Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Not dead!

Some notes on the last week or so:

- Shark meat tastes like tuna;

- I should never, ever, ever be trusted with a scooter;

- London radical performance/multimedia artists like C&C Music Factory.

Sadly, I forgot my camera cord, so you'll have to wait for the good stuff.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Warm & Fuzzies, not to mention the solar panels

Take a look at this new Obama ad. Doesn't it look like just like those GE ads that run during the Sunday morning talking head shows?

I never understood why GE, ADM, Boeing et. al. would buy ads every week to push the idea that they're all sweetness and light to an audience of policy wonks who should know better.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Welcome to the Terrordome

One herculean test down, one to go.

In many ways, finding an apartment in New York City is harder than the bar. For the bar, you know what's expected of you, Bar/Bri hands you 50 lbs. of books full of the things you need to know and within two excruciating days in a cavernous room filled with school chums, firm mates and random wierdos (like no-pencil guy discussed supra), it's over. You either pass or you don't.

With real estate, it can go forever if you let it.

The prewars have fire escapes, layers of crusty paint and shoddy electricity. Postwars are built badly, have thin walls and bad water pressure.

Uptown is cheaper but stultifying. Downtown apartments are crap, but you'll save on cabs going home after a night out.

You can get more for your dollar in Brooklyn, but good luck finding a supermarket.

Queens? BYO girlfriend, because you're pretty much locked up socially out there.

There is no passing grade in apartment-hunting, just an endless series of trade-offs, ending in the issuance of a little piece of commercial paper for a large amount to a landlord who is inevitably an asshole in due course. If you have a broker, there's even more commercial paper to issue.

Long story short, no rest for the weary. But no right to complain either - if I didn't work in Biglaw, I would be looking for walkups in Jersey City.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Good Morning Manhattan!

So now I'm done with the bar. Day 2 was a lot like Day 1, but without the computer. My table-mate forgot a pencil again, didn't finish bubbling in his answer sheet (he marked answers in the book and transferred them to the sheet at the end, or so he says) and there was one working stall in the men's room on the start of the final day.

Obviously, I followed up with nine hours of carousing, followed by a day of apartment-hunting. Fun Fun.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 1

I'm still among the living.

I've been told that one can allay one's fears of failing by looking around the room and picking out the quarter or so of the test-takers who will fail.

The guy sitting next to me had to borrow a pencil. He also lost his admission ticket over lunch.

Conclude from that what you will.

Friday, July 25, 2008

404 Brain Not Found

I went home after lunch today. After taking the old, evil, irrelevant, demeaning half-day MBE, the most evil idea available to a bar candidate popped into my head: I should just go home and do some essays on my computer.

One nap and half an hour of Situation Room later, the coffee is brewing, the books are out of the bag and I'm banging out another blog post about how unproductive I've been.

Ooh, YouTube. Following this weekend's theme brought about by The Wackness, here's a forgotten gem from the golden age of hip-hop, courtesy of Newark's Lords of the Underground:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's 3:28 p.m., do you k now where your mind is?

I know where mine is - it's out with the rich guys swimming around their yachts in Lake Michigan, not 100 yards from where I sit in front of a multiple choice practice section I've managed to bomb, despite feeling a little more confident due to some good scores yesterday. Have I peaked? Have I used up my brain's allocation of concentration for the month?

Time to chill on the hyperbole for a minute. I've been writing about multiple choice questions and essays a lot lately. Lemmie break the bar down for you underclassmen and non-law school types:

Multistate Performance Test (10%): This is a "closed universe" in which everything you need to know is presented to you and all that remains to be done is a cursory analysis in whatever form they ask you for (memo, client letter, brief, whatever). K thinks this part is a gimmie, and she's probably right.

New York Essays (40%): It turns out that New York is a little like Texas in that it occasionally sees itself as another country. We don't have a law against arson, the right to wear socks is enshrined in the state constitution and it's not considered hearsay if it came from Page Six.

I exaggerate. But it's not the best thing for one's sanity to memorize rules for nearly every corner of the law, then toss them out the next day for a new set of rules that is in many ways completely different. An example: on the portions of the exam that everyone in the country takes, assault and battery are separate crimes. In New York, what we call "assault" is "battery" everywhere else and your "assault" is our "attempted assault." Get it? Also, embezzlement is larceny and there are eight degrees of everything.

But the worst thing is that the sample essay answers give the impression that it's hit or miss as to what issues they actually want you to identify and answer. There are a thousand things that can go wrong with a contract, a will or a search and seizure, but you're somehow supposed to find the three that they actually want, based on nothing but a vague fact pattern. Oh, the time I've wasted explaining why a court has personal jurisdiction when all they want to know is if the divorce decree is valid. Oy.

Multistate Bar Exam (40%): These are the dreaded multiple choice questions. You're really only supposed to get about 60% of these right, and the harder question sets have stated targets in the mid-40s. People who just finished law school aren't used to being happy getting 60% on anything. The MBE is the main reason nearly all of America's best and brightest legal minds are convinced that they're going to fail.

Plus, there is nothing worse than grading some practice questions and finding that the answer you picked is "correct, but choice (B) is more correct." Go to hell.

New York Multiple Choice (10%): All I'll say about these is that I'm glad they only count for 1/10th of my score, because I'm taking more of a dive on these than the Mets in September. Ba-dum-bum.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In which I out myself as an old man

Richard Cohen on tattoos:

[t]he tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today's are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they're on. They don't represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today's whim will be tomorrow's joy. After all, a tattoo cannot be easily removed. It takes a laser -- and some cash.

From an aesthetic perspective, I think tattoos are ugly - like scars or giant birthmarks. That's a personal judgment about which reasonable people will differ. What really confuses me is people who have tattoos they can't cover up. If the ink spills down to your wrist or splashes across your neck, there isn't much chance you can look like a person worthy of a jumbo mortgage or a security clearance. That's all well and good if you want to be a barista or a musician, but wouldn't a sensible person at the very least reserve the right to go into a more lucrative line of work? I suppose it's one way to prevent yourself from selling out.

Perhaps a time will come where having the title of a Black Flag song scrawled across your right hand doesn't make people wonder if your heart is really in investment banking. That day hasn't arrived.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Diary of a Madman

Like the Gogol story of the same name, my days start out reasonably enough before the descent into incoherence. Early mornings fill me with the simple pride of a person who Does What Needs to be Done. I get up at around 7 to shower and shave and. Shaving while studying for the bar isn't strictly necessary, but it make me feel like a worker. While MSNBC yammers pleasantly in the background like so much white noise, I make coffee (patting myeslf on the back for saving $2 each time) and instant oatmeal. Drinking my coffee in front of the computer, I check the weather and read the Times.

Having never really feared selling out, this routine is very comforting compared with the horrible mornings that follow particularly "interesting" nights. In a way, it's a decent trade-off: lose the bars, the repetitive music they play and the trash that inhabit them and gain Erin Burnett's adorable slight Long Island lilt* on Morning Joe. Life is good. Self-esteem is high. The bus always pulls into the stop just as I too arrive.

I get to the school library five minutes after it opens and find half of the floor filled with LLMs. Note to LLMs: just because we can't understand what you're saying doesn't mean we can't hear you. Be quieter.

One question set: done. Two question sets: done. One essay: done. One re-read of a section of my notes: done. Friends filter in and I get the kick of beating them to the library, even if I'll inevitably leave before.

Lunch rolls around. Nothing too heavy, but still, now is not the time to deny myself one of the few pleasures still available to me. An unacknowledged fact: just because you eat at your desk doesn't mean that you'll be doing anything productive while you're eating. Go eat outside and soak up some Vitamin D and UV rays.

All of a sudden, it's 2 p.m. and I've been screwing around for an hour and a half. Back to work. One essay. Two essays. One problem set. Some more review.

Inevitably, there comes some discrete task you've set out for yourself where you realize that your skull is nothing more than an upside-down bowl full of cottage cheese. Yesterday, I read a multiple choice question and the only thing that came to mind was "jeez, this question is a lot of lines long." Not exaggerating, I couldn't even count the number of lines, let alone read it.

Sometimes, the wall arrives during an essay. Read the prompt, think about the subject, then plot out the answer. Can lawyers be beneficiaries in a will they wrote? Well, lawyers are people, and people can be beneficiaries in a will. But aren't they interested? If I was getting money from a will, I'd be interested. Answering an essay question once you've hit a wall is like asking for legal advice from your snarky stoner friend.

My clean-living days, after such promising starts, go in reverse. All throughout college and law school, the Sunday hangover required immediate ameliorative attention (read: eggs and coffee) but my brain never really got into gear until after sunset. I'd start out moving around like an arthritic patient and unable to form sentences but end working furiously in anticipation for Monday. Now, I start out with vim and vigor and end in a bar-imposed haze. Seems to me like Erin Burnett and the time to do an extra problem set or two isn't worth it.

Around 6, it's time to head home. I stagger down the street, watching the purposeful commuters in soft-focus as I zig-zag in the general direction of my apartment.

Once home, the malaise really starts. Like the terminal patient who longs for death, I count the hours until it's time for bed - if I conk out at 7, it'll most likely be a nap, so I need to hold out at least until 10. TV is all reruns, my roommates are nowhere to be found. Dinner comes from a frozen box (I don't have the motivation to go to the supermarket). Sans sex, television, booze, energy or company, what's left to do for those three or so hours?

Reruns, mostly.

As uplifted as I was in the morning, the evening sees me sinking to a hazy, lazy low. And what are we going to do tomorrow? The same thing we do every day, Pinky. Study for the bar.

* UPDATE: Erin Burnett is apparently from Maryland's Eastern Shore. Whoa.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Wackness

A case can be made that 1994 and New York was one of those magic time and place combinations that will go down with New York in 1977 or San Francisco in 1967.

It was the golden age of hip-hop. Two months prior, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders dropped on the same day and Nas' Illmatic came out in the spring. That fall, Notorious B.I.G. released Ready to Die. Illmatic, Ready to Die and Enter the Wu-Tang are pretty much the only three hip-hop albums everyone needs to own (there's s strong case for ATCQ's Low-end Theory as #4). Since then, very few hip-hop singles have reached the charts that don't convey the messages that (i) I have a lot of sex; (ii) I own a lot of expensive things; or (iii) I have a propensity toward violence without a hint of nuance or irony.

It was Rudy Giuliani's first year as mayor and a city weary from years of decay seemed happy to see the squeegee men rounded up. The Rangers won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1940. The Knicks got to the NBA finals since 1973, only to be preempted by the O.J. chase. Revs and Cost posted up their inscrutable stickers on the back of every Walk/Don't Walk sign. The premier of Friends was supposed to mark the re-emergence of New York as a place twentysomethings would want to live.

CBGBs, Studio 54 and the Son of Sam it wasn't. But still, there was something afoot, even if Biggie was replaced by Puffy and "quality of life" morphed into "let's make New York look like all those other towns people fled to live here." After a strong start, the promise faltered like the Knicks' defense.

I was in Middle School at the time and like anyone else of that age, I was peripherally aware of what was going on all around me. O.J., hip-hop, Giuliani - the names were familiar but the consequences weren't. More than anything else, remember that June was a scorcher - that unique blend of hot, humid and grimy that makes you want to take a shower after you leave your air-conditioned room during halftime to dash to the boiling kitchen for a glass of orange juice. The kind of hot that makes that shower seem futile the second you get out.

In 1994, a few of my friends had older brothers who towered above us, smelled like something earthy and smoky and always had headphones around their necks. They listened to WFMU and complained about how Washington Square Park was becoming a "police state," whatever that meant.

Those guys probably knew a real-life equivalent of Luke Shapiro, the aimless Upper East Side pot dealer in The Wackness. In a way, it's a period piece for 1994 like The Wedding Singer was to the mid-80s: the soundtrack is carefully constructed, period slang is sprinkled in everywhere (remember when you could say "dope" unironically?) and every major current-events item gets a reference. But it isn't just VH1-style premature nostalgia.

Like the vastly underrated Summer of Sam, The Wackness uses the larger context to clarify its characters' motivations. Shapiro (Josh Peck) finds himself fresh out of high school, with all the promise it entails. It's summer, the music is good, business is booming and he has a love interest (Olivia Thirlby as Stephanie). Yet there's something lacking: a point. Luke wants to get laid, save his family and figure out why he's seemingly the only friendless drug dealer in the world.

To that end, he engages a shrink (Ben Kingsley) who represents a dying era of stubbornness, wanton drug use and endearing abrasiveness. Both have an inkling that their dreams are simultaneously doomed and as yet unformed.

If 1994 fails to go down in history as a turning-point year, it will be because the cultural ferment was aimless and the political trends were, in retrospect, inevitable. Just like the plot arc of this smart little film.

Nas said it best way back then:

Yet I'm the mild, money gettin style, rollin foul

The versatile, honey stickin wild, golden child

Dwellin in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled

Or caught by the devil's lasso, shit is a hassle.

A hassle indeed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I come not to praise Shea Stadium, but to bury it

Tacked on to the beginning of an article about a Billy Joel concert (which is just a rehash of the Chuck Klosterman he's-so-uncool-I'm-cool-because-I-like-him storyline), Dan Barry whips up some pre-nostalgia for Shea Stadium:

SOMEONE must sing a proper song of farewell for Shea Stadium, the nice try of a coliseum in Queens, as its dismantling draws near and a new ballpark rises just yards away. But that someone must be able to convey emotions specific to the place, emotions beyond the sadness of many lost Mets summers and the euphoria of two World Series championships. There is so much more.

In fact, "nice try" is a pretty good description for Shea. It's a Robert Moses project and, like his other civic disasters (the Cross-Bronx Expressway and huge tracts of public housing high-rises come to mind) it was built in the high hopes that great public works from on high would prepare New York City for a new era of progress.

Fittingly, it shares a lot of problems with the other Robert Moses projects of the postwar era.

As the Cross-Bronx tore a gigantic trench through neighborhoods without the least bit of consideration to pedestrians and neighbors, Moses stuck Shea under a flight path near LaGuardia Airport without any consideration to the fans who would have to sit through endless jet engine drone to watch a game.

As housing projects rose from blighted but human-scale blocks to the goals of Le Corbusier's desire for order and sterile spacial proportions at the expense of the comfort of people actually living in them, Shea was built as a pleasingly regular circle at the expense of shade and views.

A lot of people have great memories from the times they spent at Shea - myself included. But the stadium itself should be preserved, or at least left standing, as an example of an entire era of crummy stadia. The Vet and the old Busch Stadium are gone and the Astrodome may not be saved by preservationists, but there should be at least one example of how wrong we went in the sixties.

But back to the Amazins:

The romantic idealism and the yeah-right realism. The quickness to mock and to take offense. The need to prove oneself better than any Upper East Side twit and the guilt from having conceived such a hollow ambition. The restlessness, angst and ache of the striver. The Long Island of it all.

Get over yourself, man. There are plenty of UES twits who like the Mets. Even more twits liked them in the late '80s-early '90s when the Yankees had Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and a string of losing seasons. Every summer, big law firms load up million-dollar partners and Nobu-fed summer associates into black Town Cars bound for luxury boxes at Shea. Mets Nation is jealous, but they're by no means a particularly working-class bunch.

As for the losing thing, there are plenty of fans who wish their teams had it as good as the Mets. Since 1962, the Mets have won two World Series, one division title, two NL pennants and two wild card berths. Ask a fan of the Phillies, the Royals, Mariners, Indians, Tigers, Astros or Rangers if they wouldn't mind trading the records of the last 37 1/2 seasons with the Mets.

Yes, the inferiority complex started right off the bat in 1962, when the Mets came into this world as a piss-poor substitute for the Dodgers and Giants and proceeded to rack up the worst record in the history of the modern game.

Yes, they weren't favored in 1969.

No, that doesn't mean that the Kennedy-era hair shirt looks good on a fan of the team with the second-highest payroll in the league.

A disquieting thought

There is probably some poor candidate for the bar out there who won't get to become a lawyer this year because he drew the wrong conclusion from a 20-word fact pattern and thought a certain behavior was reckless when it was in fact wanton.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So, how's bar studying going?

An innocuous enough question from non-J.D.s, I suppose, but one that's likely to result in being on the receiving end of a long diatribe. In the name of efficiency and making more time to study subjects I never seem to improve in, I've boiled it down to a couple of sentences.

Q: How is bar studying going?

A: It's like trying to pile two gallons of jello into a one-gallon Tupperware container. You can balance a little cherry-flavored Evidence on the top, but the Choice of Law with the slice of pineapple in it just falls off the other side of the pile, so you go to pick that up and all your equal protection pudding slides off.

As for the long answer, I'm in hell and I can't find a way out. My final bar review substantive class was yesterday; the topic was Domestic Relations. I attempted an essay on Domestic Relations with a side of Commercial Paper this morning, only to find that not a single one of the issues in the essay was covered in our class or in the gigantic "mini" outline they gave us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Q: The readers of which publication are least likely to be interested in a story about saving gas?

A. RedEye, the commuter paper distributed near bus stops and El stations.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Auto Libre

Since Monday, I haven't had a car and it feels GREAT. I don't have to worry about Chicago's guerrilla street-cleaning-sign affixers, fellow garage parkers denting my doors with theirs or getting a new parking sticker. Next month, I won't worry about renewing my insurance or my registration. I will not soon worry about where I parked my car when I last used it four days ago. Red light cameras, speed traps on Lake Shore Drive and running parking meters are now crossed off my admittedly long list of things to worry about. If a shady mechanic makes up a list of malfunctions I'm not qualified to evaluate, they won't be about my car.

The money benefits aren't too bad either. Since I've been in law school, I haven't driven all that much, but I still fill up about once every 3 weeks. That's about $75 a month. Insurance is $100. My Chicago Sticker, neighborhood parking permit and registration come out to about $25 a month. Even without scheduled work like brakes, oil changes and the like, I'm $200 richer every month, which means I can take a cab to the supermarket every time I go and I still save money.

On the subject of cabs, even when I was driving, I had to take them a fair amount. Drinking and driving is a no-no, as is any form of airport parking.

But yet, there's always a caveat. This is the first time since the middle of college that I don't have a car. "Freedom of the open road" and all that. Where exactly is that open road? In college, I could get to an uncongested interstate in short order. My ancient station wagon was pretty much impervious to police radar guns, probably because no right minded trooper could imagine that 16-year-old clunker could even reach the speed limit, let alone exceed it. It was great to roll down the windows and crank the stereo all the way to the Pennsylvania state line and beyond. Here in Chicago, there is no open road. Fight your way to any interstate and it's more likely than not at any hour of the day to be congested. Even when there is some freedom to gain a little momentum, there's probably a toll booth. As for speed, those troopers had no trouble believing that my most recent car could go very fast - so I made sure it didn't.

Does not having my car make me less of an American, less of a man? Maybe, but if so, it makes me a far more relaxed commie-sissy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Law school, explained

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shows us exactly what it's like to get called on in Con Law when you have absolutely no idea what's going on.

That pause is so pregnant, I think its water just broke.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sixteen Ounces to Freedom

A beacon to the peoples of the world.

I had the interesting experience of spending my Fourth of July with, among others, about a half-dozen Europeans in the States for work. We ate corn on the cob, grilled burgers and brats, listened to violent, misogynist rap music and generally had an all-American afternoon.

But one thing really caught the attention of the Continentals: the red Solo cups. Very excited at the sight of disposable drinkware, the Yanks at this BBQ did the cultural exchange thing: we taught them flip cup.

Apparently, they don't sell large, brightly colored plastic cups in Europe, making them very noticeable in certain American college movies. Think about it: whenever anyone on an American college campus is having fun in the movies or on TV, they are surrounded by a sea of red or blue Solo cups. It turns out that the "red cup," as they call it, is a minor cultural touchstone.

As usual, I have a theory. By the time most Americans reach 21, they have been drinking for years at house parties, in dorm rooms or in dank frat basements. Once bars and clubs admit us, our drinking habits have largely been formed. Europeans, on the other hand, can go out to drink at a far younger age and thus never get the chance to entertain themselves with beer pong, flip cup and everything else that goes with drinking semi-incognito. That's why twentysomething Europeans are always impressed with our house parties and we're generally impressed with European bars and clubs.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Reclaiming the Spirit of '98

The bar is in less than a month. It's time for the crummiest, crammiest July ever. It's time to buckle down to the max. I just can't bring myself to commit to it yet - right now, I'm up to maybe 6 hours a day total (usually closer to 4) when I really need to be closer to 8. I don't think I'm alone

Why can't I do it to the max? What can the flagging bar review student do?

Aside from some rough patches here and there (clinic comes to mind), these last two years of law school haven't been all that tough. Yes, I studied diligently enough when finals came around, but mine were all self-scheduled, so I could work all day, but still get home at a reasonable hour. Before law school, my main job didn't require any all-nighters. My second job, as a tutor, involved a lot of driving, but after a while, not much thinking.

As for college, I was a Political Science major. And an Economics minor.

In fact, the last time I've really busted my balls is during my Junior year of high school, in 1997-8. Around April, things hit their apex. I was competing for an editorial board position on my high school newspaper (it was a weekly paper - a big deal, not to mention a time-sucker), studying for a bunch of AP tests, competing in a debate tournament. The month before, I was engrossed in the SATs. Add to that the fact that I was your average reckless teenager looking for a good time.

For three months, I got to school at 8:15 and worked until 12 or 1 a.m. When I wasn't in class, I was working in something or other. To be fair, there were a few half-hours now and then when I could hang out in the cafeteria and act like an idiot. But that was my right.

What did I do differently back then that allowed total immersion into what needed to be done?

- Caffeine. Back then, it was Pepsi. Lots of it. I started each day with a Big Gulp (I don't think they even make those any more), re-upped at lunch, took another pick-me-up after the last class and then sporadically as the evening wore on. Soda of any kind wasn't allowed at home, so I usually hid Pepsi in my room and drank it warm if I couldn't get to the kitchen for ice without any questions as to why I had no liquid in my glass. I may have been a bit hard to handle when I was really buzzed on the coffee and sugar, but it meant no after-class naps.

These days, I'm more of a coffee person, but like any real grown-up, I can't drink any after a certain hour without my sleep suffering. After months of advertising bombardment, I've tried 5 Hour Energy (less of a drink, more like a sip!). It's good for partying (remember partying?) but doesn't seem to keep me going during the day.

There's always trucker speed.

- Diet and Exercise. I'm miles ahead of 16-year-old me. I go to the gym regularly and, to a large extent, watch what I eat. Back then, lunch was usually a huge sandwich from an Italian deli, a giant slice of pizza (if I felt ambitious, Sicilian with extra cheese) or mozzarella sticks from the cafeteria. Unlike your average sandwich chain, those sandwiches had huge quantities of meat not weighed out on a scale and would now leave me passed out in my chair an hour after eating one. I could try eating like a pig for the next month and not exercising, but common sense leads me to believe that I could eat more a decade ago with less resulting sluggishness and unsightly wait gain.

- Variety. This morning, I was studying for the bar. This afternoon, I'll be studying for the bar. Tonight, ditto. Back then, I had five subjects in school and two big extracurriculars. Get bored with one? Try another until you get bored of that - there would be plenty of everything else to work on. Unless I treat Torts and Criminal Procedure as completely different subjects, I'm outta luck here.

- The Internet. Back then, there were no blogs, no social networking and no Flickr - the only non-static sites were newspapers and sports sites. Going from link to link on static pages gets old a lot faster than checking up on your 23 favorite blogs. Maybe I should resolve to only visit sites in existence back then. Hamster Dance anyone?

- I needed to get into a college. I already have a firm job to set up - the bar is just a condition precedent that almost 100% of my school passes. The urgency, while very much here, isn't the same kind of "if I don't completely rock everything, I'm going to be making minimum wage until the day I die from a stray bullet walking to my tiny cold water flat in a horrible neighborhood" way.

- Conclusion. It's clear that I need to return to high school levels of productivity, but I can't do it by being a high schooler. A degree of maturity is required. Which means I'm screwed.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Light at the end of the tunnel, Part I

When this is all over, hot dogs the right way.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The price of gas is rising faster than the cost of oats

Good thing I learned how to drive a team of horses a couple of years ago.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Gonna rock your body 'till Canada Day

Tomorrow, our neighbors to the north celebrate indepen... no; victo... no; agglomeration of its provinces into a federation in 1867. It's as good a reason as any to celebrate, I guess. So grab a cold Molson, hop on a Bombardier subway car or pop in a New Pornographers record to show our under-appreciated cousin up yonder some love.

To that end, here's Eugene Mirman with some interesting facts about Canada.

My car, my whip, my ride, my problem

Who wants to buy a nice used car so I don't have to park it for $500 a month in New York?

Nobody, apparently. Although I don't really need one, it's been nice to have my slick wheels out here, if only because I get to go to Culver's out in the burbs whenever I want. Three weeks ago, I put up ads on Craigslist, (for $40) (also not free) and the Reader. I've had a few calls, but nobody has even come to see the thing - I'm starting to get the feeling that nobody wants to buy a car that gets 26 mpg on the highway anymore. These are some of the responses I've had:

- Nice Midwestern-sounding lady: Called up on a Saturday morning, asked about fuel economy right off the bat, then said "I'll call you." Never called. Hussy.

- All-caps guy: Had the cash ready, but made a very, very low-ball offer in text-screaming like when one of your elderly relatives first learned how to use email. I waited too long to see if I could do better, and he lost interest. Just to rub it in, he told me in his final email that he thought the car was worth $500 less than his initial offer. Thanks, buddy.

- The Hoosier Loser: He had the same make and model I did and wanted to buy my car for his brother, who was moving into town. "I got a lemon last time I bought a used car, so I was wondering if I could take your car for a week to let my mechanic down her in Indiana take a look at it," he asked. Is this some sort of joke? "What if I give you a check for $1,000 as a deposit?" Then I have $1,000 and no car (my car is worth a significant amount over that). Great. Still, we arranged a time to meet. The next day, he called me up and spoke like a woman who drunkenly gave her number to a guy she was never interested in. "Umm, I can't make it today." Another time? "I'll call you." Good luck finding someone willing to surrender their car for a week.

- Blocked-number guy: He called, had lots of specific questions and didn't ask about the fuel economy. Unfortunately, I took the call when I was out of the house. He said he would call me back the next day to make a time to see the car. He never called. I thought he might have expected me to call him, but his number appeared blocked on my phone. Who are you, wonderful stranger, and do you still want my car? [makes "call me" hand gesture]

- Cheesehead tease: Wanted me to drive half of the way between my garage downtown and his office in Kenosha, Wisconsin, five hours after his call. He was supposed to quickly call back to settle on a parking lot in Gurnee to meet. He never called. I sense a trend.

- Broken-English emailer: Wants to see the car between 7 and 7:30. I waited in the car, bored out of my mind because I removed my iPod adapter and CDs during the painstaking cleaning process. No calls. Upon returning home, I get an email, timestamped 7:21, telling me he can't come. Thanks.

It's been three weeks and nobody has even seen the car. Today is the last day I have my garage space, so I'm giving in and bringing my car to CarMax, where they will make an offer 20% below what I should have got on the open market. But bar review is starting to seriously ramp up and I don't want to park outside and wash the car every time someone pretends to want to see the thing. It's good for the environment and the country that people are selling their cars and buying hybrids, taking transit or riding bikes, but $4 gas has made turned my car from a V6 beast with great acceleration and seat warmers to a white elephant mocking me as it gathers dust in its parking space. I'll try to comfort myself by thinking of it as taking one for the country.

Friday, June 27, 2008

(Click for full size.)

Take a look at this Google Maps satellite map of Camden, New Jersey's downtown. It is an example for every misguided "urban renewal" plan hatched in the last 60 years.

The best place to start is the rabbit-shaped spot right in the middle. It's dedicated to parking for downtown Camden, for the Stadium and Aquarium on the waterfront and for people commuting to Philadelphia across the river. Forget about carbon emissions or fuel consumption, the amount of space cars will take up if you let them is enormous. Not just do they need roads, they need places to be parked at home, at work and anywhere else you might venture. As a result, a lot of whatever used to be in that huge gray mass, for whatever reason, is blacktop.

Next, we have the two parts of Camden out of the main lump that aren't parking. They're Campbell Field and the Adventure Aquarium. Both were built at huge taxpayer expense, both were "downtown" improvements and both failed miserably at bringing any development in a deeply troubled but geographically fortunate city. Think how that money could have been spent in the most dangerous city in America. The only problem is that you can raise money in the capitol to build a stadium, but the state won't help out to pay for a lot of the basic stuff that makes cities livable. Oh, and you'll need tons of parking for the suburbanites to park to see the attractions.

Third, there's the small matter of the highway streaking across town. From the old I-93 in Boston to the Cross Bronx in New York, interstates tear neighborhoods apart and choke off entire sections of town from pedestrian traffic. Crime-wise, no pedestrians mean few witnesses to street crime. Fewer witnesses mean more witness intimidation and lower conviction rates.

The residents of Camden to the north of 676 have to go under the highway or even around the toll booths to get to the PATCO train or the university. The obvious neighborhood to target for redevelopment (at least geographically) is cut off from the two places in town they might want to go.

What now? You can't well tear down the highway to the main bridge to Philadelphia, but some work could be done on that parking. There could be more multi-level facilities built (I see some already) or better yet more use of public transit to reduce dependence on parking.

Yet just like Baltimore, there are any number of other factors at play. A tax base is probably a prerequisite to solving any number of urban maladies, but the pathologies of life in a post-industrial secondary city won't be fixed by more pedestrian walkways and a couple of brewpubs.

I see decedents

I took Wills, Estates and Trusts less than a year ago. How come the last two days of Bar/Bri Wills was like a foreign language to me. Granted, the prof (who shall remain nameless) was a mumbler and didn't answer questions to anyone's satisfaction, but the E&E should have at least exposed me to some of these concepts. The NY distinctions aren't even that severe!

Earlier in the week, we did torts, which was similarly an eye-opening experience. My torts prof was a law and economics guy who spent most of the class time writing inscrutable matrices of numbers on the board and left trifling little concerns like elements and the mechanics of causation to the TA who, to his credit, did the best he possibly could in the little time he had during reading period. Thanks, prof.

On the other hand, con law was drilled into my head so thoroughly that I could do my crosswords in peace without having to fill in the blanks. Hopefully the MBE will all be equal protection and justifiability stuff.

Law schools aren't like schools of air conditioner repair - curricula vary, and that's a good thing. If that were the case, we'd all just take Bar/Bri and be done with it over one horrid summer (or winter). I feel like I learned a lot and took advantage of many opportunities afforded me by my school, but almost none of it is the least bit of use at the moment.

Researchers have found that taking courses that could help with the bar have no effect on passage rates. It took me half a summer to figure out why.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rent Party

I've reconciled myself to renting an apartment in New York for the foreseeable future. As I listen to Chicago-based friends with visions of down payments and adjustable rate mortgages dancing in their heads, I will be wondering exactly what size of cardboard box a young associate's salary will buy in Manhattan.

Unlucky for me, Ezra Klein of The American Prospect notes that rental prices have stayed steady during the housing boom/bust:

In theory, the run-up in costs should've made it relatively more profitable for landlords to sell, thus depleting the rental stock, and forcing renters to stay competitive by paying more. That didn't happen, though I'm not sure why.

Kevin Drum takes a gander as to why:

A couple of guesses here. First, part of the housing bubble was caused by low interest rates, something that doesn't affect rental rates. In fact, low interest rates generally help to keep rental rates low. Second, the housing bubble took a lot of renters off the market: home ownership rates went up a couple of points and rental rates went down a couple of points. That kept pressure on landlords to keep rents low. Third, there might be a psychological effect, at least in the short term: as long as property prices are rising smartly, landlords might be willing to accept lower rental rates. You're more likely to accept a lower cash flow ROI if you think there's a big capital gain coming your way a few years down the road.

I have no idea either. Then again, urban property (like the condo two conversions within a block from my apartment) hasn't felt the housing bust nearly as much as the exurbs. For the moment, the cost of everything is rising so fast that a steady rent keeps a lot of people feeling more secure then homeowners at the mercy of interest rates.

In which I save the CTA from ruin

So you're getting pinched from high fuel prices, just like everyone else (except for your riders). Those buses get horrible mileage and the hybrid alternatives are far more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

We all know that running the air conditioning on full blast is bad for fuel economy. We also know that most of the newer, bendier, CTA buses are cooled to near-freezing. It isn't comfortable and it isn't efficient. Turn up the thermostat a little, save some cash you can put to the cleaning budget.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Coldplay on tonight's Daily Show

Yep, they still suck.

What's wrong here

The short answer: Movable Type needs to be completely re-installed because whenever the site
re-publishes the index pages (like the home page) it breaks down in the middle, leaving a blank screen.

The long answer: A series of expletives, followed by the short answer, followed by more expletives.

Monday, June 23, 2008

High finance for regular people, part 1

You've probably noticed the TV ads in which Chrysler promises purchasers of new cars that they won't pay over $2.99 for gas over the next three years, good for up to the first 12,000 miles each year. The Let's Refuel America promotion is done in conjunction with Pricelock, a startup that appears for the moment to have no other customers besides Chrysler. In exchange for other new car incentives, Chrysler gives you a special credit card that you can use at gas stations to get the special rate.

If it's done well, programs like this could revolutionize the way people budget. The premise itself has been around for centuries in the form of futures markets (for a succinct explanation, see Trading Places). However, using commodities exchanges to buy contracts for future delivery of fuel, food or anything else, you'll need experience in the markets, some way to receive and store what you've ordered and the need to buy in increments far greater than what any individual or family would need. For example, the New York Mercantile Exchange trades gasoline futures in increments of 42,000 gallons.

The big futures markets may be useless to you or me, but bigger players that have made wise plays can reap the benefit of locking in prices years in advance, making budgeting simpler and insuring against price jumps. Southwest locked in its price for jet fuel when it was far cheaper, a move that looks very savvy in hindsight.

But what about Joe Consumer? He's seen gas prices rise, mortgage payments explode and supermarket bills jump. Normally, the only response would be to cut back: take the bus and dump the arugula for iceberg. Southwest can fight instability, but regular folks with mouths to feed are left to twist in the wind. If Pricelock ever catches on beyond this Chrysler deal, it could be the beginning of something big: consumers could lock in prices for everything from gas to spaghetti.

The tale of the last quarter-century has been of one of a great risk shift from the highest levels of government and corporate America to individuals. Union membership is down, pensions are being replaced by 401Ks and the social safety net is being slowly dismantled. People can reap enormous benefits from, for example, managing their own retirement accounts. However, stability has its benefits and anyone who can give people the same peace of mind as the major players can potentially make a whole lot of money.

The two year itch

Northwestern Law has announced that they will now offer a two-year J.D. program in which classes start the summer before traditional 1L year.

This is an awful idea.

First, Northwestern just jumped from 12 to 9 in the U.S. News rankings. Why start this gimmick now, just as things are looking up?

Second, Northwestern is a small law school that prides itself on being a small community in which professors and students actually know each other. Creating a segment of the student body that runs on a different track can only wall off some of that community by having some students take an entire semester of classes before they get to meet anyone else in the school and then making them take extra classes so as to ensure they won't have any time to socialize.

Third, by making the two-years take an extra class each semester, the school is making it nearly impossible for these students to participate in journals, clinics and student groups. Given that law firms and judges in the market for clerks like these things. Since post-graduate placement is a large part of the U.S. News rankings, I can't see how this is good for the school's overall prestige.

The two-years will be just like the L.L.M.s: a group of people who are "just passing through." Good if you're in it for the money, bad if you're in it to cement a reputation as a top ten law school.

The one-point-above-passing guide to finding a bar exam study spot in Chicago

We're about halfway through Bar/Bri and the early slacking has given way to sample questions, mock essays and flashcards. I'll make the assumption that not many folks studying for the bar right now didn't exactly give their all on last semester's finals, so getting back to study mode is a little difficult, especially given summer weather.

After three years of warding off cabin fever by trying out coffee shops around town, I am proud to offer you, my loyal readers, a guide to finding a place to study for the bar in Chicago.

Your Law School's Library
Various locations

Sometimes you just want some comfort food. From that very first 1L assignment to that last mad dash over the finish line, your school's library has been there for you. Many law students have happy memories of the library - the hours upon hours of tedious reading and outlining aren't memorable, but the time you spent goofing off with your friends while you should have been working will be something you'll talk about at the reunion. Re-create the magic and pretend to be a naive law student again.

Pros: It's probably convenient to where you live and they probably haven't changed the combo on your locker yet.

Cons: Underclassmen will assume you flunked one of your classes and are making it up in summer school.

Argo Tea & Coffee
Various Locations near yuppies like you

Hip, but not too hip. There were two Argos when I moved here. Now there are ten, and I can see why. They're airy, the staff is friendly and the drinks are creative and tasty. Oh, and for some reason the rugelach is to die for. Take it from me - yid* tested, mother approved (no really, mom tried 'em and thinks they're great).

Pros: Attractive client base, bright space, the bathrooms have those really powerful hand dryers.

Cons: Tiny tables.

Atomix Cafe
1957 W. Chicago Ave., Ukrainian Village

For the ascetic, but not too ascetic Some people need an outlet, a big table and some light background music. Atomix lacks luxuries like free wi-fi and skim milk, but in return for giving up those luxuries, you get all the space you need and the too-cool-for-school hipsters that patronize the place will make it a point to leave you alone. Sometimes, I find the Internet to be a huge distraction, so I spent a fair amount of time hear during my law school career when I really needed to hit the books hard.

Pros: Paninis, bagels and people with ironic tattoos. When you're done, there are plenty of cool bars within walking distance.

Cons: You probably don't belong and everyone who walks through the door knows it. If you can deal with that, you should be fine.

Sip Cafe
1223 W Grand Ave., West Town

There is no way you're missing summer. A coffee shop with a garden in the back! Go out there to get your Vitamin D while learning how different your state's law is from the stuff you learned in law school. It's hard to lock yourself inside while the sun is shining, so why not get the best of both worlds?

Pros: Getting seasonal affective disorder in June is just lame. This is your last summer as a student, so treat it as such to the extent you can.

Cons: Even more remote than Atomix.

The Hidden Shamrock
2723 N Halsted St., Lincoln Park

Bar/Bri will drive anyone to drink, so you might as well save a trip. This bar has free wi-fi, huge tables and hardly a soul in it during the day. Why not share a few rounds with Mr. Conviser's mini outline and stop working when you can't read the small text anymore?

Pros: You can't complain about how bar review keeps you from going out.

Cons: This shows you can't pass the bar. Har-dee-harr-harr.

The El
High above the streets.

You are so friggin' hardcore. Growing up in New York, I've heard a few stories of people who studied on the subway. It makes sense in a strange way given that there are few distractions, plenty of light (except for limited areas) and if you go in the middle of the day on most lines, enough space. Studying on the El is probably best suited for flashcards and re-reading your notes, since there aren't any tables.

Metra may be a more appealing option, even though it's a bit more expensive. You'll have plenty of time to hit the books on the local to Kenosha.

Pros: It's close to public transit. Also, it's a good story to tell down the line if you want to impress people with how gritty and urban you are.

Cons: If you don't pick the right car, the smell can be distracting. Also, you may lose your hearing if you do it too much.

* That's one of those words you can't use unless it describes you.