About This Blog

Entries beginning with a number are a continuation of the old Judging Crimes blog, which was long focused on the two meanings of its name: the way crimes are judged in America, and the, uh... occasional defalcations and derelictions of the berobed.

Judging Crimes took a long hiatus for some of the reasons explained here.

Entries beginning with Book 'em! are book reviews and commentaries. No attention is paid to the imperatives of book marketing. As Calvin Trillin once pointed out, the average shelf life of a book in a bookstore falls somewhere between milk and yogurt, but in these days of long-tail online marketing that matters less to everyone, and I don't see why it should matter at all to reviewers. Most posts will be about books that have been around long past the time when yogurt would have solidified.

Other entries will be... well, I'm curious to find out what the others will be.

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Thursday
May242007

273.  Browsing

A used-bookstore browse recently found reminders of our legal system on every shelf - except the one devoted to law books, most of which seemed to be describing life on distant planets

In the travel section I came across the pseudonymous Emma Larkin's wonderful Finding George Orwell in Burma, which demonstrates the truth in the Burmese joke that Orwell wrote a Burmese trilogy, including not just Burmese Days, which is actually set there, but Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four - the latter being the most naturalistic of the three. 

Along the way we meet a government spokesman talking about the regime's slaughter of protesters on 8-8-88: "'Truth is true only within a certain period of time,' he announced.  'What was truth once may no longer be truth after many months or years.'"

It's pretty creepy, but also pretty familiar to lawyers, since it's a way of looking at the world that all of us spent three years internalizing.  That's how we can adapt instantly to the news that the meaning of the Constitution has suddenly changed.   In 1992 the late Chief Justice told us,  "Over the past 21 years, ... the Court has overruled in whole or in part 34 of its previous constitutional decisions".  He meant that about every eight months another bedrock truth of American society ceases to be true.  The period of its truthfulness expires.  (See post 264.)  

Larkin's book also reminds us in an epigraph of the important point that "who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."  Justices Stevens and Scalia, in particular, are assiduous about controlling the past.  (See post 201 and post 192 and post 81.)

And then, on the next shelf of the bookstore, here's a paperback (original price 60¢) of Eric Hoffer's The True Believer.  True believers are so commonly encountered in the law biz that I knew the phrase as a description of people I had to deal with before I knew it as a book title. 

The Internet is full of depressing statistics about lawyer depression and alcoholism (see post 188), and then here comes Hoffer telling us: "A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence." 

Being a true believer is an antidote to the pointlessness of so much of a lawyer's work - the pettiness of squabbles over mounds of boring documents, the hopelessness of a weak case in front of a biased judge, and the cognitive dissonance caused by the inadequately-repressed awareness of the unbridgeable gap between the lawyer's (and judge's) self-image and the real-world political effect of judicial power.  (See post 265.)

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