June 29, 2006

Another Reprobate Joints The Pantheon

Salim Hamdan was Osama bin Laden's driver. Now, he's joined a long list of rather unlikely and unlikeable people whose names stand for significant Constitutional rights and principles of liberty. Leon Chaplinsky called the local sheriff a "damned racketeer." Paul Cohen wore a leather jacket that said "Fuck the Draft" to the Los Angeles County Central Courthouse. Clarence Brandenburg was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Ernesto Miranda was a kidnapper and a rapist. Clarence Earl Gideon was an inveterate gambler and a thief. Even William Marbury was a small-time political schemer content to be used as a pawn by men greater than himself.

But of course, we don't have a Constitution for the just, the honorable, the popular, the honest, or the noble elements of our society. We have it for everyone. And we have it to control the government. Thus, the Constitution comes in to play for the reprobates, the liars, the criminals, the sinister, and the disreputable. And government officials.

You can read the lengthy opinion about Hamdan, confirming that the Geneva Conventions are treaty obligations, second only to the Constitution itself in importance, here at the Supreme Court's website. Generally, I approve of the opinion; I've not had time to read all 187 pages of it, nor reflect deeply about it. But it doesn't mean we have to set Hamdan and his ilk free; it means we have to treat them like prisoners of war. Which is really what they are -- plucked off the battlefield, enemies of the country, being held so that they can't hurt us anymore and so we can extract information from them. We have rules that tell us how to treat people like that, and it's high time we start following them.

War in Israel

It's some scary stuff going on in Israel. I don't think the Israelis expect to get their man back. I don't think Hamas ought to be thinking about getting their ministers back any time soon. I rather suspect that the emergent Palestinian state has taken several giant steps backwards. Particularly scary was the Israeli Air Force's buzzing of the Syrian Presidential Palace -- they didn't even drop a leaflet, but of course the point was to show off what they could do with impunity.

I don't think I've sounded off on Israel yet in this blog. But I'm rather strongly of the opinion that Israel deserves our unflinching and generous support. They're a real, functioning democracy, a staunch ally, an important trading partner, and a key strategic partner in a critical area of the world. Our alliance with Israel is blamed for a lot of problems and tensions with the Muslim world, but it seems to me that if Israel didn't exist, we'd have those same problems anyway. So it's better to have at least one real friend in the area than none at all.

All the same, wishing for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians seems pointless. The conflict is intractible. Both peoples have formed national identities in the same geographic area. But the thing about land is, it can have only one owner. So that land can be in Israel, or Palestine, but not both.

If it's up to me, I pick Israel. Israel has proven the ability to handle power and nationhood responsibly. The Palestinians have not. They have chosen as their leaders a bunch of terrorists and thugs, and always have. The continuing violence just isn't the Israelis' fault. Israel has tried everything that's been suggested -- ceding land, permitting self-government and autonomy, withdrawal of forces, postponing enacting security measures. They've been rewarded with having their soldiers and civilians kidnapped and killed.

So moving in and making very clear that violent activity will not be tolerated is about all that seems able to work. "They [Hamas] need to decide if they are going to be a government or a terrorist organization," Shimon Peres said today. Quite right. Hamas has yet to demonstrate that it is worthy of being trusted with anything more dangerous than a pointy stick.

Happy Birthday to the Wife!

It's The Wife's birthday today. She got her favorite food cooked by me (lemon crepes) and got her birthday present (a craft kit) and got to indulge in some shopping. This morning she took an unusual interest in what I wore towork, and when we went shopping after dinner, she was more interested in buying clothes for me than for her. Although, she didn't need much encouragement to buy a dress she found earlier today. I didn't like shopping for clothes for me or talking about clothes for me because it makes me feel fat. But it's not about me today; it's about The Wife and the things that make her happy. She wanted a birthday cake -- although she's a chocoholic, she likes white cake with white frosting -- so she got it. I hope she's enjoyed her birthday and that she has a good year to come!

June 28, 2006

Too Much Even For Tennessee

In a shocking display of the results of democracy in action back in the Volunteeer State, a small-town mayor in Middle Tennessee has apparently made an unbelievable ass of himself. As you might expect, the Smoking Gun is there with all the raw details for you to read. Wishing a cop "Happy James Earl Ray Day" and instructing local police to issue all the tickets they want to Hispanics becuase they're "all mostly illegal anyway" is a fine, fine example of the kind of Neanderthal politics that so distinguishes this most red of all red states.

Whew. We got out. Hopefully my folks don't encounter anything like this first-hand. Although I do remember my experience in the autoshop back in Knoxville just before we moved back here to California.

Big Day Tomorrow

The U.S. Supreme Court will announce its decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld tomorrow. This is the case that challenges the constitutionality of military tribunals. Tea leaf readers are predicting a 6-3 decision written by Justice Stevens, which sounds not so good for the Administration.

While preparing this post, I found something interesting -- there seems to be, as of yet, no group photo of the new Supreme Court, with Roberts and Alito. There is a photo of the pre-Alito Court and President Bush, but none of all nine current Justices. So I settled for a picture of the building instead.

Anyway, this will be the biggest, sexiest decision of the year. It will probably be handed down at about ten o'clock in the morning, Eastern time, which means that I'll first hear about it on NPR tomorrow morning. I'm not going to make any predictions, myself, and I will simply await the ruling with great anticipation.

More World Cup Fun

So tonight after having dinner with our friends, we got home and while I'm scanning the net for things to blog, and The Wife notices that a lot of the players on the Italy team are good-looking. After browsing around through the website, she decided that the best-looking player is Allesandro del Piero, beating out team captain Fabio Cannavaro and the too-young Fabio Grosso as well as the other (perhaps easy on the eye) but too-young fellas. So there you have it.

My whole experience with World Cup play is with watching internet gamecasts rather than actual games, since they are fairly early in the morning here and I have to work. And I lack a strong enough background in the sport to do more than make other kinds of predictions. My best guesses for the quarterfinals are Germany, England, and Brazil. Brazil would be likely to beat England, so I'm predicting a Brazil-Italy match for the final. But after that, I'm kind of out of my depth.

The next way to decide, logically, was to have The Wife check out the Brazilian team and see whether the guys on Brazil are better-looking than the guys on Italy. Tops on that squad turns out to be Gilberto, who has played one game in the match, and scored a goal, against Japan. Overall, even though Gilberto is really, really cute, The Wife assures me that the "talent" level is higher on Italy than Brazil and Del Piero gets the edge. So that's a really good sign for the Azzurri. If they're better-looking than the Brazilians, then obviously, the Italians are going to win it all.


Bad News for Gli Azzurri

Once again, Italy will be without star defenseman Allesandro Nesta for Friday's quarterfinal match against Ukraine. Nesta, who plays professionally for AC Milan, is considered by many of the experts to be one of the best players in the world. He has been hampered by a groin injury for the entire World Cup tournament. ("Do you know what you can do about a groin injury? Nothing!")

Granted, Italy has progressed this far without him, but they'd be singificantly better off with him. But every game is difficult now. Hopefully, the Azzurri (so named for the blue Mediterranean Sea surrounding their country) will be able to survive the challenge from Ukraine and progress to challenge the winner of Germany-Argentina. Avanti!

June 25, 2006


This is getting truly amazing. No one in recent history ever accused the New York Times of being conversative. But as I wrote in the previous post, I'm hard-pressed to see what exactly it is that that the NYT did wrong to merit criminal prosecution. The article linked above indicates that the financial-transaction surveillance program was "secret," but I'm not sure what that means -- was it classified, or not? If the NYT knowingly published classified information, that's one thing. But it's still not clear to me that this program was a "secret" in the legal sense of the word. We have a free press in this country for a reason -- to tell us what our government is up to. To some extent that requires that the press be critical of the powers that be, certainly it requires asking searching questions and not accepting what the government says at face value all the time.

The article in question can be read here. I don't think it reflects negatively on the administration at all; it goes out of its way to explain that civil liberties safeguards are in place and that it has been reasonably effective. And like I wrote earlier, I don't relaly think that the existence of this program was really a big surprise to anyone -- this cat was never in the bag.

I think the play from the White House should have been, "Well, we would rather the Times has been discreet, but now that they've published this, we can say that this is an example of things we are doing that are really working to fight the terrorists; see what a good job we're doing?" Instead, there is a lot of demonizing the press -- for no apparent reason. Criminal prosecutions against the press are entirely uncalled for and I'm glad that Arlen Specter is starting to act like a grownup.

Another Strange Play

Vice-President Cheney is offended that the media is reporting on yet another surveillance program. This one monitors financial transactions in an effort to find out where terrorists are getting their money from and to prevent them from having the use of that money. The program works by issuing very broad investigatory subpoenas to banking organizations which do business in the U.S. and abroad, particuarly a financial transaction clearinghouse in Belgium.

The government claims that the program has successfully stopped a number of terror activities. Critics of the government claim it is a violation of civil liberties to gather so much information which otherwise would be protected by privacy rights. However, "I think that the tracking of the financing of terrorism trumps most things," said Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Chairman. Subpoenas were obtained from a court, and an "independent auditing firm," Booz Allen Hamilton, reviewed the government's scrutiny of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of transactions, and found no singificant invasion of privacy or misuse of private information.

Friday, the existence of that program was leaked and published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, the government argued with the papers before the story was published, asking that they not make public the existence of this program on the theory that if the public (and therefore our enemies) were aware of the program, it would be less effective.

When the papers decided not to follow the government's request, Vice President Cheney had a fit of pique: "What I find most disturbing about these stories is that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people," Cheney said. "That offends me." The editor of the L.A. Fish Wrapper defended himself, saying that it is "in the public interest to publish information about the extraordinary reach of this program."

There, in a nutshell of just a few statements, you have the essence of the dispute. I have two questions.

First, if the existence of the program is an essential component of its efficacy, and the purpose of the program is counterterrorism, then why wasn't the program classified? The government can suppress publication of classified material in the interests of national security consistent with the First Amendment. That the program was not classified suggests either some very sloppy thinking about security (which does not seem to be one of the administration's faults) or an implicit admission that the program did not meet the criteria for classification.

Second, what exactly does the Administration think is going on in people's minds when banks tell them, "The USA Patriot Act makes us report every deposit to the Department of Homeland Security?" Do they think that the terrorists are unaware of this law, themselves? Could they possibly believe that for the past five years, terrorists sophisticated enough to raise money and transfer it through western banks are also unaware that these transactions are being monitored? The existence of this program comes as a surprise to exactly no one -- our banks have been telling us that the government is watching what we do with our money since about October 1, 2001. Why, then, does the media coverage of something that everyone knew was going on anyway hurt the efficacy of the program?

The Vice-President has been delegated the power to classify and declassify information on his own initiative. As far as I can tell, this was not a classified program. As far as I can tell, the reports only confirm what anyone with the remotest clue about banking laws already suspected to a high level of certainty anyway. And if Cheney had really cared about the public remaining ignorant of the program's existence, he could have simply classified it and prevented its publication -- but he did not do this.

So what's going on here? Is this just agitprop intended to rile up the GOP base against the "liberal news media" (including that leftist rag, the Wall Street Journal)? I doubt it; that would be a singularly ineffective, and unnecessary, tactic even in a tight election year. Is this just an ego of Caesarian proportions being publicly upset that he didn't get his way? Once again, there seems to be no political advantage and no policy advantage to any of this.

June 22, 2006

Dumb-Assery Spreads

Apparently, this guy is not one of my Loyal Readers, or he just doesn't learn. We covered this territory some time ago in this blog -- the liquor you are about to drink and fire are not friends. Like the man says, you've gotta keep 'em separated.

Cruelest Headline Ever

From today's FARK.com: "Kylie Minogue will resume concert tour of Australia sponsored by KFC's all dark-meat meal. Because like her, it has great legs and thighs but the breasts are gone."

Oh, my, I'm going to go to hell for reprinting that. So I'll suggest that all my Loyal Readers should take a look here and consider making a donation. One in seven women will suffer some form of breast cancer at some point in their lives, which is pretty serious stuff. So seriously, congratulations on returning to form, Kylie.

Time to Root for Italy

Unlike the U.S., Italy has a chance. They've won the hardest group in the World Cup and will play the winner of Australia-Croatia in the first game of the Round of 16. Since the U.S. is out, I'm rooting for paisane mie.


Toilet Humor In The Court

A brand-new courthouse, just completed and built at tremendous taxpayer expense. All the bells and whistles. Ultra-modern facilities. And every time someone flushes the toilet, the sound resounds throughout the courtroom. Where is this courthouse located? The CNN headline didn't say, but I had my suspicions before I checked the story out -- and I was right!

(You need to have Java on your computer to use the link above. Or you can find it on CNN.com; a search for "toilet," "court," and "Nashville" ought to do the trick. I decline to offer comments about the linkage of those three words in other contexts.)

June 20, 2006

Geck, wo is mein Auto?

Here's how I imagine this bit of world-class struggling went down:

English Soccer Fan: "Scuse me! 'Allo, officer. We're from England and not really whatcher could call familiar with the streets here in Koln; an' we thought the tube in London was 'ard!"

German Police Officer: "Yah? Haff I zome English, yes. I vill help you, und danke fur not attacking the Swedes, yah."

English Soccer Fan: "Yeh. Ears the thing. We drove 'here from Brussels, see? Then we parked our car on 'Einbahnstrasse' and walked to the match. Now we can't find Einbahnstrasse. D'you know where it is? 'Ey! Quit laughing, ye! Wha's so funny?"

Fruits and Nuts in California

I'll tell you something that doesn't make a lot of rational sense, Loyal Reader. Since my return to California, I've been eating a lot more vegetables, fruits and nuts than I did in Tennessee. And I've been really liking it. Tennessee had a meat-and-potatoes kind of diet; I can recall days when I ate nothing but breakfast cereal, bread, and animal products like meat and cheese.

The reason it doesn't make a lot of sense is that fruits, vegetables, and nuts were available in Tennessee, and the cost was not all that much different than what it is here. There is better selection and better quality available here in California, and much of this plant food is grown locally. But that's not to say Tennessee was devoid of vegetable options. The stores in Tennessee, even the green-grocer type places, did tend to stock only the staples in terms of vegetables -- maybe three kinds of apples, standard peaches, bosc and red pears, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, spinach, iceberg and leaf lettuce. When other stuff was in season, they carried it. So fruit and vegetables were certainly available back in the Volunteer State.

But here, the variety is astonishing. Six kinds of apples, standard. Four kinds of pears, including the mild Asian globes. Eight kinds of salad mixes standard in the grocery stoes, with lots of loose weeds around in the produce aisle. Tangerine juice. So far I've not found my favorite salad base, arugala, but that's just a matter of time. It's not just at Trader Joe's, either; regular grocery stores here all have good fruits and veggies, too. For Loyal Readers in Knoxville -- it's like every store is Fresh Market with Food City prices (at least for produce).

I think my altered diet has less to do with market conditions, though, and more to do with psychology. California is the Salad Bar To The World and it seems a shame to not take advantage of the cornucopia that I am once again living in. Californians care about body image more, and are more health-conscious. That's not to say every Californian is thin and healthy, we like our In-N-Out and Fatburger very much. But Southerners indulge in fatty, greasy foods more often than do others; doctors call the land of Dixie the "stroke belt" for a reason.

Eating healthier food, more salads and fruits and things like that, just feels natural here. I might not lose weight -- there's a lot of calories in a breakfast of a banana, crumpets with strawberry pulp, tangerine juice, and lemon-zest yogurt, almost all derived from fruit sugars -- but there are other benefits to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables aside from weight control. Hopefully this trend can continue and even if I don't lose a lot of weight, my innards will thank me anyway.

June 19, 2006

Bureaucracy of Garbage


"Hello, this is TL."

"Is this ... Is this Transplanted Lawyer?"

"Yes, this is. Can I help you?"

"Sir, I'm Glynnda from Waste Management. I'm calling about your house."

"My house? What about it?"

"Well, my driver is out in front. We have limits to what we can take, you know."

"I'm sorry. Your account rep told me that on our first day of service, you would take extra bags and broken-down boxes. So I've got some extra bags and broken-down boxes but that's what we were told we could do."

"No, sir. Your boxes have to be tied together. My driver says they're loose. And he says you've got, like, twenty bags all full of wood out in front."

"Oh, I do not. I have nine bags. Eight of them are full of packing paper."

"Well, my driver says there's like twenty bags."

"I happen to have a photograph I took this morning of what I left." (Why? Because I was planning on writing a blog entry about it later, but there's no need for me to explain to you why I did it, Glynnda.) "Would you like me to e-mail it to you?"


"Seriously, what's your e-mail address? I hauled all those bags and boxes to the curb myself. I know how much they weigh, I know what's in them, and I know how many there are. Your driver is exaggerating what's really going on."

"Okay, sir, I can tell him to take his limit in the bags, but we can't have him chasing the boxes all up and down the street."

"Shouldn't your recyclables guy should take the boxes?"

"His rules are that the boxes have to be tied together."

"Hey, no one told me that. They told me I had to break down the boxes, and I did."


"Look, we've got all this trash. I'll pay extra if I need to. Just please tell your drivers to take it all away."

"Well, he's already gone. I call and tell him to go back and take his limit. Anything over his limit you'll have to haul away."

"What? You mean he left without taking anything? Who set this limit, anyway? Is it a city ordinance?"

"Excuse me?"

"Is the city telling you that you can't haul away too much trash at once?"

"No, sir, that's the rule."

"So that's Waste Management's rule."

"I think so, yes."

"Well, I'm Waste Management's customer and I'm asking you to take my trash away. It's just your own rule, so no one will get in trouble if you bend it this one time. Hey, I'm even offering to pay you extra to do it."


"What's in the bags? Paper, you said?"

"Yes. Eight have nothing but used packing paper. The ninth has some household trash and the remains of a CD rack that got destroyed by our movers. And some styrofoam."

"Well, you're sure you didn't leave like twenty bags out there? Maybe your neighbors put a bunch of bags out when they saw what you did."

"Yeah, I'm, um, I'm pretty sure that didn't happen, unless they were lurking behind the bushes to wait for me to drive away to work this morning and then sneak bags of garbage onto my sidewalk instead of just putting their own garbage out in front of their own houses. I mean, it's not exactly guerilla garbage warfare by the aquaduct out there in west Palmdale. I think they were all getting ready to go to work themselves."


"All I'm asking is for you to take my trash away. That is the service you provide, isn't it? That is why I'm paying you money every month, right?"

"Look, sir. All I can do is have my driver take his limit of bags. I'll tell him to go back and take his limit."

"Okay, please do that."



The result: thirteen hours later, seven bags of packing paper, and all the boxes, are still here.

June 18, 2006

A Woman President

During a class discussion of gender discrimination in employment today, I was asked by one of my students what I would think of a woman President. Another student pointed out that the job of President is elected; so I didn't have to make the point that employment discrimination law does not apply. Another student mentioned that both Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice are being discussed as candidates in 2008; the first student then asked my "personal" opinion. My response was:
How do I, personally, feel about a woman President? I've got no problem at all with the idea. There are some people out there who would resist the idea, but the proportion of those people to those who would accept a female President's leadership are diminishing over time. The problem is that no good female candidates, from either party, seem to be on the scene right now. The two leading candidates, Clinton and Rice, are both seriously flawed (in my opinion). One suffers from a craven willingness to cloak her true political sentiments for the purpose of being elected and thus does not inspire trust or respect; the other suffers from a singular lack of breadth of experience which renders her unqualified to address any issue which is not directly related to national security and foreign policy. I suppose that in theory either handicap could be overcome, but that does not seem likely to happen. That's my $.02 on those two candidates. Of course, there are few male candidates I would be happy with, either.
This got me thinking. I say that I'm ready to accept a female President, and most everyone I talk to says that they personally are, too. But nearly every woman I talk to says that that they don't think the country is read for a woman to be President. No man I talk to will say that he is not yet willing to accept a woman as President, but virtually no woman will say that she thinks that other Americans are willing to. There seems to be a lot of individual willingness to vote for a woman but a lot of doubt about others' willingness to do so.

What accounts for this disparity -- nearly every American is individually ready, but there is still significant distrust that other Americans are. Are men secretly unwilling to have a woman be the leader of the country? Are women less confident about their place in the public sphere than they should be? What exactly is it about the idea of a woman President that is still causing so much resistance in 2006? While I'm not particularly happy about either of these candidates, that doesn't mean I couldn't get behind some other woman candidate.

It's significantly possible that Hilary Clinton will get the Democratic nomination, which would mean she would have a very realistic shot. I don't see her being able to achieve it; no one on Earth polarizes the country more than she, and the right wing will mobilize in force to elect anyone but her. (Even Rudy Guiliani or John McCain.) But in 2012 or 2016? That's a long time from now and it's entirely possible a good candidate will come along. I'm convinced that we will have a woman President within my lifetime, for sure -- a woman will probably not be the next President, but maybe the one after that. Hopefully we find a good one.

Go Team USA!

After a disappointing but predictable loss to the Czechs, it was very nice yesterday to see the Americans tie the formidable Italians in the World Cup. Granted, it was something of a home game for the U.S., since the game was played at Kaiserslautern, very near the large U.S. airbase at Ramstein. We could have won but a game-winning goal was disallowed.

I was too busy to watch the game, but maybe I can catch some of the last Group E match against Ghana (ain't none higher) at 7:00 on Thursday. We're still last in the group, but we can move on to the next round with some help from the Czechs and a good showing against Ghana.

Moved In

The new house is pretty much good to go. The Wife and I have spent much of our time over the past several days getting it set up; is is liveable now and we have the ability to relax, watch TV, and -- best of all -- sleep on our own bed, with sheets.

That's not to say things haven't gone smoothly. It turns out our movers back in Knoxville were not the best. They loaded all of The Wife's antique furniture supported by the legs. Consequently, a leg got broken off from the bottom of both her dresser and her armoire. Now, these legs are not like on modern furniture, for which we could buy a replacement and put the new one in. No, these are carved from the same piece of wood as the main body of the furniture. So we'll need to figure out how to get those fixed.

The movers did other things that I'm not exactly fond of. One of the TV's no longer seems to work properly; it takes input from the cable box but does not show any image on the screen or emit any audio. I don't know whether it's the TV or the cable. They loaded up boxes marked "Computer Equipment -- Fragile" on the bottom of the stack with other boxes marked "books" stacked directly on top. "This end up" arrows were pointing every which way. I guess this picture summarizes what was done as well as anything else:

And tonight, I've got to haul out ten big garbage bags of trash and packing material, and about a hundred pounds of broken-down boxes to the curb because tomorrow is garbage day. It's all stacked up on the side of the house now and for the time being I'm afraid the wind will blow it all away. I'll have to take my chances, though, because last week the garbage truck came at 6:00 a.m., which is when I first wake up these days.

Tonight I cooked my first real meal here in the house (which needs a name). Tortellini, garlic bread, spinach salad, a nice Chianti. All from TJ's. I'm unfamiliar at this point with gas ranges, so the temperature got a little higher than it should have. But I'll get used to it again over time. It's nice to cook, it's nice to eat healthier, it's nice to have a good kitchen.

By the way, my experience cooking in this kitchen has revealed a significant problem with the design. The kitchen is laid out like this:

From this view, the range is to the left, and the kitchen is to the right. In the middle is an island. When you're cooking pasta, you need to dump the pasta water out into the collander, and carrying a big pot full of pasta in boiling water around the island is inconvenient. The Wife suggests that when we build our custom home, we'll have a utility sink installed next to the range for that purpose.

The house still feels too large for us, but at least we've got our stuff setup more or less the way we want it to be. It's turning out OK. I wish we could paint it, I wish it were smaller and more affordable (a house this size comes with a sizeable rent) and I wish the lawn sprinkler hadn't failed the day we moved in, and that the builder had gotten it fixed right away so the lawn wasn't dying. But hopefully all of these problems can get solved; it is turning into a home.

June 15, 2006

Quick Squib

Until recently, newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has been ruling for the defense on a number of criminal cases, often expressing doubt as to the sufficiency of evidence in capital cases. Today, though, he ruled in favor of the police on a criminal procedure dispute from Michigan. He broke a 4-4 tie and sided with Justice Scalia in voting to permit admissibility of evidence obtained after police, in executing a warrant, failed to knock and announce before entering the premises of the defendant and finding drugs and guns inside.

I also read that the President's unpopularity is having a political toll. How severe it will be will not be known until November. A wartime President should not be having these kinds of problems, but as Bush himself has observed, this is not a traditional kind of war. If you ask me it isn't a "war" at all; the state of non-war, non-peace in which we find ourselves cannot be neatly described in one or two words. It's uncomfortable and unpleasant and that's the reason the majority, and the President, are suffering politically. Perhaps it's necessary; certainly it could be done better than it has been.

I'd write more, but it's been very busy at work and nothing is set up yet at the new house. Today we should have movers over to at least get everything in the house and then we'll get the place set up. After that, I can get back to writing more often than I have been. Oh, and the beard and mustache are gone -- The Wife didn't like them. Now I think my face looks fat.

June 10, 2006

Judges and the Political Process

When I lived in the South Bay region of California, I really enjoyed eating bagels made at the Manhattan Bread and Bagel Company. I even knew that the owner, Lynn Olson, was a lawyer who had not practiced much, choosing instead to run her business. I' ve met her a few times, and she's friendly, smart, and personable. I've never talked politics or even the nuts and bolts of law with her.

So now I learn that in recent elections here in California, Olson ran against Judge Dzintria Janavs (pictured), a judge of the Superior Court before whom I had practice. Olsen spent about $100,00 of her own money to run for the seat, and Janavs did what most judges do in California -- she barely campaigned, in part because she was busy working and in part because being an incumbent gives one quite a few advantages. Olson could not articulate any real reasons why she was running against Janavs; she did not have any particular beef against Janavs other than that she (Janavs) was a Republican and Olson is a Democrat. Moreover, there seems to be some feeling that Olson picked Janavs as opposed to any other of the many Republican judges in California because Janavs has a foreign-sounding name. (It's not just foreign-sounding; Janavs was born in Latvia and emigrated here many years ago.)

I've practiced before Judge Janavs in the past. She initially ruled against me on the critical motion of the case, and I successfully appealed her ruling. Her incorrect ruling was the result of the fact that the law had changed and the ruling she made was correct according to the law at the time of the ruling, but that was not the law that applied at the time the case was filed, which was the law she should have applied. It's a subtle distinction and one that most people would have missed. When I came back to her court after getting her decision overturned, she was the personification of professionality about it. The opposing attorney made the same argument against the court's decision that he had initially, and Judge Janavs looked him in the eye and said, "I agree with you, but the Appellate Department didn't, and I'm going to do what they said." She then sent us out into the hall to settle the case, which we finally did. I think it was a remarkable piece of judging on her part -- she tried hard to come up with the right answer, accepted her role within the system, meaningfully enforced a decision that she didn't personally prefer, and got the parties to resolve their differences on their own. If you ask me, these are the things a judge should do, and she did them. Accordingly, had I been registered to vote in Los Angeles County, I would have voted for Judge Janavs.

The voters in Los Angeles County disagreed with me. Olson won.

Yesterday, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed Dzintria Janavs to a newly-opened seat in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Part of his message in doing so was that he has sympathy for people who are misunderstood on the basis of difficult-to-pronounce names.

I'm of two minds about this. Olson makes a damn good bagel, and she is a lawyer who possesses the statutory and Constitutional qualifications to be a judge. And she was the voters' choice, even if it looks like she bought the election. Elections get bought sometimes; that's what happens when an office is open to the democratic process. And I have no way of knowing what kind of a judge Olson will be; perhaps she will turn out to be a good judge. Certainly I want to be respectful of her as I may find myself practicing before her one day soon -- and whatever happened in the election, she should be given a chance to perform and then be evaluated on what she did. And the voters did speak, choosing Olson over Janavs. So part of me is upset that the will of the voters to remove Janavs from the bench is being thwarted a little bit.

But I also think that judges need to be insulated from the political process and I have deep misgivings about judicial elections. I know judges in the L.A. Superior Court system are overworked and have too few resources to handle the caseload they have been given. Janavs failed to campaign because she was busy doing the job of being a judge, while Olson was free from those responsibilities, able to leave her business in her husband's hands, and had a gigantic personal war chest to fund the campaign -- and couldn't articulate a good reason why she wanted to be a judge other than raw politics. Janavs, by all accounts (including my own) was doing a good job and there was no reason whatsoever to remove her from office. She should have been retained.

Hey, I want to be a judge, too, and I think I'd make a pretty good one. But I think I need to wait for an open seat to coincide with the fortunate circumstance of someone being the Governor who knows and trusts me enough to make me a judge. So the larger part of me is pleased with the Governator's decision to put a well-qualified judge back on the bench where she belongs.

Jeez, I leave California for two years and stuff like this happens.

June 9, 2006

Welcome Back To California

End Of The Line

Barstow, California

In Tennessee, I-40 is the state highway. It runs from Bristol in the northeast to Memphis in the Southwest, cutting through most of the major metropolitan areas in the state. Owing to Tennessee's long, thin shape, I-40 is no farther than an hour and a half from anywhere in the state. It is the lifeline of the state and nine times out of ten, the primary way to get from point A to point B. Here, I-40 is a backwater highway, running from Needles to Barstow and primarily moving through desolate, uninhabited desert. The Wife and I reached its end, where it merges with I-15, at about 7:30 yesterday.

Western New Mexico is really beautiful. We crossed the Continental Divide and got into Red Rock Canyon and the Chaco Culture area, and I really wished we had time to explore further. But The Wife is right to note that all of this traveling is taking a toll on the critters and we need to get them into their new home as soon as possible, and so we pressed on to Arizona.

Arizona, like New Mexico, is beautiful, although beautiful in its own way. Often, it seems desolate and majestically empty. There is much to see in Arizona, which we did not see at all on this trip, to my great disappointment. It's now been three times that I've been through northeastern Arizona and not seen the Petrified Forest. The Grand Canyon is always worth a trip, which we skipped. The Painted Desert and Monument Valley were covered in rain.

Not that I was unhappy about the rain. It cooled off the desert nicely; the times we stopped and let the critters out they were all quite unhappy with the heat. When we had rain, the cooling effect on the environment was dramatic and it relieved strain on the air conditioner in the junker. As a result, we made excellent time through Arizona.

I was quite pleased when we got to Flagstaff. The high elevation and pine forest made for exceptionally clean, nice-smelling air, even by the interstate. I was also pleased to see signs for westbound I-40 identify Los Angeles as the city of destination for the first time.

Both The Wife and I were surprised, when we stopped in Arizona, by the number of people claiming to have been stranded there away from their homes in New Mexico, and asking for financial assistance to get home. Another guy approached us in a parking lot and tried to sell us jewelry. I wonder why it was that we had so many panhandlers in Arizona.

Anyway, we made excellent time, assisted by the cooling rain, and got to Needles, California before 5:00 p.m. It seemed too early to stop, so we pressed on through California's equivalent of the Arabian Empty Quarter. It's about 150 miles from Needles to Barstow and there is precious little civilization of any kind in between. The lunar landscape is studded with small cacti and poverty grasses, but very little apparent water and few buildings or other signs of human life aside from the interstate itself. I thought these were called the Chocolate Mountains, but a sign for the Mojave National Preserve identified them as the Providence Mountains. Shows you how much I know. Anyway, it's the equivalent of Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter and no fun at all to drive through.

The result of this was nearly 600 miles of travel in one day, leaving all of us, critters included, exhausted and nearly melted into the cars. Once we got the animals fed and watered and other needs attended to, we fed ourselves -- decent Mexican food and margaritas. I haven't got enough Mexican food yet; we've been without for so long! I'll get over it soon enough, but for now it's nirvana to eat spicy fajitas and enchiladas with real queso ranchero.

June 8, 2006

A Tool Of Ultimate Evil

Grants, New Mexico

While I'm still pleased with the Land of Enchantment I'm not so happy with the night's sleep we got here. The dogs barked at everything that moved in the hallway at night, waking us up. They became agitated for no particular reason and The Wife and I took them out for a walk at three in the morning. Then at about 5:20 in the morning, the alarm clock went off.

In a hotel, an alarm clock can be a dangerous thing and it is very inconsiderate to leave the hotel alarm clock set, particularly for an early hour. That is because when it awakes the next guest to stay in the room, that person is awoken suddenly and from a deep sleep. This causes tremendous disorientation, comparable to being drunk except without the euphoria. Rather, the emotion induced by a sudden unpleasant and loud noise awakening one from sleep is panic.

Hotel alarm clocks are, by definition, going to be unfamiliar to the guests unless those guests have taken the time to study their operation previously. Cheap alarm clocks such as are often found in hotel rooms tend to have small, poorly-marked controls. So when the alarm goes off and unleashes a twangy barrage of unintelligible country music, the guest fumbles around in the dark to try and turn the stupid thing off. Hitting buttons at random and moving levers at random to no avail, the guest then becomes angry and turns on the lights, awaking and agitating every living thing in the room. Further fumbling around with incomprehensible controls results only in dramatically and suddenly increasing the volume of the steel pedal guitar, which in turn angers and upsets the person so rudely treated.

An effective resolution to this very upsetting situation was determined, this morning at least, only after the mind of the guest in question had been sufficiently stimulated by all this unpleasantness with the epiphany of unplugging the damned thing. A flash of frustration-induced rage existed when the first plug to be disconnected did nothing to end the torture of the loud country music but instead gave a small tingle of electric charge to the recently-awakened hotel guest. Relief came at the second plug, however, and the fourth or fifth short nap of the night could begin.

An alarm clock is a tool of great power and effect. In the wrong hands, it can become a tool of oppression most foul. Should you, Loyal Reader, stumble across one of these objects, I beg of you to use the power which has been given to you wisely, and never for evil.

June 7, 2006

Land of Enchantment

Grants, New Mexico

I really like New Mexico. It's a great deal prettier than the Texas panhandle, by a far sight. The colors here are more intense, the geography infinitely more interesting, and the whole feeling is less oppressive, less hot, and less dusty. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

We began the day in Oklahoma. After a relaxed morning of wrestling with a poor internet connection and a decent breakfast, we had to get Ginger in her kitty-carrier. This was a real adventure. The hotel was not set up well for cats; the mattress and box springs were on a standard support, which gives the cat a lot of places to hide. After unsuccessfully attempting to lure her out with treats and the laser, we then tried pushing her with a piece of one-by-four that inexplicably was left below the air conditioner in the hotel room. This worked to move the cat around underneath the bed, but not enough to get her out from under it.

So that meant resorting to more drastic measures, which usually means moving the bed a little bit. Typically, that scares the cat enough that she darts out from underneath the bed to find a new hiding place. Along the way, there is an opportunity to grab her. Alas, the bed was so big (two double beds placed side-by-side) that the cat was unconvinced that we would be able to move the bed to get at her, and called our bluff. She hunkered down in the exact center of the bed, next to the center support post, and laid flat on the ground like a discarded coonskin cap.

The next step was for me to lift up the foot of the bed so that The Wife could get underneath it and get the cat that way. A good idea in principle, but the cat thought as quickly as the humans and ran to the back of the bed, where the angle was the smallest and The Wife did not have enough space to get at her. So that meant we had to go nuclear.

Off came the covers from the bed. Off came the pillows, the fitted sheets, everything down to the bare mattress. (Fortunately it was revealed to be stain-free. You never know.) The windows were open and the dogs were watching the proceedings with great amusement, and the maid walked by and looked in the window to see two dogs wagging their tails like it was play-time and two people throwing bedclothes everywhere and upending mattresses. We did not have time to explain; there was a cat to catch. After the mattress went up against the wall, so did the two box springs. Ginger knew the gig was up then, and shot at light speed behind the chair. The Wife wriggled behind the chair to get at her, and again she evaded successfully, this time going behind the writing desk.

There, she was finally trapped. Too smart for her own good, she had positioned herself in a corner with a piece of furniture that could be angled to permit her no means of escape. Finally caught, she submitted to the indignity of being put in the cat carrier and sang her meow in lament while looking at The Wife and I with pleading, mournful eyes. Unmoved, we collected the other creatures and moved along with the day.

A stop along the way introduced the dogs to some cows. Karma barked and made a spectacle of herself; all the cows looked at her and stopped chewing. The Wife tried to say hello but the cow spooked and she backed off rather than risk it hurting itself. Poor old thing. All the cows looked like the one in the picture, white with broad faces. Later, we saw plenty of longhorns. But that was near Texas and in the Texas Panhandle.

Texas, at least along I-40, really sucks. It is flat, flat, flat. I've taken pictures of everything worthwhile to look at, and both of them are on this blog already.

In the Panhandle, it appears that there is no outdoor seating anywhere. It seems to have occurred to no one to build structures with porches or other devices to give shade. There are virtually no trees. About the most interesting thing to look at is an arroyo next to a (clean and modern) rest stop. The arroyo is distinguished by some interesting dead trees and its Texas-shaped barbeque pits. I doubt if anyone ever actually uses these facilities, but they are a nice touch.

Since we have two dogs and two cats with us, the lack of places in the shade to rest, and the lack of outdoor seating to eat, limits our options for places to get food. Obviously, we can't just leave the critters in the cars, especially when the weather is so hot. We thought briefly of stopping at the Big Texan in Amarillo, the home of the 72-ounce steak (free if you can eat it all along with a baked potato, salad, dinner roll, and shrimp cocktail) but there was nothing we could do with the animals. Ditto for everywhere else in Texas we tried to stop for food; we wound up getting some corn dogs and taquitos at a gas station to tide us over until we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone.

Then we entered one of my favorite states, which is how I started out. New Mexico has a speed limit of 75 miles an hour, and in the junker, it's functionally impossible for me to exceed that rate. So I can relax and not worry about getting a ticket here. And the scenery is spectacular. The elevation is high as we cross through the Sangre de Christo Mountains, and the weather is temperate and mild compared to what we experienced in Oklahoma and Texas. There was even a light rain tonight as we walked the dogs.

The scenery is as beautiful as it is interesting. There are red-rocked mesas everywhere. An entire series of them graces the highway west of Albuquerque. Albuquerque itself is in the Rio Grande Valley, which looked surprisingly lush for a day in the middle of June. The greens and golds of the plants are intense and vibrant, and the sky is a bright, pleasing blue and dotted with what The Wife has taken to calling "Simpsons Clouds." Some dumped rain on us today, and thanks to good visibility we could watch the rain fall for miles in advance.

Grants, where we decided to stop for the evening, turned out to be a great choice. We got a very good deal on our hotel room, and the hotel has laundry (so we don't have to wear dirty clothes again), a nice pool, a spa, and a good hardwire internet connection. Annoyingly, the ATM did not work and I had to go to Wal-Mart to get cash, but that worked out OK as The Wife and I enjoyed some Mike's Hard Lemonade with our pizzas tonight.

The spa and swim were a good way to relax after a long day of driving. I've been able to teach my class (I need to get grades out tomorrow but wanted to write tonight before going to bed) and get caught up on the news -- between the Gray Lady and CNN online and NPR in Albuquerque, I feel more in touch with what's happening, from a terrorist bust in Canada to the effects of capricious remarks by the Chariman of the Fed to what happens when you put Mentos in Diet Coke.

We're making such good time, and we both like western New Mexico so much, that we idly discussed staying here an extra day. We're not going to do it, because we need to keep the critters in a rhythm of moving. But if we had the time, we'd dawdle here and enjoy the scenery, the history, the Native American culture, the low costs, and the good Mexican food. I'd like to find some fresh fry bread before we leave, although there will be some of that available in eastern Arizona tomorrow, too. We're only about an hour and a half from the Arizona border and we think we'll make it to Needles tomorrow, marking our return to our home state.

June 6, 2006

More Thoughts From The Road

Clinton, Oklahoma

A better mood today; less stress, just driving. We slept in this morning and drove out here, to within an hour of the Texas border. We were trapped in a heavy thunderstorm around Fort Smith, Arkansas and I got some rain in the car.

Along the way, I've been listening to an audiobook biography of Alexander Hamilton. The Wife says, based on their portraits on money, that Hamilton was the best-looking of the Founding Fathers. I had not realized he was quite as young as he was when the Revolution and the Constitutional Convention happened. The audiobook is, as all biographies can be, somewhat biased towards the subject. The first half takes us through the Constitutional Convention and the first year of the Washington Administration. I imagine I'll learn more about Hamilton's later career, and his famous death, tomorrow.

I'm worried about Sassafras, who has not "done her business" since we left Tennessee two days ago. She won't go on a leash, and there are too many distractions and stimuli for her to be trusted off a leash for very long. If she goes for too long she'll get impacted and I don't want her to be uncomfortable and I don't want the vet bill, either. Nor do I want to be involved in a doggie enema. Other critter problems include Jordan, who almost got smashed as I tried to lock the door to the hotel room tonight; and Ginger, who seems to refuse to eat or drink and begs for attention -- in addition to the difficulties involved in getting her in her carrier.

Tomorrow I expect to finish the biography audiobook and we should make it at least to Albuquerque, if not farther. At this rate we'll be in California the day after tomorrow.

June 5, 2006

Out Of It

Forrest City, Arkansas

We left Tennessee today. We'll be back to visit my parents and the friends we left behind, but I doubt, strongly, we'll ever move back.

My elation at leaving Tennessee is tempered by the fact that my computer bag slipped off my shoulder while I was checking the car doors here at the hotel, and fell to the ground. Now there is a vertical line going up and down the right side of my monitor. This is the sort of thing that is probably permanent and may never go away. It'll be expensive, at the least, to get it fixed.

The past three days have been spent packing up all of our possessions into boxes, getting most of those boxes, all of the furniture, and a bunch of other stuff into a cargo container parked out front of our house, which should have been hauled away today after the closing (I'll have to call tomorrow to confirm that).

The closing, at least, went off without a hitch. We lost three grand on the house (which we had to borrow to pay off, which gives me no pleasure) but at least the final home inspection and the closing ceremony went well. We also got our carry-with-us stuff packed up nicely and the critters behaved well while in transit. And we made it nearly four hundred and fifty miles after getting a very late start to our travels. But right now I can only seem to focus on the negative:

1. The internet connection here at the hotel times out after about fifteen seconds.

2. I'm really, really pissed at myself for busting my computer monitor. I should have been patient and done one thing at a time. But for reasons which will be apparent after reading items below, I didn't feel like I could get away with only doing one thing at a time because I've had to do things three at a time for the past week and it seems that everyone has been pissed off at me for not having things done three days ago, so I just didn't get out of the mode of multi-tasking.

3. I'm very tired after three stressful days, complete with long discussions with my parents about finances and having to borrow money I shouldn't have had to have paid in the first place.

4. The Wife has been irritated and cross with me intermittently all day. At times it's seemed I couldn't do anything fast enough, correctly, or at all without angering her, even when things were beyond my control. I know she's upset and stressed out too.

5. Sassafras will not "do her business" while on a leash and both dogs seem to have completely lost their minds.

6. Last night I didn't get nearly enough sleep; we had no bed and slept on an air mattress and in sleeping bags. It sounded like festival-o-latex last night (and not in a good way) until I realized that I would have to dispense with the inflatable pillow. My sleeping bag would not zip up properly without a struggle and I tried to sleep for about two hours on the floor. My all of me aches right now.

7. We're still waiting for a check to clear into our account that we received almost two weeks ago, so we can have some actual money.

8. Even though I really was not fond of Tennessee, I'm going to miss all of the friends we made there. Two weeks of good-byes hasn't helped; nor did making my mother cry because I was leaving.

9. Today I sold the only piece of real property I've ever owned. It's been a dream of mine for a long time to own property and now I've had to let that go and return to a place where I know the price of land is astronomical and again it seems out of reach.

The cumulation of all this stress has finally made me lose it and I just said something nasty to The Wife and now I really regret it. I've apologized but it doesn't make things any better. Although I'm very, very tired and it's quarter to midnight according to my internal clock, I'm just plain too upset right now to even consider sleeping.

June 1, 2006


Tonight is my paralegal class’ graduation. Everyone passed my segment of the class. I don’t know if others failed the other segments – a core skills class and a criminal law section. I personally think a segment on wills and trusts and another segment on real property would have been more useful for the paralegals than what they got, but I didn’t create the program.

I may be asked to make a few remarks. Here’s what I’m going to tell my students:

“Congratulations. You're now part of 'The System.' You’ve been given some knowledge about how the legal system works, what it does, and why it does it. That knowledge gives you some measure of power in the world. My advice to you is: use your new-found super powers for good.

“You’re going to be working with people who are emotional and unable to see the big picture. You will be their primary conduit to the legal system. Be patient with them. Explain things so they understand what is going on with their cases. Don't be afraid to answer a 'why' question, and don't be afraid to say 'I don't know.' The wheels of justice can move slowly; be sensitive to your clients' frustrations with a process that they do not understand as well as you. Remind your clients that the courts are for everyone, not just themselves, and that 'justice' does not mean 'victory' for the people who decide the cases.

“For yourselves, remember that the law is about people. Remember what your job is all about – this was the first thing I ever told any of you – the law is about resolving disputes. So go, and do good work for your clients. Make us all proud."

Thoughts in an Auto Shop

As I’m writing this I’m sitting in an auto shop waiting for work to be done on the junker. It needs a new tire rod and that part is located in Kentucky. All told the car needs about $700 worth of work. Money is precious right now since the client in HBL’s case has reneged on his settlement agreement and I’m looking at about sixty days until I can get paid. What’s particularly upsetting is that the vehicle itself is worth about four grand, tops. The blue book value is just over four thousand but I’ve never believed the car is worth that much.

I think the dividing line for when a repair on a vehicle is worth it and when the vehicle has been driven into the ground is about 33% of the total value. This is under that margin, but just barely. The other thing is that we need the second vehicle for when we get out to California; I will be working and The Wife will need to be mobile to look for work and get things set up. So there isn’t much choice but to spend the money.

The owner of the shop is smoking at his desk and most of the mechanics smoke as they come in and out of the shop. It’s disarming to see people smoking indoors in places of business but that’s legal here in Tennessee. I normally consider myself a libertarian but I’m not doctrinaire about it. And it’s just plain better to not be in an environment with people smoking cigarettes than the opposite. Last night at my mother’s house I thought she snuck out to have a smoke (I hope I was wrong about that) and the smell set me off on a sneezing fit. I’m looking forward to being in a place where I can be in a more smoke-free environment.

I’m also looking forward to being in an environment where people are less casual about their use of the “n-word.” A couple of good ol’ boys – customers of the shop – were talking about how their vehicles had been stolen, and the identified culprits were, well, African-American. But these good ol’ boys didn’t even bother to lower their voices. This is not the first time I’ve come across such language here in the south, although it is a fortunately rare event. In defense of Tennessee, this kind of thing is unusual and not unique to here. But it did happen and it is upsetting.

Law Matters

Apparently, The Law Office of The Great Man imploded yesterday. The Great Man told Bad Attitude Paralegal, Son Of The Great Man’s paralegal, and TL’s Replacement that effective June 1, he could no longer guarantee their paychecks and that he was keeping Bird Lady only on staff and working from home. So TL’s Replacement and BAP didn’t show up to work today, and TGM was genuinely surprised that they didn’t show up to work today – because they had been fired.

The whole thing sounds like a gigantic fiasco. This was only a matter of time and I am glad I was not there for it to go down on me. It also sounds like I got out while the getting was good.

This all reminds me that I need to look into putting my Tennessee law license in suspense shortly. It’s doubtful I will need to practice in a Tennessee court any time soon and there’s no need for me to be incurring bar dues. But perhaps I should wait until after the disbursement of attorney’s fees, just to be on the safe side. I’ve already earned the fee, to be sure, and I did it while I held an active Tennessee law license, but you never know what bizarre arguments people are going to make. And I don’t know whether the CLE I’ll be taking in California will cross over for Tennessee credit.

On the other hand, the dues here are relatively low and even if I don’t use the license, I may find it handy to keep. I never let my California license fall into suspense or voluntarily suspended it; of course, I’ve practiced law in California in fits and starts in all three of the calendar years that The Wife and I have lived here in Tennessee, so I’ve needed the license. And I can take a lot of multi-state CLE; many such programs are offered in Las Vegas, which gives me a good excuse to go to Las Vegas from time to time. It’ll only be about three to four hours from where we live, after all – just as fast and probably a little bit cheaper to drive as compared to flying. Yes, travel time is shorter and more pleasant when flying, of course, but when you factor in getting to the airport, clearing security, and waiting around for the cattle call, driving starts to look better again. And the thing of it is, I have to disclose that I’ve been given a license in Tennessee anyway, so why not just maintain it and if the occasion comes up that I need to practice there, I can.

So I don’t know what to do about the Tennessee license. Keep it, pay for the CLE and bar dues, and it’s there if I needed it – or suspend it and avoid the hassle?