Monday, October 1, 2007

A Moment in TIME

This is the building where TIME is located.

Two cool bits of news on the D.C. front.

First, I got a letter to the editor published in the latest issue of TIME magazine (dated Oct. 8, 2007). This letter was in response to an article about U.S. presidents and their religious beliefs, written by Michael Kinsley in the Sep. 17, 2007 issue of TIME; it was called God as Their Running Mate. I won't explain the entire article; you can read it at your own leisure. But I would like to talk about my letter-writing experience.

When I wrote the letter, I made some assumptions. I have heard (but have not actually fact-checked well) that every president we've had so far has believed in God. I know there have been wide variations in the range of belief, but they believed in God nonetheless. I extended that assumption/fact to say they all belonged to religions which believed in "improbabilities" (a term used by the author of the article), which is less likely to be true. The beauty of making bold, unfounded claims in letters to the editor is that it puts the responsibility of fact-checking on them. I could sound confident in my letter, knowing that if I was factually wrong, my letter wasn't going to be published anyway and no big loss. If I was right, I saved myself some time with my guesswork.

So here's the letter (via e-mail) I submitted:

According to Michael Kinsley's definition, every President this country has ever had has been "too credulous to be President," since all of them have belonged to religions which believe literally some "improbabilities" inherent in Christian doctrine. It sounds like Michael Kinsley thinks you can't be a good president unless you are in line with Kinsley's personal preferences. Fortunately, the majority of the country doesn't share his view.
So of course I was surprised when, on September 28, I received an e-mail informing me that my letter would appear in the Oct. 8 issue of TIME (currently on newsstands).

I looked online to see my letter. Here's what the TIME-approved version said:

In "God as Their Running Mate," Michael Kinsley said that, for him, anyone who believes in the literal truth of religious texts is "too credulous to be President" [Sept 17]. That would apply to a number of our past Presidents. Kinsley seems to think you can't be a good President unless you are in line with Kinsley's personal preferences.
And you know what? I can't argue with TIME's edits here. They toned it down a lot, but they made me sound more credible.

The more exciting news of the day is that I competed in an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) competition last Saturday, and was one of a few very lucky people to be offered a position on the ADR board (I think 10% of people who compete make it).

The specific issues we were trying to resolve in this competition related to an impending divorce action. My partner and I were representing the husband, and the other side was representing the wife. We met to discuss custody issues, child support, assets, and a few other things.

It went extremely well, actually. We all treated each other very respectfully and things went very smoothly. We were afraid that the wife was harboring ill feelings toward the husband (she was the one who had initiated the divorce action), but she didn't. We all felt like the agreement we'd reached at the end of the negotiations was good, and the judges were very congratulatory.

One of the funniest parts of the negotiation occured when we were discussing the car situation. The wife's attorneys suggested that she keep the BMW while our client (Tom) keep the minivan (since he was going to have custody of the kids).

We said this was fine, but since the BMW was worth so much more than the minivan, we expected an additional asset to compensate. The other side suggested the $30,000 boat, which had been a gift from the wife to Tom. I started to say, "OK," because I felt the negotiations were going so well and was glad to getting the boat for our client. But my partner stopped me and said, "Well, the boat was a gift. We don't think that it would be fair to consider that a compromise."

So then the other side suggested that the compromise could come in the time share. And I said yes, it would be appropriate to have the wife pay for maintenance and expenses on the time share, and in exchange, she could keep the BMW.

So we definitely got a good deal there. On the other hand, Tom in this case was the stay-at-home dad and Mary (the wife) was making $280,000 a year as an attorney, so a few expenses here and there for her should have been no big deal.

So what does being on the ADR board mean? I don't know. I think it means I have the chance to travel and compete with other law schools. And it's something I can put on a resume.


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