big Bourgie City for three years and never went to the typical places. But towards the end of the trip I gave up on ever really seeing the things that would really move me: the city's public parks and gardens; the statues and plaques that would tell me of my nation's origins, history, and founders; the amazing libraries and museums (I only spent one hour in one museum)--this is what defines a city to me, not just the quotidean, but the historic.

The quotidean is for natives, and I will never be a native of Metropolis. I appreciated the quotidean moments in cafes and bookstores (as they are more to my liking than wasting my time in bars and nightclubs), but it was strange to be on the edge of experience and knowledge. I didn't really feel like I grew to know or live any differently than I could here in Awesome Part of the Country in Liberal College Town next to City by the Sea. I mean, dude, it's not like I'm a rube from the boondocks. Charming cafes and great bookstores are de rigueur where I'm from. And yes, we have great centers of art and culture--perhaps not so many as in Metropolis, but again, it's not like I'm a country mouse. That's the problem with seeing someone else's vision of Metropolis. It can never be your own. That's the problem when someone, in particular a foreigner, is trying to impress you with what impresses him--you are too jaded to be impressed by such simple things you know can be found elsewhere, and he does not know or cannot appreciate the way your country would be signigicant to you. I wanted to experience a historic part of America. I got the contemporary version. I wanted Melville's Metropolis. I got HBO's.

The shopping was impressive, but shopping does not impress me. Even if I didn't take the train to City by the Sea (which has almost every store you could want), with the wonders of internet commerce a fashionable and stylish woman like myself can buy whatever I want from any major pretentious department store or specialty boutique. So it didn't at all excite me that this was the ORIGINAL Expensive Lotion Shop, or the ORIGINAL Bourgie Department Store (there are many). A consumeristic tour of Metropolis meant nothing to me--I wanted to walk through the city's history and take it into me. I wanted to trace my fingertips along plaques and get the thrill of saying in my head "and it was in this very spot that...." or walk a path that was very, very old. I didn't want to say "been there, shopped that." I did a lot of shopping I admit, and so my wallet is as empty as my grasp of that city's history. I could not be impressed, and I think that's why I left the city with so few impressions.

Other than the Bridge, Train Station, and the city skyline, I felt few moments of awe, of being transported from one part of the country to another. And contrary to the expected effect, the quotidean only served to remind me that I was not a native--this was not my coffee spot, this was not my bookstore, and they weren't reason enough for me to contemplate calling this city my own. This is not entirely the fault of my guide, French Dandy Dude, more my own. My heart wasn't receptive, wasn't open to embracing the city, and so without further inducement, it remained closed. I didn't complain much, but it's not in my nature to complain (at least out loud, right away), rather to be taciturn and figure I'll work out my feelings and air my complaints later. Thusly, I write you.

It was just a strange sense of loneliness, ever pervasive, no matter who was at my side or what I was doing. I didn't feel lonely in Charming Collegiate City, despite the fact that I spent so many hours alone (and often lost). I was lonely in Metropolis whether I had company or not. Indeed, when my friend French Dandy Dude continued his cavorting at trendy bars in Metropolis one night after a big group dinner with half interesting and nice, half pretentious and kind of annoying people, I went home by myself. Unfortunately, I lent him my last $20, and thus my cab fare, so I had to walk 20 blocks home at midnight in Metropolis by myself. It was a bitter, but not lonely walk. If anything, I felt as though I could finally breathe free, be myself, and not feel obligated to entertain or support anyone else. I like being alone, I like walking alone. Of course, alone at midnight in a strange city is not my favorite kind of alone, but it was better than the option of forcing myself to be convivial and spend time (and money) I would rather not spend. I am unapologetically an introvert, and a person who likes to be comfortably settled by 1 am. You're only as old as you act, and I act like a freakin' 80 year old woman.

Lest you think I was abandoned, the parting was mutual. I told him to go if he wanted. I knew he wanted to (there was a cute girl involved), and I knew he would go, with only a modicum of hesitation. I knew his choice before he said it out loud, I knew there was never really a choice, but that I would have to acquiesce one way or the other, to either being alone in my hotel room or feeling alone among a crowd of strangers. I chose the former. I didn't ask him to choose me (I am not so demanding, and I do not delude myself regarding the attractiveness of my company) as I highly doubted he choose me, and of course he didn't. I knew that I didn't want to go. I wanted rest, I wanted quiet, I wanted to be myself. And with our divergent desires, we parted as friends, if friendship may be tinged with wariness. It is an interesting experiment: give someone, friend or lover (enlightening test if the former, potentially heartbreaking test if the latter) a choice between yourself (your comfort, safety, or hell, company) and something possibly more diverting, and see what they choose. I myself think there is never really a choice, except the obvious right one, but there you go. I expect that from myself, but not from anyone else. It is a learned cynicism, like adaptive evolutionary biology.

It is always good to see where you stand, and to not delude yourself of your own importance, and it helps you put everything into perspective. It's like getting an adjustment in your eye prescription. "Ah," you say, seeing clearly for the first time. "So this is the way it is." We are thankfully just friends (there is no quantum reality in which we could be otherwise, except as "not friends"), so I am bemused, but not brokenhearted. It is a good test. Sometimes, there is never really a choice, only a Faustian sort of bargain. Shrug. It's good to know how much to give and how much you can expect to receive, how much you can expect each other to compromise in the name of friendship. I have stopped compromising, for my own part--too old, too self-aware, too unwilling to change unless change may be expected in return. The econometrics of friendship (or love, but love has higher stakes)--you only give or invest as much as you expect in returns, and if the dividends don't come, well then. The IPO does not always match the eventual value of the stock. So it's good to take stock and see the lay of the land.

Don't be indignant for my sake though, like I said, I'm not angry--I told him to go--I'm just wary. I got home fine, he did his best to show me the City he loves and what he loved about it--it just wasn't my version. But I appreciate his efforts and his particular view. And I did get home safe, and we did pass the weekend amiably and with some enjoyment. And I did learn a few things about myself, or at least I really know them now. Let me just say, that though I am deficient in height and muscle tone, I am a badass. I don't fear the dark, I don't immediately fear strangers (and strangers of color) of posing a danger, and when I walk alone I am alert and aware of my surroundings and walk boldly. I hardly get walked anywhere (not out of ardent feminism, more an incident of gentlemen being few and far between even if you seek them), so I have learned to be tough. But walking alone in a foreign city is entirely different. I have participated in several "Take Back The Night" rape vigils in my lifetime, and now I know, you can never really take back the night. I got back to the hotel safely. But that night, I resolved to not let the city impose on me. I resolved to cut my losses, and let this trip be the peripheral study it was going to be. I didn't care anymore what we did or saw, figuring that if I come back, it will be a different city and I will be a different person. After the midnight walk, I just wanted to go home. I wanted to go home, and I realize with greater conviction where home is, every time I leave it. It is here, in Awesome Part of the Country, in the great City by the Sea.

And so now I'm back home, with a consistent internet connection, and back to you all. I embrace you, I kiss the ground. I am home again.