Sunday, May 31, 2015

A scholar natters on

March then made some mention of Aristotle ("who, as you know, I'm sure, implies the necessity of cause in his discussion of the laws of probability and necessity") and Jill nodded—oh, yes, of course—but at last she moved on: first, to a graduate seminar she was thinking of proposing for next year in "Kantian ethics and the eighteenth-century British novel," and then to an undergraduate class in critical theory she was teaching this term, and how much difficulty some of her students were having ("You know the way they'll look at you sometimes, alarmed and uncomprehending and bored all at the same time? As if you were criminally insane, speaking in a foreign language, and failing to produce the rabbit they were hoping was hidden in your hat, all at once?")—and at this Jill almost laughed, despite herself, but when March went on, "It's feminist theory in particular that seems to be their bête noire," it was only a yawn she had to restrain), and finally March took up the subject of the committee assignment she and Jill were to share this spring, the newly formed Committee for Teaching Excellence. 
Michelle Herman, Dog: A Short Novel (San Francisco: MacAdam/Cage, 2005), pp. 68-69.

FDR ♥ conversation

Talk was Roosevelt’s passion and his weapon. None of his associates ever knew him to read a book. It was in conversation that he gained his prodigious if disorderly store of information about the world.
David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), ch. 4 

Prisons or social services?

I repaired to the prison where Mr. Creakle was powerful. It was an immense and solid building, erected at a vast expense. I could not help thinking, as we approached the gate, what an uproar would have been made in the country, if any deluded man had proposed to spend one half the money it had cost, on the erection of an industrial school for the young, or a house of refuge for the deserving old.
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850), ch. 61

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stick to the Britannica

I’m pissed at myself. I just spent forty-five minutes Googling my ex-girlfriends and ex-crushes. That’s just information I don’t need. . . . Those forty-five minutes could have been spent any number of ways: reading the Britannica would have been nice,or hanging out with my wife, or maybe sorting our rubber bands by size and color. As Dr. DeBakey points out, I have a limited amount of time. So that’s it: No more inconsequential Googling, I tell myself. Though I know that vow will be unbroken for maybe three days, max.

It’s been a constant battle to dam the data flood that comes with being a 21st-century American. I’m trying to keep my mind relatively free from non-Britannica information on the Sherlock Holmesian theory that there’s only so much room in the mental attic. And I have made a little progress. I’ve cut way down on the New York Post; no more updates on Kirsten Dunst’s canoodling behavior for me. I trimmed back on my New York Times consumption—only the important articles about world events; no more whimsical stories about the trend for upscale luaus.
A.J. Jacobs, The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2005), p. 271.

What books are in your home?

There are books on politics and books on jazz and books on travel and books on black history and books reflecting our eclectic taste in contemporary fiction: Morrison, Updike, Doctorow, Smiley, Turow. There are children’s books. There is a Bible, the blandly inoffensive New Revised Standard Version, and the Book of Common Prayer. There is a collection of C.S. Lewis. There are home-improvement books and back issues of Architectural Digest. There are a few chess books. There are no law books.
Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), p. 452. (This is describing the home of a lawyer and a law professor, by the way.)

Humor in two genders or two languages

"Do you think you’d have your same sense of humor, if you’d been a woman from the start?"

I shrugged. "I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe the humor is what I needed to survive."

"I didn’t think she was all that funny before," said Tori a little self-consciously. "Actually. When you were a boy? Your jokes always seemed so panicked, or something."

"Maybe," said Sarah, "this is your original sense of humor? And what you had before was the replica?"

I knew what she was getting at, but it made my head hurt. It reminded me of something James Thurber once said at a party, in Paris, when a woman told him how much funnier his work was in French. "I know," said Thurber. "It does tend to lose something in the original."
Jennifer Finney Boylan, I’m Looking Through You (New York: Broadway Books, 2008), pp. 244-45. (Page break between “was in” and “French.”)

FDR's "class warfare"

In reality all of Roosevelt's antibusiness "radicalism" in 1936 was a carefully staged political performance, an attack not on the capitalist system itself but on a few high-profile capitalists. This may have been class warfare, as Roosevelt's critics howled, but it was only a war of words.
David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), ch. 9

Friday, May 29, 2015

Trees of peace

Gone, he said were the fig trees that once carpeted the valley, lush and green. When the people left, the figs began to disappear. Olive trees took their place—less demanding and more gentle—but they, too, were ignored. Olives were trees of peace, and there was no peace here.
Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), p. 130

Wrongful convictions happen a lot

The journey also exposed me to the world of wrongful convictions, something that I, even as a former lawyer, had never spent much time thinking about. This is not a problem peculiar to Oklahoma, far from it. Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in this country, and the reasons are all varied and all the same—bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors, arrogant prosecutors.
John Grisham, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (New York: Doubleday, 2006), p. 308.

Live more lives with books

One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don't read are trapped in a mineshaft, even if they think the sun is shining.
Garrison Keillor, "Bonding Through Books," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 2, 2005, p. C19

Advice for the able-bodied

"You are a young man," she said, nodding. "Take a word of advice, even from three foot nothing. Try not to associate bodily defects with mental, my good friend, except for a solid reason."
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850), ch. 32 (Miss Mowcher speaking)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What's the Levant?

The Levant was, in part, a geographic concept. Loosely defined, it stretched across the eastern Mediterranean, the arc of the Fertile Crescent, the frontiers at the Isthmus of Suez in the south, and the Taurus Mountains in the north. But the Levant was really more a culture than an expanse of land or group of nations or homelands. It was a way of living and thinking that bound Asia Minor to the Middle East and Egypt to Mesopotamia. It was, in essence, an amalgamation of diversities where many mingled, a realm of intersections, a crossroads of language, culture, religions, and traditions. All were welcome to pass through the territories and homelands within its landscape, where differences were often celebrated. In idea at least, the Levant was open-minded, cosmopolitan; it did not concern itself with particularities or narrow definitions or identities. 
Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), p. 118

Just a colorful doorstop

The books are yours so you can use them in the way they were meant to be used: to be read. After all, an unread book is nothing more than a colorful doorstop, isn't it?
Garth Stein, A Sudden Light (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), ch. 11

The world before us

"How did the world ever manage without me before I was born?" he wondered. "Didn't they feel something was missing?" 
William Steig, Dominic (New York: HarperCollins, Sunburst ed., 1984), p. 85. (First published in 1972)

Arsenic as medicine

The catalogue of complaints presumed vulnerable to the Solutio Mineralis could be continued at some length, but it should already be clear how by the 18880s a doctor couldhave come to the conclusion that 'if a law were passed compelling physicians to confine themselves to two remedies only in their entire practice, arsenic would my choise for one, opium for the other.'
James C. Whorton, The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010), pp. 238-39

Karl Marx stopped taking arsenic because it 'dulls my mind too much, and I needed to keep my wits about me'.
Id., pp. 249-50

Dyspepsia was just a fancy way of saying indigestion, but it was interpreted at the time as a wide-reaching condition that could include such diverse symptoms as nausea, vomiting, flatulence, diarrhoea, insomnia, headache, numbness of the extremities, anxiety, and depression. As vague as any malaise could be, dyspepsia was an almost irresistible lable for people to apply to whatever mysterious thing was ailing them. Those pursuing the life of the mind seem to have been especially prone to the complaint: Huxley, Spencer, Carlyle, George Eliot, and Robert Browning were just a few of the intellectuals tortured by dyspeptic attacks. But the symptoms of dyspepsia were such a close match with the effects of arsenic, and so many sick people were treated with arsenic, that a persuasive argument can be made that many dyspeptics were in fact the victims of arsenical medication. Possibly the most pre-eminent such case was Darwin. The naturalist's nearly lifelong poor health has been variously diagnosed as a physical problem (malaria, ulcer, gout, even lingering effects from seasickness experienced on the Beagle voyages) or a psychological one (hypochondria stemming from resentment of a domineering father). Darwin's symptoms, however, duplicated many of thsoe connected to Fowler's solution (right down to the 'brown out-of-doors complexion' described by his daughter even after he ceased spending time outdoors), and he began taking arsenic to treat eczema as early as his university days. Thus, as John Winslow has proposed, Darwin's Victorian Malady, his dyspepsia, may well have been a case of 'Fowler's disease'.
Id., pp. 250-51.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Writing in books: crime or contribution?

Today we are inclined to think that it is naughty to write in books, and that those who do so are a little band of compulsive deviants. But two hundred years ago, the practice was seen as an unremarkable and even commendable privilege of ownership. Reading with pen in hand put readers on their mettle. They did not think of themselves as "consumers"; they meant to make a permanent contribution to the book. 
H. J. Jackson, “What Was Mr. Bennet Doing in His Library?” American Scholar, v. 72 n.4, Autumn 2003, at 160, 160.

History lives and breathes

It seems to me that one of the most unfortunate things about human beings is their inability to feel the living breath lying behind and supporting them in their everyday lives. History is by no means a mere succession of long-past events to be arbitrarily explained and interpreted by modern man. Like the gradually accumulating rings of a tree, history lives and breathes in our everyday lives. Only those who can feel this life in the midst of the present moment are truly fulfilled. I think that much of the alienation and emptiness of modern life is caused by an outlook completely oriented toward the present, a present which has been cut off from its roots in history. Such an outlook is out of touch with its own foundations—it has, in a way, abandoned the source of its own life. 
Takashi Hirose, Lectures on Shin Buddhism (1980), posted on Tricycleblog, A Blog of All Things Buddhist, Brought to You by Tricycle: The Buddhist Review,, 3/10/06. (The site is no longer up, but you can read it on the Internet Archive.)

Truths that everyone knows but nearly no one can defend

Few intellectual tyrannies can be more recalcitrant than the truths that everybody knows and nearly no one can defend with any decent data (for who needs proof of anything so obvious). And few intellectual activities can be more salutary than attempts to find out whether these rocks of ages might crumble at the slightest tap of an informational hammer. I love the wry motto of the Paleontological Society (meant both literally and figuratively, for hammers are the main tool of our trade): Frango ut patefaciam—I break in order to reveal.
Stephen Jay Gould, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997), pp. 212-13.

Repression and power

Repression, whether it be of the Negro, Catolic, Jew, or laborer, is the way of frightened power.
Frank Porter Graham (President of the University of North Carolina), 1938

quoted in Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001, with 2012 Afterword), p. 32.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Information has a half life

Essentially, information is like radioactive material: Medical knowledge about cirrhosis or hepatitis takes about forty-five years for half of it to be disproven or become out of date. 
Samuel Arbesman, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date (New York: Current, Penguin USA, 2012), ch. 3
[W]hile we can't predict which individual papers will be overturned, just like we can't tell when individual radioactive atoms will decay, we can observe the aggregate and see that there are rules for how a field changes over time. . . . All of these results verify the first half of a well-known medical aphorism by John Hughlings Jackson, a British neurologist in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: "It takes 50 years to get a wrong idea out of medicine, and 100 years a right one into medicine." 

Poor little TR?

"All little Teddy Roosevelt could do," my dad would say of the asthmatic rich boy, "was stay in bed and read." 
"Ew," said my sister. 
Sigh, said I. Getting to stay in bed and read all day was what I was shooting for.
Sarah Vowell, The Partly Cloudy Patriot (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 181

Literature for intimacy

One of the reasons I had specialized in literature was a search for intimacy with others, whether characters, authors, or fellow readers who were willing to share what they observed in texts. Through poems, plays, stories, novels, and even nonfiction, I could see what was important to other persons, what they desired and feared, and how they suffered, fell in love, cherished their dreams, survived tragedy and faced death.
Albert Howard Carter III, First Cut: A Season in the Anatomy Lab (New York: Picador USA, 1997), p. 2.

The formal piling up of words

Again, Mr.  Micawber had a relish in the formal piling up of words, which, however ludicrously  displayed in his case, was, I must say, not at all peculiar to  him. I have observed it, in the course of  my life, in numbers of men. It seems to me to be a general rule. In the taking of legal oaths, for instance, deponents seem to enjoy themselves mightily when they come to several good words in succession, for the  expression of one idea; as, that  they utterly detest, abominate, and abjure, and so forth; and the old anathemas were made relishing  on the same principle. We talk about  the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannize over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important and sounds well.
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850), ch. 52

Monday, May 25, 2015

Writing to . . . whom?

I believe in addressing as earnestly, and as modestly, and as forthrightly as possible, somebody whom I cannot see, whom I do not know.
Jeff Nunokawa (a literature professor at Princeton who posts daily meditations on Facebook), quoted in Rebecca Mead, One a Day: Earnest, New Yorker, July 4, 2011, at 19, 20.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Democratic vision

“Democracy must be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” 

James Bovard, quoted on coffee cups at At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café, Duluth

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Letting 'em sit down

"Boy," Folsom told Morgan, dispensing an important lesson about the white man's shame, "them goddamned Dixiecrats'll sleep with 'em at night and eat the breakfast they give 'em the next morning. But they'll never let 'em sit down to eat with 'em. That's the difference. Letting 'em sit down."
Alabama governor Big Jim Folsom (to lawyer Chuck Morgan), quoted in Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001, with 2012 Afterword), pp. 169-70.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Writing with friends

When I began to make friends, writing was the vehicle. So that, in the beginning, writing, like reading, was less a solitary pursuit than an attempt to connect with others. I did not write alone but with another student in my class at school. We would sit together, this friend and I, dreaming up characters and plots, taking turns writing sections of the story, passing the pages back and forth. Our handwriting was the only thing that separated us, the only way to determine which section was whose. I always preferred rainy days to bright ones, so that we could stay indoors at recess, sit in the hallway, and concentrate. But even on nice days I found somewhere to sit, under a tree or on the ledge of the sandbox, with this friend, and sometimes one or two others, to continue the work on our tale. 
Jhumpa Lahiri, "Trading Stories," New Yorker, June 13 & 20, 2011, at 78, 79.

Keeping a journal helps writing

"My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies' ways as you wish to believe me; it is this delightful habit of journaling which largely contributes to form the easy style of writing for which ladies are so generally celebrated. Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female. Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal." 
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, ch. 3 (Mr. Tilney speaking)

Austen's use of the word “journaling” in Northanger Abbey astonished me when I saw it: I had thought that using “journal” as a verb was a recent development. When my editor checked the quotation [I used it in a Law Library Journal column], though, she found editions in Google Books that used “journalizing” or “journalising,” so Austen might not have said “journaling” after all. (The OED does have an instance of someone else using “journaling” in 1803, so I can still remark on its being such an old usage.) And the point remains: writing in a journal develops your ease in writing.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Not everyone is like Sedaris

It sometimes helps to remind myself that not everyone is like me. not everyone writes things down in a notebook, and then transcribes them into a diary. Fewer still will take that diary, clean it up a bit, and read it in front of an audience.
David Sedaris, "In the Waiting Room," in Disquiet Please: More Humor Writing from The New Yorker (David Remnick & Henry Finder eds., New York: Random House, 2008), p. 513 (Kindle location 9044) (orig. pub. 2006)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Scary policing

In Birmingham [in the early 1960s], it was held a fact of criminal science that the surest way to stop a crime wave—burglaries, rapes, whatever—was to go out and shoot a few suspects. ("This thing's getting out of hand," a lieutenant might say. "You know what we've got to do.")
Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001, with 2012 Afterword), p. 685 n.2.

Stare decisis predictable as a lightning bolt

Important and controversial civil liberties cases are still decided on the basis of prior authority and, perhaps, gain acceptance for the result on that basis. But that fact further diminishes the appeal of decisions resting on stare decisis, leaving the doctrine with the predictability of a lightning bolt: it will strike on occasion, but when and where can only be known after the fact.
Henry P. Monaghan, Our Perfect Constitution, 56 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 353, 390 (1981) (footnote omitted)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sure, we'll uphold the Constitution

At the swearing-in ceremony in November, during the part where they vowed to uphold the United States Constitution, [Birmingham mayor Art] Hanes, forty-four years old, and [Birmingham public safety commissioner Bull] Connor, sixty-two, had put their left hands behind their backs and crossed their fingers, like fourth-graders neutralizing a fib.
Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001, with 2012 Afterword), p. 234.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Jefferson, meteorites, and plausible science

When a meteorite struck Weston, Connecticut, in 1807, two Yale professors verified the strike as extraterrestrial. Thomas Jefferson, after parsing their report, allegedly said that he "would find it easier to believe that two Yankee professors would lie, than that stones should fall from the sky."
Tom Bissell, “A Comet’s Tale: On the Science of Apocalypse,” in Dava Sobel, ed., The Best American Science Writing 2004, at 128, 144 (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Boring trials

"Trials are boring, and long trials are excruciatingly boring."

-- Alex Beam, Greed on Trial, in Legal Ethics Stories 285, 296 (Deborah L. Rhode & David J. Luban eds. 2006).

Favorite word

Q: What's your favorite word?
A: My favorite word is the one that hovers on the tip of your tongue, or floats just at the edge of your brain. It is the word that perfectly captures the exact thing you want to communicate in that particular moment. There is nothing better than the feeling you get when that elusive world finally fully materializes in your mind.
Sara McNamara (Oxford journals editorial assistant), in online interview, Oxford University Press blog, May 16, 2015.

I don't think I ever thought about having a favorite word, but Ms. McNamara sure nailed this question.

The placebo

[P]rior to the twentieth century, the most potent remedy physicians of any era had in their arsenal was the placebo.
James C. Whorton, The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010), pp. 243-44

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Being sick 200 years ago

It has never been more unpleasant to be sick, or more dangerous, than during the nineteenth century. The ailments that people suffered were very often infections with highly disagreeable symptoms and serious risk of mortality. The remedies employed against tuberculosis, smallpox, cholera, typhus, and the rest were, furthermore, generally useless. . . . [E]ven the good remedies had deleterious effects. . . . Physicians recognized the toxic nature of their drugs, but used them nonetheless because they believed the to work, and reasoned (as do oncologiests today) that temporary poisoning was a small price to pay for staying alive.
James C. Whorton, The Arsenic Century: How Victorians Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, & Play (New York: Oxford, 2010), pp. 229-30

Elite but unhappy

It comes to this: the elite have purchased self-perpetuation at the price of their children's happiness. The more hoops kids have to jump through, the more it costs to get them through them and the fewer families can do it. But the more they have to jump through, the more miserable they are.
William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (New York: Free Press, 2014), p. 241

Opportunities opened and shut

Our glittering system of elite higher education: students kill themselves getting into it, parents kill themselves to pay for it, and always for the opportunities it opens up. But what of all the opportunities it closes down—not for any practical reason, but just because of how it smothers you with expectations? How can I become a teacher, or a minister, or a carpenter? Wouldn't that be a waste of my fancy education? What would my parents think? What would my friends think? How would I face my classmates at our twentieth reunion, when they're all rich doctors or important people in New York? And the question that exists behind them all: isn't it beneath me? So an entire world of possibilities shuts, and you miss your true calling. 
William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (New York: Free Press, 2014), pp. 24-25

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Writing for life

I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.

-- Anne Frank, “I Want to Write” (1944), in The Living Language 386, 387 (Linda A. Morris et al. eds., 1984) [from Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day]

Not exactly good versus evil

Now that the outcome is known, we tend to frame this era in terms of good versus evil. But the truth is scarier. Mostly this was a conflict of good against normal: Things that now seem surreal as well as shocking . . . were conventional in their time.
Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001, with 2012 Afterword), p. 598.

Mr. Bennet needles Mary

"What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts." Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, ch. 2 (Mr. Bennet to Mary Bennet)

Antidote for anguish

Believing that we are always doing the best we can, whether we intend to or not, and whether we like it or not, has turned out to be my antidote for anguish. It's my comforting but unverifiable beliefs I no longer think that I bear sole responsibility for who I am, what I do, or what I become. I share responsibility for those things with something infinitely larger than my conscious self—a higher power, which I call nature, although I don't have any objection if you prefer to call it God on my behalf. The experience of human freedom and responsibility loses some of its terrifying significance when it is placed in a larger context.
Mark Salzman, Man in the Empty Boat (New York: Open Road, 2012), ch. 23 (Kindle location 1981)

Who isn't a writer?

In each setting, toward the end of my stay and after much anxious forethought, I "came out" [as a writer] to a few chosen coworkers. The result was always stunningly anticlimactic…. I’ve wondered a lot about why there wasn’t more astonishment or even indignation, and part of the answer probably lies in people’s notion of "writing." Years ago, … my second husband … proudly told his uncle, who was a valet parker at the time, that I was a writer. The uncle’s response: "Who isn’t?" Everyone literate "writes," and some of the low-wage workers I have known or met through this project write journals and poems—even, in one case, a lengthy science fiction novel.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (New York: Metropolitan/Owl, Henry Holt & Co., 2002), p. 9.

Hugo Black, Klansman

Of the many excuses Hugo Black later gave for joining the Klan, the one that seemed most outlandish was probably the most accurate: The hooded brotherhood of white supremacists was also the liberal insurgent wing of the Democratic Party. The Klan was the flawed consummation of the have-nots' long flirtation with power, which had begun with the signal political phenomenon of the post-bellum South: Populism.

Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001, with 2012 Afterword), p. 17.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Take the dog out

3. There is nothing so pressing that you can’t take the dog for a walk. I have a Labrador who likes to go for walks. Lots of walks. I have lived with him for eight years, which means that at four outings a day I have been on approximately 11,680 walks. I don’t always feel like taking Roger on walks. Sometimes I even try explaining to him that I’m far too busy with deadlines to go anywhere. But inevitably he doesn’t listen, and whines until I am forced to abandon what I’m doing so that he can drag me down the street to the park. When I do, and I see how happy it makes him, I feel better myself and I find that my writing is much more enjoyable when I go back to it. So take your dog out a lot. If you don’t have a dog, I feel sorry for you. Everyone should have a dog.
Michael Thomas Ford, “Scraps,” in James L. Harmon, ed., Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two 79, 81 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002).

Learned Hand on clear language—and restatement project

The language of the law must not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it.
That's what I jotted down when I heard someone quote it in a talk a few years ago. Here's the context:
Of the contrivances which mankind has devised to lift itself from savagery there are few to compare with the habit of assent, not to a factitious common-will, but to the law as it is. We need not go so far as Hobbes, . .  . Yet we can say with him that the state of nature is "short, brutish and nasty," and that it chiefly differs from civilized society in that the will of each is by habit and training tuned to accept some public, fixed and ascertainable standard of reference by which conduct can be judged and to which in the main it will conform. 
It is because we believe in the supreme importance of such a standard that we meet here again this year. We would make it more ascertainable; we believe that we are doing so. We realize its inevitable imperfections. Bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, it shares our faults of which we would rid it if we could, as we would rid ourselves. Much might be gained in precision, for example, if we could use a technical terminology like that of science, whose conquests depend so largely upon its coined symbols, free from the emotional connotations of colloquial speech. This can not be. There is something monstrous in commands couched in invented and unfamiliar language; an alien master is the worst of all. The language of the law must not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it. Much again might be gained if it could be cast more nearly to accord with the aspirations of the best of our time. That, too, we can not undertake, it must fit more easily upon prevailing conventions and even prejudices; it must not be a divine code handed  down from Sinai. 
These defects do not lessen its paramount consequence to us and to our civilization. We welcome any changes, in proper season and in proper place we shall urge and demand them. But we will not forget that we have a duty perhaps even greater than that, a duty to preserve. While we know that we can do little to help these men in their amazing labors, we come to pledge our faith in it and in them. We set our eyes to the future but we plant our feet upon the foundation of the common-law.

Learned Hand, Is There a Common Will, 28 Mich. L. Rev. 46,   (1929) (address delivered at banquet of the American Law Institute, Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC, May 11, 1929)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Harding on Race—Birmingham, 1921

In October 1921, President Warren Harding had journeyed to Birmingham for the pageantry honoring the fiftieth birthday of what a booster called "the Magic City of the World, the marvel of the South, the miracle of the Continent, the dream of the Hemisphere, the vision of all Mankind." It was perhaps because Hugo Black had just won an acquittal for the Klan person who assassinated Father James Coyle that Harding was inspired to abandon his boilerplate congratulations and discourse instead on "the problem of democracy everywhere," race. "Whether you like it or not," Harding told the white members of his segregated audience, "unless our democracy is a lie, you must stand for that equality." 
Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001, with 2012 Afterword), p. 455.

The full speech is more complicated. There are some amazingly great lines:
It is a matter of the keenest national concern that the South shall not be encouraged to make its colored population a vast reservoir of ignorance, to be drained away by the processes of migration into all other sections.
I would like to see an education that would fit every man not only to do his particular work as well as possible but to rise to a higher plane if he would deserve it. For that sort of education I have no fears, whether it be given to a black man or a white man. From that sort of education, I believe, black men, white men, the whole Nation, would draw immeasurable benefit. 
and his conclusion:
If we are just and honest in administering justice, if we are alive to perils and meet them in conscience and courage, the achievement of your first half century will be magnified tenfold in the second half, and the glory of your city and your country will be reflected in the happiness of a great people, greater than we dream, and grander for understanding and the courage to be right.
But there is a lot that is cringeworthy too:
Men of both races may well stand uncompromisingly against every suggestion of social equality. Indeed, it would be helpful to have that word "equality" eliminated from this consideration; to have it accepted on both sides that this is not a question of social equality, but a question of recognizing a fundamental, eternal, and inescapable difference. We shall have made real progress when we develop an attitude in the public and community thought of both races which recognize the difference
But there must be such education among the colored people as will enable them to develop their own leaders, capable of understanding and sympathizing with such a differentiation between the races as I have suggested$mdash;leaders who will inspire the race with proper ideals of race, pride, or national pride, of national pride, of an honorable destiny, an important participation in the universal effort for advancement of humanity as a whole. Racial amalgamation there can not be.
W.E.B. DuBois wrote an essay celebrating Harding's messages and showing the nonsense in the rest.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Airplane reading

Kate boarded, and managed to quell her introspections and pay attention to the book she had brought for reading on the plane. It demanded her attention and she [sic] received it; unlike most travelers, Kate did not prefer light reading on planes; light reading, she liked to admit to Reed, was what she enjoyed when she was pleasantly tired, or ought unquestioningly to be doing something else.
Amanda Cross, The Edge of Doom (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 154.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why write about food and drink?

"When asked why she had devoted herself to writing about food and drink instead of weightier subjects, such as serious world issues or even love, [M. F. K.] Fisher replied, ‘The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.'"

Clifton Fadiman & André Bernard, eds., Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes (1st rev. ed.) (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 2000), p. 204.

Papers: bleah

"There is nothing more annoying than papers. After all, they will never spark joy, no matter how carefully you keep them."

Marie Kondo, quoted in Penolope Green, Kissing Your Socks Goodbye: Home Organization Advice from Marie Kondo, N.Y. Times, Oct. 22, 2014

Lucky dog finds an indulgent home

Lucky indeed is the mud-soaked, half-starved, three-legged, blind, diabetic stray who wanders within sight of a Yu, because that dog will be a stray no longer. It will henceforth be a dog with a name and a homes and it will be happy—but it will not receive much in the way of training. He's happy and that's all that matters. If he doesn't feel like sitting or staying, or if he doesn't feel like resisting the impulse to bark, well, he's just a dog being a dog. What's the big deal? 
Mark Salzman, Man in the Empty Boat (New York: Open Road, 2012), ch. 12 (Kindle location 861)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Plagiarists work hard

     What's interesting to Hal Incandenza about his take on Struck, sometimes Permulis, Evan Ingersoll, et al. is that congenital plagiarists put so much more work into camouflaging their plagiarism than it would take just to write up an assignment from conceptual scratch. It usually seems like plagiarists aren't lazy so much as kind of navigationally insecure. They have trouble navigating without a detailed map's assurance that somebody has been this way before them. About this incredible painstaking care to hide and camouflage the plagiarism—whether it's dishonesty or a kind of kleptomaniacal thrill-seeking or what—Hal hasn't developed much of any sort of take.
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (New York: Little, Brown & Co., Hachette Book Group, 2009) (Kindle location 24020)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Casebooks shape legal minds

Do judges read casebooks? No, but their future law clerks do. And future lawyers—the ones who will soon be presenting cases in court—do. Some of the people who are reading casebooks today will be working on my opinions just six months from now; others will be presenting cases in a few years. Sure, teachers in the classroom make a big difference, but ultimately what lawyers take away from their Law school experience is what is in the casebooks. Casebooks provide a common language that transcends particular law schools or generations of lawyers—I can usually get a knowing nod from my law clerks when I speak about the ships Peerless—and casebooks also provide young lawyers with a fundamental outlook on the legal landscape, which in turn shapes their approach to cases. Eventually, lawyers may outgrow their contracts or torts casebooks, but it takes many years of practice. Some never do.
Judge Alex Kozinski, Who Gives a Hoot About Legal Scholarship?, 37 Hous. L. Rev. 295, 298 (2000) (footnote omitted).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Education as spanking machine

[E]ducation in general often seemed to me to be like a giant spanking machine. You crawled your way through it simply to prove that you could make it through; at the end, you got your diploma and your life could finally begin.
Mark Salzman, Man in the Empty Boat (New York: Open Road, 2012), ch. 6 (Kindle location 299)

Librarians: ooh-la-la!

Generally, I flirt with librarians. Librarians are my sex symbols. Growing up, everybody else had Charlie’s Angels on the wall. But I had women in khakis and big glasses. 

Sherman Alexie on what he does while attending library conferences, Idaho Statesman, August 12, 2003, quoted in American Libraries, Oct. 2003, at 31.

Opinions not a matter of opinion

Modern courts can be innovative, but judges are reluctant to pick ideas entirely out of thin air. It's always much safer to follow some precedent, preferably an opinion by a prestigious court or at least a well-known judge. But, alas, there is a point in the development of any legal doctrine where there is no judicial precedent; some court has to be the first. That is a very uncomfortable position for a judge to be in: You write an opinion and have nothing to cite. Paradoxically, opinions are not supposed to be a matter of opinion; they are supposed to reflect the law, and this means at least someone out there who does law is supposed to agree with you.
Judge Alex Kozinski, Who Gives a Hoot About Legal Scholarship?, 37 Hous. L. Rev. 295, 307 (2000)