August 31, 2007

So You Want To Be A Judge, Huh?

I got this message in my e-mail today:

California Attorneys:

Creating a more diverse judiciary in the state of California is imperative. I am writing to invite you and your colleagues to participate in a dynamic workshop to guide interested attorneys through the judicial application process for Superior Court Appointment.

This event is specially designed for minority attorneys who are serious about applying for judgeship and are ready to begin the application process. As you may know, one of the biggest hurdles in the process is completing the written application. The highlight of this workshop is an application clinic, in which a panel of invited judges will guide participants through each topical section of their draft applications. The clinic will be followed by a Q&A for individual questions to be addressed by the panel.

The Judgeship Workshop will be held on:
Monday, September 17, 2007
Inglewood City Hall
One West Manchester Blvd.
Community Room, 1st Floor

Attendees are asked to bring their draft applications to the workshop; they may download the application at the following link:
http://gov.ca/appointments/judicial. Attached is the event flyer. Please share this information with your colleagues.

Should you have any questions or need additional information, please contact my District Director, [omitted]

Curren D. Price, Jr.
51st Assembly District

I don’t doubt Assemblyman Price’s good faith in his desire to see a more diverse bench. But as I’ve noted before, increasing diversity for diversity’s sake on the bench is at best a misprioritization and may well not be warranted at all even under the most favorable views of promoting racial and gender equality. I would very much like to get the advice of the people who are, apparently, knowledgeable about the process of becoming a judge. But given the content of this e-mail, I’m not at all sure that a white male like me would be welcome.

Dark Hints and Rumors

The plot thickens on the mysterious donations flowing into the Clinton campaign from the cryptic Norman Hsu. Rick Moran describes how Mr. Hsu's companies all seem to be phantoms and it is highly unclear where Mr. Hsu's money is being generated. There is a dark suggestion that he is on the payroll of the PRC, and as appealing as the idea seems to be for Republicans looking for evidence of not only corruption but downright treason, it's important to let the evidence do the talking before getting hysterical.

Oh, and Larry Craig is probably going to resign, which should bring a welcome end to that particular furor. The man's gay and in denial and a conservative hypocrite.

August 30, 2007

Gasoline On The Fire

Polk County, Iowa, is the county in which Des Moines, Iowa's largest city, sits. A judge in Polk County has ruled that a ban on same-sex marriages violates the state Constitution's equal protections clause. The ruling is sure to be appealed to Iowa's Supreme Court.

It's the same fight same-sex marriage advocates have seen in courts elsewhere. Difference is, it's in an early primary state in an election year. Immediately after Republicans have had to deal with another gay scandal within their ranks.

UPDATE (8/31/07): Predictably, the county clerk issued a few marriage licenses, and was then ordered to stop after the lower-court ruling was stayed. You can read the entire opinion of the trial court here (unless you're a civil procedure junkie, you should skip ahead to page 43).

The Circle Is Now Complete

I became a lawyer because of an experience I had as a teenager in traffic court, seeing how the truth could prevail in the adversarial system, despite a deck stacked against you.  Today, I sat as a pro tem judge in traffic court, returning the cycle back to where it all started.

 

Traffic citations are criminal charges, so I was handling criminal matters; the first party to each case was “The People,” which made me a little bit nervous.  The bailiff announced my name with the prefix “The Honorable” and everyone was calling me “Your Honor” and really meaning it, but as soon as I got going, I set the ceremonial stuff out of my mind and the whole process then felt quite natural.  By the time I’d gotten through the non-appearance bail forfeitures and people-not-ready-to-proceed dismissals, I’d lost all the butterflies in my stomach and was ready to take testimony and hear cases for real.  Sorting through the evidence was not hard, and the sentencing – the part I was worried about – actually became quite easy once I figured out how the fine system worked and how it was represented on the court’s paperwork.  The clerk was also a big help to me after the parties had all been excused, and I can feel confident that the whole thing went well.

 

My calendar was mostly speeding tickets on the freeway.  My sense of the ethics governing my conduct as a judge tell me that this is not an appropriate forum to go in to much more detail about my rulings or my reasoning for them.  Suffice to say that driving back to the office, I thought about the rulings I’d made, and I came to the conclusion that I’d sentenced the guilty defendants not only correctly but also justly, and dismissed the cases that deserved to be dismissed.  That made me feel good about what I was doing, and I found the overall experience quite enjoyable.  I’m looking forward to my next assignment, which looks like small claims.

August 29, 2007

Venn Diagrams Reveal Truth




Hat tip to Freakonomics.

Things That Just Don't Look Right

The blogosphere is atwitter over whether Senator Larry Craig should have got arrested. Some say he didn't do anything wrong. After all, what did Craig do? He 1) loitered outside a stall in a bathroom for a few minutes, 2) looked fidgety and may have looked through the cracks between the walls of the stall, 3) positioned his luggage such that it blocked the door to the stall being opened, 4) spread his legs wide while sitting on the toilet, 5) rubbed his shoe against the policeman's shoe, and 6) put his hand underneath the panel separating the two stalls. Weird, perhaps, but none of these acts are, by themselves, illegal. If he didn't do any particular thing which broke the law, why was he arrested at all?

A good point. But in response, would you want your young son to be in a same bathroom where some strange man was doing these things? If you break down the acts, they aren't illegal and people have a right to be weird if they want. When you put them all together and look at the whole thing, it just doesn't seem right -- it sure looks like an old-school cruise for gay sex. If Senator Craig had been actually engaged in a sex act with another man within the stall, wouldn't you agree that would be a lewd act in public? So why does it have to actually go that far before the crime can be stopped?

So to see a pattern of conduct for what it is, you sometimes need to step back and look at the whole thing.

But in the furor over Craig's hypocrisy and the salacious schadenfreude over his predicament, some people -- myself included until this morning -- have missed another political scandal brewing. It looks like the Wall Street Journal has identified a flagrant case of political corruption working to the benefit of Hillary Clinton.

A total of $43,000 has been donated to Senator Clinton's Presidential campaign by a family of six all listing a 1,300 square foot house in Daly City (in the flightpath of SFO) as their primary residence. The Journal's photograph of this house appears to the right. From this house, a total of $45,000 was given to Senator Clinton's Presidential campaign.

According to records filed with the FEC, the primary breadwinner of the actual household is William Paw, a postal worker whose scheduled salary is $49,000 a year. Mrs. Paw does not hold an income-earning job. The house was just refinanced for $270,000. The Paws' four adult children also list the house as their primary residence and they too have been very generous to Senator Clinton, all making the statutory maximum donation of $2,300 for the primary and $2,300 for the general election. One of the adult children is described as an "executive at a mutual fund," but the other three work as a flight attendant, account manager for a software company, and an "attendance liaison" for a public school. The Paw family apparently also owns a gift shop somewhere in the San Francisco area; details about how that shop is owned, and the appparently fantastic profits it generates, were not set forth in the Journal.

The San Mateo County registrar indicates that five of the six the Paws are registered to vote at the Daly City house. A canvass of the registrar's records indicate that they vote "sporadically" and their party affiliation is "nonpartisan." The FEC has no records of the Paws making any kind of contributions before the 2004 Presidential race. In 2004, they contributed a total of $3,600 to John Kerry's campaign. Since then, according to the Fish Wrapper, they've given a total of $213,000 to various Democratic candidates.

This same house was listed as the primary residence of one Norman Hsu, who is quite wealthy and who has a similar track record of great generosity towards Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's campaigns. From his posh New York City home, he has hosted several big-ticket fundraisers for Senator Clinton's Presidential campaign, too. One of the Paw children, who I assume is the mutual fund executive, describes being urged by Mr. Hsu to donate, and urging his family members to donate, as well.

Reimbursing an individual for a political donation is a criminal violation of campaign finance law, which carries felony-level Federal prison time. The Journal found no evidence at all that Mr. Hsu reimbursed the Paws for their donations, despite Hsu apparently incorporating the Paws within his fundraising machinery (the process is called "bundling" and is legal).

The Fish Wrapper reports that in 1991, Hsu pled nolo contendre to a charge of grand theft relating to a scheme to purportedly raise money to buy and resell latex gloves in which he apparently pocketed about a million dollars. After pleading nolo, he disappeared and no sentencing hearing has ever been held. (It appears that California law enforcement authorities haven't been looking particularly hard for the guy; he's hardly kept a low profile in the past fifteen years.) Technically, this would make Hsu a felon and a fugitive from justice, albeit not a violent one.

Mr. Hsu and his attorney were both quick to play the "race card" in response to searching questions by the Journal's reporters investigating this story. Money quote here: "...if Mr. Hsu's name was Smith or Jones, I don't believe it would be a story." (I beg to disagree.)

So not at all unlike the Larry Craig case, this is a situation where it is difficult to find any individual act which, taken on its own, appears to violate the law: 1) William Paw is well within his rights to donate money to Senator Clinton's campaign, and donated the legal amount and no more. Same thing for the other members of his family. 2) The Paws plausibly might favor Democrats as opposed to Republicans for national office, but prefer to remain nonpartisan voters. 3) There is no sign that Mr. Hsu or anyone else reimbursed them for their donations; Hsu (or rather, his attorney) denies doing so. 4) While none of the individual wage earners, or homemaker mom, seem to make enough money at their jobs to afford political donations like this, perhaps the gift shop or the home refinance generated enough profit to be the source of these funds and there are such people as misers. And, 5) Hsu is a business associate in some capacity with someone within the Paw family, and while he has some legal issues that remain to be sorted out, the business association appears to be on the up-and-up.

But if you put all of these individual facts together, it stinks to high heaven. The San Francisco area has a very high cost of living and it appears very unlikely that there is enough money coming in to this household to produce $45,000 in discretionary funds -- and if there were, that a family of this nature would use its discretionary funds for politics, so as to become bigger donors to Senator Clinton's campaign than the Maloofs (a family that built a Coors beer distributorship into an empire including the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, and the Sacramento Kings).

Is Senator Clinton ever going to drop by this tiny Daly City house in the flightpath of SFO to have tea? Will she grace the Paws with a personal visit to thank these loyal contributors for their generous donations and support for her candidacy? One suspects not -- they're not even registered Democrats. Indeed, one suspects that Senator Clinton would want to avoid being associated with the Little Green House as much as possible.

Taken as a whole, it really doesn't look right. And that's why it needs to be looked at more closely.

August 28, 2007

I'll Take My Fee In The Standard Manner, Thank You Very Much

A lawyer in Milwaukee received what seems to be a most unusual way of a client paying his fee -- a severed goat's head in a large gift bag left deposited on her office's doorstep. Personally, I prefer being paid in dollars, with a check, but who am I to tell another attorney how to run her practice?

Seriously, it should be remembered that attorneys deal with a lot of very emotional people in very difficult and stressful times in their lives. It's part of the job, and you've got to know that going in to the profession.

I'm no exception. I've had to deal with some people who I would rather not deal with, and sometimes in an unfriendly way. I've been threatened with violence, I've been reported to the Bar, I've been cursed at, I've been actually cursed (a man put a magic curse on the money he used to pay my fee once). None of it changed what I was doing on behalf of my clients or the outcome of the cases (although the ill-founded Bar report pissed me off mightily).

But I've never had a severed animal head used as a method of intimidation. Obviously, it was a crude threat and probably a waste of the animal. Maybe this lawyer was getting cursed, too -- perhaps a client, or a friend of a client, performs Santaria or voodoo or some other kind of ritual that requires a blood sacrifice.

American Sejanus

Of course we knew that this was the party line back in 1994, and it's no longer the party line today. Striking, though, to hear the argument phrased so succinctly, knowledgeably, and clearly, and striking to hear the argument offered from then-Secretary Cheney:



Now that we've gone and done what Cheney argued against doing in 1994 (at Cheney's urging eight years later), seeing our way out of the quagmire (Cheney's word, not mine) has become our least bad option. How did Cheney take such a dramatic reversal of opinion? Like Lucius Aelius Sejanus in the court of Tiberius, he decided that aggrandizement of his own power was more important than anything else, and a little bit of hypocrisy was a small price to pay for guiding the hands of ultimate authority.

Larry Craig on Gay Rights

Last night, I gave some thought to bigger political developments, inspired to consider the issue by Senator Larry Craig's guilty plea. This morning, though, I thought a little bit more about that incident on a somewhat more personal level.

Now, let's not forget that maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for Senator Craig's behavior in the men's room in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, one which does not involve him giving a "footie" to a vice cop in an apparent solicitation of gay sex. For instance, one guy suggests that Senator Craig may suffer from OCD and, Monk-like, was nervously fidgeting before relieving himself as a result of the cracks between panels of the bathroom stalls.
But I'm inclined to think not. The oft-misunderstood and misquoted logical principle of Occam's Razor, however, counsels against adding variables into an explanation for a phenomenon when all the data necessary to explain it is already there, such as the presence of a mental health issue like OCD. My training as a lawyer nearly compels me to frame the issue this way: Craig is observed to loiter around the entrance to a bathroom for several minutes. Then he enters a stall and blocks the door with his luggage. Then, he places his feet in a very wide stance so they protrude into the adjoining stalls. Then, he touches his foot to that of the man next to him, and slides it up and down a few times. Then, he protests when the man flashes a police badge at him. He is arrested but doesn't get a lawyer for two months, and then pleads guilty to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct in public. Which is the more probable explanation -- A) he was cruising for a sexual encounter, or B) he was suffering from an intense act of OCD?

It certainly makes political junkies want to revisit past rumors of Larry Craig's gay life.

Now, Craig might protest that he is a straight man with a wonderful family, (victimized, perhaps, by all these men who keep performing sex acts on him) but let's get real here. Having a wife doesn't mean he's not gay. Closeted gay men sometimes get married and have families and may even legitimately love their wives on a number of levels -- but it sure looks like we've got ourselves a Brokeback Senator, and while you and I might be willing to forgive him his personal foibles, it does make his future in politics look rather grim. You know, that whole dead girl/live boy thing.

What's saddening is to look at the man's legislative record and to see the consistently anti-gay rights stances he's taken. I can understand some of these positions on the basis of adhering to strict constitutional principles, and I can understand some others based on a vision of sound public policy. Some I have more difficulty understanding, like Craig's "no" vote on the bill to include homosexuality as a Title VII protected class for anti-discrimination law.

It's saddening because I have to wonder what was going on in his mind when he cast all those votes. Surely, at some level, he's known what he is for a long time, wife and religion notwithstanding. The votes either demonstrate a level of political cowardice -- something that it seems Craig can rise above, given his recent stances on immigration -- or a degree of hostility towards the idea that the law should treat gay people like it treats everyone else. Being a closeted gay himself, how must that have felt? How could he not die inside a little bit every time he voted against giving gay people the same rights as other kinds of people? What must that kind of self-loathing feel like? That's what made me sad.

That, and the fact that he seems to be a competent (if ideologically rigid) legislator, and his lifelong political ambitions will likely end because of this. Larry Craig's term in the Senate expires in 2009. It seems doubtful to me at this point that he would seek re-election or any further political office, lest this troublesome matter rear its ugly head with socially conservative voters in Idaho. But it must be sad to realize that you've made such a terrible mistake that you have to let go of your dreams.

Hopefully, things will work out well within his family.

UPDATE: Senator Craig insists that he's not gay and never has been. (Sure, and neither was Liberace.) The whole scandal is the Idaho Statesman's fault for persecuting him. Still that's not convincing to some Republicans, who want him to resign. A sample Idahoan's opinion, sent in to those witch-hunters at the Statesman: "I have been very happy with the manner in which he has voted and served in the U.S. Senate... However, given his recent conduct I have come to the conclusions that his public positions is important enough to call for him to resign." (Because, see, in America, your position on the critical issues of the day like war and peace, taxes, and judicial appointments just plain don't matter as much as what you do with your penis.)

Go To Toastmasters...

...Or you might wind up looking like Miss South Carolina here:

August 27, 2007

Holding the Coalition Hostage

Seeing the news about Senator Larry Craig's lewd conduct arrest and guilty plea* and an incisive analysis of the power of hypocrisy to disaffect voters away from the Republican party, I find myself glad of the fact that I have a reasonable and principled position to take in what I see as a necessary reinvention of the GOP. The struggle is being played out right now in the Presidential primary.

We can continue to be the party of social orthodoxy, as many would have us become. This way of thought is congruent with, but broader than, the constituency of the "religious right." We can profit from going part way down the road Ron Paul describes in his vision of a Constitutional libertarian utopia, but his vision is ultimately unrealistic and unachievable. The likeliest source of political strength for the GOP in the future is to renew the alliance between the Chamber of Commerce and the Security Hawks.

Now, as we know from the Clinton years, not even Democrats are opposed to a strong, vibrant economy, and Democrats who get elected President (other than ones named Carter) are not quite as shy about using military force to pursue American interests abroad as some Republicans would portray them as being.

But it's a question of priorities rather than willingness to use the military when our backs are against the wall. Security Hawks preach the gospel that the world is a dangerous place, filled with dangerous people who mean to do us harm. We are best served, they argue, if we take the fight to them and keep our homes and families safe. This requires military adventures, and some of our young men and women will die in these conflicts. But better that than another 9/11. The distilled essence of Security Hawkery is found in Rudy Giuliani's stump speech highlighting the "terrorists' war on us." Giuliani is doing his level best to get that alliance forged under his leadership, as appeals like this to tax-cutters on the economic-pornography channel CNBC demonstrate.

Almost all of the other Republican candidates, with the exception of libertarian idealist Ron Paul, are focusing their appeals to the socially orthodox, and in particular to the religiously socially orthodox. Mitt Romney is hoping to reach out to the moatdiggers and the religious, and would be doing better if he weren't a Mormon and therefore thoroughly distrusted by evangelical Christians.

I'm not suggesting that other Republican candidates are in favor of high taxes or pounding our swords into plowshares. But it's a question of priorities and appeals to different segments of the party (until about February 6, 2008) and the public (thereafter). And I think Rudy's got the right stuff to both pull together a winning coalition and put together viable governing policies. Certainly the polls so far suggest that whatever it is Hizzonner is doing is working.

The danger is that the social orthodoxy crowd, by virtue of its nature of wanting to get people to all think and act alike, will not be able to tolerate not being in the driver's seat of the national agenda anymore. One wonders if these types would not secretly (or not-so-secretly) be happier with another Clinton in the White House to rally against. If they don't get their way, if they don't feel that they have a seat at the table and that their agenda is being pursued, the noises they've been making suggest a danger of a schism. A schism, in turn, would virtually guarantee Democratic victories in general elections for the foreseeable future, and in that sense the social crowd can hold the GOP hostage to some degree.

Thus the question the Republicans must wrestle with during this primary -- can this coalition be held together? Are the social types bluffing with the implied threat of a schism? (For some of them, I have to wonder.) Will the moatdiggers and gun nuts rights enthusiasts be able to overcome their distrust of Hizzonner and stay with the team, or will they bolt with the churchy types and create a real schism?

I tend to think not. American political thought gravitates towards a bipolar view of things, and while many may be dissatisfied with the way the Republican party realigns itself, in terms of its policy platforms and its leadership, they will quickly find that going their own way is a quick route to obsolescence and that there is no room for them at the Democrats' inn. But this is not a new alignment of politics -- it is two factions that found common cause in the early 1980's hanging together for convenience and lack of an alternative.

That sort of governing coalition -- akin to the last scene in True Romance, when everybody is pointing guns at everyone else -- may seem like no way to run a railroad. But it's probably better than the foggily-conceived soak-the-suburban-rich tax hikes that the other party has in mind if they were to be given a free hand with all branches of government.


* Senator Craig was apparently soliciting a gay sex act in a public men's room in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. Tawdry, cheap, and unsophisticated -- I'm as shocked by this bit of crude and unappetizing solicitation, by someone with the means to have gotten higher-class sex if he had wanted it, as I was by George Michael's similarly low-rent sexploits. I mean, really. Aren't gay men supposed to have a little class? Heterosexuals seeking discreet encounters use call girls -- aren't there similar services for those seeking the pleasures of male companions?

Speaking of Lack of Critical Thought

There must be a word for the phenomenon of a word, phrase, or expression losing all meaning. Some people, for instance, use the “F” word so much that it loses all emotional impact, and is just sort of a meaningless filler of verbal space, like “uh” or “like.” Judging from this set of opinions in today’s Antelope Valley Press, discussing Michael Vick’s tawdry conviction for animal cruelty, it appears that the phrase “maximum sentence” is not understood to mean exactly what the words say it means – the greatest amount of prison time that the law authorizes a judge to impose upon a convicted criminal. Judging from the comments, it seems that there are a significant number of people who think the phrase “maximum sentence” really means “basic unit of punishment.” They seem to think that “minimum sentence” means “no punishment at all.” Take, for example, this opinion: “Of course Michael Vick should get the maximum sentence possible. He committed a crime and so he needs to be punished the same way anybody else who did that same crime would be punished.” The first sentence is a defensible opinion; the second is a truism – and one which contradicts the first sentence. The whole point of not having mandatory sentences is that not everybody is similarly-situated; some people should get the minimum time, some people the maximum time, and some people should get somewhere in between the minimum and the maximum. For Michael Vick, the difference between minimum and maximum sentences is six months, so it’s not like we’re talking about a huge amount of time here. (Yes, that’s right – because the Feds were after him for the gambling operation, not for the animal cruelty. The State of Georgia will handle the animal cruelty crimes.) A big part of the reason society hires judges is so that they can make those kinds of decisions, on a case-by-case basis. If you read the comments to the end, someone said that he pled guilty, so he should get the minimum sentence, so there are people who get it, too. And I also like the guy who found a way to attack the “liberal media” for its biased reporting of Vick’s criminal activities, but that’s what you get with the local paper here.

Call For Coup

Hysterical neolib calls for a military coup. As much as the author denies it, what he advocates would be a military overthrow of the civilian government. As bad an idea as you might think the Iraq war was, or still is, the idea that the military would hold a gun-enforced veto over the President’s ability to issue commands ought to give you very serious pause indeed. Some have suggested the author’s post is a form of sedition and a call for the overthrow of the government, which technically it is. I would hesitate to prosecute it, though, because it can fairly be read as a polemic screed against the government (“Even a military dictatorship would be better than what we’ve got right now”) and therefore would be fair political commentary. I’m becoming convinced that the chances that there will still be significant U.S. forces in Iraq by this time in 2009 are pretty slim, though – and it seems to me that would not be a case of the country selecting the least bad option. Least bad is not something that the American political process determines very well. The result of America having no attractive options is not reasoned debate and resigned action, it’s people saying things like what the linked commentator does.

Free Opus

The Washington Post Writers Group is not distributing two comics drawn by Berkeley Breathed, for fear of offending Muslims. I call B.S. on that. Read the comics for yourself here.

Islam is at least as vulnerable to being lampooned for its looney beliefs and mocked for the bizarre behavior it inspires in its followers as any other religion. Had Brathed drawn a cominc in which his character converted to evangelical Christianity rather than radical Islamism, it seems doubtful to me that the WaPo Writers would have self-censored the way they did here.

Come to think of it, had the character converted to evangelical Christianity, the setup of her characterizations of her own actions, and the punchline, would have been more or less the same. It just would have been a different group of people being offended by it.

Ding, Dong!

In about two hours, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is expected to announce his resignation.

It's about time.

I know very well that the job of the Attorney General is frequently controversial. The Attorney General is supposed to be a lightning rod for the Administration generally (at least, in the modern formulation of executive political administration) and because prosecutions are frequently the business end of enforcing political and legal policies, this frequently involves being unfriendly. I've never been upset with either Gonzales or his predecessor for presenting an unfriendly face to the world.

But I applaud the resignation because Gonzales -- shockingly, even moreso than his predecessor -- has assumed an attitude of deliberate disregard, if not overt hostility, to individual rights and civil liberties. Previous Attorneys General, both Republican and Democrat, have labored to find a way to balance civil liberties with effective law enforcement. They have been mindful of their oaths as attorneys, and their oaths as officers of the republic, to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution.

Moreover, Gonzales had, in part through criticism such as this and in part through attempting to stack the nonpolitical civil service with career officers who had demonstrated a history of being political conservatives, lost the respect of and credibility with the prosecutors he had been charged with leading. The fact of the matter is that he lost the ability to effectively administer the Department of Justice a long time ago.

Talk will begin to turn soon to the next Attorney General. CNN predicts that Michael Chertoff will get the nod, which is a safe bet considering the institutional timbre of his current position (Secretary of Homeland Security) and his apparently loyalty to the President. Chertoff was a Federal judge before taking the DHS job, so presumably he is knowledgeable enough for it -- hopefully his judicial temperament maintains and he focuses his efforts on protecting and defending all aspects of what it is to be an American -- not just our physical safety but the liberties that make us special.

Haters and Trolls

Over at Oval Office 2008, I've been getting a lot of comments trolling on my posting. I try to not let the trolling get to me, but I'm not made of steel and it's a little bit irritating to be trolled.
It's discouraging to get only feedback from haters.

Certainly, the trolls don't have any power over me. The very worst that can happen is that the administrator of Oval Office decides to pull my posting privileges and then I have to go back to posting about the election here, to a somewhat less broad audience. If the trolls don't like what I write and how I write it and the choices I make in my writing, they can seek what they prefer to read elsewhere.

There are two flavors of the trolling. First, there are the people who seem to want me to be some kind of a political journalist. I don't have the time, resources, ability, or inclination to do something like that. Real Clear Politics, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the newspaper sites, and even more partisan sites like Drudge, Townhall, Huffington, and DailyKos, all have the staff to do things like that. I'm not able to compete with those other sources and I'm not going to try. If you want to know how many babies Christopher Dodd kissed at the Monroe County fair this weekend in Iowa, there are places you can find that information easily.

So, I provide analysis instead. I do it, as I do here, when the whim strikes, when my professional obligations give me enough time to do it, when events seem to warrant it, and when I have something to say that seems like it might be of some interest. Sometimes I like to take a weekend off, sometimes I go on vacation, sometimes I just plain don't feel like posting or writing. No one's paying me to do it, so I don't feel obligated to have a professional attitude about writing there (or here).

These types are also critical of the Oval Office blog because they feel it is not updated frequently enough. This is particularly frustrating for me, because I try to post reasonably frequently there anyway. There are something like a dozen people with posting privileges there, and it seems like 80% - 90% of the content of that blog is being provided by me. I've called for other people to write more frequently and I've tried to encourage them to write more when they do. If twelve people wrote on that blog as frequently as I do, there would be lots of content and lots of thoughts and it would be a great place to go for things to think about politically. But none of the other bloggers there seem to share my vision, or have my energy for fulfilling it.

The other kind of trolls are fans of Barack Obama. I thought he seriously stepped on his dick about a month ago in a debate with Hillary Clinton with regards to foreign policy, and then he went "all in" on his mistake instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. His polling numbers have been declining, and hers rising, ever since, so there is some justification for my opinion. But he has people who, I think, are fans and advocates of his who don't like my calling this move a gaffe.

Now, I don't mind criticism of my writing or my observations. At least one Obama fan has taken a few moments to explain why he thinks my posts are wrong. I liked that very much -- that's the sort of thing that gets dialogue, discussion, and thought going. That's what I'm trying to inspire over there. Politics would be dull, dull, dull if everyone agreed with each other all the time. If I got a healthy dose of responses like this, I could put up with the trolls and the haters much more easily.

Many of the trolls, however, simply accuse me of "bias" and accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking about. I don't conceal my advocacy for one party and one candidate. But that doesn't make me biased any more than anyone else who may have a preference. The point of that blog, it seems to me, is to look at the race from a game theory perspective, and assess what's going on, and that's what I try to do.

I've felt the criticism enough that I've considered just stopping my efforts there altogether. And then I remember two things. First, you can't please everybody and no matter what you do, people on the internet will whine and complain the loudest about things they get for free. I'm not being treated any differently by these immature types who seem to think they are owed something than the designers of free downloadable video games or people who offer their fantasy football picks. Second, I remember my experiences as a teacher -- critical thought and structured arguments are rare and people have not been challenged to provide them very much.

So when you combine the attitude of entitlement, inability to frame critical thought, and the lack of diplomatic filters that the Internet provides, and "I think you are wrong about Obama's foreign policy platform, it will work to his advantage in the long run" turns into "You hate Obama and I hate you and besides that, you don't post frequently enough so I hate you even more!" That doesn't mean that the troll is to be forgiven for a rude remark, but it does provide a context in which to understand what is being said.

And with that in mind, I can recall the reason why I agreed to write for that blog in the first place, which is the reason I write here, too -- it's a pleasure to have an audience for one's thoughts. How large that audience is, I really don't know. A lot of people lurk (read but never post comments themselves), and some people only share their thoughts with me by e-mail rather than in the comments section of a post (which is their choice). I know there's somewhere between thirty to fifty people scattered around the country who read this blog at least once a week. I've no clue about Oval Office's readership. But someone's reading it, and I get trolled there a lot more than I get trolled here, so I infer that I've got an audience there, too. Still, like I said before, it's discouraging to get only feedback from haters.

August 24, 2007

Bullet Proof Baby

I don't have kids, but I can sure understand parents who are concerned about their childrens' safety. Who wouldn't do whatever they could to keep their children safe? So now, for the ultimate in child protection -- it's Bullet Proof Baby!



(Yes, that is Monica Bellucci in the video.)

The Least Bad Option

It's interesting to see that a Democrat who opposed the war and has been critical of the government's conduct in the war all along has come to agree with the Administration that the best available option is to stick it out and keep our military in Iraq until a reasonable level of civil stability and governmental strength has been established there. In the world of litigation, this kind of thing is sometimes called the "least bad option."

A Poem About My Day

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

If you have to drive to Stinking Bakersfield (because some idiot isn't complying with the terms of an extremely generous settlement that you granted him seven goddamn weeks ago just to end a case that was already a money-loser so it could end and you could focus your efforts on more productive activities instead, but now the date for the Order to Show Cause has come and the Kern County Superior Courts won't let you make a courtcall appearance because the Rules of Court don't specify Orders to Show Cause as the sort of hearing for which telephone appearances must be allowed),


Well, it sucks to be you.


UPDATE: On re-reading, I like the rhyme scheme and the emotional impact, but I think my meter could use a little polishing.

August 23, 2007

Best Iron Chef Ever

The Wife and I have seen several episodes of Iron Chef: America recently. Big fun. The Wife came up with what must be the most inspired, and cruel, secret ingredient for Iron Chef ever.

Doubting Teresa

No, I'm not going to tell you that Mother Teresa was an atheist. I'm going to tell you that she was a humanist.

The headline on FARK overstates the article substantially -- Mother Teresa was not an atheist, as suggested, but she did have fifty years of very significant doubts about God's existence. A quote from her diary: "I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist." This does not sound like the kind of certain faith that many evangelicals (of all three monotheistic religions) profess to have.

I'm well aware that people of faith go through periods of doubt in their lives. But such admissions by the faithful usually end with descriptions of either significant life events or some sort of epiphany in which the crisis of faith is resolved and the doubter becomes faithful again. It appears that the reverse happened with Mother Teresa -- she had an ecstatic religious vision that motivated her to dedicate her life to a noble and selfless cause, and then her faith steadily declined for the rest of her life afterwards.

This is not, to me, a sad story at all and nothing in it diminishes my admiration for her. She never once wavered from her commitment to help and aid the poorest of Calcutta's poor, to relieving the misery and griding poverty that surrounded her. She never once stopped working, harder than most of us and longer than most of us, to make the world a better place. Nothing about this revelation about her diminishes the power of her charity, her love, and her generosity to others.

The only sad thing about it is that she seemed to be obliged to to continue wearing the cloak of religion in order to make it happen. After she became a worldwide celebrity, all the while feeling increasing doubts about the theology supporting her vocation, she must have felt like a gigantic hypocrite. But by then, she would have been trapped within the habit, unable to take it off for fear that if she did, the money and support she was getting from all over the world would dry up and the people who counted on her for sustenance, support, medicine, and shelter would be left with nothing. So that's sad, that she had to be something of a hypocrite in order to keep doing something good.

It's also sad if the funds and money and support really would have dried up had she admitted her own religious doubts. Whether she did what she did in Jesus' name, for Allah, Buddha, Shiva, Quezacoatl, Amen-Ra, or no deity at all, it would have still been a good thing to have done. In fact, if she wound up continuing to do it just because it was a good thing to do, that makes it all the more a noble thing to have done, in my mind.

Justice Disintegrates

The ongoing collapse of the U.S. Justice Department's upper echelons continued today, with the resignation of the head of the Civil Rights Division. Unlike many of the other resignations, this Assistant Attorney General (political appointee) had nothing to do with either the questionable testimony that Attorney General Gonzales has given to Congress or efforts by Gonzales to advance a political agenda overtly hostile to individual rights. As it stands, the Justice Department has vacancies in its #2 and #3 positions, and the heads of several of its subject matter divisions are either gone or on their way out.

Smoking Statistical Soup

I have no idea what this chart means. It was offered, in another forum, to prove that poor people smoke more than rich people do (and therefore that a tax on cigarettes is regressive). But as far as I can tell, it doesn't say that. It seems to correlates rates of quitting smoking with states that have lower levels of income inequality. In other words, if there is a large gap between rich and poor in your state, you are less likely to quit smoking.

I think. There's so much statistical gobbledygook, and so much technical language, that it's entirely possible that "greater levels of income inequality" might mean "greater levels of poverty," and information about the number of people who quit smoking does not really illuminate the issue of how many people smoke in the first place, and if so, how much they smoke.

Empirically, the claim that the richer a person is, the less likely that person is to smoke seems about right. I read a book once written from the point of view of a sneering middle-class twenty-year-old that "Poor people love all the things that keep them poor, like children and cigarettes." It seemed uncharitable at the time, but it's certaintly true that a smoking habit is an expensive one and it is getting more so as tobacco taxes rise.

But an empirical observation is one thing, a statistical analysis is another. And this bit of evidence is absolutely impenetrable to me. I guess statisticians don't have to take "clear writing" classes -- but they should.

August 22, 2007

Sissy Socks

A friend told a story tonight at dinner about the local personal injury attorney, who adopts a folksy manner in court. Up against a mid-level insurance defense firm associate at trial, he showed up in court wearing boots and sitting at counsel table picking his teeth with a toothpick. While waiting for the jury to file in, he looked over at the defense attorney, a man about the age I am now, wearing a good suit and French silk socks with fancy elastic ribbings. "Hey, Greg," the P.I. guy said (it doesn't matter if the attorney's name was really Greg or not) "I'll pay you a hundred dollars if you take off those sissy socks right now and let me buy you a pair of boots like mine." "Greg" was very upset, and mentioned it to the judge, who of course did not care.

Greg got creamed.

An amusing story. It reminded me of a time back when I was an insurance defense lawyer, when I was "Greg." I didn't have a real good idea of what I was really doing, and while I was certainly learning some good tricks to play with paperwork and motion practice, in nearly three years of work at the insurance defense firm, I never once actually tried a case. The insurance companies always caved right before trial.

So then, I'm out on my own, a partner in what was then a three-attorney firm. I'm flying up to Sacramento every few weeks to take depositions as part of a case with a significant liability profile and a serious damage claim against my client. My defense theory had to ultimately come down to the plaintiff's injuries being caused by an injury he sustained before my client had hurt him, to mitigate the losses, and to prove up the damage case, I'm tooling around all over the place to depose every doctor and therapist the plaintiff had seen for the past five years.

One of those doctors had set up shop outside of Reno, Nevada, so that's where the depositions took place. The plaintiff's attorney was a real low-key guy, and he and I got along well. After the deposition, he was looking at a three-hour drive back to his home outside of Sacto and I was looking at a dull hotel room before my flight back the next day. He laconically offered to buy me a steak dinner.

That's when I had a "sissy socks" moment -- and I was fortunate that my adversary was letting me know that in a somewhat kinder, gentler way than poor "Greg" had been informed that "you are not prepared to fight this fight and I'm going to roll right over you." I understood, in a flash, that my client was buying that steak dinner, and the attorney was just advancing the money, and there was nothing I could do about it. Like "Greg," I had the option of stammering and protesting and panicking.

Instead, I accepted my adversary's invitation to dinner and we talked about skiing and restaurants and told each other war stories. He and I became kind of friends that evening, and I started to learn from him.

I learned to honestly assess my own abilities and that of my adversary.

I learned that the best people to teach you how to exceed your present abilities are your competitors.

I learned that the margin between confidence and cockiness is defined by competence and preparation.

I learned that a professional, friendly attitude gets better results than acting like a pissed-off fire-breathing dragon all the time.

I learned that humility generally produces more learning than disregard.

I learned that the best lawyers stack the deck in their favor before they ever file a document in court.

I learned that if I had picked a good strategy, working that strategy would eventually lead to good results, even in the face of a strong case on the other side.

I learned that the strength of the other side's case ought not to generate despair but rather should be taken as a learning opportunity.

I learned, after I got some really good testimony out of a witness who everyone had expected was going to be very much in the plaintiff's favor, that even the strongest case can be attacked in one way or another, and that even the best lawyers can get their cages rattled.

And most of all, the trial of this case taught me that for a jury, it's just plain not about the lawyers, it's about the clients and the facts. The best way for a lawyer to be in front of a jury is direct and plain-spoken.

If I'd been "Greg," I wouldn't have taken the attorney up on his offer of a free pair of boots. But I also wouldn't have let the remark rattle my cage. Because after this verdict, I now know that sort of thing wouldn't actually matter all that much anyway; what matters is that I confidently present the truth.

I think that this case turned out better for me than "Greg's" case did for him because I took a step back and learned, rather than panicking and losing my nerve. By being humble around an older, more experienced, and generally better lawyer, I got to be a better and more experienced lawyer myself.

It's kind of like playing a racquet sport, like tennis. If you're "C" player, you want to play someone who can bring a "B" game. It challenges you, makes you grow and try different things and improve your existing abilities. After a while, your "C" turns in to a "B," and you need to find a player who can bring an "A" game.

Up in Sacramento, I was up against a guy who brought an "A" game, and because of it, I got to be a better lawyer myself. And I didn't have to give up any of my good socks to learn how.

Football Scores

So I'm checking the baseball scores when I see that Texas beat Baltimore, 30-3. 30-3? That's not right. Yahoo Sports screwed up.

But it is right. I'd expect that sort of score in a football game. It is the most amount of runs scored by a team in one game for over a century. (The record was set on June 29, 1897, when the Chicago Colts beat the Louisville Colonels, 36-7.)

And here's to you, fantasy owners of Mike Young -- who went 2-for-5 on the winning side of this astonishing, once-in-a-lifetime hitfest... and got zero RBI's. As for those of you who were unfortunate enough to play sometime starter Brian Burress, well, he put up an impressive one-game ERA of one hundred and eight.

Are You Ready For Some Football?



Was the snap legal? I think so. It's an old-school trick play called the "bad ball snap".

Republicans Cry Sanctuary

As I've written on Oval Office 2008, immigration is turning into a wedge issue within the Republican primary. The issue is whether a city government should provide services to people regardless of their immigration status, up to and including instructing employees to not inquire about the immigration status of applicants for city services. These kinds of policies are being labelled by Mitt Romney as rendering the municipal governments "sanctuary cities" and encouraging illegal immigration -- it's an attack on Rudy Giuliani because New York City had such a policy when Hizzonner was Mayor of the Big Apple.

Such policies are, understandably, unpopular. They involve intentionally winking at illegal activity. They involve spending public money on people who, after all, shouldn't be here in the first place. Illegal immigrants are kind of pariahs anyway; many people seem to think that when you enter the country illegally, you forfeit any kind of rights and don't feel particularly sorry for those illegal immigrants who get beat up by police, exploited by coyotes and ruthless "employers," or victimized by the vagaries of life here -- because these people are, after all, criminals.

In the Fish Wrapper today, a typically left-of-center columnist defends such "sanctuary" policies. Is it really in our own best interest to not treat someone with tuberculosis? Should we discourage parents from sending their kids to school? Are we better off to turn a blind eye when violent or property crimes are committed against certain kinds of people? Or does allowing those programs to fester and metastasize through a condescending neglect wind up hurting citizens more in the long run than it helps conserve resources in the short run?

It takes individualization of rights and government services too far to say that illegal immigrants don't have a "right" to such public services. Perhaps that's true in a deliberately myopic view of such services. But that view ignores the fact that such services are provided as a public benefit as well as to help individuals. I benefit when someone who mugs an illegal immigrant is captured by the police -- it means that it's now less likely that the mugger will attack me in the future. I benefit when a public hospital dispenses antibiotics to an undocumented child suffering from a disease -- the pathogen doesn't care about whether the kid has a green card or not; it wants to move from the kid to me so I too can be infected. Kill the pathogen first and worry about the green card later.

Politically, the attack seems to have caught the Giuliani camp off guard. Their response has been to say "No, Rudy's tough on immigration; he wants an ocean-to-ocean wall separating us from Mexico!" and then to add "And ask Governor Romney about the illegal aliens who mowed his lawn back in Boston!"

The right thing to do would be to say, "It's cheaper to treat one illegal alien than ten citizens. And reversing 'sanctuary' policies won't discourage illegal immigration at all -- illegal immigrants don't come here looking for free social services, they come here looking for work." It's also simply untrue that Republicans are uniformly anti-immigration anyway. Many think that some kind of a modified amnesty program is probably a good idea; they recognize that we need the labor and we need the people.

Rudy's response to Romney's attack was to immediately jump to the right; that was a mistake when he did it with abortion and it's a mistake to do it with this issue. He needs to not flinch and instead find a clear, simple way to demonstrate why he was right all along. He's explained why sending police after graffiti and panhandling led to decreases in robberies, rapes, and murders in New York. He inelegantly found a way to do reconcile his pro-choice stance on abortion with the general distaste for abortions that underlies the Republicans' unease with a pro-choice candidate. There's no reason he can't do it on this issue, too.

Calling Romney a hypocrite is a nice move, though.

August 21, 2007

Troofers Take A Hit

Among the more ridiculous -- and inevitable -- events of the past several years has been the prevalence of "truthers." These are 9/11 conspiracy nuts, people who think that the U.S. government was responsible for 9/11.

The History Channel has prepared a two-hour special that gives the truthers plenty of rope, and then hangs them with it. It also includes a section describing how rumors and conspiracy theories grow over time, and the accelerating effect that the Internet has on such things. I'm pleased, like many others, to see some common sense applied to runaway lunacy.

Come On, People!

One in four Americans haven't read a book in the last year. The median book consumption in America is four per year -- one every three months.

Read more!

Who Do You Love?



They're right. Adopt a rescue pet.

August 20, 2007

Shaved Critters

While we were away, we had the animals in a kennel. The kennel was, aside from our airfare, the single most expensive thing we paid for on the entire trip. But it was worth it, since it enabled us to go in the first place.

As we were preparing to go to St. Helena, I got a call from the kennel, asking what kind of "exit grooming" we wanted. The Wife and I had discussed this previously, and we agreed that we wanted them shaved. That's right -- naked critters, devoid of all their fur. Or at least, as much fur as they could get off. It's been really hot so this will help the animals stay cool -- and it will slow down the slow drowning in animal fur that had been happening on the lower levels of the house.

We were very pleased with the results, although I wish that the dogs' whiskers had been left alone. The cats look scrawny and pathetic, like they'd just been rained on or (as The Wife says) like lambs just shorn of their wool for the first time. Except for the big bob of fur at the end of both of their tails. It's hard to say whether Ginger....


...or Jordan...



... is the most dramatically different of the two.

The dogs were presented to us in colorful bandannas, which they have been tolerating very well. We tried dressing them up in bandannas before, and they ripped them right off of each other. I had expected Sassafras to look more or less the same and Karma to come out looking a little different, but it was the other way around. Karma's spots are a little clearer...


...but Sassfras looks so much paler and whiter....


...and her tail is much skinnier, too. It's also waggier; the dogs have been very excited and excitable since coming home. I guess they missed us and didn't like the kennel very much. The cats are behaving more or less the same; we had been warned that they would be more shy and retiring without their fur but we really haven't noticed much of a difference, other than Ginger being a little bit more talkative and insistent on her share of play time. She is still more retiring and anxious to seek shelter from the dogs while Jordan takes matters into her own paws somewhat more aggressively:



So the critters are all right. We got them lots of treats and have given them plenty of loving upon our return home. But now it's back to the regular routine, which will likely suit them fine.

August 17, 2007

Home Again

All last week, I made something like 25 "microposts" from my cell phone. The content of those posts were rather limited, since the phone can send only out 135 characters at a time. I've left them as they are, unlabeled and untitled (Blogger uses the first few words of the post as a title if I don't fill in one) with little snippets of thought from the trip.

Mark Twain once wrote a long letter to a friend and apologized, explaining that "I didn't have time to write you a short letter," and I know how he felt. I was limited to 135 characters at a time to describe the astonishing beauty of the Rocky Mountains, my joy at my friends' beautiful wedding, the great pleasure of discovering the charming college town of Ft. Collins, the charm and coziness of my friends' beach house in southwestern San Francisco and the great pleasures to be had in America's most European city, trying to express gratitude for all the great people we've been able to be with the past week, the great foodie pleasures of the past several days, and most of all my great happiness at having The Wife with me for the entire trip.

I am reminded of the Emperor telling Mozart that there were "simply too many notes" in his opera, and suggesting that he "just cut a few." It takes as many characters, words, and sentences as it takes to adequately express a thought.

Being able to write as many words as I wish now feels like a luxury. (Oddly, it seems that short posts are just as unpopular as long ones. So, I'll continue writing posts to be exactly as long as I please. You get what you get for free.)

Since the internet was down at home for no apparent reason, and it took more than an hour to get it up and running again I'll have to catch up on other things later. I'll need to reset the air conditioning and make sure The Wife knows that the minor moments of irritation over the past week were not directed at her.

I've nothing but good things

I've nothing but good things to say about local airline service to San Francisco.

Bay area traffic sucks. At

Bay area traffic sucks. At least security was fast. Soon we'll be home with our shaved critters.

Stag's Leap had the best

Stag's Leap had the best wine of all. Prosciutto sandwiches from a local deli end our food adventure.

August 16, 2007

Dinner at CIA rocked. Pork

Dinner at CIA rocked. Pork loin with mint cumin and watermelon arugula salad. Wife had carpaccio and roasted baby hen.

We're going to have to

We're going to have to eat light when we get home. But for now, this is foodie heaven.

Now that Jose Padilla has

Now that Jose Padilla has been convicted of treason, apparently with ease (a phrase I use with caution after noting that the trial did last two months, but on the other hand the jury deliberated less than two days), I have to wonder why the government resisted bringing the case to trial for so long. If the evidence was there, there should have been no hesitation to do that.

Opus One: Superior wine, superlative

Opus One: Superior wine, superlative snobbery. Silver Oak: Excellent wine if a wee bit pricey.

Sweet potato fries with green

Sweet potato fries with green goddess dressing and a Fat Tire on tap makes for an awesome Napa Valley lunch!

August 15, 2007

Good friends make everything worthwhile.

Good friends make everything worthwhile. But a trip to a cool place is that much sweeter. We've found that out twice now.

Personally, I love the cool

Personally, I love the cool temperatures here. The Wife, however, finds it unpleasantly chilly. Such is marriage.

Tourist attractions attract tourists. Aside

Tourist attractions attract tourists. Aside from that, they are lots of fun. Pictures to follow.

For a true San Francisco

For a true San Francisco experience, take MUNI #30 from Bay to Market and transfer to the L line out to the zoo.

August 14, 2007

What's best about San Francisco?

What's best about San Francisco? Architecture? Culture? No, it's the food.

The Denver airport's terminal looks

The Denver airport's terminal looks like a series of giant termite mounds.

August 13, 2007

Ft. Collins is a great

Ft. Collins is a great college town. It reminds me of Santa Barbara and The Wife of Madison.

Free beer! The New Belgium

Free beer! The New Belgium Brewing Co. in Ft. Collins is a great stop on our trip.

Karl Rove will step down

Karl Rove will step down by September, and the war czar lets slip a gaffe about a draft. And things were starting to look up.

Our friends had a beautiful

Our friends had a beautiful wedding. The ceremony was strikingly rich in tradition

August 12, 2007

Apparently, Colorado has no helmet

Apparently, Colorado has no helmet law. I don't know what to think about that.

Since when was non dairy

Since when was non dairy coffee creamer flammable? That can't possibly be good.

The Rocky Mountains are spectacular.

The Rocky Mountains are spectacular. So is the sight of Denver's towers rising from the prarie next to the mountains.

August 11, 2007

Some songs that ought to

Some songs that ought to be covered by contemporary artists: Fever, La Isla Bonita, and Gimme Shelter.

Eerie Colorado

We slept in this morning but after getting breakfast and preparing for the day, The Wife and I found ourselves with several hours to pass before the first wedding event of the weekend we will attend. So we drove around trying to find a place for The Wife to get a manicure and pedicure, up and down Wadsworth Avenue in Lakewood.

We both agreed that there is something eerie about this little corner of the world. It's hard to describe precisely.

Part of it might be that we're a little underwhelmed with the hotel. It's adequate to our needs but not quite up to the standards we had been expecting from this brand of mid-range hotel. The business center doesn't work, so I'm sitting behind the front desk using the hotel clerk's computer to write this post, which is also odd. (The clerks are so young!)

Part of it seems to be the lack of zoning. There are what appear to be light-industrial, commercial, residential, and open-space uses of land, right next to each other, all over the place. Part of it seems to be the lack of socioeconomic clustering -- there are some very large, expensive houses in a gated community right next to what look like sleazy liquor stores and check cashing places. There's a Starbucks, but it looks run-down and the sign looks half-assed. Then there is what looks like a brand-new, upscale mall with a Whole Foods and a Dick's Sporting Goods, less than a quarter mile from a Planned Parenthood clinic.

The Wife suggested that our unease at the lack of enforced urban planning says more about us than it does about Denver. She's probably right.

Lots of chicken wing places. Don't get me wrong, I like chicken wings as much as the next guy but there seems to be a morbidly intense interest on the part of residents of suburban Jefferson County, Colorado in chicken wings.

It's hot and dry, which certainly feels familiar to a desert dweller, but there is also a lot of vegetation, which makes it look more like Tennessee. So there must be rain -- and the buildings all have pitched roofs, for the snow during the winter, of course. Some of it is seeing a pitched roof and other alpine-style construction during such a hot, desert-like day.

The Wife pointed out that except for a few Latinos working at the Denny's, we've only seen white people out and about. (The crowd at the airport seemed pretty diverse, but where did they all go?) The lack of racial diversity was not something I initially noticed but now that The Wife pointed it out, it's kind of creepy.

And there's lots of hippies. Real hippies -- girls in peasant dresses, guys with long hair and beards in tie-dyed T-shirts, smoking weed and hanging out in VW Vans. They all look to be in their mid- to late-twenties, but could be either older or maybe even younger than that. That's not surprising, really; Colorado has something of a reputation for that. The quantity of them is a little surprising.

So I can't quite figure out exactly what it is that is a little bit... off about the place. Maybe it's just the sudden transition from the hyper-activity that I had been immersed in for several weeks back home to having little to nothing to do that is so disarming.

It won't matter when we're with our friends at their wedding festivities, though. We'll leave for that in a few hours and maybe I'm better off between now and then just reading a book.

Colorado proves to be a

Colorado proves to be a good place to catch up on sleep.

August 10, 2007

Skipped the game at Coors

Skipped the game at Coors Field. Too tired after too much work and too much stress and not enough sleep. I'll go next time.

A Great Thing About Vacation

It's felt like I've been running in high gear for a solid week now. I've managed to oppose I don't even know how many motions, write responses to quite a bit of discovery, served as a pro tem judge, wrote and gave an anti-sexual harassment seminar, prepared and presided over a Toastmasters meeting, and juggled a variety of other personal commitments and schedules, including getting reservations for Napa. So much so that it's now the morning of the trip and I still haven't packed a thing. I have several hours to do that but it's amazing at how much stuff there can be in so short a time.

One of the reasons I have trouble sleeping from time to time is that my mind stays in high gear for a while after bedtime -- I overstimulate it, and it takes a while for the brain to relax after all the stimulation. No wonder, then, that it can take a while to drift off unless the point of exhaustion is reached. And then the critters get hungry and demand food, or The Wife gets up to get ready for work, so that's the end of that.

So maybe tomorrow night I'll be able to just sleep. I'm looking forward to that.

August 9, 2007

Unimportant Public Affairs

Apparently, we’ve run out of meaningful things to ask the Presidential candidates. It’s just not really a high priority for the President of the United States to know how many counties there are in Massachusetts, even if the candidate is from there. I might have been more interested in Governor Romney’s answer to the question “Is the surge working?” but different voters have different kinds of issues they care about.

And in New York City, apparently the East River smells good, there hasn’t been a murder in weeks, no one is jumping subway turnstiles, housing has become affordable and of high quality, and graffiti has subsided. We can know this because having solved all of these other problems, the New York City Council is trying to ban use of the words “bitch” and “ho” when used as pejorative phrases for women, which is sure to degrade the quality of hip hop coming outta da NYC, yo.

It’s all about priorities, I guess.

Metablogthing

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

August 8, 2007

Eat Dessert First

So I’m driving north on I-5 to get back to the Antelope Valley after my judging gig in Santa Clarita. It’s four lanes of traffic and the right two are filled with lines of trucks. I see one of them merging into the #2 lane (the one closest to the center divider is #1, the one to its right is #2, and so on) and I’m irritated because the trucks are supposed to stay in the right two lanes. I shift into the #1 lane to get out of the truck’s way.

That’s when I see why the guy changed lanes, and so quickly. A wheel, with a tire still on it, shoots out from the front of the truck, and veers diagonally into my lane. It’s bouncing up and down, and going in the same direction as traffic, faster than my car. Somehow, it must have come off a car or some other vehicle that was disabled; I couldn’t see what was going on since it was behind all the trucks. But there’s this wheel bouncing across four lanes of 75-mile-an-hour traffic.

I slow down to let it pass in front of me, which it does. It bounces off the center divider and back into my lane, back into the #2 lane, and then rolls for a few seconds, and then back into my lane again. By now, I’ve had to slow down quickly three times, and nearly come to a stop until the wheel’s momentum starts to decrease and it veers back to the right. Then I punch the gas and get ahead of the wheel. By then, plenty of other vehicles have caught up with me – and they don’t know what’s been going on, all they know is some idiot is doing thirty in the fast lane on I-5, so they pass me on the right.

Only after these cars zoom past me on the right do I start to realize just how extraordinarily dangerous that situation was. The whole thing took maybe twelve, fifteen seconds to play out. But all it really takes is a moment of inattention, a moment of ignoring what other vehicles on the road are up to, and that’s it, dude. Lights out. Wife has to ask about bereavement leave. When I realized how close that tire had come to me, three times, each time faster than sixty miles an hour, I got the shakes a little bit. I recovered, I was able to keep on driving, but it wasn’t until after the fact that I really understood just what a close call it was.

And there’s absolutely no way to predict that sort of thing. Take an extra two minutes to answer an e-mail and maybe you’re on the I-35 W bridge when it goes down. Maybe you don’t feel like flossing today. Will the extra three minutes you save put you past, in, or not yet at the intersection when the school bus blows the stop sign? What exactly is the risk of latent epilepsy resulting in a grand mal seizure while driving? Very, very low, I know, but greater than zero. And there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it if it happens.

The most common phrase picked up at the end of voice recordings on the "black boxes" recovered from crashed airplanes is "Oh, shit." That phrase may well be one of the most common sets of "last words" spoken by humans.

I realize all you can do in life is your best, take a reasonable amount of care and not expose yourself to insane risks – but at some point, statistically, that tire is going to come out from traffic at you, too. Today I got lucky and I was paying attention, so I avoided it. But at almost any moment, any of us could be destroyed by the uncaring machinations of chance in a complex cosmos. When you really understand what that means, unless you’re criminally insane, you’ll get the shakes worse than I got them on the freeway this afternoon.

First Judicial Act

Maybe one day I’ll be a full-fledged judge, maybe not.  But nothing will ever change the fact that my first act as a judicial officer was to sign a warrant for some guy’s arrest.  At a judgment debtor examination, the debtor didn’t show up, so I signed in the folder and said in open court that I was approving the bench warrant.

Here Come De Judge

...And that title will be the last time I go to the "Laugh-In" well of jokes. Younger Readers likely won't get the reference at all.

I'm excited to finally have my first pro tem opportunity today. It came at an inconvenient time; I had to stay up late last night getting some things written that I otherwise would have done this afternoon. I also have a presentation to prepare for tomorrow morning (in 24 hours I'll be before an audience, needing to look well-groomed, intelligent, and confident). And Friday morning I'll be on an airplane.

I got some good plans put in place yesterday. Unfortunately, tours of the Denver mint are booked up for months in advance. I can't think of anything else to do in Denver that's particularly distinctive to the city, although the guidebooks and online posts all mention something about a very large blue fiberglass bear. Strange. But, I got us a fabulous bed and breakfast and dinner reservations at CIA for the Napa Valley segment of our trip. I'm really looking forward to dinner at CIA next week.

And, tomorrow night I'm the master of ceremonies at the Toastmasters meeting. (Confusingly, the master of ceremonies is called the Toastmaster, but each individual member is also called a Toastmaster.) The Wife roped me in to joining but I figured if I did join I might as well do something with it. There is already some politics going on with someone who doesn't like the time limits I've imposed on him. I've laid the groundwork as much as I can and now my challenge will be to find a way to gracefully keep things moving along. I suspect I know a few people who can give me advice.

So it's a lot on my mind and a lot of stress right before vacation. But for now, I need to finish my presentation (and a little discovery) and get down to Santa Clarita to meet with the courtroom staff before I take the bench for the afternoon. Sadly, I'm not allowed to discuss any pending cases in any fashion, but I will be able to report on some other aspects of the experience later.