Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Listen for the Fat Lady

Yogi Berra, my dad's favorite baseball player, is credited with saying "It ain't over till the fat lady sings." That's my view on sports and why football frustrates me. I'm there till the buzzer sounds or the horsehide smacks leather for the final out. Come rain or come shine, blow out or nail-biter, I'm there till the end. The Missus hates it. But every once in a while, I get vindicated.

She admits I got vindicated at a game we went to last July.

And I got vindicated last night. Down 10-1 going into the bottom of the seventh, the Orioles kept plugging away, small-ball style. Five in the seventh, five in the eighth (only three by homer), and the Orioles pulled off the biggest comeback in franchise history, winning 11-10. Of interest to trivia hounds like me, the previous team record also came against the Pinko Bostons way back on September 2, 1956, when they overcame an 8-0 deficit after two innings to win 11-10.

That is part of why I love baseball. It doesn't matter what the score is, you've got time to make it up. Even if you're down 30-3.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wash Your Hands Less

For your edification:
Has it ever occurred to you how astonishing the culture of Western society really is? Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Average life spans increased fifty percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can't even see--germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful, and depressed.

Michael Crichton, State of Fear (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 455.

Thank you, Dr. Crichton, for everything you gave us.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tales in Avacado

As I inch closer to 400 posts and 16,000 visitors, I feel the desire to take stock in my life. Not because I think I have any good insight for you, my faithful and haphazard readers, but because I like taking stock. Maybe we can add your experience to my experience, and together we can solve all the problems of the world.

Our lives are full of significant dates. I was thinking about mine. In no particular order, these are ones that seem significant to me:
  • April 2, 2001: the day I ran into The Missus during a fire drill and decided to make her The Missus
  • May 21, 2004: the day I made The Missus The Missus
  • March 2, 1993: the day she (not The Missus) waved me across and then ran me over
  • August 12, 1994: the day John Kruk said $13,000 a game wasn't enough
I posted about August 12, 1994, two and a half years ago, so I'll try not to be redundant. Succinctly, baseball---who had me from Jesse Barfield and the 1989 Blue Jays---slapped me in the face. I beat my bullies by avoiding them, so that fall (sixth grade), I discovered comic books and really picked up a pencil for the first time. By the end of eighth grade, I knew drawing wasn't in my future, so that summer I picked up a guitar. By my junior year in high school, I knew being a rock star wasn't in my future, so I picked up a law book. (Not really. I just phrased it that way for the sake of parallelism.) I still haven't given up on that dream, but in May of 2003, I picked up Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and really read a book for the first time. I decided I wanted to make a living telling stories. In truth, if you want to tell stories, you become a trial lawyer. It's the easiest way.

So now here I am. No ball skilz, some word skilz, mad trial skilz, and John Grisham dreams. There's only one Grisham, but maybe one day you'll see my name in raised letters on a trade paperback in Barnes & Noble. Here's hoping.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Maryland is the new Louisiana

Maryland is a disturbingly (awesomely?) common law state. You remember those crazy concepts we learned in first year where Prof. ____ said "But don't worry about it. It's a common law concept, and nobody really follows it anymore." S/he forgot to add the words "except Maryland."

  • contributory negligence and assumption of the risk as absolute bars to recovery are alive and well in the Old Line State
  • the Model Penal Code and it's four mental states are frowned upon in favor of the classic triumvirate of specific intent, malice, and general intent
  • Daubert and its progeny are laughed at in favor of the classic "general acceptance" test
  • judges wear powdered wigs and lawyers wear formal attire in court and trill their R's
I love it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Insightful Lawyer Joke

So three guys---a mathematician, a philosopher, and a lawyer---are in Hell when their numbers get called for furlough. They show up at the furlough board's reception desk and are told that they will be granted furlough if they can answer one easy question. The mathematician offers to go first and goes into the board's conference room. He takes a seat, and the board chair asks him, "What is 2 + 2?"

"Well," said the mathematician, "if you're confining your question to the realm of whole numbers, the answer is 4."

"Very good," replied the chairman. "Please send in the philosopher."

The philosopher sits down, and the chairman asks him the same question: "What is 2 + 2?"

"Ah yes," said the philosopher, leaning back and scratching his chin. "Assuming an objective reality exists, then 2 + 2 ought to be 4."

"Very good," replied the chairman. "Please send in the lawyer."

Like the others, the lawyer walks in to the room and takes a seat. The chairman asks the lawyer the very same question: "Counselor, what is 2 + 2?"

The lawyer looks at the chairman, then at the other members of the board. He leans forward conspiratorially. "That depends," he says, raising an eyebrow. "What do you want it to be?"

* * *

Some say the hallmark of good lawyering is the ability to argue any side to any issue. Maybe in developing that skill, we lose touch with objective reality.

That is assuming, of course, that there is one. Without any clients, I'm just not sure.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Plumbers Without Borders

For those about to plumb: I salute you.

On the train this morning, I was reading Michael Crichton's State of Fear and gazing out the windows at Lake Roland and the beautiful woods around the light rail. I was thinking about how sometimes it's hard to remember why you're doing what you're doing. It's especially hard when you're doing something either boring or unglamorous. And as we passed over some nasty creek (river?), I thought about cholera.

Cholera kills you by giving a serious case of the solid runs. Well, not quite solid. Anyway, your bowels move so much, so frequently, and so intensely that you lethally dehydrate, sometimes within four hours. The disease essentially spreads through infected water. The cycle goes something like this. I get infected. I get seriously bad diarrhea. Somehow, my infected diarrhea gets in contact with your water supply. You drink some water (or eat food washed in water). You get infected. You get seriously bad diarrhea. Et cetera ad nauseum. As you can imagine, this can be a really bad problem in the developing world.

When a pandemic strikes, we usually look to doctors to fix the problem. And they do a great job, but somebody else does enormously important preventative work. Arguably the most effective way of preventing the spread of cholera is water purification. That involves both purifying the water supply and keeping the water supply pure. Who's best at making that happen? You got it. The members of our local United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters.

Thanks, UAll.* Keep keeping us safe from cholera and Montezuma's revenge.

*Haha, sorry. Couldn't resist.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Michael Crichton's Prey: 4/5

One of my favorite things about reading novels and watching movies is when a movie or book attacks me with some new idea I've never thought of. That's probably the main reason I enjoy reading Michael Crichton. Some people don't like his style or his somewhat formulaic approach, but I don't read his novels for either style or innovation. I read them because (a) when they're fun, they're really fun and (b) they have some very thought-provoking ideas hiding underneath them.

I just finished reading his 2002 novel Prey. The basic concept is that a defense contractor develops nanotechnology to use for reconnaissance. Through some interestingly developed techno talk, we learn that Xymos, the evil bad guy corp, breaks all kinds of labor laws---including my favorite and yours, the 13th Amendment---by employing bacteria on the assembly line. Well, as usually happens, the nanotechnology gets out of control, learns how to self-sustain, evolves, and then tries to take over the world.

What's new about that? Well, just this. Crichton talks a lot about swarm intelligence. Swarm intelligence is, basically, the notion that a few simple rules can be followed by very simple creatures to accomplish amazingly complex things. Which brings me to an interesting idea . . .
If you want to think of it that way, a human being is actually a giant swarm. Or more precisely, it's a swarm of swarms, because each organ---blood, liver, kidneys---is a separate swarm. What we refer to as a "body" is really the combination of all these organ swarms.
We think our bodies are solid, but that's only because we can't see what is going on at the cellular level. If you could enlarge the human body, blow it up to a vast size, you would see that it was literally nothing but a swirling mass of cells and atoms, clustered together into smaller swirls of cells and atoms.
Who cares? Well, it turns out a lot of processing occurs at the level of the organs. Human behavior is determined in many places. The control of our behavior is not located in our brains. It's all over our bodies.
So you could argue that "swarm intelligence" rules human beings, too. Balance is controlled by the cerebellar swarm, and rarely comes to consciousness. Other processing occurs in the spinal cord, the stomach, the intestine. A lot of vision takes place in the eyeballs, long before the brain is involved.
Stay with me now.
So there's an argument that the whole structure of consciousness, and the human sense of self-control and purposefulness, is a user illusion. We don't have conscious control over ourselves at all. We just think we do.
Just because human beings went around thinking of themselves as "I" didn't mean it was true.
Could this explain why psychology is a two-way mirror? It seems like we can always look at our friends and neighbors and pick out their problems (and solutions), but we can never figure our own out. Maybe that's because our consciousness is spread across our billions of cells, the vast majority of which are too busy digesting, oxygenating, or doing whatever to pay attention to the deeper questions of life.

I'm not saying I buy it. I'm just saying it's an interesting thing to think about.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Balmy Balmer

People skills.  Do you learn them?  Are they innate?  Maybe they're molded by the time you graduate high school or college?  Maybe a mixture?  Or maybe they're a fallacy and don't even really exist.  Maybe it's really just a question of whether we like someone or not when we say they don't have people skills.  Maybe that's really the only test.  Somebody couldn't have people skills if nobody likes them.

I don't know.  Just thoughts I'm thinking about on a balmy Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore (prounced here with or without a d: "baldimer" or "balmer").

Friday, June 05, 2009

Move Over J.D. Salinger

There's something about novels that seems to provoke crime sprees in individuals.  I heard once that the guy who shot Reagan and the guy who shot John Lennon both had gotten obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye.  I also read that Rage was found in the backpacks of several school shooters, prompting Stephen King/Richard Bachman to pull it out of print.  Now, we can add Agatha Christie to the fray.

No wonder my fifth grade English teacher looked at me askance when I did my book report on And Then There Were None . . . 

Monday, June 01, 2009

Slummin, Oscar-Style

I almost fear the reprisal this post may prompt, but I'm having trouble sleeping just now and think this might help. Tonight, the Missus and I watched the 2008 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionnaire. I haven't been so disappointed in a (allegedly) best picture since My Fair Lady. Good movie, sure. Great movie? I'm not so sure.

Think about other great movies. The Godfather tells us an old story about love and family within the Italian mob. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest forced us to ponder who the really crazy ones are and what we're doing about it. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind asked questions as old as the human race about the inevitability of life. What did Slumdog teach us?

That honesty is the best policy? Awesome. Ten Things I Hate About You, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and a hundred other non-classics tackle that same weighty issue.

But maybe my real beef with the movie is its troubling social darwinism. Which slumdog wins 20 million rupees and which slumdog died alone in a bathtub full of cash? And which slumdog has been begging for so long he can identify your alms by smell (since he can't see)? And what about all those other slumdogs whom Javed made homeless? Those unglorified stories, juxtaposed as they are with Jamal's, stink of Victorian theories on life and fairness, that the downtrodden are downtrodden for a reason.

No thanks. I'll take Yes Man and the questions it makes me ask myself over another movie telling me life really is fair.

Sent from my iPod