Category: Culture


Fanny Ellison


Thanks to my friend and Ellison scholar Lucas Morel, I found out that Fanny Ellison, Ralph Ellison’s widow, died recently in New York of complications of hip surgery. She was 93. I had not known, until I read the New York Times obituary, how important she was in civil rights, theater, and culture in the 1940s, nor of her role in helping with Invisible Man.

I’m a huge fan of Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man, of course, has much to recommend it, particularly for lawyers. A lot of Ellison’s mission in IM runs parallel to what the NAACP was trying to do through litigation in the years leading into Brown. And while it may be stretching the case to say that the invisible man authored Brown, I think Ellison’s goal of focusing on our common humanity and on seeing people as individuals, rather than members of despised groups, appears in Brown as well.

One of my favorite passages in IM involves the elderly couple, who’re being evicted from their Harlem apartment. The couple’s meager possessions are strewn on the sidewalk; there are fragments of life stretching back to the era of slavery–emancipation papers, a picture of Abraham Lincoln, a commemorative plate from the St. Louis World’s Fair, a newspaper account of Marcus Garvey, letters from their grandchildren, cheap furniture. The Invisible Man’s refrain was, “[W]e’re a law abiding people.” Yet, the elderly couple was being evicted. So Ellison asked by what law were the couple being evicted? How could that eviction be consistent with law? The eviction was demanded by the “laws,” it is true:

[L]ook up there in the doorway at that law standing there with his forty-five. Look at him, standing with his blue steel pistol and his blue serge suit, or one forty-five, you see ten for every one of us, ten guns and ten warm suits and ten fat bellies and ten million laws. Laws, that’s what we call them down South! Laws!

The couple had almost nothing from which they could be evicted. All they had was “the Great Constitutional Dream Book” and even that they could not read.

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Voices from the Past


This very fine New York Times article on the New York Historical Society’s exhibit on slavery in New York begins by talking about visitors recording their reactions to the exhibit. We should also think about listening to the voices of people who had lived as slaves.

Some of the great treasures of American history are the slave narratives collected by the WPA. And through the magic of the internet, you can listen to the Library of Congress’s audio collections of the voices of people who were born into slavery.

I’ve enjoyed listening to them, because I love hearing the songs (like Keep your Lamp a’ Trimmed and Kingdom Coming), the accents, and the recollections of the folks.

Of course, the WPA and other New Deal agencies recorded a lot of other folks, too. I highly recommend the audio downloads that are available on the LOC’s website. And the LOC has some other great audio collections, like these fiddle tunes recorded in the 1960s.

The picture is from the Library of Congress’ collection of black and white photographs from Great Depression to World War II, LC-USF34- 044206-D.


Rocks, SOX, and roundhouse kicks

As all securities lawyers know, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act introduced new provisions relating to codes of ethics. Section 406 of the Act requires that companies disclose whether they have a code of ethics for their senior financial officers, and if not, the reason why not. This has led many companies to adopt codes of ethics.

I don’t think that the market has realized how simple this requirement actually is. As with most other areas of life, the best course here is simply to follow the guidance of Chuck Norris. To make this easier, Chuck has provided a clear list of “Chuck’s Code of Ethics.” (link via sharp-eyed reader Steve Evans). A company simply needs to adopt the list wholesale, and it can’t go wrong. chuck-ethics.jpg

What does Chuck’s code provide? A few highlights:

“I will develop myself to the maximum of my potential in all ways.

I will forget the mistakes of the past and press on to greater achievements.

I will always be in a positive frame of mind and convey this feeling to every person that I meet. . .”

Does Chuck’s code meet the requirements of Item 406 of Reg S-K? You might as well ask, “Does Chuck Norris have a beard?”

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Why Blawging is Bad For Law

Hello Folks.

I’ve joined Co-Op today from Prawfsblawg. This is by my count the fifth time I’ve introduced myself at a new blog-home. That makes me a bit of an itinerant blogger. It is also pretty ironic, because I generally think that the institution of blogging/blawging threatens to fundamentally disrupt some very valuable aspects of how law is currently organized, administered and transmitted.

To take an example I posted on recently on Prawfs, consider what happens to the common law when the primary sources which form its skeleton — judicial opinions – become the fodder for the entertainment of an audience of millions of eager web-surfers. Yes, I’m talking about you, Howard. It isn’t that How Appealing, and like blawgs, are bad. Indeed, I visit Howard’s blawg every day, and it is an invaluable resource. It is that Howard’s popularity, and the increasing linking of opinions by the MSM-online, provides incentives for judges to write witty, funny, entertaining, short, glib opinions, instead of careful, boring, technically precise ones. That is, to the extent that lower-court judges want to be noticed and profiled by (kind of silly) websites like these, it makes sense to be more like Scalia and Douglas than Souter and Rutledge.

Some might protest: surely federal judges don’t care much about having their opinions widely publicized? They have life tenure, and they care only about not being reversed. But the motivations of federal judges seem to me to be an open question, and I think that if I could somehow chart the growth of funny and media friendly opinions, we’d see a small bump beginning with the introduction of WL and a huge increase in the last five years.

So, why is this bad?

To find out, you’ll have to visit here again, as I will be retuning to this topic soon.


eBay and Unfortunate Wardrobe Choices

Thanks to Dan, Kaimi & Nate for inviting me to guest blog this week. I feel a bit like I’ve been tossed the keys to a fancy sports car (one with lots of cool gadgets!), and so I alternate between a desire to floor it and a fear of driving into a telephone pole.

ebay.gif On that note, let me start with a weighty post on how eBay is making the world more efficient by freeing up articles of clothing that would otherwise remain consigned to the backs of closets everywhere. See, for example, the following auction for “DKNY Men’s Leather Pants I Unfortunately Own“:

You are bidding on a mistake.

We all make mistakes. We date the wrong people for too long. We chew gum with our mouths open. We say inappropriate things in front of grandma.

And we buy leather pants.

Click here to see the rest of the auction text.


Not Being Part of the Shared National Experience

television.jpgI don’t have a television. Or to be more precise, I do have a television (a DVD/TV/Video combination no less) but is not connected to anything. Hence, the only TV images that I see are movies, DVDs, etc. As a result, I get all of my news from either print or internet sources. (And BTW, I hate watching TV on the net, so I never do it.) Now I could wax very Neil Postman, and go on and on about the superiority of the written word. My decent into TV-lessness, however, was — as befits a student of the common law — considerably more ad hoc. When my wife and I moved from Boston to Little Rock for my clerkship, we never got around to having the cable hooked up. One evening a month or so after we had arrived there, we were talking and realized that (a) we didn’t have TV; and (b) we liked it. We found that we had more time, talked more to each other, and could limit and control our son’s exposure to TV. So we simply formalized our inertia and disorganization into a decision. On the whole, it has worked rather nicely. Still, at times I feel like I don’t live in America.

A case in point is Miers. I have read a number of stories about her, and I am not impressed. Her nomination strikes me as a waste. Any Supreme Court opening is a chance to pick someone whose opinions will go into the Big Books, and given the fact that as a lawyer I will spent much of the rest of my life slogging through any justice’s work product, all things being equal I see no reason to be excited about twenty years with Harriet. However, a number of my friends have commented to me on her poor verbal performance, or how awkward or uncomfortable she looks, or the sorry state of her hair, or so on. These are images that I just don’t see. I am blind to them. I don’t think that this makes me a better news consumer than my friends (almost all of whom are better informed than me). Indeed, no doubt Miers’s gait and appearance provide us with important information about her. I clerked for a man that I regard as a great judge, and there was definitely something about his shuffle and haircut that bespoke jurisprudential depth. I noticed that same loss of shared experience when Katrina hit. I read about the extent of the devastation and saw some photographs, but I didn’t have the immediacy of the television that my friends talked about.

Not experiencing shared television images is a good way of realizing how much of our shared national experience takes the form of such images. It creates this odd dynamic in which at times I feel as though I am in America but not of it. (Or perhaps I am of it, but not fully in it.) This may explain why I consistently find that The Economist provides the news coverage of America that resonates best with me. Both of us are — for different reasons — semi-detached observers of the national scene.


Naked celebrities make the best magazine covers

newyorker-thumb.jpg The American Society of Magazine Editors has chosen the best magazine covers of the past 40 years. In first place is the Rolling Stone cover featuring a nude John Lennon In second place is the Vanity Fair cover featuring a nude Demi Moore. I think I’m seeing a trend here — for great magazine covers, take pictures of nude celebrities! (Nude Dixie Chicks, however, were only #27).

And since you’re wondering, the classic New Yorker cover came in fourth overall.