Aug 30, 2006

The Worth of a Comma.

I railed against the Blue Book and the somewhat ridiculous world of the infinite minutiae in legal citations in a previous post. But I have to admit that the story below in the New Standard (thanks to Saurav for introducing me to the news source, by the way) has me rethinking my ridicule:

Arizona questions workers’ comp for undocumented immigrants
The future of workers’ compensation benefits for undocumented immigrants in Arizona could hang on a comma.

Earlier this month, a three-judge state appellate court panel declined to address Jose Luis Gamez’s Workers’ Compensation claim and upheld a lower-court ruling that denied the benefit on medical grounds.

But attached to the decision was a concurring opinion by Arizona Appellate Court Judge Daniel Barker that said Gamez’s claim is not only illegitimate on medical grounds, but also because Gamez is ineligible for workers’ comp benefit because he is in the country illegally. Baker noted that Arizona’s 1925 compensation law failed to carry a comma in a key portion spelling out which groups of workers qualify for compensation.

As written, "aliens and minors legally or illegally permitted to work for hire" are eligible for compensation. According to Baker’s assessment, the law "makes plain the legislature’s intent that ‘legally or illegally’ modifies ‘minors’ but does not modify ‘aliens.’" Therefore, Baker concluded, workers’ comp eligibility does not extend to undocumented immigrants.

Though Baker’s concurring opinion does not set precedent for lower courts, the Arizona Star reported, the Arizona State Compensation Fund is seeking to have the Baker opinion erased, saying it could cause confusion for employees, employers, and state officials. [link]

Aside from the obvious concern regarding the ramifications of a case that denies undocumented workers the right to workers' comp protection at the workplace based on protection status, there are a couple of other real concerns here.

First, the fact that a whole class of workers could be denied benefits and protection based on the basic grammatic rule used by an Appellate Court Judge to push forward a ideological perspective is worth taking note. While non-lawyers imagine the legal profession as a test of oral advocacy skills, I'm learning quickly that it is more about our command of language in the written form that is most often and severely tested and honed through law school and practice. This is reinforced in the way that our assignments and papers are graded. I've even heard of professors who have taken the time to correct spelling and punctuation in exams, even though the final grade did not depend on that precision. Words, and the proper use of language, have been called our tool kit, our metaphoric equivalent to a field doctor's black bag.

I'm still quite scared at how a comma can wield such power in the hands - or on the page - of the right person. It reminds me of an old friend who once told me (in middle school of all places) that he can make a weapon out of anything...

Second, and more of a general observation based on recent readings for 2 classes, is how even a concurring opinion in a case, which we were originally led to believe in class was just the privilege given to members of a court to add to or focus on a particular aspect of a case or underlying legal concept, can be adopted as the analytical rule for future cases. For example, the Katz principle, which has been one of the most important analyses concerning the Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures because it's applied even still, came from a concurrence by Justice Harlan, not the main opinion. I was initially taught that opinions other than that of the actual decision, are just opinions, and not legally binding. But what I didn't think of was when the additional opinions (or more precisely, the ideas within the opinions) are cited in the decision of a future court, they suddenly become law. And such is the power of words, and the reason why dissents, concurrences, and other opinions are carefully written - because someone somewhere sometime may pick it up and say "that's it!"

Hell, even footnotes in decisions can take on incredible importance - the most immediate one that comes to mind is famous footnote four in the United States v. Carolene Products (1938) decision, in which the concept of the standard of judicial review for legislation concerning "discrete and insular minorities" was first introduced. This concept was built upon and heavily influenced equal protection jurisprudence in the progressive Warren Court. All from a footnote (which is rumored to have been written by a law clerk).

So I guess my obsessive compulsive nature about grammar (not evident from these posts, of course) is a plus in this crazy profession. And I guess (even more) that I shouldn't be immediately dismissive of the prospect of a judicial clerkship somewhere, were I to be accepted. The clerks, and their turns of phrases in the opinions they author for judges, could indirectly plant a seed that can grow under the guidance of subsequent courts into full-blown, unforeseen jurisprudence, protections, or rights. Yeah, but it still doesn't seem like my cup of tea.

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Aug 28, 2006


Through conditioning, either social or otherwise, some dates become fixed in our minds as the ultimate symbols of a particular moment, the threshold between a before and after point in our understanding, our lives, the world. For example, August 6th always reminds me of Hiroshima, the eruption of the nuclear age, and the moment when the ability of humans to radically alter, or end, this world was no longer theoretical. It was also the date that my grandfather passed away, almost 50 years ago, a very personal date and memory for my mother and her family, but one that I do not have.

Likewise, December 7th, the so-called "Day of Infamy" was the date when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. It has little significance to me personally, although it makes me recall the subsequent actions of the government, and the entry (at last) of the United States in the world theaters in which it had been so reluctant to engage.

I guess that comes more immediately to mind because I just revisited a public education piece concerning the Nazi Holocaust, and the American complicity in the death of millions is hardly mentioned - the more commonly known issue is that the United States knew what was happening and waited for years before it got involved. The piece I surveyed wrote about the possibility of bombing Aushwitz, one of the death camps that the Nazis ran with chilling efficiency in Poland. The U.S. had the ability to bomb it many years before it was finally shut down at the end of the war. But they did not do it. Why don't more people ask why? But perhaps it is even more chilling is that Hitler credited some of his techniques to wipe out populations of Jews, homosexuals, Roma, the disabled, and other non-"Aryans" to the American genocidal campaign against the indigenous peoples of North America.

Anyway, more about this idea of historical dates... nowadays there is a small sliver of the non-Korean, Asian American community that recognizes April 29th, sa-i-gu, as an important date for reflection, and a reminder that our places here remain questioned and questionable, no matter what flag we wave in the daylight, or what identity we wear in our dreams. Sa-i-Gu was a recap of what happened to Japanese American's fifty years before, only instead of being taken away from their homes and communities, the Korean immigrants, their stores, and their American dreams were left to burn. In the last five years, we've had a return to the pack-them-up syndrome of the WWII evacuations, but now the camps and prisoners are far more isolated, and minor offenders are sent away, broken men who because of the status of their families and their lives, seem stateless in many ways.

So some dates trigger a lot of feelings, from reverence to personal memories to more abstract emotions of duty, disappointment, or disgrace. But some dates seem easily forgotten. I just saw V for Vendetta, and I still forgot that Guy Fawkes' Day was the Fifth of November, even though there was a clever little rhyme to keep it fresh in one's mind, and his message was memorable in itself. But maybe that's just because I'm American.

Similarly, while September 11th has long passed from simply a moment in history to a symbol all its own (with the offensive shorthand of 9/11 taking the place of a more contemplative full name), what does it mean when a particular anniversary with a date overwhelms any other association with it? As, I suppose, will be the case with July 7th in London, and March 11 in Madrid.

But what about August 29 in the United States? The date, last year, when Katrina's aftermath, and the criminal negligence of Federal agencies, devastated one of the most important cities of American culture. As we go through the obligatory anniversary programming on network and other television, the ease with which people have forgotten what's happened and continues in New Orleans is incredibly disheartening. The devastation after September 11th became a rallying cry for the war hawks, the xenophobes, the "love-it-or-leave-it" crowd, and has been used to justify everything from foreign wars to radical domestic spending priority readjustments.

The televised aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans was horrifying - not because of the questionable lawlessness and looting that reports were alleging, but because we saw the poverty and the wretched condition of people who'd been waiting to be rescued. But what we didn't see as much was the real scope of the Federal government's absolute failure to deal with what happened in our own backyard. It's been spoken and written about ad naseum, but in the theme of this post... while many people remember many dates, will Aug. 29 be passed from year to year with some recognition, or moments of silence, or something to memorialize what we as a nation lost beginning that day? And will people remember that while we have somewhat moved on, the people of New Orleans, many of whom have not yet been able to return home, have not had that comfort.

I had so much I wanted to write about this, but I'd rather just leave it here. Take the time, think about how we can be more actively engaged in the world around us, or at least, in the stories that go on long after the news cameras and the public outpouring of charity and caring fall off. Here's a link for some oral history from survivors through NPR's wonderful StoryCorps initiative.

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Aug 24, 2006

Only Post on Senator Allen Business.

Okay - so even though the storm has somewhat passed, the pundits are thinking about whether the idiotic comments of Mr. Allen were enough (this time) to knock him off the log for GOP 2008 hopefuls, there's a 3-page article in the Washington Post about the man, the myth, the word of the day. I learned a few things about the kid - can't hate on him for being where he was and doing what he was doing, and I can't really say that he was out there looking to be hated on, though it's a rough assignment to be out in deep Virginia (bordering Kentucky, no less).

But I can hate on him for supporting Joe Lieberman. Check this passage out from the article:

"The Webb campaign wasn't Sidarth's first foray into politics. In 2003, he contributed $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), according to campaign finance records. The next summer, he was an intern in Lieberman's office." (full piece)

WTF?! To explain, that means "What the Fuck?!" First off, seems like he bought himself an internship. Second, where's the money coming from (clearly from his parents, one of whom is a "prosperous mortgage banker"). Damn. They not only backed the wrong horse with what seems to be far more than just $2000 (if he's dropping that cash, you can be sure that his parents were too), but it's Lieberman. Look, Joe's seen better days, but the guy is a bad egg, a corporate crony in the worst way, and more pro-war and as close to xenophobic as you can get without his saying something stupid like Allen.

So Sidarth's all-American credentials (at 6' 4'', he could easily kick my ass, for example) and his ballsy statement that Allen should personally apologize (which he eventually did) have gotten him the accolades of the brown world, I'm sure. But for me, I just can't stomach the PAC/old school politics and influence game that it seems was played, at least in the case of Lieberman. How can I feel any warm glow from any of this? Again, it's not that he has to be perfect, but let's just keep the guy himself out of it - he was a good way to get Allen to show some of his true, racist, xenophobic, scary self, but let's remember that the kid is a political operative, okay? Not a helpless victim.

All that said, he's been pretty good in the press, and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to stare the grim spectre of unabashed American racism/xenophobia in a hostile environment and actually get to laugh last. So I have to tip my hat to the kid - he kept taping, and the country got to see, and dig deeper into, the psyche of the psycho.

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Another Reason Why the State Should Stay Clear of Science.

This is crazy. There are so many strings that the people with "ideas" can pull to shut the rest of us down. Although it has more to do with the people that hold the pursestrings, I suppose. More on science that isn't a rehash of news soon. Much to write.

New York Times
August 24, 2006
Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List

Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.

The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, which administers the grants. “There is no explanation for it being left off the list,” Ms. McLane said. “It has always been an eligible major.”

Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing.

If a major is not on the list, students in that major cannot get grants unless they declare another major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Mr. Nassirian said students seeking the grants went first to their college registrar, who determined whether they were full-time students majoring in an eligible field.

“If a field is missing, that student would not even get into the process,” he said.

That the omission occurred at all is worrying scientists concerned about threats to the teaching of evolution.

One of them, Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, said he learned about it from someone at the Department of Education, who got in touch with him after his essay on the necessity of teaching evolution appeared in The New York Times on Aug. 15. Dr. Krauss would not name his source, who he said was concerned about being publicly identified as having drawn attention to the matter.

An article about the issue was posted Tuesday on the Web site of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dr. Krauss said the omission would be “of great concern” if evolutionary biology had been singled out for removal, or if the change had been made without consulting with experts on biology. The grants are awarded under the National Smart Grant program, established this year by Congress. (Smart stands for Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent.)

The program provides $4,000 grants to third- or fourth-year, low-income students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics; technology; engineering; or foreign languages deemed “critical” to national security.

The list of eligible majors (which is online at is drawn from the Education Department’s “Classification of Instructional Programs,” or CIP (pronounced “sip”), a voluminous and detailed classification of courses of study, arranged in a numbered system of sections and subsections.

Part 26, biological and biomedical sciences, has a number of sections, each of which has one or more subsections. Subsection 13 is ecology, evolution, systematics and population biology. This subsection itself has 10 sub-subsections. One of them is 26.1303 — evolutionary biology, “the scientific study of the genetic, developmental, functional, and morphological patterns and processes, and theoretical principles; and the emergence and mutation of organisms over time.”

Though references to evolution appear in listings of other fields of biological study, the evolutionary biology sub-subsection is missing from a list of “fields of study” on the National Smart Grant list — there is an empty space between line 26.1302 (marine biology and biological oceanography) and line 26.1304 (aquatic biology/limnology).

Students cannot simply list something else on an application form, said Mr. Nassirian of the registrars’ association. “Your declared major maps to a CIP code,” he said.

Mr. Nassirian said people at the Education Department had described the omission as “a clerical mistake.” But it is “odd,” he said, because applying the subject codes “is a fairly mechanical task. It is not supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation.”

“I am not at all certain that the omission of this particular major is unintentional,” he added. “But I have to take them at their word.”

Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. “It’s just awfully coincidental,” said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University.

Jeremy Gunn, who directs the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if the change was not immediately reversed “we will certainly pursue this.”

Dr. Rissing said removing evolutionary biology from the list of acceptable majors would discourage students who needed the grants from pursuing the field, at a time when studies of how genes act and evolve are producing valuable insights into human health.

“This is not just some kind of nicety,” he said. “We are doing a terrible disservice to our students if this is yet another example of making sure science doesn’t offend anyone.”

Dr. Krauss of Case Western said he did not know what practical issues would arise from the omission of evolutionary biology from the list, given that students would still be eligible for grants if they declared a major in something else — biology, say.

“I am sure an enterprising student or program director could find a way to put themselves in another slot,” he said. “But why should they have to do that?”

Mr. Nassirian said he was not so sure. “Candidly, I don’t think most administrators know enough about this program” to help students overcome the apparent objection to evolutionary biology, he said. Undergraduates would be even less knowledgeable about the issue, he added.

Dr. Krauss said: “Removing that one major is not going to make the nation stupid, but if this really was removed, specifically removed, then I see it as part of a pattern to put ideology over knowledge. And, especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred.”

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Aug 17, 2006


Edison, people. ICE and local police collusion. Let's not forget what's happening there.

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Aug 4, 2006

Loss and Faith

It's been a tough year for friends and family coping with loss. I lost a very dear family member last year, my grandmother earlier this year, and in the last month or so, we've been hit with the news of 4 folks very close to folks who are important to us passing away. It's strange - each of my memories of where I was or what I was doing when I heard each loss that related directly to me is very distinct, but that's quite different from my memories of the same for my friends and family.

I'm sure part of it is just trying to make sure that we're supportive of the ones we love and care about, but I'm shocked at how quickly time goes by. And the ways in which we show our support to those who have lost is also interesting. I've lost friendships because people thought that they were being supportive by being invisible in my life after a major loss. I didn't hold it against them, but there was an unbridgeable chasm formed in that absence. And it was hard to relate to someone who disappeared. How can you trust that person? But then, the flip side is someone who can't seem to be with you without asking how you're doing, as if the only way for them to be supportive must be by enunciating each excruciating thought of empathy or sympathy that they may have, without giving you the chance to find your own voice in grieving. I recall these extremes because finding a happy medium isn't easy, but it's got to be easier than this.

Beyond that, the way that we deal with grief is such a personal thing. I remember in a Jain tradition that people get together in one person's house and just sing. It has such a healing effect, and the feeling that you're not alone in the grieving process really carries on the voices as they join with yours. I guess that similar tradition exists for many peoples, but it seems like sometimes, we're given to be so somber as a result of the loss that we don't give ourselves some space to breath and take in how death is a part of the life cycle that we'll all experience, first peripherally and then more immediately.

I don't know. Even as I wait to complete this short post, we heard about another senseless loss, another life ended too quickly. It's enough to make you wonder what the grand design could possibly be, while fearing for your own loved ones. And the balance between the selfishness of "this is my cherished and special person, what can I do if I lose them?" and the intense feelings of empathy for them is hard to manage. I haven't found the right formula, though I don't know if I really want to. But we avoid death and talking about death because of how fearful we are of mortality.

I guess that's where people of faith (or at least a faith that allows you to believe that there's a higher place/purpose to it all, and maybe even those that believe in reincarnation and that essentially, they are okay because they are good people who led good lives) have one over on those of us that are on some line somewhere, trying to figure out where we fit in, and trying not to think about the endless abyss of nothingness that lies on the other side of your last heartbeat - the oblivion beyond which you can no longer be a sentient being. The time when whatever concept of "you" that remains may no longer be real, because your essence, and what your consciousness brings to that entity of "you" is forever lost. To exist in the memories of others is still, at its essence, not to exist.

And that existential reality is perhaps what prompted the first religions to find some way to make sense of it (why would we be here, and so complex as to ask that question, if there isn't a higher calling?). Anyway, so long story short, maybe that's where the elaborate death ceremonies are so important - because those who live need to believe that this isn't all just a sham, or a fury of sound and glory, signifying nothing. If anything, being able to reason has made us wonder, and try to answer "why" more than any other question. And we, as vain creatures, need to answer that "why" with a viable, and "logical" or at least wasteless reason. We're here to serve a higher purpose than the animals, or anything else that doesn't realize who and what it is.


I'm also curious about whether the discovery of sentient life on other planets would throw the mainstream religions for a whirl... because it disrupts the whole notion of the earth as the center of life and creation. The earth has already been knocked from the center of the universe, and solar system, which was all not taken very well by the leadership of the church at first, but they got over it. The center of life is a whole different concept. And especially when they have other ways of discerning divinity and destiny (if they do). What would the reaction and reception to that be? Well - the U.S. would be years behind everyone else on thinking through the ramifications (or even accepting anything).


Lamont for Connecticut!

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Aug 2, 2006

The New Ghadar?

Saw this article about the Ghadar party and its place as the earliest desi diasporic movements. I thought that it was a pretty good piece, though some of it seemed little more than an exclamation point at the end of a grade school history report. But this paragraph after stating that SAMAR and FOIL's Ghadar could be seen as descendants of the Ghadar publication, killed me:

According to this writer, another recent example is the emergence of a lively "new media" phenomenon on the lines of a 2-year old community blog, known as "Sepiamutiny," where mostly 2nd generation South Asians discuss, dissect, and define issues and news relating to Desis in the diaspora. I call it, "Desi Diaspora's Online Uprising". This virtual mutiny among the Desi community is already embracing the new online digital media including blogs, podcasting, and other social networking tools with a vengeance, partly because the new generation is tired of the same old rehashing in the ethnic print media, run mostly by first generation desis.

As if! Sepia Mutiny is about as far from revolutionary as you can get. It's an echobox of chauvinism that occasions into nationalism when they aren't too busy deconstructing the latest pop culture fetish or fetishization of desi culture. Uprising? In what way? It's a classic example of middle-class boredom and privilege sprouting wings and allowing people to find more of themselves in the process. No thank you. I'll stick to the Ghadar from when people knew there was more at stake than their personal barometers of coolness or feigned disinterest in all things that truly matter. And the true new media Ghadar may be the list servs around the country that invite true, open, safe debate around issues of the day and how the impact our people and our communities. Or some new video-conferencing ability that allows for people to connect and to organize over time and space.

But Sepia Mutiny? Don't make me laugh.

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