Monday, March 09, 2009

Invented memories

I watched "60 Minutes" on Sunday night. The show covered a truly sad story about a lady who'd been raped as a college student at 22. She'd memorialized various features of her attacker and helped investigators create a composite sketch. A local restaurant worker mostly fit the description and his photo was placed in a line-up along with several others who generally matched some demographic characteristics. As it turns out, a photograph of the actual rapist (later determined with some greater specificity by DNA analysis) was not among those shown to the unhappy victim. She picked out the fellow who appeared the most similar upon the various physical points of reference she had, quite painstakingly, committed to memory; who the police had picked because of her composite sketch and his proximity to the site of the crime. Suffice it to say, in an in-person line up, the same fellow was picked, the victim was congratulated on her consistency, and a conviction and long imprisonment duly followed. Watch the story here.

There's something frightfully interesting about how malleable memory is. Later in the broadcast, an individual characterized the memory of a crime victim as worthy of being guarded with the same care as one would the actual crime scene. Be careful not to leave things lying about, don't scuff the carpet, don't bush your shoulders off - your dandruff might incriminate you.

I find this an interesting jumping off point for what I hope will be observations of some import. A few months ago, I read Francis Yates' book, The Art of Memory. It's a historical study of the various means of manipulating memory used by the comprehensively bright folks who pulled off the Renaissance. (No small feat, when one considers that it used to be The Man could set you on fire for writing down the wrong thing or committing a victimless crime like blasphemy) Now, when I say "manipulating memory," I really mean placing artificial information in such a way that it seems real to the part of the mind responsible for recall. Let's say, for instance, that I need to recall the legal elements of some crime so as to be able to answer a question on the dread Bar Exam. I could write out the elements in a standard outline format, re-read them, copy them to flash cards, perhaps remember how they are placed on a given page, and hope to be able to reproduce them on demand. Another means would be to associate the concepts and words with objects in a three-dimensional space that one would move through in "rehearsing" the elements of the crime. For some reason it's more natural to remember a walk around a room than a decidedly abstracted paragraph - why else do people pace when deep in thought? This idea of creating a physical script of sorts, apparently allowed our predecessors to engage in prodigious feats of memory. Like, say, reciting the Iliad, with only the variations in adjective and adverb that made siting around a fire and listening to the same story for the umpteenth time pass as quality entertainment in the good old days.

This procedure of building memory is more than fascinating. Causing parts of the mind to associate artificial facts with reality, through verification and the placing of detail in a physical context... it's, Jesus H. Christ, pretty damn sweet!

It's also dangerous. Those of you who know me are aware of my dabbling in the cognitive sciences - I hope the story I lead with brings into sharp relief to point I've raised a thousand times about just how easy it is to place conceptual and conclusory artifacts into one's experiential memory. You don't even have to consciously want this sort of thing to happen. The knowledge of this distinctly human potential is powerful (woooooo!); the effects are occasionally tragic. Take care, young Padawan.

Penny Arcade

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Too much time

A lot of time has passed since I've paid attention to this blog. That's unfortunate, but I do need to write more. The legend in the header of this blog will remain the same, as something of a testament to the period of heady insouciance that persisted throughout the period preceding the economic collapse under which we now suffer.

"Dancing on the deck of the Titanic," we'd say. With a few drinks in us, my friend [R] would, fast upon my utterance of this phrase, mime the playing of a violin and tilt to one side. I would break into a rather Irish gig, also tilting in accord. In the desperate cold, with a bloody-edged anger at bosses who used to be friends, we'd chuckle at the impending catastrophe. And so it has come. Neither age, sex, nobility of birth, nor prestige of education has spared the lawyering ilk of this town. Follow the continuing catastrophe on Above the Law.

But rather than wallow in just how bad this whole business might get, we're looking for a new project. Your gentle narrator remains ready to give legal advice (you miscreants who use my services know who you are :)), but whether he will return to the dank bowels of a posh firm remains an open question. There are a great many occupations to which a person of learning may apply his or herself. Sadly, such occupations are not much in demand. Some seek to flee the country (the dollar isn't very strong in Iraq and Afghanistan), others to return to their roots of undergraduate study (it's always nice to know another language). I've decided to do my best to ride out the storm without making annoying or overwrought complaints. A great part of that will be more regular commentary on this blog. It appears that I have the time well in hand. Hopefully not too much of it and not for too long. Tomorrow, we'll discuss some Sunday talkshows, and a few other media items. The story of the past several months will doubtless emerge in passing over the next posts.

...ceterum, Bush no longer needs to be impeached, but the torturers, warmongers, and attempted tyrants who shamed the United States for the past 8 years should be hunted to the ends of the earth. And prosecuted.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Dunkin' Xenophobia

According to the new Dunkin' Donuts ad, not only should Americans not bother to actually speak or comprehend foreign languages, they shouldn't tax their minds or tongues with the mere pronunciation of coffee-related words that have long since entered the urban lexicon. Apparently, everything beyond "latte" comes from a strange and perplexing tongue Dunkin' would have us call "Fritalian".

Update: Dunkin' Donuts might not be pathologically mono-lingual, but they're betting that you are. Alas, they're probably correct.

...ceterum, I believe that Bush should be, like, impeached.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Patriarchs and Hooligans

...or should we say "mullahs and jihadis?"

When I heard that Albanians in Kosovo had declared their independence from Belgrade last week, the corner of my mind not preoccupied with sex, drugs, rock and roll, and litigation strategy expected some enthusiastic rioting, a round of face-saving but generally responsible saber-rattling and loud recriminations by the US and Russia at the Security Council over the latest Balkan shenanigans. What I didn't expect (but should have) were church services. Anyone who turned on MSNBC (our network of choice to avoid Wolf Blitzer's sanctimonious um-hum-ah-what-about-patriotism) to watch the US Embassy to Belgrade go up in flames should have been struck by what the cameras seemed to capture just up the street or 'round the corner, as the case may have been: a most solemn Mass, lit with golden light completed by festooned patriarchs declaiming in serious, and to me, incomprehensible Serbo-Croatian.

It might be too much to speculate that the Mass started before the congregation-cum-mob turned on buildings housing the international community, but I would venture that one must travel at least to Pakistan to find more fervent parishioners rushing out of church to make trouble. It brings to mind Hitchen's comment about whether one should be fearful of a group of men leaving a prayer meeting. (The answer being "yes" in many, if not most, parts of the world.)

Having apparently missed out on a vanguard role in everything from the most juicy bits of the Crusades to the the latest round of rather articulate, if decidedly myopic, Muslim-bashing from the likes of Geert Wilders, et al., Eastern Orthodoxy is probably overdue to set about a clash of neighborhoods. ("Civilizations" being too dramatic nomenclature to describe a field of conflict not much larger than the tri-state area.) MSNBC sadly, but predictably, didn't seem to draw the connection between the Mass on one corner and the flaming embassy a few blocks away. But then again, since when do ostensibly Christian leaders in the Balkans order their countrymen forth to imprison, torture, rape and murder their Muslim neighbors? I find it facile that we blame Milošević for all this while turning a deaf ear to the toxic, faith-based hatred from the patriarchs who supported him, eulogize him and likely continue to castigate the West for interrupting what they must imagine to have been sacred and admirable work. ("Likely" because I'm still somewhat unclear on what was said during the official-looking services that accompanied the embassy burning.) That said, I am the first to admit that this ilk will prove more difficult to face down now that Russia is off the democracy sauce and uninhibited by godless communism. We remain pessimistic.

...ceterum, I believe that Bush should be, like, impeached

Monday, February 04, 2008

too important for snark

Tomorrow, and in November, vote like our lives depend on it...because our lives depend on our spirits' ability to rally and not succumb to small thought. Just a little patriotism for those who genuinely want to make the best of their country.

Monday, January 21, 2008

F (minus!)

If there are any readers at all left, I'm sure you're all under the impression that I failed the bar or something. Of course not. After passing the bar (typically hung-over, on an empty stomach and sans much sleep), we went on a whirlwind tour of these great United States, rekindled passion for the most spectacular of persons, attended the nuptials of delightfully snarky friends, and generally had a whale of a time. That is to say, I couldn't be bothered with the banality of staring at a screen when I had a life to live.

Things have since taken a turn for the boring. But we're still rolling mighty deep in it. In the money, the booze, the friendships, the occasional kink, the law. There's mischief afoot in foreign lands, wrongs to be righted, scores to be settled and fortunes to be saved. In an uncharacteristic moment of hubris, we assign the "F-" to anyone foolish enough to oppose our onrushing greatness.

...ceterum, I believe that Bush should be, like, impeached.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Law Graduate vs. the bar exam

A conflict solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and [hopefully, thankfully, mercifully] short.

it will all be over soon
it will all be over soon
it will all be over soon
it will all be over soon
it will all be over soon...

...ceterum, I believe that Bush should be, like, impeached.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Fiasco: The Stanford Law School Graduation Adventure

A few interesting things happened on graduation day (yesterday). Overall, it was quite the pleasant ceremony accompanied by minor SNAFUs. As I approach the requisite sobriety to type, I recall the scenes of interest and invite the gentle reader to judge just how "minor" said SNAFUs may be:

1. Massive feedback in the audio system at Memorial Auditorium gave friends and family a terrible start. Fortunately, the graduating class was occupied elsewhere. Otherwise, we might have shit ourselves thinking that the scary guy may have actually gone and done something unfortunate.

2. In the GSB courtyard, a graduating 3L was forced to submit to a raucous singing of "Happy Birthday" which delayed the processional.

3. The system of insuring that an appropriate number graduates were apportioned to each row of seats while keeping the class in alphabetical order failed so miserably as to leave many empty seats in some rows, while in others there were too few. The result was something that resembled a game of musical chairs each time the graduates sought to move to the stage.

4. A shortage of diploma covers (and accompanying letters instructing students to await their real diplomas) brought the ceremony to an uncomfortable halt that left us alternately amused, perturbed, and finally incredulous as faculty members left their seats and wandered about the stage in search of a box containing extras.

5. Despite the replenished supply of diploma covers, a short time later these too were exhausted. This time there were no extras to be found. Covers were then collected from graduates who had already received them and after some to-and-fro, a stack found its way into the hands of Dean Kramer. He quipped that the recycled covers were "warm."

Oh well, some days earlier a Dean was heard to remark, "It's a sham, of course it's a sham...So there's no reason not to participate." I guess it can't be too big of a deal. As the afternoon wore on, and more and more alcohol was consumed, the following email appeared in student inboxes.

Dear Class of 2007 and Larry,

I want to apolgize to you all for the fiasco today with the diploma covers.
While we can now explain what happened, there is no excuse for it having
happened once, much less twice. I take full responsibility and apologize
to you and your families. I hope that it did not mar too badly a day that
should have been full of celebration. Rest assured that it will never
happen to another class.

This warmed the cockles of many a heart. As did a follow up email from another graduate who declared that
Everyone...thought the diploma mix-up added levity to the
event, and was a wonderful opportunity for the generosity of our
class to shine. It was such a warm SLS moment; it certainly did not
"mar" anything!

Apart from the mea culpa and the following kumbaya moment, it should be noted that everyone has been deathly silent on the Dean's "Charge to the Class," which was quite the ramble and included a long-ass quote from Federalist I. Good to know our parents had the privilege of the boredom and confusion that typically accompanies the application of rather ancient political theory to current events. In contrast, my parents loved Professor Fisher's comments, as did I. I will remember those comments with better clarity when I watch the DVD of the ceremony; the above descriptions have taxed my somewhat impaired short-term memory.

...ceterum, I believe that Bush should be, like, impeached.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

A Monica who doesn't suck

I've never been happier to not be somebody else. True, I have a bunch of shit that will have to get done by the end of the semester, but at least I'm not Monica Goodling.

Telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that you won't testify about your work for the Justice Department because doing so could incriminate you is hardly a good way to make the news.

Which really shouldn't worry her as her career has been inexplicably blessed, at least up to this point.

It all started with having to go to Bible College Law School (also known as Regent Law School, founded by a proud member of my ignominia list). If there was ever a law school with its priorities ass-backwards, it's Regent. In Regent's metric of the critical roles for the attorneys it produces, "counselor," "conciliator," and "defenders of the faith" all come well before what really matters: "effective client advocates." All of those other things are well and good but somebody's priorities are a bit off. Let's just say, if you aren't "of the faith," you might want to take your chances with a differently-schooled lawyer.

Given this unfortunate starting block, I can imagine Monica's wonderment at her seemingly miraculous elevation from graduate of Regent Law School to liaison between the Department of Justice and the White House.

Where are our trusty affirmative action critics when we need them? When this incredibly under-qualified (not to be confused with unqualified) lot starts deciding which US Attorneys to fire, things must be pretty bad. But these folks didn’t get a leg-up, or whatever pejorative the over-entitled-yet-still-bitter types are using, they got appointed. Now, from what I know at this point, I can't deduce that Ms. Goodling and her classmates from Regent are bad lawyers or otherwise particularly stupid. What I will say is that Regent, compared to the vast majority of American law schools which are mostly on the same page as the Constitution with respect to the establishment clause, is a strange little outfit of dubious quality and people who choose to go there are also strange, especially if they have other options. Those members of the Federalist Society at real law schools who are so suspicious of any minority who happens to get ahead of them would do well to offer their services to the administration so that it doesn't have to hire from the Bible College Law School barrel.

Not that I realistically expect them to willingly board a sinking ship or anything.

Notwithstanding the foregoing vicious elitism, it's a shame what is being done to this ill-placed woman. Seriously, does anyone doubt for second that a few phone calls went 'round between the important people with the frat connections, the Texas crew that knew each other from that small, small world of fancy graduate programs where nobody is separated by more than 2 degrees, and decided that the outsider who went to the Bible College Law School would be the one to hang? Apparently there is a corollary to "VP-in-charge-of-going-to-jail," a position where you get to carry the messages that will get everyone in trouble if they make it into the public record. We'll call it "sacrificial lamb." I'm sure Monica won't find the whole mutton thing too terrible if she believes she's being sacrificed for the greater glory of the Lord’s Anointed…by whom I mean Bush.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot
...ceterum, I believe that Bush should be, like, impeached.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The girls playing Condoleezza and Mary Cheney are way hotter than their real-life counterparts but don't let that rain on your parade. Also, I'm not entirely convinced that it would qualify as "girl-on-girl" ...

That said, absurdity is the best antidote to stupidity; there's really no need to dignify these people or their crimes by debating them as if they actually know what they're talking about.

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spring break, last thursday night

San Francisco Bay Area

it started with a declined invitation to smack some balls at the driving range...

it continued with pre-game to the sounds of the Littl'ans album; too many drinks at the Clift; a random girl heartlessly, but without malice and quite inadvertently, told that her resume didn't measure up; the acquaintance-making of several interesting and vaguely twisted people; a surprisingly small bar tab at an inexplicably picky club

it ended with an angry bouncer banging on a bathroom stall door, a 90 MPH party in the back of an SUV on HWY 101,
and, thankfully, no arrests.

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American Mahdi, continued

Herein we continue our somewhat discursive fulmination...

Simply because both law and religion have failed to rid us of such anti-social behaviors, it does not follow that they are both similarly useless. Indeed, if so many religious dictates weren’t so easily interpreted as “don’t gather firewood on Shabbat,” “women are dirty for a few days every month,” “beat your disobedient children,” “fly plane into building,” “exterminate the unbeliever(s),” and so on, I’d say that religion was just fine at keeping some of those anti-social types in check. Unfortunately, the threats of fire and brimstone and bolts from the blue are neither swift nor sure and serve less of a deterrent than the modern death penalty. Which brings us to the utility of secular law for dealing with conscienceless malcontents: we can lock these people up.

But let’s not stop with the impact of good religious values on one’s propensity to kill people. Surely, without a solid grounding in scriptural morality, courtesy of public school, all our young people will move to San Francisco and have lots of gay sex. Once again, this probably won’t happen. Not that I think gay sex is yucky (actually it’s pretty damn hot if you’re reading about it over at Jefferson's blog) [shameless plug], I just generally prefer vagina. And believe you me, the book of Leviticus (which I’ve (NOT!) just finished reading for the 3rd time…) does not go very far in enhancing one’s appreciation for vagina. If people are upset by such “immoral” behaviour, perhaps a bit of perspective might ease their angry hearts: if you think being gay is deviant or against nature, just think about all those folks who don’t feel anything is wrong with killing people who disagree about what constitutes the “law of God.” Believe me, you have scarier things to worry about – namely your more faithful neighbors who are certainly worth more in His eyes.

An aside: to the extent that the twits at Exodus International manage to turn gay people straight, it is in the same way that fundamentalist Islam allows otherwise intelligent, level-headed folks to strap explosives to themselves: by inculcating a sense of loathing of the state of the self and the world around them, by telling them that their deficiency lies in a deviation from God’s straw-man of perfection. And before you try to sue me in the UK, just remember that truth is an absolute defense to libel.

A rather bright professor recently described to me his thinking on how to mediate particularly intractable disputes (i.e. South Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel and the Palestinian territories). He said that what links individuals who have made substantial progress is that they are the sort of people who can evince in their adversaries a measure of trust that the future they envision would be tolerable to all concerned. Conflict is driven by a refusal to recognize a future environment that does not pose an existential threat to “the other.” The teleology of human freedom, if such a thing exists, points to systems that embrace dissimilar viewpoints and goals to the extent that we can all live with it. I would speculate, upon very little reflection, that there is more room in a community governed by Bill’O’s much-maligned “Secular Progressives” then in one run according the precepts of the Bible or the Koran – which might explain why nobody bothers to write such books in the age of globalization. By all rights, there should be less tolerance of apocalyptic religions than there is for SUVs: global warming will only drown us slowly, but the faithful doomsayers among us will doubtlessly cheer nuclear war as a sign of the rapture.

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