Sep 252008

The nice thing about Star Alliance international frequent flier tickets is that they entitle you to a stopover, which makes for a much more interesting trip than just one destination would afford. Case in point: my trip in 2004, when on a free ticket I went to Israel for a week, and then on my way home stopped off in Frankfurt, from where I took a train into the Balkans. Each leg was incredibly poignant on its own, and together made for one of the most profound fortnights of my life.

Of course, not all of my trips are that long, and this past one was for just a long weekend. Also, I wasn’t allowed a stopover because I’d routed my ticket as an open-jaw, into Berlin and out of Hamburg. However it turns out that the rules let you have up to 24 hours in one place before it counts as an official stopover, so through some creative planning I managed to get myself a bonus day in London on the way home from my law school reunion in Germany.

Readers of my old blog know that I did a semester abroad while in law school, at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg. Bucerius is a fairly new institution, less than a decade old, and stands as the first private law school in Germany. It’s named after Gerd Bucerius, who was himself a judge. During the Nazi era he became frustrated at being co-opted as a cog for an unjust machine, so he resigned his post and worked as a lawyer to try to defend against it. When the war ended and the British controlled Hamburg, they recognized him as not being complicit in Nazi crimes and so awarded him a printing license. With that he started the paper, Die Zeit, and the wealth he accumulated as a result was then bequeathed to a foundation, Zeit-Stiftung, which funds many worthy projects, including the Bucerius Law school.

As a law student there were some opportunity costs in doing a semester abroad, like certain classes I didn’t get to take or extra-curriculars I didn’t get to pursue at my home law school while I was away. But on balance I am sure I came out way ahead by doing it. By connecting with this other school and community I’ve been able to become connected with people and law around the world.

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 Posted by at 9:19 pm
Sep 162008

Long ago I promised to explain why I’d gone to London earlier this year. Seeing how I’m about to be in London again, I figured it was time to catch up from the last time.

When I told my friend that I was off to London for a conference on the history of copyright, she immediately exclaimed, “How interesting!” Soon, however, her conscience got the better of her and, fearing she’d perhaps misrepresented her sentiments, hastily followed up with, “For you.”

Actually, she was right the first time. Copyright, that legal doctrine that permeates modern life, regulating nearly every bit of human expression regardless of where in the world it was made, is of such importance to our lives today that any study of it is inherently interesting even if just by virtue of its inescapable relevance. As we today grapple with copyright’s reach, with some feeling it’s too broad and others not broad enough, it’s always helpful to look back over time and see how we may have arrived at this modern morass. Like with everything else, you can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been.

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 Posted by at 10:15 am
Sep 152008

I find the news of the apparent demise of Lehman Brothers as sad as it is alarming. Back in the days when things like this could still be done, my grandfather worked his way up from the mailroom at Lehman Brothers to eventually retire as a partner 49 years later. Since then the company has been sold, merged, spun off, deregulated and repurposed so many times that it’s hardly the place where he used to work. Still, in my mind, the name “Lehman Brothers” has always had a certain perennial esteem, and it’s a shame to see it tumble.

The current Wall Street crisis has me thinking about a conversation I had in the first few days of law school. At a graduate school mixer I was chatting all about how excited I was to go to law school so I could be able to go out and do some good in the world. I was talking to a BUSL tax LLM, who basically said in so many words, “I don’t care what happens to other people, as long as I make money.”

Perhaps if fewer sociopaths like him were out there taking unbridled risks with other people’s money to feed their personal ambitions the rest of us wouldn’t be forced to bear the costs of their failures.

 Posted by at 9:46 am
Sep 142008

I went surfing for the first time last weekend. A synagogue I’ve gotten involved with offered a lesson as a group activity — one of the rabbis even helped teach it! My grandfather had taught me how to bodysurf, but I’d never tried it with a board before. Seeing, though, how I live so close to perfectly good beaches, it seemed like something to finally try.

It went… it went… well, it wasn’t disastrous, but it was fairly frustrating. From the very beginning, when a miscommunication led me to lug my board all the way down to the wrong end of the wrong beach it became evident that the day wasn’t breaking perfectly. Then, once in the water, the waves started breaking over me… I did catch the first wave, but on my second ride the nose of the board sank into the water, I flipped over, and then my nose got pounded into the sand. It wasn’t broken, nor was it bleeding, but by the following day, and for the rest of the week, I had an enormous dark red milky way of a scab slicing through the constellation of freckles that normally adorn my face.

In the remaining time there I managed to catch a few more waves, but so difficult was it to manipulate the board that I never got the courage to try standing up. Even just trying to get far enough out into the water felt like a huge battle against the elements, as the ocean continually fought me for control.

It wasn’t an entirely horrible experience, of course. Indeed it was a very nice day to be at the beach, not too hot and not too cold, not too sunny and not too foggy, but the sense of futility I had in trying to rise above the tide haunted me. It kept feeling like such a metaphor for life…

 Posted by at 12:03 pm
Sep 102008

Channel 32 on my cable system has become one of the top destinations of my remote control. The channel, local KMTP, is an international channel, picking up and rebroadcasting programming from around the world. Much of that programming seems designed for foreign audiences, particularly the English-language broadcasts of news and newsmagazine shows from Germany’s Deutsche-Welle TV and Russia’s Russia Today.

I’ve written about Russia Today before, in reference to a story it broadcast about a family who lost its home to greedy developers of new Russia. But I wanted to call attention to it more generally, particularly as recent events have called into question whether Russia today is really more ally than enemy.

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 Posted by at 11:13 am