Thursday, November 30, 2006

What if they had a law class and nobody came?

I'm in a wee bit of trouble right now. There's a class I basically haven't gone to since October, and this weekend I was looking over the syllabus and discovered attendance is mandatory. Failure to appear can affect your grade. So that had me worried enough, but then this morning I got an email from the professor observing my failed attendance. Actually, he got it wrong, because he says I haven't shown up since the first day, when I actually showed up all through September. And he cc: the Dean of Students, which I thought was a little unnecessary.

I'm sort of caught between feeling guilty and mad right now. Guilty, because, yes, it does say on the syllabus that attendance is mandatory...even though none of my other post-1L classes have had such a requirement. And I'm a little mad, because, really, what does he care if I show up to class? Really. What does he care? I would think his dream scenario would be one in which none of the students showed up. That why we'd be paying him to basically hand out a syllabus and grade a final exam. I'd think that would be a dream job.

Attendance requirements generally have sort of frustrated me. I think they're a testament to the institutionalized entrenchment of academia. We lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, this is just a service we're being provided. That's all it is. When I buy a car, there's no requirement that I drive it. When I buy a house, there's no requirement that I live in it. So why is it, when I'm paying for classes, that I'm required to attend all of them?

The more I think about it, the more I think about how silly attendance requirements are. But I have to aim for contrition now, so I must dispel them from my mind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Superhiro

I really like that new show, Heroes. When I saw the promos over the summer I thought it would be stupid, but I gave it a chance because it's on the same network (NBC) that brought me Conan, Seinfeld, and West Wing and I'd really like to see NBC pull itself out of the ratings gutter, and now I'm glad I did. Heroes and Studio 60 make me look forward to Mondays.

But even when I like something, I'm a hard man to please. My enjoyment of Heroes is no exception. First off, last night's episode really disappointed me. The scene where Syler starts telekinetically throwing lockers at Peter...if Peter really can leech off other's abilities, I thought for sure he would suddenly realize he had telekinetic abilities too and they'd duel it out Yoda v. Count Dooku style. But no. He ran away like a little girl.

A more general complaint: Heroes suffers from the same ailment as Lost and 24. The storyline moves WAY too slow. This, really, is why I dislike season-long story arcs in general: the writers don't have enough plot to go around, so they have to drag it out. Hence the great flaw of the election story arc of the seventh season of West Wing. Or Lost (this week on Lost: Sawyer gets glasses!). Or any season of 24. Especially the last season. Jack spent, what, six hours trying to recover the Logan recording, just to have it deleted five minutes after he brought it into CTU. Well, that was worth it.

But here's my real complaint with Heroes. It just isn't true to its own premise. The "heroes" are supposed to be getting their powers because of evolutionary leaps. But some of their powers don't follow that reasoning. It's like X-men. I loved the X-men, back when I read them. But many of them don't make sense. Wolverine's mutation, really, was the only realistic one: super healing and heightened senses. Maybe I'll swallow Professor X's telepathy and Jean Grey's telekinesis. But come on. The ability to contorl magnetism? The ability to absorb the sun's energy and transform it into laser beams you shoot from your eyes? The ability to transform your skin into an impervious organic metal? The ability to turn into a blue demon with a prehensile tail and teleport into an alternative dimension? Are these powers really grounded within the evolutionary chain?

Same with Heroes. So far I can swallow some of their powers. Tissue regeneration. Levitation. Precognition. Good ole telepathy and telekinesis. But what's up with walking through walls? Or Micah's newfound ability to repair any piece of electronic equipment? Unless it's a limtied manifestation of more telekinesis, I really don't see how that's related to evolution. I'm still waiting for the most obvious superhero: the guy who can run really fast and jump really high*.

* His superhero name would be Black Man.

My bigger problem is, if their powers are evolutionary, shouldn't relatives have the same powers? Meet the Petrelli brothers. One can fly, the other leechs off others powers. WTF. Or how about when a woman with split personalities (Niki) and a guy who can phase through walls (DL) mate and produce a kid who can repair telephones (Micah)? The writers are outthinking themselves.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Catalogue of Slips

Although I love The West Wing, there are certain flaws that cannot be denied. For example, Sorkin et al didn't seem to watch their own show too faithfully, given the lack of consistency. I've catalogued a few glaring examples below.

Did Bartlet go the law school?

From episode 1.4, Five Votes Down...

Bartlet: You know, I had a civil procedure professor who said once, he said, “When the law is on your side, argue the law; and when the facts are on your side, argue the facts; when you don’t have the law on your side, when you don’t have the facts on your side, bang your fist on the defense table as loud as you can.”

From episode 2.19, Bad Moon Rising...

Bartlet: He looks down his nose at me because I'm not a lawyer.

Is Toby a lawyer?

From episode 1.5, And It's Surely To Their Credit [when Toby's in the room]...

LEO: He wanted to send a lawyer.
SAM: I'm a lawyer. Everybody in the room's a lawyer.

From episode 4.9, Artic Radar...

TOBY: Look...
WILL: I'm a lawyer.
TOBY: Good, 'cause they're never annoying.

From episode 4.17, Privateers...

TOBY: How come he knows about the rule?
JOSH: Everybody knows about that.
TOBY: Was something else on your mind that moment in law school when they taught that rule? Were you distracted by a bumblebee?

Should the White House raise the level of public debate?

From episode 1.19, Let Bartlet Be Bartlet...

Leo: We’re gonna lose some of these battles, and we might even lose the White House, but we’re not gonna be threatened by issues. We’re gonna put them front and center. We’re gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.

From episode 2.8, Shibboleth...

Leo: The post did not desperately need to be filled. Neither the economy nor national security nor infrastructure will collapse without an assistant secretary of primary and secondary education.
TOBY: It brings the problem front and center.
LEO: Great. And what prize do we get for that?
TOBY: Leo...
LEO: What prize do we get for bringing it front and center?

How old is Zoey Bartlet?

From episode 1.6, Mr. Willis of Ohio [before Zoey starts college]...

GUY AT BAR: Excuse . We’re just trying to buy the girl a drink, man.
CHARLIE: She’s 19 years old, man. You’d have to take her to Maryland.

From episode 2.19, Bad Moon Rising...

CHARLIE: When Zoey and Ellie went to college... When they went to college they would've had to fill out a health form.
LEO: What are you...?
CHARLIE: On the form, they ask for a number of things, including a complete family medical history.
LEO: God. Charlie...How did you know he was sick? How did you know that the President was sick? Charlie...
CHARLIE: Leo! If you're under 18 when you start as a freshman...if you're under 18, you need a parent's signature.

How knowledgable is CJ about basketball?

From episode 1.9, The Short List...

DANNY: I’m here because there’s a basketball team called the New York Knickerbockers who are playing in town tonight.
C.J.: I don’t have time for a little basketball game!
DANNY: Neither do I. Which is why we I thought could watch it in your office while I explain it to you in a patronizing manner, ‘cause I know it’s something women usually like.

From episode 2.17, The Stackhouse Filibuster...

JOSH: I'm going to Port Saint Lucie, which may not mean anything to you, but happens to be the spring training home of the...
C.J.: New York Jets. Yes, you've told me. Josh, you can watch basketball on T.V.
JOSH: Yes, except the New York Knicks are a basketball team, the New York Jets are a football team, and Port Saint Lucie is the spring training home of the New York...
C.J.: Mets! Yes, dammit, I'm inadequate.

And later...

TOBY: I got a basketball game on in my office if you want to come by.
C.J.: Is it the Jets and the Mets?
TOBY: It's the Nets and the Hawks. The Jets and the Mets?
C.J.: I know the teams. I'm joking when I do this. I'm joking when I do this.

From episode 6.10, Faith-Based Initiative...

Margaret: "What team does she play on? Washington abuzz with fresh allegations that a certain former Bartlet administration press secretary may have more than a passing interest in pursuing what many have described as 'a radical homosexual agenda.'" And it goes on...
CJ: To say what?
Margaret: That you played sports at Berkeley and that you were the first girl in Ohio prep history ever to dunk a basketball.

I just had to get these on the record somewhere.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

From the people who brought you apartheid...

Today South Africa legalized same-sex unions. Which makes me excited, because it means our own civil rights movement is falling behind a country that had one of the most brutal regimes of state-sponsered racial segregation up until 1994. Now all the gays flock to Johannesburg.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What kind of deference again?

From Constitutional Law in a Nutshell, 6th edition:

"Deference to the legislature should be accorded to the legislature..."

That made it through SIX editions.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And...action!

One of the few victories for conservatives yesterday was the passage of Proposal 2 in Michigan, which banned the use of affirmative action in the public sector. I'm not sure it can even really be considered a victory for conservatives per se, since the same voters who voted largely Democratic and even voted against a proposal to permit dove-hunting nevertheless voted overwhelming (58-42) against affirmative action. The point is, affirmative action seems to be losing its liberal base. White people are getting fed up.

I used to be in favor of affirmative action, when I was just a wee lad--before I had to deal with it, really. But the older I get, and the increasing frequency with which affirmative action affects my life, the more I find myself opposed to it. Quite frankly, I find it offensive. Job applications that say in big capital letters MINORITY APPLICANTS ONLY. Or even "Women and minorities strongly encouraged to apply." Imagine the uproar if you applied for a job that said, "White men strongly encouraged to apply."

The difference is, what, white men weren't an oppressed group for hundreds of years. Honestly, I just don't care about that anymore. Affirmative action just drives the cycle of black entitlement and white guilt, and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of being made to feel guilty, tired of being punished, for something I never did. And that's what affirmative action is, by the way. It's a punishment for being white. Oh, sure, it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be a benefit to minorities for years of oppression, and I think that's nice. But you can't give one group a benefit without punishing another group. It's like when you get a tax break for buying a hybrid car. It's the same result as taxing everyone else for NOT buying a hybrid car. And I don't think punishing whites for something people who had the same skin color as them did decades ago is sound social policy.

Newsweek has an article this week about Proposal 2 and affirmative action generally. The article discusses California's experience with race since banning AA in 1997:

This is not to say Proposition 209 had no effect. In two areas—minority enrollment in the state's top public universities and contracts awarded to women and minorities—the vote was a watershed event. In 1998, the University of California, Berkeley, admitted less than half the number of blacks it had the previous year and nearly half the number of Latinos. At UCLA, the numbers of incoming "underrepresented" minorities also dropped precipitously. At the law schools, the falloff was startling. In 1997, Berkeley's law school enrolled only one black first-year student out of a total of 268. UCLA did not fare much better.

This summer, UCLA projected its lowest black enrollment (96 prospective students out of nearly 5,000 freshmen) in more than three decades...

The impact of Proposition 209 on small entrepreneurs was even more striking. In the preproposition years, it was easy to find minority firms to work on major transportation projects, said Frederick Jordan, founder of F.E. Jordan Associates, a civil and environmental engineering firm. But "all the firms were wiped out. In 1996 in San Francisco I could've produced 10 or 15 African-American firms that could do any kind of work. Today, I can't find anybody—zero, zero." A study released by the Discrimination Research Center confirms that only a third of minority enterprises certified to do business with the California Department of Transportation in 1996 are still in operation.

The author seems to think this bad: that minority enrollment is down, that minority businesses are going under. But isn't this, really, the great argument AGAINST affirmative action? Don't these stats just confirm that those who are anti-AA are right? When race wasn't a factor, the top public schools accepted less minorities; in other words, all those kids who got in because they were black WEREN'T QUALIFIED. Same with the minority businesses. Are we really going to try to argue that the Calfornia Department of Transportation is actively discriminating against minority-owned businesses? Please. They just couldn't compete sans preferential treatment. Isn't this supposed to be the way it works? Isn't this supposed to be a meritocracy?

The point, really--and the author of the Newsweek article concurs--is that affirmative action doesn't deal with the problem. If we want to solve race disparities, the only solution that will actually solve the problem is through equality of education at the K-12 level. Giving unqualified minorities college admission preference is like giving someone a cast after their arm's been broken for ten years. It's too late.

It's also the other reason I'm against AA. AA is institutionalized discrimination. It is. This can't be denied. But the argument is that it's discrimination designed to remedy other forms of discrimination. First of all, I'm not sure two wrongs make a right.* But beyond that, I'm just not convinced. I'm not convinced AA really accomplishes the things it's supposed to. Does preferential treatment in college and employment really address/remedy the (supposed) injustices minorities faced and will face in life? It probably helps. But when measured against a clear discriminatory effect against whites, I'm not convinced these fuzzy goals it may or may not accomplish balance out.

* But I am pretty sure two Wongs make a White.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Victory!

It is a period of civil war. Democratic challengers, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil GOP...

I really just don't know what to say. What's the point, really? This is just too amazing. Victory in the House. A startling victory pending in the Senate. South Dakota abortion ban defeated. Stem cell research secured. I helped nominate the first Muslim to Congress. And now Rummy's resigned. I'm getting drunk.

Plus I just got a check in the mail. The only way this day could get any better is if I discovered I had Jedi powers.

JoJo says to the Republicans...

"It's just too little too late,
A little too wrong
And I can't wait.
But you know all the right things to say.
You know it's just too little too late."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Life according to JoJo

Over the weekend I drove up to my college homecoming from NYC with some fellow alumni, and in the FIVE HOURS it took (because of some accident on I-91) we were all reflecting on how we were so out-of-touch with the popular music scene, so we listened to a station that played the "Top 20" over and over and over. One of the consistent contenders was the new "hit" by JoJo called "Too Little Too Late." It's a good song, I remember I heard her perform it on Leno a few weeks back. So when I got home I decided to give it another listen, even watch the music video. I don't know if any of you have seen it, but it really confuses me. I started to make a list...

1. The video starts off with a scene to establish the "plot." JoJo and her boyfriend are sitting in a car having an argument. Flashbacks reveal that she caught him at a party with another girl.

JoJo: It's just disrespectful, David.
David: Look, I was just talking to her. You know I love you.
JoJo: It's about what you do, not what you say.
David: All right, hold up. I have something for you. [hands her a ticket] I want you to be there on Saturday.
JoJo: Okay.

The B-movie dialogue notwithstanding, I don't understand this conversation. How could they just move on to Part B when Part A got no closure? That 800-pound gorilla's still in the backseat.

2. Why is her car parked on the track? Does her high school not have parking lots?

3. At one point they cut to a date where they're leaving a movie theatre and he's holding a giant teddy bear. So did they go to the movies or the carnival? Was it an uber-date? I'm so confused.

4. "I was young..." Isn't JoJo, like, 17?

5. Why is her boyfriend at a party drinking a beer? Isn't JoJo, like, 17?

6. Why did JoJo need a ticket to Saturday's soccer game when the stands are EMPTY?

7.
Doesn't the home team wear white?

8.
The end confuses me the most. Obviously he misses the goal because he's a dick of a boyfriend, but I'm a little fuzzy on the details. Is it because she isn't there to support him? Does it start to rain because she's throwing out his stuff? This video is a nuanced tale of karma, and I need to decipher its meaning in order to garner the valuable life lesson.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fashion as social Darwinism

I had my college homecoming this weekend, Saddam's execution was scheduled*, and "the most important midterm election of our lifetime" is tomorrow, but let's talk about something that REALLY matters: fashion magazines.

* I will say this little thing about Saddam, just because I was reading Marty's blog where he said it was hard to argue with all the pictures of people elated at the news of Saddam's pending death. First of all, I could show you pictures of all the Iraqi Sunnis who are protesting the Saddam ruling. Second, I could also show you pictures of Palestinians elated at the news of the two airplanes that crashed into the WTO. The point is that I find it quite easy to argue against...but then, I've been trained in taking ridiculous stances on a whim.

I love standing in line at the supermarket, because it gives me a chance to sit their and admire the fashion magazines. I love how there's an entire industry that's built around not only preying on women's eternal insecurities and perpetual need to be coupled but, indeed, also to seemingly perpetuate the cycle. I also enjoy how my entire gender can apparently be reduced to a couple of quick stereotypes. "What Men Really Think About Sex."** "Ten Tips To Keep Your Man." "Guys and Love: What It's Like For Them." I'm gonna give all you ladies a secret: these things are farces. Whenever I read them I find only about half of them are true. I'm a unique snowflake that even I don't entirely understand, you can't keep me with ten one-sentence tips.

** We like it. A lot. To the point we will spend the night with women we can't stand just to have it. Any questions?

"While he read these [men's] magazines and absorbed their wisdom as gospel, across the city, girls were doing the same thing. They had their own instruction books, their manuals for life, which told them what to wear, to drink, to say. Probably the magazines told them which lines they should fall for, which should elicit a light flirtatious laugh and cause them to press a hand to their neck, which deserved only a blank stare. All he had to do was read the same magazines and he would know too...Reading both sets at once had built the suspicion in Ryan's mind that the men's magazines were not truly on his side, nor the women's against him. Instead, he thought, the magazines were on the same side, their own, setting up complicated sets of mutually reinforcing insecurities, reasons to seek next month's guidance. The editors doubtless got together at rooftop parties in Manhattan to look out over the darkling plain and laugh, planning reciprocally outflanking maneuvers for their ignorant armies." --In the Shadow of the Law

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Subliminal, liminal, superliminal

Last night I was twice the victim of a subliminal attack. When I sat down to read the BBC, there, as a main headline, read, "US ISSUES LEBANON 'PLOT' WARNING." Give me a break. The BBC actually did a pretty mediocre job on the article, and maybe I'm just cynical, paranoid, et al, but I find it a little suspicious that just six days before the election our government releases news of a "plot" by Iran and Syria to topple the Lebanese government. To my mind this is obviously an attempt on the part of the Bushies to say, "Watch out! Terrorism is still an issue! Our enemies are still at large! Don't vote for the Democrats!" It's the timing that kills me. No one's talked about Lebanon-Hezbollah for three months now, save for an occasional "Israel begins talks with Lebanon" bit, and now all of a sudden we get reports of an Arab conspiracy to topple Lebanon? I'm not buying it.

In the Bushies' defense, I found it a little suspect that the Foley scandal broke exactly a month before the midterms. No one's been able to prove it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out someone - perhaps even with a Democratic bias - sat on the story for an opportune moment. I guess it's reprehensible for someone to let a child molester walk the halls of our capital, but if someone did sit on the story, I can't blame them. It's what I call the Rule of Six - or, in this case, the Rule of One: if it doesn't happen six (or one) months before an election, it doesn't matter. We're seeing evidence of it right now. Remember how outraged everyone was about Katrina? Now nobody gives a shit. It's not even an issue. Seriously. In fact, I've been reading articles that the citizens of New Orleans are all feeling a little pissed about that, since apparently their city's still kind of a shit-hole and they could use the national support. Voters are like women: "La donna e mobile, qual piuma al vento, muta d'accento, e di pensiero."*

* Woman is unpredictable, like a feather in the wind, she changes her voice, and her thoughts

The other subliminal assault on my pscyhe was by the New York Times, in an article about the abortion debate in South Dakota. Check out the pic:



Let's see if you can guess which one of these is the pro-lifer?** We can see here how much pro-lifers care about and value their children, and how the kiddies haven't at all overrun their lives. The politics certainly don't come off as more important than the individual. So pro-family!

** If you said, "The one on the left," give yourself a gold star. Or a condom.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A post so long it has to wear shades

Did John Kerry blow it for the Democrats in the final stretch? Some people think he did. Certainly George Bush and Dick Cheney hope so, judging by their last-ditch effort to milk a bonehead statement from a guy they BEAT who isn't even RUNNING. I think nothing reeks of desperation so much as these last-minute tactics by Bush et al. The New York Times is quoting our Glorious Beloved Leader as saying that "a Democratic triumph in the races for the House and Senate would amount to a victory for terrorists." Seriously, it amazes me people tolerate this man. And not to change the subject, but it's never really been made clear to me the various ways in which the Republicans are so much stronger on the war on terror, beyond perhaps the Patriot Act. Is there any evidence that the Patriot Act is actually effective in the war on terror? The President claims torture is also an effective tool, but last time I talked to Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, torture is what got us into the Iraq mess in the first place.

I'm also, honestly, getting really quite tired of people saying that criticizing the war is the same as criticizing our troops. I think it takes a unique paradigm to equate pointing out that George Bush and Donny R don't know fuck-all about running a war with wanting little Timmy to die face-down in the muck. That's an extraordinary leap in logic by my estimate.

What does it even mean to "Support Our Troops" anymore? Is there anybody out there who doesn't support our troops? It's like people who talk about how they support an AIDS cure. Is there anybody who disagrees with you? Is there anybody left out there who is still saying, "I think AIDS is a good thing" ? It doesn't mean anything to support our troops anymore, because everybody does.

So I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna take one for the team. I'm gonna be the guy who takes the unequivocal position of not supporting our troops. Why, you ask? Well, it's not because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and it's not because of the scattered reports that some of our troops like to rape terrified defenseless women. It's not because I think our grunts' gung-ho attitude, especially during the initial invasion, is part of the overall problem. It's not even because I think the strict disciplinary nature of the military stunts people's intellectual develop (a perception supported by post-military people I've met in law school, who have good work ethics but don't seem to possess particularly creative minds).

No, the reason I'm not gonna support our troops is because we put them on a pedestal, and the contrarian in me finds it tiresome. I ahve to hear about how our troops are so patriotic and self-sacrificing. Even that America-hating Michael Moore says at the end of Fahrenehit 9/11: "They fight so we don't have to." No, that's wrong. That might be the EFFECT of why they fight, but it's not WHY they fight. It's not like these kids had the options of a recording deal with Jive Records or a scholarship to Harvard but chose to ship off to Iraq instead because, goddamit, they just love their country too much. This wasn't their career of choice. They're not all Pat Tillman. In fact, most of them aren't. Many of these kids didn't have any other options. They were forced into this by circumstance. We should admit it.

In The West Wing Leo says that kids go into the military "for advancement." Certainly that's the angle many of the Navy commercials try to plug. Training for life, etc. But I actually think Charlie came up with the real reason:

Gangs give you a sense of belonging, and usually, an income. But mostly, they
give you a sense of dignity. Men are men, and men'll seek pride. Everybody here's got
a badge to wear. "I'm the Deputy Communications Director." "I made Presidential Classroom." "I know the answer, I'm going to Cornell." You think bangers are walking around with their heads down, saying, "Oh man, I didn't make anything out of my life. I'm in a gang." No, man! They're walking around saying, "Man, I'm in a gang. I'm with them."

That's why people go into the military. The quest for pride and dignity. We all have these badges we pursue, ultimately meaningless but which we utilize as a misguided barometer of our own self-worth. And there are only so many "law student" badges to go around. Service in the military helps make people feel like somebody, like they're part of something great.

At any rate, I'm not sure at what point we decided that observing something has faults - or even suggesting it has them - means you don't support it. My father wanted me to get better grades in high school, but I don't think that meant he didn't love me. The whole conservative stance on patriotism drives me up the wall, frankly. The stance that Americans who criticize our country don't love it. What is this? The only way to love something is to wilfully ignore its shortcomings? That's not love. TRUE love is noting the faults and accepting them, not fixating on a one-dimensional caricature, a pale shadow of the real thing.

I was watching that "In God We Still Trust" video on YouTube, cause it's such a kick-ass song, and one of the YouTube comments said that those people who thought the video and its sentiment were stupid should "Love my country or leave it." Actually, what he said in full was, " Maybe you need to research why people came to America in the first place. The Nation was founded on Christian beliefs. Love my country or leave it," which is really pretty stupid, for several reasons, such as...

1. People didn't "come" to America. They were already here. We know them affectionately as "Indians." Perhaps you've met?

2. I'm not sure what looking for a trade route to the Indies "in the first place" has to do with Christian beliefs.

3. Then there's the whole ideology-of-the-Founders debate, which I find less interesting than just pointing out people's ethno-centric bias...which is the Oxford Debating Society's way of calling them a racist.

Anyway, yeah, why is it that thinking my country has faults means I can't love it? And what the hell makes it YOUR country anyway? I was born in the fucking capital, so you can kiss my ass. I also think it's a great testament to that incorrugible American spirit that conservatives suggest those who find fault with America should leave it. That's a great life philosophy: when you encounter a problem in life, don't try to fix it, just run away from it. I think that's called "cut-and-run."

But I've totally gotten off-point here. Basically, I hate our troops. What did they ever do for me, anyway?