Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Migrating to another platform

Hi all,

I'm migrating over from Blogger to another platform.

When I first started writing regularly in 2013, I put my thoughts up on Facebook. Facebook has a huge reach, but there's no easy way to catalog posts. I started this Blogger account to have a repository for my Facebook posts.

But now, I'd like to up my blogging game. Blogger has been OK, but I'm not really happy with how the blog looks. I'm sure I could put in a lot of effort to make it look nicer, but I'd rather focus on writing. I'm going to give Ghost a try and see how things go.

You can find the new blog over at, although I won't be deleting this Blogger account. Maybe I'll come back in the future.

Edit from 2/16/2018: Ghost wasn't working out, so I went with Wordpress. You can find me at

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Getting to know my classmates

To my law school classmates,

Now that law school is over, I'm looking forward to getting to know you.

To be sure, I've gotten to know a bit about you. I've heard about your hometowns and your undergrad schools. I've heard about what you've done before law school. I've even heard about some of your hobbies, like the conversations I had with Samuel Jahangir about comic books or with Haley Barton about soccer.

But most of our conversations these past three years have been about school. How many pages did you write for your memo? What classes are you taking this quarter? How many finals do you have? Stress, stress, stress.

It makes sense. These were three challenging years. We got through a lot. And we helped each other through it.

Law school is what brought us together. And law school is what we talked about. But it'll be nice to talk about other things. And we'll all be doing such amazing things, there'll be plenty to talk about the next time that we meet. To hear about the interesting cases you're working on, or the research that you're doing, or all the people that you've met and the places that you've gone and the thoughts you've thought.

So I guess what I mean is that while I'll miss you, I'm looking forward to getting to know the real world you, not just the law school you.

We did it!

Congrats, Class of 2016!

Yesterday, the school had a get together for all the graduating students and their families. I was meeting Krista Perry's family and telling them about my future plans to help people get housing. Krista's sister Katie said "Wow, all the people that I've met here are so impressive and doing such amazing things."
Earlier that day, I had lunch with Barry Alberts, my legal ethics teacher. He graduated from the law school in 1971. Just this past April, he had his 45th law school reunion. He said that it was such a joy to see all the amazing things that his classmates have done in the practice of law, academia, politics, and other areas.
So congrats, class of 2016. You're an impressive bunch, who have done amazing things, and will go on to do amazing things. Kudos.
Oh, and, uh, speaking of legal ethics, please don't do anything unethical. Not that you need me to tell you, but still.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Cautionary Tale

Let me share what happened last night, so you will not make the same mistake I did.

I was washing the dishes last night. I have this neat Ninja blender that David and Meg Suell left for me. It has a set of removable blades, which are attached to a plastic shaft that attaches to the motor. I was also washing a plastic measuring cup. I put the blade in the cup and started washing the bowls.

When I returned to the blade in the cup, I discovered that the blades had lodged inside the cup. The more I tried to pull the blades out, the more they got embedded in the cup.

Eventually, I took a lighter and melted the outside of the plastic measuring cup, until I could break the cup and free the blades. I threw the measuring cup away.

So don't do what I just did.

Another note on the Stanford case: Compassion

Another note regarding the Stanford case:

Some of my friends have pointed out that part of the outcry against the lenient sentence is because of how the case fits into the greater justice system. As one friend put it, "For me it's not a problem that the judge exercised compassion for the perpetrator; the problem is that the same compassion is not extended to people who aren't talented white men."

For Brock Turner, his race and class status may not have caused his light sentence. I doubt that Judge Persky was intentionally weighing these factors in his mind. Maybe if Turner was black and poor, he would have received the same sentence. Who knows. But we cannot deny that a pattern emerges across the entire criminal justice system. The criminal justice system treats you better if you're guilty, white, and rich, than if you're innocent, poor, and black.

Judge Persky looked at the humanity of Brock Turner. He saw a young man who did not belong in prison. I hope and pray that we become a society that extends that same compassion to all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Regarding the Stanford rape case

Regarding the Stanford rape case: First, if you haven't read the victim's moving and powerful statement, please do so. We would all do well to reflect on her words. What happened to her is absolutely horrible, and I am inspired by her strength in composing this letter and reading it in court.

The case has received considerable attention not just because of the victim's statement, but also because of the light sentence given to Brock Turner, the perpetrator. He received six months in county jail and probation, along with registering as a lifetime sex offender. There has been a great outcry in response, and a petition to recall Judge Aaron Persky over the ruling.

But I would like to hear people's responses to this article from a public defender in the Santa Clara County Public Defender's Office. Sajid Khan defends the sentence of six months jail and probation as appropriate.

One consequence of the heavy media attention to this case is that more people are talking about sexual assault, which is important. But I am concerned that popular outrage to recall the judge may be misguided. It's noteworthy that both Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Santa Clara County public defenders Gary Goodman and Molly O'Neal both believe that Judge Persky should not be recalled.

Lastly, there is the question of whether popular control of judges in the form of recalls or judicial elections may actually have a negative effect on judicial independence. Judges may be less willing to exercise discretion, even if the circumstances warrant a more lenient sentence, because of concern of popular backlash.

In the end, it's unlikely that Judge Persky will be recalled, as the process for a recall is incredibly complex. But I hope that people will continue to engage with issues of sexual assault. Regardless of what happens in this case, we all need to take steps to stop sexual assault, both on our college campuses and in our communities.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My experience with counseling

A couple weeks ago, I went to see a counselor with the Student Counseling Service.

At the time, I was experiencing some distress. Some of that had to do with the physical pain I was feeling in my shoulders and wrists. But I also had some issues that I wanted to work through. I figured that since I was paying for the SCS through my Student Life Fee, I should make use of the service.

Now, some folks may be surprised that I was experiencing distress. They may say that I always seem positive and upbeat. And while that may be true, I certainly have my share of self-destructive thoughts. These thoughts tend to focus on my relationships with peers. For example, I used to believe that conversation with me was wasted time, since I have nothing of interest to offer; people would be better off doing anything else than talking to me. In fact, it was selfish for me to try to connect with others, as I was draining them of their precious time. The fact that this mindset meant that I would always feel lonely didn't matter, since my feelings didn't matter.

Fortunately, I don't believe this about myself anymore, and I know that it's just not true. But old habits die hard, and in the stress of law school, it's easy to slip into a pit of painful thoughts.

And while I have friends and community both here in Chicago and elsewhere, it's nice to have a neutral expert observer who will simply listen. That said, I know that I was hesitant to reach out to friends. I believed that my mental health was not worth other people's time. But that's wrong! In the future, when I feel distress, I want to be quicker to reach out to the people that I know care about me.

So how did the talk with the counselor go? He was very encouraging and thoughtful. He helped me think through certain issues to explore further. He also reminded me that law school is a stressful time, and that many law students use the counseling service.

Now, I feel much better. It helps that my physical pain is pretty much gone (I heartily recommend the physical therapists with Athletico).

So if you're feeling distressed and would like additional support besides friends and family, think about seeing a counselor. We all go through bumps and difficulties, and it's helpful to get some outside perspective.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Lessons from social work: self-care

Last fall, I took a class at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, our university's social work school. I was in a class of about 30 people. Besides myself and three Divinity School students, everyone else was a social work student.

The class was titled "Dying, Death and Loss." The class was taught by a former hospice social worker. We focused on how to help individuals who are going through the dying process. Although we talked about bereavement and caring for those in grief, our primary focus was on how to care for the dying individual.

When I told people that I was taking a class on death, many responded by saying "wow, that sounds depressing." But honestly, I didn't feel that way. Once we acknowledge that death will happen and that it is sad, we can learn how to care for people. Sometimes, when someone is going through hard times, they don't need the problem fixed or their emotions changed. They just need someone to sit with them for a while.

One thing I found noteworthy about the class was the focus on self-care. We had an entire session on how social workers need to take care of themselves. We talked about secondary trauma, in which a caregiver may experience emotional duress while listening to the trauma of someone else. We talked about how to avoid being burnt out. I wish lawyers talked about self-care more often.

On another note, when I told Amy, my instructor, that I was a law student, she said "Do you know Lior Strahilevitz?" Professor Strahilevitz is one of my favorite professors. It turns out that his wife, Joanna, was the medical director at the hospice where Amy used to work. I later brought this up with Professor Strahilevitz, and he said that having a wife who does hospice care has helped him feel more comfortable talking about death (my classmates in his 1L property class can attest to that). He also said "I tell people that my wife is a terrible doctor, because all her patients die."

Also, I'm pretty sure that my anonymous crush was in that class, although I have no idea who it could be.

Law school isn't normal life

Talking to Suky Longfield yesterday helped me remember something.

Law school Joel is not normal Joel.

Final exams are not normal life. Worrying about readings, outlines, practice exams: that's not normal life.

So the anxiety and loneliness and worries that I experienced in law school: that's not normal life. I'm not an anxious or lonely or worrisome person. But law school (and grad school in general) is an intense experience. I'm proud of what I've accomplished. And I'm glad that I'm done.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Summer smoke

Cigarette smoke in the summer heat
Evokes memories of:
Small neighborhood arcades, where machines eat up coin after coin,
Strikers 1945, Gunbird, Metal Slug.
Ha! Flamethrower! Take that, mummies!

Memories of:
Spicy fermented cabbage and buckwheat noodles,
Bean paste stew and broiled fish.
Soups, stews, and casseroles aren't just a Midwest thing,
Although there's less tater tots and more bean sprouts.

Banana milk and walnut ice cream,
Pepero and fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean paste,
Dried squid and shrimp crackers,
Seaweed and Chilsung Cider.

Conversations over seafood pancakes and rice liquor
With your aunts and uncles,
Telling you how your parents met
At a group hang out where your dad was supposed to meet your mom's friend
But he saw your mom and never looked back.

And then asking when you will meet a nice Korean girl.

Cigarette smoke in the summer heat
Evokes memories of a place that
Isn't quite home,
Isn't quite foreign,
But an elsewhere to which I belong, somehow.

Seriously, Korean men smoke a lot. It's a significant public health concern.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

It's Dangerous To Go Alone

I was riding the T (the subway in Boston) earlier today. I looked down the car and noticed someone playing a Nintendo 3DS. I couldn't tell what they were playing, or even what the player looked like. As the train came to a stop, the person closed the 3DS and stood up. The player was a middle aged man, wearing a simple t-shirt, cargo shorts, and sneakers. He was slightly balding and had a bit of a paunch. Nothing about his appearance was remarkable or noteworthy.

But then he reached down for his bag. It was a backpack. It was a gold backpack. It was a gold backpack made to look like the Legend of Zelda gold cartridge, an exceedingly rare item that sells for hundreds of dollars on eBay.

My respect for the man immediately increased. If I could talk to him, I would say:

"You know what, gamer dude? Do your thing. I'm sure there are people who would make fun of you for your interests. They would call you a nerd or a loser, just because you're passionate about video games. But don't be ashamed about the things that you enjoy."

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lessons from law school: feminine hygiene products

In the past three years in law school, I have learned a great deal from my classmates. I want to highlight one example in particular.

Last year, Law Students for Reproductive Justice conducted a donation drive for a homeless shelter. Student orgs hold donation drives all the time; the unique thing that LSRJ did was that it collected feminine hygiene products (tampons and pads). Homeless shelters get lots of donations for toothpaste, soap, and other toiletries. But feminine hygiene products go overlooked.

When I heard about the drive, I realized that I had never considered that homeless shelters would have a great need for feminine hygiene products. It's just something I had never thought of, because I never needed to think of it. But for homeless women, not having access to such products can be a desperate situation.

Another factor is the stigma associated with feminine hygiene products. To be honest, I felt a bit embarrassed about buying pads at CVS. I ended up giving the money to someone else to buy it (plus, I bike to school, and it would be a hassle to carry something else). But why the stigma? If I buy a box of tissues, then that's no big deal. Why should buying pads be a problem? Menstruation happens. It exists. People need hygiene products for menstruation, just like we need hygiene products for allergies.

Thank you to Kaitlin Beck and the other students with LSRJ who helped bring attention to this important issue.

Here's a question: Once I move to the Bay Area, I'm thinking of buying a box of spare feminine hygiene products, in case I have female friends over and they need one in a pinch. Any thoughts on what kind I should get? Recommendations on a brand?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Last week of class!

This past week was my last week of law school classes. While I study for finals next week, I have a few reflections:

1) I am honored to have spent three years with incredibly intelligent, hard-working, and compassionate classmates. Through classes, student organizations, and pro bono work, I have seen my classmates shine and grow. We had our graduating students' dinner this past Thursday, and several students received awards for pro bono work, involvement with the law school clinics, and contributions to the life of the school. Great work.

2) I've grown a lot as a person. I've discovered work that is meaningful and makes a difference in people's lives. I've learned to be confident, be brave, be strong. I'm grateful for the encouraging response that I have received for the words that I write. I'm also glad for the thoughtful critiques. Thank you for reading!

3) But I am glad to be done. Law school is hard. I left my family and a community of people that I really love. While it's exciting to be in a new city, I've missed the Valley, I've missed the Bay Area. Law school has been a lot of work. It's also been a lonely time in many ways. In fact, the experience of this heavy feeling of loneliness may be the greatest lesson from law school. It's something that I plan to explore further, and I will keep you all updated.

But emotional reflection will need to wait. First Fed Courts exam, then Admin Law exam, then a paper, then finishing my

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Question for educators regarding transgender students

I have a question for my educator friends about the federal government's letter on transgender students.

Background: On May 13, the Department of Justice and Department of Education issued a joint letter to schools receiving federal funding. Schools that receive federal funding are obligated to comply with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools. Any schools that violate Title IX can have their federal funding withdrawn.

The letter outlines the schools' Title IX obligations regarding transgender students. The DOJ and ED treat a student's gender identity as the student's sex. Thus, a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.

One controversial part of the letter is the guidance provided on sex-segregated activities and facilities. For example, a school may provide separate locker rooms or restrooms on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. So a transgender female student must be permitted to use the restrooms for females.

The letter has prompted strong criticism on multiple fronts. Some critics charge the government of executive overreach or social engineering. Others have expressed concern about privacy and safety for students, particularly females. The concern is that young men could enter a female restroom under the pretense of identifying as transgender and harass or assault women in the restroom. This is a valid concern that should be carefully considered.

My question is: How does an individual identify as transgender?

Page Two of the letter:

"The Departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity. Under Title IX, there is no medical diagnosis or treatment
requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity."

This text indicates that a student who wishes to assert a different gender identity that differs from previous records must take an active step to do so. But how does that work in practice? The letter indicates that no medical diagnosis is necessary, but what other procedures are in place? How long does the process of changing gender identity take?

I'm curious because I wonder how procedural precautions can limit the risks of harassment or assault. To put another way, if changing one's gender identity must be done ex ante (rather than presented as an ex post justification), how might that reduce risk?

People may have opinions about this letter, but I'm curious to hear from educators in the field.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pain is On the Mend

After several weeks of physical therapy and occupational therapy, the pain in my neck, shoulders, back, and wrists is improving! Although it's not 100% gone, I've definitely noticed a big difference. If you are in Hyde Park and need a physical therapist, I know a place.

As bad as the pain was, though, I'm sort of glad that it happened. The pain forced me to rest and take care of myself. Pain is my body telling me that something is wrong. I need to listen to my body.

And right now, my body is telling me to go to sleep. Good night!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Thanks for the Birthday Wishes!

Much thanks to everyone for their birthday wishes. Special thanks also to David Malison, Michelle Malison, Gail Faithful, and Dave and Tiffany Borycz for taking me out to lunch.

Also, I reached my fundraising goal for my ODW birthday campaign! Thank you to Milton Wu, Frances Fon Wu, Andrea Forth, Josh Tovar, Dale Kim, Minyoung Kim, Kiju Kim, Ken Wong, Jesse Chui, Andrew A Tai, Vinicius Ramos, Linnet DS, Eileen Prescott, Blair Mgbada, Teresa Schepis, and a couple anonymous donors. Thank you for helping me raise $1290 to Invest in Better Maternal Health!

If you still want to donate, the campaign will be available for the next week. The link is below.

Now, for my next trick, I will submit two papers, take two finals, graduate, and take the bar exam. Here we go!