Cutting Your Own Path

Speaking of metaphors . . .

We lost power in Maine early Sunday afternoon.  The storm felled an oak tree across our road, taking out the power lines and blocking the way.  Without that immediate problem we would have lost power anyway, as the entire area went dark Sunday afternoon.  One wire lay on the ground. The oak lay suspended on the others, with its top hung up in other trees. Without the potential for electrocution removing the tree would have been a bit dicey–it will spring and move when either end is cut free–but I would have done it.  I don’t mess with electricity.  I left the tree alone.

Neighbors shared our Sunday dinner–pasta with tomato sauce from tomatoes just picked from our garden, cooked on the gas stove–and as darkness fell we played Scrabble and read by flashlight.

Monday’s weather was glorious.  When I swam at 7 am the lake–roiling, churning mud washed from its banks, choked with broken branches and torn pipe weed 12 hours earlier–was perfectly still.  The air, its temperature in the low 60’s, felt scrubbed clean and the sky was free of clouds.  The water, still a bit turbid, was remarkably clear given it’s recent chaotic pea-soupy condition.  It promised to be a wonderful Maine day, with two large overhanging questions:  when would the fallen tree be cleared, and when CMP restore power?

I prepared to deal with things as they were, without total success.  I pictured the day unfolding–a bike ride around the lake (I’d walk the bike through the woods around the felled tree and downed wires), a few hours work preparing for the semester until my laptop battery died, swimming, reading on the dock, more Scrabble, grilling all of the meat in the freezer, dining outside by candlelight as the sun set.  Very idyllic, but I could not forget that my fully-powered house was 150 miles away.

I considered this as I headed to bike.  Walking through the woods around the blocked road the solution began to form.  Most of the trees were saplings spaced many feet apart, and it seemed possible to cut a large enough path between the large trees to squeeze through my truck. The bike ride confirmed that power would likely be out for a while.  There was not much tree damage but the electricity was out all around the lake, which meant the outage was widespread, which meant that three houses with blocked access on our dead-end road would be a low priority.

Meanwhile Judy had already lined up a ride to Portland where she and Nate could catch a bus back to Boston. The bus was not an option for me–or more accurately, for the dogs–and the appeal of remaining powerless at the camp for what could be many days was waning fast.  I called the neighbor who owns the land where I’d bypassed the road and explained that I wanted to remove just enough trees for my truck to fit. He said “like I give a shit about those trees.”

I enlisted the support and help of another neighbor and we went to work.  Two hours later we’d driven out my truck and the neighbor’s Volvo wagon.  (Getting it through required widening and regrading the path a bit.)  I relaxed once I knew we were not dependent on anyone else’s help to leave. We enjoyed the rest of the day on the dock. I took a long swim. We emptied the refrigerator and freezer.  We were on the road shortly before 6 pm.

Now, almost 72 hours after the storm hit, the power in the camp is still out.

Waiting for Irene

We drove to Maine at 11 pm, leaving the wedding just after the cake was cut.  (The wedding ceremony was wonderful, the reception at Noche in the South End [closed to patrons for the night] was terrific.) Traffic was light, weather was wet, sky was dark, road was shiny-black.  We arrived at 1:30, to find Nate up to greet us. We unpacked in a drenching downpour, plugged in everything requiring charging, and I was asleep shortly after 2 am.  I woke at 6:45 to steady rain and calm air.  The lake was glassy, disturbed only by the pocks from raindrops, as I retrieved the boat in from the mooring and had my morning swim.  Most boats were already pulled from the lake. After coffee Nate drove the boat and I drove the truck and trailer to the Casco boat ramp.  The wind had picked up and the southern end of the lake was just starting to chop. We pulled the boat, bought a Globe at the Casco AG, and returned to the camp. Now our chores are done and we can wait out what will be nothing worse than a tropical storm by the time it reaches us.

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

And a hard wind’s gonna blow and a hard line has formed at CostCo for bottled water. It’s unclear how severe Hurricane Irene will be in our parts of New England.  Normally we would just hunker down for the storm’s duration at home or in Maine.  I want to pull the boat from the lake and secure dock and deck furniture so Maine is the obvious choice. Complicating the picture is that we are attending–and I am officiating at–a wedding tonight in Boston.  Wind strength is projected to start to increase in Boston tomorrow between 7-8 am and in Maine around noon.  One plan is to rise tomorrow at the crack and drive to Maine.  The other plan, currently favored, is to drive to Maine tonight after the wedding.  I’m the designated driver. We’ll see what we do.

“Reincarnation Credentials?”

The New York Times reports on an interesting case involving William Lawrence Cassidy, who posted over 8,000 Twitter and blog posts attacking a Buddhist leader named Alyce Zeoli. Cassidy has been arrested and charged with with violating a federal online-stalking statute, which raises First Amendment issues.  His speech would be protected if he were to stand on a soapbox and harangue passersby with the content of his Tweets, unless they constituted “true threats” of harm to Ms. Zeoli. The question is whether delivering these messages through Twitter changes their character. Zeoli’s lawyer said the Tweets are analogous to “handwritten notes” directed personally to Ms. Zeoli.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked the court to recognize the protected nature of Cassidy’s tweets. It’s not relevant to the First Amendment issue, but Cassidy is not a sympathetic character. The Times reports “[h]e has a record of assault, arson and domestic violence. According to the federal complaint, he was also convicted of carrying an unspecified “dangerous weapon” onto a plane in 1993.”  We will undoubtedly discuss this case in classes this fall.

But that’s not the primary reason for this post.  Sometimes I just cannot let small absurdities pass without comment.  The Times reports “Ms. Zeoli is considered to be a reincarnated master in the Tibetan Buddhist religious tradition, and is known to her followers as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.” Cassidy’s animus towards Ms. Zeoli apparently arose after he”also claimed to be a reincarnated Buddhist,” claimed he had cancer, and joined Zeoli’s organization. He left and began posting anti-Zeoli messages “after they came to doubt his reincarnation credentials and found that his claims of cancer were false.”

This clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with the First Amendment issues but what, I must ask, are reincarnation credentials?

A Dog’s Life

After licking drippings from beneath the grill Cleo smelled like last week’s swordfish. An hour ago I shampooed her with phosphate-free and lake-friendly castile soap while she jumped off the dock retrieving sticks.  As soon as she came out of the water she rolled joyously in the dirt.  This is what she looks like now:

More Law-School Bashing

I promise this will be the last post today about law school.

Inside the Law School Scam is written by “a tenured mid-career faculty member at a Tier One school.”  The blog is written “anonymously”–in quotes because he revealed his identity after starting the blog to stem distracting speculation and ad hominem attacks. The blog has been described as unsparingprovocative, and lively, thoughtful, and well-written, and its author has been targeted with scathing criticism (“ScamProf is the failed academic who has done almost no scholarly work in the last decade, teaches the same courses and seminars year in and year out, and spends his time trying to attract public attention, sometimes under his own name, this time anonymously”). The WSJ Law Blog yesterday posted a brief Q & A with “ScamProf” Paul Campos of Colorado Law School.

Add the blog and the responses it generated, pro and con, to your law school due diligence reading.

Law School Law Suits

The drumbeat of law-school criticism grows louder and more persistent.  Never in my 30 years as a lawyer have so many law students, lawyers, law professors, and others sounded so many warnings about becoming a lawyer.  I post about these criticisms because many readers of A Foolish Consistency are recent law grads, in law school, or considering attending law school, and because I advise current and former students about prospective careers in law. Never in these posts have I said “do not go to law school.  Do not become a lawyer.”  It’s too complicated a question for a one-size-fits-all answer.

Still reading?  Then digest “Suing Over Jobs,”  published 11-Aug-11 at Inside Higher Ed. The article reports on recent class-action law suits brought against New York Law School, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and Thomas Jefferson School of Law, charging “that the job placement information they released to potential students was sufficiently inaccurate as to constitute fraud.”  The suits claim that the defendants and other law schools “mix together different kinds of employment (including jobs for which a J.D. is not needed) to inflate employment rates.” Usually I have little patience for stories about law students suing their schools for fraud or misrepresentation. I think the plaintiffs are whining and pinning on others the blame for their poor outcomes.  This article makes it clear that whether or not the suits have merit, there are problems with how many law schools report their graduates’ employment.

Those suing today (and those in recent years who were disappointed by their success at finding jobs) relied on statistics that didn’t exclude those whose “jobs” were fellowships paid for by their law schools, who were in part-time or temporary jobs, or who were in jobs they could have gotten before they went to law school . . . [.]

Several years ago, [Indiana University law professor William D.] Henderson started noticing and writing about the seeming oddity that bar passage rates were declining at a time when law schools were reporting increases in employment of graduates. For this to be true, he speculated, more people were getting jobs that didn’t require them to go to law school. “You are counting people who are selling insurance,” he said. “Anybody can find a job to pay the rent.”

The article reports that Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s response to the suit does not engender confidence.

As reported in the blog Above the Law, Thomas Jefferson defended itself by noting that the U.S. News job placement figures on which the plaintiff relied were adjacent to figures in the magazine for the law school’s bar passage rate. The law school’s bar passage rate was lower and Thomas Jefferson’s rate many years was “significantly lower” than the employment rate, the law school argues in its brief. So “any reasonable reader” would know that meaningful numbers of the law school’s graduating classes were not working as lawyers. The blog’s headline for the post: “Is the Answer Worse Than the Allegations?”

Some whining is justified.

So it’s back to my mantra. Do your due diligence–and don’t be naive–about a school’s employment statistics.  Be brutally honest about your chances for academic success. Law school isn’t youth soccer, where every player gets the same trophy. 50% of law students graduate in the bottom half of their class. Going $100k+ into debt to finish no better than the middle of the pack is probably a poor economic choice


Had it existed then I would have included this in my Faculty Address at the May 2010 SMG Commencement:

“[I]f you try to connect the dots of your career, if you mess it up you’re going to wind up on a very limited path . . . The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options.”

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg responding to a question about her next career step, quoted in “A Woman’s Place”, Ken Auletta, The New Yorker, 11 & 18 July 2011, p. 62