Archive for the 'law' Category


June 26, 2015

I saw a rainbow the other evening (I think it was Wednesday), as I looked out my backdoor.  I didn’t even think to connect it to the same-sex marriage decision released by the Supreme Court today until I noticed the rainbow banner across my WordPress page.

Word association

June 13, 2015

I wrote a comment Friday night in which I used the word “amanuensis.”  I even replied to a reply about my word choice Saturday morning.  And, as I said there, the word was something that “burbled up” from within me, and when I thought about it after it did, I liked it enough to use it.  It was in reference to Gov. Scott Walker, in a comment on a Joe Nocera column.

It occurred to me later that there was probably an element of word association going on.  Earlier on Friday evening on I had watched Washington Week on PBS, and one of the participants was Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter at POLITICO.  I see his first name on my television screen and I immediately think of the Latin word manus, particularly in the ablative case, manu.  And I wondered if there was any connection between the two words, what with all the branches and roots on the Indo-European language tree.

Manus in Latin means “hand.”  I am particularly attuned to noticing the word because of its usage in naming a particular type of Roman marriage, marriage with manus, since I spent some number of years worrying about Roman marriages and inheritance practices and such.  Whether or not the marriage was with manus was significant for determining whether the woman would inherit from her father or from her husband.

So I think one of the ingredients in the stew that produced “amanuensis” in my comment was my earlier mulling over the name of POLITICO’s reporter.  I don’t whether to apologize or to say thank you, I mean no offense and I am grateful for the word choice coming to me.  I think my larger reaction is to be interested in how things seem to ebb and flow (or maybe go up and down, surfacing and descending, like bubbles in boiling water) and mix within the mind.

Veering off course

May 6, 2014

The decision by the Supreme Court handed down yesterday allowing prayer at the opening of the meeting of a local government body seemed to me to illustrate how one misstep can lead to another.

I think I’ve written how I often pray before I participate in a meeting.  I want openness and space and to have things go as well as they can.  I don’t want my behavior to get in the way of that, and I include willingness and a request to get some help with that when I pray (privately) before I participate in a meeting.

At a meeting that is avowedly focused on things spiritual and that opens with a group prayer, I can often feel the atmosphere change for the better during the prayer, especially if it goes on long enough and catches a current; I notice openness, peacefulness, calm, good will, relaxing of faces and postures.  So I do like group prayer.  (I wish I got more of it — I find it is too often accompanied by other stuff, stuff which I don’t want.)

But prayer is supposed to serve the greater good, and in a public meeting not about things spiritual, insisting on “prayer” when some people find it unwelcome sounds to me at best ineffective and at worst a reflection that it isn’t a prayer that is being invoked.

So now we’ve put the matter of such behavior before the Supreme Court, and have precipitated a judicial imprimatur for prayer of the foisted variety.

In my opinion, we have veered off and lost the trail.  To me, though, it started with the notion of what a prayer is and isn’t — I think that’s where we first misstepped.

Corruption in politics

April 3, 2014

The recent Supreme Court decision about campaign contribution caps seems to me to reflect to what extent people who succeed in politics, government, and its supporting professions don’t even realize they’ve internalized an acceptance of (soft forms of) corruption.  Seeing corruption as limited to explicit quid pro quo transactions I think is like claiming cash is the only means of payment in our society’s economy — no barter, no checks, no credit or debit cards, no electronic payments.

I don’t know what makes leaders think corruption more generally isn’t a threat to the system and our society, but I notice sometimes a “We know better” attitude in the positions of wealthy conservatives, that their wealth and material success qualify them for knowing what works to make a society successful.  Wealth and material success are indicators that a person knows how to achieve wealth and material success, it seems to me, neither requires insight into what makes a society successful.

Of course, there are other explanations for people who, knowingly or not, accept corruption.  Greed.  Fear.  Enjoyment of power over others.  Desire to feel safer by looking down on others.  Insufficiently developed capacity for empathy or insufficiently developed conscience.  I’m sure there are more.

But I think we do as a group have a cultural myth about wealth and material success reflecting wisdom.  I think that’s an unwarranted leap in logic, and I think the decisions of our leadership reflect that reality instead.  We need a better system to select for wisdom among our leaders, in my view.


Compare and contrast

March 17, 2014

I made a quip the other day in a reply to what I think was somebody complimenting my ability to distinguish different situations accurately according to what makes them the same or different.  I said something to the effect that sometimes having been trained to think like a lawyer comes in handy.

In law school students learn to distinguish a case from precedents and to try to harmonize seemingly disparate cases.  I think it is probably just a more intensive form of “compare and contrast,” which I think we all learn to do at some level.

It’s not as simplistic as dualism — in which there are only two categories.  With compare & contrast there can be many categories and gradations, there can be a continuum, there can be multiple axes and dimensions along which things are evaluated.

Compare & contrast I think is one skill involved in finding patterns.  It is probably related to metaphorical thinking, as it involves the use of analogies often.  Maybe it’s a bridge between dualism and unitary thinking, I don’t know, but I have thought that my learning to think like a lawyer, in the Anglo-American tradition and Roman law traditions, is not irrelevant to where I’ve ended up, although I think my first choice was learning such techniques through the study of Jewish law.

Legal argumentation as preparation for spiritual progress

December 8, 2013

I was just now reading the Daily Meditation by Richard Rohr on paradox and apparent contradiction, and I started thinking about how law students are taught to harmonize seemingly contradictory precedents in Anglo-American case law.  I suspect this goes on in religious law study, too, but I don’t actually know.  Anyway, it struck me that my law school preparation might have come in handy for more than just my current “occupation” with bureaucratic paperwork for family matters.

A spiritual parallel

November 21, 2013

The creative gap-filling I wrote about in my last post I think has a spiritual analog.

We’re here, live human beings.  We’ve forgotten why we’re here, and we are unaware that we’ve forgotten.  And so we get creative and try to fill that gap.  The result is all kinds of human art, technology, innovation, production, and consumption.

So these fruits of our creativity are not necessarily bad, on this view, just kind of the equivalent of going off “on a frolic and a detour,” to use one of my favorite phrases from law.

Cost basis methods

November 7, 2013

I was trying to understand the current rules for assessing gain or loss on the sale of part of an account’s holdings in a particular mutual fund.  And while I won’t go into the nitty-gritty, I thought it was worth remarking that people who think they know what the rules are, offer assessments which conflict with one another’s.  I’m talking about people who work for brokerage firms and people who write explanations online on reputable websites, purporting to explain the rules.  They can’t all be right simultaneously.

Some seemed not to distinguish between what is the IRS’s default method and what is a particular firm’s internal choice of default method.  Or so it seemed to me.  When must a selection or a change in selection of method be made in writing by an investor?  How does a method used for one sale affect the choice of methods for future sales from the same fund in the same account?  How does it impact the valuation of remaining shares?  The sources I looked at varied on these issues or confused them, and it wasn’t just because the rules changed for shares bought after a certain date.

My sense is that we develop systems that are too complicated for many of the people who are involved with their use and implementation to understand adequately.  Plenty of small-fry people own shares of mutual funds, people who may not use accountants or financial managers or tax advisers.  The complexity of the rules may give them more choices and ways to reduce their taxes, but confuse them.  If the people who work in the field professionally have trouble explaining how the rules play out in practice, then, I think all the more that something is amiss.


October 26, 2013

I just read an interesting piece on blame.  I can’t remember who put me onto it, or I would mention them to thank them.

It also turns out that I used to know the author.

I don’t agree with all of the piece, especially the last paragraph, but I really like the way it opens up the discussion and points out the difference between a habit of thinking or reacting and a moral principle.

Reading it reminded me of a point my mother is fond of making:  whatever letters to the editor she has thought of writing, or even written, somebody else has written, too, she has found.


July 21, 2013

I got an email recently, an automated one, thanking me for requesting some materials from a brokerage firm.

I didn’t request them.  I agreed to receive them when an employee from that company was making a pitch to me on the phone — it was a way to end that part of the conversation and get back to what the original agenda was supposed to be.

It’s interesting, because I’ve had others do a variation of that when I’ve been in the other role, but often the scenario has included my interlocutor embellishing their willingness to entertain my proposal — and I have taken that embellishment as a reflection of their willingness to go further than entertain my proposal (which sometimes has been in the form of a statement of need).  I am pretty sure that in many cases, my interpretation that they were on board was welcomed and encouraged by them — a few even were explicit that they were on board.

But I suspect that in some fundamental way none of these people ever really moved off the space of being willing merely to entertain the issue, and that they didn’t feel obliged to follow through because in some way they had never committed themselves to what they had indicated to me they were going to do.

And for me the lesson has been that people can do that, regardless of the impact on me, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, and certainly regardless of (my) need.  It has been damnum absque injuria.

For me, Jackson Browne’s “Sky Blue and Black” comes closest to depicting someone trying to make amends in this kind of situation.  Don’t know what the other person, the person addressed in the song, thought of the attempt.

I had a friend in high school whose mother had died when she was twelve (from breast cancer).  Kelley more or less raised her younger sister and three younger brothers, they had very little money, and she was in honors classes and went on to a prestigious university.  She used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful.”  She died at the age of 28 from ovarian cancer.  I suspect she had (figured out?) a more helpful attitude than I have towards the type of scenario I still struggle with.