ambivalent imbroglio home

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September 29, 2002

LSAT Fun? Help!

Ok. The LSAT is now officially less than a week away and I'm still basically clueless when it comes to logic games. I'm great with reading comprehension, and my logical reasoning score is... well, ok. But then it comes to logic games, my brain shuts down. I look at them and it's like the page starts swimming and I get tense and my heart beats faster and I know I'm going into the preliminary stages of complete meltdown. This is not good.
Here's an example of the kind of thing that turns my brain to mush:

A five-week education course consists of exactly five lectures with a different lecture given each week. No lecture is given more than once. Each lecture is delivered by a different speaker. The following conditions are true about the speakers and their lectures:

  • Each speaker lectures ona philosopher in whom he or she specializes.

  • No two speakers lecture on the same philosopher.

  • The first week's speaker specializes in Kant, Locke, and Mill, and no other philosophers.

  • The second week's speaker specializes in Kant, Locke, Mill, and Nietzsche, and no other philosophers.

  • The fird week's and fourth week's speakers each specialize in Mill and Neitzsche, and no other philosophers.

  • The fifth week's speaker specializes in Neitzsche, Ockham, and Plato, and no other philosophers.


The questions are largely irrelevant because the hard part is the setup, which, if you do it right, will give you all the answers. But the questions are typically along the lines of: "Which is the maximum possible number of different schedules for the five lectures in which those philosphers who are discussed are discussed in alphabetical order?"

Doesn't that sound like fun? But the real point is: How would you do this? Any tips? Hints? Great tricks that got you through LSAT logic games? Bring them on!

Posted 08:49 AM | Comments (2) | law school

September 27, 2002

A Nice Sig

In my inbox today was a message that ended with the following signature:

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die You will rejoice and the world will cry.

Working on it.

Posted 03:52 PM | life generally

More Against War

I'm glad to see that people are continuing to publicly question the Bush A day or two ago on Salon Robert Scheer wrote:

Bush's haste to make war on Iraq is understandable only as a ploy to avoid dealing with the struggling U.S. economy, a still-shadowy al-Qaida leadership that has not been brought to heel yet and the alarming disintegration of the Mideast peace process.

That's certainly what it looks like to me. Scheer finishes with some terrific comments about hubris and the disturbing identity between Bush's "unique American internationalism" and what the rest of the world knows as imperialism. Highly recommended.

Related: The text of the speech Al Gore gave last Monday outlining the fatal flaws in the "strike first" doctrine. The link comes via Jason Rylander who says the speech only deserves a "Gentleman's C" because it fails to answer the toughest questions that Gore (or any Democrat) needs to be addressing right now if the Democrats have any hope of building strong candidates and real platform for Nov. and beyond (esp. 2004) . Agreed.

Finally: If you have access to The Chronicle of Higher Education, this week's issue features this article, which begins:

A military attack on Iraq would be a profound and costly mistake, declare 33 scholars of international relations in a statement that is to appear as an advertisement in The New York Times. The statement argues that the Iraqi regime can be contained through traditional mechanisms of deterrence, and charges that "war with Iraq will jeopardize the campaign against Al Qaeda by diverting resources and attention from that campaign and by increasing anti-Americanism around the globe."

And a bit more from one of the statement's principle authors, a U. of Chicago professor:

"What we tried to do here," said Mr. Mearsheimer in an interview, "was to restrict the list to scholars who focus on international-security affairs, and to scholars who believe that power matters in international politics -- that it's sometimes necessary for the United States to go to war to defend its national interests. This is not a group that could be identified as left-wing or dovish."

Now doesn't that sound like a reasonable bunch of people? But is anyone going to listen?

Posted 03:36 PM | general politics

American Candidate Update

It's true: Rupert Murdoch is planning to make a reality-tv show out of the process of picking a candidate to run for President of the United States. Details here, some commentary here. And here's at least one big reason why the idea is unlikely to produce a really populist/popular candidate: "contestants" will have to finance their own campaigns. Oh well...

[Links via Google News Search, a "beta" search engine that indexes only sites designated as "news" providers. Interesting.]

Posted 03:26 PM | Comments (1) | general politics

September 24, 2002

Dream Job (almost)

As I've mentioned before, I subscribe to a daily email from that lists new jobs that match the criteria I've specified. The other day I learned about this job: Consumer Rights Attorney for the National Consumer Law Center. It looks almost like the ideal thing I will be shooting for once I get my J.D.

Can anyone who is either in law school or who has been through it tell me what I should be looking for in law schools to help me get a job like this? Right now I'm just asking generally about "public interest" programs and loan repayment programs. Are there more specific things that I should be looking for (like specific classes they might offer, for instance)? Thanks.

Posted 02:13 PM | Comments (2) | law school

Rolling Admissions

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I learned yesterday that I'm way behind schedule in this whole applying to law school thing. The first sign came when I ran into a friend I haven't seen for a while and she whispered confidentially, "I'm leaving after this semester." And I said, "Really? Me too, probably. What are you going to do?" Her reply? "I'm going to law school." So there you go: it's the cool thing to do.

But then she said: "I just sent my applications out last weekend."

Ah-oh. I don't even know where I'm going to apply, let alone having applications ready. I thought applications were due in January or so, right? I mean, what's the rush? I felt a twinge of panic. Have I missed something somewhere? But then I brushed it off, thinking my friend must be just a little too eager.

However, in the afternoon I attended a "pre-law" information meeting for undergrads who are headed to law school, and my panic returned. The pre-law advisor basically said: If you haven't already taken the LSAT, that's the first strike against you in the applications process. Law schools have rolling admissions, which means they kind of admit on a first-come, first-served basis, generally beginning in early November. Therefore, you want to have your applications out by Oct. 31—at the latest. And you can't really know where to apply until you know what your LSAT score is, because that score will tell you which schools you might reasonably accept you. So taking the Oct. LSAT is ok, but you'll have to scramble to get your apps in in time to be considered in the first wave of admissions decisions.


So I have a lot of work to do, and I'm behind already. Wish me luck.

Posted 10:23 AM | law school

Only One?

So is Al Gore the only Democrat willing to step up and denounce Bush's renewed unilateralism? According to this Reuters report, in a speech yesterday:

Gore saved some of his sharpest words for the newly announced doctrine of pre-emption -- a strategy which calls on U.S. forces to strike first against potential threats and ensure unchallenged U.S. military superiority.

Calling the new policy a "go it alone, cowboy-type" approach to foreign policy, Gore said Bush risked shaking the very foundations of the international political order by flouting laws and disregarding world opinion.

Thanks, Al. If you'd pump up the volume on that kind of direct challenge to Republican nonsense, you might actually have a chance in 2004. Maybe. Big if....

Posted 10:20 AM | general politics

September 23, 2002

Getting Worse

Today's New York Times says:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 — Congress will soon pass a resolution giving President Bush power to take military action against Iraq, Republicans and Democrats predicted today, but Democrats called for some refinements.

Gee, it sure is great to hear the Democrats are on the job. Apparently their motto is: "We'll pass no resolution unrefined." I don't know about you, but I'm sure sleeping better knowing that. Not.

BTW: I don't see a peep in the headlines about the Bush plan to erase the last 50 years of foreign policy. Can anyone help explain to me why this isn't on every front page in the nation?

Posted 07:03 AM | general politics

September 22, 2002

Which Reality is This?

The Drudge Report says that Rupert Murdoch plans to take "reality TV" to a whole new level. According to Drudge,

Cable channel FX is set to mount an ambitious two-year endeavor that will culminate in the American public voting on -- a "people's candidate" to run for president of the United States in 2004!

Wow. It's so crazy it just might be cool. I mean, I can't see how we could actually get worse candidates than we've had recently. Drudge says the series appears to have been inspired by a similar idea in Argentina. Hmm....

[link via Tom Tomorrow]

Posted 01:40 PM | general politics

Not a Meritocracy

After three years as an English graduate student, I've pretty much come to terms with the fact that hard work and intelligence do not necessarily translate into good grades or other forms of positive recognition, but it seems that many people think of law school as a place where hard work and intelligence will be rewarded. It kind of looks like JCA is one of those people. After a 2L told her that grades are fairly random, and really not something to focus on or worry about, JCA wrote:

I'm just really tired of hearing this. I can't help but imagine that a well-prepared student with decent presence of mind and a cultivated facility for issue-spotting, someone who's gone to all the discussions and picked up on all the professorial buzzwords and nitpicks and causes célèbres, is probably going to do just fine on the exam. If I can make myself into that person, I should therefore inherit this likelihood of doing just fine. Why not?

Do JCA's grade concerns mean that she's is not quite ready to embrace the confusion of law school? Or would embracing the confusion mean something else?

From what I can tell, in all likelihood JCA will do just fine, but that might not mean straight A's simply because law school probably isn't a meritocracy any more than most other things in our world are. That can be frustrating, but it can also be liberating because it can free you to focus on content (and learning), rather than on structure (and hoop-jumping). But then, I think attitudes toward grades are one of those things you can't reason with. Some people concentrate on grades, and no matter what you do to prove that grades don't matter, they will continue to concentrate on grades. Perhaps they will think you're trying to trick them, or that you really don't know what you're talking about, or that they'd rather be safe than sorry. It's just one of those "easier said than done" things. Unfortunately, I think our educational system in the U.S. begins encouraging grade-obsession from a very young age, which means by the time people get to law school, the origins of that obsession are way too deep to even begin to challenge.

Posted 01:36 PM | law school

International Community

Hidden in the footnotes of my last post is a mention of the current issue of Foreign Policy, which addresses the question: "What is the International Community?" Unfortunately, this is an ink publication, so the whole issue is not available online; however, they've put up three great perspectives on the question. The first, from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, is titled "Problems Without Passports" and says—in a much more clear and concrete way—what I was trying to say here: that we are all interdependent, and that we must make international (and domestic) policy that starts from that basic assumption.

The second essay, "The Crimes of 'Intcom'" by Noam Chomsky, describes the duplicitous way in which American politicians have used the term "international community" for their own purposes. A taste:

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein advised readers to attend to the use of a phrase in order to determine its meaning. Adopting that suggestion, one regularly discovers that terms of political discourse are used with a doctrinal meaning that is crucially different from the literal one. The term “terrorism,” for example, is not used in accord with the official definition but is restricted to terrorism (as officially defined) carried out by them against us and our clients. Similar conventions hold for “war crime,” “defense,” “peace process,” and other standard terms.

One such term is “the international community.” The literal sense is reasonably clear; the U.N. General Assembly, or a substantial majority of it, is a fair first approximation. But the term is regularly used in a technical sense to describe the United States joined by some allies and clients. (Henceforth, I will use the term “Intcom,” in this technical sense.) Accordingly, it is a logical impossibility for the United States to defy the international community. These conventions are illustrated well enough by cases of current concern.

Chomsky continues in an increasingly understated and bitingly satirical deadpan to hang "Intcom" by its own rope. The piece is devastating. (It also fits nicely with Garrett Moritz's thoughts on "international law", posted a few weeks ago.)

The third response to "What is the International Community" is by Ruth Wedgewood (a Yale law prof) and is called "Gallant Delusions." Like Chomsky, Wedgewood views "international community" with skepticism, at best. It sounds like she hasn't really bought the whole "interdependent" bag of goods Kofi Annan is selling in his piece, and she's all about guns and force and how the U.N. is ineffective because it is so reluctant to use them. Of course, if we follow Chomsky's argument we might find that in many of the cases Wedgewood cites to support her claims against "international community," that community was actually sabotaged by the U.S. and its "intcom."

Anyway, I'm no foreign policy head, but if, like me, you're concerned about what's happening in the world right now, these essays provide some important perspective on a question we (as in everyone in the world, but especially everyone in the U.S.) need to answer before we abandon the last 50-years of "international consensus" and start acting on a "strike-first" policy.

Posted 01:21 PM | general politics

Ideological Empire

This is much worse than it appears. As Atrios put it: "Be very afraid."

What is it? It's the document released by the Bush administration that supposedly outlines U.S. military and political "strategy," but I'm still silly enough to hope that this just what Bush would like it to be, that there's a way to stop this from being implemented, that there's a way to stop a madman (or an administration of mad people) from destroying the world as we know it. Does that sound like hyperbole? Perhaps it is. I hope it is. But seriously: This new strategy paper is not just another development in current events; this is a blatant attempt to ignore, erase and otherwise undo the last five decades of history and international diplomacy.

Given the magnitude of this policy reversal, I have to wonder: What's it going to take before people stop talking in measured and reasonable language about the utter insanity coming from Washington about "terra" and "WMD" and Iraq and "preemptive defensive strikes" on other nations and innocent people? Why is anyone cutting the Bush Administration any slack on this? I just don't get it.

Example: Yesterday Professor Jeff Cooper linked to some comments from Josh Marshall in which Marshall discusses the lies that make up the Bush Administration's attempt to gain support for an attack on Iraq. But Marshall works very hard to come up with some term other than "lies" to describe these falsehoods, and Cooper takes the same approach. Why?

Marshall comes close to a direct denunciation of all this warmongering when he writes of one of the lies in the "unlimited power to make war" resolution (full text of the resolution is here) Bush has asked Congress to sign:

I assume it is just there as one more throwaway line that has no relation to the truth but sounds good and ups the ante. And the carefree indifference to the truth that that sort of statement betrays is worrisome in the extreme -- even if it's said in the service of a goal you think we should pursue.

And that's exactly it: The Bush Administration is utterly indifferent to "the truth" because it lives in a different world than the rest of us. Its actions since 9-11 have become increasingly ideological in the sense that they are driven by ideology, and nothing more. Marshall has also noted this in a recent Washington Monthly piece, in which he notes that, if you were pResident Bush,

to give the go-ahead to war with Iraq, you'd have to decide that the experienced hands are all wrong, and throw in your lot with a bunch of hot-headed ideologues.

So the Bush administration is directing domestic and global events according to its particular ideology. Nothing new there, right? But think about it for a minute. What is ideology? And what does it mean to be driven by it?

It means, simply and frighteningly, this: The Bush Administration's actions are driven by fantasy.

As Louis Althusser described it, ideology is our "imaginary relationship to our real conditions of existence." [1] The real conditions of Bush's existence right now are that the vast majority of the world's leaders and citizens do not support a strike-first policy, and almost no one thinks it's a good idea for the U.S. to attack Iraq (or anyone else) w/out international consensus and support. [2] Bush's real conditions of existence also include an ongoing (and apparently deteriorating), bloody ideological conflict between Israel and Palestine, not to mention lots of domestic issues that Bush would would prefer not to deal with or have examined too closely (i.e., massive corporate fraud in which the Bush Administration is strongly implicated, mounting budget deficits that are at least partially due to the administration's failed tax policy, etc...). However, Bush's imaginary relationship to his real conditions of existence dictates that we (the U.S.) are powerful enough that we can do whatever the hell we want, international opinion or real consequences be damned; and further, that he can more or less ignore the things he doesn't want to deal with (Israel/Palestine, domestic problems)—these aren't really important issues, anyway (as far as his ideology is concerned). Put simply: Bush's ideology allows him to live in a fantasy world, where public statements (or actions) don't need to have any relationship to real conditions.

Bush's ideology (the "neo-conservative" ideology) would not be a problem, except that he's thus far had an amazing amount of success imposing it on The American People (TM), Congress, and—to a lesser but still troubling (and growing) extent—the world. And although I understand there might be some rhetorical value to keeping the language of debate about these issues reasonable and measured (people tend not to listen closely to arguments that are overly exaggerated or emotional), the amount of deference smart people like Cooper and Marshall show to Bush's ideology seems to me a measure of that ideology's ever-increasing hegemony.

Another measure of the expanding pervasiveness of the Bush ideology is the fact that the Democratic party cannot seem to stand up to Bush to save its life—or ours, for that matter. This was recently pointed out by Jason Rylander, who also points to the Top 10 Reasons not to 'Do' Iraq—all great points, from the Cato Institute, of all places. [3] A few Dems are making noises against war, but far too few and far too quietly.

My point is this: With the publication of this new "global strategy" document, the Bush Administration has abandoned all pretense at attempting to recognize or negotiate with competing ideologies. It is effectively saying "Our way or the highway" to the rest of the world, citizens of the U.S. included. This is a very bad thing, regardless of whether you agree with the Bush ideology. Is this really the world you want to live in?

[1] For brief discussions of Althusser and ideology, see this handout from Professor John Lye, and/or this discussion by Roger Bellin.
[2] See the current issue of Foreign Policy for some great discussion related to the meaning of "international consensus." Esp. relevant is this short piece by Noam Chomsky. (Yes, I know he's tenured.)
[3] In defense of the left on this point, The Nation published a similar list of reasons not to attack Iraq nearly a month ago.

Posted 11:15 AM | general politics

September 19, 2002

Progressive Web Work

If you're looking for a cool job, and if you have some "webmaster" experience and want to be a progressive webmaster, here's your chance: The American Prospect is hiring a webmaster. The job would even let you work (in a vague way) on Tapped, the TAP weblog. Sounds very cool to me, but unfortunately I don't really know Perl and, well, I'm supposed to be gearing up to go to law school. Oh yeah, there's that.

BTW: I learned about this job via the supercool resource known as Tell Idealist what kind of work, internship, or volunteer opportunity you're looking for, and they'll send you daily emails listing opportunities that might fit your interests—nationwide or global. Definitely a place to look if you ever consider a career change.

Posted 09:17 AM | life generally

September 18, 2002

Let's Talk Numbers

Today Plastic is pointing to a Washington Post story from a few weeks ago about "Mark Knoller, the leading collector of modern presidential arcana." Knoller's collected some interesting tidbits on Generalissimo Bush, including these:

Bush has spent a whopping total of 250 days of his presidency at Camp David (123 days), Kennebunkport (12) and his Texas ranch (115). That means Bush has spent 42 percent of his term so far at one of his three leisure destinations.

To date, the president has devoted far more time to golf (15 rounds) than to solo news conferences (six). The numbers also show that Bush, after holding three news conferences in his first four months, has had only three more in the last 15 months -- not counting the 37 Q&A sessions he has had with foreign leaders during his term.

Bush has raised $114.8 million this year at 48 GOP events, surpassing Clinton's record of $105 million in 2000 from 203 events.

What do those numbers suggest to you? According to the person who posted this on Plastic (someone who goes by "Philosawyer," and asks that we not consider this contraction of "philosopher" and "lawyer" to be pompous), Bush's numbers tell us this:

Not only is he getting a head start on his 2004 election campaign, while raising records amount of money for Republicans, he is also not shy about using tax payer money to foot a lot of the bills. Bush has a 'template' for day trips from Washington, holding a public policy or 'message' event before the fund-raiser so that he can charge taxpayers for much of these trips, relieving the political committees of some of the costs. Bush's strategists manage to turn the government-paid events largely into political ads, benefitting the candidate Bush is appearing with but also driving up the president's poll numbers in that media market, according to officials who examine the data.

There are more related links on Plastic page, if you feel like gorging on even more juicy details of how your taxes are being spent to ensure Republican control of your future. I think I've had enough for now, thanks... (I wonder if "Philosawyer" has a blog...)

Posted 02:08 PM | Comments (1) | general politics

Satire Lives!

Two enthusiastic thumbs up for The Borowitz Report, purveyors of fine satire. [via Scott Rosenberg]

If you like your humor dark and irreverent, head for the Borowitz take on Iraq's offer to allow weapons inspections, which features a sulking Dick Cheney. Good stuff—almost ranks right up there with Get Your War On, the latest installment of which is a brilliant flashback to the 80s:

Sorry Charlie! Saddam is our friend because he's fighting IRAN that is our foe!!! —do you want to help me sell Saddam more BRUCELLA MELITENSIS??? Frankie say "Relax"

Yeah, and then Frankie say, "Don't do it." But then we did. And then, Oops, we did it again! (Ok, I'll stop...)

Posted 01:15 PM | general politics

September 15, 2002

Good Ol' Tenure

[ed note: the following is a bit dated—written a little while ago for another venue—but it's closely related to the post below about anti-academic vitriol, so.... enjoy!]

So you thought academia was a meritocracy, huh? You thought the smartest people, with the best ideas and abilities, who worked really hard, were the ones who ended up with tenure? Think again: More and more people (especially women) are being denied tenure because they're not nice enough or don't "fit in" with other faculty. In academia, if you play nice with others you're called "collegial," but:

"Historically, collegiality has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity, and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm," the statement [from the American Association of University Professors] said. "An absence of collegiality ought never, by itself, to constitute a basis for nonreappointment, denial of tenure or dismissal for cause."


Because tenure reviews are confidential, and based so deeply on personal judgment, it is often difficult to assess precisely what went wrong with a particular candidate.

As if the Humanities job market wasn't bad enough, now you have to be nice, too? :-)

The fact that promotions in academic fields (particularly the Humanities) can so easily become capricious and personal only proves the truth of Noam Chomsky's assertion that American universities are normalizing (read: brainwashing) institutions:

The universities, for example, are not independent institutions. There may be independent people scattered around in them but that is true of the media as well. And it’s generally true of corporations. It’s true of Fascist states, for that matter. But the institution itself is parasitic. It’s dependent on outside sources of support and those sources of support, such as private wealth, big corporations with grants, and the government (which is so closely interlinked with corporate power you can barely distinguish them), they are essentially what the universities are in the middle of. People within them, who don’t adjust to that structure, who don’t accept it and internalize it (you can’t really work with it unless you internalize it, and believe it); people who don’t do that are likely to be weeded out along the way, starting from kindergarten, all the way up. There are all sorts of filtering devices to get rid of people who are a pain in the neck and think independently. Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience; if you don’t do that, you are a troublemaker. So, it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren’t lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society. The elite institutions like, say, Harvard and Princeton and the small upscale colleges, for example, are very much geared to socialization. If you go through a place like Harvard, most of what goes on there is teaching manners; how to behave like a member of the upper classes, how to think the right thoughts, and so on.

After nearly 20 years of formal education (gasp!), I still feel like I haven't learned how to think the right thoughts and how to behave like a member of the upper classes. More evidence that I need to find a new gig.

Posted 06:48 PM | Comments (1) | life generally

Anti-Academic Vitriol Redux

The other day Christian contributed a cogent mini-defense of academia as a response to a post in which I was being particularly snide about the academic life. As I noted, I agree with most of what (s)he? said, some of which includes:

Although no job is perfect, a career in academia has many unique benefits. What other job allows you the opportunity to work on the projects that interest you (and ONLY on the projects that interest you)? What other job allows you to change the projects you work on when your interests change? What other job allows you so much control over your own success and failure? What other job pays you to think and write about things that interest you? What other jobs allow you to determine your own deadlines? What other job pays you to create works of doubtful commercial value? What other job permits you so much flexibility in determining your work hours? What other job permits you so much flexibility in getting away to visit family and loved ones?

I suppose the point above that's most flawed in my experience is that academia allows you "so much control over your own success or failure." I mean, in theory, it seems that if you're smart, work hard, write well, publish, etc., you'll succeed. And it's true, these things will likely get you tenure, if that's success. Of course, along the way you'll have to kiss ass to varying degrees (depending on your department and its preferences and rituals), you may have to hide or tone down any political commitments you might have, and you may very well not be able to work on whatever you want, but be forced instead to struggle to make publishable a dissertation you might prefer never to see again. Also, if you are trying to get tenure at a major (public) university that relies heavily on graduate and temporary labor (as most now do), you'll also have to grin and bear your university's cavalier attitude toward the erosion of tenure and the abuse and exploitation of grads and adjuncts. What this means is you'll have to go to sleep every night knowing that you teach less than the grads and adjuncts in your department, yet get paid 3-10 times as much as they do. You'll also have to accept the fact that class sizes continue to grow and the quality of the education your institution provides its students continues to suffer because universities are now run like corporations and the bottom line is all that matters. In practical terms this means you'll have to accept that your department's purpose isn't actually to "teach" anymore at all, rather you'll be developing and executing an efficient "instructional delivery model." This will also make you an "instructional delivery vehicle," which should also make you feel just grand.

Of course, any sacrifices you have to make in order to get tenure will be worth it because once you have tenure you'll be free to do what you want, say what you want, make your own schedule, etc. Right? Well, yes, in theory. The current political climate means you'll still have to watch what you say and what groups you join or advocate for, but a certain amount of this would happen in any field. But here's the deal: By the time you get to that point, you're very likely to be so compromised and exhausted and indebted to the system that has granted you tenure, that you won't really care about much more than publishing a new book every couple of years and keeping your teaching and service-work loads light.[1]

In my experience, "tenured radical" is a misnomer, if not a blatant impossibility. If tenure provided all the freedom people always imagine, why don't we have a truly radical professoriate? Why aren't faculty in the U.S. the most outspoken and active citizens in our society? Why are faculty afraid to take controversial positions in the classroom and in public? Why don't faculty have any solidarity to use the power of their vaunted "freedom" to demand that education be properly funded in our country, rather than being sacrificed to corporate interests (often masquerading as "scientific" interests)?

Having said all that, let me say this: Academics are a truly vital—invaluable, even—part of our society. As a class, they have done the world incalculable good, and will continue to do so, even in their increasingly compromised and besieged state. How is it that I can sound so anti-academic one moment, yet praise academics the next? My answer is that, as Christian notes above, no profession is perfect. It just so happens that I've decided that—for me personally—academia's flaws outweigh its benefits. I'd simply rather do something else with my life. Maybe I'm dreaming to think that I can find some profession with better cost-benefit ratio for me [2], but I'm ready to find out. None of what I say here is really meant to discourage anyone from going into academia, or to disparage academia, per se. I'm just saying it's not for me.

[1] See also the next post (above) about whether academia is really the "free" meritocracy it appears to be.

[2] Sorry about the crude economic metaphor, but I can't think of a better way to say this. My mind has been colonized by capital. Damn! The matrix has me, too!

Posted 06:34 PM | Comments (1) | life generally

Advice: LSAT and Law Schools?

From today's mailbag:

Hi—I’m M———, and I’m an AI reader. You must be getting loads of email about how best to prepare for the LSAT. I’m a 1L, and I did fairly well on that thing last year. My recommendation is going in as loose as possible—I improved by a half-dozen points between my practice tests and my actual score. I didn’t do any prep—just OD’ed on practice tests for a week, took a couple days off playing video games to loosen up, then went into the test with nothing to lose.

I was considering graduate school—I thankfully had a bunch of options after school, so law school wasn’t a huge deal to me. But I’ve been at school for two weeks, and I’m loving it—we’ll see how long the luster lasts, and I’m learning as I go—I certainly didn’t have as much information as you seem to have.

Thanks for the tip on the LSAT, M———. I'm hoping to take several more practice tests, but I'm also going to use some of the review materials I've already made the mistake of paying for. And honestly, just so you know, I haven't been overwhelmed with LSAT study tips, so if anyone has related advice, I'm always open to suggestions.

Better still, what about advice for applying to law school? Anyone have any suggestions? As I was taking that practice test yesterday I was struck with a bit o panic at the thought that I've done almost no research about schools, application procedures, etc. So here's the thing: I'm looking for good public interest programs where I'll have a good shot at getting financial aid, or at least where the program has a debt-repayment program. If you're a lawyer or current law student, you've obviously been through this, so... Won't you take pity on those fools who follow in your footsteps?

P.S. to M———: I hope you'll let me know how long the "luster lasts" in law school. Can we all look forward to a new 1L "blawg" soon?

Posted 10:44 AM | law school

September 14, 2002

Math Class for Poets

T.P.H. has entered the blawg field with Math Class for Poets—a great name for a blog derived from the way one of his professors described law school. Heck, if I'd heard that before, I might have jumped on the law school bandwagon a long time ago. Who cares if it's accurate—it sounds great, and that's what counts.

TPH also points to a crack bit of global political strategizing that, as he describes it:

compares the problems challenging strategic decisionmaking in a world of diverse potential threats to the challenges that face Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the soon-to-be-seven-year television series of that name.

Ah yes. Could global politics get any better?

Posted 05:07 PM | law school

Forbidden Thoughts

Looking back a bit at the big anniversary: It looks like Salon stirred up some controversy by publishing Forbidden Thoughts about 9-11. Some say it was in poor taste, while others say it's a relief to finally read honest, human, and widely varied responses to the events of a year ago. You might guess I side with the latter group. As a teacher I try to promote critical thinking [1] and the high emotional rhetoric and romantic simplifications that have filled the media since 9-11 have often made critical thought difficult to conduct or maintain. So stuff like this Salon piece—which is way outside the media mainstream—provides something of a system-shocker that helps remind people to examine the dominant discourse for flaws, holes, omissions, representative accuracy.

For the dominant discourse, the AP is often a good source. For example, last week the AP reported that:

The president's speech [to the U.N.] completed the steady expansion of his war on terrorism, first launched after the Sept. 11 attacks against alleged mastermind Osama bin Laden, to a campaign to remove what he has called "tyrants" such as Saddam.

One of the "forbidden thoughts" covered in Salon's article said:

"I had a thought, when it first happened -- the kind of conspiracy thoughts that liberal college students have who studied poli sci and read too much about Nicaragua or Colombia -- that maybe the Americans let it happen so that they could use it as a tool to get serious in Iraq. Then the buildings fell and all the liberal poli sci hippie stuff drained out of my body and for the first time ever I felt, kill them all."

The prescience of such a reaction is eerie. Of course, there's no way of knowing whether this person actually thought the above on 9-11-01, or whether subsequent events have revised her memories of her first thoughts, Still, since I heard about the same sort of "first reaction" from many different sources long before anyone started talking seriously about a new or reinvigorated war against Iraq, I tend to think the above is probably a fairly genuine response. If so, this seems to be someone whose critical judgment proved to be uncannily—and disturbingly—accurate.

Anyway, for more in the vein of "forbidden thoughts," see also the stories from readers, and the discussion on Scott Rosenberg's blog. And while we're talking forbidden thoughts, check out this column from Ted Rall: "If You Have Dignity, the Terrorists have Won.".

All of the above links discuss 9-11 with irreverence, to say the least. For a bit of balance, check out The Dead and the Guilty, a thoughtful account of precisely why the best memorial we (you and me, Americans and citizens of the world) can offer to those who died on 9-11 has very little to do with the kind of thing that filled the media on that day [via Joe Conason]. Historian Simon Schama writes:

Apparently, the dead are owed another war. But they are not. What they are owed is a good, stand-up, bruising row over the fate of America; just who determines it and for what end?

Does the fact that we don't really seem to be having this "bruising row" mean that such arguments have become "forbidden thoughts," too?

[1] The "critical thought" I'm speaking of here does not necessarily take sides (i.e., is not necessarily oppositional), but instead asks of any text (news report, story, event, etc.): what is this text trying to accomplish? Why was it created? Who constructed it and what were his/her motives or biases? What does this text assume or take for granted? What do those assumptions imply? What are the logical conclusions of the argument made by this text? etc...

Posted 02:34 PM | general politics

2nd Practice LSAT

That sucked. Funny how studying for a test can cause you to perform more poorly on it. Is the solution to study more? Or less?

Posted 02:03 PM | law school

September 13, 2002

JD Jungle

Thanks again to Alice W. of A Mad Tea-Party fame for pointing to JD Jungle a magazine for the aspiring law practitioner. The first two articles I read offered terrific and candid advice—the first about alternatives to taking that BigLaw job, and the second about strategies for getting your first job in a tight economy.

Yeah, I know: I've got lots of work to do before this advice is really relevant, but, again, it seems like it's a good idea to know the terrain of your destination before you land there. That way, you know how to pack before your journey begins.

UPDATE: Lawyers agree. advises students to Make Law School Relevant by figuring out as soon as possible what, specifically, you want to do with your degree. Just FYI and stuff.

Posted 02:09 PM | law school

First Law Job Advice

Although I won't be exactly in this market any time soon: Howard Bashman offers what sounds like solid advice to consider when going after your first job out of law school. [via A Mad Tea-Party]

I'm thinking the whole appellate route is sounding more interesting, but I'm also curious about regular ol' public interest law or legislative practice. A resource that's been great in helping me figure out where within the vast playground of law I might fit has been The Guide to Legal Specialties. I hear it's rather common for people to push themselves through all the hoops involved with law school (LSAT, applications, 1L, summer internships, yadda yadda yadda) without really knowing what the heck they want to do with their JD. That sounds crazy to me, which is why I recommend The Guide to Legal Specialities—it's a good place to learn how the world of law is divided and what piece of the pie might be most tasty for you.

Question of the day for you lawyers: Does The Guide to Legal Specialties give an accurate picture of the different fields within the practice of law?

Posted 02:02 PM | law school

September 10, 2002

Academic Hell, Part 23

As a followup to my last post ending with whether law is a good path for me to follow, here's another reason why sticking with academia is a bad idea: relationships are hell. Robert MacDougall, a doctoral student of history at Harvard, could be talking about me and my peers in the English Ph.D. program when he writes in today's Chronicle of Higher Education that:

we have never been in academe when the job market for Ph.D.'s was not considered terrible. Our friends, our professors, even columns in The Chronicle have done their part to let us know just how brutally competitive it is out there, how dismal are the odds against landing the coveted full-time, tenure-track job. They've done so, I know, with the very best of intentions. But everyone has been so conscientious in protecting this generation of grad students from false hopes or disillusionment that many of us seem to hold out no hope at all.

MacDougall goes on to say that this complete lack of hope means that academic relationships (in which both parties are academics) can be difficult, if not impossible, since the chances of you and your partner finding jobs in the same area code (let alone at the same school) are next to nil.

<obsequious whine>
Oh please, please, may I dedicate 7-8 years of my life to earning a Ph.D. (to the exclusion of all other pursuits), only to have to sacrifice my relationship to a tenure-track job that will then force me to dedicate 5-7 more years kissing ass to earn tenure (again, to the exclusion of all other pursuits)? Please? Please? Oh, thank you, sir! Yes, sir! May I have another!?
</obsequious whine>

No thanks.

Posted 11:47 AM | Comments (3) | law school

Committees, No; and...

Thanks to TPB for snagging some of the flies I popped up the other day on interdependence, America's participation in international treaties and world courts, NAFTA, and "enemy combatants." Give me time and space, I'll work in a tangent about the kitchen sink next time, I promise. While I'm glad to hear that the legal basis of Chapter 11 of NAFTA sounds as weak to a lawyer as Bill Moyers suggested, the real focus of TBP's original post, was whether E.U.-style rule-by-committee would ever fly in the U.S. I agree that it doesn't seem like the best idea, for all the reasons TPB points out.

I knew someone would tag me on the "representative" part of our democracy; I'm not sure where to come down on that. On the one hand, I simply don't trust most candidates and elected officials, so I'd like them to be more responsive to their constituents. On the other hand, I don't trust a lot of the American PeopleTM, either (since they (we) are often largely pawns of soundbites and special-interest media campaigns which tell us what to think), so we might be better off if reps largely ignore us. (But then, in my most cynical mood, I think if the majority of Americans think it's a good idea to—for example— allow the global environment to be destroyed in the next 50 years while we continue living as if it weren't happening, then the American PeopleTM deserve what's coming to us.)

Another tangent was the "enemy combatant" status that is being applied to certain people accused of terrorism, or of helping terrorists, or whatever. In truth, these people don't have to be accused of anything at all—they can simply be labeled "enemy combatants" and all their rights magically disappear (as U.S. citizens or otherwise—see the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, for example[1]). TBP has the goods on what the Constitution says about this:

Once someone is designated a "clear and present danger" by both Congress and the Executive Branch, what limits what we can do with them? At present, there is an executive order which restricts our ability to assassinate them, but little else. In terms of the Constitution, nothing.

Which brings me hopping and skipping to TPB's final point about why I'm still debating going to law school. The answer is I'm not quite debating so much anymore—I'm tentatively planning on it. I'm studying for the LSAT and making application-type movements, so we'll see where that goes. But it's issues like the above that make me doubt my fitness for law school. The deal is this: While the Constitution may say nothing about what we can do with people designated as a "clear and present danger," that obviously doesn't answer the question. But even if legal precedent said we could do anything we wanted with these people (boil them in oil or whatever), that still wouldn't answer the question. The point is: I fear I don't have enough respect for the law. When the law seems wrong, it's easy for me to dismiss it. At the same time, I'm wary of using the law as a final limit—just because there's no law preventing us from doing various things, that doesn't mean we should think ourselves free to do those things. (Recent corporate finance scandals are cases in point. Perhaps, technically, no crimes were committed; however, what happened was not ok.) I'm guessing law school and a couple of years of legal practice would help me see how to deal with these cases where the law either seems inadequate or in error, but still I wonder if I'll always be running into the law as a wall, and if I'll always be frustrated by that. I've heard some advice that law isn't for people who like to color outside the lines, think outside the box, etc. If that's true, I may be very bad at it, and I may really hate it. Hence, the debate ... and the name of this blog, by the way—I'm ambivalent about law (I'm both very eager to get to law school and dig in, and I'm also very hesitant to do so), which leads to my current imbroglio (a perplexing state of affairs). Still, I'm probably going. And if law school enables me to have more good "conversations" like this one with TPB, I'll probably end up being as happy as I hope to be.

[1] On the Hamdi case, see also: Charles Krauthammer, a slightly more recent story, and the actual suit: Yaser Esam Hamdi v. John Ashcroft (pdf file).

Posted 11:13 AM | law school

September 09, 2002

Striking A Balance

Without really meaning to, I guess I started talking about the value of international law the other day in this post on interdependence. I'm looking forward to TPB's promised response, but meanwhile Garrett Moritz contributes a point I hadn't really considered: While I guess I was basically arguing that the U.S. ought to submit to and participate in the continued development of international law—in the form of treaties, world courts, etc—Moritz points out that international law could always be used to screen all manner of nefarious deeds if the international community is dominated by one power (i.e., the U.S.) that is not above manipulating that law to its own ends. My first thought on this is that it only argues for a stronger and more widely-respected body of international law—one that would be more difficult for any one member (or small group of members) to dominate.

But regardless of the relative merits of stronger international law, it's increasingly clear that, as Dave Winer wrote yesterday (and as many others have noted in different ways), something is out of balance "in how the US participates in the world, both from the US perspective, and the world's perspective." And as Jeff Cooper notes, calling September 11
"Patriot Day" is probably not going to help restore that balance.

Posted 09:34 PM | general politics

September 08, 2002

Not Getting It

As September 11 approaches, we're getting all kinds of perspectives from the media. Amid the din, this Ted Rall strip is certainly worth a critical and perhaps contemplative perusal.

Although their tone and approach is very different several other sources are attempting to keep the sentimentalism at bay via satire. For example, Joe Conason points to The Media Person who has penned a smart satire on this topic entitled, "It's Not Going to be a Week for the Weak So Wear Your Best Closure." And speaking of closure, Who Will Bring It?

The dark brand of humor that is satire is a risky and complex endeavor, especially related to this topic. But I think these kinds of articles are meant to give us a little critical distance from the tidal wave of emotion that's ready to break on our national shores, and with global affairs in their current state, someone needs to be far enough away from the tsunami to keep from drowning.

Note: On the subject of interdependence, the 9-11 attacks and their aftermath are perhaps the most stark and obvious demonstration of my point: we are interdependent people in an interdependent world. We'll continue to pretend otherwise only by living in a fantasy world, and only at our own peril.

Posted 11:45 AM | general politics

September 07, 2002


I don't know how TBP has time to write so much, but I'm glad he does because a lot of it is very provocative. For example, last Thursday he wrote:

I always chuckle at the global frustration with America over our unwillingness to sign onto global organizations that have any real power over the United States.... .... I'd love to sit people down and explain, "look, it's nothing against these organizations, but we're a federalist republic." By that, I mean that we simply cannot join any group that has power over the nation without them being from within the nation. We are Constitutionally prohibited from doing so. The second we allowed such power, we are denying the voters the representative democracy guaranteed to them within the U.S. Constitution.

The reason this really grabbed me is that it's so closely related to the whole "we are all interdependent" thing that is leading me toward law (explained below). As I read it, TPB's reasoning sounds good, but only in theory. Setting aside for a moment NAFTA (1), it seems absurd to say that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the U.S. from signing international treaties or joining international bodies with real power. If the U.S. is such a representative democracy, then if the majority of voters support these treaties and organizations (i.e., the World Court or the Kyoto environmental protocol), then the U.S. government has a constitutional obligation to sign or participate in them. (2) But aside from the issue of constitutionality, it's also absurd to assert or imply that the U.S. has the right or even the ability to conduct its domestic or foreign affairs however it sees fit, even when U.S. conduct conflicts with international opinion or law.(3)
We may be the world's only superpower, we may have vast resources, a huge economy, the most and biggest guns; however, none of these things changes the fact that our actions have consequences. When we refuse to sign international environmental protection agreements because they might be expensive (Kyoto), we continue destroying the environment for everyone on the planet. Do we have a right to do that? Is such arrogance and selfish disregard for the planet guaranteed by the Constitution?

The point is, the individual ethos of America is a nice ideal, but it has real and unbreakable limits, both on the micro and macro level. Whether we like it or not, the U.S. is a member of a global community; we can't change that fact. If we continue trying to pretend otherwise, we will, eventually, pay the price. Unfortunately, the rest of the world might pay even more. In light of our interdependence, do we really want to interpret the Constitution as preventing us from participating in international treaties or organizations?

(1) NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, seems to directly contradict TPB's claim that the U.S. can't join "any group that has power over the nation without them being from within the nation." See in particular Chapter 11, which apparently allows for secret, closed-door hearings in which corporations (foreign and domestic) can force the U.S. to pay damages to corporate interests that are "harmed" (even in theory) by such things as U.S. environmental protections. The transcript of the Bill Moyers PBS special on this topic from last February explains in more detail; however, what NAFTA suggests is that the U.S. government ignores the supposed Constitutional prohibition against joining groups that have power over the nation when that power serves the interests of business. At least that's what it looks like to me.
(2) Perhaps the fact that American voters seem largely excluded from these decisions is a comment on the efficacy of our representative democracy. How different is our system from the E.U.'s "patriarchical think tank form of government," really?
(3) The issue of the Bush Administration's creation of an entirely new species of being—the "enemy combatant"—flouts not only international, but U.S. law as well. What does our Constitution say about calling people different things in order to put them outside of all law? By what authority are people being deprived of internationally agreed-upon rights?

Posted 11:43 AM | Comments (1) | general politics

September 06, 2002

Links & Blogrolls

Thanks to Alice W. for the mention, and for clarifying the question of the "hornbook" (what an awful name—anybody know the etymology?). Also, mad props to the following blogs for adding this site to their blogrolls: Sua Sponte (according to which AI is a "fellow traveller" blog), Two Tears In A Bucket (which calls AI a "political blog"), and Unbillable Hours (which puts AI on its list of "links of legal or public policy interest"). All of these sites have become daily reads for me in recent weeks and I highly recommend them—not just as terrific reads, but also as excellent sources of information on law school and law practice.

And while I'm at this, thanks to the kind lawyers who have offered advice outside of blogspace on the merits of law school. Your perspectives and tips have helped a great deal in giving me a better idea of whether law and I can ever be friends.

Posted 11:17 PM | Comments (1) | law school

Why Law Makes Sense

I was just thinking what my family and friends will think when I tell them I'm headed toward law, something I'm reserving for the future—either once I know my final LSAT score or once I'm accepted at a school. My guess is that they'll be skeptical, hesitant to support the decision, even all-out against it. They'll feel that way, I imagine, because of their preconceived notions of the animal known as "lawyer," and because when they compare that animal to the animal known as "me," the two will seem very different to them. Obviously, the two animals seem pretty different to me, too. I have never been someone who cared about making a great deal of money; I have never been interested in living in cities; I have never wanted to wear coats and ties and slacks and nice shoes; I have always mocked self-important "professionals" and business people, and I have never once aspired to be one (although aspiring to be an academic means aspiring to be a self-important professional, I think most people—my family and friends, especially—take a more romantic view of what an English professor is or does); and I have always made a point of my refusal to sacrifice my values and principles to society, to a job or profession, or to society's idea of "success" or "the good life." In short, I've just never been associated with the kinds of things many people associate with law and lawyers. (1)

But there is a way in which law makes perfect sense for me, in terms of the path I've followed for the last, oh, ten years or so. That path has been, for lack of a better way of framing it, from isolation or independence to community or interdependence. Growing up in the wild west of Wyoming ("like no place else!") I led a somewhat isolated life. I thought very little about politics, social policy, global issues. The problems of the world were far from me, and I was surround by people who lived by a somewhat libertarian ethos that could be summed up as "You can do whatever you want, just as long as it doesn't infringe on my ability or freedom to do whatever I want." But then I moved to CA and started meeting all kinds of people and seeing different parts of the country (and world) and how different people lived; I began to realize how my isolation was an illusion. My girlfriend at that time was a big part of that realization: she helped teach me about the value of community and mentoring and concern for other people. Grad school only deepened that shift, in a serious way, teaching me how little we, as individuals, can accomplish, and how we are all inherently interdependent. In choosing law I'm choosing to head toward society, rather than away from it. I'm choosing to immerse myself in the problems of the world, rather than retreating from them, and I'm choosing to make helping other people and improving society (or at least trying to do so) a central part of my life.

This is how I see this choice: I could continue as an English grad and live my life in the strange, pseudo-isolation of academia, on the periphery, the theoretical margins. Or I could choose to head into the world of work in writing or editing/publishing, which would also be somewhat isolated to the extent that I'd be working at some journal or newspaper or press with a specific and limited scope with only indirect effects on peoples' lives via whatever we were publishing. Or I could choose to dedicate myself to a bigger picture, to a more direct engagement with the wider circle of potential challenges and problems that I might find in the practice of law related to public interest or public policy issues. And while my friends and family have always seen me as something of a "rugged" individual (watch me flatter myself!), an iconoclast, what I have become in the last decade is more like a "rugged" socialist. I hope I can remain something of an iconoclast, but I don't want to pretend I can remain an isolated individual. So the choice to head for law is the choice to head for society, for the social, to work not just for me or for my own small goals or achievements, but for the greater good of us all. (2)

(Tangent: The radio is playing "Flake" by Jack Johnson. I love this song. Does that mean anything?)

This could all just be a rationalization. I understand that. Today I was whining about the fact that I couldn't be more happy about anything than I am about the fact that today is Friday and I don't have to teach for two whole days, even though I know I have a pile of work hanging over my head that I should be doing right now. So basically I was bitching about how teaching is such a full-time, all-the-time job (something I complain about all the time), and my girlfriend pointed out that her sister—a lawyer—leads a similar life. Just about every Friday at 5 p.m. she leaves her firm knowing she has work that must be done before Monday. So she knows she has to go to the office on Saturday or Sunday, or stay late Friday, or whatever, to get that work done. So if I'm looking for something that gives me more real time off, law really isn't it. (See this post at Unbillable Hours for an example, but also this followup, which is a bit more encouraging.)

I knew that. Which suggests I could be trying to rationalize this choice to pursue law. In some ways it's obvious to me it's not a perfect career path for me. But what is "perfect"? The mantra of the moment: "Put yourself in the way of good." I hope by pursuing law I'm doing just that.

(1) Are these traits "many people associate with lawyers"? I don't know, but I think they're probably traits my friends and family associate with lawyers. The animal known as "lawyer" occupies such a contradictory position in our culture. On the one hand, it is highly respected, perennially ranked on the level of "doctor" and considered one of the premier professions within our society. On the other hand, this animal is known as a greedy, unprincipled beast who will stop at nothing to make a buck, changing colors like a chameleon in order to win cases and large monetary awards. But aside from those extremes, I think many people attribute to this animal a level of dedication to profession, of single-mindedness, of somewhat ruthless pursuit of achievement or success, that my friends and family generally dismiss. I think.
(2) Realizing, of course, that law school and the practice of law requires you to specialize, to various degrees, in some small area. I'm coming to terms with the fact that there aren't a lot of professions these days that allow you to make a difference on a large scale, but at least I hope to make a difference in whatever small area I finally find myself in, and I think law will allow me to do that more than many other things.

Posted 11:09 PM | law school

September 04, 2002

LSAT Study Tip 'o the Day

Do not, ever, attempt to contemplate LSAT questions when you're so tired you're having trouble seeing straight. Logical reasoning what? Strengthen or weaken the argument how? The correct answer is the one that makes the statement incorrect? I understand this... when my brain's not in a coma!

Also, do not pay a kajillion freaking dollars (1) for an LSAT classroom review course unless you are just completely, and I mean absolutely 100% clueless about this test and don't even know where to begin. The online review courses might be worth the cash—esp. if they give you access to the library of all released LSATs from the last few years, which I think they do. Really the only theoretical advantage of the classroom courses is that you can talk to a real live instructor once or twice a week, and from my experience that's not worth much more than an hour spent watching paint dry. (2) Ok, but then, another advantage of the classroom course is that it actually forces you to study for a few hours a week, which is really what I thought was worth paying for, but now I'm not so sure.

Anyway, it certainly seems unwise to invest the money in such a course before you've even taken a practice test to see how much help you really need. But then, who would be stupid enough to do a dumb thing like that?


(1) This figure is most likely an exaggeration. — ed.
(2) Exhaustion sometimes leads to delerium, which can lead to, well, exaggeration again. —ed.

Posted 09:52 PM | law school

September 03, 2002

A Real Vision

Dave Weinberger has done something I've thought about many times but have never actually gotten around to: He's written The Speech I Want To Hear, a fictional speech by a fictional presidential candidate that describes the kinds of things Weinberger wishes politicians were talking about. Besides just being a great exercise, the speech contains some real big-picture vision for the future. For example, Weinberger writes:

We will raise the quality of the natural environment not just for our own people but for every person who breathes the earth's air, eats its fruit, or drinks its water. Our goal is, at the end of 20 years, to be confident that the world will sustain us and our children's children's children.

Doesn't that sound great? Think about it for a minute: How many of us can say we're confident that the world will sustain us and our children's children's children? I certainly can't, and the research I've read is pretty conclusive—if we continue current practices and trends, our children's children's children might not be able to survive on our planet. So why isn't this a major U.S. priority?

Now think about this: Instead of taking up nearly the entire world's time and energy debating whether the U.S. should go kill more people (attack Iraq), what if our president was leading the global community to create sustainable ways of living so that there's something left on our planet worth fighting for even years from now? Wouldn't that make you more proud to be an American?

Final question: Could you compose a 5-minute speech outlining your ideal vision for the future? I'm not sure I could do it with the kind of political spin necessary to win support for it, but it seems like we'd all be better voters and citizens if we'd run through an exercise like this every couple of years. Kind of an Imagineering thing. (See Item 6. And no, that's got absolutely zero to do with juggernaut Disney.)

Final final (and unrelated) question: Is Weinberger serious when he says David Chase, creator of the too-good-to-be-true show, "The Sopranos," should kill Tony Soprano?!?

Posted 09:31 AM | general politics

Support for Free Speech

I really want to avoid turning this into a big lefty rant soapbox, but this is almost too scary to believe:

Support for the First Amendment has eroded significantly since Sept. 11 and nearly half of Americans now think the constitutional amendment on free speech goes too far in the rights it guarantees, according to a new poll.

What are these people thinking? Oh, wait, here's a partial explanation:

Seven in 10 respondents agreed newspapers should publish freely, a slight drop from 2001. Those less likely to support newspaper rights included people without a college education, Republicans, and evangelicals, the survey found.

During the Reagan years I remember bumper stickers that said "Vote Republican, it's easier than thinking." Apparently it's true.

Contrast the above article with Bob Herbert's editorial, Secrecy Is Our Enemy, which discusses a recent decision by udge Damon J. Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that said "it was unlawful for the Bush administration to conduct deportation hearings in secret whenever the government asserted that the people involved might be linked to terrorism." Herbert writes:

The opinion was a reflection of true patriotism, a 21st-century echo of a pair of comments made by John Adams nearly two centuries ago. "Liberty," said Adams, "cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people."

And in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1816, Adams said, "Power must never be trusted without a check."

Herbert's position has been proven true by history time and again. Here again we see the American ignorance of history—an ignorance carefully cultivated by a culture of individualism and immediate gratification—sprouting the seeds of a very scary future.

Later: Jason Rylander offers a less freaked out take on the news that people are becoming less supportive of the First Amendment. Very good point. Still, it's pretty sobering that people who are dissatisfied with how the media work in our country would even consider restricting the first amendment rather than simply demanding media reform. The two are very different things.

Posted 09:24 AM | general politics

September 02, 2002

Nathan Newman's Labor Links

Nathan Newman's "roundup of Labor Day 'deepthink" articles, ongoing news, and resources" kicks ass. There's an amazing amount of information packed into his post. Newman does a regular (though less extensive) roundup of labor links which makes a very stimulating (in an activist sense) regular read. Check it out. [and thanks to Two Tears in a Bucket for pointing me to Newman a couple of weeks back]

Posted 11:36 AM | general politics

Happy Labor Day! Solidarity!

Today the majority of us don't have to go to work thanks to the efforts of labor unions and trade organizations in the late 19th century. This simple fact is more significant than it seems—it stands as a vivid reminder of the power the labor movement once had in our country. Today, most of us just think of this as the last great three-day-weekend of summer, and so it is. But it's also a time to stop and think about your job and what it means to you and to society and the world. And just as important, it should be a time to think about what we all could do to make the world a better place through our labors, whatever they may be, and one long-proven way to do just that is to support unions and the labor movement. Unions won us this day off, the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, OSHA, and countless other social structures we all benefit from every day. These days, as part of its mandate to improve the lives of workers everywhere, the labor movement is working on social justice issues such as Living Wage campaigns, domestic partner benefits (so those you love can have medical insurance), and trying to save the few worker protections that remain after 20 years of pro-business and anti-labor politics. Now, in this slight depression and amid the ongoing corporate scandals of Enron, et. al., there has never been a better time to support the labor movement. As the New York Times reports today, workers in the U.S. are angry and worried, which helps explain why "half of workers who don't already have a union say they would join a union tomorrow if given a chance." Sounds like great Labor Day news to me.

As part of their Online Labor Day Festival 2002, the AFL-CIO provides a great Timeline of Labor History for a quick overview of where we've been, and a list of links to more specialized sites on the history of labor in the U.S. For an interesting contrast, read the brief history of Labor Day from the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL), then read this brief history from the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour on PBS. In what has become the classic way to blur and obscure important historical events, the DOL focuses on the individuals responsible for starting Labor Day, while the Newshour site puts the birth of this holiday in its real context—the massive labor unrest of the late 19th century, and specifically the Pullman strike. As the Newshour history reports, Labor Day was seen as a way to appease the nation's angry workers:

In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.

Did the DOL consciously omit all mention of strikes and violent government repression of the labor movement from their history of Labor Day, or was this an innocent omission? You tell me.*

I'll leave this topic for now with parting words from Billy Bragg, who (following a long tradition) sings:

There is power in the factory, power in the land, Power in the hand of the worker. But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand. There is power in a union.

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with worker's blood,
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for.
From the cities and the farmlands, to the trenches full of mud,
War has always been the bosses' way, sir.

The Union forever, defending our rights,
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite.
With our brothers and our sisters from many far-off lands,
There is power in a Union.

Now I long for the morning that they realize
Brutality and unjust laws cannot defeat us.
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organize
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devi for his own,
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child:
There is power in a Union.

The Union forever, defending our rights,
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite.
With our brothers and our sisters from many far-off lands,
There is power in a Union.
— from "Talking with the Taxman About Poetry"

* The DOL's focus on the individuals involved in the creation of Labor Day demonstrates one of the reasons Americans have such a poor sense of history. If everything that has happened in the past is reduced to accounts of individual achievement, history becomes atomized and fragmented, leaving us with no continuous or coherent sense of development or our place in the social and cultural fabric of our world. Such ways of telling history also imply that individual achievement is all that's important, when the truth is more often that the great events of history have been the result of collective action. Regardless of how it came about, the tendency for historians (especially popular histories) to focus on individuals rather than big-pictures and collectivities, has paved the way for the politics of personality that we see today where we have a few individuals on our global radar—George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Arafat and Sharon, etc.—who seem to be responsible for everything that happens in our world. Of course these individuals have certain amounts of individual power, but the actions connected with their names are less the result of their individual actions than the actions of massive numbers of people (including you and me as voters and tax payers) who support them in various ways. Yet, so long as we remain in the thrall of the individual, we can continue to ignore that bigger picture of our own participation in local, national, and global events, and we can conveniently forget the role of regular people like us in the history of what made the world as it is today.

Posted 11:27 AM | general politics

Is the Law Economy that bad?

I don't know how I missed this before, but A Mad Tea-Party links to a story at that says:

Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison is offering to pay some first-year associates as much as $3,000 per month not to show up for work until January 2004.

Is it that bad everywhere? Or maybe that's not so bad. If a firm is liquid enough to pay people that much not to go to work, the firm must still be getting quite a lot of business, it would seem. Still, it's kind of sobering little anecdote. I suppose this means that law grads in 2002-2004 will face tougher-than-ever job searches? I wonder what it will be like in 2005. (Keeping in mind, of course, that I'm not planning to work for a big firm, but still...)

Posted 09:36 AM | Comments (1) | law school

September 01, 2002

CSS Resources

Memo to self (and ayone interested in updating your pages to use styles): and The Layout Reservoir are both great places to get example stylesheets and other tips.

Posted 01:18 PM | meta-blogging

Can "the People" Speak?

James Ridgeway's most recent installment of Mondo Washington says Uncle Sam's a Bigger Bully than Saddam. Some interesting ideas to add to the "attacking Iraq is a bad idea at this juncture" column. Ridgeway ends the feature with a connection between the threat of war with Iraq and the upcoming Labor Day holiday:

"They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people." —Eugene Debs, Socialist candidate for president, June 16, 1918. The speech led to Debs's being stripped of his citizenship and sent to jail for 10 years. is doing some great work to make sure Debs' words remain true. By trying to make the voices of the people heard, MoveOn hopes to stop the war so that we'll be able to say "some wars have been averted by the people." Wouldn't that be nice?

Eric Alterman also makes a clear and concise argument against attacking Iraq right now. This was brought to my attention by Jason Rylander, whose blog is definitely a daily read. Rylander chooses his links carefully, quotes from them provocatively, and comments on them with insight and level-headed balance. Highly recommended.

Posted 09:17 AM | general politics


Along with the new workload of the fall semester, and after nearly a year of complete physical sloth (no real exercise), I've started taking spinning classes. They're brutal.

Spinning came along and became the big new exercise activity during the years I was leading bike trips for a living. (Its popularity seems to have dissipated into pilates and tae-bo and I don't know what else.) At first I scoffed. People would come on our trips and say, "I haven't biked much before, but I've been taking spinning classes so I should be fine." These were almost always urban women, often from New York. (A high percentage of our guests were from major U.S. cities, and New Yorkers seemed more eager than most to take our trips. Of course, the demographics varied by trip and by destination. For example, our Maine trips generally got more people from CA and the midwest, while our "western" trips (Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming) got more east-coasters. It makes sense. Still, it was rare to have a trip without at least a small New York contingent. But I digress....) The most memorable was a woman who was convinced by her husband to take one our highest-mileage trips—Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks. It's a nine-day trip, with one century (hundred-mile day), several other 80-90-mile days, and lots of big (by Backroads standards) climbs. As I was fitting her on her bike I asked her if she was ready to ride several hundred miles that week, and she gave me the extreme spinning response: "Actually, I've never ridden a bike that moved before, but I've taken a lot of spinning classes and my spinning instructor thought I'd do fine."

You've got to be kidding me! I thought. You've never ridden a real bike and you want to go out and ride 60 miles today!? Including a big (approx. 1000') climb to start, and then a 20 mile downhill on winding mountain roads? It sounded like a recipe for disaster to me. But as I'm fond of saying, I've been wrong before.

The woman seemed at first like she was going to be miserable. She could hardly stay on her bike and couldn't seem to figure out the gears (spinning bikes don't have gears or brakes, just tension knobs). But she gradually got the hang of it while circling the parking lot, and although she was nervous, she headed off to conquer the real road. Her first couple of days were a bit rough as she got used to things and got over the new fears that came with actually moving when she pedalled and seeing the pavement fly by beneath her. But by Day 3 she was kicking ass and having a great time. She was both fast and strong, so she could cruise on the flats and hammer on the hills. On the century she just wanted to keep going after she'd done her 110 miles. She still braked way too much on downhills, which always seemed like such a waste of good gravity to me, but I bet she figured she got a better workout if she didn't allow downhills to give her too much momentum for whatever came next. Whatever; she had a great time and had so much energy it was amazing.

Anyway, that extreme spinning Backroads guest made a spinning believer out of me, so when I decided I needed some sort of organized exercise to give me the discipline to get into shape again, spinning it was.So far I've been to two classes, and after about 25-30 minutes, I've been completely wiped out both times. We're talking zero energy, tank completely empty, having nothing left to give. And that's exactly what I was looking for so that's fine. What's weird is that I haven't really felt sore afterward. How can I work that hard and not be working any new muscles to the point of soreness? Am I doing something wrong?

Posted 08:59 AM | life generally

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