Jun 252017

I had to do something really hard yesterday: I had to give up my car. I’m sure you are thinking, “What’s the big deal?” People get rid of cars all the time. The circle of life for automobile ownership is barely longer than that of a fruit fly, so why should this be hard?

Because I’m not one of those people. When I bought my car, new, I fully intended to drive it into the ground. And, basically, I did – nearly 23 years later.  Which is what made it so hard, because in getting rid of the car I was basically divorcing myself from one of my oldest and closest relationships. I have family relationships that aren’t even as old. Or as close. Or who have been nearly as good to me. Continue reading »

Jun 252017

I decided to re-post this post from September 2006 so I could link to it from this new post.

I was glad that on this most recent cross-country trip I took the time to actually see the country I was crossing.

The day I spent in Indiana turned out to be quite interesting. My friend and I went to a small country town where they were having a fair. But it wasn’t a big fair, with midways and carnies. It was a small affair, with lots of local vendors and stalls selling local crafts and foods. It was also interesting because the community is full of Mennonite and Amish people, who were all represented there, but not “on display” for tourists as they might be in more well-known “Amish Country.” I’m not sure there were any tourists there at all, actually, apart from us. It was just a corner of America, being itself, that we got to visit for the day.

I got to visit a few more corners by detouring up to I-90 and going through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Especially South Dakota. Which happened to be where I was on the 5th anniversary of September 11. Where better to spend a day of American self-reckoning than smack in the middle of it? But the difference was striking: just a few days earlier I had been in lower Manhattan, within Ground Zero itself even, on one of those beautiful, clear, almost-Fall days like it had been on the day of the attacks. A sober energy was beginning to percolate within the streets, as people got ready to face the somber occasion of remembering the awful day their neighborhood changed.

By the time that day came, I felt like I was a world away, in the near-emptiness of South Dakota. I began the morning leaving Sioux Falls, driving through the vast flatness while listening to Native American chants on the radio. By lunchtime I’d reached the famous Wall Drug, perched at the mouth of the Badlands national park. I paid the $15 and drove through them, all the while listening to NPR’s urban-broadcast coverage of the 9/11 remembrances and resulting state of the world. In the empty, sunny stillness of the Midwest the day’s activities in New York and Pennsylvania may have seemed a world away, but it was all still in these United States.

Exiting the area in Rapid City, from there it was time to head up into the Black Hills. Along the way I saw a lot of interesting wildlife: prairie dogs, mountain goats, and the most American of all animals: the turkey. Climbing up through the granite turrets of the hills I suddenly saw, there around the bend, Mt. Rushmore and its quartet of great American leaders. George Washington was particularly striking, with a small yet confident, fatherly smile on his lips that seemed to say, as he gazed out eastward over this great nation on this sad day, that, despite it all, we would be okay.

Jun 252017

I realized in writing a post today that I wanted to link to this one, so I’ve resurrected it. Originally posted August 3, 2003, about my drive out to start law school.

As if relocating across the country weren’t emotionally stressful enough, the moving itself caused all sorts of hassles and elevated blood pressure. It took two days and several emergency trips to UPS (too much stuff!) to pack up my car to the gills (where on earth did I get all this stuff????) and then four days to then drive from Santa Clara, CA to Boston, MA.

The most interesting day was probably Day 2 when I went from Salt Lake City to Omaha. First I nearly failed Basic Roadtripping 101 when I almost ran out of gas. That morning when I left Salt Lake there seemed to be enough left in the tank to get me to Evanston, WY, where I had planned to stop and get breakfast. It’s the border town, only 60-70 miles away, and I figured it would be more efficient to hit the road right away and get the gas when I’d be ready to eat. My car generally gets great mileage so I didn’t think the extra miles would pose any problem at all. However, I neglected to calculate the loss of fuel efficiency that comes from lugging a car hauling a gazillion pounds of stuff (approx. 1/2 gazillion kilograms for you metric types) up the northerly spires of the Rocky Mountains. As I was climbing the gas gauge started to drop precipitously low. When I passed the sign indicating 22 miles to go, I figured I was toast. I took out my cell phone and started watching the mileage markers so that I could give AAA precise location information about where to find me when I inevitably stalled out.

And then, over a ridge, like an oasis in a desert, was the first exit in Wyoming. With a gas station at the end of it. I nursed my car down the exit ramp and pulled up to the pump. I’ve never been so happy to be at a gas station before. Had you been there you would have seen me lovingly pat my dashboard and say, “Good car! Very good car!” Next you would have seen me slap myself upside the head for being such a moron.

Gas purchased, and a new personal policy passed to always top off the tank any time I stopped, I headed off across the vastness of Wyoming. I have a book called Rising from the Plains which is about the geology of Wyoming. Apparently the state has some very interesting geological features, some of which are visible from I-80. Unfortunately, while the state may be interesting from a plate-tectonic standpoint, it’s not all that interesting from an automotive touring standpoint. Until about Laramie when the terrain gets more varied with buttes and valleys chasing each other to see which can be the highest.

Heading through the hills surrounding Cheyenne, the friendly fluffy rainbow-bearing clouds from the day before had started ganging up into some nasty looking storm clouds. As I descended out of the hills into Nebraska, I saw in the rearview mirror dark charcoal skies with a lightning bolt slicing through to the ground. Growing up back East I’d seen thunderstorms build up before, but they’d tended to swell up more slowly as they inhaled all the humidity. Whereas in Nebraska follicles of moisture careened into vengeful atmospheric monsters with great speed and viciousness.

When I was a little I had one of those irrational childhood fears of thunderstorms, probably because they were loud. It was only when I grew up and found out that thunderstorms could actually be dangerous that the fear turned more rational. So as raindrops started dripping onto me I began trying to outrace the storm. And good thing too, because as I happened to glance off to the right I saw a swirling patch of dirt. It looked a little bit like the clear air dustdevils I’ve seen while driving through the Nevada desert. But it was bigger, and it was connected by a ghostly funnel silhouette to a big nasty cloud up above.

I’m no idiot, I saw what happened to Dorothy. Tornadoes cause all sorts of havoc and I wanted nothing to do with this one. Fortunately, it was heading southeast and I was just heading east so it posed no threat to me, other than the inherent danger that comes from zipping down a highway while looking at a tornado.

For the most part, I managed to avoid other calamitous weather. The only rain of any significance fell just as I was crossing the Hudson River and ended by Connecticut. I was originally going to cross at the George Washington Bridge at the eastern end of Route 80 so that I could say I’d gone from Bridge to Bridge (Bay Bridge to GWB). But then my dad told me that 80 technically stopped in Teaneck, NJ, and there just didn’t seem to be anything romantic about saying I’d driven from Bridge to Teaneck. Disillusioned and tired, apathy took over and so in Pennsylvania I veered off to I-84 instead.

However it’s too bad I didn’t drive through New York City, because with all of the beautiful flitting butterflies smashed on my windshield I could have used the services of those famous Squeegee Men.

Apr 152017

I have often disagreed with your party’s positions, but I usually could tell what they were. Although there were always some exceptions, there was a general coherence to them. You were the Sam the Eagles of American governance, statesmen above all else, and champions of a steady hand on the tiller of America, even when progress might perhaps have required a somewhat freer one.

That is not who you are now. You have put a mercurial, war-mongering clown at the head of your party, installed him in the White House, and are now standing silently by as he is aided and abetted by a team that, with rare exception, is at best incompetent if not also purposefully bent on undermining every institution that has protected the American people for generations. Far from being the conservative play, by letting his intemperate and frequently lawless behavior go unchecked you have been enabling the dissolution of every bit of stability – economic, political, and, perhaps worst of all, diplomatic – the nation and its security depends on. Stability that your own party has proudly claimed to have worked so hard to build.

While there are some among your ranks who appear to be gleeful for the GOP to suddenly be unshackled from the norms of decency, diplomacy, and competency, I have to believe that they are the minority. But as long as the majority is frozen in paralyzed impotence, the minority is redefining who you are, and who this country gets to be. Continue reading »

Apr 112017

Dear United:

I write this letter as someone who has been a rather loyal United customer to date and would generally wish to remain so. I want to make clear at the outset, however, that this loyalty does not allow me to exonerate you of the serious concerns raised by your appalling treatment of Dr. Dao both on your flight and in your subsequent correspondence with employees. Both – and in many ways the latter especially – give me great pause and make me wonder if I can continue to patronize this airline. Unhappily, due to consolidation and other market failures, I may not actually have much choice: the best airline for me is one that offers plenty of direct transcontinental routes out of SFO and a global alliance I can use my resulting frequent flier miles on. Unfortunately, your closest competitors can only meet some of these needs, and thus any threat to take my business elsewhere is generally an idle one.

However, one of the reasons that I became a United customer in the first place, and have remained one more or less happily up to now, is that I like your airline. Flying another carrier always feels like visiting a stranger, whereas I’m used to the operational rhythm of how United works and how it works for me. I like liking it, and I want others to like it too, even if for no other reason than that your success helps improve my own travel experience (more routes, more flights, more amenities, etc.).

But your behavior this week, as well as on some other some other recent occasions, has made it difficult to recommend you, and that is no good for either of us. When passengers have to fly you begrudgingly it is unpleasant for everyone. For us, it makes us impatient, inflexible, and defensive, and thus for your employees, the same. We are all much better off when everyone can be proud to choose United, and that’s what the rest of this open letter is intended to make sure we all can be. Continue reading »

Apr 032017

As the nomination of Judge Gorsuch for the vacant seat on the US Supreme Court continues to move forward, I find myself, as someone who generally characterizes herself as liberal and who tends to “vote blue,” torn.

Given my policy predilections there are in fact some significant reasons to favor his nomination. In particular he seems willing and able to clip the wings of government power when it tries to act beyond its authority. In light of a presidential administration that seems inclined to flex its muscles far beyond the bounds of how the Constitution permits it to, those sorts of libertarian leanings could be an important check on executive abuse, abuse that often targets liberal values.

On the other hand, although his jurisprudence on the subject is thin, miscellaneous comments he’s made about reproductive freedom make me concerned that his notion of individual liberty does not extend to a woman’s right of self-determination over her own body. Similarly, the hearings suggested that he may lack sufficient empathy for the lives his jurisprudence will touch. While I don’t generally agree that all liberal policies are necessarily a good idea, or constitutionally permissible, the intent behind them has always struck me as inherently valid and consistent with what it takes to form this more perfect union. Too much pushback against these policies, particularly when rooted in obliviousness to how Americans of differing backgrounds find themselves needing to live their lives, will not lead to liberty and justice for all.

And yet Gorsuch is educated, capable, and presumably persuadable. He is not a rabid ideologue. Thus there remains the concern for what might happen if his nomination is rebuffed and the next candidate put forth is.

It is hard to know how to counsel Democrats to proceed. There is a significant risk in rejecting him. On top of tempting an even worse candidate now, the mechanics of resistance, of pushing the filibuster and daring it to be destroyed, may remove it as an option to use against a worse candidate in the future. On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that it couldn’t be destroyed later, for that worse candidate.

Furthermore, Democrats still have two significant structural concerns about proceeding with Gorsuch’s appointment, concerns apart from qualms about his jurisprudence and that can’t simply be dismissed. Continue reading »

Feb 092017

Yes, I know I read judicial decisions for a living, and as someone practiced in it my notion of whether reading one is “easy” may be different than someone who has never read one. But the Ninth Circuit’s decision on the immigration Executive Order is remarkably well-written and clearly walks through each and every issue before it. In fact it is so well-written that everyone, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, should be able to read it. And it’s of such importance that everyone should try to, so that when people debate and discuss it in the coming days everyone will be able to have an informed opinion about it.

So what follows is a guide to reading this decision, a roadmap that explains what you are reading to help make its pages less seem less intimidating. Go on and give it a shot. It’s a little long, but there’s not too much legal gobbledygook, and what there is I try to translate below. Continue reading »

Jan 022017

I knew when I applied to UC Berkeley that I wanted to major in mass communications. It was not a major that you could simply sign up for, however; one had to apply.

The following is the bulk of my application essay that I found while looking through old papers recently. Given the current discussions about the role of the 5th Estate in public affairs it seemed as relevant as ever — even though it was written in 1993…
Continue reading »

Jun 202016

In light of today’s Fourth Amendment-eroding Supreme Court decision in Utah v. Streif, and Justice Sotomayor’s scathing indictment of it:

The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting
you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.

I thought I would repost something I wrote in law school about an earlier Supreme Court decision, Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court, that ran roughshod over the idea that people might have a constitutional right — and need — to refuse to identify themselves to the police. Given, as Justice Sotomayor notes, that such an identification can lead to other incursions on one’s liberty I think it’s worth remembering some of the earlier jurisprudence that has brought us to where we are with this case today.

(Originally posted 3/23/04. I’ve edited the writing slightly now to make sure the point I was trying to make back then are more clearly conveyed now, but I have not otherwise edited it for substance. While today I would tend to frame my legal analysis slightly differently, I think the rough take of a 1L still captures valid concerns that today’s ruling exemplifies and exacerbates.)
Continue reading »