Friday, November 30, 2007

Why Do I Hate Law Students? Because They're Hateable.

Sherman Oaks, California

If you want to know what type of people make law school intolerable, meet Beirne Roose-Snyder.

Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira would like you to mist up and cry because of the horrible choice that Roose-Snyder, 26, was forced to make. Did she awake with her home on fire and only have time to save one of her children? Did she escape from the clutches of the Abu Sayyaf Group, knowing the terrorists would kill other captives in reprisal?

No. Roose-Snyder’s dilemma was that she chose a $145,000 job at a Chicago law firm instead of a possible $60,000 fellowship at a Georgetown University health law institute.

Cue the violins.

As depicted in Friday's Washington Post, Roose-Snyder is a victim of forces beyond her control. Law school debt, real estate prices and the need for experience all conspire against her idealistic desire to work for the United Nations or an NGO.


If you are a third-year law student, you don’t magically find yourself with a big firm offer. You have to study hard the first year of law school. You have to soldier through a soul-destroying battery of job interviews your second year to obtain a summer position. Then you have to mind your work product and politicking to make sure you obtain an offer of full-time, post-graduation employment at the end of the summer.

You get a big firm offer because you want a big firm offer.

So I doubt that Roose-Snyder is a victim of involuntary servitude.

When I was at Berkeley, the law students I despised where the “crypto-corporates,” as I call them. They spent the first year hijacking class discussion so they could loudly proclaim their devotion to juvenile justice or Guatemalan refugee rights or whatever other fashionable left-wing cause they were fronting. Yet, when recruiters visited campus at the beginning of second year and six-digit starting salaries became a possibility, they all donned suits and dresses and made the rounds.

At the beginning of third year, almost all of them accepted big firm jobs, and rationalizations filled the air. The corporate positions were “only for a couple of years” or “just to pay off debt” or – the most risible phrase of law school – “to keep my options open.” None of them would admit that a big firm job was the goal all along.

These students wanted the financial comfort of law firm life without giving up the lefty street cred of public interest law. And they would never, ever admit that they sold out.

So, please, Beirne Roose-Snyder and all of your ilk, spare me the notion that you’re torn to pieces about what you have to do.

Did your resume reach the hiring partner by accident?

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Why Newspapers Are Dying, Example XXXVIII

Sherman Oaks, California

Want to find out who in the newspaper business gets it? Check out the subscription rates.

Most large cities have a daily or weekly legal newspaper that prints recent judicial opinions, obsequious profiles of judges and op-ed pieces on whether Congress needs to revise the wording of the supplemental jurisdiction statute. Lively copy it ain’t, but it serves a purpose.

I thought about subscribing to the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the principal legal newspaper in town. A subscription would save me the hassle of visiting several different court websites every day to read the newest decisions, plus the paper publishes a useful guide every month listing the telephone numbers of every courtroom clerk in California.

A one-year subscription: $667.

“Oh, that’s print,” I thought. “I bet the print subscription rate is inflated to drive people to the lower-priced online edition. No publisher these days wants to pay for paper and ink and delivery.”

A one-year subscription to the online edition: $667. An introductory rate lets new subscribers into the digital fold for only $583.50 a year.

Resolved, That the publishers of the Los Angeles Daily Journal Do Not Get It.

Daily Variety delivers a physical newspaper to your door in the Los Angeles and New York metro areas for $299 a year. It’s in color on fancy paper, to boot.

The Wall Street Journal will drop off a print edition six days a week for $99 a year or save you twenty bucks if you go digital only.

But if you want to read quotes from lawyers flattering the judges deciding their cases, that’s almost $700 a year whether or not an atom of ink hits newsprint.

I’ll keep reading the decisions on court web sites, thank you.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Singapore Raps!

Sherman Oaks, California

From the people who brought you Count On Me Singapore, everybody's favorite city-state also produced a rap video touting its Media Development Authority. Shriners have more rhythm . . . .

(Flash of the Knife to Erin Conway-Smith, an editor of Asia Weekly, for cluing me into this beaut'.)

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Ex-Wife Kills Your Kid, You Pay Alimony

Sherman Oaks, California

Dr. Helen leads today (sorry, no permalink) with a story about a man whose wife beat their son so savagely that the kid died after receiving improper medical attention. She was sentenced to a paltry three years in jail (when a man would have been looking at serious time), and the couple unsurprisingly divorced.

Yet the ex-husband is obligated to pay alimony to the woman who killed his son!

One more example of how U.S. divorce laws are so slanted in favor of women that remaining unmarried is a rational asset-protection choice.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Sherman Oaks, California

A Japanese law allowing a divorcing wife to claim up to 50% of her husband’s pension went into effect in April, causing an immediate 6.1% increase in divorce filings, Blaine Harden of the Washington Post reports. More divorces are expected, and about 95% of the divorces have been initiated by the wives.

The article stereotypically blames the husbands for working long hours and being emotionally distant from their families. But the article fails to mention the many benefits the women received throughout the marriage.

A salaryman’s dawn-to-midnight workdays paid for a home in one the world’s most expensive countries, a home the wife presumably enjoyed throughout the decades of marriage. The wife was able to have and raise – on the husband’s earnings – the children she wanted. She enjoyed the status of being a wife and homemaker in a traditional society which to this day clucks with some disapproval at single career women.

These wives knew what they were getting into when they married; the salaryman lifestyle is no secret. These women received 100% of the benefit of their bargain. But now they are turning around and divorcing the men who kept them in house and home for thirty to forty years and taking up to half their pensions as well.

The article mentions in passing that young Japanese women are remaining unmarried in ever-larger numbers.

But the obverse is true as well. Young Japanese men are refusing to marry.

Can you blame them?

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Border

"The border means more than a customs house, a passport officer, a man with a gun. Over there everything is going to be different; life is never going to be quite the same again after your passport has been stamped and you find yourself speechless among the money-changers. The man seeking scenery imagines strange woods and unheard-of mountains; the romantic believes that the women over the border will be more beautiful and complaisant than those at home; the unhappy man imagines at least a different hell."

Graham Greene, The Lawless Roads (1939).

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Un Siglo Sin Ti

Sherman Oaks, California

Chayanne is a Latin pop star, and his slick ultra-produced songs are usually marketed with videos that end in a romantic twist. Here is Un Siglo Sin Ti, and a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

NYT: "The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real."

Sherman Oaks, California

Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn't, but....

As of 7:45 p.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday, November 20, 2007, the most blogged story at The New York Times is Damien Cave and Alissa J. Rubin's potentially paradigm-shifting report about increased safety in Baghdad.

Yet the story is not the most e-mailed story. It's not in the Top Ten. It's Number 25.

Is it a story that many Times readers do not want to acknowledge?

Knife Tricks Synergy: "We're Being Infantalized By Our Government"

Sherman Oaks, California

I've posted about bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain and about the movement to ban foie gras. Now, ReasonTV has posted a video interview with Bourdain about foie gras bans.

Knife Tricks: Seconds, sometimes minutes, ahead of the curve!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

No More Room At The Inn

Sherman Oaks, California

When President Bush announced his plan to ease Thanksgiving air traffic congestion by opening military air space, my reaction was, "That's not going to do much good unless he can also make airports spontaneously sprout more runways."

James Fallows, who is a pilot as well as The Atlantic's man in China, explains why the President's plan won't do any good at all.

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Children With Sick Children

Sherman Oaks, California

Every few months, I read Bob Herbert’s column to remind myself why I don’t read Bob Herbert’s column.

Yesterday’s dispatch was typical of the genre, a tear-jerker about a teenage girl who died of cancer while her parents were financially ruined by medical costs which an insurance company refused to pay.

That’s why The New York Times gives Bob Herbert the most coveted real estate in the opinion industry: to preach one-sided 800-word homilies in which the virtuous poor are destroyed by corporate indifference.

Except that a not-particularly-close examination of Herbert’s column reveals that – as is often the case – the adults involved shoulder a lot of the blame for their financial woes.

In the summer of 2005, 14-year-old Texas cheerleader Brittney Hightower underwent surgery to have an ovarian cyst removed. The cysts recurred and became malignant, and Brittney underwent several cycles of illness and treatment. She died this past June.

While Brittney’s situation was tragic, the U.S. health care system – the target of Herbert’s attack – did nothing wrong. As far as can be determined from the column, Brittney received ample and competent health care, including four surgeries and chemotherapy. This is not one of those suspect horror stories about people being denied life-saving treatment.

Herbert’s point was that the family was among “the underinsured.” The Hightowers learned too late that their $3 million family health insurance policy had an annual cap of $75,000, with the insurance company refusing to pay any more costs for the rest of the year. The Hightowers were forced to pay out of pocket for some of Brittney’s expensive treatment, debts they have yet to repay.

Herbert insinuated that the family’s financial plight was the fault of the insurance company. True, the policy (as described) was dreadful.

But here’s the question Herbert did not ask: Why didn’t the parents make certain the family had enough health insurance?

When you have children, providing health insurance is one of the many responsibilities you assume. Yet, during the 14 years that Brittney was a healthy kid, her parents did not take the time to learn the details of their policies. They did not purchase supplemental insurance to cover the gaps of the employer-provided policy. They did not protect themselves from the possibility of an expensive illness.

Bob Herbert used Brittney’s tragedy to blame the insurance companies. I see two parents who certainly did not deserve to lose their child but who failed in their responsibility to be adults.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Big, Complicated Decisions

Sherman Oaks, California

The sad thing is that, in real life, this is precisely how a law firm would make such a momentous decision.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In A Free State

In A Free State by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad-U.K. 1971).

When John Lennon was asked later in life if Sergeant Pepper was a concept album, he admitted that it was not, that the album's seeming cohesiveness was the product of studio smoke and mirrors.

When Krzysztof Kieslowski released his Three Colors Trilogy named for the colors of the French flag, critics spent thousands of column inches explaining how each film represented liberte, egalite or fraternite. Kieslowski later admitted that, if financing had arrived from a different country, he would have made the same films with different titles.

I suspect the crafy Trinidadian V.S. Naipaul pulled the wool over the eyes of the literary establishment in much the same way when he published In A Free State. The book – which won the 1971 Booker Prize – is not a novel, it is five separate stories of dramatically differing lengths. The settings are Egypt, Africa, London and Washington, D.C., as well as a Greek ferry crossing the Mediterranean. Each of the stories is notionally about what people choose to do with freedom, Naipaul’s great theme.

But, although each of the stories is provocative, they have little to do with each other. Frothing adulation of concept albums was one of the sounds of the late 1960s, and I have a vision of Sir Vidia in his London home, Monty Python on the telly, flipping through a stack of unpublished stories while wondering which ones could be packaged together to con a large payment out of a publisher.

(The book’s opening chapter, “The Tramp at Piraeus,” was the subject of another con last year. The (London) Sunday Times mailed a typed manuscript of the story to 20 leading publishers and literary agents. None recognized it. All rejected it.)

The lengthiest story, “In a Free State,” is the most confounding. Bobby is an older Englishman, a not-quite-closeted homosexual who works for the government of an unnamed African country which obtained independence from Great Britain about a decade earlier. He has to drive from the capital to an expat enclave called “the Collectorate” and is obliged to bring Linda, the wife of a countryman who works for the state-run television station. In the movie in my head, I cast Jeremy Irons and Blythe Danner.

During the two-day drive, they admire the landscape, avoid a convoy of soldiers and stay overnight at a deserted hotel owned by a crusty settler. Mostly they talk. They gossip about their fellow expats, whisper about the brewing civil war between the president’s people and the king’s people and wonder if it’s time to move to South Africa, where whites are still in control. Bobby and Linda are not likeable but they are interesting, which is an achievement in a story that is essentially a 136-page conversation.

The climax feels tacked on. Bobby stops at an army checkpoint where he never should have stopped – had no reason to stop – and the situation deteriorates. One of the first things you learn as an expat is to never stop at checkpoints unless specifically waved down. Bobby is an old Africa hand and should know that, but, if he didn’t stop, the novella would have no ending.

The short story, “One out Of Many,” is more satisfying. Santosh is a servant in Bombay, sleeping on the sidewalk and generally happy with his existence. His employer is transferred to Washington, D.C., and takes Santosh along. The story is a charming fish out of water story, as clueless Santosh finds himself in the middle of hippie-era America.

“Tell Me Who To Kill” is not charming. It is the gripping story of two apparently West Indian brothers who move to London. The smarter brother studies, while the other brother works menial jobs to pay for everything. Resentment builds.

The title is masterful. The phrase “free state” has meanings in politics, African history, physics and social science. One tribe uses its freedom from colonialism to massacre a different tribe. Santosh uses his freedom to fashion a better life while dimly comprehending his new country. Bobby and Linda choose expat lives where the locals view them as privileged outsiders and their colleagues back home view them as mediocrities who couldn’t succeed in London.

But the stroke was probably Naipaul’s idea of collecting five different stories about travelers and convincing people that they formed a novel. Next thing you know, some band might cobble together a series of singles and claim that it's a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Air Force One's Bedroom

Sherman Oaks, California

Pictures of the President's office in Air Force One are a dime a dozen. Here's President Bush meeting with Tony Blair, Senator John Isakson (R-GA) and former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

But the above AP photo, of former chief of staff Andrew Card talking with the President on September 11th, is the only photo I have seen of Air Force One's private living quarters, called the Executive Suite. My guess is that the square on the bulkhead wall is a recessed television screen.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good Reading Roundup

Sherman Oaks, California

-- An Igbo man living in Great Britain lists 19 reasons why he and his countrymen "marry from home," that is, return to Nigeria to seek wives rather than marry Westernized Igbo women. (Igbo bridal party pictured.)

-- Paul Graham's 2003 essay on Why Nerds Are Unpopular attempts to answer the question, "If high school nerds are so smart, why don't they use their big brains to become popular?"

-- The Washington Post details the poor conditions faced by Muslims in India, talk of the "world's largest democracy" notwithstanding. "Forty-eight percent of Muslims older than 46 can't read or write," Asra Q. Nomani reports.

-- Winston Wu's web site Happier Abroad does not puncture the stereotype that many Western expat men were losers back home, it embraces the notion and encourages underappreciated men to move abroad. "For the past few years, rather than live the typical American life of stress and isolation, I've traveled to fascinating sites, experienced exotic refined cultures, and made love and bonded with many gorgeous attractive women, with little money too!" Wu says, sounding like he cribbed his lines from a Tommy Vu infomercial. "I am LIVING PROOF that one can completely turn their life around by going abroad when things are futile, hopeless, and dead end in America." Good to know.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Make Your Travel Dollars Worth A Fortune

Make Your Travel Dollars Worth A Fortune: The Contrarian Traveler’s Guide To Getting More For Less by Tim Leffel (Travelers’ Tales 2006).

To travel well, follow the Golden Rule: Do the opposite of what the people with the gold do.

International travel can be one of the most expensive undertakings of your year. Or, if done right, it can be so cost-effective you wonder why you don’t travel abroad more often.

As Tim Leffel explains in Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, the travel industry is akin to any other industry in that price is determined by demand, not necessarily quality. So, if you’re in search of Caribbean beaches, the Dominican Republic can offer the same sand as Anguilla for a fraction of the cost. (Leffel notes that the most expensive islands are those with the longest histories of tourism.)

Snobs need not apply. Leffel’s strategy of “contrarian travel” is based on avoiding the glitzy hot spots that are being puffed in the shiny magazines. The buzz probably comes from a sizeable marketing budget which has to be recouped through higher prices.

The author has lots of tips. A house rental can drop by half if there’s no water view. The highest weekday hotel rates are in the central business district, so pick a hotel (perhaps on Priceline or Hotwire) a few stops down the metro line. Eighty percent of travelers to the Czech Republic spend every night in Prague (which has become expensive) and never see the rest of the country (which has not).

Time shifting can also save you hundreds of Euros or pesos a day. Europe in the fall is lovely and, as an added bonus, lacks the tourists and backpackers of summer. Hurricane season may seem a strange time to visit the Caribbean, but the southern-most islands are rarely hit by the storms. Anyplace that’s cold tends to be cheap – even the ritzy ski resorts are discounted during the weeks when the kids are still in school -- although the author recognizes that Quebec City in January is not for everyone.

Ultimately, “contrarian travel” is not so much a set of practices as a new attitude. Americans are conditioned to think of travel in terms of pre-planned jaunts to luxury hotels in a handful of “safe” destinations. Leffel argues that the opposite is the way to go: free-form journeys to places most people don’t think to go, at times when everybody else is paying through the nose to visit “the place to be.”

Ultimately, Leffel argues, travelers who internalize a contrarian attitude soon find that travel becomes a larger part of their life. “It’s as fundamental to their life as the car and the retirement account," Leffel writes. "They have made travel, and the education and renewal that come with it, a priority. It is not an escape from what they are and what they do in their ‘normal life.’ It is their normal life. They may not have the biggest house on the block or the latest luxury vehicle, but they are rich in experience. They have what most overworked people cannot afford: real leisure time.”

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Speaking of Doing Business . . . .

Sherman Oaks, California

The Thais aren't going to let a simple obstacle like a train interfere with commerce.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Breaking: It's Better To Do Business in Britain Than Burundi

Sherman Oaks, California

Reason magazine has published my review of a World Bank statistical report. It's more interesting than it sounds, I hope.

UPDATE: Thanks to L.A. Observed for its Thursday morning item about the article (last link).

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Master of Go

The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata (Japan 1951).

The old, traditional master versus the young, unorthodox challenger -- it’s one of the oldest stories in the world, susceptible to innumerable variations. The toast of Broadway last season was the play Frost/Nixon, in which a callow young talk show host tried to coax damning admissions from a battle-hardened political warrior. We’ve seen the story hundreds of times and never grow tired of it.

The Master of Go sets the story in Japan, 1938. Shusai is the Master, the highest-ranking player of go, a Japanese board game geometrically more complicated than chess. The Master was raised in an authoritarian tradition in which the requests of elders were indulged. His play is decisive, his manner somewhat imperious.

His challenger, Otake, is as imperious as a Ben Stiller character. Otake is a bundle of nerves and gastrointestinal disorder. He takes forever to decide his next move. He plays at the grandmaster level, but no one would ever call him a Master.

“A game takes on its own shading,” one of the judges comments. “There’s something very cheerless about Otake’s. Something dark. Bright and dark have nothing to do with winning and losing. I’m not saying that Otake’s game is any the worse for it.”

The book is narrated by a journalist covering the game for a Tokyo newspaper. Consequently, the story is told in the lean, staccato style of newsprint.

“Even for a match sponsored by a newspaper the ceremonies were elaborate, without equal in the years since,” the narrator writes in the first chapter. “The match began in Tokyo on June 26, 1938, at the Koyokan Restaurant in Shiba Park, and ended on December 4, in Ito, at the Dankoen Inn. A single game took almost half a year. There were fourteen sessions. My report was serialized in sixty-four installments. There was, to be sure, a three-month recess, from mid-August to mid-November, because the Master fell seriously ill. It was a critical illness which added much to the pathos. One may say that in the end the match took the Master’s life. He never quite recovered, and in upwards of a year he was dead.”

The underlying events are true but lightly fictionalized, as they are in Frost/Nixon. The match took place more or less as described (see picture), and the author, Yasunari Kawabata, was the reporter assigned to the story. But Kawabata required thirteen years to write the short book, and those thirteen years were 1938 to 1951, and that’s all you need to know to discern that the book isn’t actually about two people playing a board game – these stories never are.

In a memorable sequence near the middle of the book, the reporter takes the train home, and an American go aficionado asks him for a game.

“He had the forms down well enough,” Kawabata writes, “but he had a way of playing thoughtlessly, without really putting himself into the game. Losing did not seem to bother him in the least. He went happily through game after game, as if to say that it was silly to take a mere game seriously. He lined his forces up after patterns he had been taught, and his opening plays were excellent; but he had no will to fight. If I pushed him back a little or made a surprise move, he quietly collapsed.”

Kawabata’s critique of the United States could be disregarded as the grumblings of a writer who had experienced military defeat and occupation at American hands. But Kawabata’s words become prescient when applied to the U.S. interventions in Southeast Asia and Iraq and to the Powell Doctrine’s belief that all applications of U.S. military force must succeed rapidly or else lose the support of an impatient electorate.

The graceless challenger wins the go match, wins the war, becomes the most powerful nation on earth. The old Master, unable to break from tradition, loses the match, loses the war and – except for one short blast in the late 1980s – falls into the role of a respected but irrelevant curio.

We’ve heard this story before, we’ll hear it again, and, during our lifetimes, we’ll play it out over and over. The question is whether we’re the Master or the challenger.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Knife Tricks Recommends: Martian Child

Sherman Oaks, California

Looking for a family movie to see with the kids and their grandparents? Lucky for you, Martian Child opens Friday.

Martian Child is produced by Friend of the Knife Corey Sienega, whose previous film, Miss Potter, was reviewed on this blog by Franklin The Cat. Like all of Corey's films, Martian Child has an exceptional cast, this time featuring John Cusack, his sister Joan, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Anjelica Huston, Richard Schiff and a surprise appearance by someone you haven't seen since WKRP In Cincinnati. I'm guessing Corey convinced everyone to work for scale plus ten, which is why The Hollywood Reporter recently named her one of Hollywood's 25 most powerful Latinas.

So, if you're looking for a well-crafted family film this weekend, Martian Child is the one to see.

And the original novel is by the guy who wrote "The Trouble With Tribbles." How cool is that?

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YouTube Rocks

Sherman Oaks, California

I was wondering if YouTube had a copy of my favorite childhood commercial. It does.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Sherman Oaks, California

You'd think a guy accused of being a leering, bug-eyed sex addict would select a different photograph to top his official web page.