Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reflections: A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law

Adam C. Zern opines on A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law:

"I heard about A Matter of Interpretation by looking over The Federalist Society’sConservative and Libertarian Pre-law Reading list.”  (In fact, I found what became one of my favorite books—A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell—on this reading list).  After reading The Federalist Papers I realized I had a tremendously lacking understanding of our judiciary and the nuances of our system.  Reading A Matter of Interpretation was an effort to try and fill in some of the gaps of my judicial knowledge.

A Matter of Interpretation is a collection of essays—one written by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 4 written by legal/historical scholars in response to Scalia’s essay, and one essay from Scalia responding to the scholar’s comments.  The collection overall is interesting, but it is definitely Justice Scalia’s comments that make the compilation worth reading.  His comments and arguments were perfectly lucid, very readable, and very enjoyable.  His legal and logical defense of ‘textualism’ as a viable mode of interpretation is interesting to read and his arguments are compelling.

As expected, the biggest problem with the essays—especially some of the professors—is that they expect a certain level—a significant level—of knowledge regarding case law and judicial theory.  Some of the arguments and finer points are lost (at least on me).  The essays are worth reading if you have, like I do, a desire to learn more about judicial theory and practice.  Otherwise, it will probably be a difficult chore to complete.”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reflections: Mistborn

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Brandon Sanderson's fantasy novel Mistborn:

“I heard good things about Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn from several friends so I decided to give it a try.  I had read Sanderson’s first novel—Elantris—and I enjoyed it for what it was.  Mistborn feels very much like Elantris in many ways, but it stands out sufficiently from Sanderson’s first novel. 

Having read two of Sanderson’s books thus far, I think he is very good at implementing complications into his stories.  When things go wrong, which they always must for a story to have conflict, those complications can feel very contrived and cliché.  Sanderson, however, writes in such a way that when those complications come I felt genuinely surprised and concerned.  Mistborn has a wonderfully unique magic system (but Sanderson doesn’t bury you in it).  The world, full of political and cultural elements, gives the story enough style and substance to support a few more books, which Sanderson has already written.

One of the weaknesses of Mistborn is the dialogue.  The dialogue feels a little trite and overused.  In addition, some of his characters are not sufficiently developed through their dialogue to really stand apart although it’s adequate.

I enjoyed Mistborn a lot, and I fully expect to read the other two books that are a part of Sanderson’s trilogy.  I’m always on the lookout for a good fantasy novel, and this one was definitely worth the time.”

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reflections: Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words

Adam C. Zern gives his thoughts on Larry Smith's compilation Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words:

"My first semester at Rollins I heard about Beyond Glory.  My professor mentioned the courage and initiative of some of the Medal of Honor recipients to prove an academic point.  I became minimally interested in the book and put it on my Amazon Wish List where it sat for almost two years.

I eventually ordered the book and I enjoyed the stories that were contained therein.  The book's greatest strength, however, is also its greatest weakness.  The book provides Medal of Honor recipient's stories from three major conflicts: World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam.  The accounts are quite literally transcribed interviews.  This gives the stories a sense of realism, but many of the nuances of storytelling and effective reporting of events are almost entirely omitted.  The narratives will wander to various tangents and the requisite ability to delineate complex military logistics and situations is missing.  This makes some of the stories difficult to follow and they lose some of their impact.  Do not expect to enjoy the war-time poetry prose that Tim O'Brien is able to compose or the masterful recreations exhibited by Mark Bowden.

Having said that, the stories are effective in getting across the main theme of the book--"in their own words."  The stories can be brutally honest and jarring.  War is absolute hell, and many of the stories told from first hand accounts make that abundantly clear.  Most of the Medal of Honor recipients describe their courageous actions and decisions as being made out of a sense of duty.  It had to be done.  Lives had to be saved, so they acted.  The simplicity of motivation is refreshing and quite inspiring.  Furthermore, many of the recipients are genuinely patriotic people in the best way possible, and they are proof that America is filled with heroes.  Some of them are just given the opportunity to be awarded for it; luckily, some of them have given their experiences in their own words in this book and there are valuable lessons to be learned from them."