Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bruce Cockburn Music as Bar Exam Study Aid

Twenty-five years ago, I was studying for the Missouri bar exam. Even after all this time, it remains a touchstone experience for me.

My base of operations, from the beginning of June until the middle of July, was Rockhurst College in Kansas City, which was hosting the BAR/BRI review course. The exam was scheduled for the end of July in the state capital, Jefferson City. My judicial clerkship, with the Hon. Charles Shangler of the Missouri Court of Appeals, would follow in due course.

I had graduated from Valparaiso University School of Law in May, and my parents had given me a Sony Walkman to celebrate the occasion. That's right - a Sony Walkman. Strange as it may seem, in this I-pod / I-pad world, the Walkman was once a state-of-the-art way to play recorded music.

During breaks from bar exam study, I would listen over and over on my Walkman to Bruce Cockburn's latest album, World of Wonders. I'd purchased the cassette tape at a mall in Merrillville, Ind. before leaving Indiana for Kansas City.

Today, opening up my e-mail again after an off-the-grid vacation week, there were two messages that reminded me of the Bruce Cockburn backdrop for my bar studies. One was an e-vite to a 25th anniversary reunion of my law school class.

The other was a notification on Facebook that a friend had tagged me in a post about the Bruce Cockburn postage stamp recently issued in Canada.

Thanks, Rick, for the heads-up about the stamp!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Unemployment Up, Crime Down: Why?

Why have American crime rates gone down as unemployment rates have gone up?

James Q. Wilson's recent essay in the Wall Street Journal explores this intriguing question.

The factors in play are many. They range from the sociological (the incapacitation effect of extensive incarceration) to the environmental (the decrease in lead in the atmosphere).

Better, data-driven policing can rightly take some of the credit. Targting  empiricallly identfiable crime hot spots for a stronger law enforcement presence has been shown to reduce crime in those areas. Some of this reduction, however, is offset by increases in other areas.

And then there is the matter of drug use. For two decades, crack, heroin and other hard drugs have taken a terrible toll, particularly on the black community, in lethal street violence, fatal overdoses and widespread imprisonment. It may be that a younger generation is finally learning hard truths from these consequences.

Wilson rightly ends his essay on a humble, Socratic note. Criminologists, he argues, should admit they don't  have all the answers. Such an admission, as Socrates showed, can be the beginning of wisdom.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Harry Potter and the Presumption of Innocence

Even those who have not read the Harry Potter books, or seen the movies, know that the tone grows relentlessly darker as the series unfolds.

I was reminded of this tonight as I started Book Four, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," which begins with the discovery of three murder victims. It's like opening an adult Whodonit novel, compared to the usual high-satire of the Dursley's that earlier books begin with. J.K. Rowling could easily have eclipsed Agatha Christie, one suspects, if she had chosen to write in this genre.

In describing the murder scene involving three members of the Riddle family, Rowling also convincingly sketches a scenario showing why the presumption of innocence is needed in criminal cases. When Frank Bryce, the Riddles' gardener, is arrested, public opinion in the village of Little Hangleton soon swings against him. But when new evidence emerges, the unproven (and very possibly erroneous) nature of the assumption of Bryce's guilt is unmasked.

If the new evidence had not come to light, however, it's hard to see how Frank Bryce could have found an impartial jury anywhere in the vicinity of Little Hangleton.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Up To Date In Kansas City, Summer 1986

The temperature hit 102.9 degrees Fahrenheit today in the Twin Cities (39.4 Celsius). Bizarre, for this time and place. What is the import of this whim of Mercurius?

The easy answer, I suppose, would be global warming. My topic in this post, however, is not suspicions about manifestations of climate change.

It is, rather, an occasion to recall those balmy summer nights in Kansas City in 1986 as I studied for the Missouri bar exam. To someone reared in South Dakota and Minnesota, those June and July days in KC were at times oppressively hot. The nights, though, after my evening bar review course let out, were beautiful.

The heat of the day had abated and I had done my bar exam study. This meant I was now free to enjoy the rest of the evening in an intriguing new city - the one which the cowboys in Rogers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" had sung of as being all up to date.