Sunday, May 30, 2004

Messing about in punts Posted by Hello

Friday, May 28, 2004

“The Silence of the Cam”

I am now well inside the zone of behaviour marked “Grade A Smug Bastard”.

When your response at 4.30 in the afternoon to the question, “How are you?” is “Rather the worse for cheap champagne” - and minutes later a woman you’ve met once before is stuffing toilet paper down the front of the embarrassingly large deficit in the bodice of your sequined gown – you can be fairly confident that your exams are over.

Wednesday, my exams finished. Yesterday my only commitments were champagne punting and picnicking, and a costume fitting for the play. (In one of my roles, I play an aristocrat, pretending to be a mountain bandit, pretending to be a female dancer. We have decided to pad the dress, rather than have me wear one of the director’s bras.)

Yesterday was possibly one of the most perfect days I’ve had in Cambridge. Sunlight is never quite so cheerful, fresh air quite so refreshing, pretty passers-by quite so pretty, as the day after exams.

And if this city is beautiful in Spring, it is astonishing from the water.

So there we were, two punts full of champagne and strawberry fuelled chaos, me, another early finishing Australian LLM mate, a batch of her college friends and one of the college friends’ assorted Canadian cousins.

“Grantchester or death!” was our watchword, as we steered away from the St John’s punt moorings out into the green, viscous mass of the Cam.

The women were reduced to goo-ing at the sight of what we first took to be ducklings.

“Don’t their parents look rather like geese?” I asked.

“Canadian geese,” a Canadian suggested.

“So,” some random punter asked, “what does that make the babies?”

The answer evaporated into air like a champagne bubble from a cheap plastic cup: “Goose- kittens?”

“Goslings?” I hazarded.

“Why not goose-puppies, huh, huh?”

We were soon debating, as only international lawyers could, whether one could commit piracy on the Cam and what our pirate names should be. Somehow, all the men wound up as “Uncle Boat” – except for Captain Forceps, who explained that prosthetics had come a long way since hooks.

We weren’t exactly rushing. True, it was after two by the time we got the punts unmoored, but by three-ish we’d only just made it under all the college bridges to the landings at The Anchor – and it was already time to send a party out for more champagne before we faced the challenge of “The Rollers”.

I had presumed, idly, that where the Cam rushes down a concrete canal and pours out by Darwin college, there would be a lock.

Instead there’s a 45 degree concrete ramp set with a series of steel rollers. You get out, try and pull/run the punt up it, topple it onto a set of planks embedded in the tow path, shunt it across, and then down a smaller set of rollers on the other side.

Not as easy as it sounds. Still, amidst the mayhem no accidental dunkings.

I had to zip off on my bike (a leisurely ten minute walk away for all our time on the river) to the costume fitting, but then afterwards cycled Grantchester-wards to catch up the crew for the picnic. People were prepared to risk death, apparently, having stopped part way.

Rejoining the party, I was warned to avoid the couple shagging in the undergrowth while stowing my bike (the quaint Spring fertility rites of the British) and was soon drinking, debating, and listening to Newfoundland folk songs with guitar accompaniment.

When it came time to set off home, I volunteered to have a crack at doing some of the standing and pole-pushing, which raised the awkward question of what to do with the bike.

“Just put it in one of the punts!” came the tipsy reply. The chorus rapidly took up the suggestion and we were sailing merrily down the Cam, with a bicycle on board.

I’m not sure that the speeding kayakers knew what to make of us.

“Okay, you though going up the rollers was tough, going back can be scary. Especially if you sit in the punt. It’s white-water punting.”

“White water punting?” I countered. “As an adventure sport that sounds about as scary as extreme fine dining.”

"Well, the only risk is that you sink the punt."


"Ooh, look at the goose-kittens," someone coo-ed.

Someone did sit in the punt going down the rollers: water broke over the bows like a themed movie-park ride (“Brideshead Unlimited II”).

Punting back towards the mathematics bridge we passed a puntful of PhD friends from college.

“That’s some terribly poor punting technique there, man!” taunted the captain of the cricket team.

True, I could make it go forward, or steer, but not both. But I thought my principle achievement was not falling in.

I am going to have to spend more time this Spring messing about in punts.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Desk of Doom Posted by Hello

I am experimenting with Hello as a blogger compatible means of posting photos without sending my template out of whack, as happened with the externally hosted photos.

So, welcome to my world of study (and procrastination!).

Thanks for alerting me to Hello's existence Caro!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Possibly the worst metaphor in legal history

When is “alcohol” not alcohol? When is a “car” not a car?

Put another way, when is one apple not like another?

No this is not a Sesame Street song, this is actually a critical issue in world trade.

Let’s start on the ground floor. The WTO exists to promote more liberal trade (not so much free trade, as freer trade). One of its most basic rules is that you do not treat imported products that are “like” your domestic products differently from your domestic products.

So if I have an apple tax of 5% on local apples, I can’t slap an extra 10% tax on imported French apples.

(Note, you can still tax nasty foreign apples at the border with a tariff, we’re only talking about not cheating on your tariff promises by whacking on an extra charge on them behind your trading buddies backs once their apples are off the wharf.)

Still awake? Cool.

So, when am I allowed to treat apples differently? The answer is, if they’re different from each other – ie if they’re not actually “like” one another.

So when is an apple not like an apple?

Let’s try an easier one: insulation materials. Is asbestos sheeting “like” fibreglass batts for insulation? No, one is a major carcinogen and risk to health, the other is not. Is a heavily petrol consuming car not “like” a low fuel consuming car? Mmm … maybe not.

See what’s happening here? The test begins to slide from whether things are physically identical (a bit of a philosophical paradox anyway) to taking a peek at whether the government regulation is aimed at protectionism or some legitimate regulatory purpose: health in the case of asbestos, the environment (clean air and preserving fossil fuels) in the case of cars.

The conclusion in WTO law? The meaning of “like” and “like products” is a slippery beast that changes its colour and stripes according to the exact Article of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 in which you find it.

This lead in the “famous” Japan – Alcohol case to what I would argue is the worst literary image ever unleashed on an unsuspecting world in the course of legal reasoning. I give you the words of the World Trade Organisation Appellate Body:
”The concept of “likeness” is a relative one that evokes the image of an accordion. The accordion of “likeness” stretches and squeezes in different places as different provisions of the WTO agreement are applied. The width of the accordion in any one of those places must be determined by the particular … context … in any given case …”

I just have this vision of the Chair of the panel in the middle of submissions whipping out his accordion of likeness for a rousing chorus of the protectionist polka.

Maybe a nice bit of square dance calling: “Take your trade partner by the hand, now do-cee-do and ain’t it grand! Woo hoo!”

My WTO exam is on Monday. Excuse the madness.

PS this just in (via Aileen at wuyuetian) the latest in reality TV: "The Partner" - the legal profession just got scarier ...

Thursday, May 20, 2004

George Dubyah, John, Tony and Ozymandius

Even the extreme American “legal realists” who pinned the legitimacy of ousting Saddam Hussein on the success of the subsequent nation building must have a feeling of the sand slipping out from their feet about now.

While I have posted comments on those torture photos at other peoples’ blogs, I’ve not blogged on the issue yet myself (I blame the exams that start tomorrow).

But this astonishes me. They let a General who believes Hussein and Bin Laden are the direct tools of Satan (and are waging war on the US on behalf of said anti-Christ), implement the Guantanamo-isation of the Abu Ghraib prison system.

Is it any wonder people under his command treated detainees as sub-human?

Is it any wonder the coalition has been demonised as a “new Crusade”?

This on top of a White House where a lawyer produced a memo (which admittedly sent Powell through the roof) that described the Geneva Conventions as “quaint”.

The imposition of democracy is beginning to look a lot like the imposition of the law of God, which I for one find rather disturbing.

(I had the impression God had left the day to day administration of law up to humanity about the time Moses came down from the mountain. Less flippantly, I though Christian philosophy since Aquinas had been fairly clear that while God may grant the ability to distinguish good and evil, the detail of law was up to us.)

I may have history and theory tomorrow, and maybe that’s why it comes to mind but dear old John Locke (Considerations on Representative Government, 1861) said some time ago:
“When … a set of institutions, has the way prepared for it by the opinions, tastes and habits of the people, they are not only more easily inclined to accept it, but will … be … better disposed, to do what is required of them both for the preservation of the institutions, and for bringing them into such action as enables them to produce the best results.”

In other words, if the majority aren’t behind them: “representative institutions are of little value, and may be a mere instrument for tyranny …”

Welcome to western, liberal democracy Iraq. Whether you like it or not.

For lighter fare, with equal rantage, read on ...
Home is where you hang your heart
Me: “The British couldn’t organise their way out of a damp paper bag. Actually, they’d just sit there and complain about the damp. How did these people run an Empire?”

The Swiss Historian: “They had guns, the natives didn’t.”

I’ve had a great time in UK, an amazing time in Cambridge - love the place, lucky to be here – but there should be at immigration, Heathrow terminal 4, a neat little sign “abandon all hope of administrative efficiency all ye who enter here.”

You think Australian banks are bad?

Well, they are.

But they’re burning beacons of dynamic efficiency and customer service than their ole blighty brethren. But if it were only banks, it'd be fine.

Early on, during induction at the Law Faculty, it was declared that the Cambridge system was “You appoint the best people, and the rest sorts itself out.” This accounts, in a nutshell, for the best of the institution (the academic faculty) and its worst (how they run it).

I sometimes wonder if the left hand has even been introduced to the right. Y’know, in passing, at a cocktail function.

I know people who've started referring to this general malaise either as "the new world expectation of efficiency" or just by the simpler "Welcome to England".

All a long winded way of saying you don’t realise what you love about a place until you leave. The reason that Australians are seen in the UK as breezy, cheerful, can-do types who work hard is because – well, we are and we do. (Despite seeing ourselves as laid back, un-entrepreneurial slackers.)

On leaving Australia I have realised I took the following things for granted:
A bright, sunny winter is not a contradiction in terms, or necessarily a bad thing.

Our grass is different: clumpier, tougher, knottier and needs watering.

We really do have trouble with authority (most Aussies I know have had a run-in with college bursars, porters, manciples or senior tutors over something, even I – who never even got a detention in high-school – have been fined for a smoke-detector violation).

Australian beer has a smoother, more kinda summer-drinking consistency. English ales have a lot of flavour, but sit pretty heavy. (The recent taste-test comparison: a party with a rare six pack of Coopers Green Label. Manna, I tell you, manna.)


Of course having racked up four cities in as many years, I’ve left a number of other places. So here’s a quick best and worst on each.
Canberra’s best: the guys. The Thursday night gang of red wine and pizza who indulged my weird imaginings. The Sunday brunch crew who were my local community. The Tuesday night dinner party in Yarralumla while it lasted. Ultimate Frisbee. You know who you are, don't believe I don't miss you all.

Proximity to the New South Wales south coast.

Canberra’s worst: Summer and Winter I could both do without. But the nightlife has improved leaps and bounds while I’ve been away, it seems.

Sydney’s worst: my first job. No, I am not a corporate lawyer, nor was meant to be. My first flat and the Worst. Flatmate. Ever.

Sydney’s best: The colleagues who’s cynicism made life bearable. The irreplaceable Mad Rob. (Dude, you’re a legend. Shibby!)

And Balmain, Sunday night jazz, the harbour at night, the ferry trip to work.

Melbourne’s best: my job (working for a judge rocks), my colleagues (other associates, who basically rocked), my bosses PA (who was like an adoptive new age auntie), my lifestyle (reasonable hours, pay, travel time to work and cocktail prices), and the blogger community, which was astonishingly welcoming (thanks Beth!)

Melbourne’s worst: Those summer nights in a house without air conditioning. Winter nights in a house without insulation

Cambridge’s best: my deranged, dysfunctional, soon-to-disband, international household of madness – my very own family away from family (I came home at lunchtime to discover a water-fight in progress in the kitchen); formal hall in college (it’s wearing the bat-gown with a suit to dinner, I tells ya); having the doors of my legal mind blown wide open by Phillip Allott.

Oh, and central heating. Damn but they can keep winter out in this country.

Cambridge’s worst: Michaelmas Term (rapid descent into winter, freshers from all over the globe bearing exotic flu strains); Lent Term (more winter); the East Anglia wind; and that efficiency thing.

Still, I’ve found a community here, and I may yet be around for longer.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Dammit, now that’s what I call study

Yesterday, I sat in gorgeous spring weather and twenty degree weather, on a picnic rug in the Queen’s college backs, by the Cam.

We observed croquet and punts, I squeaked excitedly about ducks, an acappella group rehearsed nearby (I lost it completely during the “Can you feel the love tonight?” number from the Lion King).

We flopped and lolled and debated the theory of international law.

“I like Kelsen’s reasoning, but he just won’t show you the grundnorm.”

“Can governments have a subjective intent? Or is opinion juris simply speech-act state practice?”

“I like it when Hart calls that idea a meaningless anthropomorphism hiding an empty tautology. It makes me laugh.”

“Can you have two contradictory legal norms that are valid in the same space at the same time?”

“What’s the difference between constutionalism and constitutionalisation?”

We bantered, we debated. I observed, in fine egalitarian style, a punt full of beer-swilling lads float by – a mate running along the tow path, shooting down the bank, using a punt full of tourists as a stepping stone, and leaping in among them.

“You know,” I said, “the rumour is if you fall in the Cam in Trinity Hall’s backs, they have to send you to the nurse. A few years ago a porter’s dog fell in. Died two days later.”

“It does look rather algal.”

We got back to the nature of international society, customary law and the international constitution (we’re confident there is one, really) and reflected that it would have been fabulous if we could have had champagne, strawberries and that amazing professor in a deckchair just giving us a grade for the course based on our conversation.

Best study-group meeting of my life. It even beat revising international criminal law and debating whether universal jurisdiction and state immunity are contradictory concepts over a cooked brunch.

T-minus 10 and counting

In exactly nine days from now, I will be staggering from a grad hall dinner in search of after-dinner drinks, my last ever law exam having been over by that point some five hours.

I do not intend to be sober.

Back here in the present, I think I’ve hit the eye of the storm. I’m tense, but it’s a low background hum. I think I’m working efficiently and methodically. I’m sleeping reasonably well.

Hatches are battened, the wheel house in order, what’s not vital has gone overboard. Maps are out, course plotted; though I know I'll just have to react to what's thrown at me.

Now let’s see how we come through this.

Friday, May 14, 2004

An unusual request

Rather alarmingly, there's been a spate of recent attacks by a knife-weilding cyclist at night out on Jesus Green.

Quite a few warnings have gone round about not walking across poorly lit parks at night, even, it would seem, in company.

It was nonetheless a bit of a surprise to get an e-mail (through a list) today from another international student, a rather muscularly ethical and community-spirited chap it would seem.
I was wondering if any one would be able to enligten me about what laws here say about knocking out/down the attacker (such as the man-on-little-bike) if (1) i see him attacking other people (2) when i am certain that he is the bad guy and he is going to attack me, but before he has actually attacked me (which would mean it won't YET be a self defence)

I thought about it, and then bit. After all, he's a great guy, very sincere and a keen cricketer. The consequences of him being injured in any altercation would be awful.

He's the only member of the college team who can bowl.

Or bat.

Indeed, he's generally our only hope in the grudge-match against Jesus (the college, not the son of good, prophet or nice chap in sandals depending on your views). Jesus notoriously beat the Hall in a graduate cricket game when they showed up drunk last year.

And continued drinking, throughout the game.

Our team was, rather awfully, sober, trying to the best of their ability and - in the event - soundly thrashed.

Anyway, this was my reply:
I'm not a UK lawyer, but from my undergraduate criminal law classes I suspect:

(1) if you see him actually attacking other people, you could step in "in defence of others" - hitting him would be no problem.

(2) if you are certain it's the bad guy (he's cycling towards you, acting threatening and waving a knife) punching him should be fine in self-defence.

The law is usually that you may use "reasonable" force in self-defence (or defence of others), and that's why no-one could give you 100% water-tight legal advice in advance.

If he comes at you with a knife, using your fists (lesser force) is reasonable.

If he is only standing there, yelling, making threats, but not actually doing anything - then attacking with fists (even if he has a knife) is not reasonable.

I have no idea whether the law would think striking back with a cricket bat against a knife-weilder was reasonable, but as this is England it could well be OK.

In the end police take a common-sense approach, and this cyclist is not very popular.

Again, this is only a rough outline to the law, not legal advice.

He's since told me: "thanks, that's helpful."

Glad my skills could be of use ...

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Ch-ch-changes ...

So, I should be studying for my WTO exam.

But last night was the annual dinner at college, with a "Great Gatsby" theme and both "serious" (colour) and "humorous" (costume, sepia) photos.

My three-pound costume consisted of a fake monocle on a ribbon - and shaving my head again. It took a truly evil grin to scrunch up my face muscles enough to keep the monocle in place.

Just call me "the mad baron". (No, do, the photos are here. Yes, I did spend my evening hugging people. That kind of night.)

Anyway, after drinking industrial-strength after-dinner cocktails in the common room until the wee-small hours and walking home with the Italian Sociologist (and near-neighbours the Californian Archaeologist and the Canadian Criminologist) at two this morning I have felt a Gatsby-esque lethargy about work.

The kind accompanied by a sense of fatigue and dehydration.

And euphamisms.

The result has been that rather than study, I've found a new template and tinkered it into what you see before you. It should fix any problems people were having reading the far right hand of the page in some browsers (I hope).

I like it, clap hands and comment if you do to.
Lines from a recent graduate hall dinner

Doug sits down to dine with three people studying international relations (Irish, Russian, and English). A discussion of the appropriate yardstick to judge a government's international action ensues.

Doug: “Don’t give any of this European proportionality, give me a good common law standard of reasonableness.”

Russian guest: “Is that a law joke, or are you flirting?”

Doug: “Can’t I be both?”

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

International law: the law of a half-built international society
(A nutty, utopian vision, complete with leaps of logic)

French Declaration of the Rights of Man: “A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.”

International law can seem like a mug’s game. It has great promise, but often seems short on real world effects and enforcement. The UN is easily criticised for having realised it has no chance of producing world peace and instead producing endless reports and a rather tedious document numbering system.

But these are cheap shots. One only has to look at the World Bank, IMF or World Trade Organisation to see that international legal structures can have real world effects. One only has to look at refugee law to see international law having a direct affect on individual lives.

Enforcement of every law in society isn’t needed before we say we live under the rule of law. Nor does the fact the law is broken prove it useless or non-existent (that murder still occurs does not invalidate criminal law). A functioning society relies mostly on people having internalised the rules and following them voluntarily or out of a sense of obligation.

States comply with WTO rulings voluntarily for the much the same reason most corporations comply immediately with court orders. States can no more be sent to jail than companies and both could fight off “enforcement” action for some time (economic sanctions or winding-up and deregistration), but both realise they are better off in the long-term with stable rules-based system, even if sometimes it means accepting results against their short-term interests. (This is “regime theory”: the idea that the benefit of a rules-based system in itself can encourage cooperative behaviour out of pure self-interest.)

The problem complicating international law is simple. Law and society are inextricably interlinked. Once people organise into a society, there will be a “legal” dimension to their social system – however unsophisticated or customary.

You cannot have a society without it beginning to generate law, and you cannot have law without a society. International law, the law of the international community, is the law of a society that refuses to see itself as a community.

It is a society that admits its interdependence, but refuses to admit it has any social contract, that in fact sees “social contract” as an oxymoron. It will accept social but unenforceable aspirations (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) or contractual relations (WTO trade regimes) but remains wedded to the supposedly total freedom of “state sovereignty”.

It’s a society that refuses to see itself (despite the UN Charter) as having a constitution or separation of powers (the International Court of Justice having basically held that it cannot review decisions of the Security Council to establish whether or not they are legal.)

Here’s a simple, old idea. A true society aims at the good of all its members (Aristotle). If all states really were equal in resources, state sovereignty might be an efficient way of aiming at the common good: states are manageable units that might sensibly look after their local people. Letting such equals contract among each other might bring about a civilised and balanced world.

However, to treat as equal that which is not is a form of injustice. As states are not equal, state sovereignty (as a theory upon which to base a society), therefore, promotes injustice.

The only just form of international society would have to start from the premise of a universal society of mankind, and assume that the underlying principles of international law were its unwritten constitution. (To some extent Kant's cosmopolitanism might back this, but you really need to look to early international lawyers like Suarez and Wolff.)

On such a view, states would be holding delegated power from universal society to govern individual countries on trust for all mankind.

If people actually believed this, it would be an interesting world.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Using humour to make your point

This has to be one of the funniest cases I've read for legal equality in a while ...

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Heading for hell in a nice multinational handbasket? (Inspiring teachers 2)

Why do big players in international relations get to act like bullies in the playground? Why are important international institutions criticised as remote and imposing developed nation economic and governmental structures on the developing world?

Allott argues with breathtaking clarity that international law has adopted some of the ideology of nineteenth century liberalism, without any of its “constitutional principles”. That is, international law believes in:
a domestic sphere free from legal regulation (state sovereignty); and

a laissez-faire approach to the public sphere (international free trade).

However, this has been achieved without any implementation of substantive representative democracy or accountable and transparent government.

Executive governments run international agencies basically free from the constraints of domestic politics, legislation and judicial review. (Governments can sign treaties and vote on policy in the World Bank without media scrutiny, enabling legislation or administrative law challenge.)

International law thus risks becoming a fairly un- or anti-democratic preserve, the domain of unelected bureaucrats, where virtually unaccountable government appointees can re-make world law which they can then “helplessly” take back to national parliaments and say, “Well, we have to pass this into domestic law, the WTO/World Bank/IMF/International Telecommunications Union technical standards committee has told us to and we’ll lose the benefits of membership if we don’t.”

It risks being an unaccountable squeeze by the powerful over the powerless, without any democratic controls.

Allott puts it this way (in “State Responsibility and the unmaking of international law” 29 Harvard ILJ (1988) 1):
“International law is trapped in the pre-Revolutionary world of the eighteenth century, the world made by Vattel, the world before the American and French Revolutions, before Rousseau and Marx. The international law of the old regime is preventing the emergence of the new international society. As governments further extend their Faustian ambitions into international society and international society becomes the main arena for the human struggle to survive and progress, the highest professional duty now rests on international lawyers to exert eternal vigilance on behalf of the people, because lawyers have power over the law, the only thing which can have power over the government. The task of the contemporary international lawyer is to redeem governments in the name of justice, which is a sort of love, and in the name of humanity, whose interests transcend the interests of states and governments.”

Whether you think his point is overblown or not … oh, sod it, it’s plain inspiring. Just point me to the barricades and pass me a tricolore.

Friday, May 7, 2004

In further weirdness

One of my Greek flatmates is storing three cartons, of twelve 250g pouches, of rolling tobacco – in our refrigerator …

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Procrastination and insomnia

It has set it in. The Fear. I am not studying harder, but sleeping less.

So what better time to not study, and not even make an effort to finish Naylor, but to start new ramblings.

The "Insomulin" (a neologism stolen from Dean Motter) series is now up to three parts.

But the latest one is too long and embarassing to post here, so I've moved the whole set of surreal/baroque little stories (all set in the same world, incidentally) over here, where I hope they'll be happy.

If you like sci-fi or fantasy sort of stuff, you may like these. I may make something more of them once the crime novel is done.

And once the exams are over. Oh, the exams.
Hurm, had not quite counted on that ...

When beginning to lay plans to stay on the UK until Christmas to "wait and see" what might happen with the PhD application, I should perhaps have checked my return air ticket terms and conditions.

The kinda sorta plan was that I'd start a job in London in August and then fly home at Christmas regardless of whether I was going to be working in London or studying Cambridge as of October this year.

Except my return journey expires in September.

Yes, yes, dear reader. I knew this when I left: return tickets are only good for a year. I just mislaid that fact along the way.

So, unless I find something really worth staying for, looks like I'm home in September.

Home and unemployed.

Of course, if I get into the PhD and get funding, I'll have to be back here by October.

Confused yet? I am. And I'd better start applying seriously for jobs in Australia, too, by the look of things ...

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Teachers who change your world

It was the last ever History and Theory seminar today. The last class Prof. Allott will ever teach before retiring. I don’t think any of the seven of us wanted it to end.

I cannot overstate the impact of this course on my thinking about my professional discipline, public international law. There was no grand final revelation today, thought the entire course is really an explanation of his view of the world, leading up to a final point where (agree with it or not) you’re in a position to get his point.

His aim is to equip you to argue for or against (broadly) all current interpretations of international law and pick your own (though he would obviously be happy if it were his). Extraordinarily ambitious.

When the dust settles, I might try to explain my reaction better. His view of international society and order (and the role of law within it) is commonly dismissed as Utopian, but … well, it demands that you think, engage and not just constrain yourself to the hideous view that international law is a useless Lilliputian effort to restrain the Gulliver of state power with a thousand legal threads (to steal a metaphor from Krauthammer whose view of international law is that negative).

Anyway, this small, dry-witted, modest, Cambridge don with his deliberate enunciation and watery blue-grey eyes has had us dizzy and spellbound since October. Even those convinced they’ll fail the exam rave about him down the pub.

It’s like waking up as a character in Donna Tartt’s “Secret History” – a small, possibly deluded, group of idealists overwhelmed by the intellectual charisma of an unashamed classicist.

But, y’know, without the murder and unhappy endings … so far at least.

Regardless of what happens, this course alone will have been worth the year. It is the one class here that I feel has been an actual education, not just a chance to extend existing knowledge and skills.

It is simply appalling that numbers in this subject at Cambridge have been dropping because it is “too hard”; and worse that this kind of intellectual challenge is slipping out of the education system in general in the face of “commercial reality”, “profit centres” and “relevance” and probably more so because students see it as a luxury than because Law Faculties are not prepared to support them.

That said, I just can’t imagine anyone else teaching this particular course. On the other hand, it’s been one of those experiences that restores your faith in the inestimable value (at any level) of being a teacher.

Life-changing teachers, anyone? I know I can’t be alone here …

Sunday, May 2, 2004

My rapidly diminishing stockpile of rationality

It is now fairly obviously May.

Which deprives me of the slender shield to my sanity of being able to claim my exams start next month. They now start this month. A much scarier prospect.

Indeed, after three years away from full-time study I’d kind of forgotten how one enters the twilight of one’s sanity in an exam period.

The colleges are hushed and closed to visitors. The libraries are full of pale, serious people and piles of undergraduates’ folders and notes. (My favourite so far, three cheerfully gift-wrapping covered binders marked “Culture Wars”). Punting is done elsewhere, in a sun that shines not on us, by tourists.

My moods are up and down, my body clock – with the slightest application of exam pressure – has magically shed its Cambridge conditioning (waking as late as 10.30) to return to my office slave settings (awake by 7.30, but possibly as early as 5.45).

People are going out less, but partying harder it seems when they do.

I am trying with various degrees of willpower and success to prune my social life, fun levels and intake from within the Beer vitamin group.

I oscillate between a confident sense that I am in a good position, and a certain dread that I’ve not really been working hard enough to get the results I need if I want to carry on into the PhD program.

I over-react to some things (finding utterly hysterical the “Sex and Cycling” article in the free local magazine “Cambridge Agenda”), and disregard others with cavalier bravado (the requirement that my committee minutes be a rational and unbiased record of proceedings).

I have sudden surges of energy and productivity, or lethargy and napping.

I am thus the model of a perfectly normal student whose exams start within three weeks and finish within four.

On the upside, today is a good mood day and while I appear to have lost the power of rational conversation with flatmates, I am churning out model essays on the theory of customary international law and global society.

I am also realising that perhaps one of the greatest privileges of my education has been taking Professor Phillip Allott’s history and theory course, which I think has changed me as a lawyer.

I also had a friendly neighbourhood physicist ask if I’d like to share a house with him and some other grads next year, if should I get to stay on.

And as far as non-Cambridge options go, a recruitment agency finally called me back last week, so the plan B of working in London after graduating and some travel may yet come to pass.

Anyway, over soon one way or another, if I can just keep the pace and my sanity.

Strike that. If I can just keep the pace.