Feb 292008

At Opinio Juris Roger Alford asks whether recognition of leap year constitutes customary international law, having “been in practice since the 16th century … general, consistent and uninterrupted across the decades.” He goes on to note, “No state claims a right to object to the practice. And yet no treaty governs the question.”

Meanwhile, in more pedestrian legal matters, I overheard a lawyer declare, “Leap year’s great. An extra day to get in your billable hours.”

I wonder, though, if there were firms out there that added extra hours to the yearly requirement because there was the extra day…

 Posted by at 7:51 am
Feb 262008

In the 20+ years I’ve been a Huey Lewis and the News fans I’ve seen countless “puns” involving their name in countless headlines, each written with the same stench of self-flattery for having been so clever in coming up with it.

I would never attempt to be so obvious myself. No, I just mean to fulfill my promise of a Huey Lewis-related post, and now seems a good time to do it since there actually is some news (some of it even relating to the News) to talk about.

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 Posted by at 12:38 am
Feb 252008

The 148th edition of Blawg Review is out, at Brad Trout’s BlawgIT blog. It always seems to work out that the weeks Blawg Review is hosted by cyberlawyers, I end up talking about something else… In this case I sent in my Kosovo post, as I’m interested in getting feedback on it from a wider audience. It is a little sad, however, that my “I need a husband” post did not get picked up yet again. After all, I still don’t have one, and how will I ever if the blogosphere isn’t constantly reminded that I’m looking?

 Posted by at 11:36 pm
Feb 192008

Recent events have given me occasion to think about situations where old enemies eventually forgo hostilities and open up to each other.

One of the most touching examples of this came after September 11th, when in tribute to fallen Americans a British band played the “Star Spangled Banner.” It wasn’t just a nice gesture of support for a friend in its time of crisis. It was a moment of historical irony, seeing how Francis Scott Key had written the words to the “Star Spangled Banner” after a battle of the War of 1812. A war fought against our then enemy, and now friend, Britain.

We are perhaps less chummy with Russia and its communist disciple Vietnam, but now that arms have been laid down we are learning to open up to each other. As a result it’s possible, on American TV, to watch an edition “Russia Today.” One showing Vietnam celebrating the 35th anniversary of US withdrawal by honoring the 3000 Soviet troops, or “military experts,” as they were called, who helped North Vietnamese soldiers defend against air raids. “We valued their equipment, it was better than the Americans’,” said one former Vietnamese officer. “That’s why we won the war.”

Perhaps these aren’t quite the friendliest of sentiments, but at least the openness that resulted from the dispensing of our mutual Cold War suspicions can remind us how in all wars there are people on the other side who believe in their cause as much as your side does in your own.

 Posted by at 8:25 am
Feb 182008

In early 1999 my TV was constantly filled with scenes of Kosovars fleeing to Albania and Macedonia with carts loaded with however many of their possessions they could carry. I don’t know how many Americans saw these pictures — I was living in France at the time, and this humanitarian nightmare seemed to be happening in my backyard.

Then in 2004 I had a chance to visit Kosovo in person. It was a profound experience to be somewhere where history was unfolding before your own eyes. Most of European history hangs in museums, but in Kosovo it was happening in the streets.

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 Posted by at 3:38 pm
Feb 182008

I’d forgotten how much fun a bike race can be. I’d seen a few before: a stage of the 1999 Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) as it spilled down from the Italian Alps into picturesque Borgo San Dalmazzo, and the mountaintop finish of 2002’s Tour de France climb up Provence’s looming Mount Ventoux. There’s always such a festive energy surrounding them, the kind that a parade normally attracts. A really, really fast parade…

Some races, like the Tour de France, are led by an actual parade, “Le Caravan de Publicit√©,” where costumed models toss sponsors’ shwag into the crowd assembled along the race route from trucks-turned-outrageously-sculpted-parade-floats. But all road races are characterized by the cloud of fuss that surrounds the cyclists as they zip along to the finish.

This year’s Tour of California bike race was no exception. One hundred twenty-nine (or so) riders sped down Bridgeway in Sausalito today, on their way to Highway 1 and about 95 more miles before later reaching Santa Rosa. Bridgeway being but a stone’s throw from where I live, I went out to watch the race sail through. Preceded by motorcycles bearing cameramen, cop cars, and sedans carrying race VIPS, the peloton, with helicopters swirling overhead, tore onto the 101 onramp trailed by more cop cars, team cars with roofs crammed full with spare bikes, and an impatient population of local drivers who’d been kept off the road while the race passed through…

But then, all too quick (except for those inconvenienced local townspeople who are not amused by professional bike racing), it was over. The racers were well on their way through their scenic and self-propelled Tour of California.
And not of Iowa, which has its own scenic and self-propelled cycling tour, the much-less rapid and presumably much less rife with dopage “RAGBRAI,” or “Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.” Blawger Rush Nigut finds himself daydreaming about this summer ride in this week’s Blawg Review, from which I am linked.

Which may be particularly fitting. Although I’ve ridden bikes ever since my parents taught me at age six, it was an ex-boyfriend who really turned me onto the sport. We’re no longer together, which may be apparent from my “I need a husband” post, a post that’s apparently so popular that it’s now been linked to Blawg Review twice…

 Posted by at 12:29 pm
Feb 142008

I drafted much of the following last year, but was prompted to finally post the thoughts I had been mulling when I noticed that CBS has just started airing another season of Big Brother. I’m surprised it’s still being made; it never seemed to capture the popular imagination in America like, say, Survivor did.
Or like it did in England. In England the Big Brother show, along with its sister show Celebrity Big Brother, are an amazing — and, to an outsider at least, also fairly frightening — phenomenon. Not only are there both series of shows themselves, but there are also parallel news and commentary shows that get broadcast along with them. In fact, news from the Big Brother house even makes national news, something I can’t imagine the CBS version ever being culturally relevant enough in America to do.
Ironically, however, while this winter sees a new American version, there has been no new full-blown Celebrity Big Brother series in England this year. Not after the fuss over last year’s season — a fuss that says so much about celebrity, racism, and what it really means to live in a surveillance society.

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 Posted by at 2:08 pm
Feb 132008

Walter Olson at Point of Law links to an article about someone trying to sue her employer for demoting her after she blew the whistle on their conduct while she was working for them in France. The news from the case is that a US judge decided that, despite the various nations implicated in the matter (Bermudan company, American subsidiary, British employee, French workplace), American whistleblowing law applies to the case and gives her a cause of action to pursue in American courts.

I don’t have enough information to fully analyze the issue, but I wanted to raise a possible related factor not mentioned in the Law.com article. A few weeks ago I attended a CLE event sponsored by the Orrick law firm that discussed the issues faced by American companies when doing business in Europe. At one point the panelists brought up the issue of whistleblowing as an instance when policies that may work for a company’s offices in the United States might not also work for its foreign ones. In the US securities regulations require American companies to establish policies allowing employees to report malfeasant corporate conduct without fear of retribution in effort to protect the shareholding public.

But no matter how great the policy works for its American offices, it can’t just be automatically imposed upon its foreign ones. The rules and cultural norms in these other places may in fact prohibit it. Like in France, where whistleblowing is poorly regarded, and possibly even illegal. Whistleblowing is regarded as snitching, contrary to the spirit of worker solidarity, and harkens back to unpleasant historical memories of collaborations with the Vichy government and the like.
Thus, given the particular nations involved in this case of O’Mahony v. Accenture, I suspect there may be more going on here than necessarily meets the American eye.

 Posted by at 12:20 pm
Feb 122008

The summer after I graduated college I backpacked around Europe. I went everywhere, from London in the west to St. Petersburg in the east, Narvik in the north to Rome in the south. I mostly eschewed commercial tours, instead taking a very Rick Steves approach in feeling I could get a greater sense of local flavor by traveling “through the back door,” or like a native would. But even he has acknowledged that sometimes commercial tours can provide more efficient coverage of an area than independent traveling can. Like in Salzburg, with its “Sound of Music” tour.

The bus was full of people from all over the world. I sat up front with some other Americans. They were a family from Oklahoma: a man and his wife in their 50s or 60s, their 30 year old son, and his very demure southern wife. “Oh I could never do what you’re doing!” she drawled in surprise upon finding out I was traveling solo. “Does your mama know?” the elder man inquired, with genuine concern, offering to call her for me when he got back to the states. I politely declined, somewhat surprised that my travel arrangements, seemingly normal to me, should cause such consternation. Even though we were from the same country, it was apparent that there clearly were some differences in our cultural orientation.
Which became even more clear as our conversation continued. “Where are you from?” they asked. “Berkeley,” I said.
“Oh!” the elder man exclaimed. “You’re one of them liberals!”

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 Posted by at 8:59 am
Feb 102008

I mentioned on the “Turning Cathy into a Lawyer” blog how much I enjoyed Stephen Fry’s (relatively) new TV series, Kingdom, and how PBS really needed to bring it over to America. Happily, they have, and one of my local stations, KTEH, has been showing it on Monday nights. So far they are about halfway through the first season of six shows, and it is well worth tuning in. Or, if you can’t, or if you’d like to catch up on the epidodes you’ve missed, fortunately there’s the Internet to help you out…

The show centers around Peter Kingdom, a small-town solicitor in Norfolk, England. Stephen Fry plays him as an eminently wise and patient jack-of-all-trades, exactly the kind of person you’d want your local lawyer to be. And yet, it’s believable, as along the way we see that Peter is partly the man he was born to be by nature, and partly the man long experience at the job has taught him to be. He’s contrasted by his young “articles clark,” who, while obviously a good soul, is still learning, as Peter’s apprentice, how to distill his youthful idealism into patient practice.

While I think a lay person would definitely enjoy this show, what with it being so well-crafted in every respect, e.g., with sympathetic characters, engaging story lines, inviting scenery, warmth, humor, etc., the fascination for me is in how it portrays the law. As an American lawyer I obviously don’t know to what extent the show might be over-fictionalizing the practice of English law, but the detail in the scripts suggests that at least some effort has gone into not completely glossing over it. Indeed, many aspects of the show (e.g., plots, theme, character development, etc.) are heavily dependent on Peter Kingdom actually being a practicing lawyer. It’s not just an excuse to give him something to do.

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 Posted by at 6:47 pm