March 2006 Archives


I'm trying to come up with a good name for a cat. Not my own, sadly, but I've been asked for advice. Anyhow, it'll be a male silver tabby cat. So far my favorite choices:

1. Hippo
2. Chairman Meow.
3. Der Hund, Beppo.

Other possibilities:
Melville, Catty Bumpo, Nacho, The Great Catsby (ne Jay Catsby, ne Jay Catz), Theodore Katcizinsky, The Sorrow and the Kitty, Dib, Florian, Petronius, Juan, Justice Meowliver Wendell Holmes, Justice Felis Frankfurter (these last two work best if you have a pair. Or you could collect nine cats and create a whole kitty Supreme Court!).

Any other ideas?

Hell's No Game, Son


Here's something I didn't know existed until just recently: Christian knock-offs of strategy board games. I guess I don't quite get it. I understand Christian Rock; it's for parents who like the sound of rock, but who find rock lyrics to be counter to the Christian ethos. And it's useful to give to kids to distract them from real rock music. And I get Christian versions of games for very young children. They're good for education and such, Bible trivia, that sort of thing. But Christian strategy board games? Are they trying to shield their kids from the harsh and sinful world of... Carcassonne? Is building the french countryside too violent? And if it's for indoctrination purposes, this also seems off. By the time your kids are old enough for Settlers of Catan, they've probably outgrown games-centered-on-the-Bible-for-no-reason. Moreover, I don't imagine there's much knowledge-type education to be extracted from Settlers or Carcassonne. They're educational, sure, but in a skill-building strategic-thinking way, not in an assimilating-the-Bible way. Not that these don't look like fine games, they seem to have the designer's seal of approval, and they could pick worse games to rip off, but I just don't see the point.

I've been reading off-and-on an interesting survey history of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean (It's called Egypt, Greece, and Rome, though I suspect the title was not the author's; there's actually a whole chapter arguing that the Persians get far too short a shrift from Greco-centric historians of the ancient world). In it, there's a discussion in there of agriculture in ancient Egypt. It's quite interesting. We tend to think of Egypt today as this great barren desert, but in the ancient world it was something of a bread basket. Egypt consistently had surpluses of food that it used as a trade good, and as late as the Roman era it was a heavy grain exporter.

Anyhow, Egypt had a rather peculiar agriculture. Farming was centered around the Nile, naturally enough. There was, at the time, little or no irrigation. Rather, farmers relied on annual floods to nourish their land. Egypt had great flood plains around the Nile that were underwater roughly from April to September, from the Spring rains until Autumn. Planting happened in Fall, ripening in Winter, and then harvest in Spring. So these annual floods served as natural irrigation.

The interesting thing is that, at least according to the book, the archeological evidence indicates that ancient Egyptian society had private property for individual citizens (there was apparently a large centralized bureaucracy that kept records of administrative and judicial decisions, and it's from these records that a sense of Egyptian property rights has been derived). So this raises all sorts of interesting questions about how you adjudicate property rights to land that's underwater half the year. This was important stuff; food was Egypt's main export, so you can imagine how important it was to maintain your rights to agricultural land. But how do you tell who's land is whose when it's gone for half a year, and any markers you leave are likely to be washed away? And what do you do when the geography changes thanks to erosion? I mean, the river itself has to be constantly shifting in its path. How do you figure out who has the better claim to a piece of land when noone can be sure where that land is in relation to where it was last year?

Sadly, the book provides no answers. It mentions that there were property disputes that were adjudicated by Egypt's courts, and that the nature of Egypt's agriculture made these disputes particularly troublesome, but it doesn't discuss how the legal rules evolved to handle the situation.

Now that I've thought about all this, of course, I will inevitably have a nightmare in which I walk into class and find that I have a final in Ancient Egyptian Property Law, a class I've never attended. Naturally, the test will be administered in hieroglyphics, and our answers are to be in hieroglyphics as well. All the other students will have brought their stone tablets and papyrus to work on, and I'll be standing there with my useless laptop. In my underpants. Tiger-print polyester underpants.

I got a letter today from the New York State DMV informing me that there had been a mistake in the fee they charged for my Non-Driver's ID. Apparently the DMV misinterpreted a fee increase to apply to me when it didn't, so they charged me $10 when they should have charged $5.

The letter, from, I stress, the DMV, was to inform me of this error and to tell me that I would shortly be receiving another letter from the DMV containing my $5 refund.

I'm glad they did this. Getting a $5 check in the mail might have been too much for me. It's nice that they provided this buffer. "Okay, just so there are no surprises, there's going to be a check coming from us. It'll be for $5. Just don't wig our or anything when it arrives."

I'm a bit disappointed, though, to have gotten the shocking news of the refund all at once. I think it might have been best to start with an e-mail. "This is the New York State DMV. This is to inform you that there is some business we need to transact. Further bulletins are forth-coming." That way, you know, I wouldn't be shocked to get a letter from the DMV. As it stands, there's no telling how I could have reacted to seeing that envelope. I did fine this time, but in the future, who knows?

They might also have softened me up with some further letters. "This is to let you know that an error has occurred. Further correspondence will detail the substance and nature of this error." "The error alluded to in the prior letter concerns your non-driver's ID. Further information about this error will be sent promptly." "The error with your non-driver's ID concerns the matter of payment. We will keep you informed as events develop." "The error in payment for your non-driver's ID involved your over-paying. The amount of over-pay will be detailed in the next letter." Only then would I be prepared for the shocking revelations that awaited me in my mailbox today.

So, let this be a warning to fellow New Yorkers: If you have a heart condition, or are otherwise easily frightened, beware letters from the DMV! There's no telling what they might tell you, without a moment's concern for whether you have received adequate warning!

Slippery Slope

One of the interesting things about analogy-centric reasoning, prevalentin the Law, is that it actually makes slippery slope arguments pretty legitimate. If you decide to move the law in a given direction, you make it easier for the next lawyer to move the law a bit further, because you did X in Roe v. Doe, and X really isn't that different from Y, just a bit further along. And, of course, Y is quite similar to Z, and so on.

To illustrate: Why don't we allow children to vote? I don't mean, like, "lower the voting age to 16." I mean, "eliminate age as a requirement to vote at all." Let five year olds vote, if they want.

Why not? A few reasons that are oft proffered:
1. They're too dumb (can't properly consider the issues). We rejected this argument for denying the vote when we banned literacy tests.
2. They don't take voting seriously. Nor do a lot of Americans, but we don't require a seriousness test, and if we did it probably wouldn't pass Constitutional muster. Moreover, you certainly couldn't make the argument to blanket deny the franchise to an entire group as we currently do to children.
3. They're physically incapable of voting (applies to the very young kids). Lots of people with disabilities can't physically vote; we have provisions to assist them.
4. Their interests are already adequately represented by their parents. First, nonsense. Kids think very different things than their parents, and there's no reason to think their parents' interest entirely conform to theirs. Moreover, this argument was used to deny women the vote (their husbands could represent their interests) and was rejected. A further point: Each parent only gets one vote, but that one vote is supposed to represent the interest of one or more children. So a family of five with three non-voting-age children gets two votes. This argument fails basic tests of numeracy.
5. They're unduly influenced by their parents. This is the reverse of the last argument; they lack the basic autonomy required of a voter, they won't understand that they don't have to vote the way their parents tell them to, and they'll basically just serve as political dopplegängers of their parents. This is probably the most persuasive argument, because there aren't many analagous situations of one class having such immense psychological and intellectual control over another class.
6. Lack of physical interest in society (Lack of property). We don't truck with no poll taxes in America.

My essential point is that over the last century we've invalidated pretty much every argument that some group, for objective reasons, ought to be denied the franchise. This is a good thing, but it makes it much more difficult to justify denying the vote to remaining disfranchised populations out there. About the only remaining objective reason for disfranchisement that we accept, and it is controversial, is being guilty of a felony, which doesn't apply to children.

This is one of the troublesome things about the analogic reasoning of the law. Here, it's relatively benign; there's probably no problem with allowing children to vote. But it means that, when making a decision, a judge has to consider the possible implications of that decision down the line. Analogic reasoning makes law both more radical than it should be (taking a decision to its logical conclusion when society would perhaps not tolerate it) and more conservative than it should be (judges who might be inclined to move the law away from where it has been will hold back for fear that future judges will take the move too far).

So: Yeah.

America's Next Top Model, Episode 3



Tonight's theme was falling. The general idea was to tell the contestants that falling down in heels is the worst thing imaginable, then put them in awkward dresses and stupidly huge and impractical heels and giggle and point when they fall down. This strikes me as particularly unfair to Sara, the 6'1'' girl who neither has much experience with heels nor, as the judges have repeatedly pointed out, should she ever wear heels. Nonetheless, she comports herself pretty well throughout the episode, and actually looks pretty good.

Notably terrible was Gina. Jade must not have said anything notably obnoxious or vainglorious this week, because the theme of this episode shifted from 2 parts Jade-being-self-obssessed, 1 part Gina's-an-idiot to a full dose of Gina's-an-idiot. Gina spends half the episode freaking out and screwing up, and the other half feeling sorry for herself and promising with something approaching resolve that this time she's going to be strong and powerful and sexy and not screw up. And then she goes batshit over having a hissing cockroach on her.

But before I get to that, the episode begins with Ms. J. teaching the girls how to do a runway walk. Sort of. There seems to be very little education involved and a lot of quasi-judging. Danielle falls on her face while walking in a rather stupidly cut dress which looks way too long for her. This proves to be foreshadowing. Gina selects a big poofy wedding dress which hides her entire body below the waist, completely defeating the point of the exercise. How can Ms. J. teach you how to walk when he can't see your fool legs?

Next the girls move on to this week's mini-contest: Runway walking for a designer ("Something Gold?") who creates ugly shock-value clothing and demands the girls pose with giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches. I'm not sure what the point of the exercise is, because the cockroaches are too small to see if you're not right next to the girl. I suppose it's a kind of Fear Factor-lite thing. Anyhow, nobody's comfortable with the cockroaches but Jade (insert your own Jade/Cockroach joke here), but the only one who absolutely freaks out is Gina. She talks about thinking maybe she should just quit to avoid the cockroach, she shrieks her head off, and eventually the designer has to push her onto the runway. She actually composes herself pretty well, all things considered, but she still did the worst of anyone there. Again.

Jade wins the contest and gets to pick three friends to go to a fashion show. She chooses Nnenna, Danielle, and someone else (I forget who). Not Gina. Jade's choice of three friends seems fairly arbitrary; other than Nnenna, who's sort of been nice to Jade in an attempt to get her to stop picking on Gina, nobody seems to like Jade, and Jade doesn't seem to like anybody. Anyhow, there's a fashion show, the real models look good, the contestants don't. Jade talks about how soon she'll be up there, everyone just needs to see her amazing talent, etc.

Next we're doing the photo shoot. The theme is falling: The girls will dress up as fairy tale characters, stand on a ledge, then fling themselves sideways. The photographer will shoot them in the air, skeet-style. Furonda is Rapunzel, which isn't surprising given the massive hair extension they gave her last episode. Building off a stupid comment from Nigel, they make Kari into Goldilocks. Furonda should be grateful they didn't work from Nigel's (repeated) comments about her and make her up into E.T.. Jade does pretty well, everyone else is mediocre. Intensely unhelpful Jay Manuel tells Gina that her problem is that she's thinking too much, shoots a photo, then complains that she's vapid. Jay Manuel is not a photographer. He is a make-up artist. Yet, for some reason, he is in charge of all the photo shoots this season. This means he has absolutely no constructive advice to give the contestants. He is, however, a pleasant orange color.

Mollie Sue feels that she's all personality, and she needs to let it show. This is interesting, because she's actually pretty much a Vulcan. Jay tells her (correctly, for once) that she shows no emotion and needs to get it out. He then discusses this in confessional. He refers to his having "broken her." Allow me to point out that he told her that she's showing no emotion in the same tone of voice one might use to tell a friend helpfully that she's wearing too much lipstick. If Jay Manuel think's that's breaking someone, he has no business in either fashion or reality television. Which he doesn't.

Now it's judging time. Ms. J. is wearing her stupid gimmick t-shirt with the number, but this time has the good sense not to point it out. The celebrity guest judge is Gold, the designer who had to shove Gina out on stage, which seems to seal her doom. Going in, I was certain Gina would get cut. She did the worst of everybody in every aspect of this week's episode, in addition to having sucked pretty constantly for the entire first two episodes. Even at her best she hasn't even attained mediocrity, and this week she really distinguished herself. Also not looking good: Kari, who's a bit weepy and looks like a B-grade porn star, Danielle, who can't walk runways, Mollie Sue, who's my favorite dark-horse candidate for a cut due to her utter lack of personality, and Brooke, who just plain isn't attractive. Why is she on the show?

As an extra bonus contest, Tyra makes the models wear what look like 9 inch heels and catwalk for the panel. About half the contestants trip in some way. Surprisingly, not Sara, the 6'1'' girl. Good for her. Gina screws up. Kari really screws up. Danielle, who's been doing sub-par this episode, screws up so badly that she tears out her pinky toe and is becrutched for the judge's comments. As will be seen later, this is quite fortunate for her.

The judges make catty comments to the contestants, then banish them backstage so that they can make cattier comments to one another. And then comes the decision. Danielle gets a pass mid-way through, probably out of pity. Her toe had better heal fast because, as Wendy learned last week, pity only gets you so far on this show. It comes down to Gina and Kari. Tyra tells Kari that she looked great the last two weeks, but that her photo was a little sub-par this time around. She then lays into Gina for how utterly terrible she is. She doesn't look like a model, she doesn't act like a model, and she's not even smart enough to be a model. So, naturally, she cuts Kari.

Not that I terribly mind losing Kari; I really didn't like her. But whereas in the last two episodes I was rooting for Gina not to get cut out of sympathy, I now just wish they'd euthanize her and put her out of her misery. You know what? She's not going to win. I know that. You know that. She knows that (she has the biggest expression of shock on her face when she doesn't get cut, showing she was actually more surprised than I am). All of your viewing audience knows that. The only reason that she's still on is because she's SO terrible that she makes good television. Except now everyone watching the show knows that you're insulting their intelligence. You're waiting for her to acclimate and become less interesting, at which point you'll cut her. You know what ANTM? You need to put up or shut up. You edited this episode into non-stop Gina-is-awful, then cut Kari for no apparent reason. That's not being surprising, that's just hiding the ball.

Still, the pattern's becoming clear: Regardless of what happens in the episodes, they're gradually cutting out the notably less-attractive girls. That mean's Danielle's next if her toe doesn't heal, and she'll be right after Brooke if it does. Furonda won't be far after. They'll probably cut out the defective personalities next, starting with Mollie Sue. This is probably when they'll finally let Gina go. They'll hold onto Jade as long as they can, but probably not into the final 3. I predict the show will end up as a contest between Nnenna and Leslie, with Nnenna winning unless Leslie can do something to stand out. They've already built Nnenna up so much in the early episodes, though. Hopefully Leslie will become more interesting as she gets more screen time, or else this season will just be a coronation for Nnenna.

Four Posts! One Day! No Real Content!


I see that Questionable Content is touching on the sexy librarian thing today. Having said that, today might not be the greatest Questionable Content for the first-time reader. As the drama has ramped up lately, the funny has gotten a tad stale. The artwork has gotten pretty amazing lately, though, and I quite enjoy the strip now, just in a somewhat different way than I did before. I think Jeph Jacques's doing a good job of keeping QC a gag-a-day strip, even as he moves it in a more serious direction and develops the characters. Things are sort of in transition now for the characters, and once things get settled again I'm confident the funniness will return to prior levels. In the meantime, I recommend going through the archives.

Though, having said that, my heart belongs to R.K. Milholland. If you only read one webcomic on my recommendation, read Something Positive. That is all.

Music and Cats

Okay, this is a post about a case, but it's totally not boring. I promise!

For Property tomorrow we're reading Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Association. The case arose in Los Angeles. A woman bought a condominium in a complex and moved in with her three cats. Unfortunately, there was a term in the purchase agreement that specified that "No animals (which shall mean dogs and cats), livestock, reptiles or poultry shall be kept in any unit." The Plaintiff, Ms. Nahrstedt, apparently didn't know about this. Her cats lived indoors and presented no problem until the condo association learned about them. They told her to get rid of the cats. When she didn't, they fined her and threatened to continue fining her each month until the cats were gone.

So she sued. She argued that the cats were no bother to anyone, that they in no way harmed the value of the condominium complex, and that they did not impare the ability of any of her fellow condo dwellers to enjoy their own condos. The terms of the lease were unreasonable as enforced against her, and so the court ought to throw them out.

Not only did Nahrstedt sue her condo to keep her cats, she actually took the case all the way to the California Supreme Court. Think about this: Nahrstedt sought only injunctive relief. There's no money on the table. She went all the way to the California Supreme Court to get them to issue an order to the condo board telling them to let her keep her cats. I'm now fascinated by this woman. Was she a pro se litigant (self-represented)? Was her brother handling the case? Did she actually spend the money to file suit and appeal all the way to the Supreme Court over her kitties?

What's doubly interesting is the decision itself. The majority rules against her. The term was there in the contract, and it's not the condo board's fault she didn't read it carefully. She bound herself to it and, since many people have problems with allergies or whatnot, it's not unreasonable to have a blanket pet ban.

But the dissenters get absolutely pissed over this ruling. Seriously, I haven't seen this level of vitriol outside of a Scalia dissent. A few choice quotes:

"Beyond dispute, human beings have long enjoyed an abiding and cherished association with their household animals. Given the substantial benefits derived from pet ownership, the undue burden on the use of property imposed on condominium owners who can maintain pets within the confines of their units without creating a nuisance or disturbing the quiet enjoyment of others substantially outweighs whatever meager utility the restriction may serve in the abstract. It certainly does not promote "health, happiness [or] peace of mind" commensurate with its tariff on the quality of life for those who value the companionship of animals. Worse, it contributes to the fraying of our social fabric."
"To the extent such animals are not seen, heard, or smelled any more than if they were not kept in the first place, there is no corresponding or concomitant benefit. Pets that remain within the four corners of their owners' condominium space can have no deleterious or offensive effect on the project's common areas or any neighboring unit. Certainly, if other owners and residents are totally unaware of their presence, prohibiting pets does not in any respect foster the "health, happiness [or] peace of mind" of anyone except the homeowners association's board of directors, who are thereby able to promote a form of sophisticated bigotry. In light of the substantial and disproportionate burden imposed for those who must forego virtually any and all association with pets, this lack of benefit renders a categorical ban unreasonable under Civil Code section 1354."
"Nonetheless, the majority accept uncritically the proffered justification of preserving "health and happiness" and essentially consider only one criterion to determine enforceability: was the restriction recorded in the original declaration? If so, it is "presumptively valid," unless in violation of public policy. Given the application of the law to the facts alleged and by an inversion of relative interests, it is difficult to hypothesize any CC & R's that would not pass muster. Such sanctity has not been afforded any writing save the commandments delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, and they were set in stone, not upon worthless paper."
"Owning a home of one's own has always epitomized the American dream. More than simply embodying the notion of having "one's castle," it represents the sense of freedom and self- determination emblematic of our national character ... Nevertheless, with no demonstrated or discernible benefit, the majority arbitrarily sacrifice the dream to the tyranny of the 'commonality.' "
"The majority's failure to consider the real burden imposed by the pet restriction unfortunately belittles and trivializes the interest at stake here. Pet ownership substantially enhances the quality of life for those who desire it. When others are not only undisturbed by, but completely unaware of, the presence of pets being enjoyed by their neighbors, the balance of benefit and burden is rendered disproportionate and unreasonable, rebutting any presumption of validity. Their view, shorn of grace and guiding philosophy, is devoid of the humanity that must temper the interpretation and application of all laws, for in a civilized society that is the source of their authority. As judicial architects of the rules of life, we better serve when we construct halls of harmony rather than walls of wrath."

I'm somewhat awestruck by the dissent. That's the most vigor I've seen in any judicial decision all year, including landmark cases desegregating schools, granting the right to abortion, and striking down sodomy laws. But take away a woman's kitty-cats, and then you REALLY get the Justice's dander up (at least, Justice Arabian of the Californa Supreme Court).

For what it's worth, while Nehrstadt lost her case, five years later the California legislature passed a bill explicitly overturning this decision. It made it so that terms of condo purchase agreements that create restrictive covenants preventing the ownership of pets are unenforceable. In the face of this explicit repudiation, the California Supreme Court could reply only with silence. It could, perhaps, be said that a cat had gotten its tongue.

I've been fading in and out in my Gilmore Girls watching this season, mostly because WB has been pretty inconsistent with the new episodes. But I've caught the last few episodes, including the most recent while I was at home for Spring Break, and I decided to rededicate myself to it.

So I turned it on tonight and settled in. It started out well enough; Rory moving back home after her long fight with Lorelai, the two of them making up, Rory going around Star's Hollow saying hi to everyone, etc. Lane was working on writing a song with Zack and the band. Luke was being reticent and hiding something (clearly his long-lost daughter). And Rory and Luke were not speaking to each other after a nasty fight. But something seemed... off. The dialogue didn't seem to be quite addressing the specific big events of the last episode. After about 20 minutes I started to wonder whether it was a new episode or not. I finally decided it must be a re-run halfway through the show.

I submit to you that this is not the sign of a good show, particularly not an ongoing drama with an evolving plotline. The show's becoming like Pachelbel's Canon; you watch an episode and have no idea where it fits in the overall plot. On a broader level, it shows they're running out of serious ideas and are falling back on standard WB drama tropes. Rory's fighting with Richard and Emily! Now she's living with them. Now she's fighting with Lorelai! Now they're friends again. Is this an episode where she breaks up with Logan, or one where she gets back together with him? Flip a coin! And for Pete's sake, Luke's daughter.

Moreover, they've fallen back on lazy characterization to motivate the conflicts. Almost all of the fights that come up lately would be solved if the characters just talked and listened to each other, which they used to do in the first four seasons of the show. But no. Now they keep secrets for no reason except to cause a fight when the secret gets revealed. They jump to conclusions then refuse to listen to reasonable explanations. The characters we've come to love over five years have been replaced by short-tempered idiots.

There are a dozen other smaller things. The dialogue has lost a lot of its snap. The pop-culture references seem forced (moreso than usual). Rory's turned from sweet and interesting to obnoxious and shallow. And it hasn't helped that Rory and Lorelai have spent most of the season not talking to each other.

I'll still watch the show when there are new episodes on, if I remember (next new one in two weeks. This is why I've missed most of the episodes this seaseon). Nonetheless, I can't help but feel the show's run its course, and perhaps ought to have ended a season or two ago.

UPDATE: On the plus side, Paris is still fun. Probably because she's relegated to sidelines comic relief, so we don't have to care about TEH DRAMA with her.


Today in Property the professor embarrassed a student by putting her on the spot and questioning her relentlessly. That's not noteworthy; that happens three times a day in every law school class across the country. What was interesting about this time was that the nature of the questioning and her embarrassment stemmed from an odd failure of communication.

I sort-of kind-of know the girl who was interrogated. She's from Berkeley. The professor offhandedly started grilling her on co-ops, a subject we haven't gotten to in the casebook yet, in class. He asked her something like "Well, how would (legal doctrine) apply to a co-op?"

"Umm.... I don't see how it being a co-op would be relevant..."

The professor snorted. "Well, of course it's relevant. What makes a co-op different from a standard property?"

"Uh... Well, I guess people sort of... share the work?" (Laughter from the mostly East Coast student crowd)

"No, that's not how co-ops work, and it's not relevant anyway. What about a co-op complicates ownership?"

"Well... I guess no one person really owns a co-op..." (More laughter)

"How can nobody own a co-op? Somebody has to own it!"

And so on until the professor gave up and let her off the hook.

The fundamental problem is that we in America have completely failed to settle on a uniform meaning for the term "Co-Op." In Berkeley, where I'm from and where the unfortunate student went to undergrad, a co-op is a weird sort of private dorm thing. That is, the University Students Co-Operative Association owns a few dozen properties of various sizes in the community around the campus. Students apply to join the co-ops, and most are let in. They're assigned a living space and agree to 1. pay rent, and 2. provide a certain amount of maintenance work each week. USCA has a bunch of properties providing different living situations (dorm-style, house-style, etc.), different provisions of services (some have open kitchens, some provide daily meals, etc.), and themes (African-American, LGBT, Grad Students, etc). But in general, the idea is that you live there, pay a rent that's way reduced from market rates (basically just what it costs to pay property taxes and maintain the building) and contribute labor to the communal welfare of co-op denizens. It's essentially nothing special lease-wise; just a residential rental where the landlord happens to be benevolent and the monthly rent involves a mix of rent payments and service-in-kind. It's what most people think of as a "collective," or "collective housing," and most folks on the west coast, I believe, would envision something like that when you mention the phrase "co-op" to them.

A co-op is vastly different on the East Coast generally, and in New York in particular. Here, co-op is essentially a fancy word for "Condominium." There's a slight difference from a legal standpoint (A co-op is organized as a corporation that holds the building, and those who live there purchase shares of the corporation. Based on the share they purchased, they're entitled to a percentage of the corporation's assets, which is to say, an apartment in the building) but the point remains: A co-op is distinguished from a rental unit in that you are actually paying a large lump of money up front to buy the apartment, and from then on you own it.

So, the student was lambasted unfairly. She and the professor were essentially talking past one another. While the professor (and most of the East Coaster students) believed her befuddlement and not-on-point answers were caused by her head full of mush (because she has not yet been trained, you see, to think like a lawyer), the problem was actually that the professor failed to define his terms properly. I think this was a cheap trick on the professor's part; an eminent property scholar like him should (and likely does) know that "co-op" has a lot of different meanings, and it's unfair of him to assume that when he uses a word the listener will know what exact meaning he intends. Perhaps I should start referring to him as Professor Humpty-Dumpty.

His Dork Materials

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I had long been under the impression was a bit short on outlets for nerdly pursuits.  Granted, there's the big Comic Convention every summer (Featuring the largest concentration of nerds in the Western Hemisphere!) but that feels more like an out-of-towner thing.  The biggest comic store represented there is always Comic Relief, down from Berkeley, and both the retailers and the con-goers all seem to be disproportionately from outside the San Diego region.  Near as I can tell San Diego has two dedicated board-game realtors, compared with, by my estimate, over half a dozen in the Bay Area (including two in Downtown Berkeley within blocks of each other). 

It turns out, though, that I've been missing the dorkiness under my nose.  There's actually a pretty fantastic gamestore on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, just off the 805.  It's called Game Empire and they have a pretty good selection: Eurogames from Carcassonne to Puerto Rico and everything between, smaller non-collectable card games, puzzle games, puzzles, a huge selection of RPG core books and supplements, table-top wargames, the ubiquitous Yu-gi-oh, and even a few American standards (Monopoly, Risk, etc.).  They also have a pretty sizeable playing space.

Moreover, two doors down there's a big Science Fiction bookstore, Mysterious Universe (which had George R.R. Martin scheduled to come in for a signing).  And in the next shopping center over there's a huge comic book store, ComicKaze.  So after living in San Diego for 18 years, it's only as I'm returning for a brief visit that I discover what seems to be San Diego's principal dork enclave (A dorkclave?).

Anyhow, I wound up with copies of Power Grid and Ticket to Ride.  Kelsey got some comic books.  Now I just need to figure out how to cram two more boxes into my already-burgeoning luggage.

(And for those who care, Ticket to Ride and Power Grid are both highly recommended.  Ticket to Ride's more of a fun family-type game.  Moderate levels of strategy, a good deal of luck, though the luck factor isn't dominant.  Easy to learn and fun to play.  It accomodates 2-5 players and plays in about an hour (though the time can vary wildly).  I'm almost never not in the mood for it (and if I'm not, it's usually because I just finished playing three games in a row).  Power Grid's a bit tougher.  The random element is pretty minimal and there's a lot of strategy involved.  It combines bidding, resource management, and careful city selection.  And it teaches basic economics while you play!  When I sell it to people, I tell them that it's a really fun game that rewards careful budgeting, rational planning, and sensible development.  Surprisingly few people take me up on the game, though.  Power Grid also, in addition to requiring more strategy than Ticket to Ride, has a lot more rules.  Each turn has multiple phases, and the whole game is played in 3 different parts, with the ground rules changing from part to part, so it's a bit heavy for the first-time player.  But it's quite rewarding once you get into it, and can be played by 2-6 players in an hour and a half to two hours.)

Learning When to Shut Up


One of the principal advantages of the web as a medium of expression, for the introvert, is that it allows one to cut through the crap and get straight to the point.  No need to socialize, no need to chit-chat, no need to finesse.  All the interesting parts of communication without all the ephemera.

The weblog, in particular, is ideal for the introverted.  It allows one to shout one's opinions into the ether.  If anyone's interested, fine, but there's no need to direct your thoughts at anyone in particular and no need for sustained human contact.  When you're done with a conversation, you just let it end; no need for a graceful egress.  If you're interested in something, you can comment.  If you're not, you're under no obligation to contribute. 

It has, however, been my misfortune to discover that skins are as thin on the internet as they are in person, but on-line you lack the subtle visual cues and the softening effect of personal contact that allow you to get away with more abrasive thoughts.  All that bullshit tends to soften the blow, and it's a lot harder to say something stupid or spiteful or otherwise ill-considered in person than it is on a blog.

All of this is to say that blogging for the last six months has taught me that it is important to think hard about what you're posting/emailing/whatever before you post/send/whatever.  Don't post things/email things when you're feeling emotional, because you'll likely regret it in the morning.  Don't comment if you don't have anything interesting/constructive/relevant to say.  And for the love of Pete, don't say nasty things about specific people, because they will end up reading it.  Moreover, no matter how clever you think you are in avoiding naming names and using circumlocutions to keep the person's identity hidden, they will figure it out and will hold you responsible. 

None of this is to say I'm giving up blogging.  I do consider my (many) mistakes of the past few months to have been learning experiences.  I'm getting better, I hope, at keeping careful control of what I say, which has always been a problem in the past.  However, thanks to certain recent events, I shall be a bit more taciturn from now on.  As I do in real life, my plan is to err on the side of caution and speak only when absolutely sure that what I'm saying will be interesting and well-taken (which means, most of the time, not speaking at all).  Blogging will be on topics that are much more safe and much less personal.

I just thought I'd take a moment to point out that this Friday Doctor Who will be showing on (non-PBS, non-BBC America) American television for the first time since the disastrous 1996 Fox telemovie.  I'd also like to point out that this is the revival that began airing on the BBC a couple of years ago, and that it has been met with critical acclaim by all who've seen it (which, admittedly, is just British folk and Sci-Fi geeks at this point).  It debuts this Friday night at 9 PM on the Sci-Fi Channel with two one-hour episodes.

This excites me as a dork generally and as a Doctor Who fan specifically.  If you would indulge me to listen as I provide some brief background on the show?  Alright.  The show premiered August 23, 1963 (the day after the Kennedy assassination).  It was placed on hiatus 26 years later in December of 1989 (one month after the Berlin Wall fell).  The show's about a benevolent alien (a Gallifreyan Time Lord) who calls himself The Doctor and travels through time and space ... being ... helpful.  That is to say, the general format for a Doctor Who adventure is that The Doctor (plus whatever companions he currently has in tow) finds himself on some planet (usually Earth) at some time (the present the plurality, though by no means the majority, of the time) and discovers that there is something bad happening.  This may be an alien plot, or a natural disaster, or some similar species of unfortunate event.  The Doctor (plus companions) spend a few episodes fixing the problem, and then they're off to their next adventure. 

A few interesting things about the show: First, the longevity.  The secret here was a rather convenient contrivance created a few years into the show's run.  The shooting schedule was such that a number of different directors and crews worked on the show.  Further, while there was one head writer (the "script editor"), individual serials were written by a rotating stable of writers.  Producers changed over time as well.  And The Doctor's companions were always getting written in and written out of the show, so those actors were non-essential.  The only person in the entire Doctor Who production who was actually essential to the show was the actor who played The Doctor himself, William Hartnell.  In 1966 Hartnell decided to leave the show, and it seemed the show might be over.  Then somebody hit upon an interesting idea: why not kill The Doctor off, but not really kill him?  And so the Regeneration contrivance was born.  The premise is that when a Time Lord sustains a mortal injury he doesn't die immediately.  If he can be allowed to recuperate he will regenerate.  The process leaves him young and healthy and ready for more adventures, but in a completely new body.  Moreover, the instability of the process can cause a radical shift in personality.  So, in other words, they find a way to kill off the old actor and replace him with a new actor.  The upshot of this is that there have now been ten incarnations of The Doctor, each unique and interesting in his own way (no female Doctors, though.  Regeneration apparently doesn't screw with sex or gender).  The other interesting thing about the show is the format.  Traditionally, the show comes in half-hour episodes, but those episodes never stand alone.  Rather, the show is serialized.  The shortest stories you'll see are two-parters, typical stories are either four or six parts, and the longest-running serial was the twelve-part season-spanning "The Daleks' Master Plan."  What all this means is that, thanks to the flexibility of setting (anywhere in time and space) and length, the show's writers have a great deal of leeway in doing what they like with their serials.

The show's something of an institution in England, and a lot of British TV writers spent some time on the show (Douglas Adams was head writer for a season.  Interested fans might want to pick up the serials "The Pirate Planet," "City of Death," and "Shada," all three of which were written by Adams exclusively).  And now the show's back on the air.  I spent most of high school dreaming of Doctor Who returning from hiatus, and now here it is, complete with Genuinely Good Actors, Non-Terrible Special Effects, and Sophisticated Plotlines, three things that, for all that I love the show, it has never really had in the past.  So, I'm quite looking forward to this Friday evening.

It's probably a good thing that I don't have cable back in New York; between the return of Doctor Who and a critically-acclaimed re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica both airing on Friday nights, I don't think I'd ever make it to board game club meetings.  If they ever start airing new Mystery Science Theater episodes I may have to get cable again.

Die Fliegende Collander


I'm on vacation!  This increase in free time has led to a decrease in blogging.  The implications are as astounding as they are banal.

A few observations from my trip:

Travel, for me, is always an object lesson in my utter failure as a masculine specimen.  Just as I'm not really able to lift a 100 pound box, I'm not really capable of carrying a 50 pound piece of luggage with any degree of grace.   Maneuvering my bag three blocks to the subway, onto the train, off the train, down the stairs to another train, and off of that train to the JFK monorail was an exercise in strategic hoisting and lunging.  By the time I got my bag checked my arm muscles had vanished, replaced with pure, writhing ache.  My arms still hurt now, three days later, and my fingers are red and blistered. 

I got to my gate way early (as always).  The TVs were playing Airport CNN.  Airport CNN is a lot like regular CNN, only the ads have been replaced with Public Service Announcements.  This makes for an interesting viewing experience: It's pure fear, pumped from the monitor without the mitigation of advertisements.  To give you a sense of what it's like:

News Anchor: Up next, we speak to Congressman Charles Dimwittie, who alleges that allowing the Dubai Port Deal to go through will put TERRORISTS IN CHARGE OF OUR PORTS who will use that access to BLOW UP YOUR HOUSE TOMORROW! And later in the hour, our panel of experts will discuss whether blocking the Dubai Port Deal will cause ARABS TO HATE US, AND YOU IN PARTICULAR, which will cause them to COME TO YOUR HOUSE TOMORROW AND BLOW IT UP!  But first, these messages.

Public Service Announcement:  When was the last time you talked to YOUR child about alcohol abuse?  Oh, last night?  I see.  So you didn't think that this morning might be a good time for another talk?  Well, guess what.  Chances are your kid's taking swigs of Jack Daniels right now because of YOUR negligent parenting.  Still glad you decided to eat that sausage biscuit rather than save your child from a life of crippling alcoholism and abuse?  I hope you still remember how good that biscuit tasted when you're watching your child wither away from cirrhosis.  You disgust me.

PSA #2: Have you talked to your child today about methamphetamine abuse?  Better get on it, because right now your child's just set up a meth lab in the basement, and soon it will BLOW UP YOUR HOUSE!

PSA #3: As a cigarrette smoker, you're pretty much the most disgusting human being on the planet.  Really.  For the sake of humanity, just die of heart disease already so we don't have to breathe your disgusting second-hand smoke, which, by the way, is killing your kids.  Plus you'll probably burn down your house with a stray cigarette soon, anyway.

The plane boarded, as planes are wont to do.  I had the pleasure of sitting with chatty neighbors.  As mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of socializing, particularly with strangers, and especially when it means socializing for six hours with no possibility of escape.  Plus the in-flight movie was The Family Freaking Stone.  Ugh.  After twenty minutes discussing the weather, fifteen minutes on how interesting law school must be, and thirty minutes on the minutiae of being a facial therapist at a spa up in Connecticut, I opened the in-flight magazine to escape.  This lead to a ten minute conversation about how boring in-flight magazines are, and who writes for them anyway?  I found myself on the word puzzles page, toward the back.  I figured that working on a puzzle would cause my seatmate to leave me in peace.  I was wrong.  Every two minutes an interuption.  "Well, how's that puzzle going?  You getting any farther?  Is it pretty hard?"  "No, I'm about where I was the last time you asked."  "Oh, is it tough?"  "Not really, no."  "Okay.  ....  So where are you now?" 

As usual, boredom was my ally.  I pulled out my Latin textbook and started studying.  When the inevitable question came, I launched into a passionate explanation of declension.  Twenty minutes later, she never wanted to know about antique grammar again.  For the rest of that flight, Wheelock's Latin was my conversation shield.  Plus, now I know the second declension!

Boarding a plane did not put an end to the media's attempts to terrify my.  While leafing through the aforesaid in-flight magazine I discovered a full-page medical warning about deep-vein thrombosis.  DVT occurs when a large clot forms in the veins of your legs, then disloges and makes its way to your heart, there to cause all sorts of trouble.  The risk factors include sitting down a lot (which I do all the time!) and not changing your leg position (which happens to me by necessity on plane flights!).  I began panicking.  There was no way I'd survive this whole six hour flight; I could feel my leg veins clotting already.  Here I was, about to die, and the last thing I'd hear was this woman telling me about facial peels.  My fear turned out to be unwarranted.  Though, as the conversation wore on, I began silently rooting for the clot.

Oh, a fun Latin phrase from my in-flight lesson: Ira Poetae: The Rage of the Poet.  If this isn't already the name of a video game, it should be. 

A couple of hours into the flight the attendants announced the beginning of food service.  I got excited.  Airline food is one of those things about which I get unreasonably excited, even though I really shouldn't.  It never fails to disappoint, but the prospect of packaged Air Food seems so alluring when it's announced.  It's like Charlie Brown and his football, only with partially-hydrogenated spreadable neon-orange cheese-esque substance.  This time I was doubly excited; I hadn't eaten since that morning at my apartment.  I'd avoided airport food, since it's over-priced even for New York and I figured I'd soon be getting a free airline meal.

This flight's meal, in turn, was doubly disappointing, because it did not exist.  Not for me, anyway.  Apparently, American Airlines now charges for in-flight meals, $4 for a sandwich and $3 for a snack pack.  I was outraged.  Outraged!  I didn't even get a packet of peanuts; those were in the snack pack.  I fumed.  $4 for a sandwich!  $7 for the whole meal!  As I thought about it, though, I realized there was nothing I'd be willing to pay for airline food.  It's airline food!  It's terrible!  And yet its absence has caused me to swear a vendetta against American Airlines that can only be satisfied with blood.  How curious, then, the in-flight meal.  It's so worthless there is no amount I would pay for it, and yet I am outraged when it isn't given to me free. 

One final note: Why is it so cold here?  When I left New York, the weather was sunny and in the mid-60s.  I was out in shirt sleeves and didn't pack a sweater or anything.  I arrive in San Diego and it's pouring rain and in the low 40s.  I didn't come across the country for this!  Why has the weather forsaken me?

Wir Spielen ein Spiel

Several Spielen, in fact. A friend from the Columbia Strategic Simulations Society introduced me to a new website, SpielByWeb. It lets you play German board games on-line with other people. It's quite a nice set-up; the boards and pieces are attractively re-created, you can send messages to others in the game, you can leave notes to remind yourself what your plans are, and the system e-mails you when it's your turn. You click a link, take your turn, and you're done. There aren't a lot of games there, but the ones they have are quite fun.

I've taken the liberty of setting up a few games, if anyone's interested. I have games of Amun-Re, Reef Encounter, Tikal, and Wallenstein set up. You can get on-line rules for all but Tikal on the site. Go here for Tikal rules. Don't worry, the site's all in English, and I've only a passing familiarity with these games, so this isn't a set-up or anything. You'll have to register with the site, which is free and quick. I've set up the following games:

Wallenstein. Game: Law1. Password: Dip
Amun-Re. Game: Law2. Password: Dip
Tikal. Game: Law3. Password: Dip
Reef Encounter. Game: Law4. Password: Dip

The pace will be very relaxed and easy-going. No rush to finish your turns, just whenever you get a chance, and it won't be competitive at all. Come learn some new board games!

Awwww, Dip!


Or at least, some sort of vaguely dip-like substance. It's actually not too bad. Very spicy, but that's because I threw in lots of peppers (and threw out many more).

Nonetheless, it has a large number of ingredients that the Laws of God and Man say should not go together. It has, pureed together, peppers, tofu, turnips, rutabagas, tofutti, garlic, horseraddish, some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. To that was added chopped artichokes, onions, and spinach. I also threw in some parmesan cheese that I inherited from the old lady on the first floor that I've been meaning to get rid of, but I don't think it's essential at all. Oh, and oil. I put in oil.

After pureeing and combining, everything went in a slow-cooker and I cooked it on low overnight. Now it's done and it tastes... very creamy, very spicy, but with a nice spinach/artichoke flavor. The root vegetables add nicely to the creaminess; they actually seem like a natural for veganized dips. That is, pureed turnips/rutabagas are like less flavorful, more liquid mashed potatoes, so they act as a nice base for more substantial and flavorful vegetables you might care to puree with them.

I like it. If I were serving it to company, I'd use a lot less in the way of peppers, and probably another can of artichokes, but it came out alright. I'm glad, in retrospect, that I didn't try to incorporate the butternut squash; I don't think it would have integrated well. Hopefully it'll last until I get back.

Dark Alchemy


I'm going away on vacation for a week Friday afternoon, and I'd like to use all my perishable food items before them (or at least transmute them through cookery into a freezable form that I can eat when I return). This means a lot of cooking tonight, and possibly means making odd partners of my various comestables.

Right now I would like to, in one fell swoop, dispense with:
About a pound of serrano peppers.
About a dozen habanero peppers.
About a half-dozen jalapeno peppers.
A pound of turnips.
A half-pound of rutabagas.
a 3-pound butternut squash.
A 14-ounce container of firm tofu

I also have various things that could conceivably be added, though it is by no means necessary that I use them:
A jar of artichoke hearts.
Various frozen vegetables (a package of spinach, a package of brussels sprouts, a package of okra, a package of peas)
A loaf of bread (Plus the Godless Communist Brown Rice Bread, still frozen)
Assorted condiments (Deli mustard, ketchup, several kinds of hot sauce, wasabi sauce inherited from an old lady who lived on the first floor, soy sauce)
Long-Grain Rice
60% of a container of Tofutti
A wide assortment of spices, plus various baking material (chocolate, sugar, baking soda and powder, yeast, etc.)

Any ideas? My plan right now is to chop things pretty coarsely, roast them, then puree them into some sort of.... dippish... thing. Maybe a pasta sauce. If you don't hear anything from me within 12 hours, avenge my death.


I have a linguistics question: how did Latin get so structured and formalistic? Actually, my question is a bit more general than that; as others have pointed out, a lot of ancient languages tend to be very highly structured. I'm curious about how they got that way.

To elaborate: Latin (and, based on Dianna's comments, Sanskrit) involves a large number of fairly complex rules, but those rules are pretty universally applied. Your verbs have to be conjugated to match the person and number of the subject, your nouns and adverbs have to be declined to match their function in the sentence. There are rules of pronunciation and accent that are universal, though nuanced, and that can result in the pronunciation of a word shifting as you conjugate/decline it. But here's the trick: There's a big messy mass of rules to remember, but if you remember the rules and how to apply them, you can work your way through just about anything. The exceptions are pretty few. Spelling, for instance, is universal. The same set of letters always make the same sounds, and if you know how a word sounds, you know how to spell it.

Compare this to English, which is essentially just one giant pile of exceptions. There are a few rules-of-thumb, but even these can't be relied upon ("I before E except after C. Or in Neighbor or Weigh where the 'ie' sound is "ay.' And also 'Weird.'") You can't rely on a pronunciation to know how a word is spelled, and you can't rely on spelling to know how a word is pronounced (Compare "Union" to "Untie").

But English is sort of a special case; modern English is the result of an enjambment of different languages over the course of thousands of years (Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Greek, French, and then modern attempts to rationalize and modernize the languge). But even so, other modern languages are similarly unstructured when compared with the ancients. A lot retain conjugation, but few retain declensions. Many still identify three genders for nouns, while others have cut down to two, and others (English, in one of its more admirable qualities) don't bother assigning arbitrary sexes to inanimate objects and concepts at all.

So it seems like there's been a general linguistic move away from rigidly-structured rule-based languages and towards more ad-hoc, informal arrangements. And it's pretty easy to understand why. People need to communicate regardless of your fancy "rules," and they'll go ahead and do it even if they do it wrong. The more complex the rules, and thus the more education required to speak the language properly, the more likely vernacular simplifications become. Granted, there will be socialization towards these complex rules based in the fact that people can absorb them from daily life and they become second nature, but this same socialization will facilitate the spread of useful simplifications. As the variants multiply, people eventually end up speaking a language that is no longer recognizable. This language won't be as structured as the old one because it's the result of convenient alterations made by thousands of amateur linguists as necessity required.

So, yeah. The whole point of this is to say language used to be highly structured, now it's much more loose and disorganized, and it's very easy to understand how things moved that way. But here's my question: How did Latin (and Sanskrit, and others) get so highly-structured to begin with? A move from more organization to less organization makes intuitive sense. But where did the high levels of organization come from? Latin was not divinely ordained. Who, exactly, decided that adding a vowel after another vowel makes the first vowel short?

Of course, it could be that Latin (and others) just present the illusion of order to the modern learner. It could be that we're only getting the very highly-educated sources, the folks who are in a position to have learned all of the elaborate rules. Further, it's quite possible that the rules they follow are, themselves, artificial constructs that don't reflect the actual ad-hoc language that people spoke. Some unknown guardian of the Latin language, perhaps, took a look at the mass of informal arrangements that made up the language, invented a lot of descriptive rules of thumb, and these rules were promulgated and reinforced among the elite. The descriptive rules likely cut corners and left out exceptions, but they became the basis for written Latin, and in turn written Latin has become our source for How Latin Was.

So, um. Any other explanations? Were ancient languages really so formal and structured, or do we merely think they were in retrospect? And if they were, how did they get that way? It makes sense for languages to become less structured, so how did these highly-structured languages come into being and become popular among the masses?

Latin: Very Useful

I scoff at those who insist that learning Latin isn't useful. Scoff! Thanks to today's self-guided lesson, if I ever find myself transported back in time to ancient Rome and selling myself as a prostitute on the docks, I now know how to say "Hello, sailor!" in Latin. It's "Salve, nauta!" (pronounced "SAL-way, NOW-tuh")

As for the lesson itself, I got most of the way through the exercises ("Sententiae Antique"). I was quite pleased with myself for translating the phrase "Without philosophy we often go astray and pay the penalty" into Latin (I believe the best translation is "Sine philosophia, saepa erramus et poenam damus"). Then I decided to call it quits for the night when confronted with translating "If your land is strong, nothing terrifies the sailors and you ought to praise your great fortune." I'm fuzzy enough about proper word order with conjuctions, and I don't even know where to begin with a conditional thrown in. Something like "Si patria tua valere est, nihil nautas terret et debes magnam fortunam laudare." I think. I'm probably completely wrong there, though.

Latin Conjugation of the Day: Basiare (To Kiss)
Basio (I Kiss)
Basias (You Kiss)
Basiat (He/She/It Kisses)
Basiamus (We Kiss)
Basiatis (Y'All Kiss)
Basiant (They Kiss)

Latin Declension of the Day: Mensa (Table)
Mensa (A Table)
Mensae (Of a Table)
Mensae (To a Table)
Mensam (At a Table)
Mensa (On a Table) (And that's a long "a" at the end, as opposed to the short "a" in the base form)
Mensa (Oh, Table!)
Mensae (The Tables)
Mensarum (Of the Tables)
Mensis (To the Tables)
Mensas (At the Tables)
Mensis (On the Tables)
Mensae (Oh, Tables!)

Today's unadulterated quote from a Roman author: "Philosophia est ars vitae" (Pronounced "pil-aw-SAW-pi-uh est ars WEE-tai") It's by Cicero, and means "Philosophy is the art of life."

Prince Rupert

The following case appears in our Property casebook. It was decided in 1647 by the King's Bench in England. It's short, so I reproduce it below in its entirety:

Paradine v. Jane King’s Bench, 1647 Aleyn 27, 82 Eng. Rep. 897

In debt the plaintiff declares upon a lease for years rendering rent at the four usual feasts; and for rent behind for three years, ending at the Feast of the Annunciation, 21 Car. brings his action; the defendant pleads, that a certain German prince, by name Prince Rupert, an alien born, enemy to the King and kingdom, had invaded the realm with an hostile army of men; and with the same force did enter upon the defendant’s possession, and him expelled, and held out of possession from the 19 of July 18 Car. till the Feast of the Annunciation, 21 Car. whereby he could not take the profits; whereupon the plaintiff
demurred, and the plea was resolved insufficient * * *

It was resolved, that the matter of the plea was insufficient; for though the whole army had been alien enemies, yet he ought to pay his rent. And this difference was taken, that where the law creates a duty or charge, and the party is disabled to perform it without any default in him, and hath no remedy over, there the law will excuse him. * * * Now the rent is a duty created by the parties upon the reservation, and had there been a covenant to pay it, there had been no questions but the lessee must have made it good, notwithstanding the interruption by enemies, for the law would not protect him beyond his own agreement, no more than in the case of reparations; this reservation then being a covenant in law, and whereupon an action of covenant hath been maintained (as Roll said) it is all one as if there had been an actual covenant. Another reason was added, that as the lessee is to have the advantage of casual profits, so he must run the hazard of causal losses, and not lay the whole burthen of them upon his lessor; and Dyer 56.6 was cited for this purpose, that though the land be surrounded, or gained by the sea, or made barren by wildfire, yet the lessor shall have his whole rent: and judgment was given for the plaintiff.

To translate: This case stands for the proposition that, even if you're excluded from your leasehold, you still have to pay your rent. So even if King Rupert and his German armies break into your apartment and throw you out the window, you still have to pay that rent check in the mail on the first of the month.

This, by the way, is a great illustration of the goofiness of the common law: This case was incorporated into American law, along with the rest of English Common Law, shortly after the revolution. It hasn't been overturned, so right now, today, Paradine v. Jane is good, binding law here in America. As a practical matter, it holds that when you're in a lease there are certain duties, and with a few exceptions you're always bound to those duties even if the other party ignores them. If your landlord kicks you out for no reason, you still have to pay rent while you seek a legal remedy. Likewise, if you don't pay rent, your landlord can't kick you out until he gets you lawfully evicted.

Nonetheless, it's slightly silly. An anonymous, royally-appointed judge in England in 1647 makes a ruling. Later judges follow it unquestioningly, doctrine is built around it, and now it's the iron-clad law here in America in the Twenty-First Century, land of democracy and freedom and the like. Yes, I know, if it were that bad a rule someone would have overturned it by now, but nonetheless. A surprising amount of the laws and rules that govern us in America are the result of decisions by antique English judges. I submit to you that there is a certain irrationality to this.


I have a few post ideas bubbling, but nothing screams that it needs to be done right now. Things have gotten better as of this week; no more moot court brief to worry about, no Courtroom Advocates Project for a few weeks, no job hunt, no struggles with psychologists. Now I've got one week until spring break and nothing truly pressing to do this weekend.

I spent yesterday learning Latin and going to the bookstore to buy books on Roman history to stimulate my interest in Latin. One odd thing I noticed in Barnes and Noble: There are about 50 books in print right now on Alexander the Great. This seems odd to me; is it the detritus of that one movie on Alexander from a few years ago? Considering the unpopularity of the film, the rush to put out books to capitalize on it seems ill-advised. I suppose he's a popular enough subject that there's been a steady trickle of biographies and analyses throughout the years, and publishers used the occasion of the movie to pull them out of the back catalogue and put them into print again.

Still, though, I'm excited about Latin. I never thought I'd buy a foreign language workbook, of the kind dreaded in High School language classes, of my own free will, nor that I would willingly do the exercises and actually enjoy them. Still, we'll see how long this lasts. The next lesson appears to be on the first declension, so who knows if I'll still like it once I've started declining nouns and adjectives.

I also have time to pick up the banjo again now! I've gotten kinda back up to where I was before I took my four month hiatus, skill-wise. I'm still not very good, but at least I haven't slid backwards too far.

Hopefully somthing interesting soon.

Why Don't You Cut Some More?

Former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, whom I voted against in the first ever election I got to vote in, has been sentenced to 8 years in prison. Considering how popular the Dukester was in his day, I kinda doubt his seat is ever going to a Democrat; that region of San Diego is pretty exclusively servicepeople and their families. It's a very conservative area. But at least now the greater North County region won't be represented by such a clownishly corrupt congressman. Maybe. Or maybe the state GOP will pull another blowhard out of its hat.

It's astounding how California's Republican Party manages to do so poorly when the national Republicans are doing so well. You'd think they'd learn how to compete, like Republicans do here in the Northeast and like Democrats do in the South. But no, they keep investing political capital in unlikeable far-right conservatives and eccentric dot-com billionaire libertarians. Yes, I know the governor's a Republican right now, but that's only because he got to bypass a primary. Does anyone honestly think that, if given the opportunity, the California GOP wouldn't have traded Schwarzenegger in for some magic beans?

This is a really dorky thing to say, but California's goofball politics are one of the reasons I wanted to get out of the state. Between the initiative system, the Republicans' incompetence, the Democrats' corruption, the unworkable Prop 13 taxation system, the hamtied budget process, and a strict term limit system that ensures that noone involved in elective state government has the time to learn to do their job well, it seemed like the whole thing was heading in a very bad direction. I've calmed down a bit now, but I'm still cautious about the Golden State. I'd lay better-than-even odds that there's going to be a massive fiscal and governmental crisis the next time there's an economic downturn. I'd prefer not to go back until at least something on the above list gets fixed. Preferrably the initiative system, but I'd settle for just deep sixing Prop 13.

Quick Poll

If I were to say to you, "Civilization is a fun game," would that raise your hackles, grammatically-speaking?



The forecast picture on the Google homepage for tomorrow is a picture of a branch with icicles on it. Huh? I went to Weather Underground to see what was up. Tomorrow's weather is predicted to reach highs of 30 F, with a 100% chance of ice pellets.

Ice pellets?

You Be the Judge: Marital Property

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You're a trial judge in a state court hearing a divorce case. There's no jury, just you. The two parties both agree to a divorce, so that's off the table. The question is how to divide up the property. Assume the general rule for the state you live in is that both parties are entitled to keep what property they brought into the marriage, and that property generated within the marriage is split between the two on divorce (meaning, for instance, that if the husband gets the physical house, he has to pay the wife half the value of the house, and this goes all the way down the line until we get a final accounting at the end).

The facts of this case are interesting, and this matter has never come before a court in your state before. The husband and wife married towards the end of their respective college careers. He was a year away from a bachelor's degree in Biology, she had just finished her degree and had been hired as a student teacher. He planned on going to med school; she wanted to get her teaching credential. Both would have required more school, meaning no income (and significant expense). After talking it over, the couple decided that she would work full-time and support the two of them, while he went to school. A year later they moved to Florida, where he went to med school. After 3 1/2 years, they moved to your state, where he's doing his internship and residency. The entire time she moved along with him and provided his financial support. She paid all of the couple's living expenses and most of his tuition bills (the rest was paid with help from his family and some small student loans). After years of hard work he finished his training and got a board certification for a fairly lucrative surgical specialty. Two months later he filed for divorce.

This couple is quite poor. For the last seven years, every cent has been going to basic living expenses and tuition payments. They obviously have furniture and some simple property, but they're not disputing over that. They rent, so there's no real estate to divide up. The wife has made a novel argument, which is the entire dispute in the case: the husband's degree and professional certification should be accounted as marital property, a capital investment jointly made by wife and husband, and as such she owns a share in it. Therefore, she should get something in the way of maintenance for all the money and work she invested in the degree.

The husband, naturally, disagrees. A professional certification is not marital property, because it isn't property at all. It's an official recognition of educational achievement. It doesn't have any of the standard features of property. It's not alienable (he can't give it to someone else). It has no market value (he can't sell it). It's not a physical thing. He can't divide it in half. He can't will it to an heir. It ceases to exist upon his death. All it is is an opinion by a board somewhere. How can it be property?

So, several questions for you: First, is it property? And is it marital property, jointly owned by husband and wife? If not, should the husband nonetheless be compelled to reimburse the wife for what she paid into the marriage? If so, how do you decide what the wife should get? Should it be the value of what she put in? The expected future value of the license? And what percentage is she entitled to? She paid more than half of the money that went into it, but isn't there also the element of the husband's work and endeavors to earn the degree?

Assume that there are no extenuating circumstances like abuse or infidelity that would cause the court to be biased toward one party or the other. Further, make your judgment according to what you feel the law should be, not what you think the law is. For one, since divorce is handled at the state level there are actually three major schools of thought on property in a marriage, and each state has its own kinks and peculiarities. Further, this very issue has been decided in radically different ways in different states, so it's a question that's open to dispute.

Generally, though, assume your state has de jure sex equality in its marital property laws (the wife isn't the property of the husband at marriage) and that, as described above, the system is that property brought into the marriage belongs to the one what brought it, and that property generated within the marriage is jointly held.

Dork Out!


I just noticed something odd in the dialogue in the first Star Wars movie. That is, I probably noticed it earlier, but the oddness of it was only made clear just now.

In the first Star Wars (that is, Episode IV: A New Hope) there's a scene where a bunch of Imperial middle-managers are hanging around a conference table discussing how neat their Death Star is. That leads to the following dialogue:

Middle-Manager: The Rebellion will continue to gain support in the Imperial Senate as long as....

Grand Moff Tarkin: (Entering) The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

Middle-Manager: That's impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

Tarkin: The regional governors now have direct control over territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.

First, there's the oddness of Middle-Manager's leap from Senate dissolution to Bureaucracy dissolution. Generally, administrative agencies fall under the purview of the executive, not the legislature. Moreover, even if under legislative control (a monstrously inefficient arrangement, but one that is perhaps plausible given the rot of the Old Republic) it does not necessarily follow from "Senate dissolved" that all of its subordinate administrative agencies would therefore be dissolved with it, or that the bureaucracy would disappear. The Emperor could transfer control of the administration to himself. Or, if he worries that the old bureaucrats are loyal to the Old Republic's ways, he could build his own bureaucracy that's loyal to him. Presumably he'd have already done this, much as Hitler used the outside structure of the Nazi party to take over and supplement many of the tasks of government that he couldn't trust the old structures to handle to his satisfaction.

But moreover, the explanation Tarkin gives is totally unsatisfactory. He makes the odd leap from an upset in the balance of power (destruction of the legislature and transfer of its authority to the executive) to some sort of ... federalism? Is that the Empire's tyranny? Devolution of enforcement powers to local authorities? I have to say, while not necessarily being a huge fan of federalism myself, that decentralizing power tends to be a move in the direction of less tyranny rather than more.

It could be Lucas was just confused. In fact, it's likely. But if we take things at face value, the plan seems to be to eliminate the centralized mechanisms of control and enforcement, except the military, and trust to local authorities to handle all the day-to-day tasks of governance. There's no local autonomy (they don't get to make the rules) but there will be local enforcement of centrally made rules. Of course, giving people elaborate sets of rules, into which they have no input, and telling them it's their responsibility to enforce those rules is essentially granting them de facto autonomy, particularly if you've destroyed all of your centralized mechanisms for ensuring compliance.

Which leads to Tarkin's final point. "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station." So the idea is that local governments will be given rules and told to enforce them in line with the Emperor's will. If they fail to meet the Emperor's expectation, the Death Star will obliterate them. This, it must be said, is a terribly ineffective means of governance, even from the perspective of the tyrant.

You're faced with the sort of problem Eisenhower faced with the Massive Retaliation scheme he implemented in the 50s. Essentially, we built a lot of B-52s, loaded them with atomic bombs, and set them patrolling in international/friendly skies just outside Russia. The idea was that we were prepared, if the Russians started anything, to bomb the crap out of them (the general outline of this scheme can be seen in Dr. Strangelove and Failsafe). The problem with Massive Retaliation is that it's only really appropriate in the case of an all-out war. If Russian soldiers had started pouring across the Iron Curtain, we would have been ready. But what happens if Russia instead just pushes a little? What happens if they support communist rebels in Greece and Turkey? What happens if they blockade Berlin? Are these actions worth launching a nuclear holocaust over? When your only option is all-out war, you're in trouble when the enemy tries something that doesn't really justify it. You either go too far or you stand by and let them get away with it. When this became clear, we adopted a more flexible range of military responses to Soviet aggression.

So, Fear of This Battle Station. What happens when Kuat Shipyards starts producing Imperial Star Destroyers that aren't quite up to calibre? Blast them out of the skies? If Bothawui's governor decides that he doesn't have the resources to maintain vice enforcement, and focuses instead on smugglers, is that a genocide-worthy offense? It's simply not plausible to maintain complete local compliance when your only control mechanism is the death penalty for a region.

Alright. Assume Tarkin is being hyperbolic. The Death Star's for extreme circumstances, like rebellion. Generally, though, the Empire will deploy a flexible military response to failures by local authorities. This, too, seems ineffective. Fine for military matters; they can use their various spies and military intelligence to determine when local systems are aiding the rebellion. But how will they determine if, for instance, health care policies are properly implemented? Transportation? Taxation? Will Storm Troopers be reviewing citizens' Space 1040s? And is military force an effective means of ensuring compliance with education laws? Doubtful.

My point is that this whole decentralizing + tyranny idea makes no sense. A far better explanation would be that the Senate had been disbanded, but that the Emperor would maintain control through his own centralized bureaucracy. Destroying your central enforcement mechanisms, trusting to local government to pick up the slack, and figuring that military force will ensure compliance is madness. Madness!

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