September 30, 2005

Mediocrity Triumphant

It's end of September, and a thoroughly disgusting season for Dodger fans draws to a close. Congratulations to the San Diego Padres for clinching the National League West pennant, and breaking above the .500 record. They finish their regular season with a three-game series against my Los Angeles Dodgers, and enter that with a record of 80-79. If the Dodgers sweep, San Diego could be the first team to ever play in the postseason with a losing record.

Not much danger of that, though -- the Dodgers have managed exactly one sweep all season, a three-game series against the only team in the West with a worse record than Los Angeles -- the Colorado Rockies. They managed to pull this off on May 1 (152 days ago) and have had exactly one three-game winning streak since then. I know the Padres aren't exactly the 1927 New York Yankees, but these Dodgers couldn't sweep San Diego by Sunday if you surgically attached the broom to their arms.

The only real action in baseball is taking place in Boston this weekend, with an important undercard going on in Cleveland, with the potential for a three-way tie between Cleveland, Boston, and New York and two intercalary games between the regular and post seasons. The winner of the Yankees-Sox series will be the heavy favorite to win the World Series.

...Sorry about that last link, but I couldn't resist.

September 29, 2005

Shaking Hands With The Governor

No, the title of this post is not a euphemism. It describes a real event in my life.

Yesterday, I was dragged out of my office where I wanted to spend all day writing motions and taken to a judicial swearing-in ceremony. The Great Man is anxious to have me try a case with him next month in Anderson County, where the Oak Ridge laboratories and nuclear weapons facilities are located. A little further away from these famous places and within a mile of where our friends Pam and Andrew live, there was a fatal railroad-versus-automobile collision at an unregulated railroad crossing. The case involving that collision was re-assigned to this new judge, and The Great Man has been friends with the man for many years.

Anyway, Governor Bredesen was there. The County Mayor spoke and introduced the Governor, who said some nice things about the new judge. The old judge, who was retiring, helped the new judge into his robes, and then the new judge said a few nice words about the Governor to thank him for the appointment (and some rather un-nice words about the Governor's predecessor), and let everyone else go about their business, which consisted of a lot of meet-and-greet.

I milled about with the crowd around the Governor, and shook his hand. I can confirm that he has medium grip strength and good eye contact. I did not have anything of real substance to say to him, though, and so it felt like kind of a wasted opportunity. Yes, there are things that I would like to see different in the state but this was not a good forum to let them be known and besides, the purpose of going there was to be political for the benefit of the new judge, not to suck up to the Governor. It occurred to me later that I was wearing my new cuff links that day, a gift from The Wife, and that the cuff links are of gold elephants. While they aren't Republican elephants, Bredesen is a Democrat; I should have been wearing donkeys, had I wanted to appeal to him.

So I said more things of substance to the new judge, managing to get a little bit beyond "Congratulations, Your Honor." Still, I wish that I were a member of the Inn of Court here in the area (as I had been back in Los Angeles) since that would have let me invite him to the next Inn meeting. Alas, I suspect that the Inn here is quite socially exclusive and the last thing they want is a newcomer like me showing up.

There you have it, I met the Governor. Woo-hoo.

September 27, 2005

Professional Goals

So I have a job offer in California, which is somewhat open-ended. This means I have some time to think about what I want to do. Different people have been giving me different advice. The best advice I've got has come from several different sources, and worded in different ways, but it amounts to the same thing: what are my long-term goals?

In terms of my living environment, an objective assessment of Tennessee is that it's not awful. Comparing East Tennessee to the high desert city in California where the job offer is -- the same city that I was a teenager in -- I find that the various environmental factors related to geographic location are kind of a wash:

East Tennessee
+ Glorious spring
- Bitterly cold winter, oppressively hot summer
+ Low cost of living
- Low earnings potential
+ Starting to make some good friends here
- Provincial local attitudes by general populace
+ Low population density
- People drive as if frontal lobotomies were fashionable
+ Attractive and green local environment
- I'm allergic to everything in the attractive and green local environment which actually has pretty bad air pollution

California's High Desert
+ Ability to earn more money than here
- High cost of living, high taxes
+ Familiar with area, already know several people there
- Logistical nightmare moving there
+ Greater familiarity with California law and legal procedures
- What good is a Tennessee license in California, especially one I've used for less than a year? (The California license has some marketability here)
+ Fewer allergens in the environment
- Extreme temperature changes, high winds, dust, and air pollution
+ Proximity to activities I enjoy like diving, wine-tasting, and shopping at Trader Joe's
- Living in a very densely-populated area seems much less attractive now
+ People drive appreciably better, on average
- Auto insurance rates are probably triple what I'm paying now

In other words, there is no promised land of milk and honey. Yes, there's a lot to consider from a lifestyle perspective. But when I try and distance myself from my present dissatisfaction with the area and my aversion to "going home" back to the desert, I realize that I can probably create a lifestyle there for my family and myself that is, on balance, about equivalent to what I've achieved here in Tennessee. The Wife should be able to find work wherever we go -- whether that's here, the desert, Nashville, back in the Los Angeles municipal area, or some fifth alternative we haven't really contemplated yet. Nowhere is perfect, and I'm probably guilty of idolizing parts of California that I realistically won't be able to live in for some time.

That leaves me to consider what is going on with me professionally. There is only one certain thing: I need a professional change. But where that change takes place, and what my career looks like after that change, is a very open question. There's a few things that are definite: I want time to spend with The Wife and the critters. I want an intellectual challenge in my work. I want a job that uses my mad writing and research skillz. I want stability, calm, and a more structured, professionally supportive environment than I've had previously. Ideally, I would have some autonomy and a high degree of trust from the people I work with, and a management regime that represents an ideal blend of "A" and "B" personalities -- get the work done right and on time, while permitting the freedom and creativity necessary to achieve true excellence. I do not want heavy administrative burdens interfering with my law practice; I want someone else to be in charge. I like going home and leaving my professional concerns at the office door. Of course, financial compensation sufficient to support a reasonably comfortable lifestyle is part of the picture, too, but more and more I'm realizing that it's only a part of the picture.

Such places and jobs do exist; I think that the job in California would offer these things to a substantial degree. More and more, I'm thinking such places must exist here, and I just haven't found one yet. Some people I know here are making discreet inquiries on my behalf about possibilities elsewhere, and I definitely want to see what they come up with before deciding anything. But aside from putting together a list of things that I want and do not want, I haven't really got a clear picture of what that job looks like. Finding an ideal job is not something that is easy to do and certainly not something that can be done overnight.

So if it's going to be six of one, half a dozen of the other as far as geography is concerned, then other facts have to come in to play. As one friend told me, it's more important what you're running to than what you're running from. I should have a clear vision of what the place I run to will look like. Once I have that, it will be easier to know which way to run. But for now, I have to spend some more time thinking about this. Is that ideal professional situation in the academy rather than a law firm? Is it in a big corporation or is it in a courthouse or maybe a government office? Some form of media, maybe? A big question. Will it be in an area I have a lot of experience in, like business disputes or employment law? Or will I have to learn one or more substantial new areas? I'm not opposed to the latter idea, but I'm probably more marketable within existing areas of expertise. How much will I be concerned about the transaction costs of making the change? If the new position, whatever it is, doesn't work out for whatever reason, how will all the job-shifting and moving about the country look on my resume for the position after that?

I don't have all the answers to these questions yet, and until I do, I can't really make a decision about my offer in California. Is this what is meant by the term "mid-life crisis?" If so, I hope I'm having it early since I hate the idea that 35 years of age could be part of the "mid-life" segment of my overall life cycle. I was kind of hoping I was still young.

Looking Ahead On The Schedule

The Packers are off to a rather depressing start. 0-3 for the first time since 1978. Let's begin with our #1 receiver out for the season, and a statistcially mediocre defense incapable of executing its complex strategies. The offensive coordinator has been hospitalized and incapable of preparing for games. And the on field leader of the team has been contending with more personal trauma than any person should ever have to, for more than two years now. It's no wonder he's nearly leading the league in interceptions thrown.

Now let's take a look into the future, why don't we?

Next Monday, we play the Carolina Panthers. Granted, Carolina is 1-2 right now -- but they've been predicted by many to go to Super Bowl XL on the strength of their defense (although there are some other reasons being offered as well). So that doesn't look good -- that's an 0-4 start.

The next game is against the Saints. We have a shot at that, and hey, I'm a fan so I want to be optimistic and predict we can beat a distracted team of nomads justifiably more worried about their flooded homes than playing football. That would put us at 1-4 going in to our bye week.

After that, the schedule gets hard. At Minnesota -- a place we usually lose at anyway, and Minnesota is coming alive at last after a slow start of its own. Then, we're at red-hot Cincinnati. Pittsburgh -- tough all around, again, Super Bowl contenders. At Atlanta -- Michael Vick has historically torn the Packers to shreds and can be expected to do so again. Then the Vikings again. Then we're at Philadelphia, to guarantee that we won't have a winning season.

Finally, come December, we'll have a game we can potentially win, against da Bears. Let's assume we pull that off, and since for me, the jury's still out on Detroit we may head to Baltimore on our longest winning streak of the year. But, we'll be lucky to not be shut out against the Ravnes. We get another "easy" game against Chicago, and then we end our season with a theoretical grudge match against Mike Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks. I like Holmgren because he took the Packers to two Super Bowls, won one, and because he looks a little bit like my dad. More important, however, is how he's developed a promising quarterback and a stud running back into a reasonably potent offense.

This is looking like a 4-12 season, people. But going in to that last game, our chant may be "Draft Picks! Draft Picks!" rather than "Go, Pack Go!" And we fans may wind up having to look like the fellow on the right.

September 26, 2005

Still no plastic spoons at the office

...And no one cares.

Closing of open minds

Apparently, there is now a cottage industry of creationists leading tours through natural history museums, explaining why all of the preserved evidence of evolution on display there is simply false.

For those of you checking in on the flowchart to the right, the term "Clarke's Law" refers to Arthur C. Clarke's First Law, which of course is not a "law" at all but rather an observation. Particularly appropos is the Asimov Corollary.

An aside: you'll notice that there are two options for the output of whatever force you select as being responsible for the design of human beings. Only one choice allows for an "optimal" design. The presence of objects like the appendix within our anatomy suggests strongly that our bodies are not optimally designed. You'll also notice that there is only one choice that allows for "hallmarks of historical process," which is to say that there are parts of the body which were of use to evolutionary ancestors but not of use to the new species. Consider then for a moment that there are human beings born, even in this day and age, with vestigial tails.

But back to the article. What really bugs me is that, after reading the article, you can see that the kids on the tour are hungry for knowledge and genuinely curious about the world, with that sense of wonder and intellectual hunger that is so powerful and so important to mankind's search for knowledge. And that scientific curiosity is being fed with a bunch of creationist nonsense dressed up in the robes of righteousness, based on half-truths if not outright misunderstandings about what science is and is not, and what it can do and what it has not done yet.

How many of these tour guides think that the world would have been a better place if we had let God's will work its course across the earth, spreading pestilence and plague across the face of the planet? How many of them believe in the Bible's endorsement of geocentric cosmology? But I bet all of them like science just fine when it does things like eradicate smallpox and creates transglobal communication satellites.

People, you don't have to give up your faith in order to acknowledge science. If you believe in God, then surely you must also believe that God gave you reason and logic and intelligence, and the ability to sense and perceive the world around you -- and most importantly, that He intends for you to use these gifts. You don't have to blind yourself to the truth in order to achieve religious enlightenment. Or are you going to say that all this enlightenment is the fruit of the forbidden tree and selectively turn your back on those achievements of science you find distasteful? Some people find nuclear weapons distasteful and wish that the technology enabling them had never been created, but they nevertheless acknowledge their existence. The djinni are out of the bottle and pretending that something is not so will not change it. And you do your children a terrible disservice to teach them that they have a moral obligation to blind themselves to objective reality.

September 25, 2005

A pleasant buzz

Wine-tasting in Virginia is quite pleasant, even if not all the wines are. Virginia wineries are doing pretty well, all things considered, although they've got a long way to go before they catch up to Australia or Chile, much less to major areas like California, Africa, and France. The best wines we found were at AmRhein Cellars. I bought four bottles from there, and two from Villa Appalachia, a specialty winery making "Italian-inspired" wines. I bought none from the uninspired and uninteresting, but very large-scale, Chateau Morrisette.

Lunch at Chateau Morrissette was reasonably good, and the winery provided a very interesting lesson. The winery's mascot and logo is a black Labrador Retriever. When they changed their label to put a picture of the Lab on it and renamed the wine after the dog, sales doubled. When they changed another kind of wine to include the dog on the label, and in the name of the wine, and switched to a pretty blue bottle, sales multiplied by six. The wine inside the bottle didn't change at all -- at least to the degree that the average consumer could tell the difference. Witness the power of marketing.

Our B&B was really quite nice. The Wife spent a great deal of time talking with our hosts, who were exceptionally pleasant people and very generous with their hospitality. Breakfast was quite nice: a pepper mélange quiche, assorted melons, and Virginia pork sausage and farm-thick bacon. We also got some local apples from a local orchard and enjoyed the fantastically beautiful scenery. We ate at the local restaurant, around which the entire local electic mountain community seems to have ralied. All in all, we had a great time in Virginia and we look forward to returning.

And we may do so soon, with our new friends the Carcieris (that is, a renewed friendship for me and a new one for The Wife). They came over for dinner tonight and we again reached a pleasant buzz with good food, good conversation, and good wine. Maybe there is a lead for a new job there. Maybe there is a lead for a new job in California, too. So there are lots of possibilities, lots of things to think about, and lots of good wine to drink. All in all, a very good birthday weekend and a very good buzz going on.

September 23, 2005

Since when did a spontaneous overnight trip out of town require so much planning and preparation?

The Wife and I took yesterday and today off. Yesterday may have been one of the more stressfull days off I have taken in a long time.

See, the air conditioner is broken (again) and the HVAC repair guy was supposed to come between 8:00 and noon. We'd planned on running our errands after he had fixed the air conditioner. But, we got a call at about 10:00 saying that they had some scheduling problems and they'd have someone out after lunch.

So we got The Wife's hair cut and I got my allergy shots and we picked up a few things at Target and washed the car and had to get back by 1:00 because that was when we were told the guy would come. But later that day, The Wife had her paralegal class, and I had to go to my relative's home to take care of her dogs (she's still in the hospital, but at least she's talking and conscious most of the time now). And the opotometrist still didn't have my replacement contact lenses that I'd ordered two weeks ago.

In addition, today is my birthday. So we had planned on getting away for a short time -- both The Wife and I have been complaining of cabin fever. The last time The Wife and I were out of Knox or Blount Counties together was when we visited my parents in Connecticut. And as I mused Wednesday, it feels like my world is shrinking, so I want to get out and see something new and different to combat that.

So, it being my birthday and all, we agreed to do one of my favorite things -- wine-tasting. A look about the net reveals several wineries in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia and North Carolina. So I wanted to set up a wine trail and find us a nice B&B to stay in overnight while we were out and about. Having been to North Carolina this winter, we picked Virginia as a new place to be.

At least from a road map perspective, Virginia is at least as confusing as Tennessee for navigation. Neither Yahoo nor Google maps can identify anything on the Blue Ridge Parkway since there are no addresses on the Parkway -- only mile-markers. I tried calculating where the mile-markers would be on the AAA maps I found, but discovered halfway through the process that the map includes both the Shenandoah Skyline Trial as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway depicted as a continuous road, so all my calculations were about 120 miles off. And, to top it all off, the Hokies are playing Georgia Tech at home tomorrow, so every hotel room in and around Roanoke and Christiansburg -- the ideal places to stay for the wine trail I identified -- is booked solid.

And going away for the night means making arrangements for the doggies. The Wife's friend from work Sharon said she'd watch them and that meant driving the doggies over to Sharon's house, which is in a typically labyrinthe Knoxhell neighborhood. And both times I've been over to visit her, I've wound up fixing something on her computer.

It appears to be working out now, but for a long time nothing was falling in to place. I did eventually figure out where things are in western Virginia, I did eventually find us a B&B to stay in, and we got both the air conditioner and the dogs squared away. The optometrist found the lenses and I can pick them up on our way out of town today.

I also got my grades for my recently-concluded class posted this morning, and picked up a new class to start in a couple weeks. This will be a critical thinking class, the first one of its kind that I've taught. So that will be a new and different challenge, too.

But for the time being, I'm going to worry only about what music to listen to in the car and what wines we're going to sample today and tomorrow. It's my birthday, damnit, and I'll have fun if I want to.

September 21, 2005

Google Earth proves its use once again

I told you in July, my Loyal Readers, that Google Earth was da shiznit. Now, the Beeb reports that it has proven its scientific value. A computer programmer browsing near his home in north-central Italy found evidence of an ancient structure, alerted a local museum, and excavations proved that he had used the program to find the remains of a Roman villa.

If you have Google Earth, you can find the subject of the article at coordiantes lat=44.8817969025, lon=10.4218049862 (that's 44° 52' 54.5" North, 10° 25' 18.5" East), in a wheatfield halfway between Parma and Viadana, next to a road called Stradone Frassinara just outside of the village of Sorbolo. Some farmer has been working this land for years, without knowing what he owns. I wonder if he's pleased at the find of a cultural and archaelogical site on his property, or if he's annoyed that he won't be able to grow his crops there until excavation is complete.

The land has probably been used as a wheatfield continuously since at least the time of its former Roman master whose oval-shaped house once stood there -- Roman country villas were largely self-supporting, so the owner and his household would have had to have grown all of their own food (grain, grapes and other fruits, and of course olives) as well as a surplus of all these crops to sell in a nearby city or maybe even Rome itself.

An oval shape was sort of unusual for Roman residential construction, but I have to imagine that it was built that way because of the owner's preferences. That shape would make sense for a circus (for racing) or amphitheater (for plays and gladiatorial fights), but from the article the pottery that has been found appears to be consistent with household rather than entertainment use. The size of the foundation appears to be about four times as large as my house in The Estate At Louisville, with a structural footprint on the order of about a quarter of an acre. This would not be nearly big enough for a circus but would be about right for an above-ground amphitheater. But amphitheaters would only have been built in places that could support them, which is to say at least medium-sized cities, and this looks to have been geographically far away from a population that would support a community of actors and gladiators.

My thought was maybe it was a gladiator academy, but those were mostly located in Campania, not in what would have been one of the Gallic Provinces. Maybe the owner was a freed gladiator who invested his money wisely in land, and built his home to remind him of how he made his fortune. Or maybe he was just eccentric and, then as now, if an eccentric with money, can find an architect who will build a house in whatever shape is requested.

If you look in neighboring fields, you'll see the outlines of some other structures that were probably related to this villa, like stables and granaries. To the south, you can see what I suspect was the road to this villa from the nearby Via Aemelia, which was the major highway going along the southern edge of the Po River Valley. Today segments of the Roman road still exist, and the route is also still in use, under the much less imaginative name of A13 (the "A" stands for "autostrada" much the same way that the "I" in "I-95" stands for "interstate" here in the U.S.). The proximity to the ancient equivalent of a freeway suggests that surplus crops grown here could easily have been taken to larger cities like Rome as cash crops.

Very cool.

Cause for Hope

Last Friday, I had to appear in Federal court at a hearing on a motion for summary judgment. The motion involved some complex issues of civil procedure as well as some technical issues of scientific fact.

I loved it. I had fun arguing it and I had fun preparing for it. It was challenging to lock wits with other attorneys who I respect and who have powerful research and rhetorical skills. The judge asked everyone good questions, including me, and if I hadn't prepared, I'd have been eaten alive. Instead of sinking, I swam with sharks and emerged unscathed.

It helps my mood that today, I got the Court's ruling. My side got what I asked for, at least the most important part of it. The war isn't over, but this battle is won.

And, it's confirmation of my own abilities and aptitude for the profession. I like it and I'm good at it. If only there were more motions and hearings and complex issues and good intellectual subjects for me to think about and research and strategize over and immerse myself in learning, I'd really be enjoying this job. It seems that hearings of this nature are just a spice dish compared to the meat-and-potatoes work here. The resumes and cover letters I am sending out contain a statement that is very true: "I seek a new position which will challenge me intellectually."

Research, learning, writing, argument... that's what this is job should be all about. If only there were more of it.

Word verification

I have grown weary of all the blog-spam that I'm getting here. Many of you Loyal Readers prefer to leave comments anonymously, and I have no problem with that, but permitting anonymous comments appears to invite spam blasts.

So the good folks who host the blogger site have come up with a way to permit anonymous posts and deter spam -- but unfortunately it means that if you want to leave a comment (and I encourage and enjoy comments) you will need to go through a short extra step -- reading a little graphic file which will give you sort of an "instant password" before your comment will post.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks!

Just when I thought I couldn't be any more bitter...

...I learn that the State of Tennessee has hired 120 lawyers to do nothing. They're making pretty good money (by Tennessee standards) to do crossword puzzles and read magazines while they await a flood of TennCare appeals that does not appear to be manifesting itself.

You know, I had put in applications for work with the state and it took the state six months to get back to me to ask if I was still interested. And the state has a terrible employment website. But hey, I can "train" for appeals with the best of them. I can "look busy" while surfing the net (hell, I indulge in that sometimes right now).

September 20, 2005

Never underestimate the importance of a good editor

Is this one real? I bet it is. And I bet it's a source of significant embarrassment to the law firm in question (which is apparently real but whose website is probably being bombarded with hits).

Baseball and Mental Distance

I note with some regret that with last Saturday's loss to the hated Gigantes del San Francisco, my Dodgers cannot possibly finish the season with a better-than-.500 record. Yet it is still at least theoretically possible for my third-place team to pass the Padres for the division pennant. That's how bad the National League West is this year.

This got me thinking. It's been hard to follow baseball this year. I've been busy at this job all season long, and Knoxville isn't exactly a baseball town. There's a minor-league team in Sevierville, (their season ended two weeks ago) which isn't that far away, when you think about it, but I found myself unwilling to go even when I had the opportunity to do so.

In terms of geographic distance, the stadium that this ball club plays in is 42 miles from The Estate At Louisville, and Yahoo! says it will take about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there. Experience suggests that this time estimate is a little high; I've driven to that part of the world in about an hour from home. By way of comparison, Yahoo! says it is 22 miles from where The Wife and I used to live in Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium, and that the drive would take 45 minutes. Well, I know from experience that the drive will take longer than that -- anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half with the normal ebbs and flows of Los Angeles traffic.

So if I was willing to drive an hour to an hour and a half to go to a Dodger game, why am I not willing to drive an hour to an hour fifteen to see the local AA club play? The answer is either:

A) The geographic distance, 20 miles greater, is more important to me than the time commitment involved in making the drive; or

B) Sevierville has become more mentally distant to me than downtown Los Angeles had been when I lived in Redondo Beach.

I think it's the latter. It's irrational -- I'd be in the car no longer than I would be when I went to see my Boys in Blue. But somehow, the fact that I need to go such a larger distance, through two time-consuming, relatively rural segments of road, makes it seem to me like I'd have to drive halfway across Tennessee to see the ball game. Back in California, I'd willingly make the longer trek down to Anaheim to see the Angels play (33 miles, 90 minutes minimum with guaranteed heavy traffic at multiple points en route).

A big part of it is that the route out there goes through some rural territory. That seems to make me feel like I am driving a great distance, even if I am not.

I've commented before that counties seem to be of bizarre importance here. And that the roads in this state are all windy and poorly-labelled. For instance, to go more or less due east to see a ballgame, I would take Lamar Alexander Parkway northbound -- and the route would follow a big curve southeast before turning northeast to get where I wanted to go. Sevier County is two counties over since almost all the routes there from The Estate At Louisville -- which itself is just across the river from Loudon County, although we never think about the properties and houses that we can see across the river -- and that just seems like a whole different world away. Kind of like San Diego is to residents of Los Angeles, or San Jose to San Francisco.

So, it appears that after a little bit more than a year of residence here, I've begun buying in to local concepts of distance -- concepts which are unrelated to either geographical separation or transit time, which are the two units that I used in California. This is a demonstration of the concept of mental distance, an inexact and irrational misperception of reality that causes one to behave differently than one might without the inhibition of a subjective sense of separation.

Of course, there is very little press coverage of the AA team; all the local sports coverage during baseball season was about either prep school track and field, NASCAR, women's college basketball, or the upcoming UT football season. There's no room left over for baseball in the local mindset, so that means I have to follow my teams on the Net, which is not nearly as engaging. The lack of media coverage of baseball has also separated me, mentally, from following baseball closely -- something which I enjoyed doing very much back when I was in California.

Maybe I'm the Fire-Eater

I worked until midnight yesterday putting together The Great Man's charts. He's pleased as punch with them, even though I haven't the remotest clue whether my valuation of the cases is right because the information that went in to the electronic case tracking system (which is all I have to go on to value a case) is incomplete on its face.

So now I find that The Great Man, while pleased with my chart-making abilities, is in an absolute tizzy about Happy Bachelor Lawyer. I guess he would fire HBL if he could, but two years ago he unilaterally switched HBL to "independent contractor" status -- and it looks to me like like he did that in order to position his own assets in a way that was advantageous to him for a short-run strategic objective. So instead, he bad-mouths HBL to me and I think it's quite unprofessional of him to do that.

Funny thing is, The Great Man is most upset at HBL right now because HBL called the doctor who administers chelation therapy to The Great Man a "quack." (To the substantive point, I say, "if the shoe fits...") Now, at The Great Man's direction, we have used this guy as an expert in some cases and it's debatably unprofessional to make those sorts of statements about one of our own experts. But it's also within the realm of professionalism to have a disagreement, even with one's own colleague, about an expert's qualifications and abilities.

Meanwhile, we have clients threatening to sue us, for a wide variety of reasons; we have cases coming in the door that we should not be taking, for a wide variety of reasons; we have management directives to take only million-dollar-plus cases being handed to us on the the same day that we are told to follow up on developing soft-tissue-damage slip-and-fall cases. There is no strategy. There is no management. There is no leadership. The leader has already abdicated; he just doesn't want to admit that fact.

Theory: chaos tends to accrete, and not to disperse. It requires increasing amounts of effort to control over time, and the increasing effort put in to controlling it generates diminishing returns.

Application: this law firm is out of control. Attempts to bring it under control will be difficult, will require great effort, and may make things worse rather than better. Left alone, things will get worse and not better. So as time passes, the amount of effort needed to figure out what in the Sam Hell is going on around here will only increase.

Result: I can either put in that effort or I can leave. Putting in the effort seems like pissing into the wind right about now. So I need about one time zone's difference to separate me from all this.

September 19, 2005

Home work

Upon my bleary-eyed arrival in the office this morning, I was requested/instructed by the receptionist to run a file we are referring out due to a conflict of interest to an attorney in Maryville. Despite some conflict over my intentions to not return to the office (why does she care what I do with my time?), I took the file, met with the new attorney, and came home. I've been working here ever since.

It's so much more pleasant and quiet to work from my computer here in the basement at The Estate At Louisville. I can VPN in to the network at the office and finish The Great Man's chart, into which he seems to have placed nearly messianic hopes. Later, I'll continue my search for new work.

September 18, 2005

Is there a Matrix in your future?

Today's discussion with the Rationalists was quite interesting, if at times mentally intense. The questions was whether a robot can have a mind. I learned about crystalline protien structures embedded within neurons and the importance they play in the mechanical production of thoughts in the human brain. Amazing stuff. Somewhat assuringly (perhaps because I've been exposed to too many dysfunctional visions of the future involving artificial intelligence in science fiction), we were assured that true artificial intelligence is generations in the future.

Of most interest to me -- both from a "what will the future bring" perspective as well as a more humanistic concern -- was the Turing Test. Here's how the test works: imagine that you are at your computer, getting Instant Messages from two sources. You know that one set of IM's is coming from a human being, and the other set of IM's is coming from a computer responding to you autonomously (that is, without a programmer or user there; it is operating only on its own programming and algorithims). You have a certain amount of time -- five hours, say, to ask both "persons" whatever questions you want. If, at the end of that time, you cannot distinguish between the real human being and the computer, then that computer is so functionally similar to real intelligence that as a practical matter, there is no need to split hairs any further.

There are some significant logical problems with such a test, for purposes of identifying whether you are dealing with true artificial intelligence (amusingly, the test may be more effective at measuring the intelligence of the interrogator than either test subject). But I thought the test does reveal something else important from a philosophical perspective.

What questions would you ask if you were interrogating a computer in order to determine if it had achieved true intelligence? What kinds of subjects would you want to discuss? Theology? Ethics and morality? Phenomenology? The kinds of questions you ask will reflect what you think gets to the essence of what it is to be human.

Emmy Awards

The Emmy Awards are on (after the game's end), and there are shows on that I've never even heard of. Shatner is giving an acceptance speech for best dramatic supporting actor, using his Star Trek inflections -- my goodness, he really talks that way. And Donald Trump and that high-pitched actress from Will & Grace are singing the theme from Green Acres. Not a good night.

Second Loss

This afternoon, Green Bay lost its second game for a start of 0-2. They lost to the Cleveland Browns, quarterbacked by Trent "College Boy" Dilfer, who I have always called a stiff. Of course, I also predicted today that Jamal Lewis was set up for a monster day. (He rushed for 9 yards.)

This is surely not how Brett Favre wanted his last season to go. Life-threatening sickness in his family; legal issues in his family; his hometown and summer home gets wiped out in a hurricane; and to top it all off he's got no defense and a questionable offensive line and his top receiver knocked out for the season. I'm sure he was hoping he could end his career like that Elway guy, with a brand-new Super Bowl ring. That appears to be out of reach at this point.

So football isn't going so well.

September 17, 2005

First Loss

The University of Tennessee just lost to arch-rivals the University of Florida. So much for the quest for the national championship. Going undefeated is pretty much the only way to win that objective anymore -- and that means beating tough opponents along the way. Vol fans can still hope for an SEC championship but will need some help along the way.

Massive depression will strike the entire state of Tennessee and manifest itself all over the place by tomorrow. I'm glad, though, that I bought an orange tie to wear to my court hearing Friday morning.

Moroccan Lamb over Couscous

1 lb. lamb shoulder
1 white onion
4 stalks celery
1 clove garlic
2 cups couscous
2 tbsp. butter
White wine
Olive oil

Garlic powder
Black Pepper

Fillet lamb meat; cut into small morsels.

Sift flour with all spices, mixed to taste. Don't be shy with the paprika.

Cut onions, celery, and garlic clove. Sautee over medium-high heat with a dash of olive oil.

While vegetables are on the heat, dredge meat through flour. Braise floured meat with olive oil until medium rare. Transfer meat to vegetables. Reduce heat to medium, add white wine, and cover, stirring occasionally.

In saucepan, add 2 cups water, butter, and salt. When butter has completely melted and water is at constant boil, add couscous. Stir couscous until it absorbs all water (about 5 minutes). Fluff with small metal fork.

Serve meat-and-onion mix in separate bowl from couscous, along with green vegetable of your choice (I like grilled asaparagus).

Ideally, the meat will have a subtle but powerful and savory flavor, and the couscous should make your mouth feel happy.

September 15, 2005

Some interesting statistics about the office

Cases appearing on the case control docket: 125
Cases with statute dates within one year, not appearing on the case control docket: 7
Cases still appearing on the case control docket which are closed: >15 (estimated)
Cases bearing multiple names on different docket control sheets: 5
Cases in which attorney of record is in office but do not appear on any docket control sheet: 10 (estimated)
Cases in which responsible attorney is no longer associated with office (and no other attorney is listed): 6

Cases assigned to The Great Man which have not been assigned to any paralegal for support: 1
Cases assigned to Son Of The Great Man which have not been assigned to any paralegal for support: 0
Cases assigned to Southern Gentleman Laywer which have not been assigned to any paralegal for support: 0
Cases assigned to Happy Bachelor Laywer which have not been assigned to any paralegal for support: 0
Cases assigned to Transplanted Lawyer which have not been assigned to any paralegal for support: 21

Highest number of cases assigned to any one attorney: 92
Lowest number of cases assigned to any one attorney: 2
Number of cases not assigned to any attorney or paralegal: 10

Number of plastic spoons in office: 0

Amount of desire I have to remain associated with this place: 0

From today's confirmation hearing

SENATOR KENNEDY: Ah, Judge Roberts, do you know how to, ah, make shadow animals? I mean, with your hands?

JUDGE ROBERTS: Yes. Yes, Senator, as a matter of fact, I do. Here. [Demonstrates.]

Props to my man Eugene Volokh and (I presume) one of his students for the original core concept of the joke.

Is it real, or is it satire?

It's from The Onion so that's kind of a clue -- but it reminds me of a comment that our friends from California who also moved here made a while back. They mentioned that their experiences with churches here is that people aren't any more or less religious here in Tennessee than they were in California. What they are is more focused on punishment and pain for sinners.

So as it often does, The Onion hit precisely the right note.


Yesterday, I thought, "Nashville. Maybe that's the place to be. Bigger city, more jobs, more pay, more opportunities."

This morning, I thought about what winter would be like in Nashville (since it seems our air conditioner has lost freon -- again), and I didn't think it could possibly be better than here inKnoxville. Yes, winter's going to suck everywhere. But here we have mountains and the river. Nashville is on the plateau and the landscape is pretty flat. It must get windy there. And with more pay comes a higher cost of living; with the bigger city comes the problems of a more urban area, which The Wife and I would prefer to avoid.

But, jobs in more rural areas are very hard to come by. So I don't know what to do.

September 14, 2005

Mediation failed

Biggest case I'm working on, with the easiest liability. Stupid procedural issues get in the way of making people deal with facts. It's very frustrating.

September 13, 2005

Well that's nice to know

I spent all morning and the early afternoon preparing for the mediation tomorrow. I spent the late afternoon cleaning up other work that simply could not wait any longer. About 5:00, Happy Bachelor Lawyer wanders in my office and asks if I know anything about the summary judgment motion being heard Friday. "No," I say, "I didn't know there was such a thing."

For those of you who are uninitiated in the law, this is kind of like, "Hey, did you know you had to lift and carry five tons of boulders from your front yard to the White House? And did you know it had to be done twelve days ago?"

So I read all the papers and pleadings and come up with a good argument for why the thing should be put off or referred to another court. I write the whole damn argument in about ninety minutes, using my Mad Typing and Research Skillz. Happy Bachelor Lawyer sees me going at my top rate of about 110 words a minute, stopping only to copy citations from the critical cases and rules of civil procedure, and says it looks like I have a direct line from my brain to the computer. (Don't I wish.) And in less than a buck-forty-five, we've got something in place and filed electronically with the court.

So I have a beer or two after work with Happy Bachelor Lawyer and Bird Lady and Southern Gentleman Lawyer, while I'm waiting for The Wife to finish her paralegal class downtown. We trade stories and dissatisfactions with work. And as I'm walking back to my car to go pick up The Wife, who pulls up besides me but The Great Man? And I'm thinking, "Aren't you supposed to be flying to the Virgin Islands to meet with a client right about now, like your memo said? What on earth are you doing in Knoxville?" But I don't ask him that.

"Listen, TL, don't worry about my letter today. You're in until at least December." Whew. That's a load off! "Say, how do you think Southern Gentleman Lawyer is going to take my raising his rent?"


And there's still no plastic spoons

EYLC got his two weeks' notice on Friday. Today I found that Happy Bachelor Lawyer is being cut free immediately. Southern Gentleman Lawyer, a completely independent entity, is getting his rent raised. Son-of-the-Great-Man appears to be emerging unscathed, to the surprise of exactly no one. And everyone is reflexively protecting Bird Lady, even though no one can describe exactly what it is that she does. Bad Attitude Paralegal is of the same mind as me -- it's hopeless here.

The Great Man wrote me a memo today which I'm sure he thinks is cordial and pleasant. Unfortunately for him, it is not; it is condescending and unsettling. It also suggests that I need to make arrangements for myself in about a month. Now, no one believes that anything around here will change in any meaningful way. But I do not intend to wait around and see.

I need to get out and move on. Everyone worth their salt here feels the same way.

September 12, 2005

Hate to be Right

I sarcastically predicted that I'd have until Monday until I got cut off at the knees in my attempts to reform the way this office is run. Turns out I was right. How did this happen? I worked on a reply brief and prepared for a mediation rather than assemble data for a silly, useless chart.

This place sucks. I need a new job.

September 10, 2005

At last!

We got a new (to us) car today -- the Blue Bullet, or "B.B." for short.

It's a 2002 Saturn SL-2, four-door with some but not a ton of options. We were only looking for an adequate car, and this seems to fit the bill. It's a step up from the Hunk-O-Junk but we still have some more economic climbing before we can be back in the BMW club. Surprisingly, we had very little haggling to do over the price; the dealer came back with an offer within $500 of what said a private party sale should be, and our financing options were such that there was very little negotiating room on the price anyway.

It's a great relief to have a second car at last. The Wife and I work on opposite ends of town so every day I have to drop her off at her work before she starts, and I have to leave my work in time to pick her up when she is done for the day. Now, we can each drive ourselves home and to work. More gas and insurance, to be sure, but much less stress on both of us. Two working adults should have two cars.

I'll update later, when I have more time, with a picture of our new car. The Wife got a mascot for the car -- an orange plastic lizard she named "Frankie" who now lives on the dashboard.

September 8, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Your Flying Spaghetti Monsters!

Just finished the draft with my old law partner; conducted via cell phone and website with other players from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. So here's the team (starters highlighted):

Brett Favre -- GB
Eli Manning -- NYG
Jake Plummer -- DEN
Patrick Ramsey -- WAS

Position Players:
Anquan Boldin -- AZ
Chris Chambers -- MIA
Alge Crumpler -- ATL
Warrick Dunn -- ATL
Braylon Edwards -- CLE
Marvin Harrison -- IND
Steven Jackson -- STL
Ashley Lelie -- DEN
Greg Lewis -- PHI
Jamal Lewis -- BAL
Derrick Mason -- BAL
Travis Taylor -- MIN
Brian Westbrook -- PHI

Shayne Graham -- CIN
Lawrence Tynes -- KC

Team Defense:
Carolina Panthers

Our rivals shall be touched by His noodly appendage!

Big worries

The Great Man announced the day before yesterday that he intended to leave the office in about a month. No one knows exactly what that means, but he did make it clear that someone (that is, me) would have to start taking over the administration of the firm. I had my doubts that the firm was being administered in the first place, and it has been driving me absoutely nuts.

Of course, having these duties put on me leaves me in a very similar situation to the one I left behind in California. There, I had all of the management decisions on my lap, and three other cooks adding their own spices to the broth, which left me with little power to implement my decisions. The advantages of that situation were that 1) it was a firm I had built myself, for better or for worse, so I felt a personal stake in the outcome; 2) as a part owner, I had real power to implement my decisions and only had to seek consensus from my law partners to do so, which was not so onerous a burden most of the time; and 3) however bad our problems got, my partners and I were still going to be friends.

Here in Knoxville, I have none of these advantages. This isn't my firm and aside from my own responsibilities to my clients and my desire for a steady paycheck, I don't feel any ownership or personal stake in what happens to the firm. I have management responsibilities but no real power to implement my decisions other than persuasion. I am friendly but not friends with the Great Man, and our relationship is professional rather than personal. The same is more or less true for everyone there. And some of the results of the laissez-faire attitude about management are unprintable here.

So I get to stop being friends with everyone. That's bothersome to me, but if this firm is to have any chance of turning around from the direction it's been headed, someone needs to take charge. That means making some unpopular decisions because everyone doing just what they want to do is not working for me. The Great Man himself is going to be quite unhappy with what I have planned, because it will necessarily hit him where it hurts, at least in the short run. There's also already great resistance to my efforts to manage certain personnel who shall remain nameless (for now). I'm told to anticipate resistance to changing our filing protocols, much less actually making people do work all day long. I joked with The Wife that I'll have until Monday before The Great Man overrules my decisions.

If I get cut off at the knees, though, I'm laying down all of this responsibility. He's either going to let me do this right or he's not going to let me do it at all. And I'm not going to stop looking for alternative career venues, either. I didn't think management was fun in California; why should it be any better here? If I must get stuck doing this job wherever I go, damnit, I ought to do it somewhere that I'm happy. And I've been thinking that maybe that means going back to California.

The Divine Plan revealed

Everybody's favorite assassination advocate, Pat Robertson, has a few thoughts suggesting that maybe God had a reason for Hurricane Katrina after all -- and apparently, it's making sure the balance of power on the Supreme Court goes His way.

I'll state the obvious: Pat Robertson is a serious whack job. Hard to believe he actually seriously ran for President once. Does anyone take him seriously anymore, and if so, why?

September 6, 2005

Chicken shit

I'm sick of the amount of chicken shit going on.

This feels like a chicken shit office. No one seems to be doing any work. No one seems motivated to do anything. My own clients rebel against me. When I ask for help getting things done, there's always something more important that someone else is doing that takes priority. The result is I'm neck deep in paperwork, behind the 8-ball on all my cases, and no one but me gives a damn. What seems to matter to the Great Man is dealing with a chicken shit vendor dispute, offering a chicken shit service that we should have never subscribed to. Such new cases as I do get seem to be getting in are big piles of chicken shit on top of that.

There aren't even any plastic spoons since no one seemed to notice that the spoons were running out last week, with the result that I'm eating yogurt with a fork because that's the only utensil anywhere.

Of course, there is plenty more chicken shit going on, too. I'm frustrated with chicken-shit work from my students. They want to argue about their chicken shit opinions about chicken shit political issues which have nothing to do with what I'm trying to teach. They just want a degree to be handed to them, with no work, no learning, and no criticism. Anything less than a perfect score, every week, is somehow my fault.

And here's the smelliest pile of guano out there. It's been a week since Hurricane Katrina made landfall and there has been a chicken shit response to it -- at all levels of government, municipal, state, and federal. I heard an editorial on NPR today indicating that a response to a disaster is a complex, difficult thing and we should cut the relief effort workers some slack. I'm sure that's true, but there can be no justification for letting a million people live hip-deep in filth and anarchy when they are supposed to be citizens of the richest, most technologically advanced, country in the world, the country with the most infrastructure and the most resources at its disposal. If what happened in Louisiana had happened anywhere else in the world, we would call it a "failed state" and debate about whether the UN needs to come in and help restructure things.

And here's the thing about it. Once the water levels drop and you can see the streets again, we'll get a body count, be astonished, and mad for a while that the levees could have been built taller and stronger but weren't. And there will be some desultory finger-pointing about that. But then people will start rebuilding their city again -- still below sea level, still right underneath a lake -- and everyone is going to forget all about this and nothing will change. This picture to the right is from the Red River Flood of 1997 -- a whole city (Grand Forks) got taken out then, too. Have the levees and dams been rebuilt any better? Have the buildings and houses been relocated to a place that makes sense? Has anyone else, even in Grand Forks, done anything more than say, "I wonder whatever happened to all them sandbags?"

There's just way too much half-assed, chicken-shit, I-don't-give-a-damn attitude out there. And the thing is, it's contagious. The more I bang my head up against it, the more I stop caring myself.

September 4, 2005

Triumph of reason

I think one of the reasons why we get along so well with our friends Pam and Andrew, who are quite faithful, is that they do not proselytize to us but instead are willing to accept us for who we are and not pass judgment. Of course, they understand the difference between being a good person and being a church-going person; not everyone in Tennessee seems able to draw that distinction. I have already come across some people who discover my lack of faith in the divine and immediately distrust me -- one receptionist who worked at the firm said that she doubted she could work with someone who did not believe. (She found out, to her even greater discomfort, that believers were outnumbered by skeptics in the office, and that she was the only believer in the office who cared about the issue at all.)

But, while we have found good friends, we should have more than one other couple that we are friends one. So this morning, The Wife and I went to a lecture and roundtable discussion sponsored by the Rationalists of East Tennessee. This is a group of people who try to address the world on a rational, scientific basis and as a result attracts a lot of atheists, strong agnostics, and other religious skeptics. One guy had a T-shirt that read "You don't need God to be good." There were a lot of interesting and very friendly people there. In essence, this seems kind of like a group designed to provide some of the social and community benefits of a church for those who do not believe in a deity.

The speaker was Marty Carcieri, an old lecturer of mine from U.C. Santa Barbara. He is now a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, and he recognized me almost immediately. He and I had sparred a little bit back when I was an undergraduate and quite a bit more strident and doctrinaire in my political thinking; it was quite gratifying to see that apparently, I made enough of an impression that fifteen years later, he still remembered me. He and I agree on the subject of his lecture today -- Gonzalez v. Raich, the medical marijuana case from several months ago -- and I offered to help out on the article he is thinking about writing on the subject. I hope he takes me up on the offer.

I'm intrigued by the group. Pretty much everyone there was bright and intellectual; everyone was friendly and pleased to meet others who shared the same set of values. Being so surrounded by very public and ostentatious displays of religious faith, it's easy for a nonbeliever like me to feel a little bit oppressed and lonely in a place like Tennessee. Having some other people who feel more or less the same way I do is comforting and assuring.

Best of all, skepticism about the divine appears to be about the only thing that the members of the group agree on. There was plenty of vigorous and interesting discussion about the issue, and most of it was intelligent and well-informed. While the issues in the Gonzalez case are mainly legal and political, some of the group who have non-legal backgrounds (there were several scientists, for instance) were quick to grasp the concepts in question and work through them to various conclusions. Now, there are a few overly zealous and theoretical disciples of Ayn Rand and while there is certainly room for Randian thought in a political debate, "Randies" can get to be tiresomely doctrinaire themselves. But aside from that, the community of people appears to be blessedly free from any kind of orthodoxy and eager to accept new people.

Next week they have a book club meeting, and I'll probably meet The professor at that. We got to meet his wife, and she's in to NFL football, which was also funny -- she's a San Francisco fan but sadly predicted that the 49'ers would be the "19'ers" this year. So I hope we become social friends with them. If the discussion level at the book club is as good as it was at the roundtable, I think I'll join the group.

September 3, 2005

Washington is about to get really ugly

Chief Justice William Rehnquist just died.

Big fun at Neyland Stadium

Accompanied by 107,528 of my closest friends, I went to my first University of Tennessee football game today. I tailgated first with Happy Bachelor Lawyer and several of his friends; that was great fun. After that, I hooked up with Eager Young Law Clerk and his friends. EYLC didn't seem to be terribly amused by my description of how to find me -- "I'm the guy in the orange shirt" -- but everything worked out fine.

College football is Big Fun. This game was no exception. The emotional ride of the crowd, the enthusiasm of the students, and the impressive performance of the band (more on this below), however, did not overcome the fact that demonstrated that perhaps the pre-season hype has overrated the Volunteers. The UAB Blazers (their mascot is a dragon, not a sport utility vehicle) played UT very tough -- and their quarterback, Darrell Hackney, should be going places in the near future. He's smart, fast, and strong.

For a team ranked #3 nationally, The Volunteers looked flat on defense and had several miscues on offense -- including two critical receptions. Perhaps the Volunteers bought in to the hype surrounding them for the past several weeks. But it's clear at this point that they cannot rely on the "Neo-in-the-Matrix" strategy of winning games. If a smaller program like UAB -- admittedly, one which apparently deserves a lot more respect than it got before today's game -- can keep UT on the ropes like this, I wonder how well the Vols will stand up to real challenges in Gainesville and Red Stick. It may be time for UT to give up some delusions of grandeur and concentrate on some basics like tackling and running routes.

With that said, I must add that Neyland Stadium on game day is an amazing sight to behold. The stadium has a stated capacity of 102,544 fans. However, today there was an announced attendance of more than five thousand more than that. Each and every person in the stands was wearing orange and white. It was a sea of orange out there.

And the band was quite good, too. Our friend Pam is in the band, and they put on quite an impressive halftime show. The choreography that is involved with one of those shows is astonishing -- the variety of formations the band could move from was quite impressive, especially considering they were also playing classical music while they were moving. Most impressive was the final formation, the UT logo with the numbers "17" and "94" on either side of the logo indicating the year of the University's founding. When I speak with Pam next, I'll ask her where in that formation she was, because I couldn't really see anyone's face from the upper tier.

It feels like it's been a while since I had Big Fun like that, although I know that's not true. I have fun all the time, with The Wife and friends. But I guess it has been a while since I was at a big event, or at least a fun one.

September 2, 2005


Okay, I really can't think any more about how awful the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is. There's big things afoot at the office and I need to prepare myself to respond accordingly. There's big activity in several of my cases and I need to deal with them. I'm not getting enough sleep at night again and one of the reasons I've been willing to take a subordinate position at a firm here in Tennessee after having founded my own back in California was so that I could have less stress, not more. I'm still not happy with the prospect of spending the rest of my professional life doing medical malpractice and auto torts (*yawn*) and less happy about what appears to be the inevitable prospect of moving to an eat-what-you-kill compensation scheme. I no longer have the taste for that kind of personal financial risk.

So that means I'm going to give some thought to football. In the last preseason game of this season, my team played for a very flat, uninspiring victory against the Flaming Thumbtacks of Nashville. Granted, # 4 (all hail) is more than a little bit distracted by the fact that his permanent home, as well as those of much of his immediate family, have been severely damaged (Kiln, Mississippi is not far from Gulfport, and would have been badly hit Monday night). But the Thumbtacks' starting quarterback is from southern Mississippi too, and both men found a way to function in their respective series. (Serieses?)

No, the problem is that the receivers aren't in sync with the rest of the offense, the offensive line is once again questionable, and after two months of training and a month of pre-season games to get in shape, the head coach is still suggesting that the defense needs more training, practice, and development. Yikes. Defense wins championships -- just ask the Patriots, Ravens, and Buccaneers.

At some point this weekend I'll have to sit down and think pretty hard about what I'd like my fantasy team to look like. We'll be drafting on Thursday night, right before (and possibly during) the Oakland game.

But probably not on Saturday. Happy Bachelor Lawyer and I are planning on going to the UAB game Saturday. I've been to college football games several times before, and they are big fun. In many ways, more fun than the NFL games I've been to. The local heroes are nationally-ranked at #3, and what should be the two toughest games will be behind the team by October (and I ain't talkin' 'bout no dragons). So it ought to be an exciting season for college ball, too.

September 1, 2005

Vindicating Gavin Newsom

Perhaps this isn't as important as the aftermath of Katrina. Perhaps this isn't the most important issue facing our society today. Certainly, a lot of opponents of this idea get really upset about it and have a difficult time rationally defending their point of view. But damnit, it's just plain the right thing to do. Here's hoping the Assembly has as much in the cajones department as the Senate. Here's hoping that the embattled Governor won't exercise his veto.

Normalcy Guilt

I've been blogging on the fate of New Orleans for some time now, in part because it seems wrong to be concerned about anything else while so many people are suffering so badly, and in part because the extent of the disaster is fascinating and terrible to behold. But the fact of the matter is, I have had plenty of other things on my mind, too.

For two days, it's been non-stop action for me -- logging more than 200 miles on the car in a day driving around very inefficient routes to satisfy my various responsibilities; depositions and tracking down information for experts; grading and teaching classes; trying to find quality time to spend with my wife and my critters; getting paid and paying my bills; and tonight, enjoying clear skies to see the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, and later to look for the double star Albiero (at the west end of Cygnus). In short, I've been living my own life pretty normally all week.

In fact, the skirts of the hurricane that went through here was pretty much a big thunderstorm, nothing really remarkable. It blew some lawn chairs across the deck and knocked over my barbeque. Big deal. Katrina has not affected me directly and personally in any way. It has only indirectly affected me in that I'm now paying nearly a dollar more for a gallon of gas than I did a week ago, thanks to a largely unnecessary panic over petroleum supplies.

I feel a little bit guilty about this. It takes someone with less empathy and self-awareness than a wet Hefty bag to look at the television and see the surreal, horrifying images from New Orleans, and compare that to one's own normal, relatively comfortable life filled with everyday, normal cares, pleasures, and comforts. My personal needs for food, clothing, shelter, clean water, electricity, and cash flow are being met. At least a million Americans can no longer say that. I want to do something that will help them. But, I can't take time to travel to the Delta and donate my time and labor; indeed, with gas prices being gouged out of control, I need to stay and provide for my family's immediate financial needs more than ever. That, and I'm not too keen on getting shot by a looter. Besides, the only suggestions that I've heard being made for how to help are to give money to a charity like the Red Cross.

Now, recall that the Wife and I are trying to save money to buy a house of our own. Still, so many people have no homes or shelter of any kind -- and I don't know if we should give some of our money to help out those in much, much greater need than us. It would set our plans back a little bit, and if we take some money from our savings out for that, then we'll do it again for something else next week, and then do it again the week after that, and pretty soon, all the savings will be gone and our money won't have made a huge difference in the world anyway. So yes, we must be disciplined with our own money.

The essence of good moral behavior is to act as though one's own actions were being used as the model for rules of universal application. (Yes, I know that this is pretty much Kant's categorical imperative and I don't apologize for that at all.) Consider how ought others to act, and then act that way yourself. It seems to me that I want others to help out people in need because if I were in need, I would need the help myself. So I should help out those in need now.

So I've not made a financial donation to any of the many good causes trying to help (yet), because I'm not feeling very financially secure now when I take a long-view look at our situation, and I'm not yet willing to break the savings discipline that The Wife and I are hoping will make that long-term outlook brighter. I'm making good money now, but that can change at any time and I'm not feeling particularly secure about the employment situation at the firm. I wish things were more secure for us, because then I wouldn't even hesitate to make a financial contribution to try and provide some relief.

State of Nature

Hobbes would recognize what is happening in New Orleans right now. There is no government of any kind. There is no order. There is only chaos, suffering, and death. Snipers are killing people outside of hospitals, for no apparent reason, preventing the hospitals from being evacuated.

Not that there are any evacuations going on. FEMA has suspended rescue operations from the city due to the violence that has erupted there. Where is the military? The National Guard is out in force after every major event in California that potentially could lead to violence; whether it was a riot, an earthquake, a high-profile verdict, or a 50-Cent concert.

No one is taking away the dead; corpses are left to rot in the sweltering heat and humidity out in the remains of the waterlogged city, or gradually float down to the river, there to come ashore at random points and deposit the ghastly remains of victims of the hurricane. Cholera, typhoid, dysentery, malaria, and who knows what other kinds of third-world diseases are going to break out in an American city, because the survivors are all waist-deep in water becoming befouled by rotting corpses and raw sewage. The former city that is now Lake New Orleans resembles nothing so much as Bangladesh.

It is sickening and frightening to think that all of the glittering technology, profound social and political ideals, and accumulated wealth that makes us Americans feel smug and confident of our place as masters of the world can be so quickly wiped away -- and leave us, as we see in New Orleans, behaving like creatures out of the state of nature.