October 2005 Archives

Etiquette and Protocol


To the pushy fellow in the law school library computer lab around Noon today:

"Excuse me" is a request, not a command.  If someone, for instance, myself, is standing by the printer holding a set of printouts, leafing through them in search of his print job, it is never polite to walk up to him and grab the pages out of his hands to look for your print job.  Saying "excuse me" as you do this does absolutely no work towards making your actions acceptable.  The act of saying "excuse me" is not a universal absolution.  While you seem to have mastered the outward forms of human interaction, I'm sorry to say you still need some work to master its intricacies.  Keep at it, and perhaps some day you'll be fit for human society.


Molten Boron.



I am writing this while safely ensconced in my room, hiding from a party not of my own design. The door is locked to prevent intruders, and the lights are out to prevent their knowing of my presence. I would estimate that there are 40 people crammed into our relatively small apartment, and the inflow of new guests seems to be faster than the outflow of leaving guests. But my room is a paradise of free space, a private sanctuary from the ungodly crowd outside my portal. I'm not generally a social person in the best of circumstances, and a crowd of drunken strangers invading my apartment and wrecking up every inch of the common area is not the best of circumstances. I hear now my frat-boy roommate trying to organize something called a "Boat Race." All the more reason to stay in here, where it's dark and safe and (relatively)quiet.

I'm generally uncomfortable in gatherings where I don't know the majority of the people, and at this gathering I can safely say that I don't know anyone (my roommate included) well enough to be at ease with them. I'm also not much of a drinker, and especially not when I don't know the people I'm drinking with. So here I am. I might make an appearance later, when the dregs who don't know when it's time to leave are still hanging out. I can handle a smaller group. But I came back when the party was in full swing and it took me fifteen minutes to move the 20 feet from the entrance to my room; I can't handle that sort of crowd.

So here I am. Today I had a generalized sense of wanting to go do something, and no idea what I wanted to do. So I decided to get on the subway, make some random transfers, and see where I ended up. This plan changed, around the time I boarded the train, to a plan to go to Brooklyn and see what there was to see. I've heard good things about Williamsburg and DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and thought I'd check the two neighborhoods out. Then I found myself at the 4th Street/Washington Square Park station, transfering to the A-C line and realized that I'd much rather be there than in Brooklyn, so why bother? Brooklyn will have to wait.

I got back above-ground and immediately headed east, past NYU Law, past Broadway, to the East Village. I visited a video game store I visit a lot there (note I saw visit a lot; I don't actually buy a lot there. They have a great selection of used games and systems (including old computers like Commodore 64s and Acorns and such) but they charge through the nose for them, way more than you'd pay on eBay for the same things. So I never end up buying things there). Then I decided to make it my goal to walk to Alphabet City.

As you know, Bob, New York above Houston street uses a rational system of number streets and avenues. Streets run east-west, avenues run north-south. Streets start at 1st street just above Houston and continue into the 200s in the Bronx. Avenues start on the east side of the Manhattan with 1st Avenue and run upward as you go West. But there's a problem with this; 1st Avenue is the eastern-most avenue for most of Manhattan's length, but the island pooches out further eastward a bit north of Houston. What to name those avenues? Letters, it turns out. Going East past 1st Avenue you come to Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C, and then Avenue D. This area of the Village is known as Alphabet City.

Walking along 8th Street, I ran into Dumpling Man. I'd heard of them in the context of a bitter struggle between them and rival East Village dumpling place Plump Dumpling. So I decided to sample their wares. I had half a dozen very tasty seared vegetarian dumplings with Red Monster sauce for about $5. Unfortunatel, I hadn't eaten in a while, so I was still a tad peckish. I started wandering, initially with the idea of finding Plump Dumpling and comparing the two dumpling joints. But what should I find across the street but Crif Dogs, the East Village's famous hot dog place. I went in and had a Vegie Special (Veggie Dog with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and (in theory) onions. I ordered it without onions) and some tater tots. It was quite tasty, for a veggie dog. The decor was... interesting. There was a heavy sexual bent to the decoration. Innuendo based on hot dogs, condom machines on the wall, Crif Dog thong underpants for sale. Yet, as I sat there, at least three families brought their kids in to eat. I suppose the tastiness of the dogs outweighs the unsavory environment. Or maybe they're just open and honest about raunchy sexuality with their kids.

As I was leaving, I noticed a hand-made sign offering two kitties for adoption. I really wanted to take down the number. I love cats, and my apartment's actually big enough to accomodate them. Unfortunately, my lease says I can't have pets, and being caught with pets is an instant-eviction offense. That having been said, this building definitely has pets in it. Somebody owns an un-spayed kitty whose frustrated screams I hear occasionally in the afternoon, and somebody else keeps two huge huskies that they quite publically walk in and out of the building. I could probably get away with it. But then there's the other concern: For one, I'd have to take both cats, since the sign indicated that they couldn't be separated. I'm not comfortable taking on two cats at once, since I've never had a pet entirely of my own before. Further, I'm barely able to take care of myself, let alone another living thing. I'd really hate to forget to feed it for a few days (which is just the sort of absent-minded thing I'd do) and kill it, because then I'd never forgive myself.

So I passed up the kitties. I then started wandering toward Union Square to take the subway home, and ran into a movie theater. They were showing Wallace and Gromit, so I decided to go ahead and see that, since it came highly recommended. I loved it. It made me hungry, though; if it weren't for this party, I'd have braised some carrots or found something to do with the turnips and parsnips in my fridge.

And then I came home. So that was my day. Ta-da!

NOTE: This post was written around 12:30 this evening, but Typepad was down and I couldn't post it. As of now, the party has ended. The apartment is a disaster, and the whole place reaks of the sickly sweet scent of cheap booze. My room is the only sanctuary of cleanliness remaining. On the plus side, nobody seems to have taken any liberties with the toilet.

I was recently reminded of a pair of quotes from actual, published opinions in cases. I found them amusing.

The first comes from Judge Alex Kozinsky of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals's opinion in the case of Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc. This is the case from a few years back where Mattel sued MCA for trademark infringement over the Aqua song "Barbie Girl." Kozinsky concludes his opinion with Section VI, which I consider to be quintessentially Californian:

After Mattel filed suit, Mattel and MCA employees traded barbs in the press. When an MCA spokeswoman noted that each album included a disclaimer saying that Barbie Girl was a “social commentary [that was] not created or approved by the makers of the doll,” a Mattel representative responded by saying, “That’s unacceptable. . . . It’s akin to a bank robber handing a note of apology to a teller during a heist. [It n]either diminishes the severity of the crime, nor does it make it legal.” He later characterized the song as a “theft” of “another company’s property.”

MCA filed a counterclaim for defamation based on the Mattel representative’s use of the words “bank robber,” “heist,” “crime” and “theft.” But all of these are variants of the invective most often hurled at accused infringers, namely “piracy.” No one hearing this accusation understands intellectual property owners to be saying that infringers are nautical cuttthroats with eyepatches and peg legs who board galleons to plunder cargo. In context, all these terms are nonactionable “rhetorical hyperbole,” Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 863 (9th Cir. 1999). The parties are advised to chill.

My favorite footnote of all times comes from U.S. v. Murphy, in a decision by Judge Terence T. Evans.

On the evening of May 29, 2003, Hayden was smoking crack with three other folks at a trailer park home on Chain of Rocks Road in Granite City, Illinois. Murphy, Sr., who had sold drugs to Hayden several years earlier, showed up later that night. He was friendly at first, but he soon called Hayden a "snitch bitch hoe".1

1The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch "hoe." A "hoe," of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden's response. We have taken the liberty of changing "hoe" to "ho," a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps "You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies."


Typepad's a bit wonky about comments. A lot of times it'll sit and load for a long time after you hit Post. Just try hitting reload when this hapens and chances are you'll find your comment has been added to the post. Just to be safe, you should highlight the text of your post and hit Copy, so that if it doesn't show up you can Paste it back into the comment box and try posting again. If, while waiting, you hit Post a second time, there's a good chance you'll end up double-posting.

My policy on double-posts is that I'll go through and delete them right away when I see them. There's no need to point it out. I'll also delete any comments telling me "Hey! I double posted!" assuming there's no other content to the comment; that way the comment section doesn't end up with you saying "Hey! I double posted!" but there's no second post anymore because I deleted it. I'm just telling you this so that noone accuses me of censorship or anything. I'm just tending the garden.

Some dumb thing


See the shirt I'm wearing in this picture? I hate it. I wear it, but it is with a deep and abiding sense of loathing. I wear it because it looks good, it's comfortable, it fits well, and I'm reluctant to throw out any shirts, since they allow me to extend the time between laundry expeditions.

I hate it because of the stupid thing it says on it. I once loved it for its stupid thing, but that love turned to hatred very rapidly.

If you can't read it, it says "TEH" on it. If you type a lot outside of word processors that automatically correct spelling mistakes, you know TEH all too well. It's the word you accidentally type when you mean to say "The," and then you don't catch it until after you've sent your Instant Message and it makes you look like a doofus. I got this shirt at the San Diego Comic Convention. It was being sold by Jeph Jacques, creator/writer/illustrator/entire production process behind Questionable Content. He's a nice guy, and it's a fine comic strip. The "TEH" shirt was one of the first his male lead, Marten, wore. I bear him no ill will for the shirt.

The problem is that this shirt is a conversation magnet. A while ago Dianna mentioned wearing headphones to keep people from starting unwanted conversations with her. This shirt is the anti-headphones. People don't normally come up to talk to me. When I wear this shirt, though, strangers and quasi-strangers will just stop me and ask me to explain what my shirt "means." It means nothing! TEH doesn't stand for anything! I was already sick of being asked what "TEH" meant by the second time it happened and I got the sense of forboding that this would happen every time I wore this stupid shirt. And it has.

Now I have a pavlovian reaction to being asked about it. Even when people I know ask about it I get mad. I'll be having a conversation, smiling and jovial. Then the question, "So... What's with that on your shirt? What does TEH mean?" I'll suddenly get angry and snap at them, "It doesn't mean anything, okay? It's just some dumb thing!"

I should find a way to get the TEH off of this shirt. Or just wear it to events and locations filled with indie hipster-types who will just accept it as a generic piece of ironic clothing and pay it no mind.

Does anyone out there read Something Positive? Does anyone know who "Nancy," the girl who showed up in the most recent strip, is? Davan acts as though he knows her, and they have banter right out the gate, but I can't tell if this is one of Davan's friends who left Boston before the strip started or if this is just one of the many characters who have come and gone in the strip since the last time Milholland updated his character page. If she has appeared in prior strips, she probably had a different hair color. Any ideas?

UPDATE: Ah, found it. She was mentioned in this strip. For those curious, she's one of Aubrey's Nerdrotica phone sex girls. It's possible that she's made a physical appearance elsewhere in the strip, but she's only just mentioned in that strip. In any case, I think I can be forgiven for forgetting about her.

Mission Roll Call


Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly blog posts about homework. That's well and good. What I'm interested in is a tangent in the post:

As it happens, my parents didn't help me much with my homework when I was a kid, possibly on the "builds character" theory and possibly because it didn't occur to me to ask. In fact, I remember — as do all California children — having to build a model of a mission in fourth grade and receiving no help at all — none! — solely because I had left the job until the day before it was due. The result was predictable: a hodgepodge of margarine boxes wrapped in brown paper and set in a pattern vaguely resembling the grounds of Mission Santa Barbara. My brother, on the other hand, got help aplenty when he entered fourth grade, and as a result he turned in a magnificent styrofoam model of Mission Somethingorother, complete with miniature orange trees and a little blue reflecting pool. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

I made a mission in 4th Grade! And since Kevin's in his 40s, that means building missions has been part of the universal 4th Grade California curriculum for at least 30 years. Wow. With all the changes that have gone on in education in the last few decades, all the twiddles and tweaks and new textbooks and new teaching methodologies, it's astounding that, of all things, the 4th Grade Build-a-Mission project is sacrosanct. I like to imagine there's a hard-core vanguard of Missionistas in the California Department of Education who would die before they give up the Mission requirement. They'd rather have no education at all than an education that abandon something as bedrock, as wholesome, as quintessentially educational as the Build-a-Mission project to the godless new-age hippy-dippy types who think constructing a model of a mission out of toothpicks and styrofoam is a waste of time. New Math? Sure, but I'll be deep in the cold, cold ground before you take away the Mission Project!

I made Mission San Buena Vista, on account of I associated Buena Vista with Disney cartoons. And when I say "I made" I pretty much mean "My mom made." I imagine it would have been quite the horror to see what resulted if you gave me a bunch of styrofoam and glue.

So what mission did all you California Primary School graduates out there build?

Stupid polls

According to CNN, Gallup just released a poll showing that, if he were up for election this year, George W. Bush would get creamed by a Democratic opponent. My question is: What in the name of Pete is the point of this poll?

George W. Bush isn't up for reelection this year. George W. Bush is never going to be up for election for the office of the presidency ever again. This poll is pure wankery. And not only is it asking a question that has no need to be asked, it creates a false impression.

How? For one, the poll pits the President against a Generic Democrat. Not an actual Democrat, just A Democrat. The problem is that when people hear this question, they're pitting Real Life George W. Bush against Platonic Ideal Democrat. In a real election, the Democratic candidate won't perform nearly as well as the Platonic Ideal candidate (Just as Real Life Republicans don't perform as well as Platonic Ideal Republicans). Further, Generic Democrat would not be looking so good at the end of a big election campaign. There would be mud, there would be dirt, there would be gaffes, there would be the realities of a candidate's opinions and personality that cause some people to dislike him. For purposes of this poll, George W. Bush is at the disadvantage of being a real person living in the real world and in the public eye for the last 5 years, with all the baggage that entails. Generic Democrat, being a figment of the collective imagination, doesn't have that disadvantage, and can be as clean as you'd like to imagine him.

The other glaring problem with this is that in America we don't have on-the-spot surprise elections. You don't look up one night and see a ballot on the moon, and realize that the Election Signal has gone out, and you'd better get to the polls tomorrow. If there were an election today, it would be at the tail end of about a year of campaigning and two years of positioning. As it stands, it's a year after an election, and the President doesn't have to worry about his popularity with the American People at large any longer. He's not trying to gin up his numbers, and at this point he's not even trying to keep them from slacking. So, the President is unpopular to the point of losing an election at a time when he's not trying to be popular and isn't up for election. Whoopee.

Yet this poll creates the impression that, if there were an election held this year, the President would lose. Not neccessarily. If there were elections this year, the events of the last year would have occurred much differently, or there would have been a different spin on them, or whatever, and there's no way of telling where we would be now.

This poll asks a question that doesn't need to be asked, and does it in a way that's so fundamentally flawed that it can't give a genuine answer to the question. Yet Gallup has spent their money to produce this poll and present it to the public as though it is authoritative information.

It annoys me largely because it gives false hope and is easily misinterpreted. "Oh, if only we'd had a litle more time, W would have crashed on his own and it wouldn't have mattered how bad a candidate John Kerry was," "Oh, this proves that Democrats are doing fine; we can easily coast on everyone's hatred of George W. Bush, up through the next election in which, incidentally, George W. Bush will not be on the ballot." It's not that I mind hearing good news, and likely this poll DOES show that a majority of Americans are fed up with W (which, by the way, a lot of us told them they would be a year ago, but they chose to ignore us). It's that, between the exit polls and the incumbent rules and all the other bright shiny news that promised a glorious victory for the Democrats in October of last year, I've grown rather hostile to fallacious good news.

Good at video games means bad at life

And I'm very good at video games.

I got a Nintendo DS for my birthday and have been playing it in every spare moment I have (and many spare moments I don't have). At this point I have three games for it, Meteos, Wario Ware: Twisted, and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrows. You may be aware that developers have peculiar naming conventions with respect to games on Nintendo systems; half the games released for the Super Nintendo had the word "Super" before them, e.g. Super Buster Brothers, Super Star Wars, etc. This created confusion for poor Super C, the sequel to Contra, which was for the regular NES. Nintendo 64 games tended to have "64" at the end of the title, creating a strong link in the minds of many gamers between the number "64" and the concept of crap. Game Boy Advance titles have "Advance" in the titles (The name of the system is Game Boy Advance, which, since the "Advance" lacks a D at the end, makes the word a verb, not an adjective. So the name means "Game Boy Move Forward," as opposed to "Game Boy Not Primitive."). Nintendo DS games have the peculiar tendency to feature contorted subtitles that have the initials "DS." Hence: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrows and Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits. The most favored D word is "Dual," while the most favored S word is "Strike." Thus: Dig Dug: Digging Strike, Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers and Advance Wars: Dual Strike. If I were naming a DS game, I would use the subtitle "Dipthong Stratagem."

In any case, I've only opened one game thus far, Meteos. I opened it first because it seemed the least interesting of the games, and I like to work up from least-liked to most-liked in these things. Now I can't stop playing it. This surprises me, because it's a puzzle game. I have a mild affinity for non-frenetic puzzle games (Adventures of Lolo, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Klonoa: Empire of Dreams), but a general distaste for the falling blocks school of puzzle games, which seem to have taken over the puzzle genre on console systems. So Meteos surprised me; it's a falling blocks puzzle game that I actually really like, and it makes good use of the DS's unique architecture. I never really got into Tetris, so it's probably the only falling blocks game I've liked since Dr. Mario.

The play all takes place on the bottom touch screen. Blocks of various colors fall from the sky and you can select them with the stylus and shift them around vertically within a column (but not horizontally within a row). The controls work flawlessly, and I've never found myself grabbing the wrong block or having a block that I'm moving get finicky and not go where I want it. It's not something you usually actively notice, but poor controls really make themselves known when they're there, and you can see where the potential for poor controls in a touch screen game are pretty high. So you have blocks falling, and your goal is to arrange them into triplets by color, either horizontally or vertically. When you do this, the matched meteos turn gray and blast off, turning the whole set of meteos stacked on top of them into a sort of rocket. The problem is that they generally don't have enough power to break into orbit; the meteo rocket shoots up, and any meteos that clear the top of the screen are destroyed, but then it stops and slowly drifts back downward. You then have to create more matches within the rocket (or push another rocket into it from below) to give it an extra boost to get off the screen. And, obviously, when the meteos pile up over the top of the screen you lose.

Further, you pick a planet to play on before you start. There are something like 50 planets, and each one has its own unique mix of meteo colors, it's own unique meteos (they come in various designs, from simple blocks to little colored aliens to japanese characters), an entirely unique soundtrack (there are no duplicate sound effects between planets), and its own gravity. On some planets your rockets move upward slowly, then drift back down. On others, they fly straight to the top of the screen, bang the top layer on the atmsophere, then plunge downward. On some world vertical matches immediately clear a whole column, on other worlds they barely get a boost.

In any case, I've been playing this game too much; I just took a nap (I've gotten two hours of sleep in the last 36 hours) and dreamed of meteos. I see meteos when I close my eyes now. On the other hand, this could just be sleep deprivation.

So far I'm really excited about the DS; I haven't even really used the second screen much, or any of the controller buttons, or Pictochat, or the wireless capabilities, or the microphone. But the touch screen is very cool for video games. I imagine it'll allow somewhat deeper gameplay, since the stylus-on-touchscreen works almost like a mouse, but is somewhat more intuitive. I'm also unreasonable excited about Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. It's a lawyer simulation video game! What sold me on it is that, as part of the game, you cross-examine witnesses. When your opponent is examining witnesses, you have to object if he gets out of line. In order to do this, you must shout "OBJECTION!" into the DS's microphone. I can't wait to get that game and play it on the subway.


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I have a new favorite equivocal law review article title, discovered while doing Legal Research homework tonight: "Wisconsin's Recreational Use Statute: Towards Sharpening the Picture at the Edges." Note the careful use of "Towards." This is not an article that goes about sharpening edges willy-nilly. No, this is an article that merely moves us in a direction that is closer to sharpening the edges. The following is my imaginative reconstruction of the author's justification for his title:

"The purpose of this article is to move us in the direction of sharpening the edges of Wisconsin's Recreational Use Statute. It is by no means intended to serve as an actual sharpening of those edges; to do so would be a brazen act of jurisprudence. Rather, this article will move us toward a point at which we may, in the fullness of time, decide that it is perhaps wise, after due consideration, to sharpen the edges on the Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute. I make, however, no value judgments about any future decisions made by the academic community. I merely argue that a sharpening of the edges is something that it would perhaps be wise to consider and, if it is deemed to be of merit, pursued with all due deliberateness, though, of course, not in a manner either reckless or incautious.

Some may ask whether this is not too bold. Is it wise to just push us, to draw us, in a sharpening direction? Perhaps it would be most prudent to stay where we are, or move away from sharpening the edges. I urge them to read this article, consider its evidence, and hopefully be persuaded that, yes, a movement in the general direction of sharpening the edges is entirely justified. The evidence I have seen has made me a strong advocate of this position, and I believe such a movement would be both desirable and profitable.

This is not to say that I could not be persuaded otherwise. If I were to be presented with overwhelming evidence that it is not sagacious to move in the direction of sharpening the edges, if, indeed, it is shown that this paper is in error, I would not hesitate to author a mea culpa on the issue, perhaps entitled "Wisconsin's Recreational Use Statute: Moving Away from Sharpening the Edges Back to the Position We Were In With Respect to Sharpening Prior to My Last Paper, or Maybe Even a Few Steps Back, Just to Be Careful." I remain, as always, of an open mind."

Tell, don't show

Expanding a bit on my take on Reality Bites below, one of the things that really bugged me about the movie was the Ethan Hawke character. This is a character billed as a genius philosopher. At one point someone claims, hyperbolically, that he has a 180 IQ. But... he's not actually very smart. Or, rather, the deep thoughts with which he periodically graces us are quite lame. It's annoying because we are constantly told how smart he is, but are left underwhelmed when he displays his brilliance.

The movie compensates for this by making everyone else dumb. Or, rather, it sloppily makes everyone smart most of the time, except in designated "show how smart Ethan Hawke is" scenes, in which suddenly everyone except Ethan Hawke loses their perspicacity. An example: Winona Ryder applies for a job at a newspaper. She had previously been doing film work, but is now desperately seeking a new job after getting laid off. She is rejected at the newspaper for lacking print journalism experience. Ryder tries to convince the editor that she's really interested in newspapers and quite capable of handling the work. The editor skeptically asks her to define irony. Ryder flails and gives up. She meets Hawke at a coffee shop, asks him, while rolling her eyes, if he can define irony. He rattles off a dictionary definition. She is astounded by his brilliance.

High School sophomores can define irony. Ryder is the valedictorian of her college class, her entire leisure life revolves around the ironic enjoyment of pop culture, and we're to believe that she can't define it, and be impressed that Hawke can?

Another painful scene occurs when Ben Stiller gets into a fight with Ethan Hawke and suddenly becomes incapable of forming coherent thoughts. He's fine everywhere else in the movie, but becomes an idiot when he talks to Hawke. Perhaps he's intimidated by Hawke's staggering intellect? Or perhaps the writers felt the need to dumb him down in these scenes to illustrate that Hawke is smart, and Stiller is not. It's funny because Hawke's rejoinders don't even rise to the level of Monkey Island sword fight, yet Stiller is reduced to sputtering and swearing. Hawke may as well have said, "Ha ha! Now you see that the writers are on my side, and have given me all the good lines! You have no chance to survive!" Ben Stiller returns to his normal ability with words once the scene changes.

This hits on a general theme. For one, movies shouldn't oversell their characters. The problem wouldn't have arisen if everyone weren't talking up what a genius Hawke is. But if you absolutely must have a genius/an astounding artist/the greatest living composer/the Great American Author, never, ever try to show us what a genius he or she is. Unless you, the writer, are the Great American Author writing the Great American Screenplay, any prose you throw out to illustrate what a great author your character is will end up disappointing the audience's expectations (c.f. Finding Forrester). Don't show us the astounding artist's work if you can't actually get an astounding artist to produce it.

For the rest of the movie, I don't know. It felt very self-conscious of its Gen-Xness. That is, it seemed to be trying to speak for a generation, and those sorts of projects always end up feeling simplistic and forced.

Blegging the question


I recently had a question implanted in my brain, and perhaps somebody out there can help. I'm not too hopeful, but it's not the sort of question you can google. If you were watching television, in particular movie ads, in the early-to-mid 90s perhaps you can help.

Sometime in the range of 1993-96, there was an ad in circulation for a movie featuring, I believe, Gen-Xers dealing with, I don't know, romance and life and shit. It was some sort of comedy. In the trailer, there was a shot of a girl, perhaps scantily clad, lying on a bed, possibly with someone else in the bed next to her. She rolls over and falls off the bed. It's the falling off the bed thing that sticks in my mind, and that's the only thing I'm 100% sure was in the trailer. For the longest time, I was under the impression that this trailer was for Reality Bites. I just watched it for the first time last night and discovered that I had the wrong movie (Mini-review: Quite underwhelming and with a very fake feel to it. I can honestly say it was the longest-feeling movie I've seen in a while. I didn't check my watch, but I thought for sure as it was wrapping up that it had been significantly over two hours, close to two-and-a-half, and was shocked to learn it was only an hour and a half. This does not, generally, speak well of a movie). The bed-falling-off scene isn't in the movie and isn't in the trailer on the DVD (because sometimes they put scenes in trailers that don't make it into the movie).

So... Can anyone help? Some sort of comedy about romance (not neccessarily a romantic comedy, quite possibly a hipply ironic Gen-Xish take on romance) that either came out around the same time as Reality Bites (causing me to confuse the two at the time the trailers were out) or has a similar title to Reality Bites (Like, I don't know, "Love Sucks" or something). Ring any bells?

So what was the major project for my birthday? Other than getting food in Madison Square Park and picking up a game I wanted, I mostly spent today cleaning. Frankly, this was the most satisfying birthday I've had in a long, long time. I cleaned the bathroom, the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and, most significantly, my room. I also changed the lightbulbs I complained about earlier and swept the floors. All this, and not a word of thanks from my roommate, who nonetheless enjoyed both the light and the cleanliness when he had a gaggle of friends over to watch the World Series tonight! At last, I can shift modes into the put-upon roommate, rather than the mortified offender!

For those interested, I've posted a new gallery of photos I took of my now-clean apartment. I've been meaning to do this for a long time, but, until now, there was at least one room that was so filthy I was too embarrased to share it. Now, at last, everything is clean and tidy!

Turnstiles That Don't Quite Work


New Yorkers, as a general rule, are very busy. They get angry and impatient at having to stand in line (or on line). I saw an example of this today when I was downtown and witnessed a pile-up of cars. Somebody got on their horn and just leaned on it, one continuous blast for three minutes straight. He let up for about thirty seconds, then started in again. This lead to others around him doing the same thing, so it was a horrible minor chord of car horns, honking in long, sustained tones. This despite the fact that they were honking at a red light. No amount of honking was going to change that light, but damned if they weren't going to let the surrounding two blocks know that they were not at all happy about the fact that they weren't moving.

As such, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has installed turnstiles in all of its subways designed to accomodate this on-the-go lifestyle. Every turnstile in the city has a little card reader to the right in front of it. You position your Metrocard right-side-up, print side facing you, and slide it through the card reader (a small slot protruding from the top of the console, similar to credit card readers at stores) as you walk through. The upshot of this is that, if you get your metrocard out and position it as you're approaching the turnstile, you can slide it through and walk straight into the station without breaking your stride. There's almost never a time when you're sitting and waiting for someone to process. Full-speed all the way.

Unless, as happens maybe one time in twenty, the card doesn't read, requiring you to swipe it again. It makes a tone when this happens that is slightly longer than the "all clear" tone, but this doesn't matter. Because your goal is to go through as quickly as possible, so as not to anger the people behind you, by the time you notice the card didn't scan you have already reached the turnstile. And since you're used to just being able to walk straight through, you have probably reached the turnstile at full speed, and have already made contact with it, expecting it to yield. Since the card did not scan, the turnstile has no such intention.

It probably bears noting here that, at my height,five-foot-nine, the turnstile is at roughly crotch height.

Thus last night, when boarding the uptown 9 at 86th street, I had the unpleasant experience of whanging my crotch into an unyielding turnstile and coping with this pain while a crowd of exasperated New Yorkers threw up their hands and yelled at me for holding up the line. Can't you see the train's coming?!

It's no fifteen pound cat hanging from my leg, but there's my story of pain and suffering for the day.

Apropos the fellow who was in GameStop talking the counter clerk's ear off, I've noticed that New York has a large number of a peculiar breed of lonely person. Many lonely people (I can't use a more quantitative quantifier because I'm speculating without data) just keep their unsatisfied desire for meaningful human contact buried down deep in a tight little ball. Sometimes this all gets released when they start secretly killing strangers off the street, but I imagine most people just go through life feeling alienated and unsatisfied. To some degree, I find myself in this group.

On the other hand, some lonely people, and there seem to be a lot of them in New York, go out and grab their human contact come Hell or high water. Because they're not very good at the whole socializing thing (or else why would they be lonely?) there aren't many people who will willingly converse with them. To surmount this obstacle, they seek out people who have no choice but to stand there and listen to them, generally people in customer service. Hence, the socially maladapted fellow spouting about video games to the bored GameStop clerk. Or the woman at Morton Williams today who held up a massive line while she tried to find exact change (Despite having a twenty in her wallet that would have taken care of everything) and used the opportunity to chat with the annoyed check-out person.

One subset of this group that are particularly sad are the old people. I would imagine these are people who actually are, or were, good at socializing, grew accustomed to human contact throughout their lives, but who have now been discarded by their family and society, and seek conversation whereever they can find it. A few weeks ago I was mailing a package at the post office, and the line was held up for about 15 minutes by one old man. I was getting mad, but it changed to pity when I found out that his only transaction was buying stamps. He was taking so long because he had come into the post office to ask the counter attendant's advice on which stamps to buy (The American Authors series? Great African-Americans? Whatever the latest pop culture stamp? The bird-of-the-month?). It's really hard to get angry at a person who's so starved for human attention that he goes to the post office to start a conversation with a postal worker about stamps.

It's hard to get too mad at any of these people, really. Sure, they hold up lines and can be painful to listen to, but it's not really their fault that they're lonely, and at least they're trying to do something about it. Maybe I should start a public interest foundation of people who'll visit with lonely people.

Things I Overheard in GameStop Today

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Know-it-all Guy: "I heard they've got this game coming out, I forget what it's called, but they created a new perspective to view the game from. It's, like, got the best of a third person and the first person view. It's like a second-person perspective." (I believe a second-person perspective game would be a game seen from the perspective of the person you're shooting at)

The Same Know-it-all Guy: "You see, the Japanese get motion sick really easily."
Skeptical Counter Clerk: "Um... Really?"
Know-it-all: "Yeah, that's why they have to put all the motion-sick warnings in the video game manuals. Because of that Pokemon epilepsy thing a few years ago."
Counter Clerk Who Has By Now Been Listening To This Guy For 20 Minutes And Is Getting Impatient: "So, what're you interested in buying today?"
Know-it-all: "Oh, I don't have any money to buy anything. Just here to browse and chat."

Another fellow, upon seeing a poster advertising the soon-to-be-released (and, admittedly, very oddly titled) Magna Carta: Tears of Blood Role Playing Game: "Hey, man, look at this. They're making an encyclopedia video game!"

Fun pretention hint: If in conversation the Magna Carta should ever come up, be sure to refer to it as the "MAG-na CHART-ah." It'll let everyone know that you think you're smarter than them!

Two-Fisted Justice

I'm really torn over whether to see Doom: The Movie. On the one hand, I never really liked the game. On the other hand, I feel a powerful calling to support video games in movies (c.f. Penny Arcade, March 15, 2002 I would include a link to the comic, which is more to the point, but for some reason the comic appears to have been deleted. Curious). On the first hand, this movie does look like it has the potential to destroy the souls of all who watch it. Based on the previews, it appears that large chunks of the movie are shot from the first-person perspective, with the only thing you see of the actor the gun at the bottom of the screen, ala the game. I suppose when given such infertile ground for a film as Doom you have to come up with some gimmick or hook, but the effect it seemed to create, from the previews, was of sitting and watching someone else play Doom for 2 hours.

Still, though, I might end up seeing it. It seems a tragedy to watch something like Doom when there are genuinely good movies out, but I feel I have to support video games in film, even if the genre of Films based on Video Games has yet to produce a film that even rises to the level of mediocrity. I suppose the best I can hope for is that it's fun in a really bad way.

Nintendo World!

I went down to 34th Street today to get a New York Non-Driver's ID from the DMV there. No luck. They wouldn't accept my notorized copy of my Social Security Card; only the real deal will do. This sucks because, as tomorrow's my 23rd birthday, my dependant Military ID, the only picture ID I have with my date of birth, expires at midnight. This also technically means that today is my last day to get onto military bases with said ID, but since I don't know of any near here it's an empty privilege lost. So now I'm going to have to wake up early and haul myself down there again next week once I get my legitimate Social Security Card, plus I'll probably have to scrounge together a couple of random other pieces of ID in case they won't accept my expired Military ID as proof of identity anymore (which they won't). Good thing I anal retentively saved all my check stubs and W-2 forms from the library and brought them with me to New York.

I'm currently not exercising wonderful judgment because, as of now, I've gone... 27 hours without sleep. This is due to having stayed up all night finishing a written assignment for Contracts that we were supposed to do in an hour. Not that I spent all that time doing it. Afternoon classes were cancelled yesterday, and I came home at noon planning to do it right away. So of course, I opened the assignment at around 10:30 PM, started working at midnight, got about a sentence done, then painfully stretched the rest of the assignment out until 6 AM. By that point I was worried that falling asleep was an invitation to sleep past 4, thereby missing both the deadline to turn in the assignment and the closing time for the DMV. So I decided to keep myself awake, print my assignment out at the library at 8, then head downtown.

So after I'd finished failing to get my Non-Driver's ID at the DMV, I decided, because I was sleep deprived and exercising poor judgment, to head over to Rockefeller Center and check out the big Nintendo World store they have there. When I got there they were filming The Today Show. That's where they film The Today Show, I guess. I didn't know what was going on, so I wandered around staring curiously before I figured it out. It's possible I might have ended up gettting seen through that big glass window they have in the background.

So: Nintendo World. Man. I walked in there and got a smile on my face that was transfixed until I left the store. And bear in mind it's not THAT great a store; lots of systems for playing games, lots of dead space, very little merchandise. Heavy emphasis on stylish design and architecture over functionality as a store. But man. There were techno remixes of songs from Nintendo games playing over the speakers, so many DSes with custom faceplates and GBA minis and giant egg-shaped chairs with built-in surround sound speakers and I just loved it. I got to try out two games I had previously had no intention of buying, Donkey Kong: King of Swing for the GBA and Battalion Wars for the Gamecube, and came away quite impressed. Upstairs they had a little mini-museum of Nintendo hardware, including Gameboys signed by Shigeru Miyamoto, a Gameboy that survived a rocket attack in the first Gulf War (And still works!), and an old Nintendo Advanced Versatile Computer (the Japanese precursor to the Famicom/NES). There was merchandise there that I had no idea I deeply needed until I discovered it there. I ended up limiting my purchases to a cheap game I'd been meaning to buy for a while (Animal Crossing for the Gamecube) and an imported Samus Aran action figure (It's Samus in blue body suit, sans power armor, from Metroid: Zero Mission). I felt a weight in my chest as I left the store. I realized that I never wanted to leave. It didn't help that they started a techno version of the Fever music from Doctor Mario just as I headed out the door.

So then I walked home. From 48th street to here is probably 3 1/2 miles. But it was fun! Even though I'm now barely awake enough for coherent thought. Anyhow, classes are cancelled today, due to professors being at a conference in North Dakota, so I'm going to catch up on lost sleep.

Lauda me!

Well, contra my previous post, I've decided to take the first tentative steps in learning Latin. I justify this on the grounds that we use a lot of Latin in law school, learning the intricacies of Latin grammar will help me with English composition, and I'll be able to use it to read Classical and Medieval texts in their original language.

So I went to the Butler Library the other day and checked out the second edition of Wheelock's Latin. Interesting side note: It's published by Barnes and Noble. That is, this isn't a recent "Barnes & Noble Edition" tied to the brick-and-mortar bookstore chain. Before they were a chain, Barnes & Noble was a small book publisher and had a large store here in New York. Frederic M. Wheelock had his Latin primer published by them in the mid-50s. So, yeah. I suppose when I said this sidenote was "interesting," I meant it in the Mark Twain Date Game/Historical Term of Art sense of "Interesting."

Dianna has commented previously that one of the joys of learning Sanskrit is that the practice sentences tend to revolve around war and death. So far Wheelock's Latin seems similar. Wheelock draws upon classical sources for practice sentences and passages. This makes sense for teaching ancient languages, and I imagine Dianna's Sankrit books do the same. People don't learn Latin for travel purposes; there's seldom a need to invite somebody over for a party in Latin, nor do you need to tell somebody, in Latin, that the bureau next to the bookcase belongs to your Uncle Raoul. Since there's no practical conversational need for ancient languages, the assumption is you're using it to read ancient literature, so why not dive in to that and have you working with ancient literature from the start? This excites me because my absolute favorite parts of German were the (all too rare) times when we actually read German poems or pieces of literature. I believe this may have happened twice in my three years of German.

So Wheelock works with ancient texts. I think I was sold on learning Latin the moment I started the first chapter and discovered that the first verbs I would be learning to conjugate, in fact the first words of Latin I would learn at all, were laudare (to praise) and monere (to advise). The Latin practice sentences, thus far, seems to be focused on politics and stirring oratories, which suits me well. Labor me vocat (Work calls me), Mone me si erro (advise me if I am in error). Laudas me; culpant me (You praise me; they blame me).

Interesting thing about Latin (so far): At least for the present active indicative form of verbs, the subject and the verb of a sentence are rolled into one word. That is, when I say "laudo" it means "I praise" all by itself. There's no need for the pronoun I. So when you conjugate a verb you're including the subject with it. I make no representation for other tenses, voices, or modes, and I'm well aware that Latin is a tangled mass of tenses and declensions, so it's quite possible that this rolling-the-subject-into-the-verb thing doesn't apply universally, but I still thought it interesting.

Also interesting: We tend to vastly mispronounce Latin. By cross-referencing it with Greek, we have a pretty good idea of how Latin is pronounced, and most people pronounce it incorrectly. T is always hard, it never makes a "sh" sound as in "Caption." "V" sounds like a W, always. There's no such thing as the modern English V sound. C is always hard, as in "Caption." There's no soft "C," as in "Ice," "CH" is pronounced kh, not ch as in "Ratchet," and CC is pronounced as two Ks in a row, not ch as in "Focaccia." "AE" is pronounced like the English word "Eye." "I" at the beginning of a word before a vowel is pronounced like an English consonant y. Some implications of this: Cicero, often pronounced "sis-er-oh" was actually pronounced "Kee-kehr-oh." Iulius Caesar (his name was spelled with an I, not a J) would have said his name "Yoo-lay-us Kai-sahr" (and now you know where the German Kaisers got their title from), and when he spoke of his conquest of Gaul, he would not have said "Vay-nee Vee-dee Vee-chee," but rather "Way-nee Wee-dee Wee-kee." Finally, when you appeal to the Supreme Court to review your case, you file a writ of "Kayr-tee-oh-ra-ree" (Certiorari) not, as lawyers now pronounce it, "Shur-shoor-are-eye."

And that's enough Latin nobbling for now!



Apropo my last post, I've discovered the most fascinating thing through Slumbering Lungfish. Did you know that Mark Twain invented a boring board game? Being a boring person myself, I find this game intriguing.

Essentially, you have a big board with the numbers 1 through 100, each with holes beside it for sticking pins in. You pick a century (or are allowed to declare a free-form any-century-you-please approach) and take turns naming dates from that century along with events that occured. You get ten points for every accession, five points for every battle, and one point for every minor event (essentially anything that wasn't a battle). You also get a point for random facts, scored at the bottom. I'm not sure what the criterion for getting a point are, but I would imagine there must be some threshold of interestingness/obscurity. For example, explaining the controversy over what "DVD" actually stands for might be worth a point. Telling everyone that frogs are, generally speaking, green probably doesn't count. At the end of the game, the player with the most Minor events scores a bonus 100 points.

The game ends after some alloted time (A day? An hour?), at which point the scores are tabulated and the player with the highest score wins. I really like the idea here, but then I also like boring people with trivia and I've memorized an awful lot of dates, so I have every expectation that I would kick an unholy amount of ass at this game. And, really, this game just boils down to the question "Which of the players is best at boring the others with obscure facts and dates?" I would quibble a bit with the balance of the points; 10 points for accessions and 5 for battles seems pretty extreme, and classifying everything else as minor and only worthy of one point seems harsh. The 100 point bonus redeems it slightly, but this aspect could definitely use tweaking.

Still, though, now I really want to play this game.

Hopeless Bleak Despair


My mental state has shifted into despair, and I couldn't be happier about it.

You see, I tend to shift back and forth between two varieties of hopelessness. I am now firmly ensconced in what I call "Despair." This is the state I find myself in when I have dozens of things I want to do and no time to do any of them; every spare moment is taken up by work that, while I might enjoy it on some level, slowly grinds away at my spirit. It's not that the work is hard, it's just that there's so much of it that I have no time to enjoy myself, even as I see all manner of delightful preoccupations dancing before me. Right now I've become interested in video games (about a dozen are beckoning me at the moment), I need to practice my banjo, I want to start running again, I have movies I want to watch, I have a bookshelf full of half-read books I need to finish (My current project is re-reading Gregory of Tours's History of the Franks, by the way), and to top it off I suddenly really, really, for no practical reason want to learn Latin. But I can't do any of it because of the crushing levels of schoolwork.

But I'm happy to be here, because it's better than the alternative. The alternative is Ennui, which will set in within hours of my last final. Once I have all the free time I need, I will suddenly lose interest in everything. I will spend my time lying around and being completely bored. I'd been under a big cloud of ennui basically from when I finished my last final at Berkeley until about a month ago, when I began the transition back to despair. Two moves and getting settled here helped fight it off, because at least then I had practical things to fill my time with. Nonetheless, I look back at my time just working at the library and see months when I worked at the library 9 to 5, came home and did ... nothing. In a five month span, I read no books, played through no video games, saw a couple of movies with friends, met no new people. There were nights when I sat around at my desk at the library after everyone had gone home and I had clocked out, staring at the computer for hours, because it was a change of pace from going home and doing nothing there. Now I have interest in life again, even if it's a perpetually frustrated interest. I'd rather have too much I want to do and no time to do it than just no interests whatsoever.

So, yay! Despair! Now back to Civil Procedure.


Dscf1742_3I woke up this morning to find that my shower is dispensing brown water. Behold! Note that that's not some reflective trick; the water's brown straight out of the shower head. I guess I won't be taking a shower today...

In other news of my apartment, October is the coldest month. This is because the weather has gone south, temperature-wise, but the building management refuses to turn on the boilers for the radiators until November. So while November may see colder temperatures, it also sees their relatively easy abatement through radiators. While I am generally fairly cold-resistant, sustained exposure to colds, as when, for instance, sleeping, still chills me to the core. Time to throw on another comforter, I suppose.

Both of the lights in our hall are out, and have been for about a month now. I've been debating whether to call maintenance. On the one hand, this makes me seem truly impotent, putting in a maintenance request to change a lightbulb. On the other hand, those lights are really high! I can't reach them standing on a chair! So really changing them would require buying a ladder, which is a somewhat hefty investment for a lightbulb. For now, I've taken the middle route of cursing the darkness.

General Miscellany

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Cock Gun!
I was bored in Torts today and was leafing through the files on my laptop. While in the directory for the game Colonization I noticed a sound file called CockGun.wav. This piqued my curiosity. For the next five minutes I was wracked with a desire to turn on my speakers and hear what a Cock Gun sounds like. Then I realized, "Oh. They mean the act of pulling back the hammer on a manually loading gun in preparation to fire it." This caused me to lose interest. I was speculating about some sort of gun that shoots cocks rather than bullets. Or a gun used to shoot at cocks, like an elephant gun, but for cocks. Or maybe a cock that also acts as a gun.

Hot and Crusty
I was walking around today and passed the Hot and Crusty Bagelry. Hot and Crusty is a local chain here in New York. Like many restaurants around here, they had a little area partitioned off on the sidewalk in front of their store with tables and chairs. There was a sign by these chairs reading "Tables are for hot and crusty patrons only." I was tired and considered sitting down, but upon reflection decided that, while I am more resistant to cold than the average person, I was by no means hot at the time. Further, while I am known to be cantankerous on occasions, it doesn't rise to the level of being crusty. I moved along.

I also, in my travels, passed the Hungarian Bakery, a coffee and pastry shop near my house. It's sort of our local grad student hangout, not unlike Strada in Berkeley. The key difference is that this place is very self-consciously European and Bohemian. As such, they have an elaborate, ornate menu listing all manner of scrumptious fare, and nowhere do they tell you the prices. There are blackboards where the specials and menu items are written in chalk. Each one has a space next to it where the price ought to be, but is conspicuously absent. This means that if you go in and ask, as I did, for a cherry danish, you are likely to be handed that danish and told that you now owe them $4, and you are likely to react, as I did, by saying something along the lines of "You're shitting me!" I realize knowing how much things cost before you buy them is terribly gauche, but you're not getting me back in there again until they actually tell you how much things cost without forcing you to systematically inquire at the counter before deciding on a purchase.

An Open Letter
To Self-Consciously Smart Law Students Everywhere:
I understand you feel a powerful need, perhaps biological, perhaps cultural, to ask painfully detailed, carefully phrased three-part questions that require a full five minutes just to ask and elicit a long response from the professor on subjects only barely tangentially related to the topic at hand. But could you please, please restrict yourself to asking these questions of professors after class, not during class? Given that this does not appear to be possible, could you at least make an effort not to raise your hand enthusiastically to ask this question with only one minute left in the class period, forcing the entire class to sit in lecture an extra ten minutes and listen to you wank yourself verbally? I understand that public auto-eroticism is your peculiar kink, but please have some consideration for others.

Curse you, Sid Meiers!


And speaking of History, I just found out that the latest game in the Civilization series, late-night wanking material of history dorks and strategy game nerds alike, is being released in a week. I didn't even realize it existed until a couple of hours ago, and now I've already pre-ordered it. And with its arrival will go the last vestige of hope that I will study to a satisfactory degree for law school courses. Ah well. These events are greater things than we mere mortals can hope to fight against.

But my God! Civ IV! Now instead of just picking a government style, you craft your government from 5 options along 5 different vectors! You don't just pick a government type (Democracy, Monarchy, Communist, etc.). You also pick your legal system, your economics, the degree of religious involvment, and your relation with labor. And religion! Religions act as independent entities, starting in one city and slowly spreading through the world, making it easier to work with cities of your religion and hard to work with foreign religions. You can also help this along by building missionaries and forcing your religion on others. Gah! The intricacies! When this game arrives, I will cease to exist as a person.

Sins of History

I must confess to having committed a grievous historical sin in my post on the Fourth Crusade. Not about the Fourth Crusade; I went back and checked and, while some of the details are wrong, the broad outline is correct (I mixed up Joinville and Villehardoin, for instance, but it makes no difference to the story). This is because I've actually read Villehardoin's Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade, a primary source on the subject, so my mistakes are only mistakes of memory.

On the Eighth, or Children's, Crusade I did something quite evil, however. I told the story of it based on half-remembered stories told to me by other people. I've never read about it in a second hand source, and certainly never read any primary sources on the subject. As such, when I went back to casually fact-check my post I discovered that my accounting of the Children's Crusade is, to use the parlance of our times, bullshit. Certain events happened which have now been built into the Legend of the Children's Crusade, but the version I related is apocryphal at best.

In fact, there were severl events that occurred around the same time. One involved a crusade led by a French child. This ended when certain of his prophecies failed to materialize. Another involved a crusade by a shephard who gathered a bunch of children to his cause, and claimed he would part the sea at Genoa. He didn't, and what happened after is unknown. It's quite possible the children were sold into slavery, but more likely they went home or re-settled in Genoa. A third related event was a movement by displaced peasants, who walked from town to town seeking alms and clamoring for better lives. They were referred to diminutively at the time as "Children," which may have lead later chroniclers to be confused and think that they actually were children on a crusade. In any case, the first explicit reference to the Children's Crusade was written fifty years after it was supposed to have occurred, and appears to be based on legend and hearsay rather than any actaul documentation. So, while it is theoretically possible that the Children's Crusade occurred as described, it is highly unlikely.

I'm particularly angry at myself because that's the sort of sloppy history-by-apocryphal-anecdote that I hate when reading older histories. History writing has gotten much more professional over the last century, and there was a time when almost all history was written as a series of anecdotes. Now things have gotten much better, at the cost of some of the entertainment value in history writing.

For instance, nowadays it's fairly rare to see anecdotes in historical writing. You see statistics, you see primary evidence laid out, analyzed, critiqued, and synthesized to create a broad sense of what happened. When anecdotes appear, they are generally examined not for their content but for what they tell us about the person who relates them. Even then, anecdotes are only examined if they come to us from contemporaries to the event. Anecdotes of unknown origin are considered too dubious to include. If entertaining, apocryphal anecdotes do appear, they are used sparingly and for rhetorical purposes, and with lots of warning signs and flags, e.g. "One anecdote told of this event, likely false, is illustrative of this general trend..." They are used to advance a point, but are clearly demarcated as fictional.

In contrast, historical writing once consisted almost entirely of anecdotes linked by a thin narrative thread. This is entertaining at first, but rapidly becomes maddening. It starts funny and amusing, but then you ask yourself "Alright, in what sense have I learned anything about this time and this place?" You come away knowing a lot of tall tales of the period, but you have no larger sense of how real people actually acted, what forces shaped their society, etc. You're left with a sense of having been entertained without having increased your knowledge of the subject.

Further, older historical writing generally made no attempt to distinguish the probably true anecdotes from the almost certainly false ones. It hits you when you read an anecdote that makes absolutely no sense, that nobody could possibly believe really occured. Then you step back and wonder what percentage of the stories you're reading are true, and what percent are just bullshit. This is why I haven't gotten past the first section of The Barbary Coast, by Herbert Asbury, yet. The first pithy story is fun. The tenth in a row is tedious. Eventually you wish he would just devote a chapter to the broad pattern of crime through San Francisco's development, rather than yet another chapter profiling the (fictionalized) exploits of some rakish, lively San Francisco villain.

I think the problem is that the anecdote is a poor tool for education outside of its illustrative value, and at the same time a string of anecdotes presented as a history is a poor means of entertainment. If you want fiction, you'll read fiction. Also, the anecdotal method of historiography feels immensely condescending. "I could give you the full academic analysis of this, but wouldn't you much rather hear another funny story? I thought so."

Another point: Anecdotal history is lazy history. As I showed above, it's very easy to ratlle off a story you heard second hand from someone who read a book about it once. When writing a history of a period, it's a lot of work to carefully gather your evidence, analyze it, and marshall it to make a point or convey a sense of the sweep of the period. On the other hand, it's very easy to read a bunch of books on the subject, write down as many funny anecdotes as you can find, arrange them chronologically and write a narrative thread to connect them.

Then there are ideological questions (I feel anecdotal history favors the "Big Man" view of history, while serious history favors "Movements and Groups" historicism) but, if I'm to get into those questions, I think I should do it in a seperate post.

To return to my subject: I apologize for failing to fact-check myself before posting. Having chastened myself, I shall endeavor not to make the same mistake again.


I've been toying for the last few days with the idea of a radical shift for this weblog. It would mean far, far more posting, but a change in the contents of those posts, and I'm interested to see what people think.

You see, I've been falling way behind in taking notes on cases ("briefing" cases as we say for some reason). A large part of the reason for this is that I spend a lot of time writing posts for this blog, checking others weblogs, etc. At the same time, I noticed yesterday that the cases I feel most confident in my knowledge of are the cases that I've posted about on here. So the thought occurs: why not do my note-taking on my weblog? I can make a post about every case I read, and thereby force myself to put the mental energy into thinking hard about the case while simultaneously giving me a written record of my thoughts.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, I may be putting the cart before the horse with respect to previously posted cases. That is, there's a strong change that I posted about them because they interested me, and therefore I thought about them and now understand them, rather than that I understand them now because I posted about them. Still, it's unlikely, in this regard, that posting will be any less effective than any other form of notetaking.

The much larger concern is for you, the audience. I worry that if I start case blogging I'll be breaking the first rule of weblogging, to always write for an audience (at least, for an audience larger than yourself). While theoretically these cases are all chosen for inclusion in their respective casebooks because they elaborate a point of law, or because, when viewed next to another case, they illuminate an intriguing contradiction, I know that there's a massive, massive difference in the level of interest to the outsider between "Cases about how much doctors must compensate accidental mothers for botched sterilizations" and "Cases about whether or not a judge levied an improperly high sanction against a company for failure to send the appropriate attorney to a pre-trial conference." Of course, handily there's a pretty high correlation between "Cases which are arm-clawingly boring" and "Cases we read for Civil Procedure," so in that sense I may be able to warn you off.

The related problem is that I read a lot of cases, which means a lot of posting. Now, time-wise this shouldn't be a problem; I ought to be taking notes anyway and, again, taking notes. if done right, should take no less time than posting about these cases. I have three classes, and each assigns 2-3 cases per night. So that means between 6 and 9 posts per day, all about cases. I'll try to keep up the same level of non-law posts, about a post or two per day, but they're guaranteed to be swamped by case posts.

Now, I'll still be posting for an audience; this isn't just going to be a notebook that happens to be on-line. I'll try to draw out whatever point of law caused the editor to put the case into the casebook and try to make it interesting, and leave the case open for discussion in comments. I'm not going to expect comments on all cases, or any for that matter, but it would probably help me understand the cases better if there were occasional discussions on them. I'm also going to clearly demarcate the case posts from the regular posts, both in the categories and in the post titles, so as to make it much easier to get to the non-law posts.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts. I'm thinking of trying it over the next week, then seeing where I am on Friday. Any thoughts or feelings on this?

Well Doge my cats


I played board games tonight with the Columbia Strategic Simulations Society. One of the games I didn't participate in, but did watch, was San Marco, a territory control game set in Medieval Venice. One of the important pieces in the game is the Doge, who in those times was the elected leader of Venice. Thinking about this started me thinking (naturally!) about the calamitous Fourth Crusade (so much did it set me to thinking this, by the way, that I began quietly narrating the history of said crusade while watching the game, causing one of the girls playing to give me occasional quizzical looks).

Sadly, my copy of Joinville's Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade seems to have been left at home, so I'll have to work from memory here. Essentially, this is one of the great crusades where nothing went right. Really, the high water mark for crusades was the first one. After that they were progressively less successful. Of course, that measures success by the metric of the official, textbook reasons given for the crusades, that they were a mission from God to re-take the Holy Lands from the Saracens. While this may perhaps have been more true than not of the First Crusade, subsequent crusades were motivated less and less by religion and more and more by greed.

It's interesting to note that, if you read contemporary Muslim accounts of the crusades, their relationship to the crusaders was not unlike the relationship of the English to Viking raiders. There was a sort of sense of "Aw, nuts, the pillagers are back" when the great cross-shaped sails appeared. The Christians came, beat people up, took all the treasure they could lay their hands on, then quickly retreated when the Saracen army showed up.

Incidentally, probably the most successful Crusade by the profit metric was the eighth and final one, the so-called Children's Crusade. The high-concept behind it was that the Saracens wouldn't kill children, so if they created an army of children and sailed them to the Holy Lands, they'd be invincible. So they collected kids from all over Europe and gathered them at a port in the south of France (the name escapes me at the moment). Then the organizers had a brilliant idea. They said "You know, the Holy Lands are a long way away, and if this whole 'won't kill children' thing doesn't wash, we're going to get our asses handed to us. So, we could go all that way on a gamble, or we could take the sure thing and just sell these little fuckers into slavery." And so they did. So they made a tidy profit without actually killing anyone or putting themselves out too much. On the other had, they sort of poisoned the Crusade well. It's tough to get people to throw their lives away for a crusade after you just got done selling the last gang of suckers that did it into slavery.

The Fourth Crusade, though, is one gigantic comedy of errors. They get to southern Europe and find out that the local king (possibly of Hungary?) won't let them through (for reasons which will become more obvious as the story progresses). So they change course to Venice. There they make a deal with the Doge of Venice (you see! It does tie to my hook at the beginning!) to pay him a huge amount up front for some ships, plus a share of the loot. The Doge comes along, and actually, if Joinville's account of him is accurate, is a pretty handy fighter. That is, he's right in there with everyone else in the battles. So they take the Venetian boats to the Dalmatian Coast, but they lose some along the way, and another big chunk of folks decide to go back. They get there and the local displaced lord wants them to help him get his throne back. They do, but also incidentally pillage his land while they're there. He grudgingly gives them some men to help them out and grants them passage through his lands.

They keep moving. Next stop, Byzantium! Only they get to Constantinople (Which, it should be pointed out, in those days was the closest the Medieval European world had to a Big Cosmopolitan City) and notice that the city's really wealthy, full of all sorts of glittering treasures. So they decide to drop the whole "Holy Land" business, and decide "Hey! Let's just conquer the Byzantine Empire!" After all, the Holy Land's way the Hell over there, and has all those Saracens. The Byzantines are RIGHT HERE, and on top of that, they're loaded! So they invented a vague sort of religious reason why they need to beat up the Byzantines (which about half their force didn't buy and went home) and they took Byzantium. So then they had a bogus election and crowned one of them the new Emperor, and divided the land up into fiefdoms, and after they'd gotten done with that they remembered that there was an angry Byzantine army out there, plus Saracens, plus invading Turks. So they sat on Constantinople for a while, eventually got expelled by the Byzantines, and then in very short order the severely weakened Byzantines were overwhelmed by the Turks, who now controlled the Muslim world.

So they had set out to free the Holy Lands, and managed in the end to beat the crap out of the holders of the last Christian foothold in the East. On the plus side, and this is important, they got some great loot out of those high-falutin Byzantines. And the Doge kicked some mighty ass.

UPDATE: Also, you might not be aware of this, but the Dogi of Venice were the bearer's of one of the world's great silly hats. Behold! Doge Hat!

Y'know what I hate?


Whiny west coasters who won't shut up about a little rain. Or about how cold it is here. You don't like cold and rain? Transfer to a school in California, because I'm sick of hearing about it.

Maybe I'm too stoic about the weather, but it irked me even more when I was at Berkeley and Southern California people would bitch non-stop about how cold and wet it was in the Bay Area. Cold and wet my eye! They went from a place where it rains maybe 20 days a year to a place where it rains perhaps 30-35 days per year. I had to sit through lunch at the dinning commons once with a suitemate who was honest-to-God worried that she was getting SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, when you get depressed for whole seasons because of the weather) because it rained twice in one week. She started hyperventilating about how the weather was going to cause her to flunk out of school.

Anyhow, it's great that you love the weather where you came from. But you're not there anymore, and complaining won't make it better. You knew full well when you moved to New York that there are seasons here, so don't act shocked and outraged when the season changes.



Sorry to do a post about random people who've come here by google searches, but...

I've finally got enough stuff on this page that I'm starting to get random people coming here from Google, and I'm pretty sure none of what I have is actually helpful to them. Sadly, no lawyer porn searches yet (not even law student porn searches!) Mostly I get people looking for cases that I mention. Someone came here looking for Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. There was a random, off-handed mention of the case in my "Lord what tools these mortals be" post about a month ago, and the only reason they ended up here was because they searched for the exact phrase "Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council" when there ought to be a "Corporation" after "Chevron."

Yesterday someone came here looking for "Harkonnen Heartplug." This opens an avenue for a question that's vaguely bugged me for a while. The Harkonnen heartplugs: Were they actually in the novel, or are they a David Lynch innovation? I remember watching the movie some time after I'd read the book and couldn't recall heartplugs being mentioned by Frank Herbert, but I wasn't entirely sure.

Finally, someone came here looking for "Lucy v. Zehmer copy of case brief." Fair enough; I actually did talk a bit about Lucy v. Zehmer. Then at 5:30 this morning I got another hit from Google Translations of someone translating my Lucy v. Zehmer post into French. Huh. It'll be interesting to see if I show up in any French treatises on the common law. "Noted expert on contracts made in jest that are actually enforeceable Molten Boron..."

Bureaucratic Efficiency

It is often complained that bureaucracies are inefficient. This is amusing insofar as the theoretical idea behind bureaucracies is that they are supposed to be modernity's great innovation in terms of organizational efficiency; they take a huge task and build an organizational structure that breaks the task down into its smallest components and staffs an expert on each of these components in a position to handle it. The specifics of why bureaucracies become bloated and inefficient are not, however, the subject of this post.

I submit that bureaucracies can be highly efficient, provided it is a subject in which they take a heavy interest, and not something unimportant like serving people. I submit the following example from my years working as a clerk at the library:

Several Springs ago the Berkeley campus was beset by a tragedy. Professor Andrew Zelnick, prominent historian of Russian history, was killed in an utterly pointless tragedy on campus. He was backed over by a slow-moving water delivery truck on the service road by the top of the stairs next to Moses Hall. A report appeared in the Daily Cal the next day.

I read the report sitting at my computer at the library. I had never taken a class with Professor Zelnick, but had taken classes in the Russian division of the History department, so I started looking up information about him on the Berkeley website. After a few minutes, it struck me that I could look up his patron information in GLADIS, the Berkeley Library's book database. When I did so, I discovered that, though the news of his death had been reported just a few hours prior, he already had his library privileges cancelled in GLADIS, with a note marking him "DECEASED." Moreover, his entire inventory had been recalled. It's nice to know, in times of grief, that the library has its priorities straight.

Breeder-centrism in tort law


In recent years there has developed a jurisprudence around so-called wrongful life suits, sometimes referred to as wrongful birth suits. These suits are a species of medical malpractice, and involve suing a doctor who improperly performs a sterilization, be it a vasectomy, tubal ligation, or whatnot. The action has been recognized by most states, and I don't believe any state has explicitly refused to recognize it. At trial everything is very similar to medical malpractice, the procedure is discussed, experts are brought in, negligence is argued over, and, if the jury finds for the plaintiff, damages are assessed.

The damages are where things get tricky. Now, if the plaintiff has an abortion, things are pretty pat. They generally get compensation for the cost of the initial sterilization, cost of another sterilization, cost of having the abortion, and any related medical bills and lost wages. There might, perhaps, also be emotional damages. Things get more expensive if the plaintiff decides to have the baby, then put it up for adoption. There, in addition to the above costs, the doctor (or his insurance company) generally has to pay all the expenses related to the pregnancy, including considerably more lost wages. Still, though, nothing particularly controversial.

What happens, though, if the plaintiff decides to keep the baby? The question, then, is to what extent the doctor should be held liable for the cost of rearing the child. This is, after all, a baby that plaintiff did not want, and would not exist but for the doctor's negligence. The rule of thumb for torts is that plaintiff should be "made whole," that is, plaintiff should be put financially back in the same situation they would have been in had the accident never occurred. Kids are expensive. In order to put plaintiff in as good a situation as they would have been in had the sterilization been successful, it follows that the doctor ought to pay the entire cost of rearing the child.

That, of course, is a cursory application of general tort principles to the case. Courts in practice find a great many ways to apply these principles to the facts of a case. Often courts are asked to decide which are legitimate, compensable damages and which damages it is unreasonable to expect defendants to pay. In this case, most jurisdictions (31 as of 1997) don't consider child rearing costs to be compensable. Two jurisdictions (New Mexico and Wisconsin) do allow child rearing costs.

There are several reasons given by the jurisdictions that don't allow child rearing costs. The first is that the costs are too vague to assess. Who know how much it would actually cost to rear this child, and whether the money would actually be put to that purpose? It's far too indefinite, too expensive, and too long term. Further, the cost would be far too heavy a burden for the poor doctor to bear, just for one little mistake (Courts are quite fond of the sob-story. They are only persuasive until you realize that inherently in a court case you are deciding which of two parties should bear a huge loss. The poor doctor could not stand to bear the financial burden of raising this child! It therefore follows that the mother ought to bear the financial burden instead). The less-objectionable policy argument is that if you make potential damages too high, doctors will simply refuse to perform these operations out of fear of botching them, and the cost of performing these operations will skyrocket.

There are a couple of other arguments deployed by these courts. One is that the plaintiff assumed the cost of rearing the child when she decided not to abort the child or give it up for adoption. This facile argument handily ignores the moral dimension of those two alternatives. Abortion is obviously a sticky issue for a lot of people, and once you've decided not to abort the child, adoption isn't without its own problems. The pregnant party is between Scylla and Charybdis and the court is arguing that choosing one indicates the party prefers and accepts that option. They ignore the fact that the entire point of having the operation was to not have to make that choice in the first place.

The other argument ties into the ambiguity of the costs argument. Sure, we don't know exactly how much it costs to rear a child, but we do know it costs something. How do you go from there to the conclusion that we should not award any child rearing costs? Enter the Bundle of Joy argument. The courts argue that there is an indisputable joy in having and raising a child. The plaintiff is looking to benefit from this joy without paying the attendant costs. Therefore, to get a fair assessment of the plaintiff's damages, we must balance the cost of raising the child against the joy the parents derive from that child. Since it's so hard to measure these things, the courts decide to call it even and leave the damages at 0.

It hardly bears pointing out that this argument is intensely patronizing. It ignores the fact that the plaintiff was sterilized precisely to avoid having a child. They could have any number of reasons for doing so. Maybe they can't afford a child, or maybe, heaven forbid, they just don't like kids. Moreover, sterilization operations aren't exactly something you do on a whim. The plaintiff carefully examined their situation and decided the costs of having a kid outweighed the benefits, and decided to pay for an expensive surgery to prevent it ever happening. The court looks at this and says, "Awww, you didn't REALLY mean that. Everyone loves kids! Now go have fun with your new bundle of joy!"

What's even more insulting, however, are the three jurisdictions, and I don't know which states these are, that actually include the Bundle of Joy factor as a weight against other costs. That is, you get all the aforementioned medical costs, and then the court determines how much joy they think the baby will give you, attaches a dollar value, and subtracts it from those costs.

I don't know precisely where I stand on the issue, but I think that there should at least be a monthly child support-like payment attached to the costs. It need not be the whole cost of rearing a child, but I definitely think that, if the plaintiff does decide to keep the kid, the negligent doctor should be on the hook to pay at least part of the cost of rearing the child.

Mutual Mistake


My roommate goes to class in the mornings about an hour and 45 minutes before I do. I am therefore less cautious than I perhaps should be walking around. This morning while I was getting breakfast in the kitchen in my underpants (bright green briefs) I happened to glance out the window and noticed the girl who lives in the apartment across and one level up from me. She was standing in front of the open bathroom window, apparently having just gotten out of the shower, completely naked and staring out the window at me. We stood transfixed for 10-20 seconds, then both calmly walked to our respective windows and closed them. I believe we both learned a valuable lesson today. Again.

Dear Molten Boron,

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I am writing to register a very small complaint. Let me begin by saying that it is wonderful that you have begun chopping up a variety of peppers to add to your various evening meals. The habanero and serrano peppers you combined with tonight's rice added just the right mixture of spice and flavor to an otherwise conventional dish. Allow me to further congratulate you for remembering, this time, to wash your hands after chopping those peppers. The lack of searing pain when you rubbed your eyes twenty minutes later was greatly appreciated by all, and we'd like to thank you for a job well done.

Having said that, I would like to suggest that it might be prudent in the future to also wash the cutting board after you finish chopping those peppers. I realize that things are hectic between getting the various elements of the dish cooked, and you may not have time to wash the board immediately after you put the peppers in the frying pan to sautee. Fair enough. Still, do you think you could maybe remember to wash the cutting board before you put a loaf of tasty banana bread on it to cut up? This is assuming, of course, that it was not your intention to create the World's Spiciest Banana Bread.

Again, congratulations on a job well done, overall, and if you could just work on those little things, I'm sure everyone involved would be a lot happier.

Sincerely yours,
Molten Boron.

And on a more stupid note...

Did you know that you can sing the lyrics of the Marine Corps Hymn to the tune of Wabash Cannonball? Well, you do now!

BDSM and the Law in California


If this blog's going to be about sex, then damnit it's going to be about sex on my terms. Thus: BDSM and what the law has to say about it.

I'm going to start by saying that this is not an issue that I've studied in law school. I was made aware of this case as an undergrad, for a sort of philosophy-and-the-law course. My current analysis is made in light of my experience thus far in law school, but I have not engaged in any specific reading or discussion on the matter for any course, and it concerns criminal law, a field I won't be studying until Spring. Therefore, feel free to take my assertions with a grain of salt.

BDSM, for those who don't know, is an abbreviation that stands simultaneously for Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism, and Sadomasochism. There's no actual law on the books forbidding any of those activities. However, certain of the activities related to BDSM, particularly the SM parts, have been found to fit under the broad umbrella of assault. The ur-case in California is People v. Samuels.

Samuels concerned one Mr. Marvin S. Samuels, a respected ophthamologist who lived in Sunnyvale and worked in San Francisco. One evening while at a bar he met Mr. Kenneth Anger, director of several sadomasochistic films, including Scorpio Rising and Fireworks. Mr. Anger was a good friend of Alfred Kinsey, of the Kinsey Institute, and was an authorized buyer of films for the Institute. Mr. Samuels then revealed that he was, himself, possessed of sadistic proclivities, and had made several amateur films of his escapades. This interested Mr. Anger, because the Kinsey Institute was just then working on a comprehensive study of sadism and masochism, and actual films of it would be quite helpful to them. Thus began a productive relationship of several years, with Mr. Samuels producing sadomasochistic films and Mr. Anger purchasing them and sending them to the Kinsey Institute.

Mr. Samuels's legal troubles began when Mr. Anger, rather than sending one of his films to be developed by the Kinsey Institute, instead took it to a private film developer. On seeing the contents of the film, the developer called the police. The police arrested Anger, and Anger fingered Samuels as the producer of the film. Anger was released; he had no hand in the film's production, and he had an academic license to purchase and transport obscene materials for the Kinsey Institute. Samuels was not so lucky. He was charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute obscene material, one count of sodomy, and two counts of aggravated assault. The conspiracy charge was based on his having produced the films (a second film was found at his house during a search) and the sodomy and assault charges were based on the acts depicted in the films themselves.

The films, nicknamed "The Horizontal Film" and "The Vertical Film" at trial, depicted naked, bound men being whipped by Mr. Samuels. By the end of the films, welts and bruises were visible on both men's bodies. At trial, Mr. Samuels did not deny his involvement in the films. He testified that he was a well-known sadist, in his own words "One of the best in the business." Both of the unidentified men in the video had approached him of their own free will. He met them at gay bars. In both cases, the men approached Samuels saying that they were "M"s looking for an "S." Both men consented to the acts performed before, during, and after, and both men consented to the filming.

The details of the trial are fuzzy, but Mr. Samuels seems to have based a large portion of his case around proving that the injuries were faked, an illusion created by makeup, and that the men were acting when they convulsed in pain. Expert witnesses were presented by both sides, and the jury found against Samuels. In the end, Samuels was convicted on all counts of conspiracy and both aggravated assault charges, but cleared on the sodomy charge.

Samuels appealed. At the appellate level he changed tactics. The thrust of his argument before the California Court of Appeals was that his actions could not be considered assault. Both men consented, and therefore no crime could have occurred.

The Court of Appeals rapidly dismissed the conspiracy charges, on grounds that he was not producing the films to be commercially shown, but rather for academic purposes (essentially extending the protection Anger received to Samuels). The only question left to them was whether Samuels's acts of sadism constituted criminal aggravated assault.

The court faced two questions: Was the assault in question consensual? And if so, does it matter? The second question is quite complex. Consent to a crime is sometimes considered a defense, other times not. Normally it's illegal to punch somebody in the face, but if the punch occurs in the context of a boxing match, it's fine. On the other hand, a fine example of a case where consent does not matter is dueling. Dueling can be looked at as a contract for mutual attempted murder; I promise to allow you to attempt to murder me at a given time and place, in exchange for which you promise to allow me to attempt to murder you. Society does not permit attempted murder, even if it is consensual, and thus dueling has been illegal for over two hundred years in this country. So the question is whether consensual sadomasochistic acts are more like dueling or more like boxing for purposes of the criminal law.

The court ruled that consent does not matter. The acts in question were illegal regardless of whether the victims consented to them. The legacy of Samuels, however, is the court's rather bizarre ruling on the first question.

The court in Samuels ruled that there was no consent to the actions committed. How on earth could this be, given that the so-called victims approached Samuels, proposed the activities, and formally consented before, during, and afterwards? The court deployed a rather novel line of reasoning ("novel" is used here as a legal term of art; in this context, it should be read as "extraordinarily bad"). The court held that normal, sane people do not consent to having themselves whipped and beaten. The fact that the victims in this case consented to be beaten is evidence on its face that they were insane. The insane cannot legally grant consent. Ergo, there was no consent. The court thereby created a nifty catch-22: the act of granting consent to be assaulted was proof that you lacked the sanity to grant consent to be assaulted.

Even more disturbingly, a cursory glance at subsequent cases reveals that, so far as California courts are concerned, the "Masochists are insane and can't grant consent" holding is the big point to be taken away from Samuels. Nobody's touched the somewhat-more-respectable "consent doesn't matter" holding and focused on "Those creepy S&M types are insane and oughta be locked up." Samuels hasn't been overturned and, unless I'm mistaken, is still good law in California.

Now, there haven't actually been a lot of cases of people being brought in on assault charges for BDSM activities, from what I can glean. It might well be that the only reason Samuels hasn't been overturned is because it hasn't been challenged lately. A court today might find that the reasoning in Samuels no longer fits the times (Samuels was decided in 1967).

Further, the fact that there haven't been a lot of challenges is probably a good indication that this is an activity that is illegal according to the letter of the law, but which you are unlikely to get prosecuted for as a practical matter. Nonetheless, even if such prosecutions are rare, the fact that they are possible is problematic. Sodomy prosecutions in Texas were rare, but when they occurred were generally used by local police officers to harass homosexuals. If you don't like the tools that law enforcement has, the best course of action is usually to take them away, rather than trusting them not to use them.

Finally, a less serious note. We were discussing this case in a philosophy-oriented class, bringing in questions of Millian Utilitarianism, Kantian autonomy, and the Dignity Principle. The Grad Student running the discussion questioned how we knew that the victims consented during the action. He suggested that screaming and such seemed to be part of the whole BDSM experience, so how would Samuels have known if consent had been withdrawn? At this point my hand shot up and, when called upon, I explained that in such situations they generally established a safe word beforehand, something unlikely to come up in the normal course of sado-masochistic activities, like "Banana" or "Fiction." The bound party could say the safe word at any time and it would mean "Seriously, stop right now, this is over." When I had finished I found that everyone was staring at me oddly and several people were snickering. The GSI looked uncomfortable and said "Ummm, well, thank you for that insight. Moving along..." I get the impression that I knew more about BDSM practices than my classmates were comfortable with. Needless to say, in that discussion section I was among very few people who found the "masochism is a sign of insanity" argument to be complete nonsense.

Reader Poll!

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Well, now I have two ideas for posts, but both are relatively longish legal posts that will require more mental energy than I can summon at the moment, given that I am functioning on 4 hours sleep. So, while I take a nap, I'm interested to know which of the two topics you would prefer to hear about sooner, and which you'd prefer to delay until later: 1. Legal issues with respect to BDSM in California, or 2. Questions of compensation in "Wrongful Life" suits (suits in which a doctor botches a sterilization procedure, resulting in pregnancy). Of those two, which tickles your fancy?

Soul Mate


I just looked out my window and noticed a girl in the apartment across-and-slightly-leftward from mine talking quite emphatically. She isn't pacing; just standing in one place addressing someone. She is making exaggerated arm gestures, emphasizing points by motioning with a bottle of beer in her right hand. At one point, she stops and doubles over in laughter before continuing. I've never seen someone so physically engaged in a conversation before, outside The Sims.

Then I shift my angle and discover: She's talking to the corner. Nobody else is there in the room with her, at least not in the direction she's facing. I feel like I should put a sign up in the window introducing myself and asking her to call me.

Avocadro's Number


Suppose, for the sake of this post, that you are a just-ripened avocado. Being an avocado, it is your life's dream to be made into the tastiest dish possible, and then consumed. Being just-ripened, it is crucial that you be made into this dish as soon as possible, to avoid spoiling. What, then would you recommend that I, your owner, do with you, and how would I go about doing it? For the sake of this hypothetical, assume that you are an avocado with internet access and the ability to reply to posts in comment sections.

Bad Roommate

I tend to have a very difficult time living with people. This is because it is exceptionally rare that my roommate and I operate at the same level of consideration. That is to say, either my roommate is sloppy and inconsiderate, in which case I am alternately annoyed and disgusted with him, or he is immaculate and unimpeachable, in which case I am mortified by the slips in my behavior. I'm not terribly bad, I think, but I am slightly lazy about cleaning up. Messes tend to slowly accumulate in my room, and dishes gradually pile up in the sink. I do my chores, but often not with sufficient vim and vigor.

My current roommate is of the immaculate sort, and this makes me far more uncomfortable than if he were messy. I'd much rather be annoyed but self-righteous, the suffering roommate rather than the offendor. Thus my reaction when I went into the common room yesterday morning and found three half-drunk 40s of Olde English malt liquor, along with assorted plastic cups and crushed beer cans, was not anger but relief. Finally! A crack in the facade! Something to make me feel less guilty about my own transgressions!

And speaking of my transgressions, I've absolutely ruined our refrigerator. You see, I was making braised cabbage. Now, the recipe was for braised cabbage with white wine and nutmeg. I'm out of nutmeg, so I decided, as I tend to decide, to make it a spicy dish. I chopped up a serrano pepper, for flavor, and a habanero, for spice, sauteed them and braised the cabbage in that. And why not add a few cloves of garlic while I'm at it? Also, I was fresh out of white wine, so I figured some white wine vinegar would be just as good. Very well. It came out fine, though rather different, I imagine, than what the author of the recipe envisioned. What I realized, when I tasted it, was that it was not so much braised cabbage as a quick version of kim chee. Well, I like kim chee. I ate about half of it, then decided to put the rest away for later. I'm without tupperware at the moment, must remember to get some next time I'm at the houseware store. So I threw it into a large serving bowl and stuffed it into the fridge. No need to wrap it in serran wrap, I'll probably eat it tomorrow, and it shouldn't dry out too badly by then.

Two days later it's still there; I hadn't anticipated all the eating out I'd be doing with visitors. And now, not surprisingly, the refrigerator smells of sour cabbage and garlic. Which I don't mind, but might raise the roommate's hackles.

UPDATE: Another thing my roommate makes me feel bad about: He's MUCH better at feigning an interest in my activities than I am in his. He sat and watched me play an RPG for an hour tonight. An hour! And it's a well-known fact that console RPGs, regardless of how you feel about actually playing them, are the most boring kind of video game to watch. They're repetitive and consist of long periods of nothing much happening, interspersed with brief periods of bad dialogue. Plus I was at the start of the game, and there wasn't even a real narrative hook yet. Hell, I was bored by what I was doing! But he watched me play in silence for an hour. It puts my vague attempts to ascertain what he does when he's not around me to shame.

If you don't have anything to say...

...Don't say anything at all.

I've sort of been in a drought, idea-wise lately. Hence the lack of blogging and somewhat lower quality of what blogging I've been doing. Not that I haven't had ideas; it's just that none of the ideas I've had have been gripping enough to remember when I sit down at my computer. I'll have to get a notebook to write these things down, which is a bit silly because I originally started the weblog so that I could record my ideas without the fuss of writing them out.


I'd just like to point out that today's Penny Arcade is on the exact subject that I rambled incoherently about last week. Finally! I have grounds for a crackpot copyright infringement case! I have achieved internet self-actualization.

Cold Sweat

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(Upon consideration, I've decided to remove this post. It failed to pass the Cocktail Party test: If someone were to tell me the contents of this post at a cocktail party, I would be inclined to make myself scarce, rather than listening to what they had to say next.)



When it rains it pours.

I've spent the last two months wishing someone would visit me in New York; it gets a bit lonely here with all of my friends 3000 miles away. Now I have three people visiting in the next week. Elaine is coming this weekend and we've arranged to meet on Friday. Natalie is coming to interview with Columbia Med in the middle of next week, and hopefully we can get together then. And to top it off, who should I get an e-mail from today but John Thomas, who not only is in New York City but in Morningside Heights. Now I wish I'd taken the time to learn more about the buildings around campus; I get the feeling I'm going to be asked to play tourguide and, whereas I could do it reasonably well by the end of four years at Berkeley, I'm somewhat beyond my depth here.

In other news, I spent fully two hours practicing the banjo today. Curse you, Cotton-Eyed Joe! Soon I will conquer you!

I bought a book by Roger Zelazny at a used book store called "This Immortal." It apparently won a Hugo, so it's got that going for it, but so far it seems unforgivably pulp. Its saving grace is that he elected to name the conquering alien race "The Vegans." Thus it is filled with unintentionally humorous lines like: "Now this-this bootlicking gesture!-having a Commissioner take a Vegan scribbler on a tour any staff guide could conduct! Vegans aren't gods!"

Also, you people should go see Serenity. It's not doing as well in theaters as it should. Orson Scott Card says it's the greatest Science Fiction movie ever made. On the other hand, Card also isn't too keen on gay people, so your mileage with respect to his opinion may vary. Still, I say it's well worth two hours of your time and $10 of your money!

Finally, in more news of stupid word choices drawn from legal terminology in science fiction, I found out today that some years back a fairly popular space strategy game was released called "Pax Imperia 2: Eminent Domain." Eminent Domain is the constitutional doctrine that permits the government to seize private land for public use, provided they give just compensation for it. Words mean things! Stop using them just because they sound cool! That goes double for you, Japan!

Bureaucracy! (The Musical!)


After four years of undergraduate work at Berkeley, and several months at Columbia Law, I have discovered that I am becoming quite the connoiseur of bureaucracy. You would be surprised how many varieties, how many subtle variations, there are to bureacracy. Allow me to demonstrate.

The fundamental goal of bureaucracies, I find, is to prevent those with whom the bureaucracy interfaces, be they students, patrons, customers, or other bureaucracies, from getting what they want out of the system. Each one chooses a unique manner of ensuring frustration.

Berkeley bureaucracies tend to prefer to scare interlopers with a mountain of useless paperwork. When you, for instance, go into the Office of Residency in order to file a Petition for Change of Residency Status, they will give you a pound of forms to fill out, along with a sheet of paper detailing the mighty fuckload of documentation you will have to present alongside that pound of forms in order to back them up. When you return to turn in your ream of papers, they will carefully inspect each sheet for discrepancies. You will have made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Perhaps you forgot to save a copy of your voter registration card. Perhaps your driver's license was acquired three days too late. Most likely, they will give your mighty fuckload of documentation a cursory glance and declare that, of all the insults, this is not a mighty fuckload of documentation; it is a mere fuckload. How can you possibly expect the Office of Residency to make an informed and judicious decision about the proper state of your residence when given a fuckload of papers so lacking in might? Please apply again next semester, hopefully once you have gained a proper respect for the importance of documenation.

It bears mentioning that they will not actually tell you that your petition for change of residence has been denied. I'm sure that years of experience have taught them that giving people such bad news tends to cause, well, conflicts, and those can be so unpleasant. The best way to handle these things is to just not tell them, let them find out when the next tuition bill comes with a hefty non-resident fee. It also goes without saying that, if upon review of their documentation they should come up lacking, but the deadline for submitting documentation has not yet expired, and they could in theory submit the missing documentation if informed that it is missing, it is not in any way the office's responsibility to inform the applicant of their oversight. After all, if they were sufficiently enthusiastic about the process of becoming an official California resident in the eyes of the University they would be stopping by to check on the status of their application at least once a week. For who among us does not enjoy popping into the Office of Residency and checking on the status of their paperwork of a lovely Spring afternoon?

(You may think that I am joking. I present for your amusement an actual conversation I had. Any embellishments are due only to failure of memory on my part:
"Hello, I'm Molten Boron. I submitted a Petition for Change of Residency two months ago, and was wondering if there's been any action on that."
"Alright, let me go get your file.... Here you are. Your petition isn't complete. Here's a list of all the documentation you're missing."
"Huh. This is done up like a letter. Did you type this just now?"
"No, that's been in your file."
"Huh. Why didn't you send it to me?"
"Our office doesn't send those lettters."
"Interesting. Umm... The date on this letter is a month ago."
"Yes, that's when it was typed up, just after we reviewed your file."
"And it's been sitting in my file, in your office, since then."
"And I can't help noticing all of these forms are due no later than a week from yesterday."
"Yes, that is the deadline for submitting documentation."
"Ah. Well, you see, it seems as though this letter is almost worthless to me now, since there's no way I can gather all of this material in a week. Now, had I gotten this letter a month ago, it might have been useful."
"Well, then, you should have come in to get it a month ago."
"I didn't know that it was here a month ago."
"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do to help you here. Is there anything else you need?"
"No, I suppose not.")

Columbia bureaucracy, I find, is of a highly different character. Berkeley bureaucrats like to give large amounts of pointless paperwork in order to overwhelm their hapless patrons. They then scrutinize this paperwork endlessly to ensure that nobody gets what they want. Their demeanor is standoffish, and their principal conversational tactic is stonewalling. Columbia bureaucrats are quite different. They're very cheerful and helpful, and will tell you exactly where you need to go to get what you want done, which, unfortunately, is not where you are. For every task you would like to accomplish in dealing with Columbia bureaucracy, a very lengthy list of procedural hurdles has been devised, each of which must be cleared in the proper order. I offer as an example the security clearance on my Columbia ID card.

Columbia uses a card swipe system for security. It's pretty convenient, insofar as it means you can access certain buildings after hours. It's also absolutely required to get into some buildings at any hour, such as Lerner Hall, the student union. I moved in two weeks before classes started, and had hoped to get my ID card early, so that I might access things like the library, the gym, and Lerner (swipe required for entrance to all of the above). No dice. ID cards are issued in your registration packet on the day of orientation, and no sooner. Oh well. Orientation rolled around and I got my card. Oddly, though, the various card readers refused to recognize my card when I swiped it. I assumed clearance had not been worked out yet, and let it be. A week passed and I still couldn't access anything with my card. On a friend's advice, I went to the ID office in Kent Hall. There I was informed that I had no security access, and this needed to be changed in my student record. But, alas! it is not within their purview to change my access privileges. To do that I would need to go to the ID Security Office in the basement of Low Library (Which is not, by the way, a library, but rather the main administration building, not unlike Berkeley's Sproul Hall). I went to the ID Security Office and found that it was closed for the day (at 3 o'clock). Drat. I came back the next day to find that the entire office had gone on vacation, but here are 3 e-mail addresses, and one of them surely belongs to someone who can help you. I sent identical e-mails to each and sure enough, three days later, I got a reply. Security had been enabled for campus buildings such as the law library, but if I wanted to get access to the gym I'd need to go talk to the gym's administrative office. I paid them a visit, and in short order they had authorized me for gym use. Then I tried going into Lerner Hall. Card rejected. Huh. I asked the security desk and they said to go back to the ID Office in Kent Hall; they control Lerner access. I did and was told the man was wrong, and that I needed to go to the ID Security office in the basement of Low Library. At this point I became ever so slightly beligerent, and it paid off. I demanded to speak to a supervisor and have the discrepancy sorted out. It turns out that they CAN fix security (for Lerner Hall only) in the Kent Hall ID office, but the person they had working out front hadn't been informed of this fact. It makes the process more kicky and fun! In short order my ID was fixed, and now I can access everything that I ought to be able to access.

This whole post was precipitated by another encounter with Columbia bureaucracy, but since I'm still wrapped up in it I'd rather not explain. I find bureacracy stories are best told after they have reached their bewildering conclusions. Perhaps once I have extricated myself I'll be more inclined to discuss it.

About a month and a half ago I ordered some groceries from Fresh Direct. Fresh Direct is a really handy grocery delivery company here in New York City, and I recommend them highly, notwithstanding this incident. They came right up to my apartment with my groceries and wheeled them into my kitchen. I tipped the delivery guy and he left. Then I inspected my groceries. About four cardboard boxes full of groceries, far more than I could have carried on my own, and with much less hassle. On top of them was a small bag containing the lone frozen food item I had ordered, a pint of Ben and Jerry's Dublin Mudslide.

Only it wasn't Ben and Jerry's Dublin Mudslide. It was a loaf of Food for Life-brand wheat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free fruit juice-sweetened brown rice bread. I went on line to determine how to go about fixing an order, but it involved calling them. This was a problem since I didn't have a phone at the time, and wasn't sure if it was plausible to do it from a pay phone. So I gave up and threw the bread in the freezer.

I mention it now because I've run out of real bread and am now going to try to eat it. I took it out of the freezer last night to defrost. After 24 hours it's still very cold and pretty much still frozen at the core; that's disturbing. I just had a slice of toast and it has a disturbing almost-like-bread-but-not-quite quality to it. It's very dense and sort of... gritty? I don't know. It's not very good, but fortunately I have more bread coming tomorrow, so I can probably safely throw it back into the freezer to re-frost.

I'm sure this was just an honest mistake on the part of the Fresh Direct delivery guys; my invoice clearly says "ice cream" and not "Creepy non-bread." And, annoyed as I am at getting the brown rice bread, I would imagine that Mr. No-wheat No-Gluten No-Sugar was infinitely moreso to get the pint of Ben and Jerry's Dublin Mudslide.

Nonetheless, we cannot discount the possibility that the vast Godless Communist conspiracy has infiltrated into our grocery stores, into our delivery vans, into our very freezers, where their cold, gluten-free leninist hearts refuse our most red-blooded American attempts at defrosting them.

Speaking of . . .


I'm in the market for science fiction books right now. Does anyone have any particular favorites to recommend?

Serenity Now!


I saw Serenity today. I enjoyed it a lot, but I also spent the last two days watching nearly every episode of Firefly, the TV show of which it is a continuation. The whole series is a weird mix of science fiction and western, and the exact percentage shifts from episode to episode. There are episodes where it's mostly a science fiction show that happens to have random Western trappings in some of the costumes and dialogue, and there are episodes that are for all intents and purposes westerns, but where you might see a space ship at the beginning or end. The movie's balance is almost entirely at the sci-fi end of the spectrum.

Now I should point out here that when I use science fiction to describe Firefly/Serenity, I use it in the sense of "being set in the future/space." The term science fiction can also have thematic implications, of positing ideas about how things will or might evolve in the future, and then exploring how people and societies react to these changes. Firefly/Serenity is not science fiction in this thematic sense; the only real idea in the series is pure television high concept ("What if, in the future, people totally acted like it were the old west?"). Of course, science-fiction-as-setting is pretty much all you can hope for in most film and television science fiction, and given that Firefly and Serenity do a pretty darn good job.

I get the impression that the film would be understandable for someone who hasn't seen the TV show, but obviously can't speak from experience. The TV show comes highly recommended, but watching the movie first might put a different spin on the experience. The show started with a set of characters and was gradually revealing their backstories and secrets. That got put to an abrupt halt when the show got cancelled. For the movie, they sort of lay all their cards on the table. A lot of stuff is revealed that's only hinted at in the show, and I worry that, if you approach it backwards, it might take some of the impact out of the TV show.

Still, though, the whole thing, series and movie, is highly recommended. Not mind-expanding fare, but very well executed and stylish fluff. Interesting characters, fun plots, snappy dialogue. I'd see the movie in the theater if you can; if plausible, see all or part of the TV show first, but don't let that get in the way of seeing the movie.


I feel as though, in the interest of forthrightness, I ought to confess something. There's been a lot of talk of Dune lately, both the miniseries and the David Lynch film, and I have made some comments which, while technically accurate, may perhaps have been misleading. I have said that it is a terrible movie. It is. Every minute of it. And especially every minute of the extended 3 hour version, which I have seen.

It is a terrible movie, and yet I like it.

Not for reasons discussed earlier; I do not enjoy it on the level of kitsch, it is not a "so bad it's good" sort of movie. I enjoy it because it is nostalgic. When I was a kid, growing up in DC, my parents occasionally went on dates and left me at the house of one of their colleagues, Eileen Marty. Typically my entertainment on these evenings was a movie. As I recall, Dr. Marty owned two movies: Dune and Oliver Twist. Most times, I chose Dune. As a kid, I remember actually really liking Dune. It was science fiction, and I liked Star Wars. Plus, at that age, I didn't really follow plots much. I knew what was going on in a scene, but I didn't really try to put it together into anything larger, which is probably the best way to watch Dune. That is to say, I had no less idea what the hell was going on than anyone else who's watched the movie, but I didn't really think of this as a problem. And the visual design for the movie is pretty stunning. For years the scenes in it, the Guild navigator meeting with the Emperor, the shield fight between Paul and Duncan, the worm eating the harvester, the Baron Harkonnen pulling that one guy's heartplug out then flying around and laughing maniacally, have been implanted in my brain.

So this means that, growing up, I got a steady diet of David Lynch Sci-Fi weirdness. Which probably says more about the development of my tastes than I care to admit.

UPDATE: It also bears mentioning that without Dune the David Lynch movie there would not have been Dune the movie tie-in computer game. Dune the movie tie-in computer game was an adventure game of little merit, competently executed and utterly forgettable, but it in turn spawned Dune II. Dune II was a landmark computer game, insofar as it created the Real Time Strategy genre, still popular to this day (there are some who argue that the first Real Time Strategy game was Herzog Zwei, but I summarily dismiss this argument. While Herzog Zwei was technically the first game that had enough Real Time Strategy elements to call it a Real Time Strategy game in retrospect, it was a commercial flop that had no real influence on the industry).

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