Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Such Fire

Jeffrey Toobin—lawyer, best-selling author, staff writer for The New Yorker—is releasing a new book today, The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court. The buzz on the book is that it provides the inside scoop as to how and why Chief Justice Roberts switched his vote regarding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), thereby saving the Act and, perhaps, both the Obama presidency and the High Court’s reputation in the process. The latter two intertwined possibilities are ironic, considering the strained and even “confrontational” relationship between the Court and the White House that Toobin describes. In this book, Toobin purports to expose Roberts as the radical and Obama as the conservative in terms of core legal principles, such as commitment to stare decisis; additionally, Toobin seeks to show how the ideological war suggested by the tense relationship between Roberts and Obama came to a head in the SCOTUS’s 2011-12 term, which was chock full of cases involving politically charged issues.  
What I find quite irritating about this book is that Toobin was able to draft it so quickly—seemingly in the time it takes me to prepare the week’s grocery list. Whether one agrees with Toobin’s thesis or not, you have to be impressed by his productivity. In this, he shares something with my hero Willie Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s productivity was remarkable. Even if you just consider the sonnets, his prodigious output is breathtaking. Shakespeare wrote at least 154 (that’s just counting the ones that ended up published). These beautifully crafted, complex love poems all adhere to a strict form:
·         14 lines of iambic pentameter (5 “feet” each made of a short-long syllabic stress pattern);

·         3 quatrains each with an “a-b-a-b” rhyme scheme; and

·         a final rhyming couplet.
Many writers would have been happy to crank out just one sonnet that rises to the level, say, of Sonnet 73, which captures the agony of falling in love with someone much younger, whose youthful verve quickens the pulse even as it reminds the person of a certain age just how ephemeral life is:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Most lawyers spend much of each day pounding out verbiage. The good ones recognize how much time it takes to draft something worthy of public consumption—even if the “public” consists of a single judge and a few law clerks. Those who can write effectively and quickly about challenging topics like Supreme Court Commerce Clause jurisprudence, doomed love, or mortality deserve our awe. Obviously, such people are highly evolved when it comes to time management. Perhaps, for instance, they just sit down at the keyboard and focus on the task at hand instead of reading tips on reducing procrastination, as I did in the middle of writing this post.

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