Monthly Archives: January 2007

A Day In the Life

Got up at 6:15. Our carpool leaves promptly at seven AM and I'm driving today. Traffic seemed a little lighter than usual. I have this hypothesis that early traffic is lighter on overcast days, because some people count on the sun to wake them up, and on rare shady mornings they oversleep. But it's sunny today. Maybe I have to alter hypothesis to include cold days — when it's cold (under 60) people maybe huddle under the covers a bit longer. The radio said it was about 55 when I woke up, which counts as arctic in these parts.

Home, pick up kid #2, make the shorter run to his school. After finishing the school run by 8:05 I have a little time to glance at the papers and review a bit of the reading for this morning's seminar.

From 9 to 11 I (co)teach our seminar on law and games. We've been reading about identity and the presentation of self and about the ways in which the gaming experience might effect players. The students in the seminar are great, as usual, and we have a very spirited discussion of the reading, notably Tracy Spaight's article “Who Killed Miss Norway” (which appears in Jack M. Balkin & Beth Simone Noveck eds., The State of Play: Law Games and Virtual Worlds (2006)) and Nick Yee, The Labor of Fun: How Video Games Blur the Boundaries of Work and Play, 1 Games and Culture 68-71 (2006). We don't get through them all; next time we'll take up, among others, the other two articles I liked most from this batch, Gunther Teubner, Rights of Non-Humans? Electronic Agents and Animals as New Actors in Politics and Law, 33 J. L & Soc 497 (2006), and Sherry Turkle, Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self, in Handbook of Mobile Communications and Social Change, James Katz (ed.) (forthcoming). Of these, the Teubner article is the most difficult; there's a lot going on there, much to think about, although I wonder if it coheres.

Then for almost an hour I meet with a student who has come by to find out why he did relatively poorly on his final. It always amazes me how rarely students do this. And to the extent that people do look at their exams, it's more likely to be a B+ that wants As than a C or C+. And you almost never hear from the D's. How are you going to improve if you don't look for feedback? Admittedly, it can be a painful experience for both sides: the student must revisit something that is not a happy-making event, and the prof has to be the bearer of unwelcome news, which typically includes several of: you missed this issue, you misread that question, you left out these cases, you recited facts but didn't give any analysis, I couldn't figure out what you were saying here, and on we go. I commonly recommend Fischl & Paul's Getting to Maybe for several of these problems, but it's not a panacea. On his way out, meaning I think to be kind, he asks if I might have gone to school with his father, who also went to Yale college. Turns out that the father graduated in 1965 — when I was in kindergarten. It seems that, at least to this user, my presentation of self in real life adds about twenty years…

At noon I go up to the faculty conference room where I'm giving a talk to faculty and staff on various tricks you can use to get more out of your computer. Most of it is about firefox plugins. It's amazing how much more efficient one can be with a few of the right tools. Talk starts at 12:30, finishes before 2:00.

Back to the office. Read some email. Nothing urgent, for a change. Work on putting together a list of possible visitors for next year. Although it's still unclear how many new people we'll actually hire next year, it's certain we'll be under full strength due to leaves and such so we have the luxury of thinking about who would be interesting and fun to have around — subject to the very real constraint that it would be a lot better if they happened to to teach in the areas we have needs. I'm chairing the committee that has to come up with names, which is fun but not as easy as it sounds. (If you are a law prof reading this and fancy a semester in a tropical paradise, please do get in touch ASAP.)

Home, where attempts to work are undercut by the need to try to ensure that homework gets done. Today's first distraction is the need to celebrate the winning of a science prize by the homework-avoider-in-chief. The second, later distraction, is a long fruitless hunt for a lost notebook. (It is later found at bedtime.) Eventually I give in and glance at the New Yorker.

Then it's time to prepare for tomorrow's administrative law class. I'll be finishing a somewhat whirlwind introduction to formal adjudication under the federal APA, subject of course to the Due Process clause of the Constitution. The class is at 8am, and the students who trek out to it three times a week seem like a serious bunch — but I also get the sense that several of them feel pretty lost. Now, in one sense that's actually a good thing: this is a confusing subject, one composed of a series of interlocking parts that only start to make sense once you've seen them all. Thinking that you get it at this early stage would most likely be the result of a false sense of security, or shallow reading. Then again, it's not much fun to be confused, nor is it all that much fun to be the source of confusion. So in addition to re-reading the cases and working in summaries of the latest decisions, I try to tweak my recycled notes from last year to include more explanation, but that is constrained by the need to stay on schedule and the fact that the courts keep on deciding new cases which refine rather than replace the old rules. The early morning hour has resulted in a dynamic in which students are not asking enough questions. I'm going to have do something about this. The first step is setting up panels of people to be called on — I don't much care for cold-calling after the first year. But it might even come to that in the end.

End the working part of the evening with another bout of administration, compiling a list of possible names for an academic center I've been helping to organize. It's hard to come up with something that accurately describes it, has a catchy acronym, hasn't been used elsewhere, and works in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Finish with some time reading blogs, email, and writing this.

Not exactly a typical day, especially in that I gave a talk and didn't do any academic writing, but that was today.

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

The Place of War Criticism

This post by Glenn Greenwald, Our little Churchills, is unusually good even by the exalted standard we've come to expect from him.

Posted in Iraq | Leave a comment

Jim Webb Strikes Again

Jim Webb: a Senator who won't take no answer for an answer.

It feels like watching an updated Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Posted in Law: Constitutional Law | Leave a comment

Fourth Estate or Simply Fourth Rate?

I believe that there is only one thing that can stop a Democrat — any likely Democrat — from being elected President in 2008: the propensity of the mainstream press to make stuff up.

Posted in The Media | 3 Comments

Veterans Against Escalation

VoteVets Action Fund has a harrowing spot out opposing the escalation. The cameo by Iraq war veteran Robert Loria is pretty devastating.

Posted in Iraq | 2 Comments

Unfortunate Domain Names

Picking a domain name is an art. Some people are bad artists.

Posted in Internet | 3 Comments

John Edwards’s So-Called Iran Problem

John Edwards gave a talk via satellite to a fairly hawkish bunch meeting in Israel. Some of his remarks are quoted and summarized in the Jerusalem Post and on the conference web site.

Notably, Edwards is reported to have said that Iran is now “the greatest challenge of our generation” and that “Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons.”

Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world. Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse. To a large extent, the US abdicated its responsibility to the Europeans. This was a mistake. The Iranian president’s statements such as his description of the Holocaust as a myth and his goals to wipe Israel off the map indicate that Iran is serious about its threats.

Once Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the Middle East will go nuclear, making Israel’s neighborhood much more volatile.

Iran must know that the world won’t back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table.

This sort of talk has unsettled some people who you would think are among Edwards's natural supporters. Take, for example, this article in the Nation by Ari Berman entitled, Edwards's Iran Problem. This is actually a mild form of the critique:

Such a provocative speech seems out of character for the ‘08 contender, at least in political terms. As he's moving left on Iraq—-by calling on Congress to deny funding for an escalation of troops and advocating the immediate withdrawal of 50,000 US soldiers—-why is Edwards veering right on Iran?

There's a few possible explanations. One, Edwards sincerely believes in a more confrontational Iran policy. Two, he's pandering to win the support and money of hawkish “pro-Israel” voters and donors. Three, he's trying to impress the foreign policy intelligentsia by talking tough.

No matter the rationale, speeches like these won't help Edwards with Democratic primary voters and could potentially injure his presidential prospects. Preventing a war with Iran is as important as getting out of Iraq to many in the peace movement. Indeed, those goals are now intertwined. Edwards can't have it both ways.

The less-mild form, which is floating around too, calls Edwards a sellout to the NeoCons and lambastes him for not saying at least (1) that Iran is still several years away from getting nukes, so we should all calm down and/or (2) that tactical nuclear weapons should be off the table — on the theory that saying any less, much less “ALL options are on the table” just encourages the current administration's worst tendencies, which include being mad enough to nuke Iranian reactors or the like.1

Personally I don't agree with the “greatest” threat stuff — I'd say that the biggest long-run threat to us is global warming; and the biggest short-run problem is getting out of Iraq without making things worse or betraying those who helped us.

On the other hand, you will find a heck of a lot of national security types, and not just neocons, who think that rogue states with nukes are very very very scary. And

  • if they are theocratic rogue states that have said Israel should be wiped off the face of the map, and
  • if we know for a fact (as we do), that the Israelis will strike first before they allow such a theocratic rogue state to build a nuclear weapon, and
  • that there's probably nothing we can say to stop the Israelis from launching that sort of an, especially at present when the Israeli government is so weak (and when lots of folks in our own Pentagon — and not just the political appointees — probably think it's a good idea), and
  • if we suspect (as we do) that an Israeli attack on Iran would set off a giant mid-east war, during which our oil supply will at best be disrupted and at worst severely damaged for a long time,

well, then you begin to see why this claim that the Iranian push for nukes is a really big dangerous deal is not nearly as nuts as it might sound, and has little to do with the Bushco attempt to provoke an armed conflict. (Should fear of giving comfort to neo-cons cause someone who believes the above to be plausibly dangerous to choose to stay quiet? I don't see how we can expect that. It begins to sound like the neocons telling us to shut up.)

As for the remark that the US has “abdicated its responsibility and had not done enough to stop Iran” I take that to be part of the “Iraq is distracting us from what matters” line that, again, one hears from national security types who haven't drunk the Cheney Kool-Aid. And if one wants a non-military solution with Iran, the only plausible route to that outcome involves solving the Iraq mess ASAP.

Attacking Iran while in Iraq would be madness; doing so after pulling out of Iraq would be only somewhat less mad. But making threatening noises while trying to entice Iran to the bargaining table is just standard diplomacy. (And, if you read all of Edwards's remarksk, that's clearly what he has in mind: “I would not want to say in advance what we would do, and what I would do as president, but there are other steps that need to be taken. Fore example, we need to support direct engagement with Iranians, we need to be tough. But I think it is a mistake strategically to avoid engagement with Iran.”) So this talk by Edwards strikes me as not so radical or odd, but quite mainstream. Not optimal for my taste, but I can't say that these ideas are unreasonable either. Is there a little pandering going on to US Jews as well? Quite probably. But just a little.


1 The talk about tactical nukes derives from a George W. Bush press conference held April 18, 2006:

Q Sir, when you talk about Iran, and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something that your administration will plan for?

THE PRESIDENT: All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so. The best way to do so is, therefore, to be a united effort with countries who recognize the danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon. And that's why we're working very closely with countries like France and Germany and Great Britain. I intend, of course, to bring the subject of Iranian ambitions to have a nuclear weapon with Hu Jintao this Thursday. And we'll continue to work diplomatically to get this problem solved.

See also Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker.

Posted in Iran | 15 Comments