Sunday, December 29, 2002

ECO-TERRORISM AT THE MOVIES. During a recent trip to the theater, I watched as the property of a budding industrialist was savagely destroyed by a group of radical environmentalists. These rabble-rousers marched in, smashed the machines, and even broke a dam (generally recognized as violating the law in war) in order to flood factories. Why? Because the owner of the land had decided to convert idyllic (but unproductive) forestland into a foundry and defense contracting business.

That's right. I'm talking about the Ents, and their march on Saruman in The Two Towers.

Now, if you're like most audience members, you probably cheered the Ents as they razed Isengard, the walled area where the sorcerer Saruman had for generations lived in his tower, Orthanc. Apparently I'm in the minority, but this widespread support for the Ents surprised me, because Saruman was a budding industrialist, a captain of Middle Earth's economy who supplied work for thousands of orcs, from the foundry workers to the cooks. After all, maggoty bread doesn't make itself. The Ents, on the other hand -- now talk about total tree-huggers.

While I'm sure Treebeard and his Entish friends thought they were doing good, their perspective seems rather limited: sometimes forestland should be cleared for industrial purposes. Isengard may not have been "pretty" after Saruman put it to its more productive use, but neither was nineteenth-century Manchester. On the other hand, there is a certain beauty to efficiently operating industry. Moreover, an admittedly nasty and dirty initial stage of industrialization is often a prerequisite for raising standards of living in the long run. Indeed, the Ents' forests might be better protected a few hundred years' down the road had they not destroyed Saruman's factories, for the technologically advanced society the Ents helped to stunt would be better prepared to protect and conserve environmental treasures. Rather than Saruman, the Ents really should be worried about agrarian Gondor and Rohan, who inevitably are going to bring slash-and-burn techniques to Fangorn Forest as their populations increase without technological improvements to raise the productivity of lands already cultivated.

In the end, it would seem that both Ents and moviegoers are a bit short-sighted about Saruman and Isengard. One can only conclude that, once again, the elves are behind it all.
THE ADAMS FAMILY. Finally got around to reading David McCullough's fine biography of John Adams, which I've had sitting in the queue for a year. The general raving about the book is justified -- it is a captivating read -- and I wish I had gotten to it earlier. While all due credit should go to McCullough, especially for subject selection and for organizing and filtering the vast amount of writing John Adams and his relatives and friends left behind, the real reason the book is so compelling has to be the magnificent quality of the primary sources McCullough draws on and quotes from at length, mostly John Adams's diary and the wonderful letters he and those close to him (especially Abigail Adams) left behind. Take this exchange with Abigail, who wrote to him while he was away during the First Continental Congress:
If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any law in which we have no voice or representation. That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of yours as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend....Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as vassals of your sex.
To which John replied:
I cannot but laugh....We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere....But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. This is rather too coarse a compliment but you are so saucy, I won't blot it out.

Depend on it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power in its full latitude. We are obliged to go fair and softly, and in practice you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight.
Pp. 104-05. While one could easily adopt a feminist approach to these excerpts, viewing Abigail as speaking truth to power and John as the honey-tongued patriarchal oppressor, I think in this case that would be a bit much; I tend to agree with McCullough that both writers are really being playful. In any event, the whole book is filled with similarly memorable quotations. The Adamses' letter-writing was honed beyond even the high standards of the day due to the cumulative decades of separation between John and Abigail, while he was away from Massachusetts at the early Congresses and Constitutional Convention, and during his many years as an American envoy in Europe. Undoubtedly, this celebrated couple wouldn't be nearly so celebrated had they not been separated by John's patriotic duties during much of their marriage, which led to the remarkable mass of letters between the two, which allowed McCullough to paint a particularly insightful and personal portrait of one of the Founders.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

DAVID BRIN ON TOLKIEN. Wonderful piece. I couldn't agree more.

Monday, December 16, 2002

LAW REVIEWS REDUX: A "STRAW OMAN"? Nate Oman eloquently critiques a position he made up. Taking me out of context, he states that I "see[] the continuation of law reviews for the simple reason that 'students don't want to give up power.'" In fact, in the post he takes that from I was offering a reason the real "solution" to the legal academic publication problem -- keeping student-subcited journals but handing over articles selection for those journals to professors -- will probably never happen. Of course it's true that if academics want to start their own journals law review editors can't stop them, (and indeed there are a handful of these, as I pointed out in the very post Nate critiques) but if you want a painstakingly subcited journal, it's going to have to be done by students, and they're not likely to give up the concomitant power of article selection once they have it.

UPDATE: Read Nate's worthwhile surreply. He accuses me of resorting to the "if-it-is-a-good-idea-it-is-what-I-meant principle" (I prefer to call it a "sympathetic reading"). I certainly prefer that approach to the "if-it-was-in-a-parenthetical-it-must-be-his-main-argument-aproach" employed in Nate's original post.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

SNL POLITICS. Even though it was at times painful, I generally got a kick out of Al Gore's appearance on Saturday Night Live last night (though he wasn't half the showman John McCain was). But things won't really get going until they have Clinton: he could be both host and musical guest. And I don't even want to think about the possibilities for inappropriate skits.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

STUDENT-EDITED v. PEER-REVIEWED. Juan Non-Volokh explains why student-edited law reviews promote academic integrity more than peer-edited journals in other disciplines. The reason -- only law students, paid in prestige, would/could actually painstakingly look up and check every single footnote in the original source. (This process of verifying each footnote is called "subciting", and some reviews actually do it twice per piece.)

So every discipline should go to student-edited, right? Maybe not. The part of the the debate Non-Volokh doesn't go into is the claim that law review editors don't know enough to be able to tell a worthwhile contribution to the field from a candy-coated but academically uninteresting piece. Only professors, or so the argument usually goes, are qualified to do article selection (though I've never heard the claim that students aren't qualified to subcite!). Others counter that student selection keeps the field fresh, helping the legal academy open up to new arguments faster than other fields, where old fuddy-duddies act as gatekeepers and slow down the rate of change in the discipline. There are elements of truth to both views, but the reality is that law review editors are not about to give up their selection power -- one of the real perks of membership -- when they are the ones doing the painstaking labor of subciting (or maybe just because no one likes to give up power once they have it). Thus, it seems unlikely that many peer-reviewed legal journal are going to get going (though there are some) because of path dependency. It may have been happenstance at the start, but the oldest student-edited law reviews have been around for over a hundred years now, and for better or for worse, they're the name brands.

UPDATE: Sasha Volokh offers a nuanced take on the same issue, with some insights from his also-field, economics. Though I wonder if the kinds of sophisticated catches he talks about aren't already largely made thanks to the practice of circulating drafts to ten or twenty other academics. (Check out the shout-outs in the first footnote of just about any law review article. It's like something from a rap/hip-hop album liner.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

LAW STUDENT BLOGGERS, WEEK IN REVIEW. Warm up your laptops! Frantically skim your outline! It's exam time here in lawschool-land, but which way does that cut? Either we're not posting much because of the press of work, or we're posting plenty to procrastinate.

The first camp includes John Branch (last post Nov. 27) and LawMuse. These people are intelligent, apparently allocating their non-study time to sensible pursuits like sleeping, eating, or decompressing in front of the TV. The vast majority, however, seem to be blogging up a storm. Most seem to be chronicling the pressures and anxieties of exam-time: Nikki Furrer comments on exams, Sua Sponte brings the 1L nostalgia flooding back, Andrew Raff presents a photo-essay of sorts, and Waddling Thunder has a host of things to say on examtime, perhaps most provocatively an instrumentalist equation of dating someone within the school with acquiring a safety lock. (But the costs, Waddle, the costs!) Paul Gutman takes on course evaluations and whether they should be given right before exams (no) while Kitchen Cabinet is posting so prolifically you hope none of them have exams with word limits. Acute "exam syndrome" seems to have struck some unfortunate bloggers. In a paradoxical blend of anonymity and megalomania, Alice W. unilaterally declared yesterday to be "All Alice All Day." I guess it is a mad tea-party, though. Retrorocket facilitates this quixotic desire for simultaneous recognition/nonrecognition, and I will too. (Hooray Alice.) And Chris Ward confronts some kind of anthropomorphized exam-demon voice. Seek help, Chris!

All told, an interesting and motley lot. Good luck, all, good luck.

UPDATE: Turns out Kitchen Cabinet does not have exams until after the break. Yet another reason to wish I was at YLS. (Wait a second, didn't I always gripe back in college about postbreak exams hanging over my head like a Sword of Damocles during the holiday...)

Monday, December 09, 2002

THE GREAT BLOGSPOT RIP-OFF. Even though I paid for "ad-free" blogspot, I still get ads on my archive pages. What gives? Is this common? This doesn't seem "ad-free" to me. I want my money back. Waaa!!!

UPDATE: I've republished before, and it didn't seem to fix things, but this time it mostly has. But what about this? Why does that archive have an ad, while everything else (including an earlier archive) does not?
YOU'VE GOT SPAM (A ROMANTIC COMEDY TO BE RELEASED NEXT SPRING?) I just received my sixth request this week to assist in a very urgent, confidential transfer of $28.2 million from a Nigerian bank account to one in the U.S., for which I would recieve a whopping 25 percent. Alas, I had to ignore all of these lucrative opportunities since I'm busy with exams...

I predict that in 6 days, the Internet will be rendered useless by spam. (Or at least it will be for me, since my email address has been available on several websites and has been spidered and databased a million times already).
INTERESTING GUARDIAN ARTICLE by John Yatt arguing that Tolkien's fantasy epic is racist. Perhaps I've just got an overinflated sense of myself, but there are definite strains of my Elvish Propaganda piece from this summer. Of course, my post was more directly about class than race, and was tongue-in-cheek to boot, but consider the following: My post, which got fairly broad exposure thanks to InstaPundit, opened with the line: "Something is rotten in the state of Middle Earth." In the second paragraph of John Yatt's piece, he writes: "I began to suspect that there was something rotten in the state of Middle Earth."

WORD OF THE DAY. Thalassocracy: naval supremacy.

Even better than gerontocracy, rule by elders.