Sunday, April 29, 2007

In the labyrinth


I have decided that the following passage from The Name of the Rose, spoken by William about the labyrinth, is a description of law school and possibly life:

"Some rooms allow you to pass into several others, some into only one, and we must ask ourselves whether there are not rooms that do not allow you to go anywhere else. If you consider this aspect, plus the lack of light or of any clue that might be supplied by the position of the sun (and if you add the visions and the mirrors), you understand how the labyrinth can confuse anyone who goes through it, especially when he is already troubled by a sense of guilt. Remember, too, how desperate we were last night when we could no longer find our way. The maximum of confusion achieved with the maximum of order: it seems a sublime calcuation. The builders of the library were great masters..."
-- p. 217

Friday, April 27, 2007

Teachers, keep on teachin'...

As I read The Buffalo Creek Disaster, I am more and more convinced I have no desire to be a lawyer, and as I near the end I am actually questioning more and more things about this triumphant lawsuit. Like, maybe we *should* distinguish the "psychic impairment" claims of the thirty-three plaintiffs who were not even there the day of the disastrous flood from the claims of the hundreds of plaintiffs who were present and experienced the trauma. I understand that these "absent plaintiffs" also lost homes, property, loved ones, and so forth. But I think their claims are different. When I say this, it puts me on the "side" of the Evil Greedy Corporate Lawyers who represent Pittston, the deep pockets of responsibility. And that's lame. Because as with most polarized things in this world, I smell a false dichotomy.

And maybe, just maybe that's part of my problem with the lawyering and litigation process. It's really, really funny that I didn't think about this until just now. And not funny-ha-ha, but funny-freakin'-scary. I hate the "two sides" approach. Example: I hate the two-party political system. And not just because our two parties of choice are full of jackasses (as opposed to just the one party that has a jackass for a symbol). I think the two-party system is ridiculous and I resent being asked, "Are you a Republican or a Democrat?" What if I'm neither? Better yet, what if I'm both? And what if I'm both right-brained and left-brained? What if I liked English and math all through school while everyone was trying to draw some line between science people and humanities people? What if someone is both gay and straight? Kinsey would say many of us are in between, you know. What if I like L.A. and New York? What if I'm "a little bit country?"

OK. So. Litigation. This is where it gets complicated. Sometimes the art of lawyering is beautiful. Example, in Torts class last semester, where brilliant Professor Walker demonstrated clear, precise logic in all its beauty. ("What explains the coincidence is the quail." Ahhhhh.....) But today, reading about Buffalo Creek, I get angry, because sometimes I read Mr. Do-Gooder Lawyer's tale and while I love that he stands up for the citizens of Buffalo Creek, who really got screwed over, I also resent the implication that I should be on the legal "side" of the plaintiffs in the face of a good point made by the Pittston corporation, and I further resent that I should then be considered to be denying the plaintiffs' suffering. This is immature, Bush-like thinking: "If you're not with us you're against us."

Which brings me to William of Baskerville, in The Name of the Rose. He left behind the messy business of being an Inquisitor. He's wicked smart and doesn't want to go around torturing people. What's more, he recognizes that this "two sides" business is crap. In the maelstrom of debating popes, politicians, abbots, emperors, philosophers, magicians, scientists, and so-called heretics, William explains to Adso that sometimes everyone is right or no one is right and, most importantly, doctrines are bled together.

Furthermore, the fact that people are often wrong when they try to slap on black and white labels does NOT mean that there are no absolutes. I hate when people mix that up, too. Of course there are moral absolutes. Of course there are things that are inherently wrong (lying, violence, war) I hate when people are like, oh yeah, because you hate either/or labels you must think EVERYTHING is a shade of gray. No. I hate labels that show immature thinking. That show someone is incapable of thinking through the matter or the complexity of the situation. Whereas our boy William is eminently capable of thinking through complexity. Man, I like him. I so feel like I'm hanging out with him and Adso. I am positively savoring this book. Which is why it's OK that it's taking me so long to read it.

Well, that's my preliminary statement on the matter. Clearly now is not the time to abandon The Name of the Rose. In fact, it might help me get through final exams. William is like a beacon, something to strive for, a man who uses his learning and powers for good instead of evil...

"Powers, keep on lyin'
while your people keep on dyin'
World, keep on turnin'
'cause it won't be too long.

I'm so darn glad He let me try it again,
'cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin.
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then.
Gonna keep on tryin' till I reach the highest ground..."

--lyrics by Stevie Wonder

Thursday, April 26, 2007


NOW READING: The Buffalo Creek Disaster by Gerald M. Stern

OK, so I have been trying to be a Good Student, and to that end I have not been reading The Name of the Rose. I have not touched it for more than a week. And frankly, I have not really found myself accomplishing all that much more for my classes and final exams than I was previously accomplishing. So maybe I will allow myself to read a few Umberto pages per day, even during this dreaded exam period. After all, let's be realistic here. It's hardly The Name of the Rose that's to blame for what are sure to be some hideous grades on these finals.

But for the moment, I'm quite engrossed in my Civil Procedure reading, and that is largely because we are reading The Buffalo Creek Disaster and it is a book! An actual book, not a casebook, text, appendix of supplementary legal materials, etc. And it is my favorite thing I have read for Civ Pro in two semesters of the class.

I think it's really interesting even if you're not a law student, and it's a quick read. The "disaster" in question was that the coal mining company had nasty refuse pile "dams" and one day when it rained it was just too much and tons of black water and debris flooded the Buffalo Creek Valley wiping out entire towns, settlements, and hundreds of lives. I'm curious if any of you "old fogies" who read my blog remember when this happened. I'm curious about the news coverage it got outside of West Virginia. I'm curious about your recollections. Please, recollect away.

As law students, we are reading this in Civ Pro as a kind of synthesis/review of the entire semester's worth of material, tracing all the procedural mechanisms of launching (and winning!) an enormous lawsuit. I actually think it's a brilliant teaching move on the part of my professor, and I'm rather enjoying it.

Here are some places you can learn more about the disaster...

West Virginia Division of Culture and History

The Charleston Gazette

...but I highly recommend the book!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

April showers bring May roses

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I'm not really sure that I'm going to be able to finish this book in a timely fashion. What I mean by that is: finals are coming. Oh boy, are they. They are looming so large in my entirely NOT distant future. What that means for The Name of the Rose is that I probably won't finish it until the end of May. Because I probably won't touch it for the next four weeks. Because even I, procrastinator extraordinaire, cannot justify reading that (as much as I want to!) with the vast amounts of reading I need to do for my finals right now.


Maybe I'll read a page or two a week anyway. It's such a good book! I so encourage you to read it. I really feel like I'm hanging out at the abbey with William and Adso, traipsing about, talking to monks, no one above suspicion, everyone revealing little things here and there, and sharp-as-a-tack William seizing upon them all. He's so Holmes-ian, that William. Sherlock or Oliver Wendell. (Wow, I've never until this moment thought about those two both being named Holmes. That's fun.)

On an unrelated literary note, in the last week I've discovered that the vast majority of my reader friends were admirers, fans, devotees of Kurt Vonnegut. I never knew. They never mentioned it, but suddenly Vonnegut died and they all spewed forth into the blogosphere their unbridled love for him. I've only ever read Slaughterhouse Five but I'm starting to think I'd best add Cat's Cradle to my as-soon-as-finals-are-over to do list, right after The Name of the Rose.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Simple Minds

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

It's kind of weird (but fun, interesting) to contemplate the history of the Catholic church in Europe. I suppose I should say "Europe, etc." The powers that were had this way of taking over more and more of everything and subjecting everyone to their will. They "converted," indoctrinated, tortured, and otherwise brought people into the fold. Sure, there were battles along the way and some people put up quite a fight, but they just seemed to get more and more power. Even when the popes and the emperors fought among themselves, the common people could never seem to get the upper hand. There was a lot of greedy storing of treasures acquired from the Middle East and other distant lands, all to make the rich richer and more powerful. And don't forget the total disregard for the truth if it flew in the face of the church-state's agenda.

When you consider that this went on for centuries, it kind of seems like we've got it easy with only eight years of the Bush Administation.

"He explained to me that all his life preachers had told him the Jews were the enemies of Christianity and accumulated possessions that had been denied the Christian poor. I asked him, however, whether it was not also true that lords and bishops accumulated possessions through tithes, so that the Shepherds were not fighting their true enemies. He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. I reflected that this is why the simple are so called. Only the powerful always know with great clarity who their true enemies are." - p. 192

Monday, April 09, 2007

Jesus wept laughed!

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Among the other issues presented in this book, some of the monks in a chapter I recently read argued about laughter. Namely, is it OK? Is it OK to be funny? Did Jesus ever laugh?

Now, of course I'm not really expecting to agree with many monks on many fine points of theological debate, especially seeing as they tend to do this whole taking-the-Bible-literally thing waaaaay too much for my liking. But this I found interesting, and I'd like to gather with Brothers William, Adso, Ubertino, Malachi, and the like to discuss it. And Salvatore. Even though with him it's not really a discussion; he just sort of rambles in his incomprehensible language blend, but I'm rather fond of his incomprehensible language blend. Salvatore is my favorite. He has only had two scenes so far, but I'm hoping for many more.

Anyway the one part I found most interesting was the question of Jesus laughing, and specifically what one of the monks says about it: that he had no reason to, because he was omniscient. Whereas we laugh so often out of surprise, shock, etc., this divine-like being knew everything so you couldn't surprise him! No April Fool's fun hanging with Christ, that's for sure. Although, his big holiday comes right around that time anyway, so maybe you have bigger things to worry about than April fooling. Anyway, I thought this was a bizarre notion. Imagine being all-knowing, and then no longer being able to laugh.

Luckily, I don't believe in any omniscient beings. But I do sometimes refer to The Universe, which I may or may not have characterized as all-knowing, especially when it helpfully delivers me cosmic signs about what I should do with my life by playing a song on the radio or something. However, if said cosmic signs and my resulting life are any indication, then The Universe absolutely, positively knows how to have a good laugh.

Take it away, Depeche Mode!

"I don't mean to start any blasphemous rumors,
but I think that God's got a sick sense of humour,
and when I die
I expect to find
him laughing..."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dulce et decorum est...

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

There's a whole lot of Latin goin' on in this book.

I like it. First of all, I like languages. This we know. I also like being able to figure out Latin based on my 1)English fluency 2)skill in various romance languages 3)resourcefulness 4)random religious/judicial/choir-singing background and training.

But there's a lot in this book. And sometimes I can't figure it out. And then I frown. And wish for the monks to start speaking in the "vulgar vernacular" again.

That's all for now.

Monday, April 02, 2007

"I've even heard her singing in the abbey!"

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

This one is definitely filed under 'At Long Last.' I first heard about The Name of the Rose years and years ago when I did my brief year at ASU, in between my first "unfortunate incarceration" undergraduate university and my "final resting place" undergraduate university. I took an English class at ASU called Medieval Lyric. It was quite honestly the most specialized class I took throughout undergrad. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the woman who taught it, either, despite the fact that I liked her, and she even had us over to her house at the end of the semester. In fact, she was the first person I heard talk about Dolores Claiborne, too. And we all know what a life-changing experience watching Dolores was for me.

Well, in good ol' Professor What's Her Name's class we talked about lots of medieval things but we also talked about lots of medievel women things. In fact, that was where I first heard of Hildegard von Bingen, too. Wow! I learned a lot in there. Why don't I know her name? Anyway, the class was small. About 10-15 of us. There was one girl in the class who seemed to have read every book on the planet. She was sort of intimidating, in that college-student-feminist-granola-fiercely-smart way. I liked to read, but this girl put me to shame. She brought up The Name of the Rose during one of our medieval women discussions. She said I would love it and "HAD to read it." I was mighty intrigued and pledged to do so. Well, years later I finally make good on this promise.

In the intervening years, of course, we have seen the phenomenon of folly that is The Da Vinci Code. Now, don't get me wrong. I was all over Dan Brown's little mystery, too, and in fact was the first on my block to read it. (And I have a great story about that, too, as anyone who has spent enough time in a bar with me knows.) But I had the misfortune to work in Borders during pretty much the entire reign of The Da Vinci Code; I'm pretty sure it finally came out in paperback sometime while I was in Korea. (The movie came out while I was there, too, but near the end of my time. I still haven't seen it.)

I call the Da Vinci craze folly because I was working in heavily Catholic Massachusetts and I got really sick of people coming in all in a snit about the book. For two reasons. One, these people acted like "God" had just strolled into their bedroom and announced "he" was taking back everything "he" had previously "said," and I just wanted to say, "It's FICTION people. Get over it. When did Dan Brown become your pope/prophet/pastor?" Whatever.

Second reason, though, is because I found nothing all that contradictory to Christianity as I knew and somewhat liked it in the book. Toward the end of my time as a religious person, I was also becoming quite the philosophical feminist, and I pointed out on more than one occasion that Jesus was clearly a feminist and that The Church has hidden certain things over the years and the Bible best illustrates truths when it's not being taken literally and so on and so on. Now that I'm entirely over religion, I don't really care about most of that anymore, but I still marvel at people who are clinging to their religious fervor on whom none of that has dawned quite yet.

Anyway, this is why I am very much liking William, with whom our narrator hangs out visiting the abbey. William is a brilliant monk, inquisitor, judge of human nature and more...and he seems to be challenging some traditional notions of what is good/bad/sin/holy. I like it.

Long live the trobaritzes!