A Little Advice, Perhaps

A 1L at UVA just emailed me asking for study advice, or rather "how would you recommend studying for the best test results first year?"

Here's my rambling answer. I'll tell you how I did it, but I'll also say that my way was pretty unique, even amongst people who had great success. But it worked for me, so take from it what you will.

I read way, way ahead. By which I mean I am usually finished with the semester's reading by week 4 or 5. I find that this makes it much easier to understand how all the concepts fit together, what direction the course is going, and what the important themes are. In addition, this makes it so that when I go to class, everything I hear serves as review, rather than it being the first time I've heard it, or simply a reiteration of what I read the night before.

The only difficulty is when I'm going to be called on. If I know ahead of time, no problem. I simply review the relevant material before class. If not, I sometimes have to wing it a little. I have a good memory though, which is the only reason the system works in the first place.

My first semester I used the 5-color highlighting system and wrote mini-briefs of each case. I think this is trite and cliched, but it is an ideal way of getting your brain to identify and categorize the elements of court opinions. Soon enough it will be automatic, and you can drop the silly methods.

As for test-taking itself, I think the thing that really sets apart an A exam from an A- or B+ is not simply a grasp of the material. Half the class (at least) will understand the materials, but that only gets you a B+. What you need to do is be so comfortable with the materials that you can afford to be creative, inventive even. That's where my method helps. Because by the time exams come around, you will have already read the material, sat through classes (which will be effectively review sessions) and done your own reviews.

Two other keys:

1) Outline as you go. Don't try and take all of your notes, at the end of the semester, and condense it into an outline. That's how most people do it, but at that stage of the game trying to create the outline makes the outline itself effectively worthless. You want to be READING your outline in the week before exams, not making it.

2) Listen to your professor. That's right, turn off wireless internet if you have to. I didn't even bring a computer to class last semester, and I got my best grades so far. If you really want to get the A, you need to understand what your professor is looking for in his or her exam questions. As such, you need to understand what was important to them in the materials you covered. What angles did they look at, what unknowns did they ponder? Then, when you sit down for the exam, you will see just what they are looking for with the question. Instead of struggling to remember case names or broad principles, you wield your analytic knife and carve out precisely the pivotal elements they want. Because you know your professor.

Well, that's more than I thought I'd have to say, I hope it is useful.

The Sorrow of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In reading Garrow's biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have been particularly struck my several themes that ring discordant with my general schoolbook knowledge of the civil rights leader. They are not the themes that disturb most people. Over the years, I've been made generally aware of his marital infidelities, but despite my distaste for infidelity I have largely set aside that flaw in my feelings about individuals in history. Instead I take the sad frequency of infidelity amongst leaders to be a general symbol of the flawed nature of even the most accomplished and ambitious men.

So I have not been surprised to learn of King's frequent associations with other women, and Garrow does not linger there. Instead I have been surprised to see just how unhappy a man he was. This was not a man who had ambitions of greatness, let alone a sense that he was destined for any such thing. He was constantly reluctant to take on roles of leadership, and at best came to accept that he must carry the burden that circumstance had put on his shoulders. He was away from home more than twenty-five days a month. He was constantly sick, and often downright depressed.

One of the main contributors to his unhappiness was a revelation to me that Garrow's book frequently explores: the drowning complexities of bureaucratic in-fighting in the civil rights movement, both between the various civil rights organizations and within King's own Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). I was vaguely aware of the tension between the NAACP, which favored the primacy of litigation, and other groups more drawn to direct action such as protests and boycotts. Yet I had no sense of the breadth and depth of rivalry between the NAACP, the SCLC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality, among others.

And this was in the days before Black Power, before Stokely Carmichael took over the SNCC from John Lewis. Even in the early days, it seems like at least half of King's time was spent trying to smooth over relations with the NAACP's Roy Wilkins or the leaders of other groups. SCLC was constantly accused of keeping money fundraised for the efforts of other groups (so much so that an umbrella fundraising group, the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, had to be created just to distribute money amongst the groups). King was personally accused of riding in after the groundwork was done by others, and refusing to personally bear the most difficult burdens (e.g. he declined to join the Freedom Rides).

The politics within SCLC were scarely less vexing. Ralph Abernathy became almost insanely jealous when King was given the Nobel Peace Prize, leading to a public rebuke from Nobel officials. There were constant arguments over salaries, titles, lines of authority, etc. The FBI and Kennedy/Johnson administrations hounded King over the past Communist affiliations of several advisors. It is marvel that the organization worked at all.

Honestly, it is also amazing that King found time for anything else, let alone time to be the leader of a revolutionary social movement. I'm only halfway through the book, and there are still three years bfore King's death. But when even the Civil Rights Act and Nobel Peace Prize provide mere glimpses of sunlight in an otherwise dark life, and the internal conflicts in the civil rights movement are about to burst right open, I'm fearful that the last years of King's life will prove to have been no more pleasant.

Calvino is a Wizard

I recently found a piece of paper stuck inside the used copy of Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, which I bought this summer and have just begun reading. It contained this note:

"Calvino is a wizard"
and this book is an enchantment
let it capture you


Very cool. If I ever donate my books to a library or used book store, I think I'll do something similar.

Harvard Personals

My fiancee got a great deal of amusement out of the personals section of the Harvard alumni magazine, so I thought I'd share my favorites:

Adorable and cute, beautiful through and through. Petite, toned, thin and sassy, Jewish brunette. Radiant smile and infectious enthusiasm (think younger Sally Field). Publishing executive with passion for art and photography. Gracious, confident, successful yet not lavish. Romantic realist, independent thinker, great traveling companion, no hidden agendas. Alluring dichotomy: sophisticated and low-key, urban and outdoorsy, hiking the Berkshires or indulging in dinner atop the Eiffel Tower. Seeks smart, confident, responsible, fit, man, 49-59, ready for lasting relationship.

Nothing better than alluring dichotomies. This is a good one too:

Seriously cute and much more.. Sophisticated, smart, sexy and successful. Slender figure, genuine charm, touch of whimsy and a splash of glamour. Business professional, divorced, brunette, 5'6", frequently likened to Jackie Kennedy: smile, coloring, shape of face but far more contemporary, hip, approachable. Terrific team player--creative flair, alluring quirky humor. Open and calm. Enthusiastic reader. Avid swimmer. Tennis dropout, ready to return. Loves movies, Thanksgiving, family celebrations, art, fashion, chocolate, Beijing, Sydney, NYC weekends, seascapes and the Sushi Bar at Harvey Nichols. Seeks educated, professional man, financially solid, divorced or widowed, 49-65.

So she's like Jackie Kennedy, but not too like Jackie Kennedy. And that last sentence leaves some ambiguity. Does he have to be financially solid AND divorced/widowed, or does he have to be financially solid OR divorced/widowed? The former makes more sense to me (49-65 year-old bachelors are very unpopular in these classifieds), but who knows. Anyhow, click here for more.

Apparently getting dates for Ivy League alumni is also a huge business. You've got The Right Stuff, Square Dating and the obnoxiously named Good Genes. You would almost think we Ivy Leaguers had less than stellar social skills.

Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Unconstitutional

The latest attempt to ban partial-birth abortions, this time at the federal level, has failed:

In a highly anticipated ruling, a federal judge found the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional Thursday because it does not include a health exception.

U.S. District Judge Richard C. Casey in Manhattan said the Supreme Court has made it clear that a law that prohibits the performance of a particular abortion procedure must include an exception to preserve a woman's life and health.

I'm not surprised. This was a political stunt, not legislation.

What I Read, Summer 2004

It was a busy summer, what with getting engaged and working at a law firm for 13 weeks. But I still managed to average two books a week (and get laughed at by my friends at the firm for always carrying a book with me), a pace I'm going to try and keep throughout the semester. It'll be difficult here at the beginning, as I try to get ahead in my classes, and blogging may be light for the same reason. Anyhow, here's what I read, in the order I read it:

Emma - Jane Austen
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Theban Plays - Sophocles
The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Beauty & Sadness - Yasunari Kawabata
Dreamtigers - Jorge Luis Borges
The Iceman Cometh - Eugene O'Neill
Krapp's Last Tape - Samuel Beckett
Endgame - Samuel Beckett
Vietnam - Stanley Karnow
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
Candide - Voltaire
Founding Brothers - Joseph Ellis
The Plague - Albert Camus
Herzog - Saul Bellow
Confessions of a Mask - Yukio Mishima
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
The English Teacher - R.K. Narayan
Candida - George Bernard Shaw
American Sphinx - Joseph Ellis
What Kind of Nation - James Simon
Pere Goriot - Honore Balzac
Patriots - A.J. Langguth
Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Barabbas - Par Lagerkvist
Sense & Sensibility - Jane Austen
Robert Kennedy: His Life - Evan Thomas
A Death in the Family - James Agee
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata

I enjoyed everything but the Beckett, and especially recommend Kawabata's Beauty & Sadness and Lagerkvist's Barabbas, since those are two books that don't appear on many people's short lists.

The End of the Summer

In honor of the last day before classes start, a meditation by Dar Williams on the changing of the season:

The summer ends and we wonder where we are
And there you go, my friends, with your boxes in your car
And you both look so young
And last night was hard, you said
You packed up every room
And then you cried and went to bed
But today you closed the door and said
"We have to get a move on.
It's just that time of year when we push ourselves ahead,
We push ourselves ahead."

And it was cloudy in the morning
And it rained as you drove away
And the same things looked different
It's the end of the summer
It's the end of the summer,
When you move to another place

And I feel like the neighbor's girl who will never be the same
She walked alone all spring,
She had a boyfriend when the summer came
And he gave her flowers in a lightning storm
They disappeared at night in green fields of silver corn
And sometime in July she just forgot that he was leaving
So when the fields were dying, she held on to his sleeves
She held on to his sleeves

And she doesn't want to let go
'Cause she won't know what she's up against
The classrooms and the smart girls
It's the end of the summer
It's the end of the summer
When you hang your flowers up to dry

And I had a dream it blows the autumn through my head
It felt like the first day of school
But I was going to the moon instead
And I walked down the hall
With the notebooks they got for me
My dad led me through the house
My mom drank instant coffee
And I knew that I would crash
But I didn't want to tell them
There are just some moments when your family makes sense
They just make sense

So I raised up my arms and my mother put the sweater on
We walked out on the dark and frozen grass
The end of the summer
It's the end of the summer
When you send your children to the moon

The summer ends and we wonder who we are
And there you go, my friends, with your boxes in your car
And today I passed the high school, the river, the maple tree
I passed the farms that made it
Through the last days of the century
And I knew that I was going to learn again
Again, in this less hazy light
I saw the fields beyond the fields
The fields beyond the fields

And the colors are much brighter now
It's like they really want to tell the truth
We give our testimony to the end of the summer
It's the end of the summer,
You can spin the light to gold.

Wonderful things to look back on. Wonderful things to look forward to.

Veritas Vineyards

My fiancee and I put down a deposit on our wedding location on Saturday: Veritas Vineyard. It has a gorgeous (and enormous) tasting room, which you can see in the third picture below. I snapped a few dozen to give our parents a good sense of the place, but these three convey the charm of this beautiful little winery, completely family-run and just far away from Charlottesville to add a sense of picturesque magic. We're very excited.




Now for the fun stuff: wedding registries!

The Last Days

I won't be able to blog much today if at all. Just like yesterday, I am busy tying up all the loose ends that go with finishing a job.

I enjoyed my time here, but I can't deny a great sense of relief at being done. No matter how great a job is, thirteen weeks is a long time to live in someone else's apartment, without any of your stuff, without any of your friends, and without your fiancee. So though I'll miss the people I worked with, and at least some of the work I did, I am very excited to go home.

What a Storm!

Anyone else in downtown Washington D.C.? This is a CRAZY storm...

UPDATE: And just as fast as the hail came... it was gone. Wild stuff.

I Don't Think Kevin Drum Likes This Administration

I'm not endorsing the position that Kevin is taking, but this is one of the most efficient indictments of the administration that I've seen:

The Medicare bill is practically a model of the Bush administration at work: an initially reasonable idea made unrecognizable by deep frying it in a witch's brew of bloated spending, dishonest accounting, fealty to big corporate contributors, crackheaded movement conservative ideology, and just plain incompetence. If Bush ends up losing the election partly as a result of a revolt of seniors over this bill, it will be poetic justice.

When Kevin gets angry, it is really something to see. That is one of the most understated benefits of his normally even-handed approach. Because he spent so long cultivating a deserved reputation for moderation in both substance and tone, he has more credibility when he does express outrage.

When Your Commanding Officer Finds Your Blog

CBFTW's My War has been the best soldier blog for some time, giving realistic, blunt, and detailed information about his operations in Iraq. Yesterday, his battalion commander found out. But despite CBFTW's fears of "latrine duty, being a Pvt again, loss of pay, or worse," things turned out okay:

He calmly looked up and told me that my shit was really good, and he liked reading my stuff, and that I was a good writer. He even mentioned something about including it in the units history and archives. That didn't relieve me one bit, like I said, it made me more freaked out. I'm waiting for him to say the word: "BUT" followed by my punishment. Then we discussed things, and he pointed things out, and told me things. I agreed with 100% of everything he was saying, and the final conclusion from what he told me was that I could continue writing, but maybe have my Plt Sgt read my stuff before I post. He stressed that he didn't want to censor me and that I still had the freedom of speech thing, as long as I wasn't doing anything that would endanger the mission. I totally 110% agree with him on that one. I thanked him and I told him that I of course would not want to do anything that would endanger anybody here or back home, which is of course true. He suggested that I should look into getting this stuff published and made into a book someday.

CBFTW still isn't sure whether he'll continue, knowing that his chain of command is reading. That's certainly understandable. Even when I had the pseudonym, I knew it was a thin protection, effective really only against Google. As such, I would be loath to ever blog about my work... I think the need for discretion is especially strong in the legal field, and in the military. Of course, soon enough I'll be both. It is wonderful to see that the battalion commander had a lot of respect for CBFTW's speech rights, and for the writing itself. CBFTW has provided an invaluable service, and I hope he finds a way to keep expressing himself.

UPDATE:Citizen Smash passes on some tips:

1. Don't violate OPSEC. Never name your unit, be vague about your location and mission, and don't use anyone's real name.

2. Be careful what you say about your seniors. Don't write anything about a superior in your blog that you wouldn't want that person to read back to you.

That's absolutely essential advice for any military blogger. But notice how well it would apply to a young associate in a law firm as well (minus the military jargon).

A New Look For Jeremy Blachman

Lots of changes these past few weeks! Now Jeremy Blachman has a new template for his Blogspot-handicapped solo blog. How he manages to post there, at Crescat Sententia, and at De Novo, I'll never know. But he does, and he's fantastic, and now he finally has a template that looks pretty neat.

And Then There Was Light

The first serious camera I owned was the Canon EOS A2-E (aka EOS 5), which I took with me to Europe during the summer after I graduated from high school, and for a couple years into college. Then I sold that outfit and decided to go all manual, investing in a pretty expansive manual focus system (though for the life of me I can't remember the manufacturer... Minolta I think). And then my last year of college, I sold that and bought the Olympus E-10 as my first foray into digital photography. Unfortunately, I needed money to finance my move to Charlottesville for law school, and had to sell it. For the first two years of law school, I made do with a little Canon S200 Digital Elph.

Right before this summer started, I decided to finally choose once and for all between Canon and Nikon systems. At some point in life you have to make the big choices, and it was time. I bought both the Nikon D-70 and the Canon Digital Rebel. No question, based on the camera body alone, I would have gone with the Nikon. I think it is a superior camera, and priced accordingly. But there was one major, major problem: it back-focused.

So I could either return it for a new one, hoping that I wouldn't get a second lemon. Or I could go with the Rebel. The Rebel had two main advantages: 1) I could buy it locally, from a pro shop that would be helpful and attentive; 2) I much prefer the Canon professional camera bodies and lenses to their Nikon counterparts. So what I decided to do was this: step-by-step, build myself a great Canon system.

For this summer, I've just toyed around with the kit lens and the 50mm f/1.8 that everyone raves about as being the best bargain in town (and it is). But now that I'm headed back to school, I thought it was time to add a substantial flash element. And here she is:


No more red-eye! No more unsightly shadows! No more evil focus assist flash strobe (by far the most heinous part of the Digital Rebel, as anyone who has been the subject of the onboard flash can tell you)! Now I will start salivating over the Canon 70-200mm f/4.0L lens (also much raved about). Yum.

UPDATE: Wow, I have to put in a plug for B&H Photo & Video (and UPS). I've bought a lot of camera equipment from them for many years, and always been pleased, but this tops it all. I ordered the flash at 11:30am yesterday morning and designated 2nd Day Air. It's 9:58am and the box was just put in my hand. That's under 23 hours, door to door. Outstanding.

My Book Quiz Results

No surprises here. Not only am I Siddhartha, I'm the Dover Thrift Edition! Personally, I prefer the New Directions volume (but $1.50 is hard to argue with).

You're Siddhartha! by Hermann Hesse

You simply don't know what to believe, but you're willing to try anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you've spent some time in every camp. But you still don't have any idea what camp you belong in. This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It's time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in ferries.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

The Sacred Love of a Soldier and His XM-8 Rifle

Though I have much love and respect for the M-16, and it has served us well for 4 (!) decades, I can't deny my excitement over the weapon of the future. Check out the video in that story to see the XM-8 rifle in action, and check out this page for more details:

The XM-8 is a model of efficiency in use: its operation controls are ambidextrous, it has three firing modes (single round, three-round burst, and fully automatic), and can handle a variety of magazines, including a 30 round semi-opaque (to allow the shooter to see how many rounds are left in the magazine) hard plastic magazine, which can be rapidly reloaded in close combat situations, and a 100-round drum (for sustained fire), as well as 10-round weapon qualification magazines and M-16 style metal magazines.

Whether the user is a sniper or part of an attack team, the XM-8 can accommodate all uses. It uses four different interchangeable barrels (a 9" compact, a 12.5" assault, a 20" match grade sharpshooter, or a 20" heavy barrel for sustained high ROF applications), each of which can be swapped out at the unit level in less than 2 minutes. The weapon can also be equipped with a 5-position collapsible stock, a flat butt plate (for an extremely small weapon profile), an adjustable sniper stock, or a folding stock.

The XM-8 doesn't skimp on optics, either. Its optics/sight package is an "all-in-one" combination: an infrared laser target designator, IR target illuminator and 1x close combat red-dot sight. In addition to incorporating the three sights into one system, the sight is zeroed at the factory and can be removed and reinstalled by the operator without specialized tools, or the loss of zero.

And here's an an in-depth article by Global Security.

Oh, and a picture:


Trump in Less Trouble Than I Thought

Here's what the CNN headline actually said:

Trump set to fire himself

Here's what I thought it said:

Trump set fire to himself

Imagine my relief. Here's the actual story if you're interested in Trump's woes despite the apparent lack of any self-immolation whatsoever.

A Small Detail About the Man in Black

cash.jpgI don't know when Alex Knapp redesigned Heretical Ideas, but it looks great. Very nice color scheme. And I have to second this sentiment:

I always find it strange to read tributes to Johnny Cash's faith in the pages of National Review. I mean, it's not surprising that National Review and its readers would be interested in a country star who wore his faith on his sleeve. But you'd think they'd at least mention in passing that as a result of his deep Christian faith, Johnny Cash was, you know... liberal.

But I guess that wouldn't play as well to his audience, wouldn't it?

Right... I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm certainly not the dumbest. I mean, I've read books like "Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Love in the Time of Cholera." And I think I've understood them. They're about girls, right? Just kidding. But I have to say...my all-time favorite book is Johnny Cash's autobiography "Cash" by Johnny Cash.

(If you didn't catch that reference, well... I'm sad).

Jim Dedman's Movie

Congratulations to Jim Dedman on shooting the last scene of principal photography in the film he wrote. I've been following along on his site and am excited to see how it turns out. A pretty inspiring little story of a guy pursuing a dream. Jim, I mean. I have no idea what the movie is about.

At Least It's an Ethos

lebowski.jpgYou know that one obsession you have, the one that constantly surprises people when they found out, but that you refuse on principle to be embarassed about? If you don't have one (or... uh... several), you should. And for all of my friends who look at me funny when I say "you're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie," well... I'm not alone:

A cult gives its members license to feel superior to the rest of the universe, and so does a cult movie: it confers hipness on those who grok what the mainstream audience can't. Joel and Ethan Coen's 1998 hyperintellectual stoner noir bowling comedy "The Big Lebowski," starring Jeff Bridges as Jeff (The Dude) Lebowski, has the requisite exclusivity of a cult classic: it bombed at the box office; it was met with shrugs by many critics who had arguably overpraised the Coen brothers' Academy Award-winning "Fargo" (1996); and it has amassed an obsessive following on cable and video and by word of mouth. Nowadays, quoting its intricate, absurdist, often riotously profane dialogue earns you coolness points in widely disparate circles. Some would even say that the cult of "The Big Lebowski" is going mainstream.

Fantastic. There is hope for humanity after all. David Edelstein evens makes an effort to summarize the "plot" of the film, a noble task. And for those who still think a straight-laced Ivy League Army boy like myself can't possibly like this movie so much, you're wrong:

He added: "The Lebowski festival is the tip of the iceberg. It's remarkable how many people from different walks of life see this movie again and again. Not just potheads. There was a Wall Street guy I met who'd drop a `Lebowski' line into job interviews and if the person didn't pick up on it he wouldn't be hired. I met this commander of a military base. He said they watch the movie down there in the missile silo two or three times a week."

It makes one feel safer already.

Sure does. After all, "sometimes there's a man, sometimes, there's a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here. But... aw, hell. I've done introduced it enough."

(Also check out the Big Lebowski random quote generator).

Can Kerry Win Back Europe?

Senatory Kerry has made a concerted effort to suggest that his election would bring a renewed emphasis on alliance-building and international cooperation. Yet even for those who think those are good things, and I do, Sgt. Missick reminds us to maintain realistic expectations about how much Kerry could accomplish:

I do feel that Senator John Kerry will probably have a much more congenial relationship with European leaders than President Bush, but that is a matter of personalities. What I believe goes unrecognized is the fact that many European leaders also have an electoral obligation to their constituents, and European politico's have an all-too recent reminder in the Spanish elections of what happens when elected officials step outside of the will of their own public and support the Iraqi people. Clearly, a change of heart can happen on the interpersonal basis of leader to leader between European and American officials, but to convince the vast throngs of uber-progressive populaces (by American standards) is something that I believe is above the ability of any American political leader.

Now I think Missick decidedly understates the substantive non-personality differences between Kerry and Bush, particularly when it comes to their view of alliances in international relations. And he also understates the argument that Bush has uniquely poisoned the well, although he mentions that he has "written in the past how I believe the apparent discord in transatlantic alliances between the United States and Europe would have occurred with or without President Bush in office, and that it is mostly a bi-product of new dynamics in a post-Cold War world." There's a lot to argue with in that thesis, but that's for another day.

Regardless of the nuances of the argument, it is important for Kerry supporters to keep realistic expectations of his ability to restore the great Western alliances to their former (mythic?) glory. It is not likely to make much electoral difference, since all a Kerry supporter probably needs to believe on the foreign policy front is that Kerry will not be worse (since that seems to be where his opponents are trying to attack him). But for those who take a less election-driven view of the candidates, it is a much-needed dose of reality.

Internet Chat Archives

A very entertaining and distracting collection of the Top 100 Quotes collected in chat rooms, constantly updated by live voting. #1 is genius:

<Zybl0re> get up
<Zybl0re> get on up
<Zybl0re> get up
<Zybl0re> get on up
<phxl|paper> and DANCE
* nmp3bot dances :D-<
* nmp3bot dances :D|-<
* nmp3bot dances :D/-<
<[SA]HatfulOfHollow> i'm going to become rich and famous after i invent a device that allows you to stab people in the face over the internet

That immediately makes me think of Kevin Drum's comment section. Huh. And for neverending excitement, use the random quote option. Too, too funny. Though I suppose being an internet and computer geek helps.

UPDATE: Mr. Poon likes it too.

The Kennedys and Cuba

One version of the leadup to the war in Iraq paints the President as having been fixated on getting Saddam Hussein out of power from the first day in office. 9/11 simply served as a great excuse to go after Iraq, and only the strenuous objections of more reasonable people convinced the administration that they would at least have to start in Afghanistan. Now who knows how much of this story is true, but even if so it might not be without precedent. From Evan Thomas' biography of RFK:

In later years, veterans of the Kennedy administration would look back at the Kennedys' Cuba obsession, and their own role in abetting it, with wonder and some shame. "We were hysterical about Castro at the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter," said Robert McNamara, the defense secretary who was Robert Kennedy's close friend. The president's national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy (less enamored with RFK, whom he described as a "terrier of a man"), suspected that RFK was trying to avenge his brother's humiliation at the Bay of Pigs. "It was almost as simple as, goddammit, we lost the first round, let's win the second," said Bundy....

The "bureaucrats" tried to warn [Robert] Kennedy that the Cuban people were not likely to rise up against Castro... But in a memo on November 30, Lansdale urged Kennedy to ignore the intelligence experts: they were just playing bureaucratic warfare.

Kennedy just pressed on... As recorded by the CIA's new director of operations, Richard Helms, Kennedy announced that overthrowing Castro was "the top priority of the United States Government--all else is secondary-- no time, money, effort, or manpower is to be spared."

Of course we all know how it turned out in the end. Castro soon did present a tremendous threat to the United States, housing Soviet missiles within a hundred miles of our shore. And Bobby Kennedy saw that coming, demonstrating more foresight than the professional intelligence experts. Yet for each of his insights came numerous blunders, as Thomas goes on to document. Many even would argue that the Cuban Missile Crisis was essentially a paranoid Castro's response to the unrelenting Kennedy/CIA machinations against him, and thus the Kennedys provoked the stand-off rather than merely anticipating it.

Anyhow, I thought it provided an interesting parallel for those who think or suspect that this administration was unreasonably focused on Iraq at the expense of other domestic and foreign affairs.

FBI vs. Communists

Turns out 9/11 was not the first time the FBI found itself institutionally incapable of meeting present threats. From Evan Thomas' biography of RFK:

In New York, Kennedy asked for the FBI's files on organized crime and got mostly newspaper clips. The New York office had four hundred agents out looking for communists and ten devoted to the mob. Kennedy was scornful. By 1961, the American Communist Party had only a few hundred members, Kennedy knew, and most of them were undercover FBI agents.

And they say the military is always fighting the last war.

Bobby Kennedy

Bobby Kennedy is likely the most famous alumnus of my law school, so I thought it would be fitting to become more familiar with his life before I graduated. Toward that end, I began reading Evan Thomas' Robert Kennedy: His Life, and have been richly rewarded. I think the cover blurb actually says it well, calling the book an "unvarnished but sympathetic and fair-minded portrayal." Thomas isn't afraid to show RFK's darkness, but he also gives a more complex and complete explanation for where the darkness came from, and at what it was aimed.

A funny tidbit for UVA Law folks, here's the reaction when RFK was named attorney general at thirty-five, having yet to actually practice law:

In the faculty room at Bobby's alma mater, the University of Virginia Law School, the announcement of RFK's appointment as attorney general was greeted with a "roar of incredulity," recalled Mortimer Capilin, Bob Kennedy's old tax professor (and soon-to-be Jack Kennedy's commissioner of internal revenue).

For those who've never visited the building, almost half of all rooms at the UVA School of Law are named for Mortimer Caplin (or so it seems).

Is Wal-Mart a Drain on the Economy?

It turns out Wal-Mart might not be such a bargain after all:

A recent University of California, Berkeley study found that the fast growing retailer takes more from communities than it gives.

"Because of the low wages and because people do not have health insurance through their employer, people rely on public support to make ends meet," says the school's Ken Jacobs.

Estimates are the result is a tab to California taxpayers of $82-million a year for health care, food stamps, and other social services.

Wal-Mart counters that it pays far more in tax than that, and that it hires from areas of the workforce that are underemployed, including seniors and students.

It would take a more advanced understanding of economics for me to fully grasp what is going on here, but it seems to me that so long as Wal-Mart stays within the bounds of the law (which they have had some problems with), the government ought not have much to say about this. If we are really so concerned about these employees, we ought to increase the minimum wage and/or required certain benefits.

Of course, there is a bigger non-legal issue here, and that is what the story is going after: are Americans really saving money by shopping at discount stores, when the discount arises from low wages and no benefits to employees? If, as the study alleges, public support of those stores' employees is so costly, the required taxes may offset any in-store savings.

In the end, though, it is hard to imagine the average not-so-sophisticated American shopper recognizing that in the larger economic scheme of things, their Wal-Mart purchases are not saving them all that much money. These are the same people who have extra wages withheld in an attempt to save money, effectively taking out a zero-interest savings account with the US government when an interest-bearing account is available at any bank in America.

UPDATE:Sebastian Holsclaw points out some of the flaws in the study:

The first flaw is that the study assumes that if these people were not working at WalMart they would not be getting public assistance. That is an assumption which requires a serious defense if we are to get past it. Many WalMart jobs are the very first step into the working world. For many of these people this is either a first job or their first job in a long time. It doesn't seem a stretch to suspect that many of them would be unemployed if they weren't working at WalMart.

He's got a lot more, and it doesn't take an advanced understanding of economics to grasp the points he is making. Thanks, Sebastian.

Venerable Interpretation

I got this amusing smart-ass email from Singapore over the weekend regarding the 1st Precept:

Dear Venerable,

I have a couple of situation clarification with regards to the 1st precept of abstention from killing.

a) In my house toilet, sometime there are some puny ants. I need to
clean the toilet. I tried sending loving kindness and ask them to go away - but guess I don't have the ability. So they still wandering around. I spray water and they died.

b) I play golf. Sometime, while trying to take a shot, a puny ant would be crawling on the golf ball. I usually brush in away or wait till the ant crawl down to the ground and disappear. I take my golf shot - wandering whether the ant escaped or has been killed by my golf swing?.

Kindly advise how to interpret these situations. Thank You

My smart-ass response:

These are very difficult situations.

First, I would advise that you leave the toilet to the ants and shit outside.

Second, try to play golf with an imaginary golf ball instead of a real one. This will eliminate any danger of striking an ant, and should also help in avoiding sand traps and water hazards.

I do have to wonder, though, about someone who would go through all the trouble of finding a website that discusses Buddha's Five Precepts just to send an e-mail like that.

A New Day, A New Site

Though my readers have known me as Unlearned Hand for almost a year and a half, my real name is Gabe. I am a third-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, and will spend the first four years of my legal career in the United States Army.

It seems that every few months I just need to shake things up in these parts. I started Unlearned Hand in February 2003, then effectively put it on hiatus to start En Banc in November 2003. Then I shut down En Banc in February 2004 and returned to solo blogging. And now I am shifting gears again.

The biggest change, of course, is that I am no longer using a pseudonym. It just does not seem necessary, and I have become tired of the disconnect the pseudonym created between my real life and my web presence. I have always wanted my website to be a natural extension of the rest of my life, and dropping the pseudonym is a step in that direction.

I have also, of course, changed the name of the website. This gives a more clear break from my old pseudonym, as well as signalling that law and legal issues will be only a part of the site's focus. It is also a name I can imagine keeping for many years, as it is closely connected to my core spiritual beliefs. Check out the post below if you're curious about the source of the site's new name.

Other than that, however, there have not been any groundbreaking changes. I made a few minor tweaks to the site's appearance, but most things should look familiar. That's on purpose, as I thought a significant sense of continuity was appropriate. I'm sure there'll be some broken links here and there, but hopefully for the most part the domain name re-directs will work.

I do have some plans for the future, including finally adding content to the music section, and possibly re-enabling comments. I am still pondering that, but the possibility of MT 3.1 with its post scheduling and subcategories might well lead me to an upgrade that could include registration-required comments. And my blogroll needs a total overhaul.

Please bear with my light-posting over the next week. It is my last week of work, and I have an appellate brief to finish. It is actually quite interesting, a Blakely claim no less, but I am not at my most productive with only a few days left. I will have a lot to say about working in a law firm within a few weeks, but this week I still have to keep my nose to the grindstone.

Why "A Handful of Sand"

The book that has had the most influence on my life is Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It was the first book of any serious philosophical pretense that I read by choice. Though it took a couple of times through before I understood much of what I was reading, I was immediately struck by how much of what Pirsig said constituted a sophisticated and coherent discussion of the many raw and incoherent ramblings that had occupied my head since childhood.

Perhaps more importantly, Pirsig's book was the turning point in my approach to Zen and Buddhism. I had long been very skeptical of Buddhist philosophy, associating it with the drug-loving Beats and my drug-loving high school friends. Pirsig's book convinced me to take another look, which led me to the Cambridge Zen Center and weekly classes. And I've never looked back.

That's a long way of introducing one of my favorite passages from the book, in which Pirsig discusses the way we sort, categorize, dichotomize, and generally misunderstand the world around us:

We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness and call that handful of sand the world. Once we have the handful of sand, the world of which we are conscious, a process of discrimination goes to work on it. We divide the sand into parts. This and that. Here and there. Black and white. Now and then.

And there you have it. It is all Pirsig's fault. Blame him.

Azerbaijani Music

One of the most unintentionally funny e-mails I've received in a long time:

Azerbaijan International magazine is so pleased to announce that 5 hours of uninterrupted Classical Music from Azerbaijan will be featured on Princeton University Radio on Monday morning, August 23, 2003, from 6 am to 11 am Eastern Standard Time (East Coast USA).

No offense intended for the three of you predisposed toward such music.

Get Rid of Legacies

If the President is serious about this, I support him one hundred percent:

President Bush said Friday he opposes the use of a family history at colleges or universities as a factor in determining admission.

Bush stated his position to what's known as "legacy" in response to a question during a Washington forum for minority journalists called Unity 2004.

He was asked, "Colleges should get rid of legacy?"

Bush responded, "Well I think so, yes. I think it ought to be based upon merit."

Now some people are going to jump on this the same way they jump on Clarence Thomas for opposing affirmative action: they'll assume (perhaps correctly) that George W. Bush himself was a legacy admission, and then argue that if you benefit from the program, you can not later attack it. Of course, this is a hugely fallacious argument. Often times, as with Clarence Thomas, it is precisely because an individual has "benefitted" from a program or policy that they can see the drawbacks. Or perhaps they just changed their mind. Accusing the President of hypocrisy will make for good rhetoric, but I see no reason to doubt that he simply thinks a straight merit-based admissions policy is the most equitable way to resolve this longstanding debate.

Abstinence Only

I understand that people have a lot of mixed feelings about the effectiveness of abstinence-only curriculums in American public schools. I happen to think it a terrible idea, akin to closing one's eyes and hoping things just get better. But I would hope that certain aspects of the Texas textbook debate would embarrass even abstinence-only advocates:

For example, one textbook under review advises that a good way a teen-ager can prevent a sexually transmitted disease is to get plenty of rest so he or she can have a clear head about sex and choose abstinence.


Atlantis Has Been Found... Sorta

And you can still visit:

Atlantis, the legendary island-nation whose existence has been debated for thousands of years, was actually Ireland, according to a new theory by a Swedish scientist.

Atlantis, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in 360 B.C., was an island in the Atlantic Ocean where an advanced civilization developed some 11,500 years ago until it was hit by a cataclysmic natural disaster and sank beneath the waves.

Geographer Ulf Erlingsson, whose book explaining his theory will be published next month, says the measurements, geography, and landscape of Atlantis as described by Plato match Ireland almost exactly.

Some are more skeptical:

Others locate it solely in the long-decayed brain of Plato.

Harsh, man. Though I'm not sure which is a less romantic conclusion: that Atlantis was a figment of the imagination of history's greatest philosopher, or... well... Ireland.

2004-2005 Course Schedule

Alright, here's my current course schedule for my last year of law school:

Fall 2004

Civil Rights Litigation - Risa Goluboff
Conflict of Laws - Graham Lilly
Constitutional History I - Mike Klarman
Criminal Adjudication - Darryl Brown
Trial Advocacy - Jean Hudson

Spring 2005

Advanced Topics in the Law of War - JAG School
American Legal History - Barry Cushman
Analysis of the Military Criminal Legal System - JAG School
Legislation - Caleb Nelson
Professional Responsibility - Richard Balnave
Prosecutorial Function - Earl Dudley

Not only do I get to take two classes over at the JAG School, I get to experience the last three professors I've really been wanting to take a class from: Cushman, Dudley, and Goluboff. And a third class each with Klarman and Nelson, two of the best. It ought to be a brilliant end to a very, very long academic career.

Bush's Biggest Problem

This has to be the funniest comment I've ever read:

Bush�s biggest problem: being popular in very unpopulated states. That map is just astonishing. If Kerry wins, it�ll be the coasts that give it to him.

If you looked up self-parody in the dictionary, this is what you would get. Bush's biggest problem is that he is most popular where nobody lives. Or, phrased differently, Bush's biggest problem is that Kerry is more popular. I remember the President having a similar problem four years ago.

Expressing Outrage

Sure he's on a rant, but when intelligent and well-spoken people like Publius start ranting, it is worth taking note. Where there is smoke, there may be fire:

I have gone through many "last straws" over the past couple of years, but this may be the last of the emergency set of last straws. It's actually sad in a way. I too got swept up in the post-9/11 feelings of unity and purpose. Thinking of the firemen who charged the buildings and sacrificed their lives for something higher, I reflected on whether I should be doing something other than law. I think everyone did. Everyone wanted to come together and stop terrorism, and make America and the world better. But this President - who has neither knowledge, curiosity, experience, nor judgment - pissed that away because he was too damned ignorant to realize the once-in-a-century opportunity History had given him. He robbed us of our national unity. I'm 27, but I doubt I'll ever live to see the same degree of unity. And now look where we are - now I don't even believe my own government when they tell me of terror warnings... Nothing - I believe nothing more they say. Ever.

Food for thought. I have trouble getting myself quite that worked up, but I can't deny recurrent inklings of outrage. I guess I still value even-handedness, and try to avoid ranting on this site. I just don't project anger or outrage particularly strongly in my writing. Whether that is because I'm not as angry or outraged, or because I moderate myself in my blogging, I'm not sure. I certainly do feel some constraint from my present and future employment, and thus am usually quite conscious and cautious before posting each entry.

Perhaps I'm just being overly cautious in worrying that simple disagreements with the administration would ever threaten my career. But maybe not:

Active duty military members may not:

-- Speak before a partisan political gathering of any kind for promoting a partisan political party or candidate.

-- Participate in any radio, television or other program or group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or candidate.

-- Make campaign contributions directly to a partisan political candidate.

I won't be active duty for another year and a half, at least, so these restrictions don't squarely apply to me right now (though they do counsel for discretion). But once I go active, expect a lot less political talk. It's not even clear to me whether I'll be able to keep the archives of this site publicly available (such as my discussion of who I voted for in the Democratic primary). Anyone know? After all, here's how one JAG officer has summed it up:

A good rule of thumb is that any public or outward involvement in or support of partisan political activity by soldiers is likely prohibited.

Serious stuff.

Bad Planning

With all due respect to General Franks and his tremendous career, some of his explanations and excuses are a bit hard to swallow:

According to the General in command, the U.S. went to war in Iraq without expectation of the violent insurgency that followed or a clear understanding of the psychology of the Iraqi people.

"We had a hope the Iraqis would rise up and become part of the solution," said former Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military's Central Command until his retirement last August. "We just didn't know (about the insurgency)."

Interviewed Monday in connection with the publication of his memoir, "American Soldier," Franks also said he had expected large numbers of foreign troops to join the U.S. in its Iraq effort. Franks attributes the stresses on American forces in Iraq now, in part, to the failure of that to happen.

Now I think the former is clearly true. Those who planned the war did not understand the Iraqi people or the possibility of the insurgency. But I think General Franks exemplifies understatement later in the piece, when he suggests that there may have been some "willful assumptions with respect to that."

And on the latter point, about international troops, I have to confess I just do not understand. It makes it sound like he was just crossing his fingers, hoping international support would come to save an otherwise undermanned mission. At what point did he "expect" international support? Before we went to the UN? Before we invaded? After major combat operations had ended? His later clarifications don't help either:

As he noted in his book, Franks initially projected that troop strength in Iraq might have to rise to 250,000 for the U.S. to meet all of its objectives, but it never got higher than 150,000.

"The wild card in this was the expectation for much greater international involvement," he said in the interview. "I never cared whether the international community came by way of NATO or the United Nations or directly. ... We started the operation believing that nations would provide us with an awful lot of support."

What? We started operations without any significant military committments from anyone but the British, downright hostility from several other major allies, and international support was just supposed to... happen? This makes it sound like the administration was playing chicken with the international community, assuming that once the war seemed inevitable everyone would rally to our side. Needless to say, that did not and has not happened.

And then there is further evidence of what many have long suspected, that Colin Powell knew better:

According to Franks, Secretary of State Colin Powell contacted him directly, without going through the chain of command, to voice his concern that the U.S. was invading Iraq with a comparatively small, highly-mobile force, instead of the kind of overwhelming massive force such as Powell deployed when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War.

Franks said he considered Powell's views as from a different time and situation.

Except that Powell was right. Unfortunately, Powell has stuck close to the loyal soldier model, and has lent his gravitas and credibility to a foreign policy that has seems to have largely ignored his advice.

Nader v. Peltier

It might be funny if it were not so damned sad:

The California Peace and Freedom Party won't be supporting Ralph Nader for president.

The group of 80,000 instead nominated jailed American Indian activist Leonard Peltier at its convention yesterday.

Nader addressed the group before the vote. The independent candidate was in California seeking the signatures needed to put him on the presidential ballot this November. Nader and his vice presidential candidate have until August 6 to collect more than 153,000 valid signatures.

Kevin Akin says the party decided to go with Peltier because delegates believe his candidacy is "very important."

God Bless California. You make the rest of us seem so normal. And of course, by "jailed activist," I'm sure CNN meant "convicted murderer."

Blakely Redux

Via the good folks at Goldstein Howe comes news that the Supreme Court will be revisiting Blakely, and soon:

Acting swiftly, the Supreme Court moved today to resolve some of the basic constitutional questions about the federal Sentencing Guidelines in the wake of its ruling June 24 in Blakely v. Washington. Accepting all of the suggestions of the Justice Department, the Court agreed to review two constitutional questions in two cases � U.S. v. Booker, 04-104, and U.S. v. Fanfan, 04-105. The Court indicated it would decide whether Blakely applies to the Guidelines and, if so, whether the entire Guidelines system is invalid, or some of it can be salvaged.

The Court ordered expedited briefing, and set the case for argument on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 4 � the opening day of the new term.

Can you feel the excitement? I'm all tingly. Expect further commentary from SCOTUSBlog and Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy.

Say Again?

The good news:

President Bush said Monday he is asking Congress to create the position of a national intelligence director, to serve as the president's principal intelligence adviser.

The terrible, mind-numbing, unbelievable news:

The national director of intelligence will report to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Bush said.

I mean... what? How is that in any way an improvement? This person will have absolutely no authority whatsoever, AND will be subordinate to an already entrenched political appointee. Mind. Numbing.

UPDATE: Hmm, the Washington Post has a more detailed story, which suggests CNN may have oversimplified:

Bush said that under the proposed reorganization, the national intelligence director "will assume the broader responsibility of leading the intelligence community across our government," while the CIA would be managed by a separate director. He said creating the new position would require "a substantial revision of the 1947 National Security Act" and that he looks forward to working with Congress on that reform.

Bush said the new counterterrorism center would prepare a daily terrorism threat report for the president and senior officials, with the center's director reporting to the new national intelligence director once that position is created. Until then, he said, "the center will report to the director of the CIA."

That sounds much different from the CNN quote above. I guess we'll have to wait and see. Of course, budget authority is the real key, and there still don't seem to be any details about that.


Since I'm in DC for another couple weeks, this breaking news is of particular concern:

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to raise terror threat level in Washington to high (orange), official tells CNN.

Nonetheless, after all these years my first reaction is still: what the hell does that mean? I hate this stupidity. The colors have to go. Immediately.

Awesome Trade

When I saw that the Cubs might give up Matt Clement, and to the Red Sox (who I do not like), I was not pleased. Now I am:

When the complicated four-team deal that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs finally was completed, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said, "you never go to work thinking he's going to be available." Especially when you don't have to give up a quality starting pitcher to get him.

But that was the case for the Cubs, who added another All-Star caliber right-handed bat to their lineup, and gave up nothing more than the shortstop Garciaparra replaces, a great young bullpen arm and a prospect from a deep farm system.

But not Matt Clement, who was rumored to be involved in talks leading up to the surprisingly busy conclusion of the non-waiver trade period on Saturday. And not either of their top two prospects. For an improved chance at getting back to the postseason, it was a move the Cubs couldn't refuse, and considering the deadline failures of their wild-card rivals in the National League West, you can make a case for the Cubs now being the wild-card favorite.

Cubs fans are not used to smart personnel decisions, so don't be surprised if this somehow backfires horribly. But for now, Nomar is the man.

UPDATE: That said, it is just plain bizarre to see Nomar in a Cubs uniform.

It is going to be some time before this looks normal.

Dostoevsky on the Election

Doesn't this passage from Notes from Underground resemble much of the rhetoric regarding Bush and Kerry, especially the "assertive fool" vs. "indecisive flip-flopper" labels, and the dangers inherent in both? If you're so inclined, think of this in terms of the differing approaches to justifying the war in Iraq:

I repeat, I emphatically repeat: ingenuous people and active figures are all active simply because they are dull and narrow-minded. How to explain it? Here's how: as a consequence of their narrow-mindedness, they take the most immediate and secondary causes for the primary ones, and thus become convinced more quickly and easily than others that they have found an indisputable basis for their doings, and so they feel at ease; and that, after all, is the main thing. For in order to begin to act, one must first be completely at ease, so that no more doubts remain.

I think that well sums up the criticism (and some of the defense) of Bush's approach to the war. He is decisive, he emphasizes moral clarity, and leaves no room for gray areas or self-doubt. In contrast, I think it hard to argue with the notion that Kerry is more concerned with solving ambiguities, at the risk of seeming indecisive.