January 30, 2005

A Real Life

My work in chambers feels like a job. A Real Job. Like what I do actually matters in the world. Along with that comes the feeling that I'm competent, unique, doing a good job, and don't need to compete with anyone to be certain of those things. I was unaware that law school deprived me of the feelings of satisfaction and easy identity that working has always provided me. It's an interesting revelation.

I've met international strangers in my travels and had several conversations about how the United States is more a nation of "what do you do?" than "who do you know?" "where are you from?" or "what do you like?" Each focus has its drawbacks but when you're steeped in a culture, sometimes you forget that there are options. I've almost incessantly been employed since the age of 15, with the brief exception of 2 months living and studying in Italy. This is the first time in my life when I've been a full time post-secondary-school student. It's decadent. It also messes with my head more than I realized.

Now that I've got regular hours and a regular, fairly predictable work load (ah, the beauty of volunteering instead of being an actual employee), I've got a much more committed social life, a to do list that I'm tackling each week which is filled with non-law-school priorities, and travel plans for at least one weekend every month this year.

I'm happier. And I'm one of the ones who likes law school. I really do. I enjoy the rigor, the focus, the reading, the things I've learned, the professors, the whole shebang. But now that I'm on reprieve, I must admit: It is a grueling experience. If you listen to E, it's much more demanding than I let myself admit, and as a consequence, I'm visibly more irritated, unhappy, and unpleasant.

These days, I'm learning just as much in chambers as I would in class. I leave work with a fatigued brain only to dream about the cases that I'm on. But, despite what looks like similarities to law school, I'm more balanced (for starters, I'm making time to train for my race), I feel like what I'm doing is much more valuable to the world at large than book learning (maybe because it is?), and of course, I have more spare time than when I'm in class so my overall quality of life is higher.

I suspect this says something about the law school model and its failings. But I'm too tired to follow the thought to completion...

January 26, 2005


Down the drain. My GPA, that is.

Yup. My open letter to the professors (below) must have been well received. It was a red letter day all around, actually. First, I walked in the rain towards the crossing only to miss the train by 30 seconds. Then, because I'd be late if I waited for the next train, I traded the solace of reading on a train for driving to the courthouse in ridiculous Californians-don't-have-a-clue-about-rain traffic. About 2 hours after I arrived, I checked the school website and took a sharp, painful intake of breath at the unpleasant surprise on my transcript.

Heads up: my newly informed opinion is that it's a hell of a lot easier not to care about grades when they are reasonably good. Trust me, if I could find a way to not care, I would. Of course, the two hours of criminal motions I sat through immediately after seeing my grade made me feel like even more of an ass. I don't really have any problems. Those people, they have real problems. Me, I've got prima donna, pretty pretty princess problems.

And it sucks. Because I'm really enjoying being in chambers.

Oh well. I'll have to keep telling myself that all I'm losing out on is a large pay cut for the privilege of working 60-90 hours per week. I won't believe it, because I'm in chambers now, and I'm having so much fun. Each day's work is a new combination of reading briefs and motions, researching topics, writing orders and memos to the judge on points he needs to understand. Just seeing all those briefs and motions and knowing what the judge wants to understand has made me feel like a better lawyer. In addition to all the work, I get to see talented and fledgling lawyers going through all the motions that I hope to one day go through. I get to learn from their skillful maneuvers and mistakes.

And the clerks have it even better. Sure, they give me some interesting things to research and I'm thankful for each and every opportunity, but it's still the drudgework. They get to keep the really juicy work for themselves. That is an opportunity that used to be a pipe-dream and now resides soundly in our freshly fixed plumbing, post-flush.


January 24, 2005

An Open Letter

Dear Professors from last semester,

I do my best to live a life of moderation despite a personality that edges towards the extremes.

I heard that you all got together at Professor Fed Court's house and partied in the new year like rock stars. Good for you. I'm over that period of my life, but I understand the desire to experiment, particularly if you're the kind of person who missed out and made sacrifices because you felt that you could impress Sandy, Bill, and/or Ruth with your straight-edge diligence (but not Clarence, we all know how he rolls).

I only write to inform you that your collective new years resolution to go on grading strike and really test that grant of tenure has side effects. On my mental and physical health. I am developing Repetitive-Stress-Injuries from logging on to the school web-site and attempting to load my grades. I am going blind from the glaring white of the empty grid where my grades should be. I am losing my ability to keep life in perspective because despite the taboo about ever mentioning grades, it is evident that my peers have seen the feared and hoped for letters, visited their therapists, achieved closure, and moved on to the stress of the current semester. I feel cheated.

I just thought you might want to know.

Class of 2006

January 22, 2005

So Different Now

White wine is Apollonion, the wine of polite and dulcet discourse, frippish gossip, banal phone calls, Aunt Ethel's quiche, a wine for those busy discussing closure, healing, the role of the caretaker, the evils of butter, the wine of the sincerity monoethic. It occasionally, of course, rises to greatness, and you may have some if you've been economically diligent or are an heir of some sort. I'm sure that even the cheaper varieties have brought thousands of soccer moms sanity-healing sex fantasies.

--Jim Harrison

Thanks to the privacy requirement that prevents me from bringing work home from chambers, I have weekends again. Today marks the beginning of my second real weekend in a row after 6 months of school, interviews, moot court, traveling, holidays, and general madness that meant no weekends.

Last weekend, we went out to dinner with friends, I ran 8 miles, bought a few nicer pieces of clothing to wear to chambers, and E and I tested our engagement by going to Home Depot, buying the necessary supplies and replacing the garbage disposal together (it had exploded in a greasy mess about a week prior--this led to the discovery that ants like grease, who knew?). We succeeded and didn't kill each other. The new disposal eats food like nobody's business. So, I celebrated its usefulness by making salmon-mushroom cakes from the Alaskan Salmon my dad gave us after Thanksgiving. I now have MUCH more appreciation for any type of fish cake made from scratch. It's a TON of work. I also now know that neither I nor E like crab-cakes or salmon cakes enough to ever do that amount of work again.

This weekend, is similarly chill, and I couldn't be happier. Last night, we had a great night on the couch, where we planted ourselves with red wine and watched both volumes of Kill Bill. I like my movies on the ridiculous side, I enjoy cartoons, and I prefer coversations that stream in multiple languages over those that stay in one. If you're like me, you'll like the Kill Bills. Today's grand plans involve lazing around and possibly paying some bills, maybe scoping out a dry cleaner's (which I'll absolutely need now that I'm in jacket and tie mode every day), scratching the more interesting stuff off my to-do list, and making Spanakopita for dinner. The evening's plans involve TetrisWorld on the Xbox (a christmas gift we haven't tried), eating the spanakopita, drinking wine, and well, not much else. Tomorrow, I've got 8 miles to run, and yeah, that's about it.

There's nothing I have to do, but plenty of stuff I can do, should do, will do, and, perhaps the most important one: there's stuff I won't do. I'm thrilled. I HIGHLY recommend externing to any and all law students.

January 21, 2005

He's not my senator

In the spirit of free speech that I've witnessed near my chambers this week, I'd just like to say that Senator Reid is not my senator.

The Sierra Club just showed up at the door. We thought it was the pizza man since we'd ordered a finals pizza (you can save your order in the servlet and just click "order," it's exactly like finals except I'm lazy, not stressed, have no homework, and it's just the best Friday ever to eat pizza, drink wine and watch Kill Bill vol. 1 on the couch together). E answered the door and immediately screamed, "hey, do you care about the sierra club?" and of course, I do.

So, I invited the poor freezing girl from Santa Cruz in to sit on the couch while I wrote my check. E sulked off to the office and hid. I'm now a proud member of the Sierra Club. But, turns out they aren't a 501(c)3, which surprised me. Why the hell wouldn't they be? They do accomplish more good in this arena than any other organization, and I'd MUCH rather support them than the militant trust-fund baby infiltrated Greenpeace (okay, so the trust-fund baby comment stems from a bad outside-of-greenpeace experience with one of their employees, perhaps the rest of 'em aren't so radical and irrational, I kind of doubt it though).

She explained that they were signing up new members, and I agreed. I wrote a (non tax deductible) check for $60 and signed up. In return, I get a magazine once every two months and I know that I support an organization that accomplishes some good stuff (when they aren't getting snowed by swarmy outsiders).

After I wrote the check, she told me it was her first night volunteering, I was her first sign-up, and if I wanted to help some more, I could sign one of her postcards for Senator Reid, to express my disdain for oil drilling in the Arctic.

"Who's Senator Reid?" I asked.

"Actually, I don't know." She said. "It's my first night, I need to do more research on that, and, uh, like you said, on why they choose not to be a non-profit organization."

"Huh," I grunted, annoyed. "Because, Senator Reid, he's not my Senator. He won't care in the least bit if he gets a post card from me. That little portion there, where you fill in your address, yeah, it's going to say California and he is going to ignore it."

"Well, obviously, you don't have to sign the postcard if you don't want. Signing up for membership is more than enough."

Oh. Good.

January 17, 2005

On Making Partner

Yeah, you read the title of this post correctly. I'm a 2L and I'm going to write about making partner. Or rather, I'm going to write about how annoying it is to listen to people with my level of experience or less talk about making partner. People shun it as a goal not worth pursuing because "you have to sell your soul." If you ask them where they got this idea, it's very rare that they sat down with a partner and discussed their life with them. Most of it is myth and conjecture.

Other people discuss making partner as an inevitable result in X number of years (never mind that they haven't even sat for the bar) because "I'm competitive and it's my goal." And, what's most shocking to me, people in this camp choose the firms where they will go work after school based on whether the "partner track" is 5 years, 7 years, or 10 years. They discuss the longer partner tracks as serious drawbacks.

Wait a minute, people!

Most of you are 25 years old and have never had a real job. You have no idea what your work style is right now, much less what it'll be like in 5, 7, or 10 years. If you were a part-owner of a business that you had built from the ground up, would you want to let a newly minted employee put in 5 years of work and then join your partnership, despite the fact that it took 3-4 years to figure out if he was a good employee in the first place? Would you want to be liable for his actions?

In no other field (except perhaps medicine, where you've put in at least a decade of hazing) can you join a company with the express intention of becoming one of the owners. But many of my fellow students see it as their only purpose. It makes me sad.

So, I've got a novel proposition. Why not focus just a little bit on the present? How 'bout some short-term goal setting? How 'bout living somewhere else than in the dreams of millions of dollars and prestige that can't possibly arrive for at least 7 years.

Most partners probably envy you your life right now. So, sit back, enjoy it and stop trying to control the future. Chances are, if you are dilligent, it'll work out the way you want it to. But, if everything you want isn't in the present, you're probably not too happy, and that, my friends, is actually something you can control.

January 15, 2005

Running From Everything

Ever since school started, I've been running more and more. It took me a while to realize that running was preferable to the particular brand of dizziness/migraines that my body prefers. But, once I figured it out, I was hooked.

So, I ran a total of 582.48 miles in 2004. That's an average of 11.2 miles/week. And while it's enough to get me to Tijuana (sign me up!) over the course of a year, it doesn't exactly make me a runner. It makes me more of a recreational jogger.

Except during finals, that is, when I ran 86.48 miles over 35 days, or 17.3 miles per week. During those few days, I was almost a runner. (As an aside, did anyone realize that in total, law students spend almost 10% of the year in finals? No wonder it felt ridiculous.) I was also a marathon procrastinator, and in one particular fit of avoidance, I registered for a half marathon in March and promised myself I'd train for it in 2005.

I put in a great first few weeks of the training program in Australia, where there was lots of beer, wine, food, and not so much aerobic activity. This week, my first actual attempt at sticking to the training schedule, I'm slated for 25 miles. So far, so good, but talk to me after Sunday when I'm supposed to run 8 miles. The furthest I've ever run is 9.1 miles. Very slowly. During finals. Not after a month of the holidays, partying, and gluttony.

By the last few weeks before the race, I'm supposed to get up to 31 miles/week. But I'm externing for the judge this semester and have only one class, so I shouldn't be too stressed--in other words, I may have trouble motivating.

It should be interesting to see if I even like running after this experience.

January 12, 2005

It slowly approaches

2004 is officially over, as is my month-long winter vacation.

Jet lag is on its way out, FINALLY. The time change to Australia was easy. The change back has been painful. I've been getting between 3 and 5 hours of sleep this week because I've had to be at school for externship orientation.

Halleluiah! After two bore-me-to-sleep days of lecture and oh-so-enlightening library treasure hunts, supposedly I'm oriented. I now know not to steal from the judge and that to openly take bribes from attorneys in court is bad. 1 unit of my semester down.

I thought I'd signed up for my 3 classroom units on Wednesdays this semester. But no, it's Thursdays. This means I start school tomorrow. That was not my plan. I'd planned on easing into the semester by starting both the externship and school with a 4 day week (thanks MLK). Apparently not.

Which is unfortunate because I'm not ready. I've got science fiction books left to read and plumbing issues to deal with (now we have roots in the sewer line AND an exploded garbage disposal--Joy!)

Oh well. Such is life.

January 9, 2005

On Break: The Gourmet Reading List

I'm tan, relaxed, and getting closer to completely satisfying my pleasure reading urges for the next few months. The completed books for winter break now include:

In a Sunburned Country -- highly recommended for amusement and background on Australia. E and I both read it and laughed out loud on several occasions.

The Golden Age -- decent brain candy, but suffers from the typical science fiction maladies of too many characters who aren't well-enough developed, and a complex world of brilliant ideas but not enough logical connections between those ideas and the plot, such as it is. It's an investment of at least 100 pages to use your imagination to fill in the unexplained blanks of this world. But, now that I've done it, I'll probably finish the series. I like my version of their world.

Night of the Avenging Blowfish -- a gift for the trip (or possibly a loan, not sure) from E's sister. Completely brainless, funny, and in a nice big font. Perfect for beach-reading with a beer.

The Big U -- the first Neal Stephenson book, of which, he was apparently embarrassed. I can't understand why since it's a hilarious parody of academia and university life. In particular, his descriptions and scenes involving ineffective academics and psychadelic students are laugh-out-loud funny. The plot is basically thin, and/or missing, but it's a joke, right? I can only assume he's embarassed because he expected the book to stand as a story, not a parody. Neal, if that's the case, you missed the boat, it's one of the funnier things I've read in a long time as it stands. Sure it's not your current genre, but it's got merit on its own.

Vacation: Food and Wine Report


Turns out, them's good eats. I know, I was shocked too. I ordered it at one restaurant on a whim. I figured, since Kangaroos are the Australian version of our racoon, it would probably be gamey, stringy, and fairly disgusting. But, instead, it was a very pleasant meat, served rare, with a taste reminiscent of duck (an oddly low fat duck) and the consistency of rare filet of beef.

Other Food.

Anything and everything you want, except there's not a single decent Mexican food place in the whole country. There's a serious opportunity there. Someone. Go. Do it. Burritos, Tacos and Margaritas belong on those beaches!

Like California, there's a strong commitment to good food and large immigrant communities from almost every well-known food nation to offer their expertise. In continuation of that pseudo-California, but ha-ha, not really at all theme, Aussies call the first course the entree, and what Americans refer to as the entree, they call the mains. Also, Chilled oysters are served all over Sydney for about 1/2 the price of their Californian cousins. Loving shellfish, I took advantage of this on two occasions, once as an entree, once as a mains.

The best meal of the trip, hands down was enjoyed over a 3-hour view of the harbor from Forty One on the forty-second floor of Chiefly Tower in downtown Sydney. We had the 3-course offering, which when the mini intra-courses were included came to a delicious total of 6. The amuse-bouche included an asian soup spoon piled with wakame, salmon tar-tar, and roe. Pre-loaded spoons of ocean delight, can you get more lazily decadent? We also managed to drink A$50 worth of water. We had come from a day on the beach and were thirsty, the service just kept pouring... in hindsight, we should have ordered another bottle of wine for the same money and opted to re-hydrate with water at a more reasonable price after we left. Oh well.

The filet mignon was fabulous, as were my oysters, served with a martini-sorbet shot topped with the freshest pop-in-your mouth caviar I've had since 1999 (ahh, the bubble years). We finished with the cheese plate for two, and we were pleased to see that it contained several Australian offerings--the Victorian double-cream brie was as good as any french equivalent I've ever had, and both times we had Australian goat cheese, it was fabulous. Add a good Yarra Valley Pinot Noir and fireworks (someone hired a private fireworks display over the harbor, apparently they do that...) and it was well worth the ridiculous price (which would have been at least 35%-40% more in California).

Asian food, interestingly, was almost half the price of the equivalent quality food in California. No doubt this is partially because we stayed in Chinatown and were close to some of the good finds (our hotel had a cheap and FABULOUS malaysian restaurant despite the sparse decour). But, it also probably a combination of the proximity to Asia and the lack of popularity with non-asian clientele. E and I had one of the best Sushi meals we've ever had in a small restaurant where every person there besides us was either a Japanese tourist or of easily recognizable Japanese descent (most appeared to be hosting relatives for the New Year). The fish was as fresh as it comes and the entire meal including wine and sake cost less than half of what we would pay at home. Street sushi bars are much more popular than sit-down sushi restaurants, and many offered A$2.50 plates. This is raw fish people! That's too cheap.

Table Wine.

Good cheap wine is of slightly higher quality than the average Californian bottle of comparable price. The price differential between the two is low enough that I suspect a slight change in currency values and the inverse comment was/would be true. If a bottle is less than A$15 it invariable comes with a screw-top, which is quite helpful to travelers taking wine on picnics or opening a bottle for a glass but wishing to store the rest for later. The Hunter Valley is the only wine region close to Sydney (2-3 hours away with traffic). To be honest, we had much better wine from the bottle shop than from any of the wineries we visited in Hunter Valley. When looking at a wine region map, the 12 well-known regions are clustered around Adelaide and Melbourne. Next trip, we'll be heading there. In particular, this trip, we had a few great Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noirs, and McClaren Vale Shirazes (Shirazs? Whatever, Syrahs.)

Oaked Wines.

I learned that in Australia and New Zealand, wood chips and/or sawdust from used barrels or oakshavings from the barrel making process are often dunked in the must to impart oak flavor. I'd never heard of this process before and was amused to find that they refer to it as "teabagging." Yet another important cultural difference. Kiwis, Aussies, be careful when using this term in the US.


I'd heard somewhere that there was a sweet wine made from moldy grapes. Noble rot, it's called. Mmmmm, sounds delicious. Just like toe jam from stomping the grapes. I tasted quite a bit of Semillon Botrytis in Hunter Valley, the oldest wine region in the Country. The "stickies" were definitely some of the better wines made in this region: sweet, fruity, and well... too sweet and fruity for me at 11 AM. But I could see how they could be enjoyed. Mainly by people who love dessert, that is, people not like me. But at least they weren't horrible like many of the other wines we tasted. In fairness, we only visited 3 wineries and had another winery's Shiraz with lunch (which wasn't bad with food, but definitely was not great). So maybe the other 136 wineries in the region produce innovative, delicious, and wonderful wines. But, Judging by the quality of what people were willing to pour (dirty, sedimenty, oxidated-to-the-point of vinegar "shiraz" at one establishment) and the level of "education" at the tasting rooms, I just think this region still has a ways to come before it catches up with the younger regions to the West. But, it taught me about Botrytis, which is responsible for Sauternes, and "teabagging" which is good for a laugh.

Overall, the food and wine were excellent.
Vacation, Reviewed

First and Foremost, E and I got engaged on a beach beneath the Southern Hemisphere stars a few nights ago. We're pretty stoked.

The beach vacation destination was Sydney, Australia and environs. The entire trip was amazing. The 9 PM New Years Eve fireworks display at Darling Harbour was the largest both E and I had ever seen and it paled in comparison to the 12 AM show.

Sydney, during the holiday (and I suspect at other times as well), may very well be the most international city I've ever visited. There's no monopoly on culture or language, just thousands of people all from different places enjoying and/or living in the friendliness, beauty, and congeniality of one of the world's greatest cities. Sure, there are plenty of Australians, but their numbers seem to be matched by members of various other cultural groups depending on the region of the city where you are taking data samples.

Sydney-siders and other visitors often tried to draw the comparison between Sydney and the San Francisco Bay Area. It's there, but there are differences. The Sydney Harbour doesn't reek like the SF Bay during summer, the views from the tall buildings are much better, and the proximity to warm beaches without fog or wind in the summer is something the SF Bay rarely, if ever can offer. Also, in SF, there is no meal known as "Brekky," which is a good thing.

Bondi, Coogee, and the like? Best damn sand in the world. They must go through it with a seive to keep it so fine and clean.

The Tsunami was the front page the entire time we were there. In their generous response and emotional outpouring to the nations affected, Australia is embracing its Asian location in a time of need and healing old wounds for many (they had a white-only immigration policy until 1970). The lesser pages of newspapers focused on baffling local politics, Arts and Entertainment with a much larger American bent than I would have guessed from the street fashion, and, of course a much larger "World News" section than American papers have. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, "World News" must include a true article about some oddities perpetrated by or to the French, like the details of the capture of the Gentleman art thief, and the adorable French tradition of car-bombing on New Year's Eve. I admit, it was amusing and did help me feel more worldly.