June 29, 2007

The Difficulty of Avoiding Tennessee Traffic Tickets

I got a couple of tickets when I lived in Knoxville, but I never had to do what this woman did to get out of them. And good thing, too, because as it turns out, it didn't work.

Maybe she qualifies for traffic school.

June 28, 2007

I Will Not Vote For Mitt Romney

Not after reading this. You don't do that sort of thing to a dog. Period.

Numbers Don't Lie But Graphs Do

Truth is properly defined in objective, not subjective, terms. I define a "subjective truth" here as "something that I agree with." You might not agree with me, which makes your opinion wrong. For example, "Most country music is tedious, repetitious, uninteresting, and unappealing." That statement could not be more true for me. It truly bores me and I truly find it disagreeable. But perhaps you, Loyal Reader, really like country music and disagree with my "truth." An objective truth, however, is something that is equally true for everyone, and one's opinion on the subject is irrelevant. It doesn't matter how much I think Iran ought to be a secular democracy -- it is not a secular democracy, and no amount of normative thought on my part will change that. Rather than being an opinion, it is simply a reality that the country is ruled by a self-appointed council of mullahs who are above the rule of, and ultimately control, the civil government there.*

Much of the problems with our public discourse lies in people confusing their subjective opinions with objective reality, since both can be defined as "truth." I saw this graph a while back on the cover of the California Bar Journal. It was the banner article, decrying the lack of gender and racial diversity on the California bench:

In case the picture compression loses some detail, it notes that the bench consists of 72.9% men and only 27.1% women; and that while whites are only 43.8% of the general population, 70% of California's judges are white. (Which is not surprising, since 84.4% of California's lawyers are white, providing ammunition for an argument that whites are underrepresented on the bench, but that's an issue for another day.)

But this afternoon, I looked at the graphs again and thought to myself, "Self, that doesn't look right." And that's when I realized that the pie charts used to illustrate the demographic composition of the judiciary aren't even remotely right. On top, the complaint is that women hold just over one-quarter of the seats on the bench. But the chart shows a slice of the pie that looks more like one-sixth. On the bottom, the complaint is that 70% of the judges in this state are white, but that slice of the pie is visibly more than 75% (three-quarters) of the whole. The real graphs should look like this:

Now, I know as well as any lawyer how to lie with statistics. And you can even make graphs convey a favorable, or rather less disfavorable, impression than might initially seem possible with a little thought. One might arrange how the slices of the pie are set up; if I was faced with having to apologize for an overwhelmingly large slice of a pie, I might break that slice down into sub-groups, for instance. But I'd never be so brazen as to simply misdraw a graph like that. One-sixth is substantialy less than one-quarter. Seventy percent is less than three quarters. There's no getting around that.

Also not that, at least as to the general population, the bar's numbers are simply wrong. The U.S. Census reports that the plurality racial group in California is Latino (aka "Hispanic"), not white, and that women are about 51% of the population and men 49%. This data, of course, highlights the argument that whites and men are overrepresented within the judiciary. But if you're going to look at these kinds of numbers and draw these kinds of conclusions, the first step should be getting good information to base them on.

Diversity on the bench is an issue worth considering. When I took my training to be a pro tem judge, I learned that minority groups can, and often do, feel as though they do not get a fair shake in the courts. African-Americans (aka "Blacks") in particular report that they believe that the justice system is weighted against them and they are not treated fairly by the courts. This is also true, with moderately lesser intensity, by Latinos (aka "Hispanics"). So if there are judges who look like the people who are coming to court to receive justice, this may well improve their receptivity to the results that they get.

At the same time, of course, it's critical that the judges are qualified for the job and that they be of appropriate temprament and demeanor. We need smart, fair, and most importantly, trustworthy people on the bench. These are not aspects of a person that can be quantified very easily, and the system of hand-picking the judges through political appointment and election is certainly not without its failures in the arenas of intellectual qualification and temprament. But not matter how we pick our judges, these things have to take a front seat to demographic concerns.

So I'm not convinced that a demographic imbalance on the bench is such a critical issue to begin with. But I do know that that imbalance is not as dramatic the bar journal's graphic artist has depicted it. At best, this was a mistake; at worst, it is an attempt to advance an agenda through deceptive means -- and the substantial likelihood is that it is somewhere in between; the artist has an opinion on the issue and because of that opinion, he did not look critically at his own work to see if it was accurate, since it left an impression of "truth" in his mind.

* You know, if the mullahs in Iran were taken out of the picture (that's a big "if"), it seems to me that the civil government that would be left over would probably be sufficiently democratic that we would have to accept it as legitimate. We don't always like the results of democracy in other countries, as in Hamas' electoral victory in the Palestinian Authority, but it's a whole different story if we think another nation voted the wrong way, as with the Palestinians, as opposed to seeing that the election was not really meaningful in the first place, as in Iran.

Entrepreneurship At Its Finest

This moneymaking plan is amoral, illegal, risky, and elegant.  What more could a college student want?  Step 1:  Hire and have sex with a prostitute fronting as a masseuse, thereby inducing her to commit a crime.  Step 2:  Complain that the quality of her “services” were not worth the money and demand a refund; when prostitute refuses to refund money, blackmail her for three hundred times her fee to not report her as a prostitute to the police.  Step 3:  Profit.  The problem here, of course, is that the guy got hung up on Step 4:  Wash-rinse-repeat as necessary, and did not remember Step 5:  Quit while you’re ahead.

Clear Thinking

Something is not good because it is “natural.”  But calling something “natural” can produce startling feats of cognitive dissonance.

June 27, 2007

Good Luck, Tony

Tony Blair resigned as the PM of England today. It's been a long time coming, so the Beeb is more interested in what the new PM, Gordon Brown, is going to do. But it's interesting to see that Blair has been named as a special envoy to work towards peace in the Middle East. I don't know if he's the ideal choice, but he's also far from the worst. And he deserves better than the British public have been giving him. He's done right by his country; the British economy has been strong enough that the Pound remains the strongest currency on the planet and more recently, he found a way to get Her Majesty's sailors back from the clutches of Iran without expanding the war. So, good show, Tony, and good luck. This American thinks you've done a right honorable job.

Chef Sues Sous Chef

It's not my own headline, but I couldn't possibly have improved on it. And it's 100% accurate. Seems that a sous chef for a high-end seafood restaurant in New York copied, ingredient for ingredient and technique for technique, all of the significant recipes of the restaurant that he worked out, and used them in his own place.

"The stakes are so high," said an intellectual property lawyer asked to comment on the situation, and I agree. But the thing is -- what was the theory used by chef claiming that the other chef stole her work? It probably isn't a trade secret -- most restaurants do not make their workers sign non-disclosure agreements, even though a secret recipe is a classic example of the kind of information that is protected by trade secret law. And this most closely resembles a trade secret claim.
Maybe it's copyright. Of course, that would require that a) the chef who made the recipe had written it down somewhere, and then that b) the sous chef copied that writing (rather than, say, being told what went into the dish and reconstructing it from memory), and c) that the now-former sous chef copy and exploit the recipe.

An interesting story to follow. I hope that there is follow-up on it.

June 25, 2007

Bleg for Gift Ideas

Wife’s birthday.  I want something better than a gift certificate for yet more stamping equipment for her.


Parents’ anniversary.  I want something more interesting for them than a couple bottles of wine.


Any thoughts, inspirations, or ideas would be appreciated.

Hoping For A Footnote's Fate

I wrote in December that the Supreme Court had some really interesting cases on its docket this year.  Following up on the lead story from back then, I note that today, a badly-fractured decision upheld the ability of a high school to punish a student for an inanely offensive banner at an off-campus event.  The most bizarre opinion was Alito’s; Justice Alito concerned himself with whether the content of the banner was political or social commentary which the student testified it was not; he did it as a joke.  But since when are jokes, even somewhat incoherently formulated, nonsensical jokes like this one, entitled to less free speech protection than political commentary?  I hope that Justice Thomas’ understanding of the holding as very narrow in scope prevails and this case becomes a curious footnote in the arena of free speech jurisprudence.


Americans know very little have surprising gaps in their knowledge about themselves, and know even less about the world around them.  These kinds of polls and “man on the street” interviews, showing shocking ignorance of even basic facts about the world (“Can you name the Vice President?”  “What is the capital of France?”  “Where is the Panama Canal located?”), are at once saddening and the source of some Schadenfreude.  One of the more popular shows on TV popular game shows on TV deliberately plays on the ignorance of Americans about such matters.  But more seriously, one of the books that I’m reading at the moment suggests that this ignorance is the result of disinterest – and that this disinterest is a very dangerous sign of national decline.  We cannot hope to engage the world around us without at least trying to understand it first.

Death Sentence

This morning, I heard on the radio that “Chemical” Ali Hassan, the former Saddam Hussein’s cousin who ordered chemical weapons attacks that have killed as many as 180,000 Kurds, was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to die by hanging by an Iraqi court.  The radio news played the reading of the sentence:


“You are guilty of crimes, ah, crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and you will be punished by being hanged to death.”


Well, maybe it lost something in the translation from Arabic, but it just didn’t have the emotional punch one would have expected for a death sentence being handed down for a heinous crime.  The seventeenth-century British Piracy Court got it right – a judge in that court would have said something like this:


“William Kidd, you are found guilty of piracy, murder, rapacious theft, and offenses against the Crown and People of Great Britain.  You are to be taken to Southwark and there hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, DEAD!  Your head shall be placed upon a pike at Portsmouth, as an example of His Majesty’s justice.  May God have mercy on your soul.”

June 22, 2007

Republican Morning

Yesterday, I went to a meeting of the Antelope Valley Bar Association to hear a presentation from an attorney who got to visit London for several weeks and see how law is practiced in the U.K.  Very interesting indeed, and the kind of vacation I would like to take one day, too.  (Apparently, the spouses got a lot of cool things to do, too.)  While I was there, I forget my document portfolio under the banquet table.  I only realized this in the morning as I was going to court for a routine and brief appearance.  So this morning as I was leaving court, I was thinking that I’d just take a minute or two and drive up to the place where the meeting was held and retrieve my portfolio.


As I’m walking out of court and going to my car, I noted that someone had parked a beat-up old pickup truck next to the Ninja, and taped to the tailgate were a bunch of handmade signs.  They read “Bush Is Right”, ”Bomb Iran and N. Korea”, “Fight Win & Stay In Iraq” and “Protect Our Borders”.  I took a picture with my cell phone, amused because most of my urban-dwelling friends and Loyal Readers probably are used to hand-made bumper stickers with messages pointing in the opposite direction than this.  For some reason the picture got lost, so I don’t have it to post here.  A little bit of the visual impact is lost, unfortunately – the truck was at least twenty-five years old and partially rusted out (it takes a long time for vehicles to rust up here in the desert), had obviously not been washed in a long time, and the signs were made with magic marker on construction paper and taped to the truck with duct tape.  Suggests a very heartfelt and strong belief in the positions he was advocating.  By the way, I agree with one-half of his signs, although what he means by them and what I mean would probably look very different at the policy-making and implementation levels.


So I went along to run my errand.  At the venue where the bar association meeting had taken place yesterday, the Antelope Valley Lincoln Club had just met.  I had some words with the Executive Director and was at my smooth, political best.  But after I looked at the literature, I’m not so sure I want to get involved.  Some of the local political movers and shakers are running the show here, and one of them is an attorney, so all of the business opportunities that this would generate would go his way.  Another attorney I’ve been adverse to in Santa Clarita, and who I found to be distant and unlikeable, is running the show down there.  To top it all off, a guy who filed a (quickly-dismissed) bar grievance against me in the past, is on the county-wide board of directors of this group.  And there seems to be some pro-tort reform sentiments going on even from some of the folks involved that I could otherwise feel comfortable with politically.  So it seems to me that I would not be a good fit for this organization.

June 21, 2007

Chamber of Commerce Republicans

I wrote yesterday about the elements in the GOP that want to encourage social conformity. These are closely allied with “morals” Republicans, because for them, universally good moral behavior necessarily produces a uniform social environment – such that they often appear to have confused the difference between social conformity and ethical behavior. But there are other kinds of republicans, too – the coalition consists of promoters of business and their ideological allies the libertarians, as well as defense and security hawks.

Thinking about the Chamber of Commerce wing of the party, they are most flatteringly described as "advocates for American employers." (By which they mean not so much "workers" as they mean just "businesses".) Most disparagingly, these are "Hoover Republicans," people who believe, in the pithy words of Calvin Coolidge, that the business of America is business. America is about making money and the government's job is to facilitate that all-important activity.

The desires of this wing of the party are immediately obvious: they want low taxes, low regulatory barriers to doing business, minimal oversight into commercial activity, a healthy infrastructure, law and order, and plenty of opportunities to peddle their wares for the most profit they can get. They would prefer but do not insist upon a balanced budget; a budget deficit is undesirable only to the extent that additional taxes are necessary to finance that debt. Nothing wrong with this, right?

Not in the abstract. In my youth, I'd have counted myself among this number and to a significant extent, I still do. I've tempered those views somewhat to the point that I realize that certain levels and kinds of regulation are necessary for a variety of reasons -- like preservation of resources that will not regenerate; healthy levels of non-monopolized commercial activity; public health and safety; and adherence to at least minimal standards of morality. I break with ideologicaly purist libertarians in that I do not believe the market will provide these things if left to its own devices, and I am not willing to dispense with them.

All the same, as a general proposition and within pretty broad limits, the freer a market is, the better. This is the core tenet of the business/libertarian wing of the GOP. This is the anti-tax wing; a consequence of desiring low taxes and lower regulation is desiring, in the simplest of terms, less government. Not necessarily no government or a minimal state, but less than what we've got now.

Importantly, this wing of the party harbors a significant strain towards avoiding international conflicts, particularly military ones. Sure, the military-industrial complex is great, but actually spending money on a war is wasteful for the most part; better to not risk the loss of lives and assets. War is a risk and capitalists generally prefer to maximize control over risks as much as possible. The libertarian purists in cahoots with the monied men, moreover, have their own ideological reasons to keep our nose out of other countries' affairs.

It is when these folks lose this suspicion of military activity abroad that Chamber of Commerce Republicans become "neoconservatives." The military first becomes a means of promoting business interests and down that path lies the seductive siren call of using government to accomplish a goal -- which leads to the adoption of the idea of using government at all, which means that suddenly there is taxation, regulation, debt, and all the veneer of fiscal conservatism gets washed aside and next thing you know, we're spending billions of dollars a day in Iraq and a Republican President signs into law the biggest expansion in nondiscretionary entitlements since Social Security was created.

If I seem sneering and dismissive of these kinds of things as Republican achievements, it's because I don't think they are particularly conservative and I don't see how this kind of neoconservatism fits into a strategy for good public policy and political success. If I seem critical, it's because I care.

California Court Asks For Semantics

Today, the California Supreme Court requested supplemental briefing in the Marriage Cases, asking counsel to set forth differences between California’s domestic partnership and marriage.  Another issue that will be addressed is, if a domestic partnership has the same legal effect as a marriage, at least as far as the state’s law goes, whether the word “marriage” contains any inherent value or significance.  This is the argument that really interests me.  It will be a while until the Ron and the Supremes give us a decision, but it’s interesting to see that the attorneys on both sides of the case have not addressed these issues so far.  (It’s also an excellent palaver to see Jerry Brown forced to defend the state’s existing marriage laws.)

June 20, 2007

We Fear The Wrong Things

I read in Freakonomics that more children are killed every year drowning in swimming pools than are shot with guns. But no one fears swimming pools and lots of parents freak out when they find out that there is a gun in a house that their children are going to play in.

Now, we learn that sand holes at the beach are more lethal than sharks. No one is trying to ban shovels, but people are irrationally afraid of sharks. That's not to say that sharks are fun to run into when you're casually swimming, but it is to say that the risk of a shark attack is, in most cases, negligible.

Something like 3,500 Americans have died in Iraq since combat operations began in 2003. More than that number of Americans die each month in auto accidents. Based on the way people drove on the highways today as I went to and from Stinking Bakersfield (yes, I'm going there a lot these days) I can understand why. That's not to say that those 3,500 Americans should have died in Iraq and it does not mean that there aren't other problems that are resulting because of the war. The war is serious business. But it's not nearly as bloody a business as driving to work.

We should have more nuclear power plants. But people fear meltdowns and radiation leaks. Never mind that oil refineries and coal mines do much more ecological damage than nuclear waste.

Your cell phone is not going to light you on fire at a gas station.

What we fear, and what we should fear, are often very different things. But fear is so powerful, and so easily-manipulated, that we often simply fear what we are told to fear rather than what is really dangerous.

What Does "KC" Stand For?

While reading comments about a rumored replacement for the SR-71, I came across a story of Captain Kim Campbell. I was impressed by her story.

Back in 2003, we (meaning the United States and the British, and some Spaniards and Italians, a token force from Imperial Tonga, a handful of Mongolians who remembered that they hadn't conquered Mesopotamia for more than seven hundred hundred years)* were doing a little thing called Operation Iraqi Freedom.

You may recall, Loyal Reader, that while that phase of the war was fast, it was not instantaneous and it took several days of air war to soften up the enemy before the city of Baghdad could be taken. During that phase of the operations, Capt. Campbell's mission was to provide support and cover for ground operations in and around the city. Her A-10 Warthog was hit with heavy Iraqi anti-aircraft fire while maneuvering between support runs. The result was this:

Suddenly, Captain Campbell was piloting a very unhappy airplane. She lost hydraulic control and had to land the plane without operational brakes and with her ability to steer the plane laterally severely limited. She had to decide whether or not her chances for survival were better if she ejected, which of course would mean abandoning the aircraft.

She opted instead to switch to manual control (meaning she would have to push and pull the flaps and other navigational controls by hand, with her own physical strength) and flew the plane back to base. Without brakes and with very little ability to steer, she landed the plane safely and under control, and walked away without a scratch. Not every pilot or soldier has been as fortunate as she, of course. But having come across the story recently, I think we can all be proud that Captain Campbell is a reminder of the kind of stuff that people serving in the military are made of.

* Oops, I forgot Poland.

June 19, 2007

Intellectual Balkanization

What you put into your brain determines what your brain puts out. So it’s important to have a well-balanced intellectual diet, but a lot of people consume nothing but mental junk food.

Now, I know that people have the right to go to churches and read the newspapers and watch the kinds of television programs they like and send their children to religious schools if they like. I understand all of that and I think it’s an important part of our society that individuals be given that kind of choice and liberty. The freedom of speech also implies the freedom to listen, or not, as one chooses. But it’s decidedly off-putting to see people deliberately isolating their exposure to the outside world to only that which is comfortable, familiar, and agreeable.

This happens on both sides of the political spectrum – on the left, there are a substantial number of progressives who distrust CNN for its “pro-corporate” and “conservative” bias, for instance. But it seems to happen more noticeably on the right, with social conservatives and in particular with religious conservatives. “I only watch Fox News, because it’s the only place I get an unbiased picture of the world” is something I’ve heard more than once. The people who say this sort of thing say it with a tinge of pride and superiority, as if they were condescending to telling poor confused moderates the truth and they almost expect gratitude for it.

A popular left-leaning blog called the The Reality-Based Community has the wonderful slogan “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. That is a sentiment I absolutely agree with, even when I question what the primary author of that blog has to say about current events.

Particularly as cultural conservatives point out, it’s important that people share a common culture, have some common facts and topics to discuss. They usually mean things like everyone should speak English or be part of some variant of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, but they don’t usually seem to mean that we should all read the same newspapers.

And we shouldn’t read all the same newspapers, but we should all be getting the same information. Either the war in Iraq is going well (Fox News has been reporting that we’ve had the insurgents on the run for three years now and are enjoying the quiet support of a grateful Iraqi nation) or it is not (I read on CNN last night that there were 1,000 acts of terrorism a day in Iraq) or maybe it’s both, or maybe it’s neither. If you only watch Fox News, you’d be wondering what all the consternation about the war is about; if you only watch CNN, you’d be wondering why we’re still staying there when everything we do just makes things worse. Reality lies somewhere in between the two extremes and it is often a challenge to figure out which end of the spectrum it is closer to. But just because it’s a challenge does not mean that it should not be done. And limiting your brain’s diet to only the facts that you find pleasing creates a dangerous world view, because the world is not always pleasant.

Today, seeing this article about a socially conservative alternative to wikipedia indicates to me that there are at least two levels of intellectual laziness going on with that kind of mental tribalism – first, the reliance on open-source and malleable “references” in place of actually learning and retaining knowledge oneself, and second, the need to limit one’s exposure to knowledge to that which has been screened for conformity to a predetermined world view. Whether on the left or on the right, this is really letting other people do your thinking for you. Abdicating one’s own duty to engage in critical thought is something that ought to be shameful.

This ties in to my ideas about the Republicans rebooting themselves. Some of the movers and shakers in the party are people who seem to isolate themselves from information that they dislike. Dick Cheney, for instance, has very specific instructions for when he travels, including that his hotel room is to have the TV turned on and tuned to Fox News. Many of the leaders of the cultural conservative movement, your James Dobsons and your Gary Bauers, have never seen or read the books and movies that they criticize and urge other people not to see them despite not having any firsthand knowledge of what they’re about. I would like to see this sort of thing minimized – your criticism of a book should lack credibility unless you’ve actually read it yourself.

So some of these leaders in the party are perfectly happy to control the intellectual diet of the rank and file membership. These are people who want to promote the idea of social conformity, standardizing the culture of America into their vision of an ideal society. That society is very much an idyllic, Midwestern/Southern vision of a society of small towns, with individuals’ daily lives focused on their nuclear families, churches, and places of employment. The vision is social and sexual, more than anything else; and institutions of both the government and religion are used to promote orthodoxy in the outward behavior of individuals. The inward attitude of these people is not of particular importance. There is some charm and attraction to this vision of the world; it offers safety and certainty and little opportunity for gross misbehavior. But there is a high standard of uniformity, and to maintain that uniformity, ideas, knowledge, and information must be tightly controlled. The elites of society are charged with the duty of deciding what ideas are worthy of circulation – for them, censorship is a tool that can be used for good or evil, and they wish to use it for good. These are the leaders of the social conservative movement who see themselves as stepping into the role of the guardians of this kind of benevolent masters of society’s information.

Putting such people in charge of the party is all well and good for the kinds of people who are willing to let these leaders decide for them what goes into their brains. But for those of us who are a little bit more heterodox in our thinking, this kind of Balkanization of the mind is equivalent to wearing a straightjacket of information. Again, I don’t intend to imply that this sort of thing is limited to Republicans or conservatives, because it very much is not. But I do mean to state that people should do what they can to see the world for what it really is, and this is a bigger challenge than it might appear at first glance.

June 18, 2007

It Looks Like This

When you leave an unopened can of soda in a sealed car, in the desert, in the middle of June, for hours at a time, and then don't attend to it until late in the day, this is what happens:

The part that amazes me is the complete separation of the steel top from the aluminum can because it looks like the aluminum squeezed in, and the steel just popped right off.

It gets hot here.

Privilege, Contempt, and Mistakes

The trial of Phil Spector for the murder of Lana Clarkson is going on right now. Today, one of the defendant’s former attorneys was held in contempt for refusing to testify against her former client. My initial response was, “Right on, you go, counselor!” because an attorney is supposed to safeguard her client’s confidentiality no matter what the risk to herself. But, I know that Big Media is not well-equipped to report on something as complex and subtle as the law. So glancing at a headline is not a substitute for the all-important task of RTFA.

The real issue is found at the very end of the Fish Wrapper’s summary: the attorney “…was originally called as a defense witness, so even if the privilege claim were valid, it had been waived.” Oops. That’s a whole different story – if Spector (though his trial counsel) called her as his own witness, that may very well waive the privilege. It’s a substantial issue and I think that the attorney still did the right thing by refusing to testify against her client. But she should never have allowed herself to have been named as a defense witness in the first place.

High On The List Of Things I'll Never Worry About

Our friends had a baby several months ago, and he’s growing up fast. I only had just heard through them, though, that there is apparently a raging controversy about circumcision and the surgery is becoming unfashionable. Back when I was born, it wasn’t much of a choice – parents had to go out of their way to not have their baby boys be circumcised, and as the linked article suggests, it still seems to be something that upper-class Americans do as a matter of course. Of the many decisions that The Wife and I will be making over our lifetimes, this will not be one of them, but I do think it’s interesting to note the dispute.

June 16, 2007


Mike Nifong was the district attorney in North Carolina who prosecuted the three Duke University students accused of raping a woman. It turns out that he had exculpatory evidence and lied to the judge about it, and of course failed to disclose the existence of that evidence to the defense attorneys.

Today, he was disbarred for his conduct. Here's an interesting quote, though: "After the hearing, attorneys for the exonerated lacrosse players said they would push for criminal charges against Nifong. 'I don't think that any of us are done with Mr. Nifong yet,' said [one.]"

Well, here's a couple thoughts for you considering all that has happened. First, consider the power of a disbarment on an attorney's psyche.

I've heard that while suicide rates among the professions are highest among dentists (despite their best efforts not to, the fact of the matter is that they inflict pain for a living and constantly have to intrude on their patients' personal space, and do not enjoy either substantial monetary or social rewards for their work like medical doctors do), the rate spikes up even higher when you consider professionals who lose their licenses to practice their profession. Among that subset of professionals, disbarred attorneys have the highest rate of both attempted and successful suicide. Somewhere a while back I read that one in three disbarred attorneys attempts suicide within five years after losing their licenses.

Second, all of these young men came from families able to afford strong legal representation and to conduct a very thorough investigation of the facts underlying the criminal charges. They were fortunate to have that kind of financial power at their disposal, and strong family units that were not only able but also willing to stand behind them and provide them with the resources they needed to fight this over-zealous and politically-ambitious prosecutor. Their attorneys did an excellent job of demonstrating not only that the prosecution did not have a case, but that these men were actually innocent of any wrongdoing greater than exhibiting poor social graces at a college party.

If they had not been at least upper-middle class and, let's face it, white, and had not been able to mobilize those resources in their own defense, would we now be thinking about Mike Nifong as the next governor of North Carolina, after having successfully prosecuted a high-profile rape case and solidifying his law-and-order credentials? As it is, he's not an attorney anymore and he has been publicly disgraced in a very graphic fashion. His name is mud in North Carolina and I don't think there is much political recovery from such a disgrace.

He cast the legal system and in particular the subset of that system that includes public prosecutors' offices into significant disrepute, and I think the disbarment is appropriate as a result. So he's had his future and his livelihood taken from him, forever. He basically has to start his life over. He's at very serious risk for falling into a depression deep enough that there's a one in three chance he'll try to check himself out.

Is that enough punishment for him?

There Is Water At The Bottom Of The Ocean

I'm not a huge Talking Heads fan; they were very creative, and occasionally produced some good songs. But I don't take out the Stop Making Sense CD very often.

Still, I heard "Once In A Lifetime" on the radio yesterday and it made me very happy and appreciative:

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife,
And you may ask yourself: "Well...how did I get here?"

I feel like that sometimes. I've got a wonderful wife, good friends, a loving and supportive family, good health, some free time to enjoy it all, and enough money to not want for anything important. All the things in my life that I could have ever really wanted. I wonder if it's merely a function of my being very lucky, if it's because of work and effort or something else I did, or what?

Under the rocks and stones,
There is water underground.
Same as it ever was...same as it ever was...same as it ever was...

I take that to mean that good things are always there if you just open your eyes and look for them. But that doesn't mean you can take any of your good circumstances for granted -- they could all vanish in the blink of an eye. So I try to enjoy these things whenever I can. And to let them all know that I'm grateful and happy because of them.

Pre-Electric Coffee

The removable parts of our coffee maker were all in the dishwasher this morning, awaiting a thorough washing this evening. But The Wife and I want coffee for our breakfast. This is especially complex because we only have whole beans, and the coffee maker integrates the grinder into the unit. (It also grinds the beans too fine for my absolute preference, although for convenience's sake it really can't be beat.) So, no coffee grinder, no coffee maker? No probalo! Here's how you make coffee without using electricity:

1. Put the desired amount of coffee beans in a ceramic mortar and pestle. Grind them up, about 4 tablespoons at a time. For two big American-style coffee mugs, you'll use 8 tablespoons total. Don't worry about it if the grind you get with the mortar and pestle is coarse.

2. In the meantime, boil some water in a teakettle. Take the water off heat just as the teakettle starts to make any noise at all -- you want the water to be just at boiling temperature but not actually bubbling. If you've got a roaring (or in this case, whistling) boil, the next step becomes somewhat dangerous because you run a risk of shattering glass and spilling boiling water all over the place, and we all know the dangers of spilling hot coffee.

3. Put coffee beans and scalding-hot water in a French press. Stir with something that isn't metal, like a plastic soda straw or a clean chopstick (the heated glass will shatter easily with a metal spoon). Let the mixture brew for several minutes before pressing.

Enjoy! Yes, it's more work than usual in that grinding the beans takes a modicum of exertion. Not a problem, though, for anyone of average strength who does not suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, I too would normally use the convenience of modern, electric-powered coffee makers. Unless you're a huge coffee snob, the resulting product is pretty much the same. But it show that coffee can be made without use of that modern convenience without a tremendous amount of work.

June 15, 2007

The Desert Landscape

A few days ago I noticed, for the first time, that there were plans in place to build a new city by Quail Lake. So here is a shot I took today of Quail Lake while driving back from a court appearance in Stinking Bakersfield, to place that in context:

This is what everything to the east of the lake looks like right now:

You can see why the prospect of simply building a city out of so much raw sagebrush and the occasional onion field seems so daunting. And while I was downloading pictures from my cell phone, this is a shot I took on my last trip up to Stinking Bakersfield, of the Tehachipi wind farm that I can see on clear days:

So for those of you Loyal Readers who don't know from the Antelope Valley (surprisingly few of you as it turns out), that's what it looks like up here.

June 14, 2007

Massachusetts Marriage Update

Just about half an hour before this post, the Massachusetts Legislature voted down an initiative to change the state’s constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.  The margin of defeat for the initiative (and therefore the margin of victory for same-sex marriage advocates) was five votes.  I have to think there will come a day when people will shake their heads in patronizing wonder at all the furor and angst over the idea that gay people might want to get married, too – much like today, we shake our heads over the raging arguments over slavery that dotted the first half of the nineteenth century in American public debate.  But it appears that the cutting-edge state has put this issue to rest once and for all.  There will be no Constitutional amendment; the legal and political processes have been exhausted with the result that people who want to get married, can do so, at least in Massachusetts.

MacArthur Was Right

I’m becoming quite an admirer of Professor Ilya Somin.  Today, in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Falkland Islands War, he writes quite convincingly that this relatively small conflict demonstrates that, in politics, there is nothing quite like a decisive victory.  And, he also writes, quite convincingly, that Argentina benefited from having lost so decisively, too – because its fascist military junta lost popular support after having its ass thoroughly waxed by the UK, resulting in democratic reforms and improving economic conditions.

June 13, 2007

Nothing But Carrots And Onions

Apparently, I'm the last man in the Antelope Valley to have heard that from 2008 to 2028, the Tejon Ranch Corporation wants to build a 70,000 resident city to the east and north of Quail Lake. Tejon Ranch is currently the owner of the largest contiguous plot of land that is privately owned in California and this would be on the (relatively) small portion of that land that is in Los Angeles County. The community would be about equidistant from Santa Clarita, Lancaster, and Stinking Bakersfield, at the western apex of the geographic "triangle" formed by the San Gabriel and Tehachapi Mountain ranges that is the Antelope Valley.

Yes, there are apparently a large number of environmental activist groups that want to stop this from happening. While I welcome the idea of 70,000 new clients in the area to service, I also hope that they preserve the absolutely gorgeous Tejon Pass and the prettier natural areas of that part of their holdings. But it seems like everyone in the area has heard of this before I finally got around to reading about it in California Lawyer magazine today.

Right now, there's nothing but carrot and onion farms, a gravel quarry, and pumping stations for the California Aqueduct out there. But in twenty years, there will be an entire city of Centennial, California and my remarks here will sound as antiquated as the old-timers who say that they can remember when Anaheim used to be nothing but orange groves and Irvine was a bunch of bean fields.

Conservatives for Freedom

Now, this is quite interesting. These guys are saying things I have been saying for a long time – that we as a nation are yet rich and powerful enough to have both liberty and security, and that real conservatives and people worthy of positions of political leadership can find a way to prosecute our efforts to eradicate our enemies without violating the Constitution in the process. Apparently Mitt Romney refused to sign their pledge and was rewarding with an excoriating press release condemning him as ignorant of conservative principles.

My strong suspicion is that Rudy Giuliani will be the focus of the group’s attention next. They picked Romney first because they thought he'd want to sign the pledge to beef up his credibility with conservatives; Giuliani seems like a likely next target. I'll be watching with great interest to see how Hizzoner reacts to this.

June 12, 2007

Second-Guessing the Sopranos

On the subject of the end of The Sopranos, one expert has said: "You can’t second-guess the artist." Well, of course you can. He's saying that you shouldn't. Different words, different meanings.

Get it right!

Cheese Kills

Your reaction to the latest story about deadly discount drugs will no doubt be anger and frustration. What you think we as a society should do about the situation will probably be no different than what you think we should do about other kinds of illegal street drugs – if you think we should decriminalize them like the Dutch, give them away like the Swiss, educate until we’re blue in the face like the Brits, allocate more resources to interdiction like the Thais, or increase penalties for possession and use to draconian levels like the Malaysians, this will simply reinforce the need for whatever policy you prefer to be enacted.

Republican Reboot (Part I)

I’m sure to return to this idea soon. But the spectacle of seeing the leader of the Republican party swimming against the tide of his own partisans on immigration and the substantial dissatisfaction that social conservatives have with the GOP’s Presidential candidates, I have to wonder if the Republican Party in 2008 is not going through some serious reimagining. More thoughts later on the various factions jostling for position and what I think the ultimate outcome will be.

Battered Husband Syndrome

I know it’s not fair, but news stories about battered husbands seem somehow more ambiguous than stories about battered wives. After all, men are supposed to be tough and strong and they are generally more physically strong than women and so should be able to defend themselves well. Of course, they can’t do that when they’re asleep, and weapons like knives make great equalizers. I do find that both kinds of stories leave many of us not in the situation wondering, “Why do you stay? Why don’t you leave?” This seems especially true when the subjects are people of some financial means, like, say, professional golfers. But of course, it must seem very different to the people involved; as in the linked story, the victim still professes love for the attacker. For the record, I don’t believe for a second that people fake these kinds of injuries on themselves, as the wife claims John Daly did in this case. Maybe in “smart thief” or “elaborate con job” movies, they do, but not in real life. I hope that things work out for the Dalys and that they are able to go their separate ways without further violence, of course, but the whole thing just makes me sad that such things happen.

Goddess of Liberty

Today, President Bush dedicated a statue in Washington as a monument to the estimated hundred million people killed by communist regimes in the past century. While somber, it is an important event. We tend to forget these days that there were real communists and they did some really bad things. Maybe “true” communism is a noble ideal, but the utter inhumanity of the brutal dictatorships resulting from pursuit of that ideology should not be forgotten. It was in no small part when I learned about and was horrified by the horrors that these governments and leaders perpetrated on their people that I became interested in politics and government and law, and while adulthood has brought a wider understanding of the world, I’ve never stepped away from seeing communist governments as evil. Not so much for the Cold War rivalry we Americans had with the Soviet Union, but more for the gulags and the secret police and the torture chambers and the brainwashing and the rooms after rooms of nearly-stacked, dirty human skulls, each one a victim of a communist dictator’s demand for political orthodoxy. Communism has claimed at least as many victims than the Nazi’s Holocaust, in terms of the sheer number of lives lost and human misery inflicted. Whatever moral failures, failure to live up to our ideals, or even outright acts of evil perpetrated by the United States or its western allies one might care to point out, nothing compares to the sheer weight of terror and blood that communism wreaked upon the world.

Today, only China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba have communist governments, and while these are hardly the only brutal dictatorships to plague their own people, they are the ideological holdouts. Neither China nor Vietnam seem particularly fanatical about their communism, and while these are not what we would call good governments, they are (slowly) getting better. The day these regimes are replaced with more liberal forms of government and communism is truly swept into the dustbin of history will be a great day indeed for humanity and an argument for the existence of progress.

Roma Instaurata

This is as cool as it gets for Roman history junkies. The Beeb reports that a multidisciplinary team has created a virtual Rome. Hopefully the bulk of the work will be made available to the public soon, and there is discussion of converting the model to a form usable in Second Life. (That would be a reason for me to sign up for Second Life. I've recently found a different way to burn hours on the computer.)

You can go take a look at UVA's model of Rome in 320 AD here. And here is UCLA's, which compares the contemporary ruins with the virtual reconstruction. I, perspicio!

June 11, 2007

Focus, People!

Well, you're a bunch of multitaskers, according to last week's poll. I guess that's just how work is these days.

Me, I try to focus on one thing at a time, but that's often impossible. I don't multitask very well; I tend to lose efficiency and focus when I'm distracted and having multiple things to do at once, as opposed to in sequence, bums me out. I need to learn to use the "Do Not Disturb" button on my phone more often, but of course I won't do that. Particularly after the incident where I got a knock on my door with the comment, "TL, your phone was on 'Do Not Disturb' and the door to your office was shut, but we have a phone call for you!"

June 10, 2007


At breakfast this morning, The Wife pointed out that we've been back in California for a year and a day. And that means that we've been in this gigantic house for an entire year now. I've been so busy recently I would certainly have not noticed this anniversary had The Wife not pointed it out to me. Once I swore I'd never come back here. Now, I'm glad that I did; while it's not Santa Barbara, unless we win the lottery we can't afford somewhere like that anyway, and California simply suits us better than Tennessee ever did.

Certainly we're comfortable here (how could we not be, with three times more space in the house than we need?) and our circumstances today feel much improved from where they were in Tennessee. We can contemplate the possibility of buying a (smaller) house in the reasonably near future, even in hyperinflated California, due to a confluence of good employment and a favorable local housing market. I'm quite grateful that things have worked out so well.

Last year at this time we had to save all our money and could not even afford a few extra dollars to go to the U-pick cherry orchard. But things are different, today. Later on, we're going to Leona Valley, and we'll get as many as we can eat before we get sick to our stomachs tonight. It'll be hot out and I'll wear my floppy wide-brimmed hat. The cherries will be fresh and tart. It'll be a good time.

DARPA's Finest Moment: The Gay Bomb

Someone please tell me that this "Gay Bomb" story is an elaborate hoax. Please. Seriously, it sounds like something out of an early-eighties parody movie.

GIS for "Gay Bomb:"

June 9, 2007

More Boring Things

There are more boring things for a lawyer to do with his Saturday than indexing exhibits for trial. Not many, but they do exist. These include: a) watching archived city council meeting for a place that you don't live, b) wetting shish-kabob skewers with an eye dropper, c) collecting all fifty state quarters, d) looking at photographs of people you don't know, and e) driving from Oklahoma City to Lubbock.

However, none of these things win trials. Indexing exhibits and getting to know what's in them does.

June 8, 2007

Equal Justice Before Law

Hooray for Judge Michael Sauer; it’s not quite springtime for Paris yet. Fan mail for enforcing the law equally as to all defendants, despite the best efforts of the Los Angeles County Sheriff to obstruct justice, may be sent to the Superior Court of California in and for the County of Los Angeles, Metropolitan Division, Department 60, 1945 South Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007.

Oh, and don't cry for her, Los Angeles. With good behavior, Paris will be free in just over two weeks.

Tort Reform: Good For Thee, But Not For Me

Noted tort reformer Robert Bork has sued the Yale Club of New York for a routine trip-and-fall negligence case. He’s asked for over $1,000,000 in compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and prejudgment interest. California and Tennessee, which I know about, are apparently no different from New York in not permitting those remedies for routine negligence claims like this one. The previous link also contains an interesting analysis indicating that Bork’s attorneys are a little bit too high-powered to be good choices for a soft-tissue personal injury claim like this. (Proof that BIGLAW “attorneys and professionals” don’t necessarily know what they’re doing any better than so-called “street lawyers.”) So perhaps we can understand why the national law firm of Arrogant, Expensive & Condescending, LLP screwed that one up, thinking that those sorts of remedies might be available as they would be in the securities cases they’re used to handling. But their client – more than just a lawyer, he was only a few votes away from being on the U.S. Supreme Court – should have known better himself before authorizing the complaint. And it’s as graphic a demonstration as I can think of that tort reform is a great idea as long as it doesn’t affect the tort reformer’s remedies when he gets hurt himself.

Fred, You're Getting Us All In Trouble

It all started with a throwaway joke by Joe Scarborough on his punditry show on MSNBC about Jeri Kehn, “Right Said” Fred Thompson’s smokin’ hot wife.

Suddenly, it seems the whole blogosphere is aware of the fact that not only is Thompson married to a woman fourteen years younger than himself, but that the Tennessee Stud himself seems to enjoy looking at her body because he finds her attractive. Apparently this is a bad thing, and so is commenting on it.

Commenting about how you're not supposed to comment on that, though, is fair game: Helen Reynolds warns men to protect their “right to leer” and Ann Althouse invites self-aware men to (politely) leer away, at least at their own smokin’ hot wives.

Now, there would be plenty of other things to commend the lovely Ms. Kehn for. And we can acquit her of Wonkette’s accusation that she is merely a trophy wife. She’s an attorney and a media consultant who has worked for the Republican National Committee and the Senate Republican Conference. She’s clearly no dummy. She and “Right Said” Fred have had two children together and they met at a church in Illinois, which all seems very proper and "family values" Republican to me (yes, I know that Senator Thompson divorced his first wife).

But no one – not the feminists upset with Thompson leering at her and not the conservatives stampeding to defend him – seems to care that this woman has a career and an identity of her own separate from her husband. They’re all worried about her ample breasts and whether “Right Said” Fred should be enjoying looking at them publicly (or privately, or at all).

Well, damn. Now I’m in trouble, too and I guess I’ll just have to add this to the long list of reasons why I’ll never be President. I think my wife is smokin’ hot, I check her out when we’re doing stuff around the house, and I tell her that I think he’s attractive often. I guess maybe I’m supposed to think she’s attractive but keep that opinion to myself? (Seems to me that she'd like hearing that her husband finds her attractive.) Or I’m not supposed to consider her attractiveness, ever, and instead I should love her for her other merits as a person? (Which I do, but why should that exclude me from finding her attractive, too?) Or I’m not supposed to think she’s attractive at all? Come on, a husband is supposed to be attracted to his wife! Why should "Right Said" Fred be any different than me?

In truth, it seems that there are actually very few left-wing sites that I can find that are commenting about this. There are, however, a ton of right-wing sites that are dogpiling on the idea that the left is critical of Thompson having a sexy, younger wife. By the way, in the picture, I don’t think Fred Thompson is really leering at his wife. It looks to me like they’re sharing a joke at some social function.

This is what it looks like when a man leers at Fred Thompson’s wife. Back off, Wolfowitz, you're in enough trouble already.

June 7, 2007

Romney on Gay Parenting

A lesbian woman confronted Mitt Romney on his disapproval of same-sex marriage. In response, Romney congratulated the woman on having created a family of her own, and said that the prospect of gay couples raising children together was “fine.” This has upset religious conservatives, even though it seems to me Romney did not say anything to contradict his position that there should not be same-sex marriages.

(Cross-posted on Oval Office 2008).

It Was New Jersey

I have a confession to make: I'm doing an unbelievably dorky thing and saving state quarters. There's no reason for it or expectation of value, it's just something I'm doing for my own amusement. The Wife humors me and lets me inspect her quarters from time to time.

I know from the U.S. Mint's website that 42 quarters have been released, and I have 37 of them right now. So I took a look at what I had last night and I tried to run down which of the five I don't have. I identified Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Michigan, and Washington as missing but I spent all morning trying to figure out the last one. I had to cheat and look on the website to remember... New Jersey.

Well, hey, anyone could have made that mistake of forgetting New Jersey!

Plinko Will Never Be The Same

A surprisingly poignant article about Bob Barker retiring from The Price is Right. A taste:

Like most good teachers, he made the lesson as painless as possible. Here was this exceptionally bright man, who knew exactly how silly the games could seem and how goofy some of the contestants were. Yet Barker remained ever respectful, never playing for an easy laugh at a contestant's expense, never unsheathing either sarcasm or disbelief at even an egregiously idiotic guess.

I always liked the game where the mountain climber sang that ridiculous yodeling song. And, of course, Bob Barker’s priceless cameo in Happy Gilmore.

Not A Conservative And Not A Good President

Peggy Noonan, who learned a thing or two about modern, Reagan-style conservatives back when conservatives did govern the country, expresses her disgust with the White House's betrayal of conservative principles in today's Wall Street Journal. The critical indictment:

...the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom--a sense that they did not invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him, that maturity is not the same thing as cowardice, that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don't need hacks.

I don't particularly agree with Ms. Noonan's opposition to the immigration bill, which is what seems to have inspired her contempt for Bush the Younger. (I think doing something is better than doing nothing and I'm mindful that the bill is a compromise, meaning that it is probably the least bad of the several options available.)

But it's helpful to note that the President and his advisors are really kind of making things up as they go. There is no purpose or focus to this administration, no vision for where the country ought to be, no sense of direction or priority. It's hardly a surprise, then, that even the Republicans seeking to run for President -- including a former advisor to the President himself -- are running as hard as they can away from the White House.

The only unifying theme for the White House is loyalty. Bush and his Bushmen have demanded uncritical loyalty from the country for no better reason than that Bush is the President, and a significant number of Americans have proven willing to give it. But the example of Scooter Libby should serve as a graphic caution that, loyalty flows up but not down in this Administration. And even that loyal 30% who would say that they supported the President even if he slit some guy's throat in the Rose Garden have to be a little irritated about this immigration bill.

UPDATE: Post was reformatted and minor grammatical error corrected.

June 6, 2007

Lord Stanley Has A New Home

Ducks win! Ducks win!

A 6-2 game, one in which Ottawa was playing catch-up the whole time, just wore the Senators out. Anaheim's depth was simply too much for them. The Ducks could have Selanne, Neidermayer, McDonald, or Pronger, or any combination thereof, on the ice at will. That's just plain too much for anyone, especially not a Ray Emery playing way off his game.

Normally on Wednesday nights, I go out to dinner with some of the lawyers and our newspaperman and Buddhist friends. Some nights after that we go to the zendo and meditate. But tonight is different. Lights-out games in the Stanley Cup playoffs don't happen all that often -- and especially not games where my team wins it all.

The Senators have no one to blame but themselves. The official box score shows the winning goal as an unassisted shot by Travis Moen, but in fact it was an own goal, caused by confusion between an Ottawa player with the puck and the goalie; no Anaheim player touched the puck on that play. With about eight minutes left to play, down 5-2 you could read their faces -- Ottawa had lost its will. They'd been beaten, and they knew it. Beaten by their own penalties. Missing a penalty shot by losing control of their own puck.

In about six weeks, twenty-five Ducks will have their names permanently engraved on the fifth band of the Cup. Between now and then, each player on the team will get to have the Cup to themselves for a day -- to take to the beach, use to dispense punch at a party, do whatever they want with it. How cool is that?

And, of course, the NHL pre-season begins in July.

June 5, 2007

Pirates! (Real Ones)

It still astonishes me to think that international trade faces a live and real threat from pirates. For instance, pirates operating off the coast of Somalia seized a Danish ship today, possibly killing one or more of the sailors on board. A French warship loitered just outside of Somali territorial waters and did nothing to prevent the attack.

The joke is too easy to make: "Arr! Avast and yield up ye cargo, mateys! An' don't be expectin' no help from yonder cheese-eating surrender monkeys thar!"

In the movies, pirates are often portrayed as lovable scoundrels, handsome and brave. But in real life, pirates are no joke and hardly worthy of admiration. They are robbers, criminals, and possibly even lending support to terrorists who provide manpower, support, and weapons for these guys to ply their criminal trade, just as they do drug dealers.

It is in the interests of every civilized nation to stamp out piracy -- this is true now just as it was true in the 1700's when the British got serious about this issue and took it upon themselves to take the lead in eradicating this menace. No one gets mad at the British for being the world's policeman against piracy and slavery back in the age of sail; indeed, whatever other flaws may have been present in the British empire, the efforts of the Brits to eliminate piracy and slavery stand out as some of the greatest moral achievements of western civilization. It's a shame that this particular weed keeps coming back again and again.

June 2, 2007

Clean and Fuzzy

I took the dogs to a self-service pet cleaning business today while The Wife was meeting for some Toastmasters meeting.

The last time the dogs had been bathed, they lived in Knoxville. For these two big wimpburgers, being wet is a form of torture. Sadly, dogs need to be bathed periodically.

Each of them lost huge amounts of dirt and appreciable amounts of hair, so hopefully they won't shed for a few days. They were very unhappy but they're clean, smell better, and are fuzzy right now. I feel bad for putting the dogs through something they disliked, but it has to be done.

The self-service station was probably a fair price for the setup -- $27 for the two dogs, and I got a full bottle of shampoo solution, use of a people-height bathtub with nice warm water, undercoat and topcoat grooming brushes, doggie cologne, and best of all I didn't have to pull all the wet dog hair out from my own drain -- but I'm thinking I'll just have them groomed professionally. Besides, I'm not about to go squeezing out their anal glands, which they'll be due for in a few months.

Roman Fast Food

The headline to this article is annoyingly deceptive. The actual find in a study of middle-sized homes in the ruins of Pompeii was of "an abundance of small grilling vessels (like barbecues) found in the residences studied, indicating that people were eating-and-running on the go". That's a little different than "fast food" as we might have imagined it.

But there were a lot of restaurants and vendors of prepared food, in the typical Roman marketplace. People on the go or working all day would stop at a stand in the forum and get some bread, cooked meats, and some heavily-watered wine or maybe fruit juice for a meal. Taverns and pubs were popular businesses then, as now, and for all the same reasons.

Pictured to the right are the remains of a thermopoilum in Pompeii. The proprietor would served cooked food would be served in those little insets in his counter; there would have been a brazier or something similar to keep the food warm. The customer would have sat on a stool or a tall chair, and probably chatted with the proprietor and other customers while eating or waiting for their food, while they drank wine. These thermopoliae are found all over the forae of Roman towns across Europe and Africa.

What did the citizens of Rome get for their money at places like these? Wheat baked into bread was the big staple; rice was unknown and of course potatoes and corn were not yet discovered. It seems odd to me that there are no records of noodles; one can make noodles or pasta from wheat flour just as easily as bread, but the idea seems to have never occurred to them. Local fruits and vegetables, of course; but only in season -- it would not have been possible to keep a steady diet because transportation was not fast enough to keep perishables fresh and edible. I seem to recall reading somewhere that some vegetables were dried and stored for year-round consumption, like peas.

The meats eaten were a little different from ours -- fish, pork and chicken, but plenty of things we would consider luxury foods today, like duck and snails, and things we just wouldn't eat at all, like mice, peacocks, and flamingoes. The Romans did not care for beef, as far as I know; while they recognized it was edible, they thought cows were strictly for making milk and thought of eating cows like Americans would think of eating dog or cat meat.

All of this would have been flavored with a wide variety of spices and herbs; the Romans were then, as they are now, fond of intense and varied flavors in their food. And nearly everything had some quantity of a salty red sauce called garum, which we would think today was very much like Thai fish sauce -- a sauce which surely came in a variety of sub-flavors, some spicy, some sweet, and some mild.

But the idea of people wanting or needing to get a meal in a short amount of time seems like an inevitability of life in any sort of urban environment. Fast-service food vendors couldn't have been an innovation for the Romans; surely the Greeks had them, and the Babylonians and Egyptians before them. Somebody working all day in, say, a blacksmith shop or a cloth dyer does not have the time to step away from work to go fix himself some food, and not everyone would have had the benefit of a family network to support them during the day. And currency can buy so much! So I have to imagine that in this respect as in so many others, the Romans did not innovate this idea; rather, they did it a lot more, and better, than their predecessors.

The Roman forum was, in addition to the center of civic life where the government and courts were found, the primary marketplace for the city -- kind of a big mall and general store as well as city hall. There must have been booths and shops all over the place, selling different kinds of food; people probably had their favorite places then just like now -- "Oh, let's go to Flavius'; he makes the most delicious peacock skewers!" -- and the place must have smelled incredible, with all the restaurants cooking their food to serve to hungry customers, anxious to get back to court or return to their shopping.

And of course, travelers on Rome's famed network of roads needed to eat, too, and there were roadside taverns and inns to cater to their needs. So when you're getting your tacos and fries at the drive-thru this weekend, give a thought to the Romans who were doing exactly what you are now, only two thousand years ago.

June 1, 2007

The Teddy Bear Master

Sometimes you read things that are so stupefyingly weird that they just leave you agog, as in: "It was literally stuffed animals being manipulated by the boys, walking around going 'yeoowww' and talking in funny voices".

Depressingly, I'll probably have to apologize for this lawsuit to my students, too. Hot coffee, fast food made me fat, and now this.

You'll have to RTFA for more details about the evil teddy bears; I just don't know what else to say.