Thursday, July 29, 2004

Enjoying the Summer

I remember a few months ago I asked an upper year law school student, "what should I be doing during the summer to prepare for law school?" His answer was, "just enjoy your summer." I have to admit, it has been quite hard for me not to spend at least a few moments of each day preparing myself, but I've been getting better.

I have a bit of news. We have finally moved back to Canada. We spent an exhausting day hauling all our stuff from our apartment in the US, down 5 floors of stairs into a 10' Budget truck, cleaning the apartment, and driving to Kingston. That was a looooooooooong day! You know, it was a strange feeling coming across the border. By almost all quantitative measure, the highway north of the border was the same as the American side. Yet, we both felt so much more comfortable driving along the Canadian highways. Odd, eh? I'm glad to be getting settled with so much time to spare before classes start. Our plan from now until September 7th is to just chill out and enjoy the summer. I hope you will too! :)

Friday, July 16, 2004

More Readings

Here are some misc links for your reading pleasure:

A short article about a woman's perspective on first year law (from McGill's Quid Novi publication).

I spent most of my first year in law school talking to myself. It went something like this, "Why am I here? . . . "

An interesting survey of graduating law school students from the University of Toronto that includes questions like:

- Are you happy you went to law school?
- What was your best extra-curricular experience?
- What are you doing in the year following graduation?
- Have you had any romantic liaisons with others students? If yes, students were asked to note how many other students they had shared "romantic liasons" with. If not, they were asked if they wished they had.
- Which of the three years was your favourite and why?

An article written by a law school student from the University of Alberta on China and WTO.

An article from the NYTimes on "rankism, the bullying behavior of people who think they are superior."

An online resource by the Toronto-based organization Taking IT Global that has pages on Social Justice issues, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Human Rights.

For fun:
An article on the 1999 winners of the bad writing contest.  And I have to highlight this article (thanks to Anonymous for pointing it out) on Are Mac Users Smarter Than PC Users?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Ethicist

Every Saturday, the New York Times Magazine publishes a column by their in-house ethicist, Randy Cohen. Armed with a wry sense of humour and a strong moral keel, Mr. Cohen answers everyday moral dilemmas using conventional wisdom and unconventional wit. Here are a couple samples to whet your appetite:

I am an executive of a small marketing firm that has been hired to develop advertising for a political campaign I strongly oppose. The owner of the agency knows my beliefs and admits to having similar ones. However, he doesn't feel we can afford to walk away from this business. Is there a way to reconcile my personal and heartfelt beliefs with my allegiance to my company? Anonymous

Here's another way to phrase the question at hand: should I betray my principles for money? To which I reply with yet another question: how much money? No, of course I don't. If you have a profound and principled objection to this political campaign, you should not work on it. Ideally your boss would assign you to projects that don't clash with your fundamental beliefs -- what about corn chips? Everybody likes corn chips. Can you work on ads for corn chips?

While the desire to be true to yourself is laudable, ethics primarily concerns the effects of our actions on others. Thus an important question here is: who would you harm by working on this political campaign? From your perspective (given your ''heartfelt beliefs''), me, your neighbors, the nation, the world. You ''strongly oppose'' a candidate because you believe he'd have a baleful effect on our lives. To spend your working days helping someone get into a position to do that damage is not honorable.

Now, you could honorably work on an ad for Doritos even though you really prefer Tostitos. The distinction is innocuous, morally neutral, a matter of taste (and either one goes great with guacamole) -- none of which you could aver about, say, designing ads for Strom Thurmond's 1948 Dixiecrat campaign for the presidency.

Your rank in your company is also a factor. The more influential you are in shaping this campaign, that is, in abetting wrongdoing, the worse your transgression. The brilliant political strategist is more culpable than the guy who fixes the ad agency's copy machine, never mind the guy at the gas station who fills the tank of the guy who fixes the copier.

The world is an untidy place, and only saints or those capable of photosynthesis can be absolutely scrupulous about such decisions, but your principles and your position unsuit you for this project.

I hope your boss will understand.

My husband and I are planning to have a child through an egg donor. Are we obligated to tell our child that he or she is not genetically related to me? My husband thinks we must: the truth is always best. But I think that unless there is important medical information to be conveyed, it is unnecessary to tell a child something likely to be painful and confusing. Should we tell? Anonymous, Los Angeles

The question is not whether to give your child a full account of his or her origins, but when. Information that might disturb a 4-year-old can be comprehensible to a 16-year-old. Once your child is mature enough to understand the story of his or her conception, it needn't be either painful or confusing. There's certainly nothing shameful (or these days even all that unusual) about what you and your husband are planning.

Indeed, it testifies to your determination to start a family and presages the love you'll have for your child.

I do agree that it can be tough on the parents having to tell a child something at least potentially painful and confusing. But you have years of practice ahead of you when you try to explain, for example, why the ''Lord of the Rings'' movies won all those Oscars.

For this week's column. And more. 

Monday, July 12, 2004

Why do I want to go to law school anyhow?

I should probably have done this earlier: talk about why I'm going to law school.

My short answer: to assert positive change and fight corruption.

My long answer: A book I was reading recently mentioned the term "valence." It claimed that if philosophy students thought that getting a PhD in Philosophy had the same valence as getting a degree in law, then people wouldn't go to law school (I hope I got that right). As a Phil Major, that spoke to me. In my 4th year, one of my profs suggested that a paper I wrote on Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics could be the start of a Master's thesis. So I thought about the PhD route. But, after much deliberation, I decided that wasn't for me. So I thought, what other profession allows its members to assert positive change? Law. It was basically a process of elimination.

What is social justice anyhow? I think many students go into law because they think they want to change the world (for the better?) and/or contribute to social justice. But, without having studied law, do we really know what we're talking about? Honestly, I don't think it matters. Some Christians (not me) are guided by "what would Jesus do?" while others ask themselves "what would my mother think?" I believe we are all capable to knowing right versus wrong - even lawyers.

Two points I should make (just in case you're wondering):
- I'm not an aspiring politician.
- I'm not going into law to make money.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The state of Democracy in the Americas

Democracy has become a buzzword. Organizations like the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) have taken the stage in places like Latin America. Tt works with the member nations of the OAS (almost all countries in North and South America) to ensure fair and peaceful elections. For example, the UPD has had a hand in the Presidential elections in Peru after Fujimori left, and elections in countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay and others. Now, when I read that list, I think to myself: what member states of the OAS are conspicuously missing? In particular, I notice the absence of Canada and the United States.

I was actually reminded of the UPD during the recent elections in Canada. Save a few close results too close to call, the election went just about as smoothly as possible. I was thinking to myself how wonderful it is that we really don't need the UPD's help in Canadian elections. Maybe it's not a coincidence that the Executive Director, Dr. Elizabeth Spehar, of the UPD is a Canadian.

Then I started to think about the United States. By many (all?) accounts, their mission of teaching democracy to Iraqis has failed miserably. And, have you read that the Republicans are putting together a plan to postpone the election? Then there's what Michael Moore wrote about the 2000 US Presidential Elections:
The coup began long before the shenanigans on Election Day 2000. In the summer of 1999 Katherine Harris, an honorary Stupid White Man who was both George W. Bush's presidential campaign cochairwoman and the Florida secretary of state in charge of elections, paid $4 million to Database Technologies to go through Florida's voter rolls and remove anyone "suspected" of being a former felon. She did so with the blessing of the governor of Florida, George W.'s brother Jeb Bush whose own wife was caught by immigration officials trying to sneak $19,000 worth of jewelry into the country without declaring and paying tax on it...a felony in its own right. But hey, this is America. We don't prosecute felons if they're rich or married to a governing Bush.

Then, there are articles about how American voters are losing faith in their own systems, Al Gore accusing the Bush Administration of "destroying democracy." Et cetera. It seems like on my walk to work through the streets of Manhattan every morning, New York papers are either reporting about false vice-presidential candidates, ineffective voting machines, election conspiracies or political corruption.

So, my question is: why doesn't the UPD oversee the 2004 US Presidential Election? Dr. Spehar, how about it?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

On Language - part 1

Sometimes when I think of what every law school student has in common, the only thing I can think of is that we are all probably wordsmiths, or, as my girlfriend might say, stylists who need a job. I imagine every lawyer has said, as least on one occasion, that the pen is mightier than the sword. Of course, then there are lawyers like John Kerry who seem to be able to wield either quite competently.

Ever wonder your own mastery of English grammar? I remember when I first started teaching English, my Japanese counterpart assumed that I knew all the rules of grammar.
Her: We're so lucky to have a native English speaker in the classroom kids! Now, in this lesson we're going to learn when to use the gerund and when to use the infinitive. Oh, why don't we let the Canadian explain it for us?
Me: . . . Um, yeah, um, well Miss Nantoka-sensei. . . could I see your textbook for a second?
You know, just cause someone can speak English doesn't mean they can explain it. Thankfully, I learned a thing or two about English grammar.

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Concept of the Day: The Prisoner's Dilemma (I'm feeling all naustalgic for my days studying Philosophy.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Myth: Macs are more expensive

I think a common misperception of Macs is that they are expensive. As a recent laptop shopper, I would like to share experience comparing the prices of machines on the market. I did my best to compare apples to apples ;) but, of course, the comparisons are just a best guess (and lack all qualitative factors - like: do you feel good that when you buy a Mac not a single dollar is going to Microsoft?). My underlying conclusion is that Macs are not more expensive than PCs of similar quality. In fact, it seems like Macs are cheaper.

So why listen to me anyhow? Here's my abridged history with computers: in 1983, I helped my dad put together our IBM XT; programmed in Basic on our IBM AT in 1985; summer job formatting 5 1/4" floppy disks in 1989; dad helped me put together my first computer (Acer) in 1990; parents helped me buy my second computer (Compact - Pentium 66mhz) in 1993; taught computer course for university students in 1997; bought third computer (IBM Thinkpad A21m - PIII, 750Mhz) in 1999; worked on Dell laptop at work in 2002; worked on Dell desktop at work in 2004; bought my fourth computer (Mac - G4, 1.33Mhz). So, after all this experience with Windows, why did I buy a Mac?

Of the laptop PC makers, it seems like IBM and Dell are among the most popular brands. Using the sites of Apple, IBM and Dell, I tried to find machines that were as equivalent as possible. I chose the IBM T41 and the Dell 300m (customized with similar specs as the other machines) to compare to a Mac Powerbook. For IBM, I was thinking of using the IBM T31 (which is more expensive than the T41) but I wanted to give IBM the best chance possible. For Dell, it could be misleading when you first look at the 300m because you'll see its base price at only $1399 (the same as the Mac!) but then you wouldn't notice that it's a very basic machine. So, I customized it to include the features standard on the Powerbook. OK, here's my best side-by-side comparison:

.....................Mac ................IBM T41................Dell Inspiron 300m
CPU:...............G4 - 1.33Mhz..........PM - 1.7 Mhz..........PM - 1.2 Mhz
RAM:..............512 MB...................512 MB.................386 MB
Monitor:...........12.1"....................14.1"....................12.1 "
Hard Drive:.........60 GB...................60 GB..................60 GB
Weight:.............4.6 lbs...................5.0 lbs................3.0 lbs
CD/DVD:...........CD-RW/ DVD-ROM.....CD-RW/ DVD-ROM......External CD-RW/DVD
WiFi/ Bluetooth:...Built-in..................Built-in................Built-in

Price (retail - USD)..$1599.................$2,899...................$1915
Price (edu. discount).$1399...............n/a (?).................$1715
Best Price........... $1275.................$2,249.................$1599

OK. You tell me: have I forgotten anything? Yes, of course. As I've said, it's almost impossible to compare these machines on a level playing field - even when you disregard all their qualitative aspects. For example, how does a G4 compare with a Pentium M? And how does IBM's support compare with Dell's or Apple's?

In my experience, IBM has excellent international support. When I was in Japan I had a problem with my Thinkpad and a UPS guy was at my door within about an hour! Then about 2 days later, it was then delivered to me with a new motherboard. But is that worth the extra $900?