May 4, 2012
Personal Notes: On One’s Paucity Of Game

Today I described myself jokingly to someone else as having a “paucity of game” with respect to my ability to approach random strangers at bars and introduce myself.  Never been any good at it.  I am terrible with small talk, and frankly don’t have the looks to get away with that sort of thing.

After the conversation above, it occurred to me that perhaps the problem isn’t a lack of game, but the fact that I use words like “paucity” to describe personal traits.  Such pedantry undoubtedly creates a barrier to productive conversation.  That and the fact that I find Dickinson or Ginsberg more interesting than who the Baltimore Ravens drafted in round two the NFL Draft (for the record, they drafted Courtney Upshaw, who will be key to plugging the hole left by Terrell Suggs now that he’s out for the season with a torn achilles tendon).  

Alas, "I could not stop for death, so he kindly stopped for me" is not a great pick-up line.  Nor, as it happens, is "When will you be worthy of your million trotskyites?"  Maybe it’s just my delivery.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming of polemic commentary and cute animals.  If you didn’t see last night’s Bulldog/toddler montage, you’re in for a treat.

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March 19, 2012
Personal Note: Question

Does the Derrick Zoolander Center for Children Who Can’t Read Good have its own citation format?

If it does, I’m fairly certain that the author of the article I’m currently editing may have used it: I know of no official citation format in which “A [insert journal name] at [##]” is adequate.  Aren’t people ashamed to submit stuff like this for publication?

What is perhaps most intriguing to me is that this article would almost certainly get a failing grade if submitted to meet an academic requirement.  Yet for some reason, we’re letting this guy submit an article to be published, which has so many unsourced claims that I’m essentially doing his research for him.

Bush league.  Do your research kids.  Or some angry editor at the journal you submit your work to will blog about it on the internet.  You’ve been warned.

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February 25, 2012
Personal Notes: Bad Case Blues

There’s nothing worse than finding out that one of the cases you were relying on for a legal argument is no longer good law.  

WHY on earth would Justice Stevens cite a 9th Circuit opinion that was overruled by the Supreme Court on the very point of law which he cited it for?*  I mean, it wasn’t even close.  They might as well’ve done an touchdown dance in the 9th Circuit’s endzone. 

I feel like I just got kicked in the nuts by the steel-toed boot of Stare Decisis.

Definitely drinking heavily tonight.

*for those curious, see Stevens’ dissent in Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 207 (2004) (citing Bryant v. U.S. Treasure Dept., 903 F.2d 717, 721 (C.A.9 1990)).

February 21, 2012
Personal Notes: On Reading Cases

Whenever I open up a case and read the words, “JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court,” I know I’m going to be happy for the next 20 minutes of my life.

Just throwing it out there.

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February 19, 2012
Personal Notes: An Evening With LTMC

Earlier this afternoon, I had the opportunity to go an visit my niece and nephew (aged 3 and 1, respectively), for the latter’s 1st birthday party.  My nephew behaves as a 1-year old ought to behave: with no apparent purpose and an abundance of curiosity.  My niece has taken a surprising liking to her younger brother, given how easily such dichotomies can turn into competitions for their parents’ affection.  

Unfortunately I don’t get the chance to visit them very often, but my niece at least knows my name, which I must admit brings a smile to my face.  ”Uncle LTMC” was a foreign and somewhat shocking identity when she was born (particularly for a 20-something who fancies himself a “kid” still).  But as time wears on, I’m growing used to the label; if for no other reason than I understand its service.  It imputes upon me a certain standing in relation to my niece and nephew, which I hope becomes comfortable and familiar for them as time wears on.  My niece is still shy, but not as much as she used to be.  She says bye to me now when I leave, and uses my name during her farewell.  I hope one day to make enough money to spoil them, though I know that’s highly unlikely.

Upon returning home, I opened up my laptop and maximized my browser.  I open Spotify on my PC and flip on some Meshuggah (I’ve been on a kick lately) and start flipping through tabs on my laptop.  I currently have about 25 tabs that are permanently open, for the purpose of quick reference as I continue my academic writing.  After checking my e-mail, I pop open the law review article I’m currently writing, and scan over it to see how it reads.  I fix a few mistakes here and there, joking with my roommate as I discover some of my faux pas’s: “New Jersery” is certainly not a state.  But now I kinda wish it was.  It sounds like a funner place than the real thing.

After cracking open a 16 oz. can of Miller High Life (the champagne of beers), I set about reading a feminist critique of our criminal justice system by Kim Shayo Buchanan.  Some of her critiques are relevant to my law review article, as 58% of women in federal prison are currently serving drug-related sentences.  The abuses which Buchanan points out are occuring to women in federal prison who, in the majority of cases, would not be there but for violating a federal drug laws.  And of course, if those women get pregnant while in jail, they can look forward to giving birth in shackles.  But hey, at least we got an addict off the streets.

After finishing Buchanan’s article, I retrieve another 16 oz. can of Miller High Life, and switch my soundtrack to Wye Oak.  After scanning through my google reader, I am now reading Pascal Bruckner’s Guernica article "The Timeless Art," in which he describes the process of courting and seduction as a form of “sexual sorting.”  I want to share his opening paragraph because I love his particular turn of phrase, and I’m a sucker for name-dropping:

Seduction, like grace in Calvinism, is a sorting machine. In the most common learning experience in the world, I learn that I am not always desired by those I desire, loved by those I love, and that I enter this universe as a potential reject. A wallflower: the range of this expression is not limited to ballrooms and parties. Some people are wallflowers all their lives, while others are adored from the start and don’t know how to deal with all their admirers. The miracle of being preferred: a favor that fulfills us and excludes everyone else. Being attractive is as inexplicable as being unattractive; why do some people follow us around while others hardly deign to look at us? (Sade resolved the problem in his own way: everyone who attracts us has an obligation to grant us his favors immediately, just as we have an obligation to grant ours to those who desire us. For him, desire was a debt, while for Fourier it was a gift that attractive people agree to grant the rest of humanity.)

I’m happy he talked about wallflowers.  Frankly I’ve always been one.  The Socially Awkward Penguin is my personal mascot.  The dreaded “uncomfortable silence” is my personal anthem.  I was never particularly good at small talk; I get bored quickly with it.  I’m far more interested in people’s issues.  But most people don’t just come out and talk about their problems upon meeting you for the first time (understandably so).  In the interim, you need to find a way to establish a repoire.  I’m very, very bad at that; my musical tastes can be a bit obscure, and I frankly don’t give a damn about the weather.  I stopped smoking when cigarettes went up to $10 a pack in New York, so really I don’t have much to break the ice with.  I find the usual “mating habits” of the common male (i.e. Bro) to be insufferably banal, simian and predictable.  Then again, I’m not exactly racking up one-night stands on the weekends.

For now, I’ll go back to finishing Bruckner’s article, and reflect on his thoughts, and their relevance to my life.  Later on…who knows?  The night, as they say, is young.

Thus concludes this brief reflection.  Stay safe, keep your stick on the ice, and remember: everything in moderation.  Including moderation.

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January 5, 2012
Personal Notes: On Meghan McCain

I’ve always said that I think Meghan McCain is a very attractive young woman.  But I must confess that her handsome little fellow here takes the cake:

I believe the correct phrase here is “Dawwwww.”  Look at that face.  If you could convert that face into a national currency, I dare say it would be sound money.

December 21, 2011
Risqué Political Humor, Ctd.

kohenari replied to your post: Personal Notes: This Week In Risqué Political Humor

Yeah, I wouldn’t go that route. The tone this joke takes is one that suggests that Judaism per se is somehow to be connected with Zionist policies that harm Palestinians and that observant Jews are somehow the central problem. That’s not too funny[.]

It’s difficult for me to argue that this wasn’t the intended route for the joke to take, given that this is how at least one person interpreted it.  I of course agree that Judaism writ large is not the problem, and being an observant Jew of course does not a hard-line Likud make.  There are plenty of Jewish Israelis and Americans who oppose Israel’s policies in Palestine.  There is nothing about being an observant jew that makes one either responsible for or in support of Israel’s current foreign policy.

To the extent that I can offer a defense, the “risqué” nature of a political joke tends to inure precisely from the fact that it oversimplifies a complex political problem.  Most risqué jokes about politics have to, for the same reason that messages scrawled on protest signs are generally inadequate at analyzing multi-faceted political issues.

For what it’s worth, I think my record also tends to speak to my “good faith” on this issue…I have published many a story on my blog that involves Jewish citizens (both Israeli and American) protesting or acting in contravention of “Zionist” policies.  Examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. However, even with all that being said, risqué jokes that are not funny are simply offensive, and to the extent that I gave as much, I apologize.

Update: upon due consideration, I’ve pulled the original post down, given that it appears to be more upsetting than humorous.  I’d like to maintain a civil/productive tone on this blog, and it seems to be getting in the way of that ideal.

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December 11, 2011
Personal Notes: Cold Specks On The Windows Of The Soul

Every now and then, you come across something so lovely that you are overwhelmed.  In a brief moment of blissful epiphany, you find yourself pushing all of your other affairs aside so you can simply focus on experiencing this new thing: enveloping yourself in the raw emotional power of what you’ve just experienced, repeating it over and over…in your head if you must, in your ears if possible, and out loud if necessary.  Nothing matters more than exploring this new source of emotional insight that has gripped you so fervently, to appreciate its power, to absorb it, to feel it, and understand it.  These are the moments that shape us, for better or worse.  Most of the time, even if you end up worse off, you come to understand more about yourself in the process.

You might encounter this sort of loveliness in the eyes of an uncanny, amazing stranger who blindsides you with a passing glance and a casual light-hearted remark, the aftermath of which lingers in your mind for weeks after.  You might discover it in a glorious piece of street art that perfectly captures the resilience of the human spirit, blossoming in spite of the soul-crushing poverty of urban decay.  You might find it buried inside of a book, one single sentence that shakes you to the core, leaving you to reflect upon the emotionally crippled imprimatur that represents your hopelessly incomplete worldview leading up to that moment.  Or perhaps you hear it in an unexpected song that catches you completely off-guard, moving you with such stirring passion that you are compelled to pull over to the side of the road and turn the car off, having been floored by a sanguine voice, a potent lyric, or a vitiating harmony that effortlessly vivisects your heart on the back of a brilliantly crafted melody. 

I have a confession to make:  I crave these moments.  I actively seek them out, even.  But I am haunted by the realization that these moments are powerful precisely because they are often unexpected.  The only happy medium I’ve found is to place yourself in a habit of being that is conducive to a sort of emotional serendipity.  Whether this means traveling to new places, meeting new people, or in my case, constantly seeking out diverse insights from strangers on the trials and tribulations of their lives, one thing is for certain: you cannot be afraid of being vulnerable.

When I discover this type of loveliness, I am often overtaken by an unrelenting impulse to share it with everyone I can, as quickly as possible.  For me, that impulse germinates from the desire (or more precisely, the hope) that I can help others feel the deep emotional climaxes and depressions that have trampled over me and coursed through my mind in the interim.

I most often experience these moments with music.  And the current case is no exception.

I first encountered Cold Specks in a recent blog post from Heather at FuelForFriends, a music blog that you should follow if you like hipster’esque folk and underground acoustic acts.  Heather’s musings have led me to a lot of wonderful music over the years, and while I don’t always find myself enticed by every piece of music she showcases on her blog, I consider her and indispensable source of new music.  It was through Heather that I discovered bands like Tallest Man On Earth, Strand of Oaks, The Head and The Heart, and countless other live shows, projects, compilations, covers and rarities that I’d never have found otherwise.  Given the deep, important connection that I have to music, Heather is undoubtedly unaware of how important her work has been for someone like me: a music geek in his late 20’s struggling to reconcile his vanishing youth with stubborn feelings of nostalgia, unfulfilled self-promises, and empty romantic expectations that have blossomed into regrets both large and small, all of which haunt me in the early hours of weekends spent in self-imposed exile, like this one.  It is the sympathetic sounds of sincerely written songs that get me through my quiet, desperate moments, which may be part of the reason why I search for them so passionately.    

Cold Specks is the project of a 23-year old Al Spx, from Etobicoke, Canada.  Hers is the kind of voice that you just simply will not hear on the radio.  It is not fit for the sanitized corporate airwarves, beset as they are by the demons of monetization and songs written for the lowest common denominator.  This is not a voice made for the auto-tuned atmosphere of over-priced dance halls, or for the turn-tables of rave DJ’s.

This is a voice that is made for you to sit and listen to, quietly, reflecting on the beautiful wreckage of your own flawed humanity.  

Her current record label, Arts & Crafts Records, treats her thusly:

Describing her sound as “Doom Soul”, Cold Specks’ music is steeped in the musical traditions of the Deep South. No wonder then that Al cites the Lomax Field Recordings and James Carr as influences along with Bill Callahan and Tom Waits. With a voice that evokes the ‘spirit feel’ of Mahalia Jackson and the visceral tones of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Cold Specks’ sparse arrangements and chain gang rhythms stop you dead in your tracks. 

When I first clicked on the audio player embedded in Heather’s blog post that contained “Holland,” I was immediately floored.  The opening lyrics were not the recycled dreams of teenage angst, but rife with humility and mature struggles.  She is a proclaimer, declaring perceived truths without sounding conceited.  She elaborates without sounding overwrought.  She is clever without being trite.  The background rhythms are flush with bittersweet melodies that play second fiddle to a gospel-like sensibility that firmly clutches your heart; but instead of ripping it out, you are surprised to find it delicately removed through your sleeve and placed in front of you, leaving your own vulnerability fully realized in front of you.  And the tears start falling.

I could go on like this, but it wouldn’t do.  Cold Specks currently does not have a full-length album out yet.  When she does, you will probably hear me rant about it here. Until then, you should listen to “Holland.”  It may not have the same effect on you that it had on me.  You may find it completely unremarkable, or perhaps even terrible.  That’s perfectly ok.  But hopefully some of you might discover the same sort of celebrant epiphany that I experienced upon listening to Cold Specks for the first time.  Make of it what you will.  Until then….hold the water.  Let it burn.


Cold Specks - Holland by Arts & Crafts

November 4, 2011
Personal Notes: I’ve Decided That If I Can’t Find A Job In The Public Sector Post-Graduation, I Will Start An Animal-Based Tort Law Firm.

Name?  ”Proximate Paws, LLP.”

Helen Palsgraf knows what I’m talkin’ about.

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