Jan 302008

In recent weeks Kirsten Wolf, an alum of my legal alma mater, Boston University School of Law, kicked up some dust by complaining how law school was totally not worth it. She raises valid points; it clearly doesn’t seem to have been worth it to her, nor is it likely to be worth it to lots of other people for many of the same reasons.

The truth is that law school clearly contains several manifest defects (e.g., immense cost, too often disproportionate to the amount of financial benefit it can provide afterwards, and pointless competitiveness, which too often wastes students’ actual talents, etc.), which really should be done away with. That said, it’s clearly foolish when people go to law school for lack of any sort of better idea of what to do with their lives. These are the people who will be most gravely injured by the experience’s shortcomings. I therefore agree wholeheartedly with what Susan Cartier Liebel wrote:

There is only one moral to Kirsten Wolf’s story: understand what it is you are trying to accomplish by going to law school and the short and long term financial and psychological costs associated with the undertaking. There are no excuses for being Alice in Wonderland anymore. There is too much information circulating today about the trials and tribulations of law school, the debt, and employment opportunities for you to remain ignorant and whiny.

This is definitely a reasonable point. Of course, I may be particularly partial to Ms. Liebel for having cited me earlier in her post as providing a counterpoint… In fact, a counterpoint as an alum of the exact same law school.

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 Posted by at 2:40 pm
Jan 302008

Dan Harris at the China Law Blog has a post today wondering whether in some countries, like China or Papua New Guinea, you are treated better if you are a foreigner, citing certain examples that would suggest the answer is yes.

Reading it reminded me of the first time I went to Russia, back when the Russian ruble was still a completely soft, overly-regulated currency few non-Russians would ever want to trade in, which I posted about in the comments:

[The situation described] reminds me of Russia in the early 1990s when there were “hard currency shops.” These shops were always brightly-lit and fully stocked with European-imported goods – a far cry from the regular, grim Russian shops whose own stock reflected, in both paucity and quality, the not-yet-loosened Communist economy.

My host family once took me to one of the hard currency shops (in St. Petersberg, at the Hotel Pribaltiskya, I believe), and the only reason they could get in was because they were with me, and I had a US Passport. Otherwise they were banished like all the other dollar-less Russians to the regular grocery store, which in April 1992 I remember was stocked with piles of cucumbers, piles of potatoes, some scary looking meat patties, tins of apricot juice, and that’s about it…

Interestingly, though, by that time Pepsi had started being sold in Russia. In the regular grocery store you could spend 12 rubles for a glass bottle with “Pepsi” printed on the label in Cyrillic. At that time 12 rubles = 12 cents (although still a fortune to a local). Whereas the hard currency shops sold European-imported cans of Pepsi for a dollar, which even in 1992 was expensive by anyone’s standards. I bought one just for the hell of it anyway, so we could take a “Pepsi Challenge” against the one from the regular store. If memory serves, the Russian one was actually better…

As it turns out a friend of mine is at this very moment traveling in Russia. Guess I should have asked her to report back on how the soda tastes…

 Posted by at 1:23 pm
Jan 282008

Last year on this date over at the Volokh Conspiracy people were discussing where they were when they found out the Challenger space shuttle had exploded twenty years earlier. Back in 1986 people were saying it would be like the Kennedy assassination, the kind of seminal event that would forever become etched into the memories of everyone old enough to have been aware of it.

Suffice it to say, on retrospect I think such predictions may have overstated its impact. September 11th has clearly become a much more encompassing historical watershed. But for those of us who were schoolchildren in 1986 the Challenger disaster did leave an indelible mark.

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 Posted by at 4:32 pm
Jan 282008

Blawg Review #144 is up, over at Kevin Thompson’s Cyberlaw Central blog.

For those unfamiliar with Blawg Review it is what’s known as a blogging “carnival.” I don’t know who came up with the name, “carnival,” which always struck me as kind of ridiculous, but the idea behind them is nice. Bloggers are hard at work all over the blogosphere, creating their posts, but what fun is it to write if no one ever comes by to read what you’ve written? Blog carnivals help solve that isolation problem by creating meta posts that contain links to lots of other bloggers’ posts, thus providing them with much-needed exposure.

In the case of Blawg Review, various legal bloggers sign up to “host” an edition of Blawg Review, released on Mondays, which contain links to some of the best posts from other legal bloggers the previous week. Bloggers who would like to be included can either nominate themselves, or hope that someone else might have nominated them (Blawg Review likes to encourage people to nominate other bloggers who’ve written things worthy of attention). It’s also possible that the host may include posts that he himself has seen over the previous week sua sponte, as they say in the law.

I myself have long planned to participate in Blawg Review in order to help attract readers and raise the profile of my blog, but I never really got around to it. Jeremy Blachman as a host did once link to me sua sponte, as did the mysterious figure (and very nice albeit anonymous guy) known as the Blawg Review Editor, but this week marked the first time I’ve ever managed to get it all to come together, having an appropriately meaty post to submit and remembering to do so before the deadline.

The understanding among Blawg Review participants is that when the new edition comes out you provide a link to it. I’m not sure it’s a strictly enforced policy, but it certainly seems like the neighborly thing to do. And there’s no real cost. If you like my blog, you may well like any of those other blogs linked from it. And an edition of Blawg Review is not just a page listing a bunch of static lists — Blawg Review editors are encouraged to use their creativity in how they present the work of their peers. This week’s, for instance, used Lord of the Rings as a vehicle for tying together these links. One page to link them all…

 Posted by at 9:35 am
Jan 252008

There’s a Fry and Laurie sketch that makes fun of people who write in letters to English newspapers. Actually, there’s more than one, as it’s apparently deep fodder to mine for humor. I can see why, given this letter to the editor regarding Stephen Fry‘s own Cinderella pantomime, which employed the following withering condemnation of it:

It was described as full of filth and smut in reviews I read in five different national newspapers.

Yes, it did get some poor reviews for being a bit on the risqué side, but nowhere do I remember reading that it was “full of filth and smut.” Nor do I remember seeing any of said filth and smut at the performance I attended. Nor indeed would this “Mr. Callaghan of Seaforth” have either, had he bothered to actually see the play he so freely and undeservedly criticized.

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 Posted by at 6:08 pm
Jan 252008

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (and others) are spearheading a campaign to protest bills in Congress that would give retroactive immunity to the telephone companies who helped the government eavesdrop on ordinary people’s conversations. We’re not speaking about tapping those phone lines of people who were under investigation, because in those instances the government could have gotten warrants to tap them. We’re talking about ordinary, innocent Americans for whom no warrants could be gotten — and none were. Despite Fourth Amendment principles protecting people’s privacy, and a Wiretap Act that protects the privacy of phone calls specifically, the government went ahead and invaded that privacy by enlisting the phone companies to install bugging equipment within its central switching apparatus. Instead of just tapping the one line of someone under suspicion, the government tapped everyone’s lines, whether they warranted suspicion or not.

Lawsuits are pending against these phone companies for their illicit tapping — the Wiretap Act is clear about when phone companies may intercept phone conversations, and it clearly doesn’t apply to what they did — so under pressure from the Bush Administration, who had asked for the spying, Congress is considering passing a bill that would retroactively exonerate the phone companies for their illegal interceptions. Thus the campaign, to express outrage at such a prospect. The campaign is designed to put a human face on the situation, to remind Congress that the people spied upon were not some abstraction but real people, who up to now were entitled to their privacy. And so it has solicited pictures from those who were spied upon people (in other words, everyone), which have been posted to a flickr stream. (See if you can find mine.)

This situation is a story itself, but I wanted to juxtapose it against another, similar story. Recently I wrote about plans by some major ISPs to start sniffing all the network traffic they carried for copyright violations. Even if the project of policing for copyright violations were actually possible for an ISP to do (which it’s not, for how are they to know whether something is copyrighted, or whether the person sending it is not actually entitled to do so, etc.) it represents the similarly nightmarish scenario that the people who provide a communications network will commit the wholesale interception and monitoring of every bit of people’s communications. Private communications. Communications that no one has any business receiving except those who are intended to.

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 Posted by at 11:18 am
Jan 242008

No, this is not some abdication of my feminist, independent spirit. It’s the result of some musing that led to the realization that there really isn’t anyone in my life I can truly confide in. Sure, there are plenty of people I completely trust, but none of these relationships are such that someone couldn’t later try to discover the contents of my conversations with them. I don’t mean that any of these people would freely blab about what we talked about if they were asked; I mean that they could legally be compelled to do it.

There are few people one can truly confide in without worrying about possible compelled disclosure later on. Though the examples vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, typical examples of confidential relationships include those with lawyers, therapists, and clergy. Of course, the first two relationships usually cost money to establish and maintain, and within all of these professional relationships the range of topics you might be able or inclined to discuss is probably narrower than the full scope of what you might want to talk about within the more natural relationships you have with emotional intimates like friends or family. However, no matter how close you might be to any of these friends and family, your relationships with them are legally vulnerable. The only exception is a spouse, as only with spousal privilege can a relationship with an emotional intimate be protected against forced disclosure.

Hence the conclusion that I need a husband. Not today of course; there’s nothing on my mind that would be of any interest to any adverse party, I don’t think. But I did realize that it would be good to have someone to talk to with whom this would never be a concern. Thus the need for a husband, an emotional intimate in whose confidence I could truly be confident.

While the concern is hypothetical for me now, I can see how for others it could be a big deal, especially for people who do their best thinking out loud by bouncing their decisions off of someone they trust. If there’s any possibility that these decisions could lead to legal liability – which, given today’s litigious society could happen for just about anything – then people with spouses are much better off than those without them, having the benefits of both less liability exposure as well as the ability to speak with the greater candor that privileged communication enables. Or, conversely, the people without spouses are at a greater disadvantage than those who have them. While married people get a legally-protected confident built into their lives, unmarried people do not, and it could matter.

Perhaps we can say this is a perfectly fine result, that people who do not choose to marry should not have all the same benefits as those who do. But that ignores the reality that many people can’t marry their emotional intimate, or that some people are not so lucky in love as to ever have an emotional intimate they could possibly marry. It further essentially forces those who might otherwise not have been so inclined to marry, simply so they can get the equivalent benefit of a protected confidant.

So do we really want to say that this is a perfectly fine result? While we wouldn’t want all relevant testimony to be locked up, it may not advance society to deprive so many people of the benefits of a truly candid relationship with a confidant. Or, worse, to only allow this privilege to some.

 Posted by at 8:41 am
Jan 232008

If you’ve been checking back here incessantly you may have noticed some changes as I’ve begun to wrangle the cryptic mess that is MovableType 4.01. Now that I’m getting into it I’m beginning to understand it a little better, but it’s still extremely unintuitive and/or poorly-designed outright. I just can’t wait until MT4.1 comes out — and the upgrade manages to destroy what I’ve finally managed to figure out…

While I wish I had been able to get the blog all set and ready to go before announcing the move, I really needed to start publishing to it in order to have something to work with. At this point though I think many of the major decisions have been worked out. I may still tweak the stylesheet, but I’ve decided I can generally live with this one without making too many changes. The biggest pending decision is whether the front page should have two columns or three. At the moment I only have enough content for two and the third column is blank, but I wasn’t happy with how it looked when I set it up to only have two columns, like the old site has. I was sort of surprised by this: my writing tends to be dense, so I thought that if it appeared in a more narrow column it would force too much scrolling. But on retrospect I think downward scrolling is better than forcing the eye to scan nearly all the way across the page. Even I found the amount of words I was forcing myself to read that way to be intimidating. Instead the smaller column makes my paragraphs look like much more manageable bites. So, now it will be a question of how to fill the third column. I have some ideas, but no time frame for trying them out, as I’m not sure when I feel like scheduling in the inevitable frustration pursuing them will inevitably cause….

As always, feedback is welcome, but I think at this point I’m pretty much good to go.

 Posted by at 10:17 am
Jan 212008

In launching this blog as I have I have committed the cardinal web development sin of releasing a live site before its construction is complete. For that I apologize and point an accusatory finger at SixApart, makers of the MovableType platform I’ve been using since 2003, for having released its 4.01 product before sufficient documentation was available to support it. Persuaded as I was by their hype of how wonderful it would be I had gone ahead and upgraded to it several months ago. Doing so was generally not a problem for my pre-existing blog as all the templates and styles I’d made for it when it ran on version 3.x still worked, but when it came to launching a new blog it made sense to use the new MT 4 templates and styles in order to be able to take advantage of all the snazzy new features SixApart was bragging about it having.

Unfortunately it was impossible to figure out how to in any sort of timely way. The 4.01 system is very different than the 3.x systems, and it’s pretty confounding. My choice then was either to continue to blog at the old site, which I felt I had outgrown, while I tried to figure out how to build the new one out over here, or go ahead and move to this new forum where I could write with my new voice — and then beg for the forgiveness of my readers for the inevitable UI changes I will inevitably inflict upon them as I figure things out. Obviously I opted for the latter avenue, and so I want to apologize in advance for the extensive changes that will likely take place over here over time.

The upside to this decision is that you all have a chance to weigh in with what you might want or not want to see in the new design. Let me know if there are any sites you particularly like or find usable, and I might be able to adopt some of those features if they’ll work for me. A few “improvements” over the last site are already in the works, like using the “extended entry” feature to break up long posts so that the front page won’t seem so dense. I’m also going to try out using the “tags” feature instead of relying so heavily on categories. The upside with tags is that its easier to assign multiple topic labels to each post, and it will be easier to draw them out of the database when wanting to see what I’ve written on any particular one of them.

Otherwise I suppose everything that you currently see could change. I do kind of like the blue color, so perhaps I’ll use it in the final palette, but I may switch back to two columns, or move things around, or add features or get rid of features, etc. Sorry, I know this is a very, very user-unfriendly thing to do to one’s website, but it’s the best I can do for right now. At least while I’m not playing around with HTML I should be able to focus on my writing, and isn’t that what’s really important? Besides, with the new site my RSS feed finally has carriage returns. Hooray for legibility! So, please, go ahead and subscribe!

(And let me know if anything seems to not be working. I’ll try to fix that stuff first.)

 Posted by at 10:53 pm
Jan 212008

Welcome to my second blog, “Statements of Interest.” My first was “The Great Change – Turning Cathy into a Lawyer,” and I imagine I may sometimes link back to items within it, but now that I am decidedly a lawyer it’s time to move on to a new forum where I can speak more clearly in my shiny new lawyerly voice.

Like the other blog, this will generally be a law blog, or “blawg,” if you like (or “jurnal” if you’re French…). My favorite thing about becoming a lawyer has been getting to reflect upon this thing known as “the law” — how it works, why it works, or even how and why it doesn’t. I enjoy contemplating these issues, and a blog is a great place to share what I come up with.
Particular areas of interest to me involve technology policy, which covers such matters as “cyberlaw,” copyright law, privacy law, and free speech. I care about civil liberties generally and will often focus on them even when they don’t directly implicate technology, but the reality is that in our digital age they have become increasingly inextricable.

Meanwhile there are other areas of the law that interest me too, and so it’s likely I’ll also cover such topics as tort law, contract law, international law, poverty law, or even the basic processes and impetuses behind the creation and enforcement of law generally. Yet I refuse to limit myself to only these serious, legal topics. There’s too much else out there in the world that’s interesting. Indeed, that’s why I have titled my blog as I have, as “Statements of Interest.” Science, religion, news, language, politics, pop culture, travel, me… If there’s something interesting to talk about, then it’s fair game for this blog.

No matter what I talk about, however, it will still always be said through the voice of a lawyer. I do not have any current wish to pursue a legal practice through my blog (please note the disclaimer: I am not your lawyer, nor am I here to dispense legal advice), but there’s nothing I can ever say or do that won’t be informed by the significant training and education I’ve incurred as part of my legal profession.

Non-lawyer readers should not fear that my being a lawyer will necessarily make me stodgy and dry. I may have stodgy and dry days, and for that I apologize in advance, but being a lawyer generally means that I’ll be able to think and write more clearly than I might have done before becoming a lawyer. Becoming a lawyer has made me come to require a certain precision from the world, but I think that’s generally a positive thing. Being able to sort through things that are muddled is important, because often that’s what needs to be done in order to start making things better.

On the other side of the coin, lawyer-readers shouldn’t fear for my ethos when I explore non-lawyerly topics. It’s still the same lawyerly brain, but it would be an extremely boring one indeed if it was all business, all the time. Everything valuable I have to offer as a lawyer is of value only to the extent that people — all people, even non-lawyers — want to receive it. And who wants to listen to someone boring? Rest assured, no matter how silly the subject I may tackle, the knowledge base and analytical reasoning of a lawyer will still always be on offer.

Just hopefully that of an interesting one.

 Posted by at 5:06 pm