25 - student - NYC That's all for now.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Helpful Supplements

Looking back on my posts from yesterday, it occurs to me that I sort of jumped into the dialogue midstream. I thought that maybe today I would go over the basics. I realize that I'm going at this somewhat backwards, but since the blog already reads top-down, it could conceivably make sense.

My comments yesterday referred to the President's warrantless wiretapping program. The latest information has Bush authorizing the program sometime after 9/11 and probably before the passing of the USA Patriot Act on October 26, 2001. The wiretapping program, now known as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" (TSP), supposedly conducts warrantless surveillance of international calls either originating or ending in the U.S. if at least one of the parties is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Bush and his followers have repeatedly insisted that such surveillance is limited to those specific circumstances. He plausibly says that "if somebody from al Qaeda is calling you, we'd like to know why." And I am sympathetic to such a statement. I live in NYC after all. But we already have a framework for dealing with this sort of intelligence gathering - and it's not a carte blanche for Mr. Bush.

Congress recognized that there were national security concerns implicated in going through the public and slower process of obtaining warrants through the court system. That's why they passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the first place. FISA allowed the administration to obtain warrants from a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) while also lowering the necessary threshold from probable cause to believe that a criminal activity is taking place to probable cause that the target is an agent of a foreign power. Notably, the passage of the Patriot Act amended the FISA statute further, making it even easier to obtain a warrant. Originally under FISA, the purpose of the FISA investigation had to have as a "primary purpose" the collection of foreign intelligence. Under the Patriot Act amendments, collection of foreign intelligence must merely be a "significant" purpose of the investigation. "Significant" is left vague and undefined.

So, FISA was designed an an apparatus to allow the administration to conduct the necessary intelligence gathering activites incident to wartime, while still respecting the constitutional requirements of the Fourth Amendment. And yet the Terrorist Surveillance Program completely ignores FISA. As I mentioned above, it purports to only wiretap international calls where at least one party has ties to Al-Qaeda. It, the President says, is necessary in the war on terror. FISA, he says, is too limiting, or inapplicable to the Executive, or worse yet, unconstitutional.

You see, the administration claims that it has inherent powers under Article II of the Constitution. Professor Dorf gives a wonderful and uncomplicated analysis of these legal claims. I will give the pared-down version. Basically, the Constitution under Article II gives the President a set of inherent powers, such as the power to pardon, or to make treaties or act as Commander in Chief. As Dorf explains, some of these powers are default powers and some are exclusive. An exlusive power is a power granted to the President that Congress cannot legislate away. For instance, Congress cannot pass a law depriving the President of his right to make pardons. A default power is a power granted to the President but also granted in some degree to the Congress. An example is powers concerning war, for the Congress is empowered under Article I [14] "[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." Contrary to an exclusive power, a default power may be regulated by Congressional law. As Dorf explains, surveillance is a default power and Congress has sought to regulate it under its FISA framework.

As I explained in an earlier post, under a Supreme Court ruling in 1952, the famous concurrence by Justice Robert Jackson held that when Congress has passed a law which the President directly violates, if it is a "default power" then the President's power "is at its lowest ebb." I suggest reading Dorf's article for a clearer understanding.

Also, for an expert's view on the illegality of the NSA program, you can read this letter to Congress signed by a number of constitutional scholars.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The "Terrorist Surveillance Program" - A Personal Polemic

As a prefatory remark, I should say that much credit belongs to Anonymous Liberal and Glenn Greenwald for their analysis in helping me to really understand these issues.


As if it were not enough that our government is conducting a secret “surveillance” program of dubious legality, must they constantly hedge and lie about it? But it is politics as usual in Washington as Attorney General Gonzales recently released a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee following up and clarifying his oral testimony about the NSA domestic surveillance program. The letter interestingly notes that the President authorized the program before the Patriot Act even passed. Also, it strongly suggests that the administration initially relied on an Article II inherent power justification, and the AUMF argument that the administration currently puts forward is pure revisionism. Because there are far too many covert reasons to be concerned about the state of personal privacy, perhaps it is beneficial that the administration made such a colossal blunder. It brings privacy concerns deservedly to the forefront of our consciousness. However, in order to stake a claim to that benefit, we must attack the foundations of the government’s reasoning.

We should early reject any serious claim that the government conducted this surveillance for purely sinister domestic purposes. It is probably true that concerns about terrorism predicated the program, and it was designed to combat that threat. Cynics may believe terrorism to be pretextual, but that seems wrong. However, the reality remains that the NSA program is vastly over-reaching and Gonzales ultimately fails in his justification efforts.

The administration chiefly relies upon the two-headed hydra of Article II and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Resolution (AUMF). The Department of Justice’s position has likely evolved from an initial reliance on John Yoo’s now infamously radical expansive theory of Presidential wartime powers to a relatively toned-down reliance on Congressional mandate. Gonzales claims that the shift simply reflects that the Department’s “legal analysis has [not] been static over time,” whereas I suggest instead that the shift underscores the larger problem – the government’s disrespect for privacy and the rule of law. No doubt, the administration switched tacks as a result of the Court’s Hamdi ruling which seemingly narrowed the scope of the inherent power claim, while simultaneously opening the door to an AUMF argument. O'Connor's majority opinion expressly does not reach the Article II argument, but does offer dicta rejecting a plenary power in the President:

In so holding, we necessarily reject the Government’s assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances. Indeed, the position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government. We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. Youngstown Sheet & Tube, 343 U.S., at 587. Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 380 (1989)

The large question remains, then, how far can we take the Court's embrace of the AUMF as Congressional authorization for wartime activities. Though the detention of a Taliban soldier was "necessary and appropriate force," in no way is it clear that the wiretapping of domestic/international calls meets that standard. And O'Connor is quite explicit in limiting the holding to the specific facts:

We conclude that the AUMF is explicit congressional authorization for the detention of individuals in the narrow category we describe (assuming, without deciding, that such authorization is required), and that the AUMF satisfied §4001(a)’s requirement that a detention be “pursuant to an Act of Congress” (assuming, without deciding, that §4001(a) applies to military detentions).

But fancy legal reasoning does not obviate the necessity for explaining how such a program might be authorized on dubious legal premises in the first place.

Flying literally in the face of FISA, the President authorized an action actually criminalized by that statute. Any reasonable reading of Jackson’s Youngstown concurrence suggests that in such a case the President’s “power is at its lowest ebb,” though arguably there is more wiggle room in questions of foreign affairs (traditionally the domain of the Executive). In Youngstown, Justice Jackson suggests a 3-tiered framework for measuring the constitutionality of presidential actions. The first category involves the President acting with direct Congressional authorization and such actions are entitled "the strongest of presumptions." The second category involves a Presidential action in the "zone of twilight" where there has been neither Congressional grant nor denial of that power. Such actions get a closer level of scrutiny than the previous tier. Finally, there are actions which are in direct violation of Congressional mandate. These activities must be "scrutinized with caution" and the President's power is "at its lowest ebb."

Still, the administration persists on conflating a default Presidential power with an exclusive one in making its inherent power claim. Worse than negligent, such rhetoric is simply intellectually dishonest. But really it is Hamdi that puts a nail in the Article II coffin, circumscribing the administration’s Unitary Executive Theory. O’Connor’s majority opinion soundly rejects the administration’s argument that the President has plenary power in a state of war, and reaffirms the foundational separation of powers regime.

Even allowing that the administration built the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” on the foundation of the AUMF, significant legal questions arise. For instance, the dispositive statement that the President is “authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force” occurs under the heading of “Authorization for the Use of United States Armed Forces.” It seems plausible to argue that “appropriate force” refers to “military” force and I think it difficult to label the NSA “armed.” At the same time, I am sympathetic to the proposition that pursuit of foreign intelligence is a necessary component in the effective management of a war. However, to make an argument, as Gonzales does, that the AUMF puts the President in the Youngstown Category I is sheer folly, especially in light of the plain meaning of FISA. After all, the Congress was not contemplating the authorization of a surveillance program when they passed the AUMF. They thought they were already dealing with that issue in the adoption of the USA Patriot Act.

Perhaps the most puzzling of all is the current malaise concerning the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. What seems to elude much of the mainstream media is the apparent inconsistency between the administration’s insistence of the dire necessity of the Patriot Act and the legal position concerning the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” An even cursory glance at the Patriot Reauthorization Act reveals that it is chiefly a series of FISA amendments. It baffles as to why the President calls this so “vital to the war on terror” – this revision of a statute that he maintains he has no duty to obey. Even more perplexing is his statement that this Act will serve to “safeguard the civil liberties of the American people.” Something stinks here. The Patriot Act/FISA seeks to restrain an administration that claims the power to avoid such restraint. And that same administration simultaneously maintains the absolute necessity of reauthorizing said restraint. No doubt, Gonzales recognizes the delicious irony even while dancing around it. Frankly, it makes one wonder whether the entire Patriot Act were not a smokescreen to conceal the real “war on terror.” [1]

Finally, a clarion call for cynics sounds loudly in A-G Gonzales’s letter. He explicitly represents that he testified “only as to the legal basis of the activity confirmed by the President” and reiterates that the “interception of purely domestic communications” would require a different legal analysis. (p. 5) This slippery rhetoric oozes of lawyerly parsing and almost screams that warrantless domestic spying occurs, even while remaining “unconfirmed.” [2] Clearly, I can't say one way or the other that purely domestic, non-terrorist-related, spying is definitely occurring. My deep suspicion is that it is. But that is subject to interpretation, of course, being simply an inference - an inference dying to be made - but an inference nonetheless.

Of course, this controversy is really just the tip of the iceberg. Robert O’Harrow’s “No Place to Hide” unveils a prescient vision of the future information-industrial complex. With the explosion of data-mining, biometrics, visual recognition software and lavish governmental patronage, “electronic surveillance” is rapidly becoming a fixed reality. Hopefully, the exposure of our government’s deceit and illegal machinations will help to unveil the wizard. Even now the ACLU and Electron Freedom Foundation pursue legal actions to pull back the curtain. [3] We can only hope that it is not too late.

[1] Credit to Anonymous Liberal for this insightful analysis.
[2] See Washington Post article for further speculation
[3] Courtesy of “The Nation” – Tim Shorrock (March 20, 2006).

This is Insane!

Administrative Difficulties: Why Harper's Has it Right

Lewis Lapham writes a compelling argument in the March issue of Harper's calling for Bush's impeachment. I'm particularly interested in the following two, what I would term unforgiveable, scandals.

NSA Surveillance and AIPAC - I am following these stories with a growing and unbelieving morbid fascination, as though I am watching some horrid scene but can't drag my eyes away. And perhaps I am.

The first story I refer to is the developing drama over the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program that, at least facially, seems to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). The second story refers to the administration's ongoing Espionage Act prosecution of two former lobbyists from AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) for revealing classified information to reporters and foreign officials. I will be following this post with detailed digressions on each of these stories, so primarily here I just want to discuss their frightening, overarching theme.

And that theme is POWER and ABUSE. This administration is shameless in its attitude toward the Constitution and the rule of law. Here is a government that spies on its citizens while ignoring a statute, FISA, specifically designed to protect that privacy and those civil liberties. And then here is a government who seeks to prosecute those individuals implicated in leaking AND REPORTING that illegal activity by the government. Although the AIPAC case does not specifically relate to the NSA program, it is intimately tied up with the administration's war on truth. The government is threatening the lifeblood of investigative journalism - leaked information - and the AIPAC prosecution represents an incredible inroad against the protections afforded by the First Amendment. Prosecuting individuals for relaying leaked information - individuals who never promised to keep the information classified in the first place - individuals who didn't even know specifically what information was classified - individuals who were basically DOING THEIR JOB? THAT IS WHAT REPORTERS DO. The AIPAC prosecution represents a stunning attack on the freedom of the press - an attack that is only just now starting to motivate some commentary in the mainstream media (the blogosphere has contributed to most of my knowledge about it).

Anyway, my aim is to do a somewhat detailed analysis of these two current events drawing mainly from information I am culling from the currently active dialogue between the internet Left and Right - although I'm sure my own predilections and bias are quite clear. My first aim, will be to describe in short and then tackle the hypocrisy and absurdity that A-G Gonzales calls the "Terrorist Surveillance Program."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fun with Embedding - An Experimental Ode to Michael

This first video is the new Air Jordan spot which brings me chills. Anyone familiar with Jordan's oeuvre will recognize his signature moves being played out by aspiring youths. According to an ESPN article, the director put out a casting call all over the country looking for people to recreate these moments. The music ain't bad either.

This second video is awesome. I'm dying to know what this song is - and I can't help getting fired up everytime I watch this. Anyway, it shows the evolution of Jordan's game and will also give you an opporutnity to view some of those signature moves in their original, untainted form.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Short Story - Part IV

Lucifer awoke in a sea of red. He could see that his left arm bled freely, yet no pain registered – though a dizziness hovered precipitously close, anxious to make its presence known. Shards of glass dug unnoticed into his back and legs. A pungent odor filtered its way through the air. Formaldehyde.

The corridor remained brilliantly lit, but permeated desolation. The only sounds were a soft trickle of liquid and the crunching of glass as Lucifer struggled to sit up. He found that his arm hung useless, drained of much of its vitality. In fact, the entire left side of his body felt chillingly light. Lucifer knew he needed immediate medical attention. He tried to collect his thoughts.

How was the normally bustling fourth floor suddenly the embodiment of solitude? Where was Ruloff? How could he stop the bleeding? Thoughts jumbled together recklessly. Had that old man done this? Lucifer drew frustrating blanks. As he brooded, a white excrescence cast over his vision. Recent memories flooded.

It was six weeks earlier. The snows melted the blacktop slick in a typical suburban theatre. Lucifer leaned back on the picket fence taking a deep drag of a cigarette. Smoke plumed through his nostrils in tiny horns. Winter break could not end soon enough as far as he was concerned. High school friends suddenly seemed strangers – they spoke of names unattached to faces, related stories that evoked no memories. Lucifer felt estranged and mildly rueful – lamenting the simpler days of youth when a blizzard meant snow forts and school closings.

Frosty gusts knifed his windbreaker as he inhaled another smoky breath and stared at the children. A small boy hovered anxiously beside his creation as the older girl marched imperiously about in inspection. She tutored the younger boy knowingly, rearranging several raisins and a carrot as her eager shadow squeaked and hopped alongside. Lucifer gazed at the scene coolly – his eyes shining mutely, the only movement, a tremble of his jacket in the wind.

Exhaling another pair of horns, he lifted the cigarette again to his parched lips. The girl had finished her fussing and was now squinting crinkled eyes at the spot where he stood.

But Lucifer was too busy packing snow into the base of his creation to notice Lucy’s preoccupation with a lonely spot in the distance. His older sister had finally finished adjusting the snowman’s particulars and Lucifer imagined only moments separated him from the creature’s sudden animation. He and Lucy had just that morning watched a program depicting a lively snowman with a stovepipe hat. So when those moments passed and Frosty still remained inert, frustration descended.
Lucy was still staring at the vacant point in the picket fence when Lucifer peered up at her.

“Watcha lookin’ at Lucy?” he asked.

“Nothing, Furry,” she mussed his hair distractedly, “I just… I just thought I saw someone just now… standing there watching us.”

Lucifer felt a cold shiver as he followed her finger to the fence. Perhaps the air grew more chill at that moment or maybe it was nothing, but Lucifer felt strange. A fleeting gasp of knowledge embraced his childish mind before fluttering free – a small moment of clarity that he had lived this moment before. Déjà vu.

A whooshing sound suddenly filled his ears as the world fell away into the horizon. Another familiar scene slowly developed in its place – a playroom full of plastic dolls, Legos and toy trucks. Lucy sat in a corner, fretting over something. A domestic scene played out nearby.

Leaving Lucy, Lucifer gnashed his cigarette into an ashtray as he followed the sounds into a kitchen. Beside a center island stood a couple talking in hushed tones. Threading his way through several stools, Lucifer approached the pair unnoticed. They continued their muted discussion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A News Break from the Story - NY Times v. Gonzales

As there hasn't been any particular interest in the short story - I thought I'd return to news.

Yesterday, I attended the 2nd Circuit oral argument of NY Times v. (A-G) Gonzales. This particular case was appealed from a S.D.N.Y decision issuing a declaratory judgment against the government, forbidding it from issuing a subpoena to the telephone company. That subpoena would be requesting the telephone company to divulge a record of the calls between NY Times reporter Judy Miller and an undivulged source who leaked information about an impending bust of a Chicago-area suspected Islamic terrorist group.

Apparently, Miller had called the group after receiving this tip and basically warned them of the impending bust. Now the government wants to get a record of the calls as evidence for a grand jury it is convening in Chicago to prosecute the source of the leak to the Times.

There are two major areas of contention and legal relevance in this case. The first is basically a venue question that won't really be of interest to anyone unfamiliar with the law. In essence, the government argued that the Times inappropriately engaged in "forum-shopping" in bringing a declaratory judgment action in NY. The government claimed that the appropriate response to a challenged subpoena would be a motion to quash brought in the court which had issued the subpoena (in this case, a federal court in Chicago). The implication, here, is that the Times brought the action in NY because it knew that the judges were more favorable to an expansive reading of reporter privilege under the Supreme Court's Branzburg opinion.

The second issue in the case dealt with the question of reporter privilege and how far it extends under the Branzburg opinion. The 2nd Circuit, in a line of cases, had basically adopted the Powell concurrence as a more expansive reading of the privilege, rather than the White majority - a reading that the government did not agree with. But in an attempt to distinguish this set of facts, the government argued that here it was issuing a subpoena to a third party. Floyd Abrams (also counselor for the Times in the famous Pentagon Papers case) responded - I think persuasively - by saying that the telephone records are part and parcel of reporter privilege and without privilege being extended to those records, it would have no real strength.

There was some back and forth about a federal common law standard for reporter privilege. Abrams claimed that 49 out of 50 states have statutory shield laws for reporters and the government's failure to recognize a similar right puts the state of journalism in constant flux - because the reporter never knows what assurances he can give his source as there is a constant threat of a federal subpoena even with state protections. As my professor Jack Weiss mentions, however, that is still no reason to create a constitituonal protection for a privilege under the First Amendment. The government responded by repeating that there are 0 out of 50 states that protect third-party subpoena privilege.

It will be interesting to see what the Circuit decides to do. The lower court, of course, issued the judgment - so it is up to the Court of Appeals to reverse it. Interestingly, this entire issue may be moot, because the subpoena was to be issued to the telephone company, NY Times would have no reason to ever see it. As a courtesy the government had informed the Times of the subpoena but there is no way of really knowing whether the telephone company already received and complied with it. Thus, the government may very well already have the telephone records, in which case this whole argument is moot.

However, the sympathy of the Court during oral argument was fairly obvious. Judges Sack and Kearse seemed to favor the Times and the extension of reporter privilege under Branzburg. The delicate problem is that the forum-shopping aspect of the case looks suspicious and if the Supreme Court heard this case - it would almost certainly be reversed on that issue. It will be interesting to see what the judges decide.

Of note: 15 minutes into the argument Judy Miller hurried into the courtroom and sat directly behind me. She was staring daggers at Fleissner, the prosecutor for the government. As an aside, from the things I've read and heard about this woman - I just don't like her.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Short Story - Part III (a busy day)

Lucifer reached the fourth floor. As he approached the fire-door it swung open, confronting him was a twisted old man leaning heavily on a cane. Lucifer did not recognize the man, though this was unsurprising as Lucifer had little acquaintance with the faculty outside the architectural school. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the fellow but for the cane – which looked to be solid gold. Presently though, much of it was obscured by the old man’s exaggerated hunch.
Preoccupied, Lucifer endeavored to sidestep the wizened creature and was surprised to have his maneuver abruptly retarded. A steel grip held fast his wrist. Surprisingly dexterous, the gnarled fingers had seized him mid-stride.

“Do not seek it. You shall not find it a kind master. Luciferio. Expartio oustle bavaerum,” the strange ancient wheezed harshly.

A deep chill left his blood cold. It was the second time he had heard that odd phrase. Frightened and confused, he turned to face his captor – but the old man was gone. Only a stiffness in his wrist remained. The fire-door lay open.
Lucifer stumbled into the hallway and headed toward the familiar display cases, but something felt terribly wrong. A pit began growing in his stomach. As he inched closer, he struggled mightily to throw off a growing dizziness. He felt sick again – glass covered the floor. Lucifer’s eyes teared heavily – red trails smeared the corridor walls. The ceiling swooned and starbursts exploded before his eyes – a noxious smell permeated the air. And as Lucifer crashed to the floor, he lacerated his arm deeply on a jagged edge of what was now an empty broken display case – Ruloff was gone.

Lucifer awoke in a sea of red.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Short Story - Part II

Hunched over, a light finger pressed his shoulder. Lucifer turned and blinked at the figure peering down at him. It was tall and gaunt, shrouded in a deep cloak festooned with brilliant blackness. Lucifer could not decide whether he should describe it as dull luminousity or a luminous dullness. Either way, it both swallowed and radiated light. Lucifer found it quite impossible to distinguish any detail as the material refused to allow focus.

The light pressure he felt on his shoulder remained, and it was in notable distinction to the growing heavy presence of this figure. Of further significance was the tremendous heat emanating from that contact point while the rest of the figure appeared nothing more than like a freezing wind. Oddly, Lucifer felt no fear as he was alternately warmed and cooled by this mysterious apparition. Quite the contrary, he experienced a welcome calm even as the figure spoke.

“Revitharum feclorum divintium. Influentia contrafista luciferio. Expartio oustle bavaerum.”

The strange words had a deep icy quality, as if etched into stone. They also carried with them an unmistakable expression of antiquity – of beings as ancient as rock and earth. Lucifer did not understand but felt a foreign echologic compulsion – he repeated the words softly and involuntarily.

And as in an instant, the pressure on his shoulder ceased and the figure dissipated. As white light returned, Lucifer found himself sprawled on the lawn. Several students were clumsily attending his comforts. His neck now supported by a bunched sweater, a North Face girl fussed over him anxiously.

“His eyes are opening! Are you okay? I saw you just totally… like… collapse! And then you started mumbling in a weird language, and then…” she squeaked excitedly.

Another girl kneeling beside the first dropped his wrist satisfied that he did, indeed, have a pulse. Later that day she would walk into the registrar’s office and switch to pre-med, much inspired by her healing touch. But still sitting beside Lucifer, she interjected into her friends torrent dialogue.

“Corinna’s a little excited, but she’s right. I was standing over there when you came out of Uris Hall. One moment it looked like you were puking on the statute and the next you were dancing while staring up at the sky. Then you collapsed and began mumbling… feh color um da vinci um or something…over and over”

Lucifer blanched slightly, the warmth and calmness was leaving him, taking color from his skin and replacing it with the creeping white tendrils of fear. He knew deeply that the figure was real – just as clearly as he had known that the Green Dragon walls truly moved. But the blindness of these witnesses greatly tested his natural convictions. Ever accruing evidence suggested Lucifer’s own madness.

But he was growing accustomed to solitary knowledge. Hours alone in the studio had honed his capacity to “go insular.” The fear receded. Color returned.

“I’m fine,” Lucifer managed. His throat was cotton. “Just a bit of epilepsy. It’s a pain sometimes,” he creased a pacifying smile.

Corinna’s friend nodded knowingly, she had heard about epilepsy. She was inspired to find the cure. Later that day, after visiting the registrar, she would look it up on the internet and donate to the “National Society for Epilepsy.” Two weeks after that she would become the stuff of urban legend – falling two hundred feet into Cascadilla gorge while trying to pee off a bridge. Apparently she owed her survival to a particularly large badger or raccoon which had broken her fall. It was rather difficult to tell the exact species from the condition of the carcass.

But for now, she finished nodding, stood and pulled Corinna with her. “He needs some space to breathe, Cor. Give him some space.”

Corinna compliantly retreated, glad to have her friend in control. In general, Cor was a fairly compliant girl. She went with the crowd and did as the crowd. In high school, she had gotten into alcohol and drugs at an early age – her allowance more than sufficed to cover a steady stream of addictions. And that generous income was supplied by Daddy Duggan – a man made rich through his best-selling line of self-actualizing books. Among the more popular titles were Duggan’s Guide to Independence and Duggan’s Manual for a Clean and Healthy Lifestyle.

Lucifer sat up and noticed that a considerable crowd had formed. Many of the faces were familiar though not intimate – they belonged to names that Lucifer had heard or known. Many of these faces wore expressions of bewilderment and disturbance, as though this scene upset the placid tranquility that their parents paid for in tuition. Misfortune normally distributed blinders to these students, but her negligence had left them somehow irretrievably soiled. This spectacle would haunt their conscience, at least until Thursday’s Sigma Nu Spring Bash.

He dragged himself to his feet and shuffled toward the refuge of Uris Hall hoping to get lost among the academic traffic, hoping to escape the judging modern peerage. Corinna and her friend followed.

“Are you sure you’re alright? I mean, anything we can do to help,” the friend offered, ushering Corinna through the doorway.
“Yeah… we can help,” Corinna squeaked.

Lucifer cringed. “No. You’ve done enough. Thank you. I have an appointment.”

He disappeared into the stairwell, leaving the two girls alone in the hall. Corinna saw that her friend was miffed, and so she too became miffed. They stewed together in their miffage for a while before the friend became mollified by the thought that she saved a life. Corinna was also coincidentally quite mollified by that sentiment. So when her friend announced triumphantly that she was heading down to the registrar, Corinna decided that she too would make the journey. After all, she could think of nothing better.

A Short Story - In Progress

The following is the beginning of a short story that I just began writing.

Lucifer wasn’t always evil. In fact, he started out Jewish. It wasn’t a Jesuitical Jewish, but rather a relaxed reformed religiousity – that sort of limited high holiday awareness common to much of the gentile sect. Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and occasionally Sukkot brought him to the synagogue for a bit of prayer, occasionally yeast-less bread or as often no food at all. A childhood of sub-urbanity had inured him to this cyclical annual pattern of attendance and though his mind and spirit were never in it, his circadian rhythm demanded it.

Growing up in the suburbs, he experienced the standard difficulties of an upper-middle class upbringing. He never seemed to have enough allowance, he had to wait until 16 and a half before being allowed to drive the BMW alone, and he got cut from the varsity basketball team. All in all, it was a typical adolescence, rife with typical teenage troubles – nothing particularly heroic.

He went to college – as all devils do – a pristine little Ivy in beauteous bucolic environs. The campus cris-crossed gorges shorn into the landscape by the gradual working of time and water. In fact, it turns out that the main exports of this college town were green t-shirts pithily inscribed with the words I____ is Gorges!, (and to a slightly lesser degree) insomniac, chronically-smoking, miserable architects. It was to this latter category that our hero – if that’s the word – belongs.

The University had recently installed a five year architectural degree program. Five years of hell and guaranteed intimacy with an eraser, as it was billed. Months of toiling in a dingy studio with barely the incessant grey clouds spilling through the skylight. All of this culminating in the annual masochistic celebration known as Dragon Day. Architecture students would devote months of effort to designing and erecting a large papier-mâché dragon to parade about the Arts Quad as the engineering students attempted to destroy it. Really, it was a rather pitiful spectacle – as like watching an elephant attacked by an army of tigers. The elephant occasionally lays waste to a paper tiger or two, but the bespectacled beasts eventually wear down his defenses – and the papier-mâché hide disintegrates under a barrage of water balloons.

But, of course, our Lucifer was no Dragon Day devotee. His architectural experience was more in the manner of the occult. Whipping up devilish designs quietly became more than a passing fancy for the protagonist, his bizarre pregnant blueprints reflected a growing inner turmoil – one that was not apparent from his resplendent façades. But perhaps we get ahead of ourselves. It was his first year.

Lucifer drank no more than customary for his rank and file. Neither was he too involved in recreational pleasures, narcotic or otherwise. He was sociable enough though he often felt the presence of his classmates rather oppressive – years of churning under the grindstone of parental expectation had left them a soiled sort. Lucifer’s own sense of self involved a remarkable cognizance of the impact the same had had upon him. Yet, for better or worse, he remained stoic in his solipsism – not ever really reflecting upon his impressions of others.

This attitude would serve him well in the opening days of his first spring at the University. The unrelenting March gusts were quite enough alone, but singing their accompaniment were icy breaths of jagged snow. He pulled his mantle closer, shielding his face with an upturned hand. Uris Hall was just ahead, offering hopes of a brief respite and also the second largest brain in captivity prominently displayed on the fourth floor. The former owner, one Edward Ruloff, had been a local serial killer. A “learned ruffian,” Mr. Ruloff pioneered the path for middle-class murder, a crime which had been previously thought to be the exclusive domain of the less fortunate. He also featured prominently in legal innovation, as his was the first trial in which photographs were accepted into evidence. Lucifer stared at Ruloff.

Our devil made this pilgrimage often. Mr. Ruloff was only one of many brains kept in the display cases peppered liberally along the corridors. The others belonged to famous and ordinary alike, to people more than happy to donate their minds to the advancement of science. Or perhaps more likely, happy to have their names emblazoned on a plaque beside a withered grey organ in perpetuity.

On this particular morning though, Lucifer had not come for Ruloff. Instead, the promise of $50 for a thirty minute experiment brought him to the psychology department. A clutch of students formed along one side of the hallway, many deeply involved in fatuous conversations. Staccatic bursts interrupted Lucifer’s brainy reverie.

“… and Brian left just like that, I couldn’t believe it. I just wanted to…”
“… and we could totally use this to buy like 300 beers…”
“ … he grades on a curve, but the average is an A minus…”
“… freezing my nuts off out there…”

Students seemed to pour out of the elevators and stairwells, all gripping grubby handbills promising fifty dollar rewards. The air became close and heady. Lucifer’s eyes were swimming. Staggering slightly he closed his eyes to reclaim equilibrium. Feeling his way to the side stairwell, he pushed the door open only to run into a gaggle of girls swarming the threshold in their North Face puffiness. Swallowing a gag reflex, Lucifer plunged through the gore-tex horde and stumbled down the stairs.

The sun shone brilliantly, casting a panoply of star-brights off the large nude figure of Hercules in the courtyard. Lucifer leaned against the statute’s base recovering breath and composure. The lawn was deserted.

The devil considered the recent anxiety attack. It was not the first, but it was the second. Its predecessor had arrived equally unanticipated not two days earlier. Eating lunch at the Green Dragon, the walls approached. Slowly at first, but with increasing alacrity, they converged at the edges and thronged to the center. What he determined was a peripheral figment impressed itself as a certain reality. However, he discovered a thorough blindness offered some reprieve. Eyes furiously shut, Lucifer squeezed between the walls toward the exit, upsetting several customers in his path. Once outside he had knelt to the ground and gagged – as he now did beside Hercules.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Look Out Eastern Europe

That's right. Jeanine and I head off to Prague in March. Hoping that second time's the charm, we aim to put the Belize experience behind us. I will cross my fingers that the journey of this vacation will be much less worthy of memorializing.

The plan in brief is as follows:

3 nights in the lovely Prague at Hotel Tyl
3 nights in Vienna at Rathauspark Hotel
3 nights in Budapest at Andrassy Hotel

If anyone knows anything about these hotels or cities, feel free to comment. I'd love to hear any recommendations.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Lawsuit in a Box

The Dutch company Lamabox recently released a lawsuit in a box – what they claim as the world's first media player with P2P functionality. RIAA and MPAA beware, this box attaches directly to a television and provides search and download support for many of the popular P2P services, including Bittorrent and Kazaa. It purports to play any format of video/audio/image available on the internet. It also includes a DVD burner for those inclined to make hard copies of those torrent rips, while still providing up to 400 GB of space, or enough to rival a small Blockbuster branch. Right now the whole package sells for as low as 279 Euro. But is it legal?

Grokster Redux?

Grokster was terminated by the Court because it affirmatively fostered copyright infringement. Lamabox takes it a step further, basically hand-wrapping illegal copies of movies and placing them in the user's lap. It's the MPAA's worst nightmare - Copyright Infringement for Dummies. And Lamabox claims to be legal in Netherlands. The Dutch Court, citing U.S. decision Sony v. Universal, upheld a challenge in 2003 to then-Dutch based Kazaa, finding that only the uploading of copyrighted material was illegal. (Sony involved a case concerning the new technology of VHS tape recorders. The court found that this technology was not illegal because it could serve purposes other than copyright infringement). The logical extension of this Kazaa holding would be to protect Lamabox.

But the U.S. Supreme Court refused to kowtow to Dutch precedential interpretation of U.S. caselaw, and held that Grokster affirmatively encouraged copyright infringement, rejecting the viability of its positive legal uses. The analogy to Sony is particularly apt in considering the Lamabox. Here we have a box that plays and records movies - the only major difference being the way the movies are transmitted. Of course that's really the sticking point. The concern is that the movies on the Lamabox will be unlicensed and illegal copyright violations, whereas the VCR only plays licensed legal copies. Oh wait, that's not right. Moreover,
with the networks clambering into the business of digital transmission, even
copyrighted material can be legally downloaded. Not to mention the many unprotected media such as fan-made Star Wars Revolutions.

Of course, Lamabox is encouraging illegal downloads claiming that only uploading is illegal. Their marketing campaign emphasizes this legal loophole. Downloading non-copyrighted material is always legal, and in most countries it's also legal to download copyrighted material for personal use.

"Green Machine"

But query as to whether this is any different from the $100 laptop initiative. How long before those children learn to download and share movies? Granted, the quality of the picture may be inferior on these laptops, but the initiative is providing the means for copyright infringement. Of course these “green machines” have other legitimate uses - it's always a question of degree. But the Lamabox certainly has "legitimate" non-illegal uses such as allowing the easy downloading and playing of non-copyrighted media. However after Grokster, a marketing campaign which focuses on encouraging copyright infringement will be looked upon unfavorably by US courts.

Ultimately the Lamabox is really nothing more than a small computer that uses a television as a monitor. It creates no services that are not already out there. It uses extant software such as Bittorrent and Edonkey and Gnutella. It merely makes copyrighted material accessible, in a manner similar to an internet service provider. It is nothing you could not get with a PC and an S-Video cable. Thus, it presents an interesting legal issue - if the Lamabox merely facilitates the ease in which copyright infringement may occur, is the box itself illegal? Is it the box or the software which should be held responsible? Can we make a distinction between the container and the programs it holds? (Consider the iPod). And if the courts
determine that Bittorrent is legal but Gnutella is not, can the Lamabox
satisfy legal requirements merely by removing those Gnutella operations?

"Theft" for Dummies

In the end, like most legal questions, it is a matter of degree. The Lamabox is no different than hundreds of other technologies popping up ever more frequently. It can serve an illegal purpose and it makes it easier than previous technologies to do so. But whereas Napster and its progeny was a giant leap for the masses, Lamabox is but a tiny pebble in the ocean. Whereas Napster made it possible to share music and files among billions of users, Lamabox merely improves a user interface and addresses certain video compatibility issues. In a world of degrees, it seems that Lamabox is a far lesser threat than the software it utilizes.

Or We Could Go a Completely Different Direction

Another company has designed a completely different product to compete with Lamabox. The MuViBOXX performs similar functions but is almost a polar opposite in terms of copyright protection concerns. The MuViBOXX is locked with DRM on a proprietary Bittorrent network. But it goes even further. It does not just limit devices or licenses, it also limits human users through biometrics. Your fingerprint is actually needed to activate files. Not only does it restrict copyright piracy but it also restricts authorized users. This is probably the most severe current form of DRM.

The company producing MuViBOXX claims that it has already obtained support from one movie studio and a major record label. Which of these two technologies will utimately survive? There is at least one indication. Lamabox is currently shipping and MuViBOXX is vaporware. Pull beats push.

The Future

I conclude with more questions than answers. Technology is continually making it easier to violate copyrights. And as we have observed from the recent Sony rootkit scandal, the media producers are having difficulty keeping apace. The Lamabox is just another example of this phenomenon. Whether the courts will accept this technology has yet to be determined. To succeed in the U.S. Lamabox would do well to shed the marketing strategy of advising that downloading copyrighted movies is legal.

But it remains to be seen whether the implementation, optimization and simplification of currently available technologies into one cohesive interface renders it more "offensive" than the sum of its parts.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I Told You So...

If you will recall, I posted some thoughts about data mining a little over a month ago. You can find it in the archives. There, I was talking about the ability for politicians to use information we provide in nearly every plastic transaction we make, to manipulate elections. Along those same lines, Tom Owad released this frighteningly, enlightening study last week. He called it Data Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists.

I highly recommend reading the article as it demonstrates exactly what it was that I was talking about. Mr. Owad shows how simple diligence and internet access can allow anyone in the world to use basic data mining techniques to track down "subversives."

His demonstration is obviously tongue-in-cheek as he selects variables partly for their humor, but the technique is sound and illuminating. He downloaded the searchable wishlists that Amazon.com users can make available. Without violating any Amazon Conditions of Use he obtained the wishlists of 260,000 US citizens.

Then he cross-referenced these lists with specific books that a "subversive" might desire. His list included the Koran, 1984, Catholic Work Movement, and included keywords such as Michael Moore and the Bible, among others. You can imagine making up a different list.

Next, users can associate a shipping address with their wishlist so that people can order them as gifts. Though the full address is hidden, it only requires a simple Yahoo People Search when you already have the city, state, first and last name.

Then with Google Maps, he was a click away from getting a satellite photograph of the individual's home - although he opted not to provide this information to the web.

NOW, query as to whether this frightens you at all? Perhaps data mining seems a little more insidious with this demonstration? Now that you're in the right frame of mind, consider Owad's further points.

Consider the access to information that the FBI and NSA have. Under the Patriot Act they can seize all of Amazon's records, including past-purchases. And as Owad points out, Amazon must not disclose that they have turned over their records. Let's just assume that they have.

If a hacker with 30 hours of free time can use the internet to get inside our minds, don't be surprised when it turns out that the government knows more about you than you do.

Next sign of the apocalypse: For $89.95 AMERICAblog just bought General Wesley Clark's cell phone records.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Please, Fox... No

I have been extremely negligent in maintaining this blog, but now that I'm beginning to settle into a new pattern of classes and schoolwork, hopefully I'll be able to carve out a niche where I can start writing again.

At the risk of sounding obsessed with television, I want to write a little bit about another show which I have just discovered - a little too late. My brother introduced me to it by lending me the first two seasons on DVD. It's without a question the smartest show on network TV AND the funniest. How it has no viewership and is on the verge of being cancelled by Fox is a mystery. The only reason I can come up with is that America is too stupid to enjoy it. People would rather watch sensationalist garbage like Jerry Springer or Fear Factor than a witty, nuanced sitcom.

By the way, I'm talking about Arrested Development.

It's best watched on DVD, and unfortunately it seems like that will soon be the only medium on which it is available, because many of the jokes, gags and storylines are ongoing. And also, you aren't going to want to wait for next week before watching the next episode. This show is riveting.

Anyway, enough gushing for now. Watch it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ranting Bankruptcy (and Softest)

I don't want to make a habit of this, but I just want to say that my experience for the last four hours was miserable.

I thought that I was well-enough prepared. I thought that I could just use the model answers as a guide to produce a semi-intelligent response. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I didn't. Perhaps I should start from the beginning...

Softest. This infernal test-taking program is the biggest pain in the ass. For those of us who are devoted Mac users, it isn't even available. So if you have a Macintosh, you can't take the exam on your computer. You've either got to hand-write (which is the equivalent basically of dropping 1/3 of a letter grade in my opinion), or you've got to find yourself an IBM-compatible laptop. Luckily for me, I knew this before buying my Mac and I kept my old computer mainly for just this very purpose. It's basically a Softest Processor for me now.

Unluckily for me, the primary reason I bought the new computer was because the keyboard stopped working and the monitor occassionally went crazy. That means that when I take an exam I have to lug along a separate keyboard. Unluckily for me, that separate keyboard recently developed a space bar problem. The problem being that the space bar didn't work. Unless my professor wantedanexamthatlookedlikethis, I would have to get a new keyboard. Luckily for me, I obtained one.

With the keyboard in tote, I headed up to the exam. I got to the room and booted up my computer. No internet. My ethernet cord was plugged in - that was my insurance. I knew that the wireless card I had left at home usually didn't work so I just brought the ethernet cord because I was sure it would work. Didn't work.

Now... the newest version of this ingenious program requires an internet connection so that you can upload your answer directly after the exam instead of saving it to a disk. This great improvement saves time and disks and creates many problems.

I got frustrated and decided to run home to get the wireless card on the off-chance it would work. I ran the 12 blocks there and back and... luckily for me, the wireless card was working.

But I wasn't the only one frustrated with Softest. Two guys in my class, through no fault of their own, had Softest crash on them and they ended up having to handwrite their exams. I'd had my own nightmare first year. My contracts exam got screwed up after I had already submitted it. They told me I would have to rewrite the entire exam. That's 4 hours of an exam that I had already written - that I would have to do again. Luckily for me, they managed to recover a backed-up version of it - but it had my last frantic entries missing. The price you pay for stupid Softest.

And stories about Softest crashing and screwing everything up abound everywhere. It is a faulty product on a faulty system (Windows).

As for the actual exam? It was a curveball. I was looking fastball and the exam dropped right under my swing. First, the professor told us it was 3 hours and not to worry about it. Then he apparently changed it at the last minute and made it four hours. And made it impossible.

Oh well, enough ranting... time to study for evidence.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

14-0! Colts Remain Undefeated! 13-1. But, hey... at least there's still the Super Bowl.

After about six weeks of unrelenting media hype, the Colts finally succumb to the pressure. At least I'm assuming they do. I started writing this entry with 1:30 left in the game. And while I can hold out some hope that they score quickly, they are still down by 9. Perhaps I'll eat crow. I doubt it.

That's the thing about records these days. There is so much attention to even the most idiotic records (most consecutive home daytime wins in a dome) that breaking the records is much harder. When DiMaggio went for 56 it was hard and the media was all over him. But that's nothing like it would be today. As a sidenote, my favorite anecdote about Joe's streak is the one about the Yankee-hating Indian pitcher who promised to break the streak by intentionally walking DiMaggio in every at-bat. In the eighth inning, after being walked each time, DiMaggio steps across the plate and hits a pitch three feet off the plate down the line for a double to keep the streak going. I don't know if that's true or not, but I still like the story.

Well, the game is over now. Put it down for the books. No undefeated team this season either. The '72 Dolphins can rest easy. But hey Colts fans, there's still the Super Bowl.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's Official!!!

Wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica! No more slogging around in those heavy tomes. Now we can enjoy the collective expertise of the common man - and not the slavish ponderings of "bookmen." I think this a glorious achievement of mankind. All hail Wikipedia.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Caveat Emptor

An alert reader brought this article about mortgage fraud to my attention. It's about time.

In 2004, I spent the majority of my summer doing my part to end the fraud of a particularly insidious little mortgage-lending/house-selling outfit operating out of Queens and Brooklyn. I spent a lot of time looking through the public records to see how much this real estate company had bought each house for and then how much they sold it for. They often were selling at a 100% to 150% profit after only holding the houses for less than a year. The repairs were extremely shoddy, most of these houses began falling apart less than six months after being sold.

The worst part of the whole scheme was that these houses were being sold overpriced and undersecured. The buyers were predominantly up-and-coming lower middle class minorities. They were the individuals who were the pride of their neighborhoods - the people who worked two or three jobs to support their family and buy themselves a home for that family. And they were taken in by these crooks who catered to and took advantage of the minority crowd. The company specifically employed minority salesman to appeal to their shared realities. It was sickening.

And the company colluded with a crooked mortgage lender who would lend the buyers the money for the overpriced house. And they would provide their own crooked lawyers for the buyers. Everything was internal. The buyers would end up paying way more than the house was worth and MOST IMPORTANTLY, way more than they could afford. No competent mortgage lender or real estate lawyer would sign off on this transaction. The buyers were always getting in over their heads. On the salaries they reported, they couldn't possibly afford the mortgages. But they didn't know that. They were first-time home buyers and their own lawyers were in bed with the crooks.

How could this scheme perpetuate itself though? If all of these buyers would eventually default, wouldn't that leave the mortgage bank with a bunch of expensive foreclosure actions and shitty houses that were falling apart? Well... not exactly. The problem is that the government stepped in many years ago in an effort to give everyone (meaning everyone well off) a chance at the "American dream." The government established the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which provides federal guarantees on mortgages in the event of a default. Because of this guarantee backed by the coffers of the federal treasury, the corrupt mortgage lender is able to package these mortgages and sell them to big commercial banks - essentially turning a nifty little profit on mortgages it holds for often less than two months. The banks then trade these mortgages back and forth as packaged securities. It's a beautiful way to make money off the hardships of the poor. As usual.

That's enough about that for now. Perhaps I'll go into more detail after I finish studying for my Bankruptcy exam.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Just Curb It!

Every year there comes a time when the most terrible thing happens...

... Your favorite television show goes into reruns.

For us (my girlfriend and I), that show is unequivocally HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The beauty of the show is its simplistic plot-lines and loveable main character, Larry David. For those of you who aren't familiar, he's the co-orignator of Seinfeld. He wasn't actually on the show other than a few voices (such as the Yankee's George Steinbrenner), but he came up with the idea and supposedly George is based on him.

Curb is basically Seinfeld uncensored. It's still about "nothing," but it takes nothing to a whole new level. But caveat emptor. If you are squeamish about awkward moments... be forewarned. The show abounds with them. But I implore you to persevere, because they become highly enjoyable once you adapt. "Oh that Larry David," you'll say, "he's always getting into these awkward situations."

Take, for example, one of the episodes of this past season (the fifth). Larry befriends the new child molester who moves into the neighborhood and invites him to a family Passover seder with friends who are bringing children. Hijinks ensue. Or perhaps you might enjoy the episode where Larry hires a hooker just to sit in his passenger seat so that he can use the carpool lane - and then tries to buy marijuana from her to give to his father for his glaucoma.

Anyway - I highly recommend the show. The first four seasons are available on DVD now and the fifth season is sure to come out in the near future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My 13 Thoughts on Law School: An Exhaustive Retrospective

Before I get into that - as promised - I will reveal the answers to yesterday's penetrating questions.

The sky is blue due to Rayleigh scattering.

The world's largest Burrito was created by La Costena, a famed South Bay taqueria, and "manufactured" in Rengstorff Park, Mountain View, CA (where I used to live).

And the MLB player with the most homeruns whose last name starts with the letter "Z" is Todd Zeile. 253 HRs.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program: My 13 Thoughts on 3 Years of Law

1. Study hard for the stupid LSAT : For some reason, the powers that be have decided to base admissions almost solely on that idiotic standardized test. Let me just say that I have never once come across a question at law school that involves putting Tom, Dick and Harry in the correct order with the correct color hat with only limited clues as to those arrangements. I don't know - maybe there is some correlation between this "analytic" capability and success at law school. But my sense of it is that law school is law school is law school. The bar does not discriminate between the top of the US World and New Report Rankings and the bottom. The academic experience is the same. But the job opportunities are not. So - if you want to make it easier on yourself - study for that stupid exam.

2. Apply early : The whole application process is much more stressful than the actual schooling. So rest easy after you've gotten into your school. But the worst part of the whole process (other than the LSAT and getting your professors to send in their recommendations) is the waiting. This pain can be exaggerated further if you find yourself involved in applicant message boards. The surest way to become defeatist is to spend time on those boards listening to people complaining that they only have a 178 LSAT (out of 180) and a 3.92 GPA and are worried about getting into any law school. Don't worry about it. Apply early and you'll most likely get in somewhere before January. No need to stress and freak.

3. The experience can be as easy or as hard as you make it : The people who tell you that law school is three years of hell made it that way for themselves. You don't have to join every organization in the school or take seven courses a semester. You don't have to write onto the law review and work two jobs to support your four kids. Well, you may have to do the latter if you have four kids. But the point is that law school is only as hard as you make it. For most classes you are only responsible for one thing: taking a final exam. You can go or not go to class. You can read or not read the assignments. You can outline or not outline. You can take notes or not take notes. You can study or not study for the final. (I don't recommend the last one). If you're involved in so many things at once and still trying to ace your exams - well, law school can be a stressful environment. But if you learn to manage yourself and your time, it's really not too bad. In fact, it's a heck of a lot easier than real life.

4. The Socratic Method is not as bad as it's made out to be : Some professors don't even do it and most have some half-assed version that involves telling you when you're on call. My torts professor went down the rows from back to front, my contracts professor went alphabetically, my first amendment professor let you pick a thinker, my evidence professor let you pick a topic. The few profs who actually cold-call are not intimidating enough to be worried about - law school is hardly real. What's to be worried about? Besides, I can tell you the truth - nobody cares if you mess up. At most they are just glad it wasn't them - and then they forget about it the next day. Memories are shallow when it comes to the "method."

5. Talking about grades is bad policy : It's ugly. Don't do it. At least you shouldn't do it with anyone who isn't your closest friend. At best, it's vanity or self-serving sympathy-inducing. At worst, it's an ugly side of human pride. You're not making anyone like or respect you when you tell them about that "A+." In fact, you're probably making enemies. Tell your mom and dad or significant other. Your classmates don't need to know. It's a curve, after all.

6. Find a hobby : Now this one is on all the lists. You can't go through three years of law school completely immersed in the law. You need to come up for air. My particular choice was ultimate frisbee, but that's not for everyone. I probably spent more time in my hobby than most - I was out of town pretty much every Saturday from April until October, and then gone for full weekends almost every other Saturday. But I think it really gave me some balance. I also recommend an exercise regimen of some sort - just to clear your system.

7. Find a good friend : It could be a spouse or a girlfriend or just a pal. Law school can be a lonely journey and you'll need support from time to time. Make sure there is someone around to whom you can complain with relative frequency and ease. Plus - it doesn't hurt if that person helps to make sure you keep grounded and reminds you that forgetting to properly cite a case in a paper is not the end of the world.

8. Don't be afraid of commercial outlines : In fact, embrace their black-lettery goodness. It's not cheating. And that's not just because everyone does it. It's just smart. Look... chances are you missed a few classes and your notes for some of the other classes you attended look like you were on Mars for that hour. Moreover, certain professors "teach" in a manner more befitting philosophers than lawyers. At the end of the day, however, law exams are all pretty much the same. They give you questions and they want answers that apply the law. No matter what dribble they taught all semester, they want you to take the black letter law and apply it to the facts presented on the exam. Well, in many cases you're not going to have any idea what the law is - unless you find it in a lovely commercial outline. Take the plunge, it's warm and fuzzy.

9. Make liberal use of practice exams : Especially if the exams are from the same professor. Especially if they have model answers. I've heard of a number of examples about lazy professors who just change the names in the questions and give out the same exam. Well, if you took it already and learned the model answer... you're ahead of the game. Shame on the prof, but if you didn't look at that model - you're gonna lose out to those who did. Plus, it's a good idea to see what kind of things the professor is looking for - there's still room for BS on law exams (despite the fact that professors all claim there isn't).

10. Learn to take an exam : There is no doubt in my mind that there is a right way to write an exam. It doesn't involve any specific formula but coherence, quality and quantity are all important elements. If you have a word limit, then quantity obviously isn't as important. For each person the method may be different, but the end result should be the same. On in-class exams, I've always found that the more you write the better. The professors often grade off checklists and the more checks you get, the higher the grade. Verbal diarrhea appears to be the key. At the same time, you want to maintain a certain level of coherence. You won't get the best grades if you're all over the map. Finally, you have to look at both sides. The key thing to remember is that it wouldn't be on the exam if there were an easy answer. Address both sides - make an argument for both - and then pick a side.

11. Don't schedule classes on Fridays : Do I need to explain this one?

12. Getting a job : This whole experience deserves its own retrospective. I could relate my own mistakes in the whole job-seeking process. I made pretty much every minor (and a few major) mistakes in the book, but I landed myself a job. So there is hope for the most idiotic of us, as I'm living proof.

13. Finally, have fun : Find a city or town you like and go to school there. No sense in wasting away for three years in a smelly pit. There's plenty of free time if you make time for it. I chose NYC - maybe not for everyone - but it's a cute little town. Get out and enjoy yourself - after all, you'll have plenty of time to slave away once you start working.