[Meta]Meta Memo

This is dedicated to my fellow 1Ls.


[This section should be one sentence. Why? Because. When creating this one sentence with seven subordinate clauses, please keep in mind that conciseness is important. Grammatical correctness is also important, except for the part where you can begin a sentence with “Whether.”]

Whether Wally Wasp’s work product is a memo under 1L education law when it incessantly repeats itself, contains a total of 43 words repeated in differing patterns, and nearly half of the word count is comprised of citations?


[This section is here because nobody wants to read your analysis and will immediately skip to the conclusion. It should contain a one or two-word answer, followed by a reference to a few of the most dispositive facts.]

Yes/No/Probably yes/Probably no. Wally’s work product is painfully boring where it repeats bland phrases more than the democratic and republican Congressional caucuses combined, and is impeccably formatted.


[Introduce the characters in your legal drama. Though there had better not be any drama. Write everything in the driest possible phrasing and voice. If this section is in any way interesting, you have failed. A good facts section will provide a boredom buffer for the analysis section of your memo. For example, if the reader somehow survived the Question Presented and Brief Answer sections without skipping to the Conclusion, this is your chance to wear them down. If the reader can get through this section and move directly into the Analysis without checking facebook or thumbing that rough spot of skin on their forefinger for five or more minutes, you have failed.]

Wally WASP, a graduate of Mediocre University, loves the written word, history, and the way that the law puts off an aura of imposing power and majesty – like a religion. It was for these reasons that he chose to pursue law school: Wally was set up for disappointment.

His first writing assignment was a memo analyzing “spoliation” as applied to a discovery request for an unconsented-to transcript of a private conversation that was sent via SMS from a Blackberry paid for by an out of state corporation over what was thought to be a public wifi network operated by AT&T at an ABP, but was in reality a poorly secured FBI hotspot from a mobile command that had stopped by to pick up breadbowls of broccoli cheddar soup that were subsequently used in a particularly clever plot to skirt the ban on “water” boarding. In analyzing this arcane discovery issue, Wally put in his usual effort to keep cadence fluid and interesting. He sought out interesting policy questions and looked into the historical judicial opinions on the conflicts over security and freedom, new communications and information technologies, jurisdictional reach, and executive privilege.

Wally did not do well on his first paper. When told to “be creative,” Wally had apparently missed the inherent ambiguity in law school instructions. His artful styling was berated for introducing ambiguity and not using “terms of art.” His investigations into the history of the problem were deemed superfluous and distracting. As to format, the criticisms were focused on his lack of repetition. A 3L graciously explained to a distraught Wally that the legal profession causes extensive brain damage over the course of many years (thought to be related to stress and the hippocampus) and most partners end up with the short-term memory of rodentia.

Disillusioned and downtrodden, Wally is inexplicably committed to succeeding in writing something awful. A shell of his former self, failure may mean a total collapse of his self-worth and a descent into nihilism.


[This is the part of your memo in which you will invest the most time, effort, and care. Consequently, it is also the part that you are expecting people to skip. Life is futile. Your audience has already forgotten the jurisdiction, so write it, and the legal question, again. Next comes the must/when/where/if part. Here you will want a semi-colonic extravaganza broken up by parenthetical numbers, letters, roman numerals, or hieroglyphs. Put terms of art from the cited authority in quotes. Why are they called “terms of art?” Because of the sad denial of aspiring novelists and poets turned legal writers: the irony is unintended. Also, your roadmap should be a single sentence. Why? Stop asking why. Don’t forget to cite some authority!]

Under 1L law, a legal memo must (1) be “totally uninteresting” – like Kansas; (2) mechanically formatted; (3) endlessly repetitive, like cable news; (4) “devoid of creativity” in word choice or phrasing, as defined by the Twilight standard; and (5) “anally satisfy the Bluebook authors” requirements. In re Academic Constipation, ## P.U. ###, ### (The Day the Music Died).

[#. Use the exact same language as you used in the roadmap above. If you change it, your supposedly brilliant audience will immediately become lost and begin to cry.]

1. Totally Uninteresting

[Begin with a conclusory topic sentence: you will be repeating this. Follow with a synthesized rule stating when condition (1), which has now been stated three times in the past 8 lines, is met. Wrap this up with another case citation preceded by the “see” signal. Use “see” because it gives you more flexibility from the actual law and you have already internalized lawerly risk-aversion. Important: The underline must not continue through the space between “see” and the case name. If it does, you will lose credibility with your readers. Why? Because formalism is all that matters. Why? Because the legal profession is full of uptight jerkwads. Why? Because the last generation of lawyers were uptight jerkwads. Why? Because all of mankind’s attempts at the codification and systematic administration of moral systems inevitably result in dogmatic formalism. Why?!? Geez! Because our evolutionary instincts compel us to seek a talisman around which to organize social groupings, and principles, being non-physical and vague in nature, are only communicable en-masse when represented by symbolic institutions that society can more easily invest themselves in, and in doing so said institutions become self-reinforcing, culturally embedded, and only tangentially connected to the genitive principles from whence they came. Why? Shut up.]

Wally’s memo is totally uninteresting because it has put his mother into guilt-ridden depression. A legal memo is sufficiently uninteresting when (a) the writer’s loved ones are unable to finish reading it in one sitting or (b) feel proud of the writer upon completion. See I Like Big Ass’n v. Butts, ### Not.A.Hyperlink ##, ## (the past). Contra Is a Classic Game v. Overrated ### X.K.C.d ###, ### (the future).

[Next, it’s time to introduce the facts of the case from which you pulled the rule. Ignore the nuances that likely drove the 1950’s court that made the ruling - the respondent’s race or sex for example - and focus on the facts that won’t make people uncomfortable. End with a citation for the comparison case in short form. Simply use Bluebook Rules 10.2.1(a through k), 10.2.2 (abbreviations in T6 and T10), 10.9(a)(i & ii), and 10.9(b) (referencing 4.2). These rules are there to prevent you and your readers from becoming confused. Seriously.]

In Butts, the facts are generally icky. Butts at ##.

[Now you describe your case in a structure that is parallel to the one that you used for the comparison case. Parallelism, like racism and other -isms, is evil. However, the rhythm and repetition inherent in parallel structure is porn for lawyers. Roadmap, Issue, Rule…Analysis, Conclusion, Mini-Roadmap, Issue-Rule, Analysis, ConcluUuUusion, mini-conclusion (for respite), IsssuuUEEEee, Ru-OMG-le, ANAL(just kidding)ysis, ConCLUsion, issueruleanalysisconclusion, issueruleanalysisconclusion, issueruleanalysisconclusion, issOOHGroDleanalysissisisisisconcLUSION, BIGGGG CONCLUSSSSIONnn-n—n-nn… Sleep.]

Legally (not realistically) related to Butts, Wally’s mother is heavyset. More to the point, she wears a fierce pair of rose colored Wally-glasses. She has sat through countless tee ball games, many an ill-advised auquamarine-sequened-cumberbun-clad show choir “performance,” and a particularly blasphemous rendition of Hamlet. Through each of these experiences, she has steadfastly professed that “her Wally-kins is terrific!” This all changed, however, when she was given her pride and joy’s draft final memo to read. Wally’s father reports that she tried seven times to read through the eight page double-spaced, 2,198-word document. Mrs. WASP is now being treated for guilt related depression because she believes she “doesn’t love her son enough. Oh by the way, he’s in law school, would you like to see a picture? So handsome! Here’s a picture of him at the beach … .” This is where you repeat the conclusion from the topic sentence.

[Repeat for remaining elements]

I would soldier on, but at 1,500 words this has eaten up enough time that I should have spent writing my actual memo. Also, I can’t imagine anyone would really make it through another 1,000 words of this crap. In closing, I offer a disclaimer (hooray risk-aversion). This was a rant, and it felt good. It is not meant as crack on any LRW professor. Actually, my LRW professor is infectiously ebullient and an all-round nice guy – and his hair is awesome. Likewise, the Bluebook writers are also … Ah, screw it. They suck.

Leahy Leaves Law Students Lambasted

By 7:00PM, the scheduled start time for the 2010 Leahy Moot Court Competition, Hart Auditorium was full of supporting classmates and anxious 1Ls. After a short delay, the competition began with a brief introduction by Leahy Director Eric Nintz. The four finalists remaining in competition, Zach Perez, Matt Murrell, Shane Beninga, and Emily Bruemmer, were all that remained from an initial group of more than one-hundred and twenty.

An entertainingly formal tenor descended on the room with the Call to Order and the introduction of the judicial panel for the evening. The evening’s justices were, from left to right: Judges Oberly and Glickman of D.C. Court of Appeals; Judge Howard of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, acting as Chief Justice; Judge Washington, also of the D.C. Court of Appeals; and Judge Friedman of the D.C. District Court.

The case argued, Bloomfield v. Video Gamers Alliance, was based on Shwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association; a case set to be argued before the Supreme Court on November 2 of the current session. Perez and Murrell were tasked with defending a state statute prohibiting the sale or rental of “sexually violent video games” to minors, and imposing stringent labeling requirements. Beninga and Bruemmer argued that the law was in violation of the First Amendment.

Unlike the Supreme Court, the bar was on the same level as the lectern, placing the finalists at eye level with the justices. Whatever calming effect this may have had was likely mitigated by the short distance between the justices and the speakers, and the former’s universal knitting of brows. The justices each had a distinct posture as they addressed the petitioners. Judge Glickman, arguably the most aggressive on the bench, gently reclined, skeptically peering down his nose. Judge Oberly – in somewhat of a contrast – leaned forward, elbow propped on the table to hold up the chin resting in her right hand. She jumped in less frequently, but the quizzical look on her face couldn’t have been reassuring. Judge Howard, from his central seat, played middle of the road to a “t”. He was intent, but never pushed too hard, offering lengthy clarifications to questions on multiple occasions. Judge Washington would win the posture award if it existed. His upright position was in agreement with his even-toned delivery. Though on the far end, Judge Friedman’s angle of address was exaggeratedly askance; his position at times nearly perpendicular to the bench. His questions – at least to this untrained observer – were the most dangerous.

The participants all carried themselves with the professionalism one would expect of students who have worked for months in preparation. Aside from occasionally transposed terms and a possible Freudian slip or two, the competitors did not buckle under the considerable pressure. Speaking for both myself and the 1L’s seated around me, they were uniformly impressive.

After arguments there was a brief recess, during which the judges did their judging, and speculation in the crowd began in earnest. An unscientific survey of audience members yielded a clear majority who thought that Mr. Murrell had delivered the best performance. Many of the 1L students in attendance had had a previous interest in moot court, mock trial, and ADR, but the effect of watching the real deal was mixed. While all were still interested involvement, at least half admitted that they were significantly more intimidated by the idea than before. One student summed up the general feeling, observing of the participants: “You can feel their nerves.”

The judges reappeared and announced that Mr. Murrell the winner, though less unequivocally than the audience. The real holding for the evening, however, was announced by Judge Howard. Addressing all four finalists, he said simply, “You’re ready.”

Rally For Catharsis

The world is coming to an end. Didn’t you hear? No, not in the inevitable scientific way from the laws of entropy; I mean in the horrific way that plays on repeat in the dystopian cinema in my head. I am your fellow terrified or angry citizen and I think you ought to be terrified or angry too!

What’s that? You’re also feeling uncertain and anxious? Then come join the freak parade! Just repeat after me, “The [republicans/rightwing, liberals/leftwing, corporations, immigrants, Christian/Islamic fundamentalists, bears] are destroying America!” What’s that you say? The situation is not so dire? Confronting real world problems with emotive fervor results in the reductionist oversimplification of complex problems and leads to sub-optimal policy outcomes?!?

Feel superior and above the fray all you want; I know the truth. Anxiety gnaws at your rickety façade of reason. Your intellectual perspectivism, weighing current societal ills in some historic context, does little to dim the tension you feel. Go ahead, talk about how much worse it was during the depression. Bring up the black plague or the plight of some far off third world country. Your animal psyche cannot comprehend the relative utopia in which you live. It has got no time for such sophisticated repressions; it’s too busy grinding your insecurities into ulcers, wrinkles, and gray hair. Do you feel that special breed of bankruptcy-immune debt growing tumorous on your shoulders? At least you can get a great job with your fancy education. Hahaha, just kidding. Run to grandma for comfort – while you still can.

That many scramble around like decapitated poultry is unsurprising. What is surprising is how many do not. Yes, the country is currently in a trough. But despite all of the things going wrong, there is no reason to panic. The sky is not falling, chicken little. More importantly, panic gets us nowhere. It is a surrender of the very thing that separates us from the cowering beast. We operate in a nation where screaming and yelling lead to little good. The best we can do is to look at the available empirical evidence with a level head, communicate without sensationalism, interpret without prejudice, reject absolutes, and embrace rational compromise. The habit of confronting complicated problems with emotive fervor is old and instinctual, and we could use a move beyond our apish selves. All of the screaming and hyperbole does not help. And frankly, it is getting on my nerves.

It is my belief that the majority of people would agree with this sentiment; choosing to evince rational equanimity in the face of justified anxiety. I congratulate you.

But a warning: Standing up for rational equanimity is a trap.

In our quest to be reasonable and calm about the difficulties in the world, we are forced to deal with those who are not reasonable, those who are not calm – the chicken littles. They scream out of animal terror and we respond with – reason? We may as well skywrite for the blind. They left their reason at the altar of irrational certainty long ago. Their reactions – this general nutjobbery – are making the already difficult process of reasoned analysis and accommodation impossible. But we lack the tools to purge this poison from the body politic; reason is a scalpel and we’ve got a blood borne infection.

This is all terribly frustrating. For the preference for reasonable deliberative resolution is not consequent of relatively lower levels of personal anxiety and social concern. It is indicative of a conscious choosing of rational discourse and reasoned reflection as our socio-psychological palliative of choice. Unfortunately, the apish intransigence of the relative few is jamming up our digestive system. The nutters out there have got our socio-psychological resolution system constipated like a whole wheel of brie. Of course, they aren’t as backed up as we are. On the contrary, we see their anxiety purging daily in the coprophilic media – a constant refrain of diarrhetic catharsis, 24/7. We are disgusted, incensed even, but we can do nothing in response. Our belief in reasonableness prevents us from venting our frustration; we want to scream at them, but to do so would become that which we despise. And so we clench our emotional cheeks and sit uncomfortably with our repressed anxiety, watching with anemic disgust while the nutbags release their anxious effluence all over the place.

What an awful catch 22. How can we vent our growing anger and frustration at the constant venting of anger and frustration whilst retaining the moral high-ground? How can we scream at the unreasonable and retain a modicum of reasonableness? The heroic endeavor to purge legitimate anxiety with rational equanimity is frustrated by the garish light thrown upon those incapable or unwilling of self-restraint. We are going to lose our minds if this cognitive cramping gets much worse.

Can anything release us from the maddening logical conflict? Satire can. Through satire we can express our frustration with the absurdity that surrounds us en masse, and without ourselves becoming absurd.

If a root canal is preferable to another embarrassing discourse on US politics with your non-US friends, go to the rally. If screaming in politics makes you want to scream, go to the Rally. If demagoguery makes you want to punch people in the head, go the Rally. If ignorance and hypocrisy makes your blood boil, go to the rally. If some fool’s ranting about corporate control of the world, the President’s Islamo-Kenyan heritage, Republican fascism, the marriage destroying gay agenda, or the miraculously executed 9/11 conspiracy incites an instinctive urge to strangle them with their tin-foil hat, don’t do it. Go to the Rally.

Anxiety is universal, and frustration with irrationality is not itself irrational. Whether sane or insane, reasonable or not, all people need catharsis. Go to the Rally to Restore Sanity, before it’s too late, before there’s not sanity left to restore.

The Rally to Restore Sanity will take place Saturday, October 30th, from noon to 3PM on the National Mall.

Of Popes, Nazis, and Misdirection

“Even in our lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society … As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion, and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society …”

-Pope Benedict XVI at Holyroodhouse in the UK, September 16th, 2010

That the pope is not a fan of atheism is axiomatic. After all, if there is no god, then the pope has no authority – and an odd fetish for hats. One cannot blame a person for finding distasteful and threatening the discounting of that which predicates their conception of reality. But there is a difference between opposition in good faith and dishonesty, and the assertions made by the pope in the UK fall on the wrong side of that line.

First, and most fundamental, is the assertion that Nazism, and Hitler himself, were atheistic. The historical evidence in this regard is scant at best. In fact, if you take the man at his word, Hitler was a Catholic. There is clear evidence that the intellectual foundations for his anti-Semitism came from Christianity itself. For example; Hitler openly admired Martin Luther, writer of the illuminating religious text, On the Jews and their Lies, and who preached – in an actual sermon – that Jews were public enemies and should not be tolerated in Germany.

Writing of Dr. Karl Lueger in Mein Kampf, Hitler noted that he “was not in agreement with the sharp anti-Semitic tone, but from time to time I read arguments which gave me some food for thought. At all events, these occasions slowly made me acquainted with the man and the movement, which in those days guided Vienna’s destinies: Dr. Karl Lueger and the Christian Social Party.” Later in the same chapter, the message had apparently sunken in: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

The faithful may wish to shout at this point, but stay calm; I am not going to say that Nazism was a result of Christianity. Not only are assertions about the faith or lack thereof of Nazis inherently un-provable and contentious, they miss the mark entirely. To even suggest that a large-scale movement, comprised of millions of individuals with myriad motivations, is ever motivated by a single element is stupid, misleading, or both.

Even if it were true that the Nazi movement gained its philosophical and rhetorical foundations from Christianity alone, it could – and certainly would – be argued that they had perverted the faith for their own diabolical ends. This “not my faith” argument is made every day; by Muslims who decry violence committed in the name of Islam, and by Christians who cringe at the ignorant and bigoted views of their brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a strong argument, supported by the undisputed historical fact that religious groups have been fracturing and fighting over what their faith really means for as long as religion has existed.

This “not my faith” argument works just as well for non-theists as it does for theists. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Second, the Supreme Pontiff has committed a calumnious error of attribution. He has attributed ideology to a descriptor that denotes none, ethical beliefs to non-belief. Atheism is not a belief system; it makes no moral claims. It is merely an absence of belief in a god or gods; a rejection of an unverifiable supposition. To demonize non-belief in an indemonstrable construct is a bit silly. It stretches credulity to assume the pope, a learned man well-versed in history and philosophy, made this assertion in ignorance.

Now full circle, a question presents itself. If these assertions are unsound, why is the pope making them? In a long-term view, the Church must demonize atheism. For if it were ever generally accepted that atheism and religion can both lead to moral “goodness,” the Catholic Church would be left in an unenviable position.

Without monopolies on absolute truth and morality, the Abrahamic god is robbed of his righteous vestment, and the Church is left to lean more heavily on guilt and fear for support. Atheism necessarily must be evil, or at the very least increase mankind’s propensity for evil. If it does not, then faith becomes much less attractive. Catholicism is not the only religion to face this dilemma.

There are those that would argue with this stark contrast, contending that their religious beliefs do not claim exclusive ownership of absolute truth. Every individual’s beliefs are unquestionably theirs alone. To argue otherwise would be offensive and painfully condescending. However, that anyone’s beliefs differ from that of the pope and official doctrine is beside the point. It would be quite a surprise to find a single person on this campus, Catholic or otherwise, having no personal disagreements with the Church.

And that brings up another plausible explanation for the pope’s recent demonization of atheism: The Church is terribly unpopular, and desperately needs to distract and undermine its critics. The image problem faced by the Catholic Church in the developed world is unprecedented. The scale of the sex abuse scandal worldwide is staggering. In the public consciousness, it is a given that the number of victims is in the tens to hundreds of thousands. A CNN poll conducted prior to the pope’s UK visit found that a full 77 percent of British adults think the pope has not done enough to punish guilty priests.

The Church stance on condoms and birth control is similarly out of step with the developed world. That certainly doesn’t stop those in western nations from using family planning aides, but in places where the church is a source of both information and healthcare, such as Africa, the implications of the Church’s stance are unsettling. Finally, in a move that would make any PR executive cringe, the Vatican used a July revision to ecclesiastical law, intended to deal with the sex abuse scandal, to increase the severity of the crime of attempted ordination of a woman to the level of – this is not a joke – the sexual abuse of a minor.

In the developed world, where so many people find positions of the Church objectionable, and where the non-religious are arguably the fastest growing religious group, the demonization of disbelief seemingly makes a good deal of sense. However, instead of demonizing others, the pope should admit that the current antipathy toward the Church is largely of its own making. Perhaps a suggestion from the good book itself is appropriate.

“He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13 (American Standard Version)