小北的不老歌

Graduation

I applied for graduation today. Truth is, I wish I have already graduated. Reading, preparing, and studying for classes now involve little more than the mechanical repetition of the formula that I found to be most useful in dealing with exams. But at the end of the day I retain very little substantive information. 1L year was a year of experimentation and exploration, so that was very valuable; 2L year was reinforcement of the basic law school survival skills acquired from 1L year, plus new things learned through journal work. What’s there in 3L year? I am struggling with what’s “hearsay,” what’s “nonhearsay,” and what’s “not hearsay” — things that I can’t see myself dealing with anytime soon. The only thing I learned from my evidence class so far, other than the rules that I won’t be using, is that for every argument there can be a counter argument, and when judges are willing to overlook certain things to reach a certain result, they will. But I learned those in my 1L year.

Commercial transactions, like the tax class I took last year, is largely statute based. The more I look at statutes, the more I think they are like computer programs, complete with its variable definitions, conditional statements, and function calls. Judges and lawyers are like computers who compile, interpret, and execute those programs. My problem is always that the programs either core dump or fail to compile.

In a somewhat related note, the reactions to the speech recently given by the Iranian president at Columbia just shows how single-minded Americans can be when it comes to things that they were taught to believe as the absolute truth. I admit that I don’t know much about the guy, but I also believe that his remarks were fairly well-reasoned and not completely irrational like the maniac that the media has accused him of being, and that most of his critics and the protesters rely on hearsay evidence (hence the somewhat relatedness) in forming their opinions, which, had the American media been less biased against nondemocracies, would have been less of a problem.

At the end of the day, it is really easy to pretend to be politically correct in this country. Do not openly discriminate against people who aren’t like yourself, whether in terms of race, gender, religion, beliefs, etc. This rule can be relaxed if discrimination is against people who do not completely buy into the idea of freedom, liberty, democracy, equality, or any other principles upon which this country is allegedly founded. Disregard said rule completely if those who disagree are from foreign countries (and never mind the hilarity in the U.S. Congress ordering that French Fries be renamed Freedom Fries–could have just called them “Chips” like the Brits do, but wait, that’s too British and un-American).

Comments (14)

  1. xiaocu

    “had the American media been less biased against nondemocracies, would have been less of a problem.” Well said! That is a BIG problem of the American media as well as the government.

  2. a long time reader

    Respecting the Iranian president, there are the news media describing him as a maniac to flatter the American grassroot society, yet there are also Columbia University that allowed his visit and public speech, and there are the American president who, although not personally enthusiastic about, said that he is “OK with it”. There are the peaceful rally to protect the dictator’s visits, there are also the applause of Columbia University student-audience, whenever the dictator said anything makes sense. While some Americans appeared to be simple-minded, others apear not.

    And don’t forget who we are talking about: the Iranian president is widely believed to be the hands behind 9/11, not just a friendly guest who disagree with America. The dictator himself asked for invitation of a speech, everyone knows that he was trying to humiliate America by taking advantage of its democratic system. The fact that he was invited, and allowed the chance to talk and then walked away unharmed, are examples of the power and confidence of a truly democratic society.

    Some times things happen so easily in US, people forget it takes courage and open-mindedness to make them happen. Just imagine Tsinghua University inviting Chen **Shui**bian to make a speech about Tai**wan independence*, or Japanese PM about his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

  3. littlenorth

    very valid points. but it looks like we see the same thing from different angles. I would hate to lose a long-time reader just because we disagree, but here’s just a few quick thoughts, and my apologies in advance.

    I tend to believe that those who claim to be on moral high grounds and speak with a sense of superiority and entitlement like certain Americans do need to practice what they preach. One cannot claim to be democratic or pro-freedom of speech yet preemptively pronounce someone guilty before giving him a chance to deliver his speech and allowing him to answer the questions in an effective manner (for example, not all questions can be answered in yes or no, but the moderator used this common hostile trial tactic on the speaker), or protest against a person or an idea without gaining reliable knowledge about the matter and providing allowance for reasonable difference of minds, cultures, and belief systems. The ultimate irony and mockery of democracy would be an intolerance toward nondemocracies.

    I also believe that China has much to improve on these issues, and would certainly applaud any effort to give “the other side of the story” to Chinese college students and let them make their own independent judgments on those matters based on first-hand accounts, as free from biased media bombardment as practically possible. But that’s not my point. I am not claiming that China is perfect as it currently is (it’s not, but it will hopefully improve) or that the U.S. is a horrible place to be (it’s not, and it likely won’t get much better). It’s that the U.S. isn’t all that it claims itself to be. While in the domestic sphere it may exalt freedom, democracy and all other ideals, in the international arena it’s all about intolerance, ignorance, arrogance and hegemony, and it is this discrepancy that I find troubling.

    On a related note, imagine if Bush were to deliver a speech at his alma mater, and the moderator were to introduce him to the audience as the guy who, under the name of imposing democracy, chasing down phantom WMD or securing American interest in oil (pick one), caused the death of thousands if not more innocent Iraqis. It would almost certainly be regarded as highly inappropriate even though it may be constitutionally protected speech. That’s what happened at Columbia, and that’s one of the things that I find disappointing.

  4. a long time reader

    Littlenorth

    Your long time reader will not leave just becoz of your disagreement – they are not that of a big of a difference anyway.

    We both agree that China has a lot to improve compared to the U.S., which is neither a perfect nor a terrible world. Your observation that Americans tend to discriminate foreign non-democracies in a non-democratic way is quite interesting and worth further discussion. My personal opinion is that the rule of democracy should not be played in its extreme; there is a fine line between respecting reasonable difference and tolerating your enemy or evilness. I hope you do realize that the difference between United States and the Iranian government (and its president) is far greater than the “reasonable difference of minds, cultures, and belief systems”. Perhaps you as a foreigner couldn’t feel that’s a big deal, but I bet Americans do.

    It would also seem over-simplifying to say that Americans have “preemptively pronounced” the Iranian president guilty “before giving him a chance to speak”. We should note that the Iranian president has been publicly judged by democracy community as a tyrant, and he came not for pursuit of debate of truth or friendship, but to show his contempt to the US and its democracy. He even asked to visit the 9/11 site to mourn the “Islamic heroes” who died for attacking the world trade center, the request was rejected. He was playing with the exact logic as you suggested – you believe in democracy, so you should treat everyone equally, including your enemy, otherwise your democracy is fake. The host was a bit emotional and over-reacting, but the Iranian president did get the chance to speak. Where there was indeed element of prejudice, but it was not without reason (to a man who said Iserale should be wiped out of the world map forever).

    US may be adopting double standards of “democracy” on Iranian president, but aren’t we, a lot of our compatriots, adopting the same double standards on US and China’s democracy too? We are sure setting a high bar on US, as we can be easily troubled by a US university’s non-courtesy to a well-known Tyrant; in the meantime, our standards to our own democracy are low – we are easily convinced that China, while “a lot need to improve” (what a quick and dirty summary of all the men and women suffered or died behind it), will eventually “be fine” without the need of a foreign government’s fuss. We are so easily angered by Japan’s denial of WWII crimes some 60 years ago, yet we are so ignorant, or indifferent, on the more recent and bigger tragedy of Cultural Revolution and many others (we would bother to apologize for them? Many see them as China’s unique achievements).

    Perhaps my friend, you should spend a little bit of your valuable time from being disappointed for the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country, to the well-being of your own motherland? Perhaps besides your golden-collar job secured in the FIRM, your parents’ new car and peaceful townhouse life, there are more Chinese who are not that “fine”? At least I can see many at your parents age struggling on several hundreds RMB retirement salary and no medicare, and millions of young men an women at your age cannot even dream of a little apartment with the inflating real estate market? Perhaps it appears a little un-genuine to enjoy both US green card benefits and a good title of “patriots”? Perhaps a real patriot means more than putting a national flag on the blog on October 1st?

    On a related note, for all the whining about the United States’ “world cop” and imposing democracy on others without invitation, if you would consider, just for a moment, what the world might be like without it. India and Pakistan might well find cause of war in South Asia. In Afghanistan, al Qaeda would still be scheming over a global caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia. In Asia, China would easily gobble up Taiwan and drag Japan and other neighbours into a nuclear weapons competition. North Korea would be brandishing a solid nuclear arsenal, Russia would be breathing down the neck of its former provinces. In Africa, Liberia would still be under Charles Taylor’s sway, and Sudan would have no peace agreement, and Libya would not have given up its weapons…

  5. littlenorth

    It is unfortunate that we disagree. It seems that we both have strong convictions about certain things, but we can agree to disagree. So that’s that about the Iranian president that you call a tyrant and I see as a normal guy.

    On the personal issues, I hope that you would not assume things or judge me by stereotypes without any foundation. Jumping to conclusions just because the conclusion fits their perception or stereotype is precisely the problem that I see with many Americans, and I hope you would not fall for that. I do care about the well-being of my own country, and therefore I do what I can to criticize the media and governmental bias against her and learn what I can to help her in the near future. I have a job lined up, but that does not prevent me from adhering to my plan of working in the public sector–the reason that I came to law school–especially given how HaiGuis often face the unfortunate reality of having to demonstrate that they returned by choice, not by necessity. And I do more than putting up a flag–I led student groups in college, I organized demonstrations in DC, and I came to law school, all for the same goal. And I do not enjoy having a green card because I don’t have one. So perhaps you should not have made all these assumptions about me in the first place.

    On your final point–The world would be much better off if the U.S. would stop messing with others’ affairs and submit to a democratic process such as the UN. The vast majority of troubles today–the middle east, india/pakistan, taiwan are just a few examples–are aftermaths of foreign imperialism from the last two centuries messing with other peoples. Do we really want to sow the seed of trouble for the future century?

  6. a long time reader

    So you appear to agree with me that if the Iranian president is indeed a tyrant, then the treatment he got in the US would be understandable, if not totally justified? You may think he is a normal guy, but you can not make that judgement on behalf of the majority of the American society. You also cannot judge a person from a single speech he made in order to defend himself.

    I kind of expected that you would get me on the patriot issue. I apologize for assuming you are one of the stereotype “Turtles” or HaiGuis as you call it, but I have to say that there are a lot of them like I described above.

    I guess I was just a little disappointed that you focused too much on other country’s minor problems (in a somewhat biased way) while ignoring (or didn’t bother to talk about) those of China’s. One of course has the right to criticize America as they want, but such criticism would seem biased and unjust without recognizing its brighter side, the side that China has a great deal to learn from. This is particularly important to a country like China, considering there has long been an information asymatry for ordinary Chinese regarding what a real democracy really is and how it works. With an interests to entrench themselves on power, government takes every opportunity to demonize democracy – it’s not good for all, it’s all western hypocracies…If even a well-educated native Chinese who can get his way to top US law schools and top-nodge NY firms cannot, or is unwilling to, tell the other side of the story, who else can or would? If what the smartest person among Chinese like you learned from your US con law class and your real life experience in the US is that their democracy is all fake and bullshit, and we will be fine without it (I do hope you don’t think so), where is the future of China’s true mordernization? Reading what you wrote about US democracy, I thought a person with your level of sophistication would have started from Tocqueville’s version, but perhaps you think you are way smarter than Tocqueville that you see only things that the old Frenchmen couldn’t see. While your observation is indeed smart, is that really the smart China desperately needs now?

    I can totally understand the feeling of a lot of HaiGuis, who couldn’t defend faster for China upon foreigner’s criticism (like you did in your LR article). Afterall, we are an outsider in the US and perhaps will always be, and the sense of solidarity sometimes automatically led us to defending for where we are from. But i just think that it often do harms than good.

    This little article is too short for a meaningful discussion about colonization and imperilism history, but if you keep an open mind, you will find it is not true to accuse America as the ultimate evil of most of the world’s mess, or that all the mess will disappear once US return to its long tradition of unilateralism. In fact, America’s balance of power has done more good than harm to today’s world. In an ideal world, all countries would be living peacefully and hormoniously on this planet, big or small, rich or poor, where we do not need a world cop or super power. But in reality, political, military and cultural conflcits doubled with totalitarianism and tyrany are in every corner of the world. What can you expect from UN? It cannot even pass a decent unanimous resolution to penalize Burma’s rulers (with China as one of the vetos – which my classmates from Burma found confusing).

    Allow me to put some more statistics here, US contributes 22 percent of the U.N. budget, that includes half the operations of the World Food Program, which feeds over 100 million in 81 countries. It also contributes 17 percent of UNICEF’s costs to feed, vaccinate, educate and protect children in 157 countries – and 31 percent of the budget of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which assists more than 19 million refugees across the globe. In 2005 only, Washington dispensed $28 billion in foreign aid, more than double the amount of the next highest donor (Japan), contributing nearly 26 percent of all official development assistance from the large industrialized countries. Moreover, President Bush’s five-year $15 billion commitment under the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is the largest commitment by a single nation toward an international health initiative – ever – working in over 100 (mostly African) countries. Yet what did America get in return? The bellyaching from all the ungrateful freeloaders.

  7. littlenorth

    thanks for your thoughts. very briefly, here’s some of mine.

    Re: projecting blame outward or inward. They aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Your argument seem to require African Americans to clean up their own acts before protesting against the discrimination against them, and that’s plainly wrong.

    Re: China and democracy. I of course don’t think China will be fine without it, but the more I learn about the legal and political framework (and realities) of the US the more I believe that taking the U.S. system verbatim would not work. I tend to believe that an elitist democracy, rather than popular democracy, would work in China, like the UCLA professor suggested in his book that I reviewed. But that’s topic for another day.

    Re: UN. If it doesn’t work then the US can bypass it? Sounds to me like if the criminal justice system failed on someone then he can play judge jury and executor all by himself. US’s effort would be much better directed at making the UN work and setting up a democratic process for the world community (while letting each country choose their own path of development, similar to a federalism idea), rather than going ad hoc after this or that country and impose regime change.

    Re: your last point. By your logic, Bill Gates should be president of the US because he is the richest, and giant corporations like GE should replace the congress because they pay the most taxes. Also, as you mention the “realities” of the international communities, I hope you also realize that “free” aid doesn’t come free, and I say this not because I am unappreciative of good deeds, but because in my ignorant youth I happen to have worked with the USAID.

  8. a long time reader

    Re: projecting blame outward or inward. In your example, it would be important for US government not to discriminate or suppress the opinion expression of African Americans (from a regulatory point of view, they did a lot better than most other countries – just read all those supreme court judge’s opinions about racial discriminations), while it is also equally important for elites of the African Americans to think about the issues of their own, rather than completely blaming the outside world for all their failures and frustrations. You are an elite of your nation, not a grassroot…

    Re: UN. I believe US does want to work within the UN framework, but because of China and Russsia’s abuse of veto rights, every effort has become meaningless. Again take the Burma example. International society does not work like individual human society, it just doesn’t. “letting each country choose their own path of development” sounds appealing to tyrany countries, becoz that will allow them to do whatever they want to their own people, take a look at the life of North Koreans. Criticising the dictatorship and urge for human rights improvement are not something unique to US, Canada, UK Australia and other EU countries do the same thing, so in your mind they should all shut up. Sending troops to Iraq is another story, but American themselves are criticising about it, and the overturn of Sadamn regime is not totally a bad thing.

    Re: US Donation. My point was that the better part of what America did has been largely ignored, which shouldn’t be. US often times does require the donation receivers to make reforms to their political or economic systems, some countries hate that – it’s always painful to leave your comfort zone and even more painful for those in power to step down. In the Asian Financial Crisis, even South Korean and Japan were forced to accept financial reform as a condition for aid from World Bank, but what happened after that? South Korean and Japan’s economy recovered and are much healthier.

  9. littlenorth

    ah, this last comment is very well reasoned (not to say others weren’t–except your presumptions about me. :) ), even though I would disagree on a few things.

    I by no means see myself as an elite of any sort. I have no social or political status, so I do what I can as an ordinary citizen. But even an elite, such as Dr. King, should not be blamed for condemning those who mistreat his people instead of asking his people to do better.

    Realistically, yes, UN does not work all the time, but saying that this is due to Russia and China’s abuse of veto power is incorrect. (See Wiki article on UNSC, “Since 1984, China has vetoed three resolutions; France three; Russia/USSR four; the United Kingdom ten; and the United States 43.”) It would be a hard argument to say that the seven vetoes between China and Russia combined did more damage to the legitimacy of the UN than did those of the US, six times as many.

    IMF/World Bank is a whole different issue. I have a potential conflict of interest here so I will keep my mouth shut on that topic.

  10. a long time reader

    Dr. King was condemning his own government for supressing its own citizens, which is exactly what he should do and why he is remembered. His “I have a dream” speech wouldn’t be as famous today if it was named “South Africans Have a Dream” instead. More could be said, but you know what I mean.

    I have no right to impose a role of elite on you, but realized or not, your peers are looking up to you, as a role model who got ahead in a highly competitive US law schools. What you publicly say here has an influence on them. You don’t have to be Dr. King, but at least you learned something more than “US democracy is a sham” at Michigan Law, more than those science major nerds? Or I would seriously doubt the quality of Michigan Law Professors…

    What you heard on TV is not a full picture of this country. There are plenty of politicians and serious intellectuals fiercely criticising US’s involvement in Iraq war and elsewhere. There are so many different voices, each can be heard and has its audience. When there is crisis, the democratic system will work it out. Yet in China, your blog is probably being blocked by the mighty Great Fire Wall because of a lot of the sensative words you and I typed in today, someone already decided for you what’s right and what’s wrong.

    Things in China will not automatically be fine. Someone have to work them out. Few weeks ago, a Beijing young girl was beaten on a bus, because she slapped a non-Beijing man’s face for his intimate behavior with his girlfriend on the bus, and told the couple: “you go back to where you are from! This (Beijing) is MY home!” When the couple was beating the Beijing girl, she tried to call the “110” emerency number for help but the call could never get through… The short scene was taped in video and put online, which immediately provoked a hot discussion: “The Beijing bitch deserved it! you stupid Beijingers, who do you think you are?!” “Get out of Beijing if you don’t like it!” While if the same thing happened in the US, the police would have shown up, there may be a criminal charge of assult on the couples, or there may very likely be as a lawsuit against hatred speech by the Beijing girls discriminating non-beijing citizens under First Amendment Rights. While in China, it ended with all furious online comments by young hotheads, which only deepen the regional discriminations in everyone’s heart. After years and years of life in a wrong system, discrimination and tyrany are deep in everyone’s heart.

  11. littlenorth

    I have nothing more to say except that I never said or implied anything about democracy being a sham, and hope that I never said or implied anything that would embarrass my professors. To the extent that you said “someone have to work them out,” I agree. It’s just that I think people like you and me and my readers are the “someone,” and not others who see things from an outsider’s perspective. Things may have different outcomes in China and the US, and if you like the outcome here and not the outcome back home, your time and my time is better spent on constructive efforts to bring forth the change back home instead of bitter and passive cynicism from afar.

    Finally, here’s what I have learned to believe over the years: 天下事,在局外呐喊议论总是无益,必须躬身入局,挺膺负责,乃有成事之可冀。——曾国藩

    谨以此共勉。

  12. ekissinger

    Very stimulating debate, you guys should run for President of China in 15-20 years. Hopefully by that time a greater proportion of the Chinese population understand such sophisticated arguments and make a well-informed choice. I think either way it’s not too bad a choice:)

    Ahmadinejad does have a charm that makes him less likely to be perceived as a bad person. That’s just a superficial observation of course. CBS 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley interviewed him in Tehran before he talked in Columbia, which I think is worth hearing (under iTunes podcast). Pelley used the yes-or-no tactic several times and I think he’s a great reporter.

  13. ekissinger

    Just out of curiosity: I learnt from PBS documentary “The War” that in WWII Japanese citizens in the US were classified as “enemy aliens” and thrown into internment camps alongside with Japanese Americans. If the US goes into war with Iran today, would Iranians here be classified as enemy aliens? (I happen to have a colleague here at CMU, Amin, who’s from Iran, it’s the first time I’ve known an Iranian PhD student. )

    More practically if the US become involved in war with China over the Taiwan strait, would we be classified as enemy aliens?

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