The Party Line

March 29, 2010

The Grand Old Party has lately been a house divided; Lindsey Graham and Olympia Snowe (R-SC and R-ME, respectively) keep a moderate tack, while conservative armchair quarterbacks like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly harangue them for imaginary disloyalty to the party.

Messrs. Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck, and the rest would do well to look up one other famous Republican, Abraham Lincoln, who served this country as President and wisely observed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Where once Ronald Reagan and Bill Buckley sought to invite conservatism as a whole into a “big tent,” Rush & Co. seem more eager to divide the house at every turn. This is helpful to neither the party overall, nor national dialogue.  

The recent Congressional passage of landmark healthcare legislation seems poised to force the issue, and perhaps some reconciliation: the fighting and voting over President Obama’s health bill was vicious, to say the least, and neither side escaped unbloodied. Politically, the bill’s passage may have two effects: one, hardening even further the resolve of conservatives in opposing liberals, and the other: emboldening the Obama administration and encouraging it to tackle other reforms. Chief among those other reforms will likely be modifications to the banking and financial industries.

Here, some compromise may be had: though conservative Republicans have traditionally favored big business and seen government as an engine to promote economy (while Democrats believe economy is an engine itself for social good, and should be regulated to that end), the extent of public distaste for banks and business is so great now that politicians of either stripe may find themselves obligated to push financial regulations, despite their historic allegiances to either side.

The public cry for financial reform may prove able to forge cross-aisle coalitions, as Democrats and Republicans toe the same line for the sake of votes. Coalitions like that may be beneficial to Americans overall, in reigning in bankers and financiers, but will hopefully be at least equally beneficial to the GOP in terms of fostering an ability to compromise and move forward, at least with one another.

Spring Tour: Dartmouth 31, Austin 17

March 25, 2010

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club kicked off its traditional Spring touring season this week in Austin, Texas where the men in green outplayed a very physical men’s club, the Austin Blacks, to notch a 31-17 victory. Such a tight game was new territory for the DRFC, which had outscored regular season opponents by an average of over 20 points per game and ended this past season as undefeated Ivy League champions.

“We were able to pull it out due to our ability and speed with the ball,” said DRFC captain Mike DiBenedetto ’10, of the Texas victory. “It was nice to see the team hold off the Austin surge and score a couple of late-game tries.” Dartmouth’s victory was the first time the Blacks had lost to a collegiate side in 20 years.

The Dartmouth first XV will take on the University of Texas next on Friday, March 26th at 7:00 pm with a 2nd XV match to follow at 8:30.

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club, left.

The Ferrari Degree

March 23, 2010

Your editorial staff recently enjoyed a weekend with old college friends and spent the trip home discussing the value of Ivy League degrees: are they worthwhile, or only expensive ornaments? By way of answer, a short vignette:

You’re at a Ferrari dealership, looking at Testarossas. The Ferrari is the most perfectly engineered car ever built; the innovation and precision which go into its design and construction are unheard of in other automobiles, and each one carries a price tag to match.

Down the street is a Ford lot, where the dealer tells you that his trucks are dependable, reliable and safe. Undoubtedly, this is true. Ford makes quality trucks and cars which are stylish and affordable. Further, the Ford dealer points out, the main purpose of any vehicle is to get you from Point A to Point B, and a Ford will do that just as certainly as a Ferrari (he knows you’ve been at the Ferrari dealership down the street). Also, his cars cost a fraction of what the Italian sportscars cost. They’ll get you around, he promises, just as well as the Ferraris, and won’t bankrupt you doing it.  

The Ford dealer is right, of course. But what he doesn’t mention is that, while his truck might get you from Point A to Point B as surely as something else, a Ferrari will get you there a lot faster… and you’ll really enjoy the ride.

Keep & Bear

March 17, 2010

The Supreme Court of the United States spent the month buried deep in the wilderness of McDonald v. Chicago, a case challenging the legality of Chicago’s super-restrictive handgun ban.

Plaintiff there argues the ban violates the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, our right to keep and bear arms. Defendant maintains the Constitution applies only to the Federal government and leaves state and city lawmakers free to restrict guns as they please. Most pundits give odds to the plaintiff, but we won’t get that far today.

Instead, let’s step back and look at the two competing paths of thought Second Amendment arguments usually travel. The first is Justice Antonin Scalia’s beloved formalism, in which we examine the plain meaning of a law: the right to keep and bear arms is spelled out plainly, so there’s no need of discussion. The Founders have spoken clearly and the people may own and carry guns. This path makes sense because, if for no other reason, the men who wrote the Constitution were very literate. Most were attorneys. If they’d meant for their document to be open to interpretation, they could’ve said so. They didn’t.

The second, opposite view is that the Constitution can’t be read formally, as Justice Scalia would; rather, it’s a “living document,” whimsical interpretations of which are allowed and encouraged, and its authority comes not from the Founders’ words but their intent. This side of the street argues that the arms our forefathers had in mind were a far cry from today’s high-powered handguns and sawed-off shotguns, and so laws written with muskets in mind shouldn’t be extended to Uzi’s.

(Of course, they aren’t. Uzi’s are automatic guns, which means they fire bullets as long as the trigger is held down and there are bullets to be fired. Automatic guns like Uzi’s have never been legal for public ownership in America. They’re strictly the province of criminals, and no amount of laws will ever dissuade those guys… if criminals cared about laws, they wouldn’t be criminals).    

If read formally, the Second Amendment obviously guarantees Americans the right to own and carry (“keep and bear”) weapons. There’s no real ground for any other opinion, which is why gun-control advocates prefer to call the Constitution a living document, subject to interpretation, and not read it formally. And their interpretation is, the Founders intended the Second Amendment for antique muskets, not today’s arms, so its protections shouldn’t extend to modern guns.

The problem is, the Founders were talking about today’s guns, in a way. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and the rest of that Revolutionary generation fought a terrible war with the English on American soil, in American cities, and on American streets… and then did it all over again in 1812. Years earlier, they’d fought the French & Indian War, and Native American attacks were a frequent worry (justified or not). 

The generation which composed the Second Amendment spent a good deal of its adulthood at war, fighting and killing, and guns were second-nature. In addition to the constant threat of Indian or foreign violence, Americans believed firmly in their right to shoot each other; duels were commonplace and assumed legal, unless otherwise noted. President Andrew Jackson, who had fought in the Revolutionary War, once remarked that he had been shot so often in duels and had so many bullets rattling around inside of him that when he walked he sounded like a bag of marbles.  There was little organized police activity; certainly no squad cars or radio patrols.

Further, the framers didn’t buy groceries, except exotic items which couldn’t be produced on their own land; they farmed and hunted. Guns fed them. Lucky, then, that they had guns… most Native Americans made do with arrows still, and only got guns by trade with colonists. They made no guns of their own, though the technology was hardly new. (By 1776, firearms had existed for a long time and were being refined each year; a version of the automatic machine gun existed in England as early as 1718. The Founders, as veteran military campaigners, knew well how quickly and effectively guns were developing).

The point is, a formal constructionist reading of the Second Amendment means gun-control advocates lose; the language is just too clear to support anything but strong and full gun rights. So they argue instead for a lenient take on the Constitution and claim it’s open to interpretation and that people should look to the intent, not the words, of the framers. In their opinion, the framers didn’t foresee the availability or power of modern guns when they guaranteed the right to keep and bear them, or intend we should avail ourselves of them as we once did muskets… but the fact is, they did. They wrote the Second Amendment fully aware of the new, deadly weapons which were introduced every year. When they announced “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” they intended to reference the biggest, baddest arms then available, and they knew those arms were getting bigger and badder by the day.

The Founding Fathers wrote our Constitution in a brutish, violent land. There was little, if any, law enforcement. Men fought duels regularly and shot their food. In short order they fought two major wars against English Redcoats, one against the French, and scores of smaller territory skirmishes. They were threatened constantly by Native American violence, by slave revolt, and by each other. Guns were a high technology, compared to traditional swords and arrows (which were still the norm among many), and they were the most dangerous invention of their time. Machine guns had existed for decades, alongside canon and mortars, and the Founders knew that guns were getting better by the day. Washington especially was a military man, and aware of the progress tinkerers were making with new guns. It was his job to know. 

The Founding Fathers knew exactly what guns were when they wrote the Second Amendment, and the knew how violent men could be and how lawless things could get. They didn’t write about the right to keep and bear some arms, and we can assume that, because of their legal training, they would have been clear if that’s what they had intended. They simply wrote “arms”: knives, daggers, swords, sabers, bayonets, spears, pistols, muskets, rifles, repeating rifles, early machine guns, canon, mortars, grape shot, shotguns filled with nails, bombs and more… the deadliest, most destructive arms then available. There was plenty the Founders could’ve restricted, if they’d so intended, but they didn’t. They intended for every American to be as well-armed as was necessary for his safety in a hazardous country. 

The framers’ world wasn’t that much different from ours, or any less violent. Guns weren’t any less deadly than they are today (and the really deadly new ones, the automatics, are already outlawed and have been for a long time). Their intent wasn’t just to guarantee the right to carry flintlock muskets, but the right to carry arms, in whatever form and with whatever technological innovations are available, in an uncertain time.

Good Point.

March 14, 2010

As Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees election heats up, here’s one quick thought about scholastic efficiency from Canadian author Robertson Davies, via The Rebel Angels, ascribed to Davies’ character Father Darcourt, a member of the fictitious faculty of St. John & The Holy Ghost College, in Canada:

“We knew all about meetings where anxious deans fluttered and fussed to make sure that every shade of opinion was heard, and strangled decisive action in the dusty ropes of academic scruple.”

Apparently, the problem isn’t only the province of American schools.

Rather Be…

March 12, 2010

It’s past noon on Friday; for most, that means thoughts which quickly turn toward pleasure, rather than work, and preferably some place far-off. Though a half-day’s work remains between now and weekend whimsy, there’s no reason not to indulge briefly in some distraction now. So, presented below, a small sample of the places we’d all rather be right now.

Bar Harbor, ME.

Charleston, South Carolina.

Nantucket Island, MA.

Hanover, NH.

Savannah, GA.

The Rainmakers

March 8, 2010

Dan Binstock manages the D.C. offices of BCG Attorney Search, an attorney search/placement firm headquartered in California. It’s Mr. Binstock’s job to find unhappy lawyers, seduce them away from their professional homes, and settle them in nicer quarters elsewhere. He follows the trends in big firm hiring religiously.

Mr. Binstock recently discussed those trends with the editors of Legal Bisnow: whereas once it took an attorney seven to eight years in the salt mines to make partner at the name-brand firms, the average is now closer to a decade, he said, if at all.

Mr. Binstock also noted an institutional preference for lateral hires, and the established books of business they bring with them, over internal promotions. Between fee-generating “finders,” who bring in business, “minders,” who manage workers, and “grinders,” who churn out billable hour upon hour, the upper echelons prefer to take on finders. Their logic is simple; any green lawyer can crank out hours and any slightly less green lawyer can supervise their cranking, but producing new dollars is what keeps any business afloat. The established finders, Mr. Binstock says, are at the top of the hiring lists.

“Great attorneys don’t always make great partners,” Ann Ford adds. Ms. Ford is the managing partner of legal giant DLA Piper and serves on that firm’s partnership committee. Last year, her firm promoted 12 lawyers to partner, out of over 1,200 working stateside.

The shifting valuation, from grinders to finders, is likely driven by the advent of fixed-rate firm billing: as more matters are handled for a flat fee on behalf of corporations who have lost patience with inflated invoices, the ability to spend as many hours as possible on a project no longer means bigger fees for firms. Now, it means wasted time. Also, it often means losing clients to a leaner, more efficient firm which won’t rack up so much expensive time per project. The challenge to associates is no longer ‘how thoroughly can you do this job,’ but ‘how quickly?’ Assuming, of course, the quality of work is consistent.

Boiled down, there’s nothing new here. Young lawyers with a foot on the bottom rung need to work quickly and thoroughly. And they need to find new business. Anybody with a law degree can bill hours; the tricky, and valuable, part is finding somebody to bill them to.