July 18, 2010


Schulz, Kathryn, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (New York: Ecco, 2010 ("To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story. Who really wants to stay home and be right when you can don your armor, spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world? True, you might get lost along the way, get stranded in a swamp, have a scare at the edge of a cliff; thieves might steal your gold, brigands might imprison you in a cave, sorcerers might turn you into a toad--but what of that? To fuck up is to find adventure: it is in that spirit that this book is written." Id. at 43. On a different note: Here is something for law students, who are trained in the professional- and self-conceit that they are always right and always good judges of the facts and of other people's character. "Most victims of violent crimes who have misidentified their assailants--a small and terrible fraternity--have tremendous difficulty accepting their mistakes. In 1991, a man named Glen Woodall was released from prison in West Virginia after serving four years of two life sentences for two rapes he did not commit. In Woodall's case, the workings of justice had gone particularly awry. It was bad enough that the victims, who had barely been able to see their masked attacker, had been hypnotized to 'enhance' their memory, a practice dismissed by most legal professionals as manipulative and unreliable. Far worse, though, was this: the conviction hinged on an act of scientific fraud. The man responsible for blood work at the West Virginia crime lab had simply faked the results. Woodall was exonerated by DNA testing and awarded a million-dollar settlement by the state--itself a remarkable acknowledgment of error, since people who have been wrongfully convicted seldom receive significant compensation for their ordeal. Coverage of the case filled the local newspapers and airwaves. Discussion of what had gone wrong dominated the state legislature. Multiple investigative committees were formed. Nonetheless, on the day that Woodall left prison, one of the two victims ran up to the van that was transporting him and, weeping and banging on the door, prevented it from being opened. Despite the discredited scientist, the massive public outcry, the legislative hearings, and the DNA, she remained convinced that Woodall was the attacker she had never seen." "This woman's response was unusual in that it was exceptionally public--and, in a sense, exceptionally brave. But enduring belief in the guilt of the exonerated is common among those who have faced similar situations. It's easy to understand why, and impossible not to sympathize. To go through your own terrible ordeal only to learn that you have played a starring role in someone else's terrible ordeal; to see somebody as the perpetrator of an atrocity only to find out that he is, like you, a victim; to assign all of your rage and terror and pain to the wrong person; to have whatever 'closure' you may have reached be wrenched open again--who among us is confident that we could face all this with acceptance and grace? Indeed, who could be expected to? It is far more likely that we would face it awkwardly and in agony; far easier to choose, through denial, not to face it at all." "Denial has a bad reputation. We are quick to sneer at it, to regard it as the last, sorry refuge of those who are too immature, insecure, or pigheaded to face the truth. But, as we see in the story of the rape victim who tried to stop Glen Woodall's ride to freedom, denying our mistakes is sometime an understandable reaction, one that deserves sympathy rather than censure. Denial is not, after all, a response to the facts. It is a response to the feelings those facts evokes--and sometimes, those feelings are simply too much to bear." Id. at 227. I would recommend this book to law students. Humility is something that few lawyers get right. I am no exception to that dismal truth.).

July 15, 2010


Mankell, Henning, Before the Frost (A Kurt and Linda Wallander Novel) translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2004, 2006).

Mankell, Henning, The Dogs of Riga (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2001, 2004).

Mankell, Henning, Faceless Killers (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Steven T. Murray (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1997, 2003).

Mankell, Henning, The Fifth Woman (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Steven T. Murray (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2000, 2004).

Mankell, Henning, Firewall (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2002, 2003).

Mankell, Henning, The Man Who Smiled (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2005, 2007) ("Golden days, he thought, bitterly, and I was stupid enough to believe in it. A lawyer's vision of the world should not be influenced by the illusion of a paradise to come, not here on earth at least." Id. at 3.).

Mankell, Henning, One Step Behind (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2002, 2003).

Mankell, Henning, The Pyramid (The First Wallander Cases) translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thompson (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2009) (From the "Forward": "It was only after I had written the eighth and final installment in the series about Kurt Wallander that I thought of the subtitle I had always sought but never found. When everything, or at least most of it, was over I understood that the subtitle naturally had to be 'Novels about the Swedish Anxiety'." "But of course I arrived too late at this insight. And this despite the fact that the books have always been variations on a single theme: "What is happening to the Swedish welfare state in the 1990s? How will democracy survive if the foundation of the welfare state is no longer intact? Is the price of Swedish democracy today too high and no longer worth paying?'" Id. at 1. Good questions for Americans to ask in these waning days of American democracy, where being anti-government, anti-centrist, anti-anyone-who-is-not-just-like-me, etc., is the political philosophy of the street. "'Perhaps the explanation is quite different,' Rydberg suggested. 'Perhaps there are people in today's society that feel so powerless they no longer partake in what we call democratic society. Instead they devote themselves to rites. If this is the case, our nation is in trouble'." "'I hadn't considered that possibility,' Wallander said. 'But you could be right. And in that case I agree with you. Then the foundation has really started to crack'." Id. at 238.)

Mankell, Henning, The Return of the Dancing Master translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2003, 2005).

Mankell, Henning, Sidetracked (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Steven T. Murray (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1999, 2003) ("Off in the distance he heard a rooster crow. Ramirez's rooster. It was always the first in the village to crow, before dawn. That rooster was like an impatient person. Like someone who lived in the city, someone who always seemed to have too much to do, but never did anything other than attend to his own haste." Id. at 3.).

Mankell, Henning, The White Lioness (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1998, 2003).

Sides, Hampton, Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. And the International Hunt for His Assassin (New York: Doubleday, 2010) ("[James Earl] Ray, above all, was a man who loved the chase, and who seemed almost subconsciously to want to get caught in order to break free again and thus initiate another chase. There was a bumbling picaresque quality to many of his escapades; in one of his heists, he fell out of his own swerving getaway car because he forgot to pull the door shut. A high-school dropout, Ray was discharged from the Army for 'ineptness and lack of adaptability for military service.' Most of his crimes--burglary, forgery, armed robbery--ranged from the petty to the merely pathetic. His criminal career was marked by moments of rash stupidity, yet Ray was not stupid, and he had a reputation in prison as a keen reader and a patient plotter with a perversely creative intelligence, especially when it came to confounding any sort of authority. Anyone who could break from a maximum-security prison and stay on the lam for more than a year possessed a certain kind of street cunning that was not to be dismissed." Id. at 327. See Bryan Burrough's review, "Death of a Dream," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 5/16/2010, noting that "This must be the first book on King that owes less to Talyor Branch than Robert Ludlum".).

July 9, 2010


Another film that should be on first-year law students' viewing list is director Bill Haney's American Violet.

Useful web site: http://www.sentencingproject.org

July 5, 2010


Lessing, Doris, Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 (New York: HarperCollins, 1994) ("During that trip through the villages of France, then Scotland and towns of England, were revived in me the raging emotions of my childhood, a protest, an anguish: my parents'. I felt, too, incredulity, but that was a later emotion: how could it have happened? The American Civil War, less than a half century before, had shown what the newly invented weapons could do in the way of slaughter, but we had learned nothing from that war. That is the worst of the legacies from the First World War: the thought that if we are a race that cannot learn, what will become of us? With people as stupid as we are, what can we hope for? But the strongest emotion on that trip was the old darkness of dread and of anguish - my father's emotion, a very potent draught, no homeopathic dose, but the full dose of adult pain. I wonder now how many children brought up in families crippled by war had the same poison running in their veins from before they could even speak." "We are all of us made by war, twisted and warped by war, but we seem to forget it." Id. at 9-10. "Why is it I have lived my whole life with people who are automatically against authority, 'agin the government', who take it for granted that all authority is bad, ascribe doubtful or venal motives to government, the Establishment, the ruling class, the local town council, the headmaster or mistress? So deep-rooted is this set of mind that it is only when you begin to climb out of it you see how much of your life has been determined by it. . . . It can only come out of some belief, one so deep it is well out of sight, that a promise of some kind has been made and then betrayed. Perhaps it was the French Revolution? Or the American Revolution, which made the pursuit of happiness a right with the implication that happiness is to be had as easily as taking cakes off a supermarket counter? Millions of people in our time behave as if they have been made a promise - by whom? when? - that life must get freer, more honest, more comfortable, always better. Has advertising only set our minds more firmly in this expectant mode? Yet nothing in history suggests that we may expect anything but wars, tyrants, sickness, bad times, calamities, while good times are always temporary. Above all, history tells us nothing stays the same for long. We expect gold at the foot of always renewable rainbows. I feel I have been part of some mass illusion or delusion. Certainly part of mass belief and convictions that now seem as lunatic as the fact that for centuries expeditions of God-lovers trekked across the Middle East to kill the infidel." Id. at 15-16. "It never does to underestimate how everyone, in no matter how apparently obscure a situation, is being observed by individuals and groups of all kinds, who watch potentiality and performance. If this sounds self-important and even paranoid, I can only say I have seen it over and over again. The watchers may be malign, not always benevolent." Id. at 258.).

July 4, 2010


"The trouble with Americans is that they haven't read the minutes of the previous meeting." ---Adlai Stevenson