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August 31, 2004

Moving

Oh, moving!
What a pain in the ass.
How did I ever
Accumulate so much crap?

Ah, moving!
Dust bunnies and sweat.
Next year,
I think I'll just throw all this crap out.

August 30, 2004

Republican Convention Schedule

No party that can even be caricatured this way will ever get my vote.

Wearing the suit

Today was the first day of our school's Early Interview Week ("EIW"), which, despite the misleading name, is the major On-Campus Interviewing ("OCI") program according to the number of students and employers who participate.

Actually, it isn't exactly "on campus." It's at a very suburban-looking Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town. But that's beside the point.

Presumably, the point of the whole exercise is to provide an opportunity for employers and students to meet, talk, and get to know each other. Although each interview is usually limited to 20 minutes in order to accomodate everyone, there is some small chance that accurate impressions of one another are formed during the interviews. Obviously, these can't be very deep or detailed after only twenty minutes, but that's what callback interviews are for, I suppose.

Needless to say, you can't learn very much about a firm in only twenty minutes. Nor can a firm learn very much about you. There just isn't time. The inherent limitations of information exchange in such short interviews make some of the conventions of this program seem even stranger than they would otherwise.

For example, one convention that all students follow is to wear a very conservative suit. There might be a few rebels out there, but for the most part everyone today did what they were supposed to do, and wore virtually the exact same clothes as everyone else. Variety among men was limited to whether you had a button-down collar or not; among women, whether you wore pants or a skirt. Looking around the room, I was impressed with how successful everyone seemed to be at dressing just like everyone else.

Now, this convention might not really matter to an employer looking for information about potential new associates. The firms want lawyers who look professional, and if wearing a conservative suit to an interview can demonstrate that you're capable of this, I'm sure the employers appreciate the demonstration. But there are other conventions, about things other than clothes, that probably do diminish the value of the limited amount of interview time. These conventions are about what to say in an interview. Some of the ones I heard recently: "never let the word 'lifestyle' pass your lips"; "don't ask about the firm's summer program"; "give this kind of answer if you're asked why you want to work in this particular city."

Advice like this is probably not bad--no one wants to make real gaffes in any interview. I wonder, though, if there aren't too many of these pieces of advice floating around. I know my classmates are a diverse bunch of people, with different talents, personalities, and goals. But how can an employer know anything about this in only twenty minutes? Especially if every student is trying so hard not to say anything unconventional?

I'm going to guess that these interviews aren't actually very useful for learning much about students or about employers. That's probably not their purpose. In only twenty minutes, the only thing that a student can count on learning about a firm that goes beyond what they've learned already is that the firm isn't (or is) peopled entirely with troglodytes. The only thing that an employer can count on learning about a student is that the student isn't (or is) a troglodyte. Sometimes both sides get lucky and learn more about each other than just this basic information. But I'm guessing that in the vast majority of cases, the most important information that's exchanged in these short interviews is that the previously known information about the other party (from the website, or from the resume) is more or less reliable. The real information exchange has to happen later at the callback interviews.

So what, if anything, follows from this? From a student perspective, don't get too uptight about the interviews, unless you really are a troglodyte. And don't draw too many conclusions about a firm, unless you were interviewed by a panel of green-skinned lawyers with horns and long canine teeth.

From a firm perspective, well. . . If the student walks in wearing a tie that ends midway between his sternum and his navel, he might really be a troll. Sometimes you can't tell from the resume.

August 27, 2004

Paul Hamm's gold medal

The controversy over Paul Hamm's all-around gymnastics gold medal (story here) reinforces my . . . not scorn, but wariness of sports that are judged in the way that gymnastics and figure skating are. It seems that in these sports, the athlete is always dependent not only on his own performance, but is also dependent on the judges' competence and honesty.

Team sports that are refereed seem similar to this, and in some cases an erroneous call by a referee can give the game to the unworthy team. But in most of these sports, like baseball, football, or hockey, a single game involves many judgment calls by the refs that can be expected to cancel out any gross errors. Corruption remains a threat, but it's a threat that's inherent in sports. Even if there were no judges or refs at all, the athletes themselves are always subject to corruption.

Sports like running, swimming, or cycling, where the winner is decided by the clock, seem to be the least subject to the incompetence of human judges or referees. When Natalie Coughlin or Tyler Hamilton finishes first in a swimming or cycling race, it's tough to argue that they didn't really, that the clock made an error. I find it easier to trust the results of these sports, because I don't have to worry about corrupt Russian/French figure skating judges, or incompetent gymnastics judges, telling me days after the competition that the person I thought had won really lost.

As for Paul Hamm, I think this competition should be treated like a baseball game. In baseball, everyone realizes the umpire can make mistakes, but everyone agrees to live with his call. There's no instant replay. The results don't change. Paul Hamm was awarded a gold medal. He should keep it.

August 19, 2004

Sick

Last night, I suffered with the worst illness I've had in the last ten years. Ok, there was that diarrhea incident back in medical school, but that was probably food poisoning, so it doesn't count.

Anyway, back to suffering. Last night: bilateral otitis media secondary to ass-kicking pharyngitis of unknown origin, resulting in two ruptured tympanic membranes and not very much sleep. *cue violins*

This actually makes me feel very lucky that my health is good, and that a once-a-decade sore throat is just about the worst that it gets. Yep, I'm very lucky.

No need to worry

Over the past few days I haven't been keeping up with the newspapers much, either in print or online. The world could have been going to hell in a handbasket and I wouldn't have known it.

I'm not too worried. The other day I glanced at some newspapers, and two of the headlines were enough to reassure me that the bastards still aren't getting everything they want.

First, Venezuela reelected Hugo Chavez by a solid margin (story here). I'm not saying that I like Chavez or that I don't like him; I'm just saying that it's good to see that the Venezuelan voters can't be shepherded around at will by the country's wealthy elite, and that the Bush administration will still have to work with Chavez despite his insufficient kowtowing to U.S. corporate interests.

Second, charter schools took it in the shorts (story here) after the first major study comparing charters with regular public schools showed public schools performing better. There are many ways to interpret the study, of course, but you can't use it to argue that charter schools are the silver bullet that some conservatives have played them up to be.

August 14, 2004

I wish I was a polar bear!

When I was small and would go to the zoo, I would pretend to be one of the animals I saw: a hippopotamus, a panther, a tapir (tapir?). Usually, I would go home pretending to be a bear. For some reason I always really liked the bears.

Today at the zoo, we were watching the polar bear, and one of the little kids reminded me of how things are when she shouted "I wish I was a polar bear!" Tonight in the bathtub she'll probably pretend she's a polar bear swimming in Arctic waters, looking for food. (Seals? Just "food.") Kids can empathize with animals through their imagination; they can imagine what it must be like to be a polar bear, with big furry paws and at home in the water. Most adults have lost this ability, or else they don't try it any longer. Wouldn't want to act like a little kid, I guess. Maybe that's one reason why kids seem to have a better time at the zoo than most adults.

Sometimes it seems that adults would be happier if they could remember what it was like to be a kid. If they could use their imaginations again. They wouldn't have to take the great leap all at once--instead of pretending to be a bear or a tiger, these adults could work the rust out of their imaginative abilities with small, careful baby-steps. First imagine that you're still you, but that you work at a completely different job. You're not a lawyer, you're a zookeeper. Your job is to feed the penguins their yummy fish snacks. You get to wear big rubber gloves, carry a shiny metal bucket full of fish, and go inside the penguin cage and feed the penguins while all the people watched. Wouldn't that be fun? Later on, as your imagination started to catch fire, you could pretend to be other people: the mayor, a ship's captain, a Bangladeshi farmer. Later, if you got really good at it, you too could imagine what it must be like to be a polar bear.

If adults could remember to use their imaginations, would anything be different? Would they be so quick to overlook the destructive consequences of some of what they do every day? Maybe it wouldn't go that far; after all, it's usually hard to know which of our everyday adult actions ultimately harms other people (or bears, or birds). Maybe the only thing that would change is that adults would start to enjoy the zoo again, like they used to when they were kids. Even that would be a change for the better.

August 12, 2004

Cultural imperialism defeated

The interstate highways have a culture all their own.

For instance, the blue signs informing drivers of what culinary amenities are available at the next exit display a marked cultural preference for the greasy and lowbrow over the overpriced and foofy. The signs will always tell you whether there's a Denny's, a Dairy Queen, or a McDonald's at the next exit, but not whether there's any trendy bistros or organic-foods supermarkets. I suppose these foofy places don't expect much business from hurried cross-country drivers. After all, if you're reduced to driving, you're clearly not foofy enough. Everyone knows that the foofy fly, and that the interstates are filled with pot-bellied truckers from Arkansas named Clint who equate "food" with "deep-fried meat."

The United Airlines terminal at O'Hare in Chicago seems to sport at least 25 different Starbucks locations, but you can drive from Detroit to Denver on the interstates and never see a single one. The signs won't tell you which exits lead to Starbucks, so finding one on a cross-country drive requires courage, initiative, perseverence, and luck. These days, it's the essence of the archetypal American experience. Finding a Starbucks from the interstate.

My own personal quest turned out to be a fruitful one. Nearly four miles away from the exit off of I-80 passing through Des Moines, Iowa, we finally broke free from the interstate's cultural imperialism.

August 08, 2004

Ranking law journals by quality of student notes

There have been many attempts to rank law reviews (some listed here), most commonly by the number of citations to the articles they publish (a recent example is here).

While law professors might want to know where the best articles get published, it seems to me that law students might instead want to know which law reviews (and other student-edited law journals) publish the best student notes.

Although student work in law reviews isn't going to be cited anywhere near as often as articles are, student notes and comments occasionally do get a cite or two. I'm curious to know which law reviews and journals consistently publish the most-cited student notes, because this might tell us something about what factors lead to good student scholarship in the first place. Especially if the routines at these journals differ significantly from one to another, we might be able to conclude that the environments provided by certain journals at certain schools are more supportive of good student research. Other journals might be able to grab a good idea or two for the benefit of their student editors.

For instance, it might be that having too many associate editors relative to the number of issues published, or the number of articles published, leads to poorer-quality student notes because the students have too little time to research their note. Or, if a law journal publishes more frequently, does this provide a better experience for students relative to their own research and writing? Until we know which journals put out the best notes, we can't really answer these questions.

Citation rankings for student notes might not be reliable because of the low total number of citations. But that's just a worry, not a firm conviction, and there are other ways of doing the rankings, like reputation surveys, that might also be helpful.

And after we rank law journals based on the quality of student notes, we can rank law schools based on the quality of student blogs. I'm sure Michigan will lock that one up. Yeah.

August 07, 2004

Road Tripping

Well, it's almost time to leave the Rose City of Portland and go back to the Blue and Maize Zone--or whatever they call it--of Ann Arbor. I'm looking forward to starting law school again, and I'm guessing that the second year of law school will be quite a bit different from the first. But before we get to any of that, there's one more thing I gotta do.

ROAD TRIP!!!

There's a particular style of road tripping that I really like. I suppose you could call it the "hippie style" or the "minimalist approach." It involves a preference for two-lane highways over interstates; mom-and-pop motels over Super 8s, and sleeping on the ground beside the car in remote turnouts over any motels at all. It means making time for mountain bike rides in national forests, wondering what they're trying to grow in those fields, and cursing the rural sensibilities that provide both kinds of radio station: country music and 24-hour right-wing talk. I'm an agrarian, but I have limits.

One of the best accessories for any road trip, at least in the western United States, are the topo maps from DeLorme. Perhaps the best thing about these maps is that they tell you who manages the land you're driving across. Is it private, or Forest Service, or BLM? State land? Few other maps will tell you this, and if you're going to be spending the night beside your car in a sleeping bag, it's helpful to know at least where the public land is.

Other must-haves for a good road trip are an MP3 player (if your tastes run beyond country and Michael Savage) and a hacky-sack (good for hacking or for playing catch during rest stops).

It also helps to travel with someone smart and interesting. Good conversation beats listening to Rush Limbaugh every time.

August 01, 2004

Sea kayaking

The problem with doing a new thing for the first time is that if you like it, you'll want to do it again. And doing it again, on your own terms and on your own schedule, usually means that you have to have your own equipment.

For example, take sea kayaking, which I tried for the first time this weekend. It should surprise no one that I loved it. The boat is stable; you can get going pretty damned fast just by paddling; it's easy to steer; it's quiet (big advantage over a jet ski); and you can use one to do multi-day trips along unpopulated stretches of coastline.

I want to do it again, and so I want my own sea kayak. Problem is, a plastic one is somewhere around $2000 and a fiberglas one is almost twice that much. Damned equipment costs. I suppose I'm fortunate that I haven't tried sailing yet. Or motorcycle racing.