June 30, 2005

Some days you just want to veg out

After a long night with less sleep than I would really have preferred, followed by a long day of uncooperative and disappointing clients being deposed, getting soaked in a sudden thunderstorm, and pummelled by oppressive heat, I just want to goof off when I get home. Fortunately, the grass is heavy and wet from the squall line that ran through the area earlier, so I have a good excuse not to mow the grass (and the front lawn's in good shape anyway). Also fortunately, The Wife just wanted to goof off too; she has been puttering around a little bit upstairs but also wanted to get a quick dinner out and watch TV for a while. So I played a silly video game on the computer while she watched a TV show about buying a house or redecorating a house or something like that, and we cleaned up a bit to get the house in shape for my mom staying over tomorrow night before her flight back to Connecticut. I owe the blog a book review of Eragon, but I'm just not motivated to do it right now. Later. Saturday, probably. Anyway, it's time to shut down the shop for the evening.

June 29, 2005

Ten Thousand Spoons When All You Need is a Knife

Justice David Souter wrote the majority opinion in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, a very disturbing recent case about which I have blogged recently. The case is disturbing to me and many others because it justifies the taking of private property under the Fifth Amendment for no better reason than that a local government thinks that redevelopment of a particular area might be good for the economy, and that shouldn't be a good enough reason to take someone's home from them without their consent and generally without paying them what the property is really worth, and give that property to another private person (who is likely to be politically well-connected).

Justice O'Connor began her dissent by quoting Calder v. Bull, a case from 1798, but did not include quite enough of the language. I would have quoted Justice Samuel Chase's opinion more fully than she:

I cannot subscribe to the omnipotence of a State Legislature, or that it is absolute and without control; although its authority should not be expressly restrained by the Constitution, or fundamental law, of the State. The people of the United States erected their Constitutions, or forms of government, to establish justice, to promote the general welfare, to secure the blessings of liberty; and to protect their persons and property from violence. The purposes for which men enter into society will determine the nature and terms of the social compact; and as they are the foundation of the legislative power, they will decide what are the proper objects of it: The nature, and ends of legislative power will limit the exercise of it. This fundamental principle flows from the very nature of our free Republican governments, that no man should be compelled to do what the laws do not require; nor to refrain from acts which the laws permit. There are acts which the Federal, or State, Legislature cannot do, without exceeding their authority. There are certain vital principles in our free Republican governments, which will determine and over-rule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power; as to authorize manifest injustice by positive law; or to take away that security for personal liberty, or private property, for the protection whereof of the government was established. An ACT of the Legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority. The obligation of a law in governments established on express compact, and on republican principles, must be determined by the nature of the power, on which it is founded.

A few instances will suffice to explain what I mean. A law that punished a citizen for an innocent action, or, in other words, for an act, which, when done, was in violation of no existing law; a law that destroys, or impairs, the lawful private contracts of citizens; a law that makes a man a Judge in his own cause; or a law that takes property from A. and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with SUCH powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it. The genius, the nature, and the spirit, of our State Governments, amount to a prohibition of such acts of legislation; and the general principles of law and reason forbid them. The Legislature may enjoin, permit, forbid, and punish; they may declare new crimes; and establish rules of conduct for all its citizens in future cases; they may command what is right, and prohibit what is wrong; but they cannot change innocence into guilt; or punish innocence as a crime; or violate the right of an antecedent lawful private contract; or the right of private property.

3 Dall. (3 U.S.) 386, 387-8 (emphases added). This, sadly, no longer seems to be the law of the land, thanks to what is widely believed to be a switched vote by Justice Souter. So it's supremely ironic that Justice Souter's own home may be subject to condemnation for economic redevelopment purposes. Granted, the proposal seems to be mean-spiritedly motivated by someone as upset as I about the Kelo decision, but it amply illustrates the reasons why this new opinion represents a departure from our traditional notions of justice and property rights.

I'm going to take back some of the things I said about Canada

Seriously, though, if only our political leaders were as enlightened as their Canadian counterparts. I predict that this new law will have a negligible impact on the social, political, economic, or religious makeup of our neighbor to the north.

June 28, 2005

Fall of the Roman Empire

The Wife is reading one of my favorite books, Rvbicon, about one of my favorite subjects. It's tremendously exciting to see her so interested in something that I am so passionate about and have spent so much time studying and contemplating. I hope she wants to talk about it some more tonight when we turn in.

I'm also excited to be able to treat her to some nice things tomorrow for her birthday. I took her shopping tonight, which she liked, and hopefully tomorrow she will like the things I have prepared for her.


Why is it that a trip to Target, or for that matter Wally World, always seems to set us back at least a C-note?

The Ten Commandments as Law

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down two cases regarding the posting of the Ten Commandments on government property. However, one of my intellectual heroes suggested more than two years ago that we bear in mind that very few of the Commandments are enforceable laws at all.

Looking for a second vehicle

The time has come to acquire a second vehicle. The Wife and I have been getting by with just one for some time now and while that is not a huge burden, it is inconvenient. So I'm looking around. The big question is what kind of a vehicle do we want? A small, fuel-efficient car? Good on gas, but when you live out in the sticks, like we do, you need to haul stuff around. A pickup truck? Perhaps a good choice, but a smaller SUV might be a better option than that. Nothing extravagant either way, as we will certainly want to get it paid off quickly. But we also want something safe. I want something that will be low-maintenance since it drives me apeshit when things don't work right. What will be best from an insurance perspective? Oh, so many issues.

June 27, 2005

Philosophical question

Is man created in God's image, or is God created in man's image?

After much contemplation and deep thought on the subject, I find that I am not a believer in God. In that, I know that I am very much in the minority. Still, I find myself incapable of the act of faith necessary to maintain a belief in a deity. I need proof, and proof is the anthithesis of faith.

Still, even if you do believe in God, then you must realize that the only way that God is ever presented, discussed, evaluated, contemplated, or proselytized is in anthropomorphic terms. Most theists concede that such a vision of the divine is inadequate and maintain that God transcends human thought, that we mortals can at best only get a shadowy, imperfect glimpse of what truly exists. If so, then any attempt to describe God in human language, or to relate to God through human thought, is necessarily bound to fail because it is necessarily limited to human experience. So the only God that can have meaning for humans is not the reality of what God is (assuming God exists in the first place, which I do not). So then is not every human vision of God imperfect, or indeed, false?

Movie Review: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

There's a place in this world for goofy, dippy, mindless comedies. There's also a place for silly satires of other movies or even making fun of TV shows. And there's even a place for Saturday Night Live skits to grow and become funny movies (although generally SNL skits are based on one joke, and therefore turn into bad movies.) Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is none of these. Sadly, it is also not very funny. My following review contains heavy plot and joke spoilers, so if you do intend on wasting your time with this dreck, you may want to stop reading now to preserve such humorous moments as the movie will offer you.

Will Ferrell plays San Diego's top-rated anchorman in the mid-1970's. His "Action News Team" consists of sports reporter David Koechner, investigative reporter Paul Rudd, and barely-intelligent-enough-to-stand-erect weatherman Steve Carell. Everything is right with Ferrell's world -- he is popular, a big hit with the ladies, and no one around him dares to burst his bubble or otherwise puncture his ego. That is, until news producer Fred Willard rocks Ferrell's world by announcing that they will be joined on the air by (*gasp*) a woman reporter, played by the lovely Christina Applegate, trying her hardest to channel the spirit of Mary Tyler Moore. She doesn't pull it off, though, and part of the problem with her efforts is that, unlike other elder stateswomen of comedy, Mary Tyler Moore isn't dead yet. A few halting attempts at B-plots are inserted but largely forgotten. A series of generally dumb visual gags and unfunny jokes unfurl as Ferrell's companions sexually harass Appelgate, Ferrell successfully dates her, then they break up, then they snipe andfight at one another, and of course, eventually reconcile.

The funniest scenes could have been expanded upon. For instance, there is a scene at the end of the news broadcast, when the microphones are cut off but the camera remains on the two anchors, who appear to be sitting next to each other discussing the news -- they are actually insulting and threatening each other in increasingly vulgar ways, while the camera cuts back and forth between the serious-looking end credits of the news and what is actually happening in the studio. This is funny. Appelgate's ultimate act of sabotage against Ferrell is also quite funny. Sadly, there is not enough of this sort of thing in the movie.

Instead, we get boner jokes, bizarre phrases ("By Odin's Raven!") and unfunny running gags. I think we're supposed to think that the mens' mustaches are funny in a mock-the-seventies sort of way, but we've seen so many funny mock-the-seventies movies already that writers ought to know that they'll need to dig deeper than that for a laugh. In particular, it is not funny to see Steve Carrell divorce himself from his smarmy Daily Show persona to play such a complete idiot.

What happened here, I think, is that a bunch of comedy writers got together to write a movie and started working out jokes amongst themselves. After a while, they delve into situational humor, (comedy-writer-ese for "we thought it was funny when we were talking about it" or "it made us laugh and we don't care if the audience is too dumb to think it's funny.") and from there it turned into metacomedy. Metacomedy is the opposite of funny since it is a story about something that is supposed to be funny. But if you deconstruct comedy or any other intense emotion enough, it loses its intensity and therefore stops being funny. There are even references in the script made by the title character to this kind of excessive deconstruction (which critical language theorists would spell as "deconstruction," if expressing negativity about the act of deconstruction were not fundamentally contradictory to their world view) sapping whatever humor out of a joke there might have been in the first place. So you see, this sort of stuff just isn't funny.

The outtakes during the end credits were much funnier than the movie itself. Not worth the price of a rental, though, and not even worth putting up with the rest of the movie.

Battery acid

The new lawn mower battery works like a charm -- the mower started up and ran as soon as I got the new battery in it.

As it turns out, battery acid eats right through cotton, given enough time. There's a big ol' hole in my T-shirt that started to unravel and tore all on its own. So far, my skin is not reacting to the battery acid any more than a light itch, easily ignored. But these shirts are rags now.

More fireflies

By the time I finished mowing the lawn tonight, the fireflies were coming out of wherever it is they rest during the day, to flash and look for mates. They seem to synch up with each other after a while, so suddenly it'll be like a hundred flash bulbs going off in a stadium at the same time. It's really quite spectacular.

A New Shirt

At lunch today, I went out to replace the old, dead lawn mower battery. That was relatively painless since I know of a small motors parts dealership near downtown. The problem was that carrying the battery back to the car, I spilled battery acid all over my chest. It wasn't strong enough to burn me (although my skin does itch a little where the spill happened, I think it's a psychosomatic reaction), but it was strong enough to leave a really ugly stain all over my shirt and the T-shirt underneath. The golf shirt that bore the brunt of the acid spill is wrecked and I'm going to have to throw it away.

The shirt was not one that I was particularly in love with, and I'm pretty confident that The Wife won't mind a bit that it's been ruined. More annoying was the fact that I had to buy a replacement shirt and there's pretty much no shopping anywhere near downtown where I could get a cheap golf shirt. The nearest place I could find was Rocky Top Books near the university, where the only golf shirt there was $55.00. That came out to just over sixty bucks after taxes. They had lots of crew-neck T-shirts, but that's a little too casual for office wear, even with my new policy of casual dress when there are no clients to be seen or lawyers to meet. But given the time (I had been out of the office for over an hour looking for a replacement shirt), it was that or come back to the office with a shirt dissolving before everyone's eyes from spilled battery acid.

Note, however, that I am not an alum of UT and do not claim to be affiliated or connected to UT in any way. Maybe The Wife will go there, but until then, I'm just a local who roots for the sports teams when they happen to be on -- and now, spending too much money on the clothing.

Fire in the hole!

Saturday The Wife and I went with friends Pam and Andrew to Dollywood. It was Pam's birthday and that was what she said she wanted to do. It turned out to be a very good choice.

Dollywood compares very favorably to Knott's Berry Farm, in terms of its size, ambition, and enjoyability. I remember when I was younger, Knott's was a good place to go because it was easier to get into and a little bit cheaper than Disneyland, and at that time had not yet been overrun with street gangs so it was still a family-friendly place to be. At least on the day we went, the park was not terribly crowded, except for the area where the tamer kiddie-rides were located (which unfortunately was the first area we visited).

The pièce de résistance had to have been the Blazing Fury. Dollywood's "answer" to Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean, this indoor roller coaster was themed around a fire in a mining town. The super-cheesey animatronics and tepid coasts were nothing compared to the theme -- "Fire in the hole!" -- repeated endlessly throughout the ride.

I think the best ride was the Mountain Slidewinder. The four of us got loaded up on a flat rubber raft and put in a twisty tube with water sliding down it. The effect was much like a bobsled or a luge. We also got very wet, on that ride as well as several others. We enjoyed the eagle exhibit, and the food was reasonably priced (by theme park standards).

I would go back to Dollywood, but not soon; it's the sort of thing you do occasionally. You can read more about The Wife's description of the event here, and Pamela's here, hopefully Andrew will add his report soon, too.

Inactive Blog? Or Inactive Lawn Mower?

The Wife complained last night that I hadn't blogged in a while. I've been quite busy going with friends for their birthday celebration, getting in trouble, entertaining my mother who is visiting in town, cleaning up dog shit from the front yard, making The Wife her favorite breakfast, and trying to fix the goddamned lawn mower. Again.

This time the battery gave out on me. I spent two and a half hours taking it apart to check two fuses to make sure that they hadn't blown. I was unsuccessful. One fuse is relatively easy to check by removing the side panel, but the other one is embedded, upside-down, inside the tractor's housing and cannot be accessed from any angle. Minimal charge is getting to the starter, however, so I strongly suspect that the fuses are not the problem. The advantage is that I was able to ignore the "DO NOT REMOVE" hazards all over the battery and remove the battery from the tractor itself, so this afternoon I can go take it to have it charged.

June 24, 2005

Fresh fruit

Summertime is great for all the fresh fruit. I was insensitive to fresh fruit in California since it was available year-round. Here, though, really good fruit is seasonal. Right now there's a lot of it -- apples and pears abound, and melons are coming in. Best of all, we have wild blackberries and strawberries growing out on the grounds of The Estate At Louisville, and soon The Wife and I will go out and harvest some of the blackberries, and probably eat them right there in the field until our fingers and lips are stained purple.

Right now I'm eating a Pink Lady apple and a Bosc pear, cut up and soaked in lemon water, enjoyed with a glass of Chianti. Traditionally, I like the red pears better than the Boscs, but these Boscs are really sweet and have exactly the right kind of crumbly-sugar texture that I love in a precisely-ripened pear. The Wife doesn't like pears; she says it's because when she was a kid she was too impatient to wait for the pear to soften so she ate them when they were still crunchy.

I also normally prefer the Fuji or the Gala to other kinds of apples. But these Pink Lady apples are really good, too. I also like the Granny Smith and Pippins a lot. I guess these are all the more tart of the apple varieties; I like the Rome, Red Delicious, and Yellow varieties less since they are sweeter, larger, and less firm.

The sweet fruit goes well with the dry wine; I know traditionally one should have a white wine with fruit but rule #1 of wine drinking is to have what you enjoy, and rule #2 is to have it with food you enjoy. Rule #3 is to share it with people you enjoy, but The Wife is upstairs attending her online class, so I'll have to forego that rule for a while.

Jack Knows Music

When I was in Los Angeles and San Diego recently, I was treated to a new radio station, "Jack-FM." The slogan is "We play what we want." That turns out to be a mix of some "classic" rock from the late 60's and 70's, some disco, a lot of 80's and 90's pop and rock, some more recent stuff, and a few oddball songs, including some hip-hop and some real oldies from early 60's thrown in for variety. There is no DJ and the station identification bumpers are short and have a cynical attitude. "We're going to play some commercials now. Because we like money."

I heard a profile of "Jack FM" on NPR a couple weeks ago, and it's not quite as advertised -- but it is a dramatically expanded playlist, aimed directly at the demographic group of which I am a member. About the closest thing to it that I can get here in Knoxville is the "Party Music" station on the cable TV. I wish there were "Jack FM" here. The music mix is really good, which is the real reason to listen.


I really like all the fireflies out and about this time of year. I took the dogs outside to play fetch just now and there are fireflies all over the place.

Movie Review: Bowfinger

If you know anything about Hollywood, you will really enjoy this smart, snarky, well-paced comedy from 1999 directed by the almost-always enjoyable Frank Oz. My review contains some plot spoilers, but relatively few joke spoilers, and the jokes are the real reason to see the movie.

Steve Martin plays a ne'er-do-well wanna-be movie producer who has perfected the art of the hustle but has yet to actually make a movie. His hangers-on includes the brilliant Christine Baranski, playing an over-the-top dramatic act-tor (who is considering leaving Hollywood for a bit part in a production of Cats in Edmonton since she hasn't found any work in so long), his friend, confidante, and cameraman Jamie Kennedy, a part-time receptionist/accountant, a guy who washes executives' cars at a studio, and an adorable and under-used collie. His accountant writes what sounds like the worst science fiction movie ever and he decides to sink his every last dollar and pull every last trick in the book to make it into a movie. To get the project started, he has to convince a cynical studio executive played by Robert Downey, Jr. and the world's biggest movie star, played by Eddie Murphy, (cast alongside a very funny and exapserated-looking Barry Newman) to participate. He fails miserably, but by then has picked up the wide-eyed Heather Graham and hired a crew (of sorts) so he can't stop now -- and he decides to go ahead and make the movie anyway. According to IMDB, the movie was "Based on a real incident in 1927. A Russian filmmaker covertly shot footage of the vacationing Mary Pickford, and fashioned an entire film around the footage, creating the illusion that Pickford was actually starring in this Russian film." So that tells you how they get around the big movie star turning down the role and it sets up one of the running gags in the movie.

The movie is funny on at least three levels. First, the direct jokes are all quite enjoyable and sometimes riotously funny. Eddie Murphy's crossing the freeway, Steve Martin's lunch at the Ivy with Robert Downey, Jr., and several of the scenes where the movie was actually filmed all have good visual jokes presented deadpan with impeccable timing. Perhaps the most glib of all personalities in Hollywood, only Steve Martin could have pulled off this role with such credibility. Second, there are jokes about how the entertainment industry works, why so many movies are as bad as they are. Frank Oz and Steve Martin are both ideally suited for taking these kinds of shots at Hollywood from within it. The casting call scenes, the way in which the script is revised as the filming goes forward, and the way that the crew is assembled are all played for laughs -- but you're left with a sneaking suspicion that the humor is based more in truth than you would like to imagine. And wow, does the movie-within-the-movie looks really, really bad. Finally, there are the Hollywood in-jokes, which may be the most funny part of the movie. On this level, Heather Graham's character is based on Steve Martin's old girlfriend Anne Heche, and it's evident that Martin has a wicked sense of humor about that chapter of his life. The transparent and scathing references to the Church of Scientology are hilarious (as is the apparent analogy of Eddie Murphy's role to a prominent Scientologist).

I have nothing bad to say about this movie. It's packed with references to other movies and the celebrity gossip that no one seems able to avoid. The comedy is well-written by Martin, well-timed by Oz, and well-played by the cast. It is consistently funny throughout; an uneven pace or an uneven spread of jokes is a big danger with a movie this ambitious. But Bowfinger really pulls it off. It's very, very funny.


Tomorrow, The Wife and I are planning on going to Dollywood with some friends. I've never been, and I'm expecting things to be good and cheesy.

Pop Up Ads

I run both Ad Aware and Spybot periodically. However, I can't stop pop-up ads from spontaneously appearing. Does anyone have any suggestions for how I can take more aggressive action here?

No Class

As it turns out, my class to start Tuesday has been cancelled. Just as well -- The Wife and I are going up to Connecticut to visit my folks, and I'd rather not have to worry about a class while I'm doing it.

New Supreme Court Case

I had been expecting the medical marijuana case this term, Raich v. Gonzalez, to be the biggest Supreme Court case of the year. It turns out that another one, Kelo v. City of New London, will probably be the real humdinger. The result sounds absolutely outrageous -- a local government can condemn private property, then turn that property over to a private entity that develops and sells that property for a profit. The redevelopment is "public purpose" enough, according to the Court's majority. Terrible, terrible stuff.

I'll blog more about it when I have a chance to read the opinion; I can't wait to see which Justices voted for and against this result.

June 23, 2005

Book Review: A Pirate of Exquisite Mind

I recently completed A Pirate of Exquisite Mind -- Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer:The Life of William Dampier by Diana Preston and Michael Preston. It was a fascinating glimpse into the life of a little-known person who ought to be of great interest.

William Dampier was an English explorer in the seventeenth century, although he seems he got his start as an explorer by being down on his luck financially, signing on to a ship's crew to make some money, and then turning pirate. He wasn't a particularly good pirate, as it turns out; or at least he was an extraordinarily unlucky one. He tried turning timber worker, also, and was unlucky in that after a hurricane wiped out his harvest of timber that he had intended to sell (probably to pirates) so he turned pirate again. Piracy seemed to involve a lot of shore raids and a lot of democracy -- which Dampier thought, probably correctly, was not a really good way to go about it from either a business or a survival perspective.

Perhaps most remarkable of all his adventures was his first circumnavigation of the globe as a pirate and then as a castaway from a pirate ship. Along the way he visited the Galapagos Islands (150 years before Darwin and probably only the second ship of Europeans to ever go there at all). He made detailed scientific observations of the many kinds of animals there, as well as in all of his other destinations, which included most of the Carribean, most of the Central American isthmus (he walked across an untamed, wild, mountainous and jungle-overriden Panama, both ways, to escape detection by Spanish authorities), Australia, Vietnam, South Africa, Brazil, and the Azores Islands. He was probably the first white man to smoke marijuana, which he discovered being used in Indonesia. (Notably, marijuana is indigenous to Central America, so how did it get to Indondesia before it came to Europe or Africa? Likely, Chinese explorers carried it back on one of the treasure fleets between 1421 and 1423.) He sailed with nine other men on an outrigger canoe across what we today call the South China Sea from Australia (which he visited a century before Captain Cook) to Vietnam. Both outriggers were lost during high seas but under Dampier's command they made it to what is today the port of Saigon without losing a man.

He later circumnavigated the world twice once more, once as the captain of a privateering ship and once as its navigator and naturalist (what Star Trek fans would call the "science officer.") He wrote several books describing all of his adventures, which were wildly popular in their day and which were both the model for many novels (including Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels) and used by several scientists and explorers (including Cook and Darwin). Some of his navigational observations, including charting the trade winds and taking deep ocean soundings, are still being used today by modern navies and merchant fleets.

The book was well-written for the most part, and used Dampier's chronological life story as its central structural device, which is typical for a biography. The afterword was quite long and very interesting, and it explored the continuing impact of Dampier's discoveries, publications, and contributions to the English language (including "chopsticks," "stilts," "caress," "cashew," "posse," "avocado" and "barbecue"). The authors clearly fell more than a little bit in love with their subject and at times were not as critical of him as objective biographers ought to be -- the criminal nature of his adventures is acknowledged but glossed over, much like a biographer of Thomas Jefferson would acknowledge but gloss over his ownership of slaves. The descriptions of Dampier's more harrowing adventures are present and the reader can easily imagine the dangers that the man faced, yet the authors' style tends to treat such subjects as academic or historical fact rather than as the exciting brushes with death that these events must have been for Dampier himself. Some, but not all, of the zest is filtered out through the reporting.

I was hoping that the book would be a gazeteer of the world rather than a biography, but it turned out to be a biography with a lot of extra history and facts dangling off the story of Dampier's life. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting read and jam-packed with all sorts of information. The book's promotional website is here and if you are interested in reading it, Amazon and Barnes & Noble both carry it in stock.

Busy prisoners

Tennessee is about to get new license plates. I submitted the picture to Fark as a possible photoshop contest. The last Tennessee photoshop contest was a long time ago.

Disclosure: On Great Men

The truth is, I have recycled the name "The Great Man," having used this nickname previously to refer to another lawyer for whom I have worked in the capacity of an able subordinate and eager mentee. The First Great Man called me up yesterday to chat; he and I are still friends and I was able to do a quick favor for him. As for the Current Great Man, the nickname just seems to fit better than any other I could come up with, and it's been a while since I worked with the earlier Great Man.

The phrase has its origins in a concept I learned in Western Civilzation class way back in college -- the theory is that from time to time, political or social leaders come along who, by force of their sheer will and vision, are able to seemingly single-handedly change the flow of events which otherwise would have taken place. People like Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Constantine, Mohammed, Washington, and such would be considered "great men." Technically, the change could be for good or ill, so Urban II, Lenin, and Hitler would probably also count. Others may have tried to have changed the normal course of events but ultimately failed; men like Oliver Cromwell or John Calhoun would be "almost great men."

Would Jesus be a "great man?" Maybe, I'm not sure. The modern Christian religion is largely the creation of Paul the Evangelist and the Emperor Constantine more than of Jesus himself, at least as a political institution. Jesus can be credited with laying down powerful and compelling moral precepts and for organizing a small band of adherents to those principles. But the gospels do not suggest an attempt to implement political change, and it is not clear to me whether Jesus was trying to use his ministry to create a new religion or to reform Judaism (and the latter seems more likely to me). So maybe Paul gets the "great man" nod for Christianity. As for Islam, though, Mohammed is definitely the man.

I disagree with the Great Man theory, in that I think ultimately that the future is, while perhaps predictable to some degree, ultimately malleable by more than a single individual or a small set of heroic figures. Less-than-heroic figures, people who do not achieve positions of prominence or notoriety, make decisions that can affect the flow of history as well. Robert McNamara will never be considered a heroic figure but he had a profound effect on history. Definitely a "Not So Great Man."

"Not-So-Great Man." Hmm. I might have a use for that label in the near future...

Another encouraging sign

A very good conversation with The Great Man this morning. He's well pleased with the substance of the reports from Kingsport. He also said that he was encouraged by my sparring incident with the lawyer, about which I wrote previously. I'm pleased that I held my own and acquitted myself with a little panache, but I think The Great Man was happy that the other lawyer felt it necessary to spar with me in the first place -- it means I'm being taken seriously.

New People Coming To Office

Apparently, The Great Man's son is relocating his business (a strange hybrid of a law firm, airplane dealership, and real estate title company) to our office. I'm pretty sure that I'm not happy about this. I'm going to have to think of a new nickname for him...


I like coffee. I like how it tastes; I like the caffeine buzz; I like its warmth; I like the social aspect of drinking a cup of coffee with someone. Over the past few days, with the time crunch imposed by the depositions, I've been drinking a lot of it and I'm going cold turkey for at least a few days so that my caffeine tolerance will decrease. But I'll miss it while it's gone.

And I do not drink my coffee at the temperatures reccomended by the National Coffee Association, which is 205 degrees. Water boils at 212 degrees. If you did what this National Coffee Association said to do, you would brew coffee at a temperature seven degrees shy of boiling and then drink that coffee "immediately."

So consider this as an experiment. Put some water in a pot and put a meat thermometer in it; when the water reaches 205 degrees, stick a straw in there and take a pull. Doesn't sound like a good idea to you? I thought not. How about this -- take that nearly-boiling water and pour it on your genitals. Oh, that sounds like a worse idea? You keep that thought experiment the next time someone mentions the McDonald's coffee case.


I have a new online business law class to teach, which starts on Tuesday. This will interfere with my plans to take a week to visit my parents in July, but I'll find a way to make it all happen anyhow. It's not like there aren't computers in Connecticut.


Since my fantasy baseball season is coming to an abbreviated end, I guess it's time to think about fantasy football. The big question mark will be whether I play in a draft league or a market league; after that the issue is running backs.

Pretty much everyone knows who the good quarterbacks will be and which ones will be less-than-impressive; the same is true for kickers. Particularly in draft leagues, those get spread around pretty evenly and the pick of the litter will go to the high draft seeds. With only a few exceptions, wide receivers are largely a crap shoot and tight ends even more so than that. So the difference between a winning and losing fantasy football team is its running backs.

I'm also going to see if I can pay a little more attention to college ball this year. College games are Big Fun, and with the epicenter of Mass Volunteer Hysteria located less than a mile from my office, it's hard to avoid -- so I may as well start wearing some orange and get in on the fun.

Casual or formal office attire?

When I started working at the firm, I wore a suit and tie every day. Somewhere along the way, I started wearing "Friday casual" attire on days when there were not client appointments. I'm going to keep that up, I think -- when I'm not scheduled for any meetings with clients or other attorneys, I'll just wear golf shirts and khakis or other such casual clothing. I'm no less an attorney for dressing casually, and who am I trying to impress, anyway?

What are your thoughts, Loyal Readers?

Don't care to

For the third time in about three weeks, and about the tenth time since moving here to Tennessee, I've heard people say things like "I don't care to do that," or "I don't care to show you that." For instance, when my client was asked to produce her personal journal, she said, "I don't care to show you the journal."

When I hear that, I interpret it to mean "I don't want to show you the journal" or "I would prefer not to show you the journal." In fact, what a southerner means by that is the exact opposite -- "I don't mind showing you the journal" or "I don't care if you see the journal."

A former employee at the law firm once said she "did not care to" do something I had asked her to which I had anticipated she would find unpleasant. I thought she was being insubordinate. In fact, she was telling me that she didn't find the prospect of what I wanted her to do to be unpleasant at all.

Strange use of the language.

June 22, 2005

Mom's in town and wow am I tired

My mother has come to town to visit. She's staying a few nights at her aunt's house about half an hour away, and she'll also stay a few nights here at The Estate At Louisville. The Wife and I had a nice dinner with them tonight.

Now, I'm really feeling the effects of two sequential days of less than five hours' sleep, getting up before the sun rises (during the longest days of the year), driving for two hundred miles into the rising sun, staying acutely focused on intense and emotionally draining facts for twelve hours at a stretch, driving another two hundred miles into the setting sun (again, these are the longest days of the year), running errands, and not getting to sleep until at least eleven thirty at night. A second car would have really eased some of the awkwardness of running errands, but a lot more of the stress and mental exhaustion just couldn't be helped.

After a nice glass of wine, which I'm going to have as soon as I finish this post and shut the computer down, I'm going to go to sleep early and hopefully tomorrow (after I do my damndest to get that summary judgment opposition finished) I can come home and actually appreciate having the chance to visit with my mom. More elaborate blogging to come tomorrow night, hopefully including a book review.

Grow up!

For the past two days, I've had some pretty grueling depositions in Kingsport. That's about two hours away. It's a case with horrific facts, and the stakes are quite high. Yesterday were my clients' depositions and today were some of the defendants' depositions.

Yesterday, one of the defense attorneys in the case jumped down my throat about my objections. She had just asked my client, a laywoman with a high school diploma and a little bit of college that did not culminate in a degree, why she thought there had been medical malpractice. I interposed an objection, which went something like this: "Objection. Calls for expert medical opinion. She's not a doctor and we've hired expert physicians, some of whose opinions have already been disclosed, to opine about the deviations in the standard of care. What this witness has to say about that aspect of the case doesn't matter."

The lawyer asking questions lectured me about how she takes the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seriously, and Tennessee law does not permit "speaking objections" that tell the deponent how to answer questions, and throws in a little dig about how I've been in Tennessee long enough to know that. Now, it turns out that this lawyer is one of the members of the Board of Law Examiners, who very recently approved my application for admission to the bar in Tennessee, so it's quite possible that she reviewed that application personally in the not-too-distant past. So I didn't want to give her too much attitude back, but I also did not want to back down because I did not think I had crossed the line into instructing my client how to answer. So I said so, refused to withdraw my objection, and instructed my client to answer the question notwithstanding my objection.

Now, if there really had been a "suggested" answer in my objection, it would have been "I don't know." As it turned out, my client went on to offer her opinions anyway, off and on for six long hours. So it seems that I'm not very effective at "speaking objections" in the first place. And there was no call for the rest of the depositions that day for any other objections requiring any exposition anyhow.

That made today, when the same lawyer gave a lengthy and suggestive objection to a question I asked her client, particualrly gratifying when I could simply reference our conversation yesterday and tell her that everything she said to me, I would say back to her. For an instant, her face flashed anger, but then she smiled and said "Touche." Which, if you take even an instant to think about it, was very classy of her.

Bear in mind that my opinion of all of the lawyers on the defense side of this case is that they have been unfailingly friendly and professional, and have done so without sacrificing any of their advocacy on behalf of their clients. (I hope that they would say the same thing about me if asked.) A little sparring and a little pushing of the envelope by both sides is to be expected in the give-and-take of litigation. This is all as it should be. So it's somewhat immature of me to be smug about this little exchange, which really didn't matter at all.

Fantasy Baseball Update

To my great horror, I learn that the free online fantasy baseball game I am playing comes to an end July 10. Another free game starts July 14, after the All-Star break. I am so far ahead of my competition that it's pretty much a walk for the next twenty days. So that makes it a lot less fun, plus the idea of starting over again from scratch seems like a big pain in the ass.

June 20, 2005

Results of my personality test

What military aircraft are you?

F-15 Eagle

You are an F-15. Your record in combat is spotless; you've never been defeated. You possess good looks, but are not flashy about it. You prefer to let your reputation do the talking. You are fast, agile, and loud, but reaching the end of your stardom.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.

Thunder and lightning

Thunderstorms are pretty cool, when you're not out in them. I just heard a gigantic crack of thunder that came almost simultaneous to a brilliant flash of light, and looked outside to see a thunderstorm gathering.

It's amazing that nature behaves that way. Thunder and lightning are an awesome display of raw power and energy. Watching the clouds build up on top of one another, like looking up from underneath as layers of vanilla ice cream are piled up on top of a glass plate, is fascinating. I only have a tiny view of that outside my office window.

Thunderstorms are terrible to drive in and miserable to walk in. Since I've got to haul big boxes of exhibits down to the Hunk-O-Junk later, that's going to really suck. But until then, the thunderstorm is really cool to look at from the dry safety of the inside of a building.

The importance of history

From, of all places, the Los Angeles Fish Wrapper, by way of The Volokh Conspiracy.

Things that sound nasty but aren't

Ladies (and certain gents): do not underestimate the importance of knowing how to spit properly. However, I think I speak for most men when I say that a swallow is better than a spit.

Movie Review: 50 First Dates

This weekend's movie was 50 First Dates. My synopsis contains mild spoilers, nothing you wouldn't have known from watching the previews.

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore star in a goofy romantic comedy set in Hawaii. Sandler is a veterinarian working at a Sea World type place where he cares for penguins and sea mammals; Barrymore is allegedly an art teacher but her only apparent job is to be cute (she excels at this) and eat waffles (interestingly, we never actually see her put the waffles in her mouth). Barrymore suffers from a bizarre mental condition wherein she loses all her short-term memory every time she falls asleep, not unlike a somewhat more grim movie with a similar plot device. Sandler, not knowing of this condition but awestruck by her incredible cuteness, strikes up a relationship with her. Despite the apparent difficulties involved with the project, he sticks with his pursuit of her. Since she forgets meeting him every night, each day, he must find a new way to try and earn her affections anew.

The movie starts out with a little more crude slapstick and gross-out jokes than I would have liked, and it takes longer than it should have to get through the exposition and buildup of both the major and minor characters. But once the movie reaches its heart -- a series of gags with increasingly outrageous things that Sandler attempts, with varying degrees of success, to woo Barrymore for the "first time," every day. After a while, one wonders what happened to Sandler's job at the aquarium, but this ultimately is not the point of the movie.

The walruses are very cute and although initially irritating, most of the minor characters and b-plots eventually redeem themselves and become both endearing and enjoyable. Ultimately, the movie's heart is in the right place and the absence of any real malice between a cast of characters who all fundamentally like and care for one another just barely manages to not cross over into the realm of the saccharine. Overall, a good DVD movie; I enjoyed it but I'm glad I didn't spend the money to see it in the theaters.


The Wife is stressed out over things. That usually makes the home life unpleasant, and stresses me out, too. It's not like I don't have enough at work to be stressed out over -- two big days of depositions way up in Kingsport tomorrow and Wednesday, and a summary judgment opposition due on Friday. I, too, need to get things around the house done to get ready for later this week. I'll get it all done (provided I don't spend all morning blogging) and I wish I could help out with The Wife's problems better than I can. A second car would help but we're not in a position to get a second car just yet.

It just bothers me to see The Wife so frustrated and angry and it puts me in a foul mood myself for the rest of the day.

June 19, 2005

Cell Phones

My cell phone has been seriously busted for about three months now. The antenna snapped off when I dropped it, and it was cheaper to replace it than get a new antenna. The Wife and I planned on waiting until her individual contract was expired, which happens some time this month. So today, we got new phones.

The phones are charging up but are loaded with all sorts of digital goodies. I got the apparently very popular LG 6100 phone. The Wife got a less feature-laden phone, but she's thinking about upgrading to the 6100 also after playing with mine. We got a dual plan which hopefully we will not exceed, although The Wife's enjoyment of cell-phone pictures may eat up more air time than she initially anticipated if she gets the 6100.

What's weird was her monitoring of the phones' reception on the drive home from our (ruinously expensive) adventures today. A big concern we had was whether the phones would work out here at The Estate at Louisville. Both her phone and mine had reception troubles here at the Estate -- down in The TLZone, my phone with no antenna was simply non-functional. So The Wife monitored the bars as we drove back from Town to The Estate at Louisville. At any given point on the commute, we had significantly different numbers of bars posted -- my phone would have three bars, hers five; then ten seconds later, I would have no bars and she had two; then a few minutes after that, I'd have all five bars and she would have one. Didn't make a bit of sense. But we tried the phones out here, and they worked fine at The Estate at Louisville, at least today. We have a few more days to try them out before we are committed to them but it looks good so far.

Next up: Figuring out clever words spelled by our phone numbers. Loyal Readers who wish our new cell phone numbers have but to ask.

Father's Day

Happy father's day! I have warm thoughts about my father and I miss having him around. Connecticut is only a phone call away, but it's not quite the same thing. Last week, money was a little tight so The Wife and I didn't get him anything until just recently. Since Mom is coming down to visit next week, and Dad is going overseas soon anyway, we figured we'd just send the gift back up with him rather than ship it to an empty house. I'll give him a call today and let him know that I love him. I encourage the Loyal Readership to do the same with their dads, too.

Brunch of the Month Club

A while back, The Wife and I met another couple and agreed to have a "Dinner of the Month Club" with them. It's a good way to go out and try new places and to stay social. Unfortunately, last month they couldn't make it to our arranged time to meet. This morning, we're making it the "Brunch of the Month Club" since the timing for brunch works better for them. I'm looking forward to the "club meeting." They wanted to meet at eleven "before people get out of church," which is also pleasing to me since things do get really crowded at about noon on Sundays when churches are done with their morning services.

UPDATE: It was REALLY crowded and we wound up having a long breakfast at Perkin's. Actually, the food was quite good and so was the company.

Fantasy Baseball Update

Pedro Martinez got shelled (for him) last night, giving up nine hits and four earned runs in a six-inning loss. He did strike out seven on the way, which is why he did not turn in negative points.

Daryle Ward of the Pirates is quickly going out of style. I'm replacing him with Jason Lane of the Houston Astros. Should've done it Thursday, when Lane's price started to shoot up. Had I done so, I would have pierced forty million dollars of roster value already. Even so, I'm at $39,950,000. My nearest competition has so far lost money on the season, down to $28,110,000 in roster value.

June 18, 2005


Yesterday night was a special occasion -- I made my special steak. The Wife loves it. Here's how I make it.

Steak -- one to one and a half pounds -- thick London Broil cut preferred
1 bunch green onions
Garlic powder
Coarsely-ground black pepper
12 oz. Teriyaki sauce
1/2 bottle red wine

Cut the green onions and cut them up to about half-inch strips. Place in one-gallon plastic bag. Add a generous quantity of garlic powder and black pepper. Add steak to bag. Seal bag, shake carefully to coat steak with spices and onions. Open bag, add teriyaki sauce and red wine. Reseal bag, place in large plastic bowl and store in refrigerator overnight.

Bake at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes, until internal temprature reaches 120 degrees. Place on barbeque, grill until marks show up. Let rest for about five minutes. Slice thin, diagonally to grain. Serve with potatoes and salad.

DVD commercials

Commercials in front of the movie suck. If I wanted to see previews of "coming attractions," I'd go to the real theater.

June 17, 2005

(Updated) This Just In: Air Conditioning Installed in the Abyss

Holy crap. My least favorite political representative almost admitted he was wrong about Terry Schiavo. (Being a doctor himself, one would have thought that he would have known better than to have put himself the position of having to make this retraction in the first place. But rendering good medical opinions was hardly his objective when he he stuck Congress' nose into places it didn't belong.)

It's not quite snowballs in hell but it is a remarkable backpedal. If he reconsiders his remarks and political actions about judicial independence, maybe after seeing what other conservatives who are actually knowledgeable about the subject think, then maybe that pig really will take flight.

Until then, I say, "Anyone but Frist in 2008." What is more, there is another possible Presidential candidate who lacks even the backhanded integrity of Bill Frist and now I say "Anyone but Bill Frist or Jeb Bush in 2008." I'm running out of Republicans here!

Shire! Baggins!

A direct hit from Michael Reynolds, the George Carlin of internet political bloggers: it's funny because it's (probably) true.


Looking over some of my posts recently, some of my Loyal Readers might get the idea that I’m some kind of a radical liberal. After all, I stuck my neck out in favor of same-sex marriage and in no uncertain terms have demonstrated contempt for a likely Republican candidate two likely Republican candidates for President in 2008.

This is an odd position for me to be in. I’ve never considered myself liberal; back in California I thought of myself as a Republican of the libertarian variety. The Democrats holding power in California stand for nothing more than their own personal self-aggrandizement, needlessly increasing the size of an overly bureaucratic, expensive and burdensome state government, and putting a friendly liberal set of clothes on what would otherwise have been naked corruption. So naturally I was repelled by them. I expected the Democrats here to be the same, and I was not disapointed. But I also look at the Republicans nationally as well as here in Tennessee, and I find that kind of attitude to be shared on a very bipartisan basis.

I was registered as a Republican in California. Voter registration here in Tennessee is nonpartisan so no one is a “member” of any party by anything other than self-identification; I am just a voter, not a registered Democrat or a registered Republican. So I look around the political landscape and compare what I see to what I believe to be the proper resolution of various issues. Here are my political beliefs on some of the major issues of our time:

Iraq: When the Second Gulf War started more than two years ago, I couldn’t see a downside to removing Saddam Hussein from power. I still think the opportunities we have opened up for our country and for the region are tremendous, but I am very frustrated with the slow progress of building a democracy and the steady drumbeat of violence costing both military and civilian lives. It turns out that there were no WMD’s, only a generalized capability to build them and I resent being sold a bill of goods about that subject. But that’s in the past, and when you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. Now I say we need to stick around and make sure the job gets done right. Besides, I also understand that the overwhelming reason for deposing Saddam and creating a friendly democratic government there was not to let the President exact personal revenge for the assassination attempt on his father (President Clinton did that), nor was it to grab oil for ourselves (as it turns out, we were buying that oil all along, thanks to Kojo Annan), nor was it to provide an opportunity for Dick Cheney’s corporate friends to get really rich (they already were). The ultimate reason was strategic – it provides the U.S. with a strategic location from which to readily project its force in an area of the world where that projection is anticipated to be needed in the future. So we’re never going to leave Iraq because the point of our going there was to stay.

Military: When both considering and when disregarding our national adventure in Iraq, I am in favor of a strong, aggressive military as better able to protect our interests than a smaller, more defensively-oriented military. If there is a real threat to the United States, I expect the military to contain or destroy that threat. This is closer to the rhetoric of the GOP than that of the party of Jefferson and Jackson; but since taking power, the Republicans have done little to rebuild the military that eviscerated under President Clinton.

Taxes: I would rather pay less than more; I accept that I must pay some. But if I am serious about wanting to pay less taxes, I must be willing to accept less government. This second part of the bargain is unpalatable to most people and both political parties, although the truth is that I prefer less government. In the past, when I identified with the Republicans more, they were the “small government” party. Now, however, George W. Bush has presided over an astonishing increase in the size of the government, in terms of both its heavy foot on our liberties and its financial drag on the economy. But I can hardly turn to the Democrats and hope for a tax cut. So I don’t know where to go on this issue any more.

Budget: The national budget should be balanced, or at a surplus, and the surplus should be used to buy back outstanding debt. That necessarily means having a government that does less rather than more. As the facts demonstrate, neither party wants this. Amazingly, we had something that could credibly be called a balanced budget under Clinton, whose instincts were obviously solidly in the “tax-and-spend” school of Keynesian economics. Clinton was aided by extraordinarily good economic conditions during the early and middle 1990’s, which do not seem likely to be repeated. No Democrat on the horizon promises fiscal restraint, and the Bush Administration has demonstrated that Republicans have also lost interest in fiscal restraint. So again, I am politically homeless on this issue.

Environment: Only the government can effectively police and protect the environment. It should not do so at the expense of economic development, but ultimately I think it is a false choice between a robust economy and and a clean environment. The best thing the government can do is encourage technological innovation and scientific research. The Democrats seem closer to my position here, but they seem to be largely abandoning their prior commitment to preserving the environment.

Abortion: I am pro-choice. Democrats mostly are pro-choice; Republicans mostly are pro-life or at least do their damnedest to project that image. Yes, there are exceptions to these characterizations of both parties. On a related note, I am also in favor of euthanasia and other forms of mercy killings, if there are appropriate safeguards put in place to ensure that the decision is really congruent with the true wishes of the person to die. The recent circus over Terry Schiavo only reinforces how appalled I am that the extraordinarily disgraceful ways that our society refuses to acknowledge that death exists. For myself, I do not want to carry on life if I am in a non-revivable state or if I have suffered significant enough loss of brain function that I am no longer able to recognize the people I love or form intelligent thoughts. I trust The Wife to make decisions for me in that regard if I am incapacitated and unable to make those sorts of decisions for myself.

Capital Punishment: I am in favor of it. The Constitution authorizes it, provided certain procedural safeguards are met. Let’s just be really damn sure that before we kill someone, they really are guilty of the crime for which they are being punished. That’s what due process is all about. It needs to be meaningful, unbiased, sober, and calculated to encourage a search for the truth.

Education: (a) It should be handled at the state level as there is no Federal interest in education. The Federal Department of Education is a waste of money and we could get by just fine without it. States, however, need to do a much better job of educating their children. (b) There should be more, not less, standardized testing, and the testing should be better than what it is currently. Yes, standardized testing does not evaluate the “complete student.” Yes, it does encourage “teaching to the test.” But if the test evaluates a student’s knowledge of the facts and information that the school is trying to convey in the first place, then “teaching to the test” accomplishes the goals of education. (c) I read college students’ writing when I teach my online class in business law, and the writing quality is atrocious, although perhaps not always as bad as the referenced paper. This needs to end. So I am singularly unimpressed with all of last year’s hand-wringing about an essay being added to the SAT. Good writing skills are something that schools should be teaching their students and this is apparently not happening. So it’s high time we test for it because that seems to be the only way that students will be taught or will learn these skills. (d) "“Creation science" is religion and not science, and “intelligent design" is religion masquerading as science. Neither should be taught in the public schools at all. Real evolution, on the other hand, is science, and should be taught to all students along with a solid understanding of what the scientific method is and what it can and cannot do. (e) English should be taught to everyone from an early age. So should Spanish. Looking ahead to our country’s economic and military future, I think we probably also ought to be teaching a lot more Arabic, Hindi, and Mandarin than we are now. (f) School vouchers are in theory a good idea but I fear that they will lend themselves easily to corruption, and the kids will wind up the losers for it. So where am I on the political spectrum here? Neither party fits my views on education very nicely. I like that the President and his Republican minions have emphasized education and standardized testing, but I really dislike their aggressiveness to channel tax money to religious institutions through vouchers, and to teach religion in biology class. Democrats, almost uniformly, want to simply throw money at our failing public schools in the hopes that if they do more of what they are doing, somehow they’ll stop doing it wrong. Again, I am politically homeless.

Globalism: I am in favor of it. Globalism means lower international trade barriers, increased economic activity for all trading partners, and greater military stability caused by closer economic ties between nations. It does not mean a degraded environment, it does not mean a loss of national autonomy, it does not mean a loss of jobs in the U.S. because other countries are better at certain things than we are. We have had free trade with Canada for years and the idea of a war between the U.S. and Canada is laughable today. I dream of a day when the same can be said of any two nations. Both parties seem mostly in favor of expanding global trade, so that’s a wash.

United Nations: I am mildly against it. It’s a largely useless, hugely corrupt, symbolically overimportant, and fortunately mostly harmless waste of diplomatic energy. A nice idea, but a tremendously ineffective institution. I guess that puts me closer to the Republican school of thought than the Democrats’ but Bush's nominee for our ambassador to the United Nations to try and stand for a voice of reform in this institution has an astonishingly poor track record of diplomacy with respect to the U.N., and it seems to me that a diplomat ought to be capable of credible diplomacy.

Equality: Taking our commitment to equality seriously means really treating people equally unless there’s a good reason not to. At the end of the day, affirmative action does not do this; while it is well-intentioned, it nevertheless treats people differently and I have never been convinced that remedying the effects of past discrimination is a good enough reason to justify present discrimination. However, anyone who thinks that we live in a society where racial minorities actually have a leg up on things is living in Bizarro World. A move to the South was not necessary to convince me that there is still a lot of discrimination by white people with power and money against people of color. The same thing is true for those who think Christians are routinely oppressed by non-Christians. I think the most effective way of fighting this in the long run is to have people exist, live, and work alongside different kinds of people as peers, but the process takes generations and some people need to have their asses kicked in order to be shown the wrongness of their ways before their attitudes will change. So for the foreseeable future, when discrimination does happen, our civil rights laws should be aggressively enforced.

Judicial Activism: Judges make law. They’ve been making law for an entire millennium of Anglo-American jurisprudence – it’s called “common law” and it is the foundation for our court system. There’s no reason for them to stop the common law process now, even if some judges make controversial decisions on some cases, virtually all of which seem to have something to do with the issue of human sexuality one way or another. Somehow, a free society, a republican form of government, and the democratic decision-making structure has survived judges doing politically unpopular things for the more than two hundred years since Marbury v. Madison. Judges are supposed to be able to do what’s right but politically unpopular – that’s why they’re not elected and have lifetime appointments. My personal experience of working in the courts is that an independent judiciary does not leap at the opportunity to impose its own policy judgments against the will of the people, but rather that it is very careful in its efforts to interpret and apply the Constitution and the complex legal environment that has been created under that Constitution. I believe the U.S. Constitution is the most sophisticated and successful political balancing act yet written and that it is dedicated to the proposition as between the government and the individual, the primary and overriding raison d’etre of the government is to guarantee the freedom of citizens. In that system, judiciary should be a body of powerful sentinels, ever vigilant against the encroachment of the government’s exercise of power against the freedom of the individual.

So I'm not much of a liberal, by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm also finding that I'm not much of a Republican, either. I haven't left the Republican party -- the Republican party is leaving me. There are no credible voices on the political scene today espousing practical libertarianism.

June 16, 2005

Birthday coming up

The Wife's birthday is approaching. I need ideas for something special to get her or do for her. Maybe the Loyal Readers have some suggestions?

Fortunately, there really is no Burger King in Centerville

As I'm driving back north from Atlanta this afternoon, it's about 1:30 and I'm hungry. I think to myself, "Self, wouldn't you like some nice, tasty, salty Burger King right about now? Sure you would. Look for the next one and grab some grub." And that was my plan as I approached Centerville, Georgia.

Right about this time, the 428th Insane Georgia Driver comes barrelling up behind me (I'm in the center lane) and zoom-passes me, with scant inches between his front bumper and my rear fender. The guy is driving a late-eighties Cutlass Ciera, which has obviously been painted over a flat black or which has been exposed to so much weather that it's lost its gloss. The suspension is visibly out of balance and the car is weaving all over the place. The driver takes it up to about ninety miles an hour as he drafts by, and he oversteers on his zoom-pass and gets onto the left shoulder. There he remains, with his left wheels well over the outside line, for about thirty seconds, until he notices the problem, jerks the wheel to the right, and then has to correct back so he doesn't drift back into the middle lane.

After all, I didn't drive down to Georgia to get killed by some asshole who, like a significant number of his fellow Georgians, can't drive worth a damn and thinks he's in a big hurry for no apparent reason. Instead, I merge into the right lane, slow down and let the guy get ahead. Exit #290 to Centerville was approaching and the "Food next exit" sign promised the sought-after Burger King.

The sign on the off-ramp indicated that I would have to drive two miles out of my way, into town, to find the Burger King. I did it, and found a host of other fast-food establishments but no Burger King. Declining the risk of a Krystal Burger while on a long drive, I found a sign that promised "this way back to the Interstate," down a different route than I had taken. Having seen a sign before that said "Centerville Next 2 Exits" I knew there would be another interchange I could use to get back on I-75, so I followed the sign.

Note: if this had been in Tennessee, much bitter experience would have by now convinced me to believe that the sign promising a route to a particular destination was either misleading and indirect, or an out-and-out lie. But I was in Georgia so I took the chance. It turned out to be a good gamble -- the route did take me back to Exit #288, which also had another drive-thru lunch place where I got some food.

Getting back on the freeway after buying lunch, I saw that immediately behind the on-ramp was a large collision. A bobtail truck had tipped over on its side and spun such that it was blocking all three lanes of the interstate; a Georgia State Police unit was on scene helping stop all traffic on the freeway and guide a tow truck to pull the bobtail out of the flow of traffic. I thought to myself, "Self, you're really lucky that you didn't get caught in that! As it turns out, you lost no time at all on the failed search for Burger King."

That's when I saw the second vehicle, completely overturned with a halo of shattered glass surrounding it. A boxy, black sedan. It looked quite supiciously like the remains of the flat-black Ciera that had drafted me and then cut me off about fifteen minutes before. As the big tow truck maneuvered, I could see the paramedic vehicle that previously had been behind it -- and the two paramedics standing around next to an empty gurney. Paramedics move at two speeds at an accident scene -- it's either rush-rush-rush to get the injured person secured and away to the hospital, or stand around and wait for the coroner.

These guys weren't moving real fast.

Was it the same car? I can't say for sure. But it was enough to freak me out a little bit. Not enough, however, to make me lose my appetite. That's a damn tasty cheeseburger Wendy's makes, let me tell you something.

A Pocket Within a Pocket

So when I got home last night, I ironed my shirt, picked out an appropriate tie, and put all my clothes and such so that when I got up at 0-dark hundred hours of the morning The Wife could go right back to sleep and not be disturbed by my antics. That worked, for the most part -- until it was time for me to leave.

The rental car, a Dodge Neon, came on a tiny key with a tiny fob. I had thought when I got home last night that, as part of my normal routine, I left my keys in their usual place on the wine console. Which I did -- my regular keys.

Now, to understand what happened next, you need to know that in some men's suits or good trousers, the right front pocket will sometimes have a "pocket within the pocket." The purpose of this little mini-pouch has never been clear to me. Maybe, Way Back When, it was supposed to be where your trolley fare was, or it was where you tied up the onion on your belt (which was the style of the day). But today, I can't see any practical use for this thing.

Obviously, what happened was the key to the Neon got stuck in the little mini-pocket, and remained here, hung upside down in my suit pants, all night. So this morning, I had to clunk around in my dress shoes and turn on the light in the bedroom to find it, after The Wife got up an hour earlier than she normally would have, to help me find the key. You try to be nice, but the universe gets in the way sometimes.

I bought her flowers on the way home tonight to make up for it.

June 15, 2005

Trip to Atlanta

Tomorrow, I have to drive down to Atlanta to depose a technical expert in a products liability case. It's a good case and I've a lot of confidence in it. It's been a while since I've deposed a technical expert but that won't be a super-big deal. The big deal comes in three parts.

First, the deposition is in Atlanta. Now, the Wife and I are a one-car family, and The Wife has to go to work in Knoxville tomorrow, so this means incurring an extra expense of renting a second car to get me to and from the deposition site. No one at the office had a car they could lend me (maybe the Great Man did, but I didn't ask him) and that's probably just as well in case anything happens. The Wife and I are hopefully going to remedy this one-car situation soon, but that hasn't happened quite yet.

Second, the deposition is in Atlanta, meaning I need to get up at 4:30 a.m. to be sure I can get there on time. Yuck. So I've ironed my shirt and set out my clothes for tomorrow in the bathroom, so The Wife is only as disturbed by my ridiculously early morning activities as necessary.

Third, the deposition is in Atlanta, which means I'll be in fear for my life the entire time I'm on the road. Los Angeles was a breeze to drive in compared to Atlanta. Hell, I felt safer on the freeways in Los Angeles than I do on surface streets in Knoxville. Take a typical clueless rural Knoxville driver, make him late for his appointment, multiply him by ten thousand, and then compress those ten thousand drivers into a four-lane freeway with poorly-marked exit signs. That's Atlanta.

Bleary-eyed and mentally distracted with preparing deposition questions is not how I want to face the biggest city in the South. Last time I was in Atlanta, I got rear-ended. Atlanta combines all of the incompetence of Southern drivers with all of the pressures of dense urbanization found in a big city like Chicago. Normally, I say, "If you've got a peach on your license plate, stay the hell away from me." But tomorrow I have to go to the home of the dreaded peach license plates, and the drivers who own them.

Fear for me.


Jordan is our newest cat. She is very small, came to us pregnant (we had her fixed) and is both young of age and young at heart. She's always playing with stuff and is very curious. That means she's constantly jumping up on things and getting in trouble. She's talkative, which is probably a good safety feature in a small cat.

She's also a pest. Whenever she sees me walking around, she runs right across my path and I've tripped over her several times just in the past two weeks that she's been home. She likes to jump up on my desk and help me type. She likes to jump up on the bed while the peoples are sleeping, and walk across my throat.

But, she's very, very cute and she's a part of our family now, so I'll just have to learn to deal with her, and she with me.


Tonight, as I was unloading the car, I noticed a particularly bright "star" right next to the moon. I set up the telescope and sure enough, it was Jupiter. Jupiter is cool to look at through the telescope because every night the four moons are configured differently. Tonight, for instance, it had two moons to the one side real close, and two moons to the other side more widely spaced out. If the sky is clear tomorrow night, and I'm awake, maybe I'll see how the moons are configured then.

I'm Official

Earlier this month, I received word that my application for membership in the Tennessee Bar had finally been approved. I've already been sworn in to practice before the Supreme Court, and today I got my Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility number. The number is about one-sixth the amount of my California State Bar number. My Tennessee bar card is also on a little piece of cream-colored paper, which contrasts with the profesionally-printed plastic identification card that California gives out. However, the seal of the TBPR is every bit as nice-looking as the seal of the California Bar.

I also got my new business cards today, indicating that I am licensed to practice in both California and Tennessee. I intend to keep up both bar memberships indefinitely. Finding properly-qualified CLE courses may be a challenge -- but then again, a lot of the nationally-accreditied CLE classes are taught in Las Vegas -- as if I needed an excuse to want to go there.


CNN reports that The autopsy of Terry Schiavo reveals that the woman had a brain that had shrunk to half the size that would have been expected of a healthy adult. Her brain would have lacked the capacity to control her digestive system and process any nutrition not directly injected through a feeding tube. She was blind, too; there was nothing left of her vision receptors because that portion of her brain had already died.

The horror is not that an innocent woman was killed. The horror is that she was kept alive in such a state to begin with.

Unsurprising but still disapointing

Yesterday the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples. The vast majority of states examining the issue have concurred with this reasoning.

My opinion is that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, or at least have a legal institution that is the equivalent of marriage. I'm astonished at how controversial this opinion is, and how much resistance it gets. As far as I know, only the courts and legislatures of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and to a lesser degree, California have reached the same conclusion that I have.

So today New Jersey joins Arizona, Virginia, and Indiana, and by extension a number of other states that have found ways to side-step the issue, whose courts have denied same-sex couples the same rights as married couples. Lots of states, and the United States Congress, have passed "Defense of Marriage Acts" defining marriage as "only between a man and a woman."

Now, let's be clear about one thing -- "marriage" is a creation of law. Yes, it is related to social traditions and religion, but all of the rights, privileges, duties, responsibilities, and other incidents of marriage are created by statute, regulation, and common law. The reason one gets married rather than "just dating" is to take advantage of the legal rights and benefits associated with marriage. I'm talking about a set of legal rights when I'm discussing "marriage." Crass though it sounds, the bulk of those rights have to do with the common ownership of property. Perhaps even more crass, a substantial fraction of laws that are directly about marriage are really about what happens in the event of a marriage's failure.

I was lucky. I got to marry the person I wanted to marry, with no legal obstacles, because of the fortunate accident that I am male and she is female. But why shouldn't a gay couple have the same ability to benefit from pooling their lives together that The Wife and I enjoy? There's many reasons that I've seen offered to justify the present state of affairs, and my thoughts on them:

1. The Tautology: "Marriage just isn't something that people of the same sex can have; by definition, marriage is between a man and a woman." So what do they have in Massachusetts? By defining marriage such that it excludes the class of people you want to exclude, you're just playing word games and not reaching the real question, which is why these legal rights should only go to opposite-sex couples.

2. The Normative Argument: "I don't like gay people." That's just plain bigotry -- certainly no justification for a law. Sadly, this seems to be the predominant reason for opposition to same-sex marriage.

3. The Reference to History: "Marriage has always only been between a man and a woman in the past." Marriage also only used to be between couples of the same race. It was obviously wrong to restrict marriage on racial grounds and referring to history and tradition does not justify that wrong. Slavery was also once accepted as a time-honored institution.

4. The Teleological Argument (version 1): "Marriage is about procreation. Same-sex couples can't procreate, so they shouldn't be able to marry." Not with each other, perhaps, but they do have children. Besides, if marriage were about procreation, then only fertile people who intended to have children could get married and they would not be allowed to have contraceptives. What's more, whenever a guy knocked up his girlfriend in a world where marriage and procreation were inextricably intertwined, the couple would have to get married, which obviously is not the case and is probably not a very desirable state of affairs.

5. The Teleological Argument (version 2): "Okay, marriage isn't about creating children, but marriage is about raising children." Two thoughts here. First: same-sex couples can raise kids, whether one of their own biological children or a child they adopt, just as well as opposite-sex couples. Second: The Wife and I don't have any kids and we don't plan on having any, at least for right now -- but we're still married. And if we never raise kids, we'll still be married. How is that any different than a childless same-sex couple?

6. The Reference to Divine Authority: "Marriage involves God, and He objects to homosexual relationships." What about atheists? They can get married, and God has no part in those marriages. We have a secular government because that is how we protect religious freedom in a pluralistic society. So basing a law on the precepts of one religion, with no secular purpose to the law, moves us a step down the road to theocracy.

7. The Reference to Democracy: "Restricting marriage rights to only opposite-sex couples is the political will of the overwhelming majority of Americans." The majority can be wrong. The overwhelming majority of Americans were wrong to restrict voting rights to men, and before that to white men, and before that to white men who owned land. The overwhelming majority of Germans supported Hitler. It is overwhelmingly unpopular to be a Muslim in the United States today, just as it is overwhelmingly unpopular to be a Christian in Iran today. Yet we all agree that religious freedom should be cherished and promoted. Some things are of such importance that they are properly not subject to the whims of democracy.

8. The Parade of Horribles: "Allowing gays to marry opens the door to incestuous marriages, polygamy, and/or bestiality." Get real.

9. The Straw Man: "Gay people can already get married -- to someone of the opposite sex." This is pure sophistry. I could just as easily complain that a straight person cannot get married to someone of the same sex.

10. The False Appeal to Statistics: "Same-sex marriages in other countries have resulted in a decline in opposite-sex marriage rates and declining birth rates." This is a reference to Denmark, which began recognizing same-sex marriages in 1995. While opposite-sex marriage rates have declined in Demark since then, they have also done so throughout Europe. In fact, Denmark presently has had the highest rate of opposite-sex marriages of any EU country. Vermont, which has had civil unions for more than five years, has remained well above the national average for opposite-sex marriage rates since adopting its civil union statute.

Here are the reasons I offer that marriage, or at least its functional legal equivalent, should be offered to same-sex couples:

1. The Libertarian Argument: It’s none of the state’s business to say what consenting adult can marry what other consenting adult and restricting marriage to straight people serves no secular purpose.

2. The Counter-Teleological Argument: If marriage is about kids and not about the married couple, well guess what, gay people have kids too. Those kids should have married parents. And no, just because a kid has gay parents does not mean that the kid is necessarily going to grow up gay -- and if the kid did grow up gay, why would that necessarily be a bad thing?

3. The Economic Argument: There is no reason that a gay couple cannot, right now, go hire a lawyer and give one another many the economic rights of marriage, and thus legally “marry.” But that would unfairly cost the same-sex couple thousands of dollars in attorney's fees while an opposite-sex couple can get the same thing for about thirty bucks. (Hmm; maybe I should look in to this; it would be the sort of thing I could turn into a no-brainer part of my practice and hire a paralegal to do.)

4. The Harmlessness Argument: The Wife and I will not be any less married if same-sex couples are allowed to marry as well. Neither will any other couple that is already married. No one's going to be hurt by it. So if a same-sex couple wants to marry, that's really none of my business, or yours, or anyone else's. If it doesn't hurt anyone, it should be permitted.

5. Separation of Church and State: Keeping marriage restricted to opposite-sex couples is really motivated by religion, and the state should not enshrine a religious principle into law without some secular reason for doing so. For their part, churches will still be perfectly free to continue preaching whatever level of intolerance of homosexuality they believe appropriate, even if the law extends these rights to same-sex couples. Catholics do not recognize divorce, for instance, but the law does and the law permits a divorced person to re-marry and if that happens, the law still recognizes the second marriage as valid. Somehow, Catholics have managed to continue being Catholics, and maintaining their opposition to divorce, despite not getting a vote in whether a divorced person can re-marry.

6. Constitutional Argument: The Constitution, in my view, requires it. The Equal Protections Clause compels treating all people equally unless there is a sufficiently justifiable reason for not doing so. Amazingly, the Supreme Court has consistently punted on definitively stating what level of scrutiny same-sex relationships earn; but we know that marriage is a fundamental right, so that means that restrictions on the right to marry require a compelling governmental objective. No such objective exists for this issue.

Look, we as a society are either going to take our social commitment to equality seriously, or we will not do so. Some people have profound moral objections to homosexuality; however, I do not share them. I don't care if the word "marriage" is used or if some other term like "civil union" or "domestic partnership" is chosen instead -- but the legal institution must be the complete equivalent of marriage or else we are not taking our commitment to equality seriously. That means the same tax rates, the same default joint ownership of property, the same eligibility for welfare -- everything. There are some parts of that which I could draft documents and give to clients without the consent of the government; there are other parts of that equation which I cannot; for instance, a right to a partner's retirement benefits.

I think that gay Americans are still Americans and they deserve the same rights that all other Americans have; it saddens me that our government will not treat these people equally.