Tuesday, January 30, 2007

To the memory of Professor Robert Drinan, S.J.

This column first appeared in the Georgetown Law Weekly on January 30, 2007.

Normally, this column is dedicated to complaints or bragadoccio about my lack of work ethic, the proper way to trick a GULC pop machine into accepting money from a MetroCard, cheese, etc., etc. Right now, I'd like to depart from the low-brow gallows humor to write a few words about Robert Drinan.

I first met Professor Drinan my 1L year, at a reception for the Jesuits from main campus hosted by the law center faculty. Someone foolishly informed me that there would be free food (thanks for the heads-up, Sister!), so I signed up to attend as a student representative. I was seated at a table with Professor Schrag, Professor Drinan, and several visiting scholars and priests whose names have permenantly escaped me. Fr. Drinan had the unpleasant task of being seated next to me, and had the unfortunate luck to do so on a night where the wait staff was especially diligent in refilling my glass of Jamesons-on-the-rocks. We spoke at length throughout the evening, about my time in law school, my background, my career goals, etc. We also spoke about what he was planning to do in the future, and that is what stuck me the most. Every obituary about him that you've read or will read will emphasize his time on Capitol Hill as a congressman, every blurb will mention his dual role as priest and legislator in the 1970's. To hell with those obits. Fr. Drinan was passionate about the state of the world, today. At an age and time of his life where most of us with as many accomplishments as him would have been content to relax, Fr. Drinan continued to put himself out, politically and morally. The attempt by Congressional Republicans to remove the filibuster last year was met with angry scorn by Fr. Drinan, and he opened the Georgetown rally against it with speech that was less polished and yet more honest than most of the speeches of the day, heavy and wet with rhetoric.

He spoke out, repeatedly in print and in person, against human rights abuses and what he felt was the willingness by many, Democrat and Republican alike, to sanction torture, the suspension of habeus corpus, and other abuses for political expediency. I should add a caveat here: I took his human rights class primarily because I heard there was a lenient grade curve. That idea failed, as I managed to pull a B- in a class where the questions on the final were distributed ahead of time. Unlike the other classes I've taken where my incompetance has shone through, his actually taught me a few things. First, violating a person's physical sanctity is demeaning to those who do it, individual and government alike. Second, good and evil are real concepts, but the world does not paint them for us in black in and white; even priests see grey, and the greatest see the most grey.

There are those who would demean his intellectual stature by pointing out that his classes have not been the most... linear in their progression. This is not a fluff piece; I will not disagree with the criticism that his lectures were not terribly organized. To those who had him for professional responsibility or human rights who felt that (actual quote) "his classes were a waste of time," I wish you could have had a chance to speak to him in person. He was as observant as ever, and still able to be riled. I did not take professional responsibility with him, but I learned about ethics from him, informally yet concretely. One of the questions I've often asked myself is in the form of a thought experiment: "What side would I have taken in the Spanish Civil War?" As a Catholic (if an especially faulty one), I sometimes fear that I would have sided with the Fascists, due to Franco's professed piety and defense of the Church. After speaking from Robert Drinan, S.J., I have no doubt in my mind that he would have opposed them.

His two recent books, Can God & Ceasar coexist? and The Mobilization of Shame were about the state of the world, today. The former (and more recent) book was about the interaction between religion and government, a subject of which his viewpoint will be simplified or assumed ad nauseum, but was very nuanced and complex. The latter book was about the international human rights movement, his most passionate cause. To all the ink spilled on the Catholic viewpoint regarding the headline-grabbing topics of birth control, abortion, sex, and homosexuality, Fr. Drinan reminded us that being a Catholic means caring about human dignity in general, opposing even politically-expedient torure, fighting for the freedom of conscience for people of ALL religions, and the importance of dialogue.

Fr. Drinan, it must be said, was persona non grata to many conservative Catholics. He was an unabashed liberal, was against the Vietnam War, was the first congressman to call for Nixon's resignation, and opposed governmental bans on abortion. The website of the Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic organization, linked to a story that mentioned none of his human rights work, and none of his international accolades; to them, he was merely the "partisan" Jesuit who "defied Rome." Thank God that sometimes defiance is obedience.

I was privileged to be present at Fr. Drinan's last mass as celebrant here at the Law Center. I was privileged to be a student of his. I am privileged to have him as an example to follow. I hope I have the courage to be defiant.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

RIP Robert Drinan, S.J.

Father Drinan passed away on Sunday, Jan 28, 2007. I was privilaged to have been present at the last mass he presided over as celebrant, and to have taken his human rights class.

Here's the obituary at CNN.com.

R.I.P, Fr. Drinan.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Across the Great Divide

This column originally appeared in the Georgetown Law Weekly on January 21, 2007.

This is my last semester of law school, presuming that 1) I have correctly tallied my credits for the year, and 2) that I pass all of my classes. These are both large assumptions, but for the sake of simplicity we shall say that both are true and I will graduate in May. Introspection tends to come near the end of something long and arduous, like law school, the iditarod dog sled race, dinner at the Golden Corral, etc. There is a bittersweetness in the air, as I have to say goodbye to so many people I've met and loved, but on the other hand I get to say goodbye to so many, many people that have hated me. Looking back, it is now easier to evaluate what I've learned and what I haven't here in law school.

Will it be just as painful paying rent in DC two years from now, or will I adjust? Answer: Yes. Rent in DC is the most blatant reincarnation of the Dutch tulip market I have even encountered, and that is saying something because I once bought a Shivan Dragon in "Magic: The Gathering." I spend more on rent, utilities, and cost of living in one month than I used to pay in three months when I lived in Michigan. Granted, in Michigan I shared a house with eight people, never purchased or used cleaning products, and ate stolen ramen. Still, it is ridiculously expensive to live here. Thank goodness I was completely undateable my 1L year, because dinner and a movie would only have been affordable if the dinner was Dinty Moore and the movie was a rental of "Breaking 2: Electric Boogaloo." To save space in the tiny apartment I AM able to afford, the TV is on top of the fridge, the fridge is in the bedroom, and the bed is a futon I found outside an American University dorm. And by "futon" I mean "couch with the back broken off."

Did the people generally accepted to be the biggest jerks during 1L actually turn out to be jerks? Answer: Yes, we did. Think back to your first week of school; for my fellow 3Ls, that means harkening back to when you were thinner, less bitter, and $150,000 richer. Anyway, try and remember week one. From the moment classes started, you knew who was going to be the most annoying, who mas going to be the most misogynistic, the most politically correct, and the most unpleasant to be around. I know, because people avoided talking to me alone, which is the first sign that someone is a jerk. If you find yourself wanting witnesses to the ridiculous statements someone makes, I can promise you that person will probably not be any less offensive when the time comes to graduate. An arrogant person does not become less arrogant after a $3,000 a week firm job, I promise. A self-righteous crusader does not become less frighteningly self-righteous after an internship at the National Association of Some Cause or Another. A political true believer does not mellow and see more grey after law school, it turns out. I will state an exception to this rule, howeveer, to be known hereafter as Mark's law: "If the political persuasion of a person is different than the majority of the other students in law school, that person will moderate their stance in order to date more."

Will I ride the learning curve of law school? Answer: No. Law school requires you to learn a new way of thinking, according to the "Law School for Dummies" book I bought before moving to DC. When i first got here, I wondered if I was going to have hard time for the first year and then get better. Did my grades need time to get better, like cheese, or were they going to get stinkier over time, like other, more different cheese? The answer is: I get a B- no matter how much or how little work I put into a class. In Land Use Law, I put in hours and hours a week in meticulously reading, highlighting, and studying, and got a B-. After my corporations final, I sold my textbook back to the bookstore having never opened it. My grade: B-. It turns out that I was admitted to Georgetown with the understanding that I would allow better, more handsome students to live at the left end of the grade curve by inhabiting the right end of the curve. You're welcome, Frank.

Will the Bears make it to the Superbowl before I graduate? Answer: YES. The Bears are going to superbowl, and suddenly there is nothing wrong with the world. Remember that there is no amount of of stress, no amount of homework, no grade, that is better than your NFL team going to the superbowl. As long as I have my health, my loved ones, and the Bears deep into the playoffs, then all is well in the world. In fact, scratch the first two; my health and my loved ones can't contribute to the Bears winning the Superbowl.

Mark Nabong submitted a photo for this piece that had nothing to do with the article, and moreover was offensive. We're glad he's leaving. His columns can be found at chicago-typewriter.blogspot.com.

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