Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Elle Eye Vee Eye Inn

I grew up on the wisdom of David Wooderson, so maybe that explains much of my Weltanschauung.  But I've also read a bit of Descartes, Locke, Kant, and Wittgenstein (my personal favorite), as well as King, Asimov, Dickens, and Blatty.  Oh, and I can't forget Stevenson, Fleming, Crichton, and Fitzgerald.  I have even read an essay or two by Russell and Lewis.  And here is my conclusion: We are all at least a little bit wrong.  The guy who knows he's wrong is a little closer to being right than the guy who doesn't.  But the guy who thinks he's right about knowing that he's wrong, well, maybe he's wrong about being right about being wrong, and that makes him a little less right and a little more wrong.*

*Now you see the Wooderson coming out.

Science, like law, works best in an adversarial system.  Holmes called it "the marketplace of ideas."  The foundation of the scientific method is the systematic observation of reproducible phenomena.  If it ain't reproducible, it ain't science.  You hypothesize an explanation, experiment, observe, and adjust.  Then you write up a lab report and get it published.  If I don't like your explanation, I can repeat your procedure and see what happens. No matter how much I hate using your explanation to connect the observable cause with the observable result, it's hard to argue with my own observations.

But what if your explanation covers something that's not reproducible?  What if you refer to an unobservable cause, for example?  How can I dispute your explanation?  Since I can't reproduce it, my best bet is an ad hominem attack.  I'll call you stupid or biased or incompetent, and you'll call me lazy or backward or illegitimate, and we'll be three steps closer to Truth.*

*After all, under the Masten Theory of the Universe, 
you are in fact stupid, biased, and incompetent, and I
am in fact lazy, backward, and illegitimate.

When you step out of the realm of reproducibility, you step into the realm of logical (or illogical) conclusions.  And the rules of logic may yet, like the laws of physics, prove not entirely dependable.

What's the point of all this rant?  Simply this: reproducibility and truthiness are not synonyms, nor should passionate belief be confused with knowledge.  Too many unthinking, close-minded scientists make the first blunder, and too many unthinking, close-minded religious zealots make the second.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Home is where the heart is

This, amigos, is my place of abode.

Amazing, I know.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Response does not compute

Today, I was reading a two-day-old article about the manhunt for the guy who killed four police outside Seattle last Sunday, when I ran across this:
Police later learned he may have been in a house in Seattle. After an all-night siege in which they tried to get him out using loudspeakers, explosions and a robot sent into the house, a SWAT team stormed the place and discovered he was not there.
Wait, what?  They sent a robot into the house??  What is this, Robocop?  They should have sent this guy:

He'd have gotten the job done, unless he tripped on the stairs.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Two Triolets

Two triolets for my loyal readers.  The first is one written by Gail White called "Worker Bees":
Staring at fluorescent screens,
letting life pass by unheeded,
little better than machines
staring at fluorescent screens,
we’ll pass on our altered genes
to generations who’ll be seated
staring at fluorescent screens,
letting life pass by unheeded.
True story.  The second is my very amateur attempt at triolet poetry.  I call it "Loyalty":
I sit next to you,
And you sit next to me.
When storms are all a-brew
I just sit next to you.
We don't need the lee;
We enjoy the breeze
When I sit next to you
And you sit next to me.
 And there you have it.  I hope you enjoyed our little excursion into medieval French poetry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Renewed Lease on Life

My computer is a couple of years old and can run very slowly at times.  I had to shut it down with difficulty several times in the past couple of weeks.  Rather than lament the state of the economy and my computer, I took charge.  I installed Xubuntu.  In fact, I'm typing this post from within Xubuntu right now.  So far, my only complaints are (1) no iTunes (so I have to borrow The Missus's computer for that) and (2) no Chrome.  Of course, the most important nice thing is that I am having (so far) super performance.  Who knew my old computer could go this fast?

I'll keep you posted, now that I can.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

2 out of 2 ain’t bad

The results are as yet unofficial, but the Baylor University School of Law is, so far as I know, batting 1.000 on the July 2009 Maryland General Bar Examination.  Congratulations are particularly in order for Mr. Dylan Q. Springmann, who rocked the sports law essay so hard they gave him a 7 on a scale of 6 and then counted it three times instead of the more typical two.

If you pass him in the hall, be sure to give him a high five.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The World Has Turned and Left Me Here

Once again, truth, justice, and the American way give way to lies, favoritism, and the American way.  The Yankees won World Series CV, giving them a record 816 banners in their rafters.  Therefore, I present to you this beautiful poem by Robert S. Wieder, titled “Baseball”:

If this terse rhyme, about our pastime
Seems a little cranky,
It’s possibly because the writer
Hates the F&$%ing Yankees.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Soulmates: A Sestina

©2009 by Jeremy Masten

At six o'clock, I wake up to alarms
Wanting me to get up on my legs.
I'm missing one; I reach out for my crutch.
Aluminum is all the latest fancy.
I hobble to the bathroom, pull the cord
That lights the room, awaking and frustrating.

I hobble to my closet.  How frustrating
That all my clothes don't fit.  That fire alarm
That doused my clothes: it shrunk up all my cord's.
They once were long enough inside the leg
But now are short and ratty.  Stupid crutch
That makes me hobble keeps me free of fancies.

I used to think a woman was a fancy
Way to keep a man in line, frustrating
His ideas, acting like a crutch
When all he needs is truth, a rough alarm
To wake him up and put him on his legs.
She’s like, I thought, a pretty minor chord.

But women aren't instruments whose chords
Can be predicted.  No, they're much too fancy
For that.  I met a woman on her legs
Who found that I could be a bit frustrating.
The day we met, outside the school, alarms
Were blaring, answering my lifelong crush.

She probably wouldn't like me as a crutch;
She's probably good enough to find accord;
She wakes up on her own, with no alarm
And leads a life of art, of something fancy;
She probably never finds herself frustrated;
She knows exactly what keeps her on her legs.

And I'm afraid that I do, too.  Her legs,
So perfect that she doesn't need a crutch.
And what am I?  A burden, a frustration.
She knows this song and dance; she’s played the chords.
I've grown attached to her, I think I fancy
That she's what keeps me waking sine alarm.

So when I say that I don't need alarms,
And when you notice that I have both my legs,
And when you wonder whether I'm too fancy,
Remember I am just a man.  My crutch
Is she who keeps me walking, playing chords
That soothe and vent and cut off all frustration.

She's on her legs, she pulls the cords
That drag my crutch into my fancy.
No more frustration, no more alarm.

Monday, November 02, 2009

So much to live for

I read this today and thought you might like it.

A Ballade of Suicide, by G.K. Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours---on the wall---
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay---
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall---
I see a little cloud all pink and grey---
Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call---
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way---
I never read the works of Juvenal---
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational---
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small---
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrels toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pack up your things and go

When I was in high school, I made sandwiches for Subway Sandwiches and Salads.  I started my career in sandwich art at Store 10882, but I really shined at Store 3035.  I transferred there as part of a reorganization of that store.  They were slowly eliminating some terrible workers one by one, as just (enough) cause arose, and replacing them mostly with workers from other stores.  I came over about halfway through the transition.

One of my eliminated coworkers was a girl named Robin.  She got in trouble for cursing at a customer.  One week she was on the schedule; the next week, she wasn’t.  She called me at work the day the schedule came out and asked what her hours were.  I told her she wasn’t on the schedule, and she asked me, rather politely, “Why the f--- not??”  I told her she should probably call our district manager, Dwight Schrute.

The next time I saw her was payday.  When Robin asked for her paycheck, I informed her of Subway’s policy of holding the final paycheck until the entire uniform had been returned.  She asked me why in three words that start with w, t, and f, respectively, and I confessed ignorance.  “Whatever,” she agreed and promised to bring her uniform back.  I held on to her $67-check.

A few minutes later, Robin returned with a green Subway shirt crumpled up like a snowball with a rock inside.  She pegged me with it, explaining, “There’s your f---ing piece of s--- uni-f---ing-form.  G--d--- I hate this f---ing s---hole.  Gimme my f---ing paycheck.”  I complied with her request and wished her happy trails.

Before today, that was my only real experience with existential process of termination.

Monday, October 26, 2009

NBA 2009-10 = a w e s o m e

If you are unconvinced of the NBA’s greatness, please read Mark Heisler’s column in the Baltimore Sun.  You now know why 2009-10 could be one of the most competitive and exciting years in NBA history.  Everybody has this one shot to make it count.  But I tend to agree with Bill Simmons: 2010 is the Year of the Spur.

That is all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ain’t Nothin but a 1950 Party

Because I like baseball, I’m going to post twice tonight.  With the Yankees’ 10-1 trouncing of the Angels, it looks like we’re going to see a rematch of the unforgettable 1950 World Series, which the Yankees swept.  While doing research to see how many times these two teams have met in the World Series I discovered something neat.

In 1914 and 1915, back when five cities had dual representation*, two cities presaged the patriotic Super Bowl XXXIX.  In 1914, the Boston Braves swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.  Then, in 1915, the Boston Red Sox charged past the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.  So, Boston beat Philadelphia twice in a row, but with different teams.  I wonder how many times that kind of thing has happened.


*New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life Imitates Me

A couple of years ago, I took a bus from Manhattan to D.C.  As we were just about to go under the Hudson River, I noticed that all the cars around us were like us: taxis, buses, delivery trucks.  There were no private cars.  At that moment, I had a brilliant idea: What if you closed off a city to all traffic except for certain licensed vehicles, like public transportation or taxis and delivery trucks?

I still think about the idea, most commonly when I’m commuting home from work.  (I imagine the press conference, with an almost-chic young reporter standing on the steps of city hall, “Thanks, Tom.  I’m here at Baltimore City Hall where---just today---the city council voted . . . “)  Tonight, I opened up my Baltimore Sun and saw some evidence that other people have had the same idea: “D.C.-area planners crack down on parking: Capacity cut, costs raised to get people out of cars.”  The article concludes by noting that Federal City has reduced its minimum parking requirements in recent years from 4 spots for every 1,000 square feet of retail space to just 1 spot.

I’m generally a fan of public transportation, but I think there are two things to keep in mind.  First, public transportation is either really good (e.g., New York City subway system) or really limited (e.g., Waco, Texas, bus system), and it takes a lot of time and money to get a really good system.  And second, like the right to own property, the right to physically move about (mostly) freely is one of the cornerstones of liberty.  I’m just saying.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hater of Earths

I just did the math.  It costs me less money to drive to work than take public transportation.  The proofs:

Driving = 30.6 miles round trip / 20 mpg* x $2.50/gallon** = $3.83 per day

Light rail = 7.4 miles round trip / 20 mpg x $2.50/gallon + $3.20 fare = $4.13 per day

It should be noted that I get free parking downtown.  Otherwise, light rail would win by as much as fifteen dollars.  I will further grant that taking the light rail would give me about two hours’ reading time each day and that the earth would love me more.  But at this point in my career---newly printed J.D. still smells like the calligrapher’s cologne---I sell out the earth for just 30 cents a day.



*I actually get a little better (usually around 23), but I wanted to give public transportation as much help as I could.

**Last night, I bought gas for $2.31 per.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let’s Try This Again

Last week, I made my baseball playoffs predictions.  I was right about the Twins beating the Tigers, the Dodgers beating the Cardinals, and the Phillies beating the Rockies.  I was wrong about the two teams I hate more than any other in baseball: the Angels and the Yankees.  That makes me an unhappy 3-2 by my count.

Since I was right about the Dodgers and Phillies, my prediction as to them stands: I still pick the Dodgers.

Between the Yankees and the Angels . . . can I pick them both to lose?  I find that I hate both teams too much to want either one to win.  I am ashamed that the American League couldn’t come up with any one capable of beating either of those teams.  Ugh.  Yet choose I must, and I pick the Yankees.  Here’s why.

First, I hate the Angels more than I hate the Yankees.  I will catch some flak for that, but what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.  I’m taking a stand for individualism right here.

Second, statistically, the Yankees dominated the Twins just a little more than the Angels dominated the Red Sox.  The Yankees come into the ALCS with a Pythagorean win-expectation of 5.90 compared to the Angels’ 5.74, based on their respective divisional series.*

Third, the Dodgers and Yankees have a classic rivalry.  They haven’t met in the World Series since 1981, but before that, they met twice in the 1970s (1977 and 1978), once in the 1960s (1963), four times in the 1950s (1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956), and three times in the 1940s (1941, 1947, and 1949).  That means these guys have played each other for the world championship eleven times.  I’d be willing to bet that’s more than any other two teams in baseball.  The Dodgers have only won three times (1959, 1963, and 1981), but I think momentum can stretch 28 years.

The Dodgers and Yankees are the Cowboys and Steelers or the Lakers and Celtics of baseball.**  Given our options, it’d be nice to see that rivalry renewed.

And fourth, nobody wants a Staples Center Series.  That’d be waaaaaaay too lame.




*If you’re interested in where I came up with those numbers, ask me in a comment and I’ll let you know.

**Somehow I doubt Bud Selig is peeing in his pants for a Dodgers-Yankees championship as much as David Stern was for a Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals back in 2008.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Quarantine: 4/5

Tonight, The Missus and I watched our third movie of the weekend, Quarantine.  Shot in the style of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, Quarantine tells the tale of a late-night reporter (Jennifer Carpenter of Emily Rose fame) and her cameraman as they shadow Los Angeles firefighters one night.  The firefighters answer a call at an apartment building where, it turns out, there is some kinda crazy version of rabies going around.  The apartment complex is quarantined off, and the scares begin.

First, let me say that I liked the premise of this movie.  I've said before, and I'll say again, that I'm not a big fan of you'll-be-scared-after-you-think-about-it horror.  I think the scariest premises are those that scare you now and scare you later.  Here, we have some crazy mutation of rabies running amok in an apartment building.  This is scary now because we've got these crazy rabid killers trying to get at our heroine.  It's scary later because we live in a time when genetic research on diseases just might be creating crazy strains of rabies and we don't even know it.  Plus, the film gets the nightmare bonus for some pretty stick-with-you visuals.  That said, the film does rely a lot on jumpy scares.  Still, three points for the premise.

Second, I liked the characters in this movie.  I liked Angela Vidal (Carpenter's character---really, I'm becoming a Jennifer Carpenter fan); I liked the cameraman, I liked Firefighter Jay, and the cop we got to know.  I even liked the landlord, the British opera teacher, and the vet.  I think the actors did a great job of bringing these characters to life and making them someone I cared about.  Each time someone died, I felt sad.  That, I think, might be the key to good horror, making the audience care when something horrible happens.  So five points for characters I liked.

Third, I'm not the biggest fan of realistic-style, first-person camera work.  Maybe it's your thing, maybe it added to the realism (which all horror needs to some extent), maybe it even added to the horror.  But I started the movie with a headache, and the shaky camera only added to my queasiness.  That said, the fact that we could only see what the camera picked up made the last fifteen minutes or so ten times scarier than it could have been.  So, break even points for camera work.

Finally, I love that this film is only 89 minutes long and that it tells a story 89 minutes long.  I hate bloat.  Every scene should either (a) advance the plot or (b) develop the characters meaningfully, and each scene should only last as long as necessary to do either of those.  Maybe that's demanding, but I don't care.  I don't have time to waste watching your self-indulgence.

If I leave here tomorrow

. . . would you still remember me?

I'm thinking of migrating over to Wordpress.  I've been playing around with it a little bit, and I might prefer its interface.  I also have an app on my iPod Touch that would let me draft posts without connecting to the internet. Big disadvantage: I don't think Wordpress lets commenters get notification of later comments without having a Wordpress account.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scary Book 2009, Take 2

Well, The Dead Zone was a bust.  It's a decent novel with an interesting premise and maybe a few too many pop culture references,* but it just plain wasn't scary.**  At least not in the way that I wanted to be scared.  I want the kind of book that makes me scared to turn the light off.  Why?  I don't know.  Maybe just because it's Halloween.  Ray Bradbury has pulled it off, and Stephen King has pulled it off before.  But I'm not going to either of them for Jeremy's Halloween 2009 Scary Book Extravaganza.  No, sirs and ma'ams, that honor goes to golden-age-of-science-fiction author Richard Matheson.  I really enjoyed What Dreams May Come last summer, though I can't remember if it made me scared to turn the light off.  I do recall the movie having some chilling scenes.

OK, OK.  Without further ado, here is Second Chance Sam's Second Try at Being Scared for Halloween 2009:

I Am Legend (Millennium SF Masterworks S)

Sure looks scary, eh?  One early edition touted it as the scariest science fiction tale you'll ever read.  I shall be the judge of that, my friends.

*While I firmly believe in looking up words I don't know, I get annoyed having to look up a pop culture reference---for the eighty-third time---because I'm reading the book thirty years after it was published.  We sometimes forget that people down the road might not know everything we know as intimately as we know it.  If you want proof, play any version of Trivial Pursuit from before 2000.  And . . . 5 points for anybody who knows who Arthur Bremer is.

**Some might argue that it would be scary to be in Johnny's position.  Meh.  I hate it when people say things like, "The scariest part of 'Salem's Lot was how everybody knew something terrible was happening but nobody did anything but run away."  Bah, humbug.  The scariest part of 'Salem's Lot was when Jimmy, Ben, and Mark go vampire-hunting.  Well, really, any Mark-centric passage.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Baseball Playoffs Predictions 2009

The 2009 Major League Baseball season ends today.  The once mighty and foreign stRangers were eliminated a few days ago despite having the best record in baseball at one point in May or June.  That said, here's how I think things will fall out in the next few weeks:

American League Central One-Game Playoff

The Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins will engage in a one-game playoff in Minnesota on Tuesday.  These two teams have been playing each other since 1901, and the Tigers lead the all-time series by 75 games (1032-957).  But the Twins have won the last two years, both 11-7.  Finally, the Twins have won 8 of their last 10, while the Tigers have won only 4 of their last 10.  Ergo, I pick the Twins.

American League Division Series

One of these series will involves two thieves: the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  The Angels stole the AL West, and the Red Sox stole the AL Wild Card, both from the Rangers.  But let's get past that and look at the history.  The Red Sox lead the all-time series by 35 games (312-277), but the Angels squeaked by this season, winning the season series 5-4.  These teams have some serious recent post-season history: this will be the third year in a row they've faced each other in the ALDS.  Boston won the first two, 3-0 and 3-1.  The Red Sox also swept the Angels in the 2004 ALDS.  And, because the Red Sox won the 1986 ALCS 4-3, it should be noted the Angels have never beaten the Red Sox in a post-season series.  So either they're due for a win, or they're doomed.  Because I like the Red Sox marginally better than the Angels, I pick the Red Sox.

In the other ALDS, the New York Yankees will take on the Minnesota Twins.  These teams' history goes back to the founding of the American League in 1901, back when they were known as the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Senators, respectively.  For those two years, the Orioles won 22, and the Senators 17.  The Yankees swept this season's series (7-0) and haven't lost the season series since 2001,* although the teams split 2005 and 2006.  In their mutual playoffs histories, the Yankees beat the Twins 3-1 in both the 2003 and 2004 ALDS.  Those are the only times the two have met in the post-season.  But in the name of Kirby Puckett and all that is right with the world, I pick the Twins.

National League Division Series

The Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies meet again.  These two have only been playing each other since 1993, and the Phillies lead the all-time series by 15 games (73-58).  The Phillies won the 2009 series 4-2 and swept the 2008 series.  In their only post-season match-up, the Rockies swept the Phillies in the 2007 NLDS.**  The Rockies have been hot lately, and the Phillies have been cold, but I like Cliff Lee (who, also, has been cold lately).  So pick the Phillies.

And in the other NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles play the best-of-five against the St. Louis Cardinals.  These teams probably go back to 1883, but I only have stats to 1901: the Cardinals have won 32 more games between the two: 951-919.  The Cardinals won this year's series (5-2) and haven't lost the series since 2003.  Their last post-season match-up was the 2004 NLDS, which the Cardinals won 3-1, on their way to being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.  Before that, the Cardinals won the 1985 NLCS (on their way to losing the I-70 Showdown).  Because I am a closet Dodgers fan and I don't particularly care for the Cardinals (except Lou Brock), I pick the Dodgers.

American League Championship Series

The Twins and the Red Sox have never faced each other in the playoffs.***  Do I think the Twins can ride their current wave of success like the 2007 Rockies until they crash into the Green Monster?  Absolutely.  I'll do one better: I pick the Twins as the 2009 AL Champions.

National League Championship Series

For the second year in a row, the Dodgers have the Phillies standing between them and their first world championship since the 1980s.  Last year, the Phillies won the NLCS in five games.  Back in the year of my birth, the Phillies took the pennant from the Dodgers, 3-1.  The Dodgers haven't beaten the Phillies in October since 1978, when they won 3-1.  The Dodgers also took the pennant over the Phillies in 1977, also 3 games to 1.****  It's hard for me to pick which of these two teams I prefer.  They both have that lovable long-term underdog charisma.  Since the Phillies popped the cork last year, I pick the Dodgers as the 2009 NL Champions.

The Laker Series*****

The Twins and Dodgers have only faced each other in the post-season once: the 1965 World Series.  The Twins took the first two games in Minnesota before dropping Games 3, 4, and 5 in Los Angeles.  The Twins won Game 6, but then couldn't score a run in any of the nine innings they swung a bat against Sandy Koufax in Game 7.  Can the Dodgers party like it's 1965?  I'm saying it: Go Dodgers.

*Ironically, the second-to-last time they made it to the World Series.

**That was part of their remarkable run at the end of the 2007 season.  They swept the Phillies, then the Diamondbacks, then got swept by the Red Sox.

***How weird is it that that's weird this year?  Every other match-up has at least one post-season series between them.

****1977 and 1978 were twins of each other.  The Yankees, Royals, Dodgers, and Phillies all won their respective divisions both years.  The Yankees beat the Royals 3-2 and 3-1, while the Dodgers beat the Phillies 3-1 both years.  Then, the Yankees won both world series 4-2.

*****Five points to anybody who gets my obscure reference.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Carry on my wayward son

Because you come here to read thoughts you won't read anywhere else, I want you to know that the heads of us bloggers swell every time somebody does something like comment or link or even bring up the blog in conversation.  We like to feel that, in our own small way, we are contributing to the marketplace of ideas.

That is all.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The towels are kinda scratchy

It's that time of year again: time for me to read a scary book for Halloween.  It all started on Columbus Day 2005.  I had the dark, rainy day off, but The Missus didn't.  By coincidence, I had finished a book just the night before.  The mood was perfect for a classic tale of horror, so I pulled Bram Stoker's Dracula off the shelf.  For the next few weeks, I buried myself in Stoker's masterpiece.  When I turned the last page, I had been more scared and more satisfied than since I saw The Exorcist.  I read Stephen King's It in 2006 and Insomnia in 2007.  In 2008, I read The Shining.  Now, my friends, I burst forth with a new scary book for 2009:

The Dead Zone

That's right.  I'm entering The Dead Zone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stephenie Meyer self-deprecates

Periodically, I like to put quotes that I've written down up on  (That's where the quotes you see to your right come from.)  Today, I was looking through those quotes, and I noticed this one from Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse:
[Edward:] "I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality."
[Bella:] "I think that may be the point," . . . "Their love IS their only redeeming quality."
For my part, the Edwardobellan romance did less to redeem the saga than did all the interesting trivia associated with vampires.  Those of you who know both me and the saga well know that there was one romance that would have made the saga compelling for me . . .

Sunday, September 27, 2009


After publishing my last post, I realized that it was very, very long.  Here is the poetic gist---iambic pentameter!---of my statistical harangue:
I've given up on baseball for the year.
The Rangers disappoint me every time.
I should have seen it coming back in June.
Thank you and goodnight.

Save the Wettelands

Warning: baseball post.

The closer is under attack.  His main stat---the save---they call illegitimate.  They say he's overpaid, overglorified, and underqualified.  But I say he's the missing piece of your 2009 Texas Rangers.

A pitcher is credited with a save when he obtains at least one out to finish a game won by his team.  He cannot be the pitcher credited with the win, and he must have entered the game with at least three innings left or with the potential tying run on base, at bat, or on deck.*  You can see the value of a stolid closer---a fireman in the mold of the fabled Goose Gossage---by looking at conversion rate.  The conversion rate is the percentage of times a closer records a save when he has the opportunity to.  Mathematically:

Saves / (Saves + Blown Saves)

A pitcher blows a save when he gives up the lead, regardless of the end result of the game.  The value of the conversion rate lies in its measure of a closer's reliability, of his ability to do what he's supposed to do.  To illustrate, we'll compare a pitcher who recorded a high number of saves to the closers for recently successful teams and the closers of one of the most consistently dominant teams in recent history.

In 2008, Francisco Rodriguez saved a record-breaking 62 games for the Angels, helping them win the AL West for the fourth time in five years.  But he also blew 7 saves.  His conversion rate was only 90 percent.  In Game 2 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, he came on in the top of the 9th to keep the game tied at 5.  Instead, he gave up a two-run home run to J.D. Drew.  The Angels lost 7-5 and fell behind two games to none as the series headed to Boston.  The Angels won Game 3, despite Rodriguez's nerve-wracking, six-batter 10th inning, only to lose the series in Game 4 on Jed Lowrie's walk-off single.  You'll notice who they didn't bring on in the bottom of the 9th to keep the tie.  Rodriguez signed with the Mets in the off-season, and the Angels didn't much care.**

Now let's look at recently successful teams.  Philadelphia's Brad Lidge converted all 41 of his save opportunities in 2008.  At the same time, Tampa Bay's Troy Percival and Dan Wheeler combined to convert only 41 of their 50 save opportunities---a paltry 82 percent.  The Phillies won the World Series in 5 games.

In 2007, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon converted 37 of his 40 save opportunities (93 percent), and Colorado's two closers combined for 7 relief losses and 10 blown saves---a conversion rate of only 80 percent.  The Red Sox swept the Rockies, and Papelbon is credited saving three of those games.  (To be fair, Colorado never presented its closers with a save opportunity.)

What about the 2007 Cleveland Indians?  Their rotation included CC Sabbathia, Fausto Carmona, Paul Byrd, and an up-and-coming Cliff Lee.  They started games just fine.  But when they needed somebody to hold onto a close game, they could only turn to Joe Borowski.  His 5 relief losses and 8 blown saves limited his conversion rate to only 85 percent.  The Indians slipped past the Yankees with two blowouts in the ALDS, then fought Boston to the bitter end in the ALCS.  Borowski finished Games 1, 2, 3, and 6 against the Red Sox, racking up a 4.50 ERA while giving up 6 hits and 3 walks and striking out only 1 batter in 4 innings.  It's hard to say how much his performance mattered.  He didn't blow any saves, but Game 3, for which he earned the save, was the only close one.

Finally, let's talk about America's team: the Atlanta Braves.  From 1991 until 2005, they won their division every year except 1994.***  The 1991 Braves won the pennant but lost the World Series.  Three relievers were presented with at least 10 save opportunities, and their combined conversion rate was 90 percent.  The 1992 Braves tried the same tri-closer strategy.  The trio combined to convert 74 percent of the time, and the Braves lost to the Blue Jays in the World Series.  In 1993, they dropped one of their closers, converted only 85 percent of their opportunities, and lost the NLCS to the Phillies.  In 1994, Greg McMichael was their ninth-inning guy, and he converted only 68 percent of the time.  (That's the year they finished second in the NL East.)  In 1995, Mark Wohlers took over closing duties, but he only converted 86 percent of his opportunities.****  Over the next decade or so, their closers, on average, converted only 85 percent of their save opportunities.  The best three years came when an aging John Smoltz took over ninth-inning duties. Even he, however, could convert only 91 percent of the time from 2002 to 2004.

The lesson: If you don't have a reliable closer, you probably won't win the World Series.  That is why, my friends who have held on this long, the Rangers will probably not win either the AL West or the AL Wild Card.  Even if they did, they would probably not survive the ALDS, much less the ALCS or the World Series.  C.J. Wilson and Frank Francisco have combined to convert only 38 of their 46 save opportunities, a lame 83 percent conversion rate.  I like C.J., and I like Frank, but without a stolid closer, we lose too many heartbreakers.  Like tonight's 7-6 tear-jerker against the Devil Rays.

But there's always next year.

* This explains the traditional rule of thumb, i.e., that the pitcher pitches at least one inning and the lead was no bigger than 3 runs.
** Nor have they much noticed his absence.  Brian Fuentes has converted 44 of 51 save opportunities (a rate of 86 percent), and they will (hopefully not) win the AL West by a comfortable margin.  Sounds like the same old song and dance to me.
*** I think it's worth noting that the Expos were only up by 6 games with almost 50 left to play when the players struck.  It's not unreasonable to think that the Braves might have caught on fire or the Expos fallen asleep during those six weeks.
****Admittedly, they beat the Indians in the World Series.  The Indians closer, Jose Mesa, converted 46 of 48 saves that year, a highly respectable 96 percent.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The stRangers have revealed their identities, and we knew them better than we hoped. Maybe that's not fair. Two or three key players got hurt pretty late in the season, and Emperor Palpatine Jon Daniels didn't plan contingently. As The Missus told me tonight: There's always next year. Ah, that too familiar September elegy. So now, I sit tight until October 28, when Los Spurs start their unprecedented even-season domination in SA against the Hornets.

What was I talking about?

Oh, right. Why I blog. I blog because I like writing. I enjoy the process of pushing the thoughts in my head through the filter of my fingertips. I enjoy the feeling of my fingers in position on the home row and ready to light the world on fire with prose. I even enjoy the muffled sound of my keyboard doing its thing. So that's why I blog. I hope you read my stuff, and I hope you enjoy reading my stuff. And I enjoy your comments, but really, this is a very selfish thing. There are no themes---except me. I write about what I want to write about when I want to write about it. You're welcome to read whatever and whenever you want, but, of course, you don't have to. I'll be here either way, putting my thoughts out into the indelible ether of the interwebs.

Oscar Wilde once complained about the growing lack of useless information. I'm just trying to make a dead man happy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Dab of Paint

One sunny Saturday summer afternoon a few years ago, I pulled out the Strathern classic, Wittgenstein in 90 Minutes and plopped down in a lawn chair next to my tanning wife. I sat down excited about thinking deep thoughts; I stood up ninety minutes later in a different world. Philosophy, I now believed, had become nothing more than a battle of dictionaries. I had become a dab of paint on a canvas trying to interpret the painting around me. From that day until this, I hadn't read two sentences of philosophy since Wittgenstein played Dorian Grey to my portrait.

This morning, I read the prologue to Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy. He advises the reader that
the philosopher is not content to describe the fact; he wishes to ascertain its relation to experience in general, and thereby get at its meaning and its worth; . . . he tries to put together, better than before, that great universe-watch which the inquisitive scientist has anlytically taken apart.
That hot summer day, Wittgenstein took my universe-watch apart. I hope that Durant can put it back together, better than before, over the next 530 pages. Maybe I can't interpret the whole painting, but I can at least get an idea of what's around me.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Twilight (movie): 7/10

After reading all four books in the Twilight Saga and watching the first movie, I have a new theory about Stephenie Meyer. She's a science-fiction fanboygirl who got tired of being the only girl at sci-fi conventions. In this, she is like Matthew Fox, who got tired of being the only cool guy at sci-fi conventions.

I also want to note that Stephenie Meyer and I have similar taste in music. (Ergo, she is also like Matthew Fox in that she is cool.) She credits Muse with inspiring the entire saga. Muse is an incredible band, whom you should listen to. The great songs "Invincible" and "Knights of Cydonia" are my favorites, as well as "Starlight" and most---but not all---the others on their debut album are well worth the investment.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Only Losers Play Clean

Warning: Spurs post.

By now, you probably know that one of the greatest defenders of the last decade, Bruce Bowen, has retired. Nobody questions his on-court skills, so instead, they'll sling ad hominem attacks. They'll call him dirty. They say he kicked players (e.g., Ray Allen and Chris Paul), kneed other players in the groin (e.g., Steve Nash), and that he stepped in too close while defending, tripping up guys coming down from a jumpshot. My personal favorite is the jumpkick.

Watching that video, I count six allegedly dirty plays, one of which isn't nearly as clear cut as Bruce's notoriety suggests. (Watch the replay. Definitely not as clear as Rajon Rondo's facemask of Brad Miller.) But here's the deal: Bruce played over 24,000 minutes in 873 games, averaging 27.6 minutes per game over his career. During his tenure as San Antonio's starting small forward, he averaged 31.2 minutes per game. He played all 82 games six times, including 500 in a row from February 28, 2002, until March 14, 2008. He missed one game for a suspension, then played the next 107 games. It's hard to play that long, that much, that intensely without stepping on a few toes, literally and figuratively.

Some call Kobe Bryant dirty. Others call Saint Timothy a stealthy brawler and accuse Tony Parker of flopping. But think about who's calling whom dirty. David Thiessen of might put it best:
Bowen and Kobe probably had as many high profile match ups as any two players over the last decade, yet we have never heard Kobe accuse Bowen of being a dirty player.
You see, there are the elite, who have consistently dominated over the past ten years, and the also-rans, who never quite had enough gas. Maybe the also-rans accuse the elite of playing dirty so they don't have to admit they don't have what it takes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Martyr Complex

Today, my LARC, moot court, and Practice Court partner accused me of being too easy on criminals. I told him he was too loosey goosey with the United States Constitution. Then he said, "You know, I don't have a passion for criminal defense like you, but I wouldn't mind doing a few cases now and then." I never thought of myself as having a passion for criminal defense, but I do get my hackles up when I read journalism like this:

At trial, public defender Sean Coleman tried to get his client off by asking jurors "what kind of moron robs one restaurant [more than once] within a little more than (a week)? It makes no sense."

Thus saith Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun in a recent article. You see, Sean Coleman wasn't fighting the good fight, standing up for human dignity, the Constitution, and all things American; he was just trying to get his client off. Didn't he learn in law school that the Sixth Amendment really only guarantees a suit beside you at the table? It doesn't say anything about zealous representation or forcing the State to prove its case. If what's good for the goose is good for the gander, let's take away the First Amendment. "Sure, you can print whatever you want, but we might throw you in jail if you print the wrong thing." I guaran-damn-tee you that Sean Coleman would zealously try to get Justin Fenton off in that case.

Then there's this by Slate's Tom Vanderbilt:

[A] recent Supreme Court ruling against "warrantless searches" may limit the number of cases in which such evidence is found[.]

Mr. Vanderbilt is talking about Arizona v. Gant, in which the Supreme Court reminded everybody that the Constitution trumps social policy. (Fo rilz. See Article VI.) Everybody can see Mr. Vanderbilt raise his fingers in air quotes like the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, rather than being inviolate, is merely a legal fiction used by the McVeighs, Bundys, Berkowitzes, and Attas of the world to run amok. Let's not forget that you and I are part of "the people." No air quotes.

Sigh. It's the friggin Constitution. There are no air quotes in the Constitution.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Zero to Sixty in 12.2

Here's what might have been:

At the intersection of Northern Parkway and York Avenue, I pulled up beside a Porsche Carrera. I confess---I coveted. His windows were down; my windows were down. I turned off the radio and leaned out my window. "Hey, man. I'll tradja." He looked at my freakishly amazing 1998 Plymouth Breeze Expresso, and that was all it took. He stepped out in traffic and walked over. He looked in my window like he was asking, "Are you serious?" We exchanged keys, and I got up to sixty miles per hour in less than four seconds.

Here's what was:

At the intersection of Northern Parkway and York Avenue, I pulled up beside a Porsche Carrera. I confess---I coveted. His windows were down; my windows were down. I turned up the radio and dreamed about driving a Porsche Carrera.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ego Te Provoco

I'm not sure what to think about this, from an article in Newsweek:
In a paper last month in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul finds that countries with the lowest rates of social dysfunction—based on 25 measures, including rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, unemployment, and poverty—have become the most secular. Those with the most dysfunction, such as Portugal and the U.S., are the most religious, as measured by self-professed belief, church attendance, habits of prayer, and the like.
Begley's article and Paul's paper are more about whether religion is hard-wired, genetic, and instinctive, but they raise an important issue for people like me, who grew up singing "Jesus is the answer for the world today." The question, I think, is one of cause and effect. Specifically, which is the cause, the functionality or the secularism, and which is the effect? Maybe more importantly, what is the causal relationship between religion and a dysfunctional society?

And, because I like Latin, let's not forget that great logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Tonight, we watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Let me begin by saying that the concept is interesting, the actors were great, and some of the shots were incredible. There are a few images from the movie that will haunt me.

But the writing was terrible. The locket thing tried so hard to work, but it didn't. I never thought it was a sign from God; I thought she was kinda strange to pick it up and put it on. And so much of the dialogue felt scripted. The actors said their lines with gusto, but you just can't say a bad line well enough. I thought about Michael Scott during Erin Bruner's (Laura Linney) closing argument when she asks the jury, "Are we all alone? Or are we not alone?" I would say "great concept, terrible execution," but it had both a great concept and great execution by the actors, etc. Something messed up between the concept and the execution.

The worst part of the writing was the egregious inaccuracy of the details of the trial. If you want to make a movie with a trial as the backdrop against which everything takes place, please consult a trial lawyer about how things work. You can keep those details straight without sacrificing too much drama. One example will show you exactly what I'm talking about.

Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is on the stand. He has just been cross-examined, rather effectively, by prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott). Bruner stands for re-direct examination and pulls out a tape that we know is a recording of the attempted exorcism of Emily Rose. Thomas jumps to his feet and objects strenuously. He tells the judge that the prosecution had only received a copy of the tape the night before. Bruner brilliantly parries his thrust by stating that she had only gotten a copy of the tape the night before as well and provided the prosecution with a copy as quickly as practicable. Names are called, accusations are made, and, eventually, Thomas embarrassingly loses the objection fight. He sits down humiliated.

But if Mr. Thomas had gone to law school, he would have known that the scope of re-direct examination is generally limited to the scope of the immediately preceding cross-examination. If he had known that, he would have stood and simply said, "Objection---beyond the scope of cross." The judge probably would have sustained the scope objection, the tape would not be in evidence, and Mr. Thomas would have accomplished his goal without embarrassing himself. (Of course, a good trial lawyer could beat that objection, but it's much stronger than his crybaby one. Especially because the judge could properly sustain the scope objection, but couldn't properly sustain the unfair surprise objection.) But apparently, Mr. Thomas did not go to law school, or else he went to one that didn't teach the rules of evidence.

They say in the Federal Republic of Germany that the devil is in the details. There was so much to like about this movie, and I can swallow a lot of inaccuracies in the name of story. But some brilliant science fiction writer once said that, if you tell the truth about the little things---the details---then your audience will believe even the biggest lies you throw their way. The writers ignored so many trees, that I could hardly focus on the forest.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ordinarily, Hyde Carried a Rabid Dog This Way

A friend of mine recently asked me to name five books that changed the way I view the world. I'm curious what other people think, so I'll share my five here. Please share your five in the comments.

1. Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: This is the first book I enjoyed trying to figure out. Some of the images from that book still haunt me, and I love it.

2. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried: I read all the fine print on the copyright page three times, trying to figure out if this was fiction or nonfiction. O'Brien's brilliance made me realize the distinction between truth and Truth. I like to say he taught me how to read.

3. Scott Turow's Ordinary Heroes: The impact of this book on my life can be summarized by this question, asked of the protagonist: "Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?"

4. Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: I first read this in eighth grade, but only a flicker of it stuck with me. When I read it again last year, the Truth of the story rang deep within me. This is one of the subtlest, most terrifying horror stories ever written. And one of the Truest.

5. Stephen King's Cujo: This novel has some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. The takeaway point is this: true beauty can hide anywhere, even in the ugliest thing imaginable, like a story about a possibly demon-possessed rabid dog written by a guy too high to remember writing any of it.

So those are my five. What are yours?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Vexillology for Dummies

Since I've come to Maryland, I've come to appreciate the beauty of the Maryland flag:

You'll note the distinctive coloring. No other state features black so prominently, and only three other states use yellow. The first I remembered from a ski trip to Santa Fe in high school:

The second I recognized because it just says "Arizona":

But the third yellow flag I don't recall ever having seen before taking the bar:

Two points if you guessed you were looking at the Great Seal of the State of New Jersey on a buff field. I struck up an interesting conversation with a security guard at the Baltimore Convention Center trying to guess which state was cool enough to use a buff field. We actually used that word, too: "buff." Thankfully, he remembered that, during the American Revolution, George Washington ordered the uniforms of the New Jersey Continental Guard to be dark blue with buff facings. And then it was all clear.

But, of course, nothing compares to the Texians' flag at the Battle of Gonzales, where they dared the Mexican Regulars to take back the lone cannon defending the Mexican Constitution of 1824:

Unbiased historians on the payroll of the State of Texas tell us the Texians fired one cannon shot, and the Mexican Regulars went running back to San Antonio.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

My Pebble

My junior year in college, I lived in an old duplex. One night, I walked into the kitchen and noticed a metal plate on the wall, painted the same yellow as the rest of the wall. I had never seen the plate before, so I was curious. I took out three of the screws and let the plate swing down. I looked into the gaping black hole in my wall, wondering why there wasn't any insulation. Suddenly, the most awful, cacophonous, Dantean screaming cackle exploded from the gaping black hole. It cut off as suddenly as it exploded, and an eerie, husky chuckle bubbled up from just below the hole. I squinted at the gaping black hole, willing my pupils to open wider. At the bottom edge of the gaping black hole, an even blacker shape floated up. I leaned closer. I stared. I blinked. And when my eyes opened, I was looking at the popcorn ceiling of my bedroom.

Was it a dream? Or was it a doorway to Hell expertly hidden in the middle of the night like in some Orwellian fantasy?

The evidence of my roommate, his fiancee, and my fiancee all supported the dream theory. They had never seen a yellow plate or heard any scary laughter. My own examination of the kitchen also supported the dream theory. But my eyes and my ears refused to believe they could be misled. If you can't trust your own eyes and ears, what can you trust?

I teetered at the peak of two slippery slopes. On my right hand, if I believe my eyes and ears, then I open myself up to a scary, scary world where devils hide in the walls and nobody knows it.

On my left hand, if I believe the other witnesses, I admit the fallibility of my senses. And if I didn't really hear that cacophonous cackle, how could I be sure I had heard them right? Worse---how could I be sure that the same devil who took the yellow plate away didn't make my friends lie in an effort to keep us all from knowing the truth?

And that, my friends, is where we all stand. When we're not teetering on the edge of insanity, we wander through a miasma of uncertainty, tripping on rocks hidden in the fog of misperception and lies. Sometimes, we pick up a pebble. We stare at it, contemplate it, dissect it, and digest it. Then, we hold up the pebble for all our friends and proclaim, "This! This, my friends, is truth!"

Maybe it is. But it's only one pebble: 2 or 3 grams of matter on a planet with 5,974,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 other grams of matter.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Other Side

Today, I finished the Maryland Bar Examination. Tomorrow, I begin counting down to November 6, the target date for the release of the results. But I would rather talk about the O-mazing beisbol game I went to tonight.

The Kansas City Royals were aiming for their third straight win in Baltimore, and, for six innings, that seemed likely. Zach Greinke held the Orioles to three hits after giving up a two-run homer to Adam Jones in the first. He struck out seven and walked only one. The Royals offense did its job, too. Alberto Callaspo and Miguel Olivo hit solo homeruns in the top of the second off the Orioles' Chris Tillman to tie it at 2, and Mike Jacobs hit his fourteenth homerun in the top of the fourth to give Greinke his lead, 3-2. He started praying for rain.

Tillman started the fifth by walking Mitch Maier, then got his only groundout of the night when Yuniesky Betancourt grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. A single each for David DeJesus and Willie Bloomquist, and Tillman's debut was over. Matt Albers threw one pitch, and Billy Butler's groundout ended the Royals fifth.

Greinke, meanwhile, kept the Orioles quiet for two more innings, but he couldn't last forever. After just six innings, he had already thrown 116 pitches. Robinson Tejeda came in with the Royals ahead, 3-2, threw eleven pitches (walking Cesar Izturis and Brian Roberts), and went right back out. John Bale ran in to stop the madness, but Adam Jones knocked a double to centerfield and Izturis huffed and puffed all the way from second to tie the game at 3. Then, Nick Markakis singled to right, and Roberts and Jones scored. Greinke's lead went the way of the Kansas City Athletics. The Royals were down 5-3 after seven.

The O's added two more insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. Jim Johnson pitched the eighth and the ninth innings for the Orioles giving up only one hit while striking out four. And the Orioles won their forty-third game of the season, 7-3.

Now they're only 18 1/2 games back in the AL East and 15 games back in the Wild Card.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Testing is my aeroplane

I'm so awesome, that I'm halfway done with my bar exam, while most of my friends are only one third. Today, I wrote eleven essays on various and sundry (hahaha---legal redundancy wins out again!) legal topics, such as torts, criminal law and procedure, civil procedure, contracts, real property, professional responsibility, and the damnèd U.C.C. I was a little surprised that I wasn't asked a blatant constitutional law question. Not disappointed or relieved; just surprised.

Tonight, my plans are (1) not studying, (2) blogging, (3) reading another chapter each in Watchmen and Les Miserables, and (4) eating a banana.

Tomorrow, I plan on answering 200 multiple choice questions about contracts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, real property, and torts. Please lend me any no. 2 pencils you have.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tyler Durden would read Twilight

The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men, as if being a man means looking the way a sculptor or an art director says. [Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club]
Last night, I borrowed the second and third books in the Twilight series. A guy I know saw the two black-covered books in my hands and looked at me askance, as if questioning my machismo. But that's alright. People have questioned my machismo before. Heck, I've questioned my machismo before. It's part of what makes me a man.

And if that doesn't work for you, maybe my reading Alan Moore's Watchmen will. Nothing says being a man like reading a big comic book.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Black---the night that ends at last!

I'm torn. Part of me wants to be all smart and well-read, so I wade through books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, and Charles Dickens. But the other part of me just enjoys a good story, so I also inhale books by Michael Crichton, Ian Fleming, and John Grisham. In the past year, I've even made forays into the likes of Nicholas Sparks and Agatha Christie. (Please note, however, that I have yet to contribute to the Harlequin Empire. I'm not ruling anything out, I just haven't gone there yet.) Meanwhile, I've been wading through Les Misérables for nearly three months. After reading 1,169 pages as of last night, only 294 remain.

But Kurosawa gets me. He knows what I'm up to:
[T]he best scripts have very few explanatory passages. Adding explanation to the descriptive passages of a screenplay is the most dangerous trap you can fall into. It’s easy to explain the psychological state of a character at a particular moment, but it’s very difficult to describe it through the delicate nuances of action and dialogue. Yet it is not impossible. A great deal about this can be learned from the study of the great plays, and I believe the “hard-boiled” detective novels can also be very instructive.
Yes! I can read a novel for its interesting story, and still play the artsy fartsy card!! Kurosawa said so!

I'll catch y'all later. I'm gonna go catch the Orient Express.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Don't articulate---Exclamate!!

To the growing chronicle of why Maryland law is better than Texas law, I add this. Texas Rule of Evidence 103(a)(1) mirrors the federal rule:
Error may not be predicated upon a ruling which admits . . . evidence unless a substantial right of the party is affected, and . . . a timely objection or motion to strike appears of record, stating the specific ground of objection, if the specific ground was not apparent from the context[.]
For my non-law friends, this is referred to as the "specific objection rule." At trial, you can't just yell out "Objection!!" and expect the judge to hammer her gavel and affirm your just rage with a clear and condemning "Sustained!!" She won't. Not in Texas, at least. Instead, you have to articulate, saying something like "Objection---hearsay," or "Objection---the defendant's sexual history is irrelevant to whether he ran the red light." As you can see, exclamation points get drowned in the articulation.

But in the Old Line State, shaped like a gun with a law as simple and effective, there is no specific objection rule. Read for yourself:
Error may not be predicated upon a ruling that admits . . . evidence unless the party is prejudiced by the ruling, and . . . a timely objection or motion to strike appears of record, stating the specific ground of objection, if the specific ground was requested by the court or required by the rule[.] (emphasis added)
Maryland Rule 5-103(a)(1). That, my friends, is colloquially referred to as the "Maryland!! beats Texas. rule." In a Maryland court of law, see, you can vent your frustration with that lone beautiful word: "Objection!!" See? When you don't have to articulate, you can exclamate. And that's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Twilight: 3/5

I opened Twilight with very low expectations. A friend of mine warned me how terrible it is, but I decided to keep an open mind. It turns out that "twihards" can be more annoying than the book, as her post ably demonstrates.

I enjoyed the story. It was clever in ways, but nothing remarkable or groundbreaking. Meyer did her research, which I appreciated. She asks the reader to suspend disbelief in a major way but cleverly lets you trust her with the minor things.

The writing itself is either brilliant or savvy. She could be brilliant in the way that Ken Kesey or J.D. Salinger were brilliant: narrating in character. I've never been a melodramatic 17-year-old girl in the throes of teenage romance, but I knew a few. The character was pretty believable in that respect. Maybe not literary or original or whatever, but believable. On the other hand, Meyer could be a savvy writer, writing a story that takes advantage of her limited talent or skill. If Meyer's skill is equivalent to a high school junior's, then more power to her for finding an outlet that lets her make a ton of money taking advantage of it.

Would I recommend it? Let me answer with an illustration. I've often asked my parents if they remember this or that pop culture icon from their young adulthood. They frequently told me they were too cool for this or that. (M*A*S*H and The Twilight Zone are the only exceptions.) So if you want to tell your kids you were there when Edward kissed Bella the first time, read it. If you're too cool for that, don't.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Holy Grail

After nearly two months sans comida mexicana, I've eaten three Latino dishes in the last five days. Saturday was El Salto, Sunday was Holy Frijoles, and tonight was Los Amigos Dos. I never knew how much I took good Mexican food for granted down in Tejas. Up here in Maryland, Catholics abound, but they're all Irish or something.

El Salto reminded me of those local Italian places you find in Texas. Ethnics running the scenes, serving Americanized dishes, and thickening their accents for atmosphere. My chimichanga was delicious, but The Missus wasn't as impressed as I. She thought their salsa was too mild.

Holy Frijoles was a very gringo attempt that fell flat. I should have seen that coming. Clearly, "frijoles" is meant to be a slant rhyme with "holy." It takes more than a cast iron skillet and some tortillas and frijoles to make a good Mexican restaurant. The Missus thinks they get their chili sauce from a box.

Tonight was Los Amigos Dos. I was thrown off by the wrong order of the adjectives. I feared another gringo attempt. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when the lady who took our order wrote down "pollo" and spoke with an accent. We were on the right track. But something was a little off. My quesadillas weren't quite fried enough, so I had to eat them with a fork and knife. And instead of Mexican rice, I was served plain white rice. The Missus liked what she had, but she wouldn't call it "Mexican" either. I think they're Peruvian or Argentinian. Something South American, judging from the decor.

So the quest continues. We're exploring Eastern Avenue later this week, particularly looking for a good hole in the wall. We found some good Mexican-Salvadorean places last summer in D.C., but we'd rather not have to trek thirty miles southwest everytime we get a hankerin for tortillas.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Staying Power = 400 posts

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby had a first printing of about 20,000 copies. Five months later, the publishers printed a second run of 3,000 copies. When Fitzgerald died, the publishers were still trying to sell that second run, including seven copies that sold in the first half of 1940. But now, several generations later, it is universally recognized as a masterpiece, as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

Contrast that with two recent, popular works of fiction. The four books of the Twilight series were the four bestselling books of 2008, according to USA Today. And the sixth Harry Potter had an original print run of 10.8 million copies, two thirds of which sold within 24 hours, according to Wikipedia. Now, I love Harry Potter, and somebody lent The Missus a copy of Twilight, so I'll give it a chance, but it just makes me wonder: what books will high school juniors be reading in 2084?

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Today, I went downtown, near the harbor, for an interview of sorts. I took the light rail down to Camden Yards, then walked about half a mile east on Pratt. Afterward, I walked back listening to Queen and enjoying the beautiful weather and the harbor on my left and the tall buildings on my right. I thought "Man, I love Baltimore."

You say, "Yo, J-Cheez, wassup witcho thinkin?" To which, I gladly point to an article from the Baltimore Sun:
This tagline about bringing [Miami, D.C., New York, L.A., etc.] to Baltimore almost guarantees failure [of a new restaurant]. I'm not saying the line is bad luck. It's not. But the line means the owners have a mindset that, most times, just doesn't jive here.
That's what I love about this place. "We're Baltimore, and we like it. You don't have to be from here to fit in. If you like it, we like you." It reminds me of a country song:
Everybody knows everybody
Everybody calls you "friend."
You don't need an invitation.
Kick off your shoes, come on in.
Yeah we know how to work and we know how to play,
We're from [Baltimore] and we like it that way.

Yeah, so just ignore the crime rate.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Good Bad Guys

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my best friend's back porch after dark, feeling the warm summer breeze, listening to dogs bark somewhere, and talking about how best to cross the thirty feet between his house and mine without being captured by vampires. That friend had a knack for telling you stories with the kind of dead eyes that made you wonder whether the world wasn't really like he said. He taught me that a great villain beats a great hero any day. Maybe he's why I'm fascinated by villains, and why I prefer my heroes (spoiler alert with that one) with a little bit of darkness to them. And maybe that's why I love The Wire.

That show is chock full of fascinating, deep, thrilling, terrifying villains who just might be good guys, and good guys who just might be bad guys. Well, we're pretty clear about two of my favorites: Chris Partlow ("Part---like what white people put in their hair. And low---like not high.") and his equal partner Snoop. Those two make Norman Bates, Mrs. Danvers, and Nowonmai (some of my personal favorites) look like children's bad dreams. On the episode I watched tonight, this kid tells Chris and Snoop he wants somebody out of his house. They make it happen by beating the guy to death (with bare hands) and leaving him on the street. All the commentary we get out of the other is "Damn, you didn't even get him in the house first." Then she shrugs and walks off.

Kinda reminds me of Anton Chigurh in a people-I-don't-want-to-make-mad kinda way.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fireworks in Baltimore

For the second year in a row, I celebrated the Fourth of July in our nation's capital region. As I watched the fireworks explode, I thought about the scene in Baltimore on July 4, 1776. I don't have any idea what was going on here back then, but I have some idea what was going about 100 miles east of here. Fifty or so crazy guys, mostly lawyers, got together and voted in favor of one of the most important documents in modern history.

When you start to grasp what independence really meant back then, you start to see how stinkin crazy our political ancestors were. Imagine if Guam declared independence. Imagine if we said no. Imagine if we had to fight about it, and we sent our best troops, and they still kicked us out of town. I think that's kinda what American independence from Great Britain was like.

And two hundred thirty years later, we're still standing. We've got our problems, just like anybody else, but we have a system that tries to fix those problems. Maybe we don't always agree with those in power, but the beauty of America is that you don't die for it.

So you know. I'm just sayin. Go America.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Guacamole Salad

The world of sports has some great stories off the field/court/ice if you're willing to look for them. I was reading up on Spurs history yesterday, when I stumbled on this interesting bit.

Larry Brown, the only guy in the world who's been practicing longer than my Con Law prof, coached the Denver Nuggets for five years in the 1970s. The 1970s Nuggets were a pretty dominant team, but the Spurs had that special something. We broke their winning streaks, physically fought them, graffittied their locker rooms, pantsed them when necessary, and generally had a good ol' fashioned rivalry with the mile-high ballas. The rivalry got so intense that Coach Brown is quoted by as saying:
I don't like anything about San Antonio, their coaching staff, their franchise or their city. The only thing I like about San Antonio is guacamole salad.
The good citizens of San Antonio responded by dumping avocados, guacamole salad, and beer on Coach Brown and his Nuggets the next time they came to town.

Ten years later, Coach Brown took over the reins of the Spurs. He spent three and a half years there, winning 153 and losing 131. Not bad. But not good enough: we fired him halfway through the 1991-92 season, after "just" a 21-17 start. Pretty unforgiving if you ask me.

Then we stuck it to him again in 2005. Larry Brown's Pistons finished the year on top of the Central Division, then clawed their way past the 76ers, Pacers, and Heat to face the Men in Black in the NBA Finals. The Finals began on the streets outside the Alamo, where the Spurs pounded the Pistons in the first two games. Everybody flew up to the Motor City, and the Pistons tied up the series before losing game five, 96-95 in overtime. Back in San Antonio for game six: the Spurs were seiged like the 1836 Texicans, and the Pistons won their fifth consecutive elimination game. But in Game Seven, Timmy gummed up the Pistons with his own version of fundamental guacamole salad. The Spurs hung their third banner in the rafters, and Larry Brown got fired.

I don't know if Larry Brown still hates the Spurs, but I think it's awesome that he might.