Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2008 GOP Candidates: U.S. Founded as Christian Nation.

1797 Congress: No It Wasn't.

(Crossposted from the American Constitution Society :: Columbia Law School)

In Conroy v. Aniskoff, 507 U.S. 511, 520 (1993), Antonin Scalia includes a comment that he repeated here at Columbia Law School in 2006 — that the use of legislative history to bolster one's own position is "the equivalent of entering a crowded cocktail party and looking over the heads of the guests for one's friends." As much as I agree with Scalia here, I find it heartening to stumble across this bit of congressionally approved language from the 5th Congress:

Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796 (3 Ramada I, A. H. 1211), and at Algiers January 3, 1797 (4 Rajab, A. H. 1211). Original in Arabic. Submitted to the Senate May 29, 1797. (Message of May 26, 1797.) Resolution of advice and consent June 7, 1797. Ratified by the United States June 10, 1797. As to the ratification generally, see the notes. Proclaimed Jane 10, 1797.


As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Útil Pero No Usa: El Gnaborretni

Following up on Andy’s post, I thought ’d highlight a related punctuation mark, the gnaborretni (the inverted interrobang, in more ways than one).

Microwave Cookery

On a recent trip to a local sandwich shop, I noticed something unusual about the shop’s microwave oven.

It is unclear from this cell-phone photo whether the aluminum foil is replacing a broken viewing window or whether the shop owner is reassuring his customers that he is not reading their minds. Regardless, the tears in the foil can’t be good.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Useful but Unused: The Interrobang

During the various Google searches I conducted for my post Janus Words & Contronyms, I stumbled across the interrobang, a logical little punctuation mark that absolutely no one uses.

What's the interrobang?!

Well, if you asked that question with an interrobang, it would look like this:

What's the interrobang‽

Yep. It's a combination of a question mark and an exclamation point, permitting you to ask an exasperated question without repeating ?!?!?! ad nauseum.

Invented in the 1960's by the head of an advertising agency, the interrobang never caught on. At this point, I wish the interrobang would catch on, as (1) it's a succinct expression of a clearly felt idea and (2) it eliminates those multiple punctuation marks that highlight the casual nature of today's near stream-of-consciousness email writing.

If you want to enhance your reputation as an eccentric among your friends, you can include the interrobang in your Microsoft Word documents by selecting it from the Wingdings 2 tray upon selecting Insert > Symbol from the primary menu.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Janus Words & Contronyms

It is with great hesitation that I write a post on language, for although I enjoy the occasional lay-audience book on language, I know almost nothing about linguistics or the formal study of language.

That said, I can't stop thinking about the word sanction.

In one context, sanction can mean to punish for disobedience: "Prior to the current war, the United States sanctioned Iraq." Conversely, sanction can mean approve and support: "The United States sanctions the actions of the current Iraqi regime." At least to this reader, these meanings appear to be almost polar opposites.

I'm not the only one who has noted this strange phenomenon. There are nearly a dozen terms for a word that has two opposite or contradictory meanings. My favorites are Janus words – Janus being the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and endings – and contronyms (though, in full disclosure, the latter term is championed by a judge on the Second Circuit, a court to which I have a particular attachment).

An in-depth description of the history and sociopsychological causes of the contronym phenomenon is beyond my abilities (although others have gone down this path) and the ambit of this blog; however, I can provide you with a few of my favorite contronyms (in no particular order):

  • sanction
    (see above)

  • (to) go off
    His cooking filled the kitchen with so much smoke, the fire alarm went off.
    After its batteries ran out, the fire alarm went off.

  • quantum
    All of her research was conducted at the impossibly small quantum scale.
    Newton's immense contribution to the body of knowledge represented a quantum leap forward.

  • custom
    Certain elements of their behavior were predictable, as the group was merely following custom.
    His pants were so unique, they must have been custom-made.

  • moot
    They were all able to understand the problem better after they'd mooted it amongst themselves.
    The point was moot and didn't even merit discussion.

  • scan
    He didn't get the article's deeper meaning, as he had only scanned it.
    She had a detailed view of the image, as she had used a machine to scan it.
(For a longer list of contronyms, see here and here.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sauntering Welcomes Garfield

Garfield – previously our Resident Scientist – has agreed to join us as a blogger, bringing our number to four. We're thrilled to have a non-lawyer voice here at Sauntering and we look forward to his contributions.

Recognize these four guys? Yep, that's the Bayeux Tapestry.

Katie Explores Central Park

One of the many pleasures of working as a summer associate at a law firm is that the summer program tends to end long before law school begins. In my case, I have a month to play stay-at-home dad with Katie before classes start after Labor Day.

Today might be the most beautiful day of the year, and we took the opportunity to explore Central Park.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Art Projects for Law Students: Rejections → Grocery Shopping Lists

I finally completed a small art project that I've been planning for a little over a year.

During the late fall of their first year in law school, most students at my law school tend to send out about 100 letters to New York law firms, seeking summer employment.

Out of the 100 letters, they'll receive somewhere between 90-100 rejections. It's not that they're all summarily unqualified, it's that law firms are loathe to spend lavish summer associate sums on first-year law students — these students know very little law and are unlikely to return to this first summer firm for employment after school.

I saved my half-ream of rejections and converted them into something useful. These rejections have become fodder for my grocery lists.

Friday, August 03, 2007

CNN is currently running a story called "Iraq Welcomes Home Soccer Heroes." As they do with most of their main stories, they're touting the article throughout their site. For these little promos, the image they're running alongside the article headline doesn't quite conjure up a celebratory mood: