Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Blog etiquette

I've been blogging for well over a year now, and I've learned a few things about proper etiquette in the blogging world. Recently, a blog was started and subsequently removed that reflected poorly on U of M law students and particularly U of M law school's collegiate atmosphere.

For those of you who might be newer to blogging and are contemplating creating a blog as a prank, because you dislike someone, or because you find something someone did funny - here are a few tips:

1) NEVER EVER use someone else's name in a negative light without their permission. As is repeated as nauseum, employers frequently employ search engines to look up potential employees. Negative information about individuals can negatively impact their future careers - and everyone does stupid things and makes mistakes sometimes.

2) If you're going to write about someone else without their permission, change names and all other identifying information. Sure, some people will know who you're refering to, but at least potential employers probably won't. Best case scenario - don't write negatively about people you know personally unless you're a high school emo dork. And although law school is a lot like high school, the stakes are much higher.

3) Law students should be particularly sensitive to the potential consequences of their actions. Even when writing your own blogs, censorship can be advisable in writing about your own actions. Have sensitivity to the concerns and future of other law students.

4) If you have concerns about or issues with someone, approach them first. Don't blog anonymously about them, don't talk to deans or other persons of authority unless you feel it is a life or death situation - instead, contemplate addressing the person directly. Most people will listen.

I understand that to many people law school is stressful. Just don't forget that we're supposed to be grownups now. And in a couple of years, many of us will have highly responsible jobs and will be making more money than our parents. Behave accordingly.

State of the Union - how I hate thee!

Tonight is Tuesday night. Normally, this means that from 9 to 10 pm, I get to watch one of the best shows on TV - House. Tonight, however, I'm stuck with the State of the Union address.

When I lived in DC, I used to watch the State of the Union address - it was usually discussed briefly in classes the next day. But I quickly learned that the State of the Union is pointless - it's empty posturing by the President addressed to those unfortunate Americans who don't have cable and can't watch something else.

This is why this year I will NOT be watching the State of the Union. If I had the time to turn it into a drinking game with my friends, I would. Unfortunately I have too much work, too many classes and not enough leisure time to get wasted tonight. So instead, I'll watch something previously taped off my DVR and pretend that the State of the Union is not in fact occurring.

(Of course, what will probably happen is that I will have a sudden anxiety attack that I'm missing something monumental, like Bush apologizing for the Iraq war and declaring a unilateral withdrawal of troops, so I'll end up half-watching it anyway...I'm a dork that way.)

Friday, January 27, 2006

I am a Jeffersonian

My Constitutional law class is giving me a handle on early American history. And I have realized that I am a Jeffersonian through and through.

Jefferson didn't believe that the Constitution should be immutable - in fact, he felt that it should be rewritten every generation. Our textbook has a couple of very powerful quotes on the topic from Jefferson.

Jefferson wrote in a letter to Samuel Kercheval in 1816 that "some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present. Let us not weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs....The dead have no rights."

Furthermore, in a letter to Madison, Jefferson indicated that even turbulence was "productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to public affairs. I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing."

This is exactly my viewpoint on the Constitution - I cannot abide by the quasi-religious veneration that it receives from the general American population and the blind veneration for the Framers of the Consitution that Americans are wont to have. To me, it is amazing that even in Jefferson's time, these same issues were present in American political life. And, given our deep-rooted veneration of the Constitution and consequent hesistance to criticize it, it is nice that I can point to one of the equally venerated personages of that age to support my views on the Constitution.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Reading Room

I've written about the Reading Room before, comparing it to Hogwarts.

Today, as I sit in the Reading Room reading for my international trade law class, I have to wonder whether a single room is a good enough reason to choose a law school. This place is so breathtakingly beautiful, something of which I'm reminded when I see groups of students on tours being led through here. Invariably, parents and students alike point to the ceiling, to the light fixtures, to the beautiful wood on the walls and the stone above them. Invariably, there is a look of awe, of entering a sacrosanct space of learning.

If I knew very little about Michigan law school, I might be tempted to choose it because of the Reading Room. I'm sure there are other law schools that are as beautiful as Michigan's, but I find it hard to imagine that there is another reading room so stunning. The Reading Room alone may be well worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

And the quote of the day is...

From my International Trade Law class readings - from an article titled "Bananas: Differentiating Tariffs According to Social, Environmental and/or Economic Criteria" written on behalf of EUROBAN (European Banana Action Network) by Liz Parker and James Harrison. European Banana Action Network. That's pretty funny in and of itself. But it only gets better:

"Whilst all bananas may be yellow and bendy, the physical characteristics of a product is only one of the criteria specified by past GATT panels."


Bananas are bendy?

Have these authors ever eaten a banana?

Or for that matter stroked a banana?

Monday, January 23, 2006

No spring break (or masochistic inflictions of overwork)

I spent my winter break in Michigan, working part of the time on a brief for the moot court I am doing. I told myself that it was fine that I didn't go out of state - that spring break would find me going somewhere. I made tentative plans to go to New York and DC to visit friends. I was excited - a cheap, fun spring break.

And then my paper proposal for the ASN conference (the same one I presented at last April) was accepted. The conference is in mid-March, the paper must be sent in March 9, and while I have a proposal and a topic, I haven't done any research, or written a single word. And with my 16 credits and moot court and other extra-curriculars, I don't have time to do it - except over spring break.

So now I'm planning for a great summer vacation once I get done working (assuming I find a job, that is). The month of August will be mine. I will vacation - and I will go somewhere exotic. Right now I'm toying with spending some time on a nice little Greek island, then going to Albania and making my way to Hungary in time to meet my friends who will hopefully be visiting at the end of the summer.

Of course, knowing me, the plans will change 37 times before I finalize them, and instead of Greece and Albania I'll find myself in Finland and Estonia, or Portugal and Spain, or Ireland and Wales, or Iceland. Who knows.

All I know is that wherever I go on vacation, it'll be great, it'll be overseas, and most importantly it'll NOT be Michigan.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Quote to remember

I occasionally post famous quotes when I stumble across them and find them particularly meaningful. This one is from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Where do we go from here" speech, given in 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia:

"Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Fortune cookies...

I just ate my fortune cookie from my Chinese delivery from yesterday.

This particular fortune said:

"To be a man means constant revision like correcting a writing."

And all I could think of was that it was missing the other half:

"To be a woman means no revision because she is born perfect."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

My life as a Leif groupie


If there is such a thing as a classical music groupie, I am one. It was in 1997, I believe, that I first saw Leif Ove Andsnes performing. It was at the height of the movie Shine's popularity, and he was performing Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I had never heard of him. It was a cold, icy Detroit night, and I went with one of my high school classmates. We had seats in the nosebleed section, $10 tickets. The hall was packed. The performance was electric. Driving home, the roads were coated with black ice and we drove down back roads, unable to stop at lights or stop signs because of the ice. I will never forget that night.

The next year he returned to play one of the Prokofiev piano concertos (I don't remember which). I saw him perform that twice. I went backstage to get his autograph.

I believe it was later that year, in 1998 spring perhaps, that he was awarded the Gilmore Artist Award in Kalamazoo and performed a recital there. My parents and I drove all the way out to Kalamazoo, about three hours away from home, for the recital. I again went backstage to get his autograph.

I avidly collected his recordings, and even selected my own piano repertoire based on some of the pieces he had recorded - a Grieg piano sonata, and Nielsen's Chaconne come to mind.

So I was understandably thrilled when I discovered that my move to New York in January 2005 coincided with Leif Ove Andsnes' "Perspectives" series at Carnegie Hall. Out of the seven concerts he performed, I attended five (the first was in October before I was in New York, and I was unable to attend one of the chamber concerts). Every concert was sublime - whether it was
avant-garde chamber music, a breathtaking recital (including a divine performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition), a violin-piano concert (which inspired me to select Grieg's violin-piano sonata in c minor to do with my chamber partner), or Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.

Tonight, I continued my hobby as a Leif groupie, seeing him perform with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. His Mozart piano concertos were pearly, delicate and perfect. I expected no less.

Leif Ove Andsnes is the greatest living pianist. He is not only technically perfect, but also stylistically versatile, with an understanding of chamber music that few piano virtuosos possess. His dedication to Scandinavian and modern music shows his commitment to the future of classical music. And he's fabulously good looking. Which certainly doesn't hurt if you're going to be a groupie and attend concert after concert. It's nice to have something pretty to look at while you're listening to perfectly interpreted and performed pieces.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wascally Wabbits

So tonight I made a wascally wabbit into dinner. It was a wonderful bunny, quartered, gorgeously rabbit-like and, of course, wascally.

I made some sort of variant of a hasenpfeffer. It tastes pretty damn good. But I have no idea what a hasenpfeffer is supposed to taste like. Except like a Hase mit Pfeffer. It's a wabbit. And it's peppery. So, by definition, that should be a hasenpfeffer.

Bunny is delicate. It tastes like chicken. But it doesn't smell like chicken when raw. It's tasty, moist, falling off the bone, and stewed with red wine.

My mother asked me if I used carrots.

I will NEVER use carrots to cook Bugs Bunny. I adore eating Bugs Bunny - but that wascally wabbit will be eaten carrotless, because otherwise...that's just wrong.

My wabbit is glorious.

*gnaws on bunny leg*

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Revival of Che

It seems like almost every article concerning Latin America recently mentions Che. Leaders like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales have been citing him as one of their heroes. Posters of Che are present at anti-American and pro-socialist demonstrations. And journalists are taking note.

How much of this has to do with the popularization of Che through the movie Motorcycle diaries and the fact that in 2007 it will be the 40th anniversary of Che's death? And how much of this has to do with the fact that the US is still deeply frightened of Che's legacy?

Since the release of Motorcycle Diaries, Che has been everywhere. IMDB lists a movie about Che's life being made with Benicio Del Toro as Che, directed by Steven Soderbergh.

The US had Che assassinated because they were afraid of his revolutionary rhetoric and tactics. The Soviet Union deeply disliked Che because he openly criticized Soviet policies. By alienating to two world superpowers, Che forged the path of Latin American socialism - a unique variant that was systematically suppressed by the US.

As I've mentioned before in this blog, the renewed rise of Latin American socialism is in part due to US involvement in the Middle East. And with that renewed rise comes a vocal homage by the new Latin American socialist leaders to their hero and the hero of Latin American independence from the US - Che.

It amazes me that the spectre of Che can still arouse such concern in the US. The threat of global Communism is long gone - North Korea isn't about to gather followers to its Stalinist policies of oppression and China is Communist in bureaucracy and repression only.

The mark of greatness is that you are remembered long after your death, and while to the youth of the United States, Che is a picture on T-shirts and posters, to many young Latin Americans, he represents the continuing struggle of Latin America to free itself from the yoke of US oppression.

I know that I've written about this topic before - and I hate to be repetitious - but I don't ever remember Che being in the news as much as he is these days. Make of that what you will.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Purring like walruses?

Sometimes a line from a movie strikes you, sticks with you, makes you think, or just makes you giggle like a schoolgirl.

From Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story:

"Shave a man's back for him and he'll purr like a walrus."

Enough said.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Movie night - the brilliance of Syriana

Yesterday I finally made it to the movies for the first time since seeing Serenity, and saw both Harry Potter and Syriana. Harry Potter was as I expected - good, but nothing to really make me sit back and take stock of my life.

Syriana on the other hand was amazing.

It was like someone took all of my favorite things and made a movie with them - CIA involvement, stuff getting blown up, an important message about terrorism and its causes, and first and foremost, oil. Right at the beginning of the movie there is talk of Kazakh gas and oil field. I fell in love with the movie right then and there.

Of course, I find it hard to believe that this movie was actually made. It seems like a very dry topic - and although I was gleefully rubbing my hands and bouncing in my seat as strands of oil dealings came together, I wondered who else might be so into the subject that they'd find it such a fascinating movie. I mean, who else feels an upswelling of emotions and a desire to be involved in the industry when seeing an oil facility onscreen? I swear, this movie was made specifically for me.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the technique employed to distance the viewer from any emotional scene - emotion was strongly underplayed, the focus being on a global view of how all of the oil and gas issues are interconnected.

I highly recommend Syriana - it's anti-American in some ways, but I found myself being able to understand the position of the US oil industries as potrayed in the movie. Maybe I just view things in a very pragmatic sense, but I didn't feel that it was an entirely one-sided portrayal of the oil industry, and felt that it was quite easy to sympathize with US interests. Such balanced movies are rarely seen, and 'documentary' makers such as Michael Moore could learn from the restrained touch employed in this fictional-yet-more-truthful-than-many-documentaries movie.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Echoes of Germinal, How Green Was My Valley

I cannot read stories about trapped miners without thinking of Emile Zola's Germinal and the movie How Green Was My Valley. It always shocks me that miners and mining accidents of this magnitude continue to exist in the Western world, since in my mind such deaths are indelibly associated with the Industrial Revolution and primitive technologies. I understand that the pay is good, and that the number of such accidents is small - I assume it is much safer to be a miner in the United States than to be a soldier these days. Still, shouldn't we be using robot technology at this point?

I can only imagine the anguish that the families went through as they waited, knowing that carbon monoxide was taking up what little oxygen was in the shafts, hoping against all hope that their loved ones were still alive - getting that hope handed to them and then suddenly yanked away leading to an outburst of raw anger. I also find myself trying to imagine what it was like for those miners - and the thought of the Kursk disaster comes to mind. The feeling of being trapped. Light running out. Air running out.

These stories profoundly bother me. They belong to a bygone era. And if faced with the choice of being a miner or a soldier in Iraq, I'd rather take my chances and die in the open.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year's, Ukraine - you should have looked at Georgia

Apparently the near-sightedness of people regarding Russian energy goals and influence extends to Ukrainian leadership. They thought Russia was bluffing when it said that unless Ukraine accepted a deal Gazprom would shut off gas to Ukraine. Surprise surprise, the deadline came and went and Gazprom started reducing pressure in the pipeline, threatening not only Ukraine but all of Western Europe.

Already, the tension is rising - with Gazprom accusing Ukraine of unauthorized tapping off the pipeline. Which would mean that the amount of gas reaching Europe is going to be insufficient.

Again, however, I am somewhat surprised that anyone would think Russian energy companies bluff. Take a couple of examples.

In 2002, in 2002, Transneft slowly began cutting off shipments of oil to the Ventspils terminal in Latvia, a port owned and operated by the Latvian company, Ventspils Nafta and rerouting oil to the Russian port of Primorsk. Russia, unhappy with the Baltic countries' independent path, maneuvered one of the most important and financially significant Latvian companies into a position where it suffered a 98% slump in profits in 2003. Although Ventspils Nafta rebounded, Russia showed Latvia through control over energy who's boss.

Similar strong-arm tactics were used by Yukos vis-a-vis Mazeikiu Nafta, the Lithuanian oil refinery.

A more important parallel can be drawn between Ukraine and Belarus and Georgia and Armenia. Georgia had its Rose Revolution and has maintained a pro-Western, anti-Russian position. Armenia is friendly with Russia. Russia controls almost all of Armenia's energy sector, but has never threatened to shut things down. Georgia on the other hand...well, as I said, it's not just the media that's myopic. Ukraine should have looked towards Georgia to see what happens to those who oppose Russia.

In July 2004, growing tensions between Russia and Georgia over the pro-Moscow separatist region of Georgia, South Ossetia, led to the shutting off of Russian gas to Georgia by Gazprom (amazing how Gazprom crops up in this picture as well, isn't it). Georgia is entirely reliant on Russian energy and has struggled to pay its outstanding debts. Gazprom’s ostensible reason for the shut-down was unpaid back dues from Georgia, but it is clear that the Russian government’s tensions with Georgia prompted the actions.

Sound familiar?

Moral of the story (and pardon my French): Don't fuck with Russia. And if you're going to fuck with Russia, don't be surprised when you encounter problems with energy supplies. Also - Russia doesn't bluff when dealing with the former Soviet republics. It doesn't need to. It's much too powerful to have to resort to some half-ass poker technique.