November 30, 2005

White Mule Society

The Great Man lowered the boom on me today; after the end of January, I need to have found something else for myself. While this is unsettling news, it was not unexpected. To commiserate, Happy Bachelor Lawyer and I met up with the White Mule Society tonight at the brewpub.

You can read about the legend of the White Mule here, on the brewpub's website.

This "White Mule Society" was really just a group of Happy Bachelor Lawyer's drinking buddies who are also attorneys. Trading war stories and the experiences of others who have been through career changes softened the blow somewhat. I still have anxiety about this new house we've bought, but I'm trying to approach the situation with confidence and perspective.

I should be able to land on my feet, at this point. Of course only time will tell. When I completely sober up again, I may start being anxious once more, but for now at least I should be able to get some sleep. After I drink a lot of water.

It was also a very good thing that The Wife came to join us. Otherwise, I'd still be down there trying to sober up. Anyway, it's time to go drink some water.

Are You Ready, Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is finally getting an NFL franchise. More than one, as it turns out. Sheesh; all I needed to do was move away.

November 28, 2005

Huge Class

My usual online classes are ten to twelve students. My class starting tonight? Twenty-one. I'm going to set it up a little differently than usualy, given the large number of students. If a lot don't drop out, I'm going to have to do a few things -- like my jury simulation -- a lot differently. There's no rule saying a jury has to have twelve people, but that's the most common number and also a manageable one.

Twenty-one students. Yikes. And the tech geeks at University of Phoenix haven't set up my classroom for me yet and I should be watching the Colts and the Steelers on Monday Night Football instead of worrying about my class. Gripe, gripe, gripe...

A Worse Record Than Arizona

On September 27, I pessimistically predicted that the Philadelphia Eagles would guarantee a losing season for the Green Bay Packers, and the Packers would finish the season 4-12. The first half of that prediction has now come true. Green Bay is currently 2-9, along with the Jets and the 49ers. The only team with a worse record is Houston.

Sheesh. Even the New Orleans San Antonio Los Angeles Baton Rouge Saints, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Flaming Thumbtacks of Nashville have managed to eke out three victories each. We lost to Philadelphia's second string. Next up: the amazingly unstoppable-looking Chicago Bears. We may have to wind up getting our remaining two victories from Detroit and Seattle.

Yes, Seattle. The last game of the season will be on New Year's Day. By then, it appears that Seattle will have already locked up home-field advantage before their final game. So, the Seahawks will have no particular incentive to play any of their starters for very long and they will mail in their last game in preparation for the playoffs. You heard it here (well, actually you read it here) first.

November 27, 2005

Preparing To Return To Work

It's not the most pleasant thought in my mind, to return to work after a long, pleasant weekend. A big meal, off of which The Wife and I ate for two days and of which there is still a little bit more to go; lazy days watching movies and goofing off on the computer; and today, visiting my relative and taking a good 2.1 mile walk on an unusually warm November day. A good weekend.

I'm not expecting a good week at work. The Great Man is supposed to be trying a case; whether this will actually happen or not is a very good question. In all of my previous jobs as an attorney, the end grew near when I felt a sense of foreboding and anxiety as I approached my workplace, and a sense of frustration and impotence when actually there, as though nothing I did mattered to anyone. For a long time, I didn't have that back at my own firm, but I've sure got it now at The Law Office Of The Great Man.

It is evident to me that my contributions to the firm are not so much wanted and appreciated as they are tolerated, at least until something or someone more suitable for The Great Man's purposes comes along. And that may not be the case for much longer anyway. I'm reasonably certain that, having decided to relocate his office to space he unwisely rented in West Knoxville a couple years ago, I will not be making that move. So maybe I have until January 31, 2006. Maybe less. In any event, I admit I've not tried very hard to conceal my attitude of doom and gloom at the office and I will probably not be able to do so even if I were to want to. You walk around with a noose around your neck long enough, it'll start to affect your attitude as well.

Well, on the plus side, my fantasy football team has done pretty well again this weekend; so that's a plus. The Flying Spaghetti Monsters have been in the lead for nine straight weeks now and there's five weeks left in the regular season. I have cause to be optimistic there. It may be sad to think that I've only got fantasy football to look forward to, and the fact is that I don't. The apparently inevitable job switch will inevitably result in me being more happy than I am, although I do not relish the thought of going through that very much. The new house will be good, too. I am looking forward to that. I've got The Wife and our critters around me, we've made some friends here in Tennessee, and if worse comes to worse there is an option in California to fall back on.

I need to remember that I do have options and I don't have to put up with mind f*cks. I need to remember that I am a good lawyer and I will be an asset to whatever firm or employer winds up realizing that; while The Great Man seems to have lost sight of that fact, others will not. And, of course, I need to remember that I've got a great support network of people around me. So when I tell myself that it's not so bad as I fear tomorrow, on my way in to the office, I should believe it and take the whole situation with a grain of salt and a sense of humor -- gallows humor, perhaps, but humor nonetheless.

The real test, of course, is not what I write tonight but what actually happens tomorrow.

November 26, 2005

Pajama Day

The Wife and I will sometimes have Pajama Day. This can only happen on the weekends and we do it when we're just too damn lazy to do anything all day long. We hang out and read and watch TV and goof off in our pajamas all day long. Today's Pajama Day will be punctuated by a pizza delivery. Yes, it's that pizza named after a board game with moveable pieces that isn't really very good, but that's the only place that will delivery out here to The Estate At Louisville and we've both had quite enough Thanksgiving leftovers for the time being, thank you very much. But the point of Pajama Day is to just relax, enjoy ourselves, and not have to stress for a while. I defeated that purpose by teaching today, and The Wife did some studying, but aside from that, we've been able to cool out pretty good. I played Civ IV, at least until the computer crashed; we watched Miller's Crossing on DVD, we played with the dogs and cats, and now we'll just eat pizza and relax. We'll have plenty of work to do in the upcoming weeks and months.

November 25, 2005

Grading Papers

Today, I spent most of the day teaching. The most tedious part of being an online instructor is grading papers. What makes this process so tedious is the very, very poor quality of the writing I see. Today's crop of papers was unusually awful. Misused apostrophes and commas were just the beginning. Incomplete sentences, homophones, and inchoate words strung together as if they meant something. Citations to authority were virtually absent and I found two instances of out-and-out plagiarism which I will have to report to Academic Affairs. Grading papers took me more than five hours and I felt more like a grammar instructor than a law teacher.

Props to the first commenter who can figure out why I posted this particular picture for this particular topic.

Ambitious Cooking

I've never cooked a full Thanksgiving meal before, and now that I've been the captain of such a ship, I realize that I never will. The project is simply too big for one person to undertake. In this case, The Wife helped out by making her carrot soufflé (not a true soufflé, because it doesn't have eggs, but don't tell her that) and a pumpkin pie; Pam and Andrew brought over Pam's Yams and spiced apple cider.

That left for me, the green bean casserole (with hand-fried onions), the mashed potatoes, an apple-cranberry pie with walnut topping, the stuffing, the cranberry-orange sauce, and... something else. Oh, yes. The bird (and his gravy). I'm pretty proud of myself; the only things not made from scratch were the pie shell, the stuffing, and the gravy base. As to the gravy, the bird was only a breast, so I knew he wasn't going to make enough drippings for meaningful gravy; I used such drippings as he gave to the gravy and made it super-tasty. What with the instant stuffing being so cheap, I didn't feel bad about that, and the same with the pie shell.

The bird is the biggest challenge of a Thanksgiving dinner. My bird got to sit in lemon-garlic brine for two and a half days while he thawed out from the freezer; he got dressed with garlic and herbs and cooked under a couple strips of bacon for fat and moisture and as a result, he came out really moist and juicy.

None of the individual dishes are very difficult, including the bird. What's complex and challenging is the extent of the prep work involved, and then timing everything to be ready at more or less the same time. The Wife and I got the sauce and the pies ready the night before, and everything else I sat down and mapped out on a spreadsheet schedule so I would know when everything needed to start and finish. The result was an on-time dinner, with everything hot and fresh and yummy. Pam, Andrew, the Wife, and I ate our fill of plentiful, delicious, all-American food, and when we were hungry again, we ate pie. And while Thanksgiving food is super-yummy, it is also kind of high-fat and you can't make a constant habit out of eating like that. Andrew got so much turkey and wine in him he had to take a nap. When I saw that, I pronounced the dinner a great success.

I particularly enjoyed our toasts to what we were thankful for and to me that was one of the high points of the night. It's nice to know that we are all grateful for the same things -- most of all for the people we love, and for the opportunities and the bounty we can enjoy in our lives, and for our freedom and our friends. To my former law partner and all his colleagues serving overseas, we took time to remember you -- and while we toasted you with wine and not water, you were in our thoughts.

Overall, it was great fun and I would gladly do it again. Just not tomorrow night; I need a rest. All-told, I probably spent nine to ten hours prepping, cooking and cleaning -- especially cleaning. We had to run our itty-bitty dishwasher four times that day and it felt like I spent more time cleaning dirty dishes and putting clean ones away than I spent handling food and making it ready. My feet and back were pretty sore by the end of the day and I must have slept for ten hours last night. But it was great and a reminder of why the Thanksgiving feast is such a great American tradition.

November 23, 2005

He's Back. And He's Bitter.

Michael Reynolds, the George Carlin of political bloggers, has apparently re-activated his highly amusing and often inspirational rant sheet. I guess Congressman John Murtha's recent declarations about the war, and the White House's response, really pissed him off.

November 22, 2005

A Vision Of My Future

I resigned my duties as manager of the firm yesterday night. I'm not entirely sure how The Great Man really feels about that; he was very sedate in a staff meeting to discuss it and he seemed to grievously misunderstand the reasons why I did it despite having made myself as clear as I possibly could.

I say "not entirely sure." But that doesn't mean I don't have an educated guess. With The Great Man's recent obsession with overhead, his avowed desire to "slow down" and have a smaller office, his past expressions of resentment of my insistence that I be paid for my work in the form of money, his previous disdain for the management decisions that I did make, his refusal to take my advice for how to change things, and the recent fireworks regarding the handling of a vendor and a personnel issue, I have a pretty clear vision of what my future at The Law Offices Of The Great Man looks like:

And just after agreeing to buy a house, too -- this comes right at a time when I need financial stability more than ever. But I don't think I had a choice to do anything but what I did, and even if I hadn't, something tells me the result would have been the same anyway. At least this way, I can hold my head high and feel like I did the right thing on the way down. That won't feed my family or pay my mortgage, but then again, that would have been the inevitable result anyway. So it's high time I update my C/V.

November 21, 2005


Sometimes I agree with Charles Krauthammer, sometimes I do not. Friday in the Washington Post, he was as eminently sensible as I can ever remember him being.

And yes, this is an old saw for me. But it's important. Either we're going to teach our children science or we're going to teach them theology. It's high time that America walks through that ivory door and rejoins the twenty-first century.


Congratulations, Loyal Readers. In less than a month, you've generated a thousand hits on this blog. In that time, I've complained about video games, mused about the weather, expounded about esoteric legal subjects, reivewed books you've never heard of and movies you've already seen, published pictures of my pets, and told you fairy tales. Yet you keep coming back.

Either I'm doing something right or you're all desparately hungry for gossip.

November 20, 2005

Through The Ivory Door

Today, The Wife and I learned of a fascinating play written in 1928 by A.A. Milne, the author of the famous Winnie-the-Pooh books. Milne wrote this play, The Ivory Door, for adults. It is told as a fairy tale. Near as I can tell, the name of the play comes from a chapter of a novel by Lewis Carroll. The story goes something like this:

The eight-year-old Prince Perival barges into the throne room where his father, the king, is doing some sort of kingly business. The king sets his work aside to speak to his father.

"Father, is it true that I will be king one day.”

“Yes,” the king says, “When I am dead, you will be king.”

“When will you die?”

“I don’t know; no one knows.”

The young price was now upset. “But they say that kings know everything!”

“They say that, my son, but a thing is not true just because many men say it.”

“They say that kings are the best swordsmen, the most clever artists, and the wisest leaders of all men, too.”

“Yes, son, they say this, but not all kings are good swordsmen, or good artists, or even wise, I am afraid. We are men, and we do the best we can. Surely you know that you are not the best swordsman in the court; Baram is.”

The young prince thinks for a second, unhappy about what his father has said. Then he remembers the first part of his talk with his father. “What will it be like when you are dead?”

“No one knows, son. The chaplain says that I will go to heaven. Others, I am sure, think that I may go to hell. The jester says that there is no heaven or hell. But no one knows for sure.”

“Father, what is behind the ivory door?”

At this, the king bristles. He interrogates his son, “Who told you about the ivory door?”

“Father, everyone in the kingdom speaks of the ivory door. It is supposed to be here, in your throne room, and they say that there are evil spirits who live behind it and use the door to come into and out of the world. But I’ve never seen one of these spirits here, and I don’t think you’d want evil spirits here in the throne room.”

“No, son, I don’t, but I don’t know what’s behind that door. The truth is, I’ve never opened it. It’s behind the great tapestry here, but no one has gone into it since your grandfather, King Stephen. He went into the door and was never heard from again. I do not dare enter.” The king pulled the tapestry aside, and showed his son the ivory door. “I do not know if there are evil spirits or not, son, but I dare not tempt them.”

“Father,” the young prince asked, “If it is not true that you are the best swordsman, or the wisest man, or the most clever artist, what else do they say about you that is not true?”

“Son, they say that when I met your mother, I snuck out of the castle, disguised as a peasant, and met her, also in disguise, and we fell in love the day before we were married. But no, as with the custom of the day, I did not meet your mother until the wedding ceremony. I have only come to love her after marrying her. No, our marriage was arranged by my father, for political reasons. This will be the way with you, too, when the time comes, for a king’s marriage is a matter too important to be otherwise.”

And many years later, it came to pass that young prince Perival, now twenty years old and king himself upon his father’s death, was to be married. His betrothed was Princess Lillia, the daughter of a king from a neighboring kingdom. Perival did not meet Lillia, but the tale was told exactly as had been told for his father. On the day before his wedding, Perival spoke to the Captain of the Royal Guard, Baram.

“Baram, today is my last day as a single man, accountable only to myself. I wish to learn what lies beyond that ivory door.”“No, Your Majesty!” Baram protested. “You, of all people, should know your responsibilities, and know what lies beyond that door. Evil spirits and death await you if you forsake your kingdom!”

“I’ve never believed any of that, Baram, and as you king, I command you to let me go.”

Baram bowed. “Very well, Majesty. But if you are gone too long without giving me some signal that you have returned, I shall sound the bell that you are dead. Will three hours be enough time for you?”

“Yes, Baram; surely I will be back in three hours’ time.”

And so King Perival opened the ivory door and went through. And not thirty minutes later, did he come out of a secret passage by the river, outside the town and castle. Covered with dirt and filth from the passageway, all his fine royal clothes had been torn and shredded, and many of his jewels had gone missing in the passage. But King Perival knew of where he was, for he could see his own castle and town in the distance, and he heard travelers moving along a path nearby. So he set out to return to his town and his castle.

Along the way, he met troupe of mummers. The mummers did not recognize him, and thought it a fine joke to hear that this dirty, penniless man dressed in torn clothing claimed to be the King. For the amusement of himself and his fellow travelers, one of the mummers tried to teach this itinerant how a King should act, which in turn amused Perival greatly. So greatly indeed, that Perival lost track of time and nearly the entire three hours had passed by the time the mummers’ party arrived at the gates of the town. At the town gates, the guards let the mummers in, but would not allow Perival to enter.

“But I am the King!” protested Perival.

“You are no King of mine,” said the guard. “Ho! We have an imposter here! You know that in this kingdom, impersonating royalty is punished with death, do you not, villain?”

“Aye, I do, but I do not impersonate your king – I am your King and I command you to stand aside!”

At this, the guards seized Perival and took him to the dungeon. But along the way, the bells tolled in alarm – the signal that the King was dead!

The jailer at the dungeon looked at Perival and cried, “O how much like the late King does this man look! Surely he is one of the evil spirits from behind yon ivory door who now impersonates the King! Yet he looks different; the spirits of evil are no match for the keen eye of the good and wise men of the realm, even bereaved of our beloved ruler as we!”

“Fool!” cried Perival. “Your king lives; he stands before you; he is I and I am he! I have gone through that ivory door and found nothing but a dark passage out to the river outside of the town gates. There are no evil spirits, only the roots of trees and sharp rocks, which tore my clothes on my way!”

The jailer’s face turned white. “Lies! Lies! Foul demon, be silent!” And with that, he threw Perival into the dungeon.

Meanwhile, in the throne room, Princess Lillia entered and spoke with Baram. “Why do you sound the bells so early, Captain? Surely the King is not dead!”

“For the King is gone three hours and that was the time he commanded me to wait before sounding the bells. The story is told that none who enter the ivory door live and none but evil spirits emerge from it.” At this point, the castle’s chaplain burst into the throne room, crying that the guards had captured an evil demon who was impersonating the late king.

“Surely,” Princess Lillia protested, “You do not want your King to be dead!”

“The people, my dear Princess, would rather the King be dead than their beliefs be false,” replied Baram. “Chaplain, waste no more time with the demon; I shall examine him soon enough. Go and find the King’s brother, who is next in line for the throne, and proclaim, ‘The King is dead, long live the King!’”

“Nonsense!” cried Princess Lillia. “I know nothing of evil spirits, and I shall show you all that this so-called demon is your right and true king, and my betrothed!” And she pulled open the ivory door and ran through it, before the chaplain and Baram could stop her.

Now, Lillia, too, became very dirty and her fine clothes were also also ruined by the time she emerged by the river, blinking in the bright sunlight. Yet she made her way back to town, and she, too, was arrested by the guards, who said that she was no princess and instead was a peasant impersonating a royal. She too was taken to the dungeon.

There, the jailer said to her, “If ye truly be the princess, then surely ye can see who among the prisoners here is the man you say is the King. For we all know that the Princess and the King met last night in the forest, both escaping your royal confinement, and fell in love while in disguise. Show me, then, your beloved!”

But Lillia had in truth not yet met her fiancé, as was the custom of the day, and of the prisoners in the dungeon, all looked the same – filthy, wretched knaves, every one. “I cannot, jailer, but I am the Princess all the same! Surely you know this story is told as a romance, so that all the people will believe that the marriage is for love and not for politics between your kingdom and my father’s. Yet all wise men know better; pray release me and let me marry my King, and perchance grow to live him as my mother grew to love my father over time.”

“Silence! You too are a foul demon, more dangerous than even he, and I will not hear you!”

Perival and Lillia then spoke for the first time. “My Lord,” Lillia asked, “How is it that we have come to be here?”

“I see now, Lillia, that you are a fine match for me and would that we had met last night. You see, when I emerged from that tunnel, I found that all the stories about the evil spirits were not true. Just like you, all I found was a secret path to the river. Yet none had the courage to see for themselves what was truly there. When I came out, and cried to the world that there was no abyss, there were no demons or spirits, and that the tunnel was harmless, what my people heard was me calling them fools and cowards. I was the fool, to expect that they would be grateful for this.”

Lillia spoke as would a princess, “You speak true, Perival; for I see now that your people would sooner sacrifice their King and Princess than admit their cowardice. We can only hope that there are other brave souls who will speak the truth and help us.”

Now, the King’s brother had not yet been found, and the chaplain, the jailer, and merchants from the town all were gathering in response to the rumors that the King had been found alive, and other rumors that a demon had come to impersonate the King and trick the entire realm. So it was that Perival and Lillia were thrown in to a crowded throne room, for the townspeople said, “Surely, if anyone shall know who the true King is, it will be his best friend and Captain of his Royal Guard, Baram, and he shall decide for us all.” And with that, Baram had Perival and Lillia summoned to the throne room.

The crowd gathered in a circle as Baram looked at the dirty couple. He leaned in close to them, and said, “You have but one chance to live. They will never believe me if I say you are the King and the Princess, and this you will never be again. You must go through the ivory door again, and leave the Kingdom and never return; else you will be executed. This I do because we were once friends.”

Perival whispered back, “But, Baram, we are royals! We are not wise in the ways of the world? What is to become of us? Am I to be a merchant? Is she to become a washer-woman? We know nothing of such things!”

“Do not take our stories from us!” whispered back Baram, and with that he stepped away from the two prisoners in the circle. “This,” he cried, “is not your King!" And Baram, to his dying day, believed he spoke true. Baram went on, "We shall send them back from whence they came!” And so the chaplain opened the ivory door and the jailer forced the two in.

For this, Baram was given the title of Savior of the Realm. Lillia and Perival were never heard from again.

The story ends, a hundred years later, with a new King on the throne being asked by his young son whether the legendary Baram was really a hero.

November 17, 2005


It seems like just last week I mused about how we've had a short, lackluster autumn.

I can stop complaining about that now. It feels like winter. Most of the trees are bare, the temperature couldn't possibly have topped forty degrees today, and the wind is blowing cold and bitter. Oh, and it's raining more frequently now, too. I hated the winter last year and this one isn't looking to be that much more fun. At least this winter I'll have a job (I hope) instead of sitting home trying to eke out a living teaching online classes and doing low-budget appeals.

Now that I think about it, doing the appellate work wasn't so bad. If only I could get a steady line of it, and get paid reliably for doing it, I would love to stay at home and write appeals all day long. That, however, is not to be -- any more than is a long, pleasant autumn.

Life's Too Short For Days Like Today

One of The Great Man's clients misbehaved pretty badly earlier this week, and The Great Man himself has had some travelling to do, which evidently takes a greater toll on him than he would like to admit. Why is this important? Well, when The Great Man is having a bad day, that means that everyone is going to have a bad day, now that I'm supposed to be "managing" the firm's day-to-day operations, that certainly includes me. I got very little done today thanks to having to put out a particularly troublesome fire.

In addition, I find that The Great Man is apparently second-guessing every significant decision I've been making for the past two weeks. He's expressed dissatisfaction recently with:

▪ How I've permitted the bookkeeper to pay our bills -- this after she was given ambiguous instructions by The Great Man himself and did her best to comply with them;
▪ The space I've been trying to lease to move the office into -- this after I was told to get into this exact space;
▪ How I've been handling negotiations with Happy Bachelor Lawyer regarding his relationship with the firm -- this after I asked for his priorities on that subject and embodied them in the latest round of that apparently interminable negotiation;
▪ Allocating tasks to specific personnel based on my assessment of their strengths and abilities -- this after I consulted him and got his specific approval on the decision in question, in response to a concern he raised himself;
▪ Desiring to discontinue a disadvantageous relationship with an oppressive creditor -- this after admitting that the relationship was disadvantageous;
▪ Accepting or rejecting particular cases based on my assessment of the merits and potential recovery -- this after being told by him what criteria we should use to make those assessments;
▪ Giving the staff Veteran's Day off work -- this after he specifically approved my request to do so.

Dealing with all these fires today not only took far too much time away from my real work, it caused me, and several of the others, unnecessarily high levels of stress. At several points, voices were raised high enough to be heard downstairs, and tears came close to being shed, and that's no way to treat people -- particularly when there is a problem that needs to be solved, the priority should be on solving the problem, not on yelling at people for it.

I wound up not eating anything at all today until about 3:00 p.m., when Son-Of-The-Great-Man's paralegal took mercy on me and gave me a pear she had been planning on eating. I must have been a sorry sight.

Look, I never exactly asked for these management responsibilities, but having been given them nonetheless, I intend to do as good a job with them as I can. I think that I can do a good job, given the opportunity to do so. We have all the tools we need to make it happen. There are plenty of good cases there, and people who can provide the support we lawyers need to turn those good cases into good resolutions. Why any of them stay after days like today is beyond me. Why I am staying is a good question, too -- mainly it's because I see all the potential and I want to realize at least a significant fraction of it.

But I don't have a lot of confidence right now in The Great Man's commitment to letting me make the changes that need to be made to realize that goal. It's like he doesn't want to do anything more remarkable than tread water, so he sabotages even his own great successes. I already don't want to do this "management," and if there proves to be much more in the future like today, then I don't know whether I can continue "management" of this chaotic mess.

November 16, 2005

Tonight's the night

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

Or so cry the wine enthusiasts. There are all sorts of traditions around the release of each year's new crop of Beaujolais. Bicycle and motorcycle races to get the first case of the stuff from the château to fashionable salons in Paris; chartered flights to take it to the U.S. and London. It's supposed to be a precursor of how that year's Burgundy will taste when it matures. That makes some sense; it's from the same part of France. But if it were made the same way it would be Burgundy, not Beaujolais, and that would mean that it would be too young to drink until at least after the end of the second Bush Administration.

I used to go to the French-American Chamber of Commerce mixer for the Beaujolais premiere, hoping to network and make business contacts. For my trouble driving from Redondo Beach to the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, during rush hour (a ninety-minute trek if I was lucky) I got to wander around a crowded hall with people who either wouldn't talk to me because I wasn't thin enough or were useless Hollywood fops looking for someone to read their screenplays. Well, what did I expect, going to a public party in Los Angeles? But on top of that, I discovered that Beaujolais, in addition to being the subject of a lot of silly wine-snob hype, turns out to be thin, weak-tasting semi-sweet grape juice with all the subtlety and complexity of a sheet of copy paper.

Now, you don't need much of an excuse to have a party and drink wine. And if that excuse happens to be that it's the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday of November, well, that's as good an excuse as I've heard anywhere else. But this is cheap, young wine. No need to get excited about it. So to Beaujolais Nouveau, I say "Merci, mais non." I'll stick with my Big Italians; my Chiantis and Dolcettos and Sangioveses and Valpolicellas and Montepulcianos.

When Things Go "Yowwrrrl" In The Night

Last night I was not in the best of moods. I'd spent all day being stressed out at work, because I've got that terrible sinking feeling again -- the one that comes when I fear that important deadlines and objectives are passing me by, and I'm now swamped with administrative tasks. So after all day of trying to ride through that maelstrom, then I got to run back home to take care of the critters and then get back downtown to meet The Wife after her class. My time ordering food at the drive-thru was the only time I had to myself the whole day -- and the food was terrible; I felt more than a little sick to my stomach afterwards. Once I got home, it was time to teach but I had to put that off because somehow, Ginger the cat had got outside and was hiding underneath the front porch, scared to death of the rainstorm that was going on. After The Wife and I located and rescued her, I could finally sit down and teach. My students were behaving badly (turning in tests late, not in the format that I require, and requiring a lot of hand-holding). So when I finally shut down and got ready for bed, I remembered that The Wife had asked me to rinse out a couple of wine glasses from the previous night that were still on her shelf.

So I started walking downstairs with the wine glasses to do that, when I felt something warm and hairy slithering under my foot. It took me about a quarter of a second to realize that it was Jordan, the Soccer Ball Kitty -- I had stepped on not only her tail but part of one of her rear legs. She let out a yelp, and so did I. I was really afraid that I'd hurt her. The cat scampered downstairs, The Wife woke up, and I felt terrible.

The cat is okay, and she later forgave me for my clumsiness. The Wife was eventually able to fall back asleep. So it all worked out, but all the same, it was not the best night on record.

It's Just A Phase

Upon arriving home and feeding the dogs tonight, I rushed back downstairs and turned out all the lights in the house. That was because driving home, I noticed a particularly bright Venus in the sky, and she was setting fast. I pulled out the telescope and pointed it right above the treeline, and found my target. To my delight, she was not only beautifully bright, reflecting a gorgeous blue-white color, but she was in a half phase, like a half moon. So often, things in the sky appear only like tiny dots, so when I can resolve in such detail, it's a real pleasure.

And literally just a few minutes ago, the Space Station flew overhead and I could track it with my naked eye. It just looked like a star, but it moved -- fast -- across the northwest sky. Not quite as bright as Venus, but well brighter than anything else.

November 14, 2005

Front Porch

In response to numerous requests from Loyal Readers, here is a picture of the future Casa TL-and-Wife.

There are a lot more pictures I've got, but they're of either an empty interior or the present owner's stuff, so that's not so interesting. But the front porch should give you some idea of what we're getting in to. The house is the second-to-last house on a cul-de-sac. It sits on a fairly small lot, less than a quarter acre. The current owner reports to us that it takes him between half an hour and forty-five minutes to mow the entire lawn with a push mower (which he is including in the purchase price since he is moving into an apartment and will not need it).

There is a fenced-in back yard (for the doggies) and some nice if ordinary landscaping out front. Inside, it's a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom unit. It has a wide-open kitchen design. In back there is a small screened-in porch and an extension of the concrete pad. There are horseshoe pits in back, too -- which I'm sure the dogs will enjoy digging in. We will probably use at least one of the bedrooms for an office, although with the laptop I am less dependent upon having a particular area to do my work than is The Wife -- who also has enjoyed using the laptop when we've gone mobile.

The Wife and I are talking pretty seriously about putting in a Pergo floor in place of the existing builder-standard carpeting. It looks nicer, is easier to maintain (especially when there are lots of critters shedding fur) and will add value to the house in substantially excess of the cost of materials. We have had lots of fantasies about extending the kitchen counter, either longer or in a penninsula. But for the time being, we're probably just going to paint and Pergo, and maybe update the light fixtures. That's enough to get us started and it will certainly elevate the appearance of the house above the "starter home" look.

November 13, 2005

Pride in Ownership

The more I think about it, the more awesome it seems that we're going to have our own house. I've wanted to own my own house for as long as I can remember understanding the concept of real property. Somehow in my bones I've always known that was what it meant to be a real person, to have real roots and a real stake in society -- and for society to have a real stake in you. This is why The Wife and I left a very enjoyable lifestyle in California to come out here. This is why we both work so hard at what we do. This is why we've put ourselves through everything we've been through, so that this could happen.

I know it'll be a lot of work. We already have some disagreements about how to improve the place, although those will work out without much trouble. I'm working my ass off at the office, and at home teaching, to make sure we have the money to keep this thing working. We'll have a lot of choices to make before we move in, which probably won't happen until January. And yes, I know that nothing is done until it's done and there's all sorts of things that can go wrong between now and the closing date. But the biggest hurdles have already been overcome with being approved for a loan, and having our offer accepted by the seller.

Now that I have a moment after teaching and grading classes to think about it, I realize that I'm going to have to come up with a clever name for our new house. It won't be as posh as The Estate At Louisville, but our new house in North Knox will be ours. That means something. It's something we most likely could never have done in California, no matter how hard I worked there, pretty much no matter how much money I made there.

A Great Day So Far

1. Slept in as late as I could.

2. Had a nice breakfast with The Wife

3. Got to goof off on the computer for a reasonably long amount of time.

4. Had a nice lunch with The Wife, then went shopping for home improvements (in anticipation of item #7, see below).

5. The Green Bay Packers are actually winning (so far).

6. My fantasy football team is (so far) tied for the lead for the week.

7. The Wife and I are buying a house! We put in an offer yesterday and we just got a call from our realtor advising that the seller accepted our offer. We close on December 16 and can move in the same day. We probably won't, that being so close to the holidays and all, and wanting to do some work on the house before we move in to it, but we are going to be homeowners!

So now I'm going to cook dinner, teach my class, and contemplate what it's going to be like to own my own home.

November 12, 2005

Big Fun

Last night, The Wife and two of our friends and I went to see the Knoxville Ice Bears take on the Huntsville Havoc. Minor-league hockey is Big Fun. There's all sorts of stuff going on -- from the guys racing across the ice to put on frozen T-shirts to the massive audience puck throw. An unintelligible rinkside announcer (he held the mike way too close to his mouth) and drunken fans breaking out in a fight added to the atmosphere. We had fun seats, too -- right behind one of the nets. You could tell why these guys were playing minor league hockey; they had some talent and skillz but weren't quite up to NHL standards. Big fun.

November 11, 2005


Autumn in Tennessee moves through three phases: early, peak, and decline. In the early phase, the evenings start to cool and the weather dries out. In the peak phase, the leaves turn brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. In the decline, it stays cool and the trees shed their leaves. We've had a very short peak phase this year; it lasted less than a week. The foliage is dying; regular frost has killed all the grass and the trees are becoming bare. A little disappointing but not much you can do about the weather.

November 10, 2005

It's Back!

NASA seems to have finally worked out its Javascript issues. Now, once again, you can track the location of the International Space Station in real time.

November 9, 2005

Election Returns

Why do I care about school board election results from Dover, Pennsylvania? Because this is the school board that implemented mandatory teaching of intelligent design -- with little or no thought except to ideology.

Yesterday, voters in this small town voted out each and every member of the school board who voted in favor of intelligent design.

[UPDATE -- November 10, 9:26 a.m.] Perhaps the former Dover School board was too underinclusive and was thrown out for not including enough differing theories for the existence of complex biological systems. Obviously, I'd be in favor of adding Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, but there is also the theory of Unintelligent Design. Check it out.

Chocolate Yogurt as a Teaching Aid

As some of you Loyal Readers know, I teach undergraduate-level law classes online through the University of Phoenix. The extra money is nice and it's usually fun to do. After a while, it gets repetitious and almost mindless; I've given the same responses to "McDonald's lawsuit" questions so often I just cut-and-paste them from one class to the other. I usually use my "chocolate yogurt" story to deal with that particular issue. It goes something like this:

I used to represent a chain of retail electronics stores, which I cannot name (but it happens to rhyme with "Dircuit Ditty.") At one time, this retailer sold "major" appliances like refrigerators, stoves, washers, and dryers. One woman bought a refrigerator at a deep discount directly off the floor display -- the fridge she got had been repossessed from a former customer who defaulted on payments, it had a visible scratch on the side running the entire height of the unit, and was displayed with a bright fluorescent red tag saying "75% OFF -- AS-IS". It still worked, it just was used and not as attractive as a brand-new fridge. Still, when she got it home, she claimed to have terrible emotional trauma from finding out that it had been owned by someone else and -- gasp -- there were two spots of chocolate yogurt left inside the crisper unit! Now, I'm sure the yogurt smelled pretty bad. But I didn't think that she was damaged enough by having to smell spoiled yogurt to justify filing her lawsuit in a $25,000 minimum-jurisdiction court -- for fraud, no less.

By now, you're thinking to yourself, "If this isn't a frivolous lawsuit, what is?" And yes, I always thought that this was a very silly lawsuit, from its start to its (abrupt and fortunately quick) finish. But after a short time investigating the case, it was readily apparent to me that this woman really felt like she had been the victim of a terrible, terrible act. When she sent us a letter -- without the knowledge of her attorney -- that she was willing to settle for a new refrigerator and a two-deck VCR, the silliness of the lawsuit escalated dramatically in my mind, and I came to suspect that the woman was mentally unbalanced.

But, when the judge threw the case out of court on our motion a few weeks later, she accepted the result and moved on. She put her trust in the judicial system that it would resolve her claim fairly. While it was not easy or pleasant for her to absorb the loss, and losing probably stung for her, she did accept the result. There was no shooting spree at my client's store, no one-woman picket lines, no acts of petty vandalism as revenge. She was unhappy that she lost, but once a man wearing a black robe told her that she had no case, she found a way to pick up the pieces of her yogurt-shattered life, and somehow move on as best she could.

So even as silly as this lawsuit was, I would resist the idea of closing the courthouse doors to it.

Not letting people make their claims for grievances in court -- no matter how silly those grievances are -- denies society a nonviolent, effective, and (most of the time) polite dispute resolution method. Yes, there is a price society pays for having this system in place. But the alternatives are options like hiring squads of goons to beat up one's enemies or trial by combat. The price society pays for those dispute resolution methods are much higher.

That usually does the trick, although there are always one or two students who seem married to the idea that every lawsuit is a frivolous lawsuit, that there simply are no non-frivolous suits out there. Once someone becomes emotionally invested in a belief like that, there really isn't anything you can do to change their minds.

I usually have to bust out with the "chocolate yogurt" story in the first week of class. The record was set when a student asked me about the McDonald's case on the first day of class. So far, not yet with this one.

The only tedious part, usually, is reading the papers that my students turn in -- their writing skills typically have never been challenged before me. This week, no sooner than one class ended than another one began. This is not a big deal, but of course it means I need to read long, tedious papers and prepare final grades for one batch of students while I'm also getting to know a whole new batch of students.

November 8, 2005

Talk About Desparation

Green Bay is in some serious bad shape this season. We're tied for the basement of the NFL with the Houston Texans. A 1-7 start is well into Lindy Infante-Don Majkowski territory. Even if we run the table, we're still likely to wind up needing some help to hope for a wild card spot at this point. And yes, if that highly unlikely turn of events is going to come to pass, we need help, more than what we got against Pittsburgh this Sunday.

But this can't possibly be the answer. At least, I hope it isn't. (Even if his apology is sincere, which somehow I doubt.) Now, if we're going to do it, we've got to do it soon. Before Andy Reid makes the guy sit in street clothes while our record plunges to 1-11. But what we really need is a running back who can also catch. Hmm... I wonder if Brian Westbrook or Steven Jackson could be motivated to mouth off like Mr. Sharpie. Nah. They're too smart for that, and their job is to get tackled for a living.

Shopping For Offices

So now that I've got management responsibilities, one of the first big issues I need to confront is that the lease on our office expires at the end of January. Our current office, in my opinion, sucks ass, so I'd like to get us moved in to better digs. I've also been involved in looking for space for law offices before -- when my firm in California was first founded, again when it needed to expand, and again when we were looking at a new wave of expansion before I left and one of the other partners was called to active military duty. For the last phase, we tried to use the services of a commercial realtor, who I found to be a drag on the effort. I've also seen the commercial lease the office is under right now and I find it ridiculously simple compared to what I had been dealing with in California. So I feel entirely competent to look for commercial space on my own without the assistance of a realtor.

The most interesting space I've seen so far is in the building depicted to the right -- which is the old Federal courthouse and post office. Most of the first floor is taken by a bank and the post office, and the second and third floors are taken by the state appellate court. So we could rent space in the basement, which is not quite so bad as it sounds, because each basement space has its own sunken patio (not visible as shown) and there is both ample lighting and good ventilation. We might also consider space on the first floor as a sublet from the bank, which would be nice because the space is beautifully detailed with Empire-style architecture and sculpted Tennessee marble. That would be a good deal more expensive than the basement, though.

Another rather poor idea that was suggested was putting our office in an aircraft hangar, since it could be built to suit our needs and would be very cheap. It's a thought, but I don't want to have my office in an airport unless I practice aviation law, which I do not. I also do not want my depositions interrupted by engine tests or landings of larger aircraft, for which no amount of office-quality soundproofing could possibly do any good.

So I'm probably going to opt for more conventional class A or B+ space in an office structure downtown -- preferably one of the larger buildings with lots of other law firms already in it. Boring, I know, but let's face it: the legal profession is not known for its welcoming embrace of innovative or unusual ways of thinking or unorthodox behaviors. We should do what other law firms are doing precisely because other law firms are doing it. There are about half a dozen class A to B+ buildings in downtown Knox, and they are asking anywhere from $1.00 to $1.40 a foot for space. Considering that's something like a third of what similar space costs in most Los Angeles area markets, I'm not all that unhappy with the prospect of getting class A space.

So I'm shopping for a new house for my family and a new office for my employer. Everything is going to move within the next six months or so. Hopefully all the moves are for the better and when all the dust settles, everything will be better.

November 7, 2005

Driving Into The Sun

Today was a day of two doctor depositions in Kingsport. Kingsport is only a few miles from the border of Virginia and Tennessee. Total round-trip mileage: 264.6 miles. Since I went there in the morning, driving east, and came home in the evening, driving west, I had the sun in my eyes the entire time. Somehow, I was able to time it so that I was driving at the precise time that the sun was below my car's visors -- in both directions!

It was worth it, though. I drew lots of objections from the other lawyers. In California, lawyers objected to my deposition question when I asked a bad question, or even a marginally bad question, because the general rule in California is an objection not timely made during the deposition is waived. In Tennessee, however, all substantive objections are reserved for trial, so the only objection you can make in a deposition is to the form of the question. I've noticed that attorneys object to questions here when the attorney asking the question is scoring points for their own team. The fact of the matter is that the form of the question is rarely an issue at all; I've been taking depositions for going on twelve years now, so I know how to ask questions with reasonable skill. Consequently, I take great joy in drawing lots of objections, because it means I'm getting evidence that the other side would rather I didn't have. And as if the plentiful objections left in the wake of my questioning was not enough, the attorneys also felt compelled to ask a long series of "damage control" questions when I was done.

Now, that's not to say I did a perfect job. I'm sure there were areas that I left uncovered; I got a preview into what one witness thought about my expert's opinion but did not ask about his opinion of the other one simply because I did not remember to return to that area of questioning before I relinquished control of the session. And a lot of the good questioning was the result of help I got from my medical consultant, a doctor and colorful local character who is no longer in practice. "The Doc" is quite interesting to hang out with and has had quite a wide variety of experiences, including being the Knox County Medical Examiner for fourteen years. He's also widely-travelled and has given a lot of deep thought to religious and legal issues, and is wonderfully cynical and candid in his opinions. So it was a pleasure talking with him as we made our way to and from the Tri-Cities area.

Later this week, I get to go away from the sun as the work will take me to Paris, Tennessee, which is located to the north and west of Nashville, near the Kentucky border. But it looks like I'll be a passenger in The Great Man's plane rather than driving my car. Will that be a a scary adventure (particularly during landing), a tedious talk session being trapped in the airplane with The Great Man with no means of escape or distraction, or could it actually be fun? Only the future will tell. But for now, I've had enough for one day.

Sleeping Dogs

The Wife told me that the dogs got unusually aggressive with one another tonight. I wasn't there to see it, although I did hear them growl at each other without apparent provocation once I got home. Since then, they've been more or less separate. Karma is sleeping next to me and Sassafras is upstairs, probably sleeping on the futon. I hope they're still buddies.

November 6, 2005

Should Television Journalists Be Unattractive?

I'm watching 60 Minutes, and I notice a new correspondent, Lara Logan. Her report is on the Airport Road in Baghdad, and she has some good questions for the military personnel and civilians affected by U.S. efforts to secure that very dangerous passage. There was some harrowing videotape of a bomb being identified, inspected, and defused, and of raids into civilian homes to search for insurgents -- one unsuccessful, one successful.

But I found myself distracted from the quality of the questions she was asking and the information she was gathering by her great attractiveness and alluring South African accent. These things are superficial and irrelevant to her skill as a journalist. And I know perfectly well that news readers are selected for their attractiveness, but I'd always assumed that the actual journalists writing the stories were picked for their incisiveness, quick intelligence, and cynicism. So it was disarming to watch rather intense video of military operations and interviews with military commanders, and be saying to myself, "Damn, what a babe!"

By the way, the program is actually quite good tonight -- Logan's story about the Airport Road, a biographical sketch of Neil Armstrong to plug his new autobiography -- incestuously, published by Simon & Schuster, a member of CBS's corporate family -- and an interview with Tom Brady, whose games are typically broadcast on CBS. (Armstrong and Brady seem like really cool guys.)

Ms. Logan is apparently a good journalist. She's been reporting on the situation in Iraq for a long time and knows a lot about what's happening there. If she were less attractive, I'd have had an easier time focusing on that tonight. Next time I'm watching 60 Minutes, I'm going to try to focus more on what she's reporting than on what she looks like.

Close Haircut

I got a haircut today. I wanted a nice, short, corporate look; when you do what I do, a conservative but attractive appearance is important. I was discouraged, though, to see so many snips falling down into my lap with gray in them. I also was discouraged to discern a thinning spot on the back of my head.

I know this sort of thing -- graying hair and the heartbreak of male pattern baldness -- is inevitable. I'm not as far along as the fellow to the right, but all the same I'm not precisely pleased. Statistically, I'm approaching the halfway point of my lifetime. (Watching the Green Bay Packers play this year is not helping keep my hair dark, though.)

I guess I should see this as evidence of moderately advancing age and humanity and not let it bother me. I know The Wife will not care about this all that much. I've still got lots of hair and almost all of it is still dark. I'm not a good candidate for male hair coloring or for Rogaine. So it's silly to let it bug me, but it did bug me.

November 5, 2005


Our friends Pam and Andrew are up at Notre Dame for the football game today -- Pam in the band and Andrew to watch the game itself as well as watching his lovely wife perform. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, UT lost rather convincingly, although I can only ever be half-sad when Notre Dame loses, having spent many enjoyable afternoons and evenings with friends back in California cheering for the Irish.

Happily, though, they dropped off their super-cute Labrador Retriever Abby for us to watch. I managed to get a picture of all three dogs together, and you've gotta agree with me that these are three really great dogs. Sassafras is presiding on the couch, Karma is kickin' it on the rug, and Abby is playing with Squeaky the Squirrel.

Abby is a little rambunctious, but she's less than a year old. All three dogs like playing football. Both Abby and Sassy like to chase after the ball when I throw it, and all three dogs fight over it when they get it near me. Abby gets a little scared of the older dogs when they approach and try to take the football from her mouth, but she does seem to get the idea that part of the game involves trying to take the ball away from the other dog. Abby is not so clear on the concept of "Give" when a human uses that command, however. Hopefully her parents can teach her that command and there won't be a problem.

But it's great fun having the dogs around and giving them lots of love and play. It's also good that they get tired out with each other, because they sleep longer at night.

Now, the cats have a different opinion of this doggie house guest. You should hear them hiss at her! Abby, like the other dogs, acts completely oblivious to a cat's threatening hisses and claw-swipes; she thinks it is just play. Abby is also the worst offender of the three -- and all three are bad offenders -- at chasing the cats up and down the stairs. It sounds like thunder cracking when all three dogs go chasing after Jordan the Soccer Ball Kitty, who is not the most quiet of critters herself.

House Hunting

For the second weekend in a row, The Wife and I spent half our day with a realtor checking out houses. Some houses were good, some houses were bad. The charmer pictured on the right, for instance, did not make the cut. However, the half-completed exterior paint was not the reason; the interior continued the theme you see here. The listing price was much higher than we wanted to pay to buy all that work. A shame, really; the neighborhood looked pretty nice.

I find myself suddenly fascinated with crawlspaces. I also find myself struggling to pay attention to things. I've taken over 300 pictures to help me remember what we've seen and what we liked and what we didn't.

Last week, we found an interesting house in southeastern Maryville that had tremendous potential; we would need to sink a fair amount of work into it to be a good option. We also found a house under construction in Island Home that looked pretty good (although a little smaller than what we've become accustomed to here at The Estate At Louisville). Today we found three interesting choices -- two on the same street in North Knox, both fairly recent and nice, with privacy fences. We're more interested in the 3+2 than the 2+2; we don't particularly need a third bedroom but having it makes the house much easier to re-sell. The fifth interesting prospect we found was in Fountain City, which had been built as a duplex but since reunified. The current owner (who bought it for development purposes) finished the attic and broke it down into two big rooms with four gabled rooms, each a little different from the other, and set up the kitchen in an interesting way.

The process is a little more fun than I thought it would be, although I still think The Wife is having a better time of it than I. She gets so happy and excited looking at all these houses! I'm enjoying it more from the aspect of seeing how we could make a not-so-nice house into a really good place to live. It means I have to look past whatever furnishings, paint, wallpaper, or other decorative choices are there and see only the structure of the house -- and sometimes I have to try and consider changing the structure, too. I think I've gotten pretty good at seeing potential rather than tawdry reality; of course, that also means I'm buying myself a lot of work and/or expense to make those visions a reality.

Problems Abound

Technical issues continue to plague my new game. Now, I find that it crashes every five minutes or so. I'm awaiting word back from the manufacturer. The Wife paid good money so I could enjoy this game and it's very frustrating that it was released with so many bugs.

November 4, 2005

Just Call Me Kwame

Having been on the news before, finding no novelty or advantage to doing so now, and discovering that I am not feeling quite so conservative as I have in the past, the fact that this case has turned into the Right Wing Outrage Of The Week brings me no joy. I know perfectly well that this will die down and become a non-story which no one will remember in about four days. Time was, I would have enjoyed this publicity very much, but now, I’d just as soon stay home and enjoy the dogs.

This apparently was not to the liking of some of my clients.

So it was with great joy that I learned that I was fired today by my clients in that case. The only fly in the ointment was that I’d already reached a deal with the defense attorneys to end the case forever in exchange for relieving my clients of liability for the defendants’ costs of suit. So I had to call the attorneys back and let them know that I’d been fired and shouldn’t have made that deal with them, and they were quite nice about it.

So now it’s all the problem of Liberty Counsel, an impact-litigation group affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. This public interest “law firm” describes itself as a “ministry,” so this looks right up their alley. I hope they have fun with it. But having once worked in a similar sort of entity myself, I know what happens behind the scenes at places like that and after a while, the egos of the principals overwhelm whatever joy and fun the lower-level people take out of fulfilling their mission, and a glance through the website shows all the hallmarks of the ultimately unhappy experiences I went through ten years ago.

I also got fired earlier this week by a client at The Law Office Of The Great Man. Again, I shed no tears and was in fact happier about things after it was done. I would rather work on fewer cases, and do a better job on them, than what’s going on now. That sounds both more conducive to being happy and to accumulating wealth. So if the clients who have crappy cases all fire me – I say, “Amen to that.”

November 3, 2005

Pro Bono Work Just Doesn't Pay

For more than three years now, I've been working on a pro bono case arguing a point of Constitutional law. I've been working hard on it because I believed in the correctness of my client's cause, I was outraged by the facts underlying the case, and because I wanted the satisfaction of arguing Constitutional law at a high level -- playing with the really big boys, so to speak. I took two days out of my life here to fly to California specifically to give the oral arguments in the case back in June; a big deal for me.

Yesterday, my position was soundly rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Go ahead, read the opinion -- and then tell me if there is anything keeping a school from showing porno flicks to third-graders and asking them questions about it later if someone in that school thinks it ought to be part of the curriculum. What if your kid came home with a permission slip requesting your consent to give a generalized survey and you found out later that the school had shown your kid porno flicks first, and then asked how they felt about it? According to the Ninth Circuit, that's not a violation of your Constitutional rights.

No, parents should not be able to dictate the curriculum of a school based on personal objections to some of the material being taught, but that doesn't mean that they have to put up with someone lying to them about what's going to happen in a non-curricular activity. Although the test was not pornographic, it was pretty strong stuff for an eight-year-old, and it was outside of the curriculum altogether.

Ah, but there I go arguing the case again. That didn't work the first time around; why should it work now? It seems that a parent's only constitutional right in directing the raising of his or her child is selecting public or private school -- and after that, the parent's ability to control what the kid is exposed to is checked at the door. For parents who can't afford private school, that means that they have effectively no right at all to control what their kids are exposed to, whether it's in class, after school, or in a private research project that has no educational purpose whatsoever.

As Bad Attitude Paralegal put it, when she read the opinion, "That's bullshit."

News reports of my abject defeat before the Ninth Circuit have appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News (with an accurate quote from me), the AP Newswire (with a misleading paraphrase of my statement, which was the same given to the source that fed the Daily News), Reuters, and the San Francisco Chronicle (with no quote from me). I'm also told that the story ran on NPR and that the case was discussed on Tucker Carlson's show The Situation on MSNBC, but I haven't found any links of that yet.

I've turned down the opportunity to appear on the Today Show and talk about it. (I know, you're saying, "TL -- you fool! With the prospect of being sandwiched between hard-hitting stories like this and this, how could I possibly make such a short-sighted decision?" And yet I still don't want to do it.) The Tucker Carlson thing has apparently helped launch the story into the right-wing Outrage of the Week, and I've been told that talk radio is all abuzz about it. I'm a believer in the power of the courts and the value of having the courts participate in our national decision-making, so I have zero desire to provide ammunition to those who would short-sightedly defang our courts and deprive our nation of one of its most powerful butresses of individual liberties -- even though I disagree with this particular decision.

My former law partner in California, who helped out a lot with the briefs and putting together the arguments, said it best when he opined that we lost because the Ninth Circuit thought that we were religious-right activists and therefore wanted to stomp us. The decision seems kind of arrogant (it was written by Stephen Reinhardt, after all) but that may just be a sour grapes emotional attitude on my part, having lost so badly.

So, all I got out of that bothersome trip to California back in June was the chance to very briefly hang out with some friends, a few packets of wild rice (that The Wife won't eat) and a few bottles of salad dressing. I certainly didn't come back with a trophy for my wall of honor.

November 1, 2005

Alito, Title VII, and the First Amendment

Props to David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy for finding this case written by Samuel Alito. Prof. Bernstein gets to the heart of Judge Alito's position with this quote:

There is no categorical "harassment exception" to the First Amendment's free speech clause.... When laws against harassment attempt to regulate oral or written expression on such topics, however detestable the views expressed may be, we cannot turn a blind eye to the First Amendment implications.

Entirely Different Feeling

Yesterday, while I was dealing with computer and HVAC issues, the President was busy nominating Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. While this nomination obviously is not going to sail through easily, the whole nomination seems to be very different than the nomination of Harriet Miers -- there is a lot of debate, a lot of controversy, and a lot of praise for the nominee, who seems to be exactly the right counterpoint to all the criticisms of Ms. Miers.

Conservatives are very excited, as Judge Alito has been a reliably “right” ruling-judge for his fifteen-year tenure on the Third Circuit. There can be no doubt he is well-versed in Constitutional law and there is an extensive track record to evaluate. And, he graduated from Yale Law School, so that's an impeccable academic credential to satisfy the law snobs. Still, there is substantial reason to believe that, once confirmed, he will be substantially different from the darlings of the Republican party on the High Court.

First of all, the Washington Post reports that Samuel Alito has assured Senator Specter that “…he would be reluctant to overturn any Supreme Court ruling that had been reaffirmed many times over many years, as Roe [v. Wade] has been. … Specter said [:] ‘He used the term “sliding scale,” and said that when a case has been reaffirmed many times, it has extra -- I think he said “weight” -- as a precedent.’” If true, the right will wind up disappointed as they perceive this nomination to be their best chance in thirty years to go after the golden goal of overturning Roe. I hope this does turn out to be true, but of course we can't really know until the case is handed down some tense June afternoon in the future. I'll be very interested in seeing what Sam Brownback has to say about Judge Alito, in light of Senator Brownback's unfair and arrogant attitude towards the Harriet Miers nomination.

Additionally, the Legal Times reports that one of Alito’s former law clerks, a self-described liberal Democrat, says “He’s not an originalist; that's the most important thing. I don't see him saying, ‘As the Framers said in 1789,’ the way Scalia writes his opinions.” A former colleague on the Third Circuit, Timothy K. Lewis, recalls frequently disagreeing with Judge Alito, but describes it as “always a deeply respectful disagreement.” Lewis assures that “Sam Alito is intellectually honest” and “principled.” And relates former Third Circuit Chief Judge (and no small hero to liberal court-watchers) A. Leon Higginbotham describing Judge Alito as “full of integrity,” “careful” and “thoughtful.”

These, however, are tea leaves. The nomination can be expected to polarize opinions and fuel fund-raisers on both sides of the national aisle for months, and there probably won't be a vote on Alito until January or February. Such a vote would come after most of the Supreme Court's oral arguments for the year had been completed. I wonder, wouldn't it be worth it at that point for Justice O'Connor to complete the 2005-2006 term?

An intellectually honest, careful, and thoughtful Justice is about all we can ask for; whoever Bush nominates is going to be conservative (or at least appear so during the confirmation process). There's no doubt Alito is keenly intelligent, well-experienced, and a sharp choice (this time) from the White House. He probably deserves the spot on the High Court more than a great many of his colleagues. But make no mistake, Loyal Readers. There will be a fight, and it will split largely down party lines. The fight will be (as the Miers fight would have been) ultimately about abortion. There may well be a filibuster that has to be broken up by the “Gang of 14,” and we'll see whether or not that deal holds any water.