Category: Just for Fun


Excerpts from My Upcoming Book, The Law Student’s Guide to Being on Call (Part I of II)

Chapter One: A Field Guide to the American Law Professor

Success while “on call” requires, as a threshold matter, an understanding of the different types of American law professors you may encounter in the field. . . .  There exist five principal species.  Each can be identified by the distinctive manner in which it calls on students, if at all.  The first three species fall within the Socratus genus; the last two occupy genera of their own . . .

The Alphabetical-Order Professor (Socratus Abcdelis): As its Latin name connotes, this species of law professor calls on students in alphabetical order.  (There also have been unconfirmed sightings of a subspecies of Socratus Abcdelis that calls on students in reverse alphabetical order.) Members of this species are relatively harmless, since their call order is simple to predict. Furthermore, once a member of this species has interacted with a student, it rarely initiates a repeat contact. WARNING: These creatures tend to grow dangerous when they encounter unprepared students. Also, if a member of this species forgets to bring its enrollment roster to class, it may mutate into the far more unpredictable Socratus Chaotis, discussed below.

The Panel Professor (Socratus Panelis): This species of professor prefers to divide its classes into several “panels,” of which only one will be on call at a given time. Like Socratus Abcdelis, there exist few reports of fatal injuries due to contacts with this species, since students can anticipate these encounters and prepare accordingly.  As with Socratus Abcdelis, the greatest danger associated with this species involves the efforts of other students to avoid them. Cases have been reported where seemingly “safe” students have been placed on call due to the sudden, unanticipated absences of several peers situated alphabetically ahead of them, or the entire remainder of a large on-call panel. For advice on how to handle an emergency situation of this type, see Chapter Eight, “Threading the Needle: Reconciling ‘Passing’ with Getting a Recommendation,” and Chapter Eleven, “How to Exit a Classroom Silently.”

The Random-Order Professor (Socratus Chaotis): Whereas Socratus Abcdelis and Socratus Panelis tend to seek out and cultivate orderly habitats, Socratus Chaotis thrives on the uncertainty created by a random calling scheme. The unpredictable behavior of this species forces students to choose among three unpalatable options: (1) full preparation for each and every class; (2) skipping all classes until the semester is at an end (a.k.a. “playing dead”); or (3) initiating preemptive contacts with Socratus Chaotis at instances of the student’s choosing, with the hope that the professor will tire of these encounters and move on to other students. Unfortunately, this last strategy fails to recognize that members of Socratus Chaotis often possess poor memories, and have been known to call on the same student at several different junctures across a semester, even as they seem to entirely forget about other students in a class.  This last point also represents this species’ saving grace; it is far more likely that a student will not be called on at all in a class taught by a Socratus Chaotis, than in a class taught by either a Socratus Abcdelis or a Socratus Panelis.

The Occasional-Question Professor (Semisocratus Spontaneosis): This species of professor does not fit neatly into either the Socratus genus discussed above, or the Verbosis genus related below. Members of Semisocratus Spontaneosis gravitate toward pure lecturing (the defining characteristic of Verbosis Oxfordis), but, in rare instances, also initiate contact with students. Typically, this interaction takes the form of spontaneous, open-ended questions that invite the careful evaluation of a complex hypothesis that the specimen has painstakingly laid out over the preceding half-hour. While these questions appear daunting, recently, scientists have developed a number of potential responses capable of application to virtually any such inquiry. Among them, “I agree with what you said earlier,” and “I agree with what you wrote on this topic” show special promise for even the most unprepared student.

The Lecturing Professor (Verbosis Oxfordis): Members of this genus fall outside of the scope of this Guide. For those of you who nevertheless wish to contribute to lectures given by this species of professor, we suggest that you check out our companion volumes, The Law Student’s Guide To Brownnosing and The Law Student’s Guide To Unpopularity.

Next: Excerpts from Chapter Four, “Stalling.”


Recent Unsent E-mails from Antonin Scalia to Richard Posner, as Retrieved from Justice Scalia’s “Deleted E-Mail” Files

To: Richard Posner

From: Antonin Scalia

Date: August 24, 2012

Re: Your Review of Reading Law

Dear Dick:

Thanks for your interesting review of Reading Law in The New Republic. Mr. Garner and I certainly appreciate your thoughts. I, personally, am especially pleased that you found time to mull over our humble text, given your busy schedule of giving NPR interviews criticizing Republicans as “goofy” on the one hand, and constructing baby-trading markets on the other.


Antonin Scalia


To: Richard Posner

From: Antonin Scalia

Date: August 24, 2012

Re: Your Review of Reading Law

Dear Dick:

Came across your review of Reading Law in The New Republic.  I appreciate your comments, and even though you find fault with what we write, as they say, any publicity is good publicity! I would have written sooner, but I was busy re-reading a few of my favorite Court opinions: Black v. United States (2010), Carr v. United States (2010),  Lewis v. City of Chicago (2010), Chambers v. United States (2009), Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. (2008). . . . Mercy.  The list could go on, and on.  So much to read!


Antonin Scalia

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Admittedly Dumb Idea (Number Three): Baby’s First Book of _____ Law

This is the third in a series (prior entries here and here) of admittedly dumb law-related ideas that I’ve had, and don’t quite have the filter to suppress.

A while ago, on my other site, I posted a simple Gashlycrumb Tinies-inspired abecedarian that drew from some notable Torts cases. The text provided as follows:

A is for Adams who a wire imperiled / B is for Byrne crushed flat by a barrel / C is for Carter who slipped on some ice / D is for Dillon who might have died twice / E is for Escola nicked by some pop / F is for Fletcher whose mine needed a mop / G is for Goodman who caught a train the wrong way / H is for Hood who said his saw didn’t say / I is for Intel whose computers were smeared / J is for Johnson whose baby flat disappeared / K is for Katko shot while he stole / L is for Levandoski who fell into a hole / M is for Murphy maimed on “The Flopper” / N is for Negri who slipped as a shopper / O is for O’Brien halting pool sales / P is for Palsgraf squashed by some scales / Q is for Quill who received quite a scare / R is for Rowland owed reasonable care / S is for Summers who can’t ID his shooter / T is for Tedla struck by a commuter / U is for Ultramares from whom a company did steal / V is for Vosburg whose leg didn’t heal / W is for Wagon Mound done in by a spark / X is for the unreasonable man who takes stairs in the dark / Y is for Ybarra who sued the whole set / Z is for Zeran defamed over the Net

Prior to posting the rhyme, I had thought a little bit about trying to find an artist who could prepare illustrations to accompany the text, combining the two, and then marketing the resulting book as something like “Baby’s First Book of Tort Law. ” I dropped this idea when other projects intervened, but still I think that someone could do well with a series of children’s books along similar lines: e.g., “Baby’s First Book of Secured Transactions,” “Baby’s First Book of Antitrust and Unfair Competition Law,” etc.

These books might not all fit within the abecedarian format. The letter X poses a huge problem here, seeing as how Black’s Law Dictionary includes only four words that begin with the letter. But that’s OK. “Baby’s First Book of Securities Regulation Law” could relate the story of a little lemonade stand that grew and grew, such that its founders ultimately had to decide whether to conduct a private stock placement and then an IPO, or alternatively, to seek funding for expansion through the JOBS Act’s crowd-sourcing option. “Baby’s First Book of Federal Jurisdiction” might discuss how, under AEDPA, a series of courts would assess an arguably untimely habeas petition filed by a plush stuffed-animal tiger that’s being detained in a cardboard-box jail in the living room. “Baby’s First Book of Law and Economics” would . . . you get the idea.

Admittedly, I suspect that very few children would purchase these books. At least the focus groups of four-year-olds that I’ve convened seem to suggest as much. But that’s not really the target market.  So if there are any interested illustrators out there, drop me a line.





Curiosity! It Landed!

Congratulations to NASA/JPL/Caltech! The latest rover appears to have landed safely. I love this stuff in general, but I happen to have had a special connection to the rovers. A dear friend has worked on the rovers from when they were just tiny vehicles to the current Mini-sized one. Brett Kennedy, you rock.

I also happen to be re-reading Spin which has some a great Mars storyline. Despite John Carter, think of all the science fiction about Mars. What we find won’t live up to that, but the science and truth may prove more fascinating.


Should be, and now is …

… reaffirmed?

This is pure speculation — the coin of the realm for at least another day — but if you’re at all familiar with major constitutional cases, I imagine that you probably filled in the word “overruled.” And for good reason — as far as I can tell, that’s the only word the Court has ever used to complete the phrase “should be and now is ….” My admittedly brief search has turned up seven examples, including such luminaries as Darby, Lopez, Seminole Tribe, Lawrence, and Citizens United. (A full list of cites is below the jump.)

Given the Court’s apparent proclivity for using the phrase in major, doctrine-altering constitutional decisions, it might well be making an appearance in the next 24 hours. While our collective thumb-twiddling reaches ever-higher rpm in the lead up to the health care decision, does anybody have an explanation for this odd locution? Does it ever pop up in any other context?

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Music of the Spheres

Somewhere the ancients who thought there was a musica universalis or music of the spheres are smiling. Apparently “members of the team that work with the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) have translated gamma-ray measurements into musical notes and have created a ‘song’ from the photons from one of the most energetic of these powerful explosions, GRB 080916C which occurred in September of 2008.” The link explains more but here is the clip. Enjoy.


Did you miss it? The power of curiosity and schoolboy naivety

I have been traveling and storing up some blog material. So I apologize if you have seen some of these stories, but in case not; here goes the first one. According to the Ottowa Citizen “An Indian-born teenager has won a research award for solving a mathematical problem first posed by Sir Isaac Newton more than 300 years ago that has baffled mathematicians ever since.” The problem was “to calculate exactly the path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance.” The student’s response to there was no solution was “well. there’s no harm in trying.” Man, I love that reply. It probably did not hurt that he learned calculus at 6. To me, however, I think the attitude is a big part of the success. It reminds me of tinkering. In story or research it is the willingness to say “What if” and see where it takes you. There are of course times when those who came before can tell you with good reason not to pursue something. But the cases where the question is known but no one has figured out how to solve it, the will to say let me give it try is hugely important. Even if you don’t succeed, what you discover along the way may be fruitful. Anyway, I rather liked the breakthrough and that youthful inquisitiveness won the day.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Later this month, a new constitutional interpretation will be advanced about a major public policy issue.  Monsters will try to end human freedom as we know it, only to be stopped by a heroic President.

I am referring, of course, to the movie of Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter.  Ever since his Second Inaugural, people have tried to understand the conflict over slavery in a way that healed the country by saying that the Civil War was about something more than human evil in the South.  (“The Almighty has His own purposes.”). Turns out that slavery was all about vampires looking for food.  It wasn’t our fault at all.  What a relief!