Monday, August 28, 2006

No Wonder I Keep Getting Lost...

Heavy Books Update

I cut my books. Well, most of my books. Well, two. Two is most. Property will follow soon enough.

Everyone says to take your books to a copy shop to be cut and drilled, but I did the job myself with a carpet knife and a hole punch, acting on the same principal, I suppose, as a cowboy who shoots his own horse rather that letting someone else do it. I felt I owed it to the books. The result is ragged and unpretty, and very satisfying.

I was raised with a horror of marking books, let alone mutilating them, so I thought it would be a hard thing to do. But harder for me was writing notes on the pages; once I had jumped that hurdle, the cutting was easy, and actually rather interesting. The high cost of the books, I think, made it easier – maybe because I think of them more like tools than like books, or maybe because I feel that because they’re so unreasonably expensive, I’ve already paid my debt to them in full. Or maybe I’m still pissed at having to lay out seven hundred dollars for a single semester’s worth of textbooks.

And then, of course, there’s the certain knowledge that, just as I couldn’t buy any of my books used – because who wants to get caught out with the wrong page number just when the professor calls on you? not to mention having to translate every reading assignment to an old edition – so I’ll never be able to sell them for anything like what I paid. So they’re in pieces now, and much more useable that way, I must say. I may yet survive law school.

What's the Problem?

What is it with these lawyers? How come the Rule Against Perpetuities is such a big deal it's gonna count for 5% of our grade? Why don't they just say, Sorry, no perpetuities. How hard would that be?

All the time with the complicated rules.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

One Down

Here we are in beautiful … well, Albany. But a few blocks away from the Berkeley city line, and we’re but a brisk walk from a really good microbrewery, half a mile from the pony track, a short drive from Ikea, twenty minutes by bus from the University of California, Berkeley. Those are my landmarks – which is to say, I’ve been other places around here, but most of them I couldn’t find again without getting directions.

Week 1 is over, week 2 is about to commence. (I was a math major, a long time ago– can you tell? It’s all about recognizing patterns.) My module-mates and I have already dived – dove? doven? – deep into Property, Civil Procedure, Contracts. And I have some questions.

Like for instance, what genius decided that the hallway was the best place to put our apartment's only Ethernet port? Admittedly, it is a big hallway, with a wide spot where all three bedrooms and the bathroom open; and, sure enough, on the plans someone has taken pains to label the wide spot in the hall a “study alcove.” However – as we are now learning in law school, and as surely anyone who is not an idiot already knows – wishing doesn’t make it so. Why didn’t they label it “private library with wet bar and masseuse,” as long as they were going to go all counterfactual on me?

Maybe some of my neighbors actually work or study in the middle of their hallway, right next to the bathroom. Who knows, that location might be ideal for a student with, say, Crohn’s disease. But I defy you to show me anyone with two kids – anyone, that is, who might (for instance) request an apartment with three bedrooms – who is going to get a lick of work done, sitting in the hall. Kids awake? You’re right in traffic. Kids asleep? Not for long, you’re right outside their bedroom!

So, note to Berkeley’s IT people: bad. Fix.

Moving on.

Civil Procedure… is a red queen’s race. I haven’t had a chance yet to take a deep breath, let alone digest all the reading that’s been dumped on us already. (I know, it only gets worse. Shut up and let me whine.) So I really have only the vaguest idea what it is we’re being expected to learn… something about not locking people up or taking their stuff, unless it’s okay to lock them up or take their stuff. How do we know when it’s okay? Not to worry, the nice judges will tell us. (Incidentally, I say “learn,” though at this point, that isn’t exactly what’s going on – “absorb” might be more accurate. I’m sure it’ll all begin to make sense one day.)

Property I like, at least so far, mostly because I love antiquated ideas that make no sense in a modern context, like the anti-torture provisions of the Geneva Convention. It remains to be seen how I’ll like it once the cases stop being antique… but the rule that “iron holds the whale” was almost worth the price of admission.

Contracts… they’re contracts. (Except when they’re simple donative gifts, of course, or when they're within the Statute, except when an exception to the Statute applies.) Can’t get too excited about it yet. But our professor does a lovely job of posing hypotheticals, and seems to be presenting things very very clearly – though what the hell do I know, I just started.

* * *

As for the real world: we’re still living partially out of boxes, though SW has done yeoman work this week, unpacking, organizing, finding furniture (a kitchen table and chairs, a desk, a couch that we’re to pick up tomorrow, an antique settee, two library chairs, and a big-screen tv that almost killed the two friends who helped us move it – total expenditure, $275), and generally dealing with things non-school-related. Oh, and we bought a Vonage VOIP-in-a-box from Target, cause phone service is just too bloody expensive, we’ll see how that little venture works out. (I haven’t had the time, the heart, or the energy to hook it up yet.)

And I should be reading. Or writing. Or something. So I believe I will start now.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I'm in Love...

... with a beautiful library. Oh, it's been long, long, long since I've had a big old library around. The smell of old bindings and new floors; the hush of the reading room, like and unlike a church; the sense that time has, not stopped, but steadied into a predictable flow. I could spend hours and hours here... I mean, of course, I will; but I'll enjoy it.

It's been way too long since I was in school.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Give Me a Break (from studying)

Hey, kids, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s all read the same inane book at the same time! Wow! Great! I’ll bet we can set a WORLD RECORD! Won’t that be neato? Wow!

This may be the dumbest idea I’ve heard all week – and bear in mind, I just started law school, so I’ve already been plied with several legal cases worth of people who acted on inordinately dumb ideas.

The Little Engine That Could? Who came up with that one? – Bill Bennett, I’ll bet. For the record, my kids prefer Scooby Doo and the Army of the Undead. Yeah, I know it’s just a tie-in to an out-of-date video release. I’ll bet it could break the Little Engine’s record without breaking a sweat.

Oh, but wait – this is kind of nice… one can go online and donate a copy of Jumpstart’s custom limited edition of The Little Engine That Could to a child in need! I’m sure there are a lot of kids with no health insurance whose lives would really be changed by a story of a good little locomotive who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and succeeds through the power of positive thinking. …but what’s this? The link is sponsored by Penguin USA. Hmm. So who publishes this custom limited edition? … nah, couldn’t be...

I have a better idea for setting a world record: let’s take the people who thought up “No Child Left Behind” and see if we can stuff them all into a phone booth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What Fresh Hells?

And now, just to add an element of suspense to an otherwise ordinary 1L year, my brand-new laptop is liable to burst into flames for no discernable reason.

Could things get any better?

I Moved

And so did my wife, and two kids. I got to drive a 26 foot moving van 400 miles. (Actual length of the truck: 34' 3" from nose to tail.) It was interesting but I don't ever want to do it again. Nor do I ever want to move again. I calculate if I get 8 consecutive PhDs in unrelated fields, I will be able to stay in University housing till I die.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Misquotation and the Folk Process

I recently read a blog post about how annoying the author found it when people misquoted the Bible, specifically when they named "money" as the root of all evil, when (according to Timothy, the noted theological economist), it is actually "love of money" that is the culprit. This started me thinking... and, you should know, when I start to think I tend to get all bent out of shape, maybe because I find it so very difficult.

Anyhow, here 's what I think. I think that when people say things like "money is the root of all evil" there are a couple of things going on... and, oddly, I don't think that misquoting is necessarily one of those things.

I would argue that when people say "money is the root of all evil" they are not misquoting the Bible; they are, rather, correcting the Bible. Or, rather, since I would wager that most people have no idea of the source of the quote, still less what the "original" form was... that they are simply reiterating common wisdom and thereby agreeing with it. The folk process, in other words, has taken the quotation into the public domain. It no longer matters what Timothy said; what matters is the thing itself.

Now, the reason that Timothy's original sentiment is so often forgotten... is because the new saying - I dare say it - is superior. I would say that a much stronger case can be made for money per se as the root of all evil, than for mere love of money. (This is not to say that I think everything that results from money is evil... but boy, could I make a list.) Love is not an emotion that I would associate with money, personally, but I know people who do love money, and they're not more evil, as a rule, than, say, people who love dogs, or people who love the law.

Any linguist worth his salt will tell you that it's not really relevant what people are supposed to say. What counts is what people do say. Thus the absurdity of saying that "ain't ain't a word," or that it is somehow "incorrect usage" to end a sentence with a preposition. That is the sort of nonsense, as Winston Churchill famously remarked, up with which I will not put.

So-called "misquotations" abound in the world of spoken and written discourse, and pedants are forever getting worked up about what the "real" quotation should be. This is all well and good when the person supposes himself to be quoting - then the pedants correct misapprehensions, keep people honest, and generally are to be praised, if avoided on social occasions. (Okay, that was uncalled for. And untrue. Some of my best friends, etc... I include myself.)

However, very often - as I just argued in the case of that old devil money - it is the case that the folk process has improved on its source, and what was once a quotation becomes a saying. How can you misquote a saying, unless you twist it so that the words no longer make sense? So with casting money as villain. One of my personal favorites is "gilding the lily," which I find a much more evocative and useful image than what Shakespeare wrote, one character pointing out that it was, I suppose, pointless "to gild refined gold, to paint the lily." Not only is the phrase "gilding the lily" more compact than the original, falling more trippingly on the tongue... but its meaning has shifted and sharpened, so that it no longer signifies mere redundancy, but something closer to "spoiling by excess," something that I find needs summing up on a regular basis.

Another example... "Play it again, Sam," actually is a misquotation of the famous line from Casablanca, but surely the line is better misquoted? It may not have been what Bogart said... but it's what he meant, and absent the entire context, it actually sums up the emotions of the scene in a more complete and accurate way than the "correct" movie quotation - it's truer, in other words, to the spirit of the original. No wonder it beat out the original quotation in our hearts and minds. It deserves to.


There are doubtless other examples floating around in my head but I cannot think of them at the moment, as everything I and my wife and our two children own in the world must be boxed and ready for loading on a truck tomorrow morning. Yikes.