Saturday, December 27, 2008

Big Stars Big Budgets Small Payoff

My parents got me the Jurassic Park Adventure Pack for Christmas.  Did you know there was a Jurassic Park III?  Earlier tonight, I watched The Lost World, starring Jeff Goldblum and giving Vince Vaughn one of his earliest biggest roles.  I just finished watching the third (and apparently final) installment in the franchise, and I'm pretty shocked at some of the stars in here.  Of course, you have Sam Neill and a reprise of Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler, but you also have William H. Macy and Tea Leoni (first major role?) and, my personal favorite, Eduard Delacroix (credited as Michael Jeter for some reason).

While I was looking at the IMDB page, I noticed that Joe Johnston directed it.  That name should ring some bells.  He's only directed 11 movies, but that hit list includes:

I can see a lot of parallels between HISTK, Jumanji, and JP3.  He was supposed to direct the eagerly anticipated JP4, but that apparently fell through with the passing of the revered Mr. Crichton.

By the way, if you haven't seen (or didn't know there even was a) Jurassic Park III, give up hope.  It's pretty good until the last 10 minutes.  It's like they hit the 74-minute mark and ran out of money or something.  The Navy/Marines do a quick amphibious landing just as Dr. Grant et al. wander out onto the beach.  Then boom---the credits roll.  Which is sad because for 74 minutes, I really thought this could be a great movie.

The Jurassic Park series sadly falls into that much too large category of series that should have remained single stories.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

You Don't Mess with the Number 23

Based on this review, Yes Man sounds like Adam Sandler's nostalgia-induced run as Zohan. I think the two actors are actually pretty similar. Both got their starts on comedy skit shows. Both made their names doing inane comedies. And both are stellar actors who can do so much more than just zany comedy. My personal favorite Carrey movies are The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  (The latter may be my favorite movie of all time.) And as for Sandler, his role in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, lacking his usual over-the-top humor, was great. Don't get me wrong, I love Liar, Liar and Mr. Deeds, but . . . Maybe these two guys should move on and start keep making real, good movies?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This is why we love him

Greg Maddux has retired.  Everybody in baseball loved him, or should have.  Except Yankees fans:

In fact, perhaps the biggest decision of Maddux's career also came at the winter meetings, when he spurned a higher offer from the New York Yankees for a five-year deal with Atlanta during the December 1992 session in Louisville, Ky.

And that is why we love him.

Monday, December 01, 2008

New Love

I always think it's hokie when people say "I just want to try cases."  But I think I just want to try cases.  During Practice Court, I've had the opportunity to try four cases from opening to close.  I have to say that it's about the funnest thing I've ever done.  I say "about" because, let's face it, sitting around playing Mario Kart is a lot funner than researching the ambiguities of Rule 106 or chapter 74.  But trying cases is still one of the funnest things I've ever done.

And I've won at least three of my cases (the jury's still out on the fourth), and hearing the verdict read in your favor . . . it's nice to win now and again.

UPDATE: I won my last trial (Monday night) and advanced to the octafinals of the Top Gun Tournament.  I tried my case again this afternoon.  Jury is still out but I'll know later tonight.

UPDATE II:  The jury came back on Wednesday and handed me my first loss.  4-1.  Not bad.  I fought hard, but I guess not hard enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Unexpectedly Great Movie

My wife and I rented The Visitor from Blockbuster because we thought it sounded interesting.  I didn't know anything about it.  I don't ordinarily enjoy movies with a message, but after watching this movie, I wholeheartedly recommend watching it.  Maybe you don't care about the plight of immigrants in America.  But you should.  Our nation was built by immigrants, and only selfishness and delusions of grandeur make us think otherwise.  If you don't care about the plight of immigrants, I beg you to watch this movie with an open mind.

I leave you with two quotes from two of the smartest men ever to run our country:

We set this nation up . . . to vindicate the rights of man. We did not name any differences between one race and another. We opened our gates to all the world and said: “Let all men who want to be free come to us and they will be welcome."

- Woodrow Wilson, July 4, 1914

America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.

- James Madison, August 13, 1787

I hope we never forget that we are a nation of immigrants, indebted to immigrants, descended of immigrants.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Late Night TV for All

Continuing on my Michael Crichton theme . . . A&E is airing a made-for-TV version of the Crichton classic The Andromeda Strain.  Although A&E bills it as starring Benjamin Bratt, fans of good television will recognize the faces of Christa Miller, fondly known as Jordan Cox on the great Scrubs, and Daniel Dae Kim, otherwise known as Jin Kwon in what may be the greatest television show of all time, LOST.

If you hurry, tonight's second airing starts in six minutes (as of this writing).

UPDATE: I am happy to announce that none other than Eric McCormack (Will of Will & Grace) and Rick Schroder (Nurse Paul Flowers for 4 episodes of Scrubs) are also on the cast.  Stay tuned for more excitement.

Crichton on Science

My junior year, I wrote a paper about C. Wright Mills's book, The Power Elite.  While writing that paper, I learned and thought more about power than I ever had before.  Power is a fascinating topic.  As always, Michael Crichton contributes to the discussion:

"You know what's wrong with scientific power?"  Malcolm said.  "It's a form of inherited wealth.  And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are.  It never fails."

Hammond said, "What is he talking about?"

Harding made a sign, indicating delirium.  Malcolm cocked his eye.

"I will tell you what I am talking about," he said.  "Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power.  There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years.  Whatever kind of power you want.  President of the company.  Black belt in karate.  Spiritual guru.  Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort.  You must give up a lot to get it.  It has to be very important to you.  And once you have attained it, it is your power.  It can't be given away: it resides in you.  It is literally the result of your discipline.

"Now, what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely.  So that kind of power has a built-in control.  The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it.

"But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline.  You read what others have done, and you take the next step.  You can do it very young.  You can make progress very fast.  There is no discipline lasting many decades.  There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored.  There is no humility before nature.  There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy.  Cheat, lie, falsify---it doesn't matter.  Not to you, or to your colleagues.  No one will criticize you.  No one has any standards.  They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.

"And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly.  You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it.  And the buyer will have even less discipline than you.  The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity.  The buyer doesn't even conceive that any discipline might be necessary."

Hammond said, "Do you know what he is talking about?"

Ellie nodded.

"I haven't a clue," Hammond said.

"I'll make it simple," Malcolm said.  "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands.  He does not lose his temper and kill his wife.  The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special.  And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits.  And that is why you think that to build a place this is simple."

"It was simple," Hammond insisted.

"Then why did it go wrong?"

Jurassic Park, (New York: Ballantine Books 1993), pp. 306-07.

I quoted that at length just in case you, like me, remembered Jurassic Park as just an interesting book about dinosaurs.  There's some serious criticism of modern science in there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thought for the Day

I think all the professors who are banning laptops from their classrooms read Jurassic Park.  The movie is excellent; the book is even better.  Way back in 1990, Michael Crichton wrote:

In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.

Back then, people probably thought he was an alarmist.  Maybe some people still do.  "Laptops help you think by putting information at your fingertips!"  Or maybe they just help you take down every single word the professor says, which is way too much information to be helpful.

Or, and I'm walking out on a limb here, maybe you just want to chat with your friends and check your email.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

R.I.P. Mr. Crichton

Michael Crichton has left the planet.

I remember in fifth grade, watching my brother violently react when my mom interrupted his reading of Jurassic Park.  "Have you ever been so into a book that when somebody rips you out of it you feel like throwing up?"  I got the video game for Christmas that year and watched the movie a billion times.  Then in eighth grade, I finally opened the book and read for days.

In college, I branched out and read The Andromeda Strain.  I thought that I had read better books, but I also thought it had a really interesting premise.  I read Rising Sun, The Terminal Man, and A Case of Need before I stumbled on one of my favorite novels of all time: Sphere.  In my account, Sphere is one of only two books I honor with five out of five stars.  Later, I gave The Great Train Robbery and Travels four stars.

I'm in the process of reading the seven novels of his I haven't read yet.  They don't always rival Shakespeare, but they're always exciting and always interesting and always fun.  I can't say that Mr. Crichton was a good friend of mine, but I can say that I have enjoyed the hours I've spent reading his work.

If nothing else, I hope Mr. Crichton would be honored by my saying that he's the kind of writer who makes me want to write novels.

Friday, October 31, 2008

J'ai voté!

i voted

I love America.  I love that all I had to do to earn the right to choose my leaders was to survive for 18 years.  I also love that no matter who wins next Tuesday, there probably won't be riots and rebellion.  (We tried that once, and it didn't work.)  For all the time and energy wasted by pundits and political "scientists,"* America can be and usually (but not always) is a great country.

If you haven't voted yet, today is the last day of early voting.  The Election happens this coming Tuesday.  Get out and vote!



*I can use quotation marks because I was a political science undergrad.

Troubling in a Fire Safety Kinda Way

At the end of Carrie, Stephen King burns down the gym.  (In the Sissy Spacek movie, Carrie's house also collapses at the very end.  Remember the hand popping out of the rubble?)  In Salem's Lot, Ben and Mark burn down the whole town at the end, particularly the Marsden House.  In The Shining, Danny et al. escape with their lives while The Overlook burns to the ground behind them. 

So Mr. King's first three novels end pretty much the same.  If he weren't perhaps the greatest writer of the late 20th century, I'd be pretty upset.  As it is, I guess I'll let it slide.  At least until I read The Stand.  If it happens again . . . I'll probably read the book after that, too.

PS---It's worth noting that Cujo, one of the most beautiful works in modern American literature, if not in the entire history of English literature, does not end in any sort of funeral pyre.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Racism Pet Peeve #1

Sunday's Dallas Morning News had an article entitled "Blacks worry about polls vs. reality in Obama campaign."

Language is so powerful.  I wish people would stop referring to the different races as "blacks" and "whites," and start referring to them as "black people" and "white people."  That sounds so minor, but the difference in thought is huge.  When we refer to each other as "blacks" or "whites," we're implying that we are two totally different and unrelated species.  But when you say "black people" or "white people," you reinforce the only thing that will beat out racism: recognizing that we are only slightly different versions of the same thing.  Regardless of the color of your skin, you are still a person.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Ray of Hope

If the Rays can go from worst World Series in 12 months, then so can the Rangers.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Juror #2

In the midst of Practice Court, a fun thing for my fellow classmates and I to do is complain.  For example, I could tell you about how much it sucks that while my fellow 3Ls across the country are getting their golf scores below 100, I'm reading 100 pages every night on deemed admissions or electronic discovery or the three-day add-on in Texas courts.  But every once in a while, you realize that you made a smart decision three years ago.

Part of the Practice Court experience is serving on a jury while your classmates present, defend, and judge cases.  Thursday, I sat on a jury in a case where this guy set his wife on fire just outside the courthouse---where she had gone to testify against him for using their infant son as an ashtray.  The prosecutor had promised to keep her safe once she got to the courthouse, then didn't keep his promise.  At least that's how me and one other juror saw it.  The other two thought it was her fault for walking out of the courthouse with her husband.  And the four of us went around and around for about 20 minutes (a very long time in the PC world).

I realized that I made a good decision in picking Baylor later that night when I noticed that the two compassionate jurors were both married men and the two compassionless jurors were both single men.  I've always heard that you have to pick your jury carefully, but now I see that it really makes a difference.  Jurors are not interchangeable.  I knew that in a book sense.  Now I know it from experience.

In case you were concerned, we ended up compromising that it was half the prosecutor's fault and half the lady's fault.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

#1 in the Nation

Tonight, at Hondo's, we played the little TV network trivia game.  One round, I finished the 10 question tournament with 9492 points.  I beat my comrades.  And I also ranked #1 in the nation.  So that "Jeremy" that you saw ranked #1 over at T.G.I. Friday's or wherever you play your trivia games---that was me.

Thank you.  You can go back to whatever you were doing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Funny cases today

From Lee v. Lee, 413 S.W.2d 931 (Tex. Civ. App.--Fort Worth 1967, writ history unknown):

[Contestants of their father's will] each received a specific bequest of $10.00 under the terms of the will.

From John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Dutton, 585 F.2d 1289 (5th Cir. 1978):

[T]he Sheleys left their home in Claxton, Georgia, to attend a motion picture theater. . . . On the return trip, Mr. Sheley stopped and bought some french fried potatoes for Mrs. Sheley.  He became angry when Mrs. Sheley refused to eat them[.]

From Osbourn v. State, 92 S.W.3d 531 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002):

[Defendant] first denied that she had been smoking marihuana and claimed that the odor was cigarettes.  After [the police officer] explained to [defendant] that cigarette smoke does not smell like marihuana smoke, [defendant] admitted that she and the driver had been smoking marihuana.

. . . .

It does not take an expert to identify the smell of marihuana smoke.

Just to help you through your day. (:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Just the Facts, Ma'am

I always thought that lawsuits were won or lost on their merits.  I mean, sure, a really good lawyer could win a really bad case, and vice versa.  But I always thought that who your attorney is didn't really matter, all else equal.

But about a week ago, I did my first mini trial.  My partner and I represented a life insurance company trying to avoid paying out a policy for an insured who committed suicide.  Meanwhile, next door, four other amateur lawyers were trying the very same case.  Afterwards, we learned that the life insurance company prevailed in one courtroom and the insured prevailed in the other courtroom.

Lest you forget---these were the same facts presented by different pairs of amateur lawyers.  None of us were terribly great or awfully terrible.  The only real differences between the two cases were the lawyers and the juries.

There are some interesting---if not wholly enjoyable---implications from that.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Not Scary

Have you ever noticed that everyone is afraid of Hannibal Lecter?  I'm jut not scared of him.  Now, the psycho murderer seamster scares me, but not the esteemed Dr. Lecter.  Maybe he'd scare me if I were Clarice.  But maybe since he's on the screen and I'm not . . . I don't know.  I agree with most of the rest of their Top Ten Greatest Movie Villains.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Moving Time

Yesterday in class, someone announced that one of our (Mormon) classmates needed help moving.  The classmate needed help moving beyond just the fact that he was moving, so I felt moved to help him move.*  I showed up this morning at his apartment, and I was only a little surprised to see that I was the only non-Mormon around.  What did surprise me, however, was that every single Mormon currently enjoying PC was there.

Spending five hours with these guys provided an interesting comparison to the Baptists I grew up around.  First (and maybe just because I was there), they didn't complain.  They rolled their sleeves up, picked up stuff, and took it to (and from) the U-Haul truck.  Second, although Mormons have a pretty strict behavioral code, they didn't act as if they can't do those things; they acted as if they don't do those things.  Finally, while these guys clearly know each other, I don't see them hanging out with each other all over the law school.  I mean to say that they're not a tight social clique.  They weren't helping him move because that's what friends do for each other; they were helping him move because that's what families do for each other.  That sounds cheesy, but they interacted more like cousins than like a tight social clique.

Regardless of whatever doctrinal disagreements we may have, I'd say that Mormons are way ahead of Baptists in the family-of-God department.



*Every once in a while it's good to have a sentence that is the model of clarity.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Delinquo Ergo Sum

Getting wait-listed by Duke Law sits somewhere on the shortlist of most satisfying events in my life.  Granted, at the time, I was pretty upset about it.  But now that I'm wiser and older, I appreciate it because it's one of the few times in life where I've clearly reached beyond than my grasp.  I tried to do something and failed.

Today, I tried to do something and failed.  Miserably.  I examined my first witnesses on direct and cross examination.  What should have been twelve minutes of glory turned into 45 minutes of apologizing.  I tried to (illegally, it turns out) mark up exhibits after I'd admitted them; I asked open-ended questions during cross-examination; and I even lost my credibility by letting my cross-witness get me mixed up on the facts.  Incidentally, I successfully excluded my opponent's exhibit on hearsay grounds, but that's like celebrating a third place finish because you weren't in fourth.  Either way, you don't make the playoffs.

The taste of failure is . . . bitter and nasty and disgusting and nauseous.  And I can't wait to take another bite.  It reminds me of something my junior history teacher used to say:

I love cold, drizzly rain.  It soaks through to your bones and you can't ever seem to get warm or dry again.  But at least you know you're alive.

I didn't really have any doubts before, but now I know for sure.  I am alive.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why Everyone Should Work at Subway

According to the brilliant Douglas Adams:

There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which it is given to few ever to find the time to explore in depth. It is a simple task, but the opportunities for satisfaction are many and profound.

As a sandwich artist, I can affirm what Mr. Adams tells us.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Running to Stand Still

As I learn to read my homework ever faster (and more effectively of course), I stop to ponder important questions:

Is increasing your productivity increasing your happiness? If you’re getting more done, but not making more time for the things you want to do, something is wrong. The point of getting things done is not to have more time to get things done. It’s to have more time for the things you truly enjoy.

But sometimes you don't have a choice.  Sometimes you are just getting things done to have more time to get things done.  It's that second group of things that you want to get done so you can do what makes you happy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Race for Second Continues

There are some things that I love about the Rangers pitching rotation.  Among them, that we get really excited whenever a guy throws a shutout.  I mean really excited.  I'm still savoring Matt Harrison's shutout of the A's last Friday.*  And just in case you didn't think he's the real thing, Yahoo! informs me that his 8 wins tie a rookie left-handed record.

Take that "Dice-K."


*Of course, it doesn't hurt that I didn't find out about the shutout until this morning . . . I barely have time these days to kiss my wife, much less keep up with the Rangers.  But I'm keeping my eyes on February . . . !

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Because there's always next year

And hope springs eternal:

[On Wednesday,] Brandon McCarthy picks up his first win in 13 months. If he keeps this pace, his next win comes in... say it with me, Rangers fans... October 2009! (I guess that could mean Arizona Fall League.)

I'm saying it with you!!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Law School Odyssey

Week 2 begins today. Last week was one of the longest weeks of my life. Each day, I got up at around 5 o'clock, got to school by 7, and didn't leave until almost 4. Then I came home and read until dinner, usually around 7:30. I'd pick up reading again around 8 o'clock and usually read until nearly midnight or (at least once) 1 o'clock. Then I'd get up a few hours later and start it again. Enough about that. I have big plans this week to not spend quite that much time reading.

In other exciting news, I just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two.

2010: Odyssey Two

It didn't pack the all-out weirdness of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it might have been just as thought-provoking. The story suggests that maybe we're an experiment being performed by extremely powerful---but not yet omnipotent---beings. That got me thinking: what if all this is just an experiment? Maybe God is busy crafting creatures and species all over the Universe and trying to cultivate love or something like that. In the vein of Douglas Adams, the whole Universe might just be a big ol' psych experiment conducted by mice. "You know, Joe, we had interesting results back in 2005 when we hit New Orleans with two hurricanes. Let's see what happens when we throw another one at'm in the midst of their rebuilding efforts . . . !"

Yesterday, I began the third book in the Space Odyssey saga, the incomparably named 2061.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Thought on Postwar

The Vietnam War fascinates me.  It classified a generation as either patriots who went (or tried to go) or protesters who stayed (or went out of cowardice).  More than that, it delineated the soldiers' lives into pre-war and post-war.  These young men, most younger than me, were a thousand miles from home, fighting a war, trying to deal with the reality that their lives could end at any moment.  And for what?  They hoped they were fighting for a good cause.  But back home, like Colonel Jessup says, civilians couldn't handle the truth of Vietnam.  So they protested.  These young men, some probably as (physically) young as 19 years old when they came back, were called baby killers and war criminals, maybe even terrorists.  All the while thinking, "I didn't really want to go.  I got drafted.  A man goes when he's called."

But I had never thought about the impact of the war on the Vietnamese.  While our returning soldiers play tragic heroes shafted by the hand life dealt them, the Vietnamese play the role of the unseen housemaid, cleaning up our messes without recognition or apology.  As Paul Theroux writes in To the Ends of the Earth:

From the train, I could turn my eyes to the mountains and almost forget the country's name, but the truth was closer and cruel: the Vietnamese had been damaged and then abandoned, almost as if, dressed in our clothes, they had been mistaken for us and shot at; as if, just when they had come to believe that we were identified with them, we had bolted.  It was not that simple, but it was nearer to describing that sad history than the urgent opinions of anguished Americans who, stropping Occam's Razor, classified the war as a string of atrocities, a series of purely political errors, or a piece of interrupted heroism.  The tragedy was that we had come, and, from the beginning, had not planned to stay: Danang was to be proof of that.

*  *  *

In a sense . . . all that remained of the American stake in the war [is] degenerate sentiment, boozy fears, and simplifications.

I don't have strong opinions about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, and I'm not trying to say that we should make foreign policy based solely on the impact of that policy on others.  But I think the contrast is telling.  While the Vietnamese try to rebuild their literally war-torn country, we Americans drive in our air-conditioned cars down our only occasionally potholed streets, trying not to think about it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ian "Rickey Henderson" Kinsler

I like Ian Kinsler more and more every day:

Ian Kinsler homered on the first pitch he saw from Rays starter Edwin Jackson (9-8), who lost for the first time in five starts.

I love leadoff home runs, and I love the Rangers winning.  I think that's all that needs to be said.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rangers (and their fans) Are Awesome

Fascinating.  Yahoo! published a Forbes article describing a study that shows that:

Cubs fans are some of the most loyal in baseball.

But they’re no Texas Rangers fans, who flock to the Arlington ballpark through last place finishes and playoff runs alike. The Ranger faithful don’t care if the team trades away its best players or spends $252 million to sign an MVP-caliber batter like Alex Rodriguez. No team’s attendance is less tied to its on the field performance than the Rangers’, and nowhere else in the country do fans peel off at a slower rate when the club has thin years.

Bam.  Just so my fellow Rangers fans can brag, the ranking was about like this:

  1. 1.  Rangers
  2. 2.  Red Sox
  3. 3.  Braves
  4. 4.  Cubs
  5. 5.  Pirates
  6. 6.  Blue Jays
  7. 7.  Brewers
  8. 8.  Cardinals
  9. 9.  Orioles
  10. 10.  Padres
  11. [unknown, but includes the Dodgers, Giants, Royals, White Sox, Reds]
  12. 16.  Marines
  13. 17.  Mets
  14. 18.  Indians
  15. 19.  Astros
  16. 20.  Yankees
  17. 21.  Phillies
  18. 22.  Twins
  19. 23.  A's
  20. 24.  Tigers
  21. 25.  Angels
  22. The Expos/Nationals, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays, and Rockies were ignored for insufficient data.

You see---it takes a real baseball fan to love the Rangers.  The rest of you are fair weather fans.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Genesis of a Weekend

It's funny how sometimes life feels like a movie written by some really fantastic director.  Friday, I walked out the doors at work into a light, drizzly, showery rain that felt too cold for early August.  It was the kind of rain where it's too wet to put up your umbrella, but you feel foolish holding it over your head.  Even when you open it, you still get wet from about your shoulders down.  The sky was grey and the wind was chilly.

I walked the block-and-a-half to the Metro stop, trying to decide whether to open my umbrella or not.  At the top of the escalators that go down to the platform, the homeless man with eight phonebooks (as a bed?) was covering himself in a trash bag cut like a poncho.  That stop doesn't have any kind of a portico, so the early August sleet didn't stop until I reached the platform.  By then, I was damp enough to be slightly miserable.  I boarded the train a few minutes later, and read a paragraph or two in my too-hard-to-read-on-the-train book.  I got off at my stop twenty minutes later, and climbed up the escalator to my neighborhood.

And the sky was a deep oceanic blue.  A few pretty clouds dotted the sky like South Pacific islands.  The wind blew warm.  The people around me smiled at nothing.  My steps got lighter, and my weekend began.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

All the girls I knew were smart

There's been a lot of talk in the past few years about whether or not girls can cut it in math and science.  Apparently, there's a huge disparity right now, and that's something we need to address.  Well, I'm nursing a theory and I want to share it here on my soapbox.  At least a little nugget.

Here's the nugget: boys are romantic; girls are practical. 

I'm not trying to say anything controversial.  I'm just a guy voicing an opinion from his own experience.  I don't know whether those traits derive from nature or from nurture.  I just think they're there.  If you think about it, you might see the connection and you might agree with me.  As a brief example, how many women fight "for the principle of it"?  How many men?  As a counter-example, how many times have we seen a mother explode with anger when somebody threatens her baby?  How many times have you seen a man explode with the same ferocity?

If you think about it, you might or might not agree.  Either way, let's keep being friends, shall we?  Let's not waste time fighting about it like two romantics from Victorian England with honor to fight for.  Neither of us will be more likely to survive longer because we won this fight.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chemical Religiosity

In the interest of being fair-minded, I thought I'd point you toward this interesting article, which suggests that one's "capacity for transcendence" depends on the level of one's "concentration of serotonin receptors."  I don't really know what that means, but the last paragraph explains it, I hope:

[T]he researchers see the evidence as contradicting the common belief that religious behavior is determined strictly by environmental and cultural factors. They see a biological underpinning for religiosity, and it is related to the neurotransmitter serotonin.

So there you have it.  Science trying to explain Religion.  Interesting, if nothing else.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Don't Understand the World

But neither do you, so let's be friends.

I just finished reading Michael Crichton's travelogue Travels.  During the first hundred pages or so, I loved it.  He talked about the trials and tribulations of medical school and his own issues with being a doctor.  These are not dissimilar to the qualms I've experienced about being a lawyer.  And I could also relate to his feelings of isolation for appreciating a broader spectrum of life than did his classmates.  Not "better"---just broader.

The next hundred pages or so were equally interesting: they dealt with his experiences traveling throughout the world.  Climbing Kilimanjaro, visiting Shangri-La, smoking pot in Thailand.  I found it fascinating and thrilling, inspiring even.  I wanted to go out and experience this city, my temporary home.  Just find some random place to stick my head in and taste the life blood of Federal City.

Then I got bogged down in the last hundred pages or so.  He shifted from talking about his physical travels to talking about his metaphysical travels.  He learned how to see auras, travel on the astral plane, and channel some higher level of himself.  He even experienced an exorcism.  These are phenomena with which I am distinctly uncomfortable, and so the reading was very slow and difficult.  But I slogged through it, and I'm glad I did.

The last chapter of the book is called "Postscript: Skeptics at Cal Tech."  In it, he defends his belief in and experience with the paranormal.  He essentially argues that Science and Faith are not opposed in some epistemological battle for explanation and power;  rather, Science and Faith are opposed in much the same way that Christianity and Roman Paganism were opposed in the first century C.E.  It's not a difference in a way of thinking; it's a difference in what you think.  He notes:

Science offers a picture of the world, but its picture is not to be confused with the underlying reality itself.

And later:

This, in essence, is the problem with the scientific view of reality.  Science is a kind of glorified tailoring enterprise, a method for taking measurements that describe something---reality---that may not be understood at all.

Science is very good as far as it goes.  It has certainly produced powerful benefits.  It would be crazy to abandon science or to deny its validity.

But it would be equally crazy to think that reality is a forty-four long.

Before you start thinking that Dr. Crichton, a Harvard-trained physician, has gone all crazy Left Coast on you, he concludes the essay:

The fact is that we need the insights of the mystic [or theologian or philosopher or psychologist] every bit as much as we need the insights of the scientist.  Mankind is diminished when either is missing.

Many scientists and "rational" thinkers deny the value of religion except as a safety blanket.  "Where is the evidence?!" they demand, often adamantly.  But the uncomfortable truth is that we only need as much evidence as we think we need.  We accept the Pythagorean theorem because our eighth grade math teacher told us about it.  Sure, there's evidence out there to prove it, but have you looked it up?  Have you read Pythagoras's notes?  How do you know there isn't some vast conspiracy of math teachers with some strange goal?  Because you've decided---consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously---that your eighth grade teacher's word is enough.

And non-religious thinkers decide---consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously---that their Sunday school teacher's word is not.

The merits of your position and mine may never be "known" while we're living on earth.  But that's OK.  I'll try to convince you that I'm right and you try to convince me that you're right.  Why can't we still be friends?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

I'm a big fan of some of our justices on the United States Supreme Court.  I generally like Clarence Thomas, mostly because of his audacity to be a staunchly conservative black man in a hugely public position.  Whether I agree with his ideas or not, that alone is worth my respect.  I also like John Roberts and Sam Alito, though I think mostly because of their upbringings in blue collar and immigrant families, respectively, and their rise to the most powerful tribunal in the nation.  They represent the American dream.  Most of the justices on the Supreme Court right now represent the American dream, and I can dig it.

What I can't dig is acting like those accused of committing crimes and the police are on equal footing.  The New York Times today published an article about America's exclusionary rule, which basically says that, if the police break the law when they're coming after you, then the State can't use whatever evidence they find because of that illegality against you in court.  Apparently, some of our more conservative justices (the article mentions only Scalia and Roberts, but I'm sure Thomas and Alito are on board as well) are starting to think that's maybe that's not a good idea.  Apparently, we need to help out the police.

Or maybe not.  The United States government has a budget with 13 digits.  That's $2,900,000,000 for FY2008.  My wife and I have a personal budget with only five digits: $x0,000.  But there's more.  Let's say I get under investigation for some tax crime.  The U.S. has U.S. Attorneys and all their staff trying to prosecute me, with IRS special agents investigating me, and the advice of the DOJ Tax Division helping out too.  If we assume that just one person from each organization is chasing after me, that's three highly qualified and experienced people going against me, a law student with almost no experience in the courtroom or in police investigations.  Maybe I can retain a lawyer, but the chances that I can afford a lawyer who specializes in tax criminal defense---to help even out the playing field---is pretty slim.  We're talking about David and Goliath.  And I'm David.  Only I don't have any stones for my sling.

The only stone for my sling is the exclusionary rule.  Take that away, and I've just got a string.

Brokeback Rant

Does anybody remember March 2006?  That spring, I was living in Brownwood with my wife, working for a family lawyer, and spending most of my weekends hanging out with our best friends there, who happened to be from Wyoming.  In the fall of 2005, the movie Brokeback Mountain, with Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams came out and caused a lot of controversy.  (Mostly, I think because we were all trying to figure out whether we'd cheat on Anne Hathaway with Heath Ledger.)  Then in March 2006, Crash won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the author of Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx, got so upset that she wrote a scathing critique in the Los Angeles Times the New York Times U.S.A. Today Newsweek U.S. News & World Report London's Guardian of the "conservative heffalump academy voters" who chose Crash for Best Picture instead of the movie based on her short story.*  At that time, I had seen neither movie, and didn't really have any intent to see either.  I find that "Best Picture" is generally a euphemism for "Least Fun Picture."

But last fall, I watched Crash with my wife and loved it.  (Then again, I'm a sucker for anything that's about race relations.)  Then tonight, Brokeback Mountain came on Bravo, so we watched it.  And I have to say: I agree with the conservative heffalumps living in Los Angeles.  Crash, while maybe not the best movie ever, was just a better movie than Brokeback Mountain.  Before you close this window and call me a homophobe, listen to my complaints.

1.  No Development of the Relationship.  I expected more buildup toward the relationship between Jack and Ennis.  Instead, one night, Ennis gets drunk, forgets to go back out to the sheep, and sleeps inside the one-man tent because it's cold.  While in the tent, Jack reaches around and grabs Ennis's hand and--boom--you have a twenty-year-long relationship.  Even James Bond has to work harder to get laid.  Since we're talking about two cowboys in 1960s Wyoming, I expected a lot more buildup, a lot more desperation.  In Crash, the central aspect of the film was the intersection of all these lives, and the movie painstakingly establishes those intersections in every scene.  The relationship in Brokeback Mountain just didn't get developed enough.  In fact, most of my complaints center on the relationship.

2.  Unrealistically Sexual Relationship.  Apparently, Jack and Ennis's relationship, though it lasted 20 years, was mostly about sex.  When Jack comes back to Wyoming to see Ennis four years after their first tryst, the very first thing they do is kiss passionately.  In what becomes a boring pattern, Ennis didn't really introduce Jack and Alma.  The two cowboys couldn't even be around each other in mixed company for fear of jumping each other's bones and revealing the true nature of their relationship.  We've all known men and women who hid sexual relationships for years.  Are they less passionate than Jack and Ennis?  At any rate, the physical aspect of their relationship clearly was key.  If anything, the movie furthered the stereotype that homosexual relationships are only about sex and not about enjoying each other's company and learning to navigate life's tricky river together.

3.  Too many plot lines and conflicts that never got resolved.  Did Jack's wife ever figure it out?  What happened after he stood up to her dad?  Why did he cheat on her with another rancher's wife?  Why not with the rancher, who was clearly making a play at him?  How come only Ennis's older daughter ever came to see him?  Why did Ennis take his own shirt back at the end?  And what does Ennis swear to Jack?

4.  Movie with a Message.  I HATE movies that are made because the people who make them only want to make a point or convey a message.  Especially when they want to convey a controversial message.  ("Look at me--I'm so controversial!")  Crash is like that, but it's saved from being hated because I like stuff that deals with race relations.  Example #2:  I liked The Kingdom;  I hated Syriana.  If your movie happens to convey a point, that's fine.  Just don't make the whole project about telling me something.  I felt like the idea was to make heterosexuals see that homosexuals are "just like you."  Eh.  Didn't quite work for me.  Rent did a much better job.

That's it.  Thanks for reading my rant.  If you got this far, email me and I'll give you a coupon for half off my legal services after I pass the bar.




*For those of you who wonder why I struck out all those American newspapers: I found it very cowardly and generally un-admirable that Proulx wrote her report in the Guardian.  If you have a problem with something in America, don't complain to people in Paris London about it.  I'm all about free speech, but I dislike people who complain just to complain.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Go Rangers

It hasn't been this much fun to be a Rangers fan since . . . since the summer of 1993.  (The strike of 1994 ruined baseball for me until last year.  And last year wasn't fun.)

And I haven't appreciated a Ranger as much as I appreciate Josh Hamilton since the days of Pudge.  Now Mr. Hamilton just needs a cool nickname.  Any ideas?  I'm thinking "Second-Chance Sam" is too cheesey.  Where's Chris Berman when you need him?

Anyway--the Rangers were down 4-2 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th tonight, when Michael Young singled in Ramon Vazquez, setting the table for Hamilton's walk-off homer.  The final score?  5-4 Rangers.

We probably won't make the playoffs, but we can enjoy beating the Angels any day.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Two Items of Note

1.  Washington, D.C., is the kind of city where you kinda always wish you had your camera.  I was walking today around 5th & Pennsylvania NW looking for lunch with my group of computer trainees.  We stopped at an intersection, and I glanced off to my left.  There, rising behind the squat office buildings, stood the Washington Monument.  I kinda wished I had my camera so I could post a picture for you.

2.  Washington, D.C., is at the latitude where the sun comes up really stinkin early.  Back home, I always got up 15-30 minutes before sunrise, usually about 6:00.  Here, my alarm goes off at 6:30, and my bedroom is ablaze in (what I would call) mid-morning glory.  For the second day in a row, I nearly had a heart attack when I woke up in such a bright room, thinking I had grossly overslept and was going to get fired from my summer internship.  Thankfully, that hasn't happened (yet).  Strangely enough, the sun sets late, too, usually after 9:00 p.m.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The New Capital Punishment: Sterilization

One day when I was a paralegal, I was thinking about how a background in psychology would really help a judge or lawyer.  After all, wouldn't you better be able to tell when people are telling you the truth?  Then I realized that law is, at its essence, applied psychology.  So here is some interesting psychology about the death penalty*:

In their comprehensive study of homicides, the leading evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson note that most homicides between men originate from what is known as “trivial altercations.”  A typical homicide in real life . . . begins as a fight about trivial matters of honor, status, and reputation between men (such as when one man insults another or makes moves on another’s girlfriend).  Fights escalate because neither is willing to back down, until they become violent and one of the men ends up dead. . . . .

. . .

Incidentally, this is why the death penalty may not deter murder.  The logic of the death penalty assumes that most murders are premeditated.  A potential murderer carefully and rationally weighs the costs and benefits of the act, and decides not to murder if the costs outweigh the benefits.  This might describe a fictional murderer on Columbo, but not real-life murderers, who do not stop to think before escalating their trivial altercations into fatal fights.

The logic of the death penalty also assumes that execution is the worst fate possible.  From an evolutionary psychological perspective, there is something worse than death, and it is the total reproductive failure that awaits any man who does not compete for mates in a polygynous society.  If they compete and fight with other men, they may die, by being either killed by the other man or executed by the state.  If they don’t compete, however, they will definitely die, reproductively, by leaving no copies of their genes.  So they might as well compete even at the risk of death; the alternative is much worse.

So you see, capital punishment may not deter because death is always a risk when choosing to enter any activity.  Interestingly, this may explain why sterilization seems so cruel and inhumane.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pierce's 3

The Great Train Robbery The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Take Ocean's 11, throw in some Godfather, and set it in 1850s London, and you've got The Great Train Robbery.

Other reviewers talk about plotting and characterization and diction; I'll let you read their reviews for that. I want to communicate that this book offers something that few books offer: genuine, thought-provoking fun. Much like Ocean's 11. Mr. Crichton uses the book to make a statement, but the statement isn't blatant, like you might see from movies like An Inconvenient Truth or Syriana. Rather, Mr. Crichton draws his characters in such a way that you (realistically) grow fond of those of whom you should not grow fond--and therein lies his statement. For example, the hero/villain is a master thief, both of money and of class. He is a fraud, a liar, and a cold-blooded killer. But you love him like you love Danny Ocean or Vito Corleone.

Mr. Crichton's message, I believe, is that good and evil are not so clearly cut as we tend to think. But he doesn't tell you that in a boring way full of rumination. Rather, he tells it in the fascinating story of the perfect heist, much like Ocean's 11.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Rhythm, No Rhyme, No Fun

A few years ago, I read an essay in Newsweek about how nobody reads poetry anymore because we're all too lazy to give it the effort it needs.  Well, I disagree.  Nobody reads poetry anymore because (a) it's too complex to get on the first reading and (b) we all have better things to do than read a boring poem twice.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Signet Classics (Paperback)) Yesterday, I began reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  Several times in the first 50 or so pages, Mr. Carroll interrupts the narrative with a poem, usually spoken by one of the characters.  For example, Alice recites the following to a blue caterpillar on a mushroom:

'You are old,' said the youth, 'and your jaws are too weak/For anything tougher than suet;

Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--/Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,/And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,/Has lasted the rest of my life.'

Now, I don't have any idea what that means.  But I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed typing it.  The poem is just plain fun to read, so I will read it again.  Shakespeare's sonnets are another example.  Who doesn't enjoy reading those crazy 14-liners?  I don't even mind reading Emily Dickinson a few times to try to get what she's saying.  Rhyme + Rhythm = Fun.

Other poets, on the other hand, like T.S. Eliot, don't make any sense on the first reading, and it's just not fun enough to try to read it again.  No rhythm + no rhyme = no fun.  People don't read modern poetry because it's too hard and not fun enough.

I realize how shallow this probably sounds, but if modern poetry were more entertaining, maybe people would read it more.  If you're going to write boring syncopated prose and call it "poetry," don't complain when nobody reads it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Finding your Passion

From a Psychology Today article:

Many people have at least one . . . passion. . . . [F]or those who are seeking this sense of fulfillment, there are a few tricks, suggests Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University. The first step is to commit to learning a bit about a subject. Passions don't arrive like bolts out of the blue. They build slowly, through the process of gradual mastery. "Passion and interest, the research is clear, come out of practice and expertise," says Peterson.

As a greenhorn, you also have to put up with feeling like an idiot—to tolerate and laugh at your own ignorance. "You must be willing to accept the discomfort and negative feelings that come your way," says Kashdan.

In fact, those butterflies in your stomach will probably be the first sign that you've hit upon a potential pursuit, says Streeter. "The thing that scares you the most tends to be the most fulfilling," she says. "It doesn't have to be something great. It has to be something that you aren't sure you can do."


We spend so much time experimenting with foods, with different ways to organize our houses, and so little time experimenting with all the ways we can act as a person.

Just some interesting thoughts for those of you who've hung around long enough.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I've Got Questions

You'd better have answers.

Why would a parent take their small child to child support court?  How does it benefit the child's fragile world to let her hear her daddy complaining about taking care of her?

I just want to know.

Where Amazing Happens

I guess Kobe didn't have it in him.  Pau Gasol tried to help, but nobody gave him any credit.  You heard it here first: the Celtics have won the NBA Finals, beating the L.A. Kobes Lakers in six games.  There's something amazing about the story of a team that goes from the second-worst team in the NBA (only beating the Memphis Grizzlies by two games) to national champions in one year.

So it's not as sweet as if the Spurs won it, but it'll have to do.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I don't get it.  The Phoenix Suns only made it to the playoffs, so they fire Mike D'Antoni.  The Dallas Mavericks have the best record in the NBA over the past three years, so they fire Avery Johnson.  Now the Mets (who probably won't make the playoffs and don't have a stellar record and will probably be remembered for a few years for their incredible choke at the end of last year) have fired Willie Randolph.  If you ask me, that doesn't really make sense.  A manager/coach can only play with what he's got.

But I guess I'm old school.  I prefer giving a coach a chance to learn from his mistakes and develop a persona.  Look at Tom Landry.  Tommy Lasorda.  Gregg Poppovich.  Phil Jackson.  These are guys who, while they may not always be taking home championship rings, have developed personae that make their teams better.  Everybody benefits when you give coaches a chance to develop, just like everybody benefits when you give players a chance to develop.

That said--I'm behind Ron Washington 100%.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Outer Counties

The child support office where I work is in Waco, but we handle cases from several other counties, including Mills, Hamilton, Bosque, Falls, Freestone, and Limestone.  These other counties are referred to as "outer counties."  I thought it was merely a geographical reference, until I overheard this conversation in one of the outer-county courthouses:

[AAG:] So I hear he's trying to get custody.  How likely do you think that is?

[Customer:] Well, he doesn't like how I've handled my daughter's relationships.  He thinks she and her step-brother are getting a little too . . . intimate.

[AAG:] I see.

[Customer:] But I don't think it's a big deal.  I mean--they're not blood-kin.

Ah yes.  Outer counties indeed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Putting Hair on Your Chest

Today, I watched a 25-30 year-old-boy take one more step toward manhood.  I don't really know how you define manhood, but I think it has to do with taking responsibility for your actions.  This boy can't keep a steady job.  So he's fallen pretty far behind on his child support.  So we put him in jail.  (We have programs that can get him a job quickly, and then he'll get on work release.)  This boy took the trouble to create a child, but now he doesn't want to take the trouble to make sure that that child lives the best life it can.  That's not being a man; that's being a child.

So I got to thinking about whether putting him in jail is the right thing to do.  Will that help him take the next few steps toward manhood?  I think it will.  I grew up hearing that certain food and drink would "put hair on your chest," meaning that it tasted terrible or would otherwise ruin your night.  The adversity of the experience would make you stronger.  I just hope that spending a few weeks in jail will put some hair on this boy's chest.  If nothing else, his kids deserve it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


From our Brother Sol:

Here is something else I have learned: The fastest runners and the greatest heroes don't always win races and battles. Wisdom, intelligence, and skill don't always make you healthy, rich, or popular. We each have our share of bad luck. None of us knows when we might fall victim to a sudden disaster and find ourselves like fish in a net or birds in a trap.

I watched a contested divorce hearing today in the 220th District Court of Hamilton County. They've been married about ten years. One night, he came home from work. She was dealing with the kids and cooking dinner. He kissed her on the cheek and asked how everything was. She sighed and stirred the pot on the stove. "We need to talk after dinner."

She fed the kids while he watched the game, then she cleaned up the kitchen while he put the laundry in the wash. That night, after all their chores were done and their teeth had been brushed, she told him again: "We need to talk." Over the next three hours, she argued that she just wasn't happy in their marriage anymore and that she needed more from life than he could provide. All the things people tell each other and themselves when they just can't take it anymore. Two days later, she filed for divorce.

I don't blame him for being irate on the stand. I don't blame her for leaving him. I only wonder how they got there.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Celtics 1, Lakers 0

I am torn equal parts between being tired of Boston winning everything (World Series, Super Bowl runner-up, MLS Cup runner-up) and hating the Lakers for (a) beating the Spurs and (b) employing Kobe Bryant.  I like Pau Gasol, but I find the Celtics' Cinderella-season more compelling.  So while the rest of the world pees their pants waiting for Game 2, I'm torn to ambivalence.  Go Spurs Go!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Play the Hand You're Dealt

Why is the location of the invention of Dr Pepper an empty lot?

[The former site of Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store near 4th & Austin], now an empty lot, once was the site where Dr Pepper was invented in the 1880s.

If we can find the answer to that, I think we'll also figure out why Downtown Waco is in such bad shape as it is.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It Ain't Braggin . . .


If you watch what may be the greatest show in television history, then you know that Michael died and that Locke is in the coffin.  Interestingly, people think that's final.  But I don't think it is.

I've often wondered whether I should read the last page of a book before starting it.  Would the symbols mean more?  Would the craft of the storytelling hold my attention?  Or do I need suspense to keep paying attention?  Lost answers that question straight on.  The writers of Lost have already told us how things end.  Season 4 is about getting off the Island, Season 5 is about getting back on, and Season 6 is about something I can't remember.  We knew at the end of Season 3 that Jack and Kate got off the Island.  Maybe Season 4 was about answering that question.  If we know how it ends, will we keep coming back to the middle?

So far, I--and a lot of other people--keep coming back.  And that, my readers, is why Lost may be the greatest show ever.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why I Love the Spurs

This guy explains it well:

Look, Manu [Ginobili] isn't Jordan. He's not Kobe. He's not LeBron. Rooting for guys like that is unimaginative and frankly, boring. They won the genetic lottery. They're bigger, stronger, faster. Wheee. Root for them and you might as well root for McDonalds and Nike (shockingly companies those guys endorse or have endorsed). You might as well cheer for Team USA in the Olympics against Team Argentina. I have no use at all for people like that.


Manu isn't your favorite player because he's perfect.


He's your favorite because he's not.


He's Rocky. He gets knocked down. He loses. He fails. He occasionally does really stupid shit in really important games.

But he cares. You can see every second he really fucking cares. Even in the regular season when 99% of people affiliated with the NBA, including the fans, don't care, he does.

And that's that.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Sun Also Sets

Alas.  The Spurs eliminated themselves.  The Lakers (although they played well) did not beat the Spurs; the Spurs beat themselves.  A 20-point lead in Game 1?  A 30-point loss in Game 2?  They finally showed up for Game 3, but Game 4 was a disastrous heartbreaker.  Then last night, they let the Lakers nibble at a 13-point first-quarter lead until the last two minutes, when the Spurs finally woke up.  But too little, too late, and the Spurs are out.

I'm interested to see what next year's Spurs will look like.  Hopefully, they won't be as dumb as the Mavericks and fire Poppovich.  They just need to do something to get younger and faster--they couldn't keep up with the Lakers' speed, and they barely stayed up with the Hornets.

Finally, I think it worth noting that the pre-Gasol Lakers were 30-16, winning 65% of their games.  The post-Gasol Lakers were 27-9, winning 75% of their games.  Bryant was the constant, and Gasol the change.  Who should really have been MVP, if you had to pick a Laker?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bucket of Pepper

Most of what I do each day is watch a lawyer mediate a child support dispute, then draft an order representing the agreement the parties reach.  I don't think I'd want to do it forever, but so far it's been fascinating to watch these real people with their real problems find real solutions.

Mom X is having trouble with Dad X paying his child support.*  Notably, courts order child support, so failing to pay child support can lead to a finding of contempt, and that means jail.  There are dozens of cases where dad stays out of jail by hand-paying his child support each month at the courthouse.  Dad X is one of those cases.

Today, Dad X told Mom X that his brother was getting married.  She offered to give Brother X a Sam's Club-sized bucket of black pepper, and Dad X laughed easily.  "Do you remember that time in Amarillo?  When his mashed potatoes had too much black pepper?" he asked.  "Yeah," she said, "we spent all night in the hospital waiting for the swelling to go down."

When we meet people only once or in isolated situations, we tend to crystallize their identities with those circumstances.  My fourth grade teacher, for example, will always be (in my mind) exactly as she was in 1993.  But hearing Mom X and Dad X talk about Brother X, I realized that these people had identities beyond their child support dispute. 

Once upon a time, they were strangers.  Then they met and fell in love.  He met her parents; she met his.  They got married and had children.  Then something broke.  They got divorced: she got the kids and he got a monthly child support bill.  Now they're stuck dealing with each other for the rest of their lives.  Each month, he promises that he's "this close" to getting a "good" job, and she promises not to kill him.

You just don't get stories like that in a securities regulation practice.



*Please note that some facts have been changed to protect anonymity and help me keep my job.  I have not, however, changed any names.  There are really characters named Mom X and Dad X.  Mom X + Dad X = Racer X.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You Make, You Pay

The first half of this summer, I'm working for the Attorney General of Texas in the Child Support Division.  A lot of people, when they hear that, ask why and try to fathom why anyone would ever want to work in the CSD.  But here's the deal: it's awesome.  I love watching people interact.  Somebody once said that family lawyers see good people at their worst.  Some of the stories are unbelievable, but that's what's fascinating.  You look at these two people and all the ugly water under their bridge, and you think, "At some point, these people were in love enough to make a baby." 


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm a monster!

I just can’t stop buying books. I bought three last night:

Including several other books I’ve somehow acquired recently, that brings my total up to 73 books that I own but have not read, 11 more than one week ago.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Quite Quick Quotes with Jeremy

There have been people in my life whom I would love to have silenced with this:

It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.

- William G. McAdoo.

Put that in your quiver of quite quick quotes for quarrels.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

No Mas de Eso

So I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in three days.  On, I gave it four stars out of five.  Here's my completely arbitrary quality ranking:

  1. Deathly Hallows (book 7)
  2. Order of the Phoenix (book 5)
  3. Half-Blood Prince (book 6)
  4. Prisoner of Azkaban (book 3)
  5. Goblet of Fire (book 4)
  6. Chamber of Secrets (book 2)
  7. Sorcerer's Stone (book 1)

I thought the series got better with each book, but I think that probably the top three could be ranked in any order, and so could the bottom four.  So now I can join the ranks of the cultural elite who have read Harry Potter. 

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Real Life

The New York Times reports that over 220,000 people have listened to a BBC recording from the answering machine of a soldier's family.  Apparently, he pocket-dialed his family in the midst of battle and, because they weren't home, their answering machine recorded the sounds of battle from his pocket.  Listening to that recording is an odd experience.  It doesn't sound like any of the battles I've seen on TV and not anything like I expected.  It's real life.

Friday, May 09, 2008

My Harry Potter

In 6th grade, I randomly borrowed a book from the school library, John Christopher's The Guardians.  The next Saturday morning, I plopped into our old blue recliner and started at page one.  I read about Rob's father dying and followed two steps behind as he ran from Conurb.  I helped him dig the hole under the Barrier and hid with him in the cave.  I assimilated into County life, learning archery and sweating during Sir Percy Gregory's interrogation.  And I tried to convince Rob not to betray Mike to the Guardians.  I didn't, however, notice the room gradually brightening or my hunger pangs as morning turned into noon and afternoon.  I turned the last page some time before dinner, wondering at what I'd read and why I'd never read anything like it before.  Two days later, I returned The Guardians and checked out The Prince in Waiting, where I imagined a deep blue vista of desert broken only by the bright orange glow of the Burning Lands in the distance.  That image remains with me, stronger even than some of my real memories. 

In less than a month, I read every John Christopher book our library had.  I think that's when I fell in love with reading.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Note to self: I = Me

Just in case you were wondering:

Being able to distinguish yourself from other people is fundamental to successful social relationships rather than simple interactions.

The rest can be found here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The End Is Near

Tonight, I start Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’m happy to be finishing the story. I’ve grown to like Harry, Ron, Hermione, and all the rest (especially, for some reason, Remus Lupin), but I’ll be glad to finish the story. Every beginning must have its end, I suppose, and now I rush headlong toward this ending. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Secret Lit'rature

I have this uncanny ability to take seemingly worthless or meaningless pulp fiction (or movies or actors or whatever) and think that it's worthwhile.  But the Guardian has avenged me:

[Ian Fleming's] aim, famously, was simply to write "the spy story to end all spy stories" and he happily talked about his "pillow book fantasies of an adolescent mind." He was right. Bond does have an edge, but the novels are essentially lightweight, adrenalin pumping and frequently and gleefully absurd.

But that's not to disparage them. A good thriller is worth more than its weight in gold - more even than the multi-million [sic] industry that Fleming created. There's a magic to the brooding enigmatic James Bond, his glamorous lifestyle, his vast range of pervert foes and their crazy weapons. Fleming also has perhaps the greatest benchmark of writerly talent in spades: unputdownability.

. . . .

Whether Bond would have survived so long without the enduring film franchise is moot, but writing as nasty and unsettling as that is always going to be worth reading.

So maybe the next time I'm recommending a book to you, you'll listen, eh?

Monday, May 05, 2008


The Office, for me, is one of those shows that I love to watch but it comes on at the wrong time.  I almost always miss it when it comes on for real.  But I own the first three seasons on DVD and I'll probably buy the 4th when it comes out.  And you know what?  I like Toby.  He's my kinda guy.  (Except for his whole crush on Pam thing.  That was kinda creepy for some reason.)  Well, according to Yahoo!, the Tob-ster is a Rangers fan.

Toby likes the Rangers ... because they also try hard, but never seem to gain any respect

Hey--we just won two out of three in Oakland!  All we're asking is for a little respect when you get home (now baby).

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Last fall, I saw an episode of The Office during which Michael had the office divide up into teams.  Dwight named his team Gryffindor and Jim named his Voldemort.  I decided that if Harry Potter had pervaded pop culture so much as to be alluded to on The Office, then I needed to do some reading.

The first two books were OK, but I really started to enjoy the series after reading the third one.  The fourth one, too, was pretty good, especially the scene near the end between Harry and Voldemort.  At the beginning of that scene, somebody dies.  I remember stopping and thinking that I couldn't believe a children's book had a death like that.  But after reading the fifth book, I've got it figured out.  Harry Potter ≠ children's literature.

I mean, sure, kids love it, the language isn't the most complex, and the hero is a young teenager, but it's just not children's lit.  It's far too complex and dark.  But, hey, that's real life.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Even Cinderella Gets Dumped

It's been a bad night for some readers of Alico Dreams.  The bottom half of the Western Conference bracket is set: San Antonio Spurs v. N'Awlins Hawnits.  I confess--I rooted for the Hawnits, but not because I was hoping the Spurs would play them in the semifinals--I was rooting for the Hawnits because they're this year's Cinderella.  But even Cinderella gets dumped.  The Spurs will trounce all over Chris Paul & Co. on their way to the Lakers.  (Sorry Jazz/Rockets fans.  It's just not in the cards.)  But even if not, then I'll root for N'Awlins to beat the NBA's Yankees on their way to sweeping the Pistons in the finals.

It looks like it's gonna be a good summer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It Takes Time

Right after we got married, I found a job at a hardware store working from 7:30 to 5:30 Monday through Saturday.  That's about 60 hours a week, which, thankfully, is less than 65:

It is not possible to have a successful marriage if you work 65 hours a week.

Wow.  Not possible.  Those are pretty strong words.  I only worked there for 6 months.  I know that a few of my readers have been in the real world.  Did any of you work 65 hours a week?  How did it impact your marriage?

Monday, April 28, 2008

You can't win'm all

But at least you can have class:

[Suns coach Mike] D'Antoni drew two technicals and was ejected with 3:38 to play and his team up 104-80.

So reports ESPN in its recap.  The video highlights add that D'Antoni was arguing about who had possession of the ball after it went out of bounds.  He was probably mad that the Spurs had cut the deficit from 30 points to just 24.  Maybe he was afraid we might still win it.

Congratulations, Suns, you didn't get swept.  See you in San Antonio.

Go Spurs Go!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Famous Last Words

I read one of the greatest last lines ever the other day:

Underground, the story continued.

-Richard Adams's Watership Down.  What a great way to say "And they lived happily ever after."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Watership Down

I’ve just finished Richard Adams’s Watership Down. In the words of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Astonishing . . . Everyone who can read English should read it.

I concur wholeheartedly. I picked it up because I heard that it heavily influences the writers of LOST, but I finished it because it’s just so good. Pick it up. You won’t regret it.

My shelf of books to read is now down to just 126 books.

I like math problems, too

I read a fascinating article this morning about the psychology of stereotypes:

Past research has shown that a particular region of the brain’s frontal lobe becomes active when we detect conflict in our thinking—between an easy stereotype, say, and a more reasoned and complex view. But actually overriding stereotypical thinking requires another part of the frontal lobe. [Belgian psychologist Wim] De Neys basically wanted see if stereotypical thinking is a detection problem or a self-control problem.

. . . .

De Neys watched volunteers’ brains as they puzzled through this and similar problems [pitting statistical probability against stereotypical conclusions]. He found . . . that the brain’s stereotype detector lit up regardless of whether the subject answered stereotypically or rationally. So apparently we all detect the stereotype and recognize that it is out of sync with reality. But the brain’s inhibition center—the part of the brain that says, “No, I am not falling for that simplistic idea”—lit up only when the subjects . . . overrode the stereotype and made a calculation based on probability. Apparently some of us find the ready caricatures too tempting and use them anyway, against our better judgment.

Fascinating.  We can get past our stereotypical thinking, we just have to learn how.  Knowledge is power, eh?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Go Spurs Go II

Please forgive me.  I'm trying not to be a sore winner, but I've only rooted for a winning team once.  But my team . . . woo!!  102-96 puts us up 2-0!

I apologize to Suns and Mavs fans, but . . . I was rooting for the Raptors, the Flames, and the Capitals.  Not mention--cough, cough--the Rangers.

So the way I see it, my (sports) life sucks more than yours.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What's your favorite book? is trying to figure out the world's favorite book, London's Guardian reports:

Scoffing at parochial attempts to find Britain's favourite book, is aiming to establish the world's number one books, films and albums - and to use a bigger sample than any previous taste survey. The target is 50,000 top fives by July, and there are strenuous efforts underway to get it built into all the most popular social networking sites.

I'm signing up tonight.  Let's show the Brits what real lit'rature is.

Monday, April 21, 2008

That is so 400 years ago

Some people think they want to be a pirate.  That can be more than a pipe dream or a day in September when you say arrr.  To make your dreams come true, just take a boat to Somalia:

Piracy was up 20 percent in the first three months of 2008, and attacks show no signs of subsiding in April. As usual, the waters off Somalia’s coast are a hot spot . . . .

You'll probably get impressed

Or if you'd rather be Sir Francis Drake, the Dutch Navy is escorting UN aid ships while the French and Spanish Navies are working on freeing hijacked ships.

You, too, can live a life at sea, where every one of us has all he needs.  Sky of blue and sea of green . . .

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Go Spurs Go

SanAntonioSpursABAlogoWe were playing a card game at my in-laws' last night, and my wife and her brother were being sore losers.  No big deal, but it got me thinking about how long-time Rangers fans don't have a choice but to learn how to be good losers.  We make fan-lives out of "maybe next time."

That's why I've come to love the Spurs this year.  I first liked the Spurs because I love the city of San Antonio.  But it doesn't hurt that they actually win games.  Like today's game.  I can't often refer to games in which my teams play as "heartbreakers" and smile.

By the way, I look forward to the Spurs beating the Hornets in the quarters.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Deadball Era II

There's something strange going on in Major League Baseball this year.  I haven't done the math, but it really seems like a lot more pitchers are throwing complete games.  That's probably because they're throwing fewer pitches per game, which probably has something to do with the Mitchell Report.  Now I'm just spitballing here . . .

Last night had a great game.  Rockies 2, Padres 1, after 22 innings:

Let's play 2½!


Colorado and San Diego did just that Thursday night and into Friday morning, slogging through a 22-inning game that was the longest in the majors in nearly 15 years.

Elsewhere in the recap, it notes that the game lasted 6 hours and 16 minutes.  That's the longest in Padres history by innings (it missed longest by time by one minute) and the longest in Rockies history anyway you count it.

Since I love pitching, it looks like it'll be a great year!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

I try to follow Waco politics, especially who represents the 17th Texas in D.C., but I have just now learned the name of Chet Edwards's opponent in November: Rob Curnock*.  Today, we learned that Edwards is leading Curnock in funding by about $1,221,999.  As of that posting, Edwards had raised $1,288,190 to Curnock's $6,191.  I learned in my undergrad poli sci classes that experts call that an "uphill battle."  But that's OK with Mr. Curnock:

"If my opponent wants to ignore me all the way through November that is fine. That is perfect,” he [told Waco Trib reporter David Doerr]. “We’re doing what we’re doing and he can do what he does, which is bring in all the money he brings in and to do his thing. But we are going to be an issue based campaign and that is what we are going to base the campaign on through the fall.”

I'm not really sure what that means, but Republicans are sick and tired of a Republican president being represented by a long-time Democrat.  Wait--that won't be an issue in November.


*Note to self--When running for Congress against a 9-term congressperson, make sure Wikipedia is not the first site Google returns.