The Longest Month

During the summer of 2002 I spent 5 weeks at Army ROTC National Advanced Leadership Camp in Fort Lewis, Washington. Since then, I was almost certain that would remain the longest month of my life.

I was wrong. September 2003 has been the longest month of my life. I can hardly believe my first on-grounds interview was only four weeks ago. The interviewing process has been absolutely ubiquitous, to the point that I hardly remember life without it.

I'm saving all the nitty gritty details for the day after I receive and accept a summer job offer. At that point, I hope to lift this burden from my shoulders and share it, more for my own relief than any notion of helping future 2Ls (though that's an added bonus).

Band of Brothers was very good, though there's no question in my mind that the HBO mini-series is better. Ambrose wrote a touching tribute, the mini-series became an epic lesson about war, humanity, and, of course, brotherhood.

O Pioneers! was very touching and beautifully written, and it was interesting to note the similarities to Pearl Buck's Good Earth, especially the use of the land itself as a main character around which the story revolves. I think I liked Cather's character study in My Antonia better; she almost had too many characters to deal with in O Pioneers!, and though she doesn't neglect any of them, none gets the stellar treatment that Antonia and Jim receive.

Now I'm plowing through Doctorow's Ragtime, which stirs strong responses in most who see me reading it. Within 5 minutes I heard "I hate that book, I hate Doctorow" and "Fantastic book, though I'd already seen the musical and kept singing the songs while reading it."

Well I had previously tried reading Billy Bathgate, and disliked it so much I gave the book away. So this is Doctorow's last chance. And so far, it's not that bad. I'm still trying to piece together the themes, which are easy to lose in his somewhat plotless vignettes, but at the worst it's an easy and humorous read that takes my mind off interviewing.

I'll be up in D.C. for the rest of the week doing callbacks, but hopefully I'll return with good news.

The Espionage Cases and Muslims in America

Phil Carter has good and continuing coverage of the espionage arrests in connection to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. FoxNews is reporting that there may be a nefarious connection to Syria. I'll confess to both shock and sadness at the news of these arrests. I probably shouldn't feel that way, as espionage is nearly as old as warfare itself. I also briefly felt a shameful emotion that I suspect resonates more strongly with some of my fellow Americans: distrust for Muslim soldiers. It didn't last for long, and I think I've recovered completely from the reflex, but I don't want to ignore it or pretend it didn't happen. Take a look at the comments at Little Green Footballs to see what this reflex can lead to:

The U.S Military has been infiltrated with a Wahhabi Islamic Fifth Column...

A Muslim chaplain? "Let us prey.... on Jews and other infidels."

Islam itself is the enemy. It is time to wake up to this goddam fact.

Etc. etc. etc.

I don't know what to make of all this. It seems relevant to most that Jonathan Pollard was a Jew spying for Israel, and yet I would reject the notion that most American Jews have greater loyalty to Israel than to America. Intellectually I know the same ought to apply to American Muslims, but enough incidents (these espionage cases, the Akbar case in Iraq) will make it more and more difficult more many Americans (and I'm very fearful I may be included) to disassociate the religion of the accused from the crimes they are accused of.

I write this as a confession and a request for help. How are others dealing with this dilemma?

UPDATE: I should also note that I have not seen an explicit statement that the Air Force airman is Muslim, only that he is Syrian-born. So there's another inductive leap that I made, rightly or wrongly. And of course, these individuals are innocent until proven guilty, so we should all wait and see where the evidence leads.

Good for the 9th Circuit

I have to say I'm very much in favor of the en banc ruling reinstating the California recall. I think that, absent gross violations of statutory law or Constitutional rights, courts should not be in the business of overturning recent results or postponing fast approaching elections. I wouldn't say the courts have no role in overseeing elections, of course, but their role is best oriented to ensuring long term compliance with statutory and constituonal requirements. It is also best directed to situations where the political process has become incapable of solving the problem (e.g. malapportionment). I like the 11-0 unanimous vote, avoiding the unnecessary rancor that Judge Pregerson engaged in and probably hoped to see in a dissent or two. Right or wrong, Bush v. Gore is an unfortunate and divisive case in our judicial canon and should be put aside as far as possible.

The People Aren't Listening

If I were Karl Rove, I'd be a little worried about this:

Data from Nielsen Media Research released Tuesday showed that a one-hour interview with President Bush on Fox came dead last in the hour among the six major broadcast television networks in both total viewers and audiences aged 18 to 49.

"That is a sorry state of affairs," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "I think most people, when they heard that the interview was going to happen, just assumed they weren't going to hear anything new that they hadn't already heard."

The Bush interview trailed an episode of UPN's comedy "The Parkers" and the series premiere of the comedy "Eve," starring the singer of the same name.

I think Thompson is probably right. We've all heard the rhetoric, and I think at this point people either believe it or they don't. Words are not going to be enough to revive the flagging poll numbers now.

To America

I've started reading Ambrose's Band of Brothers, the mini-series of which I own on DVD and love above nearly all other films I've seen. In this time of political, military, and economic turmoil, reading Ambrose's well-justified cheerleading of American greatness is a much needed shot in the arm. I could spend countless hours discussing all the things wrong with our country and its leaders. Yet I also believe very strongly that this is the greatest nation the world has ever seen, something that can get lost in constant frustration at modern difficulties. Ambrose is helping me to remember why I believe in America.

Funding Synchronized Swimming

I have spent many words on this blog and elsewhere bemoaning the corporatization of college football, and usually do not get much of an argument. But hidden at the bottom of Stewart Mandel's SI.com mailbag is a relatively straightforward counterargument that has never occurred to me:

It's a double-edged sword. We want to create as many opportunities as possible for student-athletes in a variety of sports, but the fact is, it's expensive to send an entire swimming team to Ann Arbor -- not to mention their scholarships, their equipment, their coaches' salaries, etc. -- for a meet that's going to bring in no ticket or television revenue whatsoever.

According to the NCAA's 2001 survey, the average Division I-A football program brought in $10.9 million in revenue, men's basketball $3.6 million, the other sports $780,000. After expenses, the football teams had a $4.8 million profit and men's basketball $1.7 million, while the other sports lost $1.5 million. So while, yes, major college football and basketball has become disgustingly big business, if we scale it back, you can kiss a lot of golf and wrestling teams good bye.

Food for thought.

Foundation and the Mask of Command

I've finished the second book in Asimov's trilogy and continue to be impressed by the story arc. It was clearly written as a trilogy, something that has become less common or less obvious in today's market, particularly in film. So often now, sequels are little more than rehashing of the story elements of the original, which was properly conceived of and executed as a complete story. Of course, for an interesting twist, we need look no further that Tolkien, whose Lord of the Rings was written as a single book and split into three for publication. All the more reason to admire Peter Jackson's committment to making the three films seamless (no "to be continued" message at the end or flashbacks at the beginning).

I'm also nearly finished with Keegan's Mask of Command. Keegan uses Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler as representatives of four types of military leadership: heroic, anti-heroic, unheroic, and false heroic. The section on Grant was particularly illuminating for me, emphasizing that even though generals had moved beyond leading from the front (as Alexander always did, and Wellington occasionally did), Grant was able to overcome the image of a distant leader by staying close to his troops and living in conditions not terribly different from their own. After reading Ambrose's account of Grant in To America and now Keegan's take, I walk away with a much improved vision of our 18th President.

In contrast, I've somehow found myself with even greater distate for Hitler. It's difficult to gauge distate for someone long dead, and particular difficult when it reaches the levels of disgust which any analysis of Hitler necessarily entails. Keegan manages to stay very even-handed (in fact, I found it too even-handed at times), but still clearly conveys the depths not just of Hitler's crimes against humanity, but his lies, distortions, and ineptitudes. It's a bit strange to even discuss Hitler without discussing the Holocaust, but Keegan does just that. In doing so, he sets up a separate arena in which Hitler's failures (instead of his crimes) become the most evocative story. Though he seems to have performed admirably in his service in the First World War, Hitler's views of warfare and leadership were clearly inhibited by his being such a sociopath. In particular, Keegan tells the tale of Hitler dining in his train cabin when a train full of wounded German soldiers stops on the parallel track. Rather than face these youths, Hitler instructs an aide to pull down the shades. That contrasts quite strongly with the usual Triumph of the Will imagery. I will have to pick up a Hitler biography sooner rather than later, as my own Holocaust-centric understanding of Nazi Germany is beginning to feel anemic.

Hearsay

I've camped out in the law school library to study today, something I haven't done since the first few months of my first year. I just haven't been able to make myself work at home, for whatever reason.

I'm chugging through Evidence, and I think I've uncovered a big source of my displeasure. The casebook is terrible! First of all, the authors (Waltz and Park) wrote nothing in the book (except when they quote other articles they've written). It is simply a compilation of cases and treatises strung together with the occasional hypothetical inserted for good measure. The chapter on hearsay begins without any introduction to the basic definitions, simply launching straight into the marginalia and controversies. I just read 25 pages which literally encompassed 20 different cases and treatise excerpts, none of them stating "Hearsay is...."

Fortunately, my professor (Graham Lilly) wrote a hornbook on the subject, and it is a true pleasure to read. Evidence really is quite fascinating, now that I understand it.

I love the hearsay rule, if for no other reason than that it seems like a skilled attorney ought to be able to get just about any evidence in through some loophole or exception. And now that I've read Lilly's explanation of the rule itself, I can appreciate the casebook's detour into the gray areas.

So the moral of the story is that one ought not be led astray by a shitty casebook. Find a good supplement or hornbook, and discover whatever pleasure is available in the subject.

How to End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Professor Yin had the opportunity to speak with General Wesley Clark during his visit to the University of Iowa, and has posted his thoughts. I'm still reserving judgment (and may do so throughout the primary season), but there were a couple things Clark said which I found particularly interesting:

On gays in the military, he believed at the time that the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy was okay, but he also pointed out that back in the days of the draft, being gay would not get you excused. He now believes that the policy should be reevaluated because it does not seem to be working well. He favors the British policy, which is "Don't ask, don't misbehave."

That seems pretty sensible, and probably a realistic step in the right direction. What I wonder is whether Clark (or any other candidate who opposes the current policy) will try to go through Congress (a la "Don't Ask, Don't Tell") or attempt to act by executive order (a la Truman's desegregation order). The former seems like a dead end considering the current Republican control.

For difficulties inherent in the latter path, one need look no further than the institutional resistance exhibited by the military in the face of Truman's order. A hostile Congress could prevent this path as well, as I think the President's executive powers are strongly handicapped so long as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is statutory law.

That Crazy Court

Looks like the 9th Circuit is at it again:

A federal appeals court has blocked the October 7 California recall, but stayed its order for seven days to allow an appeal.

The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals follows a hearing last week in which the American Civil Liberties Union sought a postponment of the vote.

The ACLU argued that election officials should have more time to replace antiquated voting machines in several California counties.

If Monday's ruling stands, the recall vote would be moved to March 2004.

Would this be good news for Gray Davis or Bustamante? I think it would then coincide with the CA primary, which ought to bring out a lot more Democrats than an off-year November election.

It'll be interesting to see a) If the Supreme Court interjects itself into another state election, and b) if they do, what weight Bush v. Gore has in the arguments.

On the Other Hand

On the one hand, my last post posits a relatively bleak view of the treatment our reservist and National Guard soldiers are receiving. On the other hand, having just read John Keegan's chapter on Alexander the Great in The Mask of Command, I do think we should keep in mind the scope of our Iraqi involvement. Whether it has been a mistake or not, it has hardly been the massive undertaking that one finds littered throughout the history of superpowers. If we move from Iraq to Iran or Syria, then we will be getting a bit closer. As it stands now, I think the Iraqi campaign stands most evocatively as a contrast with present American expectations and ideals.

Consider the army of Alexander... it was as close to a national army as one could find in those days, composed primarily of Macedonians and Greeks. Those that began the march to Persia were not the conscripts or slaves we find elsewhere in history, yet by-and-large they follow Alexander to the limits of the known world, the Indian subcontinent. On the way, their experiences in edged-weapon and siege warfare result in casualties in the tens of thousands, primarily deaths considering the primitive medicine then available on the battlefield.

What does this have to do with Iraq?

Continue reading On the Other Hand.

Asking Too Much

The Times has a pretty thorough article on the burden being place on our Reserve and National Guard forces.

"It's just like being on active duty," he said in a telephone interview from Karbala, where 125 members of his company are stationed. "And there's a reason you get out of active duty. At the same time, you want to stay because of patriotism, so you join the National Guard or the reserves. All the guys are prepared for one deployment, especially in the wake of Sept. 11. But we've basically returned to active duty, and that's not what we're in for. It's too much to ask."

It is attitudes like Mr. Gorski's that have military officials deeply worried about an exodus from the state-based National Guards and the reserves of the nation's armed forces. Since 9/11, hundreds of thousands of citizen soldiers have been mobilized at a level thought to be the highest since World War II.

Those concerns grew last week when the Army announced that about 20,000 reservists and National Guard troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait would likely have to serve a full year from the time they landed in those countries, extending their tours by several months.

This phenomenon has been getting a good bit of attention from lefty-bloggers, but it may end up one of the biggest costs of this war. What many forget is that it is not simply a matter of feeling overburdened because they expected to just do "one weekend a month." They were SOLD that line, and thus arranged their lives accordingly. They have car payments and mortgages that conform to their normal income, not the severe reductions in pay that most suffer in the shift to full-time military service.

Continue reading Asking Too Much.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Trial

It looks like we might soon have a strong challenge to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the military:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated a lawsuit by a former Air Force doctor ordered to pay back his medical school expenses after revealing he is gay...

...After completing medical training and one month before he was to report for active duty, Hensala notified the military that he intended to live with his boyfriend while stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Kansas. Though Hensala maintained that he wished to fulfill his obligations, the military ruled that he came out to avoid service and ordered him to repay more than $70,000 in educational fees.

He sued in 2000, but was prevented from challenging the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy itself. The 9th Circuit upheld it in Holmes v. California Army National Guard, 124 F.3d 1126, saying it had to defer to military policy on matters of national security.

However, Friday's panel said the question of whether the military violates the rights of gays and lesbians when it asks for recoupment -- rather than simply discharging them -- is a different question.

I've got really mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I think we're suffering a real cost on several levels by excluding gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. On the other hand, so long as that IS the law, I'm a little hesitant to endorse free-riding off the military's educational scholarships. I'm not sure about the details of Hensala's case, but when I joined ROTC I had to explicitly acknowledge my understanding of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule. If Hensala had to do the same, I too am a bit suspicious that he "came out to avoid service."

Sunday Comics

I've always loved the Sunday comics, and now my friends over at Begging to Differ have set up the online equivalent. Go check it out:

BTD Sunday Comics

Personally, I thought Dead Air was hilarious.

Pro-Gun Student Newspaper

Here's a lead editorial from the Cavalier Daily that I wasn't expecting to read:

The University would be prudent to prohibit the use and possession of firearms in residence halls and classrooms -- areas central to the University's task of creating an educational community. But unless there's overwhelming evidence that allowing concealed weapons everywhere on Grounds would severely compromise the University's educational mission, there's no good reason for keeping in place these restrictions.

I just read this, so I haven't had time to digest the editorial or its policy implications. But it sure does seem quite a departure from your normal big state school campus editorial, even if this is Virginia.

A Costly Mistake

Stephen Ambrose has a chapter in To America dedicated to the Transcontinental Railroad, and he makes a very interesting assertion:

[B]y 1850 the transcontinental railroad was something everyone in America wanted built, and the technology was ready to do it... The Southerners in Congress wanted it to run from New Orleans through Texas to southern California, thus increasing the slave states' economy and political clout. The Northerners wanted it to run from Chicago to Sacramento and San Francisco, or from Minneapolis to Portland, increasing the free states' economy. The two sides blocked each other throughout the decade of the 1850s...

...There are many reasons why the South lagged so far behind the North in the century after the Civil War, and losing the war was certainly at the top of that list, but right behind came walking out of Congress and allowing the North to have the transcontinental railroad.

Has anyone encountered this assertion elsewhere? It seems entirely plausible to me, but I've never heard it made before. Are there any worthy books out there on the building of the railroad?

UPDATE: Well, it turns out there are lots of books written on the subject. Ambrose himself wrote one, but it got pretty roundly tanked by the Amazon reviewers (perhaps a bunch of WWII buffs led astray by the Ambrose name?). Anyone read Empire Express? I think I'll pick up both.

UPDATE II: Whatever his faults as a historian, Ambrose sure spins a readable text. I literally couldn't put To America down and have just finished in it one sitting. I can recommend it, though primarily as a starting point for adventures into deeper, more substantive history (e.g. my new interest in the Transcontinental Railroad) .

My Last Refuge

As I've often done before, I'm seeking refuge in literature. I just finished the first book in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and am blown away by how much the science fiction genre owes to Asimov. I'd heard that George Lucas had found some inspiration in the books, but now that I've begun to read them I see not only Star Wars, but Dune and innumerable other sci-fi books and movies that can easily be traced back to Asimov's genius.

I finished Turgenev's Fathers and Sons in a flurry. I've often noticed that some books have a point at which I really click with the characters, and am able to settle into a steady groove for the rest of the story. That happened for me in Fathers and Sons when Barazov finally has to face up to his ever-human weaknesses and is rightfully burned by the object of his affection. I can't say the novel was an utter revelation, but that is likely due to my longstanding interest in the father-son dynamic, and the resulting high expectations I have for anything that presumes to face that dynamic squarely. All-in-all a tightly wound, well-written novel that I'm sure I'll return to in the years ahead.

My girlfriend and I are continuing our two-person book club, with Willa Cather's O Pioneers! as our next selection. Cather's My Antonia was one of the most unexpected literary pleasures I've experienced in the past few years, and I'm excited to read another of her works.

I've also done some work to my literature project, splitting the books up into categories (not an easy task for many of these books) and adding a couple dozen titles to the new categories. I also went through and gave some hugely subjective and arbitrary ratings to the books I've already read. I'm not sure I'll continue to do so, but it seems a fun and easy way to signal my recommendations to anyone who might care. As it turns out, it appears my five favorite books are currently:

Henderson the Rain King - Saul Bellow
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig

I have a suspicion that Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath might make it's way into the top 5 if I read it again. For now I'll give it an honorable mention.

I myself could use some recommendations in the new categories on my list, particularly biography, history, and science-fiction / fantasy.

Loyal Readers, I Apologize

I wish I had a great excuse for the lack of posting. Instead, let me admit that my life right now is simply devoid of content worth blogging about. I go to class, I go to interviews, I listen to people talk about interviews, I think about how my interviews went, I think about how my girlfriend's interviews went, and then to get as far away from all that as possible, I play Madden 2004 (where I took the Bears to the Super Bowl, real world 49ers-induced despair notwithstanding). I'm not really complaining, as the process is going as well as could be expected and that is something to be thankful for. Nonetheless, I've tried not to force myself to blog, as that might very well lead to me giving up the activity entirely.

Even if I were blogging, however, I'm at a bit of loss as to what I'd have to say. Somewhere inside I know that the politics of the Democratic nomination and the California recall are important, but it must be deep inside because right now I couldn't be less interested. I feel a general malaise toward our stagnating efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and am afraid that those in charge have no better idea than I as to what our endgame strategy is.

I liked but did love Neil Gaiman's American Gods. It was, as I said, a fun diversion, as was searching the web for information on the various deities mentioned in the book. It was not, however, The Lord of the Rings. That's a strange comparison to make, I know, but more and more I get the feeling that I might as well just start reading LOTR over and over as my pleasure book rather than attempting to find anything new that could even compare.

Turgenev is good but I'm moving through it quite slow, and it's never a good idea to read a novel of such weight 10 pages at a time.

I enjoyed both Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy, leaving only one Coen brothers film unseen (Blood Simple). Hudsucker seemed almost frenetic at times but I didn't find any of the characters especially memorable, and boy oh boy do they mean it when they say that there's a shift in tone halfway through Barton Fink. I doubt I'll feel the need to see either again anytime soon, which is in stark contrast to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which I watch every few months, and The Big Lebowski, which I watch as least once a month.

I'm unexcited about my classes. Evidence could not be less interesting to me right now. I've never seen so many vague standards pretending to be bright-line rules, or rules created primarily to justify the exceptions to that rule. The rest of the classes are quite good, but I'm too tired most of the time to give them their proper attention and preparation, so I ended up bored and frustrated most of the time.

Is there such a thing as the second-year slump? I suppose if it's true for college sophomores, it might as well be true for law students. I want interviews to be over. The process just brings out the worst in everyone. I won't tell any specific stories until after I've accepted an offer, and even then I won't name names, but golly, this has been distasteful.

Service and Sacrifice

While I was in the duldrums of the first week of law school, Phil Carter had a post up regarding the reported increase in ROTC enrollments in America's colleges. Like Phil, I'm very excited to hear this, and would certainly endorse these thoughts he shared:

In particular, our military depends on young citizens graduating from college to make this choice -- forgoing possible riches in the private sector for a few years while they serve their nation. Unfortunately, the burden of service (as officers and enlisted personnel) has mostly been borne by America's working and middle class. This article didn't discuss the equitable issues of military service, and the current distribution of ROTC students by socioeconomic class. But this is certainly a concern of mine, and something I hope to see reported in the future.

Indeed, I had some of these same things in mind when I joined. I don't know if I shared this story on this blog yet, but I've cut and pasted it from an old website since it ties in with Phil's comments (I've edited it to fix some verb tenses, but keep in mind it's several years old).

Why I Joined

During the spring of 1999, in my freshman year at Harvard, I was interning in the Boston office of Senator Kerry. I was answering phones, and at the time many of the calls were concerning the aerial bombardment of Kosovo which had just begun. One call in particular was very moving for me. It was from the mother of a young Marine who had just been shipped to the Balkans. She demanded to know what right politicians, sitting in their fancy suits in their fancy offices, had to send her son off to war for people we were not allied with against people who posed no threat to us. While I did not necessarily agree with her analysis of the situation in the Balkans (I think our interests were at risk and that humanitarian interventions are often self-justified), it did raise a question in my mind. At that time, neither the President (Clinton), the Secretary of State (Albright), the Secretary of Defense (Cohen) nor the National Security Adviser (Berger) had ever served in the military. I don't believe that military experience is necessary for civilian leadership, but I was surprised.

The question that was raised in my mind was this: is it moral to ask others to die fighting in a war if I am not willing to fight alongside them? In other words, is it moral to let those who normally enlist in the military (a high percentage of whom are from the lower class, as the military presents a stable job and educational opportunities) fight wars to protect the economic and political interests of the ruling class?

For me, the answer was no... let me make clear that I find no fault with those who have an incredible aversion to warfare (we all should) or a military lifestyle, and thus choose not to serve, or even those who simply see the issue differently.

But for me, at that time, I could not get past the fact that I did not feel morally justified in supporting a military action (such as that in Kosovo) without being willing to contribute some level of sacrifice of my own. So I called around the various military recruiters, decided ROTC was the best route for me (since I could stay in college) and took the 3-year Army scholarship when it was offered.

Why I Stayed

Though I joined ROTC out of a sense of moral duty, I'm not certain that sense alone would have kept me in the program, particulary when I became serious about Zen Buddhism (an issue I address below).

Instead, what kept me in the program was the feeling of community, the opportunities for personal growth, and the hope to contribute a unique perspective to the internal Army discourse.

The feeling of community is two-fold. I felt a bond both with my unit and with the larger Army community. Within my unit, I enjoyed the opportunity to work side by side with some brilliant and dedicated people. This included both my fellow cadets and the Army officers who ran the program, our cadre. I considered many of the cadets personal friends and look forward to keeping in touch as our Army careers unfold.

The Army as a whole also provides a certain bond, a piece of personal identification that can provide a friendly link between two people who share it. I always enjoy meeting other members of the military and hearing their stories, their experiences, what the service has done for them.

Which brings up the point of what the service has done for me. Before I joined, I was not a bad person, or a weak person, or a lazy person. But I did have significant room for improvement (still do), in areas that I did not think a normal Harvard education could provide. I saw the Army ROTC experience as providing three main opportunities for growth in my own life: leadership, discipline, and physical fitness.

Both the leadership and discipline benefits stem from the opportunity to hold a position in a chain of command, a hierarchy. If done well, each individual in the chain is given commands from above, well-balanced with discretionary power of their own. Thus they are given a framework to operate in, but left to make important choices of their own, choices that will effect others.

The physical fitness component should be self-evident. Much of the Army's operational duties involve moderate to strenuous physical activity, and the ROTC emphasis on infantry tactics certainly follows suit. After joining the program, I added 20 lbs., primarily lean body mass, and even more importantly, I learned how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating (though I still hate running).

Zen and the Army

The greatest internal challenge I faced with regards to my Army committment was not the 5:30 wake-ups for physical training or the need to follow orders even though I had my own idea how to run things.

The greatest challenge came during the spring of my sophomore year when I grew further and further interested in the spiritual path of Zen Buddhism. I'm not going to attempt to trace the outlines of Buddhism (I'm not qualified to make even the most elementary analysis), but I want to relate my views on why that spiritual path seemed to clash with my Army commitment, and how I resolved the internal conflict.

The basic philosophical difference I saw was in the Zen emphasis on compassion as the motivation for all action. In my early understanding of this concept, it seemed to be that this emphasis would prevent me from taking part in many of the Army's activities, since governments (and most people) tend to act in their own self-interest, a natural tendency but one that a Zen Buddhist endeavours to overcome. Being even more specific (though possibly over-simplifying in the process), is it ever possible to shoot or kill another human being out of compassion? It is a difficult question, one that I have not yet resolved (a debate I've been having ever since my freshman year course on ethics and international relations). It seems unlikely at first, but consider the kidnapper about to execute a hostage... could the police sniper not shoot the kidnapper out of compassion for the hostage? I believe that was Augustine's position, that killing was acceptable in defense of others, though not in defense of yourself. Another perspective might say that it is acceptable to shoot the kidnapper out of compassion for him, since you'd be preventing him from committing murder. Unorthodox, yes. Morally logical? Well I honestly don't know, I just can't resolve that right now...

What I did resolve was this: there will be continue to be wars in this world whether I am in the Army or not. There will still be an Army whether I'm in it or not. The question is whether I can individually act out of compassion within the military, possibly lessening any suffering that might take place. Put in other words, if all those who had strong moral qualms about war refused to serve in the military, what are we left with? A military filled with people who have no moral qualms about war. A more violent and more dangerous military. A military capable of atrocities, of war crimes. See, in my current worldview, even in war there are different levels of moral action. It DOES make a difference whether you take the villagers prisoner or shoot them in their beds. And the people who make those choices need to have moral qualms about violence.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said in his commentary on the First Precept:

Anyone can practice some nonviolence, even army generals. They may, for example, conduct their operations in ways that avoid killing innocent people. To help soldiers move in the nonviolent direction, we have to be in touch with them. If we divide reality into two camps -- the violent and the nonviolent -- and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel are responsible for wars and social injustice, without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves. We must work on ourselves and also work with those we condemn if we want to have a real impact.

Thus, while I'm unable to predict whether I would have joined the military in the first place if I had been a Zen Buddhist at the time, I can say that now I think I have the opportunity to fulfill an important individual purpose.

A Farewell to Arms

I loved this book. I wish I had been able to sit down and read it one or two sittings, as I probably lost several of the themes by stretching it out over several weeks. Nonetheless, I can register great happiness for the book, a very pleasant surprise after feeling underwhelmed by The Sun Also Rises. I won't go into the plot, since I prefer to read books without any preconceptions and I'd like to give my readers the same opportunity. I will say that the interplay of love and war was done very well, particularly for a theme that is quite overdone (see e.g. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, In Love and War... oh wait, that's actually about Hemingway.. hmm). And the ending... oh the ending. Highly recommended.

I'm now beginning Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, my first experience with the third of the great 19th-century Russians. It's been a long time since I read a Russian, an area of literature where I have a woeful lack of experience (I read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Solzenhitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich for classes in high school, and Andrei Makine's Once Upon the River Love in college). I'm also halfway through Neil Gaiman's American Gods which is a fun fantasy/sci-fi book that I'd heard good things about. So far it has been what I wanted it to be, a nice diversion. It's also classic Gaiman, so those who enjoy his comics might want to give it a look.

UPDATE: Yglesias hated The Sun Also Rises too.

The Death of Federalism, Part 4234

It used to be that education was among the most locally decided aspects of a community's social structure. With the rise of public education, governance began passing to larger and less local bodies: school boards, counties, and the states. It also used to be that some people objected to this centralization, and were particularly hostile to moving any power to the federal level (remember when they used to talk about abolishing the Department of Education?). Well that's all gone. Now the federal government will begin testing teachers to ensure they meet the standards of what we can now call the "American public educator."

The idea that a federal program can ensure the quality of teaching at the level of individual schools is absolutely inane. If there is one area where different communities require different solutions, it must be public education. I can live with the level of state control, but this federalization seems like a dead end. There's got to be a better way.

Interviews

On-Grounds Interviews begin this week. Naturally, I'm a bit nervous... these are my first job interviews. Reportedly summer associate job interviews such as these are much more interactive and friendly than the standard Q&A job interview, so that should provide some relief. I bought a new suit last week (now I own 2), a dark navy blue three-button, very conservative. I've also somehow ended up with only blue ties, which I may try to turn into an idiosyncratic style choice.

The whole process is pretty strange, since everyone being interviewed is either a friend or acquaintance. I'm not competitive enough to wish misfortune upon even my most distant acquaintances, yet I do want to get these jobs. I ended up applying to a relatively narrow band of firms (<20), and that means I am that much more excited about and invested in almost every firm I interview with. It's a tricky position to be in, and requires a lot of delicacy, subtelty, and compassion for the stress that the process puts on all of us. Best of luck to everyone at UVA Law and all over the country that will be running the gauntlet this fall.

California Compromises

I wonder if the general distate for the candidates I just expressed might also resonate with many Californian voters. The WP has an analysis of the conflict California conservatives face in the gubernatorial race:

They now face an unhappy choice: support a candidate in Schwarzenegger who is anything but a true believer or stick to principles, back McClintock and risk being blamed if Republicans lose the governor's office once again.

It's not as if Democrats have a much better choice. They get to select between a Governor that is widely despised, and a Lt. Governor whose liberal credentials and experience are highly suspect. Not a lot to get excited about there either.

UPDATE: Also, has anyone noticed that Bustamante looks eerily like Jon Polito, a character actor put to good use in several Coen brothers' films (e.g. Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski)?

I Know Them, But I Don't Like Them

So it turns out that 2/3 of Americans can't name any of the Democrats running for President. Well that's likely not a problem for me or any of my readers, but here's a tangentially related problem: I don't like any of the candidates. This seems to me a rather strange position to be in. While I like some of the policy proposals and political leanings of various Democratic candidates (Dean and Edwards in particular), I can't say that any of them seem very likable. There's a good chance it's just my cynicism about politics and politicians seeping into my view of these individual. But then again, cynicism about politicians is not a unique thing. Are those who are rallying behind these candidates less cynical than me, or are they simply motivating themselves with other ideals (e.g. "anyone but Bush").

None of this is to suggest I wouldn't vote for the Democratic nominee, simply that I have trouble getting excited/motivated/financially involved until I can feel positive about a candidate rather than negative about his opponent.