December 31, 2005

New Old Computer

The Wife and her mom are upstairs as once again, I am down in the basement on the computer. Soon I will join them for breakfast. But right now, I'm using the old computer my dad recovered from the computer repair geeks.

It's actually a new computer because it has a new motherboard, new microprocessor, new power source, and a new hard drive (which was the most recent problem with it). Basically, everything but the shell and the I/O devices are brand new and significantly upgraded. Even the browser is new -- someone installed Firefox on it and so far, I can detect no differences between Firefox and IE.

My use is interrupted by a lot of windows and security alerts popping up, largely because everything on the computer is new. The keyboard is an old style so it's a little awkward. But all of that is OK.

Well, it's time to go up and eat breakfast. But it's good to know that the new old computer works.

December 29, 2005

The Truth About Litton's

There is a deli here in Knoxville called Litton's Market and Restaurant. People rave about this place and apparently it is legendary. On a radio show one morning I heard people calling in response to the question of "What makes you a real Knoxvillian?" and the answer "Eating at Litton's" was second-most-popular, after only "Going to a game."

Litton's is located near La Casa and this morning while on our way to go work there, we stopped there for lunch. We were underwhelmed -- and we won't be going back.

The burgers are what people say is great about this place and since there is a very limited menu, that was what we had. My burger was bland, small, dry, and came with strange-tasting cheese (something called "smoked cheddar" should not taste like unmelted Velveeta). The only thing good about it was the bun. My request for bacon on the burger was ignored by the waitress. The Wife and I wound up getting the exact same thing, and the exact same thing showed up on the bill (I was not billed for the absent bacon) but we were charged different prices nevertheless. Two cheeseburgers (neither of which were finished because they weren't all that good), a shared order of onion rings, a hot tea, and a diet coke cost us nearly twenty-five dollars.

I'd actually eaten there almost a year ago, while interviewing with a lawyer. He raved about the place and I was polite and said I liked it, too. The truth was that I thought it wasn't very good then, but was willing to allow that maybe I had gotten a bad burger for whatever reason, because everyone who ever mentioned the place spoke of it like a Shangri-La for cheeseburgers.

So I'm sorry, Knoxville, but someone has to tell you the truth. And the truth is, Litton's just isn't very good. Much better cheeseburgers exist, including within Knoxville.

House Work

Today, The Wife and I made a pilgrimage to La Casa TL et Uxor, and brought with us nine gallons of various colors of paint, about sixty pounds of drywall joint compound, a variety of tools and other accessories, and a boom box. The Wife put up the plaster for our Tuscan kitchen (we had to get more from Wally World and there's about eighty pounds of plaster up on the walls of our kitchen now) and I measured and prepped the living room for painting. I also got all the plates down from the walls and took measurements in a few other rooms. My plan-drawing skills were challenged during this process but having a complete plan is not quite as important as just figuring out the square footage of the rooms so we can eventually replace the carpet with Pergo.

We also swapped out the tacky light fixtures with some nicer-looking alabaster (and faux alabaster, shh, don't tell anyone) ones, and upgraded the light bulbs to those fluorescent spiral thingies, which give off a lot more light. It makes a big difference, both in appearance and in visibility. It should also make a difference in our electric bill -- the fluorescent spirals use about a quarter of the electricity of regular bulbs and if we hold on to the house for two years, they will pay for themselves as well as provide us with better lighting.

I also upgraded my shower to a hand-held, adjustable-setting head. A good shower is important to one's quality of life. We'll also have to experiment with the hot water settings.

We both put in about nine hours of work today, and there's a lot more to do yet. I've still got the other rooms to tape up. The Mother-in-Law will be coming in tomorrow afternoon and she apparently wants to help out a lot with the interior painting and initial decoration.

Move-in looks like it will take place next weekend. I'm looking forward to having all this done and living in a house that The Wife and I actually own ourselves. I'm not looking forward to all the labor involved, though. And it feels like we've been spending money like drunken sailors; money we can ill afford to part with until my employment situation is resolved. So that's a source of some anxiety in the midst of what is otherwise an exciting time.

We're going to have a riot of colors throughout La Casa -- the kitchen will be a terra cotta color; the guest room a nice yellow; our bedroom in sage green; the living room will be caramel-khaki. It looks like we'll not have a TV in our living room at all. It also looks like we'll be putting our office in the front room rather than the tiny back room. The back room will be a better guest room -- it's big enough for a bed and a nightstand, which will be helpful for our overnight guests, and closer to the spare bathroom. And we need the space for our computers and desks in the larger front room. There's no good places to set up pet stations -- no really good locations for the dog-food bowls, the water dishes, or the cats' litter boxes are readily-apparent. We may have to take down some of the narrow closet doors and use the closets for these things. Well, so be it; the cats have to shit, just like everyone else.

So far, home ownership is proving to be a lot of work. At least it's wintertime so there isn't much to do with a dead lawn. Come springtime, though, that'll be something else for me to deal with.

December 26, 2005

Millionaire's Cheesesteak

A Philly cheesesteak is thinly-sliced chopped and pressed beef round, cooked on a big, flat grill with some provolone cheese, typically also fried up with chopped onions and sharp green peppers. It is served on a hoagie roll, sometimes with mayonnaise or alternatively with olive oil or Italian salad dressing. The verdict: "Yum."

A millionaire's cheesesteak -- what my folks prepared for dinner tonight -- is warmed prime rib, with gruyére or emmenthaler cheese, roasted and mild red peppers and sautéed Bermuda onions, served on a fresh baugette toasted and brushed with garlic butter. The verdict: "Knocks your socks off."

Get Back To Work, TL

Today was not a work day. What did I do with my holiday, at home with The Wife?
  • I graded papers for my online classes. (I'm almost done with that now and just procrastinating completing it because it is tedious.)
  • I helped The Wife re-write her resume.
  • In the process of this, we discovered that The Wife's rebuilt computer will not boot. I became unreasonably angry at this because it took so long to get the damn thing fixed and it was nothing but tension and stress between The Wife and I while it was broken, resulting in my getting the laptop and The Wife using my desktop; now to discover that all that expense and stress was for a computer that will not boot is quite upsetting.
  • I searched for a new job. I found seven potential jobs that I would be qualified for and where my resume will not be laughed out of contention. I am probably overqualified for several of them.
  • Logged on to the system at work, saw recent filings in my Federal cases via e-mail, and left a few messages for my co-workers since I will not be in the office for much of tomorrow owing to four depositions.
  • Called the insurance agent to inquire about alternative quotes for homeowners' insurance, to no avail since of course the office was closed.
  • Began figuring out how to get stuff moved from The Estate At Louisville to La Casa TL et Uxor. A company called "Two Men And A Truck" (or one of its competitors) figures prominently in these plans.
  • For fun, I corresponded with my former law partner about fantasy football, in which our team is 19 points in the lead going in to the final game, with some tough choices to make to end things.
  • When I tried to have a little more fun and played my video game, The Wife asked me to proofread her torts outline for her paralegal class -- twenty-three pages of basic review material for a lawyer, but important to her, so I did it without complaint. After all, the Wife has been diligent about her studies and job-seeking efforts; I should be more like her than I am.
So if I complete my school work, I might just be able to go have a little more fun and play a little more of that game. But overall, today was a big "blah" of a day. After such an enjoyable holiday yesterday, it seems like a letdown. But nothing really bad happened; I just got frustrated at the computer and aside from that, there wasn't much of a big deal one way or the other. I couldn't care less about the Patriots at the Jets on Monday Night Football; it doesn't affect the post-season, it doesn't affect the Packers, it doesn't meanintfully affect the fantasy football league.

It would be wise for me to get to bed by ten tonight, so that I can get up tomorrow and return to work. For that to happen, I'll need to finish my schoolwork.

December 25, 2005

Christmas Is A Happy Holiday

I am appalled at the politicization and condemnation of the phrase "happy holidays." There is more than one holiday this time of year and it's a nice thing to say to someone else. There's nothing wrong with wishing someone a happy holiday. Ours certainly was. And yes, we call it Christmas, in a nod to my parents' observance of Christianity and the pervasiveness of that particular holiday and its traditions around the nation, as well as the fact that it's the most fun of the various winter holidays from which to choose. So I say, why not celebrate Christmas?

So, Christmas here in Tennessee was peaceful, quiet, and enjoyable by all. We had breakfast this morning (I made lemon crepes, The Wife's favorite) and exchanged our presents. Among other gifts that were exchanged included my gift to The Wife of a set of fire topaz earrings and a pendant; this was outdone, I think, by my parents' gift to her of an amber ring and earring set. The Wife also got a sewing machine as a "big present" (aside from La Casa itself). My parents got a tool storage chest and garage rack system; a seven-piece set of stainless steel cookware, and I got a Brett Favre autographed football and several bottles of wine.

Perhaps most gratifying part of the day was having my relative over for dinner with us. She's been not so well for several months now and it's truly a joy to see her walking around, eating real food, and keeping alert and cracking jokes. She was with us for several hours for dinner and afterwards and she will be going home in a week after so long in health care facilities that I can't remember the last time I saw her anywhere else.

Almost as gratifying was seeing the whole family getting along well. Everybody likes everybody else -- including all the critters, who played nicely with each other and behaved themselves mostly very well today. My wish for a harmonious family was granted and it, too, was a tremendous pleasure and a blessing for which I am grateful.

Also enjoyable was my time spent cooking with my mother. We made a prime rib withBurgundyy mushrooms, asparagus with savory (that is, garlicked) hollandaise sauce, zucchini casserole, twice-baked potatoes, and holiday pie (apple with some cranberries and a walnut topping, garnished with my ginger whipped cream). It took us about three hours plus some baking time, and I got several good tips from her for the future. That, and yesterday she taught me the secret to genuine pasta carbonara. I learned how to cook in large part from my mother and it's quite enjoyable for me to cook alongside her.

Tomorrow I need to get ready to go back to work and spend all day in depositions, get ready to do battle again with the insurance company and the mortgage company regarding La Casa, start thinking about making arrangements to move in to La Casa by next week when my mother-in-law arrives, and otherwise ramp up to return to real life. But today was a good day to relax, not be surprised or even particularly upset at the Green Bay Packers' loss to Chicago (which I predicted would occur a while ago, Loyal Readers will recall), and play with the critters. Although it was cool and rainy all day outside, inside The Estate At Louisville it was a very merry Christmas indeed. I hope the same can be said for the holidays (of whatever variety is preferred) for all of my Loyal Readers.

Searching Mosques

On a day when most Americans celebrate a high holiday of Christianity, my thoughts turn to Muslims, who we recently learn have had their houses of worship subjected to warrantless searches to look for the presence of radioactive materials through the use of remote sensing devices. Under a case written by Justice Scalia (Kyollo v. U.S. (2001)), the use of infrared sensing technology to look through the walls of a house and detect heat lamps used to grow marijuana is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. So it would seem closely analagous to search a mosque with a Gieger counter or a similar device used to detect radiation.

Now, Kyollo was decided 5-4, and some might think that recent changes on the High Court suggest a reversal is in the works. But both the late Chief Justice and retiring Justice O'Connor voted in the minority in Kyollo. My link in the title is an article by one of my intellectual heros, Eugene Volokh, who suggests that while searching for drugs using such a device may be "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment, searching for radioactive materials may not be. After all, the harm in cultivating, and presumably selling and using, some marijana plants pales in comparison to the harm that would come from the creation of a nuclear bomb.

The level of intrusion involved in a search like this would be minimal, it is true, since normal background radioactivity (the kind that occurs in nature, or that is emitted from digital watches or other electronic devices using radioactive decay for power) is ignored. A search for radioactivity is narrowly-focused on exactly the crime in question and to that extent seems reasonable, as Professor Volokh suggests. And, I suspect that most Christians would say, "If my church were scanned with a Gieger counter by the FBI, I wouldn't have any problem with that." Whether they would have a problem with scanning the church with an infrared sensor, which could detect a variety of activites, is a different issue.

But it's still a "search" and whether a search is reasonable or not is something that requires a case-by-case examination. Thus the requirement that law enforcement authorities obtain a warrant before, or at minimum immediately after, conducting a search. What makes a search reasonable is not only whether the search is narrowly-tailored to finding specific evidence of a specific crime. It also involves suspicion of criminal activity occurring in the first place. To suggest that warrantless searches of mosques for radioactivity are reasonable, one must accept that any mosque can reasonably be suspected of having radioactive materials stored within. This I do not accept as a reasonable proposition.

I think that law enforcement may take into account the content of political rhetoric coming from those who preach at a mosque without violating anyone's civil rights. I think that if there is other objective evidence that suggests that a mosque might be used for a criminal purpose, then the fact that it is a house of worship provides the structure and its inhabitants with no special, elevated constitutional protection. And while it's true that most terrorists who pose a threat to the United States are Muslim, the converse proposition is simply not true.

Objective evidence giving rise to at least a reasonable suspicion of a crime must be present in the first place before a warrant can be issued -- and the fact that the structure is used for a disfavored religion is not objective enough evidence to justify a search. Law enforcement searching a house of worship cannot help but have a deterrent effect on people who seek to worship there, no matter how unobtrusive the search may be. And if Muslims are not free to worship without being searched by law enforcement authorities, then neither are Christians or Jews or Buddhists or Zoroastrians. So if there's some reason to think that a particular mosque might be used for this purpose, a search warrant should issue. But if there's not, these people should be left alone to worship in peace and solitude.

December 24, 2005


So The Wife, my parents, and I go over to the new house -- La Casa TL et Uxor for you Latin students -- today. The former owner is still living in it. That only seemed reasonable after the closing got utterly screwed up. Problems with the closing included:

1. Original lender changing its mind at the last minute;
2. New lender demanding second appraisal of house and threatening to pull out at last minute again;
3. New lender having a mysterious three-day long "computer glitch" that prevented transmittal of closing documents to us by the closing date;
4. No one knowing what our interest rate, terms, or other pertinent portions of the loan were until the last minute -- including our mortgage broker, whose job I thought it was to be on top of such things;
5. Multiple contradictory statements about whether the closing would occur on the scheduled date or not;
6. Not learning that the closing had been cancelled until two hours before it had been scheduled to occur (thanks to the "computer glitch") described above;
7. Being given less than 24 hours' notice to do a closing by mail;
8. My having to be in depositions all day on the day of the "mail" closing, which actually happened in segments at different offices throughout Knoxville.

Now, upon going over to La Casa, more things happen.

9. My mother and my wife have very different ideas about how to redecorate La Casa. Not a problem, you would think; The Wife's preferences win because a) she owns the house and my mother does not, and b) she will live in the house and my mother will not. But the thing is, my mother has a habit of phrasing her "suggestions" in the imperative tense, which causes tremendous tension with The Wife and creates unhappiness within our family unit.
10. We've already received mail at La Casa. It was from our homeowners' insurance company. It read:


The alleged German Shepherd in question looks like this:

Let me assure you, Loyal Readers, the only thing at risk around this dog is a pork chop. She was described, during what I thought was small talk with the insurance agent, as a "Shepherd mix, who puts our guests in serious danger of being licked."

Now, the letter from the Trolls in Underwriting was dated December 16, 2005. You will note that was eight days ago. So here's an interesting question: Where in the Sam Hell was my insurance agent during all of this? Is this something that he didn't think I'd be concerned about? But let's leave that aside -- how in the f**k are we going to get a new policy in place in four business days, especially around the holidays? And I'm in depositions all day on Tuesday again.

So we don't get to move in to our new house until Tuesday at the earliest (nothing is open between now and then) and we won't know what we can do about our insurance situation until then, either. It appears that we have not yet moved in to the house yet and we are already in default on our mortgage. Swell.

Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2005

Officially Off The Bush Train

I've been vacillating about whether I like George W. Bush as President or not. I've no particular love of any of the Democrats who have vied for the office in the last two election cycles (John Edwards seemed OK, Wesley Clark and Bill Bradley were interesting to think about too but never seriously possibilities in my mind.) On the one hand, Bush appears to me to be smarter than his critics claim he is, concerned about doing the morally right thing, and I think that a call to arms to rid the world of terrorism and spread liberal democracy to parts of the world where it has never before existed could represent a significant vision and mission for the country on scale with the Apollo Program of the 1960's. But on the other hand, that mission seems to be getting mangled; Iraq is at best a mixed success; and while Bush himself seems to be a moral man he also seems to be surrounded by corruption and whatever personal integrity he might possess is marred by a streak of arrogance unbecoming a democratically-elected leader. Some of the things he has done I agree with (like nominating John Roberts to the Supreme Court), some I disagree with (like intentionally deficit spending).

The number and weight of things that he has done with which I disagree has now reached a critical mass. The President has authorized the National Security Agency to monitor communications by and between U.S. citizens -- without seeking much, if any, Congressional approval and, more disturbingly, without even bothering to get a search warrant from the roll-over-for-the-government Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) first. To get a warrant from this court, the Administration does not need to publicly seek a warrant, the existence of which remains a matter of national security until and unless an indictment is issued and the suspect apprehended. Some statistics from this court indicate that the government asked for a warrant to do electronic eavesdropping 4,713 times over a two-year period (after 9/11). 4,613 were granted in full, 96 were modified by the court, and only 4 of those requests were denied. So it's not like seeking a warrant from the FISC is a particularly heavy burden. The government can start surveillance for 15 days without a warrant under existing law anyway, but some of this spying on U.S. citizens has gone on for nearly four months straight without anyone outside of the intelligence-gathering community and the strategic decision-makers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue knowing anything about it.

This stinks so bad that a judge on the FISC has resigned, apparently in protest. There are calls for impeachment, but I don't take them seriously yet. This in no way makes this story less disturbing. I call 'em like I see 'em here, Loyal Readers -- and this is a big problem. There are checks and balances on executive power for a reason, and this is exactly one of them.

In a day and an age when an accused terrorist and enemy combatant -- who happens to be held under the power of the United States and who happens to be a United States citizen himself -- is nevertheless entitled to an indictment and a trial, the President seems to think that using a foreign intelligence gathering entity to pry into the private lives of Americans is perfectly OK.

Now, I'm not suggesting that anyone targeted by these orders is a nice guy or that the government is pulling names out of a hat for surveillance. I'm willing to give law enforcement, military, and political leaders the benefit of the doubt and assume that they really are looking for real bad guys, and that they have chosen to go after bad guys rather than political dissenters or others they merely dislike. But even those amongst my Loyal Readership who reflexively and automatically back this President, remember this: one day Democrats will be back in power, like it or not. Who's to say that the next administration won't take it a step further? Without a court or at least Congress checking up for abuses of power, we just have to take the President's word for it that he's (or she's) doing right by us.

This is a huge cause for concern. It doesn't just "look bad." It is bad. By all means, Mr. President, we want you to take the steps necessary to defend our country and our citizens from terrorists. If you didn't do that, it would be a dereliction of your duty. But you swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. I, for one, expect and demand that you uphold that oath while discharging your duties of office. And yes, it is difficult to balance effective law enforcement, effective military planning, and chart a new course in foreign policy while still safeguarding civil liberties and freedoms. But if it were easy, we'd hire trained chimpanzees to do it.

Strangely, two successive Secretaries of State under this President, both of whom I respect and both of whom seem to be free of the taint of corruption, have been quietly critical of both the foreign and domestic agendas of the Bush Administration. I have become well convinced that Bush and the bulk of his minions are not competent to handle the challenge of leading the nation through these murky and uncertain times. I'm not saying that anyone could do better in the future (oh wait, yes, I am) and I'm definitely not saying that the world would look dramatically different today under a Gore or a Kerry administration. And I'm certainly not part of some radical promote-Cheney group.

So what am I saying? "The fish rots from the head," for starters. "I expect better of this country's leaders," for finishers. While I was never really a huge fan of Bush, I am officially de-listing myself as even a lukewarm supporter. This President has lost whatever shreds of political loyalty I might otherwise have given him. He's got some explaining to do.

December 20, 2005

Bravo, Your Honor.

The Honorable Judge John E. Jones II, United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, deserves recognition for clear thought and forceful application of it. He may be my new hero.

In a comprehensive and forceful opinion, and “after a six week trial that spanned twenty- one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations,” Judge Jones ruled that a statement disparaging the scientific validity of evolution, and encouraging high school students to consider intelligent design as an alternative, and recommending students read an ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, is crypto-creationism, a violation of the Establishment Clause, and contrary to both good science and good government. His opinion in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is clearly-reasoned, well-written (meaning it uses plain, simple language) and puts the entire dispute into context. Judge Jones even goes out of his way to deny being a judicial activist, placing the blame for the media circus and resulting legal decision squarely on the ID advocates who picked the fight in the first place.

Not many of my Loyal Readers will go through all 139 pages of the opinion in such loving detail as I have. So I will attempt a quick digest of it for you.

First, Judge Jones demonstrates that ID is religion masquerading as science: “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory":
Although proponents of the ID [Movement] occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses. In fact, an explicit concession that the intelligent designer works outside the laws of nature and science and a direct reference to religion is Pandas’ rhetorical statement, “what kind of intelligent agent was it [the designer]” and answer: “On its own science cannot answer this question. It must leave it to religion and philosophy.”

Indeed, one of the editors of Of Pandas and People “has written that ID is a ‘ground clearing operation’ to allow Christianity to receive serious consideration."

Then, we see that “an objective student would view the disclaimer as a strong official endorsement of religion.” After all, the school district required instructors to read a disclaimer to students which “singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.” When the teachers refused to read it (you go!) the administrators themselves stepped in to do it, adding extra weight, attention, and import to their message.

Third, the opinion conclusively demonstrates that ID is not science. Its attempt to claim scientific validity “fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. … [I]t is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.” Judge Jones’ description of what science is, and what it is not, begins on page 64 and should be read in its entirety by anyone interested in this subject (which is you if you’ve made it this far).

Quite perceptively, the Court advises that , since “ID proponents primarily argue for design through negative arguments against evolution,” “ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed.” ID is not science – it is science’s opposite; it is doubt seeking comfort in the deus ex machina wherever and whenever a ready scientific explanation cannot be easily identified. Further, “ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution.”

In a footnote, Judge Jones accuses several members of the Dover School Board of "outright lies" regarding their intentions with regard to introducing ID to the curriculum. And so what were the intentions of ID's advocates in Dover, PA, so crucial to the analysis of whether an unconstitutional establishment of religion has taken place? Easy; they “consciously chose to change Dover’s biology curriculum to advance religion.”

Yikes. Lying to the court, and getting caught doing it, is not a good way to impress the judge with one’s good-faith intentions. One board member “disclaimed any interest in creationism during his testimony,” despite substantial evidence against him that on multiple occasions when considering policy and issues before the board, he “identified ‘creationism’ as his number one issue and ‘school prayer’ as his number two issue.” Another board member, among other things, testified that he had previously said the separation of church and state is a myth and not something that he supports, that he believed “It is inexcusable to have a book that says man descended from apes with nothing to counterbalance it,” and that “This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such.” This second board member’s wife testified in favor of the ID disclaimer prior to the school board adopting it, telling the school board that “evolution teaches nothing but lies,” quoting from Genesis, asking “how can we allow anything else to be taught in our schools,” reciting gospel verses telling people to become born again Christians, and stating that evolution violated the teachings of the Bible. “During this religious speech at a public Board meeting, Board members Buckingham [the husband] and Geesey [someone else] said ‘amen.’”

In that vein, “Although Defendants attempt to persuade this Court that each Board member who voted for the biology curriculum change did so for the secular purposed of improving science education and to exercise critical thinking skills, their contentions are simply irreconcilable with the record evidence. Their asserted purposes are a sham, and they are accordingly unavailing….”

So let’s review. We’ve got a state endorsement of religion, an absence of any substantial secular purpose, and an overwhelmingly religious effect. That would be failing all three prongs of the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971) test for establishment of religion. Additionally, “when government transgresses the limits of neutrality and acts in ways that show religious favoritism or sponsorship, it violates the Establishment Clause.” The Court struck down and permanently enjoined the policy. I’ll let Judge Jones’ conclusion stand for itself:

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

This Has To End

Well, I was going to blog more tonight but after an hour of looking through loan and closing documents -- and finding them replete with errors and highly confusing disclosure statements -- the life has been sucked right out of me. And all of the documents and the tension and risk associated with the transaction has engendered friction and anxiety with The Wife. Justified, of course, especially given that so far, no employers have had any interest in my services. As if I'm not anxious enough, buying a house; I now get to have guilt thrown at me if we have to bail out early and relocate to California in order to secure our survival.

Suffice to say, Loyal Readers, that I have had an absolutely punishing* schedule for the past week and now this, that it's no surprise I've been unable to fall asleep without reaching the frontiers of exhaustion, typically by one or one-thirty each morning. How can it be that after I get my pink slip, I enter the busiest phase of my practice at this law firm? There is no cause-and-effect relationship between getting notice of an imminent termination and a desire to work longer hours, I can assure you all of that.

Where we're at and what we're doing comes down to hope -- hope that I will find work (here) and hope that things will work out. Maybe, at the end of the day, hope is all we have. But I feel a lot more anxiety than I do hope at the moment. Hope seems unreasonable and contraindicated by the evidence; the last time we relied on hope it took a long, uncomfortable time before things worked out right. If we hadn't made commitments to do certain things, back when the future looked bright, maybe we wouldn't be doing this now. But we are where we are and right now I don't think we have much choice but to grit our teeth and make the best of it.

* You should really avoid doing a Google Image Search for the phrase "punishing" if you do not have Google's adult content filters turned on. Just trust me on this.

December 14, 2005

Music City

Music City really lives up to its name. I remember about a year ago The Wife and I took a trip here to explore the idea of my working at an insurance defense firm in Nash. While driving down Broadway in downtown Nash, we passed all the big clubs and saw people spilling out into the street and heard all sorts of live music coming from inside. That was at ten in the morning.

So upon driving in to Nashville yesterday, I noticed a great proliferation of radio stations. In fact, as I drove about town today, it seemed there was a radio station about every three clicks of the FM "dial" (dials are outdated technology, but you know what I mean). Contrary to what you might think, I heard all sorts of music and very little of it was country/western. I know that WSM is the station that made Nashville with its broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry, and I passed its very distinctive diamond-shaped transmitter on my way down here to Franklin for my conference. But there is a lot more to the Nashville music scene than that, judging just by what I hear on the radio.

The first station I got was hip-hop and it sounded pretty ghetto. Then I found a Spanish station, then a pop-rock station, then a Christian contemporary rock station, then an NPR news broadcast, then reggae or some other world music, then Christian rap. Yes, that's right, some guy (who sounded white) was throwin' down for the Lord. Only after that did I find a country station (and thanks to Mental Floss, I now know the difference between country and bluegrass music, and it's bluegrass that The Wife likes) and after that, I found the local Jack-FM station. There's classic rock, jazz, alternative rock (like Los Angeles' 106.7 KROQ), preaching, blues (which I'll listen to going home), and probably more that I haven't found yet. So far I haven't happened across any classical stations but that's because I've only gone halfway through the FM frequencies.

Knoxville is kind of a wasteland for music. There is practically no live music scene to speak of; the jazz we went to hear with our friend and the quasi-Scottish band covering eighties hits is about it. There are some decent radio stations -- the college rock station plays lots of alternative stuff and we have a Jack-FM station in Knox now, and there is the corporate rock station and the "independent" rock station, that's about it. There's some country, some religion, and some rock. Certainly no blues, and the only other thing to listen to is the NPR that is broadcast on the public radio station (also affiliated with the university) during morning and evening drive time when it's not playing classical or jazz. So it's quite pleasant to find a variety of music here.

I remember back in Los Angeles, it seemed I was listening to music all the time. Not so much in Knoxville. I really ought to change that; music enriches one's life and one's soul. If nothing else good comes from my trip here -- and I think other good things will come from this, not the least of which is maintenance of my law license -- then I can take away the inspiration to listen to more music.

December 13, 2005

On The Road Again

I have a peeve about hotels. When you reserve a room, they always ask you what kind of bed you want -- double, king, or suite. If it's just me in the room, or just me and The Wife, I prefer a king; the bed will be centered in the room so it's easy to watch the TV, and there is more space to move about in the room. Usually such rooms have larger desks to work on, which is convenient for me in a situation like the one I am in now, when I am travelling for business and need a desk upon which to write and use the computer.

Reservations agents for even halfway upscale hotels also usually ask if you want a smoking or non-smoking room. Not being a smoker, having a non-smoking room is of paramount importance to me.

So why is it that when I check in to a hotel, having requested a non-smoking king, I inevitably find that there are none available? Am I not timing my check-in correctly? Do hotels not realize that people want what they ask for? I don't particularly mind the double bed so much -- at home, I sleep on a queen, and hotel doubles are almost that size. But here's the thing. If you don't have a non-smoking room with a king-sized bed available, don't offer it to me. That way, when the only non-smoking room with a king-sized bed in your entire hotel is taken at the time I check in, I won't be disappointed.

On the other hand, the Cool Springs Marriott does offer "free" wireless internet access. You need to get a code and I think that is now a cookie on my computer, but the cookie is easy enough to delete later and in the meantime, the access here is just as good as if I were at home or at a public wi-fi hotspot. One annoying thing about road computing is mouse interface. I don't have my comfortable ergonomic mouse with me; I have cute "mini-mouse" (bad pun on the picture, I realize, but if you don't like it, go start your own blog) but it's not the same thing. Neither is the notebook's keyboard nearly the equal of my big ergonomic wireless keyboard; I'm slowed down about ten words a minute and I can see how users of keyboards like this develop CTS. But, it's only for two days and then I'm home again.

December 12, 2005

♪ It's the most... wonderful time... of the year! ♪

Our witness list was due today in a big case in I am co-counsel with Happy Bachelor Lawyer. He's been working this case for more than three years now; I've been on it for a little bit over six months. So where was he when the witness list was due? Out of town, hunting, I think. I did the best job I could and I think I got all of our bases covered. But I needed help wrangling all of the evidence and dealing with everything, particularly the medical proof; Bad Attitude Paralegal was out with her kid being very, very sick, so this left me (again) with basically no support until BAP's husband could come home and relieve her so she could assist me. When we were all but done getting everything together, then HBL calls up and says, "Hey, be sure and include so-and-so, and so-and-so" (which I already had done). Then he calls up BAP and says, "Hey, it'll all be okay, I spoke with TL and he's on it." At that exact moment, I was sitting cross-legged in her office going through stacks of evidence with her. Needless to say, we wer both quite aggravated with HBL at that moment in time.

Now, all the while, I had four three-inch binders of summary judgment motions to read and get back to my co-counsel in a different case on. Since I'm going to be leaving the firm in less than seven weeks, they need my advice about how to proceed with one facet of the case I've been handling. They were supposed to make discovery arrangements with opposing counsel today and I had to defer giving my advice to them until after the witness list was done. Hopefully what I had to contribute got where it needed to be, in time to be useful.

And in the meantime, there continue to be paperwork hitches, bank delays, and generalized uncertainty regarding buying the house. And I'm going to be out of the office basically for the rest of the week -- tomorrow afternoon I'm leaving for Nash Vegas for a litigation techniques seminar, which will keep me out of town until Thursday evening. Then Friday I'm going to Chatty Nooga to explore the possibility of a future relationship with a firm there.

Friday afternoon I'll have to race back up to Knoxhell from Chatty in order to attend the closing on the house. Then Monday it's back to Nash Vegas for the conclusion of the seminar. Why the seminar couldn't be on three sequential days I have no earthly idea. But then again, the fact that I'm killing myself to buy a house that The Wife and I may have to turn around and sell in a few months anyway raises some damn good questions that lack readily-apparent answers, too. I detest chaos in its myriad shapes and tastes, and yet suddenly I'm absolutely engulfed by it. There seems to be nothing I can do but plow my way straight through it and hope I don't hit an iceberg along the way.

December 11, 2005

Flying Spaghetti Monster Under Attack

I have been following with some interest the developing controversy over the story of Professor Paul Mirecki. Prof. Mirecki teaches at the University of Kansas as a religious studies professor. He had been the chairman of the religious studies department until recent events overtook him.

In response to recent decisions by the Kansas Board of Education to require elementary and high school students to listen to statements that evolution is only a theory, that it does not explain all of the evidence in the fossil record, that there are other theories of the creation of species aside from evolution, and that students should feel encouraged to explore all of the alternatives. Mirecki then proposed to teach a class called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies." In his class, he proposed to explain why intelligent design, creationism, and other theories of human origin which involve intervention by an outside source are not good science and should not be considered on an equal footing with evolution.

All well and good, except that an e-mail surfaced in which Mirecki wrote to a colleague about how the course would anger the "fundies" and bragged that his class would be "nice slap in their big fat face." While he subsequently apologized for those remarks, they nevertheless demonstrate a flippant disrespect for those who have religous beliefs.

The University of Kansas' response was to force Mirecki to resign as department chair and to cancel the class. He retains his teaching position. Nevertheless, he claims his academic freedom (which is protected by the First Amendment) has been abridged by the University's actions.

More interestingly, earlier this week, he was confronted by two men on a country road near Lawrence (where U of K is located, and presumably near where he lives). The men made reference to his proposed class and beat him up. CNN ran this picture from an AP photography of Mirecki showing two nice black eyes shortly after the attack. Police are investigating but I rather doubt much will turn up.

So there's lots of intolerance to go around. Mirecki is intolerant of those holding religious views of creation. At least two creationists are intolerant enough of his anti-creationist views to resort to violence in order to enforce their world view. The University is intolerant of Mirecki enough to strip of him everything they can except his tenure (which they're smart enough to leave alone).

Now, it seems to me that Prof. Mirecki is in the right. He does have a right to teach his classes in the manner that he sees fit and to express particular academic points of view. Condemnation of non-scientific attacks on the scientific method is a defensible academic position. Public disapproval of the Kansas Board of Education's appalling decisions is within his First Amendment rights. He also certainly has the right to not be beaten up for trying to exercise that academic freedom. In fairness to serious proponents of intelligent design, I am certain that they are equally appalled at seeing this man physically attacked for his role in the controversy.

What Mirecki is guilty of is poor taste and the bitter consequences of instigating a fight. Particularly as a religious studies professor, he should know better than to belittle the beliefs of others. I can see the University's administration wanting to strip him of the chairmanship of the department in light of that demonstration of bad judgment and intolerance. I also am not sure exactly what he will recover in a legal action against the University; at most, the right to teach his proposed class seems to be at stake. The University can moot the lawsuit by scheduling the class. But he does not have a right to be the department chair -- if Kansas works like most universities, that is a rotating position that is voted upon by the members of that department annually or every other year. He must earn the respect of his peers to hold the chairmanship of his department, and it seems that he has lost that. No lawsuit will bring that back. The University hasn't taken anything else from him.

As martyrs for the cause of promoting scientific theory go, he's not much. His own intemperate words taint him and his in-your-face tactics make him kind of an amibugous hero. He's right to point out that thoughtful religionists and people of faith should recongize that intelligent design and creationism are not science and should not be presented as the equals of science, and that there are consequences for doing so which are more material and real than an esoteric debate about the origins of humanity. But he's wrong for assuming that all people of faith reject science and the results of the scientific method. Plenty of people of faith accept evolution as the mechanism used by God to enact the creation of man, and do not need to resort to deus ex machina reasoning to reconcile themselves with existing scientific theories and readily-verifiable evidence. And plenty of people who do not share a particular, or any, religious faith somehow find a way to be respectful of those who do while still not compromising their own assertions.

December 10, 2005

Shopping Shopping Shopping

Today, The Wife and I spent most of our time shopping in furniture stores and the Home Depot. I tried to keep up with her, and was able to be interested and enthusiastic about the project for a long time. After running an errand, we had breakfast, and hit the Home Depot. There, we wandered the aisles for about four hours looking at lighting fixtures, replacements for the broken tub spout at The Estate At Louisville, ceiling fans, paint, and flooring materials. After that, it was another two hours at furniture stores looking at dining room sets, bed frames, and entertainment centers.

However, unlike the fellow to the right, I am not a shopping robot. My endurance for this sort of thing is just not as good as The Wife's. Home Depot was a great deal more interesting to me than the furniture store -- in part because there was no sales staff wandering around putting pressure on us to buy. But it was more because we did Home Depot earlier in the day, before retail fatigue set in. All that walking around, all that furniture, all that stuff -- it all started to look alike after a while. Some of it was uglier than others; but once I had exhausted my shopping endurance, nothing looked good at all and it became an exercise of my patience rather than of my preferences.

While there is some nice furniture out there, and I hated to disappoint The Wife about not getting it, I just couldn't justify buying this stuff now until we have some things cleared up. We really can't buy anything like that yet until we know whether we are getting a house here or even whether we are staying here or going back to California.

So tomorrow we will attempt to install a new spout in the upstairs bathroom so that once again, we can use the tub there and not suffer the continued inconveniences resulting from my clumsy attempts to clean.

December 9, 2005

On Hold

There is no word yet from the new lender. There is no word yet from my job lead. So The Wife and I are on hold until at least Monday for what will happen in the next year. Stay tuned!

Eleven Days in June

Today, the draws for the World Cup were announced. In case you didn't know, and you probably didn't, the United States is eighth-seeded in the world's biggest sporting event -- bar none.

Soccer (the rest of the world calls it "football" but most of my Loyal Readers are from the U.S. so I will use the U.S. phrase) is a bit more mundane and, at first glance, not so much fun to watc since the scoring is not high and the action is continuous. But after a while, you begin to realize that the players position themselves much like players in a hockey game, albeit a little bit slower because they are running, not skating, over a much larger field. And they need tremendous balance, reflexes, and speed as well as endurance.

Part of what makes the World Cup fun to follow is that these are national teams. There is something about a sports team symbolizing a country that is qualitiatively different for a sports fan to watch than a professional team symbolizing a community. The Olympics are fun for the same reason, but another part of what makes the Olympics enjoyable is that Olympic sports are not often seen outside of the Olympics; they are specialized and there is some novelty to them as a result. But the World Cup is bigger than the Olympics by a long shot.

Now, if you're like me (and I know I am) you're not going to take the time to watch all sixty-four games. But I will make at least some effort to watch the U.S. games play and certainly will cheer on the team. I also will enjoy following the Cup this summer, regardless of how the team does. This only happens once every four years and it's fun to follow along.

Here's what you need to know. There's 32 teams in the tournament. They are broken down into eight groups of four teams each. In the first round of the tournament, they play round-robin style for points. Three points for a win, one point for a tie. At the end of the first round, the two top point scorers in each group advance to the second round. The second round is a single-elimination playoff with brackets much like the NCAA tournament; teams are seeded based on their completed standings within their groups. The second round begins on June 24 and the championship game is July 9. Brazil is the returning champion and Germany is both the host team and a heavy favorite. Other powerhouses will include England, Italy, Argentina, and Holland.

The schedule is here. On June 12, we play the Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen, a city in a north-west German state called Nordrhein-Westphalia near the larger city of Essen, near Belgium and the Netherlands. On June 17, we play Italy in Kaiserslautern, one of the larger cities in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, near the French border. This should be a "home game" for us, due to Kaiserslautern's proximity to one of the largest U.S. military bases in Europe; my father has seen a professional soccer game at the arena where this game will take place. Finally, on June 22, we play Ghana in Nuremburg, a city in the southern German state of Bavaria (and, by coincidence, the city of my birth). The U.S. should be favored to win against the Czechs and Ghana, and no one wants to yet opine on the U.S.-Italy game, which may well be the best match in the entire first round. But, none of these teams are lightweights. Other groups, like group "H" (Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Tunisia) or group "F" (Croatia, Australia, Japan, and returning champion Brazil) are much more one-sided than our "Group of Death."

As with any sports tournament with many entrants, there will be surprises, upsets, chokes, and Cinderella stories. But it happens on a national scale and, a few hooligans aside, it is generally pretty friendly and all done for fun. So I say, let's look forward to our eleven days in June and, hopefully, a good showing in the second round, too.

December 8, 2005

The Prince of Denmark Contemplates the Future

So last night the mortgage broker calls and tells me that the bank that had pre-approved us for a mortgage has reneged on its promise. Apparently, The Wife’s employer understated her income on their verification of employment. For this, we apparently had to pay her employer more than she makes in half a day’s work.


This leaves The Wife and I in a very precarious situation. We have made an offer to buy the house and now we have no financing to back up that offer. In legal circles, this is known as “getting caught with your dick out.” I told the mortgage broker that a lawsuit for fraud would cost me a lot less than the closing costs of the house, but cost the lender more than we were asking to borrow. He got the message loud and clear; and of course, he’s not happy either since he’s not getting any commission unless we can get the house. I doubt The Wife is serious about a lawsuit but she’s just as upset about this as me.

Both of us (and probably the mortgage broker, too) were quite unhappy. The Wife is suggesting that this is a blessing in disguise and that we should take it as a signal to move to California immediately. I don’t know; there are a lot of things about the prospect of a move back that are very attractive. The Antelope Valley is as affordable a place to live as exists in California. The scenery is ugly there, but on the other hand, there is a Trader Joe’s in the area now. The quality and enjoyment of my work would probably improve, at least from a professional perspective, and although I’m starting to “get it” with Tennessee practice, I’ve still got ten years of California experience under my belt.

One thing that weighs heavily in my mind is that I ought to be running to something rather than away from something. Is the desire to leave Tennessee nothing more than an escape impulse? Or is the real objective -- a happy life -- truly better achievable in California, right now?

The Wife is concerned about the transaction costs and logistical challenges of moving back to California, and while those are not to be minimized, I’m trying to focus on the bigger picture. Is the future brighter here or in California? I haven’t really given the marketplace here a good test and probably cannot until next month, and I’ve got the idea that so far, I haven’t even got a good sample of what practicing law in Knoxville is all about anyway – my current perspective is somewhat skewed because of the peculiarities of the place where I’ve been working.

And, we don’t know whether, and if so how fast, another lender can be lined up to make the loan. The mortgage broker has said some optimistic things, and there are job prospects here. There’s lots of reasons to stay. There’s lots of reasons to scram, too. I’m used to making decisions based on incomplete information. But typically that is usually reducible to a few unresolved issues. Now, I feel unable to make a decision because those unresolved issues are legion – and like the song says, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” The Wife is very intolerant of this kind of flux and ambiguity – even less tolerant of it than I am. I don’t blame her; I’ll do what I can to help achieve resolution to all of this very soon.

Now, we have been told that a new lender is on the scene and able to pick up the pieces. If we can get enough money in our account soon enough, which we should be able to do. So yes, now we can get the house -- or so we think. And I have a more firm lead on work here in Knoxville, at a firm where my time would be split between employment (good) and malpractice (fair) and the location (near downtown) would be very convenient.

So the variables remain in flux. Until we get some coherent information, I don't know what to decide or what to think. It drives The Wife crazy but I'm just not at a point yet where I can feel comfortable being decisive yet. I can't let this state of affairs continue; it did Hamlet in and will do the same to me. My man Aristotle would counsel that the vices at the extremes are impetuousness on the one hand, and indecisiveness on the other. The golden mean is prudence and patience. How to know when patience has been adequately exercised? That is the question.

December 6, 2005

I've Got A Question Since I'm Still Awake

How come it seems that pretty much every day my time starts out real slow, with little happening – and then, after about 2:30, all hell breaks loose? At the start of a work day, the phone doesn’t ring, it seems there’s little to do, and nothing is urgent. By the end of a work day, my phone won’t stop ringing and deadlines are all breathing down my neck. It’s no fair. As I get things done, there should be less to do, not more. And when I get this stressed out, all I want to do is sleep -- and the stress piles up and makes real sleep that much more difficult to achieve.

So by the end of the day, my mind is aflutter with the thought of all that work left at the office, all the schoolwork I've had to do, all the running around I've had to do, all the things in my life I have to keep up with...

No wonder sleep so often eludes me at night. Too much stress is bad for sleep. No wonder I crash for so long on the weekends. The body can only sustain a sleep deficit for so long, only making interest payments, without having to start providing real rest.

If things resolve to the point where I have found employment of sufficient value to enable me to be the sole breadwinner for about a year or so while The Wife finishes her degree, and we get the new house closed and fixed up and moved in, then a lot of the big issues I'm dealing with will be off my brain and I won't have the lethargy that results from feeling a huge burden to carry around all day and the dangerous impulse to eat salty, fatty foods for the momentary feeling of satisfaction they give in the midst of what feels like otherwise-uncontrollable chaos.

Best of all, I won't have this terrible pain between my shoulder blades at the end of the day. It comes from stress and poor posture. I know of no pill which makes it go away; pretty much only a full night's sleep does that.

December 5, 2005

Drafting Complaints

The Wife's paralegal certification class continues, and she's been asked to draft a complaint. It's occasionally frustrating -- for both her and for me -- to help her out. I've been writing complaints and other pleadings for so long now that it's second nature to me. Seeing her go through the process reminds me of how precise the language in such a document needs to be. In a way, it's a good refresher for me; a reminder of exactly how the work gets done. It's also a test of my patience; I hope that she'll be able to get what I'm telling her the first time out and sometimes she doesn't.

(It's also a good distraction from how badly the Philadelphia Eagles are getting clobbered by the Seattle Seahawks, causing no end of damage to my fantasy football team's previously-halfway-comfortable lead. Just past halftime, Seattle is winning, 42-0. Ratings may decline in the second half. The only bright spot is that now our final backup QB may have a chance to prove his worth. Good luck, Koy.)

Mainly, though, I worry that I've helped her too much and that she won't be able to write a complaint on her own when the time comes. But I try and remember that once upon a time, I couldn't write like that, either; it takes practice. She needs the practice and along the way, she needs to have someone show her how to do it and where she has made mistakes, just like I did when I was a new lawyer. And unfortunately for her, she got hit with a complex factual scenario that has a good cause of action in it requiring some very technical pleading -- this while she is still learning the appropriate verb tense. It's a process. I'm glad to help.

Not Sponsored By the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce

Warning: Do not follow the link unless you are prepared to be thoroughly repelled and grossed out. But, once again, the Smoking Gun shows the world an unappetizing side of Milwaukee.


Dead Battery

This morning, the new (to us) car -- B.B. -- would not start. The Wife was going to take it into work, and called up to me that the car wasn't turning over. So I came down into the garage and tried it myself. One turn of the ignition key and I was rewarded with a rapid RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT-A from under the hood. Seeing that the headlights could turn on, I ruled out a dead battery and began fretting about the alternator.

So The Wife took the Hunk-O-Junk in to work instead, and I called AAA to come out and take a look at the Blue Bullet. The guy eventually showed up -- The Estate At Louisville is way out in the sticks -- and hooked up a jumper cable to the car, and it started right up. I let the car idle for about ten minutes and I went to work, confident that the battery would re-charge along the way with nearly an hour's use.

But, after a long day at work, I went back to B.B. to go shopping before going home -- and once again I was rewarded with the same RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT and it occurred to me that if I needed a jump start again, maybe the problem wasn't a battery that somehow got run down overnight -- Gods help me, it might really be the alternator. So again, I called AAA for a jump, and I asked The Wife to come downtown in case we had to tow B.B. to an auto electric shop for alternator service.

Although the second guy from AAA couldn't find me in a wide-open parking lot without calling for directions, once he got there he was actually quite thorough. He jump-started the car, and again it fired right up. But he then took the time to take out an electric reader and said, "No, look, the alternator is generating good charge for you here." He thought about it for a second, and then said, "Hey, try turning on the lights." So I turned on the headlights, and his little needle took a nose-dive. "Yep, it's running the headlights off the battery, and not charging the battery back up." So it was a dead battery.

We got B.B. in to Wal-Mart not long before its auto shop was starting to think about closing down, and the guys there were very nice and agreed to put in the battery, even though they usually confined themselves to oil and tire changes. We got a good battery, good service, and the rest of our grocery shopping done. So it ended well -- although it kept us away from home for a couple hours longer than we would have preferred and cost us money we would rather not have spent. But owning a car involves maintaining it, and in the grand scheme of things, replacing a dead battery is not such a heavy burden.

(Muchos props to an anonymous student from Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles, California, for the photograph above, entitled "Dead Battery.")


Once upon a time, a Scottish man named James Dewar, a scientist employed at Oxford University, discovered that if he created a tightly-sealed vacuum between two nested vessels, the temperature of the product in the inner vessel would not change very much over time. The commercial applications of this were realized quickly as German glassblowers sold what came to be called Thermos jars.

I own such a device, and it is truly miraculous. This morning, The Wife and I brewed a pot of coffee. I filled my Thermos with hot coffee and sealed it up tightly. Away I went to work and several hours later, I opened up my Thermos and poured myself a hot cup of Joe, with the exact right amount of creamer and sweetener in it.

After a long day at work, and after more than twelve hours of storage, there was still a cup full of coffee in the Thermos this evening. While it was not as hot as it had been when poured fresh, it was still drinkably warm. (This is because by opening and closing the bottle during the day, I allowed air to enter into the inner chamber, and the coffee radiated some of its warmth into that air.)

The Thermos has been largely ignored by my generation. We much prefer to get Starbuck's than brew and carry around our own coffee in a large, awkward container. It's too bad, really. A pot of home-brew coffee costs about fifty cents, (maybe as much as sixty cents, after you add all the creamer that I like) as opposed to a grande coffee-of-the-day at Starbuck's, which is going to set you back about two bucks (plus tip). Six times as much coffee for 25% of the price. That Thermos pays for itself after about a week.

So yes, I'm back on the caffeine. But there's uses beyond coffee, too -- I'm thinking about having hot homemade soup as part of my lunches later this week.

December 4, 2005


When on an airplane flight between Los Angeles and Knoxville a while back, I happened across a really fun magazine, Mental Floss. I'd sort of forgotten about it until I saw a mention of it on my friend's blog. Now I remember how much fun it was and hey, with Christmas coming, who knows how that will work out?

It's Like There's A Plan

Remember that scene from Rocky IV, the one where Sylvester Stallone comes up with the brilliant strategy of not fighting back while Dolph Lungren just whales all over him? His strategy was to get the other boxer tired so that later, he wouldn't be able to fight back while he, well-rested from having the hell beaten out of him, would land a knockout punch.

That looks like what the Green Bay Packers are up to. After losing their tenth game this year, it is clear that we are angling for high draft picks in next year's draft for some reason. We already have Aaron Rogers, who is supposed to be the next Carson Palmer. So apparently we need someone else coming up in college other than a quarterback -- a running back to replace Ahman Green, maybe? And are there any running backs graduating from college this year who have attracted much attention? Not to step on Mel Kiper's game, but this may be the future: "Rogers.... throws it to Bush! And he could... go... all... the... way! Touchdown Packers!"

Well, here's hoping next year, even when things look way different than they do now, we can realize success.

December 3, 2005

Clumsy Oaf

So The Wife said she had a headache and thought that taking a bath would help. Being the nice guy that I am, I offered to clean out the baththub so she could do that and feel better. Well, no good deed goes unpunished and this was no exception.

Did you ever wonder what holds the bathtub faucet to the wall and the plumbing? Neither did I. But now I know and thanks to the magic of the Internet, now you will too, Loyal Readers.

This is what the tub looked like after I placed my hand on the faucet for balance. The damn thing just snapped off clean. It didn't feel like it was held on there with anything. There was no visible epoxy, glue, mastic, or other adhesive on either the plastic surface of the shower/tub wall, nor on the back of the faucet.

Oh, for those of you Loyal Readers unfamiliar with it, the shower control is a ring around the mouth of the faucet; you pull down on it and it stops the bath faucet and diverts water to the shower. There are no markings or labels to tell a newbie this; you have to intuit the dictates of the Tennessee Plumbing Gods. For those of you Loyal Readers from Tennessee who don't understand why I think this is worth mentioning, remember that in other parts of the country, there are bars, levers, or other devices with markings on them that control the water diversion.

This is what the wall mount looks like. As you can see, it's a thin sheath of plastic over a thin piece of drywall, with a PVC pipe through which the water flows at high pressure. Loath indeed am I to play with water under high pressure and drywall. Hell, I can't even avoid breaking anything when I clean; as The Wife was kind enough to point out, I could do some serious water damage to The Estate At Louisville were I to attempt to reattach the plumbing.

The way I see it, I need to somehow squash in the PVC tube from the wall into the mating mount on the back side of the faucet, shown on the right. They should thread together. Then I need to figure out how to turn that hex nut so that it tightens and the PVC should be held together again, and water will come out the facuet as the builder orignally intended.

But I also don't think that I can do it. Like the man says on the Home Depot commercial, as water sprays out of his toilet like a fountain behind him, "I am not a plumber." No, I am not a plumber. I am a clumsy oaf who can break things armed only with a sponge and a can of Comet.


The Wife is reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I realize now that if I did not include this in my list of favorite books on my profile, I really should have. I first read the book many years ago, in junior high school, and it made a lasting impression on me. It's exciting to see the book have such an impression on her, too; we talk about it every night.

It's particularly exciting to talk with her about the book and the concepts in it. It's heartening, also, to see that she really gets it. She has good critical reading skills and sees the artistic mirroring of the setting of the book and the transformation of its hero. She also sees, easily, just how insidious and seductive the dystopia portrayed in the book is -- a society where books are banned and burned is one where there is harmony and accord in the place of the the chaotic marketplace of competing ideas, one where easy, brainless pleasures replace enlightenment, and one in which a casual disregard for anything more complex that the pleasures of the here and now are dismissed from everyday life as irrelevant.

Of the three great dystopian novels of the twentieth century, Fahrenheit 451 has always struck me as the most insidious and the most powerful. That's quite a statement, because George Orwell's 1984 was also powerful and terrifying. The all-powerful state that Orwell describes, and how it does not content itself with achieving obedience to its rules but instead insists on controlling the very thoughts and emotions of its subjects, also had a huge effect on me as a teenager and a young man. As I grew to learn about the world, I have been consistently horrified to learn that there were leaders of countries who openly admired and wanted to emulate the totalitarian state depicted by Orwell in this novel. The novel thus achieves both terror, an emotion akin to fear, and horror, an emotion akin to shock. Adding in the torture scenes near the end of the book, Orwell achieves Stephen King's trifecta of emotional levers: terror, horror, and gross-out.

While 1984 is a profound political anthem, the instrumentality of repression and force as the primary means of implementing the society makes it easier to grasp a hold of and deal with, intellectually. It makes it seem somewhat preventable for our own society, so long as liberal democratic governments exercise ultimate control over the power of the military. But Fahrenheit 451 serves as a reminder that although we may not allow totalitarianism to be crammed down our throats, we may just choose it voluntarily if it is presented in an attractive enough way. In that sense, it depicts a greater evil and a more profound danger.

The third great dystopian novel, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, was written in 1932 and pre-dated both the first two books I mentioned. Huxley wrote before the rise of the Nazi state but predicted its crazed focus on genetic superiority. It condemned what at the time was called eugenics and in many ways foresaw what we would today call human genetic engineering. Its depiction of a genetic caste system predated by more than half a century serious talk of what would happen. In my mind, Huxley's vision of such a world has been supplanted by the more subtle, and frighteningly realistic, portrayal of the social and economic results of human genetic engineering that you can see in the intelligent, interesting, modern, and visually arresting movie Gattaca.

But Huxley spends no small amount of time thinking about what he calls the World Controller, and makes the disturbingly seductive case that people are better off when they are ignorant, controlled, and distracted from serious concerns by momentary pleasures. I do not recall whether Huxley's dystopia evolved from the voluntary choice of people or whether it was imposed on them by force; ultimately it does not matter. By the time the hero of the book encounters the Savage (a natural-born person who was not the product of genetic engineering and who grew up outside the dominant heavily-structured socialism) he has already taken the fatal step towards enlightenment and the rejection of a superficial society. Ultimately, rather than having to choose between painful enlightenment and unnatural but blissful ignorance, the hero suicides -- as one is left with the impression that the Savages will soon attack and destroy the totalitarian state, just as surely as all things of nature will ultimately overpower all things created by man.

These are big ideas, and scary ones. More than the fear of the totalitarian state, having to make decisions for yourself, with having to deal with competing versions and interpretations of the truth, are discomforting and often painful. It is easy to see how many people opt out of making those sorts of decisions; it is simpler and more pleasant to be distracted by a momentary amusement. It is easy to choose to do something that will bring instant gratification and hard to choose something that may bring emotional and mental discomfort -- and yet it seems that humanity requires choosing the later; to select something other than enlightenment is, in a very real way, to select a sleeping state over a waking one or, in a more extreme phrasing, to choose death over life as a preferred state of existence.

Interestingly, in all three of the major dystropiae, drugs play a role in the sedating and controlling of the population. Yet the sedatives need not be narcotic in nature. How much do we allow our television programs, movies, internet surfing, video games, and other idle amusements to distract us from serious thought and addressing things that really matter in the world? I'm as guilty as anyone else of enjoying these things, and I don't suggest that there is not a place for them. But it's very good to be reminded that happiness and pleasure are not synonymous, and sybaritic pleasure, pursued for its own sake, is ultimately dehumanizing.

Some Good News

Yesterday, The Wife found out that her application to the University of Tennessee had been accepted. Assuming that I can find work here, she'll hopefully decide to go to school full-time there and get about the best college degree possible one could hope for, at least locally -- having a little Orange on your resume is a big help finding work around here.

Her acceptance form has a picture of this fellow on it. I thought the marriage of the strategically-placed classical toga and the figure's modern-era haircut was particularly amusing.

I'm proud of her and I can't wait to find out what her experiences will be like. Yes, this is another development to throw into the mix of what our lives will be like next year. And if she goes full-time, yes, that will put some additional pressure on me to bring home the bacon, as it were. I'm more than willing to do it; it's both a long-term investment in our future together and the right thing to do to make her happy. But in a month when both The Wife and I have been dissatisfied with our jobs, I have found that I will be losing my job and need to get a different one, we face the stresses of buying a house, the inevitable stresses of preparing for the holidays, and the depressing onset of winter, at least there is some good news to throw in to the mix.

December 1, 2005

Still Undecided

Knoxville is not a big city. Certainly not by the standards that I'm used to. There aren't nearly as many opportunities here as there were back in California. Losing a job here is a good deal more costly than losing a job in a bigger city with more places to go. Half of the leads for jobs I've heard about are firms that I've litigated against. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing for my potential employer to have seen me in an adversarial context -- as long as everyone is professional about it. But since lawsuits take so long to resolve, it is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of the litigation I'm involved in will not be done for many months yet, in some cases years, and that creates ethical barriers that need to be addressed with respect to employment. I'd be well-suited to work at a big employment law firm; problem is, they're hiring pretty much to help them litigate one of the cases that I'm working on as plaintiff's counsel. With other lawyers out there looking for work, they can afford to pass me by.

Knoxville can be a pretty unforgiving city. With so small a population, one's reputation circulates quickly; it's easy to be defined by the moments when one looks bad and difficult to be defined by the moments when one looks good. Knoxvillians, and Tennesseans in general, are not very subtle, so far as I have noted -- sometimes they are guarded and hold their cards close to the vest, but it's not hard to read them. It's not hard for me to see that some people have a not-so-good opinion of the place where I've been working and associate me with the bad rather than the good. You've got to get your start somewhere, I realize, but it's unfortunate that the focus is on the critical and the negative rather than on recognition and collegiality.

Knoxville is a conservative city. I don't mean that in the Republican-Democrat sense of the word, although it seems to list to the right on that spectrum, too. No, I mean that it seems to focus on the static rather than the dynamic; it seems to resist change and look to the past rather than the future. European cities celebrate their history but are unquestionably forward-looking; American cities are not as adept at blending the two. Los Angeles was a city about the future; its government and its people didn't give a damn about the city's history and those who took time to learn about it were thought of as somewhat odd. In Knoxville, looking for change is what is thought of as odd. Property developers can do their work here, but they need to make sure that the buildings still look like they always did. Current artists are not celebrated for their work, but James Agee is a hero and the city is laced with historical monuments celebrating the Civil War battle at Fort Sanders -- a minor engagement which was nothing but a distraction to the more major conflict several days later at Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga. Add to that a veneer of dismissive superiority to those who seek socio-economic mobility, and you get the distasteful side of conservatism in full play. Down in Maryville, the locals all seem to give directions to places in town based on the proximity of one's destination to the two big funeral homes. The courthouse, restaurants, the college or even the high school -- these things are not as important as the funeral homes. One's entire life is lived in preparation for its inevitable climax: one's own death and funeral. Huck Finn, who got to eavesdrop on his own funeral, must be a true folk hero. Morbid.

Knoxville is in many ways a very superficial city. Appearance matters a great deal. Los Angelenos were superficial in their own way, too; they cared a great deal about how attractive people were. Knoxvillians care about whether you are "native" enough, they care about whether you are rich enough, they care about whether you have blue enough blood. One lawyer I have networked with advised me that there's about a dozen families who pretty much control everything in this area. I do see signs of oligopoly at work in the economy. Who you know is much more important than what you are capable of doing. The superficial appearance of religiosity matters a lot here too, in a way that it never did in Los Angeles. Actually being religious or ethical has nothing to do with it -- you have to go to church and be active in your church, but practicing what you preach is superfluous to the real reason that the churches exist, which of course is social conformity. The popular and powerful churches do not seem to be particularly concerned with their parishioners' moral behavior, aside from outwardly-obvious displays of promiscuity. So while you need not be as attractive as a Los Angeleno needs to be, you do need to be perceived as already rich and religious before you will be liked by the people who call the shots. And, don't ever forget that no matter how much like them you are, no matter how rich you are or how often you go to church or how much like them you talk, you're only ever going to get in to the outer circle of the club. The inner circle is reserved for natives and you're not getting in.

Knoxville is a city to which I still feel like I am an outsider, even after living here close to a year and a half. There are many things here that I like very much. Real estate is affordable, as are most other things. The scenery is very nice and six months out of the year, the weather is magnificent. It's relatively easy to get from here to most of the eastern United States. Maybe if I were a drone somewhere without needing to pay too much attention to how things work, none of the cliquishness of the elites would bother me. But that's not the case; lawyers are among the elites here (as in most places) and so I have to work with and around them. That's not to say that I haven't made some good friends here; I have, and regardless of what happens I want to keep those friends.

So maybe I'm down about Knoxville right now because I'm really feeling sorry for myself about my current uncertain situation. Whining won't do me any good. But that thing is, I still haven't decided if this is a place I want to be in permanently or not yet. I feel like I should have decided that some time ago, and recent events have forced me to realize that no, the jury is still out. I don't yet feel like I belong here. I could get to feeling that way, but uncertainty about employment necessarily precludes that feeling.