Friday, August 31, 2007

Facebook, Social Network Theory, and Playing Scrabble

Rick Bales of Workplace Profs Blog writes in "Facebook, the Workplace, and the Academy":

Several major employers -- in the U.S. and elsewhere, have taken to banning employees from using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace in the workplace. British union TUC says employers should lighten up:

My take: the times are a'changing, and employers should consider how social networking sites can be used to their advantage. Networking sites can be a great way to keep up with an extended network of friends, acquaintances, and -- yes -- workplace colleagues, customers, and fellow-professionals.

This summer, I set up Facebook and MySpace pages as a sort of informal faculty web page....Facebook has proven to be a great way to keep in touch with my students, to make me a little more accessible to them, and occasionally even to discuss matters pertaining to classes and the law school. Check out my page by going to facebook and running a search on "Rick Bales."

One of the interesting things about facebook is how it can blur the line between the personal and the professional. Because my site is designed to be professional rather than personal, I've omitted any references to my dating life or proclivities, and I'vegiven a copy of my password to my dean. I wouldn't expect professors who use facebook for purely personal matters to do the same. Nonetheless, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a professor gets into trouble for using the social networking sites inappropriately. So, while I'm willing to experiment with the sites as a way to communicate with a generation a few years younger than I am, I'm bending over backwards to keep everything above-board.

Just yesterday, Just A Law Prof asked me:

1. What is the point of Facebook
2. Why would anyone want to broadcast his or her personal details and private information to strangers, and why would we care about someone else's business?
3. What are the rules of etiquette for Facebook? Must you "friend" (v., transitive) someone you've only met once? What about students?

My take:

As Rick Bales says, don't be so quick to knock thes social network power of Facebook. For more on this, read Danah Boyd's work on social networking sites. Danah Boyd is a PhD candidate at the School of Information at Berkeley and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Law & Technology center.

I really don't like certain aspects of exhibitionism on Facebook. But I understand its social network appeal. I've been learning a lot about organizational behavior and social network theory in the context of employment networks, and so to me this is just the division between the real world vs. the virtual world, rather than a generational gap (although that's articulated in other ways on Facebook).

The Milgram Small World Experiment set to demonstrate that we are no more than six degrees separated from anyone else in the world. If I had to get a package to another person in another state, and did not know that person, I would have to think of people I know who might know that person, or extend the chain to add a link. It's that "I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a girl who...." joke.

The Small World Experiment is just the tip of the social network theory iceberg. Granovetter postulated the "strength of weak ties" argument, that while strong ties are important (friends, family, mentors), weak ties are what make the world go 'round. In the employment law context, most people hear about job openings not through, but by word of mouth and by some buddy in some other department or some friend in another company. In the war on terror context, this is how we try to ferret out terrorist cells by examining which young men (or women) were trained in the same mosque, etc. In the Hollywood world, this is why my Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon number is 4, because I know Eugene Volokh.

So that's the real world application of social networks. Online social networks take it a step farther by making these connections more apparent and real-time and lively . Blogs and blogrolls are no different from FB or Myspace, really. Personal blogs are extended FB profiles. They announce births, interests, and thoughts and opinions. Even you law profs do that. I now know Ethan Leib's baby's name, and that Miranda Fleischer's favorite Semisonic song is "Singing In My Sleep." That some blog on mostly only about the law elevates their first-person journalism above pfouffy mundanity (but I like that), but really, it's just you talking at the end of the day to those who might be interested.

The role of the public scholar vs. the professor is different only in size of audience. The claim for collegiality in the hallways isn't much different from Larry Solum's suggestion for an association of legal scholars, or for forming an online campus (TNR) or having blog dialogue via comments and response posts. And really, what's the difference between Facebook and an alumni association or listserve or newsletter that announces births and job changes. And it's weird how interconnected the academic world is. It always weirds me out to have the same friends as someone across the country. Facebook just aggregates this better by creating concentric circles of networks. It shows you your network of "friends" at your school, at your alma mater, at other schools....if you actually made a graph-tree of your networks between links and nodes (people), you'd be surprised at how none of your trees are independent. It's kind of fun actually, to see what your former classmates are up to.

So that's why Facebook exists. So what should you be doing with Facebook? Whatever you want. I play Scrabble and Chess on Facebook with Hipster Law Prof. I'll be deleting my profile when I go on the market and re-emerge with nothing. Mine's fairly tame as it is. I just list my interests and books as a matter of course, but my blog does that in more verbose ways. I don't put up salacious content, and I don't write weird emo notes or announce my romantic status. I blog enough weirdness, but here at least I'm pseudonymous and people seem to derive some utility from it (or so my correspondence suggests).

I think what some object to is the generational divide between what young people would post these days and their seeming lack of privacy. My blog is rather personal to be sure, but it's usually framed in the context of how some aspect of my upbringing or personality affects my path to academia: family -care issues, growing up in poverty and wanting a real job rather than being an MFA, being a scholarship kid, growing up in a strict Asian household, etc. But I try keep it above being an online diary, or livejournal. Even I don't really get the Livejournal culture. I like personal reflections, but I really think they ought to speak to somethign others would care about. Interesting mundanity to me is a book review that someone might find useful, or a movie review that may be different than the NYT. Prettier Than Napoleon is one of my favorites for this reason. It's personal, interesting, and very stimulating intellectual and legal food for thought.

I've made some good friends via the blog, so I don't discount the relative strenght of the online world to the "real world." The online world and the real world arne't so divided now. Think of Putnam's "Bowling Alone," and how (sociologists complain about this) he didn't account for the internet. Most of my friends are long-distance. Email is the best way to keep in touch with many of them, as is the phone. So the fact that I "meet' someone online or via my blog (where a lot of my personality is, so if you like reading me, you'll probably like me in person) can carry over to the real world. Hanging out helps of course, but epistolary friendships count for much, and visiting happens pretty frequently if you live in the academic capitals.

So you can make strong-tie relationships online as well as you can in the real world. But for very weak ties in either realm, Facebook steps in so that you can have a way of staying in contact with former classmates or people you don't care about much. It's like trying to keep up a geographic social network (Putnam) after you've moved away. Rather than someone you talk to regularly or send individual correspondence to, the types of people on the Christmas newsletter mailing list or mass-email list. It's a blog roll for the younger crowd.

Who act very stupid sometimes. Facebook etiquette is a mess. I think "pokes" are passive-aggressive and pseudo-sexual. It is improper to post pictures of me and tag me in them unless they are very flattering. Rejection of friend requests is supposedly rude, but you shouldn't feel obligated if you don't really know that person. Once or twice encounters don't count for me, although I have accepted such requests. Sustained blog dialogue to me counts more than one face-to-face encounter. I have tight privacy controls restricting who can see my information, profile, and pictures. And I don't put up contact information other than my email--some people put up their addresses, phone numbers, and course schedules! (the better to help the stalkers) Removal of a friend indicates you want to sever ties, which is the punitive side of social networks. Online snubbing is easy to do. What's worse is when you know you're being ignored online, because you can see someone's online status and that yes, they're just not responding to your email.

Facebook's communication methodology is interesting. Wall posts are harmless fun, for the most part. Although some write terrible things on others' walls. I delete anything inappropriate, and write something I wouldn't take the time to do in an email. I have epistolary standards. The thing that Danah Boyd should research is how plugged in the young are, and how much they substitute stupid wall posting or instant messaging for true sustained dialogue that they could otherwise communicate through phone or email. That's the generational divide. I can't believe how much people communicate in a wall post. It's like reading someone else's mail.

I think that Facebook modeled itself on the Livejournal/Xanga communities, which skew younger. I think the early days of Facebook were very limited, more like LinkedIn (which is what i'm talking about re social networks and employment). Facebook just recently added all of these applications like "status updates," "mini-feeds," and all those ways of using FB as a portal for socializing and communication. Like how Google is now a portal for all your internet needs.

And this is where I become old school. I disprefer that. I like email, phone, letter writing on real stationary. Plus most of my friends are not on Facebook. Facebook came out after I had graduated from college and law school, so it's not as integral to me for maintaining connections and communication as it might be for some freshman at State U.

I think that many professors are too private for the Facebook world, and much of the personal blogging world. But there's nothing wrong with that. Just like there's nothing inhernently wrong with those with more lax privacy standards. To each his own, and to each his own audience. There are those who will care, and those who don't won't read such blogs or engage Facebook with the same alacrity. So you may be bewildered by your students' online activity, but that is why you have fingers--so that you may scratch your head in bemusement.

And if you add students as your "friends," be prepared to read a lot of crap in the mini-feed, some of it very embarassing.


Different Institutional Norms At the Same Institution

Reasons for not blogging this week:

1. Attending way too many extra lectures that I will not be enrolled in at the end of the course shopping period.

2. Insomnia, making me too tired to blog at night or during the day, especially since I'm trying to do reading for courses and independent work.

3. Nervous nellies about this meeting I have on Friday. Far too much time expended thinking about it too. Such is the case with we Type A stressbuckets.

In other news, now that I've shot my blogging goodwill this week, I have discovered something else by attending so many lectures in so many different departments.

Law schools, as you know, are bound by the AALS to have specific days of instruction, and minutes of instruction per unit, in order to stay accredited. This makes law school scheduling baffling and anal-retentive. Starting at 1:50 or 11:15 does not make much sense to other departments, except that for a 3 or 4 unit course, start-and-end times really matter. And the lower ranked schools go so far as to take attendance, just like in high school--because the AALS requires that students attend class, but at the higher ranked schools students ditch all of the time. They ditch for OCIP, they oversleep, for large lecture can't-miss-me courses they weigh the benefits of lecture vs. reading Emmanuel's or Gilbert's. On the day of the final, your average Evidence course will have 20% more students than you would normally see. It's sad, but true.

Other departments just don't have this instiutional culture. Graduate classes are usually small seminars. Of course you go to class. Of course you have to read and prepare. But they also are more lax about the paper length requirements, and at my school, operate on something called "Liberal College Time."

Apparently this means 10 minutes after the hour. It's almost a standard policy at Liberal College, and one I was not aware of until I attended my first Sociology graduate course. Like any other law student, I usually come a few minutes early, set up the laptop, check the email, and get ready for some learnin'. I end up waiting 20 minutes in the other departments for class to begin. Conversely, J.D.-Ph.D. students who begin their joint programs at the other departments are astounded that their Contracts courses begin on time. It's apparently a very established policy, this 10 minute rule. And when the students do come in, they look at me funny for having a laptop. Whereas everyone in the law school has backpacks big enough to fit large casebooks, lunch, and your laptop (thus, most of them are from outfitter stores, and the size of hiking packs), other graduate students are just so cute with their Mead spiral notebooks, legal pads (dude, what department do you think you're in?), marbled composition books, and heaven help me--steno pads. I even saw a guy take notes in a Moleskine journal, all cool like.

It's a different world outside the law school walls. I forget that there are other students sometimes. I forget what it's like to carry a cute little tote or write on small sheets paper. How cute.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Paternalistic Prof

Post comparing different approaches to organizational theory to follow tomorrow, after I get the Department of Sociology.

Today was the Political Science version: Organizational Theory, but with an emphasis on public organizations and administrative theory. Might not be quite what I was looking for, but it's really interesting.

But what really struck me was what he said at the end of the class. The class runs from 6 pm to 9 pm, in order to get three full hours of seminar discussion. This course is intense! There will be common reading and cluster group reading. And so the Paternalistic Prof says that the late end time is fine for now with the long summer days (although by 9 pm, it's already quite dusky). The Prof, who's a lovely man, said that this is cool for now--but as the semester wears on, it won't be so great. So he "called on all the men in the class (roughly equal ratio to the women) to make sure that the female members of our class get home safely, and I know you'll rise to this, and I want you all to know that I'm aware of the situation and how dicey it is for you girls to walk home late alone."

On the one hand, he has a point. Liberal College City is a good-sized city in its own right, and the campus occupies a good chunk of it--and the surrounding neighborhoods are for the most part full of students, faculty, graduates who just stayed, and yuppies. But it's right next door to a Gritty City where the crime and murder rates are extremely high. And we have our own crime problems, and there are plenty of homeless people, some paranoid schizophrenics, living in the streets. Recently there was a spate of rapes in the South part of town. I live in the North part of town. I walk about 25 minutes from my neighborhood and then through the campus to get to the law school and social science buildings on the South end of campus, which is closer to the South/downtown part of Liberal College City, which is closer to the Gritty City. This walk is very pleasant during the day, and is actually much safer than where I used to live--in the heart of South/downtown part. The campus is heavily wooded, and during the day this is lovely--lots of trees, beautiful shrubbery, and a bucolic kind of peaceful walk. But at night, it's all quite dark, and not so pleasant. Not that many blue lights to illuminate the shady pathways and the alleys behind buildings. And as I recall from my time at Bourgie Metro School, those are where the on-campus rapes and muggings would occur most frequently. and Bourgie Metro Law was in a much nicer neighborhood (really, as ritzy as you could get) than Liberal College Law.

I hate the term, but "rape trail" is used often to describe such isolated, poorly-lit, overgrown paths. Bushes and trees are perfect places for predators to lie in wait. Walking alone is never a good idea for anyone, and I usually try to avoid it too late at night by calling a campus escort or waiting for the campus safety shuttles. So I'm well aware of the pitfalls of a night class. And I do appreciate the Prof's sensitivity to this.

Still, it was odd and a bit jarring to hear him call on the men in the class to escort their female classmates. It was a little old school for my modern sensibilities. But why the hang up? I would have asked a friend to walk me to the bus stop anyway in all likelihood. Back in college, I would always walk with a classmate, male or female (the important thing is numbers more than gender) to the parking lot. Actually, we girls in the Honors Seminar always walked in pairs--we never asked our male classmates to "escort" us. (Not that they volunteered, I think I've learned to stop wanting chivalry because I can't expect it and usually don't need it.)

So I wonder if I'm bothered, or just a bit surprised. Surprised at what though? The Prof's sensitivity to our safety needs? Yes, a bit--most professors don't even think about it--the schedule is what it is, and most profs don't really think about what you do after class or outside of class (often they think theirs is the only class you're taking even). I'm also a bit surprised at the paternalistic way the call was framed. He could have suggested that we partner up and walk in pairs or groups, as there is safety in numbers. But more than that, the gentlemen of the class were called upon to protect the ladies.

It's a little old school and paternalistic. But he's a little old school himself, so maybe that's just that. He does have a point, since it's not very safe, but I wonder who should be in charge of taking care of my safety and being responsible for it--I think that the answer is me.

I'm not really all that bothered, but I'm a little bemused.


Maybe This Is Ironic, But Not That

Dude, I loved this song back in 1994. Teenage angst was a perfect match for Jagged Little Pill. But eventually her voice annoyed me, and the way she moves her mouth when singing. But I'm in a '90s nostalgic phae right now. So I dig. Again.

But no, I don't think it's ironic.

Irony: "2a. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs: “Hyde noted the irony of Ireland's copying the nation she most hated” (Richard Kain). b. An occurrence, result, or circumstance notable for such incongruity."

Bad or unexpected (rather than contrary to what is expected) things happening does not equal ironic.

Rain on your wedding day? Only if you expected it to be sunny based on all the weather reports and the fact that it was a clear blue sky, and somehow a freak of nature thunderstorm appeared despite lack of precipitate cloud matter.

Sucks, but not ironic: Dying two days after you wint he lottery. Black fly in your chardonnay. Death row pardon two minutes too late. Traffic james when you're already late. Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly, but flew anyway--and the plane crashed. He expected to die flying. That's not irony.

I think she's going for "life has a funny way of sneaking up on you when you think everything's okay."

I wonder if this qualifies:

Being Vietnamse, and the daughter of a man who grew up in one of Vietnam's fishing villages, and allergic to shellfish.

My people eat shellfish like the rest of America eats chicken. I grew up eating big tiger shrimp cooked in their shells, with a salty-spicy sauce with scallions. Dried shrimp was in almost every soup to form the base flavor. Big banquet dinners in restaurants always means a lobster. There's always some scallop dish too, along with steamed mussels. Bubba had nothing on my people.

And yet, I can't eat apparently more than two walnut prawns and two scallops without passing out in food allergy lethargy. I feel like my body is breaking down.

At first, I thought it was just a weird fluke misbelief. Like my allergy to mustard may be more psychological than physiological--I choke and want to throw up when I eat it (this happens more than I'd like since it sneaks into sandwiches and salads at restaurants and catered events), but it never makes it's way down far enough for me to see how I actually feel after eating it. Throat constriction usually is enough for me to not swallow, much less retching.

But walnut prawns are delicious. So I'll eat them, get hives, and one hour later, pass out. This sucks. Maybe a little ironic too, considering how much I have to avoid eating at the next family gathering, when shrimp is in every dish and my mom chops it up to make wonton soup.

I think that this, coupled with the fact that I can't eat too much pinapple, makes me the worst Vietnamese person ever.

I should have been German or something.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Shopping Around For Courses

I'm usually The Decider--I don't deliberate over-long about purchases unless they're truly big-ticket, life-changing items (housing, cars and the like). I scare and possibly offend dandy foppish men by pulling clothes off the racks and buying without much consideration (it always works out fabulously). I seem to pull books off of shelves with a passing glance at the back cover. I ask waiters what they like best to eat and trust their choices. I seem to not care very much about what I consume and purchase.

A part of this is that I deliberated in private before coming to the store. I shop online and try on at the store. I read book reviews from several different literary magazines. I know that waiters will always know the best thing to eat at their own restaurants, which I've already pre-screened with Zagat or Fodor's. What appears to be indifference and nonchalance is the product of being a smart consumer.

I find that such pre-screening doesn't work in other areas of life though. You never know how a house will suit you until you walk around in it and check the door jambs. You have to test drive cars and compare prices on Kelly Blue Book. And you have to check out the syllabus and sit in on a lecture (or two) before you can ascertain whether or not it will suit your pedagogical needs.

There are ways of pre-shopping for courses. There's course evaluations of course, and word of mouth. These are not always very illuminating or reliable sources of information. There will be the groupie-type of course evals, with the 10's bubbled in so enthusiastically that they might as well be encircled by little hearts. There will be the hater-type of evals, with the 1's and 2's bubbled in with vindictiveness. And then there are the not-at-all-useful middling evals, with the 5's and 6's filled in the spirit of inoffensive indifference. "You were okay," they seem to say, and not much more.

And then there's the outlier problem of the written comments. Since they only give you 15 minutes for this thing at the very end of the semester right before finals, I wonder what types of students stick around to write something. Again, it's the Groupie vs. the Hater. Be wary of hyperbole, as this is an indicia of groupieness. "Best professor ever" is ridiculous. As Dave Hoffman will tell you, this is what is known as "puffery." Any comments about dress and appearance immediately makes the evaluation suspect. As for the Playa Haters, hyperbole in the other direction is something to take with a grain of salt--if the hater eval is an aberration, then probably this person's assessment is tinged with personal beef.

However, there is something to be said when half or more of the class hates the prof--the rest might be too cowed by authority to just say so. I remember my acerbic contracts professor was so hated that students pre-typed evaluations to staple to the bubble-in forms. That is a bad sign. This doesn't make any difference to tenure review at a top school, and probably won't help any future 1Ls locked into their course schedules, but it's something to consider for that 2L or 3L class.

Word of mouth is notoriously unreliable, because assessments of pedagogy are very subjective. Some students like pure unadulterated lecture; others like dialogic style teaching. Visual learners love PowerPoint, aural learners perhaps less so. Some prefer blackletter law to the point of hating policy or theory-oriented courses, while others prefer the latter and think the former to be rote and boring. It's all up to you. Sit in on a lecture.

School started for me this week at Liberal College Law. However, this week the other departments at Liberal College begin their semester. I have even less idea how to shop for courses in other departments or where each department keeps their course evaluations. And I don't know any other students in political science, business, or sociology to get words from their mouths. So now I get to sit in on four organizational theory courses in hopes of finding one that fits in the schedule and with the dissertation.

Sometimes, you just can't pre-shop. Back to the inefficient, but more accurate way of shopping for courses.


Friday, August 24, 2007

The One Who

1. Got away.

2. You never got over.

3. You love unrequitedly.

4. Define, for you, the word "love."

5. You love till the end.

It seems to me that these are the types of love that appear in movies. These taxonomies play out in different ways; for instance there are many reasons for the ones getting away. Sometimes the love was at the wrong time, and sometimes the love itself was wrong (this is the common result of adulterous love stories). I would say that #2 and #3 get the most play, because #1 leads to #2, and #3 is the proximate cause of #2. Everything revolves around #2 actually. #4 and #5 may appear to be the happy ending types of movie love, but they are not necessarily so. If you thought so--ah, how idealistic and naive you are, to think that the person who defines love for you is the person you love till the end. Not even the love of your life may be the person you love till the end of your life. And if they are #4 and #5, you'll never get over them. Back to #2.

I recently saw the movie "Once," and saw tonight the movie "Becoming Jane." I liked both. Both films had different combinations of the five types of The One Who. Both are honest without being harsh, and romantic without being maudlin.

"Once" was charming. Glen Hansard (The Guy) and Marketa Irglova (The Girl) are excellent. The look of desperate loneliness and longing on The Guy's face is heartbreaking, as is The Girl's look of resignation. I liked that it was a musical without being weird and break-out-into-song-and-spirit-fingers. It made sense; The Guy was a busker, The Girl his accidental co-songwriter. They sing to each other and sing to themselves, but only when it's natural to sing. And the songs were pretty and affecting.

"Becoming Jane"---oh, how I wish Anne Hathaway (Jane Austen)could hold onto her English accent consistently. But she has very expressive eyes and a face that's believably altered by emotion. And she has great chemistry (who wouldn't?) with my new crush, James McAvoy (Tom Lefoy). I've liked McAvoy since Bright Young Things and Inside I'm Dancing, but he really shines here (as he did in The Last King of Scotland). He's just magnetic and sexy!

The film was surprisingly moving in the end, and almost believable (even if it fudged with real history) because of its emotional honesty. And I'm just a big Austen fan. Not big enough to conduct my personal life by Austen. But I enjoyed this fictionalized, cinematized version of Jane Austen's life. I'm not convinced that Austen needed to have this love in order to write so well about love (seriously, she had to elope and make the ultimate sacrifice for love?), but I could believe, for two hours, that she did.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

And This.

This is my favorite happy-making song.

Another bizarre homemade video. But I like this one actually. Quite cool.


This Is Better

This song makes me really happy (even though it speaks to the bane of my existence, unrequited love--a beast that bites whether you are -ee or -er).

It's just so catchy! And how can you not smile to see a new definition of "air guitar"? This is so awesome.

Yeah, I'm feeling jingoistic right now.



If you law profs still quite can't comprehend that breed of student called Teh Hipster (even with your useful mnemonic fo Twee Emo Hipster), here's a video example!

I originally was going to post this as a "song that makes me happy"--after this horror of a week and a long day, I'm baking brownies and listening to a mix of happy-making music: Wilco, Flaming Lips, Weezer, Rogue Wave. "Eyes," by Rogue Wave is quite pleasing and catchy.

But this homemade video set to the song--ooof, film students in Cardiff, Wales. I like the Welsh language and have a huge crush on Ioan Gruffudd (why oh why did you go mainstream?). But Welsh film students are annoying!

There's the American hipster (which is a bit gritty and owes much to Allen Ginsberg's "I saw the best minds of my generation...angelheaded hipsters"). And then there's the Euro Hipster.

Euro Hipsters are definitely twee. And this Dude/tte is quite androgynous. It kind of ruins my Anglophilia. And the paper cutout thought bubble lyrics, and the Dude/tte's inability to lipsync to the music...ooof.

Still, this song makes me happy. And I'm happy to give you a visual example of the pale and toneless flesh that seems required for hipsterdom.



Last Spring I was happy to discover that I had been awarded a law school grant to cover some of my tuition. Yay!

Then this month's registration debacle from hell changed all that. I tried to register for courses only to discover that I have not be re-classified to change my status from graduated-LL.M to re-admitted S.J.D. This is important for loan deferment reasons; continuation of health care benefits reasons; financial aid eligibility, registration status, etc. Unbeknownst to me, because the Stupid Person at the Advanced Law Degree Office sent in the forms late to the wrong division of the Registrar with the wrong academic dean's signature, I was a non-entity. I just finally got back into the system.

Then, just this week, after the registration debacle from hell, all my financial aid and grants disappeared because of my late registration status. No current registration, no loans. I sorted out most of this with the Actually Competent Financial Aid Office and Actually Competent Campus Registrars, only to be told that the law school grant was in error in the first place--only J.D.s get them, not LL.Ms or S.J.Ds. So while I can be re-classified to receive federal loans, I can't get back this grant, because I should have never gotten it in the first place.

I know that if I had received the grant, this would have been wrong--I am not eligible for it, as it's a need-based grant reserved for J.D.s. I can't have two bites at the apple, apparently. I mean, there's a point, since I already have the J.D. and am getting this ornamental degree for my own academic aspirational purposes. It should go to some needy, do-goodery J.D.

But is it wrong to feel a sense of injustice? Did I not rely to my detriment on the promise of this grant (even if I didn't, I would have continued on here with the S.J.D. grant or no grant). Isn't there some type of promissory estoppel argument? Yeah, I'd bet I'd win that one arguing with school.

I just feel pissed off. It would have been wrong to take the money, but heck, I didn't know that until yesterday! I would have been blithely ignorant of the taint on that big chunk of change! Ignorance is bliss! But more than the loss of the money, I feel angry at the incompetency of the Advanced Law Degree Office. Yet I have to keep up the goodwill, because the Stupid Person will be there as long as I am there, and that person is responsible for the yearly adminstrative hoopla that I have to go through (although now I know to check up on the stuff and go to the Campus Registrars myself when it comes to readmission and reclassification).

But can I unleash the Medieval catapults on the office now? How about a can of whupass?


Clubs for Nerds

I joined an organization in The City for people concerned about public affairs, civic issues, arts and literature. It's pretty pretentious, but also pretty awesome.

I did this to reaffirm my committent to Awesome Part of the Country while I get to live here. Again, I am destined for cold climates or swamp climates (apparently these are not mutually exclusive?!), so I better take advantage of this while I can. It's a dynamic city full of overeducated yuppies with bourgie tastes and pampered palates--who also really, really care about this world and want to change it for the better by....putting on lectures. Educating the overeducated, preaching to the choir, and eating hors d'oeurves. But I'm not complaining. I like this.

I'm not as activist as I used to be, and I like this old fashioned model of civic virtue. It's like the Key Club or Rotary Club. You hang out and talk to people like you, donate money to people not like you, and listen to interesting things that you no longer listen to now that you're set on a very narrow career path. Hey, at least I'm honest. Grassroots activism, this isn't. But it's still an organization of people, so there's a social network if not a social movement. And I like that the organization is non-partisan. I got enough of that in law school, and I like to pick my own political, law-centered positions and orgs. This is old school--something for everyone.

It's an interesting experience. I got my membership card in the mail, and felt very weird. I am not a joiner. I am a loner. The last few times I tried to join something, they ended horrendously. In law school, I was co-chair of an ethnic organization only to be nearly impeached for not going to enough social events like karaoke night or bowling night (instead preferring to organize inter-org social justice events). That was a mess--if anything, that experience made me reject identity politics entirely and pushed me to the center on race-conscious issues. Then last year I tried to have a group of friends, only to have it end in the worst debacle in the history of international relations (ha ha, get it). Seriously--how do you go from a group of six to "and then there were three" to now, when it's de facto "and then there were two" and the last one standing turns out to be Favorite Russian Dude rather than French Dandy Dude? Nevermind the melodrama leading up to this final result--like I said, the Dean said drink up, and I just want to throw up.

At any rate, I have the jitters joining an organization again. Putnam says that we're all bowling alone, and that modern society is increasingly atomized and social networks are breaking down---but I find it amazing that so many people want to form communities and organize themselves into groups. The blogosphere is definitely such a network--I could map a blogtree of the people I know who know other bloggers that I also know. If that makes sense. It probably doesn't. Blogrolls are mini communities, bloggers have meetups all the time across the country, blogging transcends age, rank, and discipline. And this is just virtual networking. Nevermind the glut of organizations at school--the law school is overrun with orgs, and if that's not enough, the university has tons of organizations for undergrads and graduate students.

I disprefer school-oriented organizations for now, because I want the time I spend not writing or researching to be time I spend away from school. Hence joining the hipster equivalent of The Rotary Club or Elks Club. There's two divisions to the Nerd Club: one for old people, and one for young people. The young people organize their own events, and they're either very hip and cool or very public affairs oriented. I think more cities should have such clubs. I think Nerds should have other places of refuge other than school. The cool kids have the rest of the world--bars, clubs, game parks, etc. to do whatever frivolous things they do. We apparently need places to hang out to keep learning outside of school and places other than hallways, lockers, and water coolers to talk about serious issues. Nerds of the world, unite!

I am freaked out about joining an organization, but I think this might be good for me. At the very least, I'll learn something. And maybe it will be a good experience for once, to join the society of others and not be made more misanthropic because of it. That can definitely happen. We will see.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dude, Where's My Oil of Olay

The undergrads are trickling back....and boyyyy, do they look young. Oy ve.

And it's not like I look that much older! Even though I'm a decade older! I'm blessed to have good skin. I wear sunblock every day. Asian women don't age very fast, until the age of 45 and then it goes very quickly for some reason. But then it stops again at 55. My mother is almsost 70 years old, and she doesn't look a day over 55.

Of course, she stays out of the sun unlike her peasant-looking daughter. If she could make me wear a conical hat like my cousins do in Vietnam, she would. Even with sunblock, I'm quite tan--naturally olive skinned, and it's exacerbated by walking to and from school or my 6 mile outdoor runs. I hate sunbathing (it is extremely boring to just....lie there) and am one of those ungrateful desert-state people who hate the heat and sun. I'd rather be cold than hot. In theory, I would belong in a colder climate state. Except that not having grown up with it, snow scares the bejeezus out of me. The first time I encountered 30 degree weather, I thought I was going to die. I felt my joints stiffen and ache. I thought of Ethan Frome and thought maybe this is why he plowed himself into the tree.

Then when I encountered 10 degree weather and something called "windchill," I vowed that I would get a job that paid enough money for my monthly heating bill. I began to miss 30 degree balmy weather. The claim for geographic flexibility that I'll stamp loudly on my FAR form will probably guarantee that I will never get to live in a warm desert state again, so I am banking on a woodfire stove, down blankets, and a high-impact gas-guzzling existence.

But looking at the incoming freshmen, who look not just young (as I do), but child-like---oy, it makes me want to reach for anti-wrinkle cream. Even if I don't have wrinkles. I just have a brow creased with wary wit. Every year I see the Freshmen, they look younger and younger--until I realize that I'm just getting older. Even if I don't exhibit the classic signs of aging, I don't look like a child anymore. These kids--and they are kids--are as young as my nephew, which is disturbing on two levels: one, that I have a nephew who is almost college age, and two, that I can't tell the difference and yet the newbies I encounter are voting-age legal adults.

Then again, I'm rather glad that acne is no longer a daily horror, and that I no longer shop at Tilly's (not that I ever did, and I remember when it was called Miller's Outpost). And my consumer boycott of Abercrombie and Fitch for their terrible employment discrimination is actually really easy--I never shopped there anyway, so my aesthetic rejection just got bolstered by self-righteous indignation. Teenagers have appalling shopping choices: Wet Seal, Rampage, American Eagle, any "junior's department"---one day, and I hope it is soon (as it was for me), they will move onto business casual with smartly tailored chinos, extra-fine merino and silk sweaters, and blazer and dark rinse trouser-cut jeans--and never look back.

Then again, if I ever shop at Chico's or J.Jill and look like an anthropology professor (except that I didn't get my tunics, drawstring pants, big ethnic earrings and long batik scarves from my travels) and wear clogs, please shoot me.


I Love

The people at the actually competent Campus Registrar at Liberal College, who actually know what they're doing and do things quickly if it's an emergency. Unlike the Shufflefooted Advanced Law Degree Office. I also have great love for our financial aid office, and the fact that they also hate the ALD office. It seems like all you have to say to the Law Fin Aid office is "my problem is that the Advanced Law Degree..."and then they groan in sympathy. Just like all you have to say to the Campus Registrar is "I'm at the law school" before they groan even louder.

Hopefully, by this time next week, I will be a fully registered S.J.D. student at Liberal College Law with enough financial aid to cover my tuition and expenses (and I won't be charged the punitive LL.M tuition, since my degree is graduate rather than professional).


I Hate

The person Liberal College Law stupidly left in charge at the Advanced Law Degree Office after the previous director left. This person sent in my change-of-degree form late to the wrong division at the Registrar's Office with the wrong law school assistant dean's signature. This person is incompetent AND curiously unwilling to do anything. And I hate that this person is now on vacation, such that this person's assistant finally corrected my status yesterday, finally enabling me to register for courses.

But not before all my financial aid awards were dropped.

Including my grant, which apparently I am not eligible for anyway.
So now I'm back to loans.

Nor before I was assessed repayment for previous loans, as deferment requires that you be currently registered.

I hate this person, and I hate that our office is some under-funded, badly staffed dinky operation within the law school, and that the law school is so separte from the wider campus that they seem to communicate by Morse code or else finger puppetry.

When TC is mad, she wishes varying degrees of physical pain on her object of disaffection. The continuum ranges from stubbed toes to leprosy.

When I am mad, I want to engage and then kick their ass in some form of combat, ranging from thumb war to arm wrestling to Highlander dueling to outright war involving weapons of mass destruction. (Such bizarre fantasies help me control my temper in real life, when I am quite the nice and civil person).

For example, I want to declare war using Medieval catapults on the Advanced Law Degree office right now. I would say in my best Braveheart voice, "They may take away my financial aid...but they'll never take my freeeeeedooom!!" But look, I have shifted the anger away from this incompetent person to the entire office, so next time I see this person I will not want to arm wrestle them into the ground until they scream "Uncle! Uncle!" I tend to do that--when I am mad at a person, I become mad at what they represent. Here, bureaucracy and the institutional second class citizen status of advanced law students.

And because I am intractably mad at one French person right now and do not think I am ever going to be able to forgive or friend this person again, I wish I could, as a private citizen with no other power than my power as a taxpayer and voter, declare war on France. I think it's because I wish I could write off the crappy treatment and solipsism as being endemic to the French excruciatingly romantic and melodramatic way of thinking and living. Somehow, with all of my life's trauma growing up, I managed to conduct myself responsibly, and not act like a total jerk to the people in my life. Yet I think it's more to do with this French person's rather selfish and immature nature. But I'd like to blame France, if only to make the situation salvagable. Alas, I do not think it is or ever will be. So I guess since I can't declare war on France (damn Article II), I will just have to let go of the situation and let go of the friendship. Sigh. The air is thick with the smoke from my burning bridges.

Post on that subject to follow.


I Wish

That just once this new school year, that someone would make me a kick-ass mix tape. One so personalized, clever and crushworthy, that as soon as I put it in my stereo I would stop whatever it was I was doing and just sit and listen in the middle of my living room. Cross-legged on the floor, I would be transported by art, as the Ancients would say---right back to 1997, the last time I got such a mix tape. There have been other mix tapes--but the one from 1997 is the standard. Granted, it had crappy 90s rock mixed with...Sarah McLachlan. But it was really good. Wildly romantic and yet rockin'. And I like crappy 90s rock. Just not crappy '00s rock.

And the mix tape's purpose should not be party-mix platonic. Although I do welcome mix tapes from friends like The Siren Screenwriter. Or TC.

I just want Teh Mix Tape to be like the one from 1998, when I was young and in love for the first time, and Semisonic and the Goo Goo Dolls were awesome (and the Lilith Fair was on tour).

I have blogged about my love for mix tapes on more than one occasion. It's a recurring theme on this blog. I keep wondering if I really should have been one of the extras on High Fidelity, some girl whose heart was broken by Rob Gordon before he met Laura (recipient of Teh Mix Tape). So in real life, I want to be some Rob's Laura.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

And So It Begins (Again)

Preliminary thoughts on the first week, thus far:

Everyone writing a monograph should take a social science research methods course, especially if your project is interdisciplinary. I wish the law school offered something like this. This is probably why a lot of student notes suck (and more than a few articles). Taking a methods course helps you go from general research interest to specific research question--and one that can be adequately addressed in your monograph.

The course description:

This is an introductory course focusing on how to conceptualize and execute research projects in the social sciences. We will briefly examine the philosophical issues that undergird such research, along with the nuts and bolts of actual research methods. At the end of this course, students should have a good sense of a range of research methods (both qualitative and quantitative) as well as a sense of how to think about the kinds of research problems that will provide the core of a Ph.D. thesis.The main intellectual agenda will be to develop a sophisticated and rigorous sense of how to ask and answer a scholarly research question concerning the workings of law and society, using social science and related data. Students should note that this course includes a practicum, where they will be asked to write a research proposal and to execute a small pilot study of their proposed research.

Doesn't that sound awesome?! The professor is amazing. A Ph.D., she knows how to do research in the social sciences. Moreover, she wants to teach us about the professionalization of research: Bourdieu doxa, giving us a toolkit of vocabulary and tactics to be able to talk about our research and defend it at conferences and job talks. I really wonder how law professors become teachers without learning how to teach or conduct research. And how useful it would be to us all to have such a course and on the ground training for academia.

Take research methods. Seriously. Audit if you have to at another department, but aspiring professors should take this course, at an early phase in their dissertation project--and even again, if you think it would be useful. Another classmate is taking it at the mid-stage of her dissertation to refine her question and get feedback.

Also, Employee Benefits is more interesting than I thought it would be. The professor is a practioner, but she's an excellent lecturer and teacher, and that's another pleasant surprise. It's listed under the "Business Law" offerings. The professor is employee-friendly, but we are approaching the course from the perspective of a lawyer/planner. We are to design retirement/benefits plans for businesses. This is the most practical course I've ever taken. We will see how I do. For now I am very interested at this novel, non-theoretical approach to my education, and the subject is surprisingly rich and interesting. I am happy to find that I am no longer the shy wallflower I was/can be. The class was broken up into sections, and I was put into the "Employer" group for coming up with reasons why businesses might want to give their employees benefits plans rather than salary increases. I was the team leader and spoke for the group! This is awesome. I can actually work with other people and be assertive and confident even if I don't have a podium to stand behind.

Still up in the air: finding a course on Organizational Theory from either the Business School or the Sociology Department that will fit into my schedule and give me enough graded units. But that's next week. For now, I have other stresses. My registration status was just cleared up today, and my financial aid status is a mess (but fortunately my fellowship will cover most of my tuition--but not my rent or bourgie eating habits). Le sigh.


Teh Hipster

I'm really behind on slang. I am still hanging onto "snap," and I'm stuck in the '80s with my use of "righteous" and "awesome." I wish I could bring back "hot stuff!"

I just learned recently what "teh" means:


As slang, grammatical usage of the word teh is somewhat fluid. Besides being an alternate spelling of the, teh also has grammatical properties not generally applied to the; in general, it is used somewhat like an intensified "the". The spelling derived from a typographical mistake seen as the symptom of excitement, much the same as the interjection of the numeral one between bangs(exclamation points).

Furthermore, teh is sometimes used in front of a verb in a novel form of gerund. The best-known example of this is the word "suck". Thus, the phrase "this sucks" can be converted into "this is teh suck"; the word pwn can be similarly converted (teh pwn). The latter phrase is primarily used by the computer gaming community, and often intended humorously.

In English, "the" can be used as an intensifier for the superlative form of adjectives;
compare "that is best" and "that is the best." Teh has a similar use as an intensifier for unmodified adjectives, generally marking a sarcastic tone. For example, "that is teh lame" translates as "that is the lamest." This is similar to the use of the definite article lo in Spanish. For example, "Soy lo mejor" (I am the best) and "I am teh good". This contrasts with the use of the in English to construct mass nouns (substantives) from adjectives, as in "blessed are the meek," where the meek denotes a class of people who are meek, or perhaps teh humble.

It is a pretty awesome definition. I read it and said "righteous, hot stuff!" Seriously, internet slang. It takes slang off the streets (where I definitely wouldn't ever hear about it) and onto the information superhighway (does anyone call it that anymore besides Al Gore?) where it is made accessible to ubernerds like me.

So now onto the current project, a Those Kids Today Vocabulary Lesson:

In the previous post, I mentioned mining the Facebook profiles of "twee young emo hipsters" for so-current-it's-tomorrow music and movie suggestions.

Let's unpack that.

(you law professors are fond of saying that, in addition to "disaggregate")


Pronunciation: 'twE
Function: adjective
Etymology: baby-talk alteration of sweet, chiefly British
Meaning : affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint


Emo (pronounced /ˈiːmoʊ/) is a somewhat ambiguous slang[1] term most frequently used to describe or refer to a fashion, style, or attitude linked to post-hardcore. Emo may also describe emo music or a general emotional state (as in to "feel emo"). It is also (sometimes pejoratively) used to identify someone who fits a particular emo stereotype or category or someone who is overly-emotional. The term's definition is the subject of debate.

I like the definition "post-hardcore."

You can vote thumbs up or down on your favorite definition of emo on the Urban Dictionary.


A hipster is an individual who avoids and often explicitly rejects whatever is seen as mainstream or corporate in nature, instead embracing alternative forms of expression. Often, these alternative forms quickly become mainstream or corporate themselves, thus creating an arms race between the genuinely trendy and the "played out." Indeed, even the label "hipster" is no longer desirable, and it is rarely used for self-identification, except in an ironic or self-deprecating way.

I think it's funny that this entry is "in need of attention from an expert on the subject"---who is an expert on hipsters?! Conor Oberst?

But if you need more help, try The Hipster Handbook.

Talking it over with Teh Ninja Scientist, he said to take out "young" from "twee young emo hipsters" since the youth demographic is implied. This is for the most part true. I would cap it at 35, as it was my 31 year old hipster friend (he who wears SubPop and Asthmatic Kitty t-shirts--check out the sites, what's up with the anthropomorphism---and invests more in his record collection than his savings account) was the one who said that my Converses looked too shiny and new. And then promptly stepped on my feet. Apparently, I can't rock the distressed, faux gansta writing graphic hoodie either. My hoodies are made of merino wool and cashmere. No, I'm not a hipster.

So, taking out "young," that leaves "twee emo hipster." Acronym this, Teh Ninja Scientist says, and you get..."TEH!" Back to stupid youthful neologism number one!

It may not make sense to say twee emo hipster hipster, but I'm going to run with that. Or change the first "h" to "hangdog" or something, to get Teh Hipster! Something you profs can go to, seeing as you like acronyms so much (IRAC, CRAC, RAMPS...) as mnemonic devices. So the next time you look at a student in your classroom, and his or her hair seems unwashed (it isn't) or you can't precisely read the message on their hooded sweatshirt (hmm, this young person is from Providence according to the school Facebook, yet his/her hoodie swears allegiance to someplace called "Silverlake", and while s/he is not a pirate, it depicts a skull and crossbones...), and the music blasting from their IPod sounds like atonal screeching or very depressing:

Refer to your handy mnemonic: This student isn't a failed screenwriter or songwriter in the wrong part of campus, s/he's a Twee Emo Hipster! That's Teh Bomb!

And now that you understand this creature really does belong in your classroom (just not your generation), you can return to your lecture on the rule against perpetuities.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Be Cool, Realize You're Old School

Zach Kramer has cool taste in music.

So does Dave Hoffman.

Of course, they are barely older than (and perhaps are younger than a few returning/double degree) their students. So I have to take that into account when calculating their Coolness Ratio.

I enjoy reading the pop culture posts by law prof bloggers. It helps me figure out where I'm situated relationally to my future colleagues. I'm not that old, being still under 30 (but in the "late 20s" era). But it's a vague age of quantum possibilities--I could still be wandering around in life, figuring out what to do (no, that is not called "grad school") while writing bad fiction and poetry and working a clerical job. I could be in the third year of my life-long career, instead of where I am currently--back in school. I could be married and mortgaged up. I could be exactly where I am--in between all of those states.

So I read the kids' movies review by Christine Hurt and Gordon Smith at the 'Glom. I read with interest what Orly Lobel does with her kids' drawings. I also like to check out the hipness quotient of my favorite bloggers. I'm surprised how cool some of them are--really, Dan Filler, you like Sufjan Stevens? Awesome! Dave Hoffman, you are not just puffing up your coolness cred with the White Stripes and Magnetic Fields? Snap!

My favorite sometimes-blogger, Hipster Law Prof, is extremely cool. But he could always use a little help. Listening to The Shins since way back in 2002 does not make you "so hip that you know bands that don't even exist yet" (real t-shirt slogan). I have younger friends who wish they had more social capital at their new firms. Why, oh why don't they know classic rock or old fogey pastimes? I imagine that sometimes profs want the reverse---to be able to relate more to their students, and pepper their lectures and exams with references that are more current and relatable. Social capital seems to go both ways. It is a fortunate thing that I can get most pop culture references from now back to 1930. I can talk to almost anyone. I imagine though that it takes more work to stay current though. Just what are these crazy kids listening to nowadays?

So that's what I'm here to do. Help you profs learn how to be cool. Don't try to be your students' friends (that is awkward for the most part, toes the line of appropriateness if you hang out, and they will always think of you as their professor--I can't help but laugh whenever I refer to my Brilliant Employment Discrimination Prof by his first name). Don't think that you'll ever be as cool as a 24 year old with enough time to check out the local music scene AND travel to music festivals AND listen to independent college radio. Give it up, dudes. You're past your coolness prime. Social security starts for you in five minutes, and I do believe that was your foot tapping to Genesis--the Phil Collins years.

I'm in a good position to help. I'm of the right age, being young enough to know other cool young people (your students) and close enough in age to them such that it is not weird and Mrs. Robinson-like. I'm also not very cool or hip. I'm the un-Hipster, much like how 7-Up is the un-Cola. It doesn't even try to pass. It accepts its zero-buzz, neutral taste. I got most of the jokes in my Hipster Haiku book only because I have hipster friends. I dress in business casual as a matter of course (even with my youth and in my casual environment), and can't for the life of me rock those clever graphic t-shirts or Converse shoes without looking like I'm trying very, very hard and spending too much money to look unemployed. I've had friends step on the white caps of my Converses to dirty them up a little. Every time I buy a jar of pomade to achieve that messy-on-purpose look, I give it away in resignation and accept that I like brushing my hair.

So I will never be cool. But I know cool people. And I think I've figured out how to be cool and relate to people my age.

Off the top of my head, only three tactics come to mind (I really am not that cool):

1. Join Facebook.

I will delete my profile when I go on the market and reemerge with a nothing profile, but for now it's fascinating to watch what my classmates (and sometimes I) do on social networking sites! I do research in social network theory, and it's seriously amazing how obsessed students are about these sites. You can see what Generation Y are up to, and their mass trends. Don't believe me? Read Danah Boyd.

2. Mine Facebook for information.

It's always funny to me to see students "friend" their professors, thereby alerting them to their status updates (often emotional states) and pictures of drunken revelry. Ignore that. It's interesting, but just confirms the generational gap. And you will feel even older when you hear yourself say "those kids today....". I like to check out twee young emo hipsters for their music and movie picks. Somewhere buried in that list of 40 bands may be three or four that you can actually stand. The rest will make you want to slit your wrists or take an Advil at too much sound distortion. And the movies....ahhh, the hipster youth and their po-mo rejection of narrative.

3. If you have cool friends, keep them.

Social network theory taught me that my Bacon number is 3, and that weak ties are as important as strong ties. My strong tie to my Former College Radio DJ Lawyer friend (who has artistic, musical friends) makes me pretty close to cool. She sends me music suggestions and mix CDs all the time. I then pass this onto Hipster Law Prof. Hipster Law Prof is now only one degree away from cool.

Of course, it doesn't really matter that you are cool. It matters most that you teach well.

But it wouldn't hurt you to check out Wilco, American Analog Set, Blonde Redhead, Bloc Party, Shout Out Louds, Call and Response, Aislers Set, Futureheads, The Walkmen...

But if at the end of the day, you really can't relate to your students--it's okay. No one is expecting you to. I am bemused and amused by how many posts there are in the legal blogosphere about using pop culture or current events in exams. Staying current seems to be a concern of law profs. And the posts on pop culture speak volumes about how each professor views themselves situationally with respect to their students and colleagues. Law profs are as obsessed with pop culture as they are with gossip. You are all so busy, but you seem to want to make time for movies and music in your life, and then you want to blog your opinions about them. Maybe it's not to establish coolness--but it does speak to your desire to stay well-rounded, and have extra-legal interests. And that's the same goal as your concert-hopping, too-cool-for-school students. What appears to be an obsession with coolness and currency (and inane social networking sites) is the same other-life-building exercise for 22-25 year olds. I'm sure you can recall what it was like to be recently graduated from college and try to hang onto old hobbies like working out, arthouse/revival film watching, bass-playing, bar-hopping. You just can't do it anymore. And it's okay. No one expects you to, and I don't think you really want to. I wonder that anyone can keep all that up (and have a real job) past the age of 27.

You can try to bridge the generational gap, and it'll probably be easier to if you're close in age. But you can't, and shouldn't bridge the professional (professorial) gap. And some generatoinal gapness is okay. It's okay to be olde school. You're still in school, but you're the professor. So teach your students to be lawyers, and they'll teach you how to stay cool (maybe).


Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Fought The Law But The Law Won


I Fought The Law And The Law Still Won

Take Two, for The Next Generation.


How To Write and Avoid Not-Writing

It came from the comments over at my blog:

"Dude" asks:

Honestly, if you're a domestic LLM, chances are good you're mostly there to write - not to take more exam courses. Talking about how to do that (independant study options, thesis rules) would probably be extremely helpful.

I agree with you, Dude. Apart from the special topic LL.Ms (e.g. NYU's in tax, international law), academic-track LL.M programs vary widely in structure and rigorousness. I would say that Harvard is probably the most structured (all LL.Ms are required to write a thesis, and the S.J.D. program is relatively structured) while others, like Georgetown's, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Boalt Hall's are the least structured, allowing you to design your own course list and concentrate on independent writing. Most domestic LL.Ms will probably be either "research-track" or "thesis-track." And these are almost entirely unstructured programs, because the point is to not get a concentration in some subject--the point is to write.

The thing to do is actually write and avoid not-writing. While these programs are unstructured, they do have requirements and certain parameters. Most writing-track programs require academic aspirant LL.Ms to take a certain number of course units. They are about half the units required for general or special-topic LL.Ms, but they are still courses that will take time away from writing your monograph. So what to take for those courses?

Again, it probably depends on the structuredness of your program. At most schools there are no special courses just for academic-track LL.Ms and S.J.Ds. You will be choosing from the standard 2L/3L fare--and at this point, after your three-year J.D., what's there left to take? Whatever serves the monograph. At this point, you'll have most of the foundational courses taken cared of (this is why they're foundational). If you haven't taken Statutory Interpretation yet, I guess this that the do-over 4L year is as good as any to remedy that. And I'm not entirely opposed to exam courses--if they're useful for your monograph, then there's no reason not to take them. And the quick Vulcan-death-grip blow of the final frees you up for spending your writing energy on your monograph.

The thing to do is to make sure your courses serve your monograph. Depending on the program, there's lots of ways of going about this. Most schools will assign you/let you pick a faculty advisor to supervise your written work if they require a thesis/monograph. Depending on how much feedback you need/want, this can be a very interactive or completely detached relationship. Choose your advisor carefully, and don't be afraid to change advisors (but try not to change half-way--try to pick wisely and quickly in the first three weeks of school). But that faculty advisor will be the one supervising your independent study units (for which you will receive a grade upon completion of the monograph, most likely, so you'll get an "In-Progress" one semester and a final retroactive grade at the very end). Because your monograph is already graded, and you are already taking independent study units, your course units have to be efficient uses of your time.

Again, if you need some background knowledge, take those courses. For instance, since I never took it before and because I'm doing a project on the FMLA, I'm taking Employee Benefits this semester. But in general, my approach is to take courses that serve the monograph as much as possible. Depending on your school, you may be able to take courses from other departments. I'm taking a Research Methods Design course from a graduate department, and that will be useful for helping me design my management questionnaires and will give me feedback in the early stages my dissertation project design. I also plan on taking Organizations and Institutions from another department here on campus. I also take seminar courses from the law school that either 1) become a chapter of my monograph or 2) work as an independent paper in my field that I can publish while I'm working on the Big Project Monograph.

I don't mind spending 5-6 months writing a smaller article on a very particular topic in my field as I'm working on my 200 page monograph. Because I'm spending the first year of the S.J.D. doing field work, collecting data, and analyzing the data, I want to write as much as possible and workshop those articles on the conference circuit. Carefully chosen seminar topics/papers are ideal for this. Ever had a professor tell you that if you cleaned up a paper you could publish it? Well, at this stage, you definitely should. I would caution you to stick to your intended hedgehog specialization field though, so that when you do go on the market you have 2-3 articles (in addition to your dissertation) that look like a good package displaying your particular toolkit. As of now, I'm interdisciplinary but getting more focused: sociological perspectives on employment discrimination law.

I would write as much as possible, but by that I mean spend the bulk of your time writing 1-2 good articles. Try to get your coursework and writing projects to overlap and dovetail as much as possible. Make sure the things you write are good and publishable--so don't sweat it taking so many paper requirements that you end up writing 4 things badly. If you talk to the professor, most seminars will let you write research proposals in lieu of an independent paper. That's what I did last spring for one course--I wrote my dissertation proposal as I was finishing my independent study thesis, and with my third being an exam course, I got everything done. And now I have a dissertation proposal ready to go for this Fall (which I have spent the past week cleaning up for my new faculty advisor and other members of my dissertation committee, which is why I've been such a bad guest-blogger).

Try to write and avoid not-writing---so just keep writing. Of course it sucks. It always sucks. But you might be able to clean it up in the end. You might toss a lot, but at least some of what you write will be publishable. So just keep writing. If you're going to go on the market after the LL.M/VAP/Fellowship, you'd better write something publishable. If you're already on the market, then you probably have a few things under your belt. But if you are intending to go on the market very soon, you'd better be shopping your articles and getting a lot of eyes on those drafts. If you only have one year to do all of this, make it a productive year. I hate to say this, but don't sweat it trying to get too much balance. You'll fail at both--your productivity will suffer and your fun will not be all that fun if you feel guilt over not-working and are trying to cram fun into your busy schedule. Maybe you'll come back to this city as a tourist one day, but for now, work hard and play later.

I have more time to stretch now with three years to file my dissertation, but I'm still spending a fair amount of time reading and typing. As my advisor said, I have to hit the ground running with the amount of field work and data analysis I have to do--not to mention waiting for IRB approval. So the work started last year, and it's already raging right now. I know I've campaigned for balance before--but that doesn't mean I am slacking off of work or thinking of these years as party years.

"Balance" means that I am adding exercise to my regimen, but I definitely have a regimen. I get to do things that serve my mental, physical, and emotional health, but I don't get to slack off or over-commit myself to things that are inefficient uses of time. You're not a J.D. anymore. Don't join a law journal or law school organization. Don't decide that your do-over LL.M or S.J.D. years are the time to learn everything you didn't in law school. Write the monograph. And then spend whatever free time you have on things that make you happy so that you can have the energy to write when you plunk yourself down for a 8-10 hour day (and yes, you should create such a work/writing schedule on the weekdays even if you have class), as if you had a "real job").

In my personal quest for balance, I'm just trying to travel less (there was a time when I traveled almost every month for work or personal reasons), which means I get to spend weekends catching up on sleep, work, and the people in my life. Balance doesn't mean hitting the bars or being a tourist every weekend or going to every party--it means spending time more productively and healthily. I am making sure I get sleep. I get to cook, run, and have a hobby (choose your own adventure). I see a movie every couple of weeks or so, and try to find something to do one day (or both) a weekend that makes me happy and diverted. When I have such off-time, I spend it with loved ones, and that's the best balance to me. The rest of the time, yeah, I'm working. It's easy to forget this when you go back to the "student" life. Don't go to the bars every night with those crazy J.D.s! Set that alarm! You're not in college (or law school proper) anymore.

It's easy to forget your purpose as a domestic LL.M surrounded by J.D.s who are just barely out of college. Worse yet, you're surrounded by international LL.Ms who are here to get their American credential (sometimes on their firm's dime, their parents' dime, or a Fulbright dime) and lots of touring and partying before they go back to a salary bonus. You are not one of them. You are here to work. You are not 22 years old anymore (thank goodness). It sucks to be you.

But it will be awesome to be you in a few years (or so I hope), when you (and I) get that tenure track job--the best job in the world! Teaching a great subject to a new generation of law students.

Just make sure you write and avoid not-writing. It's easier said than done.


I Choose Sleep

Last week, we S.J.Ds had orientation. Sort of. It was the orientation for the new eighty-odd LL.M class, but the eleven S.J.D. admits were also called to be oriented. Only two of us came. I have no idea why, other than that the rest were still traveling or visiting their home countries. But the U.S. of A was representin'. But because only two of us came, they canceled the one hour session intended specifically for S.J.D. students, and just gave us a handout of the program requirements. Which may be found on the law school's website. And then told us to come in for individual appointments if we had further questions.

The welcome was the same exact welcome as last year. Our Charismatic Dean welcomed us all, and remarked on how international a group we were, and how many countries--nay, continents--we represented. He told us to take advantage of that internationalness. He said the exact same thing last year. It's true though--until last year, I don't think I was ever exposed to so many people from so many different countries. I learned a lot from my colleagues through their presentations on the law in their jurisdictions. I also learned a lot about the different customs and cultural differences. I got used to cheek-kissing. Bises for Belle! It makes you immune to the intimacy of the gesture. With so much cheek-kissing hello and goodbye or as a thank you, it just ruins it in some ways. I used to blush and feel thrilled at such a gesture. Now it's like shaking hands. Le sigh.

This is what it's like to be one of the few Americans in a predominantly international program. A vague feeling of not belonging in your own country. Surrounded by internationals--but wait, there's a Wal-MART!"--in your own country, you at once see how you do or don't fit in with your native land. And you definitely can observe how they do or don't fit in. I got a lot of "but you don't seem American" last year due to the fact that I dressed with some style, did not wear "trainers" (sneakers) all the time and knew a great amount about Western art, literature, and culture. I had actually read almost as much Russian literature as my Favorite Russian Dude, and knew more ancient Greek mythology than some of the Greek Girl's friends. Knowing chanson and French symbolist poetry only pushed me over the edge of un-Americanness. Since when did not being "Typically American" mean being well-educated and cultured? That sucks! I was frequently offended by their surprise at my not being a dumb f**k. Or by strange compliment-insults to the effect of "wow, your shoes aren't ugly."

Actually, for domestic LL.Ms, the LL.M year can be a year of being constantly offended and offending. It just happens, and I can't explain how to avoid it. It's supposed to be hands-across-the-world-uniting, but it's more like a series of missed hi-fives and left-handed compliments that border on insults. Or else actual insults. Maybe it was just the crowd I hung out with last year. There was a lot of complaining by the oblige-free noblesse about the coarseness of middle-class America, how we cook our meat, what kinds of clothes and shoes we wear....yes, there were a lot of times where I wanted to flash dexter hands appaumy. By the end of the year I became oddly more jingoistic and less-inclined to cosmopolitanism, and almost wanted to utter xenophobic statements like "if you don't like our Nike sneakers, go back to ____!"

I wish the Dean had told us how to avoid culture clash. There are more types of kulturkampf than previously thought.

Instead, the Dean told us to sleep less.


He said that this year will go by incredibly fast (and it is true, last year's went by--there is no other way to say it, as "very" doesn't do the trick--incredibly fast). So "drink it in, drink it up." He said that no one ever finishes the one-year LL.M program wishing they had slept more. Don't waste this year, he cautions. Make friends with your colleagues. Integrate yourself with the J.Ds, the law school, and the wider campus community. Take advantage of living in one of the best parts of the country. See the surrounding area and the rest of the state. Take advantage of being at one of the best universities in America--heck, the world. Take advantage of the other departments and lectures (nevermind that you can't get credit for outside courses and so you'd be auditing on top of your law school load). Explore the arts scene. See things. Live. He said the exact same thing last year.

You know what?

I choose sleep.


It is true that this is an awesome part of the country. And I am glad to have three more years to enjoy it and explore it in greater depth and breadth. But for that one year, it's damn near impossible to live as much as the Dean suggests (seriously, he sounded like Thoreau, and I was half-expecting him to hand out straws as physical metaphors of how we are to suck the marrow out of life) and get all your work done (well) and maintain balance in other ways. I think there's already enough of a party-hearty culture among the international students (the 1Ls are too freaked out, and the 2Ls and 3Ls here are quite serious). I think he should have said "work hard and get good grades!" Maybe that goes without speaking, but it should have been said. I'm all for working hard and playing hard, but I argue that one should laze just as hard.

Get some sleep! I definitely didn't sleep enough last year. I was working too much and was way too overscheduled. Again, maybe it's just me and the crowd I hung out with last year (it is trial and error after all, and with only one year in which you are the misfit in a crowd of misfits, more than enough opportunity for error). Most of the experiences from last year I would like to spit out. You sometimes order the wrong drink. Over and over again.

So I would change the advice a bit. I would indeed say out loud "work hard and get good grades." I would also say:

"Sip cautiously as you drink it all in...take your time to settle in and acculturate yourself. Take a step back and look at your new home for what it reallly is after your eyes adjust to its newness and after you have acquired the perspective of an adoptive son or daughter. Think of what it can be for you. Forge the bonds of friendship carefully but strongly. Do your work, but pay attention to your health needs and social needs, and don't let one set of needs crowd out the other. And get some sleep. Sleep as much as you can very night, and more on the weekends if necessary."

Yeah, I choose sleep.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Out With The Old...

Seen today on a curb next to refuse bins while running through Nice Part Of Town:

A stack of books: Understanding Criminal Law; the 2006 supplement for Evidence, Cases and Materials; Gilbert on Contracts.

I'm guessing a law student lives/d at the house.

And I'm guessing that s/he is pretty much done with those books and those courses.

I know lots of people who sell their old books on Amazon, and still others who just donate old books to their journal/org offices. Some, like me, keep their books, with the thought that maybe one day it'll be useful to have the 12th edition of Gunther and Sullivan. Of course, it's that type of thinking that gets me two copies--the 8th edition from my college years, and of course my 12th means that I'm three editions behind by now. I dunno. I like to keep my books. I like to have the ones in my area of concentration. I mine the notes for reading suggestions and find them useful for quick touch ups. I just like having books around me. It's a small feeling of accomplishment to look at all the courses I've taken and the subjects I've read and learned. It is a very, very small feeling of accomplishment mind you, but I'll take what I can get.

So it was kind of sad to see that pile of books tossed with--with what? Nonchalance? Weary resignation? Anger? Disdain? I don't know. It was just sad to see. You can toss the books, but you can't toss that grade or the headaches or (hopefully) the knowledge. You shouldn't anyway. I always hear my classmates wish that they could take back that paper, grade, class, year. Everyone's drowning in a sea of regret. Everyone over-commits to orgs and loads up on courses or takes the wrong course or the wrong professor. Everyone who runs for the co-chair of an organization or the EIC of a journal usually lives to regret it.

But it's not so easy to toss aside your mistakes. I guess books might be the proxy.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Summertime (And The Livin' Ain't Easy)

Summertime doesn't mean that the livin' is easy.

For some it may be though. I will tell you that right now, while you profs are scrambling to edit course readers and get syllabi out and are deluging your administrative assistants with photocopy requests, your students are trying to cram in as much fun as possible before the term starts. The 1Ls are of course freaked out, and are overwhelmed with welcome week activities. They are overcome with eagerness and vague trepidation over this new adventure. They will buy every book that they're advised to, including "Plain English For Lawyers" and every, and I mean every, hornbook in the bookstore. Right now, they are in their new apartments and looking over their two-feet stack of books and rigid course schedules and wondering what the hell they got themselves into. Only two months ago, they were English literature majors. Life was good. Reading was fun.

Right now, the incoming 1Ls sit in apartments furnished by Ikea and the kitchen-in-a-box from Target, awkwardly chatting with new roomates found via Craigslist or the law school list-serv, wondering at what have they done and are they really expected to learn the Rule Against Perpetuities?

Right now, the 2Ls and 3Ls are in Vegas or Hawaii.

But eventually all the 1Ls, 2Ls and 3Ls will meet up this weekend to cram in some fun in the city, at the beach, and most definitely in the bars. One (not really last, given the drinking culture and Bar Review) hurrah, and will try to cram in the first reading sometime on Sunday night, when they are bleary eyed and already exhausted from the pre-school fun. Good morning to you, Professor.

Because I am straddling the line between student and academic, this has been a mixed summer for me. I spent a week at Con Law Camp--a conference that required considerable preparation, all on the heels of finishing my master's thesis and moving into a new house. I had out of town guests every other week. I visited my family for a week and a half this summer as well, greeting a new nephew. Between settling into a new house, catching up on the much-neglected personal life, and working every spare moment on editing old articles--this summer has flown by!

If you're used to an academic calendar, it's the summer that's the season of change. It's the most dynamic. Every year the stores herald January 1st as the pivotal date of change. That's when the new calendars come out, and the new date books are available. Well, not if you buy the 18 month academic calendars that I do. When I think of "next year" I think "next Fall term." This is a sign that you've been going to school for too long, and that you're a born-and-bred academic. Summer is always a transition time for me--one academic year has ended, and in two and a half months another will will begin. I imagine, for the 1Ls, this season marks an even greater transition. For many of them, it marks their new status as graduate students. They have chosen a profession, and they are committing to careers. Even if many go to law school because they don't know what else to do (avoiding real life, as it were), this is probably the first really grown up thing that they're doing. No more dorms, no more parental safety nets, no more lax professors and fudging their way through. Welcome to the Bell curve of life and law school. And they will find all this change occurs within one change of seasons, from the summer of youth to the fall of young adulthood.

Summer's date hath all too short a lease--just two months ago, I finished my thesis and graduated with an LL.M. Yesterday I had my first meeting with my new dissertation advisor (which accounts for my not blogging over the weekend). It was a good and productive meeting. She likes my proposal, and has given me advice regarding courses, project design, and has given me a deadline of the end of September for a draft of my questionnaire and human subjects IRB proposal. By the end of the term, I should have a bibliography (and a chunk of it read) for my literature review. The plan is to hit the ground running by next summer so that I can really go out and do the field work and data collection. You see what I mean by summer being a season of change? I'm really happy with all this change though. I'm really excited about my project, and I really like my advisor.

This summer, I finished one program and began another. I changed houses and neighborhoods (trading up). I got a new advisor. Lots of good change. It's a good feeling. It's an exhausting feeling too. I don't know how you professors do it all during the summer--research, write, go to conferences, catch up on life. And I don't know how you deal with so many successive years of change, with the great turnover of students. There is a new class for you all to teach and mentor, and there will be new adventures in academia for all come Monday.

There are those that accuse academics of static indolence and laziness--armchair academics, are we not? I don't know about that. I think academics are pretty good at handling the sea changes of life and helping students manage such big transitions--we do it every year, after all.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

For Ten Days I'll Be An Adorable Little Rodent

In The Truth Laid Bear ecosystem, I am (or rather, this blog is) a Lowly Insect. It's okay--I love my readers, few though there be. 100-200 hits a day isn't bad for a niche personal blawg, although the summer months have meant a dive back down to 80-100. What's up with that, people? Don't you have work that you need to be distracted from by reading my blog?

But for ten days, while I guest blog at Is That Legal, I get to dress up as an Adorable Little Rodent!

While Eric Muller is on vacation, I get to run amok on his blog. Seriously, he appears to welcome the weirdness.

I'll be cross-posting here at Law and Letters, so you will still catch those psots on your RSS feeds--but you definitely should add Is That Legal to your Bloglines or Google Reader anyway. And while Eric wants weirdness, I'm still going to keep the more personal posts or truly Belle-like idiosyncrasies (the Saturday Poet Series, for example) at Law and Letters.

Read me here, read me there, read me everywhere.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Quick, Give Me Some Questions

I may be serving on the Q&A panel during orientation this Friday for the incoming class of LL.Ms.

If you were in such a position, what would you like to know?

Comments open as always (albeit moderated); I'm also happy to answer by email.

I realized with a start that I will be interacting with four LL.M classes during my time here at Liberal College Law. First, my own cohort, that weird, special, dramatic bunch that they were. (But I keep getting into trouble by blogging about people, so I won't go into it--although if you follow that linkage you will see why I am trying to shut up more often). Then over the course of my dissertation, there will be up to three more classes of LL.Ms. More bises and cappucino breaks for Belle! Seriously, last year I was so thoroughly Europeanized, that I forgot how to hug (the mwa mwa of the bises desensitized me to cheek kissing) and was constantly caffeinated. Oh, those Europeans...

And the program here at LCL keeps getting bigger. Even if the S.J.D. class doesn't grow commensurately, making it still very competitive to get into the doctoral portion for aspiring academics, and extremely competitive for any American-trained aspiring academics. I was lucky to get in here, being one of four Americans during my year--and only one of two serious academic aspirants. The others were looking for degree specializations. It's a tough academic market at any stage, I'll tell you that.

Yet, since they're all new admits, they don't really want to hear much of this. I know some are interested in the S.J.D. program, but most are not. There are only 10-15 slots for the 20-30 applicants from LCL's own LL.M pool (it's limited to taking our own), which totals roughly 70-85 students--almost all of whom are from foreign jurisdictions. There were nearly a thousand applications for the LL.M program. Again, it's very tough for American J.D.s pursuing post-graduate degrees. I was very, very lucky to be admitted to the LL.M program, much less the S.J.D. program. Yes, I do feel special, and am very grateful.

Mostly though, I expect the students will ask about what classes to take, what professors are good, and where to eat. I remember getting recommendations for local tourist destinations. I always wish that these orientation things were more useful. They are of limited utility and even more rarely of interest. But I don't think I can do much to change that. I expect that information overload is the problem, and so that's why orientations are just feel-goody back-patting sessions. You just want to congratulate people for being admitted, and make them feel welcome and try to delude them into thinking that they belong there. Which maybe they do, but it's work to convince someone of that on the first day, much less when that person is from an entirely different country and culture.

Not so surprising how I called it last year. The year was worse than I expected in many ways, and surprisingly good in others. I really liked taking Statutory Interpretation, Sociology of Law, Law and Social Policy, and Federal Courts. I much like one article I wrote last year, although I hate my thesis. I enjoy traveling to conferences and am a good presenter, and find that I'm surprisingly good at networking (for an introverted geek that is). I liked meeting my roomate, and the few people whose company I stil keep. I love this city and the bigger city next door. This part of the country is great. Everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING, I hated.

An LL.M year is just the three years of law school intensified and concentrated, which means more potent drama in various accents, and less time to get all of your work done and your grades in. It's such a work-intensive year that I only last week got to seeing some of the botanical gardens, thanks to an impromptu running tour (because everything is multi-tasking in my universe, unless I'm truly chilling out) by Sci Guy. I think he is bemused by the fact that I've been here a year and have gone to the City so rarely, and have seen so little of my own campus and neighborhood. When you get out less than a scientist--man, you really have to wonder about your program.

Still, and this is the platitude I will cheerily parrot on Friday, try to enjoy that year and make the best of it. That's all I can advise. Or actually, all I'll say--I don't really think anyone wants to hear the truth. That's the funny thing about the first day. You really want to make it a fresh start, and imagine a world of possibilities, the most important possibility being that things will work out, that you will do well, and that you will be happy. I could never take that away from anyone.