May 06, 2008

Two Lawyers - the Yale Commencement Speech (pdf) - via "This was my last chance to teach you some law, Yale style. These were my final two slides: one bad lawyer, one good. What made the bad one bad wasn’t that he knew “less law.” It was that he, unlike the good lawyer, refused to take moral responsibility when he found himself in a position where his individual actions as a lawyer were likely to have a decisive role in shaping our profession’s situation sense, and thus in shaping the law itself."

There's been good ongoing discussion of what should Berkeley do about John Yoo at DeLong's. See, for instance here and a longish list.

  • I find myself unable to comment on the significance of the address, because I'm still reeling from the spelling errors. In a commencement address. At YALE LAW SCHOOL.
  • To sum it up by way of an analogy -- bad lawyers count spelling errors, good lawyers go to the sense of the matter.
  • I don't think lawyers are hired for their spelling prowess. I know that wouldn't be the thing that convinced me to hire him. If he was representing me and was really good, I'd edit the thing myself.
  • Wadda dreamer! Ethics? We don't need no stinkin' ethics!
  • I'd imagine documents or depositions could be challenged on the basis of spelling errors, no?
  • Yes, I’m aware of the whole “spelling only matters in English class” theory that’s been popular for the last few decades, and it doesn’t make any more sense to me now that it did the first time I heard it. Lawyers’ stock in trade is words, whether written or spoken, and it’s difficult to take one seriously if he hasn’t put the simple effort in of learning how to construct and use them. We might as well go back to cave paintings, if the people who are raking in millions a year can’t be bothered to master the simplest linguistic tools.
  • documents or depositions could be challenged on the basis of spelling errors Spelling can change the hole! Meaning off a contract. Puctuation: two.
  • I have a friend who’s also a well-respected professor of linguistics, and her pet theory is that spelling and grammar are something invented by the elite to keep the masses down (she’s a silver-spooner herself, so I have no idea how she would know what it’s like to be kept down, herself). The reality is, good use of written language is a valuable tool that working-class people can use to advance themselves, and it’s a tool freely available to any child of any class. However, its use is now being discouraged by the very people who should be helping everyone to master it. By embracing the idea that kids shouldn’t have to learn to write, the elite is keeping the masses down far more effectively than marking them off for a spelling error in a social studies assignment ever could. Thus endeth the rant.
  • Woman, without her man, is nothing. Woman: Without her, man is nothing.
  • ThinksTwice wants to divide $30000 between BlueHorse, TUM, and roryk. ThinksTwice wants to divide $30000 between BlueHorse, TUM and roryk. I'll take no comma for $15000, please. MonkeyFilter: We might as well go back to cave paintings
  • I couldn't get past "chicksexer" without giggling too much to continue.
  • Now it's not just that spelling is a conspiracy perportrated (however you spell that) against the masses by an elite cabal of people who can remember arbitrary $trings (although, of course, it is), nor is it just that you, all of you, will be first up against the wall when we dyslexics arise and take over (although, of course, you will), but even on top of these self-evident truths, you criticise a manifesto, a plea, for the acceptance of intuitive human understanding over hidebound rules by attacking its spelling? Yes, that was all one sentence. And it made perfect sense in English. So there. :-P These are speaking notes, people! This is a transcript, meant to be read by the author, structured to be read out loud. It is not a legal document or an academic paper. It is not meant to convey fine shades of meaning to a critical audience who needs to pick it apart, letter by letter to interpret its meaning. It is a record of a spoken address, and one might as well criticise it for its inherent meaninglessness in absence of an actual graduating class from Yale Law, and in absence of an actual baby chicken. Oh, yes, and while we're on the subject, you spellers out there, Prof Dan M Kahan is apparently deputy dean at one of the most prestigious law schools in the world. Seen as your ability to spell makes you so much smarter than him, you must have a much more impressive job title. Congratulations to you! ;-)
  • Note, also, that any claim I might make that one of my sentences makes 'perfect sense in English' should be considered a rhetorical flourish, and this claim should not in any way be construed to imply or warrant that said sentence actually does make sense.
  • * looks around anxiously for the 30 grand mentioned earlier * * pastes Dreadnought's post into a spell checker * * checks will for an extra comma * * checks Will for a coma * Yep, and Shakespeare wrote a lot of fine words that were not in any dictionary*. Sorry, polychrome, did you want to talk about the ethics of torture? (*) because there were no dictionaries then
  • MonkeyFilter: I couldn't get past "chicksexer" without giggling Yeah, somehow the comparison between lawyers and people who look at chicken butts all day seem so... appropriate.
  • Oh, yes, and while we're on the subject, you spellers out there, Prof Dan M Kahan is apparently deputy dean at one of the most prestigious law schools in the world. Seen as your ability to spell makes you so much smarter than him, you must have a much more impressive job title. Oh, because of course we all know that life - especially acedemia - is a meritocracy. /sarcasm Anyway, my apologies for derailing the discussion. This kind of laziness from someone who ought to know better just gets my goat.
  • (Kahan's laziness, that is. Not yours, Dreaddy.) And I should add, that there wasn't a dictionary in Shakespeare's time for his words to have been in. And there was no free public education for all, and most people wouldn't be reading it from the page, anyway.)
  • I see that although dictionaries DID happen before Shakespeare's time, spelling remained quaint even afterwards. From the wiki on Samual Johnson: "the first, published in 1538, was a small Latin-English dictionary by Sir Thomas Elyot. Robert Cawdrey's "Table Alphabeticall", published in 1604, was the first monolingual English dictionary." (or if you will *".*) So that even today fallibly erudite people like this delver into chick sexing can be appreciated for their own well meaning and lovable foibles, forsooth.
  • Y'all can sex my chicks anytime.
  • Sorry, polychrome, did you want to talk about the ethics of torture? Nah - short conversation, that.
  • Torture: I'm against it. That should, of course, be a funny comment, because who could possibly be for torture? Why does it sicken me that this is actually under debate? Oh, yeah, because I haven't had my moral sense (or common sense) surgically removed. I really liked this commencement address - short, pithy, and saying something that desparately needs to be said. Law and justice should not be about just following rules - it should about doing what is right. Perhaps it is an American phenomenon, since the contitutional fundamentalism of American legal and political debate seems to trend towards following the letter of the law rather than trying to understand its spirit (observation stolen from Dreadnought). Though other countries, like Canada, may have written constitutions, we just seem to have a fuzzier approach what it says. But at the same time, I wouldn't say that we don't need a serious discussion about ethics and the law here (since we have our own issues about corporate lawyers and ethics, etc). ---- But back to spelling - I actually only noticed one egregious mistake, and that was the use of "petty" for "pretty", a typo which is not caught by spell-check. But as a bone fide expert on early modern spelling (because I've had to transcribed the &^%£*%%!!! stuff - transcription sucks most of the time, but especially when you have to constantly to watch for how it's spelled and can't just let your fingers type the way they are used to) - actually, it's really easy to read non-standard spelling once you get used to it. yu jest reed th' sownd & heer th' werds. (that's not how they actually wrote, I'm exagerrating for effect. There was never actually completely non-standard spelling; many common words are always spelled the same way, even when it's not purely phonetic (like "you" and distinguishing between "their" and "there"), and individual clerks generally chose to spell a word the same way in their own scribing. Here is an example of actual non-standard spelling from c1670: "since the waters have been wholy kept off they [their grounds] are soe much altered, that by drynes & lightnes the grass is soe gon that they are overrun with thistles hemlocks & other weeds that the proffitt & value of them is very smale comparatively to what they have been"). Standardization of spelling was not any upper class conspiracy - for one thing, it occurred slowly over a couple hundred years, and through most of that period there was no credible threat to upper class power. Moreover, the actors in this slow standardization were almost entirely the clerks and printers who produced written materials (manuscript and printed) - and they were far from being upper class. I think it was a largely unconcious cultural change, probably promoted by the steady increase in printing and writing in vernacular languages and communication across dialects. However, spelling and grammar have now become strongly associated with different levels of education (and by proxy both class and perceived intelligence), and incorrect spelling and/or grammar can prejudice people against a writer/speaker, by making them appear to be uneducated (and thus lower class and/or unintelligent). Some politicians use this to good effect; you can't possibly be seen to be elite if you are inarticulate, right? But it is also a barrier for others to get ahead, so I would say that I fully support the teaching of correct spelling and grammar. But I'm cynical about it (and I don't know how to spell cynical) - there is no virtue in correct spelling and grammar, just pandering to prejudice, like using the correct fork at a snobbish dinner. You are teaching people how to talk the talk that signals status in our societies.
  • Politics always enters into it. Talking too precisely may actually cause resentment down at the wrong pub. Different groups judge differently about Form versus Substance. Consider Bertrand Russell's famous example of semantic declensions: I am strong willed, YOU are stubborn, and HE is pig-headed. Or we might even say: I am merely glib, YOU are a rat bastard slicker (just kidding!), and HE is always characterized as *eloquent* every time!
  • *upon a re-read of this thread* Yes, but is the text from the Convention Against Torture spelled correctly on each sheet? I'd hate to have to spel chek it before each wipe. Seriously, the memo Yoo wrote had more shit in it than a full septic tank of used TP.