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May 24, 2004

The Temperature at Which Conservatives Burn?

Congratulations to Michael Moore:

Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," a passionate, well-constructed indictment of the Bush Administration's foreign and domestic policies, won the Palme d'Or, or top prize, at the 57th Cannes Film Festival.

I haven't looked around, but I'll bet the howling on conservative websites right now and in the coming days would drown out D.C.'s infestation of locusts. I guess that would mean the conservatives are drowning out their own roar—ha!

In other Cannes news, another film I'm eager to see is "Tarnation," which may be the most highly-acclaimed feature-length film made entirely with iMovie. If that wasn't amazing enough, it's total budget was only $218.32, and the filmmaker, Jonathan Caouette made it on his boyfriend's iMac—he didn't even use his own machine!

Tarnation may be the first feature-length film edited entirely on iMovie, and it cost $218.32 in videotape and materials. Despite its low budget, the film has already earned a high profile. Both John Cameron Mitchell, the actor and director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and independent film maverick Gus Van Sant have signed on as executive producers.

Appropriately enough, the film's auteur is blogging his experience of the film's positive reception.

Posted 07:49 PM | Comments (1) | ai movies

Week In Review #1

With one week of my summer internship under my belt and the second about to begin, things are still too new and the learning curve too steep to have a solid impression of the job. Thus far, I love the people, the office environment (except for the internet access, about which you know I'll say more), and the overall mission of the public defender's office. On the other hand, I feel uncomfortably unqualified to be doing some of the things they've asked me to do, a feeling made worse by the fact that real people with real charges facing real jail-time may be depending on my ability to complete my assignments quickly and well. I rather doubt there will ever be a time this week when a client's fate will really rest in my hands, but the pressure of real consequences for the client remains.

The first week's impressions were mostly big-picture like that, and fell into two main areas:

First, public defenders (at least those in this office) are handicapped when it comes to doing internet research and using technology. I learned that one reason this office likes law student interns is that we generally come with Lexis and/or Westlaw passwords. The office subscribes to a service that aggregates all the state's court decisions, as well as material from federal district and Supreme Court cases, so the attorneys do most of their research through that. However, if they need to venture beyond that database, I guess they either have to pay for a Lexis or Westlaw search, or head for the books somewhere, or hire an intern w/a password to do the research for them. The upside of this for me is that I should get a lot more practice doing online research this summer, and that's good. The downside for everyone is that public defenders may not have access to the best research resources. Everyone I talk to about this seems to think/assume that government agencies have free or very cheap access to Lexis and Westlaw since these services couldn't exist without the cooperation of the government. That assumption is wrong. For-profit legal research is wrong.

Not only does the office not have access to Lexis and Westlaw, but it also has only four intern computers with access to the internet. These computers are old and slow, so research takes forever -- especially on Westlaw, where all the frames and complex code hocus-pocus (most of which exists to make your research follow certain profitable paths and to ensure Westlaw gets paid for your every click) choke the outdated browsers. The machines run Windows 2000 and are all locked down so I can't install Mozilla or update the browser or do anything else that might, potentially, speed up the research process. I haven't yet figured out how to contact the city's tech people, but that's definitely on my priority list. I hope to convince them to install a wireless router so I and the other interns can just bring in our laptops and get some real work done.

Second, I learned that our courts are clogged with ridiculous cases that eat up lots of criminal justice resources (the time of police officers, guards, judges, attorneys, interns, the clients, administrative support staff, etc.) for very little social benefit. A large number of these cases involve repeat offenders who get caught at a young age in cycles of petty crime that have them in and out of jail and court their entire lives. Because our system is more focused on incarceration than rehabilitation, these cycles can be endless, ridiculous and very very sad. I'm sure we, as a society, could do better than this. There are many reasons the criminal justice system continues along this less than satisfactory path, but after one week I'm convinced one of those reasons is simply that most people have no idea what goes on in courtrooms around the country every day. If they knew, they would demand some changes. Obviously I'm being vague here; I hope to return to this theme as the summer progresses.

Other than those two big-picture impressions, the first week was exhausting and exciting with the avalanche of information that came pouring into my head. It was also, in some ways, very long. I leave for work at 7:30 a.m. and don't return home until 6:30 p.m.; 11-hour days are just too long for my taste. I'm getting a lot of great reading done on the train, but still, it's hard to go from a student life where my schedule was full but flexible, to this level of regimentation where I feel like I hardly have a free minute during the week. I've been reminded emphatically why I returned to grad school in 1999 after working only 6 or 8 months in an 8-5 job—the schedule blows. No wonder our country is so screwed up politically; as voters, we allow our "leaders" to get away with murder because we simply don't have time to pay very close attention or the energy to care too much or do anything about it when we see they're incompetent and destroying our world. Such is the nature of the status quo to reinforce itself. I guess this summer I'll find out how easy it may be to become assimilated by that status quo. L tells me she felt the same way when she started working a year ago, but that it took more than 11-13 weeks for her body and mind to accept the program. Have we all taken the blue pill?

So other than the schedule, I'm looking forward to this second week to try to begin putting some of that information in more usable order. The office also has a softball team that I may participate in, and now that I've been fingerprinted (four impressions each for all ten digits!) and submitted my pee test for drugs, I should be able to go to the jail this week to interview clients. Which reminds me of the following humorous exchange:

When I was getting my jail clearance the officer in charge asked me into a small back room and asked me seriously, "Have you ever had any records expunged?"


"Have you ever had any felony charges dismissed?"


"Have you ever robbed any banks?"

"Um, no. I think if I had I wouldn't have much interest in doing this job and being here now."

"No, I don't think you would."

Apparently someone with a name very similar to mine is a bank robber. Who knew!? To think, what might have been...

Note: Because it looks like I'll have very little time each day to post about the job or anything else, I plan to simply record a few notes each day and try to reflect on each week over the weekend. Therefore, this will likely be the first of 11-13 "Week In Review" posts (depending on how long I end up working; end date still not firm.)

Posted 05:36 AM | Comments (6) | 1L summer

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