August 31, 2005

It's all about the beer

Hey, there, buddy! Are you suddenly homeless and without any possessions but the clothes on your back, waist-deep in water, with the prospect of another nine to twelve feet flooding into your city over the next twenty-four hours?

Have you been given not one, but now three, mandatory evacuation orders by the mayor of your city, and the governor of your state? Are you currently under martial law?

Have you decided to loot stores anyway?

If so, remember to take what's really important. Go for the imports this time!

You know, back in Los Angeles, when we had riots, the looters took TV's and other high-end electronics to fence when things calmed down. But, I suppose this is still New Orleans we're talking about, and the looters there will prioritize their raids accordingly.

Day of Stress

Today's agenda:

1. Drop off The Wife at her job in West Knoxville;
2. Go to allergist's office in Middle Knoxville for first round of shots, discover that I've gone to wrong office;
3. Go to correct office in Maryville;
4. Get injected with known allergens and wait half an hour for systemic reaction that never happens;
5. Drive back to office in downtown Knoxville;
6. Learn about friend from New Orleans (he's OK; he evacuated to Shreveport but is considering not going back to New Orleans because there's nothing to go back to);
7. Prepare mandatory expert designation; grouse about how unfair it is to have to disclose experts a month before the defendants do and how much more sense simultaneous disclosures would make;
8. Meet with other clients to break bad news;
9. Go to dentist in West Knoxville;
10. Go to hospitalized relative's house in Maryville to care for her pets;
11. Pick up The Wife from job in West Knoxville;
12. Drop off The Wife at The Estate at Louisville;
13. Return to downtown Knoxville;
14. Have business dinner set up by The Great Man with a lawyer from Atlanta somewhere in downtown Knoxville;
15. Return to The Estate at Louisville;
16. Grade papers to turn student feedback around in time to turn in grades and be paid in next pay cycle.

Total estimated mileage: 14,583 miles.

So you can see I've got a lot on my plate here.

August 30, 2005

Actual student comments

The online business law class I've just finished teaching had twelve students. Five of them, from all over the spectrum of performance, took time to write notes to me on their final exams. For privacy reasons, I've eliminated their names, but otherwise their responses are here in full:

1. TL, please find attached my final exam. I would also like to thank youfor an excellent learning experience. Your dedication to your professionwas evident through your teachings and responses to members of thisclass. Best wishes for success in your business as well.(and, I still think Gilligan deserved more than what Team B was willingto settle for:)Best, [name].

2. TL, Attached is my final exam. I hope that I did much better on this than the past couple, especially the last one. [¶] I do not know what it is, I think it is psychological because I panic when I hear or see an exam or test of any kind. I know it is not because I do not know the material because you could sit here and verbally ask me and I would know the answer. Something that I need to personally work on. [¶] With that said, let me take a little more of your time. I just wanted to thank you for everything. I did not think that I was going to enjoy this class as much as I have. There was a lot of reading but it was well worth it. I feel that I have gained more knowledge in this class, than all of the classes that I have taken thus far. I have to compliment you on your facilitation of this class. None of the facilitators of the classes that I have taken thus far have been as involved with their students as you have. For this, I greatly thank you. Your responses to our questions or posts were phenomenal and the stories you told were very informative. It just shows me that you really care about your students and you really want them to learn and walk away from your class with knowledge. [¶] Thank you again.

3. TL..Here is my final test. I was only fuzzy with a couple questions (kind of tricky especially #20). I want you to know that my goal was to Ace it and hopefully I succeeded -who knows?? I would like to say thank you for all of the information on business law, I can honestly say I enjoyed this class very much. Thanks again and good luck to you .

4. I was unable to fix my Excel application, so I'm once again sending you my assignment in a word file! :) [¶] Thank you for an exciting class - I've really enjoyed it. [¶] Thanks again and good luck! :)

5. TL, Here is my week 5 test. [¶] Thanks for a great class, [name]

Granted, the last two might be a little perfunctory, but I really appreciate the sentiment from my students, because I care about doing a good job. At least three of them took the time to write these nice notes. I do put a lot of effort into my classes, and for the reason that they've noted -- I want them to really learn something.

Will Atlantis Rise Again?

I just read that the Lake Pontchartrain levee in New Orleans broke. This is seriously bad news. It could easily flood the entire northern part of the city; reports are that 80% of the city was under flood before the breach as it was. News reports from the Crescent City are surprisingly sketchy, although there are gruesome reports of bodies floating in the water. CNN is runing this photograph of a house in Mississippi, pushed off its foundations into the nearby road by the force of the hurricane.

Yesterday, when cancelling the depositions in Louisiana, I spoke to a man who I think lives in Lafayette. He said with much bravado that "We get blasted every few years; we're used to it down here!" It sounded eerily like the way Californians talk about earthquakes -- most of them are insignficiant, and building codes are such that medium-sized ones cause little noticeable damage. But a big one will cripple the area it strikes, and there's no getting used to something like that. Perhaps a smaller hurricane would have caused only localized damage, but this is something else entirely; the entire eastern Mississippi delta is a disaster area.

I'm reminded of the legend of Atlantis -- a glittering city of wealth and decadence, suddenly and catastrophically submerged under the sea. Many believe the ancient legend is a distortion of a historical catastrophe at Santorini. Surely New Orleans will find a way to dig itself out of the water and muck and maybe this will wash away the perpetual stench arising from the French Quarter. But I think the Saints will be playing at LSU this year.

August 29, 2005

I don't think I'm flying to Louisiana tomorrow

You ever hear the phrase "You can't get there from here?" That's pretty much what we're all saying about Southwest Louisiana.

If I'm reading this right, right about the time I need to be in the air, Katrina will be centered near the Mississippi-Alabama-Tennessee border point. Thanks but no thanks, my idea of a good time does not involve flying directly into a hurricane. Below is a track of what my approximate flightpath from Knoxville to Lake Charles would be, and Katrina's current position:

Things look pretty grim for New Orleans right about now. The eye of the storm is about thirty miles east of the center of the city. I didn't realize so much of New Orleans is below sea level -- and the storm surge is predicted to be ten feet higher than the levees. Also, CNN is reporting a rumor that the Superdome is leaking (it's just a rumor as of the time I'm publishing, so no link) and tens of thousands of people have sought shelter in the Superdome.

I have acquaintance, a good friend of my former law partner, who practices criminal law in New Orleans. Here's hoping he's okay.

August 28, 2005

It's dinner time!

Not to brag, but I really outdid myself for dinner tonight. My roasted chicken turned out perfect -- the meat practically fell off the bone, and stayed juicy and flavorful. Brining the bird had a lot to do with it. I also made apple stuffing from scratch. The Wife loved it and we have about a pound of meat left over from a tender young fryer. A serviceable Pinot Bianco went well with the food while we sat on our outdoor screened porch and enjoyed the fact that the summer heat has broken by virtue of our weekend-long position underneat the cloud skirt surrounding Hurricane Katrina, currently moving towards Louisiana (where, oddly enough, I have to go on Tuesday). But I've had enough vino and good food that for the time being, I'm content to let the hurricane go where it's going to go and adopt a zen attitude about my upcoming trip.

Movie Review: Pterodactyl

When you're in the mood for cheesy science fiction, made-for-Sci-Fi-Channel movies never disappoint. This Saturday night's premiere, Pterodactyl, certainly fit the bill. My review contains spoilers. What's the point of trying to keep "plot" details secret from my Loyal Readers with a movie like this?

The first thing to understand about the movie is that it contains a vanity for science fiction geeks. Since I caught this, I suppose that qualifies me as a science fiction geek, too. See, all the characters are named for famous science fiction writers. The list of names I caught included H.P. Lovecraft, Rod Serling, Arthur C. Clarke, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Roger Zelazny, David Kemper, and Connie Willis, and last but certainly not least, Robert A. Heinlein.

Cameron Daddo (yes, I had to look him up, too; he's mainly done a lot of TV in Australia and later here in the States) plays a paleontology professor, desparate to publish, who journeys to the dangerous Turkish-Armenian border (which looks suspiciously like Northern California), along with graduate student and love interest Amy Sloan (yes, I had to look her up, too, and it turns out she had small roles in The Day After Tomorrow and The Aviator) and four loser undergraduates to go dig up bones. They are attacked by -- of course -- pterodactyls, whose eggs have been released by recent earthquake and volcanic activity and are now flying through the skies searching for food, preying on the local inhabitants.

Already down by one undergraduate who had "early victim" practically tattooed on his forehead, the college group crosses paths with an under-strength Delta Force unit led by a bald and therefore difficult-to recognize Coolio. (Yes, that Coolio.) They capture a "rebel" leader and then run across the civilians, who have already been attacked by the movie's eponymous monsters. Another student, and several soldiers, become dino-food, and we're off to the races. Eventually, the three lead actors are the only survivors and they concoct a daring plan to rescue one of their number from the clutches of the terrible pterodactyls.

A word about monsters. In a monster movie, the monsters should be scary. In a movie where the monsters are dinosaurs, again, the dinosaurs ought to be scary. These CGI dinosaurs are, um, not scary. They elicit chuckles and guffaws. Perhaps the reason for this is their inconsistent size. The papier-mache talons that grab at one of the characters are laughably fake-looking and obviously not in scale to the CGI image on screen. In fact, they are strangely mute -- these monsters make no noise at all. Nor do they use the tools at their disposal -- despite having long beaks, they do not jab or stab at their intended prey. On the plus side, they do have an ability to swoop down on their human victims and slice them cleanly in half while having automatic military weapons fired directly at them with astonishingly poor accuracy. This makes for very amusing television.

Also amusing are the obviously poor tactical decisions made by the Delta Force. Okay, you're being hunted by a swarm of hungry pterodactyls, and moving towards their aerie. And, the bad guys have snipers in the woods that have already tried to kill you. So naturally, you're going to walk, straight upright, through the middle of an open field. I know people in the military, and most of them are pretty smart. I'd like to think that in a similar situation, my friends would have the good sense to stay in the forest.

While I'm griping, let me be clear that I understand the convention of using English so that the audience can understand what's going on. Still, I somehow doubted that the Turkish rebels had so fluent a command of the English language that they communicated to each other and their captive sex-slave women in a language other than their native tongue. Every time the "rebels" were on screen, I was thinking, "What, the producers had enough money for CGI dinosaurs but not enough for subtitles?"

Especially worthy of note is never-quite-right acting. Overacting is a hallmark of the "B" monster movie, and Coolio and three other actors are pleasingly way over the top. This turns out to be preferable to the rest of the characters, including the leads, who appear to be robotically incapable of reacting to their circumstances. Seriously, a microwave oven has more emotional range than these actors. "Oh, look. It's a flock of pterodactyls. How interesting! Hmm, and the bad guys are shooting at us even while these dinosaurs are trying to eat us. Wow, it sucks to be me right now. Where's craft services? Oh, yeah, let's take cover!"

Also worthy of note is the behind-the-cameras crew. The director of this fine piece of film is Mark L. Lester, the director of other masterpieces like Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Armed and Dangerous with John Candy, and Stephen King's Firestarter, with Drew Barrymore. The writer is named Mark Sevi and has credits like Dead Men Can't Dance (tagline: "The Cold War just got hot -- time to rock and roll!"), Excessive Force II: Force on Force (starring the amazingly-named Mandingo Warrior, who also worked crew on the star-studded Captain Nuke and the Bomber Boys), and of course the unforgettable Ghoulies IV. In other words, the creative team was working well within their depth here. (I didn't make up a single one of those links or credits. I wish I had, although I would have shrunk from suggesting in public that there actually could be a man who apparently has chosen to go by the name "Mandingo Warrior.")

Look, Sci-Fi Saturday movies do not take themselves seriously. Pterodactyl is some seriously bad cinema. If you're in the mood for it, this is a campy, frivolous, mindless, and quite humorous "B" movie. But you do need to have a taste for some very stinky cheese.

August 25, 2005

Mars Party

Our friends have suggested that tomorrow night we have a Mars-viewing party. It's ideally timed, seeing as Mars is on his closest approach to Earth until 2023. Reports of Mars being the size of the moon, however, are greatly exaggerated. To the naked eye, he will look like a bright, orange-yellow star. I'm not sure if my telescope will resolve him powerfully enough to see surface features (assuming there isn't another planet-wide dust storm, which sometimes happens there).

But it's been a while since I've seen our friends so I'm happy to use the excuse to get together with them. I'll need to be sure to set the new DVD-R device to record my favorite show, which is on Friday nights, but that shouldn't be a big deal. It'll be fun to have people over and visit with our friends.

"Are we in the Promised Land?" "Not Exactly."

The Wife asked me this morning what I would rather be doing instead of working. I told her, "Wine tasting." "And what about tomorrow, as long as you're dreaming?" "Well, if I'm dreaming, then I'd like to go diving tomorrow. Either coast."

But high-quality wine tasting here in Tennessee, a state with substantially no tradition of grape cultivation and a strong tradition of temperance (there are still dry counties here). There's a few wineries that make Concord wine -- ga-a-a-ack! There's no diving of virtually any quality at all; the state is landlocked and about the best you could hope for would be a clear spring-fed lake or a quarry -- if there's sufficient visibility in a lake dive to see anything at all.

The nearest Trader Joe's is a six-hour drive away. The legal procedures here are screwy. To get anywhere, you need to be a member of a socially conformist church or have a "Daddy." I'm coming to hate the hot, humid summer almost as much as I hated the cold, dry winter -- there's so much humidity that even on a clear night I can't use my telescope to see anything interesting -- it's like trying to see through ten miles of chicken broth. And people here drive scary bad. Maybe statistically speaking, it's better to drive here, but I felt safer on the freeways of Los Angeles than I do on surface streets in Knoxville (for one thing, people are driving slower on L.A. freeways than surface streets here). Politics are more corrupt than the latest round of experiments out at the Body Farm. I haven't even got away from earthquakes.

So what would I rather be doing today? Today, I'd rather be using the newly-gained lottery winnings that I've got a hold of in my fantasy life to get the hell out of Tennessee and move my critters, my stuff, my wife, and myself -- maybe to somewhere like Cambria.

August 22, 2005

Soapbox: John Kerry is right about something

Today, former Presidential candidate and still sitting Massachusetts Senator John Kerry loudly proclaimed that "America doesn't need 'a second Republican Party'". He's absolutely right: There is already a majority party in the country and the role of the Loyal Opposition is not to echo what those in power say. America needs an opposition party that offers different ideas and solutions to the contry's problems than what the majority party does. That way, the voters can pick and choose what ideas are best for the country as a whole.

Kerry should have taken his own advice a year ago. As it was, his entire campaign for President consisted of him trying to say "Me, too, but more/less/better" to every issue position that the President was able to announce. When your choice is between the GOP and purported liberals masquerading as low-carb Republicans, you may as well go with the real thing.

What the Democrats (as a group) need is threefold: focused core principles, implementable ideas, and ethics. The national Democratic party has proven sadly deficient in all three and it is a measure of voter dissatisfaction with the Republicans, not enthusiasm for Democratic "ideas," that the Democrats did even as well as they did last time around. Republicans know what they stand for -- their vision is not something I particularly believe in, for the most part, but there's a clear vision there and some certainty about what Republicans in government are going to do.

The last Republican to really argue forcefully for the power of liberty and freedom to make society great was Jack Kemp (before he sold out his beliefs to become Bob Dole's running mate in 1996). Since then, no one has bothered to pick up that battlefield standard in any meaningful way. Libertarian-leaning Republicans like myself are becoming very dissatisfied with the status quo and being taken for granted by the rest of the party. We are actively searching for a meaningful repository for our political loyalty.

So hey, Democrats, let me spell this out for you: YOU HAVE A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY HERE. You've got to somehow shed your dysfunctional mental marriage to big-government ideas the same way a battered wife needs to move out of her home. The slogans are right there: "This is still a free country, damnit, and we're going to keep it that way!" "Freedom and security: It's not one or the other." "The government doesn't belong in your bedroom or in your wallet." It's box-office gold, I'm telling you.

But it's not going to happen. I've seen preciesely zero evidence that the Democrats calling the shots on Capitol Hill really even understand what liberty is anymore -- no more than do their Republican colleagues in the legislature, or the craven operatives on Pennsylvania Avenue. They care about winning at any cost and, like Robert Redford's prophetic and dismal Candidate, they haven't a clue what they should do in the unlikely event that they actually get themselves elected to something.

Movie Review: The Score

Right: Frank Oz directs Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, Jr. while filming The Score.

Review contains very minor spoilers.

I really enjoy “smart thief” movies. These are movies where the hero is a thief, or a con man, or some other kind of criminal, and is trying to pull off an elaborate job with all sorts of preparation and intricate steps involved. Usually this involves having other thieves assist with various aspects of the theft, and as we all know, there is no honor amongst thieves, and that makes for a tremendous opportunity for tension and drama between the characters. The Italian Job (also starring Norton) was a very nice remake in this genre recently, and so was Ocean’s Eleven (Ocean’s Twelve was something of a disappointment). The overly-talky Heist (written and directed by David Mamet, what did I expect?) was also a foray into this genre, but it lacked enough thieving action to be really thrilling. Other films borrow from this genre also, perhaps most prominently in recent years Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise, which should see a third installment next year.

The Score is a superior version of this kind of movie. It’s got a very high-powered cast: Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, Jr., with smaller roles played by Angela Bassett, and Marlon Brando. There is a lot more talking in the second act of the movie than I would have preferred, but the skill of the actors involved makes this somewhat more endurable. The somewhat unusual setting of the movie in Montreal, is played well. I assume that the movie was shot in Montreal and if so, the location scouts deserve some recognition for finding some really great places for the shots that play up both Montreal’s basic old-world beauty as well as its grittier urban side.

Part of what makes the movie enjoyable is watching the elaborate preparations for the theft; another part is watching the relationship between the thieves develop. The opportunities for tension and conflict abound and in this case, the script plays up the tension between the two lead characters very well – and the actors have the skill to demonstrate how their characters work to submerge their mutual dislike for one another for the sake of pulling off the job.

The movie only confirmed my belief that Edward Norton is one of the best actors working today. He's astonishingly malleable, emotional, and believable. Seein him paired with De Niro makes this a must-see. In theory, pairing these two with Marlon Brando, who some consider to have been the greatest actor in movies ever, would be heaven for lovers of good acting. But, Brando's part is almost a distraction to the plot, and while it's nice that he had a decent swan song, the movie is not about him.

This serious, tense movie was directed by Frank Oz, whose taste in projects usually runs towards the whimsical and comedic. Oz was greatly assisted in his departure from typical form by a generally tight and well-edited script. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some fat along with the meat -- at the end of the day, Brando’s role could have been written out of the movie with no loss to the narrative. And there was some trimming going on -- I wanted to see more of the lovely Angela Bassett and learn more of the back story of her relationship with De Niro’s character; but upon reflection, she had a supporting role and for purposes of this script, less is more for the romantic back story. But the movie is ultimately about Robert De Niro and Edward Norton’s efforts to pull off a daring theft and the focus of the movie is always kept on the theft itself, right where it ought to be.

The Score is well worth a rental, if you've not seen it already.

Yes, I'm ready for some football

I'm ready for some football not only for its inherent worth, but because it's very frustrating watching my other favorite professional team remain stuck in third place in the worst division in baseball. Seriously, if you can't get past the sub-.500 Padres, guys, you need to seriously re-evaluate the way you're doing things.

So, based on this report, it looks like my fellow Packer fans and I are in for another pretty good year, thanks in no small part to the heroic number four. Granted, it's easy to pay too much attention to pre-season games, although ones where the first strings get playing time against each other, like Saturday's preseason game against the Bills, are a bit more meaningful. Wow, am I going to miss Brett when he's gone next year and hopefully this Rogers kid will resemble Carson Palmer more than Ryan Leaf. He seems to be doing OK in the attitude department, so again that's a good start.

I'm also still looking for good sleeper picks for fantasy play, so if any of you Loyal Readers have any suggestions, feel free to let me know. I'm pretty solidly in the Manning-before-Tomlinson camp and the choice seems like a no-brainer to me. But, I'll be happy to hear any explanation of why I would choose to forego picking the man who has proven to be the NFL's most prolific scorer. Now, I'm intrigued by what I read about Buffalo's seemingly insane choice for a starting QB, and maybe it wasn't quite so insane after all, so let me know what you all think about this J.P. Losman kid, too.

August 19, 2005

Things that make you go "Whaaaa?"

I've recently been given a CD entitled The Application of Chaos Theory and The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to Tort Negotiation. It seems to be from some sort of plaintiff's support company. Sounds like a bunch of nonsense but maybe I'll give it a try...

[UPDATE at 4:20 p.m.: Well, that was a gigantic load of crap. I want my hour back.]

August 18, 2005

Perqs of the job

Like everyone else, I find certain aspects of my work unpleasant. Being thrown in the middle of cases, with no background, briefing, and in some cases, no physical file to refer to, is one of them. The Great Man knows (or thinks he knows) what's going on in the case and I'm supposed to pick up all of this knowledge by osmosis and push things through to success. What can I say, I do the best I can.

But there are some advantages. For instance, I can blog before work, or in proximity to my lunchtime, and no one cares. I could probably blog during working hours more than I do, but I do like to try and get my work done during the time I'm in the office.

This afternoon, after sitting through another depo in a case that twenty-four hours ago I hadn't a clue even existed, and which I still am really sketchy about the facts, I got to eat lunch with The Great Man at an exclusive business club on the top floor of the tallest building in Knoxville. All the rich and powerful folks hobnob at the club, including the mayor (who was at the next table) and several attorneys adverse to me in cases I am handling. Good food, too.

The Great Man invited me to take The Wife and maybe some friends up to his mountain cabin in North Carolina some weekend. He even said we could bring the doggies. Maybe when The Wife's current class is done we can take a weekend getaway. Now that there is a lawn service taking care of cutting the grass, I need not feel too guilty about leaving the lawn unattended for several days.

And finally, The Great Man and Son-Of-The-Great-Man have a side business selling fractional ownership in private jets. They keep a pilot on staff and they have three physical airplanes in their possession for demonstration and sales purposes. So it now looks like I will have a private flight from Knoxville to Lake Charles, Louisiana in a couple weeks -- so rather than spending all kinds of time at the airport, I'll be sitting in the co-pilot's seat of a private plane going directly where I need to go, and returning directly home, as soon as I am done. That's a pretty sweet deal, folks.

So, maybe the health insurance sucks and there's no dental plan, but there are some perks. I suppose I should take advantage of them.

August 16, 2005

Things to do in Louisiana between depositions

I have some depositions in Louisiana at the end of the month. So I did a little web surfing and found some examples of what I have waiting for me down there in the Pelican State. This charming photograph was one of many I found when searching for things to do between depositions and while travelling between Baton Rogue and Lake Charles.

The dead rodents the hunter is holding up are called nutria. They were imported to the U.S. about a century ago from Argentina to raise for fur, but when the bottom fell out of the market for the fur, farmers released them into the wild. Since then they have taken over many of the swamps, bayous, and rivers of the southern states. They are destructive to native vegetation, and Louisiana has put a four-dollar-a-head bounty on them. I saw plenty of websites offering to get visiting hunters licensed and teaching them how to go looking for these critters and explaining how hunting nutria is good, clean, Ah-murc'n fun. Who knows, maybe this is becoming a trendy hobby for yuppie-types in New Orleans. (Somehow I doubt that.)

Now, according to some, nutria make good eats. Here we see the Lady of the Lodge (that would be the Lodge of Louisana) enjoying what appears to be a nutria etouffe after a successful day hunting. "You've got to eat what you kill," or so the hunter's saying goes.

So maybe I'll just find a bar and watch a baseball game instead. I've already learned how to eat crawdads so I feel like I've done quite a bit of reaching out to Cajun culture. Since it appears likely I may only need to be there for one day right now, all this research may be for nothing (but you, my Loyal Readers, get to enjoy some first-rate photographs because of it).

August 15, 2005

Here I go again...

As some of my Loyal Readers know, I teach online classes in business law for the University of Phoenix. I'm starting a new online class this week. Thing is, I'm only halfway through another class now. I just spent about an hour teaching the first class and another hour setting the second one up. I do my best to copy my work from one class to another to save some time, but there's still some tedium involved in setting up the online classroom.

Ideally, I'd only teach one class at a time, but I turned down something like four classes to go visit the folks last month, so I want to keep my faculty scheduler at University of Phoenix happy. So that means that for the next two weeks, I'll be teaching two classes. When I was otherwise unemployed after moving here to Tennessee, I had as many as three classes at one time -- but that kept my hands pretty full. Two classes and full-time work out to have me at about the same fever pitch of intellectual activity.

The good news is, it's some extra money, which we can start salting it away for our eventual down payment on a house. It's nice to think that despite a rough landing here in Tennessee, we're now in a position where such a thing is possible and, while perhaps not within our grasp this instant, within the realm of a reasonable short-term future. After all, being able to buy a house was one of the big reasons The Wife and I came here in the first place.

Cutting the cord

We're cancelling our regular telephone service and replacing it with... nothing. No more land lines to The Estate at Louisville. Anyone who wants to reach us, will need to do so by our cellular phones. Loyal Readers who do not have my cell phone number may feel free to send me an e-mail or to call the old land line and get the forwarding number from there.

For some, this may seem like a bizarre thing to do. Some people I deal with here in Tennessee have had the same telephone number for fifty years or more. They still give out their numbers with letter mnemonics (like "Transylvania 6-5000") left over from the days when phone numbers changed from being four or five digits long to the current seven. But people my age and younger seem more willing to change phone numbers (or change in general, which is a different topic entirely). The Wife and I had only cellular service when we lived in California and now that we've found a provider of decent quality here, we're happy to do so again.

August 14, 2005

From the Red States

An extremely insightful comment from a blog I do not ordinarily read. Also a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. I just don't know where to look for a genuine advocate of limited government on the Federal scale.

Weekend Summary

Interesting events this weekend included:
  • Finishing grading and revising my online students' papers. Always a big chore, I made it through three less-than-well-written papers with revisions to point out where they failed to cite to authorities, made grammar mistakes, and lapsed into weak passive voice. The Wife points out that most of my students don't care whether or not they actually learn anything from my class. I say, someone has to care about their educations, and if they won't do it, well, that's my job. They're paying for the service and I'm going to give it.
  • Bought a professional-grade lemon zester. It will make making crepes much easier -- which is one reason The Wife may have been so insistent that I get it.
  • Taught the dogs to sit pretty (or at least, got them to do so on command).
  • Secured a repair deal for the lawn mower, which includes pickup and delivery while The Wife and I are away at work.
  • Saw two movies, neither of which are worth investing time in reviews: Fantastic Four and Must Love Dogs. Suffice to say that in Fantastic Four, the characters spent way too much time talking about their feelings instead of having superhero-style fights with super-villains. Must Love Dogs was so sweet and devoid of substance that I felt close to entering diabetic shock by the time I left the theater. While both movies had some redeeming qualities, I have no desire to see either again and do not recommend either to any of my Loyal Readers. I'm sure The Wife has a different opinion about Must Love Dogs, to which she is of course entitled.
  • Got a good, short, corporate-style haircut. Also, I let my facial hair grow. Now the hairs on my cheek feel only a little bit shorter than the hairs on the side of my head. This will all change tomorrow morning when I have to look scrubbed and groomed for work, but I'm enjoying it for now.
  • Continued rehabilitating my computer from the hard-drive wipe that took place last week. (At least my pop-up ad problem has been solved.)
  • Was flattered to see a note and reference from Professor Stephen Bainbridge, whose blogs (one on law and one on wine) I read periodically. I have no idea how many hits on the blog I've got for that highly amusing video or how many to thank Prof. Bainbridge for. Welcome to any new readers who find my daily musings and activities amusing!
  • Finally, I've grown annoyed at the flower-shaped bullet points on the blog. Anyone have any idea how I can change them to simple, professional-looking round dots?

August 13, 2005

Slack-Jawed Astonishment

The anniversary of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles was just a few days ago. A tough time for the city and the nation, as the ugly reality of poor race relations, police brutality, and the fragility of the thin line between civilization and anarchy became revealed for all.

So it is with my jaw well and truly agape that I learn that Huey Newton's widow is going to start selling "Burn, Baby, Burn Revolutionary Barbeque Sauce" in the near future.

I can see the label now: "A tasty sauce with a tasteless name."


It turns out that I'm allergic to every kind of grass, and about half of the trees and shrubs, which thrive here in the sultry humidity of East Tennessee. And not just a little bit allergic, either. So pretty much, if it's green and grows here, I need to stay away from it. I'm also allergic to cats, which I knew but for some reason I never had an adverse reaction to Ginger so I'd hoped I'd developed an immunity to them. Turns out, not so much. Ginger must not shed a lot of dander is all. I'm also allergic to dust mite droppings (ewww!) which is apparently a very common allergy. My only food allergy is scallops, which again I knew before seeing the allergist. Other shellfish are OK.

The temporary solution is Allegra and Rhinocort. Since I'm taking them jointly I don't know which is more effective. Rhinocort is squirted directly into the nostrils, and contains an artificial steroid, so I'd better not try out for a professional sports team any time soon. (Not much danger of that.) It's annoying and I'd rather not have to do that.

The long-term solution will be a three- to five-year long course of shots intended to immunize me from my allergy triggers. About 1% of patients undergoing this therapy experience anaphylactic shock and must get immediate, massive injections of adrenaline or risk death. On top of that, it's expensive! So of course I signed right up.

August 12, 2005

Flag update

It seems that the Maryville School District has found a way to ban the Confederate flag without explicitly saying that's what they are doing. I notice line in the article "Some flag defenders have threatened a lawsuit." That ought to make for an interesting argument.

Fanaticism and hype

I was thinking the other day that those with true confidence in their beliefs tend not to proselytize -- and when they do so, they use the soft-sell -- which is amazingly more effective in the long run than using high-pressure techniques. When what you're selling is a belief, your job is to persuade, not to cajole or threaten. Maneuver X is the most critical part of changing people's minds. Fanatics are incapable of executing the maneuver.

So I serendipitously ran across this quote in my readings today:

You are never dedicated to something that you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.
Good thought. The quote is by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It calls to mind a great many different kinds of fanatics in today's world -- the religious and political fanatics blowing themselves up in Iraq as if that is going to change anything; the fanatics who flew planes into our buildings; religious fanatics seeking to shove their beliefs and the implications of those beliefs down the throats of others; even the idiots at NARAL who thought that smearing John Roberts was going to somehow benefit their cause -- a mistaken belief pointed out to them by a friend they desparately need to keep.

August 11, 2005

Video of the day

Some college kids and other supergeniuses like to take an ounce or so of 151-proof rum, light it on fire, and then shoot it.

This turns out not to be such a good idea.

(The linked video no longer works. Try clicking here for a look at the truly horrific video; there is some profanity in the background audio.)

August 8, 2005

Whaddya know? I'm a shafarist!

Props to Hydrogen and Stupidity for a link to an eloquent, if plaintive and leftist, plea for recognition and respect by a fellow non-believer. I'm not sure I'd call President Bush or Prime Minister Sharon "false prophets" as they are secular leaders who do not rely upon religion as the primary justification for their actions -- but I quibble. The larger point is worth reading.

Space Station

Listening to an NPR story this morning about the space shuttle inspired me to find an interesting site; I like it so much I have provided a permanent link to it on my sidebar.

Intense weekend

After buying the staff a beer Friday night, I went to the hospital to visit my relative. After going home, I was called back -- awaiting the results of an emergency surgery kept me and a large group of people there until four in the morning. My relative is now in stable but critical condition, but again we've been given reason to hope for the best rather than to fear for the worst.

I've been in kind of a daze ever since the late-late night hospital session. In order to fall asleep that morning, I used some Tylenol PM and sleep aids like that always throw me off big-time. The night after, a pitcher full of martinis shared with friends returning from California helped spur me on to sleep, but I decided to eschew chemical assistance last night and wound up unable to fall asleep until 2:30. When I woke up about three hours later to feed the dogs, I felt like a zombie.

August 5, 2005

Got it!

The disaster from last night was not so terrible after all. I did have version 12 of the document at the office to revise, and I had at least done one edit before. It took me some time to more or less reconstruct what I'd done and a little more time to finalize the work as I'd intended. At the end of the process, I only lost about three hours total. With some support from EYLC and the paralegal, I've been able to get the opposition finalized. At present, it's being copied for filing and service under seal. Whew!

I'm even in a position to help out my co-counsel in D.C. with last-minute changes to their briefs. Hopefully we get everything from them in time -- the clerk's window closes at 4:30 so that gives them about an hour and a half to get everything down to me and me enough time to hand-file their stuff.

After that, I'm going to buy my crew a drink at the downtown brewpub. They've earned it, and so have I.

August 4, 2005

Unhappy at Microsoft

If you've ever felt the impulse to scream "Noooooo!" like Darth Vader at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, but lacked the motivation to do so, may I suggest using Microsoft Word for a critical project?

See, I've been trying to work on a summary judgment opposition for more than three weeks now. Thanks to the fact that I'm in a small office and in charge of a large number of files -- and effective cleanup batter for everything file the entire office is handling -- I've not found enough time to complete the task until the night before it's due. Since I have family obligations (my relative is recovering nicely, as a visit to the hospital tonight proved) I e-mailed the twelfth draft of the opposition, which incorporated edits from my co-counsel in Washington, D.C., here to work on at home.

Here's the thing. I saved my work as I went -- many times. Not quite an hour and a half into the project, all my argument was where I wanted it to be, the internal editing marks were all removed except for areas where I had indicated a need to consult documentary evidence that I don't have right here in front of me at home. And I saved it, I saved it, I really really did many many times.

So when I finished it and saved the file one last time, and then closed the file so I could e-mail it to myself, I was fully expecting to find it in the "My Documents" folder. Imagine my panic and anger when it wasn't there. Imagine how that panic and anger escalated when twenty minutes of searching revealed that it wasn't anywhere.

All my work -- gone. Vanished into the digital ether. I'm so screwed.

Critter behavior

It occurs to me that two dogs are playmates; three dogs are a pack.

After several days together, Abby's presence has turned The Estate at Louisville into a doggie den. Sassafras has become the alpha dog. Abby wants to be the alpha but is simply not big or strong enough to do so; Sassafras can put her in her place almost immediately, and Abby shows all the classic signs of subordination to Sassy -- tail tucked between legs; low, slinking posture; rolling over on back. Not so with Abby and Karma; neither will subordinate to the other. Abby often tries to hump Karma as a show of dominance and frustration, and Karma sometimes just takes it. That would seem to make Karma the bottom dog -- except Karma obviously does not like it and will sometimes become assertive with Abby when she's had enough of the humping and pulling on her tail. Karma fights more aggressively, but is not as big or strong as Abby, and the ongoing struggle for beta status remains indecisive. For instance, Abby and Karma chased each other in circles around the coffee table in the basement, and then wrestled and growled for about twenty minutes last night.

As I'm learning, cats react to proximity to the dog pack with aggression towards other cats. The kitties are doing much more sparring and fighting these days than I've observed in the past. I think Jordan is still upset about, and scared by, Abby. She's taking out her frustrations on Ginger, who seems to relish the opportunity to fight back on the new cat in town. Interestingly, Ginger, who is one of the biggest scardey-cats I've ever met, has become completely placid about all three dogs -- and quickly takes a more aggressive posture when sparring as compared to Jordan.

Just hate it

Don't you just hate it when you start a conversation with someone, to provide that person with a single piece of information, and the conversation suddenly shifts to a completley different, unrelated, and unpleasant subject which you were not prepared to discuss? And everything you say or do in the conversation just makes it worse? I just shut down when that happens. Ugh.

August 3, 2005

Hospital Waiting Rooms

Hospitals are strange places; there a buzz of constant activity, tension, and mystery going on throughout a hospital's labyrinthe corridors. And, I sue hospitals and their denizens for a living. Both of which combine to make me feel very awkward and ambivalent when I'm in one -- particularly one that seems to generally have its act together, one where it generally seems like things are working the way they're supposed to.

My relative who was taken to a hospital today would feel strange and awkward about my describing the details of her hospitalization on the internet, and out of respect for her feelings, I will skip over the circumstances which caused me to spend half my day the hospital awaiting news of her condition. Suffice to say that I received an alarming phone call late this morning, and dropped everything to wait in a room next to the ER designed for the purposes of providing people like me with a comfortable and comforting environment in which to await word of another person's medical condition. So I'll confine my comments here to a few musings and observations about waiting in a hospital.

Why do people spend hours in a waiting room? Why did I drop everything and rush out of work to go wait in a hospital's lobby? I can't change what the doctors are doing. I can't help. Information trickles out of the treatment rooms at what seems to be a glacial pace. But to not be there (if being there were a reasonable possibility) seems to lack in empathy and humanity. And although I spent a lot of time idly waiting, I was glad to be there and glad to get such information as I could, directly from the doctors and nurses ministering to my loved one.

It was pretty comfortable for me and the other non-patients out there in the lobby -- there were nice chairs, attractive and professional decor, televisions broadcasting sports and news, recent magazines, a large aquarium, and friendly staff with access to the hospital's centralized patient database. There was even a large cafeteria with a good selection of food at reasonable prices. While the food was not what I would call "great," it was a few steps up above the level of "edible." (I also noticed that hospital staff and doctors could buy their food with a scan on a bar code on their name tags, to speed their meal purchases along; I thought that was a very smart thing to set up considering the time and emergency pressures medical staff may be under while in a hospital.)

It was clear that someone had put a lot of thought into creating an appropriate environment for people to wait in. I felt grateful that someone had put such thought and attention to detail into the aspects of the hospital I could see, and it assured me (or at least gave me hope) that similar attention had been put into the medical side of things.

That doesn't mean I'll stop doing what I do for a living, or even hesitate to go after this particular hospital if I find evidence that it made a mistake. The point of doing what I do is to encourage medical providers to not make the mistakes in the first place. Which is what I really want to happen with my relative. Based on what I know now, I can guardedly hope that she will be fine, soon enough, but that does not relieve the anxiety and concern I feel in the meantime.

August 2, 2005

Recipe for hanging a dartboard

Figure 1 (above): Completed dartboard. Figure 2 (to right): Stupid little fucking hacksaw (with soda can for scale comparison).

I left work early today so I could meet the electrician. Over the course of the early afternoon, the following things happened:

  • The electrician came and solved the electrical problem in ten minutes. Actually, it only took him three, but he stuck around long enough to "check for other problems" as a sop to my ego.
  • The garage doors did not work. I had to dismount the brackets, bend them back into shape, and remount them before they would.
  • The blade-pan almost did not reinstall on the lawn mower.
  • The lawn mower repair company did not answer its phone all afternoon.
  • Both The Wife and later, my parents, gave me lengthy speeches about why I need to hire a lawn care service. The Wife seemed quite emotional about this and I could not explain to her until after she had vented her emotions that I had been instructed to try and get the lawn mower professional repaired.
So you can imagine that I was feeling more than a little bit emasculated at this point. My solution was to try and hang the dartboard that The Wife and I bought at Target last week. I will relate my experiences hanging the dartboard in handy recipe form so you can easily re-create my experience this evening for yourself.

You will need:

  1. One dartboard
  2. One brass bracket for dartboard
  3. Three brass screws
  4. Three rubber stoppers
  5. Four 1/2" finishing nails
  6. One sleeve of 1" brads
  7. Ten 1 1/4" finishing nails
  8. 1x2 pressure-treated, unfinished pine moulding
  9. One patient and well-meaning but ill-timed and unfortunately curious wife
  10. Cordless drill
  11. Corded drill
  12. Philips head screwdriver bit for drills
  13. Philips head screwdriver
  14. Electric screwdriver
  15. Rubber mallet
  16. Claw hammer
  17. 3/8" drill bit
  18. Measuring tape (at least 8')
  19. Breaker bar
  20. Circular saw with rotating-angle plane
  21. Level
  22. Electric brad gun
  23. Dremel tool with nail removing head (unattached)
  24. Fingernail on right index finger
  25. Stupid little fucking hacksaw (see figure 2, above right)
  26. Handle for stupid little fucking hacksaw (see figure 2, above right)
  27. 2 cement cinder blocks
  28. 2 pieces extra 4x4 stud

Preparation: deny yourself food for at least five hours, or such time as is necessary that blood sugar levels are low enough to induce irritability and impatience before beginning. Allow yourself adequate time -- two and a quarter hours -- to complete task.

Phase I: Uninstall ugly shelving located opposite wall where dartboard is intended to go. Give up on using regular philips-head screwdriver upon realization that previous owner used 3" deck screws to mount ugly shelving; switch to electric screwdriver and muse idly about carpal tunnel syndrome. Discard shelving upon removal.

Phase II: Remove dartboard from container, separate brackets and other hardware. Note lack of instructions regarding what to do with extra nails and rubber stoppers. Verify height for bracket (68" from floor) with instructions and official rules of darts. Install bracket on moulding with rubber stoppers as buffers. Find center of dartboard by taking four diameters of board with a straight edge and noting point where all four intersect. Install mounting screw on dartboard at center thus located. Play two rounds of darts and note that dartboard works fine.

Phase III: Show off handiwork to wife, expecting compliments for a job well done. Instead, endure questions regarding angle and purpose of rubber stoppers. Try and make wife happy by removing bracket to re-install hoping for better fit without use of stoppers. Endure wife's observation that bracket is not mounted perfectly level. Note that moulding will no longer hold bracket thanks to holes previously drilled. Respond to wife's questions about "all those lines on back" of dartboard.

Phase IV: Reinstall brackets and center-mount screw, hang dartboard. Watch dartboard twist and turn like
Wheel of Fortune on wall. Use profanity.

Phase V: Grow frustrated. Use breaker bar, claw hammer, and rubber mallet to remove molding from wall. Re-measure height for bracket, verifying level of pilot holes using level. Drill new pilot holes, install bracket. Note loss of power in cordless drill. Switch to corded drill. Note corded drill having enough power to twist segments of concrete storm drain; strip threads on screws with overtorque until they look like rivets in under one second.

Phase VI: Grow bitter. Use rubber mallet to knock the shit out of screws, pressing them flat into wall. Hang dartboard. Note stationary and steady mount of dartboard with smug satisfaction. Hold molding next to dartboard, take measurements for top and bottom of board.

Phase VII: Build makeshift sawhorse from cinder blocks and 4x4 studs. Set circular saw to 45 degree angle for intended attractive bevel cut; wallow in hubris of using powerful circular saw on wimpy 1x2 molding. Make first cut on moulding, noting blade seizure just before completion. Remove circular saw, become unable to restart circular saw. Enjoy visit from wife, who has been wondering what all the noise is about. Endure questions about why a circular saw is being used instead of a smaller, less powerful piece of equipment; explain that it is the only saw you own. Be reminded by wife that there is a hacksaw. Grow very angry and afraid of own acid tongue while rummaging through toolbox looking for stupid little fucking hacksaw. Dismiss wife with curt unfriendly words and rationalize that what you just did was better than completely venting all frustruations and contribute to an expensive, inconvenient divorce from someone you really do love. Vow to eat upon completion of task.

Phase VIII: Find and assemble stupid little fucking hacksaw. Use hacksaw to complete cuts on moulding, giving up on idea of attractive 45 degree bevel cuts. Note presence of unnecessarily long wire nails in moulding. Unsuccessfully use claw hammer to remove nails. Install nail remover on Dremel tool using right index fingernail; tear nail while screwing nail remover head on Dremel tool. Experience pain; cut nails off moulding.

Phase IX: Use brad gun to adhere moulding to wall. Note that 1" brads do not provide adequate penetration for 1x2 moulding. Search for and use 1 1/4" finishing nails instead with claw hammer to mount moulding on wall.

Phase X: Measure 8' on perpendicular line from dartboard on floor for official throwing distance. Mark spot with duct tape. Note dizzying array of tools and supplies surrounding installed dartboard as if a tornado had hit Home Depot. Find food before you pass out from blood sugar depletion. Figure out how to apologize to wife for acting like a shit all evening.

Final product should look like figure 1, at top left. Keep cat away from dartboard while in use (optional).

August 1, 2005

Reached my limits

This is an embarrassing post to write. But, the truth is that I'm going to need professional help fixing the lawn mower. After two hours on my back in the garage, it is clear that the broken belt cannot be replaced without performing major surgery on the blade-pan and I just don't have the tools or the facilities for it. There's a double pin and a cable for the brake, and I can't remove them.

After talking it over with Dad, it is clear that I simply don't have the time to do it anyway -- even if I do have the abilities. So I'll now have to get it taken to a shop for professional help.

In a way it feels like I've failed; I've tried to get the thing fixed and gone to the limits of my mechanical abilities. I admit that those limits are not as extensive as some other men might have, but still fixing things seems like the sort of thing a man should be able to do. Having to acknowledge that I don't have this ability is a little emasculating. Still, what choice do I have? The lawn grows every day; it seems like there is another inch of grass grown every day. So the mower has got to get fixed, whether it hurts my pride or not.

I can console myself that I can generally fix a software problem on the computer. I can generally hook up electronic equipment properly (albeit with some difficulty when the instruction manual is incorrect). I can spit and talk football and scratch myself. So I'm not entirely deficient in the manly arts.

Local History

A local controversy has arisen concerning Maryville High School’s Confederate Battle Flag as a school symbol and efforts to stop using that flag and the name “Rebel” for its sports teams and mascot.

There are some very passionate, but also very articulate, apologists for the flag. These defenders claim that the flag is merely a symbol of the South and a celebration of Southern heritage, and has lost any racial overtones it might once have had. Now, a more-than-cursory glance at history reveals that this symbol was not the original national flag used by the Confederate States of America, but that it was incorporated into subsequent national flags of the Confederacy. In my opinion, the evidence is lacking that the Civil War was fought primarily over tariffs, as some such apologists claim. Certainly the North didn’t think that was the reason for the war. The North was motivated by a desire not only to keep the union together, but by the political powerful and morally compelling arguments of anti-slavery abolitionists. The North won, the South lost, and winners get to write the history books.

Regardless, in the modern era the flag has been a source of controversy. Whatever it might have meant or symbolized at one time, it has been appropriated by various hate groups and other unseemly sorts with whom I personally would not want to be identified. Fortunately, Tennessee's flag does not make any significant allusions to this symbol, so I need not (and do not) feel any particular state identification with it. In fact, East Tennessee was largely pro-Union during the Civil War era.

With the benefit of at least five generations’ worth of historical perspective between 1865 and 2005, the idea that “Southern Pride” is what is at stake lacks weight. Modern celebration of this flag represents a modern affirmation that what the south was fighting for was right. I do not doubt that many Confederate soldiers thought they were fighting for the side that was in the moral right, and I will (reluctantly) concede that at the time of the war, what was morally right may not have been very clear -- at least, not to everyone involved.

But things are much clearer now. Slavery was morally obnoxious and it is a terrible stain on this nation’s moral history that it happened at all here. Slavery was an integral part of the economic foundations of the early nineteenth century in the mostly-agrarian South, and Southern politicians were in the moral wrong to defend it. Even taking the Confederate apologists’ claims at face value that the Civil War was not about slavery but rather about economics and the struggle to be free from the heavy hand of government telling the individual what to do, the manner in which Southerners sought to express and exercise this so-called “freedom” was by enslaving fellow human beings. This bizarre form of "freedom" was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

To say that such “freedom” is worth fighting and dying for is an insult to the very concept of freedom – an insult born of ignorance and specious reasoning, perhaps, but an insult all the same. Many other symbols exist which better express the political sentiment of freedom from an oppressive government.

So I hope that the Blount County Board of Education follows through and changes the symbols for what appears to be an otherwise outstanding high school.