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July 31, 2006

Insufficient Warning

Will Baude fails to name names, thus ensuring some other poor fellow will get a "not very good Manhattan."

I'm Ahead of the Curve!

Prof. Berstein asks if we should boycott Mel Gibson because of his anti-Semitic outbursts whilst being arrested for drunk driving. The pro-boycott side is represented at the Huffington Post.

I'm torn. On the one hand, I'd probably rather boycott someone for driving while drunk (which can, after all, kill someone) than for their words, however hateful, spoken while inebriated. It's a sign of the moral compass of HuffPo that Ari Emanuel will give a pass for substance abuse, but take to heart some drunken rambling. Don't get me wrong, Gibson's accused of saying some vicious things, and that's bad (and possibly deserving of ostracism). But one would think that carelessness that can lead to vehicular homicide ranks further up in the heirarchy of sins. It seems these days it's worse to belt out a few ethnic slurs than to belt back a few G&Ts before speeding back home in a Lexus sedan.

On the other hand, looking at Gibson's entry on IMDB, I've not seen any of the top twelve films listed under his name either as an actor or a producer. (Well, I saw part of Signs on an airplane, but that barely counts.) I've not seen anything he's directed since Braveheart. So it seems like I've pre-emptively approved Mr. Emanuel's boycott.

Damn this man! Now I must either accede to his demands to shun Mr. Gibson or go see the silly savagery of Apocalypto. A miserable choice indeed.

Snapshot in DC

The last entry was composed in a Borders in downtown DC. While I was writing, a rather scuzzy gentleman took a table a few feet away fro me and proceeded to openly peruse a copy of Penthouse International Pets, holding it up at chest height and at one point seemingly pulling out a centerfold. The elderly couple behind him seemed to be alternately aghast and compelled to look over his shoulder.

As for me, I'm just pondering: was that fellow just a particularly shameless pervert, or was he cunningly trying to sow chaos and subvert social expectations.

July 21, 2006

Where does this fit...

. . . in the Geek Hierarchy?

Take a moment away from your bar review to ponder a wiki full of drink recipes based entirely on webcomics.

Come Thursday, I want one of these.

(Right now I want one of these, but they're not served at Barnes & Noble's co-branded Starbucks.)

July 15, 2006

George Bono

Tired of studying for the bar? Take a few minutes out and watch George Bush take on U2.

Ain't technology grand?

June 25, 2006

Free time

Sadly, after I become a lawyer it's unlikely I'll have the time to do things like this. (In Japanese, but you don't really need to understand it.)

June 21, 2006

Best Comment I've Heard So Far on the Carabell Case

My (non-lawyer) brother on the eighteen year battle between Keith Carabell and the federal government over whether he can build condominiums in a wetland area:

And they said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp . . . .

A quick search suggests that this didn't appear in any of the briefs in the case. Sad.

May 08, 2006

For the Real Law Addicts Out There

Dear Wormwood:

Do you have a friend studying for the Bar Exam? Do you think that friend is insufficiently motivated to knuckle down and learn the law? Or have you found that since starting law school, your long-time drinking buddy can only mutter incomprehensible phrases like "conflict of law" and "rule of perpetuity," and you want to find some experience you can use to rebond?

Well, I may just have the passtime for you: Disorderly Conduct. Imagine a game of Trivial Pursuit with all your favorite categories: torts, contracts and propery, oh my!

To be honest, my parents got me a copy of this for Christmas last year, and it's surprisingly fun, especially if you're playing with people who aren't lawyers or law students. First of all, non-legal people are handicapped, and only have to get four of six categories to win. But more importantly, they get a real kick out of beating supposed "experts" in the law.

I think in revenge I'm going to get my engineer father a Deflextion set next Christmas. I've not had a chance to play it, but reports suggest that it crosses chess (or maybe checkers) with mirrors and lasers.

April 18, 2006

Reason I'm Not A Federalist #37,987. . .

. . . the frequent (though not universal) "us and them" mentality within that part of the conservative movement. Take, for instance, Prof. Bainbridge today writing on political affiliation and hybrid vehicles:

Do "crunchy cons" drive Priuses? Probably. Personally, "I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object." Roland Barthes (1915–1980), French semiologist. “The New Citroën” (1957). In the language of that wonderful metaphor, the decision to buy a Prius is not unlike an agnostic choosing to visit one of the great Gothic cathedrals. You have chosen to be in but not of the experience.

Bollocks to that. I'm about as uncrunchy a conservative as you can get, and yet if it's at all practical I intend to buy a hybrid after graduation for use during my clerkship. I'm not trying to save the earth, and I suspect that the increased cost of the vehicle will vastly outweigh any potential fuel savings (especially since I wouldn't be buying an SUV).

I want to buy a hybrid so that I can take it apart. It's a new technology, and just as I like opening up a server and looking at the guts or going through Moveabletype's code and seeing what makes it tick, I want to get my hands dirty searching through the pieces. [1] I drove a hybrid over spring break, and it performed like a fairly funky small car that happened to be much more quiet in city driving.

Of course, a curiousity about the construction of an automobile means that folks like Bainbridge will feel free to question my political views. Conservatives like that are happy to fit people into little boxes. It's that mindset that makes me unwilling to join the Federalist Society: conservatism not as a philosophy, but a minority lifestyle choice. (One of my liberal friends once joked, "Sort of like emo kids in high school?")

I was reminded of this at the 2006 Student Symposium, when the banquet's keynote speaker, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, stood up and announced that the crowning achievement of the Society for the last few months, the sign of its influence, was the defeat of the Miers nomination. If there had been any debate in the Federalist Society on Miers, Fund didn't recognize it.

Ironically, diversity actually is one of the strengths of the conservative movement (and in theory, of the FedSoc), as well as one of the things that makes it the most interesting. The litany of authors and speakers with 'you can't be a real conservative if . . .' pieces is pretty depressing.

[1]: Speaking of trendy products that are fun to take apart, if you've got an old iPod you're not using, they're fairly fun to disassemble. (See link for images.) Of course, such things lead to iPod chargers in Altoids tins. . .

(A few small updates made a few minutes after publication, mostly to get the link to Volokh's piece)

April 17, 2006

For You 3L Women About to Make Big Bucks

Netflix for Handbags. I'm so not the target market for this service.

April 12, 2006

I will never be this flash. . . .

Through an English friend of mine, today I learned about the art of sabrage.

Put roughly: how to open a bottle of champagne if the only tools you have are a very large pig-sticker, no self-consciousness and little fear that fundamental forces of physics will fail you at a key moment. Actually, it sounds quite impressive.

March 21, 2006

How to Spot A Conservative in Pre-School

Apparently I must have been a real trial as a kid. At least that's the theory of one of Prof. Leiter's new co-authors, whose latest post is summed up best by Mike Rappaport: "Conservatives are not only evil, they're ugly too."

I guess the Social Sciences are feeling ignored again, because another psych prof has published a piece in the Journal of Research in Personality detailing exactly how psychologically imbalanced we conservatives are. It seems that Prof. Block tracked a number of Berkeley kids from their developmental years to their 30s and has found that the "whiny, insecure tattletale[s]" (Ms. Wilson's words) grew up to show Republican tendencies. For a certain kind of liberal, this is just the kind of Cheerios they need to find a smile in the morning.

Curiously, Ms. Wilson's source material--an article in the Toronto Star--is quite a great deal more circumspect and interesting than her own rantings:

The results do raise some obvious questions. Are nursery school teachers in the conservative heartland cursed with classes filled with little proto-conservative whiners?

Or does an insecure little boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?

Or do the whiny kids grow up conservative along with the majority of their more confident peers, while only the kids with poor impulse control turn liberal?


Who knows? Asking such questions wouldn't let Ms. Wilson get her licks in, so understandably she doesn't bother.

More amusing is the fact that between my reading her post and writing this response, she's taken half of it down. After catching some flack, she determined that her tantrum was a bit too bilious even for the Leiter Reports. [1] "[I]n blog posts, I go by the coupla hours rule: if I write something that I pretty quickly think better of, then I just get rid of it . . . ." Or as one of my blog-mentors once put it:

When in doubt; deny everything. When you're seriously up shit creek; Ctrl+A Delete.

Update: Link to Republic of T added after initial publication.

[1]: Expressing some dismay at the reaction to her original work, Ms. Wilson writes, "Honestly, though: U.S.-ers are entirely too lacking in tolerance for the appropriately inappropriate jibe... read some Will Self if you want to see how totally restrained I am." Will Self? I shall have to remember this line of argument in case I ever have trouble with St. Peter: "Carnal sins? C'mon, Pete, compared to Ron Jeremy, I'm a model of chastity!"

March 14, 2006

What My Friends Must Think of Me

Making my way through some severe spring cleaning, I found a gift brought back from two of my closest English friends: four sets of kim giao chopsticks from Vietnam. As the packaging explains:

Kim giao (Podocarpus fleuryi) is a valuable tree associated the woeful with love story betwee Giao thuy a woodcutter's son and Kim Ngan a princess. Kim Giao wood can change its colour when it is put in poison. Thus, in the past, Kings used the chopsticks mode from Kim Giao wood to discover poisoned food at parties.

[errors from original retained]

The key question is whether they think that after I become a lawyer I'll have such insidious adversaries that I'll need to check my lunch for poison, or whether they figure law school has corrupted me to the point that I'll start poisoning my dinner guests. (Lawyers don't have the best reputations, after all.) I'll be suspicious if they ask to use these chopsticks next time they visit...

March 07, 2006

A Modest Pro Bono

Dear Wormwood,

I've slightly overshot Columbia's 40 hour pro bono requirement for graduation, or at least I suspect I will when I finally fill in the forms. On the other hand, quite a few 3Ls of my acquaintance have complained to me recently of their frantic efforts to fulfill their responsibilities under this dubious virtue tax.

At the same time, I've overheard a number of 1Ls murmuring that, despite a fresh influx of funds from Columbia, there are still not enough positions in the Human Rights Internship Program. Thus many fledgling do-gooders find themselves seeking summer jobs that may not be spiritually satisfying. It seems that while their elders are looking for work, they're looking for money.

It's a pity that Foundations of the Regulatory State is no longer a required class, because in my day almost every 1L covered the obvious solution to this problem. To ensure the maximum amount of happiness among Columbia students while making sure we contribute our fair share--whatever we collectively decide that is--we should institute a trading system similar to that used for pollution emissions. [1]

As you might expect, Wormwood, those who are inclined towards public interest (and not coincidentally, most often the political left) collect far more than the 40 hours they're required to contribute. On the other hand, those for whom the requirement is a mostly unnecessary hassle are swiftly heading towards more or less lucrative careers. The obvious solution is to allow 3Ls to bid for and purchase pro bono hours from overproducers. The funds could then be used to sponsor 1Ls summering in exotic and underserved locales such as South Africa, eastern Europe or the Bronx.

Collectively, there is no doubt this is a winning formula. It's not too much of an assumption to think that those who want to do pro bono work will do it more productively, so our "good causes" however defined will receive better resources. We would be able to guarantee a certain amount of public interest work: after all, there's a floor beneath which hours cannot fall, and we can raise that to much higher than 40 hours per student. At the same time, HRIP receives more funding without having to increase tuition across the student body, producing even more socially enlightened output.

Wormwood, this seems a most sensible course by any tangible measurement. Yet my tongue is firmly in my cheek and I would never expect such a system to take hold. At the end of the day, the pro bono requirement isn't really about making sure that good causes receive useful (or enthusiastic) resources. Nothing so grubbily consequentialist should enter the publicly-spirited mind! To talk to a true believer, it's all about opening our minds, enlightening our souls and making us think that an industry supporting starting salaries of nearly $150,000 at the elite level is being done in a spirit of "professionalism," that is to say in the service of the public rather than the practitioners.

I put it to you that at the end of three years of law school, it is very difficult to avoid the level of cynicism required to say that with a straight face. And if three years of law school doesn't isn't enough, a brief glance at your debt burden should do it.

Ah well. For me it's almost over. As I mentioned to one complaining 3L, don't think of it as enforced charity. Think of it as a virtue tax, in which you take from whatever you consider virtuous and pay to what the Center for Public Interest Law considers such.

[1]: Often called "cap and trade" systems, emissions trading works to reduce a negative externality through a pricing system. What I'm proposing wouldn't be a cap and trade system, as it has no caps. Rather, trading would be used to maximize a positive externality. On the other hand, "floor and trade" seems a particularly clumsy phrase, and so I haven't used it.

February 14, 2006

An Undiscovered Punctuational Country

From an email exchange today:

In which case, I generally believe (albeit inconsistently ;) that a smiley also doubles as a closed parenthesis, thus avoiding the awkward:
(albeit inconsistently ;) )

Sadly, the Bluebook has remained silent upon this important issue.

Advice from my readers on this important issue is (as always :) welcome.

February 10, 2006

Addictive Timewaster

An... I don't know what you should call it, webcomic maybe... A Softer World. One of those things I come across while bouncing from site to site. It gives me the same sensation as some Japanese poetry, I guess, which is why I can't stop reading the archive.

Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed it.

January 11, 2006

Fantasy Taxes, or How Much is that Pixie in the Window?

WARNING: This post contains a long and abstruse discussion of two of the geekiest subjects on the planet: taxation law and massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). It's quite possible that this much pure geekdom in one place may cause aberrations in the laws of physics or adverse health consequences. The management expressly disclaims all liability for any and all such events. Further (as if this isn't obvious), this post does not constitute tax advice. If you begin to play the highly addictive game Kingdom of Loathing as a result of this post, don't blame me. So far as I know, no support group is available.

(If it's not obvious from the extended discussion, I find tax law fascinating.)

For the last month or so, Heidi Bond and I have been discussing a curious question of tax and online gaming, centering around her fascination with Kingdom of Loathing. It's old news that online games have spawned their own economies, that players sell virtual property online for real cash and even that some Chinese players organize in "gold factories", getting paid to do virtual drudgework so that the resulting booty can be sold to real-world aristocrats with less time on their hands.

I'll admit that I have only a passing acquaintance with Kingdom of Loathing, although the combination of Dungeons and Dragons with Douglas Adams never fails to make me smile. Unsurprisingly given that we're law students, Heidi and I both wondered at a question that has now been raised in the illustrious online pages of Legal Affairs. Given that people are getting rich, how much will the IRS tax you for a Sword of OrcMeat Sandwichmaking +1?

Oddly, this doesn't come up in your standard Federal Tax class. The Legal Affairs article mentions the possibility of getting a private letter ruling from the IRS, and I'm very tempted to try to write one. After all, literally millions could be riding on the answers. [1]

Simple Simon: Trades for Cash
Let's start with the uncontroversial. As Julian Dibbell relates in his article:

In the course of this project, I made a total of $11,000 selling on eBay the items I won playing a game called Ultima Online, $3,900 of which was in the final, most profitable month. I reported my profit to the IRS, and I paid the requisite taxes.

Unsurprisingly, the fact that Dibbell sold magic swords doesn't stop the IRS from taking a cut. There might be some questions as to his basis and the best way of structuring the transaction (and whether it violates Ultima Online's terms of service), but once money has changed hands it's fairly obvious that a gain has been realized.

More Complex: In-Game Trades
Heidi makes the question more interesting: does earning items within the game constitute income that should be declared on one's tax return? As she describes the scenario:

If I [received a very valuable game item, a Talisman of Baio] and sold the Baio on eBay, I'd obviously have to pay taxes on the sale. And if I found a valuable diamond ring while walking through the woods, I'd have to pay taxes on my windfall. So is finding the Baio itself, in the game, a realization event? If I choose to keep the incredibly-useful Baio for myself, without selling it, do I have to pay taxes on the find? What about if I sell the Baio for meat [the KoL currency] in the Mall of Loathing? Is that a realization event?

The answer is not that we can't value the Baio; there's a pretty robust in-game player economy, and regular out-of-game meat sales on eBay. An in-game Baio is worth 98 million meat, and meat goes for about 700K per dollar, so Baios are probably worth about $140. This isn't a difficult valuation problem . . . .


The Legal Affairs article chronicles the author's quest to get an answer from the IRS, but ultimately reaches no conclusion, largely because the author doesn't want to pay to get a definitive answer from the Service.

My guess--and this is very much not legal advice, so if you're currently holding a Wand of Tax Enforcement +8 don't report me to the IRS--is that an in-game transaction cannot result in a realization event. Heidi's example implicitly relies upon treating currencies within a game ("meat" in Kingdom of Loathing) as the equivalent of currencies in the real world. I disagree. To oversimplify, nothing in a MMORPG is actually more than a piece of a mathematical equation that in some sense alters a storyline. For instance, if Player A buys a magical sword or even his own magical castle, he's really purchased a higher likelihood that the calculation involved in his beating up an orc will succeed, or a lower likelihood that someone else will steal his stuff. (That stuff is, in turn, just another set of alterations in specific equations. In a graphical MMORPG, he's also buying the right to look at the graphics that go with the item, I suppose, but let's leave that aside for a bit.) Online "currency" is sort of like a very flexible magical item: with enough of it, you can turn one set of equation-altering objects into another.

Buying and selling objects using virtual currency is simply making a strategic move in the game itself. This is no different from (say) rolling a six in Sorry! or purchasing a hotel in Monopoly. No one would consider a taxable event, even though it may make the player happy (or even win the game). By contrast, if I sell a game object for cash, I am performing a service within the game that is not contemplated by its rules in exchange for goods or services outside the game. [2]

That's where I'd draw the line, but I'm just a student. As for precedent, there's not a lot out there to analyze. In Legal Affairs, Professor Richard Schmalbeck of Duke University School of Law cites to the old casebook favorite Zarin v. Commissioner, 916 F.2d 110 (3d Cir. 1990). David Zarin, a professional gambler, got in over his head to the tune of some $3.43 million. He'd gambled on credit with the casino, but apparently he had better luck at the negotiating table after his checks bounced, because he settled for a mere $500,000. Any joy at this outcome was crushed when the IRS determined that far from losing, Zarin had gained $2.9 million in discharged indebtedness income. Much of the dispute involved whether the chips Zarin received for his loan constituted cash that he used to purchase chips (and thus were worth $3.4 million) or were a purchase money loan for a given amount of gambling, and were only worth the enforceable debt. Both the tax court and the 3rd Circuit returned divided opinions.

I mention the case at length because Prof. Schmalbeck is described in the article (though not quoted) as suggesting this case could lead to taxation of ingame MMORPG gains. The case itself, however, doesn't primarily deal with transactions in chips during the course of the craps games, but rather their initial purchase. Although it's the closest I can find, it's not really on point. Closer might be Collins v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 1992-478 (1992), which dealt with pari mutuel racetrack betting slips, but the connection is still tenuous. In each case, the taxable transaction was the exchange of chips or tickets for cash, not purely an in-game transfer of "wealth." They don't seem to counsel against the distinction above.

I quite like my theoretical dividing line, especially as the result is instinctively satisfying. If nothing else, taxing magic items would be an administrative nightmare to enforce. On the other hand, I suppose some auditors would have significantly more fun, particularly if they got to roam the game worlds looking for tax cheats on Service time.[2]

More Complex Still: Between Game Transactions
My house of cards threatens to fall over when I try to support a more complex fact pattern. Suppose that Heidi primarily plays Kingdom of Loathing and I mostly dabble in World of Warcraft, but we each have a presence in both games. She owns the Talisman of Baio and I've crafted a very nice Elvish Sword. Bored with our respective hobbies, we each decide to switch worlds. What are the tax consequences if:

a) Heidi agrees to give my KoL character the Talisman if I give her the Sword?
b) Deciding to drop out of our primary games, I give her the passwords to my WoW character and vice-versa?

According to my analysis above, these would both be taxable events. Although we're playing in both games, the trade is outside the rules of either, and the trade isn't really a game event. Rather than trading in-game strategic advantage like a meat-for-Baio exchange, we've entered into a slightly contracted version of two item-for-money exchanges. Of course, we still have the same administrative nightmare for the taxman: given that I made the sword but Heidi found the Baio, what is our basis for the sale? Given that no real record is available, how will this transaction get audited? But there's nothing in my theory to provide us with a Shield of Tax Relief.

The alternative would be to say that any trade between any two MMORPGs does not constitute a taxable event, but my gut tells me that this is rife for abuse. Indeed, I can quickly see the outlines of a scheme or two for tax evasion, money laundering or other accounting gimmickery, especially if the value of the "currencies" in each realm are subject to considerable fluctuation. (Could one make a living speculating in online currencies, only being taxed on the last "real world" transaction?) Nevertheless, an elegant solution eludes me at the moment, so I think I'll leave any better definition for my readers in the comments.

(Note: The comments may block the word "poker." If you get error messages after referencing it in your comments, please just find a way around this, such as referring to it as P---- or whatever creative means you wish.)

[1]: Sadly, I'm not enough of a player to have anything taxable, and until I'm a lawyer I'm probably only able to request an answer on my behalf. I'd really appreciate it if a bigger KoL player would help me engineer such a transaction, for instance by buying my spooky staff for some insane amount.

[2]: An interesting question would be whether or not buying or selling things in a game that itself contemplated exchange to real dollars would constitute an accession to wealth. Assume, for instance, that Everquest charges $15/month access, but will allow you to trade a certain amount of gold earned in game for free months of service. (That's actually a suicidal business model, of course.) Assuming I'm right, would it be possible to create trades that would constitute realization events once someone had sold enough items to get a free month?

[3]: I've always wondered if tax auditors compete for the most interesting or unique audits. After any number of relatively similar small businesses, would someone really relish trying to find the Everquest tax cheat, or for that matter investigating Nevada brothels or felony rings?

January 09, 2006

I Wish I Could Live In The Leiter Zone

Apart from their entertainment function, blogs serve as gatekeepers for busy readers. For instance, one can keep on top of legal events and appellate litigation (and the most interesting commentary) by browsing through the appropriate websites. And if you want to know what's going on in the "boggier corners of the fever-swamp Left," you can do a lot worse than to click over to Prof. Leiter. Anyone remember the Great Draft of 2005, brough to you by the strange alliance of King George III and his faithful sidekick, Charlie Rangel? It's a whole new world!

There's nothing so mind-broadening as travel to such alternate realities. Don't get me wrong: I make it a point to cultivate my own particular pocket dimensions. For instance, I recently explained to my girlfriend that I live in a world in which Hilary Duff does not exist. For some reason (probably songs like "Come Clean") I find her brand of lyrical candyfloss particularly insubstantial. I'll admit that it takes an extreme act of will, but through extended effort I've managed to blank the slightest hint of her from my world. [1]

Nevertheless, Leiter's latest link to "sharp cultural analysis" in ZNet suggests that I'm living in a sub-optimal fantasyland. True, the fine art of denial leads to a life of quiet contentment, but ZNet has me convinced that the world of the paranoid is more fun. To show what I mean, let's examine "The People Are Unfit to Rule: The Ideological Meaning of Maury Povich and Jerry Springer" in the spirit it deserves. The lead paragraph itself is a classic of the genre:

One morning last Fall I witnessed a mass-cultural war crime in the comfort of my own living room: The Maury Povich Show.
When I think of Maury Povich, I typically think, "What did Connie Chung see in him that she didn't see in someone more famous, talented, and funny? Someone like, say, Wings & Vodka?" Little did I know that Mr. Povich was more than a rather talentless shadow of Jerry Springer: he's actually the schlocktrooper for a mediofascist regime in the Mass Culture Wars.

The article first goes through a rather predictable rant on the evils of trash TV in a manner unlikely to generate much disagreement from Focus on the Family or Pat Robertson. It starts by arguing that Maury Povich, Jerry Springer or Jenny Jones, as well as TV Judges like the infamous Judge Judy, prey upon the uneducated, the powerless, and the just plain freakish in order to fill the gutter demands of popular entertainment. Particularly vile to the author's eyes (and, for that matter, to mine) is Maury's habit of performing a paternity test for his guests to prove whether a child is actually the blood of his father.

ZNet describes such horrors in the first dozen or so paragraphs without breaking much new ground. Then the full fevers of the class-obsessed left kick in, and the entertainment truly starts:

What’s going on here? Beyond their profitable (for broadcasters) appeal to the public’s most base and voyeuristic instincts, these and other “real—life” television shows play a neglected ideological role in the corporate-crafted “popular culture” of parasitic late capitalism. They are part of an elitist thought control project: the cultural engineering and enforcement of mass consent to social hierarchy.
See, in my world the crass nature of popular culture results largely from a race-to-the-bottom: most people laugh at cheap gags and spectacle, while more complex humor finds it hard to connect with a mass audience. There's Something About Mary became a hit in the theaters because sperm-in-the-hair equals butts-in-the-seats, and in my world it would be too much to expect Hollywood producers to spurn such riches. But if I lived in ZNet world, I could see this as the work of the Hidden Masters, an "elitist thought control project." [2]

Supposedly, such thought control has two diabolical ends.

The first such idea maintains that poor people –--- it is practically always working- and lower-class people who get held up for ridicule in the human cockfights staged by Maury, Jerry, and the rest –--- deserve their own poverty and related isolation and criminalization in America. A college student who has been mass culturally weaned on Jerry (Springer), Jenny (Jones), Sally (Jesse-Raphael), Judy (the judge), and Maury et al. is not a good candidate to follow his left-liberal sociology, history, or English professor’s discourse on the role that structural forces and elite agents of class, race, and/or gender oppression play in creating mass inequality and misery in the United States.
(As an aside, isn't that last sentence precious? To rephrase: "Any college student subjected to THEIR brainwashing on TV will be much less susceptible to OUR brain... er... propogan... er... education in the classroom, where they're supposed to get it. Damn those sneaky Hidden Masters, subverting our subversion of the dominant paradigm!")
Of course, Maury and Jerry don’t do shows about the rampant social injustice that produces the people who show up on their stages. Judges Judy and Joe Brown and the authorities on Divorce Court don’t adjudicate on the political-economic abandonment of the inner city or the corporate globalization that destroys jobs, families, and communities.
Again, this could be because Maury and Jerry are the foot soldiers in the Grand Class War, following the instructions of elite Culture Generals tasked with numbing the masses through a secular opiate. Or it could be because Jerry Springer doing a show about the "rampant social injustice that produces the people who show up on their stages" becomes Meet the Press, Face the Nation, or This Week. These are shows unlikely to garner Springer's mass audience appeal until George Stephanopolous loses it and bashes George F. Will over the head with a chair.

Not satisfied with merely planting seeds of Social Darwinist thought in the minds of the proletariat, the Hidden Masters have another agenda item:

The second richly authoritarian idea “taught” by Maury and Jerry et al. holds that the ordinary populace is too stupid, vile, savage, selfish, atavistic, and ignorant to be trusted with the possession of any particular power in “democratic” America.

. . . .

The mass populace that appears on Maury and Jerry (both on stage and in the audience) is more than merely unfit to rule. It is a modern-day embodiment of the wretched, unruly, and childish “mob” – the dangerous and all-too “masterless” and “many-headed monster” – that aristocrats have always claimed to see when they describe the common people. It is proof of the classic authoritarian and self-interested ruling-class idea that the ordinary citizenry is unqualified for freedom and must always be checked, coerced, and manipulated from above. It is evidence for the venerable bourgeois thesis that “human nature” is essentially nasty, violent, disagreeable, and brutish. Especially at the bottom of the supposedly merit-based socioeconomic pyramid, this thesis maintains, civilization’s majority is composed of ignorant and boorish louts. That thankless rabble must be controlled for their own good and the good of society by benevolent, far-seeing masters, who are supposedly less tainted with humanity’s inherent inner savagery.


Who would have thought Maury Povich hid so much!

Now, in my world this lesson doesn't make much sense. Sure, we show the freakish private lives of the poorest of our society through Jerry Springer. We also show the freakish lives of the wealthiest of our society. The paternity revelations of Maury Povich are crass, but they don't differ much in kind from the latest romantic tribulations of Brad/Jennifer/Angelina or the "let's film ourselves having sex in green" antics of Paris Hilton. In the former case, the spectacle has interest because the observed other is generally poorer than the audience; in the latter, because the other moves in a world of relative luxury but universalist tribulation. Springer guests show up without much to lose; celebrities appear in tabloids because they mostly gain from getting even a scandal-soaked name in public.

ZNet suggests that if the middle class doesn't get much attention in this circus it's all part of the Master Plan. That delusion never occurred to me. As a grubby capitalist myself, I'd expect that Divorce Court or Judge Judy would jump at middle-class or wealthy victims willing to make fools of themselves, and fools are not a scarce commodity even among those who escape the collateral damage of the class war. Sadly for the producers, however, middle-class misfits have no reason to subject themselves to televised abuse. I would have thought that's why they're largely absent or fictionalized in shows like Dangerous Housewives.

As delusions go, "The People are Unfit to Rule" beats denial all to hell. I mean, just think: I've been avoiding watching daytime TV for years as something really not worth my notice, something lacking in intellectual substance, like professional wrestling or Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominees. [3] Little did I know that they were the craven tools of an elite classist conspiracy, and that thus there was tons to learn from Mr. Povich and company.

[1]: I have yet to achieve true pop-culture nirvana: the ability to mentally block from my consciousness the Pussycat Dolls, Shania Twain, or . . . well, Nirvana.

[2]: My regular readers will realize the attraction of this worldview for me. Any elistist though control project will need an Elitist Thought Control Project Manager. If someone knows where I can apply, please tell me. References provided upon request.

[3]: I'm sure some commentor will get bent out of shape by my glancing comment on the Alito hearings, but they remind me in passing of a quotation that a former classmate put in his Administrative Law outline:

"Notice-and-comment rulemaking is to public participation as Japanese Kabuki theater is to human passions—a highly stylized process for displaying in a formal way the essence of something which in real life takes place in other venues." E. Donald Elliott, Re-Inventing Rulemaking, 41 DUKE L.J. 1490, 1492 (1992).

Whatever the theatrical value of the hearings, I don't really believe that a format in which the questions of Senators are longer than the answers of the nominee is likely to generate much actual information. That's not to say that they're less edifying as to the real strength of a candidate than professional wrestling, but certainly I don't credit it with much more.

December 21, 2005

Now for Something Completely Different

While there's many things I love about law school, I sort of wish it featured more light-hearted inanity like this.

Actually, that's a thought. What might happen at MIT Law School?

December 05, 2005

Fancy An Alternate Career?

Some complain about the high cost of law school. I want to be an attorney, but it's true that for the price of tuition and the opportunity cost of lost wages there are a lot of other lucrative opportunities. For instance, for less than the price of many top law schools, you can now buy an entire porn company on eBay.

(Link via the Register, always a cool source of useless news)

November 10, 2005

Note to Conservatives: Drop Poli-Sci, Take Marketing

"Have you noticed that all of these posters of John Ashcroft have a very Big Brotherish feel to them?"

So said my girlfriend as she dropped by with cookies this evening. (Either she wants them out of her room so she won't eat them, or she's fattening me up for a winter stew. I'm not inclined to inquire too deeply.) I'd not noticed these posters, as I'd had a rather long day of trying to catch up with tax reading I should have finished in September. But as I was due for a break, I dropped the textbook and went out to the elevator to take a look. Sure enough, staring back at me from the elevator wall was a bilious green photostat of John Ashcroft. My first thought was actually, "Wow... he looks like he's been arrested, and that's a bad photocopy of a mug shot." It had that half-grin, half-grimace begging to say, "Do I get my phone call now?"

Nevertheless, it didn't take long for me to figure out where my girlfriend was getting the 1984 vibe. The poster wasn't just in the elevator. Apparently members of the Conservative Club, the Federalist Society, and Columbia Republicans had exuberantly plastered poor Ashcroft's mug throughout dormitory lobbies, all over the student unions, and even on a couple of bus stops . [1] The posters were almost universally hung at head-height, and at times it seemed like everywhere you turned, John Ashcroft was watching you. One could be forgiven for imagining a sign like this:

There's something very dispiriting about such associations. Given that a minority of Columbia students are inclined to look favorably upon the man who threw a drape over the bare bosom of Justice, a careful marketing of Ashcroft's appearance should be the order of the day. For instance, what is he speaking about? I'm assuming he's not going to show up and assert his patriotic zeal, and indeed I was unaware it had been called into question. (A quick Google search suggests I'm wrong about this, and indeed possibly a bit naive.) I presume that "American PATRIOT," given its non-standard capitalization, refers to his involvement with the PATRIOT Act. Nevertheless, perhaps this could be made clearer to those who aren't political junkies?

But those are questions of substance, and I am more disturbed by the lack of style. Certainly college conservatives can advertise their ideals without having to either evoke fusty dead white men or the kind of propaganda used by the villains in Orwellian dystopias. I know that the "kinder, gentler conservatism" of Bush the Elder and the "compassionate" variety of his son are out of fashion, but does that mean we must adopt pea-soup green and disconsolate expressions as our style of the day?

It seems a bad sign when one's advertisements are perilously close to what one's adversaries would use for parody.

[1]: This being Columbia, it goes without saying that between discovering these posters and going back to photograph them, two events separated by less than an hour, one of the posters had already been torn down.

(The last link to Students for an Orwellian Society added 11/10, as I'd forgotten to do it this morning.)

October 25, 2005

Attention Venture Capitalists

With the value of this blog, I might be able to pay my expenses for one year of law school:


My blog is worth $44,598.66.
How much is your blog worth?

The calculation behind this relies on values derived from the AOL/Weblogs.com deal. I'm not really holding my breath. (Link via Volokh.)

UPDATE: Hmm. It appears that there are people taking this calculator with what might appear to be seriousness. I was pretty certain it was meant to mock the AOL/Weblogs.com deal, but looking at the rest of the site on which the calculator appears, I'm no longer so sure.

Prof. Ribstein explains exactly why the number above is bunk, and what conclusions can be drawn from it. I would have thought it was obvious but for the sake of clarity, I suppose I should be explicit in stating that you'd have to be insane to pay me $40K for this. I don't think I could ethically take your money.

October 24, 2005

How Can You Have Writer's Block When You Have the Internet?

Somewhere in this link there is a blog post struggling to get out.

Since I can't come up with it right now, I give you the link in this chrysalis of a post.

October 17, 2005

Me and Baldrick

"I have a cunning plan." Is there any better phrase in the English language? [1] And those words popped into my mind immediately when the following email popped into my inbox today:

ACS is having a *PARTY.* [2] There will be an *OPEN BAR* (beer and wine) and appetizers.

The party is for individuals who JOIN (or have joined) the National Chapter of ACS. ACS will have signup sheets at the event. Student dues are $10.


I'm sure some of my readers now have the same light bulb appearing over their heads that lit above mine this morning.

Sure, the event doesn't last that long, the drinks will likely never have been within sight of the top shelf, and the venue will probably give a reasonable discount. Such is the way of the open bar. Nevertheless, given the price of alcohol at most venues in New York City, it shouldn't be difficult for a dedicated drinker to make his way through ten dollars of even discounted booze. Why, if we got all the legal conservatives in New York City together, and we all signed up to join the ACS, and we paid absolutely no attention to the health of our livers, in one short hour we could drink the institution into a beer-sodden bankruptcy!

Sadly, it's the kind of idea whose appeal doesn't last for long if one is sober. To point out the very smallest of its flaws: if any one of the would-be raiders were ever to be appointed to high office, folks like those presently fuming about the Miers confirmation would waste no time in claiming that our principles were compromised. After all, we would have shunned the Federalist Society and joined the ACS. . . .

[1]: I am referring, of course, to Baldrick, sidekick to Edmund Blackadder in the eponymous series of BBC comedies. Baldrick's cunning plans are never very cunning, and quite often do not even rise to the level of a plan. Wikipedia gives this example: "[E]scaping the guillotine by waiting until your head has been cut off, then 'springing into action' and running 'around and around the farmyard, and out the farmyard gate', in the style of a chicken." Such plans are amusing, utterly ridiculous, and doomed to certain failure. The suggestion above should be read in that light.

[2]: In the interests of full disclosure, I've removed the time, place, and location from the email, since the Columbia ACS Blog hasn't published them, but added the link to their blog. I've also made some slight formatting changes and omissions of other events. I don't know why I bother pointing this out, other than the fact that some of my readers may have obsessive interest in the nature of law school student society emails.

October 15, 2005

Non-Demon-inational

Via Volokh, we learn that a marching band in Virginia has pulled "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" from its lineup: if you can't play "Amazing Grace," why should you be able to talk about the devil? Prof. Volokh lays this to rest: "For those curious about whether playing The Devil Went Down to Georgia would be an Establishment Clause violation, the answer is no. . . ."

As well it shouldn't. After all, while God is such a divider that the two-word presence of his name is enough to send some atheists running to the courthouse, the Devil is a non-denominational uniter of people, creeds, and even musical tastes. Consider:

No way you'll get Old Nick on an Establishment Charge rap: he's about as broad-minded as you can get.

October 09, 2005

What It Takes To Get Me To Read The New York Times

Have P. J. O'Rourke write for it. Since many of my readers are his fans, I hope you check out the link, in which he takes a well-deserved chainsaw to the ridiculous musings of reviews a book by an author from the Village Voice.

October 06, 2005

Maybe He Knows Something We Don't?

Howard Dean on MSNBC's "Hardball":

In one eyebrow-raising moment, Dean invoked a crude phrase usually reserved for the locker room when urging Bush to make public Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers's White House records. "I think with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, you can't play, you know, hide the salami, or whatever it's called," he said.

(via Althouse)

Ahem.

October 04, 2005

Clerics and Class Actions

Some former RPG-playing legal types should find this Order of the Stick piece funny. Others will just realize why there were no lawyers in The Lord of the Rings.

September 28, 2005

As Graduation Nears...

Someone has sent me a suggestion for something to end three years of hell...

I love my friends.

September 27, 2005

RIP, Don Adams

Don Adams, TV's Agent Maxwell Smart, dies at 82.

Professor Bainbridge gives the shortest and most appropriate eulogy. I'd like to add that not many comedians make their mark on the law of professional responsibility.

September 21, 2005

Perfect Gift for a New Lawyer?

It might keep in perspective the benefit of working in an "Anglo-Saxon" jurisdiction.

Given the obvious implication, I bet Prof. Bainbridge would love it too.

September 08, 2005

Time and Relative Dimensions in Caffeine

"Oh my god, it's full of frappucinos!"

Gotta Love the Military Humor

I only rarely read The Mudville Gazette, but occasionally it gives me a great grin:

Also for the record, before I myself experienced hours of sensitivity training required to be a career military man person, I would have had a two word desription for this. Now I simply refer to it as a "cluster".

August 31, 2005

Congratulations, Jeremy. Now Stop Worrying.

The ever-more-famous blawger Jeremy Blachman (of Anonymous Lawyer fame) today has an op-ed in the New York Times. It's certainly cool that he's managed it, but like many NYT op-eds, I think he's getting worried over nothing much.

Will Baude has already explained why adopting Jeremy's position (a law protecting bloggers) is unlikely to be good for them in the first place. But in any event, my experience suggests that the risks worrying Jeremy are overstated.

His op-ed focuses on the case of Nadine Haobsh, who has been fired from two magazine for keeping a blog. (Ladies Home Journal and Seventeen, for those wanting to boycott, write angry letters, etc. I'm half-tempted: I mean, I don't feel that strongly, but who ever thought I'd get to boycott Seventeen? [1]) It seems that Ms. Haobsh wasn't perhaps the most discreet person in the world to be blogging. An example of her work:

My boss (and sometimes even I, only a mid-level editor) regularly gets Marc Jacobs wallets and coats, plane ticket vouchers, iPods, overnight stays at the Mandarin Oriental, year-long gym memberships, and—of course—all the free highlights and haircuts your poor dyed, straightened and styled hair can stand. It's almost embarassing.

Of course, the entry pay is crap. When my parents found out how much I made at my first job (good ol' Condé Nast!), they questioned the legality of paying somebody that little. (Nope, not slave labor, just your standard editorial assistant position.)


Ms. Haobsh would have been well-served by my rule of not mentioning a non-blogger (like your boss) online without asking them first. Not exactly the expectations that an HR manager in any beauty department wants to set.

Then again, it's all fairly harmless. Having read the whole four months of her blog, I can say that there's nothing in there as damaging to any organization as an NYT editorial castigating the firing. Further, that single editorial probably drove the young lady's hit count through the roof. (At least, it would have if the NYT had included a link in the text...) She wasn't talking about the sex lives of her bosses/clients. In the end, this may end up a Seventeen own-goal.

My guess is that over time, a kind of market truce is going to emerge. Responsible bloggers will worry--as Heidi Bond has done recently--about what others (including, presumably, their employers) will think of their writing. They will be reasonable about what they write. [2] Good employers, in the meantime, will realize the positive power of having a blogging employee.

Here I like to think I was ahead of the curve. Back before I entered law school, I was introduced to blogs by a friend and colleague who was a bit of an evangelist. (Actually, he was good friends with another blogging evangelist who showed me a great deal about the form, and can tell you concisely why politicians need weblogs.) Both of them had some great ideas about how a blog could help a firm.

Marketing departments, for instance, can get a heck of a lot of bang for the buck by sending a product sample to someone like Engadget--assuming it's a good product. Gradually, the marketing departments have come around. It's a matter of getting comfortable with openness and trusting your customers: putting your marketing in the hands of an independent blogger can seem scary to someone used to dictating advertising schedules (or being friendly to "professional" reviewers at established magazines). Similarly, a PR or HR department has a lot to gain from a blogger giving a realistic and credible view of what it's like to work at a company. (Read Ms. Haobsh, for instance, and you're likely to come up with a favorable view of her job.)

The risks are there for both sides: the blogger can say something unkind about your company an in uncensored forum, and that's likely to hurt. Of course, it's likely to hurt a lot more if what the blogger said is true, and hurt a lot less if other employees are in the blogosphere to contradict the first one. On the other hand, the blogger takes the risk of blogging too far and convincing the company to make him or her redundant. Yet once the dust settles, I'm convinced many companies will be making the realistic assessment: how much will they lose from firing a blogger who didn't make them look bad in the first place?

Of course, I'm not sure I'd put my money where my mouth is on that one, which is why this blog will cease upon my graduation...

[1]: Looking at the advertisers on Seventeen, I seem to be managing my boycott pre-emptively....

[2]: Actually, the worry about my readers is one reason I've not blogged much recently. First of all, I know that I get a number of hits from various courts, and I'm applying for clerkships right now. I have about half a dozen draft articles on MT that have been "put in holding" so that I can make sure they don't say anything about me that might worry a judge I for whom I might want to work. And for any clerk who looks at this: yes, it's error-prone, but this is what I write for fun. Part of that is putting my normal proofreading aside.

The other reason for my silence on many matters is Model Rule 1.6, which I probably interpret more expansively than necessary. I learned a lot of things this summer that fascinated me, especially with regards to the state of the law. However, even though I wouldn't name my firm, I know some associates there read what I write, and for all I know, some of their clients do. Therefore I've not said anything even tangentially related to a case, even if I might have mentioned it anyway, especially not something that might relate to a client. Sadly, given the amount of my summer that was spent working, this rendered a lot of interesting stories unbloggable.

August 01, 2005

Arnie Chasing the UK California Vote?

I don't know why, but they've been showing a lot of Arnold movies on TV here recently: Terminator 2, Eraser, and now the seriously silly True Lies. This is the second time they've shown it on ITV2.

Anyway, there's lots I'd like to talk about, including this and this and this, but clerkship applications need to take priority this evening.

July 28, 2005

Lock Up Your Daughters! Put Your Adolescent Sons In Chastity Belts!

There's a software patch that lets characters in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas "simulate sex." That is to say, you can see pornography enacted by pixellated images hot enough to get Hillary Clinton's knickers in a twist.

Christine Hurt thinks Hillary's case of the vapours is unpresidential. Will Baude opines that her draconian speech restrictions may be unconstitutional. Me, I just think Hillary's about fifteen years too late for the "sex in video games" craze. To my fellow bloggers' justified condemnation I'd just add that griping about sex in video games just makes Hillary her age.

Look, not only was there more sex in Infocom's Leather Goddesses of Phobos, but that game often turns up available online for free! And over a decade of bondage in text-based adventures hardly seems to have put a dent in the national moral character. Certainly not as much as, say, ten million internet porn sites available to any adolescent boy whose hormonal drive outweighs his scruples at declaring himself 18 to a click-through entry screen. Or even a nation riveted by nightly news tales of oral sex and cigar frolics.

(OK, I admit: this whole post has been an attempt to introduce a new generation of Young Democrats to Leather Goddesses of Phobos, possibly the silliest combination of light bondage and space opera since William Shatner stopped kissing blue-skinned venus-babes. And if I get a hit from naughtybill.clintonlibrary.gov, I'm going to give the Senator something to really complain about.)

For those who sincerely want to know what is making Hillary blush, you can read a gamer's description of the patch, or even download a short video that shows you what the Senatoress doesn't want your kids to see. I suppose I should give an obligatory Not Safe For Work warning, but don't expect anything too exciting. Also, it takes forever to download.

If your kids can be corrupted by this, please send a complaint to your local Bureau of Infernal Quality Control, as their assigned tempters have not been working too terribly hard.

For completely losing the plot, however, you have to hand it to Matthew Yglesias, who thinks that by mocking Clinton I'm under the spell of the vast left-wing conspiracy:

I think Ezra Klein's shrugging attitude toward Hillary Clinton's campaign against Grand Theft Auto is a serious mistake. To be sure, he's quite right to say that nothing Senator Clinton is proposing is genuinely worth getting agitated about. But for this to work as a repositioning effort it needs to be condemned by young people and video game fans. That's the proof she's a "different kind of Democrat" and/or that the party has learned its lesson and is now sensitive to the needs of America's parents.

Note to the out-of-touch Democrat: the kind of parent who is concerned about this sort of thing doesn't buy their child Grand Theft Auto games in the first place. If Clinton wants to reposition herself, take aim at something that a parent can't prevent her children from coming into contact with: giant signs showing sex acts on Houston and Lafayette, for instance. (Note to Hillary: this does not triangulate well, because your present base is located around... Houston.)

And take a look at that video clip above: is the wedge problem here really the game mod? How about the first few frames, in which the main character is carrying a shotgun around a neighborhood in broad daylight, seemingly to a date?

July 26, 2005

No Tree Falls in London (or Life Outside the Big City)

When my father tried to go to work today, an obstinate thunderstorm wiped out the power in the small... well, we'll call it a 'hamlet' in order to make it sound romantic, shall we? The house is huddled among some others back in a woods, and there's only one real way in and out.

Today, after getting into his suit and thinking he'd be on for a meeting about a hundred miles away, he found the storm had knocked a three-foot thick tree trunk across his path.

So it was back home, out of the suit, into some jeans, and out with the chainsaw. About an hour and a week's worth of firewood later, it was time to head off for the meeting.

There's one thing I never worry about in London or New York.

July 20, 2005

If you look very, very closely

My brother points me towards Google's moon site, which makes an intriguing scientific discovery if you employ the closest possible zoom...

July 04, 2005

[from London] Law, Sci-Fi and Fantasy

I arrived back in London early Saturday morning and am again in the clutches of jetlag. Fortunately, this has meant I've gotten some Law Review work out of the way in the hours between 3AM and 8AM, but I wonder if there's enough coffee in London to keep me going through this first day of work.

One nice thing about long plane flights: it gives me a nice long stretch of time in which to read. I burned my way through a novel or two, one of which brought a question to my mind.

While science fiction invariably has science as one part of the genre, much of the interest of many sci-fi novels is the interplay of characters with future societies. Most recently I've read Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, but an even better example would be any of Iain M. Banks Culture novels. (Bank's future society can best be described as "a bundle of happy communists" who live in a future where the laws of scarcity have been overturned.)

What I couldn't bring to mind, though, was a science fiction novel that really dealt with the intersection between technological change and law, where the legal aspect was more than a tangent in discussing a future society. Neil Stephenson's Diamond Age came close, but again was worried much more with post-scarcity sociology. The closest thing that I could remember was Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, a sort of extended novella about a man who plots out the perfect murder in a society in which the police can read your mind.

The more I think about it, the more I think there's room for a genre novel that deals specifically with changes to law and legal society. (Actually, I have a long-formed idea in my head about a modern fantasy novel that deals with various aspects of legal theory, but that's a thought for another time.) Before I go considering it much further, can any of my readers suggest an existing science fiction or fantasy novel that might fit the bill?

June 06, 2005

The Only Wisdom About Star Wars You Really Need

Right here.

April 23, 2005

See, This Would Be A Selling Point For Some Potential Employees

Via Jewish Buddha, I have learned that Covington & Burling appears to be the (naturally un-)official law firm of the Illuminati .

If I'd known that, I'd have given them greater priority when I signed up for the Early Interview Program. Funnily, it didn't feature in their recruiting materials.

Anyone else know of any other law firm/conspiracy theory connections?

April 18, 2005

Whole New Meaning to the Term "Rent Boy"

Sometimes I get trackback spam from organizations that seem so preposterous you can't tell if they're real or a scam. Such is the case with RentMySon.com, who trackback spammed me earlier this morning.

Some days you've just got to love the internet. This has got to be a parody. Either that, or it's poor marketing. Either way, it's spam.

And here I am giving them Googlejuice. What am I thinking?

April 17, 2005

Wrong On So Many Levels

The site that where I saw this (warning: sound) described it as "Hitachi Hard Drives Meet Schoolhouse Rock," and they weren't kidding. If my data ever dances to disco, I'm changing computers.

(Via the never work-safe I Love Bacon)

April 12, 2005

Back in My Hometown

Via Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy, I learn that a Huntsville lawyer caught in flagrante in his pickup truck raises an interesting legal issue. The key, it seems, is that if you're going to have sex in public, you might have a defense of being married.

Man, there's days I love having gone to high school in Alabama. Imagine the trouble this lawyer would have gotten into had he been using a sex toy.

(UPDATE: Yes, I know the Alabama law only banned the sale of sex toys, not their use. Just joking.)

April 07, 2005

I Want

My brother gave me a USB-powered coffee cup warmer for Christmas, and I thought it was the most useless tech toy ever. Oh no. I was wrong. Behold:

The USB-powered Fondue set.

Everyone should have one of these.

March 28, 2005

If You're Looking For Deep Thoughts, Look Elsewhere

[Sorry, serious blogging will resume shortly. The brain is well-fried today.]

Bloggers are a notoriously contentious bunch. We bicker, we argue, we throw around words like they were nothing, and frankly, we waste a lot of time because no one ever wins. This is a situation which I feel obliged to resolve, and resolve it I shall, in the traditional manner. Giant Battle Monsters.

For instance, you know that Chris Geidner and I go back and forth frequently. Well, finally we know that if Anthony Attacks Chris With Intelligence, Chris wins. (He'll be gratified at that.)

On the other hand, if Anthony Rickey attacks Heidi Bond using Intelligence, Anthony wins. (She'll be more annoyed that she's a giant blob and not a chicken than anything else, but I can't get anything chickenish to show up no matter how many variants of her name I use.)

But these are just squirmishes. Let's get to the big boys:

And what about the religious battles of the blawgers? When Irishlaw takes on Chris Geidner, who cares who wins, at least they'll both agree. I mean, he's pretty certain she's a giant dragon that "can Change Colour and is Covered with a Thick Slime," and she's not going to take much convincing to agree he "projects a Purple Forcefield and Screeches When Angry."

As you can see, all disputes between bloggers should be subject to definitive resolution through trial by Giant Battle Monsters.

Because we all need something funny today

I give you: Cats vs. Roomba. Apparently robotic cleaners can prove to be a whole-home entertainment center.

Hmm. And one more bit of craziness, stolen from the blog above.

March 25, 2005

Easter Gets A Bad Rap

This flash animation was passed on to me, and frankly, there's no reason you shouldn't suffer too. (Work safe, has sound.)

March 09, 2005

Strange Prejudices

Heidi Bond comments on how displays of anti-semitism make her sick. I can't agree more, and wish Professor Volokh hadn't been dragged into such garbage.

On the other hand, Heidi might be interested in knowing that the Israeli army considers her to have a weak personality and would give her a low security clearance. (They would me too, as well as Professor Volokh.) Which isn't really related to anti-semitism in any way, but that article was too amusing to pass up on a link.

March 08, 2005

Test Data that Heidi Bond Could Love

Don't ask me for an explanation. I guess this guy needed to lay out his paper before he wrote it. But here is an entire scientific paper consisting of only the word "chicken." Heidi can consider it a present.

Interestingly, it looks like he even managed to get the chickens into his equations.

(link via NTK)

March 07, 2005

A Few Thoughts on Loyalty

There's been a lot of commentary about this National Law Journal article condemning "Gen Y" associates:

Some call them slackers. Others are more diplomatic. But whatever the moniker, "Generation Y" associates are getting a bad rap for what some say is a flabby work ethic and an off-putting sense of entitlement.

Attorneys from Generation Y-those born in 1978 or later-are plenty smart and generally well educated, say firm leaders and industry experts. But these young attorneys also are lacking in loyalty, initiative and energy, so the criticism goes.


My first thought, of course, is that I'm two four years older than this definition of Gen Y, so I'm obviously on-course to become one of the cranky oldsters.

The commentary on the article has focused on the usual suspects: from the associates' side, partners are being exploitative, billable-hours requirements beggar belief, and loyalty declines because odds of becoming partner are declining. From the partner's side, the associates are either (a) simply lazy and whining, (b) don't understand how good they have it, or (c) are overly loyal to their own "class" instead of the firm. Then there's a third side, sort of structuralists, who argue that the problem is more a matter of how these firms are put together: young lawyers come to them often without business or work experience; law firms, on the other hand, often have a management deficiency, because they're run by good lawyers and bad managers; and less loyalty is only to be expected in an environment where few people make partner.

Now, I don't really have any great thoughts to add to this from a legal perspective, as my experience in a Japanese law firm last summer was probably an outlier. But I do have a thought about loyalty, and why I don't put much stock in a random partner's complaints about it.

Before coming to law school, I worked in a few places that had employee retention problems. It's relatively easy to get a job at a firm like that: they'll employ you pretty quickly if you've got talent, because they need to replace the last fellow who walked out the door. It's also pretty tough to get into firms where people don't leave, even in a boom or a bubble: people know when they have a good job at a good firm.

I worked for some very good bosses. (I also dated a manager of similar skill, and watched how she worked.) These were folks who, when the chips down, could get their people to work long, hard hours. Indeed, often they were more demanding than some "tough" bosses, but they received a great deal fewer complaints. In firms with retention problems, few of their team members walked out the door.

This lead to some significant benefits. Their teams were coherent, and thus more efficient. They didn't spend a lot of time making HR decisions. And they could spend time investing in their people, teaching them firm- or team-specific processes that increased productivity. In my twenties, I was doing my best to develop a management style, and wanted to learn from these people.

Every one of these high loyalty (or low turnover) bosses focused on three things. First, they knew each of their direct employees. By this I don't mean that they remembered birthdays or anniversaries (although some did, because they were that kind of people). Instead, they'd bothered to learn what made their employees tick. Some team members worked very well placed next to a high-flyer--they thrived on competition. Others worked better stuck in a corner where they could grow with less threat. Some lit up if they were praised, while others needed that occasional kick in the tail. The bosses made a note of it, and used it.

Secondly, they were all very interested in efficiency. Not bureaucracy or paperwork, but in actually making sure their employees spent the minimum amount of time on busywork and the maximum amount of time on getting their jobs done. One manager I knew was extremely good at this: if a corporate form needed signing by her team, it was on their desk the first thing the next morning with a note to fill it out before starting work. It neither interrupted her staff or kept them at the office when they'd finished up. This efficiency translated into loyalty because it looked a lot like "not wasting my time."

And third, they all were willing to break for their employees personal lives. That doesn't mean they allowed a lot of slacking, but if an employee had a personal event--death in the family, marital problems, a child ill--then the manager found a workaround. The best of these bosses put it to me this way: "Look, people spend more time in good times than bad times. Give them the bad times, and you'll get 120% out of them during the good. You make up the slack." I would have walked through fire for that boss. The guy who yelled at me? He got work out of me, and it was good work because I didn't want to get yelled at. But I'd not have spent a lot of time trying to get his fat out of the fire.

When I was a boss, I did my best to follow these precepts, although I'm sure I didn't manage it completely. To my credit, however badly I may have done, I did have low turnover. And to this day, I'll say the most important lesson I learned was that loyalty isn't something that employees come pre-packaged with: it's something you instill in them through good practice and fair dealing. You don't blame poor loyalty on your employees, or your associates: you look square at the boss.

But I'd also suspect that loyalty is more important in working environments where (a) the most important functional group is the team, (b) communications and groupware systems can be leveraged to the advantage of staff who are trained in them, and (c) the whole of a team's work has a value above the sum of its parts. While this is more of a guess than anything else, I wonder how much this applies to the modern law firm?

Law firms are professional associations, and at least at some theoretical level, those who work for them are supposed to be independent professionals, not team workers. And that seems to fit with the obsession for the billable hour. I mean, when you think about it, it's a pretty crude measure of productivity. If Employee A does better work more quickly than Employee B, his billable hours will be lower. If Employee B honestly tells a client that work doesn't need to be done, his billable hours drop. If this eventually leads to a client walking away... well, the individuals still have the hours they've already billed.

There's an entire industry out there developing employee evaluation metrics, and I won't try to step on the toes of my B-School brethren by listing them. But suffice it to say that I haven't ever worked in an industry that places such emphasis on a single figure.

When you focus so much on one number, everything else gets lost. Why do you need to retain staff, when one person's billable hour is the same as any other? If you're not trying to capture the efficiencies that experience brings, if you're not managing your knowledge, then why worry if some of it walks out the door? Think of the stereotype of the partner who is a "real yeller." An organization that cares about loyalty won't reward him if his underlings flee him at their first chance to jump ship; an organization that doesn't capitalize on loyalty will worry about how much he bills. Which sounds more like the stereotype of the law firm?

I'm not saying law firms don't make efforts in this direction (although knowledge management professionals are generally more than mildly scathing of most law practice, see this as one example at random), but they certainly don't seem to emphasize it. Call it a working hypothesis, but my guess is that if there's a loyalty complaint about Gen Y, it should run something like this: law firms don't value loyalty as highly as they might say; this, in turn, means that they don't put structures in place to promote it, or reward it particularly highly; and finally, this results in an overall low level of employee loyalty. This doesn't mean the firm won't be profitable--it can capitalize on different advantages to make sure it makes money--but it shouldn't be shocked that associates don't identify with the firm.

Anyway, that's my hypothesis at this point. Anyone is welcome to comment, but let me emphasize again that I'll delete impolite comments, especially about particular firms.

March 01, 2005

Oral Sex and Property Law

In the great state of Illinois, this is now settled law:

The judges backed the lower court decision to dismiss the fraud and theft claims [regarding a woman's decision to keep the output of oral sex and later use it to impregnate herself], agreeing with Irons that she didn't steal the sperm.

"She asserts that when plaintiff 'delivered' his sperm, it was a gift -- an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee," the decision said. "There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request."

Keep that in mind, 1Ls, when you have Property next year.

(Hat tip to Clearly Erroneous, who has such an appropriate title for the post.)

February 16, 2005

Abortion Makes Strange Bedfellows?

File this under Red/Blue State Confusion, or maybe "Tony Woke Up In the Twilight Zone Today." I rarely look at National Review Online anymore, but when I just surfed over there looking for some data for a new website, I found:

Chris Rock was right about abortion’s side-effects. The headline reads, "Rock On: Chris Rock Hits On A Profound Truth".

(Head spinning.) National Review Online endorses Chris Rock. I'm sure NRO is taking Rock's words out of context or something--I can't stand Rock, so I'm not tempted to go find out. But... Chris Rock praised in National Review? I look forward to more such articles, such as William F. Buckley advising Janet Jackson on style advice for nipple shields.

Has some similar shock balanced this unconservative yin with unliberal yang? Perhaps Howard Dean came out today endorsing the Bush budget plan? Truly, the world has turned upside down.

February 15, 2005

Sushi for the Sweet Tooth

I want to know how much sake was consumed before someone thought of the idea of imitating sushi with confectionary. Thanks to the internet, this concept now joins its compatriots in the marketplace of ideas.

(via Don't Know It From Adam)

February 14, 2005

St. Curmudgeon's Day

Ah, Valentine's Day. Mythically the day that birds chose their mates, economically the day candymakers meet their margins, romantically the day the uncertain find a good excuse to throw caution to the winds, and caustically the day curmudgeons get a good chance to gripe.

Heidi gives a good, long rant on the subject, and I wouldn't be me if I faulted her on it. Really, when it comes to a good cynical grumble about ephemeral values, overhigh hopes, and mercenary passions, I'm normally first in line. (Hers is a really good example of the genre, and I recommend it.)

Still, however tempting, I can't join her in the condemnation of the day. First of all, Valentine's satisfies my desire for the absurd. We're celebrating a martyrdom by decapitation with chocolate hearts and lace-trimmed cards. (Actually, let's be thankful for a lack of literalism here: the holiday would be noticeably diminished if we were exchanging chocolate heads.) A saint's day being celebrated with the modern disregard for chastity has its own particular silliness.

And of course, it provides a space for the grand gesture or the considerate small one. Are a dozen roses trite and manufactured for the occasion? Sure. A box of chocolates cliche? Oh yeah. But roses are nice, chocolates are sweet, and neither substantially decrease the amount of happiness in the world. (Not having them won't increase the amount of wisdom, judgment, or discretion in the world, either.)

Besides, it makes some folks happy. St. Valentine's Day is an over-commercialized, tawdry occasion inspiring many cheap and unwise gestures between individuals often overly-besotted with each other. Thank goodness, and long may it be thus. There's nothing wrong with tilting at a few windmills one day a year.

If You Got Tired Of Elijah Wood As A Hobbit...

...how about as an absolute psychotic in the movie version of Sin City?

Black and white. Blue, yellow, red spot color. Marv looks like... Marv.

While I'm shocked at how much the casting seems to work (Jamie King? Marlie Shelton?) that brief glimpse of Elijah Wood says it all. Miller's artwork provided most of the wonder of Sin City, and until the trailer came out, I didn't know how they'd do it. Judging from this, they just might pull it off.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, think of Sin City this way: imagine Dick Tracy after he'd been on a three week whiskey bender with Dashiell Hammett, bled dry of his four colors into stark black and white and kicked around a lot. Push Madonna off a bridge, drive out of town with Tess Trueheart's body in the trunk, and wake up in a city so fallen it can only be dominated by the most corrupt Cardinal since the Italian Renaissance. If you meet a woman with blue eyes--really blue eyes--just walk away.

And even if the film doesn't work, it's better than remakes of The Pink Panther or Bewitched.

February 11, 2005

I Wish I Had Time To Go (Photo)Shopping

Via my brother--a man of inestimable good humor--comes a cheery Photoshopping contest in which new products are made into old-fashioned advertisements.

A good five-minute's laugh. Now, back to bluebooking.

February 09, 2005

Nice to See Illegal Porn Disclosing Its Status?

In the last two days, I've received spam (that I've deleted unopened, thank you very much) with the most bizarre subject lines. Stricken of the odd geek-text used to mask them from my spam filter, the spammers wanted to tell me that:

  • teen avi files can ruin your life
  • hardcore [vulgarity] pics will land you in jail!!!

I suppose no one can object that they did not have adequate notice...

February 04, 2005

Just. Plain. Wrong.

This is wrong on so many levels. Especially if it was good sherry.

(Slightly not work safe, if you had a very strict workplace, but it is MSNBC.)

February 03, 2005

Two Words That Strike Terror Into the Heart of Tony

Say it with me very quietly: business casual.

I've received an informational packet on the firm I'll be working for this summer. It's kind, informative, relentlessly cheerful, and had some chocolate in it. But it also told me that the dress code for the summer was business casual, and that I should bring one suit in case I needed it.

I figure I'll go overboard and bring two.

Still, that leaves me with many days of the week that I must dress for. And as any of my fellow students will tell you, I'm not the guy that Columbia Law School will put forward when GQ comes looking for its Men of Overwork Spring Special. Indeed, the Queer Eye guys would take one look at my closet and start complaining they aren't paid enough. I have a few pieces of casual clothing that might pass muster, but otherwise I get by on some relatively neutral jeans and some relatively neutral shirts, in varying combination.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I'll have to arm myself with a credit card and go face the terra incognito that is New York men's fashion, making some creditable attempt to acquire the start of a casual wardrobe. (Clothing prices in London are just too high to wait until I get there.)

This Crusoe needs a Friday. This Dante needs a Beatrice. Heck, this Charlie needs a Wonka to lead him through a slightly malevolent chocolate factory, and I'd settle for the less-fluffy Johnny Depp version. (Though, please, show me clothing that's a little more restrained.)

Perhaps I'll do what I normally do when I find some situation that tests the measure of this man: call in favors like there's no tomorrow. Time to start looking through the various folks whose computers I've fixed for fashion mavens, clothes horses, or someone who knows Esquire from Maxim from Tattoo Quarterly.

Silly Dowdy, Rhetorical Tricks Aren't For Kids...

If there's one thing amusing about the largely irrelevant froth over creationism, it's watching Atheist Crusaders pretend to actually have done their homework when criticizing biblical texts. David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy rightly slammed Bill Moyers for having managed to induce multiple revelations in the poor St. John, author of the Book of Revelation. Today, Maureen Dowd takes her own stab at biblical exegesis:

On eBay, you can even find replicas of the stickers that a Georgia county put on science textbooks to warn that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." Talk about sticker shock.

So much for the Tree of Knowledge. Mr. Bush gives us the Ficus of Faith.


Now, someone make sense of this for me? Nothing in Genesis suggests that Adam or Eve were ignorant of everything, merely innocent. (Indeed, Paradise Lost, not authoritative but persuasive, make Adam quite inquisitive[1].) What Dowd is replacing with the "Ficus of Faith" is The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I wasn't aware that eating its fruit was supposed to have given the line of Eve insight into anything that wasn't at least tangentially related to matters righteous or iniquitous. So far as I knew, Dowd wasn't of the opinion that evolution was included.

Ah well, she must have had me in mind. This worldly agnostic never had much luck keeping his faith running, and over the course of my time at Columbia I've killed off two ficus trees. So I guess for one New Yorker at least, her symbol had some hold.

UPDATE: A Little Reason has a wonderful bit of fact-checking on Moyers. It appears that he may be quoting some Democratic urban myths...

[1]: For instance:

To whom the Patriarch of mankind repli'd.
O favourable spirit, propitious guest,
Well hast thou taught the way that might direct
Our knowledge, and the scale of Nature set
From center to circumference, whereon
In contemplation of created things
By steps we may ascend to God.

John Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. 5, ln.506--512 (1667).

January 31, 2005

Bluebook Citation Challenge

I'm not sure I'm taking this Note quite as seriously as I should be anymore. I've just run across two citation problems--things I don't know how to Bluebook for the life of me. And because I find it amusing, I'm going to share.

Challenge to law students: figure out how to Bluebook the following:

1) This blog entry on Begging to Differ.

2) This Wikipedia entry on Godwin's Law.

Oddly, if published, this Note may be only the sixth reference to Godwin's Law in Lexis-Nexis's database of law review articles. Who said that legal discussion was disagreeable?

January 25, 2005

Because it's a virus that's going around

Certainly if one were to ask what tort most bloggers are, there's only one right answer?





take the WHAT INTENTIONAL TORT ARE YOU test.


and go to mewing.net. because law school made laura do this.

Perhaps to no one's surprise, it's the same result as Heidi. I'd never have guessed that Will would turn out this way. I guess I'll watch my Manhattans when he's around.

January 21, 2005

The Phytoplankton Agenda, or The Very Cunning Plan of the Evil Mr. Plankton

I'm here to straighten out some agenda issues and keep my readers informed on the hidden scoop. You know, the things that get decided in smoke filled rooms. The hidden plans of the secret masters. The dark whispers of those who pull the Illuminati's strings. What I'm about to tell you could get us both killed, so be quiet about it.

You see, James Dobson of Focus on the Family believes that SpongeBob Squarepants is part of the homosexual agenda. Prof. Eugene Volokh replies that Spongebob has a tolerance agenda. Finally, Glenn Reynolds thinks that SpongeBob has an asexual/bisexual agenda. (No one who has seen how SpongeBob dresses is considering a metrosexual agenda.)

They're all wrong.

This is all just a plot to fund The Plankton Agenda, the complete destruction of the Axis Of KrabCake: The Krusty Krab, the Krabby Patty, and all things SpongeBob Squarepants.

I went to great risks to find the actual items of The Plankton Agenda [1], so that you, my special readers, could know what was actually happening:

The Super Secret Plankton Agenda--DO NOT DISTRIBUTE
  1. Build the Orbital Mind Control Lasers: With the help of The Master, Mysterio, and the ghost of Captain Kangaroo, we have built a system of Orbital Mind Control Lasers. (Plankton's Note: We tried to get funding from Halliburton, but they told us that some plans were just too evil for the Military Industrial Complex. I keep telling the other villains that they're wrong about Dick Cheney.)
  2. Corner the Market on SpongeBob goods: Buy as many SpongeBob t-shirts, backpacks, or toys that make good adult desk accessories as we can fit into The Chum Bucket. Invest in manufacturers of SpongeBob junk.
  3. Aim at Credulous "Pro-Family" Leaders: Target James Dobson, SpongeBob, and Carson from Queer Eye with our new Acme Trilateral Gaydar InverterTM[2] attachment for the Orbital Mind Control Lasers. This will make Dobson mistake a cartoon character with no genitalia nor evidence of sexual desire whatsoever with a real, live gay person. (Carson looks sort of like SpongeBob if you squint really hard.)
  4. Watch as SpongeBob blooms from a marginal item of interest to those over the age of twelve into a full-blown gay cultural icon. (Lex Luthor, retained on a consultancy contract, has predicted a 84% rise in sales to the adult demographic, with marginal effect on pre-teen or toddler sales.) Rake in the profit from our investments.
  5. Laugh maniacally.

The Underpants Gnomes have pointed out that trial runs (see documentation on Operation Tinky Winky) proved wildly successful, with purple backpacks practically running off the shelves at Toys R' Us in every metropolitan area. We expect similar returns from this project.

Addendum: At our last meeting, Mojo Jojo recommended using the Trilateral Laser on Rush Limbaugh to convince him that PBS's Pink Boohbah bears a striking similarity to The Clitoris in South Park's Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. However, Professor Moriarty noted that there actually is marked resemblance between the two, and proposed further research into what other dark forces might be trying to discredit PBS. No one likes competition.

So there you have it. You're "in the know" now. Personally, I've never been very fond of SpongeBob, so I think I'll go buy some little kiddies a toy or two. Show your support for the Plankton Conspiracy!

[1]: The Plankton Agenda, A Jerry Bruckheimer Film, coming soon to theatres near you.

[2]: U.S. Patent Pending.

January 19, 2005

Great B-Sides

One minor gripe I have with the CD as a format, and particularly with the rise of I-Tunes, is the lack of B-Sides. I'll admit, I'm not the most musically-inclined legal scholar ever, but I've spent the entire day listening to B-sides of CD-singles.

(Of course, CD's don't really have B-sides, in the sense that you don't flip them over to hear what's on them. But you know what I mean.)

For reasons I've never been entirely clear on, B-sides have a tendency to be a bit more experimental than the singles with which they're packaged. And CD singles for a while would contain bits of music that weren't on the album. Horrible marketing trickery requiring you to buy more stuff if you wanted a complete collection of an artist's ouevre? Sure. But they were fun, so I couldn't complain too much.

After all, Tori Amos released an entire album of B-sides off Under the Pink and I generally think they're some of her finer works. But topping off the day has to be the B-side of Mary Chapin Carpenter's Almost Home. It's a cover of Bruce Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark. You know, the one with the happy, chirpy video that gave Courtney Cox screen time before the rest of the world was her Friend? Well, Carpenter covers it without the E Street Bands deliberate optimism, and the grimy awfulness of the lyrics really shine through.

If you can find it available for download somewhere, get it. It's great.

January 17, 2005

Cool App of the Day

As some of my classmates, many of my friends, and all of my ex's well know, I'm not the easiest person to wake up in the morning. Much of my professional life has been spent devising a series of clocks or alarms that manage to actually kick the brain into activation, not just rouse the body. Without that, I just turn off an alarm and fall back asleep, waking only after the important class/interview/date has come and gone.

It seems, however, that I'm not alone in this problem, and that a much brighter mind has come up with an innovative solution: the Wake Me Clock.

The WMC is a simple computer-based alarm clock with a very interesting twist: each morning it selects two entries from a dictionary at random, and won't shut off until you've typed those two words into a text box. In other words, by the time you've stopped whatever racket you've set yourself, you're awake.

Just what the doctor ordered. Now it is simply a matter of deciding on a sound file that is annoying enough to get me out of bed, and yet puts me in the right frame of mind for the day. During exam periods, I generally choose Tweak from South Park ("AAAAAH! Too much pressure!), but those aren't coming for another few months. I generally select some cheesy TV quote, but nothing springs to mind right now.

Any suggestions from the gallery? Past wake-up hits have included:

  • Vorlon from Babylon 5: "The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote."
  • Cartman, South Park: "Bad! That's a bad snake!" (Cartman, by the way, has an incredibly annoying voice, and thus is perfect for waking me up)
  • Joel Cairo (Peter Lorrie), The Maltese Falcon: "You always have a very smooth explanation ready."
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Now you see the violence inherent in the system!"

Still, I think I need to broaden my horizons. Suggestions gratefully accepted. Suggestions with links to WAV files are even better.

January 12, 2005

Book Lust

Amazon knows what I like. Murakami's latest is released on the 18th.

cover
Kafka on the Shore

by Haruki Murakami

The Last Word On Rather

Read Farewell, My Producer. I promise it's not a thousand words about typefaces. Look: I've even put it in the Lighter Thoughts category.

January 11, 2005

Things I'm Selling My Soul For

Now that I've got a bit more time to think, my mind is wandering. Mainly to things that, had I an infinite amount of money, I'd consider buying.

For instance, this. This MG-TD is an authentic version; back when I lived in Washington I used to drive a replica of this model. OK, if I were really wealthy I'd buy a Morgan, but this would be a good second-best.

Or this, a Calabash pipe that's a steal on sale for $576.90. Which is only about $550 more than I could really pay for it at the moment.

Ah, avarice. When I update my sins of the week, it's the one that's never tough to dream up.

December 21, 2004

If I'm Debating God and Cheese, I Really Should Go To Bed

Serious thoughts are forthcoming tomorrow. For the moment, however, my attention has been drawn to the fact that Heidi and Will are debating exactly how much God was in the pasta she cooked for her and her boyfriend, in comparison to the amount of cheese therein.

I write only to comment that I believe Heidi may have made an error when she claims that, "Although cheesiness is next to (in fact, above) godliness, it's not quite the same thing. And I didn't add God to my pasta; I'm fresh out of powdered deity."

There is always the possibility that she did in fact add God to her pasta through the addition of cheese. While I'll admit my evidence for this is rather scant, I bring both party's attention to the traditional ordeal of iudicium offoe, or ordeal by blessed morsel. The morsel in question was normally "a piece of bread and a piece of cheese" through which the intercession of God was invoked to determine the guilt or innocence of the party eating it.

Perhaps this solves the dispute between Bond and Baude, or at least gives them some further food for thought. All I know is that in the research for this piece, I ran across The Bible According to Cheese, but was completely unable to include it. Sad, really, since a lot of my cheese-obsessed friends will enjoy it.

A Few Days Of Paradise in Three Years of Hell

Sorry for the break in my normal commentary. Soon the stress of writing The Note will begin. Soon I'll be worrying about courses for next year, how I'll finish up all my other projects, and everything else that's gradually making an ulcer not only likely, but likely to become sentient.

But for now I have cocoa, I'm sitting in front of a roaring fire, I'm watching DVDs of television series with my family, and my brain doesn't want to write anything that would be worth you reading. Every so often, usually in the shower, I think of something I want to talk about. But then I look out the window at sheets of white powdered snow spread across a frozen lake, and just keep looking. They keyboard loses its appeal.

I'll try tomorrow. Really I will.

November 29, 2004

Build Your Own Old-Fashioned

In a few hours, I'll start writing a bit about my trip to and from Michigan this weekend. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I gained a lot of important insights, such as: It is much easier to read and absorb 350 pages of Property while sitting in front of a roaring fire in an old stone fireplace, sipping a well-mixed Manhattan [1], than trying to do the same in Columbia's law library. From this we can conclude that the library would be markedly improved by the addition of large fireplaces, comfy chairs, and a staffed bar. At present it has none of these things.

I also encountered stunning displays of incompetence, mostly from American Airlines, who were kind enough to cancel, delay, or otherwise screw up my flights, mostly due to inadequate staffing. My planes literally spent more time on runways due to mechanical failure than in the air.

But hard as American Airlines tried to win the So Pathetically Incompetent We Can't Believe They've Not Immolated Themselves By Accident Already Award, the winner actually goes to a bartender at the sports bar in Grand Rapids airport. This sterling example of evolution delayed managed to cock up one of the simplest drinks ever devised by man: an Old Fashioned.

Really, there's only whiskey, bitters, sugar, a cocktail cherry... this is not chemistry at its finest. But I should have just ordered a beer when he said, "I don't think we know how to make that." I shouldn't have replied, "Trust me, I'm sure your bartender knows how to make an Old Fashioned."

What did the young man bring me? A strong glass of whiskey mixed with some kind of sweetish soda water (quite possibly Sprite), a lone cocktail cherry languishing at the bottom. No sign of bitters anywhere evident. And three packets of sugar, presumably so I could sweeten to taste.

Ah well. At least my family had something to laugh at before I got on the plane. For those cocktail enthusiasts who are flying the friendlier skies at the holidays, though, may I recommend the bar between gates B18 and B19 at O'Hare Airport? I met up with my brother there on his way back to Phoenix, and the bartender does a surprisingly fine martini.

[1]: Will Baude mentions that the idea of dry vermouth in a Manhattan had never occurred to him. I actually prefer my Manhattans with dry vermouth, having been converted to the cause by the bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy. If you ever have the chance, I recommend it.

November 26, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

Sorry that you've not heard much from me: you may not for the next few days. I'm back in Michigan for the holidays, enjoying the company of my family. Or rather, working on law school things and wishing I were enjoying more of the companionship.

I had a truly miserable trip here, thanks to the disaster that was American Airlines at O'Hare Airport. But I'll tell that story later. I'm afraid that after getting rid of 400 comment spam messages (my host upgraded PERL, so not MT-Blacklist is choking), I'm too damn tired.

November 19, 2004

One Last Note for the Night

OK, one more before I leave for the night. Wow, I can't believe how good I feel having taken some time out from research and coding to write for fun.

Katherine writes about attempting to keep her birdfeeder free of squirrels. (I don't comment much at her place anymore, but it's such a good read when I'm down or stressed.) I'd advise her on how to solve the problem, but I don't want to spoil her fun.

We have more problems with rats than squirrels up here in NYC. Nevertheless, I have significant anti-squirrel experience from my time spend living in the woods in central Michigan. We have an abundance of birds, of course, and bugs that belong to the Cretaceous, and three different colors of squirrels. And there's nothing they like more than birdfeeders.

The summer before law school the squirrels got particularly frantic: I guess the birdfeeders were their tastiest source of food or something. So one of my then-neighbors tried to secure his birdfeeder by suspending it by metal wire twelve feet from the nearest tree trunk and twenty-five feet below the supporting branch. The feeder hung in isolation, and the squirrels couldn't get to it.

Well, at least not for a few days. Then the little beasties were hurling themselves in ever-closer lunges towards the feeder. Finally one would hit it, hang on just long enough to tear the bottom of the feeder open, and then tumble to the ground, surrounded by tasty goodness.

So my neighbor (an engineering professor) and my father (ex Army Corps of Engineers) start tackling the problem. The bottom of the feeder is secured. The squirrels go for the top. The top is secured, and pretty soon one of them has learned how to rappel down the metal wire. (I can only imagine this burnt the poor thing's paws.) Finally they're working in teams, hurling themselves out to the feeder, smacking it until it swung like a food-filled pendulum, getting it close enough for one of them to grasp onto. That one would then spin crazily, driving the feeder in a frantic circle until it spat birdseed from its sides.

I'm telling you, it was a battle of wits and a testament to squirrel persistence. I stopped scaring the vermin off, just to see how their thinking would evolve. And of course, I wanted to see what my father and his friend would come up with next. It's not like they're slouches at this: no, these are men whose mastery goes far beyond my duct-tape knowledge of fixology.

So I'm not going to advise Katherine in her battle with the beasts. I mean, why would I deprive her, or myself, of the fun?

I can believe how much I'm looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving...

Time Waster of the Day

Thanks to my brother, I can bring you the latest cool timewaster:

The Trebuchet Challenge: The Sport of Engineers

My brother: doing his best to make sure I never make it out of law school! Thank him, everybody!

November 14, 2004

In Case You Doubt The Existence of Evil

I bring you the Hello Kitty Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game.

(Light blogging until Tuesday owing to company having arrived from London.)

UPDATE: It's been a day of introducing strange things to my English friend. No sooner had we exited the Met than we came across the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile in all its glory. She had barely gotten over the sight of a giant hot-dog shaped vehicle than we went shopping for dinner and picked up a couple of He'Brew's at the local D'Agostino's. Though convinced she'd come across a strange country, it seemed stranger still when we found a bottle of Monty Python's Holy Grail.

Of course, the last is manufactured by the Black Sheep brewing company in Yorkshire, so it's not like she could blame us for that one.

November 12, 2004

Lets Get Wasted and Build

I'm a sucker for anything funny out there on the net, but I have a particular fondness for web comics. From the ominous hmmmmmm of Schlock Mercenary to the "It Could Be Me If These Boston Folks Were in Law School" of Something Positive, there's a hundred of these I can flip to when one more Lexis search for The Note is going to drive me nuts.

But particularly good is today's Queen of Wands. Lets face it, anyone whose hot evening includes hand tools, flat-pack furniture, and spiced rum is my kind of people.

UPDATE: And in the real world, these are my kind of people. Get them a grant. Via Frankenstein.

November 11, 2004

Things You Hear Too Often At Law School

There are some phrases I just never, ever want to hear again. Thus, I'd like to share with you this email I received today.

TO: Three Years of Hell Blog
FROM: The Commons

Dear Mr. Hell:

Could you please tell your readers that the Commons are really, really tired of hosting tragedies. We'd like to host a comedy once in a while. Even reruns of Seinfeld. Hell, King of Queens. But for the love of God, no more tragedies, they're getting old.

Yours most truly, & cet.,
The Commons

P.S. The Prisoners asked me to pass on to you that they've solved their difficulties and face no further dilemmas.

November 10, 2004

Do You Still Hear the Silence of the Law Review, Clarice?

It's scary what a bundle of 2Ls will think up as they're running through their work late at night. I'm sure it was always thus, but nowadays it takes only a licensed copy of Photoshop, an internet connection and the infinite will to procrastinate, and these deep, dark, and horribly bad ideas can be brought to life.

You don't want to know the story behind this one. Really, really, you don't. But suffice it to say, my first online product sale is now behind me. Without further ado:

Are you a Republican looking for that perfect way to gloat about the size of your new "mandate"?

Are you a Democrat wanting to express your oh-so-sardonic contempt for how horrible the next four years are going to be? (Because, you know, no one in a blue state could take this seriously...)

Then do I have the t-shirt for you:

Renominate Bork



A slogan no one can love. In colors no one should wear.

Yours from the new Three Years of Hell Shop.

Brought to you by coffee, camaraderie, and a complete lack of sleep.

(And no, I don't expect any further sales.)

November 01, 2004

Fellow Curmudgeons

So with the election tomorrow, lawyers descending upon swing-states like the eleventh plague of Egypt (PA), and the political cacophony shooting up to fever pitch, I find myself in the busiest of weeks. A note, a clinic project, reading, laundry: too much to do, and too little time. But if my readers are bored, they might take a look through the comments on my endorsement of Bush--which, by Martin's suggestion, said very little bad about Kerry--for two items of note. First, a British person (Martin) giving perhaps the most eloquent defense of Kerry (if somewhat overstated) that I've heard yet. And then the character of commentary from quite a few American Kerry supporters, culminating with the ever-flippant Heidi Bond:

And you don't owe it to me not to be rotten; I don't care if you're rotten or not. But I'm going to guess that you'll like yourself better if you are not rotten than if you are. So maybe you owe it to yourself. And not "owe" in the sense of debt or contract; like in the sense of everyone owing it to themselves to not be a dumbass.

Now, you're not really a happy person anyways, so maybe the thought of being rotten is no big loss to you. In which case, whatever.


Such rational, elevated, and gentlemanly rhetoric indeed. But perhaps one attracts such things merely by living in New York. One bright spot in today's election coverage has been a humorous interview with Tom Wolfe, oddly enough appearing in the Guardian:
"Here is an example of the situation in America," he says: "Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing, during dessert, what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces that he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And ... Tina's reaction is: 'How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?' I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election. I have never come across a candidate who is so reviled. Reagan was sniggered it, but this is personal, real hatred.

"Indeed, I was at a similar dinner, listening to the same conversation, and said: 'If all else fails, you can vote for Bush.' People looked at me as if I had just said: 'Oh, I forgot to tell you, I am a child molester.' I would vote for Bush if for no other reason than to be at the airport waving off all the people who say they are going to London if he wins again. Someone has got to stay behind."


The article is nothing if not merry and amusing, and it seems there's one kindred spirit in the Big Apple. And with that thought, I'll leave you to a happy election day, which unfortunately for me will not be spent watching results until the evening: there is simply too much to do.
cover
I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

UPDATE: To answer Martin's question, yes I did go to the polls and vote today. I voted by provisional ballot, because they didn't seem to have me on the rolls yet (I'm a new voter), which means I didn't get to use the big machine with the swinging red lever, but that's not too big a deal. And in comparison to this guy, my experience of wandering to three polling places each saying I needed to vote in the other wasn't so big a deal. I mean, they're all in the same place, basically.

October 30, 2004

New Grauniad Mistake

Well, Ian Katz of the Guardian writes a remarkably self-satisfied account of his attempt to spam the citizens of Clark County, Ohio. Once again, I object to this project simply because, hey, it's spam.

But someone needs to put out an APB on a Michael Dorf. According to Mr. Katz, Professor Dorf now works for an entity called the "University of Columbia." You've heard it from the U.K.'s newspaper most prone to (at least grammatical and spelling) error, folks: in case you're in his Civil Procedure class, the Guardian doesn't know where he's got to. Next time you spot him at the lectern, you might want to IM them.

Update: Since someone asked me why I was making such a seemingly petty point, it's worth noting that the spelling in the Guardian is so bad that it's an open joke in England. They even published a book of some of their better errors a few years ago. I tried to find it on Amazon.co.uk, but couldn't manage it. This was intended as a joke, not any serious criticism of the Guardian.

October 27, 2004

Wasting Time Proves You're Alive

I don't have time enough to use this--and I'm old enough to have played it the first time around--but the BBC has now put a new flash-based interfaced on the old Infocom version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Hint: Your first two steps are STAND UP and TURN ON LIGHT.

October 26, 2004

Batman is a Republican and Spiderman is a Democrat

It's only a week until the polls open. The candidates have spoken, the pundits have punded... has a single voice not yet been heard? Certainly for New Yorkers, there's one more opinion we need to hear from. Really, before Gotham goes to vote, shouldn't we consider which lever our heroes will pull when they get out of their spandex and into the voting booth? Which is why I'm here to explain to you that Batman is a Republican, and Spiderman is a Democrat.

Consider the evidence.

  • Class: Batman's hides in plain site as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Peter Parker spends a lot of his non-webswinging time getting Aunt May's jewelry out of hock. Who do you think benefited more from Bush's tax cuts?
  • Military Spending: Sure, Spiderman has a host of little electronic spider-trackers, his web-spinners (unless you go by the movie version) and various other bits of tech. But this pales in significance before the Batmobile, the Batcomputer, the Batplane... Certainly when it comes to allocating $87 billion for an invasion, Batman's going to show a lot less hesitation than, say, John Kerry.
  • Views on the Power Structure: Batman does things that are thoroughly illegal, whilst working with low-level officers (Commissioner Gordon) and building coalitions (including, occasionally, unsavory elements like gang bosses). He's routinely denounced by mayors, governors, presidents, and anyone else who has no idea of facts on the ground. Remind you of any coalitions of the willing? Spiderman, on the other hand, is only really hated by the Daily Bugle. And lets face it, does the Bugle more closely resemble the New York Times or the New York Post? As they say, I report, you decide.
  • Motivation: Spiderman is all about "great power" and "great responsibility." Indeed, he can drone on about it repetitively in a style as flat as a certain Boston Brahmin. He's driven by guilt that he did one thing wrong long ago, and thus must make amends for the rest of his life by making sure nothing like that ever happens again. Batman, on the other hand, gets up in the morning driven by a sense of abstract eye-for-an-eye justice probably deriving from a deep-set desire for vengeance. (And let's consider how little hold Michael Moore must have on Batman. You can just imagine the most famous orphan in comics: "You mean George W. Bush has an obsessive desire to defeat Hussein? Sounds reasonable to me: Hussein tried to kill his father.")
  • Willingness To Break The Law To Get The Bad Guys: Once again, Spiderman endures endless angst about whether his spandex-clad role is compatible with New York's existing legal order. Batman, on the other hand, considers Gothams existing order either fundamentally corrupt or ineffective, and so doesn't mind stepping around it. Remind you of anyone's attitudes towards the UN?
  • UPDATE--Fascist Reputation: Frequent commentor Sarah reminds me of one more: lefties like to call Batman things like "a rather fascistic Reagan-era hero." See, e.g., Mark Gauvreau Judge, Holy Censorship, Batman! Guess Who's Banning Comic Books, Washington Post, June 09, 1996, C5 (interview with Art Spiegelman). And what's more Republican than having a lefty call you a fascist?

So there you go. If you fancy the Caped Crusader, vote Gotham in 2004. If teenage webswingers are more your thing, vote NYC. If you're having a hard time finding a way to take voting in New York very seriously, here's your motivation.

October 24, 2004

Tool of the Trade, or the Law Blogger Cocktail Party

The longer this term goes on, the more I need the Cocktail DB, the Internet Cocktail Database. Apparently you just can't make Hell's Fire anymore.

One of these days, I should hold the Law Blog Cocktail Party:

Hey, I've got a big bar, feel free to leave other invitations...

(Via Frankenstein, whose cocktail must certainly be here.)

October 23, 2004

Nicholas Kristof, Theological Man of Absurdity

The original title of this post was going to be "For All The Wisdom You'll Get, You're Better Off Listening to Flatulent Hamsters than Nicholas Kristof." Then I realized that I really didn't want Google traffic from those looking for hamster porn.

Nonetheless, it's difficult to express in mere words the level of disdain I have for Mr. Kristof's latest river of drivel in New York's most pitiful newspaper, entitled "God and Sex. A lot of ink has been spilled on this topic already, but Kristof adds nothing.

Let's set the corpus of his piece out on the dissection table and see why it's a dry husk of an argument. He starts out:

So when God made homosexuals who fall deeply, achingly in love with each other, did he goof?

Now, this is actually an interesting question, if stunning in its unoriginality. If you broaden it slightly outside the homosexual realm, you have merely the problem of evil and the existence of sin: how could an infallible god create creatures with the capacity to break his own commandments? Why would he do so, and why would he allow such evil people to exist?

That's not to say that homosexuals are evil. It's just that if you think you've found a way around the larger problem--and many have tried--then the question posed by Kristof is no trouble at all. And if you admit the existence of the possibility of sin, then Kristof's question just becomes a more trivial instance of the greater issue.

Of course, it's still an interesting question, but Kristof doesn't mean to invoke the problem of evil, theodicy, or anything of the sort. He means to make a rhetorical point which is amusing to the simple-minded, but just goes to show he doesn't understand what he's critiquing. We can see this in his next paragraph:

That seems implicit in the measures opposing gay marriage on the ballots of 11 states.

No, that would be implicit only if you judged them on perfectly secular assumptions. Anyone with even self-taught theological background would see the above and realize that no such statement is implicit, so long as one buys the existence of sin. You might as well say, "Did God err when he created individuals who have so much avarice that laws must be passed to keep them from stealing?"

So why is he speaking such obviously trite poppycock? Because he's got a whole column to fill until he gets to what is finally his real point, as we shall see. And that point, once you strip the puffery off of it, is hardly worth the ink.

I'll skip over the next few paragraphs of Kristof banality: conservatives shouldn't assume God is always on their side (they don't), liberals shouldn't abandon the theological field (they don't either, unless one has been ignoring the debate). But let's look at how he treats theological subjects when he gets to them, starting with the tale of the ill-fated Sodomites:

It's true that the story of Sodom is treated by both modern scholars and by ancient Ezekiel as about hospitality, rather than homosexuality. In Sodom, Lot puts up two male strangers for the night. When a lustful mob demands they be handed over, Lot offers his two virgin daughters instead. After some further unpleasantness, God destroys Sodom. As Mark Jordan notes in "The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology," it was only in the 11th century that theologians began to condemn homosexuality as sodomy.

As summaries go, I could do similar to Jane Eyre by stating that, "After an unhappy childhood, Jane meets a fellow called Rochester. After some further unpleasantness, she marries him." It's true, but anyone looking for the point of the book will miss it. (If you'd like an interesting take on the story, in more detail, I'd recommend The Harlot on the Side of the Road, by Jonathan Kirsch. Entertaining, sensible, and not that far from Kristof's position.)

What follows is the typical pablum you'd expect from Kristof, disguising itself as textual exigesis. Leviticus condemns wearing a polyester and cotton shirt. (I always thought the prohibition was between "linen and woolen," but maybe Kristof gets his clothing from polyester sheep.) Jesus praised eunuchs. The prohibition against homosexuality in the Bible comes from Paul, not Jesus.

Never is there an understanding of why some of the prohibitions of Leviticus stand in Christianity, and why others have fallen by the wayside. Indeed, if one were to follow a Kristoffian theology, the understanding of Judaism could never have advanced through commentary, which I suspect would come as a shock to less orthodox, not to say Reform, Jews. (Incidentally, why does Kristof never ask about Jewish or Muslim opposition to homosexuality?) Nor do we get any understanding of how, if the prohibitions against homosexuality are so textually flimsy that even a New York Times columnist can debunk them, they ever evolved in the first place. Kristof, to his credit, admits several times that the bulk of theological debate is generally against him, but then trivializes any of his opponent's very real arguments.

This is a shame, because some of the scholars he mentions--at least from my reading--seem very level-headed. Certainly Brooten's work on female homosexuality seems both lively and intriguing, and a fair measure of reasonable counterargument. It's a pity Kristof couldn't have confined himself to a book review.

Of course, Kristof isn't really interested in whether Christians should understand homosexuality to be a sin. He's mocking religious understanding, clear from his opening line, before getting to his real point:

In any case, do we really want to make Paul our lawgiver? Will we enforce Paul's instruction that women veil themselves and keep their hair long? (Note to President Bush: If you want to obey Paul, why don't you start by veiling Laura and keeping her hair long, and only then move on to barring gay marriages.)

Yes, you see, he's arguing for an iron wall between Church and State. Again, not a particularly novel argument, and certainly not enough to fill a column if he didn't have some vapid bile to spew with it. But even here he misses the point.

The debate on homosexual marriage does involve who we wish to be our lawgivers. But no one, not even the most fervid evangelical Christian, is supposing that this lawgiver should be Paul. (For one thing, he's dead. Come to think of it, he's a foreigner to boot.) Rather, the debate on state FMAs reflects a choice between our lawgivers being state legislatures--or even more, given these referenda, the people--or robed wise (wo)men on state supreme courts. After all, the only state in the nation to announce gay marriage did not do so through the polls, but through the pulpit of its courts.

In other words, even if the various FMAs up for voting this year are attempts to "make Paul our lawgiver," then his question answers itself: if we do vote them into law, then yes, we do want Paul to be our lawgiver. (This is ridiculous: a Muslim voting for an FMA would be doing no such thing, nor would someone like me who would vote in an amendment as a reproach for assertive judges. But if we grant Kristof his conceit, he seems to be answering his own question.)

It's almost embarassing to continue a catalogue of Kristof's ignorance, but how can I help it? He leaves the best ammunition against him to last:

So if we're going to cherry-pick biblical phrases and ignore the central message of love, then perhaps we should just ban marriage altogether?

Of course, no serious Biblical scholarship on either side of the divide is performed by "cherry-pick[ing]" phrases from holy books. Just as in constitutional law commentators make arguments from policy, legislative history, or statutory construction (and vary in the weight given to each), so Biblical scholarship involves similar tradeoffs. Kristof has spent his time building up, then burning down, a straw man.

There are some very fine arguments for why homosexuality should not be considered a Christian sin. Last year, the Columbia Chaplain sponsored quite a fine meeting where such topics were explored, and even Kristof points to some works that are raising interesting questions in this area. It would behoove those who wish to criticize Christianity to read them and learn the subject, and certainly to do more than read op-eds this pathetic.

October 09, 2004

HELP ME MY FIREND, UGRENT NEED ASSISST

DEAR SIR:

It is with STRICT CONFIDENCE and trust that I wish to contact you seeking for your assistance to help as regards an investment opportunity. I sincerly hope that this letter will not come as a surprise to you, or cause you any embarrassment since we neither knew each other before, nor have had any previous contact or correspondence. I am writing to you because your email address came to me in a dream from ALMIGHTY GOD.

I am the son of PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH, and fear that my father is soon to be deposed in a palace coup in the Democratic Republic of America. In this regards I am worried that I will soon have to leave the country to a safe haven in Nigeria. At the moment, I currently have $87 Billion US DOLLARS deposited in a safe account under the name of my friend Hal E. Burton. However, with the present dispensation of the current government of the Democratic Republic of America, all monies are attempted to be recovered by the revolutionary administration. On this note I desire an urgent attention to assisst me secure the aforesaid sum in any bank account you may furnish me with.

We would avail ourselves of a TOTAL LOSS OF THE WHOLE SUM depending on your promptness to furnish me with this required information which will enable me facilitate instructions and signal to the security company for expedient transfer of this funds to your account. However, I am sure that they misunderestimate your kindness and sense of justice in this matter.

Please send your address and bank details to me so that we can determine that this is mission accomplished. The next administration will be tireless to recover this sum, and so will we.

Your friend,

GEORGE H. W. BUSH IV

[Ed's note: Yep, this is original, my English friends have descended upon me this weekend, and we put this thing together over coffee.]

September 29, 2004

Posted [Almost] Without Comment

A while ago I posted about F--- the Vote. Now a friend has tipped me off to Votergasm.com. (Probably not very work safe.)

Some people are having far too much fun with politics this year.

September 26, 2004

Annoyances

One particularly bad thing happened to me while I was in London for an interview last week: my cell phone and PDA were stolen. I'd gone out for a drink with an old friend and I left my jacket at a pub. By the time I got back, the jacket was there but the electronics weren't. Yes, it was dumb, but these things happen.

Insurance has covered the cell phone at minimal expense, although the replacement process proved complicated. More annoying is the PDA, a Dell Axim X3. I purchased this in Japan over the summer because I wanted a machine with a Japanese operating system. (Unlike PCs, PDAs have important parts of the operating system embedded on the chip, so I can't just buy a device and install the OS from the earlier X3.) When I called Dell last week to see about getting a replacement, they told me I'd have to buy one from the Japanese website.

Me: "Wait a second. I thought all the Dell PDAs were assembled in Texas?"

Dell Salesman (DS): "They are."

Me: "So I'd be ordering off a Japanese website, but shipping the device from Texas, then having to get a friend to mail it back?"

DS: "Yep. We don't sell them with a non-US OS."

I suspect that somewhere in this is the iron hand of Microsoft: after all, Dell shouldn't really care about what OS sits on its device, whereas MS might be worried about price maintenance across borders. But whatever the case, this is annoying.

Ah well. The X50 is supposed to be coming out soon, and this gives me an opportunity to revisit non-Dell options. Time for a trip to Bic Camera.com. Nonetheless, it's a very expensive lesson and an annoyance I didn't need right now.

Update: Looking at my packing order for the old X3 and some of the shipping materials, I'm not entirely sure that it was made in Texas. I thought all of them were assembled there, but maybe not. Certainly the salesman suggested so when I asked, but then that might have been a mistake.

Any information on this gratefully received.

Update II: PG of Half the Sins of Mankind pointed me to links like this which indicated that at least the X5 was manufactured in Taiwan. So maybe a Taiwan->Tokyo->New York hop makes a bit more sense.

September 14, 2004

A Public Service Message For Users of Microsoft Word

[WARNING: If you're tired of hearing about Dan Rather and 'old' memos, skip the first three or so paragraphs, but you may want to read the rest of this, since I'm outlining a handy feature of MS Word that might save you some time. OK, it's not an exactly hidden feature, but hey, some seem not to have heard of it. Just click here to skip to the useful stuff.]

Wow, the whole Rathergate story is getting quickly ridiculous. We could solve this whole thing quite easily: CBS could put up a very high definition scan (say, in TIFF format instead of PDF) of their 'original' photocopies for casual consumption, and invite in the experts currently critical of them to review the actual physical evidence. Not tough at all, but it ain't gonna happen. Meanwhile, the guess, counter-guess, and speculation continue apace.

Ok, I'll admit, watching Dan Rather get his arse handed to him by a bundle of 'guys in pajamas' gives me a great big internet-inspired grin. In the meantime, though, the wild guesses and counter-accusations are getting absurd. I'm only going to join the fray insofar as it's useful to teach my readers a handy little trick in Microsoft Word 2002, especially nifty if they ever want to fake old documents. From Dan Rather's defense tonight (from the transcription at Ratherbiased.com, since I can't find one on CBS's website):

RICHARD KATZ (Software Designer): If you were doing this a week ago or a month ago on a normal laser jet printer, it wouldn't work. The font wouldn't be available to you.
RATHER: Katz noted the documents have the superscript th and a regular sized th. That would be common on a typewriter, not a computer.
KATZ: There is one document from may of 1972 which contains a normal "l" th at the top. To produce that in microsoft word, you would have to go out of your way to type the letters and then turn the th setting off or back over them and type them again.

Katz is described as a 'software expert.' Well, so am I, at least when it comes to features of Microsoft Word. So for his sake and yours, I'll show you a shortcut that can eliminate the pain of a lot of 'automatic' features of MS Word 2002. (This ain't brain surgery, and most of you will have seen it before, but since 'software designers' are missing it, what the heck.)

The most common explanation for how to get around 'auto-superscripting' is also one of the most annoying. Say you want to type '187th' without a superscript. Wizbang, among others, has suggested that what you should do is type '187', then a space, then 'th', and then go back and delete the space. Well, this is annoying, and in my impatience, it normally doesn't work: I do all that, then hit 'end' to go to the end of the line, and having forgotten to put a space after 'th', hit space. Which as many frustrated Word users know, just superscripts the thing again.

OK, superscript isn't normally where I have this problem. It's where I'm typing something like U.S.C. §185(c), and the (c) becomes a ©. But the solution's the same. Try it with me.

Open a document in Word 2002 or later. Just type '187th', hit space, and if you still have the autocorrect function on, it'll transform to the infamous th. Now, hold your mouse over the '1', and if you let it hover for half a second or so, you should see a little blue bar underneath it that looks like this:

Pull your mouse over the blue bar, and a little lightning bolt should pop up. Press the arrow next to that, and a menu drops down. The whole thing looks sort of like this:

The cunning among you will notice that the first option--Undo Superscript--does exactly what it says on the tin. Click the button, and the likelihood of you getting caught at a forgery goes down by... well, a bit, anyway.

The really cunning among my readers will note that the next option, Stop Automatically Superscripting Ordinals, will keep this little 'helpful' feature from ever darkening your door again.

Does this bear upon whether the documents are forgeries or not? Well, no. To really tell if they were forgeries, you should test the paper for age, give documents that are as close to the original as possible to real experts, hand them over to your opposition for verification, and... well, all the things that someone who hopes to learn about the truth would do. For that, go gripe to CBS, who really are the only people who could settle this problem. But unlike their 'software expert,' I know that you can easily turn off or stop Autocorrect on an occurence-by-occurence basis. And now you do too.

September 10, 2004

"Mom" and "Pop" Get A Real Job

Full-disclosure: I like Wal-Mart. I spent a year and some months living in a small town in Michigan back in the 80s, and as an inquisitive young child I had to wait three weeks to get old Infocom games shipped to me via mail order. Books, clothing, or other cool stuff often necessitated an hour's trip to get to anywhere worthwhile, especially since as a tall, skinny lad, the local J.C. Penney's often didn't have my size.

The youth these days don't know how good they've got it. (I've always wanted to say that!) With Wal-Mart, at least they know they've got the staples of mass-consumerism at their beck and call. To say nothing of Amazon.com, Target, or... well, Staples.

So anyway, it's nice to see that Rik Milholland, through his character Davan at Something Positive, expresses something of the same sentiments. And comments a bit on why Mom and Pop stores often succumbed to competition.

As an aside, any opinions on whether I should add this to my collection of somewhat bizarre t-shirts?

Also, if you've not seen it before, this is hysterical. "Coffee-House Propaganda" is particularly good.

August 27, 2004

Writing to come, promise!

Still working on my EIP piece. In the meantime, I notice that PG--now a fellow Columbia student--is impressed by the poetry of C.S. Lewis for his intelligence and tolerance. She quotes "Cliche Came Out of Its Cage," quite a pretty work.

For my money, though, she should check out G. K. Chesterton's poetry. I've always thought that Chesterton, living through the birth of the high rationalism that afflicts so many today, could be both skewering and yet strangely kind at the same time. Take, for instance, "The Song of the Strange Ascetic":

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have crowned Neaera's curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I:
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.

Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight-
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.


August 06, 2004

Addictive

Check out this game. If any of my fellow law-reviewish types read my blog, I may single-handedly be responsible for a twenty percent drop in productivity.

(Hat tip to Fr. Bill, frequent visitor here)

Update: Anyone managed to catch the plane yet?

August 05, 2004

Only funny if you read Asimov

Today's Dork Tower has the right take on I, Robot.

August 01, 2004

Seeing Beauty

Perhaps I'm just procrastinating, but I've had a lot I've wanted to write about today. In particular, Sheherazade's comments on these two posts started me thinking about beauty and perception.

Sometimes beautiful women forget how beautiful they are. I like both of these posts because of the doubt in them, and also the confidence. A woman who never forgets she's beautiful and fascinating, never falters or wonders, well, I can't really relate. And a woman who never gets to a place where she believes that she's beautiful and fascinating, no matter what the world tells her, that's too terribly sad. The play of life, as I see it, is in between, and the magical way the right person's response can change your sense of hope and possibility.

Both posts, and particularly the latter, deal with how being perceived as beautiful can change one's sense of self. The relationship cuts both ways, though: how you perceive someone can also change whether you feel they are beautiful.

Continue reading "Seeing Beauty" »

Pro Bono: Good for Picking Up Chicks (Tracts)?

As some of you know, Columbia has a minimum 40 hour pro-bono requirement that I sometimes fret about. And yet, there's a lot of opportunity to be creative here.

For instance, observe what has happened to Mr. Howard Hallis, a professional artist and web designer. In a fit of inspiration, Mr. Hallis decided to parody one of the comics of Jack Chick.

Who is Jack Chick, you ask? Well, he's some form of minister notable for writing missionary comic strips compelling the faithless to Jesus. When I first stumbled across these, I pretty much assumed they were already a parody, along the lines of Landover Baptist. But no. It seems that Mr. Chick has been spitting forth these comic strips, and other pamphlets, longer than I've been alive. His zeal for 'proving' that Allah is a false 'moon god', Jews are going to hell, and Catholicism is an unholy lie is merely strident enough to seem like parody. (I mean, his 'argument' against communion is titled The Death Cookie. Who would have thought he wanted to be taken seriously?)

You can find a more-complete-than-you-ever-needed list of Chick Tracts here. My friends first introduced him to me because of his observation that all roleplayers are spell-casting cultists out to take your soul. Beware, my readers, it appears that they're able to cast 'mind bondage' spells. (Well, that explains some things, then.)

So anyway, Mr. Hallis responded to this by creating the 'Cthulhu Chick Tract', a work in the style of the Great Master Jack but from the point of view of the worshipper of the Great Old Ones:

MINISTER: Soon the seas will turn red with the blood of the human race, as the unspeakable terrors com from beyond the gate, which is Yog Sothoth, to devour all in their path! la! Shub Niggurath! la! la!

UNBELIEVER: So if we're all gonna die, what difference does it make? Who cares? Nothing I can do about it... or is there?

MINISTER: You're right, George... It's hopeless. But there is one thing we can hope for... TO BE EATEN FIRST!"


Unfortunately, Mr. Chick's employees seem as humorless as his comics. Mr. Hallis's ISP was sent a cease and desist letter claiming the following:
In accordance with your responsibilities under copyright law, I am asking you to take immediate action to terminate this illegal activity which is occuring on your network. It has been our experience that most of the time when people steal copyrighted materials such as this, they do so without the knowledge or approval of their internet service provider, and that when made aware of the violation, most ISPs take the material down promptly. I trust that will be the case here.

Mr. Hallis then took down the offending piece, because in his words, "I'm taking their tactics of propaganda... their very format and art... and turning it towards something they consider evil. Now, everyones opinions of what is evil and not evil or funny and not funny are subjective, but when they own the copyright to those images, they are fully within their rights to ask me to remove it from view." Thankfully, due to the magic of the Internet, it's not actually gone from view. You can see it here, among other places.

I've not taken any courses on copyright yet, but I have to wonder if Mr. Hallis is correct. After all, the work is obviously a parody, and a parody of Mr. Chick. Not that I can cite things like the Clerk normally does to support the view (without further research), but at least instinct tells me Mr. Hallis might have a case. It's certainly something to look into on a rainy Sunday.

Which brings us back to the pro bono requirement. It wouldn't be so bad if I could spend my forty hours defending people from otherwise ridiculous legal harassment. I'll have to find a firm or organization that would offer me the work, but at least I'd learn something, and be pleased with what I accomplished.

UPDATE FOR THE CONTEXTUALLY IMPAIRED: Just to make it completely clear--as I've already gotten some misguided 'fan mail'--the fact that I'm linking to Mr. Chick above does not constitute any endorsement of his views. Quite the opposite, actually, as I would have thought context made obvious. Note also that the link to Armed and Dangerous doesn't constitute approval of his views, either: I merely linked to him because he's willing to host a copy of Mr. Hallis' comic.

July 16, 2004

Movie Bewonderment

So, I've been complaining about the I, Robot movie for a while now. Some, on the other hand, are taking an opportunity to opine. Today I got an email from a fellow at the Singularity Institute who thought I might like to check out the Three Laws Unsafe website he's started. Supposedly it's to discuss whether robots based on Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics would be ethical. I have no idea who's behind it, if it's a movie hype machine, an honest research group, or a parody, but maybe someone wants to take a look.

In other news, I just saw Spiderman 2 over here. I was impressed. Okay, you could summarize the plot on an index card and still have room for your grandmother's souffle recipe, but the action and effects were great. And of course, all the shots of Columbia made me just a bit homesick.

May 22, 2004

Done! (And a week of rest)

The writing competition is over. I turned in slightly less than 3,000 words of pure random drivel: I'm pretty certain than of the stereotypical infinite monkeys attempting to write the works of Shakespeare, almost half of them would have produced a better submission. Damn you, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act!

But now things are done. Tomorrow I'm off back home to see my family, and the not-lauded-enough girlfriend is moving into my lovely little room in the Malebolge for the summer. Which means there's no time for commentary tonight: all must be packed. Oh, OK, except to say two things:

1.: If you're an incoming 1L who hasn't bought your computer yet, let me give you a big piece of advice. Go for low-weight over power. If you're stuck carrying Sullivan's Con Law book and a big-screen notebook, you're going to look like the hunchback of Notre Dame by the end of your spring term. Trust me on this.

Make up for it by buying a docking station and a big external monitor, if you feel you must have the power. Better yet, splurge and buy a separate desktop that you can keep at home. (This is only for the true tech geeks out there. For most of you, a notebook will suffice, but for those who want advice on the ideal law-school tech setup, look here in the next few weeks.)

2: I did a bit of work for a newly-minted graduate a few weeks back--backing up some data, doing some major hard-drive surgery--and have just been rewarded. First, I've inherited what she called "a sort of big monitor." Yes, this turns out to be a 21" Trinitron.

But more importantly, some students this year had trouble taking their exams on computer because Columbia, in an act of discrimination that the Supreme Court has not yet addressed, won't let students take exams on a Macintosh. But from this same student I've inherited a quite-old and brick-like notebook computer that I'm stripping down to the bare bones. I will then install only two pieces of software: Windows 98 (only thing for which I have a spare license) and ExamSoft. So if anyone is desperate next year, give me an email.

April 18, 2004

Not Entirely Welcome Headline Change

The World Star Gazette is an organization that I know nothing about but seems in the business of making a 'newspaper' out of other people's blog entries. Today they seem to have lifted a choice paragraph from my entry on dating across party lines and made it part of a 'point-counterpoint.'

Whatever the merits or not of this "gazette," I'm not sure I'm entirely in favor of their editorial style. My original title, Here's Hoping My Children Have Left Feet and Right Feet has been replaced with the rather more provocative "I've Slept With Too Many Liberals to Hate Them All."

That does make me sound rather a man of loose moral virtue, wouldn't you say?

April 06, 2004

How to Torture an Asimov Fan

Send them a link to the new trailer for I, Robot.

Asimov's old Robot stories posed questions on the 'Three Laws of Robotics' that kept coming back to me in my Legal Methods and Perspectives courses. (If you're looking for good examples of the problems of statutory interpretation and indeterminacy of meaning, you could do worse.) One of the cardinal rules of most of Asimov's robot stories was the the rules worked, the robots actually were attempting to follow the three laws, and whatever injury occurred was a problem of interpretation or, often, human nature. But this trailer makes the film look like a bad rehash of Terminator 3.

UPDATE: This comic seems to agree...


April 04, 2004

Love, Memory, and the Kindness of Old Friends

I'm writing now from the third of a trio of houses, where I've been loaned a computer and internet connection. For the past three nights, old companions have offered to put me up in their homes, often with little to no notice. They have given me wine and food and gossip, offered up spare beds and couches, taken hours from their days in order to welcome me back into their fold. This comfort has framed six hours in an English manor watching an old friend embark on a new and fantastic phase of her life. It's resulted in a great deal of overly-purple prose, and I'm almost embarassed to share this with you, but at the same time this short trip has left me refreshed, grounded, and grateful in a way that's almost religious. I hope you'll forgive me for inflicting the excess verbiage on you, and take it as an honest wish to somehow feebly share this.

First thing's first...

Continue reading "Love, Memory, and the Kindness of Old Friends" »

March 25, 2004

This is not what is meant by a Windows Box

A man who built an entire PC inside a Windows box.

Then he made it so it works with Linux too.

The final step was to take an assembly language MBR boot loader program and modify it to read the state of the tilt switch and make it boot the partition containing Windows XP or the partition containing Linux. To those that don't know the secret of how it works it looks like magic. It boots the right O/S for the box it is in.

(Link thanks to What I Learned Today.)

March 24, 2004

Justice and Virtue?

The Curmudgeonly Clerk reports on the story of an 18 year old Bristol lesbian who is selling her virginity on the internet in order to avoid graduating with student debt.

Fortunately, high as law school debt might be, this will never happen here. Leave aside the legal impediments such as prostitution laws:

a) Law school tuition is so excessive that selling mere virginity would never cover half of it. You'd have to sell your virginity three or four times.
b) No one would believe that any form of virtue survived three years of law school anyway.

Having finished my moot court oral argument last night, I'm feeling a bit tired (and more than a bit hung over), so you'll have to excuse the cynicism.

March 19, 2004

Amusing Google Tricks

I used to joke that the NYT was so left-wing it should only publish on the left-hand side of the page. A new source of partisan confusion in website authoring seems to arise from Bush the Elder's foundation. From NTK:

one of these URLs not afraid to go against public opinion like the others: http://images.google.com/images?q=left+arrow&imgsz=icon ...

This sort of thing is one reason why code that doesn't otherwise seem 'exposed' needs to be checked thoroughly and needs to meet good coding standards: what you think sits on the back-end can become prominent in different contexts. We ran into problems like this a couple of times back in my project management days. This one's not a big deal, obviously, but it's kind of cute.

March 18, 2004

Things to be thankful for

A quick list of things to be thankful for:

a) I went out to dinner with a very kind young lady last night, and had fried clams. They were superb. That's one desire out of the way, then.

b) As a result of going out yesterday evening, I fell much, much better about the amount of work I have to get done this term. It's hellish, but doable.

c) My Nelson's character dictionary arrived today. It's a new edition, and certainly better than the one I bought back in 1993. Lousy color, but it's much better to work with.

d) Tonight I met someone I'll be working with over the summer. As a result, I'm looking forward to my job even more avidly than I had been yesterday.

All told, it's been a good day. One to be thankful for.

March 17, 2004

Are the Anti-Bush forces really this desperate?

Heidi Bond and Ditzy Genius are both a-titter at an 'idiotic' desktop screensaver the George Bush campaign has put up on its website. Because, you see, the workers shown are holding slips of paper that are pink... y'know, pink slips... so on Bush's 'strong economy' desktop he's showing workers that.... Oh, let Ditzy tell the joke:

That's right, this is an image touting the economy and the creation of new jobs, yet the average joes in the picture are holding PINK SLIPS, the universal sign of getting canned. I don't know if these folks were actually laid off or what, but the subconcious message this picture sends is interesting indeed.

How clever. How droll. Except of course, that a 'pink slip' is just a figure of speech, a holdover from bygone ages. Very few letters of termination are written on pink paper anymore. The various-colored cards the men have are almost certainly some kind of operations card. I can't tell exactly what kind--my father would probably have a much better idea--but they're not termination notices.

Take a look at the guy on the left. He's holding a pink card, and he's got a pink and an orange one in his pocket. I suppose Ms. Bond and DG will now be telling us how stupid Bush is for putting a member of the Orange Order on his campaign site? And for showing a worker that seems to have been laid off twice? And if any of these men are actually, or even implicitly holding 'pink slips,' why are they smiling?

The "Bush is Stupid" crowd long ago outlived their usefulness, particularly when they have to make such stretches into the 'subliminal' to make their point. What they manage to do is make themselves look as petty as the last decade's Clinton-haters did.

March 14, 2004

So relaxed I'll slip into a coma

The weekend has passed quickly, and with nary a legal thought. It's amazing how spring break brings out the crazy repressed flutterings of my mind. Over the last two days I've been to a friend's birthday dinner, accompanied a young lady to the Frick Gallery, and watched almost an entire season of Black Adder Goes Forth. The mind has not been this relaxed or limber in ages, and I think it's now feeling borderline insane. A number of strange conclusions I've come to in the last few days. If the conversation below seems a bit more whimsical than you're used to around here, give it a day and we'll be back to normal: tomorrow starts the Great Catch-Up.

Who are the wealthiest people on the WB?: Imagine a world in which Smallville, Dawson's Creek, Star's Hollow, Sunnyvale, Everwood, and all the other WB TV-show cities actually populated America. I'm always wondering why we think wealth distribution would be the same in this world. I mean, the wealthiest folks about in Smallville (the ubiquitous Luther Corp.) are fertilizer magnates. The Gilmores became rich from insurance. And in Angel, the wealthy gits who run the world are of course demonic lawyers.

And yet, given the number of broken windows and fractured doors which appear in a weekly episode of Smallville or Angel, it's clear that the industry to be in is window manufacture and fitting, followed shortly thereafter by door and lock maintenance. No one ever seems to be thrown against a sturdy, well-reinforced wall. Since insurance pays for this, I'm unsure how the Gilmores stay solvent. Similarly, Luther Corp should have been purchased in a leveraged buy-out by Home Depot.

Strange Addictions: For weeks now, my subconscious has been begging me to find it some fried clams like they used to serve at Howard Johnsons. But the old, faithful HoJo of my youth has decided it wants to be a hotel chain, and its website doesn't even mention if its hotels have their old restaurants, much less their classic clams. The vastly-overrated Tom's Restaurant, of Seinfeld fame, doesn't serve them, and even if it did, I'm not sure I'd want to suffer their lamentable service and questionable coffee to try them. Which leaves me stumped. I can find Ethiopian food, Thai food, Turkish food, Japanese food, and Korean food, and that's without leaving Broadway. But can anyone tell me where to get good, cheap fried clams in New York City?

Politics Be Damned: On a slightly more serious note, there's this slight matter of a national election coming up in a few months. Opinionated fellow that I am, I'm likely to say more and more about this as November gets closer. And sensible fellows that you folks are, you're likely not to want to hear about it.

So I'm considering resurrecting and improving an idea from one of my old projects: the dual blog. I can employ an MTExclude function to produce two versions of Three Years of Hell: (a) one that has all the thrilling cut-and-thrust debates regarding the salient topics of the day, and (b) one that cuts out all those tedious murmurings about Republicanism, Senate scandals, and homosexual marriage. I figure it would be easiest just to come up with a non-political stylesheet that you could choose using the stylesheet selector in the top margin.

Of course, that's one more project for Spring Break. It may or may not get done.


February 26, 2004

Eclectic Soul

Someone asked me the other day how I keep track of a number of conversations happening simlutaneous on six or eight blogs, or how I keep finding all these strange things on the net. The answer to the first is RSS/ATOM feeds, which mean that when something gets updated I'm normally notified in my inbox. But it's the other question that interests me more. It's the reason I was first drawn to blogging, the reason the internet has been such an obsession, and to a great degree the reason I started reading. I'm a sucker for the interconnections of knowledge.

In the last few hours, while I've been looking over Reg. State and reading CrimLaw, I've also had occasion to draw a connection between Chris Geidner's support for judicial activism, the American concept of balance of powers, and the massively different concept of power-balancing involved in the Tokugawa bakufu (government) from the 17th to 19th centuries. Indeed, in contrast to the 'dominant' image of Christianity many have today, I started thinking of the annihilation of the Christian religion in Japan by Iemitsu, best captured in George Elison's Deus Destroyed..

On the way back from the law school, I got to talking with a friend about The Kingdom, it's American remake, and then listened to her tell me a related story of Pharoah Psammeticus and his attempts to discover the oldest language on earth. and similar experiments by Akbar the Great and James V seeking to find the language of God. From there to the Mogul Empire, and via the Wikipedia, solidified my knowledge of Wiki, including the fact that it comes from the Hawaiian for 'fast' (wiki wiki). Which in turn strikes my interest in collective authoring and distributed knowledge. A few sips of coffee later, and I'm remembering that the strange Quizno's sub ad mentioned by Professor Bainbridge must have been done by the same guy who did the Laibach kittens.

The Web, RSS, Lexis-Nexis, Google... all of these are ways of collecting and sorting information. Some of the means are easier to use than others, while some of the data sources are of better quality or greater authority. The best part of my Moot Court project has been the excuse to wander for hours on Lexis, occasionally just meandering off onto non-productive but informative side-streets.

If the curse of university is never feeling like you have time to yourself, the joy of being in education is the access to knowledge, and the occasional moments when you can indulge in knowledge for its own sake. I wish I had more time to spend on my Perspectives course, time to not only put some critical thought into what the authors have to say, but to look at their historical and cultural backgrounds and contrast them with others I know. From what I can tell, Tokugawa Ieyasu might have been right at home with Thomas Hobbes, and I'd give good money for a dinner conversation between Hayashi Razan and Alexis de Tocqueville. Maybe later I can think about this more. But for all my griping recently, this law school thing really is a mind-altering experience, and mostly in a good way.

February 22, 2004

No Blood for Pipeweed!

Via Professor Bainbridge, I have come across an old but very entertaining parody: Unused Audio Commentary By Howard Zinn & Noam Chomsky, Recorded Summer 2002, for The Fellowship of the Ring Platinum Series Extended Edition DVD, Part One:

Chomsky: Well, what we see here, in Hobbiton, farmers tilling crops. The thing to remember is that the crop they are tilling is, in fact, pipe-weed, an addictive drug transported and sold throughout Middle Earth for great profit.

Zinn: This is absolutely established in the books. Pipe-weed is something all the Hobbits abuse. Gandalf is smoking it constantly. You are correct when you point out that Middle Earth depends on pipe-weed in some crucial sense, but I think you may be overstating its importance. Clearly the war is not based only on the Shire's pipe-weed. Rohan and Gondor's unceasing hunger for war is a larger culprit, I would say.

Chomsky: But without the pipe-weed, Middle Earth would fall apart. Saruman is trying to break up Gandalf's pipe-weed ring. He's trying to divert it.

Zinn: Well, you know, it would be manifestly difficult to believe in magic rings unless everyone was high on pipe-weed. So it is in Gandalf's interest to keep Middle Earth hooked.


Wonderful.

January 01, 2004

Happy New Year!

A very happy new year to all my readers. Normal service will be resumed after Michigan (hopefully) pounds USC.

December 30, 2003

Yu-Gi-Phil!

I come home on vacation to recharge my batteries, and I know its working when I start being infected by the creative madness that is my friends and family. Last night, for instance, the conversation kept returning to two topics on which most of the table had definite opinions: Yu-Gi-Oh (a collectible trading card game with an attached cartoon that is a thinly-veiled commercial) and Dr. Phil (a psychiatrist chat show as thinly-veiled excuse for train-wreck voyeurism).

Within minutes, we'd come up with the worst idea ever for paying off my law school expenses: The Dr. Schmill Collectible Trading Card Game. Players take the role of competing talk-show hosts vying to come up with the most incredible guests, formats, and and events, while doing everything they can to sabotage the other's ratings. Forget 'Blade Warrior' or 'PokeScudMon,' this game's cards would include 'addict,' 'teenage girl in too-tight clothes,' 'single father,' and the feared 'distracting corporate sponsorship.' Decide whether you want to try to be the empathetic voyeur, the cry-on-the-shoulder TV-friend, or the Springer-style freak show!

OK, probably not half as good an idea as it sounded after a few drinks last night, but it's not like there aren't stranger games out there.

November 27, 2003

Giving of thanks

I've been working all day, and I'll likely be working most of the evening: I'm behind, and this is my chance to catch up. But as learning and the process of learning has been on my mind today, I'd like to take this moment to thank the people who have taught me so much over my lifetime.

My Family: Most people get their greatest teachings from their family, and I'm no exception. I need to thank them for teaching me about loyalty, priorities, and perseverance. I'd especially like to thank my brother, who periodically reminds me that when up against the challenges of the world, your three best weapons are a cheerful smile, boundless confidence, and a roll of duct tape.

Old Web Hands: I'd like to give a quick word of thanks to those anonymous but not nameless web hands who introduced me to this strange and wonderful 'internet' thing back in the late eighties. Whenever I help some friend or classmate with the fecklessness of Microsoft Windows or the frustrations of technical support, I'm doing some small bit to pay back the debt I owe the men who taught me. I'd particularly like to thank the men who taught me the basic rule of netiquette: that the quickest way to make certain someone can't hear you is to yell at them.

My High School Teachers: These are the people who encouraged even my strangest dreams, only stopping briefly to ask if what I was doing was practical. After all these years of higher education, I'm still amazed how often I find myself falling back on what I learned in high school. And so as not to slight the teachers I had prior to Alabama--it helped that these guys had bedrock to build upon.

My Oxford Friends: Thank you for being the craziest people I've known, the most creative and at the same time the most tolerant and accepting. These were my masters of lateral thinking. Thanks for teaching me that when faced with an insurmountable obstacle, it's often best merely to remake the problem a bit.

My Friends Now: What can I say? We're still learning from each other, and barring that, at least we know we're not suffering alone.

These, of course, aren't the only people to thank, but I think they're people to whom thanks are most overdue. Given how behind I am in my studies, I'm likely to remain behind in my praise for quite some while.

Oh, and thank you, my readers, for making this blog what it is. I hope to be thanking you on at least two further Thanksgivings. But time will tell.

October 05, 2003

[I] Am Urged By Your Propinquity

I've heard a common litany here at law school that I just can't believe: "There's no way I'll date anyone from my class at law school." The very idea's been described as 'madness,' 'insane,' or 'that would be stupid.' And I can't help but think, "Yeah, sure."

Human beings being what we are, we find our romantic attachments basically by propinquity. Considering the compressed and stressing nature of law school, the fact that few of us have external ties to New York City, and the little time many of us spend outside the cloisters of Columbia, I can't see that the rule of propinquity is going to be overturned any time soon. Given time, I rather expect such resolutions to be consigned to the dustbin, next to, "I'm going to brief every case."

Besides, the risks and reasons normally given against are overstated. If we were a class of one hundred, certainly, I'd find it as bad an idea as dating within one's workplace. But with over a thousand students of various classes, this place is big enough to get lost in without dramatics. I've not met all the 1Ls yet: not meeting any particular one would be simple. This reminds me more of the larger offices I've worked in, where office romance was not uncommon, if sometimes slightly strange.

I'm reminded Osaka, the day I transferred into a division at A Major Japanese Corporation. On the first day of my two week internship in that department, a young man came up to our boss Kacho-san and handed him a small letter, explaining that he was to be married. The boss congratulated him, opened the letter (a wedding invitation) and blanched. "But... you two don't even like each other," he blurted, losing his cool for a second before returning to congratulations. The young man was marrying the girl who sat across from him.

As I pieced together later, when people were willing to explain in slower and simpler Japanese, the two of them had been dating for a year or so. They kept their relationship secret during the early days so as to avoid any discomfort among their colleagues if it ended. As things grew more serious, they kept it secret because company policy would have been to transfer her to another division, if not pressure her to resign if she intended marriage. Since she was actually on a management track and not a secretary, this wasn't a work disruption she wanted to consider.

Over the year, they'd developed the habit of low-level sniping at each other across the desk in order to throw people off the scent. In particular, the lady involved could be pretty brutal, and both had a degree of skill that had kept things from seeming overacted or obvious. As a result, when they did announce their wedding, most of the division seemed obviously surprised.

Not that I expect to see this kind of thing at law school, but such things do happen. I rather expect that over time, some of my classmates will come to eat their words on the subject.

(Title from Edna St. Vincent Millay)

September 30, 2003

Clark: Rumsfeld's a Swell Guy

Oh dear. I've revelled in the silliness surrounding Dean, but now Clark's in the race I don't have the heart anymore. Matt Drudge gets in his right hook with reports that--I know, you'd never expect it of a Democratic candidate--Clark once said some nice things about Bush and Reagan. A compliment to Rumsfeld is probably enough to kill his candidacy.

I can't lay into this guy, I really can't, and not just because an earnestly sincere and horribly good-willed classmate of mine was manning (womaning?) a CLARK 2004 stall this morning and asked me, more politely than I had any right to expect, if I might be interested in more information. To which I could only stammer in an embarassed fashion that, as a registered Republican, I probably wasn't much use for this.

It's always such a pity when really nice people get involved in politics.

(link from We Don't Need No Stinking Opinions.)

September 27, 2003

Weekend Thoughts: Fearless Spectator, the Original Curmudgeon

I won't tell you about the catch-up work on Civil Procedure that I'm doing today. It's a weekend, and you don't want to hear about that.

My entertainment reading from Amazon has arrived or is arriving. I'm finding that if I read a little for enjoyment, it makes the 'legal' reading all the easier. I'm sticking to things that are episodic in nature, like collections of short stories, poetry, plays, and collections of articles until my willpower is good enough not to waste whole days reading a novel.

For that reason, I've ordered a book I read when I was fifteen, and finally managed to find online at a used bookseller, Charles McCabe's Tall Girls are Grateful. I've tried to explain the attraction of the book twice this weekend, and failed miserably, so I suppose I should try again.

First of all, he wasn't a man you'd be likely to like. As the author of a series of columns for the San Francisco Examiner back when I was younger, he certainly wouldn't pass politically-correct muster today. The Fearless Spectator was a curmudgeon of the highest order, and an old-guard defender of gentlemen's clubs back when the phrase meant 'rooms having no women' rather than 'woman having no clothes.' The females of the species were to be respected but were different: the ladies were to leave the room when the men handed out the port and cigars. His argument against the ERA I can still remember, and it was foolish, hypocritical, bollocks, and hysterically funny.

And there's the rub: I probably have more sympathy for his arguments than any of my readers, and yet I don't find them very compelling. But he wrote with such candor and beauty, a kind of whistful engagement with life, and an infectious wry humor, that the arguments could be forgiven. At least in my memory, he'd walk you from the drawing room to the dining room to the balcony, through the convivial stages of a dinner party, in such a way that you knew that even if the ideals he based his world on had flaws, the aesthetics were not to be faulted.

And I can sympathize with him in this much: someday I'll probably be like him. I fully expect that in 2050 I'll be sucking on my pipe, possibly loaded with a now-legal whiskey-soaked marijuana, and lecturing my grand-nephews about how there are only really five basic sexualities that should be permissable, that these full-immersion medulodramas are merely sensory pornography that will never hold a candle to such classics as South Park: The Movie, and explaining exactly why I don't think cyborg-Americans should be allowed into the military. Such is the way of these things that I'll probably quote Hillary Clinton with respect and reverence. [1] One day I'll be a 1990's liberal--I just want to be forty years late.

In any event, McCabe was at his best when he wasn't talking politics at all. One of the essays that's stayed with me all these years was about how we never really love as much as we love the first time. He speculated that we only really had so much heart, and that after every love a little bit of ones heart belonged to that person ever after--that the next time one loved it was wiser, or kinder, or even stronger, but never again that full. While reading it, I could sense the regrets between each of the paragraphs, the strange sense of evaluation of his life that he'd scribbled down for a newspaper.

But it's been ten years since I've read any of his books, and finding them out of print has been a challenge. What I remember is a book by a man who was kind, honest and somewhat elegant and very, very different. I honestly can't tell you if I'll like them when the page is in front of me and they're not filtered through memory, but I'm looking forward to finding out again.

[1] And not just to say, "My husband is the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy."

September 20, 2003

Never Again (Until the Next Time)

A short summary of the last fifteen or so hours would be: a cocktail party with elegant and refined lighting, tastefully-chosen food, and more alcohol than I would have thought possible, much less necessary. After too many martini's (remind me to thank the bartender for that one), I ended up leaving early feeling fairly ill. I've spent the rest of the time since paying for my sins. Having left without saying goodbye to either host, my hangover was coupled with a wracking sense of guilt.

As normal, I woke up at seven, and since doing any work this morning would have been an exercise in futility, I've been rereading Ivan Morris' The World of the Shining Prince. Quite possibly the most engaging history I've ever read, it captures the spirit of a Japan of poetry, romance, rivalry, economic disjunction, superstition, and manners.

The Heian period, roughly speaking 782-1167 A.D., is the world of The Tale of Genji, not Ran or Shogun. Unlike the bushido-beating samurai eras better known to Western readers, Heian Japan was focused almost completely around the politics of courtiers more skilled in matching fabrics and perfumes than marching and swordsmanship. Courtiers derived their power from rank, and social grace and artistic accomplishment were valued more highly than horse-riding or marksmanship. Because men wrote mostly in Chinese, the finest literature to come out of this period was written almost exclusively by women such as Izumi Shikibu, Sei Shonagon, and most famously Murasaki Shikibu.

As much as I enjoyed studying Tokugawa era Japan, there's something much more lovely about the Heian period, and appreciation I gained largely through Morris' book. Study of Heian Japan has few battles, no bushido, but instead a triumph of style in letters over the substance of arms. There are historians who state that the 'immoral' and 'effiminate' nature of the age lead to its downfall, that the tensions among a people who did not recognize raw power as an asset were eventually too much to bear. Intellectually I sympathize with the view, but my heart so wishes it weren't so. In the words of the Scotch historian James Murdoch (quoted by Morris), the Heian aristocracy were:

"An ever-pullulating brood of greedy, needy, frivolous dilettanti--as often as not foully licentious, utterly effeminate, incapable of any worth achievement, but withal the polished exponents of high breeding and correct 'form'....Now and then a better man did emerge; but one just man is impotent to avert the doom of an intellectual Sodom....A pretty showing, indeed, these pampered minions and bepowdered poetasters might be expected to make."

As I said, my kind of people.

Update: You know, I never realized it before this, but Ivan Morris did the bulk of his teaching work at Columbia University. Another one of those heroes of mine I sort of stumble across. I wish I'd managed to meet him before he died. I'm posting my two favorite volumes of his work below this entry, and I recommend either of them very highly.

September 15, 2003

Oh to be a kid again...

I've got to find an excuse to buy these for someone's birthday.

September 14, 2003

Artistic Excursion

Hmm... I've not written a single brief for any of my classes this weekend (though I've done all the reading), I've got a legal writing assignment and a civil procedure complaint due in the next four days, and every one of my outlines need revising. So what did I spend midnight last night doing? That's right, shutterbugging.

I'm not entirely happy with how everything turned out: my ambitions would probably require a digital SLR, whereas my budget extends to an HP Photosmart 812. Because of the misty rain last night, flash was a non-starter, so many of the images are underexposed or blurry. Still, out of about three dozen shots, I got a few not burdened with shame. I'll give you one taste before the cut, and then you can click on the link below if you'd like to see more.

(Click on any image to see a larger version in a new window.)

Probably the best shot of the evening, the outside of the law school. This hasn't been retouched or photoshopped at all, although it looks like it would fit in well in a collage.

Continue reading "Artistic Excursion" »

September 12, 2003

This is so wrong

From a site I'd never read before, the very strange WrestleCr**.com.

Apparently this was a bootleg children's toy. Anyone wondering why copyright law should sometimes be enforced need look no further.

September 11, 2003

Why Law School Is Not Like High School

Last night was the welcome dinner for the class of 2006. A formal event held in the main library (which some of you might recognize as the 'laboratory' in which Peter Parker is bitten in the latest movie), it's the first evening we've all been to in which people were expected to be dressed up. 'Business elegant,' as the invitations said, and I was impressed that most people were done up in black but not fuscous. All in all, we're a class with good taste in clothes.

The most common thing I've heard so far is, "This is like being back in high school." While I can understand how some might think that, I can only imagine how most of my fellows' high school experiences must differ from mine. In that spirit, I offer Ten Ways In Which Law School Is Different From High School.

1. High school was dumber. This probably goes without saying, but you don't run into anyone here that seems... well, dumb. But then, the folks I've met here didn't go to high school in Alabama, so I'm willing to concede that maybe they all finished their senior year with a bundle of geniuses.

2. There are no Mitsubishi Eclipses. The bright red Mitsubishi Eclipse, driven generally by a 'clique' girl with matching nail polish and a bit too much makeup, was a staple of my high school years. I haven't seen that yet, and no one here would even think about matching their nail polish to the color of the New York metro.

3. There terms of battle are better. Back in my high school days, the big conflict was between the Jocks and the 'Heads. For some reason never quite clear to me, if you liked football you loathed heavy metal, and vice versa. This conflict generally took place in scribblings on the walls of the men's bathroom, with the 'Heads having the upper hand, if only because they were generally more literate. "Heads suck donkys [sic]" was about as good as the first side ever got. The Jocks had advantages of size, brutality, and a more practical dress sense, demonstrated when one Jock yanked off the chain connecting a 'Head's nose ring to his nipple piercing.

I've not found a lot of this at law school, at least not yet. (Certainly not the violence: who'd want their big fight appearing as a question on the Torts exam?) I can only imagine what such doctrinal disputes would entail, anyway? "Dear Textualists: please note that for the purposes of the signs saying 'do not dispose of towels in the toilets,' toilet paper is not considered to be towels," I suppose, or maybe something witty like, "Your mamma's so ugly she could get sued for assault just for walking down the street without makeup." Come to think of it, most of us are so wordy that the witty insults might not fit on the bathroom doors.

4. No smoking in the bathroom. Really, how can it be like high school if no one's slipping into the bathroom for a quick Camel?

5. The drinking's better. Last night six people stood around discussing whether Laphroaig had 'a distinctive peaty flavor that's an acquired taste' or 'was like sucking on my brother's Zippo.' I remember similar conversations in high school, but it was about Mad Dog 20/20.

6. Less homeroom, more spam. How can it be like high school if there's not that wasted twenty minutes each day where you're completely arbitrarily stuck in a room and fed administrative pablum? Whereas the law school gets around this by sending us twenty or so spams a day for events we're not actually allowed to attend. (So far today there's Latino Society, St. Thomas More dinner, a play date for students with families...)

7. Windows. My high school was one of the casualties in Jimmy Carter's 'moral equivalent of war on environmental damage,' and in order to save on heating costs had no windows in any of its rooms. Couple that with paint in shades of institutional brown, orange, and yellow, and it's remarkable I'm not more psychologically damaged than I am. On the other hand, Columbia Law School seems to have been designed to let as much light as possible into the study areas, perhaps on the idea that we'll be even more inspired to work if we can see just how gorgeous the day is outside.

8. No Slayer T-Shirts. If you went to high school in the early 90's, you understand. If you're one of the law students here who make me feel like a decrepit old man, just trust us on this, OK?

9. Manners. Who ever held a door for a lady in high school? "Please" and "thank you," at least back in my day, might as well have been declared obsolete or foreign words. Table manners in the cafeteria hadn't advanced much since the table of Ghengis Khan. Whereas last night not only was everyone dressed elegantly, but just about everyone knew the order of the forks, the order in which one uses spoons, and not to eat until everyone had been served.

10. Less sex. I distinctly remember there being more sex going on in high school, and more people talking about it. Though one classmate has commented on this observation by pointing out that the sex wasn't half as good. (See the comment on booze above.)

Anyway, it's not completely dissimilar to high school. We're all a 'class' again, in a way that you don't feel as an undergraduate with thousands of peers. We have class ranks, report cards, and the detrius of a structured academic lifestyle. We have deans (just like principals) talking to us about mission and duty and service. No one really feels like they know what they're doing. But I'm not going to feel my high school years are back until the guys here are handing around the Mad Dog.

September 10, 2003

Question resolved

I love AIR. They've now conclusively proven which came first, the chicken or the egg?

August 31, 2003

Whiskey, Wires, and Women

The server has landed: now the HFMD has two computers: my notebook and a backup server permanently connected to the net and always on. I've been buzzing since 7:30 AM when the coffee pot started automatically and the server launched my mail client, checked the mail, and played a list of very loud songs designed to get my sorry butt out of bed.

A piece of advice: if you've had far too much good bourbon the night before and woken up in a bit of emotional turmoil anyway, do not turn on Mary Chapin Carpenter's Stones in the Road. It's a guaranteed one-way trip to depression central. The only cure? A bit of Jimmy Buffett and a strong margarita. Hey, it's past five in England, I consider myself to be drinking with old friends.

August 22, 2003

Bloom County is back

They've brought it back. Bloom County, the strip that beat Doonesbury hands down back in the 80's and 90's for pure fun satire.

See the Ucomics.com Bloom County page, especially if you're too young to remember it the first time around.

If I can find an even plausibly legal RSS feed for this, it'll be appearing on the site.

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