Not Being Part of the Shared National Experience

television.jpgI don’t have a television. Or to be more precise, I do have a television (a DVD/TV/Video combination no less) but is not connected to anything. Hence, the only TV images that I see are movies, DVDs, etc. As a result, I get all of my news from either print or internet sources. (And BTW, I hate watching TV on the net, so I never do it.) Now I could wax very Neil Postman, and go on and on about the superiority of the written word. My decent into TV-lessness, however, was — as befits a student of the common law — considerably more ad hoc. When my wife and I moved from Boston to Little Rock for my clerkship, we never got around to having the cable hooked up. One evening a month or so after we had arrived there, we were talking and realized that (a) we didn’t have TV; and (b) we liked it. We found that we had more time, talked more to each other, and could limit and control our son’s exposure to TV. So we simply formalized our inertia and disorganization into a decision. On the whole, it has worked rather nicely. Still, at times I feel like I don’t live in America.

A case in point is Miers. I have read a number of stories about her, and I am not impressed. Her nomination strikes me as a waste. Any Supreme Court opening is a chance to pick someone whose opinions will go into the Big Books, and given the fact that as a lawyer I will spent much of the rest of my life slogging through any justice’s work product, all things being equal I see no reason to be excited about twenty years with Harriet. However, a number of my friends have commented to me on her poor verbal performance, or how awkward or uncomfortable she looks, or the sorry state of her hair, or so on. These are images that I just don’t see. I am blind to them. I don’t think that this makes me a better news consumer than my friends (almost all of whom are better informed than me). Indeed, no doubt Miers’s gait and appearance provide us with important information about her. I clerked for a man that I regard as a great judge, and there was definitely something about his shuffle and haircut that bespoke jurisprudential depth. I noticed that same loss of shared experience when Katrina hit. I read about the extent of the devastation and saw some photographs, but I didn’t have the immediacy of the television that my friends talked about.

Not experiencing shared television images is a good way of realizing how much of our shared national experience takes the form of such images. It creates this odd dynamic in which at times I feel as though I am in America but not of it. (Or perhaps I am of it, but not fully in it.) This may explain why I consistently find that The Economist provides the news coverage of America that resonates best with me. Both of us are — for different reasons — semi-detached observers of the national scene.


What Should Democrats Do Regarding Harriet Miers?

miers1a.jpgPaul Horwitz at PrawfsBlawg raises the difficult strategic dilemma for Democrats on the Harriet Miers nomination:

Therein lies the Democrats’ dilemma — actually, a double dilemma. 1) They do not want to oppose Miers loudly if they think her replacement might be a Luttig or a Brown, both because those judges are a more potent threat to their desired outcomes and because such nominations would be a political and fundraising prize for conservatives. 2) They also may not want to be on record as viewing mediocrity as a disqualification for the Court, since it constrains their own future choices.

Put slightly differently, the argument for Democrats in favor of Miers is this: Although Miers is relatively unknown, there are some indications that she might be moderate, even liberal, on key issues. An alternative replacement for Miers might well be much more firmly committed to conservative positions and be a more reliable conservative vote. If Miers turns out to be a consistent conservative vote, there are many indications that she won’t be a great superstar on the Supreme Court, and hence, she won’t be as effective as a replacement who might very well be a superstar. Furthermore, if Miers gets appointed, it will perpetuate great tensions amongst the Republicans.

Should this argument incline Democrats toward supporting Miers?

The liberal and political strategist in me is enticed by this argument. On the other hand, the intellectual and academic in me bristles at putting somebody on the Supreme Court who, by all indications thus far, does not seem to have the qualifications to be a great Supreme Court jurist. Ideally, I want a Supreme Court filled with brilliant distinguished jurists.

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Spam Poetry

quillpen3.bmpI’m continually getting spam from a spammer who uses randomly generated phrases for the email subject lines. To some ears, it might be meaningless drivel, but to other ears, the spam is really an ongoing poem, delivered one line at a time. These are the actual subject lines:

To write in magenta colossal

you be but blimp measurement

Go play darts magnesium

Re: esophagi, do you love me or not?

I find my mispronounce british

so live go restore

On learn to pallet

To make do periods contortion

Re: her travel no economics

Wanna get a drink? pantomimic theoretic

doctrinaire rosary

Fwd: radish demented

Freedom for everyone

On look on precious hepatitis

Re: stress, This is the time of your life

Wanna get a drink? cryptogropher indorse

Go explain be school roughage

do reply to rap

And who thought spammers couldn’t be poets?


Some Wine With Your Law? A Law School Course in Wine

wine4.jpgBoalt Hall (Berkeley Law School) is offering a course about wine law, accompanied by extensive wine tasting:

Most students at Boalt Hall School of Law learn by reading class materials and listening to lectures.

But in Room 110, the lessons are sipped.

Glasses of pinot noir are part of Boalt Hall’s first ever wine law class, where students are learning the legal complexities of the wine industry. Lessons include tasting wines to examine the significance and differences between wine appellations, which have become a thorny legal issue.

If any student thought a class involving wine tasting would be a cakewalk, they were disappointed.

“It’s substantive. It’s hard,” said Mano Sheik, a third-year Boalt Hall law student. “We’re not just drinking wine.”

And that’s the point, according to the class’ instructor, Richard Mendelson. The Napa attorney, who has both worked in and concentrated his practice on the wine industry, said the law surrounding it is rife with issues involving the 21st Amendment, intellectual property, land use planning and international trade.

Perhaps Professor Bainbridge will soon be offering such a course at UCLA.


Making Universities Pay for Government Surveillance

computer-surveillance.jpg.gifIn 1994, Congress passed a law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires telecommunication providers to build wiretapping and surveillance capabilities for law enforcement officials into their new technologies.

A recent rulemaking by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) significanty expands the reach of CALEA beyond telephone companies and ISPs:

The federal government, vastly extending the reach of an 11-year-old law, is requiring hundreds of universities, online communications companies and cities to overhaul their Internet computer networks to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to monitor e-mail and other online communications.

The action, which the government says is intended to help catch terrorists and other criminals, has unleashed protests and the threat of lawsuits from universities, which argue that it will cost them at least $7 billion while doing little to apprehend lawbreakers. . . .

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How to Develop a Supreme Court Practice

supremecourt10a.bmpHow does a law firm develop a Supreme Court appellate law practice? Hang out a shingle? Well, yes, if you’ve got Seth Waxman. This interesting article explains how law firms build a Supreme Court practice. The article contrasts the firm of Wilmer Culter, where Waxman argued all five of its Supreme Court cases last term, with the firm of Jones Day, which had five different attorneys argue its six Supreme Court cases.


Dumb and Dumber

criminal2.jpgAnother entry in the annals of dumb criminals. A duo from Australia, dubbed “Dumb and Dumber” by the Australian media, robbed a bank in Vail, Colorado and made off with $130,000.

Tip: Don’t pose for photographs with your loot in hand.


Good Media, Bad Media

media1.jpgA 4-year old girl’s mother was murdered, and the girl was left abandoned. She was put on TV, and people’s calls helped her and lead to her mother’s killer. But now it is hard to get the media to leave the girl alone. From the New York Times:

But now, those caring for the girl . . . say coverage by the news media has become a curse. She is trapped inside her relatives’ home on Long Island, they say, unable to play outside or ride the new bicycle she received as a gift.

Eighteen days have passed since [the girl] talked about pizza, pickles and her cat on television, after child welfare officials made her available to the cameras in an extraordinary effort to find out who she was. Reporters have followed every step of her story and, until last night, had been camping outside the home of [the girl’s] temporary guardians, hoping for a new photograph or a word from them. . . .

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Telephone Menu Cheat Sheet

phone2.jpgYou call a company and you want to speak with a human. Instead, you get one touchtone menu after the other, and it seems impossible to find out how you can just talk to a person. There’s usually always a way — but it can take quite a lot of time to discover it. Now, someone has created a handy cheat sheet for how to quickly navigate these menus to reach a human. Good stuff.

Hat tip: Vesterman.com


Why Orwell’s 1984 Is So Bleak

orwell3a.jpgAccording to this article, the drab and dismal world portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984 was in part influenced by his bouts with illness:

The new study, by John Ross of Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, recounts Orwell’s sickly life. . . .

Orwell was born in India in 1903 as Eric Blair. He suffered multiple bouts of bronchitis and other respiratory ailments, Ross writes. As a young man, Orwell had several episodes of bacterial pneumonia, and also contracted dengue fever while in Burma. He was a heavy smoker, and he suffered fits of coughing from a condition called bronchiectasis. . . .

[D]epressed by his wife’s death, Orwell moved to a windy and damp Scottish island. His health worsened significantly just as he was working on the first draft of “1984,” Ross reports. Fever, weight loss, and night sweats sent him to the hospital, where he underwent “collapse therapy,” a treatment designed to close the dangerous cavities that form in the chests of tuberculosis patients. . . .

“Orwell himself told his friends that 1984 would have been less gloomy had he not been so ill—it was a very dark, disturbing, and pessimistic work,” Ross said. Orwell’s illnesses “made him a better and more empathetic writer, in that his sense of human suffering made his writing more universal.”

I wonder what a less gloomy 1984 would have read like — Brave New World perhaps?