Friday, November 9, 2007

Dive is a noun. Bar is a verb.

Among other things, tonight was an object lesson in "listen to your gut". I always check the address and plot a location to my route. Maybe it's a boy scout thing. Maybe it's a not getting lost in the city thing. I want to know that I can get there and back on my own. But nooooooo, they're like "We know where it is. We'll just call when we get off the metro."

...well, those two statements are inconsistent, for starters. So I got myself a tour of Adams Morgan, which is basically the unpretentious drinking district of DC. And by unpretentious I mean you don't have to worry about running into anyone important because if you're important you don't have to go to AdMo. Either that or you just don't want to be seen there. Basically it's a relatively safe harbor in a city that doesn't have many. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a Mos Eisley "hive of scum and villany" but then, I stayed on the main drag.

Walking, much walking. Now, I don't mind the walking. I quite like the walking. It's my exercise considering that I sit in the library most part of most days. But the girls. They were not prepared for walking. H'oh no. They were prepared for looking good. High heels. To every girl that I am even halfway decent friends with, I preach the gospel of functional footwear. But, alas, these two had to suffer. And so, consequently, did we. Time will vindicate me. Blessed are those who perish in the hope of victory.

Eventually we found it. Such a strange little place; dive bar, no other word for it. The bartender seemed like he'd been into the stock, the paintjob on the outside had passed "rustic" a decade ago, and the whole place had never smelled the heady scent of varnish. But, despite all that, the whole "dive bar vibe" was utterly ruined by the fact that none of the clientele was the least bit dive-ish. No burnt out truckers, no one with tics or 3 days' growth or skin disease of any sort. It was all Gap specials and suitcoats and 40 dollar scarves. Very wierd dissonance. It was like the disneyland of divebars where all the people go to see what a divebar looks like.

On the other hand, the bartender made up for a lot of it. It's cold and rainy here tonight, so I was thinking scotch.



Freaking LOOK at this place.

Does it say scotch to you?

So I decided on a rum and coke. I order a rum and coke; the guy stumbles to the back wall, begins looking at bottles. Finds one that must look like rum to him cause he takes the top off, pulls a pint glass off the shelf, and fills the glass. In fact, empties the bottle.

When wet stuff stops coming out of the bottle he looks at it with a betrayed scowl, then tosses it into the back room with a crash. He turns and takes the glass, full of NOTHING BUT RUM and puts it on the bar. Then he disappears below the bar and after some rooting around, comes up with a CAN of Coke, shrugs, and puts it on the bar.

He then wanders down to the end of the bar and finds a bowl which he fills with ice. He puts a straw in the bowl and scoots it methodically up against the can and the glass. He studies the still life for a second then, apparently satisfied, says "Eleven dollars."

Now, I was about to go "11 DOLLARS FOR A RUM AND COKE?!" But then I realized that I basically had a bottle of rum in a glass. So I paid it and took my winnings to the table. I considered distributing the largesse amongst my fellow tablemates, but...some battles we must fight alone.

In short, merely getting away from the library for awhile was balm to an aching spirit. It was a nice to see another part of DC as well. It did occur to me this evening, however, that it gets colder earlier here on the east coast. I'd not actually noticed how cold it was because I only have a ten minute walk from home to the metro at longest so I had mostly dispensed with a jacket; I just walk fast. But I was puzzled to see everyone in their winter finery complete with jackets and scarves and hats and gloves. Apparently it's been like 35-45 degrees out the last few days. Good to know. Guess I'm going to have to start acting my longitude and pull out the winter clothes.

Speaking of winter, I must say, I'm finally far enough away from home and for long enough to start feeling the nostalgia. Hearing about the fires down south was interesting because it was like hearing about a tornado in Oklahoma or an ice storm in NY...people described the areas like they didn't known them. And in Contracts the other day one of the cases was so-and-so v. the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Well, the professor spent the whole class period referring to the defendant in shorthand as "P&G". Plus, if I say "The city" it means Washington, and "the bay area" means near Annapolis.

I like it here. But that doesn't mean I'm not also looking forward to seeing home again, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

...sed quid in infernos dicet?

I think of Latin as a sort of garnish to good English. You can't make it the whole meal; nothing smacks of pompous pedantry more than weighing down each sentence with overwrought Latinisms just to show off, or worse, to make it impenetrable to a "lesser mind". On the other hand, there is a certain joy in deploying just the right phrase for maximum effect. Sure, you could make a brilliant argument and just let it speak for itself, but adding Q.E.D at the end is the philosophical equivalent of spiking the football in the endzone. With that, I present some of the more enjoyable fragments I've come across in the last few months. Some are legal technicum that are in wide use, others are merely phrases or peripheral concepts of interest.

In re: You may think that the "re:" in the subject line of an email stands for "regarding". It in fact is the abbreviation of "in re" pronounced "in ray" and means simply "in the matter of". Used in case names when there's no formal adverse parties or the controversy is about the disposition of an item rather than the parties specifically. (ex. "Memo to house, in re: the red thong found on the couch Saturday morning...")

Subpoena duces tecum: This useful little guy is unfairly confined to law courts when it really has broad application to many circumstances. Since a "subpoena" just means means under penalty of punishment, a Subpoena duces tecum is an instruction to "bring it with you under penalty of punishment"...aka "Show up without it and I'll break yo' KNEES". Useful for club treasurers and hosts enforcing BYOB.

Expressio unius est exclusion alterious: The unconscious rule you apply when a braggart is telling you all the mountains he's climbed but only actually names two. "To express one is to exclude others" in law means that if a writing went to the trouble of specifically mentioning something then, by implication, anything not named was deliberately left out.

Ejusdem generis: Unnamed items in a class are assumed of the same type as the named items. It's the unconscious rule that you apply when you see "etc." that suggests that unnamed list items are of the same type as named list items. (Complimentary "soda, water, juice, milk etc." is not gonna get you a free gin and tonic.)

Volenti non fit injuria: The principle that, at least within the legal definition, you can't be harmed by something you consented to. Fight Club and Jackass come to mind.

Res ipsa loquitur: "The thing speaks for itself." Can be used anytime something is self-explanatory. (Original use was in a case wherein a plaintiff was walking in front of a shop and a barrel of flower comes flying out the window and lands on him. The court was tying itself in [Gordian] knots trying to figure out how to fit it into the theory of negligence liability when the judge finally sliced through the morass and declared "res ipsa loquitor: Barrels don't just fall out of the sky. Obviously someone screwed up."

...sed quid in infernos dicet?: "...but what the hell is it saying?" As is often the case,res ipsa loquitor wasn't the tidy solution it was hoped to be. Some wag finally added the pseudo latin clause to the end to put it all in perspective.

Malleus Maleficarum: Unfortunately not one of our textbooks, but fascinating nonetheless. The "Witch Hammer" was the medieval equivalent of the US Government's Bluebook report on UFO's, except this was in 15th century Inquisitive Catholic Germany and was arguing (vehemently) for the existence of witches. And, naturally, for their subsequent dis-existencing.

That's enough for now; I don't wanna scrape the bottom.

[Edit: I *knew* it. I was deciding between using dishes in the sink and a thong on the couch as an example and I figured "in re: red thong" sounded funnier but wondered if people were going to assume there's a story behind it. I'm sorry to say there's not, Anja. You can convey the disappointment to your mom. ;-)]

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's English, Jim, but not as we know it....

The coming and going of September 13th quietly marked the completion of one month of law school. As expected, August 13th feels a long way in the past. Looking back to the beginning of any adventure always seems to me to be like looking in the wrong end of a telescope; the sheer weight of experiences dilates time. (Of course, it seems to balance out on the other end, as when you look back at college and go holy *crap*, that was four years?) It's calming to be reminded that only a month ago I had basically no idea what learning the law entailed; the tabula rasa from my first day helps me see that yes, I really have learned something. As I said in my last post, we've all seen the elephant now and we're starting to walk the walk (kind of a hunched-over shuffle from the weight of the backpack and obligatory bookbag) and to talk the talk. And what a strange talk it is! I wanted to share a little bit of the language of law school to help illustrate the sort of concepts and thinking that distinguished law school from any other kind of education.

I still consider "legalese" to be a mild pejorative, but it's pretty accurate characterization of the first most important rule that new law students learn: It's English, Jim, But Not As We Know It. There's a temptation to think that law books are written in English. After all, you pick it up and it says "Contracts" on the cover, and if you open it and flip through it most of the words are familiar. This is a LIE! Only a few pages in you realize that not only are many seemingly familiar words invested with new meanings, but those meanings are rigid, highly structured, and are often only definable by reference to other, similarly loaded words. Clearly after brief consideration one could arrive at the expectation that in a Contracts class the word "contract" would be a technical term. But try writing the previous sentence without "consideration" and "expectation", which are also verboten for casual use because they have specific legal meanings. "Consideration", for example, is "that which is sought in exchange for a promise." And in case you were wondering, "promise" and "sought in exchange" are also a technical terms that need defining.

Teasing out sentences and concepts ends up feeling as much like math or logic, at times, than it does either English or even philosophy. Definitions of some key concepts, like "contract" require a sort of prime-factorization to break them down through all the levels of complexity into their component parts. "Contract" breaks down as follows:

a CONTRACT is formed when there is a BARGAIN and a CONSIDERATION.

a BARGAIN is an AGREEMENT in which a PROMISE (or a promise for a performance, or a performance for a performance) is SOUGHT IN EXCHANGE for a return promise.


MANIFESTATION OF MUTUAL ASSENT is when both parties either make a promise or begin to render a performance

a promise or performance is SOUGHT IN EXCHANGE if it is intended to be induced by and is induced by the original promise

a PROMISE is a manifestation of intent to act such that the other party is justified in expecting the first will perform as promised

and finally

CONSIDERATION is that which is bargained for in exchange for a promise

So, if you unpack this thing totally and then put it back together you have (stay with me here)...

A CONTRACT is formed when one party manifests an intention to act or begins to act, and that manifestation seeks and induces the second party to act.

That's a lot of meaning packed into a two-syllable word!

Beyond loading seemingly familiar words with expansive new meanings, however, there's an altogether new lexicon as well: case law. Though none of our professors have put it this way, it's pretty clear that the cases themselves form a sort of "power user's quick-reference" for those who have internalized the cases and the concepts they stand for. If you can read a case, break it down, analyze the logic, and understand the implications (basically, if you can grok it) then you'll naturally use the name to stand in for the whole expansive concept. Some cases have been digested enough by the public consciousness that anyone with a little Law & Order behind them can wield them. Say "Miranda" everyone knows what you're talking about. Heck, it's even entered common English as a verb; cops routinely "Mirandize" a suspect using the sanctioned words that we all know. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..." (Of course, this is as far as most people can quote because it usually cuts away before they can get any further.)

And yes, there's legal Latin, too, but that's basically just dessert. I'll have to remember to put up a few of the more interesting ones next time.

[Edit: Fixed the literal non sequitor above wherein I left out the factorization of CONTRACT. I had to get my notebook to be sure I did it right. And then I had to get my textbook. And then I still wasn't sure. In fact, I think just trying to lay it out for this post is going to send me back for office hours. I swear; you don't just read contract theory, you debug it.
Also, added photos of CUA campus at night to help break up the block-o'-text (tm).]

Saturday, September 1, 2007

RamblingRovers rides again

This Labor Day weekend is, for CUA Law students, the final deep breath before the plunge. We've been in class for 2 weeks now; we've all seen the elephant and we know what the next 13 weeks hold in store. It's time to clear the decks, screw your courage to the sticking post and, perhaps most importantly, do something fun to refresh your spirit and renew your gumption. I went into this weekend with *nothing* planned. Many of my classmates took this weekend to get out of town, return home and see their families. There were a few "bar reviews" planned by various law school groups but my heart wasn't in it. Socializing at bars is just not my scene. What I really needed was a chance to eat, drink, and be merry my way. But where? And with whom?

It Comes in Quarts?
In keeping with the fortunate serendipity that has been my life of the last 2 months, my old friend Brian called up and proposed the obvious solution: The Maryland Renaissance Festival! A ren faire is the perfect antidote to the deluge of dense reading and overexcited socialization-come-shameless-networking that all law students are prone to. Nothing cleanses the soul like donning a pirate shirt and a swagger for a day of revelry, wench oggling, and hoarse "Huzzah!"'s. The Maryland festival is blessed with a wonderful venue, full of trees and winding hills that give it more the sense of a forest village than a faire. Being finally of age I was able to partake in a cup of ale (Sam Adam's October Fest) with my turkey leg and I found the combination to be greater than the sum of its parts.

We wandered around reveling in the unabashed nerdliness of the faire. It did my heart good to see "cool" fly out the window, or at least become transmuted into something all together different and more joyful. Instead of cool being some sort of aloof reserve that disdains wholehearted abandon, the coolest people were the ones who plunged in and played along. Criers hawked their wares with bawdy slogans and enjoyed a running repartee with quick witted passers-by, fellow faire-goers became other characters in a collaborative play that routed around sticks in the mud and mere observers. Politically correct was suddenly socially unacceptable and I found myself cursing in silent embarrassment to have answered innocently to the shopgirl's offer of "If you boys see anything you like just tell me and I'll pull it out for you..." It's escapism, pure and simple, and if you don't give in and play along you won't receive your full measure from it.

I tried on a leather fencer's jacket at the leathermonger's and watched the fine lads at Badger Blades put their money where their mouth is in proving that they proudly make only the real thing. (If you want to see a show, just begin to doubt, out loud, that anyone can really forge usable blades anymore. You'll get a Cliff's Notes in medieval metallurgy, a magnificent display of functional craftsmanship, and exactly 1/2 of a US Quarter as a souvenir.)

While standing in line for my October Fest I heard a few wandering minstrels begin a casual jam session behind me. While a bodhran laid down a lively beat a bearded singer with a guitar began to sing a tune that sounded awfully familiar...

Come and listen, I'll tell you what happened to me
One day as I went down to Cork by the sea
The day it was hot and the sun it was warm,
So says I a quiet pint wouldn't do me no harm

I went in and I called for a bottle of stout
Says the barman, I'm sorry, all the beer is sold out
Try whiskey or paddy, ten years in the wood
Says I, I'll try cider, I've heard it was good...

That's right; they had launched into Johnny Jump Up! Of course I sprang over to sing along, but had to listen carefully for they were singing different words. I gave myself away on the chorus when they sang "After drinking a quart of the Johnny Jump Up". As the guitar player explained later, the "pint" lyrics are the English version "'Cause they canna stand bu' ah pint o'it!".

We also sat in on the jousts, the only other de rigeur event of a ren faire other than the turkey leg, and watched a performance of "Fight School", something similar to Bold and Stupid Men at the Casa de Fruta Faire in CA, but not quite as well written. Y Musiki presented an appealing fusion of middle eastern gypsy music and rock accented with Celtic inspired fiddling. We left ahead of the crowd because we had to get back to Brian's house to bottle his most recent brew, an October Ale, and get turned around so we could be in Langley Park by nine to accept a mystery invitation.

[Intermission. It's a long post. Sorry! ;-) Go do something else and come back and it will seem like two bite-sized ones.]

When I hear the word culture I reach for my spoon
This mystery invitation was not so much a mystery as to whether we were invited, but rather to what we had been invited. The gist of it was that on my first day at CUA I had met Edmond, an early thirty-something CS PhD student from Cameroon. He was a heck of a nice guy, earnest and really friendly in an English-as-a-second language sort of way. We joked about monolingual Americans and chatted in a rough-around-the-edges combination of French and Enlgish. I was happy to have met someone and so I exchanged numbers with him, suggesting that we go out for a beer sometime and I could learn a little more about Cameroon. Several weeks later he called me, very excited and invited me I honestly couldn't tell what it was, but the basic idea was that it was some sort of gathering of people from his village in Cameroon, to celebrate their culture. There would be food and dancing and revelry and I was invited if I wanted to come. Well, most of my friends know that he had me at "food". I tried to explain it to Brian as we drove to the faire, and to his credit was more than receptive, he was enthusiastic. We both agree that new and novel experiences are, by their nature, good things. They have, if you will, intrinsic positive value, such that even if it's not enjoyable it was still an experience.

We arrived at the Boy's & Girls club of Langley Park still pretty much unsure of what we were getting ourselves into. Following the brightly dressed crowd (what I could only assume to be traditional garb) we were not even sure if we needed a ticket and more than a little nervous that someone would ask us if we were "lost". Entering the bustling gymnasium we were met by Edmond, grinning ear to ear that we came. After handshakes and introductions he led us over to the displays where he explained that this was the first Annual Haut-Nkam [/Ho-Cam/] Culture Festival, a chance for all the ex-patriots of the Haut-Nkam district of Cameroon to join together and celebrate their shared heritage. And Brian and I were, quite simply, invited to help them celebrate! What a treat!

After Edmond, with the help of a wallmap, gave us the basic tour of the country, he introduced us to Beke who told more of the stories. He explained that Cameroon has been the object of many countries but subject of none; during the age of colonialism virtually the entirety of imperialist Europe tramped through Cameroon in their exploration of Africa.
The name "Cameroon" is actually a comedy of errors written into history as a result of this parade of European powers. The Portuguese discovered it first, calling it simply "Rio dos Camarões". When the Germans arrived not long after they misheard it as "Kamero" which the French latinized as "Cameroun" and by the time the English got their hands on it they had no chance of getting anywhere close and just simplified it to "Cameroon." The modern name for the national tribal language is a result of a similar white-man's-folly. Missionaries asking for directions to the area' "big city" were repeatedly told "ef'efe'e" by local villagers. The Missionaries heard it so often that they began refferring to the language itself as Ef'efe'e, which basically means "This way and that."

Beke explained the colorful costumes as well, telling us that tribal affiliation is demonstrated in the traditional garb which varies in style, color, cut, and fabric from tribe to tribe. Tribal garb is worn for formal occasions to the utter exclusion of the European tradition of business suits. Instead of drab black and greys, formal events in Cameroon are a riot of color as invitees show their tribal diversity as well as their national unity. Cameroon has, depending on how you count, nearly 300 different tribes, each with their own traditional costume and language. I reminded Beke of the joke cracked by an exasperated Charles de Gaulle who once lamented "How can you run a country that has 300 kinds of cheese?" Surprisingly, Cameroonian politics take the enormous diversity of tribal and village connections in stride. Apparently there are so many different villages that citizens simply can't be strict partisan for their hometown candidate because then no one would get elected. The end result is that the best man truly does get the job and that leaders don't have the option of merely aiming to please one powerful party. Jean-Paul, the son of a Cameroonian "chef" or king, confirmed this, briefly explaining that western two, three, or even six party politics never sat well with the free-for-all public participation of traditional tribal government.

With our heads spinning from 600 years of Cameroonian history we stumbled over to the buffet table to sample some local flavor. Ignoring the potatoes and the beef we deliberately loaded up the plate with things that neither of us could identify. Edmond was delighted to take us on a culinary tour and saved us from eating the baking leaf that should be shucked off before eating the cassava inside. On the plate, counter-clockwise, we have "yellow soup", "dohle" [/dole-ay/], baked cassava, barbecued pork, and pulverized, roasted, orange...tuber...thing. My brother asked about the large, caterpillar-like thing on the plate. Though I was tempted to tell him it was just that, it's actually even better. That's the leaf-wrapped cassava paste. It had been mashed and tightly wrapped into the leaf, then baked till it was firm. It's like a bush PowerBar, with the taste and texture very reminiscent of incredibly dense sticky rice. If you're feeling manly you can just eat it plain, like a carbo-supercharged banana, but the best way is to break it up and us it to clean your plate of any remaining "dohle" and yellow soup.
The yellow soup is essentially a ninja curry. Delightfully tasty, overall, but not to be trifled with. When you first taste it it seems creamy and almost sweet, if somewhat bland. Then you swallow and it seizes your throat in a flaming deathgrip of eyewatering spiciness. (For best results, have cold Guiness standing by.) The chunks are large, succulent mushrooms and tripe.

We left late in the evening with our ears ringing and our heads spinning, both utterly delighted with our good fortune. We've already promised to bring the beer if Edmond wants to cook sometime, and I rode home thinking that RamblingRovers isn't just the rallying cry of a single trip but a whole state of mind, and one that I'm *more* than happy to maintain.

[Edit: Both Patrick and I had so much fun with the flickr site over the summer that we've continued using it as a clearinghouse for pictures from our adventures even after we diverged. Check out Patrick's Tucson, AZ collection on the RamblingRovers flickr site, or go straight to his magnificent sunset in the high desert photos taken right in his backyard.]

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A local welcome

As promised, the hot humid air of the eastern seaboard mixes with the cold fronts coming off the Atlantic to create some *wicked* thunderstorms. This one, on Saturday the 25th of August (2007) generated repeated severe weather warnings and sundry cries of "Auntie Em!!" from local government and public safety types.
The Overture had just started as I was leaving the library and Act One was closing in on Hayattsville when I stepped off the metro and headed for home. Though I was supposed to be going straight back to studying I just had to interrupt it a few times to run out and document the progress of the storm as the clouds piled up and the lightning developped from flashes to great forked arcs. I like the area already, but talk about value added!

Perhaps the novelty will wear off (probably next time I'm in dress clothes) but as it is, I get a kick out of the warm, steamy air combined with the cool rain. The lull and rush of the cicadas as the wind picks up and the rythym of the rain as it's driven in waves across the tree branches is so perfect it seems surreal. It's all terribly atmospheric and sensuous; to walk out into the beginnings of the storm after the quite, air-conditioned sterility of the library makes me feel invigorated and alive.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Don't try this at home...

Well, it became clear after only a few days that, much as I liked living in downtown DC, it wasn't going to last. Living in a highrise apartment is nice, but sharing a room was even less fun than I remembered. (Actually, I'm probably spoiled because I had cool er roommates/housemates than most people would be entitled to expect.) With the workload, however having an office/sanctuary to yourself is pretty much a must.

Problem's the start of the school year. I've already moved into one place; I did all my looking for housing in a frantic rush at the beginning of the summer so I could leave for Europe with a place to come back to. Now what?

I don't recommend trying to duplicate this if you get into a bind housing-wise, but here's how it happened: While traveling around Europe I made sure to make mention of the fact that I was moving to DC when I met other Americans. Turns out a lot of other people live, work, and go to school in DC, too. One of those people was a woman taking summer classes at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. We met her in a hidden little university restaurant, off the street and down a flight of stairs. She mentioned she was returning to law school in the fall. When I told her I was going to start at Catholic in DC she responded that she, too, was a law student at CUA. And when I mentioned my trepidation about plunging headlong into yet ANOTHER new city at the end of the summer, she mentioned that if I needed housing her mom just so *happened* to be a real estate agent. Of all the gin joints in all the world...

Once back stateside I packed up my affairs and moved east. I arrived on a weekend so the business office of the apartment was closed; I couldn't sign papers. Orientation week kept me so busy that I couldn't get in to sign during the first few days of the week either, and by that time it had, as I said, become clear that I needed a change. So I called Lindsay. She picked me up, gave me the tour, and it was all but a done deal. I moved in the next day.

There's probably no principle to be gained here other than "It was supposed to work out this way"; I can't see how meeting your future housemate 9,000 miles from home under circumstances that simultaneously shield you from being locked into a bad lease is something I could duplicate if I tried.

I'm now living in a classic old red-brick two-story in Hayattsville, Maryland. I don't have my DC zipcode, but I'm still within the Beltway, so it counts. Hayattsville is a fairly lower middle class suburb of DC. It's closer to DC, so there's not much of a price break as compared to Silver Spring (which is *the* student zone) but it's got most everything you need within walking distance and it's not as crowded or citylike as Silver Spring. Plus, here, thanks to the magic of sharing a house with the daughter of a real estate agent, I can get a floor of house for less than the kids up north pay for a share of an apartment. Ahhh, it feels good to be putting down roots again after being in transition for so long. (Anywhere from 7 weeks to 5 years, depending on how you count.) I'm really looking forward to becoming more at home as the months go on. I'm already starting to think about whether, if and when I get visitors from out West, I will feel like a local showing them around, or still another tourist. Guess there's really only one way to find out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I could get used to this

Well, two full days in the city and now I see why people like it!

I must admit, I feel pretty swell having a downtown DC zipcode. I'm living on the 2nd floor of a 10 story apartment building in what is pretty much the center of Washington. 13th and M is about 6 blocks from the White House and Capitol Mall and 7 blocks from DuPont circle. My main commute to school, 13th street, is complete with all the trappings of city life. Newspaper vendors, hotdog vendors (a Hebrew National trolley with a Vietnamese proprietress selling Polish sausages...) business men and women, and of course, homeless people wedged into out of the way cracks of buildings.

The neighborhood is neither great nor terrible, falling into that relatively sweet spot that allows for concievable affordability on a student budget but isn't palpably unsafe. I certainly don't feel unsafe, despite the litany of "Thou should nots" that I hear from well meaning friends and superior sounding longtimers alike. I don't want to have my optimish disproven by a knife to the ribs, but thus far I'm quite pleased and not the least bit intimidated.

Monday, August 13, 2007

And Hello to you too!

My time as a Rambling Rover this summer has reminded me how much I enjoy writing for its own sake. Though in the past I have tried to use readyFIREaim in the past as an outlet for my creative impulses, I often suffered from the (all too real, I'm afraid) sense that I had nothing of great interest or novelty to relate. I believe that the essence of interesting conversation (and, by extension, writing) is "Be relevant, be original, or be quiet". My adventure this summer gave me something to share and I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. On the cusp of a move back east and the beginning of law school I feel that I am once again on an adventure, this one even larger if somewhat more subtle than the first.

In brief, I'm entering the final frontier of my formal education. After years of soul searching, anxiety, and "discernment" (which is the dignified name for slow-motion existential crises) I satisfied myself that law school wasmy proper path and fought my way through the institutionalized hazing of the modern law school application process. I was accepted at the Catholic University of America School of Law in Washington, D.C. and, after visiting in May, I accepted their offer. The 3 months that followed were a frantic montage of preparations for school and Europe follwed by my my and my brother's incredible 6 week romp through the old world. I arrived home barely 4 days before I was due to leave for DC with, once again, my life packed into bags. It seemed very much like a continuation of our trip; back on a plane, to another capitol city, with a more than a little trepidation and the promise of another great adventure.

Arriving into DC via Washington Regan (DCA) is quite an introduction to the city. Though Baltimore (BWI) is the cheaper choice for people not going directly into the city, DCA seems to be almost deliberately placed to provide tantalazing glimpses of familar landmarks to wide-eyed passengers as the plane taxis to the jetway. Driving into downtown DC the freeway signs were almost as comical as they were gratifying to me as a newly minted "local". So dense are the noteworthy sights, monuments, buildings, and institutions that the signs seem to rattle them off like a breathless maitre'd at a restaurant with 60 specials.

I couldn't help smiling at the peak of the Washington Monument off the port bow of our SuperShuttle, and I had to remind myself that locals don't gawk at the tourist sights.

Out for an orienting constitutional later that evening with my new roommate I was soaking in the pace of city life and delighting in the hordes of pedestrians vying bravely with cars for use of the crosswalk. I learned very quickly that tourists watch the stoplights, locals watch the cars. Slipping across a busy street right before a red light I had just commented on how city traffic moved to a different rythm than suburban traffic when *BANG!!* -- right behind us, an SUV t-bones a sedan.

We laughed for about two seconds, watching the karmically-chastised red light runner limp his 4-door off to the side of the road, then noticed that the SUV wasn't moving. No one else seemed to be doing anything and I didn't think citified indifference extended to car accidents, so I hustled over and poked my head in the window.

Me: Whoaaaa. Everyone ok? Anyone hurt?
Me: Uhhhh...{Shiiiiiiit} I'm only gonna ask one more time then I'm calling an ambulance
Passenger 1: Y-yes. Help. Ambulance.

And wouldn't you know it, I hadn't brought my cell phone. Fortunately Brendan, my roommate, had, and I called it in while being mercifully sidelined by the pros who showed up in a squad car as I was stepping away. Welcome to DC indeed!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

First they came for the level designers...

Student designs computer game level based off of his school, is removed as a "terroristic threat."

Articles here, here, and here. (May 2nd, 2007)

This one hit home and I'm mad. I'm not sure where to start so I'll begin with the easiest to criticize aspect on ANY story in the mass media that involves computer games, that of context.

It's clear that computer gaming is still a relative niche in terms of the general public consciousness. Substitution of the clunky "shoot 'em up game" for the more standard term "First Person Shooter" and confusion about terms of art (such as whether a Counter-Strike map is a "game" a "mod" or a "level") all illustrate the general ignorance of the journalism community and, by extension, the public at large. Sadly, our educational, administrative and investigative personal are generally drawn from this same public, producing a cadre of individuals and organizations that must, by their nature, step up and act in these situations, but are also by their make-up doomed to act in ignorance much of the time. Put more succinctly, school officials, journalists, and law-enforcement personnel have essentially NO idea how to interpret situations in which video games are involved because they lack the context for interpreting them. I shall attempt to provide some context to this particular incident and I would like to see if this somehow mitigates the appearance of danger.

Counter-Strike is, as many of you reading this will know, a first person shooter designed around the scenario of Counter-Terrorists attempting to neutralize a Terrorist plot in progress. This basic scenario plays out on dozens to hundreds of maps hosted on internet servers. Many of these maps were created by professional map designers working for game developers. The lion's share, however, were created by amateur enthusiasts of the game, many of whom are young adults. Map layouts and designs are drawn from every conceivable source; famous buildings, abstract architecture, surreal mazes, even the sit-com Simpson's house. And yes, even schools. Viewed in context, a level designer's choice of using his school is not only less sinister, it grows greatly more natural. School is a young adult's domain, his or her place of work, living, and playing. He knows its geography and architecture intimately and feels a sense of ownership of that space. I have designed my whole house using Google sketch-up and once I was done, I was disappointed to notice that, though it made a great map for furniture layout, it would make an uninspiring CS level. My highschool, on the other hand, would have made a fabulous map. Perhaps that's what scares me; that THIS COULD HAVE BEEN ME. Had I the tools at the time I certainly might have tried to design a map inspired by my school, and I would have done so in the almost naive innocence that because I meant no harm it wouldn't be a problem. Almost. I might not have, for fear of exactly this sort of overreaction, ignorance, and fear. And I apparently would have been right.

Though the articles note that the student was "questioned" it is unclear what questions he was asked. The biggest question (the unspoken elephant in all these articles) is whether he planned on doing ANYTHING that posed a threat to anyone. He was released without charges and a search of his room turned up.....a hammer.
A hammer. This is the best that the police could come up with on a kid they clearly wanted to nail. Not even a rubber-band gun, a Red Rider, or, God forbid, an airsoft. Oh wait! Upon further inspection they found 5 SWORDS. What 17 year old (?) Asian boy wants five swords? No, wait, better question: What 17 year old boy *wouldn't* want five swords. Here, too, I find myself personally. I am a fencer. I have 3 swords under my bed. I have one hanging on my wall. And until last year I lived in a house with upwards of 30 different swords counting wooden, sport, replica, and cut-you-in-half-not-an-imitation samurai swords. What does this tell us about me, about my roomates, and about this Clements High School student? NOTHING. It tells us nothing because the journalists and, more than likely, the school and investigative personal failed to adequately take into account the context of the "evidence."

I haven't mentioned that the student is Chinese because it is largely immaterial to the main point that I had to make, but I would like to note it out as a post-script because it would be improper not to acknowledge that this non-event probably suffered inflation by being viewed in the context of the Virginia Tech shootings so recently ago. Maybe the student's race was a component here; maybe it was not. It certainly will not be acknowledged factor, but if I can think of it so can millions of others. It sickens my soul to think that some people are now adding "Asians" onto the end of some ever-stretching list, perhaps below to "Muslims" or "Middle Eastern People." What comes next? "Level designers?"

Friday, January 26, 2007


Going in and out of the LSAC (Law School Admissions Council) website with its pictures of smiling or stern looking future lawyers scrolling by got me thinking. These same kids could be on the cover of an MCAT prep book posing as aspiring doctors and no one would be the wiser. Even so though, it gives the whole process a face. There's this gut assumption when you're working on your application that you're actually competing against HIM, and his great-great grandfater was on Amistad, his father was a supreme court justice, he has a 180 on his LSAT and he's a Peace Corps veteran with a commendation from the Shiek of Petrolstan. Why do they even HAVE these folks on the website? Is it like the personals sites where they show you a heavily doctored picture of a buxom lady up there with the tacit implication that they *all* look like that once you've payed your $9.99 for a peek inside? If that's so then the LSAC folks should have pictures of wheelbarrows full of CASH. Or nice cars. Somehow "serving my fellow man and protecting the moral fiber of this nation" doesn't translate into a jpeg. Don't worry; I didn't use that phrase in my essay. Though, as an endcap, I did have this great idea for an essay if I ever decide to throw my hands up and shoot the moon. Everyone is looking for their "angle" in the personal essays, something that shows how they represent some aspect of diversity and they've overcome an unimagiable hardship to stand before the admissions committee. I figured it would be great to do one on my struggle with LYCANTHROPY. Oh, how I was a happy young child until I was diagnosed with this terrible affliction. How *hard* it was to fit in. I just wanted to run and play and be like the other children but instead I found myself EATING them. I overcame discrimination by EATING THE VILLAGERS and now I want to go to law school so I can EAT--er, advocate for the rights of the less fortunate. I figure they'll give that one readthrough and decide "Well, he's brilliant or he's batshit insane, but either way he's diversity."

Here's to the dog and pony show. Even if you win, you're still an animal.