Saturday, December 09, 2006

Classes are over

I just got out of my last review session, and had my last class today.

Now I just have to study some civ pro, answer some questions, study some torts, answer some questions, study some contacts, answer some questions, and I am done with my first semester of law school. Not so hard on paper eh?

Its funny looking over the school. Stress is getting the best of them, and it is noticeable. Some people are more defensive, some just seem worried. A few people are reassuring themselves by telling everyone that they are not stressed. A few people are enforcing their work habits by telling everyone that they are super stressed.

The whole grades thing has never looked more vain to me. By and large, these kids really know the material. There are holes, and not everyone should be teaching a class, but these are very smart kids working very hard, knowledge is going to happen.

But now we grasp at letters on a page that for some mean nothing less than a stamp of approval on something they have worked harder for than anything else up to that point.

For me? I think its pretentious and not realistic to say I am not stressed. I don't feel stressed, but I work a fair amount. I find myself more standoffish than normal, and a bit more worried. These are signs of stress with me. So whether I call it how I detect it or not its gotta be there.

Life has been good, which has been a decent distraction, I am not all law school, which makes me better at law school. Being able to get away focuses me down more and has helped me a lot when I do study (rather than burning out).

Right now? I look forward to tests. I would never say that to an NYU law student because it comes off arrogant. The implication is that you think you will do well on tests, tests being comparative, the implication because that you will do better than everyone else, which becomes, you think you know the stuff better or are smart than someone else. Sort of a "but for" causation test for arrogance.

I look forward tests for the reason that a great TA of mine and one of my profs have said many times: tests are a way for you to express that you learned something.

So I am left with one question, did I learn something worth expressing? I hope so, and I think so. I remember there was a point where I did not "buy" torts. There was a point where I did not know what "International Shoe" meant. I don't know if I learned a coded language, the moral equivalent of secret-handshakes, or learned the principles that do or should govern our governors. Either way, it feels like I have learned something.

I will put what I have learned on my test, and I will hope that its a lot. I want to do well, but right now it feels like it did before my thesis, I don't care how I do, I am proud of what I have done (then I was disappointed about how I did, defeating everything I just said).

In other words, give me four days, and I will be a ball of stress.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gilbert Arenas 3 pointer

I like to follow bad rants with little posts and inside jokes. So here is Gilbert Arenas making a last minute shot!

Some sophistry

The third comment back by "anonymous" was my mom saying she loved me, the second back was my dad saying I would have been better named Katie and the last one was calling me meaningless, pedantic, and arrogant. It feels like growing up all over again.

To be fair, the last anonymous called my writing meaningless, pedantic, and arrogant. Meaningless I disagree with, I think it has meaning but its rough and could be shorter and easier to access. However, I have a small history in academic writing or legal writing, so really - I am kind of faking it. To pedantic, I have always consider that word too ironic to really process (the only time I have heard it used was by someone being pedantic there). And to arrogant, I think that is a bit unfair. I think I rightly characterize the post and its comments with me being a 1L law student sort of guessing my way around.

I actually don't care about the response in itself, I believe it was sarcastic (again, anyone who uses "pedantic" is either being sarcastic or is an idiot - and most of my friends, hopefully, fall into the former): but it did get me thinking.

When do I get to start being arrogant with my arguments again? If I have learned one thing in law school: the answer is always maybe. Sure there are questions that don't get answered with maybe, but those questions don't get asked. Not by teachers and not by students. Which leads to professors saying: "Welllllllll" a lot more than they should.

In my "lawyering" class the other day we were asked what we had learned about ourselves over this semester that would make us a good lawyer. The results: nothing short of disastrous. I see it as an issue of timing. Last Tuesday may have been the climax of kids feeling both unprepared for tests and guilty about having not been studying.

Answers were met with a lot of sighs, entirely different from when our semester began. Day 1: we were all told to say something about ourselves. We had fine answers, most were rather impressive and constructed with a delicate layer of modesty over a good core of self pride. Now the class was awkward and fidgety about how they feel they would be a good lawyer.

To be clear: I think every one of my lawyering classmates would (and for the most part, will) be a good lawyer. I got a great class, eerily so. If I listed people I don't like in the class, I think I would put myself in the top three, its just that good.

But it was a rough time to ask.

Tests from this side of the 1L veil of ignorance seem like this vague cloud of threats. We know what they look like. We can practice them. We will study for them. But there are a lot of unknown factors: what if we get a freak test, what if we have a freak day, what if pressure+law=instant death, and what if we are good, but not as good as our peers.

The latter is the most interesting because its weird for NYU law students to fear, who I think by and large are not that competitive. They are shockingly competitive with themselves, but they are not necessarily competitive with their peers. There are exceptions (almost startlingly exceptions really), but most seem competitive with themselves more than anyone else.

But that is not how tests are graded.

A lot of my peers I think have come to the best solution: get Bs. Learn the material, do as well as you can, but don't stress, and don't drown in books, just swim in them.

I think there is a lot too that, because there is a, not to be pedantic, diminishing returns problem here. Doing better does not directly equal success.

But for most law students it seems to me, the 1L is to abstracted for that. A tunnel vision occurs from the nature of the beast unless you have something else going on in your life. Because NYU law has a bunch of very involved, eclectic, and individualistic students, I think a good lot of the population here has something to go back to. But those who don't run the risk of tunnel vision.

I went the tunnel route by choice, I knew I would, and I planned on this. Best reason? What else do I have to do? I guess I could appreciate New York and any number of other things, but I got time for that. I know I will get back to those things, probably after this first semester. I have always been good at balance, and then saving few months for abundance, and I tend to appreciate those experiences.

So now here is my situation (the aforementioned arrogance is how I took this broad diatribe and put it to the only clear point: myself): when do I start being arrogant and, maybe not pedantic, but academic?

I take a pride in "Level II" analysis. I think I can do well given material and asked, what's under this? This is what got me through undergrad with shockingly little studying (minus my thesis). But after that, I am at a loss. I am historically not very good at "creating" theories, or looking for something deeper where someone else hasn't. But I think that is partially lack of confidence. Most times I don't want to say something that I think is "deep" because I think it is something that was said before.

Thats what was going on in that legal diatribe (my comment on which I think was better than the actual post): I recognized that it was not the first time it was said, but I was trying to say it before I read it or heard it. Afterwards, my classes basically covered the same thing: some risks are assumed, some are not, some risks are allocated, some are not. I think meaningful, but the comment is right, my posting such an argument was meaningless.

I hate comments in class sometimes because everyone just says the book notes. In one class, she basically asks "What's the deal with this?" No one puts their hands up, finally a gunner (myself included, sigh) puts up their hand and goes: "I know, I mean, its totally like this?" This being note four in the book first paragraph, another hand goes up, "Yeah, but what are like, totally, forgetting this" which is the second paragraph. And it goes on like that.

Its not that the comments aren't smart, but sometimes I question the source or the genuineness of that system. I mean, I guess it helps us learn the law, right?

Anyway, now that I know that NYU students are actually checking this (its not like I kept it a secret - I posted it on facebook), to those who don't like me: I am not as much of a jerk as this post would indicate. Or even some of the last few. They are just getting a weird outlet for wanting to rant at a source that won't respond by pointing out the obvious vanity involved...wait, well, I guess thats not true anymore...whatever...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

First to speak

One of my favorite legal rules comes from contracts. If someone manifests a revocation of an offer before acceptance, the offer is revoked. If someone manifests an acceptance before revocation is manifested, the offer is accepted.

The Farnsworth casebook writes: "When offeror and offeree meet at a railway station, is it absurd that their legal relations can depend on who speaks first?"

I love that quote because its a great question. I think the rule is so perfect for American society in its own way. It teems with culture. That was have established a system where it is a little race in order to set up or destroy a cooperative unit. I like it because it is petty and although very detached from a natural state (assuming nature as basic tenants of survival) but so fully ingrained into culture.

Our culture detaches us from the only drive we had before: survival for reproduction and attaches us to so many odd games and trivialities. Its not that I dislike them, I play the culture game probably more than most, although I would like to think I am a bit more aware than most of what games are being played and why.

My favorite part about the rule is that it captures some of the funniest tendencies of American relationships. I think that Seinfeld provides limitless explication on some of these, but notably: Can a person someone refuse an offer to break up? Can someone avoid an offer to break up? Is control in a relationship defined by the person most likely to end it? And pertain to the quote above, how some relationships seem to be a race to be the first person to call it off without offending cultural norms.

PS - I am lot.... And its getting way too natural to write in an outlining shorthand, so send k ?s if you want answs.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I hope I have not gone insane

My contracts class has a discussion board. It often features discussions that get, well, a little weird. To avoid being apart of that, I have basically avoided posting on it. However, I rolled the dice with maybe the most insane contracts thing I have written in a while. I am proud of it in the amount of thought I put in it, embarrassed in something that should have clear fallacies. But, if you want to see what happens if you give me a little less than an hour and a topic in contracts that interests me, you get this....

I have not posted anything on this board for a while, but I, like Ashley was inspired by something on 798 (but we are posting for different reasons so I did not just reply, though I expect an Ashley response to this). However, rather than the distinguishing Farnsworth presents, which I also do not necessarily accept, I was inspired by the Harvard Ballad at the bottom of 798. I figure if Sherwood v. Walker was worth writing a poem given seventy years of history in casebooks, it has to be worth me trying to write something given one-hundred-twenty years in casebooks.

I will put my argument as compactly as possible. I am doing this without outside reviews and class. I think that the case merits a foray into intellectual discourse by the board.

I am tempted to distinguish Wood and Sherman through inherent risk. We have often talked about how risk is beneficial in contracts. As a gambler with a remarkable tendency to lose, I ironically agree with that. I think that it rewards prospecting, taking adventures, living life to its fullest, and cheering for point spreads on otherwise blow-outs.

However, risk is not for all. Certain contracts, presumably, could be without risk (at least ideally). Say I wanted change for a dollar, and you wanted a dollar for change. That trade should ideally be risk free. If it turns out that one of the quarters traded for, even by mutual mistake, was a fake quarter. It seems fair for the short-changed party to ask for a real quarter within a reasonable time. It simply does not look like a contract where "you pays your money, you takes your chances."

But there are contracts where risk is in the deal. Stocks and prospects are the most obvious. As such, I want to say that the difference between Wood and Sherwood is how much risk the parties intended for in the contract.

In Wood, a rock exchange involves risk. It was clear this involved risk that the rock was valuable or not valuable. If the rock was just a rock, Boyton would have wasted his dollar. If the rock was a topaz, Wood would have wasted her rock. Both knew there was a risk involved. The fact that the risk materialized into something beyond exceptions is still captured by the risk that the rock was worthless or it was valuable.

In Sherwood, no one was gambling that Aberlone was pregnant. It was not a reasonable risk to be assumed. In fact, they take it a step further by not just inferring she was not pregnant, but mutually agreeing that she was not pregnant. There was no gamble here, the intent of the party was to sell an infertile cow for a certain amount of money. The fertility of the cow throws out the whole agreement because that was not apart of the risks reasonably assumed.

I normally don't like over-philosophizing, but I am having fun with this:

The trade is (Rock price) = (Price as valuable) * (Probability of that) + (Price as rock) * (Probability of that)

If it was a .0014% chance that this rock was worth $700 this was a fair deal. The probability was probably higher than that (maybe not, maybe this is like those torts cases where the fact that it happened weighs in jury's heads as proof that it was likely to happen), but that could be accountable to the desperation of Wood and the knowledge of Boyton.

However, Sherwood:
Infertile cow = $80

Much simpler math with no algebra and no chances, similar to my change analogy of $1=$1.

I am saying that the parties intended these equations. if the equations are not true, then the contract was not what either party intended. If it was not what either party intended, the contract should not be enforced.

It should be noted that I am not saying that the parties did know of the risk involved, but should have known of the risk involved. If the risk is specifically disavowed, that is clear evidence that the contract is not the intent of the parties. Keeping that in mind, here is how I see the other cases in the chapter:

Both parties agreed there was water in the land. They had every reason to believe this. Sure one party may have looked, but usually this will not come up. The intent of the parties was not to include risk, thus,

Land with plentiful quality water = $100 an acre

When it turned out that this deal was not correct, the whole thing aborts as not intentional and not an enforceable contract.

Lenawee County Bd. of Health:
Perhaps all of this is located in the Lenawee opinion, without the silly math, because the court specifically speaks of "risk of the parties' mistake because the contract contained an las is' clause." Thus I feel unoriginal suddenly (I just read this now, but I have written too much to turn back):

Price paid for building = Building "as is"

As is has built in risk as point out by the court, so really the equation is,

Price paid for building = (Buyer's value in using it for apartment buildings) * (Building's likelihood "as" habitable) + (Whatever that is worth) * (Building likelihood "as" unhabitable).

This trade included a risk calculation for the possibility of the building being habitable, or not. The proposed mistake falls into that risk, thus, it was included in the intent of the parties.

I could do the other others, but the one where I might be stretching the most is Stees:
Here I see the issue in terms that they use in the notes, being distinguished as a "performance specification" and a "design specification." I see the case somewhat iffy in that there were designs specified for the performance, thus it is sort of both at the same time. However, the controlling factor the court looks to is that, "The defendants contracted to 'erect and complete the building.'" As such, I see the court as viewing the contract as:

Price paid for the building = (Price of building the building if conditions are fine) * (Probability of that) + (Price of building the building if conditions are not fine) * (Probability of that)

Here the conditions were harder for me to write, so the likelihood of me messing it up in terminology are greater but I think that this is still correct in concept. The last postulate is a fine deal if I believe that the probability that the conditions are not fine are low. The reason that this risk is put on the builder is because he has agreed to "perform" not agreed to "try and perform." Thus, his side takes the risk, if the buyer took the risk it might look like:

(Price paid for the building) * (Likelihood that plans will work) + (Price paid for the building) * (Likelihood that plans don't work) = Price of building the building

Both of these show the intent of the parties and an a willingness to accept risk into their intent. Both of these would not allow "mutual mistake" to revoke the ruling.

In a contract that requires risk, such as art, it will be a rare case where there is not reasonable risk on one side. In those cases, "mutual mistake" should not be enforced unless both parties agree that there is simply no risk involved.

If you did not read any of the above, and rightfully so, here is my one paragraph summary:

If both parties' mutual mistake is to assume a materialized risk could not exist entirely, that mutual mistake means that neither intended the contract as stated in the four corners, thus the contract is void. If both parties' mutual mistake was that believing a materialized risk was low or nominal, then the contract still reflected their intent, thus the contract is enforceable.

Writing this out, I thought of a lot of tangential arguments against me that I passed up for the goal of trying to write something on this case (again, the poem captured the legal side of my mind), so I am not sure which ones kill my argument. I also don't know if this is all redundant to much better law review works (which I am going to check out now). So I see ample opportunity for response. Lets do Rose justice and post our thoughts on the case, even if they in no way apply to what I wrote here. Direct responses are good, but I just want to see smart NYU contracts people talking about a case worthy of poetry. Also I spell checked this and tried to have it be clear throughout (despite the algebra, that is meant just for people who think like that), bonus points for those who reply in kind.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Really? That's great...

"Sigh, yeah, that would be good..."

"what do you do..."

"Study law"



"That's great..."

"And you?"

"Oh, you know, looking now, just moved here"

"Oh really?"



"Well, anyway..."


"Pleasure meeting you..."
"Yeah, you too..."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Getting my name

Okay, this has got to be the last blog post for this weekend, but I am actually a bit excited about a new development. My name finally goes to me in Google.

For as awesome as my parents are, they were not necessarily very creative with my name. For instance, Matt Warner on face book pulls up 60 people with my exact name. I would not be entirely surprised if there is another Matthew Kendall Warner out there.

However, now for the first time that I have found, if you google Matthew Warner or Matt Warner, I actually come up on the first set of pages. In fact, I am number two under Matthew Warner, passing all but a writer who actually writes horror novels about China (when I was thinking about becoming a writer, that was a bit discouraging).

I like this overall because I have been developing websites for as long as I can remember but never really developed much of a presence.

This is not exactly a presence per se, but there is a lot of material, and some of it is worth reading (I liked some of my blog posts in China). Although most of this blog is actually trivial (obscenely so, see last post), its cool to get my name on the web.

It might actually hurt for job interviews, I hear that they more and more look for blogs. However I am not especially ashamed of my personality. If I get judged unworthy based on a blog that has at least some thought value from time to time, I probably should not get that job in the first place.

Freestyle Walking

It seems a rather broad band portion of my generation, tucked gently under Generation X, remembers "Freestyle Walking" as a concept. Not as a concept that they engaged in, but rather, one they remember existing.

The only connection I had to the concept was from the show "MTV News Unfiltered" where teens were given the chance to film their own news on little cameras provided by MTV. I only remember the name because of Wikipedia, and I remember the concept of the show only because of "Freestyle walking" (well, remember in the sense of occasionally reminiscing on the show, I think even if there was no freestyle walking episode I might remember the concept).

Seriously, why do so many people remember that program? Of course, its determinant on a number of factors, the biggest being that the person answering watched MTV.

I think there is something deeper going on in this single concept being remember. I think it perhaps speaks to the division of our culture at that time. Skaters as a concept were becoming codified into a very specific group at the time. They shared a jocks hate of nerds, however, they themselves shared the nerds characteristic of social deviancy. There formed a thicker tension in the social groups wherein the hierarchy become more abstracted.

Freestyle walking was so ludicrous, so seemingly sarcastic, and yet seemed so appropriate. If one seriously risked bodily injury and spent similar time and effort into freestyle walking as skateboarding, what really separated the two out? There was clearly something instinctually wrong with the concept, and I can think of only two clear answers.

First, the board itself. The board came to represent the entire social strata that it spawned. This explains much of the tension between skaters, roller bladders, and BMXers. Mind you I am speaking of cultures I am entirely distant to, but this is a blog for friends and I am not going to read up on the latest literature to confirm my facts.

Second, the history of skateboarding made this modification seem truly weird. It pointed out just how abstract our cultural criteria really had become. Going back to the first major change, high schoolers at the time had to suddenly look at a social classification held natural and question whether the only real difference between freestyle walking and skateboarding was a piece of wood.

Clearly there was more of a difference, but that difference all falls into the history of skateboarding culture. The individualism that it had created from other forms of social strata. Skateboarders were feared like hippies by conservatives, and similarly fell out of line from traditional social hierarchy. At the same time, they took on an aggressive posture which assumed illegality, even though what they were doing was less strictly illegal than most deviant groups.

How many of you remember freestyle walking? I am starting to realize how culturally obsessed I am. I buy into every stereotype and I am constantly hunting for deeper meanings in abstracted societies. I do know that I have had conversations with people about freestyle walking more times than one should expect, given that no one actually knows people who really did the "sport," but rather relied on that one irony soaked user created video.

...Is it a bad sign or a good sign that I have way more to write about this but decided I need to draw a line...

Sunday, November 05, 2006


I like it when judges say really rather catty things. As such, I am going to start putting up occasional CJP, catty judge posts.

"At one point Gabriele prophetically observed in relation to the gold deliveries: "Steve [Saccoccia] is going to put us all in jail some day" U.S. v. Gabriele, 63 F.3d 61, 64 (RI Court of Appeals 1995).

I like that because its both condescending and ironically also prophesies the rest of the appeal.

Crossed eyes

I just wanted to share a devastating fact.

I cannot become a NY subway train driver. Not as in, the qualifications would crush me. Not as in, "oh no you can't/didn't," "oh yes I can/did." Rather, I am biologically destined to never being a NY train driver.

I was devastated. So not only does my eye haunt my vanity from a dark corner of my mind, but my job options are closing down left and right (I can't be a rocket ship pilot either!).

The funny part was when they listed things that stereopsis plays a role in, "such as, catching a ball, parking a car, threading a needle, performing surgery, or any other activity that requires accurate depth perception at close distances." Outside of the surgery one (which I won't do for countless reasons), It was like a list of things that I am not especially good at.

I actually catch balls by just putting my hands in front of their path, which is fine with basketball but sucks with footballs (its hard to explain, but a football is harder to catch straight on than a basketball).

One more thing with the article, it says that you will have trouble becoming an NBA point guard without stereopsis. Arguably my favorite player (and starting on my fantasy team), all-start shooting guard Tracy McGrady has an eye that might be even more walled out than my own. The thing that I like best is that he shoots lights out from the wings, which has the least amount of visual cues for "faking it." There was a time, inspired by his shooting, where that was my best shot.

But no subway driving... man, things are looking down.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

This is my view...its good. And we had NYU colors on the empire state building the other night. I love the colors of the ESB, they are alway interesting.

This is the corner in front of my house, the streets were invaded during Halloween.

This is the street directly in front of my room. The building at the top is my law school. The wealth of the people cruising along this strip was intense. Limos, countless Mercedes, etc.

There were multiple break dancing crews just down the street from me.

Taken while coming home far too late after NYU's big fall semester party.

Law school culture

I have typed out a lot of different blogs on how law school kids are freaks. The problem is that it is hard to write that in such a way that conveys what I am trying to convey without cutting into people that can easily access my non-private site through a very direct link. As employers drift over to this site (as I hear that is what they do now, and thanks to, I have to stand by what I say), I am going to have to nuance up this comment, so lets go!

So here is the deal, if you are in NYU law school, you are probably a freak. Really, if you went to any intense law school, the odds are probably pretty good; there is just only one group where I am willing to testify to the freakiness. This is why, you didn't get in here by being normal. You didn't get in here by being passive. Diversity directly counts in admission, and that is not just the color of the student, it's their approach to life. In nicer words, you have to be special to go to this school.

The difference between a nerd, a gunner, a "slacker" (my favorite law school misnomer) and an average student? Paper thin. it's this little red line that dances through linguistics. it's a hand raised. it's an hour extra studied. Even the ones that study all the time and the ones that skim (they are out there, and I love you if you are reading this)? They are just in different directions. Because the same intensity that drives one to books, and the intensity that drives one away from books is what got most of the people here.

I don't want to go into "problems," because that is unfair. I am not accusing anyone of a problem. But the school has this weird element to it adopted from being created by this very specific cross section (highly motivated, individualistic, smart kids) of an entire country.

First weird thing: conversations just get weird. I have never noticed how many social layers American society supports within every conversation. People who say it's all about culture always sounded ones for hyperbola to me, now I take it back. A comment left hanging for just slightly too long, a catty comment that had no reason to be said, an awkward turn from someone, all of these are more pronounced by the fact that such different and specific individuals are doing them.

In most situations, these kids dominate. They dominate by being aggressive. They dominate by being smart. They dominate by being funny. They dominate by being just so themselves, and so put together, that people want to listen. Here, that option is a dangerous one, as you audience is just like you. I have seen two people talking at each other, with no real sense a conversation was occurring. Rather, words were being sent at each other to convey the ideas that they wanted to convey. However, there was surely no give and take. Just two people talking.

Second weird thing: drama, so much drama. I think it gets at the extreme social sensitivity of the people around here. For the legal reader and anyone who has access to Wikipedia, there are a lot of emotional "eggshell skulls" walking around the school.

However, it's worth emphasizing, this is not a bad thing. I am not making a value judgement, but stating this, kids take all of this very seriously. It reminds me of middle school, not in it's immaturity, but it's contrived nature. You have 1,500 ambitious kids or so, you put them in the highest stress environment of their lives, and then you have them indirectly compete twice a year for the one standard of achievement that most of them have excelled at for 16 years of their lives. So what is going to happen? Drama.

So what is drama? it's hard to define, I have tried to do it before on this blog. The safest best for me is added social pretense. As I admitted earlier, culture is thick. I think "drama," as used in this context, is just adding a few layers. it's taking things personally that were meant casually. it's fighting without fists or arguments but in nuanced lobs of catty comments. it's people looking down on others that are only nominally dissimilar to themselves (supra above).

Last one, but definitely not the only way law school is freaky: Reflecting on oneself is constant and harsh. I originally had the word ugly in there but took it out because that is not what I am trying to convey, rather, it's just a reflection in a positivist manner, it's neither good nor bad inherently (the reflection that is, the actual process is probably unquestionably good for reasons of self discovery).

I consider myself highly motivated and fairly individualistic. Where do those things come from? I am still not sure, but I have seen a mighty lot of my peers recently. A lot of it seems to be created by the individual - cut themselves out of whole cloth.

I think it is ultimately an imbalance. An imbalance simply being "lack of proportion between corresponding things" not a statement on whether that is good or not. However, these people are just different. And although the response is cultural, I think the source might be biological. This is spoken from the advantage of having virtually no biological background. As such, I can speak to biology as I imagine philosophers doing in the 16th century. Speaking to the entire body of science as a concept that supports whatever postulate they might hope that it does. However, summarized - I think something is different in the head of these kids.

And now you look at them and wonder, is that the same reason I am the way I am?

I am not trying to escape any of these things in saying that their application does not apply to me. I recognize I am a part of this game too. I just hope that I am more aware of it. However, not in an overblown pretentious way, but rather, a recognition of some of the consequences of what seems to be one clear fact: If you have a bunch of people selected for their excellence in similar societal games played over the course of at least 22 years, and you put them together constantly in a high-stress environment - a whole different culture will pour out.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Its bedlam downstairs.

New York goes big for Halloween, and I think the epicenter is one block West of here. I wish Google Earth was live updated...Well, that or I don't....

The racing motorcycle club seems to have chosen my dorm as the place to meet. I just now looked down from my window and saw about fourteen brand new motorcycles, a brand new Infinity, a stretch limo, and two brand new Mercedes.

Where did they get the money?

I like living in the epicenter. I can't appreciate it too much right now in law school, but I will. I am here two more years, and I will see how things are next year.

This is the deal, I am going to work like crazy this semester. If I get good grades, I will keep it up. If I get average grades, I won't. Average grades still get you the world out of here. Bad grades are hard to come by. If my rose colored glasses and dreams of grandeur fail, I will focus on my professional life outside of law school. If I can hang - I will try to stay there and keep building my record.

I have friends who study constantly, and friends far, far less. I am much closer to the constantly right now. And we will see if that matters.

For now, its time to go to bed over bedlam.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

So hot

Its just a great photo...

Go Wang.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Google analytics

I think my hit tracker is trying to tell me something.

Someone found my blog through:

"nyu law drop out"


I assume they were looking for the excellent Demetri Martin, that said, it still seems like my tracker is talking smack.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A legal fiction

My favorite legal term is one that most of you will have heard. In fact, unlike most excellent legal terms, it does not get its excellence from diabolical spelling or comical pronunciation. Rather, its very simple, "a legal fiction."

I love this because it is so value laden. The concept drips its own self-importance. Why do we have "agents" or "implied consent"? Well they are legal fictions. They are made up so that we can make the laws work.

The best part about this comes from the implications. First of all, it implies everything else to be legal fact. If there is one thing I have found, perched on my seamless web, there are no legal facts. Every case has its counter, and isn't there a reason my case books are all written in questions? If they are asking questions constantly are there really right answers? What does that say about the system?

This is not a criticism, rather it speaks to what I refereed to yesterday, the formation of the law as a metaphysical entity. Because every case has its opposite and every rule has its exception, law creates its own life. It thrives on its own fiction.

What does that say about our system? I hope it says something about our values of fairness. There are so many cases where I picture the judge saying to the clerk "So I think the plaintiff won, how do we get there?" In those sticky cases worthy of reaching a case book, the issues might rest on the legal advocates providing the judge a good excuse to find one way, rather than convincing him as a blank slate.

It makes our law bend and evolve without breaking. It makes the web analogy feel even more poetic.

The other side of a "legal fiction" is that now we go a step further. Our system, like the famous aboriginal world of anthropological lore, is the elephant that sits on a turtle, the turtles subsequently on other turtles all the way down. On top of an infinite number of turtles, we put a bunch of blatantly made up stuff on top, and deem them as such.

Why? Because it works. Its all of the pretension and self-agrandizing of philosophy but at the end of the day, law can put people into small cubes for the rest of their life while making only a small subsection of people mad. That's power, that matters, and that is what makes legal fiction worth reading.

A seamless web

Law school revolves around a constant state of ignorance. They don't teach you things, they ask you things. And you don't have answers, why? Because they never taught you. Its learning through osmosis.

My Civil Procedure class speaks of this frankly, our book refers to Civil Procedure as a "seamless web." In procedure we do not get some starting point on which we build an inverted pyramid. Instead, we get a "seamless web."

My problem, if the web is seamless, isn't it by necessity circular?

I find myself viewing knowledge in shapes. This has always been a practice I have shunned yet admired. I love the poetic imagery of the "blog o sphere." I hate the cheapening of the concept that it entails. As such, I have always been turned off by writers who refereed to the concepts learned in the first year of law school in shapes and broad generalizations.

Yet, I don't know how else to describe it. I find it baffling hard to explain what's hard about law school. It just is. It can make the most rudimentary concept utterly enthralling from the right perspective. It can make the most exciting case so mind numbing that I would prefer to suffer through the complicated and horrifying incident of the plaintiff rather than learn about its legal ramifications.

Case in point: A man drops blocks over a ledge, that is his job. The blocks are dropped some four stories down (unclear on this one, but my image is a sizable drop). As he is dropping a block, his boss (who sounds like an idiot at this point) wanders directly under the drop point. However, having begun to drop the block, the man has a choice:

Save the life of the unexpected innocent below or sacrifice his own life for a man he probably barely knows?

He chooses the latter. He falls with the block, and diverts it in mid-air.

Yet the judge's fact statement on this reads like a dictionary.

Let me write it again, because even the writing of it is intense: He falls with the block, and diverts it in mid-air.

The class discussion of this very famous case (Webb v. McGowin) was good (not nearly as good as it is in concept, but still). However, the book was mind numbing.

At the same time, I have a professor so impassioned by civil procedure we had the following discourse in class:

"What is going on here?"
"Forum shopping?"
"FORUM SHOPPING! One of the world's three great evils: crime, drugs, and forum shopping."

She said this dripping with disgust over the mere concept.

However, even explaining these little concepts, in narrative forum, begs thousands of questions. And that is what law is, thousands of questions. Its not math, it has no right answers. It has millions of questions. No question is right, because every question is relative. If everything is relative, what do you get?

A seamless web.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The orientation was today, and it was dry and what you would expect. Intellectual chest bumping and generally getting pumped. That is not to degrade the speakers, who were all fine, but it was still just an orientation.

Speaking to the upperclassmen was good, because it was clear that one can still remain a human being during the 1L. They emphasized for me that no one got kicked out. they all seemed to maintain lives outside of the school. Furthermore it seems that truly bad grades are hard to come by here.

I love my dorm, its small but exactly what I need - and it includes a beautiful view of the Empire State Building. I even have a chunk of the Washington Arch in my view. I hung up stuff inside and it is quant and Asian now.

Last night were some of the mixers, I somehow went to the only one where there was no free drinks, but I can survive. The mixer itself was a problem because it was International Law and Asian Law, which are the two groups I want to join. That is convenient, but I wanted to feel out the two groups individual. My preference is on Asian Law, so I did not have much time mingling with International Law students, which I wanted to do.

This was such a dry entry, but it was a dry couple of days. I chatted with the huge Beijing population in the LLM section of this school. I did not bring up Taiwan.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Apple/New York = way too cool

I am rocking down in New York. The place is great and I am really loving it. The photo is brought to you buy a MacBook down in the very cool Apple Store they opened on 5th avenue. The store is beautiful and the city is great. The specific computer is very cool, I did not know how many changes they had made on the MacBooks (other than the new processor). For one thing, the keyboard is really industrial, they keys are spaced apart and seem very strong and well built. Other than that, the computer is just generally super slick and beautiful (plus black!). Come on NYU Law, get with the MacTels thing so I can come back here.
I understand why they say that New York is the world's biggest little city. Everyone you go the place feels personal. No matter where I am, I get the impression that anywhere else in New York is accessible.
The city has incredible diversity, in the last couple hours alone I have heard Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Italian, and French (which got added to the list when I just heard someone at the other end of this table speaking French).
New York has everything I love from cities around the world, I really ended up the right place for me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I didn't forget photos

So here are some photos, only five this time. I hope to export more and put them up soon (all of them, for the most part, are the natural contrasts and settings, but I do need to size them and select them).

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mad props to Anamaniacs

This is a pretty bad first post back in the states, but its what you get for now, because I wanted to post it.

I was going to go to bed but first read a quick China blog. The blog entry was about an old Anamaniac's bit where Yakko lists off the countries of the world. Now really he has a few regions in there, and some cities, but it was clear that the point of the song was to point out countries of the world.

I was a huge Anamaniacs fan back in the day. I even remembering watching that very bit when it was first aired (or around that time, surely not on YouTube). I didn't know that they were tackling touchy political situations with guts.

The author, who is normally very good, points out that Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are apart of China (because no matter how educated, people from the mainland have never given me a deep answer to the Taiwan issue). Agreed with Tibet and Hong Kong, but Taiwan? All I know is that in a year of living in Taiwan I did not deal with the Chinese government once. Furthermore, its hard for me to face that Yakko is the bravest political leader that comes to mind on this issue (surely not the leader of Chad).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

No blogging in Beijing

Sorry I basically did not blog in Beijing. I was moving around a lot, and although I wrote a little, I was not in the "wireless area" if you will. This raises a point I learned from only blogging from wireless. Most cities have wireless, but secluded to a certain region. There are certain areas that will tend to have it, and certain that don't.
Although this seemed somewhat correlated with wealth, It seemed more correlated to foreigners. Areas with many wealthy Chinese (like some parts of Changed) were fruitless. They occasionally had internet, but had some distant concept of wireless internet. I also dealt with a lot of misconceptions of wireless. sometimes I would ask do you have wireless internet, and they would say yes. Later, I would discover they meant wired internet, or a small computer lab.
As to Beijing, I found the city primarily very well. The sites were cool and plentiful. In fact, there were many I did not get to, and will have to go next time. the best site of Beijing, and one of the best on the trip, was the Great Wall itself. i did a tour of the "Secret Wall," and to my surprise, the wall was pretty secret. I went with all foreigners which was a first time, and cool because of the internationalism and a preview of going back to the states (where I am going to get reverse culture shocked upside the head).
The wall itself was truly secluded and without any repairs. Many of locals had been nabbing stones from sections to build their houses. As such, areas where remarkably well maintained (where it was very high and out of the way) and some areas had been picked away at (lower sections). The hike was a bit hard, although short, and it was definitely wild and beautiful.
The company was really great as well. I hung out with a couple of Canucks teaching English and learning Japanese in Japan. We talked a lot about language and culture, becoming good friends for the next couple of days. I also spoke a lot with the Americans on the trip, which was very good, but it served as a scary reminder of how much stuff I am going back to when I hit state side. In some ways, I am not ready.
the other main site I saw was the palace of Heavenly Peace, which was in much the same vain as the other sites in Beijing. A lot of thinking about the logic behind restoration, and how they should approach it. It just seemed weird to be slapping red paint onto a few centuries of history. At the same time, throughout that history they have done this. it seems like every hundred or two hundred years these buildings all get rebuilt, repainted, renamed, or occasionally built down. As such, isn't restoration now apart of these buildings' history?
i started to consider the restoration process a sort of communication between the culture and these buildings. The governments have changed a lot, the culture has changed at least some, but they still have this form of communication with their history.
on a far less cultural note, one of the most involved activities in Beijing was shopping. Beijing has huge markets where they throw down to get your business. Entering their was like going into a huge gauntlet. Walking the aisles you get grabbed and constantly yelled at. At first I absolutely hated it. I thought the approach was disgusting and the whole thing repelling.
The average foreigner walks by a store where the clerk yells at him to come have a look, or to buy shoes. guy walks in, picks a pair and asks how much. The store clerk says "for everyone else," and types some outrageous price that is more expensive than the US retail price like $125. 'But for you," and she puts something like $50.
Occasionally I hear their are foreigners dumb enough to call that good, and buy immediately. Most however, yell "too expensive!" The clerk responds, "o, then how much you pay?" The smart customer writes something like $5 and the clerk (pretends?) to get very upset.
Then the two basically fight. People yell, and the clerk says things like "this my lowest price" or "what is your highest price.' They of course lower their lowest price all of the time (though I have a policy of never, ever, raising anything I call my "highest price').
The first day I just hated it. By the end of the day I had gotten a bit into it, but for the most part I was left dry on the whole experience. I bought a pair of "Timberland" boots because I needed them for the wall. Since then, I discovered that they simply rock as shoes. They are great boots so far, although i don't know how long they will last, they made that wall much easier, final price: $12 (and I had to kill for that).
I went a second time because I needed to get gifts and such, plus i had a friend from the wall who wanted to come. That day, I had studied Chinesepod's podcast on "bargaining" which helped a lot because it taught me a lot of really hilarious vocabulary to throw around during negotiations like "don't try to trick me!," "that is highway robbery,' and my favorite, "i am a smart buyer.' Despite my Chinese, I still often got some bad prices, however it gave me all kinds of tricks.
One trick was to spy on prices given to locals. Locals don't get harassed at all. They typically go in, find something, point it out and saying "how much?" The clerk gives them a reasonable price, with no more than 30 or 40 yuan worth of bargaining room, and then the Chinese person leaves. If they buy something, they often do without even negotiation or with the bare minimum.
So I would often listen to a price be given. Then start, in English, asking about different shoes in the store, at one point including what the other person asked. if they give me a reasonable price on the one I had heard, I have somewhere to start. In that way, I started learning prices for things.
I did get cheated on some things in retrospect, but never by much. For the most part, I bought a lot and did well. That said, unless you are meeting me in Colorado, you are very lucky, or you got married, don't expect anything. i can buy stuff, but sending stuff is a whole new problem.
i was really happy with some of the stuff I got. So far the shoes have been some of the best part I have had in a while. Also they had fake Zegna ties, which I simply could not resist. Now, after a trip to Zegna, i have found that they are of eerily the same quality as Zegna ties (and straight up the same designs). The only difference is that the real ones don't have a tag on the back.
I also did all my negotiating for my friends, again fast and furious stuff. I got them a lot of good deals that I am proud of. I often talked to Chinese people to confirm the prices that i got.

PTI: I am back into the US, and they are all eating. I looked around for what I noticed, and that was the first thing. Burger king, Bugles, M & Ms, Starbucks, everyone is eating. A kid across the way from me is reading Moby Dick with a cowboy hate on while he mindlessly munches down Bugles.

PTI: Comment next to me, in a Minnesota accent, "There is going to be an Ocean's 13 I guess..." Her husband, "wow."

I really am not ready for this. I understand all the conversations again, without trying, they seem like voices in my head, and somehow, they are way stupider than I would hope. The only people I see reading Newspapers are Asians, the rest are reading things like FHM, People, and US.

PTI; A white person reading a newspaper spotted, small sigh of a relief (for a bit there I thought it would not happen).

Despite all of the latest news, security was kind to me. i mean that seriously, they were very nice to me. I even got bag checked and it was no problem. Everything was fast and easy. I had no problems at customs, which i was a bit afraid of (not much, but I figured China might raise flags).
Most people were very cool about the China thing. My bag checker saw a nice Chinese notebook I bought and she called it pretty. One of the security gate people actually knew, and said to me, hello and thank you in Chinese, which I thought was pretty cool and random. Outside of one jerk, all smiles coming into the US, which was nice. But seriously, these people are big, and they look so serious when you are accustom to their faces.
My biggest fear is not going into US culture, but going into my own. The difference is that US culture is an absolute statement of existence, but "my own culture" is relative to me. If I am in China and something bad happens, I can push it away. I can say "that is not apart of what I was raised with." I can say "in my society, that does not happen."
This is a good advantage in china because a lot of stupid stuff happens, and it is easy to push that away. When you are in your own home, that is much harder. I can't argue that dumb people just had a different upbringing. I have to look at what raised me and think about how those influences can go wrong.

PTI: I heard my old cell phone ringer, which was disturbing enough, worse yet it made me think: Oh yeah, I need to get a cell phone. Do I? Do I NEED a cell phone. I think what bothers me is I think I do, but what a stupid thing to need! The problems are stuff like going to someone hows house and needing to call to get in, get directions, or things like that. I barely used my cell phone in Taiwan, but when I used it, I really did need it. I think I will hunt for a pay as you go plan (can you get one that receives calls for free like Taiwan?) and that should save money.

Money is another issue I don't know about. I loaned out a lot of money, some of that money is living expenses, how do I get that? In Taiwan my goal was "set everything up for next year" and then the plan was to think about when I got to the states. Well, now I am in the states, I have to start thinking. Am I going to get a huge lot of money dropped into my account from my NYU account?

PTI: That last question is now answered, and I am back in CO hanging out and relaxing with the last chance I have.

In the unforbidden city

I am happy to report I found the perfect place to write a blog. I am under a bamboo grove in a garden of the Forbidden City. In the distance I can see couples walking around, by and large the people here are families. Something you don't see in America, most of the families are about three or four generations walking around together. One of the best sights I have seen here was a man in his eighties with a little three year old granddaughter (great-granddaugter?) following behind. They talked a little and smiled a lot.
Sometimes its hard to see this part of China through the rules, the spitting, and the insanity. Yet sometimes its hard to see that part of China through the beauty, the history, and the pride.
The pride spills out on the streets here, and no more so in Beijing. To be fair, this park, its beauty, would make me feel a similar nationalist bend if I were Chinese. Yet, part of that pride comes from this place's history. That history was of emperors building palaces on the backs of peasants. However, the average Chinese would not look at it that way, they don't envision themselves as the peasants, they envision themselves as the emperor (despite the odds against of course).
Perhaps that was a part of Mao's success, "the people's" gets attached to everything. Chinese history was never something for the people. Before, the people were the ones oppressed and used by "China." It was never about the economy, never really about communism, the attraction to Mao came from "the people" getting a piece of the beautiful China, a piece of the China that was never "the people's."
Of course the people still lack a lot more than they have got. The middle of China has a long path up, in part because there are so many of the people. The forbidden city is now open, yet what about the halls of the government?
Allison and I did something that I thought of without much consequence in Taipei, however in retrospect, what we did was a bit phenomenal seen in the context of this place: we stormed the capital.
When I am traveling in a place that I like (Japan, Taiwan, PARTS of China), I am happy to the point of silly. I am care free and willing to do things I otherwise would not. So I decided we should try and meet Ma Ying-jiu, the likely next president of Taiwan, the current chairman of the KMT, and the current mayor of Taipei.
So we just walked in, and went to his office. He was not that, but it seemed clear to me that the staff was friendly enough, that had he been there, they would have let us in. Instead, they let me tour the area around his office, and see the paintings they kept. Furthermore, they told me a time and a place to go if I wanted to meet him, because he did public meetings regularly.
That sort of story in China is not just impossible, its fantasy. If I added a dragon I might be "toning it down a bit." The bureaucracy, the army, the secretaries, I can't even envision all of the obstacles to just trying to pop over and meeting the mayor of Beijing. The biggest obstacle? Psychological. I don't want to end up in a Chinese prison interrogated like the F alu ngoo ng (edited for the same reason I am not going to the capital and asking "Hey, is Hu Jintao around? Is he, you know, busy?").
Yesterday I had one simple goal, read a book. It had been so long I had read English, and I had a guy in Shanghai recommend a book and a bookstore. The book store was as great as he said, and the book was pretty good as well. The book was "Mr. China" by Tim C... [will add later, I forgot his last name] about a business man who invests $410 million (US) into China in the 1990s. It took me some ten or more hours to finish, because I am just about the slowest reader ever, but I did finish it.
The main problem with the book was that at times it was too slow and repetitive. However, this may have even been purposeful as it was clear the author's experience was just that, slow and repetitive. He deals with the same insane situations over and over. At the start something truly crazy happens from the government or the bureaucracy and I, having seen China be insane, was still shocked. However, by the end of the book I was desensitized to it. I would read crazy things and think "well, that is not much crazier than anything else he dealt with." However, this was probably far more realistic.
He used weather a lot, which was something I found interesting. He implies early that he is heavily affected by weather, which is something I very much empathize with. As such, the weather descriptions were good, and put me in about the mood I imagine he was in. That said, the weather descriptions were almost always the same size, and general style. They created a rhythm to the book that rather than paced it, made it a bit formulaic at parts (however, they never took on the scale and boringness of Grapes of Wrath).
The best parts of the book were when something physical and violent would occur, these emphasized by contrast how equally chaotic but completely bureaucratic the problems his company faced were. After a typically absurd business break-down involving incredible cheating, all kind of run-arounding, and a preponderance of nuisances, there would occasionally be some cathartic violent moment done by someone unexpected.
I found these moments to emphasize what is so annoying about getting bureaucratically railroaded here. Because of face, because of culture, because of a thousand things, Chinese people will play a game of complex running-around, all verbal. In human evolution, this could have been solved with a testosterone fueled murder of some sort, but in the modern day Chinese circumstances you are resigned to being screwed regularly and without recourse. The vioolent moments in the book is the sight of someone giving up, forgetting face, and just going back to his roots, not his Chinese roots, his human roots.
One thing the book emphasizes as a main motif is that China has a lot of good people, and a lot of terrible people. For every shady and greedy malcontent, there can be found a genial carrying person. That is the same everywhere, but it is so pronounced here, its very easy to meet both extremes.
One important feature of the book is that his story is really rather recent. They start investing in the early 90s, and things wrap up in the late 90s. By the end of that period, they are still dealing with the same crazy things. That was only five years ago, but things, at least on the surface, look so different now.
Now I see foreign brands and foreign investment everywhere, more noticeably on the coasts of course, but things are changing fast. A small example, when I came here two years ago, even in Shanghai, I could not find a cold drink. The only Pepsi or whatever, outside of a bare minimum, was kept warm. Now its the exact opposite. A warm Pepsi is an odd find, but buying drinks, as a foreigner or as a local (I watched locals for a while to confirm this), is by default cold. In the rare instances where i saw a shopkeeper give a local a warm drink, the recipient said something like "Do you have cold ones?"
I am actually interested in what Mr. China does in the story, but on a small scale. He was looking for medium or big factories that he could invest into and consolidate. However, I am more interested in many small businesses. None of which would expose me to his kind of risk and all I hope can be built from the ground up.
The main difference in my business philosophy is that he was looking for a factory, I look for people. By the end of the book, I think he starts doing the same as I would. A factory is only as good as the people that compose it. Many of his investments I would never have bought into, but he was constrained by a need to by large.
My wish for businesses is to do businesses with good people. If someone is smart, ambitious, and friendly, I want to do business with them. I don't believe that only cut-throats survive commerce alive (outside of places like the oil industry), so I want to support the people who matter, who deserve investment. I hope through this I can get a share of many different small businesses, from internet cafes to restaurants (I guess I tend to favor service industries, I am not a fan of making more "stuff" in this world). If its true nice guys finish last, I would rather finish last.
Mr. China has a brief language section that describe some of the fascinating, and frustrating parts of Chinese. In it, he as a few funny stories about language. I thought I would add mine before i finish typing this.
The other day I was in Shanghai. I passed by a nice art museum. They sold really pretty Chinese/modern paintings. I really am into modern China artwork. There are a lot of artists who have to find themselves in modern China, traditional art in China has such a long history but western art is so dominant. As such, many artists are finding a tentative balance, still steeped in history but inspired by modern western ideas.
The shop-clerk initially talked to me in English, but I switched the conversation to Chinese because I wanted to talk to the artist himself more (rather than my normal rather petty reason, pride). I told them I just wanted to look around. She started explaining the store a bit.
Their most popular art works were sets of little paintings that were divided up in little pieces. There were five lines of these little square pieces, with three to five pieces on each line. The pieces were spaced out in air as little parts of one whole set. She said that some people just buy one piece, some people by a line, and some people buy a whole set.
Here is where she shocked me, she said one of them is (19 kuai). Mind you I was listening casually, as I understood, at least I thought I understand, everything she was saying. However that last sentence shocked me. "These are only 19 kuai!?" (a kuai being a dollar).
No way! I went back and forth with her, in both languages, confirming that the paintings were "19 kuai." So, with the artist and the saleswoman, we combed the store selected four pieces that I especially liked
Afterwards we were sitting down and drinking tea. When I told them my favorite character was 華 (my surname meaning, in part, Chinese culture), and that I would love to see how he would write it. They even made me a fan with the character on it.
So we are sitting there, and he writes on a piece of paper "$1,200" on a piece of paper and says that this is what he would typically charge for such a work. He wanted me to write what I thought it was wroth...
Umm...although ashamed it wen this long, I am proud I quickly realized the mistake. Kuai is used for two things, money, and pieces. They were telling me that the "typical painting was 19 pieces" not that the "average painting was 19 dollars." The story was terrible embarrassing. I don't think it was a tone issue (I know that kuai has two possible tones, but I am not sure if they are affected talking about money rather than pieces).
The main fault on my part was that she was saying that one "tao" (a set) was 19 "kuai." I should have known immediately she could not have possible meant that entire set was 19 dollars, but lets be fair, this was my first discussion of fine art. A nice feature of Mr. China is that it has a similarly silly story, but it is a native Chinese who is confused.'
They were really kind and forgiving in the end. It was a pretty honest mistake and they could see that. They believed me when I said I was a poor student. In the end, there are a lot of nice people in China. They gave me the fan.

PTI: I have moved to the city itself. I have been here for six or seven hours, just walking around. I am hypnotized by the place. Now I am in a cafe that is next to where the emperors used to write poetry and do art. I figured that is a good place to order a mlik tea and think about a place I find confusing.
I find this place confusing because I am not sure if this is a good place. I find it beautiful, I find it fascinating, but I also find it terrible. One empress that used to live here wore socks that took seven days of full time work to make. She wore one pair per day, and then threw them away. As such, she had 3,000 sock makers. This seems like archaic and possible, but that was less than a hundred and fifty years okay.
Yet here we are, in droves. Its not as crowded as I heard it would be, but it is plenty crowded. Are we worshiping these people? What they made? Or we simply witnessing them?
Why are soap operas always about rich people? (at least all I have seen). Does their richness distance from us psychologically so that we can watch them do absurdly terrible things. Does their pain become less real? Is it envy? People want this life where the biggest worry is the drama created in a soap opera rather than real life problems.

PTI: the milk tea here is terrible, but not a bad price. The empress would not have been pleased however.

My favorite things are the ones that show great skill. There was an ivory ball carving (nothing like the one in Taiwan), which is a specific example of an incredibly intricate work that I really appreciate. The calligraphy they have also shows incredible skill, and I like them a great deal.
One of my favorite sites (except for a super cool bred set of gold fish tanks) was the palace of the last emperor, who was just a great symbol of China falling apart at the time. He was way more into Western culture than Eastern. I saw his calligraphy as a child, half of it in English and half of it Chinese. His English was incredible, it was so beautiful, things I could not do in my wildest dreams. However his Chinese is on par with my own. He had lots of terrible calligraphy and mistakes not unlike my own.

PTI: I discovered I had only like 30 more minutes so I had to jet.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

On the last train for the trip

On the last train for the trip
At least probably the last train of the trip. I am in the cheap section, a place I am not a fan of, but I have quickly made fans with all of my neighbors, so I think I got their back. Plus after today I feel my methods have been verified as at least somewhat effective.
I got into a huge fight over Taiwan again. This guy's argument was that the US and the UN say there is one China so there is one China and its capital was in Beijing. My point was that in 1971 the US and the UN said that there was one China, and its capital was in Taiwan. So back then, was the capital Taiwan because people said it was?
I asked him, "When your mom was in China in 1971, where did she think the capital of China." He answered that she believed that the capital was in Beijing. Well if the capital was in Beijing, was his mom wrong? The problem was that he was not really listening to me and just saying "yeah" to tough arguments because he wanted to get back to his point (which were all the same old nonsense of saying basically the same thing over and over again).
The big problem is that if he says his mom was right, Beijing was the capital, then of course Taiwan has the right to do the same. He too appealed to history and I quickly said, as always, "Well historically Inner-mongolia was apart of Mongolia and America was apart of the UK, should we give those things back?" I just now memorized how to say Tibet which will make these arguments even more bloody.
And would he invade if he was president? Well duh.
The problem with China is the opinions are way to universal. I have not met one unique opinion on this stupid Taiwan thing, not one! Not even one that hinted at free thought, its really rather depressing. They say the same things about Taiwan, about America, about China, and justify them in about the same ways. Even from professors, and it is really starting to get me down.
I don't think it is a cultural problem, Taiwan's culture is pretty similar (though not as much as Chinese thing), but there opinions are far more ranging and far more nuanced on these things.
One discussion I had at the train station, someone asked me, "How do Taiwanese feel about the mainland?" This was a question that I really liked, most people don't give me the respect of realizing I know WAY more about Taiwan than they do. The fact is most people try to "tell" me the "history" and the "thoughts" of Taiwanese people (yet I can quote actual media sources and percentages when I tell them what Taiwanese people think).
I also thought of a great way of answering his question, I asked him, "How do you feel about Japanese people?" He gave the official Chinese answer (as uniform as Taiwanese opinions and everything else), which is, shall we say, not so kind. I very quickly said, "well, that is how Taiwanese people feel about the mainland."
And its true. There are Chinese people that love Japan. There are Taiwanese that love the mainland. However, by and large, they believe the stupidest things about each other. More to the point, the racism and hate from Taiwan to China is very real sometimes, and the racism and hate from China to Japan is out of control. All because of history, all because of pride. Now pride and history has set up a possible slaughter along the Taiwan strait, all rooted in the same reasons that I can say with confidence "the Taiwanese think of you what you think of Japan." Its ugly, and I was a bit embarrassed to say it, but I was far more embarrassed that it is true.
With Alice I went out of my way to make jokes about how Taiwan is a separate country from China. She laughed and it made her a little uncomfortable, but it was clear she could not really accept what I was saying, and she didn't find it all _that_ funny. But it was good for me, because I needed to get that out.
This is going to drive me crazy, and I am afraid I might make it worse. Learning the word Tibet in Chinese might not be for the best. Even though virtually everyone recommends traveling there. A note, I forgot to mention this, I am confident the government has created this incredible drive to travel to Tibet, everyone has told me I should go to Tibet, its creepy. And they themselves? Never been, but would love to go.
Worse yet, two things I have yet to do, one to worry about, one not to worry about. Not to worry about: I want to see if I can do a day without Chinese here. I want to hear what people say about me if they think I truly don't understand. Second, I need to talk to someone about Falun gong and what they know. However the second is scary, really scary, its like mentioning a thousand Tiananmens. Its hard to get Tianamen info on Chinese internet, its impossible to find Falun gong stuff. Don't worry however, I plan on doing this one person, alone, and when I trust them. But I need to start asking that question.

PTI: I just finished the very good movie Syriana. Its one of those movies that hurts real bad, even with the lingering of truth. The fact that such accusations to the US government are on the table is bad enough. Perhaps I am afraid to know how much of that is true. Perhaps I am no better than the Fox News watcher who believes, who really believes with the faith that he comes to his religion.

Perhaps I believe China. Perhaps I don't see the pain in Tibet. Perhaps I don't know what happens to the Falungong. I look over the faces of the Chinese and I don't see their government. I look over Americans, and I don't see our government. However, when I hear Chinese voices, when I hear their opinions, I hear their government.
The government is not a force, lying across the top of this bus. However it is in the back of their heads. While a different voice sits in the back of my head. A voice that says America fights for the world. A voice that says our success is a product of work, and we deserve it. A voice that sees George Bush as a President, a President I don't like, rather than sees Bush as a flawed man, a man I detest.
How much truth do I write in this blog when I talk politics? About 80 percent, but its that twenty percent that stings. Its that twenty percent that are ideas, that are thoughts. Why? Because I am afraid.
I don't think I am going to be a politician. I don't think so because I don't think I could get elected. Its not a lack of interest, its not a lack of skill, its a belief that America would probably never elect me. I have too many things I am not ashamed of to admit. China, Marijuana, video-games, these things don't get someone elected. This blog alone has enough quotes to keep me out of office, not because I am a bad person, but America is too gutless to elect someone that is anything more of a shadow.
Yet, I studied politics. I believe that the government can do profound good for a nation. I love America. So, I think about office. In the last four years, I have thought about it less and less, but its always there. Every time I talk about politics or Americans I picture little sound bites played back to me on some god awful Fox News program in 2028.
However, I am tired of it. The fact is if I don't get elected for who I am, then I have no interest in office in the first place. So this blog, and its predecessor will be much more political, and I expect a fair bit more hate mail from my dad.
The problem is that the fear comes from "Well what if this opinion changes?" Does that make me a flip-flopper if I change my mind? I used to think that the office of the President meant something inherently. Now I just think that the President is a frat boy who had old money billionaires feed him power from his silver spoon.
His vacations when the "orange alerts" are up are unacceptable. His in-articulation is not a cowboy nuance, its the sign of a moron. He is an egomaniac, and you can see it every time that he says something, and believes something, that his handlers told him to say. This is not a special opinion, I am the last person to write these up in a blog. But for me, its a resignation that I simply don't care about the office of the President, it means nothing without a person worthy of being in there. And you know what? The next president is going to suck too, because this country became stupid and fundamentalistic when we were not looking. My only hope? That people who matter get into the government before rome burns.

PTI: I do get the vanity of that last entry, but I also get the vanity of this entire blog, and this head, and really, that is half of the battle.

PTI: I am in Beijing now, very cool cafe.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

And some photos

So when you go to China

So when you go to China you have to be careful. The number of people who told me this, especially Taiwanese, I could simply not count. So in China, I have been on a nonstop watch for pick pockets and shady figures. However I was not really sure what to look for.
Typically I keep two bags on me, my camera and my computer. My computer goes on one side, the camera on the other side, and the two make a cross across my chest. Its not to hard to lift and it always seemed safe. I keep my elbows or forearms propped on the top of the two bags, thinking that if anyone grabbed for my bag I would feel it.
The front of my camera bag has a little pocket with a broken zipper so it is half open. You have to lip the flap and then the pocket is basically open but synched at the top by my broken zipper.
So when I went to China...I was walking through Xi'an. I decided rather than see a sight I wanted to do a walk through Xi'an and compare it to Chinese cities as whole, an activity not as historically enlightening but still gives some cultural nuance. Furthermore, it involved seven less hours of buses.
I was walking away from the train station, on the main street to the center of town. This is a place where some tourists go, but not tons (most would take a bus or a taxi through this part of town). It was not a bad area of town by any means, but the commercial drag that dominates that line had not started yet.
At the time I did not have my big bag, for portability I was just using the camera bag and had the computer at home. Suddenly I felt someone digging into the pocket I described before, and in the way I assumed I would based on how I kept my arms. To my surprise, apparently I learned something in Kung Fu class, I knocked his arm away in the inward turn that we did a thousand times in class. As I did that, I turned to him and ended up standing facing the man, making it very clear that I knew what he tried to do, and based on the surprising gracefulness of me knocking away him, I think I looked rather dangerous and surely felt as such.
He was much taller than me, tall even by western standards. He wore dark glasses, a navy blue shirt and kaki pants. He had a pitted face, but was not profoundly ugly. His straight stance reminded me of a businessman, he had a good presence, and tried his best to pretend the obvious had not just happened. That said, he was clearly scared shitless of me.
My first thought actually was to hit him, based on his surprise and a crap load of adrenaline, I think I would have smacked him good. The second thought was get the police. The third thought was just start talking to him, like "does that normally work?"
In the end, and mind you this was all about a second, I compromised. I figured that all three of those plans lead to far too many invariable that provided a whole lot of risk and not too much reward. I took a step towards him, and slapped him hard on the back, not unlike I would imagine a Texan CEO would do to a new intern, and asked him "What the fuck are you doing?"
Of course he did not understand me, because I asked in English. This was actually a conscious decision, as I was not sure talking to him in Chinese would benefit my life. I did not especially want to hear some inane explanation. At the time I was actually listening to the often advertised Chinesepod. He said something to me that, without even having heard it, was clearly a bad excuse.
I said "fuck you" rather matter of fact, flipped him off, and walked off. I looked around a little for the police when I saw the guy was not taking off, however I decided it was just not worth it. It put too many things at risk, and he had just joined a group of guys. I was not sure I could explain it adequately and it was not worth making myself a target.
I walked on, he did not follow me. I was a bit full of adrenaline at this point and went to get a milk tea. After the normal "You really speak Chinese moments?" and "Where are you from?" One guy said "Your President Bush is terrible."
I said I agreed, but I didn't really like his government much either. He said, like many Chinese have said to me (their opinions are creepy uniform here, and that really bothers me), "Bush really likes those wars." I said "Yeah, I don't like him, and I think he has done to much fighting."
He said something like "Everyone else likes peace." This one got an adrenalined up me way ticked off. I said, "Well that's not really certain" (which sounds much better in Chinese), "your government is not exactly peaceful." From there I basically launched on a rant about Taiwan and that the Chinese government is far from peaceful. They called it an internal matter of course, and general party line crap. I gave it back just as much, emphasizing that domestic or not, it is insane to call that any form of peace.
The conversation was quick, and the milk tea was good. I actually had another milk tea today, apparently they like it with beans, and it tastes surprisingly good. In fact, I had one of the best milk teas I have ever had here, with beans, chocolate, and the normal pearls. I figured it would be too much, but it was very good.
Most of the day I walked the street, which is very consumeristic and interesting. It had real CD stores next to pirated stores. It had generic shoes next to Nike "authorized dealerships." I only really talked to one other person, and she was very very uncomfortable talking about my favorite conversations (awkward).
Tonight I am going to Beijing in the cheap section (not my choice). Outside of a lucky upgrade (you can sometimes buy upgrades). Which I am partially looking forward to, and partially dreading. I look forward to the language, but I hear the people are rude. I am also really afraid of some political fights and the crowds.

A great little hostel and a big fake army

I am sitting at a cafe and there is a person two seats away just looking bored and watching the middle of Gang's of New York. Its actually very hard for me to not talk to her. I mean, I am actually physically resisting asking her where she is from and what she does. Earlier there was a guy there and I couldn't resist, I ended up talking to him for a half-an-hour.
But I am trying to talk less, at least a little while.

PTI: I did not ask her anything, despite her looking incredibly bored. After that an American guy sat down with a book on China and I had to ask him about it. Luckily another person came and started talking to him, so I could get out of a conversation.

PTI: I just had a long conversation with the neighbors, I just can't help it. One is a New York private school teacher, and his school sounds truly great. He is very nice, and very interesting. His English friend is also very personable and

PTI: Another, even longer conversation. I can't have people say they are living in Korea and teaching without me starting long conversations. Also the English friend turned out to be a progressive education director of some sort, who told me a great deal about this

My hesitation to conversation is that I have just been talking to so many people, about ninety percent of those in Chinese, that I just get sick of it. Not just the Chinese but the speaking. Especially after the same basic conversation six times a day. Luckily I usually hang out with one person for a long period of time, so conversation gets deeper, but I have still done a certain set of conversations way too much.

PTI: Now I am getting talked to by some guys practicing their English. I love the question "Do you speak Chinese?" which I answer yes, followed by "Oh really? So, you speak a little?" I now I sound arrogant, and I know it will very well may all go away when I leave here (man I don't want that to happen, but I think I will subscribe to Chinesepod and keep working even if it kills me).

PTI: This is a hard conversation to write. I ended up in yet another conversation with strangers, this time Spanish travelers (and no, not in Spanish, I can barely speak a little, though they have said a few Spanish sentences to me when they could not explain in English). I have been here for like five hours at this couch trying to write this stupid blog entry. In summary, I can't not talk to people, even when that is a specific goal.

That said, this hostel is really great, a great community, wireless, good food. I am very impressed, but I did not get out to see Xi'an a little like I planned (I might still, but I am determined to write this first).
The warriors were very strange for me. Although they were interesting, the biggest question was not why were they here, but rather, why are we here? The tourists were all over that place, so of course, what is the draw?
Ultimately, who was Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China? From the warriors, the man is definitely looking like the vainest, most arrogant man to step on the planet. He is building great walls, hidden armies, and burning vast amounts of books. His name has existed for two centuries as China. Yet really, he was probably kind of a dick.
This is written from far to ignorance, but the warriors alone speak to an arrogance that is out of control. Yet here people are, in droves, an extensive economy has been created by those stone men alone. Are we celebrating the accomplishment of the 700 thousand some people who worked on the project? Are we empathizing with the solders who fashioned themselves into an eternal army? Are we admiring the emperor himself who felt he was worthy such a tomb?
No question, a non-answer seems appropriate. Just saying, "well it sure is something to see right?" seems like an appropriate answer. However, how did it become such an answer, its mass, its complexity, its oddity or something else?
The solders themselves were interesting, however I do believe a decent history book with nice photos might actually be more satisfying except you can say "I have been there."
The entire time I thought, "man, this place is all about pride." The problem: by "this place" I did not know if I meant the pit, the tour area above the pit, or my own heart.
The pit was full of pride. The solders were pumped up with sharp wicked weapons. Most of the archers were ready to fire. More to the point, they were the sign of a man who felt he deserved and needed the command of such an elaborate army even after death. Or is that lack of pride, a fear that he can't defend himself in the afterlife?
The tourist area had many shades of pride. My personal favorite, but perhaps the most subtle - people with video cameras. Who in the world would want to watch that videotape? The soldiers are surely not moving. Really, I think those tapes will sit on shelves marked "Terracotta Warriors Trip" and be the impetus for conversations. Conversations where viewing of the videotape will be offered, and rejected, but the point will remain, "I have been there."
There was also a lot of English. A lot of ABCs (American born Chinese). And a lot of people showing they have a lot of money (my camera quickly passed from good, to average, maybe to poor in this company).
There was a lot of people who deserved some pride. However there were a lot of French, German, Spanish, and Italian Chinese speaking guides. Some of whom spoke beautifully. These people should be proud they learned a language other than English. However, at least according to Alice, their compensation will not be a source of pride.
Apparently her friends who act as French guides get paid something like 50 yuan, about $6, a day. The rest of their money comes from things that their clients buy. They get half of the profit made on the touristy crap that the people are guiding buy. Thus, the person who is entrusted to represent these people when they are traveling has incentive to ensure that the client spends as much money as possible. I was pretty shocked by this, and it was clear Alice was also uncomfortable with this idea. Most of the guides hate this job, and clearly for good reasons.

PTI: Another conversation, but now in Chinese. Very nice woman from Guangdong who is surprisingly giving me her address. She spoke slowly so I could type, look up, and understand some of the vocab she used without losing the conversation.

I also saw a lot of pride in my own heart. I have only recently stopped treating Chinese like a competition. That said, I hear someone translating Chinese in the next room and I can't help listen to each word for mistakes. You can hear the pride in their voice, and I can hear my own vanity in my reception.
I looked at those warriors and I asked myself, would I want this? Am I that sort of person? I want to do well financially, I want to do well personally. What is the difference between me and this demented emperor? Am I fundamentally different or is it just a matter of scale?
When I was younger, I wanted to be in history. I wanted to seek the immortality that the emperor wanted. He did a good job, he will live a long time in the words written about him, both good and bad. His name will live on in the name of his country. But in the long term, this will all go away. Its true nothing lasts forever, and a population of emotional madmen with atomic weapons surely don't last forever.
So what do I want success for? To live comfortably? Well then why not teach English long-term? Its comfortable, and its nice. Not too much stress and I can learn things on the side. Yet I would never do that. It simply does not interest me. I want to make businesses, I want to do law. But perhaps I ultimately don't know want, its just what I want to do.
I had a lot more thoughts at the time, and perhaps I will write more later, but for now, it is one in the morning and I have not moved here in many hours. So for now, I am off to bed.