October 31, 2005

Laptop Functional

Well, the new notebook is pretty cool; I am using it now to blog. It's a Gateway MX7515.

The wide monitor is quite nice and the resolution is fantastic. I haven't tried Civ IV yet, because I've been transferring files and installing Microsoft Office since getting home. But, the teeny wireless mouse and wireless keypad work; the jump drive took three trips to get over a meg of information from my desktop (now The Wife's desktop) to the laptop, and that seems to have worked nicely. The keyboard is not as nice to me as my ergonomic from the old computer, but there may be a way I can use that, too. We'll see. For now, it's time to work on my class, something that I would have done much earlier today but for computer follies.

Of course, as soon as I got the thing home and running, that's when the computer shop called and said that the motherboard on The Wife's busted computer had been successfully swapped out and that they were running diagnostics on the rest of it. Of course. Oh well, the notebook has added utility because of its portability, and I suppose I can get used to the standard configuration of the keyboard if I have to.

UPDATE (6:36 P.M.): My pre-existing hardware -- the ergonomic wireless keyboard and the larger, ergonomic wireless laser mouse -- do work. Happy day!

The Wife and I Have the Best Conversations Sometimes

Last week, we were supposed to get a new HVAC unit installed at The Estate At Louisville. The installation date was pushed back a week -- to today -- in order to take care of some older folks whose heat went out completely. It sucked for us not having heat last winter so I understand and sympathize.

This morning, though, the installer called and said that his supplier did not have the unit that my parents ordered in stock for installation today, and instead suggested that the installer sell us a lesser unit. The installer, to his credit, said what I did -- "We ordered what we ordered and that's what we want. Anything else is unacceptable." So now we've got to wait until at least Thursday to get the new unit in.

And, The Wife's computer is still under repairs, nearly two weeks after I took it in for repairs and was told the motherboard was fried and would need to be replaced. (The fact that The Wife makes me call the computer repair people twice a day to check up on whether it's ready or not has probably not made me popular with the repair people.) I sure understand her frustration with not having a computer of her own to do her school work on.

So after reporting the information about the HVAC system to The Wife, she flipped. I mean I seriously thought she was going to burst a blood vessel. I got to listen to a ten-minute rant from her about how customer service here in the South sucks, how no one here cares or gives a damn about anything, how people are all incompetent and lazy and stupid. We might as well just buy a new computer because her old one will never get fixed. We might as well not bother buying a house here ourselves because no one will ever deliver us anything to fix the place up and even if they did, they'd do a half-assed job installing it. Haven't I seen myself how the court systems are lackadaisical and slow and stupid? Haven't I seen myself how my own law office is so poorly-run that it wakes me up at night afraid for my own malpractice liability? She concluded by saying that we ought move back to California because we never had problems like this in California. When I said, "You want to move two thousand miles because of bad customer service?" she said that we should at least consider it.

Okay, first of all, if I'm going to pack up and move my family back to California I need a better reason than flaky service providers. I remember quite clearly that there were plenty of flaky people in California, too. They just charged more for their tardy services.

Mainly, though, I've gotta tell you that there are few things that make me feel more happy, fulfilled, competent, and able to handle the world than listening to my wife yell at me for ten minutes straight about something that somebody else did wrong.

One good thing, though: we will get that new computer. I've had to travel with the office's laptop one time too many. That thing weighs so much that it leaves a bruise on my shoulder after a day of toting around on an airplane. The Wife's friend and fellow paralegal student just got a six-pound notebook with a built-in wireless connection and a mouse; maybe I can get one of those. Maybe it will have the graphics card I need to play my new game. With the proliferation of WiFi hot spots everywhere, it will be handy and useful to have. So I'm off to KnoxHell to talk to the techno-geeks at Best Buy about what will meet our needs and how to set up the system I want here.

October 30, 2005

Flat On Our Backs

Well, we earned the respect of the Bengals despite losing to them. Sports fans, do not forget that it was just three years ago the Cincinnati Bengals were the laughingstock of the NFL and now are one of the best teams in the league. A moral victory, however, does not count as a "W" on the scoreboard.

It appears that, despite everything else, we had a decent chance to tie up the game right at the end anyway. It took trickery, good luck, and an extraordinary effort by #4 (all hail) but at the end of it, we came up just that much short. Of course, I couldn't watch the game as once again it was not on TV. I understand why, but I still would have preferred to have watched it.

Favre's quote after the game pretty much says it all, Packer fans: "It feels a lot like that (1992) but we were winning those. Now, in my mind, I feel like I can't afford to waste one play. At times, I have to ad-lib. It'd be a hell of a lot of fun if we were winning. It's hard to make a living this way."

House Hunting

Today The Wife and I spent several hours house hunting. Along the way, we saw:

  • A home to the far east of Knoxville (beyond the bad area of East Knox and starting to get into the Holston Hills area) with a "mother-in-law" apartment that I didn't think I'd like but did. It also had a bizarre cellar, which looked left over from the days when the house was heated with a coal-burning furnace. This home was a good example of why it is a good idea to keep your home in good taste and not overbuy stuff. There was just plain too much furniture for this house, and such furniture as was there, was simply too big for each room. The home had been expanded several times and each expansion was not well-thought-out and resulted in quite a bit of wasted space. The awkward placing of the washer in the kitchen and the dryer next to the stairs leading to the back yard did not help the overall presentation, either.
  • A house near Island Home still under construction, which had a front door three feet off the ground because no porch had been built yet. Small but nice; however, the neighbors on either side had loud dogs. Our dogs like to bark at other dogs more than half a mile away; what will they do when they can see new doggie-friends and only have to jump over a three foot high chain link fence to go play with them? Still, a contender for sure.
  • Another Island Home area house with a split-foyer design, no discernible living room or dining room, and whose only bathroom adjoined the kitchen (which had almost no counter space). Aside from these flaws, and the layout effectively preventing us from adding a second bathroom, the house was charming and appropriately-sized for our needs.
  • A wonderfully remodeled house in Alcoa with new carpet and Pergo floors, as well as a very nicely-built deck. Only one bathroom, but it would be easier to add a second bathroom next to the master bedroom at the expense of a fraction of the laundry room. However, we saw a drug deal take place across the street while we were there. So it's off the list completely.
  • A foreclosure in Maryville. This house was much larger than any of the rest, and stank of pet urine. The carpet, vinyl floors, and some of the ceiling were damaged and all have to go. The stairs on the upstairs deck need replacement. Minor water damage and the back yard needs help -- but it's a big back yard that is already fenced in. There are some other cosmetic or semi-cosmetic fixes to make, and some construction to do to convert two small bedrooms into a master bedroom suite. Depending on the price the bank asks for the house, this may well be the front-runner since we have the time and hopefully the financial capability to get the house done the way we want it done and to get rid of the smelly carpet and replace the old cruddy appliances. The big disadvantage, though, would be a fairly long commute to work in downtown Knoxville -- about as long as the commute we have now.
Maybe we haven't found our future home yet, but two of the homes we looked at are promising. I'm kind of excited about the foreclosure, since it's more house than we could afford on our own, and we can use our flexibility with closing and move-in dates to get the house in good shape before we take occupancy. A lot depends on when we get our pre-approval lined up, and on how much the bank wants for it, but our agent is also the listing agent and has told the seller to list it for a price that we can afford. I only plan on being in the house for two years or so, all other things being equal, but in that time we could get a huge return on our investment. So I'm kind of excited about that opportunity.

Yesterday's Globetrotting Menu

Course 1: American Autumn Garden Salad. Field greens, pickling cucumbers, and red peppers, served raw and chilled with vinegar-based dressing.

Course 2: Tuscan Onion Soup. Simmer one cup beef stock, one cup chicken stock. Add oregano, rosemary, parsley, and basil to taste. Cube and fry 1/4 pound pancetta. Add pancetta to broth; do not remove grease from pan. Slice 3-4 onions into narrow strips. Cook onions in hot pancetta grease, covered. Add 1 clove roasted garlic to cooking onions, stir and mix until garlic and continue cooking until onions are translucent to clear. Add onion/garlic mixture to broth, add ground pepper to taste. Thicken with the "Chinese cheat" -- a mixture of 1/4 cup cold water and 1 tablespoon cornstarch, stirred well. Serve very hot, with small croutons that have salt and gruyere cheese melted atop them.

Course 3: Sashimi with Saffron Rice. For the rice, boil ordinary white rice, seasoned with small amounts of garlic, tumeric, and 1-2 strands of saffron in the water. For sashimi, take 1-2 high-quality tuna steaks (1" thick) and marinade in soy sauce with garlic powder and sesame seeds added. Place in broiler of toaster oven; flip after tops of steaks turn gray. Remove from heat after other side turns gray; crack black pepper atop and slice thin. Interior of steak should be raw.

Course 4: Global Pears. Select large pears which are not quite ripe (still firm to the touch). Halve, de-stem, and core the pears. Add 1 tbsp. brown sugar, 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon, and hints of orange peel, nutmeg, and ginger to hollows left by cores. Bake at 350 degrees for one half hour. Meanwhile, whip heavy cream. After cream is well-whipped, add sugar, vanilla extract, and powdered ginger, to taste until vanilla and ginger flavors dominate. Serve pears at room temparature topped with chilled ginger cream.

Not Exactly The X-Files

This morning the Rationalists of East Tennessee had a very entertaining speaker -- an "investigator of the paranormal" who, taking a break from his experimentation with dowsing (turns out it works better when you stand in a river, by the way), explained the origins of Halloween. I particularly liked his explanation of "ritualized gourd mutilation" and the traumatic effects it can have on children, as well as Christianity's co-option of pagan holidays and sanitizing them through the subversive use of greeting cards and candy.

I've also seen comedians flirt with women in the audience before, and it's all in good fun. So when he hit on my wife during his schtick, it was to the great amusement of the entire crowd (and myself) that she threw him for a loop. He also thought that guy sitting on the other side of her, not me, was her husband. His presentation of "Pfighting Psychics" and exploration of how paranormal activists could use a Chevreul pendulum orientation technique to contribute to the war effort was also quite funny -- even if the joke was telegraphed.

He also admitted, in response to my question, that he has not investigated the reported phenomenon of the chupacabra. Apparently, he does not like investigating scary paranormal events, because if they turn out to be real, then he will have to confront something dangerous rather than relatively harmless anomalous luminosities. Can't say as I blame him.

October 29, 2005

Silly Frustration

We have guests coming over for dinner and I have a class to teach. So I don't have any time right now to play with my new game. Tomorrow The Wife and I will be shopping for houses so I will not have a lot of time then, either. Oh, well -- there will be time to goof off in the future.

October 28, 2005

Now I've Got The Power!

That's right, the newly-reinstalled Managing Attorney at the Law Offices Of The Great Man now has the power to sign checks on behalf of the law firm. So today, for the first time in not quite a year and a half, I got to sit down and sign a big stack of checks paying vendors (and employees, including myself) for the business, and sort through a vendor mix-up. It seems that every attorney in the office, and The Great Man's ex-wife, are all getting their electric bills sent here and we've been paying them all out of the office account. That comes to an end right now.

The Great Man is apparently a little more serious this time about not being physically present in the office all day long; he has a permanent secretary working at his home office now, and has arranged it so I can see to it that everything gets paid as necessary.

Well, hey, it's something -- it's a signal that I've earned his trust. And everyone else's, too -- no one yelped or made any noises about this change which to me seems awfully critical to the operations of the firm. It's also of some significance that the Son Of The Great Man is no longer a signator on the accounts, particularly the trust account. He's a nice guy and nothing has gone wrong in the past so far as I know, but I think on balance, things are better this way.

This is a slow and frustrating process with a lot of steps forward and a lot of steps backwards. I still am not 100% sure I want to be involved in it; the stress has been very high recently. With one spat of motions out of the way, however, that should help. There's another spat of motions and discovery to deal with Monday and Tuesday, but that's for next week. Tonight, I'm going to meet up with The Wife -- who is rightfully frustrated over her as-yet unfixed computer -- and go with her to dinner with our friends, down in one of the areas where we're looking at buying a home in the hopefully near future. There will be physicl house-shopping to do on Sunday.

October 27, 2005

Parallel Cats

The cats were sitting in the laundry room tonight, exactly parallel to each other. Very cute! This lasted about sixty seconds, until big ol' Sassafras came by to snurf and lick them both, disturbing the natural alignments of the critters.

I've Always Kind Of Had A Thing For White Stockings

Belated congratulations to the Chicago White Sox for winning the World Series, beating the remarkable Houston Astros in four straight games. I was hoping for a St. Louis-Anaheim series, but that would have been too predictable. Actually, I pretty much always hope for a Dodgers-Yankees World Series, but that clearly wasn't in the cards this year. The White Sox deserve it -- they've been quietly playing consistently good ball for a very long time now.

You know, I still think of the Diamondback and the Marlins as expansion teams, so the last time a "traditional" National League team won the World Series was ten years ago, when the Atlanta Braves beat the Cleveland Indians. Since the Great Strike of 1994 (which cancelled what was looking like a Cubs-Red Sox finale), the National League team has won the World Series four of the eleven times it's been played. Are AL teams just that superior these days?

Flying By The Seat Of My Pants

A lot of what I've been doing recently has involved cleaning up messes caused by poor calendaring, something that I am not personally involved in but which I am ultimately as responsible as any other attorney in this office to see to it is done right. This is most unsettling. I'm displeased with our calendar control system, one which inspires no confidence in me -- and those Loyal Readers out there who practice law for a living, or are familiar with lawyers, know just how scary that statement is. Hopefully, I've got my problems solved for now. But who knows what's going to happen tomorrow.

An Unwelcome Visitor

When I left for work this morning -- a little later than usual -- I noticed how cold it was. Looking around at the dawn breaking over the grounds of The Estate At Louisville, I noticed a coat of frost over the lawn. I took some pictures:

I suppose it's very pretty, especially with such color in the leaves as we've got this year (a warm, dry autumn and a sudden drop in temperature to early-winter levels has denied us a spectacular display of autumn color) but it's quite nippy out with the frost and where there's frost, that means we're only one raincloud away from snow.


Now we'll never know if I was right about how the Senate would vote on Harriet Miers. A more interesting question is which way the Shrub will go for plan "B" -- will he move right or center? I expect the answer is "to the right" since the big weakness before was a lack of support from the right. We'll soon be in for a bruising fight on that emperor of all wedge issues, abortion.

BTW, I've been trying to blog this for nearly half an hour; for some reason Blogger is going slow this morning. Maybe everyone on Earth (or at least the U.S.A.) is blogging about Miers' withdrawal.

October 26, 2005

Handicapping the Miers Nomination

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is made up of eighteen members – ten Republicans, eight Democrats. They, and their opinions of Harriet Miers, seem to be as follows – the majority first.

Arlen Specter, the chairman of the committee says she needs a crash course in Constitutional law. Ouch!

Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, and Lindsey Graham have privately expressed concerns about her judicial philosophy. Read this as: “I’m not sure she’s conservative enough.” Add to that list now, Sam Brownback and Jeff Sessions, who have pretty much said, openly, “She’s not conservative enough.” While I doubt they are correct on this point, that’s what they’re saying and those are indications that they will vote “no.”

Orrin Hatch, Mike DeWine, and John Cornyn like Miers. Charles Grassley has not expressed a substantive opinion as of yet. So I’ll lump Grassley in with Hatch, DeWine, and Cornyn because he’s a Republican and should toe the party line.

So of the Republicans on the committee, they are split 6-4 – against confirmation. This is a problem for her nomination, because the majority members should have been reliably expected to vote in Miers’ favor, simply because she was nominated by a President of the same party as they.

The minority members can be reliably expected to be against Miers, again based purely on partisanship.

The Democratic leaders so far against Miers are Patrick Leahy and Herbert Kohl, both of whom are upset that Miers and the White House are not releasing more information and documents regarding Miers’ service as counsel to the President.

I am not sympathetic to these claims, since I think the President is entitled to have an attorney and to get confidential advice from his attorney. By all accounts, Ms. Miers has been an outstanding attorney to the President and both she and her client should fight to keep their communications confidential. But of course the confirmation hearings are hardly about fairness, good legal principles, or what is appropriate or inappropriate to disclose during political review of a nomination. The confirmation hearings are about politics – the politics of abortion, to be exact. So Leahy and Kohl can grandstand all they like about Republicans hiding information, and cast “no” votes based on that and claim that oh, no, abortion never crossed their minds. But we will all know better.

We can expect knee-jerk “no” votes from Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and Russ Feingold. That’s a no-brainer prediction. These guys would vote against Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, or Gandhi if Bush nominated them.

Handicapping the remaining three votes requires brain power, but not much. The votes of Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, and Richard Durbin will almost certainly hinge on whether Miers can pass her litmus test on whether abortion is a “settled” Constitutional right and whether Miers would vote to keep it that way in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Miers will almost certainly fail this test by refusing to answer those questions. And perhaps she should refuse to answer them, but again, this isn’t about what’s legally fair and appropriate, it’s about the politics of abortion.

So on the minority, it's likely that the Democrats will unanimously vote against her.

That means that Miers will come out of the committee hearings with four votes recommending confirmation and fourteen votes recommending against it. If the judiciary committee is representative of the Senate as a whole, and it more or less is on these sorts of things, based on the voting patterns of the Roberts confirmation, the Senate will reject Harriet Miers’ nomination by a vote of 78-22. Plus or minus three votes.

I don’t blame Miers for fighting on and doing the best she can to get confirmed. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen right now. So, it’s time to create a plan “B,” Mr. President.

October 25, 2005

Unfortuante and Unintended Consequences of an Interest in Photography

Today, for the second time, I drove up to the top of a mountain in Gatlinburg to watch people sift through a burnt-out house. It was cold, but not bitterly so; foggy, but not so bad that I couldn't drive; and cold, although amazingly not intolerably. I remember thinking in California that 40 degrees was very cold weather. Today, I was perfectly OK in 40 degree weather with only my raincoat.

I brought my camera but didn't have a chance to take pictures. They wouldn't have looked like much anyway. The fall colors so far are pretty bland -- the summer stayed warm so long, and the weather turned cold so suddenly, that most of the trees are just turning brown instead of the dazzling display of yellow, orange, and red that I saw last year at this time. And there was quite a bit of fog. And, my camera is really more for snapshots than serious photographs; if I wanted to take a picture that would capture the power of the mountains, I would need a wide-angle lens, and a 10mm apeture with no lens mounts just isn't going to do that. Oh, well.

But as it turned out, I had a use for my camera anyway. When I got to the office today, Happy Bachelor Lawyer had a client in who had just been the victim of a home invasion robbery. He had been stabbed in his hand and under his arm in the attack, and took a few punches in the face by his assailant. So I took some pictures of the guy -- gory, nasty stuff. The dude had to take off his shirt so I could get photos of the scar on his upper chest, and it was quite clear the guy hadn't showered in at least a day. I'm talking powerful B.O. here, folks. I got through it, but Bad Attitude Paralegal almost audibly retched. The office stank of it for about half an hour afterwards. I downloaded the pictures to the network at the office, and deleted the awful things off my camera immediately.

So I learned my lesson. I'm leaving my camera at home from now on.

Why I Blog

1. It’s fun. I get a forum to sound off on all my opinions, whether founded or unfounded. Once or twice, people actually are willing to start a discussion or share different ideas. I love that. Hopefully some people will be inspired to think more deeply about the stuff I rant and rave about, and maybe someone might even be persuaded by something they read here. Probably not, but you never know.

2. It’s an easy and convenient way to keep all my people – friends, family, colleagues who I’ve chosen to clue in about the blog – on events in my life. It's not always easy to remember to call everyone or e-mail everyone all the time. So having a quasi-diary available is a good way to make sure that everyone knows what's going on in case I forget to tell them otherwise.

3. It’s good practice for writing. Writing skills improve over time, but only with practice. Whether I practice law, teach, or write for some other purpose, my writing skills are about the most critical ones I possess. Keeping those skills sharp is not only a part of who I am, but also a survival skill.

4. It’s interesting to see who is reading the blog. Especially now that I have a stat tracker, I know that people from all over the U.S., and some people from France, Australia, Brazil, the UK, and India have read this blog. I wonder what they make of it.

October 24, 2005

Draft Picks! Draft Picks!

Ahman Green, Green Bay's star running back, is out for the rest of the season. Let's see, that puts us down our #1 and #2 two RB's, and our #1 WR (Javon Walker) and #3 (Robert Ferguson) WR's. #1 TE Bubba Franks has a bum knee and #1 Center Mike Flanagan has a hernia. This leaves us Donald Driver and... Tony Fisher? Antonio Chatman? We're dipping into our third string now. And our next six games? Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

The good news is that without running backs, Brett Favre (all hail #4) is going to have to throw the ball a lot. That's nothing but good news for the Flying Spaghetti Monsters.

Quoth the President...

Nearly a year ago (November 4, 2004) George W. Bush said: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it." (Quote appears about halfway down, during Q&A segment).

Since then, we've continued to suffer ... whatever it is we're going through in Iraq that is something less than victory. We've been hit by three major hurricanes and a fourth is in Florida as I type -- and the results of that were three days of the Federal government sitting on its massive, expensive ass while what was left of New Orleans rotted in floodwater. The economy remains stagnant and the President has nominated his best attorney friend to the Supreme Court. While I'm sure she's very smart and pleasant, she seems to be underwhelming both Congress and the public in general. Oh, and either his Chief of Staff, his Vice-President's Chief of Staff, or his Vice-President himself is about to be indicted for leaking the identity of a CIA agent to the press.

So clearly, with all this extra political capital that The Shrub has hanging around (as evidenced by his 38% approval ratings), he can afford to attack The Onion for committing lèse-majesté. Jeez, talk about setting your sights low.

October 22, 2005

Demon Cat

As I sit here blogging, Jordan the Pest-Cat is stalking a house fly in the lamp next to my desk. When the light from the lamp catches her normally yellow eyes just right, they turn a shade of pale reddish orange that is positively demonic.

Of course, as soon as I reached for my camera to document the sight for all you Loyal Readers, she calmed down and decided to show how cool she is by ignoring the fly. So, you'll just have to imagine it.

Damn cat.

Window Shopping

The Wife and I are nearing the final stages of being pre-approved for a mortgage, and looking around for an appropriate home of our own. My parents will be moving down permanently within the next fourteen months and taking up permanent residency here at The Estate At Louisville, so it’s good that things are moving in this direction, I suppose. With my career arc in some question right now – I’m still not really happy where I’m at and unsure of how to weigh my options – this may be premature and we may have to abandon the idea of getting a home here at all, but for now it makes sense to me to plan on staying in the area for a while.

Of course, if we do wind up going somewhere else – Nashville or the high desert in California being the other two leading options – the same sorts of things apply. We know we won’t find someplace as grand and luxurious as The Estate At Louisville for what we’re willing to pay, but that’s okay – our needs are actually quite modest. So far we’re looking at the following “must have” criteria for a house:

1. Fenced-in yard for the doggies;
2. At least 1,000 liveable square feet;
3. At least two bedrooms – one for us to sleep in and the other to use as an office;
4. At least one and a half bathrooms – having to wait is unpleasant;
5. Functional HVAC;
6. Good electrical wiring and plentiful outlets;
7. Not located in a high-crime area;
8. High-speed internet available;
9. Some kind of parking for both our vehicles.

Ideally, we’d find something with some of the “would like” features:

10. Screened-in porch or at least some kind of deck;
11. Adequate internal storage for clothes and stuff;
12. Finished basement;
13. Trees;
14. Location near grocery store;
15. A stand-alone structure, not a condominium;
16. Proximity to work (meaning downtown Knoxville);
17. TVA or KUB utilities;
18. Trees;
19. Location on a grade for drainage during heavy storms.

Within our price range, there are several pieces of property available – unfortunately, more than half of them are in a bad part of the town, so they are not desirable and unlikely to move fast when the time comes to sell again. So part of looking involves paging through magazines, and part of it involves searching through MLS listings online, and part of it involves checking the addresses against maps to see where these places are.

It’s a time-consuming and tedious process. I don’t really know whether The Wife enjoys it or not; sometimes she seems to really get into it and sometimes she seems frustrated and unhappy. She absolutely loves the home shows on HGTV and TLC; one of her favorites is the “house hunters” show where a home buyer looks at three or sometimes four houses and eventually picks one.

With The Wife’s computer in the shop, this is all being done on my computer. That’s OK but it feels a little weird to be standing around throwing darts while The Wife is surfing the net where I am usually stationed doing my class work or goofing off or blogging or writing. Just strange, is all.

And since so many places that look good on paper are not in good parts of town, it is easy to get frustrated – and tempting to go above our price range. So far we’ve been pretty well-disciplined about it. But we’ll see how it works out; it’s one thing to agree with the advice of “buy all the house you can afford,” but harder to remember what you really can afford when something else that seems really nice is “just a few thousand dollars” more. And, unsurprisingly, there is a generally inverse relationship between how far our housing dollars sretch and how close to work the house in question is located.

So we’ll probably continue looking and engage the services of a real estate agent soon. I suppose I should say I’m excited about this. And I am, but the shopping process is not inherently enjoyable for me; so it’s not really the same kind of fun excitement that, say, skiing or diving is. I’d rather be doing something else; but it’s something that has to be done and so it’s something that I’ll apply myself to do. I hope The Wife can handle my lack of overall enthusiasm for the total project and not interpret it as lack of care about where we live -- she just seems to derive more pleasure from this than I do.

October 21, 2005


Last night, The Wife had a test for her paralegal class, and I knew she would be done early. She had talked about getting a drink after work. Coincidentally, our friend Andrew called just after I got home to feed our critters, and asked if we could join he and Pam for a drink. I agreed but did not tell The Wife about the plan to meet up with them until as late as I could, so it would be a fun surprise for her.

The Wife figured out something was up by my selection of places; actually, at Pam's suggestion we went to a local jazz-and-martini bar. The place was pretty hip and decidedly not Knoxville in its feel and look. There was a four- or five-piece jazz band doing a set, which was actually a little louder than permitted for comfortable (sober) conversation. But as my opinion of jazz is well-known, The Wife knew that I wasn't voluntarily hanging around there for no particular reason. She first asked if Pam was going to play, as we are both excited for her that she has switched her educational direction to follow her passion rather than practicality, and as it turned out Pam was not playing but two of her professors were.

As a martini bar, though, I was quite pleased with the place. The flavored martinis were not nearly as good as the classic ones; Ketel One makes for a superior drink, and dry vermouth helps a lot. I think my first martinis had sweet vermouth or were dirty with olive juice, which makes the drink taste oily and salty. That's fine if you're going for that, but not me. Vodka and dry vermouth alone have a clean, watery taste and a smooth, silky feel in the mouth.

So it was a great surprise for The Wife to meet up unexpectedly with our friends, and a great pleasure for all of us to get together and catch up on things. Both of them are so busy, between school (both are completing their college degrees) and work (Andrew has two jobs and a great attitude about that) and other activities (Pam is in the University of Tennessee Marching Band and has to play at all of UT's games) it's hard to get time with them. But we have some future plans lined up and a wonderful night was had by all.

Hit Counter

I've noticed a lot of comments from people who I would not ordinarily have thought read the blog. I think that's great, and I enjoy the wide readership. But it's got me curious about how many hits the blog gets and how wide the Loyal Readership really is. So with minimal difficulty (as as a means to procrastinate a tedious assignment), I've added a hit counter to the blog.

The hit counter is provided free from a company called Statcounter, and as they are providing a free service to me I include a link to their site here, so I figure they deserve at least a plug.

[UPDATE -- three hours later] I noticed that I had the site counter set for number of loads, so every time I opened my own browser, the hit counter increased by one. The number of times I access my own blog is not very useful, since it is my home page and all this was telling me was the number of times I tried to open a new browser window. So I switched it to number of URL's opening the page, which means that hits from different computers will count. Now, only one of the hits you see on the counter page is me; the number reflects the unique users who access the site -- a more useful piece of information. It's not perfect, though. The counter places a cookie on your computer that self-deletes after one hour unless renewed by re-visiting the website within that hour. So I'm probably good for 2-3 hits myself on any given day. If you have all cookies blocked on your browser, you will not be registered as a user. Still, this should help show exactly how popular the blog is after more than 200 posts.

I've also added a few new links to the left, mostly just for fun or reference purposes.

October 20, 2005

Time to Switch to Plan "B"

It would appear that one person won the $340,000,000 powerball lottery yesterday. Sadly, that person was not me. So much for my fantasies about being a member of the idle rich. My entrée into the leisure class will now need to be delayed for several weeks, and that is most frustrating.

October 19, 2005

Stay-At-Home Lawyer

I e-mailed in sick today; I wasn't really sick but I needed sleep in the morning and quiet to get my work done. Amazingly, I did. Maybe my musings about being unable to focus at home were overly pessimistic.

Come to think of it, maybe I ought to do that more often. It sure makes working at the office more tolerable when you don't have to actually be in the office.

News Flash!

As many Loyal Readers are already aware, I am a flat atheist and do not believe in any deity, divinity, or supernatural being, whether that being is responsible for the creation of the universe, the creation of man, whether that being is falliable, infalliable, benign, malevolent, passive, or active. However, that does not mean that I am blind to the effects and power of religion, particularly Christianity, in particular the prominent position of the Roman Catholic Church within the sphere of Christianity. I am fascinated by religion of all sorts, and I follow news from the world of religion as avidly as I do news from the world of politics.

To non-Christians, the Roman Catholic Church embodies Christianity, and Protestants and Orthodox Christians are factions that have minor theological or historical disputes with the Vatican. This only makes sense. Most westerners do not really understand the difference between Shia and Sunni Islam, and most Christians do not ever take the time to learn about and understand the difference between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism, even though Judaism plays a prominent role in western civilization as well as Christianity. So those who are not Christians tend to regard the Roman Catholic Church as the focal point of Christianity, and the Pope as its singular leader.

So with a new Pope just put in power, I've been wondering what we might expect to see from the Church by way of trying to guide the world, or at least the Christian world, through troubled times. Recently, I learned of our first real look today at what Pope Benedict XIV's papacy will be like. Several British bishops have issued a document called The Gift of Scripture, in which it cautions the faithful that not every word of the Bible is literally true.

Well, I'm glad we got that issue resolved. And here I thought I only had a few intellectual bedfellows on that point. But it does appear that the Church has finally changed its tone on the role of science and reason in the world.

Obviously, this in no way diminishes the powerful moral lessons of the Bible, nor does it diminish the faith that Christians have in the passion and resurrection of Jesus, which events are the very focus and essence of Christianity. Nor does it provide incentive for those of us who lack or have lost that faith to re-subscribe to it. I will not join the chorus of Pope-haters who will make the cheap shot that "Catholics claim to be christians but reject the Bible." That's not what this document says. It says that portions of the Bible are not literally true and acknowledges that the passage of time, translations, and effects of politics have had their effect on those literal words, and that true Christians should look deeper than the words themselves to reflect upon the moral meaning and importance of the Bible's teachings.

Many Protestants believe this to be true also and the fires of my criticism are not aimed at them. But in a very real sense, this document is saying that understanding the true meaning of the Bible is not as easy as reading a detective novel.

It also confirms that the Church no longer subscribes to geocentricity, among other facially ridiculous beliefs of some Biblical literalists. This will throw down the gauntlet to fundamentalist Christians who do insist that the Bible, and every word in it, is the literal truth, divinely handed down to man by God himself. This will widen, not narrow, the schism between Roman Catholics and their Protestant counterparts, particularly in the United States.

This is pretty much what I expected from Benedict; while the document is not written by him, nor does it bear the Papal seal, it does come with at least the tacit approval of the Vatican. Both his background serving under the previous Pope and his choise of name indicated that he views his mission in the papacy to "clean house" and make sure the Church's theological and moral standards are in order. He would prefer to preside over a smaller but purer church to larger and more diverse one. So with The Gift of Scripture, the Church is saying two things. First of all, he's saying, you're either a Christian or you're something else, and ultimately, Biblical literalists are something else. Secondly, he's saying, that faith does not require blinding oneself to truth. True Christians do not view any truth, whether it derives from science, logic and reason, or empirical observation, as a barrier to faith and morally correct behavior.

Now, this does not inspire me to rejoin the Church; that would require a belief in the divine which I lack. It does, however, inspire some admiration in me. If the Church shares my disdain for religious teachings that require unreasonable beliefs, and is willing to take the inevitable cheap shot criticisms of "not believing in the Bible anymore" in the name of establishing a more meaningful faith, then hopefully it can better bear its legacy of moral leadership in the Western world.

October 18, 2005

Small barbs penetrate deep

We try and we try and we try. Well, the Wife and I do, anyway. But sometimes, it's not easy for even two people who love each other to get along well. The Wife made a comment tonight that really put me in a funk. She apologized for it and I don't think she meant to be malicious, she was just annoyed. But I guess it hit me at a bad time, and so even the nice banana bread she brought me to eat while I was teaching my class only went so far towards making me feel better. (Getting pulled over for a fix-it ticket on the way home tonight wasn't a real big mood-booster, either.)

It's amazing, how a relatively small thing can sting so much when it comes at exactly the right time. I'd been busy all damn day, between work and class and taking care of my relative's pets and taking care of my own pets, and driving halfway to North Carolina and back to get all of that done, and after being on the road all damn day yesterday, it felt like I hadn't had any real time to do anything at all for myself. I'm way short on quality sleep and way stressed out, so getting to sleep in the first place is becoming a huge challenge.

So I'm still upset even now, close to three hours after the fact even though I know shouldn't be upset, and I should just let it go. I've certainly done and said things that have upset her in the past, most of which I think I know about. At least I hope so. So I suppose it's just a matter of putting in effort to live with someone else; things like this will happen from time to time and if you're serious about being with someone, someone who is a human being and just as falliable as yourself, then you have to learn to when and how to let just plain go of some things. So I will try and let go myself.

And I'll try to get some shut-eye at last. That may help my mood tomorrow. The Wife seems better able to fall asleep at will than I. I wish I knew her secret. Ah, what am I saying? Everyone I know is better at falling asleep than me. I'm the guy staying up till midnight blogging because I can't fall asleep, after all.

This could be a big scoop

Well, I've been under a rock all day and haven't come across this juicy rumor until just now. Even if it doesn't happen, the fact that White House staffers are all abuzz about it is news in and of itself.

Strangely, Drudge doesn't have a word about this. The story seems to have first broken at one of his more left-wing counterpart sites. Huge props to the New York Daily News if it comes true; they seem to be the first major media outlet to run with it.

Coincidentally, The Wife is reading The Autobiography of Henry VIII, and just today, she got to the part where Thomas More lost his head. Life imitates art based on life?

But, I digress. Just say the words for a moment and wallow in their meaning. Vice-President Condoleeza Rice. Then consider this bit of trivia: fourteen of the forty-six Vice-Preisdents in U.S. history (31%) have become President themselves, either through succession or subsequent election in their own right, and since 1952, every Presidential campaign in which the incumbent President was not running for re-election has featured a Vice-President at the top of at least one of the two major party tickets.

Energy depletion

I'm still feeling the effects of yesterday's fourteen-hour journey to Pittsburgh and back again. I can't even begin to describe how empty I felt by the time I got home. I went for eight hours without any food, missed my scheduled return flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte, and none of it accomplished a damn thing. Why did I wear a suit for that? I don't know; I guess to give the metal detectors something to detect -- suspenders always set off the buzzer and earn me a public cruciform wanding (illustrated at right). If I'm really lucky, I get frisked, too; normally, you've gotta pay extra for that.

Hey, at least The Wife was there with a nice glass of vino to mark my arrival, and the dogs were there to pet and give love to. It made coming home that much sweeter than it already was. People who work as road warriors all the time have got to be in a perpetual state of exhaustion; I can't imagine how they do it, and they don't get the benefit of loving spouses and doggies when they check in at the Courtyard hotels that pass for their on-the-road residences.

I used to think that travel was fun and exciting because when traveling, one gets to see lots of new and interesting places. But I don't think so any more. Airports come in two varieties -- modern and corporate, or dilapadated and dreary. Either way, they're uncomfortable, loud, and unpleasant. That's where you spend most of your time when traveling. You don't get much of a taste of the places you visit when traveling on business, because there's business to do. Traveling for work is... work.

And there's work to do here, but since I'm still so burnt-out I am having a hard time staying motivated to do it. But, that's what being a professional is all about, so it's back to the grindstone.

October 17, 2005

The Road Warrior

Hello to all my Loyal Readers from the beautiful and corporate Pittsburgh International Airport. Here, you too can enjoy poor enterprise-level air-conditioning at sunset the dulcet sounds of crying babies, high-end shopping for crap you don’t need, and the joy of expensive junk food and unwatered mixed drinks. Yes, Pittsburgh – a hard-drinking, hard-working town trying hard to submerge its innate hills-and-rivers natural beauty behind rusted steel railroad trestles and industrial sites. I was told by a proud Pittburghian that when driving, natives here navigate by tunnels and bridges.

From a distance, the city is actually remarkably beautiful – the downtown is on the terminus of land between the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, which merge at Fort Pitt, one bridge away from Heinz Field and PNC Park, to form the mighty Ohio River.

The leaves are starting to turn here, and it is cool and pleasant enough to qualify as a brisk autumn day. I spent that brisk autumn day in Pittsburgh standing in a forensic arson investigator’s storage facility, watching other arson investigators sift through ashes and burnt pieces of metal and wire. Of what it told them, I know nothing; no more than I understand why I took the time to wear a suit.

And, despite the fact that it this City of Three Rivers is the traditional hub of U.S. Airways, a destination to which I could not obtain a direct flight. So I wait – having missed my first flight due to experts taking over-long periods of time analyzing evidence, and having had my second flight, a connect through Charlotte, North Carolina, delayed by half an hour for no apparent reason.

Yes, the joys of modern business air travel are truly endless. Aside from the thirty-eight pound “laptop” computer sitting heavier in my bag than one of my dogs, and the knowledge that I may not have enough time to make my connecting flight in Charlotte, I can also enjoy the sweaty awfulness that is my own suit, the numbness in my feet, legs, and ass from too much sitting on too many uncomfortable chairs, and the too-quickly-evaporating buzz from the overpriced drink my employer is not yet aware he bought for me. I miss my house and my wife and my pets. I want to sleep but of course cannot.

Hopefully, the now-delayed flight to Charlotte will begin boarding soon. I am in boarding zone seven, which means I get to squirm onboard behind the first-class passengers, Medallion-level club members, passengers with special physical needs or small children, and the spare gerbil cages. So, I remain awake, with my allergies acting up, a mild case of dehydration afflicting me, numb and sore feet, and an appalling sense of an utterly wasted and useless day.

October 14, 2005

No Monopolies

Virginia Postrel is the head of a think tank called the Reason Foundation. I'm generally a fan; she is a good writer and I find myself in ideological sympathy with her very frequently. In Forbes magazine, she recently reminded her readers that not every challenge to science, learning, and innovation comes from the American religious right; there are leftists who offer substantial challenges to science at variance with their version of orthodoxy (considering both means and ends) as well.

I've not time to elaborate on what I think of Ms. Postrel's points at the moment, but I commend her column to you, my Loyal Readers.

October 13, 2005

Continued Career Change Contemplation

The Wife is taking paralegal classes. I approve and support her desire to move on to a better job -- she's working at a call center for a major appliance manufacturer that rhymes with "Girl School." She's way smarter than you need to be to answer phones and is dramatically overqualified for this job. Some of her lazier, unmotivated, and let's face it, unintelligent co-workers drive her absolutely nuts, and I want to see her be happier when she comes home from work. One thing she loves doing is organizing things, and that's a big part of what being a paralegal is all about. So it seems like it would be a good fit for her.

That keeps me downtown tonight -- I'm just waiting for her class to end so I can go pick her up after school. My past experiences with running home, changing, feeding the dogs, and then getting yet another call from her advising that class got out early so could I come pick her up has been very frustrating, time-consuming, and a lot of wear and tear on the car. So tonight I'm just waiting downtown for the call. I'm quite hungry, actually, and will go get some food when I'm done blogging.

Now, seeing The Wife make career moves has raised an issue for me, which is whether I too should try to switch careers. I've been unhappy here at the Great Man Law Firm for some time. I was unhappy at my old firm in California for some time, too, before I left it. The reasons for both kinds of unhappiness are complex, radically different from one another, and who knows if they either can be or would have been mitigated by any additional efforts on my part to remedy them. And it's also true that I enjoy some things about practicing law, very much, and I don't know if I would want to give up the good along with the bad altogether, as opposed to trying to find a new legal job that had more of the good and less of the bad.

So both The Wife and my mother have suggested to me in recent weeks that they think I would be happier being more or less a full-time writer as opposed to being a full-time lawyer.

I believe there is something to that thought. The things I like best about law generally involve research, writing, fashioning and making arguments, and being in front of people when I have to be "on" in an advocacy capacity. The things I like least are the minutiae of calendar management, dreary and repetitive discovery, and working through a lot of pointless shouting and emotion in an effort to solve problems. Writing, teaching, or some combination of both would seem to involve more of the things I like and less of the things I don't. There are two problems with this plan.

First of all, writing professionally is hard, risky work; I have no illusions about that. Now hard work does not scare me, and neither does a certain level of risk, but the thing that does bother me is the way to mitigate both the difficulty and the risk -- which is to self-motivate to do it, every day, for eight hours a day, like a regular job. I can self-motivate, but my experience has proven that I do not self-motivate as well as I would like to, particularly if I want to be a full-time writer. I think I need to be honest with myself that I am too easily distracted in front of a computer screen to focus on writing all the time unless there is either a deadline or at least a calendar that has some external consequences for me if I fail to live up to the schedule. Setting my own schedule just isn't good enough -- I need to have something outside myself to kick my ass enough to get me to finish things on time.

Secondly, I've grown used to having the money and security of a lawyer's income. Maybe I could make more than I'm making now if I got a regular writing gig, like for a newspaper or a magazine. But those kinds of gigs are hard to get and that's where a lot of the real work for writing has to be done. A very good friend of mine back in Los Angeles is a writer (and a part-time teacher in recent years) and he has to constantly hustle for more work. It was difficult to arrange social activities with him back in L.A. because he was constantly on the make. I don't' begrudge him having a demanding schedule and I'm very happy for him that he's made the writer's life work for him. The writing itself is not nearly as difficult as getting hired to do the writing in the first place.

I could keep my part-time teaching gig to mitigate things somewhat, but the money sucks. I make about ten grand a year teaching online undergraduate or certification-level law classes. I would need to do a lot more teaching than I do to pull up the inevitable valleys in the up-and-down income of a professional writer -- or continue practicing law at least part-time, which sort of defeats the purpose of giving up the law practice in exchange for a writing career.

Then there's the question of what I would write. This is not a problem that deters me from pursuing the goal of being a full-time professional writer, but it is a challenging issue that I would need to resolve. My friend who does this got started doing a lot of political writing; speeches for politicians or ghostwriting op-eds for various public figures. From there, he's branched out into corporate speechwriting and now is doing more corporate that political work.

That probably wouldn't be the road I went down if I did explore it further. I don't think I have a good feel for speeches and the sorts of rhetorical flourishes that make a good speech. As you Loyal Readers know, I write long sentences, and put those long sentences into long paragraphs. Good speeches have short sentences. Good speeches have a lot of repetition -- and the very well-written speech has made the repetition subtle enough that the listener thinks the speaker is going over new ground when he really isn't. Maybe I could achieve that with practice. But it isn't my style.

So that makes me consider whether I want to try my hand at fiction. I've tried it before and wow, is it tough. I don't have a very good feel for dialogue. I have a worse feel for plot. I've tried setting out a plot arc for my story to follow and found that my characters just didn't want to follow the plot arc, and either hit a wall where nothing felt natural or real anymore, or if I allowed the characters to act and develop in a way that did, the story quickly veered off the plot arc and became a meandering, pointless miasma.

Before that happens to this post, I'll conclude that this leaves me with only one area to go -- non-fiction. That involves a lot of research and knowledge when done well; no one wants to buy a non-fiction book written by someone who is just talking out of his ass. I have an interest in history, particularly classical history, but no academic background in it and little ability to read and understand historical source materials of the classical era. I can write about law, to be sure, and there is an audience for that, but if I'm going to give up practicing law, I think I should at least explore other areas of intellectual inquiry other than law. Maybe I'd be good at writing, say, a monthly column about law for a popular audience. But where would I get that sort of thing published -- and get paid for it? That's the biggest question of all, and the country is full of writers who haven't figured out how to answer it yet.

October 12, 2005

The Credenza

Once upon a time, I had this nice antique credenza in my office. It needed a little TLC but it got the job done and had some nice woodwork. I kind of liked it, and it kept my stationery holder and some files off the ground. It was high enough that I could store boxes of evidence and pleadings underneath it and keep them out of the way. The Wife also bought me some nice candlesticks and candles for decoration on it; I had some good pictures from our honeymoon set above it and the net appearance was quite nice.

Monday morning, I came to the office and it was gone. So was the only torch lamp in the office that provided any substantial illumination during the morning hours. Boxes of documents, my stationery holder, and my candles were all about the floor. I'm all, "What the hell?" Later, the Great Man said, "Oh, TL, I'm sorry! I was setting up my home office all weekend. Me and the movers were here until all hours of the night! Oh, don't worry, I'll get you a replacement later today."

Well, that replacement didn't get here until today. And when it came, it looked like this:

Now, if you're like me, and I know I am, you're saying to yourself, "Damn. That thing is fug-lee, dude."

You can't tell in this picture that the stain has worn off the top in two locations, because of the banker's box of documents I've put on top of this monstrosity. It's made out of nothing but two-by-fours. And it's short, too. The top of this alleged credenza (I'm thinking "bench" would be a more appropriate word) is as high as my knee. The crossbar on bottom prevents me from storing any of my banker's boxes underneath it, as I could with the piece that the Great Man appropriated for his home office.

And I still don't have a replacement lamp. It's dark and foreboding in my office in the mornings now. Much like my mood at work. It would give me more pleasure than I think is strictly professionally appropriate if I could sacrifice this new "credenza" to the Fire Gods. But if we can't even get plastic fucking spoons in the office, I should count myself pretty damn lucky to have furniture at all.

October 11, 2005

Si, sono ancora qui

I haven't blogged in a while; sorry, Loyal Readers. I've been that busy. My new class is keeping me on my toes; having the family and a heavy workload to juggle has been draining of my time. I'm pretty tired even now.

The most important good news is that my family has been getting along very well. Last Monday was a low point and since then things got much better. Things are so much more pleasant when that happened.

Tonight I had dinner with my mom and was too tired to remember much Italian, which was a problem because the restaurant owner is Italian and I enjoy the chance to brush the dust off my Italian by exchanging pleasantries with him. But, "No, sto stancho, mi scuse," was about the best I could come up with. Lame, I know, but I was really too run-down to go further than that. I couldn't even think of how to say, "My Italian has escaped me tonight."

October 10, 2005

Any way you get it, it's still a W

That's what you usually say when your team ekes out a win. But that's not what happened Sunday. 52-3 is a pretty decisive victory. Seriously, it's the highest score that Brett Favre has ever participated in getting. Two interceptions for TD's by Al Harris, two run-ins from Najeh Davenport, and three strikes from Favre add up to a lot of points. 49, to be exact, and there was a field goal off another turnover to finish it off.

Now, this win cost us our backup running back. Hopefully the bye week will give Ahman Green enough time to heal and return against the Vikings. We need him; our only other RB is Tony Fisher, who usually lines up like a fullback and spends most of his time blocking and being heroically unglamorous. We need Green; we're out so many people with sidelining injuries that it's sickening. Sherman's going to have to start pulling dudes out of the stands at halftime if this keeps up.

If this sounds a little unethusiastic after a huge win, it is. We were playing New Orleans, folks; a team without a home. A team without its regular starting quarterback. Sad to say, but this was inevitable for them. Yes, we were mad and frustrated and yes, we had to do something to start turning the team around and yes, we're better than our 1-4 record would indicate. But a 1-4 start is nothing to get excited about, ever. And the really sad thing is, at 1-4 in the NFC North, we're right back in the hunt.

And in fantasy football, despite an unglamorous week, the FSM's came in second place -- by only two points against the former #6 team. They gained a net two points on us; we gained against everyone else. Only a fumble by the Bengals at the very end of the game -- while they were driving into field goal range to tie up the Sunday night match against the impressive-looking Jaguars -- prevented us from winning outright for the second week in a row. No other team is realistically poised to achieve a net gain in excess of our total this week based on tonight's match between the Steelers and the Chargers. So we're in the lead for the second week in a row. Yay for the Flying Spaghetti Monsters!

October 6, 2005

A poor role model but an excellent symbol

A long time ago, I read A Man For All Seasons, (and later saw the star-studded movie of the same name) the classic dramatic portrayal of Sir Thomas More and his moral struggle with his friend and political patron, King Henry VIII.

In the play, More is depicted as refusing to obey the King’s commands to sever England from the Church and secure a divorce from his wife, is dismissed from his position of power, is then asked to swear an oath of loyalty to the King which includes a reference to the King as the head of the Church of England, and again refuses to do so. With sadness, More’s former friend the King has him executed for this act of disobedience; More, however, is at peace and bravely welcomes his fate, for he knows that he is in the moral right.

It is a difficult and saddening story, made all the more so because the basic events are 100% true. I stood at the very spot in the Tower of London where More was executed and imagined that I could see the blood dripping from the scaffold onto the pavement. Besides that, A Man For All Seasons is very good piece of dramatic writing, and its sympathetic portrayal of Sir Thomas More, a complex man who unflinchingly made the right choice when asked to choose between his friendship and his morality, his patriotism and his faith, and ultimately his life or his conscience, is a deeply moving one. This portrayal of More makes it easy to understand why the Roman Catholic Church canonized More.

But now, I’ve done a little more looking into the historical man. Historically, it's true that More was an extraordinarily intelligent man, easily the best lawyer of his day, the second-most powerful man in the realm and a personal friend of the King. A cursory glance of history reveals that More was trained as a young man in the humanistic school of thought; his associates as a young man, budding scholar, and new lawyer were some of the greatest thinkers of the early North European Renaissance. It is certainly true that More helped Henry draft Henry’s response to Martin Luther, which ironically still stands today as a great defense of the unified Roman Catholic Church and earned Henry the title “Defender of the Faith.” He was very close to the influential thinker and rekindler of scientific inquiry Erasmus – a man called by some the first truly modern thinker. The cursory look at history suggests that More, a contemporary of Erasmus, Mirandola, and other great thinkers of his day who laid the foundations for modernism, belongs in the same category as do they.

And in one sense, that is true. More accepted that Parliament could make Anne Boleyn Henry's Queen, but he insisted that only the Pope could make Katherine of Aragon not Henry's wife. In this, he drew a clear distinction between church and state -- and sided with the church, at the expense not only of his career but also of his life. This represented a break from traditional medieval thinking, and More deserves praise for being ahead of his time in that respect.

But while A Man For All Seasons is indeed moving, I no longer believe its veracity. The truth is that More had little difficulty severing effective political control of the Church in England from the Vatican; he argued to the Pope that Henry should have final say over who became bishops and cardinals in England. He helped the King tax and later seize the monasteries. Ultimately, Sir Thomas voiced few profound moral objections to Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon (although he was no fan of Anne Boleyn); rather, he objected to Henry’s assertion that the Church could be fragmented into separate entities altogether and that Henry, not the Pope could be its head.

Contrary to his plentiful good press in the passing centuries, More was no humanist. A humanist believes in the ultimate perfectability of mankind, he believes that man is ultimately good and beautiful and praiseworthy. More believed quite the contrary -- More was slavishly devoted to the medieval conception of human existence as vile, wretched, hopeless, and utterly unredeemable without the intervention of Divine Grace.

Indeed, More's career demonstrates that he definitely turned his back on the spirit of new thinking and learning of his age much more often than he embraced it. He was deeply opposed to the printing and publication of the Bible in the English language; he wanted to reserve the study of the Bible only to the elites. He willingly colluded with governmental manipulation of religious doctrine to serve the political needs of his friend and master the King. He fused, rather than severed, church and state. In his scholarship, he attacked substantial study of Jesus’ humanity, arguing that to emphasize Jesus as a man was disparaging to Jesus as God Incarnate. (This was going a little far even for King Henry, as it turns out.) He led teams of police to seize smuggled shipments of English-language Bibles and other books from Holland, and held public ceremonies burning those books as a demonstration of the King’s (and his) power to censor material.

Perhaps most disturbingly, More helped prosecute cases in the Star Chamber, the British equivalent of the Holy Inquisition. The Star Chamber was a treason tribunal which had members of the secret police seize suspected enemies of the King without warning, warrant, or evidence, and extracted confessions of treason from them – whether by taking evidence from unsworn witnesses or by torturing the defendant. Needless to say, there was no jury of the accused’s peers; the defendant had no right to counsel (indeed, speaking on behalf of the accused before the Star Chamber was a good way to find yourself a defendant there), and no right to hear evidence against himself, much less cross-examine witnesses against him. The nature of the crimes that the Star Chamber prosecuted were varied, malleable, and vague; the only true commonality they had was that the defendants were all deemed to be political enemies of the King. Tens, if not hundreds, of men died because of More’s disregard for England’s great, but politically inexpedient, legacy of legal due process – a legacy inherited from the Romans and thankfully one that survived Sir Thomas More’s shameful trampling to be passed on to the modern family of liberal democracies. More was a lawyer himself. He should have known better.

More is not one of history’s great heroes of morality. Quite the contrary, he ranks as one of history’s villains. Certainly not the greatest villain of all, but a bad guy nonetheless:
  1. Heroes amongst scholars do not burn books.
  2. Heroes amongst humanists do not hide the truth from the people, especially when they profess to fervently believe that truth to be the road to humanity's moral and spiritual salvation.
  3. Heroes amongst public men do not betray their friendships and political patrons by splitting theological hairs with them.
  4. Heroes amongst moral men also do not betray their families and loved ones by throwing their lives away over such insignificancies.
  5. Most of all, heroes amongst lawyers do not condone and participate in attacks on their own country’s legal institutions and help the state commit judicial murder.

Some of you Loyal Readers may wonder at all this rancor directed at a figure from history. First of all, let me be clear, my opinion of More is negative but not 100% so. He did apply reason and logic to the law, he did use the law as a buttress of the state and as a beacon of morality, and as I mentioned above, he did make the leap of reasoning and observation to distinguish between church and state. He wrote Utopia, an amazingly subversive case study of society and the impact of both the state and of religion on the individual. Like many historical figures, the truth is ambiguous and gray, not black and white. He's not Hitler or Stalin and there are things about More that I can admire. But that takes me away from the question of why should anyone care about Thomas More today?

I was inspired to write about More after seeing an article recently about an entity called the Thomas More Law Center. It is the driving intellectual force behind the defense in the currently-pending case of Kitzmiller et. al. v. Dover Area School District, which involves parents suing a local school board that is attempting to replace its standard biology textbook with one that teaches intelligent design theory. The plaintiffs’ theory is that intelligent design is a thinly-veiled form of creationism and the textbook effectively constitutes the unconstitutional teaching of religion in public schools.

That those who would give sanction, aid, and the patina of respectability to the critics of science and reason -- and that they should do so in the name of religious belief -- should choose Thomas More as their namesake and role model is unsurprising. These people have picked a perfect symbol for themselves: a self-righteous reactionary, swaddled in the clothes of moral superiority and not above politically convenient hypocricy, perverting the true intent of religion and self-deluded into believing that his career was somehow in the public interest rather than against it. More's career and achievements were ultimately about thwarting the progress and power of reason rather than promoting or celebrating the human capacity for acquiring and sharing knowledge. So he is a marvellously symbolic figure, indeed.

Another one bites the dust

So much for one of my inside job leads. Maybe the new company will need a lawyer here in town, too; we'll just have to see.

Bigger than Intelligent Design

See, it's not just me who is worried about this whose evolution-versus-creation thing. This article is a good illustration of how Biblical literalists can look at the same world that scientists and skeptics do, and report seeing something completely different.

And undoubtedly, this is what's next for science instruction here in the Bible Belt.

October 5, 2005

Rebuild New Orleans

I haven't posted about New Orleans in a while, in part because I've had so many other things going on and in part because it's really, really depressing. But I read at lunch today some suggestions by CNN.com readers for rebuilding the city.

One person wrote:
...rebuild, but do it wisely. Ask the Dutch government for help in building in a flood zone. The Dutch build houses that rise with water levels. Also, plant trees and reestablish the natural barriers that would help minimize hurricane damage in the future.
A whole series of excellent ideas. First of all, our friends in Europe -- and yes, they are still our friends, in spite of a growing disagreement over Iraq -- are happy to lend us a hand in terms of expertise, equipment, experience, and even expenses in our rebuilding efforts. They know some things we do not; they are better at some things than we are. If we turn them down, it is because of our arrogance, and we cannot afford to be arrogant in terms of dollars, ideas, manpower, or lives. No one goes it alone in this world and when our friends offer a much-needed helping hand, we should take it. Secondly, houses that rise with the water are possible (the Dutch do it) and it makes amazing amounts of sense in a city that is below sea level. Third, an extensive greenbelt and urban planting of trees not only would help control the water table during non-flood times, it would serve as a windbreak for artificial structures during storms (not to mention beautify the city and moderately check air pollution).

Another person suggested that we look to Venice as a model. Venice is a network of hundreds of islands. The channels between these small, close-together islands have been sculpted over time into a network of canals and bridges. Venice is not precisely unique in its incorporation of urban canals as modes of transportation; Amsterdam has canals incorporated into its urban structure, and a network of canals laces across much of England. An interesting idea, but I suspect that New Orleaneans would rather preserve their city's historic architectural tradition than reinvent itself in a form that reminds its residents of the recent series of disasters.

Certainly the city will be Disneyfied, but perhaps that is not a terrible thing.

I would suggest a look at Barcelona. While The Wife and I were generally not pleased with Barcelona during our honeymoon, that was because the city's tourism industry is really aimed at young single people who want to party and drink and dance and have sex from the time the sun goes down until about ten in the morning. This is great fun when you're 19, more tiring than pleasurable when you're more than half again that age, and somewhat pathetic when you're over twice that age.

One thing really impressed me about Barcelona was the Eixample neighborhood. It is a grid of blocks; each block holds an octagonal superstructure of a building, four or five stories high. Inside each of these superstructures is an open courtyard, and the residents of the superstructure were able to build what they chose inside each one. Some set up playgrounds for their children, others created gardens, others created parks, others set up adult sporting equipment, I'm sure some set up sculpture gardens. The first floor of each of these super-blocks consisted largely of retail shops, grocery stores, and things like that; the upper three or four stories were apartments or condominiums. I imagine that each of these superstructures had the equivalent of a homeowners' association to take care of upkeep, decisions about the courtyard, and so on. The octagonal design of the buildings makes each four-way intersection seem more like a small public square, and keeps the area friendly to pedestrians -- and as a result, people do a lot of walking rather than driving to get where they need to go, which is both healthier for the residents, and better for the community.

New Orleans could do a lot worse than to look at giving up its traditional shotgun house designs and make its neighborhoods more like Eixample. By all means, New Orleaneans, keep the French Quarter and the central business district the way they have been, but keep in mind not only where you live and what can happen to it -- but also what your community can become if you are willing to look as much to the future as you are to the past.

Persistent Professional Pessimism

Yesterday, it appeared that The Great Man's friend, colleague, and (apparently) management consultant Touchy-Feely-David-From-Atlanta (hereinafter TFDFA) was trying to make nice with me and get my ideas on how to improve the firm. Since I'm still not certain of whether I want to even stay here any longer than it takes me to find new work (or whether I want to accept offers of work that are on the table now), this feels like kind of a charade. I like the guy and it's an interesting coincidence that we share the same birthday, and if he can follow through and deliver on everything he's talking about, then this could be a really fun place to work. To his credit, also, he is realistic about what he is up against and admits that trying to get The Great Man to change his ways will be difficult, if not impossible.

It seems he has a "Colonel Sanders" idea; tear down all the existing structures, buy out the right to use The Great Man's name and likeness, and use him as a figurehead. It worked great for both the real Colonel Sanders and the company that has made his salty chicken ubiquitous.

In order for me to stay here at The Law Office Of The Great Man (which is looking rather unlikely right about now) things must improve, TFDFA involvement or no. I've been caught holding my dick one time too many on cases that have been thrown at me here because nothing has been worked up correctly, the calendar controls here are frightening, and I am still unfamiliar enough with Tennessee procedures and practices to need my hand held. That just happened this morning, in fact. Apparently when you ask for a court date in Chancery Court, that translates to what I would have called an ex parte hearing in the judge's chambers. Now, this is nothing unusual for me; I've been used to having to wait an hour or more after the announced time of a hearing for a judge to actually take the bench. So I'm standing out in front of the dark courtroom for twenty minutes until the other lawyer calls me and asks where I am and then I need to beg the clerk's permission to let me in to the offices.

Everyone else in the whole damn State of Tennessee just knew that was how it worked, so it never occurred to them to explain it to me. Kind of like trying to drive from point A to point B in Tennessee -- you need to just know that "Highway 321 North" actually goes east, and you need to just know when those painted yellow lines in the middle of the road are only suggestions, and you need to just know to turn right on the unmarked dirt road where Grimface's Funeral Home used to be.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. My suspicion is that if things do not work out here, TFDFA may be trying to recruit me to work for him. TFDFA is a very pleasant fellow and it does seem that he and I are of one mind about how a law firm should be run and how lawsuits should be handled. He agrees with me about decreasing the amount of chaos and tightening the cash flow issues here. He agrees with me that we need to cut down on our administrative staff and shares my apprehension that certain staff members are sacred cows, and he solicited my advice on where to trim. (It's uncomfortable having to pick out a person to be let go, although I had given the issue some thought during my weekend-long stint as the figurehead managing attorney.)

And, he invited me to come down to his firm in Atlanta for a day to see how it operates and to meet his people, right before I dropped him off at the airport so he could fly himself and his dog back home to Buckhead in his personal jet. (Ugh. Atlanta.) Of course, for all the we're-in-this-together, let's-build-a-team, TL-you're-the-key-to-the-whole-operation stuff, there is still an appreciable chance that mine is the head being lined up for the chopping block. While that seems unlikely today, it does seem to be about the speed which things are running. Southerners are very charming as a group -- and "charm" is, by definition, initially appealing but inherently deceptive.

Well, at least the family is getting along better and we're making plans to do things together while my folks are still down here.

October 4, 2005

Ipse Dixit

“It's hard to express in words how disappointed I am. I left it all on the field. I've never been 0-4, but it's a hand we've been dealt.” -- Brett Favre

October 3, 2005

Monday Night Blues

It's halftime between the Panthers and the Packers and Green Bay looks terrible. A guy got knocked out of the game, hit so hard he's being ambulanced to the hospital with his neck secured on a gurney. Favre has thrown one strike (the FSM's are leading and should win the week in the fantasy game, thanks in no small part to Eli Manning) and one credited interception, although I'd have scored it two by now. So the game is going terribly.

And home is going terribly. The tension around here is heavy and unpleasant. The Wife and I argued for nearly half an hour on the phone tonight. While everyone is pleasant and civil, there is less energy to our conversation and interaction and everything feels a little forced and stilted, like we're all trying hard to only talk about unimportant, trivial things.

I got week 1 of my class set up but that's about all I've had the mental focus to do. I'll do the rest over the next couple of days. I've been pretty much hiding down here in the basement with the dogs all night (now with the football game going on at least I have an excuse) so I don't have to deal with anything. I really should try to get some sleep but that will probably elude me. I like the dogs. Being with a beloved pet is simple -- you love and scratch and pet the dog, and the dog rubs up against you and licks your hand, and you look at each other and have that warm human-dog bond. People are much more complicated.

I used to be upset about things happening at work. I still am. Now I find that home provides little refuge or solace. The folks are being marvelous; they've fixed up nearly everything around the house that The Wife and I could not or did not. They want to do nice things for us and be good parents. The Wife wants to do nice things and be a good daughter-in-law. I want to do nice things and be a good husband and son. Everyone wants to get along. But it's not really happening and I don't know how we got to this unhappy place. I don't know or care whose fault it is anymore, I just want us to be a functional family again.

Well, Green Bay just came back on the field and did a pathetic-looking three-and-out. That's pretty much how this Monday has gone. Time for the TL to try and get a little REM time, although right now I'm wound up too tight right now for that to be a realistic plan.

Mondays Suck

I can't remember the last time I had a good Monday.

Cattle call

Anderson County, Tennessee has got what has to be one of the worst scheduling mechanisms I have ever, ever seen. This morning, I was number 392 on a docket call of 395 cases. Every attorney got a printout of every case on the court's docket, and a worksheet with the trial dates already scheduled filled in. When a case number was called, the lawyers stood up in the gallery and announced their preferences for scheduling their own trial dates. They were picking dates as late as December of 2007. I had to follow along for the entire two and a half hours with the worksheet to keep track of what dates were getting filled up and what dates were still available.

This was worse that Department "A" in the Van Nuys Superior Court after the Northridge Earthquake, when Van Nuys handled both its own cases and San Fernando's. There, you could find your case number on the wall, try and locate the other attorney, and stipulate on dates to be rubber-stamped by the clerk. No judge, no muss, no fuss (well, a little fuss but it worked out); stipulated dates, face-to-face contact with your adversary, and you were out of there as soon as you could cut a deal. Oh, and a shorter calendar, too; I remember seeing case numbers as high as 140 in the Bad Old Days in Department "A." Never did I see a #395 on the docket -- and bear in mind that Anderson County has one-tenth the number of people living in it as did the combined North Valley districts back in Los Angeles.

So anyway, it took all morning for my case to be called up there -- I had only one case; but there was one guy who must have had sixty -- and at the end of the session, I was able to get a date in mid-September for an ordinary slip-and-fall I filed last month. At least I got to meet the defense attorney -- who asked for a trial date a year later than we actually were assigned, so it's a good thing I stuck around. I could have gone across the street, had some coffee, read the paper, played a little handball with the high school kids skipping school, showered and cleaned up, and then gone back through the metal detector in plenty of time to make docket sounding #360. And an hour there and an hour back. What a colossal waste of time; I want my morning back.

Family Politics

Since when did dealing with the people closest to me become a walk across a field of eggshells? Once upon a time, less than two years ago, it seemed that everyone liked everyone else; we all got along, we all loved each other and were a big, happy family. Right now, that seems to have eroded beyond recognition or salvage. Now, people set off fits of anger, depression, resentment, defensiveness, and distrust in one another. How on earth did this happen?

October 2, 2005


Last night, The Wife and I went to our new friends' home for a dinner party. There, we met another academic (a pleasant if intense young woman who just finished her Ph.D. in political science) and another lawyer who teaches at UT Law School. This lawyer does basically the same kind of work I did in California out here -- and I had been told there just wasn't any market for that. (I also got some salacious gossip about other lawyers and public officials around town.)

Networking with other people is certainly the best way to find new work, and this is no exception. I got leads on some in-house jobs that may be promising, and which are not on my job search service.

The dinner was great, too. Our host and hostess are from California also so they have the same sorts of eclectic, palate-challenging tastes that I do (and that The Wife shares, at least to a significant degree, although I like the hot spices more than she). They served a wonderfully spicy curried chicken and pesto tortellini; the hot and spicy chicken paired just about perfectly with the Arthur Earl pinot grigio we brought over as a gift. They are friendly, intellectual, and happy folks and both The Wife and I are glad to have made new friends.

And this afternoon, my parents are coming to stay, which should also be fun. I may not have time to blog at home for a while; between my parents and setting up a brand-new class to teach on Tuesday I expect I'll be pretty busy but will try and make posts from the office before getting to work or while eating lunch.