Exams

Well, exams start today, and as strident as I am in pretending they do not, I probably won't be blogging until they are over a week from Friday. I'll see you on the other side.

Summer Reading

I'm trying to take only one box of books up to DC with me, and it has been quite a battle to try to pick the books. That's one consequence of buying hundreds of books: too many appealing and readily available choices! I think I'd like to make further inroads into the New Lifetime Reading Plan component of the project (I'm apparently aiming to have the Plan finished before I turn 25), so almost everything in the box right now is listed in that volume. I picked primarily short novels and plays, so that I can finish them in quick bursts rather than having to stretch a long novel over several weeks:

Caesar and Cleopatra - Shaw
Candida - Shaw
Candide - Voltaire
Confessions of a Mask - Mishima
Crime and Punishment - Dostoevsky
Dreamtigers - Borges
Endgame - Beckett
English Teacher - Narayan
Frankenstein - Shelley
Hard Times - Dickens
Herzog - Bellow
Iceman Cometh - O'Neill
Krapp's Last Tape - Beckett
Man and Superman - Shaw
Mayor of Casterbridge - Hardy
Mrs. Dalloway - Woolf
Notes From Underground - Dostoevsky
Oresteia - Aeschylus
Pere Goriot - Balzac
Robinson Crusoe - Defoe
Ruba'iyat - Khayyam
Scarlet Letter - Hawthorne
Sense and Sensibility - Austen
Theban Plays - Sophocles
Treasure Island - Stevenson

I just love making lists of books! Almost as much as reading them, in fact. The way I figure, I'll be working pretty hard all day, but will for the first time in a long time have no responsibilities during the evenings and weekends. It is much easier for me to immerse myself in a fictional world when the citecheck or class reading for next week is not lurking in the back of my head, waiting to be finished. In addition, the townhouse I'm staying in does not have high-speed Internet (the horror!), so I'll have an offline home. Ought to be a good summer for reading.

What Not to Do

As exams approach, stress and frustration levels are rising at law schools across the country. Of particular annoyance to many are classes that were so boring or poorly taught as to make any time spent on them seem a waste. Nonetheless, I highly recommend that you not send an email like the one apparently sent by a NYU 1L to her criminal law professor and the entire class (I've removed all names to protect whatever shred of privacy remains):

as one of the self-admitted "people [who] seemed to spend the entire class time doing things unrelated to the class on their computers," i just wanted to respond to your email and thank you for keeping the exam length at 24 hours. while i voted for an 8 hour exam in class, upon further reflection i have changed my mind and decided that a longer exam period will most benefit me, as a non-participant, in attempting to write a semi-coherent exam.

i would also like to comment generally on my dissatisfaction in the first year law school educational experience as a whole. it has seemed to me to be more of a mind-numbing training procedure than an enriching intellectual experience. your class, however, stands out as a particular disappointment.

may i respectfully suggest that perhaps having an instructor who seemed somewhat interested in actually teaching the material objectively and creating an even slightly welcoming classroom discussion atmosphere would have prompted both myself and the vast majority of the rest of the class to pay attention and participate rather than sending each other instant messages, playing online games, and checking our email.

if i may be so bold as to quote one of my fellow students, i believe [name redacted] summed this general issue up quite succinctly earlier in the semester. in response to your half-joking comment referring to your disappointment in students' clothing choices today as opposed to in the past, he said, "the professors used to wear suits too."

with this comment i merely wish to illustrate your personal role in creating an effective educational environment. personally, i was very eager to learn criminal law at the beginning of the semester. however, when it seemed that class was not going to help me much in attaining that goal, i decided to use the time to enjoy myself instead.

i apologize wholeheartedly if my blatantly obvious dissatisfaction with your class was offensive to you.

I mean, at least capitalize properly when chastising your professors. To do otherwise just makes you seem unprofessional.

David Copperfield

I've just finished one of the most rewarding reading experiences of my life, a two month sojourn with one of the world's great authors and his favorite of his own novels (What's that you say? My exams are next week? I should be outlining?). For three hundred pages, I enjoyed a singularly splendid depiction of childhood, filled with the most extraordinary assortment of characters I've ever encountered. This was followed by five hundred pages of such compelling and interwoven plotlines, I can not begin to fathom how Dickens managed to write it as a serial and yet keep it all together. To be plain: I laughed, I cried, and I loved every single page. I have a real sense of sadness that I'm now saying goodbye to Peggotty, Mr. Micawber, and Betsey Trotwood, among others. I will miss them.

A lesser author might not have been able to overcome the convenient coincidences that Dickens delights in using, with long-forgotten characters returning to the story in the most unlikely of fashions. This, and other undeniable flaws, provide much ammunition for those want to dislike the book. That is their right. But to do so, I think one must willfully refuse to be seduced by a truly great and moving novel. I'm not the only one who thinks so, of course. It was, like many of the time, Tolstoy's favorite book:

If you sift the world's prose literature, Dickens will remain; sift Dickens, David Copperfield will remain.

Agreed. And though others of Dickens' books might be more serious, more profound, I get the sense that none are more of a pleasure to read. I'm going to savor this, and look forward to the distant day when I am ready to pick it up again.

Saudi Spousal Abuse

It ought to go without saying that spousal abuse is a horrible relic of an age when women were mistakenly subordinated to the absolute authority of their fathers and husbands. And at least in America, it is an issue that can now be publicly discussed, that generates political and social debate, with increased public and private efforts to end this abhorrent crime.

In Saudi Arabia, the issue is still kept behind closed curtains, and that makes this woman's courage all the more remarkable:

A popular Saudi television host publicly showed her bruised and bloodied face and has shocked her compatriots into openly talking about one of the kingdom's long-hidden problems: violence against women.

Rania al-Baz has been hailed as a hero for letting newspaper photographers snap pictures of her face and for frankly discussing her case after she said a beating by her husband earlier this month left her unconscious.

Al-Baz's television persona -- warm smile wrapped in a stylish headscarf -- made the photographs of her wrecked face after the April 10 beating all the more startling. Al-Baz suffered 13 facial fractures required 12 operations.

It may take this sort of blunt shock to the societal consciousness to get the issue out in the open. Let's hope her courage is not in vain and the issue gains traction.

Working For the Man, Pt. II

Yesterday's post about working for law firms generated numerous updates from both myself and Waddling Thunder and I thank him for really pushing me on what started out as a pretty unsophisticated post. It seems that the only real source of disagreement between us is on the empirical question of how many law students show up to law school actually serious about doing public interest work.

However, after really fleshing out my complaint, it seemed to rest almost entirely on autonomy grounds, not on any inherent judgment on the value of working for law firms vs. public interest/public sector. It sounds like WT has been subject to numerous debates along those lines, and has had to repeatedly defend the choice to work in a law firm from self-righteous attacks.

I seek to make no such self-righteous claims. One of the reasons I'm really looking forward to working in the Army JAG Corps is not that I think it inherently better to do public service (although I have a few things to say about military service which are unrelated to the employment decision of law students), but that I know it will give me early opportunities to work hand in hand with young soldiers. The early client interaction and increased responsibility are quite appealing to me, and constitute self-interested advantages. I would suggest the more crusading aspect of my interest in JAG is that I have a great deal of concern about the treatment of young soldiers, the opportunities they do and do not have, and the role a JAG officer can fill as a mentor and advocate for them.

I'm sure Waddling Thunder is quite right to point out that great things can be accomplished by lawyers working in law firms, and this is especially true if you believe, as he does, that most corporations are a positive force in our country.

Unlike him, however, I'm not yet sure which path is right for me. Fortunately, I'll get a chance to see both sides, working for a law firm this summer and perhaps for some time after law school, and then serving four years in the Army. What I want to be careful of, and this is a pit that I do think law students fall into, is being seduced by the prestige, money and image that law firms use to lure students in. Their recruiting departments are marketing the firm like any potential employer does. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but for students who want to make truly informed decisions about the best place for them to end up, I think it important to look deeper and be more conscious of what you're really getting yourself into.

It may turn out that I look deeper into this law firm, absolutely love it, and pine for the end of my Army committment when I can return to private practice. Or maybe it will not be for me, and I'll be glad to have the Army opportunity to better fit my career ambitions. Time will tell.

Favorite Oldies

During the past couple weeks, I've spent dozens of hours trying to catch up in classes long ignored. While doing so, I've listened almost exclusively to the local oldies station, and have decided that there are three oldies in particular that I really like, simply because they are so damn catchy:

Come a Little Bit Closer - Jay and the Americans
Hold On I'm Coming - Sam & Dave
Gimme Some Lovin' - The Spencer Davis Group

That's all, just wanted to share some deep insights into my state of mind.

Low-Carb Coke

This story on low-carb Coke (I guess Diet Coke doesn't count?) reminds me of one of the more patently absurd things I've seen in a long time. In the local Harris Teeter, like many grocery stores I'm sure, they have started placing little flags signalling "Low-Carb Food!" to entice Atkins and South Beach fanatics.

That's all well and good, and I can't fault the stores for trying to capitalize on the latest health fad. But what was the first thing I saw labelled as such?

Butter. Unsalted sticks of butter. A low-carb food. Makes a great snack.

From the Department of Cosmic Wit

Oh, the humor and irony! The very second I posted my thoughts on "Working for the Man," my roommate walked in with a FedEx delivery notice. I went over to the rental office to claim it, and what do I find? An obscenely large $30 box of cookies from my summer employers, wishing me good luck on my finals. Yum.

cookies.jpg

Even a good liberal can't be expected to resist baked goods, right? For those wondering, the cookies are from Baked With Grace and they're delicious.

Working For the Man, Pt. I

I've been meaning to write some sort of response to Matt Yglesias' post deriding the attorneys representing the Saudi government. I was all set to bluster a defense of the practice, but I've decided not to. Instead, a frank admission of the obvious: almost all law firms make a lot of money representing clients who engage in legally and morally questionable conduct. That's one good reason, after all, that they would need lawyers. And lawyers make their money by denying, excusing, and defending this conduct.

I'm not just talking about the Saudis (whose retained legal counsel, when you count all the various royals individually, encompass much of the DC legal scene, including my firm). I'm talking about tobacco, firearms, pharmaceuticals, insurance, oil, etc, etc. It is guaranteed that behind every big corporation, hated by liberals, stands a law firm (or two or three).

This ought to be a real problem for a lot of young, liberal attorneys and law students, and yet I think most rationalize it away without much regret. The firm I'm going to for the summer, without giving too much away, has a client list guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of any decent liberal.

And yet when Matt made his post, my immediate response was to defend these attorneys, defend the work they do, and chastise him for being naive. I still think he went too far:

I have a very hard time seeing how they live with themselves. Worse, though, is that one imagines they just show up at social events all the time, have friends, etc., when they really deserve a good shunning by regular people.

But his underlying point is quite valid. One of the reasons I was most hesitant to come to law school at all was because everyone gets sucked into working for law firms (read Broken Contract for a spot-on account of this phenomenon). Only when I knew that I'd be serving in the Army JAG Corps, and thus unable to "sell out," did I give in and come to law school.

And what has happened? I've become quite enamored with this law firm. I love the people. I am really interested in the work they do. White collar criminal defense, for example, really interests me. And what is it? What is it really? A few years ago I would have told you it was defending rich people who have stolen money they didn't need and want to use their wealth to get away with it. But it turns out, if you rationalize away the moral questions ("everyone deserves a lawyer"), you can have a lot of fun and make a lot of money doing it. And to your average law student, steeped in debt and bored to death, that is a pretty attractive deal. Irresistible, in fact.

I'll resist of course, because no matter what I want, the 4-year Army committment says so. Even without it, I like to think I would have opted for a more crusading path. But I can't say that for sure. And it is sad to think that I might need to fall back on the fact that I can't work for these law firms, rather than have the strength and courage to turn down the money and prestige out of moral conviction. No more rationalization from me.

UPDATE: Waddling Thunder has some interesting thoughts:

It's not even a moral question for me - the moment lawyers begin making self righteous judgments more than very occasionally about who we are and aren't going to represent zealously, we endanger the rule of law.

I don't really disagree with this, and insofar as the "zealously" is supposed to indicate full and vigorous representation of clients we've already agreed to represent, I agree completely. But I think WT is looking at a different stage of decision-making than I was, though perhaps he's giving a better response to Matt Yglesias' original post. The stage I'm thinking about is when a law student decides where to practice. I think that got pushed aside by WT's modifier of "if I practiced the requisite kind of law." If I'm working in Legal Aid, or at the ACLU, or in the US Attorney's office, or in the Army JAG Corps, or in hundreds of other jobs, then there won't even be an opportunity for the Saudis/Enron/Big Tobacco/et al to try and hire me.

So I was thinking not so much about the discretion an attorney would exercise in which clients to take, but in which jobs to pursue in the first place. I'm not condemning those who choose law firms, heck, that's all my friends. But I do think that something bad is going on, which is this: thousands of law students show up to law school with some notion of potentially doing public service or public sector work. Only a handful do. And in between those two stages, there is rarely a genuine struggle between liberal crusading ideals on the one hand and pro-firm considerations on the other. Instead, crushing debt and seductive recruitment eliminate the need to even make a choice. The whole process literally makes it seem like going to a law firm is preordained destiny, and you have to make a very strong, concerted effort to get off that path. That's what I object to, that most of my friends are going to end up at law firms and they will have never really grappled with a simple question: why?

UPDATE II: WT has responded with further thoughts, which I appreciate, though I think we're starting to talk past each other. Like him, I think that those who have no problems with corporations ought not feel any remorse or guilt about working for law firms representing those corporations. That's where I part company with Yglesias, who thinks that people ought to feel ashamed because he has problems with their clients. That's not what I'm trying to get at with my post.

Instead, I simply regret that many of those who fall into the category of "don't like these corporations" or "may have some problems with some corporations" don't engage in a serious internal dialogue about whether working in a firm is right for them. It is probably safe to assume that those who don't have a problem with corporations in the first place won't have problems with working for a firm, but it is also nice to see them engage in critical self-analysis. WT obviously has, and he has come out thinking that working for a firm can be just as (if not more) morally redeeming as any public interest work. That's perfectly fine with me, I'm not even sure my personal ethics disagree with that, and nothing I said above was intended to suggest otherwise.

However, my objection is that law school does not encourage law students to actively make that choice, to engage in the debate that WT and I (and Matt Yglesias) are engaging in. Instead, there is a one-way locomotive headed for Destination Law Firm. As such, many students never decide that a law firm is right for them. They just go with the flow and that's where they end up. I suppose I'm objecting just on autonomy grounds, lamenting the lack of conscious decision-making.

So much time is spent choosing between firms, and little, if any, is spent actually choosing to work for a law firm in the first place. It is like going to college. I never actively chose to college. When applications became available, I just started filling them out and mailing them in. Spent hours trying to decide which to apply to, and then which to attend. Never once did I have an internal dialogue about whether college was actually best for me, or if I should take a year off before hand. It was a given. And even though I'm pretty sure I would have attended Harvard without taking any time off anyway, I still regret the fact that I let that decision be made without even recognizing all the options. It makes me feel less autonomous. That's how I think law firms are for most law students.

Now for those who share WT's view of big corporations (but not his knack for self-reflection), I guess this is not really such a big deal. They went with the flow, and it took them where they probably would have gone anyway. Kudos to them. I still regret the lack of autonomous decision-making, but it's probably harmless here.

For those who entered law school with different ideals, I do think it objectionable that they end up working for a law firm without having ever sat down and considered why they were doing so. Part of the blame rests with law schools for gleefully submitting to a worldview that sees Big Firm as the top job prospect, part of it rests with the tremendous debt that many have to take on to attend, and part of it rests with students for being so seduced by money and prestige that they failed to notice that their train had changed tracks. It is okay with me if a law student chooses to make that change.

Again, just so its clear: if every single law student who came to law school thinking they'd work for Legal Aid ended up working for a law firm because they had actively weighed all their options and decided that was best, I would have no objection. But I think that is far from the reality of what goes on, and that leaves me much room for concern.

Slam Dunk Case

I think this is one of the most interesting claims to come out of Bob Woodward's new book (which, by the way, has one of the ugliest covers I've ever seen):

About two weeks before deciding to invade Iraq, President Bush was told by CIA Director George Tenet there was a "slam dunk case" that dictator Saddam Hussein had unconventional weapons.

And Tenet still has a job because.... maybe the administration thinks it is better to have him on their side than out of a job. We certainly learned a good bit about whistleblower containment in my White Collar Crime class.

At this point I'm perfectly willing to place a good deal of blame on Tenet, and can accept the kind of incompetence that this claim suggests. But I have to confess, I find some of the other claims a bit hard to believe:

Bush also made his decision to go to war without consulting Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or Secretary of State Colin Powell, Woodward's book says.

Powell was not even told until after the Saudi ambassador was allowed to review top-secret war plans in an effort to enlist his country's support for the invasion...

That's just an incredible claim. I mean, I don't even know what to say about it. I just don't believe it, though I'm also not much convinced by Rice's tepid response:

"It's just not the proper impression that somehow Prince Bandar was in the know in a way that Secretary Powell was not."

I don't know if my incredulity is better attributed to proper skepticism of Woodward or to my naivete about how this administration operates at the upper echelons. On the latter, here's another claim that could raise some eyebrows:

The book also reports that in the summer of 2002, $700 million was diverted from a congressional appropriation for the war in Afghanistan to develop a war plan for Iraq.

Woodward suggests the diversion may have been illegal, and that Congress was deliberately kept in the dark about what had been done.

I'd really like to hear the administration's explanation. I'm perfeclty willing to believe there is a good reason, but it might be a bit harder to argue that the war on Iraq was not a distraction if funds were diverted away from Afghanistan as early as the summer of 2002.

All in all, just another series of unflattering claims about the administration's internal workings. Even if one likes the results they are achieving (or seeking to achieve), the quantity of these stories is a bit alarming.

Married Couples Serving Together?

Along with an increasingly equal role for women in the military comes an increasing share of the risk. The tragic number of deaths in Iraq includes more than a dozen women (though I have to say I think that still sounds pretty low considering how many non-combat soldiers are over their right now). That's the point of this story, but it was something else in the story which stood out to me:

Staff Sgt. Voelz died in the arms of her husband, Max Voelz, also a staff sergeant on the 17-person ordnance disposal team on which Voelz was the lone woman.

Setting aside for a moment the sad and poignant picture painted by this event, I have to confess tremendous surprise at the fact that husband and wife were serving in the same small unit like this. I'd have thought the fears and concerns about unit cohesion, equal treatment of unit members, etc., would have cautioned against allowing married couples to be members of the same small unit. Apparently I was wrong, but I am not entirely sure why.

Bernstein is Right

David Bernstein and I have had our differences, usually over silly complaints on my part, but I think he clearly has the better of Mark Kleiman in their latest disagreement. It started with Bernstein's post appluading the death of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz:

Rantisi is brought to justice: "We will all die one day. Nothing will change. If by Apache or by cardiac arrest, I prefer Apache," he said. It's nice when cosmic justice and individual preferences can both be satisfied.

Kleiman responded (in a tone so rude and condescending that I think Bernstein should get credit for even taking it seriously):

Since there's no such thing as an ineducable student -- only an insufficiently skilled or diligent teacher -- I must attribute to some deficiency in my earlier exposition of the matter David Bernstein's failure to get the message that using military force to kill someone who might instead have been tried for criminal acts is not the same as bringing that person to justice.

Since my post failed to point out that it is bad manners to dance on the graves of one's recently slain enemies, I must also take responsibility for what I take to be Mr. Bernstein's appalling lapse in taste in making a joke about the death of Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

Now his first point is perhaps correct, but so marginal that it can't be the driving force behind such a pedantic post. It seems he objects not to the idea that "justice" was served, but that Rantisi was not "brought to justice," because there was no arrest and trial. Fine, maybe Bernstein should have said "justice is done" or something along those lines. Who cares?

The second point is, as Pejman has said, bizarre. In Pejman's comments section, Kleiman added this (alongside a strange reference to corpse desecration):

There's a big difference between, on the one hand, expressing the sober view that a particular person was a threat and that his removal is something to be pleased about, and, on the other, making him less than human by treating his demise as a matter for jest.

That's quite right. There is a difference. But Kleiman went farther than that in his original post, asserting that to make a joke about the death of one's sworn enemy, even when that enemy is an unrepentant murderer of civilians, is an "appalling lapse in taste."

I'm certainly not going to say that anyone should revel in any death. I myself am more likely to react in the way that Kleiman himself prefers, with a "sober view." But I'm also not prepared to say that those who react to such occasions with mild humor or other less sober forms of expression are doing something wrong. There has to be room for each of us to react to these situations differently. We each grieve and celebrate on our own terms, and I think it unjustifiedly self-righteous for someone to call another's harmless celebration "appalling."

Who is really the greater threat, after all: the man accused of hubris, or the man accusing everyone else of hubris and telling them how they should act instead?

UPDATE: Kleiman has posted an update, of which I think the last sentence adds the most to the dialogue:

One difference, I would have thought, between civilized adults one one hand and adolsecents and barbarians on the other is that civilized adults, having confronted the fact of their own mortality, don't take the deaths of others -- even necessary deaths -- lightly.

I think that is a good point, and I think it would have more force here if I thought that Bernstein was actually taking the death of Rantisi lightly. If we were discussing gleeful mockery on the part of someone who thought matters of life and death were just a game, I can see where the humor would seem distasteful. Not distasteful per se, but because it reflected a lack of seriousness, a lack of perspective concerning the matter.

That's not the case here, however. If there is one thing David Bernstein should certainly not be accused of, it would be making light of the violence in Israel. I think he has demonstrated repeatedly how seriously he takes the issue (sometimes too seriously, in my opinion), and as such I don't think making a joke about Rantisi's death raises any doubts about his recognition that these are serious matters. In fact, I thought it was a nice touch for him to offer brief humor rather than, as one might expect from him, a more serious and extended discussion of the implications of the event. He just seemed to be saying: a bad man is dead. That is good. Smile.

Weekender Convertible

Though my girlfriend and I are both spending the summer with great firms that we love, there is one hitch: mine is in DC, hers is in Atlanta. This doesn't really create post-law school problems, since I'll be in the Army anyhow. But it does mean we'll be doing some weekend travel between our two cities, and to Chicago for the 4th of July (Taste of Chicago!!). To that end, I've been on the lookout for a suitcase that I could carry on the airplane without sacrificing internal space to the constraints of a rolling bag or normal backpack. Alas, a solution has been found: the Weekender Convertible from eBags.

One of the best short trip travel packs you'll ever find for the money! Suitcase-style entry; converts to a backpack for easy carrying. Perfect for the active traveler.

Here are some photos. In the picture on the right, you can see that the shoulder straps have been zipped into their compartment for easy storage in an overheard bin, or if you choose (heaven forbid) to check the bag.

weekender.jpg

The bag got rave reviews on the site, and for $40 is an absolute steal if it lives up to its promise. I'll report back after it gets some use.

Wilmer to Merge with Hale & Dorr

I think this a pretty surprising development:

Wilmer Cutler Pickering and Boston's Hale and Dorr are nearing a partnership vote on merging, according to a source close to the discussions.

If approved, the merger would instantly create a 1,000-lawyer behemoth that would rank as one of the 10 largest firms in the country. The combined firm would have offices throughout Europe, as well as a New York presence of about 90 lawyers. In Washington, D.C., Wilmer has 350 lawyers to Hale and Dorr's 70.

I interviewed with and seriously considered going to both of these firms. The idea of them as a merged firm makes them much less attractive to me. The thing I most liked about Hale in DC was the small office. That obviously goes right out the window (and I'm sure some of the people in that office are pretty pissed right now). And one of Wilmer's big advantages was that it is a homegrown DC firm, and that's where the power (ostensibly) would always remain. Not like the two-headed goliath this proposed merger would create.

UPDATE: It's official.

The Apprentice

A conversation overheard in Wal-Mart today:

Employee #1: Did you see the last episode of The Apprentice?
Employee #2: Yes.
Employee #1: Who won?
Employee #2: Bill.
Employee #3: Yeah, and now he get's a $250,000 job. They call it "reality TV." Whose reality is that?
Employees #1 and #2: [Pondering]
Employee #3: Yeah.

Well put.

Busy Busy Busy

Obviously I've not been able to do much blogging lately. That's an unfortunate consequence of having to play catch up on the last 6 weeks of Federal Court, Tax, and Constitutional History. How did I get so behind this semester? I certainly don't have last semester's reasonable excuse of interviewing. As best I can figure, it has been a combination of spending lots of time with my girlfriend, bothering people in Scott Commons and the Law Review offices, watching a few dozen movies (God Bless Netflix's five at a time plan!), and reading, well, several books:

Failure is Not an Option - Kranz
The Last Picture Show - McMurtry
Everything is Illuminated - Foer
The Death of Sweet Mister - Woodrell
Plays - Chekhov
Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids - Oe
The Shipping News - Proulx
The Vendor of Sweets - Narayan
Lord of the Rings - Tolkien
Summer of '49 - Halberstam
Arms and the Man - Shaw
Heart of Darkness - Conrad
The Secret Agent - Conrad
How to Be Good - Hornby
Neuromancer - Gibson
Big Fish - Wallace
The Staircase of a Thousand Steps - Hamilton
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Twain
Mysteries of Pittsburgh - Chabon
A Model World - Chabon
Werewolves in Their Youth - Chabon
Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Chabon
A Good Life - Bradlee

Not bad for one semester, and I ought to get through at least Meditations before I'm done here. Of course, in the next four weeks I'm going to study for and take four final exams, do a week-long citecheck, pack up and move out of this apartment, drive to DC, and start work at a firm. So it's going to be busy for a while. I'll try to blog here and there, but the only thing I can promise is a prospective summer reading list. I do, after all, have to choose which books to bring with me to DC.

Vietnam Reading

I mentioned below that I've got a lot of books on Vietnam waiting on my shelf to be read. That's probably an understatement. I think as soon as I finish Bradlee's autobiography (which is, so far, very frank and very entertaining), I'm going to get started on Vietnam. I just don't think I can understand Iraq, or come to terms with what our military is doing there, until I understand Vietnam. I don't think understanding Vietnam is itself a sufficient condition for understanding Iraq (too many differences in global politics, domestic American changes, and the locale itself), but I do think it is a necessary one. Here's my reading list:

A Bright Shining Lie - Neil Sheehan
Dispatches - Michael Herr
Our Vietnam - A.J. Langguth
A Rumor of War - Philip Caputo
Vietnam: A History - Stanley Karnow
We Were Soldiers Once... and Young - Lt. Gen. Harold Moore

If I'm missing anything that should be on my list, let me know.

UPDATE: Thanks for all the responses! Here are additional books recommended by readers:

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
Fire in the Lake - Frances Fitzgerald
On Strategy - Colonel Summers
Four Hours in My Lai - Bilton & Sim
Vietnam Wars 1945-1990 - Marilyn Young

That said, I think I'm going to postpone my Vietnam reading until after exams. It's a bit too serious for a mind already saturated with issues of justiciability and compelled speech.

Taking Notes in Class

I have not mentioned this before, but one of the main reasons my blogging has slowed this semester is because I stopped bringing my laptop to school. Even last year, when I was a 1L dedicated and devoted to my academics, I rarely took notes in class. I have always been a book learner, and fortunately most of my classes were tied sufficiently close to the texts we were assigned that I could, at least, get most of my notes from the reading I did outside of class. Thus, while I would still pay attention to the lecture, I did not take many notes on my computer during class. Instead, I would have Internet Explorer open and would bounce around the news sites looking for something to write about, and listen to the lecture at the same time. I'm sure some doubt whether this is really possible, but those who sat next to or behind me can attest to the fact that I would often raise my hand to ask or answer a question while simultaneously browsing the Internet.

Well that worked very well last year because I was always, always far ahead in the reading. Thus I already had a good familiarity with what the professor was talking about, and was able to stay interested even if I had my computer in front of me. But last semester, when the weight of interviewing left me quite behind in most of my class reading, things were different. Since I had not done the reading, I had no idea what the professor was talking about. As such, I would bring my computer to class, open up Internet Explorer, and ignore the lecture for 50 minutes. This was a waste of my time.

So this semester, I resolved not to even bring my computer with me. I would bring a notebook and/or printouts of my reading notes, if I was keeping up with the reading (which I did only for the first month). I still do not really take notes during class, but this has been quite a revelation. At least in the classes I have now, simply sitting and listening to the professor, with the distraction of neither note-taking nor web-browsing, has led to an increased ability to simply sit and grapple with the interesting questions being posed. When you are just scrambling to copy down the three-pronged test the professor just articulated, you don't really have time to swirl it around in your mouth and see how it tastes. You are always 5 seconds behind, operating on vacuum intake alone.

My system would not work for many people (perhaps most). For those who really do need to write down what the professors say in class (and it seems most people would put themselves in that category), the idea of not taking notes in class is a non-starter. But for those who think they might be able to go without it, try leaving the computer at home too. Bring a notepad if you want to be able to copy down anything really important (I do this from time to time). And see how it feels just to listen to the professor. To ponder the questions they are posing as they pose them. It has been a great pleasure for me, and I am grateful I have lecturers this semester (BeVier, Nelson, Klarman) who make this worthwhile.

Deadbeat Father Gets 9/11 Compensation

Even for those of us who prefer the judiciary to engage in narrow intepretation of statutory language, it is hard to swallow a decision like this:

A father who abandoned his son in infancy and refused to financially or emotionally support him is nonetheless entitled to half the death benefit owed to the son, who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a divided appellate panel has held.

The Appellate Division, 3rd Department, concluded that the Workers' Compensation Law describes parent in strictly biological terms.

Since the father's parental rights were never formally severed, he is entitled to the same benefit afforded to the mother, who struggled on public assistance and raised two well-educated and successful sons, the court found.

This is first and foremost the fault of the legislature, which through sloppy drafting neglected to include an explicit exclusion of parents who have abandoned their children (like they have in their state intestate laws). Perhaps broad construction of statutes has lead to imprecision and carelessness on the part of legislators, and perhaps that ought to be rectified by a concerted shift to strict, if cold, interpretation of statutory language. Still, hard to see how justice had been done in this case.

What IS a Quagmire?

It is awfully hard to predict the consequences of any single action we take in Iraq, but the breaking news from CNN makes me think that things are about to hit the fan:

U.S.-led coalition announces an arrest warrant has been issued for anti-American Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

This is just the latest incident in what seems to be a neverending cycle of escalation on the part of both Iraqi insurgents and the US military. It continues to be hard to make sense of the big picture, when most of the daily news is focused on the death toll. More than anything, the big mystery to me is whether there really is this silent majority of Iraqis who favor a peaceful, democratic transition, or whether the Islamic insurgents have greater support amongst the populace than any of us want to believe. I'm not saying we shouldn't be going after this al-Sadr character. But it does raise the possibility that we are dealing not with a few hornets, but with a whole damned nest.

Once such questions become the basis for analyzing our approach to Iraq, I think the comparisons to Vietnam become inescapable. I am much too young to know much about the entry into Vietnam (though I have half a dozen books on my shelf that ought to give me a better understanding), but it seems safe to say that, if nothing else, few people in 1964 thought Vietnam was going to become Vietnam either. As we begin to hear calls (from Republican senators no less) for pushing back the transition to Iraqi sovereignty and/or sending even more troops, I can't deny that red flags start going up in my head.