Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Leap Siesta and Other Non Sequiturs

Wet snow is snow that just can't take a hint.

We should have to take our extra 0.26 solar day (or whatever it is; I know it's not exactly 0.25, and that every so often a leap year is called off as excess) each year as a fraction, instead of every four years as a whole day. So each year, we add six hours to our tidy but finally arbitrary 365-day conceit. If you were going to work at 9AM, that is to say, for the next year you'll go to work at 3AM (assuming you want to spend the same fraction of daylight hours at work), the year after that at 9PM, and so on. No time of day (speaking of arbitrary conceits) would reliably correspond to a particular pattern of daylight. They say American children are weak in math, and we all know they can't tell time (have you tried responding to a child who asks the time with a half-past, or quarter-til variety of response? -- as often as not, you get an utterly baffled expression at anything not rendered in digital format). So let's up the ante a bit. The first few weaks of the year will be like a standardized test (sort of like remembering to date documents, checks, etc., with the new year, which I usually start getting right on a consistent basis in April or so), and then we'll have some real accountability, damn it!

If I had a great deal of power, but something less than ultimate power, such that I could effect profound changes on the world but was denied the opportunity to end, say, violence, hunger, disease, and the Bush administration, in roughly that order (although ending the latter would mark a material boost in the direction of mitigating the other three, to be sure), I think number 5 on my list would be billboards.

I'd like to take down all the billboards, everywhere. We're so used to them that we forget: our country is wallpapered with low-rent, uncreative, and supremely tacky sloganeering. Seriously: wallpapered with this shit. Look around. And I apologize in advance for ruining your day.

An alternative to jockeying the clocks would be to impose a Leap Siesta, but that wouldn't preserve the daylight-to-time relationship we take for granted. Then there's the whole child labor issue: and what of daylight savings time. The mind reels.

I have this nagging fear that I've blown all of the math on this whole Leap Siesta thing. Kids these days: don't know their asses from their elbows. And, evidently, neither do I.

If wet snow would take the hint, it would be spring already, is really the point.

Driving, Rant

Driving is a big thing for me. I love to drive, I do, and I try to combine a fairly aggressive approach to the road and to getting where I'm going with basic civility and patience. More often than not, the driver you most resent is one utterly blameless for whatever crime against your intentions has you steamed. I could write a book. And I just might. But for now, one example and counter-example will suffice.

Friday night, in the evening, on my way back to NJ, speeding radically as I often do in the hills east of Pittsburgh, I found myself with a tenacious tail driving a Ford Explorer, of all things; only in the ascending s-curves around Ligonier was I ever able to open any real distance at any speed, and he always made it up eventually. Now, I don't really care what people do behind me, and as long as they keep their distance it's all fine and good. There are some basic courtesies to observe, however, each of which Explorer managed to subvert in the hour or so that I had to deal with him.***

1. Take turns on point. If you're paired up with a driver exceeding the speed limit by a legally relevant margin, whoever leads is most exposed to a speed trap, and at night on an unlit highway like much of the Turnpike, this is no small risk. Because I hate to be behind people, and I seem to hold my speed more steadily than most other drivers, I'll usually take more than my share of time in the lead, and am unworried. For the speeds I drive, my lack of tickets is almost shocking. But if for no other reason than simple kindness, I expect other drivers to step up for a while when I ease off, especially those drivers that hang out consistently within ten or so car lengths of my rear bumper.

2. Don't tailgate a tailgater. Sad but true, that if you want to maintain speed, sometimes the only way to send the message to someone needlessly sitting next to a rig going 70 mph in the passing lane is to ride up on him, at least for a moment (my preferred tactic is to get close just for a moment, than ease back a few lengths, to see if the message has been received). I do not tailgate people in front of me who obviously would prefer to be going faster but cannot because of other obstructing vehicles in front of them. When you're following a kindred speeder, or anyone whose speed preferences circumstances don't allow you to discern, give benefit of the doubt and lay back; let him do the tailgating and message sending for a while and wait for the lane to clear. When I'm up sending a message to someone, and you ride up on me, pinning me between two close cars in my lane and a truck to the right, you leave me no choice but to retreat. Following distance, especially in a car that stops in a distance that is among the best of the short-stopping sport compact class, is not nearly as important as the total distance separating a series of cars in a row. If you're in a slow-stopping Explorer, and you're up on my ass at 80, you leave me no choice but to separate myself from everyone else lest a short stop bring your front bumper piling through my rear window. No message is sent. The speeders are slowed down. Nobody wins.

3. Be nice to your point man. Okay, so let's just say you're a cowardly ass, who is only interested in going fast if someone in front of you does so (over time, I realized this was the case with the Ford Explorer). If nothing else, grant this minimal courtesy: don't be a dick to the driver who's blazing a trail you lack the balls to make for yourself. Unlike Explorer, and many other drivers, even when I'm the fastest car on the road (often), and even when I'll have to return to the left lane to pass shortly, I still duck into the right lane pretty much any time I can. It's intended both as a courtesy to anyone who might come up behind me, as a reminder to other drivers that that's the right way to do things, and, when I'm being closely followed, as an invitation to the other driver to take over for a while. At one point on a mid-state straighaway on Friday night, I ducked into the right lane and slowed to about 80, slower than I had just been traveling for quite a while. It was the Explorer's turn to lead, I figured. He didn't change lanes behind me, and he moved up. Inexplicably, however, he stopped his pass as soon as he was situated on my left quarterpanel, completely in my blind spot. Obviously, I knew exactly where he was, and no other cars were ahead of us at the moment, so it was mostly just an annoyance. If for no other reason than to enable evasive maneuvers in the event of a deer crossing, but also in the interest of not making any other driver more tense or uncomfortable than necessary, I absolutely never hang out indefinitely anywhere near any vehicle's blind spot, or next to any vehicle at all. I can't imagine by the impetus of what deathwish people do this, but they do -- often. Either I'm passing or I'm being passed or I'm out of there. By the time this happened, Explorer and I were already sort of pissed at each other. Repeatedly he'd ridden up on me in the left lane when I was trapped behind someone else; repeatedly, I'd hit the brakes just hard enough to scare him back; and if anything he was becoming more aggressively rude, as though anything I were doing to him were inappropriate to his conduct, a provocation. As he pulled up near me, I nudged the brake, taking myself down to 75. He slowed with me, remaining in my blindspot. At this point, I was utterly livid: with no one behind me as far as I could see, I hit the brakes hard, bleeding twenty miles an hour in an instant, and he carried past me, but only by a length or two: he stopped just as aggressively. Even if he'd thought I'd seen a speed trap, he should have know better: at 75, we weren't at any risk of being pulled over. If anything, the risk of that would go up at 55 in a 65 zone. Laughing incredulously, I dropped the car into 3d gear and sprinted for thirty seconds or so, leaving him a quarter-mile back. Twenty minutes later, however, he caught up. To catch me, I concluded, during those twenty blissfully stress-free minutes he had to have averaged significantly more than the 85+ I maintained, alone and exposed. So it wasn't even a lack of courage that animated his pursuit and his assholery, per se, but rather a selfish determination to make me carry him east.

4. Don't chase sports cars at high speeds in a deathtrap. All of the above disregards the even more alarming fact that an older Ford Explorer has no business seeing any speed north of 75, let alone sustained speeds in the eighties with occasional forays up toward 100. For that reason, and that reason alone, I was content to have him behind me, where the blow-out prone Explorer couldn't hurt me should it suddenly start rolling like a high-speed avalanche of plastic, glass, and steel. If you have a land tank, act like it. If you want to play with sports cars, buy one. If you want to kill yourself, have the respect for others to do it where you can't possibly hurt anyone else in the effort.

I could go on.

The delightful contrast of a skilled, courteous, and swift wingman (actually -woman, I think, though I only got a fleeting glimpse in the dark) came last night. To the girl(?) in the new silver Saturn coupe, who observed religiously each of the above courtesies and still others, a tip of the hat and a latte to keep you up on the midnight highway. In the name of all serial speeders everywhere, godspeed.

*** Such courtesies are neither practical nor expected in New Jersey, where all drivers would be wise always to watch the full 360-degree perspective and should feel free to do whatever they want, anywhere, any time. All bets are off at the NJ border, as it should be.

Hunter S. Thompson, A Final Post

In continuing its worthy coverage of Hunter S. Thompson, ESPN Page2 provides yet another kind service: a collection of tributes from those who knew him best. My favorite is from artist and long-time Gonzo compadre Ralph Steadman. Below is my favorite part, but I recommend the whole thing.

We spent many assignments together, bucking the trend, against the cheats and liars, the bagmen and the cronies -- me, an alien from the old country; and him raging against the coming of the light. "F--- them, Ralph," he would say. "We are not like the others."

Well, he wasn't anyway, but I was easily led. Before "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" we tried to cover the America's Yacht Race in Rhode Island for Scanlan's (who were just about to go bust and get onto Richard Nixon's blacklist), from a three-masted schooner, a rock band on board for distraction, booze and, for Hunter, whatever he was gobbling at the time. I was seasick and Hunter was fine. I asked him what he was taking and he gave me one. It was psilocybin, a psychedelic hallucinogen, my first and only drug trip apart from Librium.

I was the artist from England, so I had a job to do. He handed me two spray paint canisters.

"What do I do with these?"

"You're the artist, Ralph. Do what you want, but you must do it on the side of one of those multi-million dollar yachts, moored hardly 50 yards away from where we are."

"How about F--- THE POPE?" I said, now seeing in my mind red snarling dogs attacking a musician singing at a piano dressed as a nun at a shore-bound bar.

"Are you a Catholic, Ralph??"

"No," I replied. "It's just the first thing that came to mind."

So that was the plan and we made it to the boats and I stood up in the little dinghy with the spray cans and shook them, as one does. They made a clicking sound and alerted a guard. "We must flee, Ralph! There'll be pigs everywhere. We have failed."

He pulled fiercely on the oars and fell backwards with legs in the air. He righted himself and started rowing again. We made it back to our boat; and then while I was gabbling insanely, he was writing down all the gibberish that I uttered. I was now a basket case and we had to get back to shore and flee. Hunter shot off two Leery distress flares into the harbour and we hailed a boat just coming in. The flares set fire to one of the boats, causing an emergency fire rescue as we got to dry land.

That sounds about right. More tributes, including one from Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes fame, who was evidently a long-time friend and neighbor of Thompson's (which might explain Bradley's oddball earring), are listed in a box inset into both the Steadman and Bradley tributes.

M & M's and the Nature of Discipline

so i'm driving home from NJ yesterday in the early evening (about which, more in a post soon to follow), and at a rest stop on the turnpike i grab one of my standard snacks: a starbucks latte and peanut m & m's.

per usual, i crashed through a king-size bag of peanut m & m's like an anteater through an ant hill. not for the first time, i found myself wondering why it is that i never keep candy at home -- is it because i really don't care to have it around, or is it because somewhere along the way i figured out that if i have it i'll eat it, and how?

i have cause to believe that i suffer from a profound lack of discipline (data on file with author, available on request), but that's consistent with either possibility: on the one hand, i might lack discipline as to the immediate, and thus choose not to trust myself with sweets in close proximity, and not buy them for home to compensate. on the other hand, if i'm so lacking in discipline, why is it that it never really even occurs to me to buy candy at the grocery store? did i somehow convince myself that candy is something you buy at convenience stores, not at grocery stores, or something like that?

none of this is to complain: for all my vices past and present, the one that might make me overweight seems to hold me most weakly, and with cycling and climbing (and, for that matter, being a single man in america) weight matters. so it's all good, as the kids say. (or said. who even knows anymore.) but it seems to me there must be some sort of lesson intrinsic to this phenomenon that might hold the secret to arresting other vices i'd just as soon see go.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Paul O'Neill on Social Security

A belated discovery: Paul O'Neill proposes a novel approach to funding social security, increasing savings, and investing the trust without full privatization. Check it out. Money quote:

If we decided as a society that we were going to put $2,000 a year into a savings account from the day each child was born until he or she reached age 18 -- and if we assume a 6 percent annual interest rate -- each child would have $65,520 at age 18. (The worst return for a 25-year investor in the stock market from 1929 before the crash to 2004 was an average of 6 percent a year.) With no further contributions, again with a 6 percent interest rate, those savings would grow to $1,013,326 at age 65.

It wouldn't cost as much as you might think. Hat tip, Freedom's Gate, which republishes more or less the whole column.

The Gates I

-- It was not originally my intention to serialize this, but as it turns out I have quite a lot to say. The hour grows late. And in any event, this would be entirely too long for a single post. Look for The Gates II (and III, if necessary) in the next few days.

It is too soon for Central Park to be filled with color, too early for rivers of smiling faces like seasonal tributaries, for tandem bikes and women dressed in vivid explosions of layered garments; crossing the bike path south of Sheeps Meadow is fraught with peril, too soon. Tell that to Christo, to Jeanne-Claude, to Mayor Bloomberg and the pushcart vendors who welcomed throngs of famished customers at Bethesda Fountain, the musicians lurking silhouetted in the tunnels, ends braced in saffron, jamming with the time-worn brick, their bags and cases brimming over with donations; tell that to the hacks sitting in traffic along Central Park East, their meters clocking the time standing still in seconds and dimes while beaming, ruddy-cheeked suburbanites hold hands in the back seat and ask questions that begin with "Did you see . . .?.

The words amazing, awesome, and their kin are held up for consideration and discarded for want of scale. The words singular, magnificent, momentous, warrant further exploration.

I entered at Columbus Circle, having dismissed my cabbie two blocks south once I realized the cruelty I would inflict by demanding that he deliver me to the Circle, as I had originally instructed. He turned the corner onto 54th and as he took my money -- Here's eight, keep it -- he smiled over his shoulder at me, bright teeth in a face of umber shining at its promontories, and thanked me, gratifying my courtesy. I shrugged, said something about not wanting to be stuck in traffic either, then stepped onto the crowded street, regretting after a moment the way my response might have deflected his kindness.

The Circle itself is enclosed in plywood under renovation at the foot of the two gleaming parallelogram towers of the new Time-Warner Center, a design lifted off the cover of a pulp science fiction novel with the same stropped appeal. A slow-motion riot of cars lurched and heaved in feet and yards their sisyphian circumscriptions. Beyond them, the Park entrance opened wide to swallow a gumbo of gawkers, a people paella. The circle outside the pillars denoting the entrance was a tumble of makeshift souvenir stands, free enterprise at its finest, tables and wire-frame screens draped in black keepsake t-shirts, piled high with postcards, overhung with framed pictures splashed with enough orange to drag the blue aggrieved from winter. Behind them the granite gothic obelisks, muted tan royals lording the rivers of site-seers, a thicket of fallow limbs and branches beyond, darker gray against the cloudy sky, and a mingling chaos of saffron gates limp in the still air, dull in the gloom, articulating inside the park into discreet paths, the nearest trudging east along the foot of the park toward the Plaza Hotel, F.A.O. Schwartz, the East River, Queens, the ocean.

Even at the Park's entrance, my pretzel interested me as much as what I saw -- best. street pretzel. ever. -- and I practiced mindfulness in refusing to regret my stingyness with the mustard, now two blocks behind, at the cart owned by the smiling Indian man who preferred to charge me $1.44 than make fifty cents change. Even after a thirty-minute drive, traffic, the obstacles of Hoboken (the land of the double parkers), the PATH train's ennervating dive beneath the Hudson, the 33rd Street station's sturm und drang, I had yet to adjust to my own silence. Seldom am I silent: at home, I natter to myself and the cats constantly, and out I'm usually with others or simply gregarious with strangers; only rarely must I cope with the press and pry of others where I prefer to hold my tongue. While in New York, of all places, I could air my most alienating thoughts and attract only the fleeting and divided attention of overstimulated tourists -- as I crossed Broadway before entering the Park, an old black man with a white beard in tufts and pulled low over his furrowed brow a black hat drooping at its crest as if for want of skull blurted out as we converged "not how it's s'posed to be 's what i told you" -- I am nevertheless self-conscious as the average bear.

Inside -- I seem to have lost my way, and backtracked a block or so, and I beg your pardon -- there was a moment while I finished my pretzel and its smudged yellow necklace to eye the beckoning installations along each of three paths departing the Circle, absently attending the white noise of a hundred conversations and negotiations, trying to tune my ears to their many frequencies, scrutinizing surreptitiously the expressions of others like a card player gauging his opponents' reactions to their hands. Next, I removed from my bag my minimalist (and increasingly anachronistic) SLR 35mm, and hung it about my neck, removed the lens cap. Eye to eyepiece, scanning the Park like a widow the sea, I clicked several warm-up photos, each time bedeviled by the absence of an unimpeded line of sight, struggling in vain to think compositionally, pressing the button only to hear the pencil snap of the heavy shutter and for the ratcheting satisfaction of thumbing the arm and letting it snap back into position.

I'm avoiding The Gates, I know. These words are like those initial photographs -- quite possibly worthless, but shades on a spectrum I must traverse, dull, middling hues of little distinction at that, an exercise or prologue. And anyway, I realize now that my reluctance to be carried away was more a defense than a legitimate response. Part of me hesitated then as a part of me has hesitated on the rim of falling in love, pausing to turn over and over a new and unnerving potentiality, wondering what shoe might be poised to drop, wary.

I was galvanized into motion when I spotted a minder wearing a gray apron over orange, and handing out small squares of the synthetic material hanging in The Gates, looking vulnerable and small beneath the first gate along the trail paralleling the Park's southern wall. My mother had told me that they were giving swatches away; I figured to get one. Someone standing in the circle that gathered around the white-haired and aproned benefactor quipped to a friend, "Those are selling on ebay for twenty bucks." The old lady did well, for having only one arm free; in the other, she held a gray staff perhaps seven feet tall adorned by a tennis ball -- the universal signifier for the monitors around the Park. Occasionally, the saffron overhead, nudged by the penurious breeze, apologetically wrapped its arms around the green ball. Once it did so more mischievously, twin pseudopods reaching around the ball to touch behind it, enclosing it in ephemeral lava lamp teardrops.

Upon receiving my sacrament, my swatch of saffron (which I slipped into my back pocket; a fair enough place, I figured, for transubstantiated egoism), I turned back toward the circle at the mouth of the Park's southwest corner. I would enter the Park properly, I decided, following The Gates as close to north-northeast as possible, away from traffic and the sawtooth grin of the posh residential towers, up the Ramble and into the Park's viscera.

Read The Gates II

Friday, February 25, 2005

Before The Gates

It's Friday afternoon, Moon has planned for weeks now to drive home this weekend to see Central Park festooned in saffron, and indeed his plan has outlasted his last romantic interest, who was slated to share his sojourn. Pity. Moon also has some family business to attend to, which provides an added incentive.

These incentives, however, bump up against a powerful disincentive: Moon's incipient cold or -- godhelphim -- the flu.

Granted, Moon feels pretty energized right now, but there are three reasons to suspect a sudden surge of energe:

1. Coffee.

2. Moon just got something done very efficiently and just under deadline (urgency necessitated, he notes, due to his profound lack of efficiency over the past several days), which comes with relief and attendant satisfaction.

3. To clear Moon's lungs, he's basically on speed, more or less, from which he will sooner or later crash, even if he keeps up with regular doses.

Days like today are long; today will be far longer, however, if one ends it by driving 390 miles from Pittsburgh to NJ starting at 7PM or so).

So the question becomes: is it worth it. The family situation surely warrants some consideration, but that came up after The Gates plan took shape, and isn't entirely critical. I've been excited about The Gates since I first read about them a few years ago. Excited about joining the Central Park throngs to observe and photograph and be mesmerized by twenty-some-odd miles of saffron soldiers stalking their way through the snow into the woods, over the next hill, at once ostentatiously on parade and on a mission intent.

The scale of it awes even in imagination: 7,500 gates, many of them twelve or fourteen feet tall, or something like that.

And how often will one find a Christo project driving distance away. The rumor is that his next installation will involve covering several miles of a (not the Colorado river with silvery material set high enough to prevent kayaking and such beneath it. It sounds pretty near, but Moon's about as likely to fly to Colorado just to see that as he is to fly to Thailand just to get a plate of pad thai.

This is different. A convergence of interests. And if he's shivering and weak and coughing and to all appearances miserable tomorrow, it will be a fundamental deception -- for he'll be in The Park, in The City, beneath and among The Gates.

And there are worse things.

Look for another post, "After The Gates," as soon as tomorrow evening, and not later than Monday.

99 Programs But a Bitch Ain't One -- The Bush Budget

While everyone raves about a Social Security regime that isn't so much broken as in need of a modest tune-up, the Bush admin quietly submitted its next budget to Congress, which budget provides for 99 programs to be cut outright and another 55 to suffer major funding reductions.

The list is here and Armand, whom I owe a hat tip for the link to the program cut list, provides more detail, with other links.

Maybe Bush really is for smaller government after all.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Culture of Life, Revisited

Brian of Boy on a Bike and Dialogical Coffee House has been kind enough to post several thoughtful comments, with links, to my earlier post in which I waxed snarkalicious about various disjunctive propositions the Bush administration continues to try to ram together in all defiance of reason and supposed ideological commitments -- most recently, the DOJ's effort to assert federal prerogative to effectively pre-empt Oregon's twice-ratified-by-the-good-people-of-Oregon Death With Dignity Act. I explained that I believed the government's position in Gonzalez was part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to broaden the way in which we understand "life" in an effort to chart a path to the ultimate criminalization of all, or virtually all, abortion procedures.

Because my argument more or less necessarily focused on the fundamentalism at least nominally ascribed to the administration, Brian latched onto the question of whether a "culture of life," so-called, is something that belongs to Christians, or some subset thereof, and whether such a thing can have anything like the same meaning to those of us who are (more) secular. He writes, of "Christians and non":

The spheres can certainly overlap, and the two can work together on a good many things. You do, however, have to pick at nits when you get down the philosophical/theological foundations of the two spheres. There they will never intersect. But, as I said, that doesn't preclude the two from working together for a common good (poverty, economic and social justice, etc). In fact, I'd argue that it's just these sort of relationships that Christians looking to make real cultural change, especially in the realm of social justice, must make.

This point resonates with me not because I share Brian's faith, necessarily, but because I have warmed to these sorts of discussions at DCH and elsewhere. Call it peanut butter for all I care: if an approach to policy arises that venerates fairness, social justice, equality of opportunity, and (implicit in all of these) charity, you can count on my support. Brian also provided a link to Gideon Strauss who posits a few propositions that might lend themselves to "joint cultural renewal efforts":

1. A belief in the inalienable, innate dignity of the human person;

2. A belief in a transhistorical normativity;

3. A belief in the common good as a complex end to be jointly pursued;

4. A belief that human society is structured into diverse spheres subject to diverse norms and authoritative offices.

What I find striking about this is that it seems almost indistinguishable from basic principles of humanism -- really all but 2., although even that belongs in a humanist account, I think. (Ah well-rounded undergraduate education, we hardly knew ye'!)

I reacted negatively to Brian's initial formulation because I applied a literal, broad reading to the phrase "culture of life" while Brian reads it with considerably more theological content. I didn't like, as a putative secularist (or "non"), the thought that my orientation was being set up in opposition to, or divergent from, a culture of "life." The implication would be that mine is a culture of "death." In the context of abortion, I accept "pro-life" as a legitimate rallying moniker, because sincere exponents of that position sincerely believe that's what they are. But when they turn it around and suggest that those who oppose their views are "pro-death" that's something else entirely.

Given transhistorical normativity and all, I really don't think my values differ all that much from Christians'. As an American mutt of European, non-Jewish pedigree, I think it's fair to say that even absent truly "transhistorical normativity" it might as well be transhistorical for all the difference it makes to me: this country was built in Enlightenment form atop a foundation of English law and tradition and all of these things owe a great debt to Christianity. I want to hedge here: non-Christians (I should hope, for fear of inadvertantly expatriating myself) are every bit the Americans that Christians are. Still, there are basic historical facts and patterns it does no one any good to ignore. By the time non-Christians were a large enough group to exercise much influence on law and society, the ink on the framing documents was dry, following which -- and by design -- any subsequent change, as we have seen in the past hundred years or so, can occur only with painful slowness and by a process of incremental reform. Perhaps this is wise; perhaps not. I'm not going to deal with that right now.

I continue to struggle, in my discussions with Brian, to understand the principles of evangelism properly understood. I take it as granted that where two parties' or groups' interests align they can find common cause and work together. Even Ted Kennedy got behind Bush on education in the first term. But I don't think I like the idea, that I think is implied throughout this discussion, that a non-Christian's approach is necessarily "utilitarian" or "pragmatic" to the exclusion of matters of heart and faith. When in my work I encounter a case that involves a grisly crime I don't recoil from it because it ill-suits the common weal per se; I recoil because something deep inside of me begins to weep for the cruelty of it, the waste. Whether or not that's properly understood to be a spiritual response, or one borne of some deep undefined faith, or "peanut butter," I'd be willing to bet it feels about the same for all of is. I think that's what Strauss calls "transhistorical normativity," and I tend to agree that, from whatever historical or evolutionary or designed origin, it's feelings like that which bind us all in our common humanity.

I fear I may have wandered off topic. If so, Brian, by all means set me straight and help me understand the discussion.

UPDATE: Joe Kearns of Dialogical Coffee House asks whether the pro-life position, to the extent it depends on the idea that abortion is akin to murder, has a scriptural basis, and if so, how far it extends -- i.e., does it reach as far as any fertilized egg, to an extent that precludes cloning for clinical research and so on, as the christian right typically would have it? A very interesting discussion ensues. (Hat tip, Brian.)

PAT Still Life #3 (77D)

to DOWNTOWN . . .

scroll letters green like
the unsettling radioactive
warmth inside me
while the bus plies a
tunnel of morning snow
fringed in white
(draped in white)
the green letters monotonous:

to DOWNTOWN . . .

and something is lost
to the dry coughs
and wet sniffles
of fidgeting trench-
coated camaraderie-
proof polloi

to DOWNTOWN . . .

a grade-school art project:
create perspective using
construction and wax papers:
discover and reveal in a burnt
sienna rectangle of coarse-
grained stock the jagged teeth
of a mandible mountain
and affix it to a white card-
stock backing:

to DOWNTOWN . . .

hinge to the top of the card-
stock a plumb rectangle of wax
paper to drape the far range
in an illusion of depth

and repeat:

construction paper jaw
wax paper curtain
with each layer
the furthest range certain
retreating into hazy conjecture:

highland. friendship. to downtown.

Meet the New Mets, Same As the Old Mets?

The pun, I'm afraid, reigned supreme over sense, because I don't think the New Mets are the same as the old ones. Indeed, if this article is any indication, I think things are going to look very very different this year.

The new Mets, like the old Mets, are relying on players who are out of position to solidify their defense and middle relief pitchers who are unproven to buttress their bullpen. But there is a sense after this triumphant winter that they are starting on a winning streak. Even in the third and fourth hours of practice on Wednesday, the Mets made their own happy music.

There was Cameron commandeering photographic equipment to take pictures of fans. There was pitcher Steve Trachsel carrying on a conversation with reliever Dae Sung Koo, even though they do not speak the same language. And there was Bartolome Fortunato throwing a fastball that knocked down Floyd, then blaming his brushback tendencies on the influence of Martínez. "It's him," Fortunato said.

I can sort of stow away that I'm a Giants fan during the football season and pull for the Steelers, who are in a different conference, but when it comes to baseball, there's no dual allegiance. I don't have any problem with the Bucs winning, and I pity them their payroll constraints (and do what I can to help by showing up to at least a few games each year), but I bleed Mets blue and orange. Just the way it is.

I swear I actually write about fixed-gear cycling sometimes!!!

After a friend was generous enough to drop this blog's url to a mailing list for fixed-gear cyclists suggesting that I sometimes share, here, my fixed-gear experiences (I'm new at it so there aren't that many), I got an influx of visits, upon which I realized I hadn't written a cycling-driven post in a while.

Belatedly, Welcome, fixed-gear folks! If you're here, you're probably looking for posts like these rather than my running on and on about law and poetry and such. It's not much, but it is here.

And while there are only two posts now, MOP's only been up a month or so, and I've only been riding fixed for two months, further limited by Pittsburgh's delightful winter. I'm sure there will be plenty of fixed-gear-relevant writings in the future.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

More Con Law -- A Raich Effect on Gonzalez?

In personal correspondence, in response to my earlier post on Oregon v. Gonzalez, Armand, of Bloodless Coup, writes:

what kind of impact, if any, will the coming ruling in Raich v. Ashcroft have on the way that the Court will rule on this NEXT term.

Later, after for a few hours over a series of messages I did what all lawyers do when they don't have a clearly correct answer -- stall -- Armand added:

from what I remember of the coverage, the majority of reports of the argument figured the feds would win raich, though there were a couple of things on legal blogs that raised some point suggesting that wasn't a certainty.

To provide a very brief recap, in Raich, the DOJ contended that the federal government's Constrolled Substances Act (CSA) enforcement authority extended to prevent individual patients from cultivating, harvesting, and using their own medicinal marijuana supplies under a physician's prescription -- something California law would permit. Congress, however, is a body of enumerated powers, and all such exercises of federal power must have some source in the constition. The principal question -- and it's no small one -- thus is whether Congress's power under the Commerce Clause (providing some congressional authority to regulate interstate commerce) of the United States Constitution trumps California's own effort to regulate the practices of its own physicians. Much much more on Raich can be found here, and I won't attempt to restate it.

Regarding the degree to which the outcome is predestined, I think there are questions. Lawrence Solum at Legal Theory Blog lacks confidence in his own impressions:

So how will Ashcroft v. Raich come out? I don’t know. I got a sense that O’Connor, Ginsburg, and perhaps Stevens were quite sympathetic to the respondents. Based on his questions, Justice Kennedy seemed quite favorable to the government. One would guess that Justice Thomas will be the hardest member of the Court for the government to win. One might also guess that it will be hard for the petititoners to win Souter or Bryer, who both are very skeptical of Lopez and Morrison. Justice Rehnquist is hard to call. We didn’t hear from him. One suspects he is both pro-federalism/state power and pro-federal regulation of drugs. One can imagine this case coming out 5-4 either way. Before argument, I would have said it could be 9-0 either way, but if I allow myself the dangerous pleasure of reading the tea leaves, I now think that is unlikely.

Opinions, however, vary. Of course, the aforeprovided links are way more insightful, knowledgeable, and so on than I, but I did read the entire transcript of oral argument (see the Salon link for a link to the .pdf), and if anyone were to ask me, I'd have to say that it looked to me like Kennedy, Scalia, Breyer, and Souter were all pretty favorable to the government's position. Indeed, I think Breyer and Souter both were passingly nasty toward Randy Barnett, Volokh Conspiracy regular and Supreme Court counsel to respondents. That leaves Thomas and Rehnquist. The former, who as a matter of tradition (what tradition, no one knows) almost never participates in oral argument, predictably asked not a single question of the Raich parties. He is, however, a justice notably inclined toward minimization of federal authority -- even more stalwart on this, I dare say, than Rehnquist, whose name is destined to adorn the federalism revolution that has characterized his stewardship of the Court. Rehnquist, however, also is squeamish about permitting expansions in federal authority. His predisposition, if any, is hard to discern, since he failed to attend the Raich argument due to his illness and thus participated in oral argument precisely as much as Justice Thomas did.

After all of this, however, the basic answer to Armand's first question: it's hard to say. On the one hand, the federal authority at issue is different, even though both cases operate under the CSA's ambit. In Raich, as Armand correctly emphasized back in November, the question presented is a very narrow question of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause. Best I can tell, no Commerce Clause question is directly presented by Oregon v. Gonzales.

In order to rule for the government in Raich, the Supreme Court either will have to repudiate (or tacitly eviscerate) its prior decisions in Morrison and Lopez both of which appeared to reign in the Commerce Clause. In those two cases, the Court found too little effect on Commerce to permit Congress to pass laws governing, in the former case, violence against women and, in the latter case, possession of firearms near schools. Where guns are found to have an insufficient, or a sufficiently attenuated, connection to interstate commerce to permit Congressional intervention, then marijuana grown in someone's backyard for her own use appears to lack a sufficient connection as well.

In Gonzalez, on the other hand, what's in question is the federal government's authority under the CSA to rescind a physician's license to prescribe medication in the event the physician prescribes lethal medication to his patient in accord with Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. That's not about the Commerce Clause, or at least that's not the question presented.

Both questions, however, concern the coverage of the CSA. Finally, as Solum posits, the Raich decision may well be decided on very narrow grounds by a 5-4 vote, or perhaps even some more splintered coalition centered around a plurality rationale. For that reason alone, I think it's unlikely that its reasoning will bear directly on Gonzalez, where the question isn't whether a statute's reach as asserted by the government is consistent with the Commerce Clause, but rather whether the statute authorizes the federal government to deny physicians who follow state law (the traditional source of regulatory authority for the practice of medicine) their ability to prescribe pharmaceuticals, one of the most important tools of their trade. Roughly speaking, it's the difference between an attack on the CSA's validity (albeit in a narrow subset of its larger undisputed coverage area) vs. an attack on the DOJ's authority under the CSA to regulate, in effect, the practice of medicine to an extent preempting state law.

One very distinct difference is that, with Rehnquist perhaps casting the decisive vote in Raich, a role probably played by his successor in Gonzalez, any ego-driven concerns about Rehnquist's legacy as Chief Justice may affect his decision in the former but not the latter. His has been a tremendously influential run, rivaling in one commentator's view (can't remember which one) the import of the Marshall (Marbury v. Madison / judicial review) and Warren (civil liberties) eras. His legacy has been built redefining the relationship of the federal government and the states, largely in routing tremendous power back to the states reversing a trend toward broad federal regulation dating back to the New Deal. A decision for the government in Raich, at least debatably, would undue a great deal of his work in that area. That's a whole lot of quiet pressure that won't be on the shoulder of the new justice we are very likely to have next year. That's the X-factor.

All of that said, it is more than a little difficult to imagine this particular Supreme Court ruling in favor of homosexual sodomy and liberalization of marijuana laws in one twelve-month period. Here's hoping . . .

UPDATE: Pete Guither over at DrugWarRant also acknowledges the potential relationship between this year's pending decision in Raich and next year's consideration of Oregon v. Gonzalez. (He also links this post. Welcome, DrugWarRant readers. Make yourselves at home.)

The Increasing Likelihood of an Avian Flu Pandemic

Ever since I read Gina Kolata's Flu a few months back, I've been conscious of, and somewhat frightened by, the persistence of Avian flu (H5A1 in epedimiological parlance) in southeast Asia. The book, of relatively recent vintage, explores like the murder mystery it sort of is the search to pin down what properties made the 1918 influenza pandemic so ruthlessly lethal.

Disease hunters have in recent years learned a great deal about that strain of flu, and there are concerns that the Avian flu shares its scariest properties. At the time of publication, Kolata discussed the initial emergence of avian flu in 1997, and the radical measures employed to contain it (widespread slaughter of potentially infected birds in east Asia), and expressed hope that -- this time -- disaster had been averted.

It turns out it's still around, however, and nastier than ever. Increasingly I'm seeing articles that suggest it's now more tenacious and lethal than it was in 1997. The above article suggests it is "entrenched" in the subcontinent.

It's an undisputed fact that, for now, it's not very communicable, if communicable at all, human to human. Largely, those people who have been infected have been in heavy contact with infected birds. What's scary about the entrenchment, however, is that if it's here to stay, and cannot be wiped out by the systematic extermination of a whole class of animals, then sooner or later it is very likely to mutate into a virus that has the lethality of the current Avian flu but the communicability of the more common annual flu outbreaks.

If that were to happen, it could be very very nasty. According to the WHO, 42 of the 55 known infected humans have died since January 2004. Check the tone of the WHO spokesman in the above-cited article. It's nothing to panic about, but it's less than encouraging.

More SCOTUS: Tom Murphy and Eminent Domain

Brian makes a simple but astute observation that the Supreme Court's ruling on the Connecticut Eminent Domain case that was argued yesterday may well bear on issues concerning Pittsburgh Development. See his post for further links.

Steel Cage Match: A Culture of Life vs. Small Government, Gonzalez v. Oregon

So once again the Bush administration finds itself in a tug of war between traditional conservatism, contemporary fundamentalist evangelist, um, conservatism(?), and oh well, who even knows? The Times Linda Greenhouse does a characteristically good job of laying out the issues and keeping her heels out of the mud.

The topic? The right to die. No, actually that's not even true. It's not the right to die so much as it is the prerogative of a state to govern the practice of medicine within its borders.

The battleground? Oregon, just next door to Washington, where the last skirmish took place in this ongoing debate. In Washington v. Glicksberg, in 1997, SCOTUS ruled that there was no constitutional right to die. That is to say, the petitioners alleged that a) they had a right to commit suicide, and b) they had a right to a physician's help in doing so, and that Washington's law making it a crime to assist someone in committing suicide ran afoul of those rights. Heavy shit, and the Court wasn't having any of it.

The Glucksberg Court, however, left open the larger issue of whether states on their own, and in response to internal democratic groundswells, referenda, etc., might provide for some sort of euthanasia procedure. This aspect of the ruling was in keeping with the sometimes anti-federal bent of the Rehnquist Court, which often has bent over backwards to defer to states' prerogatives in myriad areas.

This time, however, it's not a constitutional argument being raised. Instead, this is a suit brought by the Justice Department under John Ashcroft in 2001 against Oregon to effectively prevent doctors from practicing in accordance with Oregon's Death With Dignity Act (DWDA or Act), a law approved twice in referendum form by Oregon's voters.

Ashcroft, and now new Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, have attempted to cut Oregon's DWDA off at the knees by using the 1969 federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) against Oregon physicians who prescribe lethal medications in compliance with that state's Act. By so enforcing the CSA against physicians who prescribe lethal doses of medications under the Act, the Justice Department will, in effect, be revoking physicians' licenses to practice, since a physician without his prescription pad is like a Republican without a chip on his shoulder.

Linda Greenhouse in the Times is correct, of course, that this is an adminsitrative law case; unlike Glucksberg, this case presents no facial constitutional issues. And that's what she must say, because it's not her place to get into why the Bush administration felt the need to reverse Janet Reno's originally stated position in 1998 that it was not the federal government's place to meddle in such issues of state governance, and why it is choosing to undermine a popular referendum that has repeatedly been defended by the citizens of Oregon since it was first approved in 1994. But this case is so much more.

Along with statutes enhancing punishment for violent criminals who harm a fetus and those barring or restricting late-term abortions, this is just another front in the culture war. Here's a quote from the Justice Department brief defending its decision: "The attorney general's reasonable interpretation of the comprehensive federal statute must prevail over the determination by a particular state that departs radically from long-accepted legal and ethical norms . . . ." That is, a statute that was passed with no eye, mind, or language, toward physician-assisted suicide, that indeed was expressly crafted to address trafficking in illegal drugs, should now be applied against physicians who prescribe medications in accordance with the democratically asserted desires of the physician's state's populace.

"Legal norms," for the record, tend to focus on Congressional intent and plain language, neither of which urge enforcement of the CSA in this circumstance. "Ethical norms," however, are the money shot -- although DOJ lawyers would argue that with this phrase they intend to invoke the hippocratic oath of doctors first to do no harm, what this is really all about is moral norms, as viewed by the Right, concerning the very sanctity of life invoked as against abortion-friendly policies. For every one of these flank battles the Bush administration and the fundamentalist Right wins (for let's not kid ourselves, both in office and in the street, there are plenty of Republicans who wouldn't deny abortion across the board, but they continue to let their party foreground exponents who would), they figure they're that much closer to ending abortion.

At some point, with the passage of many such statutes, with the carefully excerpted comments of many favorable Supreme Court rulings, and with momentum on their side, the Right can say, Look, in so many words the Court has already ruled that a fetus's life is no less valuable than a person's, that a fetus is basically a person, and that we must protect all persons' lives even if they don't want them protected!!! That's where the Administration's strained reading of the CSA comes in in this case: no matter how miserable you are, no matter how mentally competent you are to make an informed decision, you simply do not have the prerogative to say ENOUGH. Because all life is so precious that a miserable, near-to-ending, pain-addled existence is yours to bear, no matter how you feel about so bearing it.

And that's why the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in this case is notable. Administrative law issue or not, this is all about the veneration of life at the expense of state's rights, individual autonomy, and at some remote future time, if at all possible, the right to abort an early-term pregnancy.

Fortunately, as Greenhouse notes, Gonzalez faces an uphill battle. The Rehnquist Court has been rather hostile to arguments that would reduce the power of the states to regulate internal matters. As one former Rehnquist clerk notes, "Rehnquist's achievement is to have pushed into the mainstream once idiosyncratic views of state sovereignty and limited federal power." The case, however, will not be argued until next fall (and decided spring/summer 2006), when, most observers expect, Chief Rehnquist will no longer be a member of the Court. In many areas of law, I expect the new justice will look a lot like Rehnquist. But with regard to issues of federalism, a matter of import to traditional conservatives but one the current administration has signaled no interest in honoring when it disserves its larger agenda, it's entirely plausible that a new justice will be considerably more deferent to the capriciousness of an runaway train executive branch.

And what's equally disturbing is that I'm sitting here thinking that on this issue, it's too bad Rehnquist will be gone. And indeed this case turns things on their heads, just as the government has said, because I have rarely felt the need to defend Rehnquist, and I don't remember ever imagining that even with regard to one case I'd be sad to see him go. Perhaps a more moderate compromise nominee will be selected and confirmed, but I'm not holding my breath, either that administration will show much in the way of humility or that the Democrats have the power or will to stand firm indefinitely against a fundamentalist nominee.

As Publius notes, in a related discussion:
On social issues, the religious right-wing is especially schizophrenic on federalism. On abortion and school prayer, religious conservatives know that their odds are better if these decisions could be made on a state – rather than a federal – level. However, on the issues of gay marriage, sex education, and medicinal marijuana, they don’t trust the states and instead want to impose a national Taliban-like edict that binds the entire nation.

And thus the consolidation of power, raw naked power, in the federal executive continues. And you should be afraid. But if the polls are any indication, you aren't. Which is too bad. You'll see.

(Other articles here and here. Hat tip to SCOTUSBlog for collecting articles.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Say It Ain't So, Rupert!

So the rumor is that the sudden foreshortening of broadly acclaimed (and just damned funny) FOX sit-com, Arrested Development, from 22 episodes to eighteen signals its imminent cancellation after two season.

Not that it matters much in the larger scheme of things, but this show is damned funny, and the buzz around it has increased rather than diminished since it's demise. I figure there's an awfully good chance this is going to go the way of Family Guy -- going into heavy cable and DVD rotation, building up an audience, until suddenly FOX is begging for a piece of the action.

This is doubly ironic since the show slated to stand in for AD once its 18th episode passes is "American Dad," from the people who brought you -- wait for it, wait for it -- "Family Guy."

Media execs are choking the life out of all broadcast media in the search for instant gratification. It's a shame.


I don't presently write enough on Pennsylvania's political landscape to warrant listing myself on this site, but for those of you with an interest in Commonwealth policy, PoliticsPA is an online clearinghouse well worth your time. A link has been added to the "MoonOverPittsburgh" section in the left sidebar.

Something That Has Nothing To Do With Hunter S. Thompson

Would you like to have your weblog reviewed by a completely objective critic?

Try this site.

This is how it reviewed MoonOverPittsburgh:

"I just saw []. Very, very good.
Well, I expected the creator to achieve only the best. There are 220,988 characters in the page, which is a superb length for Opera users. The underlying source is valid. It must have taken a decade to complete the page. The URL has 38 characters. That's just the right size. Seeing MoonOverPittsburgh, I'm simply so inspired. What a fantastic page!
The page contains 400 links, a stable amount. If only my sister would have a fantastic page like that. Supreme. The color scheme is fresh. The web will never be the same again."

-- Paul Marshall, Gigantic Web

Well, that just about says it all, doesn't it.

More on Gonzo (and "the songs of the doomed")

In Tony Norman's Post-Gazette column, Thompson is welcomed to limbo by Tricky Dick, himself:

"Are you telling me that even a lying piece of humanity such as yourself can be redeemed?" Thompson asked with a snort. "Could anyone with a scintilla of integrity take seriously a heaven that would have you as a member?"

"Maybe your failure of imagination is why you blew your head off," Nixon said. "For decades I've been your infernal shadow, just as the Kennedys were mine. At a certain point, you have to let it all go or deal with a burning worm in your gut that never dies."

Later, Nixon cautions as follows regarding the fate of the current administration:

"They're as rabid a bunch as I've ever seen, but they're disciplined. While your side succumbs to suicidal despair, they consolidate power. With your death, the songs of the doomed may have only gotten louder."

And with that, an iffy conceit executed with middling skill turns poignant and effective. A worthy read.

Wolfe on Gonzo

I keep thinking I'm done, and then I come across something else worth sharing. Contrasted with the Times impoverished obit, which has been fleshed out a little since I complained about it (confirming, I suppose, my suspicion that more than anything the Newspaper of Record was simply unprepared for Thompson's death), Tom Wolfe's remembrance suggests a more esteemed place for Thompson in American letters.

You know what? I think Wolfe is a bit more authoritative on this. The gist:

Hunter's life, like his work, was one long barbaric yawp, to use Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all conventional proprieties that began in the 1960s. In that enterprise Hunter was something entirely new, something unique in our literary history. When I included an excerpt from "The Hell's Angels" in a 1973 anthology called "The New Journalism," he said he wasn't part of anybody's group. He wrote "gonzo." He was sui generis. And that he was.

Yet he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters, the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre exuberance of a young civilization. No one categorization covers this new form unless it is Hunter Thompson's own word, gonzo. If so, in the 19th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's greatest comic writer in the English language.

Read the whole thing. I'd say I'm done now, but I've said that already, and evidently I haven't entirely lost interest in the topic as yet. I think it's especially edifying to see the peers of a writer's writer rally around his memory with such unqualified generosity and fondness, especially when the writer in question was such an unquestionably bizarre character.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson Again -- The Trickle Becomes a Flood

More HST obits, reminisces, and farewells:

Tony Pierce, and again.

Ken Layne.

It strikes me that HST has perhaps even greater relevance for the blogger class, who at their best (or at least my favorites) owe the Good Doctor some substantial debt in their blithe interweaving of personal anecdote with reportage and comment. Blogging, like Gonzo Journalism, militates against any sort of Ivory Tower point of view.

UPDATE: More, a somewhat critical counterpoint, and links, from Obsidian Wings.

A commenter to the ObWi post, provides the following:

We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the world - a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us....No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we'll kill you.

Who does vote for these dishonest skinheads? Who among us can be happy and proud of having all this innocent blood on our hands? Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid little rich kids like George Bush?

They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammad Ali locked up for refusing to kill gooks. They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the American character. They are the racists and hate mongers among us -- they are the Ku Klux Klan. I piss down the throats of these Nazis.

And I am too old to worry about whether they like it or not. Fuck them.

--Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

And now I've reached the end of my poking around on this. It's just too depressing.

UPDATE 2: Regarding HST as blogger, kos beat me to it.

Hunter S. Thompson and A Final Insult

I'm not the one to fill in the gaps; I've enjoyed his work a great deal, but have only read a couple of his books, and perhaps less attentively than I might have done. But after the lovefest the New York Times put on for Arthur Miller, which I took up here, the obituary they offer for Thompson is insultingly brief.

Perhaps theatre is a more rarefied art than "gonzo journalism," though I'm inclined to quibble even with that insofar as despite its frequently announced death, even a small city like Pittsburgh produces far more dramatic theatre than it does innovative journalism. Perhaps Miller came by his influence and fame more conventionally than Thompson, writing one, debatably two plays that became cultural touchstones, marrying Marilyn Monroe, and standing up to the House Unamerican Activities Committee.

But I don't think Miller really triggered a paradigm shift in theatre so much as he was an integral part of a continuing evolution. Thompson, on the other hand, wholly reinvented journalism to suit his impulse, his style. If he sometimes came off as self-caricature, particularly as his fame grew and his age advanced, that shouldn't diminish our awareness of just how much different our literary and journalistic landscapes are thanks to his contribution. No fewer writers owe a debt to Thompson than playwrights do a debt to Miller. And that this is the best the Times could do besmirches his legacy.

Perhaps his death by suicide at 67 was less anticipated than Miller's of natural causes at nearly 90 and the Times simply was caught flatfooted on this one. I find that hard to believe, however. I would love to examine in more detail the fact that an old-school journalistic enterprise like the Grey Lady shied away from further plumbing Thompson's countercultural approach that rejected the foundation on which newspaper hournalism rests, but I shouldn't conjecture. Perhaps in the coming days the Times will do more to honor Thompson's memory. For now, however, I'm profoundly disappointed.

I'll be on the lookout for a more fitting tribute. Please pass along any that you find.

UPDATE: Good job, New York Times, you just got served by ESPN Page 2. Among numerous other pieces and columns I'm still looking at, find this:

"Hunter Thompson's passing is a tremendous loss, not just to the ESPN family, but to any fan of American literature," Editor-In-Chief Neal Scarbrough said. "He was a trailblazer, a literary icon who has given generations of writers and readers many lessons in finding their voices. As with any sudden loss, there is a search for answers about Hunter's passing. owes him a debt of gratitude for continuing his work on Page 2, where he was -- from the start -- committed to the success of the page and gave us his best as he continued to reach out to his fans, old and new. Through it all, his writing and perspective managed to occupy a space that no other writer could fill. It's sad to realize it's a voice we won't hear from again …"

Kevin Jackson writes:

You can say what you will about the counterculture author and Page 2 columnist who died Sunday night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. But you cannot say that the man was ever boring. Every correspondence with the Good Doctor -- be it a phone call, a voicemail or one of his infamous FAXes -- was an adventure waiting to be lived. Many of them were worth saving, so that co-workers and friends could live them as well.

And Thompson, in his own final column, writes of a 3:30 A.M. conversation with Bill Murray:

HST: "I'm working on a profoundly goofy story here. It's wonderful. I've invented a new sport. It's called Shotgun Golf. We will rule the world with this thing."

BILL: "Mmhmm."

HST: "I've called you for some consulting advice on how to launch it. We've actually already launched it. Last spring, the Sheriff and I played a game outside in the yard here. He had my Ping Beryllium 9-iron, and I had his shotgun, and about 100 yards away, we had a linoleum green and a flag set up. He was pitching toward the green. And I was standing about 10 feet away from him, with the alley-sweeper. And my objective was to blow his ball off course, like a clay pigeon."

BILL: (Laughs.)

HST: "It didn't work at first. The birdshot I was using was too small. But double-aught buck finally worked for sure. And it was fun."

BILL: (Chuckles.)

HST: "OK, I didn't want to wake you up, but I knew you'd want to be in on the ground floor of this thing."

BILL: (Silence.)

HST: "Do you want to discuss this tomorrow?"

BILL: "Sure."

HST: "Excellent."

BILL: "I think I might have a queer dream about it now, but ..." (Laughs.)

HST: "This sport has a HUGE future. Golf in America will soon come to this."

BILL: "It will bring a whole new meaning to the words 'Driving Range'."

So long, Doc. Thanks for the words. And thanks, ESPN, for doing this right on such short notice.

After Zulieka, and "an infinity contained within limits"

In an eloquent passage about the violin, Zulieka writes,

the freedom of your expression increases exponentially by the dictates of specific instructions because each instruction raises the awareness of an infinity contained within limits; an instruction such as "pianissimo" is just a gateway into the infinite variations of pianissimo possible--furtive pianissimos, breathless pianissimos, secretly angry pianissimos biding their time.

This, perhaps more than anything else, flatters my intuition that playing music, especially deliberately scored music, is an art more singular from others than the others are from each other. But the intuition is disquieting, and I resist it. I hate to think of various media as comprising discrete worlds of creation; it seems now more than ever, in installation art, in contemporary painting, in video and performance art, evidence abounds of the disintegration of once hallowed boundaries. (Ironically, this disintegration of boundaries owes a great debt to technological 'progress' that has, ostensibly, reduced the number and strength of many enshrined constraints -- in cinema, for example.)

A writer, a painter, any artist of any sort engaged earnestly with her craft will practice for thousands and thousands of hours. A writer may revise and refashion a particular paragraph a hundred different ways, each sentence revisited a dozen or more times, each such encounter necessitating a reconsideration of every other component of the expression in a regress from which only the constraint of mortality demands her flight by accepting an imperfect surrogate, a permanent placeholder. Furthermore, even in the depths of this process, the writer may know -- often does know -- where the paragraph must begin, what it must accomplish, and how it must end. A painter may paint in meditation a willow tree in his backyard twenty times as it grows imperceptibly, day bay day, each canvas a necessary tread up an invisible stairway. Each brushtroke on each canvas might be the last of twenty, prior efforts covered and scraped and scrubbed away to provide a new surface for the next endeavor, the subtle effects of each attempt a free radical just beneath the surface of its final form, hinting of prior struggle.

But within these confines so much flexibility, the task being to endure both in solitude and in plain sight a gantlet of multifarious constraints each of which conspires to render your task so odious that you will submit and flee rather than finish, and to bear in plain sight evidence of your solitary endurance, until you have nothing left that doesn't belong to someone else. I have never known the dedication of which Zulieka speaks -- her persevering "just because the notion of stopping has been forgotten" -- and if I envy anyone anything, it is just this: the capacity for relentless pursuit of an unattainable ideal, the very essence of art.

Her musing on her innumerable hours of practice (in light of the above thoughts) leads me to wonder whether one can identify one set of constraints as categorically unrelated to another, in their influence on the creative process. Whether each family of constraints has an order of magnitude all its own, somehow discriminating in favor of some over others, or suggesting that one artform is more dispiritingly addled with obstacles and consequently intrinsically more worthy. Most of us, I would imagine, those who have never played music with skill and refinement, would think of the variations in play in a two-measure phrase, to appropriate Zulieka's example, a five-second (or so) passage of music, as more limited in number and more impoverished of breadth, precisely in virtue of the many superficial rigidities governing its expression.

Of course, that is absurd; it calls to mind the various paradoxes engendered by learning to address the infinite in a manner amenable to mathematical inquiry and exploitation. There is infinite variation, as Zulieka suggests, in any two-measure phrase, in any note for that matter, just as there is infinite variation in writing from one point to anoter, or from rendering a single tree each day for an entire summer. Only in the most esoteric redoubts of mathematics do infinities behave as anything but equals. In this way, everything is the same.

The astonishing thought, however, is that it seems I've thought the goal of a classically trained musician in a formal setting is to conform to some perfection embodied in the composer's vision as transcribed, to give as near as possible the life to a musical expression that its composer intended it to have, as embodied in the expression's DNA, the score. I don't know whether to abandon this fundamental, perhaps epistemological faith that has governed ten years' self-education in music. Something has shaken free; I don't know whether to replace it or leave it behind.

There's nothing analogous to a musician's or conductor's score for a painter or a writer, unless the score is the world itself. But then is it not unfair to distinguish in this way, implying that a musical score is somehow diminished? Add the intermediaries: the composition passes through the hands of any number of interpreters, and even if the score itself is preserved precisely as first drafted, and played by an orchestra constituted precisely as the composer intended, the conductor is no friction-free conduit, channeling as he must through his bee dance his reading of that score, which in turn is molded in the hands of each musician in recursive symbiosis with the other performers, all the bees' organic syncopation, their jazz, a conspicuously non-baroque performance. Indeed, the conductor's intermediation complicates things still further: what is the nature of his art? Does it differ, categorically, from the nature of a violinist's art, an oboist's art, a timpanist's art? If the world is the score, and the written word that score's permiere, then the writer is the conductor, the words his orchestra, and god (or something like a god) the composer.

So then for music, too, in the midst of all these variables, the world is the score and the score the world. And my desire to see art as a seamless continuum, rather than a jumble of irregular fiefs, lives on. Even if it hadn't, however, thanks would be due: Zulieka sent me on a marvelous journey.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Nina Gordon Does N.W.A.

Hat tip to Tony Pierce for spotting this:

Nina Gordon, of Veruca Salt fame, does "Straight Outta Compton" unplugged (more or less). More covers, including Phil Collins and Cinderella, here.

Kind of annoys me that I didn't keep up with her. Veruca Salt's debut, American Thighs, was one of the more underrated albums of the 90's. Not that I usually use this terminology, or that such a quality is really what I set out to find in new music, but VS's first two albums just straight-up rocked.

Flowers on His Pillow

Crystal morning reverie shattered
by thought's banal intercession,
he resumes his body to find
his fingers walking the unfamiliar
landscape of a duvet of another's choosing --
weary prospectors lost in the desert
gasping toward a fantasy of water.

As alone in wakefulness as in sleep;
equally uneasy as audience
to the play of morning and as player
in a murder of dreams;
his Grand Guignol
of contingency and regret
wrought rewrought (and overwrought) by day,
staged in perverse infamy by night --

each morning his fate fulfilled:
a series of awakenings in strange beds:
flowers on his pillow
ashes on his tongue.

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Commonplace, Gass

for N., upon Proust

For all those not in love there's law: to rule . . . to regulate . . . to rectify. I cannot write the poetry of such proposals, the poetry of politics, though sometimes -- often -- always now -- I am in that uneasy peace of equal powers which makes a state; then I communicate by passing papers, proclamations, orders, through my bowels. Yet I was not a state with you, nor were we both together any Indiana.

--William Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories 175 (Nonpareil 2000 (orig. 1968)

not so much responding to Proust as prompted by . . . or something.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work -- The White House Propaganda Machine

First, I just want to say this is absolutely positively my last overtly political post until I come up with something creative to write. Lest I set a bad habit, I need to impose some discipline.

In general, the story of the White House paying off supposedly independent commentators to shill for White House pet projects is getting sort of old. Frank Rich, however, points to why the story is still important, still very much alive, and how White House Press Gaggle Member and would-be gay prostitute "Jeff Gannon," about whom I've written before, is tied to the Armstrong Williams ($240K to shill for NCLB) and the others.

The money that paid for both the Ryan-Garcia news packages and the Armstrong Williams contract was siphoned through the same huge public relations firm, Ketchum Communications, which itself filtered the funds through subcontractors. A new report by Congressional Democrats finds that Ketchum has received $97 million of the administration's total $250 million PR kitty, of which the Williams and Ryan-Garcia scams would account for only a fraction. We have yet to learn precisely where the rest of it ended up.

I remind everyone that, in broad strokes, it is illegal to use federal funds to generate propaganda supporting government policies. And this administration has been reprimanded time and again for running afoul of the spirit, if not the leter, of the law (it has done both).

Remember that your tax dollars have been used to pay for one-sided commentary in support of the policies of a president who claims his win, by just a few percentage points, constitutes a true mandate. What if he hadn't had the federal treasury at his fingertips and had to find real newspeople to speak in favor of his most misguided policies? Think that might have erased his margin of victory? I certainly wonder.

And of course, the more incendiary question: which closeted White House staffer set up "Gannon," of all people, to be the Press Gaggle toady?

UPDATE: A propos my last question, 2PoliticalJunkies chimes in with "What Did The Hooker Know And When Did He Know It?," referencing DailyKos's discussion of evidence suggesting "Gannon" knew about, and leaked, "Shock and Awe" hours before it began. (I know, I know, but it's just an 'update.' I'm a lawyer. It's a loophole the size of a Ford Expedition.)

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Fat Free Milk

So stumbling around the blogosphere, as I do entirely too often, especially at work, I came across a new-to-me weblog that I love and I'm not sure why.

Anyway, I like this post most. Excerpt:

You spend most of the day doing things that you don't want to do. In between bouts of busy madness, you keep yourself sane by thinking of porno-type things that make you happy and that you'll do when you get home finally.

When you get home. Activities are road-blocked, slow, or just make the clock go at a spasmodic rate. Then it too late and you should probably be in bed. You accomplish nothing. You wake up tired, fuzzy-headed and with no focus except for getting to your car. You arrive at work. I like vegetables. You spend most of the day doing things that you don't want to do. In between bouts of busy madness, you keep yourself sane by thinking of all of the things that make you happy and that you'll do when you get home finally. How did Thanksgiving come so quickly? You spend most of the day doing things that you don't want to do. In between bouts of busy madness, you keep yourself sane by thinking of things that make you happy and that you'll do when you get home finally.

I'm not sure I can tell you why this piece -- and it really can't be appreciated compositionally unless you read its repetitions, involutions, and subtle variations in full -- satisfies me so deeply. It sounds almost silly to say, because the author, Kevynn Malone, sort of mocks this as a non-serious effort. He does that a lot, in fact. But something of the quotidian, workaday rhythms of most of our lives is distilled here in a way that's quite precious, quite true. And elsewhere, the site gets at something of the frustrated underperforming underachieving writer that resonates rather powerfully with me, also a frustrated, underperforming, and underachieving writer.

Not really sure. But it earned FFM a permanent link under MoonOverWords.

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Mark Hyman, "Extremist Mole?"

Thanks to the fact that the Pittsburgh FOX affiliate is owned by the evil evil evil evil evil Sinclair Broadcasting (if there's nothing about Sinclair in Revelations, there damned well ought to be), we get "forcefed" Mark Hyman's "The Point" every now and again, quite possibly the most fatuous right-wing tripe this side of Ann Coulter.

For those who never made the connection, or don't remember, Hyman's more than a bloviating moron with a bully pulpit in virtue of some sad strain of popularity. Truth is, he might even be too stupid for FOX. But since he's a VP of some sort, my guess is he pretty much appointed himself pundit (not only are his comments inane, but he's roughly as comfortable and eloquent in front of a camera as shy high school student doing a poorly thought-out historical reenactment on a camcorder for extra credit), and anybody with the temerity to question him better update her resume.

Anyway, ever since Hyman became the de facto apologist for Sinclair when Sinclair was, er, encouraging its affiliates to run the anti-Kerry documentary about a month before Election Day, and I realized that jackass trying to explain rampant partisanship on All Things Considered was the same jackass doing a terrible impression of Rush Limbaugh on the FOX evening news every so often, I sort of perked up my ears to all things Hyman. So to speak.

So anyway, today, Dave Neiwert -- probably my favorite investigative blogger of them all (see especially the series "The Rise of Pseudo-Fascism" (a 7-part series that starts here)) for his daring, insight, and intellectual rigor -- corrects in great detail one of Hyman's typical misrepresentations of the left, of the right, and pretty much anything that he talks about.

So, just so there's no confusion: Christian Identity has nothing to do with mainstream Christianity. It is an extremist racial belief system that adopts the guise of Christianity but has practices and beliefs that are not part of any traditional mainstream church. Most of their beliefs, in fact, constitute heresies for many faiths.

I'm hoping this was just a really dumb mistake. Because if it wasn't, and Hyman wanted us to think that Identity was just another kind of Christianity, well ... that's a problem.

Hyman is a little, little man. And Neiwert rightly exposes him to the basic truth. The only difference between Neiwert's view and mine, is that when it comes to petty blowhards like Hyman, I assume the worst. The benefit of my doubt is reserved for those people who at least pretend to think before they speak.

And that, folks, is The Point.

UPDATE: For more, see this very informative site.

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Bob Novak and the Get Out of Jail Free Card?

There continues to be an awful lot of discussion of why, if the Times Judith Miller, who never wrote about Valerie Plame's identity, and Time's Matthew Cooper, who didn't break the story, both face 18 months in prison, Bob Novak, who broke the whole story has never been reported even to have appeared within a mile of the Plame leak grand jury.

The PG's Tony Norman expresses some of the confusion many of us feel, and expresses well the exasperation of most everyone who has followed this story, especially those of us with serious First Amendment concerns about the pending imprisonment of Miller and Cooper to begin with.

Congressional investigations were threatened and a grand jury convened. In the perverse logic of the nation's capital, subpoenas were sent to reporters who merely sat on the information Novak published. While Miller and Cooper face serious jail time for upholding the principle of source confidentiality, Novak continues perfecting his million-dollar scowl on "Crossfire."

It's worth emphasizing that Novak may well have been called to testify, may have appeared, and may have "sung like a canary," in the words of Slate "Explainer" Daniel Engber. As Engber does a good job explaining, grand juries historically have been confidential, and their secrets are often better protected than other political secrets. This is important, and there's nothing wrong with it.

But as far as I'm concerned, where Miller and Cooper go so should go Novak, unless he has, indeed, disclosed the name of the administration official who leaked the story, in which case perhaps Novak deserves a deal provided the official is removed from his office and given the same prison term I would have gotten if I'd disclosed the identity of a clandestine operative overseas in violation of federal law.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Head Out of Your Ass, Pennsylvania -- Like NOW

This evening, I was riding home on the bus, and as sometimes occurs in the evening -- never in the morning -- I felt a bit too nausea-prone to try reading. This makes no sense to me, since in the morning my gorge is unstable when I so much as brush my teeth. I can eat, and all, I'm just sensitive. In the evening, though, apparently the bus shakes more or something.

Anyway, these rides when I can't read are interminable, they really are, unless one of my bus buddies is aboard, which is unfortunately rare. It's actually exceedingly rare, because I have never had more than two guaranteed bus conversation partners. No, actually, only one. And she works outside the city now. The other one is lovely and sweet and sings for a band in town that I adore but now she's almost never on the bus, and for some reason, distant acquaintance that she is, when she is around it so takes me aback that I fail to register that it's her until I'm firmly implanted on a seat several rows back and not sure whether to move forward and start a conversation or not -- what if I'm wrong? What if it's not her?

I think this happened yesterday, but it's the nature of the beast that I'm still not sure. Here's what happened: I was just hanging up an awkward phonecall as the bus pulled up in front of the USX tower, and the combination of stimuli temporarily shorted something out such that I didn't immediately move to enter the bus. The driver, fortunately was patient and evidently recognized me, because he didn't close the door. When I boarded, however, he asked, "Everything alright?" Distracted -- at that exact moment I didn't realize that I'd brainfarted and dawdled unnecessarily -- I just smiled and gave the only answer anyone could give to a bus driver posing such a query: "Yeah yeah, I'm fine," smile stretching as the words came out, and turning to head back.

Upon turning, in a seat toward the front, a fair apparition was looking straight at me, wide eyes with upturned corners shimmering, head wrapped in a crocheted hat that almost spherically contained her short hair, smiling so sweetly she might have melted rock. Again, reflex predominated; such a smile when matched to an unwavering top-of-the-eyes gaze (jesus, the eyelashes alone could ruin a vow of chastity) permits only one reaction: hold her gaze, smile back, blush, and get the hell out of those double klieg lights. Which I did.

So unsettled was I by the smile that I sat there staring at her left shoulder for five minutes, imagining she might look back, knowing she would not. Indie kid -- cute red 70's style windbreaker; big bulky herringbone skirt; black tights; trendy sneakerish flats. Not looking back. After five minutes of this, it occurred to me that this must have been her, and now she probably thought me a jackass for not lingering in the aisle to talk.

I'm not talking about what I intended to.

So anyway, bored out of my skull today and unable to read away the ride home, I scanned the ads in the brackets overhead and saw evidence of what I'd somehow forgotten was coming: a notice of service reductions and fare increases taking effect in March, pending some sort of extraordinary relief from the Commonwealth. Which, evidently, isn't going to happen, at least not in a timely fashion. We're not the only ones going down; Philadelphia's (SEPTA's) rate increases and service reductions are in the same ballpark as ours. WTF?

Lower income workers are the lifeblood of any urban community. And mass transit provides the vascular system. All the well-to-do, suburban interests who guard every penny of their swollen incomes like street urchins a crust of bread against any tax that doesn't provide a conspicuous direct benefit to themselves are going to watch their city hemorrhage and bleed out if they don't start acknowledging the importance of the service class.

You can't go cutting weekend service, raising fares without raising incomes, and so on. Sure, on paper, a $.50 fare increase doesn't seem like a lot. But if you're making $6.00 an hour and trying to raise a kid, every penny counts. We can't afford to make this community inhospitable to the very people who keep the city humming. We just can't. It takes a village. And that something hasn't been done about this already demonstrates how out of touch Harrisburg is with the needs of the shining communities at either end of the Commonwealth that represent it in the eyes of the rest of the country.

Oh sure, our buses are turned over regularly and attractive. And let's not forget our busstops, which are now glass instead of plexi, and faux-bronze instead of blatant aluminum, logo'd and newly signed. That's all nice. But what about the laid-off employees. The service cuts. The fare hike. These recent improvements, literally, represent the rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. Somebody better go below and shore up the leaks before the whole thing sinks.

People need to get their shit together and right quick, too.

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Class Action -- Reform or Emasculation

As some of you surely have noted, I've done an abysmal job of steering this blog away from the politics that threaten to swamp it in due proportion to the degree to which politics threatens to swamp the blog's author. The AP provides an adequate baseline discussion of what the House did today, in decisively approving pending legislation purporting to streamline and centralize the class action process in the federal courts.

The gist of the legislation is that class action lawsuits that used to be subject to the jurisdiction of courts in virtually any state in which an injured party resides, an injury occurs, or a corporate defendant is located, now will have to be brought in already overwhelmed federal courts. Aside from clogging up the system, this will also have the effect of diminishing the frequency and volume of class action rewards, as federal courts have proven far less sympathetic than many state courts to sweeping multi-state litigation.

Needless to say, not everyone's happy, and some people are seeing through the anti-class action attorney rhetoric, which is the same red herring here that it is in most contexts. Speaking of which, this account of what's in store:

"Today we will attempt to pre-empt state class action," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. "Next month we will take up a bankruptcy bill that massively tilts the playing field in favor of credit card companies and against ordinary consumers and workers alike. On deck are equally one-sided medical malpractice bills and asbestos bills that both cap damages and eliminate liability to protect some of the most egregious wrongdoing in America."

Now I could do this at much greater length, could provide any number of sources of discussion on this point, but I don't want to belabor what I see as a couple of simple points I can just gloss over at a common-sense level, each corresponding to a stated rationale for this supposedly ground-breaking reform (italicized descriptions of rationales taken from the same AP article, though they are surely available in any complete article).

1. The president has described class-action suits as often frivolous . . .

Really? How often? Which kinds? And what, precisely, do we consider to be frivolous? How easily we forget Ralph Nader's industry-shaking exposure of the Ford Pinto scandal. How easily we forget the atrocious case highlighted in A Civil Action (which, those familiar with the story will recall, ended with a relatively paltry award). If regulation is insufficient, and the one strong tool consumers have is vitiated or effectively eliminated, how can the people keep corporations in line?

2. [B]usinesses complain that state judges and juries have been too generous to plaintiffs.

Which is to say, if I'm not mistaken, that businesses don't like the jury system. So, when it comes to things like political speech, businesses want to be treated like individuals, but when it comes to being held culpable for misconduct, juries are, what, unqualified? Isn't that the task of corporate defense lawyers -- to make sure juries understand why this egregious suit is being brought against their blameless corporation in violation of all that is good and decent in the world. Oh, wait, what? Your army of $300/hour attorneys can't convince 12 perfectly honorable citizens in Mississippi of that fact? Could that be because it isn't true? Just maybe? Here's my feeling: if a jury can hold a criminal defendant's life in its hands, then I think it can handle doling out an award for a class of people collectively injured by knowing corporate misconduct. Call me crazy . . .

3. Bush: "This bill is an important step forward in our efforts to reform the litigation system and to continue creating jobs and growing our economy . . ."

Reforming the litigation system? In the literal re-forming sense, sure: this is profession-changing stuff. Creating jobs? What, because corporations are going to keep so much more of their money that they'll shower it on new employees? That they'll break ground in entirely new industries? Why has this recovery been mostly jobless? Because corporations are reaping the benefits of enhanced productivity, and because when they don't have to, they choose not to hire more people. Growing our economy? This is zero sum stuff. Either businesses spend that money or lawyers and consumers do. Few corporations are going out of business due to this stuff. Costs may be passed on to consumers, but a few million dollars here and there to attorneys from multi-billion dollar corporations is not breaking the bank. And to the extent serious costs are passed on, it's where corporations have had to change the way they did business. Like, for example, shielding gas tanks to prevent explosions that kill these same consumers. Keeping corporations honest in some industries quite literally saves lives. How's that for the economy?

4. Bush, the GOP and the business community [. . .]have criticized what they see as a litigation crisis that enables lawyers to reap huge profits while businesses and consumers are stuck with the bill.

It stands to reason that our supposedly free-market MBA president would want to redistribute wealth from attorneys to MBA's, doesn't it? Seriously, what they're referring to here is the concern that class action lawyers' clients "get only small sums or coupons giving them discounts for products of the company they just sued," while the attorneys rake in multi-million dollar fees. Indeed, this is often the case.

Many of us have received such coupons over the years, and they are pretty trivial on an individual level. But return to my earlier point regarding corporate culpability. Again the analogy: to an American citizen who lives and breathes, his freedom is his most prized possession. When he commits a crime against an individual or the community, he loses that freedom. Unless he's a corporate executive. Meanwhile, to a corporation qua entity, its bottom line is its most prized possession. All hail the almighty shareholder, right? Well then doesn't it make sense that it is by dipping into its coffers when it steps out of line that we most effectively punish a corporation? Of course. Practically speaking, it's the only way.

That's what class action lawsuits are and have always been about. So yeah, it's relatively unimportant to me that a few years back I received as compensation for years of billing misconduct a coupon good for about $20 of Verizon-sold hardware. But if everyone who received one of those coupons redeemed it, what do you suppose that would cost Verizon? Millions, of course. And yes, the attorneys in that case surely reaped millions. They also probably worked for years and years on that case, like most others. And last I checked, a lawyer's time is pretty expensive. Moreover, if there isn't that financial incentive, lawyers won't take these cases. And if they don't take these cases, consumers have to rely on regulatory bodies to protect them, which these days is pretty cold comfort.

I don't participate in opt-in class actions because I care about what I might get. Rather, I opt in because in so doing, the corporate defendant is forced to justify its conduct. If it has a fair case, and good attorneys, it will convince the jury. And if it doesn't, then it pays. Lawyers make some money, I make virtually nothing, but of crucial importance is the price paid by the corporation. That's what's important. And I guarantee that with a sufficient payout, corporations will wake up and take notice, and change conduct to avoid future liability. And such changes almost invariably favor consumers in the long run.

Lawyers are not the problem here. Neither are juries. It's just another example of corporations doing what they must -- aiming to milk the market for every penny it can get. Corporate political donations to politicians and fees paid to lobbying firms are loss leaders -- and today they have been handsomely rewarded, to the detriment of consumers, who will suffer far more than the lawyers will under the yoke of this corporate-friendly legislation.

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