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Ouij's Board

The immutable system engenders rot

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One week to go until the bar exam. I had a nice conversation with my mother about my attitude and preparation going into the home stretch. I had explained to her that I feel like I am more or less where I should be. I've done what I can do, I'm getting what I should get.

"So," she said "you feel relaxed?"




"You sound like a man about to be sent to the electric chair."

"That's about right, yes. I am ready to die."

Just to say
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I emerged from the depths of bar-exam hell to pick up my Dad at National Airport yesterday. On the way there, I caught All Things Considered

Imagine my amusement when the first thing I hear being broadcast from my local NPR station is a numbers station! Yes, in the wake of the recent spy scandal, ATC had decided to revisit the numbers station phenomenon.

A numbers station, of course, is a radio station, usually on the shortwave band, that does nothing but transmit a seemingly-nonsensical string of letters or numbers. It is widely thought that these are messages meant to be received by secret agents using a one-time pad cipher--theoretically unbreakable, if it's done right.

I love numbers stations. I used to spend many hours scanning the shortwave bands just to see what I could pick up, and every so often, I'd pick up something odd that I couldn't understand. A numbers station is as close as you'll get to a disembodied voice; it could be anywhere, it could be anyone, it could be speaking to anyone. There's something mysterious and romantic and tantalizing about it.

This isn't the first time NPR has looked at numbers stations--they covered them back in 2000, as part of a series on "lost and found sound." They revisited the theme again in 2004, as part of a story profiling The Conet Project--a collection of "famous" numbers stations recordings.

Keen music fans will recognize one numbers station as the background sample on "Poor Places," the eleventh track on Wilco's masterful Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album--the sample that gave the album its name.

Oh. And of course, the Internet Archive has the Entire Conet Project available for streaming or download.

self, camphone, eye
Studying for the bar reminded me of my favorite scene from Bull Durham:

CRASH [to NUKE]: You have a gift. When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall of Fame arm but you're pissing it away....

NUKE: Ain't pissin' nothin' away. I got a Porsche already--I got a nine-eleven with a quadriphonic Blaupunkt . . .

CRASH: Christ, you don't need a quadriphonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! Huh? In the show, everybody can hit a fastball!

I've been spending some time trying to work on my curveball, so to speak. It's tough, and I really don't enjoy doing it.

Infuriatingly, I can often get to the point where I can eliminate the obviously wrong answers--but when it comes time to choose, I end up choosing a good, but not the best answer. Sometimes, it's my own damn fault--I hadn't gotten the rule quite down yet. Other times, it's because the question seems to ask me to assume facts that I don't think are in evidence. Still other times--though rarely, it should be said--it's because the examiners themselves have applied the wrong law.

I'm more or less at my targets, but it's just wearing me down. I wish I had a sense that I was definitely going to pass, but lately, that's fading. All I can do is plug away, re-read my notes, keep testing my memory, and keep slogging forward.

Two weeks to live.

False Light
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I just got a tremendous shout-out on the latest legalgeekery podcast, which is pretty darn cool. They name-checked me in a segment on their favorite followers. For the record: I was not EIC of my law review. I was an Assoc. Ed.--one of the L.Rev.'s faithful platoon sergeants. I do find it pretty darn cool that I got a shoutout from this blog in particular.

At the risk of seeming too much like Black Hat here, here's what they had to say about me:

JOSH: So my picks for today are...ouij. Do you know ouij?

LAURA: Well, I follow him now

JOSH: Oh, you didn't follow him before?

LAURA: Before...? Well, it was when you tweeted at me about saying how much legal websites sucked.

JOSH: Oh yeah, that's right.

LAURA: So I was like "yeah, I'm gonna follow this guy, yeah."

JOSH:He's--he's been like a long-time legalgeekery follower, and he always--I feel like he's more like a lurker than a poster--

LAURA: Mm-hm.

JOSH: But he's the kind of guy who will see something--if you want to have an interesting conversation, he's the kind of guy who definitely has something to add...and it will be something way more intelligent than you had intended to make the conversation, you know what I mean?

LAURA: So this is somebody I should basically never engage...

JOSH: [LAUGHTER] OK, so here's a great example. So I made that legalgeekery post a while back about whether you should do one or two spaces after sentences, right? And so, it started out as like, well "some judges like to double-space--I know it used to be the case that word processors required you to double-space, but now computers sort of automatically space longer after sentences, etc." And then he like totally pulled it back to like ancient typewriters and all this stuff, and he gave all this background, and that's just a really good example of ouij material. He's just really good at background. He's also like a big Linux geek, and I think he, like, takes notes in Linux...


JOSH:...big Linux nerd. Also, he just graduated, he's taking the bar now. I'm pretty sure he was EIC of his law review, too--real smart guy.

In which I get a question wrong by applying the right law
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So it's a run of the mill practice MBE question: Tulip-seller in Holland offers by telephone to sell tulip bulbs, in $QUANTITY at $PRICE to American flower retailer. Retailer responds by letter, confirming the deal. The letter contained both the price and quantity terms. Because of a calamity in Holland, the tulip-seller does not perform. In the inevitable lawsuit, retailer demands specific performance, and the tulip-seller defends with the Statute of Frauds.

Naturally, the tulip-seller loses, because the letter contained both the price and the quantity terms.
Nope. The tulip-seller loses, because the UCC's Statute of Frauds is satisfied by merely including the quantity term
But the U.C.C. is not applicable to this contract, God damn it.. This is a contract for the sale of goods between someone in Holland and someone in the USA. Both countries are parties to the Convention on the International Sale of Goods. Both the USA and Holland are contracting states to the CISG, so by its own terms, the CISG applies. The Statute of Frauds does not.

OK, fine. Don't fight the question. The question wanted an American statute of frauds, so you give it to them. Fine, I get that. But it bugs the hell out of me that the question demands the application of the wrong goddamn law. Just because it's a sale of goods doesn't make it a UCC issue--if it crosses an international border, it might be a CISG sale.

And in this case, I happen to know (much to my detriment), there is no Statute of Frauds to satisfy, as Article 11 of the CISG dispenses with that. The contract for sale is formed when we have definite price and quantity terms: Article 12 tells us that.

So, lumbering on, I selected the right CISG answer for this MBE question and totally ignored the fact that the examiners wanted me to apply the wrong law anyway.

I guess I don't know why I'm so mad about it. It's the bar, not real life. It's the MBE, which is SO unreal that it's not even funny. American courts don't even seem to know that the CISG exists (and, where applicable, supreme over the state U.C.C. as a treaty!). I'm unlikely to see an international sale on the real bar exam.

But it bugs me all to hell that I got this question wrong because I got this question right.

Cheat Sheets.
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The bar exam--and preparing for the bar exam--stinks.

I hate making flashcards, but I can't seem to keep certain topics straight in my head, so I use cheatsheets:

Accomplice Liability And Inchoate Crimes

This is kind of like mind-maping technique that legalgeekery recently attempted.

It's a lot more text-heavy--but I find by this method I can actually get a useful amount of information on a sheet, at a single glance.

The multiple-column format is a child of necessity. When I start running low on paper for note-taking, I fold it in thirds to make it last. I find that my notes are a lot more efficient that way, but I'm too lazy to implement it as a regular practice.

I suppose I could have done this by outlining in LaTeX--like I usually do, but I already have pre-made outlines from BarBri.

Generally, the cheat sheets are all about clearing my own mind--they're not supposed to be exhaustive.

Here's hoping they work.

In which I defer studying for the bar by fiddling with my computer
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(well, before bar exam FAIL)

Let's get this out of the way: I hate the BarBri website with a passion. It is clunky, slow, counter-intuitive--pretty much everything I've grown to hate about websites that cater to lawyers.

Helpfully, Barbri offers their "StudySmart" tool for the Multi-State Bar Exam. Essentially, it will administer all the sample MBE questions your lawyerly heart could possibly desire--then grade your answers and tell you exactly where you went wrong in the logic. Sure, I could do that out of the phonebook-sized exam books I have, but marking the answers (and double-checking that) is so utterly tedious.

I have two choices. First, I could run the tool in Flash, which should work everywhere. Problem: every stressed-out bar exam candidate in the country is hitting their servers at the same time. The Flash app is so laggy that it really started bugging me. My other choice is to install the software locally--surely that will be faster.

Helpfully, Barbri's license allows me to make two installations on any given product key. I dutifully used one of them on my Windows partition. No problems. Still a bit laggy, but much better than having to hit the Barbri website.

Then I got crazy and decided--hell, I run WINE on my Ubuntu partition--why not run this there? Then I'd be able to do my MBE review from my primary OS.

Well, the software isntalled OK. Some text in the install wasn't showing up properly--I chalked it up to regular WINE weirdness. Consequently, I probably mis-keyed my goddamned product key more than twice. Now the software won't authenticate because I am apparently an evil software pirate, having installed the software once too many times.

Except that I haven't. The inordinate number of authentication attempts wasn't malicious, but fat-fingered. Too bad, so sad, no MBE's on Linux for me!

Incidentally, it turns out that the BarBri Study Smart software wasn't showing me any text because of a known WINE bug. Fortunately, the fix wasn't too complicated: I created a new file (norender.txt):

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Wine\X11 Driver]

Then it was a simple matter of telling WINE to cram that reg key into WINE's registry:

$ regedit norender.txt

With the fix, I could see the text in StudySmart software again--but not in time to actually validate the goddamned thing. I am inclined to call their tech support monkeys tomorrow, just to say "look, I mistyped my key a few times, can't you reset me?"

This bar review process, incidentally, is not very much fun. I'm just getting shellacked in the practice problems I attempt--I'm never sure how much detail I'm covering, or whether that's going to be even remotely close to good enough.

So of course, I'm coping by watching too much sport on TV--the World Cup, naturally, my beloved (terrible) Nationals--anything but land conveyancing again.

And for when I need to get myself pumped up, there's '80s music.

Bye, Bye, you American Guys
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Lessons learned?

  1. LEARN FROM BOXERS. Boxing referees routinely tell boxers to "Fight a good, clean fight, protect yourselves at all times, touch gloves and come out fighting."

    The USA only managed one out of those three. A total failure to protect themselves--conceding one goal on a giveaway at midfield (about which more in a second) and another on a ball in transition, ultimately cost USA the match.

    As to coming out fighting, well: the USA was less than stellar in the first five minutes of the first half, and absolutely abysmal in the first few minutes of overtime. It takes the USA too long to boot up, mentally--that's got to get better.

  2. DON'T FIX WHAT AIN'T BROKE. Bob "Mars Attacks!" Bradley inexplicably started Ricardo Clark in midfield. Why he did this instead of starting Buddle or Edu is beyond me. Edu ended up having played an excellent game, but only after coming on as a substitute in the 30th minute--a very public "my bad!" from the coach.

  3. IT'S A GAME OF TWO HALVES--THREE IF YOU DON'T DO YOUR JOB RIGHT. Yes, Team America showed great heart in the second half of regulation. But the first half was almost completely dominated by the Black Stars--and, by the time that overtime had set in, the American magic had gone. Perhaps there ought to be a focus on more workmanlike skills and better midfield possession rather than prayers for divine inspiration.

    MAN OF THE MATCH. Assamoah Gyan, of Ghana, for hammering a stake through the hearts of every American fan.

    FIGHTING SPIRIT AWARD. Clint Dempsey. 'Nuff said.

    AND THE OSCAR GOES TO: take your pick. I'm too upset to name names.

    Now I can settle down and fail the bar exam in peace.

John Adams has a blog!?
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No, not that John Adams--the composer keeps a fairly entertaining blog, titled Hell Mouth over at his website.

He tends to post essays about--what else?--music. Composition, conducting, performance, and the like. It's intriguing to get an insight into what a big-time composer is thinking. See, for instance his mordant look at music-school composition "Masterclasses":

But back to the typical instrumental composition: The slow, nervous, unsettling introduction will most likely be followed an up-tempo OSTINATO. The ostinato has gained great prestige of late because students wrongly believe that this is what made Steve Reich and Phil Glass successful composers. They misunderstand the essence of minimalist technique, thinking that by merely introducing a repeated, grinding rhythmic figure they can achieve satisfying musical form.

The ostinato may or may not have a harmonic modulation in it. Usually it will pump and grind away for about four minutes on the same tonality, building and building before it comes to a frightening, colossal, overwhelming, earth shattering CLIMAX. (This is where said composer’s girlfriend dumped him or her for a garage band punker.)

He seems to love writing semi-satirical pieces involving "Marcel Proost" (too many posts to link). But in amongst it all, there's always his passion for music:

Music, unlike poetry or literature, does not consist of signifiers. (Or in the cases where it does, these signifiers are only of the crudest and most generalized sort: Mahler’s clarinet imitating a cuckoo or timpani in the Pastoral Symphony imitating thunder.) The great paradox about music is that it is nearly powerless to represent concrete things, yet it is exceptionally precise in evoking feeling.

Plus, he seems to update pretty regularly these days.

So apparently
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I don't have health insurance.

The University enrolled me automatically in the University insurance plan. They charged my account with the premiums. I paid the charges. They accepted payments. I received an insurance card.

Today, I phoned my insurer. I needed to have them fax me a letter that I was covered for an upcoming trip--the consul will need to see that I'm insured before he issues me a visa. After a few moments on hold, I identified myself with all the particulars printed on my insurance card--name, group, policy ID, whatever.

"You have no coverage." WHAT?

Apparently, I've been paying premiums for a semester and a half without actually being insured.

Am trying to work this out with the University and the insurer. The consul, after all, is unlikely to be impressed by my argument, which is, naturally, that the university and the insurer should be equitably estopped from denying that one or the other or both of them are insuring me.


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