Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Half the World Away

Hello. How busy am I?! Very. Very very. Somewhere along the way of this semester I got the crazy idea to work part-time to supplement the rapidly depleting student loan fund. Wow. Who thought that was a good idea? Oh, that's right. No one. In fact, the American Bar Association strongly discourages/forbids first-year law students to work more than 20 hours per week. Now I can see why.

Any semblance of a scrap of free time I had is now gone.

And just in time for finals!

I'm working Sat-Sun-Mon and then processing the onslaught of information and the piling-on stress of finals Tuesday through Saturday morning. I've previously reported that at law school orientation the stress was already palpable. Everyone was busily making their plans to study 24-7. Not I, I vowed. I would retain a weekend day off, at least one. I would keep my balance. One of the other 1Ls in a group I lunched with that August day agreed about taking a day of rest after six of labor. "If it's good enough for God, it's good enough for me," he said.

I had a pretty good Sunday thing going on for a while: I would get up, play the piano in the Student Center, stroll to Starbucks for hours of relaxation reading and sipping coffee, take a walk back to campus through the cute adjoining neighborhood, attend some cultural event or other, then write and catch up on correspondence throughout the evening. For financial reasons my "day of rest" has disappeared. I hadn't realized I was building a little artist's/thinking day into my week but then suddenly it was there. Now, just as suddenly, it's gone, and I miss it. I'm thinking God's student loan funds never ran out.

So here's the thing about that. Final exams. Yes, they are approaching rapidly, not so much like a train as like a big ol' rolling boulder and I'm Indiana Jones...or, alternatively, I'm on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland hoping the big boulder is just imagineered and my "jeep" will dip me out of the way in the nick of time and we'll all have a big laugh.

Somehow I'm not convinced that's how it's going to go down.

The grade in most of my classes depends entirely on the final exam. Coupled with that, there is a mandatory curve and the professors have to make the average not above a 3.1 GPA. So my grade depends partially on what I do, and partially on what the others do.

My Contracts professor gave an optional one-hour practice exam yesterday (our real exams in December will be three hours apiece). I didn't go, but I heard about 40 -50 of the 175+ students in that class did go. I also heard that it was hideous and difficult and maddening and that some people walked out halfway through, just giving up. Interesting.

When I put away the books for the night, I often unwind by watching a DVD, and of late I've resumed working my way through M*A*S*H, episode by episode. I started with Season One this summer. Right when I got back from Korea, one of my first acts was re-joining Netflix and filling my queue with all of the seasons in M*A*S*H in order. But life got so crazy from about August through now that I haven't really made it very far. That's all right. My Netflix queue waits quite patiently. Have I mentioned I love Netflix?

This past week I've been watching Season Two, Disc Two. It has some fantastic episodes, and they all resonate with me in really weird ways. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Right now, in fact: M*A*S*H may be about VietNam masquerading as Korea, but it's also quite Korea-like in the end.

I was struck by a few things watching this disc. For one thing, the way Alan Alda says "Korea." It's not like that useless, not-really-a-vowel-sound "er" we all say. He really makes it an "o" like in York. Core-ee-a. Watch some episodes from Seasons 1 or 2. You'll see what I mean.

I also gave a bunch of thought to his character, Hawkeye. The household where I grew up worshipped at the throne of M*A*S*H, daily if possible. We were taught certain things about it, too. One was that Hawkeye was great and all, but it was really a fantastic ensemble and we must remember that it shouldn't be all Alan Alda all the time, and that when the plot focused on Hawkeye's so-called womanizing, that that was kind of annoying and we should just tolerate such sub-plots while we waited patiently for the really clever stuff which took the form of group wit.

It's not that I now entirely disagree with my mom's main point--that it's not all about Hawkeye --but I find myself more OK with his story lines because he's the good one. He dates every beautiful nurse that comes through the 4077th, but he's also the one who should be! He's the one who's not married! Trapper, Frank Burns, and Henry Blake are all cheating on their wives, and that's evil. In fact, the last episode on this disc 2 was "Henry in Love" and I just have to say, kudos to Radar and to HAWKEYE for telling Henry he was being a damn fool to even consider throwing away his marriage for this beautiful 20-year-old thing that he had stumbled across in Tokyo. And yet, if I were Lorraine, I would want to know the truth and I wouldn't want my cheating husband back. That's the whole point, and, I might add, a point much discussed among us expats around the tables in our favorite foreigners' watering hole in Daegu, the Commune. So many people took the position of "single for a year" while on their tour of duty. That's so wrong. So so wrong. Of course, based on my observation I would say more of those people were U.S. Army than expat teachers. Not that the expat teachers occupied some higher moral ground, but I just think a far larger percentage of us were single -- we were there by choice and often as escapists. It was a minority of us that had a significant other back home ("significant" - ha ha ha) to whom we remained faithful.

Another episode on this disc was "Hot Lips and Empty Arms" where she is reminded by a letter from a friend that she has "married the Army" and perhaps forever given up the dream of the rich husband, nice house, picket fence, etc. This episode is great because she tells Frank she's sick of their relationship which will inevitably end with him going home and her being "just a smile on your face your wife won't understand." It's also notably funny when Frank tells her, "Well, Margaret, there'll always be another war." Best of all, Margaret gets just obliterated drunk and it's hilarious. I love that episode. I love Trapper and Hawkeye sobering her up. Good drunk times in Korea. Good friends.

And back to Hawkeye being a good person. You know, he is. I'm seriously starting to divide this world more and more every day into the cheaters and the non-cheaters. Trapper means well, too, of course. Many of you cheaters do. But I just want to scream at you, my cheater friends, "Try harder!" Anyway, I digress. This disc also had the episode where a wounded guy asks them to make sure and give him "the right color blood" (i.e. he's white and doesn't want a transfusion from a black person) and Hawkeye and Trapper and Klinger and Ginger teach him a lesson by dabbing some coloring on his skin while he sleeps in post-op so he wakes up and learns a lesson about life. But he totally learns it! I got tears in my eyes when he comes to thank them in the Swamp at the end and salutes Ginger! It totally reminded me of being in Korea and getting just outraged at racism I witnessed but realizing the best response was to creatively teach a better way.

And, let's not forget, this disc also did have its magnificent group wit moments, like the monthly staff meeting taken up entirely by Radar calling the roll and Hawkeye moving to end the war, and the poker game with Sidney et. al. in an all-star episode (John Ritter! Pat Morita! -- and hey, he died while I was in Korea, a year ago this week, in fact). Plus "Oh, now the dirty movie!" when they watch the film Henry's wife sent.

Brilliant. Pure brilliance. And so much of it resonates differently for me now that I've done time in Korea. I swear, they perfectly nail the sort of group-camraderie/randomness and simlutaneous boredom/mania of being an expat in a bizarre scene. With some kamsa hamnidas in there to boot.

And I've really got the whole American-expat-in-Korea thing on the brain this week -- as opposed to my usual any-sort-of-expat-in-Korea thing -- because it's Thanksgiving and last year over there I had such an epiphany about Thanksgiving and I randomly met my American friends amid all the Canadians and Brits just in the nick of time...you see, things can happen just in time. There's hope for me despite the boulder that is finals coming to flatten me.

I might not get to Season Two, Disc 3 until finals are over.

I have ten more days of classes. Ten! Five more Criminal Law classes, five more Contracts, three more Torts, three more Civil Procedure, and two more Legal Writing. That's it. (The numbers are weird because our last Tuesday is turned into a Friday. That's one of my favorite things about universities, how they turn days into other days. I'm rather fond of that. I wish I could just arbitrarily decide I'd had enough Tuesdays or whatever and declare them Fridays instead.)

"And when I leave this island I'll book myself into a soul asylum
'Cause I can feel the warning signs running around my mind...
So what do you say?
You can give me the dreams that are mine anyway
You're half the world away
Half the world away
Half the world away
I've been lost, I've been found, but I don't feel down..."
-- Oasis

Thursday, November 16, 2006

To litigate, to mediate, to procrastinate...we all rotate...

The time has come to begin reviewing for finals.

Actually, some would argue that that time came long ago. And since we are all arguers-in-training here at law school, they'd probably make a pretty good case. But I come down squarely on the side of procrastination in all things, so while I've had a studying-for-exams plan in my head all along, I'm only just now beginning to enact it.

Anyway. The point is, today I was looking back at some of the early chapters of my Torts book. Now, a tort is basically a wrong the law recognizes as grounds for a lawsuit, sometimes but not necessarily a crime, and not a breach of contract. These wrongs range from a punch in the face to medical malpractice. Lots and lots of negligence. There is a common perception that the U.S. in particular is out of control, that we are an overly litigious society and that people sue each other "too much" for "anything." The word "frivolous" is bandied about.

One thing I have learned this semester is that's not entirely true. Most people who say that are reacting to things they've heard in the popular media, rather than judging from their own experience. I would say it's a bit like reciting the "qualifications" of a political candidate based on what you learned from his/her opponent's attack ad. It's not exactly the big picture.

My Torts book notes that a lot of people say there are too many people bringing lawsuits these days trying to get "something for nothing." I can assure you that if there's "nothing" a case is never going to make it past the initial complaint document, much less get to a jury. It's more a matter of getting "something from which someone?" Who's to blame for this injury that occurred, if anyone -- that is the question. (Sorry, Hamlet.) Also interesting to note, available studies show individual litigation is not on the increase--there have always been lawsuits; we read cases from the 19th century all the time and much of our law is founded on English common law from centuries past. Corporate and business litigation has increased, though. So perhaps the "greed" lies there?

Of course one of the most famous cases of all is the McDonald's coffee spill, and it's a perfect example of people going off half-cocked. Do you know the facts of the case? But do you really--the actual facts? The scalding coffee spilled when the woman went to take the lid of. She got third degree burns; she had to have skin grafts and was "permanently disfigured." It turned out that McDonald's intentionally kept its coffee hot enough to cause third degree burns. Why? I speculate it's part of their cheaper-faster approach to doing mass business: of course they're not freshly brewing coffee more often than they need to, so some people are going to get served coffee at its hottest and that might be unreasonably hot.

Furthermore, everyone says "oh, that woman got millions of dollars." Well, actually she didn't. First, she asked McDonald's to pay her $11,000 in hopsital bills. Only after they refused that was there a lawsuit for damages. The jury awarded compensatory damages (yes, don't forget that average citizens on juries decide damages, not lawyers) of $200,000, but her award was reduced to $160,000 because she was considered partly at fault. In addition to compensatory damages, a jury can award punitive damages if it finds a defendant acted willfully, wantonly, or maliciously. In this case, they decided McDonald's recklessness fit the bill so they decided on punitive damages of $2.7 million. You know what that amout is? Two days' revenue for coffee sales. Just the coffee! In the popular media, it all gets lumped together, but punitive damages are distinct from the compensatory. Punitive damages are for deterrence. They're going to be based on McDonald's, not on the "price" of the injury of being scalded by coffee. And, the judge reduced that award, too, to $480,000!

You may or may not agree with the jury's decision, but we should at least have all the facts before we start talking about all "those people" who bring "frivolous" lawsuits.

The sort of underlying notion of tort law is that freedom from pain and suffering is an intangible asset in society. We all expect to go through our days without being assaulted, battered, injured, negligently put in harm's way, etc. When that doesn't happen, the torts system is in place to compensate for injuries.

I, for one, love Torts class! Much to my surprise, it became my favorite class this semester. Criminal Law is up there, too. Torts is just -- I don't know. There's something almost poetic about it. I feel that every lecture in there illuminates something for me, both regarding the cases in my text and about the world at large.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Weird Habits Meme!

So, I'm to list ten odd habits I have. All righty, then. This might prove difficult. Some days I think all my habits are a bit odd. But then when you actually try to think of them...

(And I'm going to post this on MySpace, too, but I had to do it here for those slackers who aren't cool enough to be on MySpace yet. Yeah. As if.)

1. One quirky habit for sure is that I cannot stand to write with pens without the cap on them. I can't do it. I will go to great lengths to go find another pen so I can put the cap on the end. Even if I just have to sign my name or something, I will take the time to put the cap on the end of the pen first.

2. I sometimes fold down pages in books (only in paperbacks) when I like a quote or passage; I fold down the top corner if the quote is in the first half of the page and I fold up the bottom corner if it's in the latter half of the page.

3. I sometimes put cream or milk in my coffee but I don't use stirrers. Waste of plastic. I just let the cream or milk mix with the coffee at its own pace. It does fine.

4. If I'm holding a handful of change for an extended period of time -- waiting for a bus, say -- I put the coins in order chronologically by year.

5. Of course I used to alphabetize my CDs. Now more often than not I have them in big CD wallet carriers that I travel with and they just stay in there at home, too. But I got the first, smaller CD wallet first, years ago, that doesn't hold even close to all my CDs. In that one go the "elite" CDs: Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Erin McKeown, Mary-Chapin, the Melissas, the Sineads, and some other girls with guitars.

6. I don't wear shoes inside my bedroom. I take them off at the doorway. This actually started in Boston before I went to Korea. In Korea it expanded to the entire house; in Boston it was just the bedroom. Here, my house=my bedroom, pretty much.

7. At the end of the shower, I turn the water to cool and let cool water run onto my hair and then face, really quickly, in a burst of freshness. Frescacita. But I don't like being cold after a shower, it's just a quick dash of coolness for the hair and head. Is that even weird? I don't know.

8. I keep receipts. I have no idea why. I haven't balanced a checkbook or done any accounting with them in years. I keep them for months knowing full well I will never do a thing with them and then I throw them away and make room for more receipts. Actually I occasionally look back at them and try to remember that particular trip to Taco Bell or whatever. With Starbucks it's hard. So many Starbucks journeys. Then after the little trip down memory lane I throw the accumulated pile away. What's the point? No idea.

9. I don't sleep the conventional way, like in the "right" direction. Most people have their bed against a wall and that's the headboard or head end, against the wall. But I sleep the other direction with my feet toward the wall and my head out toward the room.

10. I so totally can't set my alarm for a time on the hour or half hour. I set it for 7:06 or 8:32 or something. Of course, I also never have my digital clocks on the right time (except the mobile phone -- thwarted by satellite!) so since the clock radio is always fast, I may actually be waking up at a so-called normal time. Who knows? Also I don't really need the face clocks with hands to be fast, just the digital ones.

OK, were they weird enough?!

This was just for fun. My real thoughts/epiphanies for the day can be found here on the literary supplement.

Monday, November 13, 2006


No time to e-mail! No time for anything! Running, busy, but good. Taking care of business. Swimming and Pilates for my health. Beautiful lights strung across the trees as the outdoor shoppers are serenaded...and learning many, many things. Many things. I will update on everything soon.

Meanwhile, vive la revolution!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I find it a little disturbing that we have yet another election being stolen all around us, but the "big news" on not only the lips of the students on their various cell phones and computers here in the lab, but also the lips of the news anchors and even the BREAKING NEWS E-MAIL I just received from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a newspaper to which I e-subscribe and ordinarily rather like and respect...

The big news is that Britney and Kevin are divorcing.



Lest you think "Oh, I'm better than that" consider the fact that you know who I'm talking about without my even putting last names. I, too, have to admit that as I sat munching on fries in the Hofstra Deli & Grill, I looked up at the TV while the anchor breathlessly reported the split.

I did also look up as she reported news of all the election crap that's already being pulled nationwide: machines that keep "choosing" the Republican choice when the person is selecting the Democrat, etc. See:

and other notes on that site.

Hey, can I file for divorce from my government for irreconcilable differences?

I swear the people reading history books in four or five hundred years are going to look back at us and go "What the hell was WRONG with those United States-ians at the turn of the 21st Century?" I think everyone is so numbed by their Prozac they can't get outraged, no matter how blatant the acts they witness. They just want to take their happy pills and push their magic remote control buttons and believe what their "leaders"/talking heads tell them.

Soma, anyone?

My mom used to jokingly say, whether to me being paralyzed by indecision or to a frustrating driver hesitating at an intersection, or some other such thing, "Geez, do something - even if it's wrong!"