Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Thoughtoids

It recently occurred to me that at my wedding there will most likely be toasts. You know, those things where people start by telling true stories that make you look bad, and end by telling lies that make you look good.

This will probably be my last post for a week or so, at very least. I'll be hanging out with my fiancee, taking care of wedding stuff for the next week. I will probably be nowhere near the internet that entire time.

I also need to write a paper in the next week. Naturally, my perpetually broken laptop is broken. Hopefully it can pull its head out of its USB port for a week and I can get the paper finished.

For all those guys out there, searching for the perfect woman, I have this advice to share: Give up, I already found her.

And last but not least, it's time to point out that I've got another semester in the books. Finals are done (there's still the matter of that paper, but we'll keep that on the DL). I'm almost completely packed up. My plane leaves in 6 hours. The year is over, and I'm headed home.

It's kind of a sad feeling, knowing you'll never be back. I won't ever have the same roommate (or a roommate other than my wife for that matter). I'll never teach highschool street law again. There will never be another day when I'm a second year law student. I'll never live in the same apartment.

And these sorts of things can hit pretty hard. Part of me is really sad. So I'm gonna throw out some goodbyes, to properly say goodbye to my second year of law school:

First, goodbye to my roommate. Thanks for a good year. Sorry I was so loud and messy.
Goodbye to my street law class. Keep on rollin'.
Goodbye lawschool friends. You put in a lot of work and it paid off with lucrative and influential summer positions at the most powerful law firms. Except for you Mike - have fun digging ditches!
Goodbye to 2L year. If I ever see so much school work again, I'll puke.
Goodbye crappy underling law journal position. Hello crappy underling-one-rung-higher position.
Goodbye first graduate level philosophy class. Feel free to visit. What's that? Next week? A paper? Sure!
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Goodbye piles of rejection letters. I'm sure we'll see each other again soon.
Goodbye DC. I'll be back when you start recycling and get good produce. Or the fall, whichever is sooner.
And finally, goodbye to 300 Massachusetts Ave., NW Apt. 726. I'll always think of you as my apartment with crappy elevators and a freakin' pigeon in the wall!

Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I Heart Apostrophes

I don't think there are too many people who would argue that language isn't a good thing. But what happens when that language is so obnoxious that it makes you want to cram a screwdriver into your ear? Like French? There's a little of the Marquis De Sade in all of the Frenchies - there must be if they keep speaking that language. In fact, I would choose self-flagellation over a conversation in French.

If language becomes burdensome or irritating, then we've gone too far. Language is supposed to be a tool, like a hammer, or a backhoe. Language shouldn't annoy and confine us. If I wanted that then I'd climb into a coffin with Andy Dick. There's a delicate balance between being something useful and something cumbersome. And as annoying as the French language is (like a lawnmower over a cat, it sounds), there is linguistic tool that may be even worse:

Punctuation.

Punctuation is to linguistics what red-tape is to bureaucracy. Oh sure, there are rules that make sense, but there are also some pretty ridiculous mandates. I understand capitalizing the first word in the sentence, but why do we need to put the period on the inside of a quotation mark? I for one think the period looks better on the outside of the quotations marks. But the rule says you must place a period inside the quotation marks.

But why must I? What would happen if I didn't? I can picture some baffled old lady, calling to her husband, "Harold, Harold! Come quick! Look at what this boy did. He put the period after the quotation mark. I don't understand. Is he ending his sentence? The next word is capitalized, but I - I just don't know! Do you think it could be from one of those strange alphabets, with the dots on top of the letters? I'm so confused!".

Actually, more than anything, I think we should end the quotation with a period, but place the proper punctuation inside the quotation as well. At least when it's a sentence within a sentence, as in the above paragraph - the whole thought starts as "I can picture" and continues on to "I'm so confused!". Why not close that thought with a period? It seems appropriate to me.

But I don't want to get caught up in this one little punctuation debate. There are bigger fish to fry. Like commas!

Not really. The whole point I'm trying to make here is that punctuation is a tool. Or rather, punctuation is a workbench, full of tools, and each particular type of punctuation (capitalization, periods, quotation marks, heck, even tildes!) is just another tool on that bench. They're all appropriate for different things.

And naturally, they all have their perfect uses. If you want to pound in a nail, you don't use a rotary saw. If you want to cut a board, you don't use a hammer. If you want to measure something, you don't use a tape measure.

What? Are you sure? Really... Ok, sorry folks, I stand corrected. My editor tells me you do use a tape measure.

The point is, every tool has a perfect use. But lots of them are really versatile. You can use a hammer to pound nails. You can use it to pull nails. You can use it to smash tiny ants to smithereens. Who hasn't used a hammer to knock a hole in a wall? Or pry things apart? Or grind sleeping pills into cat food?

Punctuation can likewise be flexible. We all use quotation marks when someone is saying something. But we also use them when someone is "saying something". See? There's that flexibility. So why are we confined to rules of punctuation? The purpose of the rules is to help us use language clearly and effectively. But I can do that without following the rules. I am often criticized for my wide use of commas. But they help me time my writing just right, so that the reader can hear the voice in their head. I pay no heed to the rules, because I know what I want my writing to be.

That's not completely true - I do use the rules. All the time really. The rules help us be more efficient with our language. Punctuation helps us make sense of the words we use. And normally, I'm right in harmony with the rules. But I'm not really following them when I use them - I just happen to be in conformity. And when I break the rules - like I did in that last sentence by using a dash to separate a thought, without closing that thought with another dash - I do so in a way that works. I add efficiency to the system.

Universal rules are, by their nature, inflexible. By having rules we make our language rigid and limited. When people decide sentence by sentence how they should use punctuation, our language takes on greater flexibility. And for those who use punctuation effectively and efficiently, I've got no problem deferring to their individual choices.

But when people don't follow the rules and don't use their language effectively, well, then that's even worse than rigidly applying the rules. N U All no wut I M talkin Bout. That instant-messenger, abbreviated, no-rules, non-sensible, net-speak crap that passes for writing in certain circles. It's like the punctuation equivalent of French. The meaning might come across, but prolonged exposure increases the risk of a self-inflicted bullet wound.

The whole point of writing is to convey your message, not make your reader guestimate as to your point. And the rules have it largely right; they're a great guide for getting your message across. But every once in a while, you need an extra comma, or one less dash. So if you need to, go ahead, break the rules. I won't tell, I promise. But breaking the rules only works if you improve the language, so if you do it, you'd better be able to explain your reasons. Because if you can't, then you're no better than the Frenchies.

Alright, I'm out. L8R.

They love my body odor and my bad toupee
They love my stripey shirt and my stupid beret

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I Want To Help You George Washington

It's official: I'm a nerd. Last night I had a dream about the First Amendment. I was approached by the man who was representing the religious groups from the Free Exercise issue, just days before the Supreme Court case which would decide the case. He presented a series of persuasive arguments, to which I played the role of devil's advocate. His arguments were solid, and he was confident that he would win the case.

I then went to a museum where I started a conversation with a stranger, who, it turned out, happened to be the lawyer representing the opposition in the same case. He also presented his arguments to me, and I revised my role as devil's advocate. Again, the arguments were strong and he was extremely confident that the result would be in his favor.

In my conversation with the second man I recognized a solid ground for compromise, which I'm sure in reality was completely content-less, but it fit precisely in the strange logic of dreams.* I had not revealed my earlier conversation to the second man, but had worked out a plan in which I could suggest the compromise to both and then arrange a meeting so that they could go into the Court as a unified force, solving, once and for all, any conflict between Free Exercise of Religion and legitimate governmental policies.

Of course, the Supreme Court never had the good fortune of hearing my idea because just as I was about to introduce the two men to each other I was woken by both a ringing phone and blaring alarm clock (which actually both went off simultaneously).

And I was really really really sad that I didn't get to witness their conversation.

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me the title reference. Double bonus to anyone who gets the song.


*The phrase "strange logic of dreams" is one of my favorite. I don't know that it is copyrightable, but if it is, I claim it. (I don't know of anywhere outside my body of work that it has ever appeared). All the same, use it freely.

You are the best you can

Slashing Prices On Sit-Ups and Jogging - Practically Free Exercise!

This post is dedicated to Zhubin. Normally I wouldn't break from my oh-so-strenuous finals study schedule to jot a quick post, but he like, demanded it, so I'm fulfilling my obligation.

On the frontiers of the First Amendment there is a giant storm brewing. Pharmacists in several states have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control, citing religious opposition. Some of the refusals have involved types of birth control which are arguably abortificiants, some have not. Regardless of the type of birth control, the issue centers on whether the Free Exercise clause allows an individual to refuse a legal service.

There are other ways of framing the issue, of course, and a series of variations on the main theme. Related questions would focus on the role of the government in requiring pharmacists to provide service. In fact, in Illinois such a law has already been passed. Is this Constitutional? That's a good question. Lawsuits are proceeding.

I for one would like to think that the Free Exercise clause trumps in this case. It seems to me that the freedom to practice religion trumps almost every single other right. It was, after all, the reason most people emigrated to this country. More essentially though, if the government can forcibly interfere with religious practice, we've crossed into a very dangerous realm. And yet, after a very cursory review of the case law (in a discussion with my roommate who is currently taking Constitutional Law II), the only pertinent language we could find said that so long as the governmental regulation was general and did not target the religious group, then the regulation was legitimate and any interference with the practice of religion was a tragic consequence that the individual had to deal with. It came up in a case where a religious ceremony involving the use of peyote led to a positive drug test, and a subsequent firing and denial of unemployment rights. And Scalia wrote the opinion. So it might not look so good for Free Exercise of Religion.

But if this really is the case, (and again, this was a cursory review, and I could easily be wrong (hopefully next year I can take a religion and law class and learn precisely about this sort of thing)), then this should really get some blood boiling. Because most government regulations are generally applicable. Just imagine the government requiring an Atheist to say the pledge. Or requiring Catholics to hire female priests. Or prohibiting religious jewelry in schools. These might be the next step - and that's a scary proposition.

But something doesn't quite sit right here, because it has already been resolved that Atheists don't have to say the pledge, so there must be something else going on in the case my roommate found. Does anyone know any more about this? What is the legal standard here? Is it an open question?

Regardless of the settled law, this is a really interesting problem. On the one hand, individuals shouldn't be denied medical treatment because of the religious beliefs of others (or probably more accurately they shouldn't be inconvenienced). On the other, free exercise of religion is one of our most treasured rights. I obviously come down strongly on the side of free exercise. But both sides have points in their favor. I'm interested in discussing this more, in exploring the nuances of the problem. It's a fun topic, but with very real implications for the world we live in. Let's hope Free Exercise emerges the victor.

So there you have it folks. Keep this topic on your radar screen. It's going to be a big battle. And a fun ride.

Some may have more cash than you
Others take a different view

Monday, May 02, 2005

Thoughtoids

It's really weird to hear the exact same jingle advertising two different companies. There is a jeweler in the D.C. area - Shaw's Jewelers - who uses the shames song as a jeweler in MN - Gordon Jewelers. I think those are the two jewelers. Anyways, the phenomena is really quite intriguing. Did one steal the ad from the other? Do the two different regional chains form a secret national chain? Who else is involved in this conspiracy? What can you tell me about Bronze Mango? Did two independent jewelers both buy advertising services from a lazy marketing firm? Etc.

Finals are here. Don't expect posts. They might pop up here and there, but until this week is over, no promises. And then, once the week is over, I should have a little more time. Not much though, because I'm getting married in less than 4 weeks, and all that crud. Er, I mean, and all that really exciting, amazing, awe-inspiring stuff. Actually, I am soooo excited for this wedding. And even more excited for the marriage. I am so ridiculously lucky to have found Laura. :-)

The Twins finally have a promising stadium situation. Nothing is locked up yet, but it looks like they'll be able to get a new ballpark, in a great location, by 2009. The designs show that this will be a gorgeous park. It's designed by the same people who designed Baltimore's park, and that is the perfect place to watch a game. The Twins' field will have a terrific location, with the awesome Minneapolis skyline as a backdrop. It will be open air, though the state may get around to approving a retractable roof for the park. If they do, the roof will pull completely off of the field, maintaining the perfect open-air feel. This will be a great addition to a city on the rise.

Which brings me to my next point - I recently read an article about the amazing rebirth of Minneapolis as a community for the arts. Even in the recent recession they've been able to finance several high-profile building projects, including the new Guthrie, the new library, and the Walker addition. All of these are considered architectural treasures, and the city is trying to raise its profile around the nation. It looks like Minneapolis will be a great place to be for a while.

D.C. is cool too.

Finally, I recently had the very cool experience of writing a paper, the thesis of which was, essentially, "I don't think my professor is right, and here's a brand new theory to prove my point." Given that my professor is one of the reigning experts on Natural Law (the topic of the course), and that my paper was a direct response to a paper he wrote, this was quite an intimidating experience. For our final class we met for lunch (and beers), which he paid for. It was at this lunch that I had to present the initial version of my paper, and we had quite the rousing discussion. He even went off the record to tell me points he would never make in an academic paper, but he did so largely because I had cornered him with my paper. He further admitted that my theory accounted for some things in a way that his theory could not. Oh yes, he looked with covetous eyes at my theory. And then he encouraged me to continue to push on these issues, because they weren't completely resolved, and even though he was convinced by one theory, mine certainly had its own strengths. This was the coolest academic experience of my life. Yay-rah!

And now, back to those impending finals. Doom! DOOM! DOOOOOM! Crud.

If I'm not under pressure then I sleep too long