Blogging Again

More than seven months passed between my 29 June 2007 post and my return to blogging last week. As I mentioned shortly before my unofficial hiatus, I am now a military prosecutor at one of the Army's busiest bases in terms of courts-martial and criminal justice. As this began to take up more and more of my days last summer, it was hard to justify spending any of my limited free time on this blog. I had little energy at night for much beyond passive websurfing and watching DVDs. On the weekends I really had just two priorities: first and foremost, my wife; in a distant second, my reading.

Going into the fall, I had a number of time-consuming cases. I prosecuted a murder (resulting in a guilty plea and life sentence), a couple rapes (one conviction with a ten-year sentence, one administrative discharge), and more than a dozen other cases, including two fullly contested trials (both resulting in convictions, significant prison sentences, and punitive discharges). My last contested case was in mid-January, and I have begun to have a bit more free time to expend as I see fit.

A few other things have changed as well. I have made some advances up the steep learning curve for military criminal justice and am thus more efficient at my work. The primary election and my excitement at Senator Obama's campaign have me spending more time online than before.

Perhaps most importantly, in May I will PCS to a new office and will finally be co-located with my wife. I will also be deploying for three month rotations to Camp Arifjan, in Kuwait. While CONUS and co-located with my wife (for the first time in more than two years), my job will be less strenuous and I anticipate enough leisure time to be a more dedicated blogger. While OCONUS with Internet access, I will really appreciate having an online presence that my friends and family can keep track of.

So I'm back, and very happy about it.

Back to Blogging

While I knew that running the tax center was going to keep me busy, I had no intention of going more than two months without updating the blog. Most of December was spent training my troops (I now have thirteen soldiers assigned to me from the various units on post), with sessions from the IRS and local state departments of revenue. The biggest headache was getting all of the computers ready, with the proper software installed, networked to the printers, and the like. IT security is so high that I don't have administrator's rights to make any of the changes myself, and the poor IT tech from JAG had to come out several times a week to help. Thank goodness for her patience.

The tax center opened in the middle of January, but it was another week before soldiers' W-2's came out on MyPay. During those first few weeks, I was always on my feet, moving from computer to computer as my soldiers encountered new problems. From retirees with mixed retired pay / VA disability compensation to soldiers whose home of record is Michigan and live in Georgia with spouses who work in Alabama, we've seen endless variations. I know so much about the Earned Income Credit, itemized deductions, and the like that I'll probably never get it all out of my head.

My soldiers have become largely self-sufficient now, so I tend to handle only the complicated situations, such as soldiers who need to file prior year returns, amendments, or the occasional audit. I am enjoying my work, and surprisingly, expect to be sad to see April 17 come around.

I'm Back

So when I said I might have something to say at the end of January, I wasn't lying. I just did not anticipate that the combination of 8 hours a day of Powerpoint slides, 4 days a week of PT, and the more social aspects of the JAG officer basic course would take so much out of me.

At the end of the day, I simply did not have the energy to blog. The dial-up internet did not help. Nor did the fact that I was essentially cut off from the outside world, having little knowledge about current events or time to make progress on my Great Books Project.

That's not to say that I did not greatly enjoy much of my OBC experience. First and foremost are the great friends and colleagues I came to know over the 14 weeks at Fort Lee and Charlottesville. There is just something about spending so much time together in such unpleasant circumstances (whether it's conducting stand-to on a cold January morning or sitting through the aforementioned Powerpoint torture) that forges hasty but strong friendships. I continue to be in touch with more than a dozen, and hope that continues indefinitely.

Of course I also made the most out of being back in Charlottesville. Three years of law school there had given me just enough expertise to be a local guide in the first few weeks before everyone got their bearings. From Christian's Pizza to the South Street Brewery, I made sure my JAG friends experienced the very best that C'ville had to offer. It was bittersweet at times, since all of my memories of Charlottesville were memories made with my wife, who had to stay behind in Atlanta working the big firm life while I was in Charlottesville. Fortunately she was able to make several weekend visits, including a visit on our first anniversary to Veritas Vineyard, the site of our wedding.

The curriculum at JAG OBC was a mixed bag. The content was good. Most of the professors were very good. But the relatively short duration of the classroom portion, a mere 10 weeks, necessitated a delivery that was alternately called (by the professors) the "firehose" or "death by Powerpoint." It's not the ideal way to learn, and the stated goal of many professors was merely give us the ability to recognize the questions in our practice that might be answered by the course materials we were given. In that limited ambition, they probably succeeded.

And now here I am, working away. I took a week of leave after our April 7 graduation, found an apartment, moved my stuff down, and have been slowly learning the tricks of the trade. I'm assigned to the Legal Assistance section, which I requested, and am quickly becoming aware of the myriad legal problems that soldiers deal with (and create). I'm am very much enjoying the work, and my colleagues in the office are every bit as excellent as the friends I made at OBC. So things here are good. Very good.

It's Been a While

As you've no doubt noticed, I haven't updated the blog in nearly a month. I don't have a good ready-made excuse, I just haven't found the energy or interest in sharing my thoughts in this forum lately. With the multitude of changes upcoming, namely leaving Atlanta to begin four years of active duty service as an Army JAG officer, it's hard to predict what place this blog will have. And without that certainty, it has been difficult to figure out what I wanted to be doing with the blog in the meantime.

Being an attorney, any attorney, means blogging about your work is often a stupid thing to do. Being an Army officer adds another layer of complexity to that analysis. I may find that this blog begins to play an even more important role in my life as an avenue for discussing my non-professional pursuits. Or it may fail to serve any function at all. Only time will tell. For now, expect a couple months of relative (or total) silence. I've got less than a month to wrap up my affairs here, and spend time with my wife. And then I'll be spending most of January at FT Lee, Virginia, and don't anticipate the opportunity to spend much of that time online. When I get to Charlottesville at the end of January for my ten weeks of training at the Army JAG School, I may have something to say.

Until then, enjoy your lives.

MT 3.2 Upgrade / Redesign

You may have noticed that I did quite a bit of redecorating around here. I thought a bit of spring-cleaning and a redesign would be just the thing to kickstart a renewed effort at regular blogging. I had been down to a post or two every couple weeks, which is pretty pathetic. Now that the summer is winding down, the bar exam is a distant memory, and my wife and I are fully settled into our condo, I've got a bit of time to spare.

What you likely have not noticed is that I finally upgraded the Movable Type software that serves as the backbone of this site. I had been lingering on MT 2.65 for months (years?) while I waited to see if MT 3.0 would be worthwhile. Now that it has gone through several iterations, I thought I would take the plunge.

I am very pleased that I did. There are numerous benefits to the upgrade, many of which I likely have not yet seen. The one that stands out the most is the new "save and rebuild" button at the bottom of all of the templates. Sure, it is a small change. But being able to edit and rebuild with one click, a task I do dozens of times a week, will be one of those simple pleasures that make an upgrade like this worthwhile.

Reduced Output

I've not been as prolific lately as I had hoped. Things have been busy, and that's not going to change for a while. In the next ten weeks, I will graduate, move to Atlanta, start working at a law firm, study for the bar exam, and then take the bar exam. So while I would love to keep blogging on a regular basis, I don't think it makes much sense to even try. I'll keep updating the books I'm reading (yes, I plan on trying to read the occasional page or two amidst all the above chaos), and maybe post every week or so just to stay in touch.

Beginning Again

One of the difficulties I have in blogging is that when, for whatever reason, I go a few days without writing anything, it is that much harder to start again. So whatever disincentives there already are, be it time, inclination, or lack of content, are compounded by the notion that I need to come up with some reason why I should "restart" the blogging. Or that anything new ought to be really interesting. But frankly, that's stupid, so I'm just going to write whatever I want.

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.

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.

Just Stupid

Does anyone else think that posts like this just make Josh Marshall seem like a pretentious jerk?

Great work CNN! (You'll understand soon enough ...)

Well if I'll understand soon enough, and through no help from him, then what the hell is the point of that post? This is the blogging equivalent of running up to a friend, telling them you know a great secret but then refusing to share it. Imagine CNN running a breaking news bar on the website that read "Shocking story. Details soon." You'd be annoyed, and rightfully so. It is especially obnoxious because Marshall has made sort of a specialty of this, and seems to rarely deliver. It makes it a bit hard to take him seriously.

UPDATE: Oh look, Marshall actually explained himself:

The reference to CNN last night was to their running live on-air the panicked reactions of the convention director as the balloons failed to drop precisely on schedule. Originally it may have been a glitch. But they seemed to keep it running long after they could have rectified the problem.

Huh. Neat. I'm not trying to pick on Marshall, he does great work. But he has to know that he's getting a reputation for these sly and elusive comments, and would be better served to avoid them. Particularly when, as here, they concern tremendously trivial matters.

Interesting New Blog

A "recently admitted part time 1L" has a new blog called Tex Lex, and today's post about new technology is fascinating. He introduces me to two new concepts, Wi-Fi cell phones and digital music on eBay (though without links... blogs need links!), and has this to say about his legal interests:

It's innovation like this that keeps me employed in the industry I'm in and it's the legal consequences of these technologies that are prompting me to go to law school. Legally, we have no idea how to regulate either of these industries and the people in charge are too old and too far removed from actual users to understand the legal impacts of the decisions they are making (like the DCMA, for example). Yes, that's a broad generalization and yes, there are senior citizens who are avid users of the latest and greatest technologies available today, but if Michael Powell fully understood the implications of allowing the Baby Bells to buy up all the cell phone companies and to then buy up all the Wi-Fi providers, he might object to these mergers a little louder than he has recently. Competing technologies are not as useful to consumers if they are all owned and priced by the same companies.

Good point.

JAG Central

The Centrist, "a Captain in the US Army, a former Army helicopter pilot, and a student at UCLA School of Law," has moved his blogging to a new site called JAG Central, which he describes as the "world's first weblog devoted to military justice and military law issues." Those are certainly topics of interest around here, so I'll be keeping my eyes on what could become an excellent resource.

Spotted

I was wrong. Matt Yglesias still hangs out in Tryst. He saw my last post, sent me an email to figure out where I was in the room, and we just had a nice chat. Apologies to Matt, but I too was surprised at how tall he is. He was very friendly and as brilliant as expected. Everything in person that makes him one of my very few daily reads online. And he was not too hard on me for working at one of the evil D.C. law firms for the summer. I suppose my four year committment to the Army gives me a touch of insulation against charges of being an instrument of pure evil.

We talked Iraq and North Korea, and are apparently in agreement that somehow the world seems to be falling apart without anyone really taking notice. I guess even willful ignorance is bliss.

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.

De Novo

Four of my former co-bloggers at En Banc have launched a brand new blog called De Novo. They are off to a great start with a truly excellent and original idea: a recurring blogging symposium. The new blog should become an instant must-read, and I'm glad to be able to say that it is a group blog in the truest of senses: they planned, designed, and executed the site as a group, and I think it shows. Go check them out.

Confessions of a Masked Blogger

I have got to be honest here. This has not been the greatest semester for me. I have fallen behind in all of my classes, and do not even have the excuse of interviewing, as I did last semester. I am tired of being in school, after 19 straight years of it. I feel totally disconnected from the world, without power or responsibility for anything but myself. And this is a step backwards for me, even though I did not take time off to work before law school.

Having been one of only 4 members of Army ROTC in my class, I had a lot of responsibility my junior and senior years of college. I functioned primarily in the cadet non-commissioned officer positions, because that was what I was good at. I was good at the practical side of things: man-management, supply, scheduling, discipline. Most of all, I liked having people depending on me, knowing that my actions every day were having an effect, hopefully positive, on their lives.

That may seem silly and quaint from the perspective of those who have had real jobs and real responsibility, but compared to what I have now in law school, it was wonderful.

Now I could have joined student groups here at the law school, perhaps even earned a leadership position. But none of them really appealed to me. At least not enough to overcome my 1L focus on schoolwork, on grades. And that focus paid off, at least as much as it could. I made law review. But I did not pursue a leadership position in that organization either, choosing simply not to apply. Why? I've made it no secret that I have a strong distaste for legal academic journals and legal academic writing. I think there is too much of it, with too little quality. Don't get me wrong, I do not think I am capable of doing much better. There is simply too much pressure on professors to publish, thus too much literature, and the average quality is inevitably pretty low.

Even if it were not, I do not really buy the idea that law students are qualified to do anything more than the menial editing and citecheck work that they end up doing. Lofty ideas of shaping the course of legal theory or doctrine are quickly dissolved. Whether this view is right or wrong, it is how I feel and I think it clear that someone with such views is probably better off not seeking leadership positions on a law journal. So even though there are opportunities there for teamwork, camaraderie, responsibility, it is all done in the pursuit of an activity which I do not really respect. Just not for me.

Yet I am still an editorial board member, and that means citechecks. Probably two more this spring, plus one during the week after school ends in May. Still a lot of time. And I have to catch up on my work. So my options are limited in the pursuit of what I've come to think must be the only school-related activity which could provide any measure of fulfillment: pro bono work. I've been in law school for over three semesters and have yet to volunteer for anything. I had easy rationalizations last year, focusing on schoolwork to make law review, and last semester, with interviews taking over my life. But this semester I've had no such excuse, and I won't next year. So that's an area with a lot of potential and I'm going to start looking into it.

My normal attitude has long been that school cannot provide that sort of fulfillment. It is an academic experience, which is valuable, but there must be external pursuits for true happiness. I did ROTC in college, was in a fraternity, collected live bootleg CDs, went to a lot of concerts, visited the Cambridge Zen Center and read a lot of books. In law school, I've done the latter, but none of the rest. Instead, my other primary hobby has been this. Blogging. And though overall I am quite pleased that I became a blogger, it has been a rollercoaster ride for me. It is very easy to lose track of why I blog, and without that purpose in mind it can seem rather aimless, or even a chore. Not the sort of thing I like to spend my free time on.

Long, long time readers will know that I've expressed some of this dissatisfaction before. The truth is that though I have been largely a legal and political blogger, those are not the things that I really want to be blogging about. At least not all the time. That was one of the motivations for En Banc: I could do some legal blogging there, and make this solo blog more personal. Unfortunately, having two blogs proved too much work and I ended up shutting this one down. Then I was left with an even worse situation: I was on a group blog devoted almost entirely to legal and political blogging, even though that was exactly what I was trying to get away from. After agonizing over what to do, I decided to shut down En Banc. I did it quite suddenly, and did not give either my co-bloggers nor the readers adequate warning or discussion. Some were confused about why I did not simply hand over EB to my co-bloggers, but in my mind En Banc was at bottom a creation of mine, a failure of mine (in my mind), and I thought it better that we make a clean break. I think it has worked out pretty well, as my former co-bloggers are about to unveil their new blog, wonderfully crafted by them as a group, the way it should be.

That was a difficult experience. A lot of harsh things were said about me, and perhaps they were deserved. At best, I was very guarded about discussing why I had shut down En Banc and that left people with nothing to do but speculate. At the time my reasoning just felt too personal to splash on the web site or give to strangers, but I tried to explain it in private emails with my co-bloggers. Some were satisfied, some not.

But if I had thought shutting down En Banc would be some sort of cure-all, I was wrong. It was just one problem and not the root. If everything else in my life were giving me pleasure and fulfillment, I'm sure my displeasure with En Banc could have been dealt with and solved. But I am still glad I shut it down, as it was the straw breaking this camel's back. Something had to give, and in the scheme of things a website is a pretty easy thing to let go off. The real root problem was the restlessness I've discussed above, the feeling that, so long as I'm in school, I have little aim, purpose, or responsibility. And to the extent that blogging exacerbates rather than alleviates that feeling, it is of little use to me.

As such, I'm going to try again to make a change in tone around here. I will not discontinue my legal and political blogging, as those are still things that interest me. But I no longer want to think of myself as a political blogger. I need more of a personal outlet than that. Now that does not mean I'm going to start talking about my girlfriend or my friends here; I have pretty high walls when it comes to those things. But I want there to be more about what I am thinking, what I am feeling. Not just my reaction or analysis of this or that court decision or news story. We'll see how it goes.

New Design

So I've just done another site re-design, though this one is entirely cosmetic. Much of the last redesign was oriented towards learning new tricks (e.g. the hide/show menus on the right), adding new sections (e.g. Photos, Zen) and not quite as much thought was given to the actual appearance. I decided I missed the white space that I enjoyed on the first incarnation (as well as on En Banc). The masthead was inspired by Samizdata, though I left my CZ-75B out of the picture.

It'll take me a couple hours to get the rest of the site fixed, so please excuse the mess. And please let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions.

UPDATE: OK, I think everything should be working, except for the music section which I'm still constructing. The only marginally non-cosmetic change that I've made is to remove the "date header" which would appear in between posts to delineate a new day. I have never figured out a nice way to incorporate that feature (I think it looks particularly silly when there are a string of days with only one post per day), and until I do I think I'll just add a month/day/year tag to the footer of each post.

TP Is Back!

One of my favorite blogs from the early days of my blogging (almost a year!) has been resurrected. Trivial Pursuits, now hosted at the much preferred Typepad (death to Blogger!) has been redesigned in various attractive shades of blue. Daniel is a terrific blogger, so let's hope he's back for good.

Inputs

Once every couple months I become very obsessed with reading good literature. There's never a time when I'm not interested, but usually it's just a part of my day to get through a few chapters of some good book. But every so often I get a semi-fevered desire to read all the books on my shelf (and there are a lot that need to be read) and it changes my perspective on things. It becomes much harder to blog, for one, because what can I say that hasn't been said? Is it possible to read Anton Chekhov and Bill Safire on the same day and not think the latter is hilariously mundane and trite?

As it stands, the big blog stories are retread (Bush military records or Valerie Plame), and I've reached my limit on Democratic primary coverage. Who knows if there'll even be a race by next Tuesday's Virginia primary, but if there is, and John Edwards is still in it, I'll vote for him. As I've noted before, I interned for a while in Kerry's Boston office, liked it, and wouldn't have a problem with him as a candidate. But I like to spice things up and a strong Edwards run might be nice (sure to fail if Clark/Dean stay in the race).

As for me, grades have been coming in these past two weeks and I'm very satisfied. I could have done a lot worse considering how behind I got in my reading. Now I've got a cite check this weekend editing the student note of a friend of mine, which ought to be interesting, and as always I'll be on the lookout for things to share on the blog. I try especially hard not to force myself to blog, since it would be only too easy to get frustrated and shut it down, and that would be a loss to me.

Another Military/Legal Blogger

Via Phil Carter, my favorite military officer/law student blogger, comes news of another UCLA law student blogging at Law From the Center. While Phil has left the service, Pete at Law from the Center is apparently still a Captain in the US Army. It's not clear from his first few posts whether he is a current reservist, or whether he is taking part in FLEP, the Army program which authorizes Active Duty officers to get law degress on the Army's dime (a great deal!). Anyhow, I'm glad to welcome him to the blogosphere. The world needs more military officer/law student bloggers!

Comments at Begging to Differ

Begging to Differ has enabled comments. I'm debating putting them back on this site. Part of my hesitation is that the redesign of this site wiped out my database, so I had to rebuild the archives by hand, cutting and pasting the text of each post back into a re-installed Movable Type. That means all the old comments are gone too. I could go back and cut and paste those back into the old posts, but that doesn't seem like a very efficient use of time. That's not a particularly good reason for not having comments in the future, but there you have it.

Additionally, I did not and do not like pop-up windows, so I'm looking into ways to enable comments without a pop-up window. We'll see how that turns out.

I was able to enable trackback without pop-up windows. Anytime someone links to a post and send a trackback ping, a link back to them will be displayed just below the timestamp. See this post for an example. I'm very happy about this, because I think trackback is a great tool for letting people know that you're responding to something they've said. I should say, however, that I think blog etiquette ought to require that you actually link to the blog you're pinging. As Dean Esmay has noted, to do otherwise is impolite.

Style and Substance

To procrastinate from my tax reading I made a few minor design changes, including finally figuring out how to prevent Mozilla browsers from displaying extra space beneath my logo (here's the fix). Since I can now make non-solid color logos (I couldn't before without a little background line of pixels displaying below it in Mozilla), I've quickly put together what you see above. The logo design is a blatant rip-off of Matthew Stinson's logo, but hopefully he won't mind it as a placeholder while I try to come up with something original. The background image is actually a companion to this photo, taken from the top of Montparnasse during a Parisian sunset.

I like the Goudy Old Style logo text quite a lot, so all of the text in the others graphics has been changed as well.

Backtracking Crescat

As soon as I take trackback and comments off this blog, Crescat Sententia turns trackback on! Will comments be next? Only time will tell.

The Prodigal Blogger

I'm very happy to re-open this solo blog. It has been sitting idle for the past 6 weeks while I tried to juggle the efforts (largely successful) of establishing a group blog, En Banc, and (less successfully) catching up on the schoolwork left by the wayside while I interviewed for summer work.

It has taken me a couple weeks to get the re-design functional. The outward appearances did not take too long, and I got to learn even more about CSS. Unfortunately, I also got to learn about the fragile nature of the Berkeley Database system (the default database for Movable Type). While trying to export/import some entries, I managed to corrupt the old database. Rather than leave all of my old posts behind, I re-installed Movable Type, now using MySQL, and began a long process of cutting-and-pasting from the HTML archives back into Movable Type. Unfortunately, that means all of the post URL's have changed. I apologize for any inconvenience to other bloggers who have linked to individual posts in the past.

I will be adding further functionality in the weeks ahead (including a much larger, but still useable blogroll), but most importantly I will be getting back to regular blogging after a much-needed break.

More Obnoxiousness from Leiter

In a post that seems largely dedicated to further solidifying his status at the lefty blogosphere's most obnoxious and arrogant member, Brian Leiter has this stupidity:

Is there hope for the blogosphere after all?

No, probably not.

Of course each word of the "No, probably not" is cleverly linked to a conservative blogger. Even putting aside the general tenor of the post, which seems to be that only people with doctoral degrees are qualified to talk about anything publicly (and a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford doesn't count), what is the logic behind pointing to a few conservative blogs as evidence that there is no hope for the blogosphere? Is there any hope for academia? No, probably not. See how clever I am?

Burdens of Proof in the Blogosphere

Now that my evidence exam is a couple days behind me, I am able to allow that subject material back into my system without getting nervous twitches. I've been thinking that the rules regarding burden of persuasion and burden of production might serve as a good proxy/analogy for looking at the tenor of debate in the blogosphere (and elsewhere).

Continue reading Burdens of Proof in the Blogosphere.

Anonymity

The Curmudgeonly Clerk has the latest in an ongoing discussion about anonymous bloggers.

Like the Clerk, I am only pseudo-anonymous. All of my friends, family, and most of my classmates know who I am. If you know my real name, it's not hard to find out that I'm Unlearned Hand. It is a little bit harder to go the other way. I have one and only one reason for my anonymity: I am a military officer, and though I would never purport to represent my thoughts as anything other than my own, I have to be careful with what I put in the public forum. Using a pseudonym just provides a little bit of distance.

Guest Speakers at Tacitus

Several very good conservative bloggers, including Max from Dead Ends, are guest-blogging over at Tacitus' place. Go check it out, they've got something interesting discussions going.

Loyal Readers, I Apologize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Computers, Interviews, Boredom

I feel bad for not having any posts up the past few days, but I have to confess that I'm left with little to say about investigating law firms and/or building/overclocking a new computer system. I'm completely out of the loop regarding current events and my classes haven't really swung into action yet. I hope all the new 1Ls are enjoying the beginning of law school, and that everyone else is having a good end to the summer.

I'm finally almost finished with A Farewell to Arms (after multiple delays arising from academic obligations) and I'm absolutely loving it. It's nice to have good feelings about Hemingway and I haven't even gotten to his short stories.

Breathing Room

Classes start two weeks from today. I'm going to be pretty busy with research and relaxation until then, so let's call this a "back to school" hiatus. I'll resume posting on August 20.

How Do You Spell Relief?

Will Baude of Crescat Sententia has provided a great public service:

I offer you the links for what some of you will consider the "new/improved" Volokh Conspiracy. Without Cowen, without Barnett, and without either.

Many thanks Will!

Wrong Again

Say it with me. Tyler Must Go:

I've just read most of the Bruce Sacerdote paper Tyler mentioned below, under the headline "against slavery reparations." I begin by noting that Sacerdote himself doesn't mention any implication his paper has for the reparations debate, as far as I can tell.

And I think he was right not to do so, and that Tyler's wrong that Sacerdote's findings have any relevance for the reparations debate.

Thank you, Jacob, for adding some intelligence back into the Volokh mix.

I know I sound like a broken and bitter record, so this is my last post on Cowen, but I really do hope he goes soon. Either that or I'm going to have to figure out how to view only select conspirators.

Eating Cowen

Daniel Davies takes aim at Tyler Cowen and eats him alive:

I am indeed not tempted to enter into a discussion with someone who has such powerful defences against the danger of learning anything.

What's particularly striking is that the topic in quesiton is economics, the very thing Cowen is charged with teaching. I hope Volokh doesn't continue to host this drivel for too much longer.

UPDATE: Turns out Cowen was wrong about Epstein too. (Via Yglesias)

Strange Conspiracies

I normally really like The Volokh Conspiracy, but almost everything Tyler Cowen posts seems to be either nonsense or drivel (or nonsensical drivel). I mean, this is among the stupidest analogies I've ever heard:

Even if these Palestinian victims supported an unjust war against Israel, how much does that support lower their subsequent rights? Does it lower our rights if we supported an unjust war in Vietnam?

OK, I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, but maybe if I keep reading.... oh no, just more silliness:

If I were a Palestinian leader, and somehow immune from assassination, I would advocate giving all the land back to Israel, yes and I do mean all the land. And I would pledge that the Palestinians would give up their voting rights, forever, perhaps letting the Israelis rule them as the British once ruled Hong Kong.

Which is it? The Americans in Vietnam or the British in Hong Kong? And what the hell are you talking about!?!?

OK, I'm sorry... it's just hard for me to keep visiting one of my favorite sites and have to read such loads of crap.

Sorry

I'm sorry for the lack of blogging... I've been busy with several tasks of varying degrees of enjoyment and importance, none of which are particularly blog-worthy (anybody have a preference between a Mossberg 500 and a Remington 870?). Should be back to normal soon.

Around the Blogroll

I thought I'd take a stroll around the blogroll and see what's cooking.

Eugene Volokh has an extended entry arguing in favor of legalizing gay marriage (though not via the courts). I recently read an article on the topic by John Finnis and a response by Stephen Macedo, and found the whole debate very interesting AND completely alien to what most people seem to base their opinions on.

Alex Knapp has begun a series on why he won't be voting to re-elect Bush.

In a brief respite from the Howard Dean cheerleading (just kidding guys!), Joe Rospars at Not Geniuses is reminding us how liberal interventionism is actually supposed to work. (He has also crafted a nifty escape route for the would-be-sinking-if-he-ever-was-afloat Kucinich).

Tacitus ran across a rather amusing photo of Paris' Bastille Day celebrations. A cheap shot it is, but harmless and worth a laugh.

Winds of Change remains the best one-stop-shop for the War on Terrorism. It's hard to keep up with that stuff, and their guest "Winds of War" bloggers have been doing terrific stuff.

Kieran Healy over at the new (and splendid) Crooked Timber voices a response to the so-called "Bright" movement, and I couldn't agree more.

PG also has some excellent criticisms of the "Bright" manifesto over at 1/2 Sins. She also needs help narrowing down her potential law schools, so head over and spill the dirt on the law schools you hate.

Mark Kleiman has some interesting first-hand insight on an old controversy surrounding first generation database software in the Department of Justice, and how politics and good old boys can occasionally be defeated by the little voices of reason.

I don't see any individual post permalinks, but A Layman's Opinion continues to be one of the best sources for news and analysis of East Asia.

I love my blogroll, but I'm also looking for some new reads. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

And the Crowd Goes Wild

The prodigal laptop has made its return... normal blogging will resume tomorrow!

The Slowdown

I was speaking with Micah Schwartzman earlier today, and he mentioned his surprise at how the blogosphere seems to have slowed down with the beginning of summer, a somewhat counter-intuitive phenomenon.

Aside from my laptop mishap, my first response was that during the school year (and many/most of the bloggers Micah and I read are students or professors), our blogs are just about the only diversion we have time for. I can always find 5-10 minutes several times during the day for posts, and it serves as a great escape from my work. In contrast, during the summer I have sufficient free time for a much broader array of relaxing activities, particularly reading and viewing films. As such, though it might seem that the increase of free time would lead to an increase in blogging, it has actually lead to a decreased need to blog, since I've got other outlets.

Imposed Silence

Well it looks like last week's blogging took an even greater toll on my laptop than it did on me. My poor little memory card burned out, so I'll be out of commission for 1-2 more days while IBM ships me a new one.

UPDATE: Well I got the new card, and it didn't work either. Now they think it's the memory card controller. So the whole rig has to go Airborne Express to California or wherever. Ugh.

At least the tech support is awesome. Too bad the computer couldn't handle my hyper-blogging.

Anyhow, the imposed silence will continue a bit longer... I usually blog from work at the law school, but without a laptop that's a lot more difficult (plus I'm not browsing the web finding all kinds of neat stuff to share). It's actually a good week for this to happen, as all I can think about are the three grades I've not yet gotten (the deadline to turn them in was today, so I should know within 24-48 hours).

Taking a Deep Breath

Alright, I'm taking today and tomorrow off from blogging. This week's Supreme Court decisions sent me into hyper-blogging and I need a little break.

Honored

I tend not to talk too much about hit counts or Ecosystem rankings, because frankly I think it's a pretty self-absorbed thing to do. Today was a big day for this site though, as it was added to Kevin Drum's blogroll. This means a lot to me not because it signifies some status or popularity, but because Kevin's site has been a daily read for me since before I began this blog. As such, there's a certain coming of age aspect to it. This blog really has worked out for me. I've been able to stay committed to it and have been rewarded with a wonderful creative outlet and participation from readership and guest bloggers that keeps me intellectually stimulated on a daily basis. Thanks to all those that have visited even once, but especially to those who keep coming back and make this blog an important aspect of my intellectual life.

Relaxed, Refreshed

Well that was a very enjoyable little vacation. The bed and breakfast we stayed at was delightful... incredibly friendly hosts and overwhelming and delicious breakfasts. I highly recommend a visit if you're in the area. We also spent some time on Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park, saw a dozen or so deer (including one that jumped in front of our car as we travelled 35mph along Skyline, causing 1) my heart to stop, 2) hard braking, and 3) a collision missed by ~12-24 inches), and enjoyed the sunshine that finally made an appearance this afternoon.

A Wee Vacation

My girlfriend and I are heading to a bed and breakfast for the weekend, so I won't be posting until Sunday. I'm sure my stellar guest bloggers will hold the fort while I'm away.

Word of the Day

Am I the only one that a) never heard the word "meme" before joining the blogosphere, b) think it is incredibly overused, and c) thought it sounded like the first half of Memphis?

Self-Worth

Via Instapundit I find a series of lists of the top 10 influential blogs as chosen by popular bloggers. Anyone notice something strange? Glaser notes it in passing in the text, but here's a little help:

Andrew Sullivan thinks his blog is the most influential (though at least one other agrees).
Josh Chavetz is the only one who thinks Oxblog is in the top 10.
Joi Ito is the only one who thinks Joi Ito's Web is in the top 10.
Brendan Nyhan is the only one who thinks Tapped is in the top 10.
J.D. Lasica is the only one who thinks J.D.'s New Media Musings is in the top 10.
Elizabeth Spiers is one of only two who thinks her Gawker is in the top 10.
Dave Winer is one of only three who thinks his Scripting News is in the top 10.

That's right, only one of the eight did not list their own site. Credit to Jeff Jarvis for avoiding the self-promotion bug, and thus being the only of the eight linked in this post.

Modest Expectations

I've been back since Tuesday, but I've been reluctant to post as a few relatively major things have been swirling in my head. While reading a biography of Tolkien last week, I was struck by a description of his disinterest in the news. It will comes as no surprise to hear that Tolkien had a very rich inner world, but the sentiment got me thinking about my own addiction to the news.

The truth is, I'm tired of the news. I've long been pretty skeptical about how much of what CNN (et al) reports actually matters. I think it's gotten worse over the last 10 years, with the O.J. Simpson trial being (in my mind) a real turning point in our country's ability to become obsessed with relatively minor events. I got the same feeling watching press coverage of Princess Di's death, the disappearance of Chandra Levy, and numerous other pseudo-events. Since I started blogging, I've found myself further drawn into that media spectacle and I don't like it. I'm tired of seeing the latest episode of "American Idol" making the headlines. I'm tired of hearing about the Israelis and Palestinians. The newspapers say the American president is meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to hammer out a deal for peace, and I can't tell if it's 2003 or 1993.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not depressed. This doesn't have anything to do with a Republican administration. And I don't mean to insult those who enjoy following such stories, everyone is entitled to focus their attention as they wish. I've decided to make an effort to shift my focus.

While in California I stumbled upon a book called The New Lifetime Reading Plan. At first it seemed very gimmicky and I'm pretty skeptical of such things. But upon flipping through it I found it to be a very helpful little guide to great literature, with due attention paid to non-European texts. Even with authors I'm already familiar with, I appreciate the suggestions on which novels to read first. There are many authors for whom certain novels, while not their best, are certainly their most accessible and provide a good stepping stone (my own best example of this would be Faulkner: picking up The Sound and the Fury out of the blue was a failure and left a bad taste in my mouth; when I returned to him, I started with The Reivers and The Unvanquished and loved both).

The point being, I have spent too many hours surfing CNN.com, Slate, etc. My love of literature has taken a backseat, and I aim to fix that.

Now that doesn't mean I want to remain completely ignorant of world events. I'll still spend my share of time on other blogs, and of course my fascination (and career ambitions) with legal issues means I'll keep my eye on the courts and the law reviews. But I think it will do me good to consciously turn my focus inward, with the great literature of our world being a prime tool.

To that end I've started reading How to Read a Book. It too seems gimmicky at first, but the authors are rather reputable and the book description (and reviews at Amazon) suggest it may be an antidote to what I'll call 'law school reading habits'. As most judges are not known for their efficiency with words, law students learn how to read cases fast and parse out the key information. This is a great way to go through Property and a terrible way to go through Shakespeare. Thus the need for an antidote. It's been five years now since I took an English class, and though I don't miss the conformity of many of those classes, I do miss the lessons in critical readings that I got from one of my high school teachers. I need to read slower and more critically, and perhaps this little book by Adler and Van Doren will help.

Finally, the question my loyal readers are surely most concerned with: what does this mean for the blog?

Hopefully it means good things. There are 1001 bloggers analyzing current events, many of them more interested, intelligent, or eloquent on whatever the topic of the day may be. I'll stay focused on what I can contribute uniquely. In a few years that'll include the perspective of an Army JAG attorney. For now it will be my life, law school, and the literature I read. I hope it is interesting.

Instapundit

Matthew Yglesias asks whether InstaPundit has jumped the shark. Like many others, Instapundit was my introduction to the blogosphere, and I even emailed a story or two when I started reading. It was a good place to find links to other blogs, and Professor Reynolds even occasionally engaged in thoughtful discourse. I think that ended with the war, and I de-linked him at that time. Hopefully he (and The Agonist) will find his way back to former glory as the war fever fades.

Congratulations

Matthew Yglesias has been hired by The American Prospect. I'll have to get myself a subscription. Congrats Matthew!

Blogs, Links, and Copyrights

Samizdata has good coverage of a blogosphere controversy between the Agonist and Stratfor on whether Sean-Paul acted improperly in copying posts from Stratfor's subscription-only page:

My view on the controversy is straightforward. For me, good blogging is one based on credibility. Audience is, for most part, discerning and it does not make for good practise to make yourself look bigger & better than you really are. If you can't come up with new interesting ideas, there is nothing wrong with using someone else's as long as it's clear. In fairness, Sean-Paul posts were not meant to be creative, but to be on the 'breaking edge' of news.

Another essential feature of blogosphere is linkage. Not linking to sources is a cardinal sin for a blogger...

It's an interesting issue. I have enjoyed Sean-Paul's coverage, but I am a bit surprised at the amount of pure cutting-and-pasting he seems to have done from the Stratfor page, which is only accessible to members. I like knowing sources for my news, so I treat everything Sean-Paul reports as suspect, even if he doesn't suggest so, and would not cite anything he's posted without confirmation from other sources.

I think this all stems from a growing question: are bloggers reporters or columnists? I think most of us consider ourselves closer to the latter... but the distinction is collapsing with sites like Sean-Paul's.

UPDATE: Good for Sean-Paul:

I just had a great conversation from the people at Stratfor. I have used some material from their site recently that hasn't been properly attributed. It will be shortly. In the meantime, might I suggest that you visit them. It is an excellent site that I do recommend.

Salon's Future

Pandagon adds some good commentary to Alterman's inquisitive directed at Salon:

It is not impossible to have an anti-Bush news source from a diversity of ideological sources, provided that the sources are both talented and competent. Andrew Sullivan, however, is no longer either. Regardless of what Salon claims to promote, a liberal cause or simply a political-cultural magazine (or both), Sully's warmed-over paranoia doesn't constitute either of those things well enough to deserve publication, regardless of how poorly your magazine is doing.

Second of all, Salon really, really needs an overhaul. Poorly organized, in the listiest-list format possible (it's got a blog layout and news content, which makes it very counterintuitive). It makes no sense to have to pay to read Salon and then pay again to talk about it in Table Talk, one of the first political posting boards I ever participated in. Articles, services, categories are all difficult to find...and don't even think about trying to cancel. If it was a bold new era for Salon, why did it just look like David Talbot slapped Sully and some stars on the whole thing and called it a day?

Benefits of the Blogosphere

Just met Micah from Political Theory. He's a fellow UVA 1L, and it turns out we had contracts together last semester. I'm excited, as he's a wealth of political theory knowledge (and other things, I'm sure) and that is an area of growing intellectual interest for me. He was generous enough to loan me several of the introductory political philosophy texts that Chris Bertram recommended. I'll post a beginner's reaction to the books after I've read them.

Living in a Blogosphere World

As the war begins and I crave minute-to-minute updates, I find myself thankful for the Internet (I don't have cable television). I also notice that I'm spending almost no time with major new sources, instead sticking to blogs to see what they've found.

Agonist's Plea

The Agonist, one of my favorite bloggers, has issued a plea:

I hate to do this. Moreover, I hate to beg. But, as many of you know, late last week I learned that my grant from the University for the Silk Road project had been cancelled. It has been a hard blow to take. I have pinched every extra penny I possibly could over the last several months. My fiancee even agreed to push our honeymoon back for this trip. Now 50% of my funding has been revoked because of 'Federal and State funding problems.' Two people here in town have agreed to give me some money but I am still short.

If only 100 people were to donate $25 each it would allow me to go on the trip, do the research and write the book.

It's a really neat project, click here for more info. Now Sean-Paul, about your blogroll... ;-)

Dissent

Via Chris Bertram, here's a forum at Dissent regarding the coming war, including a response from Stanley Hoffmann, who taught me the ethics of international relations as an undergraduate.

Law Blogs

I have several law-related blogs in my blogroll, but if anyone wants more, LawBlogs.com is an ideal starting point. It even has a link to my page now!