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.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Merit Badge in Huh?

Forgive me if this seems insensitive, but what the f&*k is wrong with the Boy Scouts of America these days? Bad enough that four scout leaders die while pitching a tent (sounds like the beginning to some How many ___ does it take to screw in a lightbulb? joke, doesn't it), but just a couple of days later, something like three hundred scouts and Jamboree attendees were treated for "symptoms resulting from the 100-degree afternoon heat" with at least thirty hospitalized for more serious heat-related symptoms.

Granted, it was really really hot and there were like 42,000 attendees, give or take a thousand (no out gay scout leaders there, however,* natch), but even the 30 of 42,000 proportion seems a bit high for an organization that carries its mission to train American boys to be upstanding men in substantial part by teaching them skills directed at responsible conduct out of doors and in 'nature.' Is a proper respect for sun and heat not implicit in all of this? These are children for whom supposedly responsible adults are accountable during the course of the Jamboree.

The whole thing is almost surreal, if you ask me. And of course tragic. Truly.

* Speaking of which, what's up with BSA's statement of 'diversity:' "We hope that our supporters will continue to value the Boy Scouts of America's respect for diversity and the positive impact Scouting has on young people's lives." That's like the Bush administration saying "We hope that our supporters will continue to vale the administration's respect for tax and spend liberalism." How dare they wrap themselves in the cloak of diversity when one of their founding principles -- one to which they staked their reputation and a great deal of money in litigation expenses -- entails the avowed proposition that homosexuality somehow doesn't comport with the values they wish to instil in young scouts. Why hasn't anybody called them on this?

Thursdays at Havana

For over five years, Thursdays at Havana has been among the best nights for music in the city. I've been remiss in failing to propagate notices concerning who's playing, especially insofar as I count a number of the parties involved as good, and long-standing friends. So beginning this week, I'll be posting information regarding who's playing when. Hopefully, in this vein, I'll also be doing a better job of posting events generally. This blog has not concerned itself as much as it ought to with local events of various kinds; that stops today.

TONIGHT (07.28.05)

BROTHER MIKE - 10pm & 1am - Deep Soulful House Music

PRODUCT 19 - 11pm to 1am - Been over a year since John played at Havana.
Visiting us from his new home in London. It will be nice to have him back.
- Electrasoul, House of Styles,

$2 Yuengling Bottles and $3 Mojitos - 10pm to 2am

NO COVER / 21+ / I.D. Required
Back Patio Open

Mark your Calendars,

Friday August 12th, 2005
5505 Walnut St., Pgh (Shadyside) PA
9pm to 2am
$6 / $8

Featuring the sounds of :
SHAWN RUDIMAN - Live PA - Technoir
LOLA - New York City - Deep See NYC
TREVOR COMBEE - aka The Instigator

A number of these acts, if not all of them, are fantastic, in Moon's personal estimation, particular Shawn Rudiman. Trevor Combee is a wild card, but always entertaining.

The summer isn't going to last forever; get up, get out, have a drink and enjoy some music.


Emily just yesterday reminded me of an essay David Foster Wallace wrote for Harpers a few years back, and sent me a link to a copy of same. Mating modern usage guides to archaic usage guides to Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, Wallace's book review is a compend- and hilarious riff on the state of modern English usage, and his own particular brand of "SNOOT"iness. SNOOT, of course, is a Wallace family acronym, as he explains (in a footnote omitted from the below passage), for "this reviewer's nuclear family's nickname a clef for a really extreme usage fanatic, the sort of person whose idea of Sunday fun is to look for mistakes in Safire's column's prose itself. This reviewer's family is roughly 70 percent SNOOT, which term itself derives from an acronym, with the big historical family joke being that whether S.N.O.O.T. stood for "Sprachgefuhl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance" or "Syntax Nudniks of Our Time" depended on whether or not you were one."

Of SNOOTS he writes:

There are lots of epithets for people like this — Grammar Nazis, Usage Nerds, Syntax Snobs, the Language Police. The term I was raised with is SNOOT.[3] The word might be slightly self-mocking, but those other terms are outright dysphemisms. A SNOOT can be defined as somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn't mind letting you know it.

I submit that we SNOOTs are just about the last remaining kind of truly elitist nerd. There are, granted, plenty of nerd-species in today's America, and some of these are elitist within their own nerdy purview (e.g., the skinny, carbuncular, semi-autistic Computer Nerd moves instantly up on the totem pole of status when your screen freezes and now you need his help, and the bland condescension with which he performs the two occult keystrokes that unfreeze your screen is both elitist and situationally valid). But the SNOOT's purview is interhuman social life itself. You don't, after all (despite withering cultural pressure), have to use a computer, but you can't escape language: Language is everything and everywhere; it's what lets us have anything to do with one another; it's what separates us from the animals; Genesis 11:7-10 and so on. And we SNOOTS know when and how to hyphenate phrasal adjectives and to keep participles from dangling, and we know that we know, and we know how very few other Americans know this stuff or even care, and we judge them accordingly.

In ways that certain of us are uncomfortable about, SNOOTs' attitudes about contemporary usage resemble religious/political conservatives' attitudes about contemporary culture: We combine a missionary zeal and a near-neural faith in our beliefs' importance with a curmudgeonly hell-in-a-handbasket despair at the way English is routinely manhandled and corrupted by supposedly educated people. The Evil is all around us: boners and clunkers and solecistic howlers and bursts of voguish linguistic methane that make any SNOOT's cheek twitch and forehead darken. A fellow SNOOT I know likes to say that listening to most people's English feels like watching somebody use a Stradivarius to pound nails. We are the Few, the Proud, the Appalled at Everyone Else.
[footnotes omitted]
This absolutely slays me. Even as it makes me doubly self-conscious of my own malaprops and solecisms.

As an introduction to the article, I especially recommend the long block of exempla of common usage errors or banal undesirable usages DFW provides. He enumerates everything from trivial word errors to moderately difficult to spot grammar errors to bowdlerizations and so on. Here's a representative sample taken from the middle of the block of material:

"Chances of rain are prevalent." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Rule and Regulation Amendment Task Force. Further for farther. "The Fred Pryor Seminar has opened my eyes to better time management techniques. Also it has given real life situations and how to deal with them effectively." Hands-on, can-do. "Each of the variants indicated in boldface type count as an entry." Visualization. "Insert and tighten metric calibrated hexscrews (K) into arc (G) comprised of intersecting vertical pieces (A) along transverse section of Structure. (see Diagram for #(3-4 inv.)" Creative, creativity. To message, to send a message, to bring our message to. To reach out to. Context. Straightlaced. A factor, a decisive factor. Myriads of decisive factors. "It is a federal requirement to comply with all safety regulations on this flight." In this context, of this context. On a — ly basis. From the standpoint of. Contextualization. Within the parameters of this context. Decontextualization. Defamiliarize. Orientated. "The artist's employment of a radical visual idiom serves to decontextualize both conventional modes of representation and the patriarchal contexts on which such traditional hegemonic notions as representation, tradition, and even conventional contextualization have come to be seen as depending for their privileged status as aestheto-interpretive mechanisms." I don't feel well and hope I recoup. "As parents, the responsibility of talking to your kids about drugs is up to you." Who would of thought? Last and final call. AS to. Achieve. Achievement. Competitive. Challenge, challenged, challenges. Excellence. Pursuit of a standard of total excellence. An astute observance. Misrepresent for lie. A longstanding tradition of achievement in the arena of excellence. "All copier stores are not the same." Visible to the eye. Which for that, I for me. That which. In regards to. Data as singular, media as singular, graffiti as singular.

Anyway, to add some critical, er, mass to this post, I think it's precisely Wallace's love for properly spoken English, his SNOOT status, that attunes him to the many oddities of common speech and in turns makes his dialogue so readable, even when it's surreal. Surreal dialogue works when it is anchored in reality, when beneath its surfact there's some kernel of colloquial truth. Wallace has that. In spades. And this essay / review says something about why.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Justice O'Connor and "Footprints"

Every once and again, I take a moment to comment on the sorts of internet searches are leading people to this site. Often, this takes the form of a compendium of ridiculous, borderline insulting searches (the prevalence of "cammeltoe [sic]," for example, will ever elude explanation).

In monitoring my recently enhanced traffic (and thank you all for paying my little corner of the inteweb any attention at all), I noticed since Justice O'Connor's retirement, a spike in searches on "Justice O'Connor poem," and variations on that theme. Mostly I just ignored it. Finally, this evening, I clicked the search, figuring that I must be coming up rather high on any such search, and sort of perplexed that with all that had been written about her retirement I had a lot of Google "juice." Indeed, for the above search, as of this writing, MOP is the top site returned. Huh?

Next, I followed the second result, a John Spalding post, which revealed the following story:

Washington, D.C., Sept. 4--Visitors and federal employees entering the Supreme Court Building this morning gazed with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief at the massive bronze plaque that now stands inside the Court's main entrance facing the Capitol Building. The sculpture, which measures 18-feet tall by 6-feet wide, is inscribed with the famous inspirational "Footprints" poem loved by millions of Christians around the world.

Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor installed the poem last night, without notice or permission. The sculpture depicts a beach scene in which two sets of footprints trail the coastline, eventually merging into one pair. The poem describes God as a friend in times of need, and the words are written in calligraphy, rather like an inscription on a Hallmark card.

You know the poem, the one that runs something like this:


One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, He looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.

This really bothered Him and He questioned the LORD about it. LORD you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.

The LORD replied, my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.

Quickly, I fired off an email to a couple of friends over at Bloodless, sort of baffled that anything like this might have happened with neither my notice nor the easily imagined host of lefties rending their garments, gnashing their teeth, immolating themselves on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Then, impatient, I ran another search, this time on "Justice O'Connor footprints." There I found my answer.

John Spalding's parody is to blame.

After I published a parody in which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor erects a three-ton, bronze "Footprints" monument in the lobby of the Supreme Court (inspired by former Alabama Judge Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument), Carty sent an email asking which version I'd posted, hers or Margaret Fishback Powers'. If I'd posted Carty's version and credited Powers, she said, "then you are now notified that my poem preceeds [sic] Margarets [sic] as well as my copyright." I assured her the article was satirical and that neither version had been used.

Apparently authorship of "Footprints" also presents a rowdy (if fatuous, IMHO) controversy, as though Christians are ever motivated by profit. The very statement uttered aloud reveals the infirmity of its proposition.

Anyway, one more pointless mystery solved.

UPDATE: It also occurs to me that with this post I may become the all time hero of O'Connor hoax search results. Sobeit, no such thing as bad attention and all that. Indeed, quite a few people evidently need to be set straight on the fact that this was all a silly (if effective) joke.


In an earlier writing, I nibbled around the edges of the degree to which touch animates my sense of companionship, and how single life is perhaps more impoverished for the absence of easy touch than it is for want of sex.

Beside the fact that sex is not terribly difficult to find, it's a certain species of touch that I miss most when I am not romantically involved; and it's intimate contact that I mosts crave and relish in the bloom of a new relationship. . . . Sex can wait, and sometimes does; touch, however, is always in short supply, always precious, as addicting as heroin and as heady.

My recent single, if not terribly lonely, run of days wears on, and continues to affect me in surprising, intriguing ways. The cinematic interiority of the journey is what most fascinates me. As though I were pregnant, I find my cravings to be frequen, unusual, vivid; often, they have little or nothing to do with sex, though many are incidents of a certain voluptuous mutuality arrived at by the closest, most complete of couples. Like a once forgotten song with a catchy hook cued up over and over in one's mind for days, so are these visions, these reminders of why, sooner or later, the sacrifices that come with commitment pay dividends in excess of the expense, recurring, metemorphosing, one tarrying for a day or a week and another waiting behind it: a slide show or concatenation of tiny vignettes: Why Single Life Ain't All It's Cracked Up to Be.

Lately, for an unusual duration, I've been captivated by the most affecting of quotidian gestures, with varied visuals drawing from past experience, present fabrication, and future conjecture, a commonplace almost unaccountably erotic.

An old friend, the big brother I never had, the 25-year-old city-mouse roommate to my 18-year-old clueless suburbanite, once commented that nothing is more exciting than the vision of a woman elevating her foot behind her, and stooping gently to remove from the elevated foot a high-heeled shoe. It's a cliche, infinite variations of which we've all seen in advertisements a hundred times; while I was always charmed by the seriousness with which he stated this, and somewhat astonished by the earnest constancy with which he returned to it in various contexts, from single through married, time and again throughout our friendship, I never entirely shared his pique.

I have a few of my own, of course, and this is one:

It's late. I'm tired, and so are you. We have just returned from a formal event, one which has kept us on our feet, dancing, mingling, for hours. Our smiles have been constant, unaffected but taxing; our mouths involuntarily defaulting in their stretched expression of contentment and amiability; in our minds, and on the tips of our tongues, cycle and recycle the banality of simple consort.

All night, I have admired you from afar, enjoying as much the vision of you across the room hosting and attending the ephemeral gatherings of two and five and seven that collect and dissipate like pools of water on an irregular surface, droplets joining for one leg of the journey before splitting into new rivulets, intrepid ribbons of water no longer pure but instead intermixed with molecules shared with prior companions, onto the next temporary puddling. You are a vision in black, silk blessing your curves, your hills and valleys, the downy poetry of your skin as I have for as long as I care to remember. All night, I have stared, luxuriating in my prerogative to do so, thrumming with the cherished secret of my astonished good fortune.

And now it's home, lamplit and simple, the air perhaps a bit too cool around us but warm between us.

You pause, halfway through the first room, and turn, silhouetted against night's cool suggestion through the far windows, dress whispering cryptic affirmation. Like a barge pilot negotiating a twisted course of familiar pilings at midnight, I find a candle to dispel the unaccursed darkness. In the lamp's embracing glow your eyes are heavy-lidded and alight; everywhere they fall bursts vividly into color, and their path across my body pulses and tingles; I am melting.

Guilelessly, you step out of your heels, tall and sculpted, and your body, once arch and shapely transforms with your two-inch descent to earth into something welcoming and vulnerable, elegance retiring to leave intrinsic beauty at the helm. The ground slips beneath my feet, and I reach to balance myself against the nearest stable feature, a couch's plush backing; at once I silently beg your approach and fear it, pushing and pulling in similar measure, seduced and petrified by the same integrated suite of unwitting gestures, mindfully heedless, dionysian and lyric, now and now and now.

Removing your dress may be the apogee towards which this night has curved, ballistic with acknowledged yearning, the inevitable parabolic course of mutual desire. But its culmination, in my imagination, is neither more nor less than the settling to earth of two elegant heels (and the concomitant softening of all that makes you irresistible), the anticipation of which has been my event horizon. For as long as I care to remember.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


As far as I am concerned, all small brown birds are sparrows.

It's a Done Deal

To touch briefly upon something you'll all, eventually, hear plenty about, as of last night, I officially came to final and binding terms with the seller of the house I've been under contract to buy for something like the last month. Closing in August. And though the strictures of anonymity preclude me from sharing all the details, here are a couple of little ones.

In the Schoolyard

From CNN:

Following complaints from a congressman, the producers of "Wedding Crashers" removed from the movie's Web site Monday a printable Purple Heart medal advertised as a gimmick to pick up women and get free drinks.


It is a crime to wear, manufacture, buy, sell or trade a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest decoration for valor. Salazar's Stolen Valor Act, introduced Friday, would expand the law to include more medals and would allow prosecution of anybody who falsely claimed to have earned a military medal or a Purple Heart.


"If any movie-goers take the advice of the 'Wedding Crashers' and try to use fake Purple Hearts to get girls, they may wind up picking up an FBI agent instead," Salazar warned in a statement. "I am pleased that New Line Cinema has agreed to take down offensive parts of the Web site. Our veterans and FBI agents are working hard to make sure that we honor our true heroes. No one should undermine their efforts."

Stolen Valor? Actually lying about medals to "get girls." Is he serious?! It's a paper god-damned purple heart. Probably the stupidest promotional idea I've heard in ages.

I'll tell you what, if it's this easy to insult our troops, I've got serious questions about their combat-readiness. And since the past couple of years have demonstrated our troops to be courageous, steadfast, loyal, and honorable (this site neither has nor will insult anyone serving this country unless s/he runs far afoul of the basic rules governing such things), I can only conclude that what this actually is all about is a politician's need to milk something -- evidently, more or less anything -- for three seconds' airtime. And so instead I have serious questions about what our Representatives our doing with the six-figure salaries, well-rounded staffs, and endless array of perqs that come with the job we've entrusted to them.

Stolen Valor. Unbelievable.

Baltar Hits the F%$king Roof

Over at Bloodless, Baltar decides to explain in a comment why he bitches about administration and Republicans generally in lieu of the Democrats flitting about in the dark halls of the Capitol Building.

From my perspective (a libertarian conservative), this administration seems bent on spending more, legislating more morals, damaging the separation of powers (moving more power out of the courts and Congress and removing their ability to check the executive), eroding my liberty (but not increasing my security; have you seen the spending figures for airports vs. ports vs. trains vs. roads? - which do you use more?), and generally acting like rational debate about means and ends is inappropriate in public policy, and any questioning of the President is quasi-treasonous. In short, this administration has taken the worst of the Democrats (spending like they don't have to pay the bill), the worst of the Christian right (my morals are the majority, so we should enforce them), the worst of the NeoCons (America is loved! Let us bomb you to prove it!), the worst of Nixon's paranoia/power seeking (What, you question me? You're fired, and we're going to keep track of you.), rolled it all together and called it "Republican". It doesn't look anything like anyting Republican I've ever seen.

Look, I'm not reflexively anti-Republican. I'm registered as one, dammit. I just don't see these people acting like them, and (worse), when they are called on it they come out swinging, not debating. They've stolen my %(#ing political party and I want it back. [all emphasis in original]

Quelle screed! Bad-ASS. And I must confess: though I don't share Baltar's historical connection to his party, I'd take a Reagan, hell even a Gingrich Republican, over what we've got right now. I'd take it and smile. Read the whole comment (there's more!!!) or the entire thread. It's amazing: after years of exchanging all the arguments -- why the Bushian ideas are bad, and why the Bushian administration doesn't reflect even the bad ideas it extolls but rather worse, less coherent ones -- there are still more valid critiques it's entertaining to throw around. It just never gets boring.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"It was like so, but wasn't."

For so long, now, the membership roll of favorite contemporary(ish) authors has been closed gathering dust, that the reluctant crackling open of its desiccated spine, booklice scurrying for cover, is of some personal moment for me.

But just the same, in what's left of the ink I use to record such things, while my mind remains ductile enough to accommodate change, I add one more.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The only man to whom I am not related to by blood who has made me weep twice. And in only two attempts. I don't really write reviews; they turn invariably elegiac or rank and spiteful, condescending. This elegy will have to suffice. With aid of one more commonplace:

The life we lead is our only maybe. The tale we tell is the must that we make by living it.

At once convincing me that I must write and reminding me that to do so is to embrace failure before I begin. It would be easier to be just another lawyer.

My New Favorite Site Makes Me Homesick

The subway doors open. A hobo enters, holding a bottle of windex in one hand and a tube of toothpaste in the other. He says: Which is the better time to read Dostyevsky? Winter?

He sprays the windex.

Hobo: Or Spring?

He squeezes toothpaste out of the tube.

Japanese girl: Spring!
Hobo: You are correct.

--F train

Care of Overheard in New York.

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been . . .

And as long as we're talking about overblown concerns, how about this: apparently the best way to deflect legitimate questions regarding a judicial nominee's possible membership in, e.g., the Federalist Society, is to accuse the questioner of being McCarthyist. This from the party of McCarthy, of course.

Senator Cornyn, who anyone can speculate would have been happy to sit at McCarthy's side on HUAC if he'd been elected to the House in the fifties, had this to say:

"Obviously [the Federalist society] wasn't central in [Roberts'] life. But it's not like being a member of the Communist Party," Cornyn said after meeting Roberts. "The Federalist Society is an organization that hosts debates from people with a lot of different viewpoints. I think serves a very useful purpose for lawyers and people interested in these viewpoints. But I don't think that should be a limiting factor at all."

I agree; the Federalist Society does emphasize debating. Indeed, my only direct contect with the Pitt Law chapter of the FS during my tenure there was a debate hosted between some FS guest and a left-wing hot-shot from the Pitt faculty to debate the merits of affirmative action. The debate was entertaining, robust, civil, and everything a legal debate between professionals ought to be (professional debate for its own sake, of course, no longer having any place on the floor of the Senate). But let's not kid ourselves: just because FS promotes debate doesn't mean it, and by extension its members, hasn't staked out some very clear positions in the ongoing debate over the constitutional role of the Article III judiciary.

Here's the problem: we already know that we're not allowed to ask about cases, right? Well, if we can't ask about specific issues, then we should be able to ask about judicial philosophy and related topics, if confirmation isn't going to turn into some hagiographic, pulpit-pounding sham of a proceeding (and we already have enough of those). As a commenter to JNOV's post observed, the right would be plenty interested in knowing whether a nominee were a member of the ACLU. And that the latter does impact litigation while the FS does not hardly distinguishes them. Both groups exist, by and large, to advance the public perception of various legal stalking horses each holds dear; the ACLU is far more prominent for its public statements than it is for its litigation.

I for one would like to know all of the legal and professional affiliations of any candidate for the Supreme Court. As noted previously on this site, the integrity of the judicial system lies just as much in the perception of fairness and objectivity. A nominee's affiliation with any group that stakes out clear territory on one side of the sorts of debates that occupy the United States Supreme Court tends to create the appearance of prejudice, of impropriety, the suggestion that with regard to certain issues a nominee's mind is made up long before the particular facts of the case serving as a vehicle for the issue have emerged as a matter of record through proper exercise of the adversarial system.

Nor is JNOV's UPDATE disclaimer, indicating he's more bemused than bothered by the Federalist Society-related questions at issue, all that comforting, a propos the rhetorical gamesmanship I began this post to excoriate. He quips: "As Marx observed (and I paraphrase): history repeats itself -- first as tragedy, then as farce."

This isn't history repeating itself. Certainly, it's not the Red Scare repeating itself (though it might, to be fair, reflect a minor Red State Scare). McCarthy went after everyone, not just judges and public servants, and he set out to ruin careers and succeeded all too often. This won't ruin anything except to the extent it reveals that Roberts is unqualified (something unlikely to happen); it merely gets to the heart of Roberts' judicial philosophy, which either is fair game or we might as well get rid of the confirmation process entirely.

Mocking, minimizing, tacitly tarring -- it's amazing the lengths the right seems to be prepared to go to avoid an honest discussion of their nominee to occupy one of the nine most influential seats in the United States government for anywhere from twenty to thirty-five years. As my readers know, I've largely been hospitable to Roberts' nomination, and to the president's prerogative to appoint a qualified candidate who suits his fancy (within reason), but it's bothersome the degree to which the right is pushing for what someone (I think it was Turley in the belowcited column) dubbed "un-confirmation hearings."

UPDATE: I should add, by the bye, that I wouldn't consider it improper to inquire of a Supreme Court nominee whether he had ever identified with the Communist Party. It seems a fair question. I'd like to know whether s/he were Amish, Green, a Rotarian, a Klansman, etc. They're all of a piece, in one sense or another -- no one of them necessarily dispositive as far as I'm concerned (well, the Klan I imagine would be dispositive for most of us), but all illuminating and therefore properly in-bounds of any rationally useful inquiry. Come to think of it, I'd sort of like to know whether a nominee lives with 23 cats, his mother, or anything else really weird. But then I'm nosy.

The Golden Boy Picks His Nose

Okay, that's probably not a terribly apt title, but it amuses me, and it's not wholly inapplicable. Armand tipped me off to an LA Times op-ed by law prof. Jonathan Turley (registration or BugMeNot required).

He relates an incident in which Judge Roberts let slip a veil on the relationship between his devout Catholicism and his burden as a federal judge:

The exchange occurred during one of Roberts' informal discussions with senators last week. According to two people who attended the meeting, Roberts was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral. Roberts is a devout Catholic and is married to an ardent pro-life activist. The Catholic Church considers abortion to be a sin, and various church leaders have stated that government officials supporting abortion should be denied religious rites such as communion. (Pope Benedict XVI is often cited as holding this strict view of the merging of a person's faith and public duties).

Renowned for his unflappable style in oral argument, Roberts appeared nonplused and, according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.

It was the first unscripted answer in the most carefully scripted nomination in history. It was also the wrong answer. In taking office, a justice takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. A judge's personal religious views should have no role in the interpretation of the laws. (To his credit, Roberts did not say that his faith would control in such a case).

(Disclaimer: I'm hesitant to let pass without criticism Turley's uncalled for superlative about how scripted this nomination, which barely has begun, actually is.)

Turley's right, however, that this raises serious questions: the Supreme Court, by design, consists of nine justices to minimize the likelihood of many even splits, the legal result of which is to affirm without precedential value the judgment of the court below. This Court is notoriously evenly divided, and Roberts' ascension would not radically change this dynamic in very many sensitive areas. One can easily imagine that, were he to find himself recusing on things like the death penalty and abortion, the Court would enter a period of relative ineffectiveness due to its inability to decide the close cases.

As we've seen lately, in the area of the death penalty in particular, the Court has labored to carefully hone legal standards to gird its evolution and application. And so I find myself in agreement with Justice Scalia on this occasion, who has said: "The choice for a judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty." Notice, of course, that Scalia left abortion out of that equation. Although I haven't the time, I could have sworn I read somewhere that Scalia, in a typically lawyerly quibble, distinguished the Church's encyclical on abortion from the something-other-than-an-encyclical on the death penalty, on the convenient and dubious footing that the latter are somehow advisory while the former are binding. Uh-huh. Of course.

While I'm at it, I'd like to note another unduly broad and tendentious comment from Turley's column:

For years, Roberts has been carefully groomed for greater things, one of a new generation of post-Bork nominees, young conservatives who have been virtually raised on a hydroponic farm for flawless conservative fruit. They learned to confine their advocacy to legal briefs so that their true views are only known to the White House and to God.

They learned to confine their advocacy to legal briefs . . . ? In Roberts' case, might that have something to do with the fact that appellate experts live and die by the brief? And what evidence do we have that their true views are known to the White House? And what's with the snarky, less-than-subtle "God" addition.

Really, no one can credibly argue that aspirants to the high federal court learned some sort of lesson watching Bork get eviscerated on national television, but Bork was an academic whose stock-in-trade as such was the body of his articulate views. It's not like Roberts is the first non-career academic to be nominated to an Article III court. Furthermore, you can't have it both ways: on the one hand lambasting personal positions ostensibly discovered in idle footnotes in briefs composed for a client in the course of advocacy-for-hire, on the other faulting the nominee for only writing briefs and never stating his views in a peer-reviewed forum, notwithstanding that such fora are of little use to career litigators.

If Roberts won't feel capable of hanging in and deciding every case his constitutional obligation sets before him, I've got a problem with his nomination. But I've got an increasing problem with the sloppiness of the body of commentary endeavoring to demonstrate his unsuitability for the job. He's accomplished too much to deserve the spaghetti on the wall treatment. Yes, his comment that he might be forced to recuse is absolutely relevant, and absolutely should be addressed at his confirmation hearing. But for now let's leave it at that, and restrict our columns to similarly concrete matters instead of unrestrained, vaguely paranoid invective.

UPDATE: My first wave at this omitted some material from the blockquote at the top of the post. I've restored the missing material.


Just recently, I was given cause to peruse the Spatter section of 63xc, where I encountered this compact gem of a vignette recounting the beauty of a proficient cyclist riding fixed in the slow-motion chaos of San Francisco traffic. "The subtle adjustments he made in his speed and direction were like the tiny corrections a bird makes in flight."

I Love This Town! (Testing Photo Functionality)

This is, as they say, all Greek to me. I'm just blabbing to fill the space around the margins of this photo, to help me decide whether the spartan, pre-fab beauty of MOP is worth ruining by the inclusion of the occasional picture, no matter how lovely or repulsive. Any thoughts?

The Terrorists Are Winning

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
--The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Only systematic random searches have been deemed constitutional in the related context of highway sobriety / immigration checkpoints. While the New York authorities have paid lip service to the systematic nature of their random searches, one reporter I read / heard (can't recall where) indicated that at the station he monitored, the intention to search every fifth passenger broke down as soon as the station got busy. Subsequently, approximately eighteen people in a row went unsearched, followed by three consecutive searches. When the police write their own rules, their biases inevitably infect the process. Hence the requirement of systematicity in the sobriety checkpoint context, something even more urgently required in this new context.

Furthermore, the dinimution of one's expectation of privacy while driving is tied to the heavily regulated nature of automobile licensure and usage. While mass transit is heavily regulated, its passengers are not. No license or identification traditionally is required. You can ride no matter your age or state of disability. These criteria substantially distinguish the patronage of mass transit from driving a private vehicle and call into question the constitutionality of the checkpoints in the first instance.

Then there's this, from a story relating the temporary evacuation on Sunday of New York's Penn Station following a bomb scare:

Also Sunday, a double-decker Gray Line tourist bus was evacuated in midtown Manhattan after a bus company supervisor told police that five male passengers with backpacks and "stuffed" pockets had raised her suspicions. Police handcuffed five men and searched about 60 passengers before determining there was no threat.

Shall we return to the Fourth Amendment? The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . unless, of course, they have "backpacks and 'stuffed' pockets," in which case, in the parlance of hide-bound Fourth Amendment law, they evidently have virtually no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Furthermore, let's make no mistake: thanks to the suspicions regarding the five passengers in question, the police searched 60 passengers, as if to say, "Well, while we're at it." Sixty searches based on the dubious suspicions of one untrained private citizen regarding five men.

That New Yorkers didn't acquiesce to the crushing tragedy that befell it in 2001 testified to its singularity among world cities. Would that they were so defiant in the face of this quiet erosion of its fundamental freedoms. For surrendering to such disquietingly invasive measures without a fight is letting the terrorists win; five years ago, these security measures would have precipitated an insurrection.

If it's this bad before someone manages to detonate some sort of explosive in a public place in Manhattan, how much worse is it going to get when someone does. Becuase it's the worst kept secret in the United States right now that our time is coming; if Madrid didn't make that clear, London sure as hell ought to.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


vicissitudes of water

humility in a kiss of sun
at the pinnacle of a pillar of water

the scintillant ablution
of a bracing mist

and i am (supine, overwhelmed)
a confluence and headwater unto myself

an arterial junction
at a continental rivening

vicissitude of ardor
and a train's lonely rumble downstream.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Permalink Info

I've added to MoonOverPittsburgh my former professor's blog, Pittsblog, and to MoonOverLaw, his legal-themed blog Madisonian. As well, I've added the longoverdue MoonOverCycling section, with assorted, predominately fixed-gear-themed links. See the left sidebar for the links (I'm feeling lazy at the moment, so I'm not going to repost them in this entry.) Enjoy.

De-Lousing Susan

This morning, putting off the inevitable even though I wasn't sure what exactly was inevitable this fine Saturday morning save this evening's bachelor party for a friend, I flipped over the bike to clear my tires of debris. A flashlight, tweezers, and ten minutes: it's an easy, satisfying task, Susan so much a part of me that removing slivers of metal and glass and pebbles from the treads of her aging tires that it's as pleasing as removing splinters from my own skin.

As I slowly spun the tire, flashlight carefully angled to create a tangent of light and an oval of brightly lit rubber, an angle designed to bounce light off shiny debris and signal its location nearly submerged by the surface of the tire as it often is, I espied a tiny white bug, not unlike booklice: infinitesimal, shaped like a slightly flattened beetle or tick, subterranean pale. I skewered it with my tweezers and continued on, finding surprisingly little debris but frequent tears in the surface of the tire, especially inside the tiny lightning bolt S's signifying Specialized, the manufacturer, virtually all of which contained minor rips likely induced by my not infrequent skids, which must pull mercilessly at the tire as it grasps at gravel and asphalt to slow 160 pounds of steel and flesh.

Then I observed another bug, and dispatched him too, vaguely irked. Just a moment later, I saw two more, tumbling over each other as they negotiated the pits and ridges of the tire's surface. This looked like an infestation, though one unlike any I had ever observed or imagine.

I hate bugs. I really really hate bugs. The small ones especially, because one can imagine they are everywhere. And one does. This one, anyway.

Further rotation of the tire -- by now, I was spinning it by grasping the spokes, preferring not to touch the unclean surface of the tire itself -- disclosed yet more of the little bugs, ranging from small to impossibly small, mite-like, living on Susan!!!

Next, I took the logical step of inspecting the front tire. Oddly, the front tire disclosed a less worn but more pocked and superficially damaged tread, no debris, no bugs. I checked it several times around. No bugs. I wandered over to my geared bike, which rests alongside Susan, the bedroom fireplace my makeshift stable, collecting dust, the air slowly bleeding from the unused and neglected tires. On this bike's tires, as well, I observed no insects.

Logging on to the internet, I posted a question to the fixed-gear mailing list, to tap into the wisdom of the international fixed-gear community. Surely if this were an infestation, it wasn't one-of-a-kind; someone else would understand, would have answers, would help me understand how to de-louse Susan.

The first message in reply consisted of a quip, and a confession of ignorance regarding the substantive problem I face. The second, however, from this kind gentleman, contained more wisdom, and bad news. He wrote:

Those are most likely Vittoria beetles, commonly called tire
ticks. The only solution is to replace every tire on every
bicycle in the immediate vicinity. If you ignore them,
they'll suck all the air out of your tires.

While I had been planning to replace the 38c tires on my geared bike with something narrower, in the vicinity of 28's, I had no cause to replace the tires on my fixie, which came to me new and more or less unused with the bike when I bought it in the winter. Indeed, recently I'd been planning to invite a friend who confessed ignorance as to how tubes and tires are changed to hang with me one afternoon on the porch while I rotated the tires on the fixie, to prolong their very satisfying life. I have only flatted twice in hundreds of miles; and to find similarly reliable tires will cost me plenty.

So no instead of two tires it seemed like a good idea to replace at some point in the next couple of months, I instead have to replace four, urgently. And I imagine I also have to throw away four tubes, Lysol the wheels and the place the bikes rest half to death, and all of this before I close on the new house, since the last thing I want to do is introduce pestilence to my new home the moment I move in.

Worse, until I can get all of this done, I have to live with the fact that at least one, and quite possibly both of my bikes, at least one, and quite possibly four tires, are crawling with -- eesh! -- bugs.

Granted, if you, like me, are still fairly naive to the nuance of bike maintenance, you might wonder, as I do, whether I'm being had. (Vittoria, by the way, is a tire manufacturer.) But at the end of the day, does it matter? A) If CycleDog is so clever as to invent that on the fly (tire ticks!?), I deserve to be had; and B) even if he is full of shit, the fact remains, in whatever way, for whatever reason, and to whatever degree, one of Susan's tires plainly is infested by something, and one reasonably can assume that whatever the vile creatures are, they are more than prepared to, and certainly will given sufficient time, infest the other tires and only God knows what else.

So I guess it's time to do some shopping, and pray I can get a couple more rides out of the infested tire before the new ones arrive. In the meantime, I can at least console myself that with every spin I am killing who knows how many tire ticks, and that those who survive are probably throwing up all over the inside of my rapidly rolling tires. A simple pleasure, but a gratifying one. I wouldn't make a very good Jain, I suppose; I thrill in the torment of any creatures that lack fur and make me, or Susan, feel unclean.

And in that sense, de-lousing Susan is akin to de-lousing myself, which makes removing splinters, literally or figuratively, pale by comparison.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Slowly Unfolding Picture of Judge Roberts

Orin Kerr, today, in two interesting posts provides more useful information about John Roberts.

First, Kerr provides a handy thumbnail analysis of a Fourth Amendment dissent Roberts penned in United States v. Jackson that just filed out of the D.C. Circuit in the past day or two (which, as Kerr observes, means it was drafted in large part before his nomination). Although I'm mostly talking about Kerr, I do love this passage Kerr quotes from Roberts' opinion:

Sometimes a car being driven by an unlicensed driver, with no registration and stolen tags, really does belong to the driver’s friend, and sometimes dogs do eat homework, but in neither case is it reasonable to insist on checking out the story before taking other appropriate action.

Kerr's analysis is spot on with regard to the Fourth Amendment and Roberts' dissent, and provides a useful lens through which to view the decision. It's important to view decisions in context, especially those in areas like the Fourth Amendment, which require a "totality of the circumstances," heavily fact-based determination. One could easily hold this decision up, like the "french fry case," as an anti-liberal decision simply in virtue of the result for which Roberts argues. But putatively left-leaning judges issue decisions adverse to defendants far more often than they do favorable ones. Those cases are just the easy cases, and tend not to get much play.

Speaking of the "french fry" case, Armand at Bloodless Coup directed me to an interesting discussion of Roberts opinion in that case, with which (analysis) I also am inclined to agree. Heidi puts it very well:

I mean, hard cases may make bad law, but even though these were bad facts, the law isn't particularly hard. What was Roberts supposed to do? There's very clear Supreme Court precedent on all of this. He was bound to follow it. The regulations that lead to Ansche Hedgepeth's arrest were stupid, but they weren't unconstitutional. This wasn't really a hard case; most every first year Con Law student would have come to Roberts' conclusion.

Especially insightful, however, is her observations about the degree to which judges sometimes manipulate facts. It sounds bad, but hold on: the law values certainty, and when a judge reaches a point where he's simply not going to make it past 55% or so in favor of one outcome over another (would that it were not so, but the law is like that, or rather the facts are like that, demonstrating a frightful aplomb for seeking out low ground in which to puddle and saturate), often the legitimate temptation is to write as though from 100% certainty. Arguments supporting that approach can be made; a bunch of vacillating or -- dare I say it -- waffling opinions simply make a mess of the law. Ultimately, in most regards, the law presents those charged with its interpretation with two interpretive options, and perhaps a small number of intermediate alternatives. Mostly, however, it's yes or no, good or bad, and to equivocate is simply to make life harder on those people whose task it is to live by, interpret, and apply the law in the future.

To this end, Heidi observes that Roberts took the hard facts by the horns rather than messing around:

Roberts didn't shrink from the facts in this case. He acknowledged that they were horrible and he wrote about her plight in a sympathetic manner. It takes a particular kind of backbone to acknowledge that the facts are hard and the law, at least in this case, unlikable. And that is, I think, what integrity looks like.

That's hardly all there is to it, but I'd be hard pressed to disagree with Heidi's basic proposition.

In other news, Orin Kerr tracked down a transcript of an appearance Judge Roberts made on the Lehrer News Hour in 1997. He appeared as part of a distinguished panel, including Douglas Kmiec and Laurence Tribe, called upon to evaluate the import of the just-finished Supreme Court term, during which sagacious Court watchers will recall, the Court rejected a fundamental right to physician-assisted suicide, invalidated parts of the Brady Gun Control legislation and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and reached a sort of peak in the Rehnquist Court's run of portentous federalism decisions. It's worth noting that Roberts appeared not as a party shill, but as a D.C. attorney in private practice following his stint as Deputy Solicitor General to Bush 41.

Kerr latches on to other comments, but this is my favorite, because it does a good job of dousing the flames of alarmism that invariable scorch the edges of public discourse whenever the Supreme Court decides a case of consequence:

MARGARET WARNER: You’ve raised a couple of different issues. John Roberts, respond to the first one he raised, which was that in the Brady decision essentially could have very long range implications that could call into question the power of regulatory agencies that the federal government deputizes to do things. Do you think it could do that?

JOHN ROBERTS: Well, it could and it could not. I mean, that’s the way that a court functions. It decides the particular cases before it, and the next case will decide how broad that decision was meant to be and how narrow. The fact that the decision refers to questions that may implicate the constitutionality of independent agencies doesn’t mean that those agencies are unconstitutional. It means that those are issues that have to be addressed in the future.

In other words, one limitation on delegation of Congressional authority, or some other judicial constraint on regulatory prerogatives, does not constitute, in itself, a counterrevolution with the eradication of the post-New Deal regulatory state as its end. Or, in other words, Okay everyone, just take a deep breath. One case doesn't make a revolution. Except when it does. But it's been a while, and to be candid, most of those cases in the last fifty or sixty years, including those, like Lawrence v. Texas, issued by the Rehnquist Court, have favored the left. Move along people, nothing to see here.

Jury's still out, but everything I can find that I can sink my teeth into looks about as okay as I would have hoped under the circumstances. He could be a wolf in sheep's clothing, to be sure. But he also could easily be Kennedy. And that's the beauty, and the most horrific aspect, of the process: it's almost always a shot in the dark.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Slate Sounds Off

Law Geek Ingenue Dahlia Lithwick, Law Prof Viet Dinh, and Slate Publisher and former clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens Cliff Sloan take turns considering, from three very different perspectives, the implications of the Roberts nomination in a delightful colloquy. So far, there are two parts.

Here's my favorite quote (predictably, from (Oh) Dahlia(!)), regarding Roberts' by-now infamous footnote in the SG brief in Rust v. Sullivan calling for the overturning of Roe v. Wade:

In general, I tend to agree with Roberts, who—in consummate lawyerly fashion—has defended his footnote with a subsequent footnote, in a 1994 law review article. There Roberts said that "[the author's] views as a commentator … do not necessarily reflect his views as an advocate for his former client, the United States." If every lawyer were held to defend every appalling statement she makes on behalf of a client, the profession would be a mass of schizophrenic head-cases. Lawyers argue for clients, not themselves, and lawyers' views evolve over time. Roberts noted in his last confirmation hearing that Roe is still the law of the land. That statement should not be dismissed lightly.

But there is still something creepy about the zealousness of that Roberts' footnote. His call to go so far as to overturn Roe leaps beyond the question in the case and well into the realm of ideological advocacy.

Tell you what. I'm not happy the GOP gets to choose the newest member of the Court, and even less happy that Bush is the spearhead on this particular GOP prerogative. But I'm happy as a pig in shit to watch the confirmation unfold for the first time since I was still a teenager quasi-Republican who thought he was going to get an engineering degree as a short stop on his way to Crichton-esque career writing techno-thrillers for the masses. I know, I know. I wouldn't care much for my 20-year-old self either.

William Block Remembered

This is a lovely article about yesterday's memorial service at Heinz Chapel for Post-Gazette publisher, William Block. I had intended to attend, but work precluded me taking the afternoon off. I sort of wish I'd said damnitall and gone anyway.

Anyway, a fitting and dignified memorial.

Roberts' Authorship of Hedgepeth v. WMATA

Via Majikthise, Balkinization has a great post on the D.C. Circuit's unanimous opinion, per Judge Roberts, in Hedgepeth v. WMATA, in which the court upheld against 4th amendment and equal protection challenges the WMATA police's arrest and detention of a 12-year-old girl for eating a french fry in the metro under a recently implemented zero-tolerance policy. The equal protection challenge centered on the fact that the law authorized police merely to cite adults who violated the law, while it could be enforced against children only through arrest (probably in an attempt to guarantee that parents would learn of the offense, since one can, and children often might, throw out a citation rather than disclose it to unsympathetic parents).

I don't know that I agree with Kim Lane Scheppele's analysis of the implications of the case vis-a-vis Roberts' jurisprudence. The case implicated a fairly clear law, the constitutional questions are well-settled, and the case was inescapably controlled by the Supreme Court's decision, however bothersome, in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista. The D.C. circuit court, whatever horror stories you've heard and are bound to hear in the next couple of months, like most circuit courts, in the aggregate follows the instruction of the United States Supreme Court, as its place in the larger scheme requires.

In any case, I find Scheppele's discussion, as well as the comments, extraordinarily nuanced and well worth your time. We're bound to see so much amateurish and tendentious (if not downright risible) quote-unquote legal analysis in the coming weeks and months, I really don't think anyone can afford to ignore the real discussions that reflect some knowledge of how courts do what they do when they pop up. So go read the post already.

UPDATE: Bruce Shapiro at the Nation, in one fell swoop, manages to overstate the import of the anti-Roe footnote in Rust, misstate the import of Roberts' ruling in the Endangered Species Act case (in which he merely dissented from the denial of en banc review for reasons having principally to do with what has been largely accepted as a poorly reasoned majority, and recognized the possibility that the same result might be reached by a more valid path), and accuse him of being "doctrinaire" for following clear Supreme Court precedent, his sworn role as a judge on the court of appeals.

The french-fry case suggests that behind Judge Roberts's famous amiablity--which has won him influential friends in both parties--lies a far more doctrinaire personality. Whiffs of that ideological rigidity leak out of his careful opinions and briefs. Hostility to environmental regulation? Yes, at least in his ruling in a California land-development case in which he sought to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Hostility to reproductive rights? As a deputy to solicitor general Ken Starr in the Reagan years, he curried favor with the antiabortion right by adding an irrelevant footnote to his briefs in a family-planning-funding case, arguing that Roe v. Wade was "wrongly decided and should be overturned." In his appeals-court confirmation hearings, Roberts said this footnote simply reflected Administration policy, adding that he regards Roe as settled law; but his willingness to go beyond the call of duty and politicize his briefs suggests, at a minimum, enthusiasm for revisiting the issue.

For his encore, he makes valid points about the underlying conservatism one reasonably can infer about Roberts. But over the course of his discussion, Shapiro mostly demonstrates how unreliable the commentariat is going to be in helping the public figure out how to view the nomination.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

John G. Roberts and the Real Stuff

The shrill blogosphere echo-chamber having kicked up to high volume in record time for and against Judge Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court, let's not lose sight of the facts.

The manifestly non-partison Supreme Court Nomination Blog has posted an analysis of Roberts' voting patterns during his tenure with the D.C. circuit court. Surprise, surprise, he's not the antichrist. As Kevin Russell, Anisha Dasgupta, and Brian Fletcher observe, his voting record actually betrays no clear ideological leaning.

While Judge Roberts agreed most often with some of the court's most conservative members (agreeing nearly 100% of the time with judges Ginsburg and Silberman), he agreed nearly as often with some of its most liberal members (agreeing 95% of the time with judges Rogers and Garland). The two judges with whom he disagreed the most were relatively liberal judge Edwards (disagreeing in whole or part 18% of the time) and quite conservative senior judge Williams (10%).

Relevant caveats, further discussion, and a break-down of the data are available here. None of this stuff is dispositive, especially given the observation that the D.C. circuit court decides an extraordinary proportion of its cases unanimously (rendering even a 5% deviation potentially meaningful). I merely hold this up as a palliative to all the unsubstantiated allegations and assumptions, and all the patent misinformation, that already has tained the debate. It's an exemplum of what will make for a full and fair airing of issues and concerns prior to and during the confirmation hearings. Thankfully, the information is there for people who care to look for it.

Democrats and progressives are going to have to decide -- and soon -- whether they actually want to engage in a rigorous confirmation inquiry or just bang the podium and hold their breath until they turn blue. Love him or hate him, Judge Roberts has put together quite a record of accomplishment, and not just as a conservative lackey. He deserves an honest discussion to the extent he's willing to participate in it. Based on his prior confirmation hearings (for a full record of those hearings, follow the link in this Volokh Conspiracy post), my guess is he'll be a candid and direct subject.

(Hat tip, Orin Kerr at VC)

Moon is Famous

In other news, today is the 36th anniversary of the first moon landing. Google, has set up a tribute, derived from its new maps functionality. Be sure to use the control in the upper left-hand corner to zoom in on the Moon's surface; the imagery is of an astonishing quality.

Given the trillion-dollar market cap and improbably meteoric rise in stock valuation, how is it that those Google folks remain so damned cute?

So Here We Go, First of Many Substantive Posts on Roberts and the Appurtenant Debate

Usually, I find myself nodding unconsciously in agreement with the erudite, insightful posts I find at Majikthise, which I think hands-down is one of the brightest, most unfailingly thought-provoking beacons in the blogosphere. (See, for example, this entertaining post about a post about nice guys finishing last and the attendant links and comments.)

But this is a bit much. Lindsay argues that the only thing for Democrats to do is buckle down and decline to confirm Roberts as a matter of checks and balances and conscience:

In the weeks to come, let's not get bogged down in obscure arguments about whether position A on issue B is indicative of fatal logical defect C within constitutional interpretive theory D. We're entitled to our litmus tests. If we don't like a candidate's views on abortion, let's say so straight out. Forget trying to argue that anyone who supports abortion must have made a catastrophic error in legal reasoning about twenty steps back. Even if it's true, it's not our burden to discharge.

It's really very simple. If you're a Democratic senator, you don't vote for the John Roberts because he's not the kind of person you want on the Supreme Court. You use the confirmation project as it was meant to be used, as an opportunity to delve into the qualifications and values of the nominee. The public deserves to know exactly where this potential lifetime appointee stands on the issues. Then you vote. Then, after the smoke clears, you look around to see who else stood by your party. Then you act accordingly.

In statutory interpretation, where terms are not expressly defined in the statute in which they appear, we typically endeavor to read those terms according to their common meaning to the extent that meaning does not create an absurd or unintuitive result in the larger context of the statutory provision as a whole. Of course, "advice and consent" is a constitutional, rather than a statutory principle, and different approaches to interpretation apply.

Far more important, however, with something like this is custom and usage. (I will momentarily address the definitional matter, but specifically to refute Lindsay's account of what those words connote rather than as a matter of interpreting the constitution.) Thus, we have to ask, as any senator who has participated in any confirmation hearing must ask, what the process has been, is, and should be. Historically, only truly outlying nominees for major positions have been actively opposed by the minority party. On both sides of the aisle, this has been especially true of the judicial confirmation process. A perfect example of this is the pre-filibuster-nuclear-option-debate confirmation of the Honorable John G. Roberts to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by a dissent-free 99-0 vote. Implicit in Lindsay's post is the idea that this, and all such quiet confirmations (the vast majority of them, notwithstanding the right's hue and cry to the contrary), reflect somehow a betrayal of every senator who disagrees with a given nominee's positions on, e.g., abortion (to propose a novel candidate hot-button issue).

I agree with Lindsay that the Senate cannot become a rubber stamp for a president's nominees to the benchy, nor was it evidently envisaged so to be by the framers of the constitution. Moreover, I agree that the minority should feel as free to inquire after a nominee's position on various issues as the White House did in selecting a candidate. Call it a litmus test, call it whatever you want, but at the end of the day Bush's choice of nominee is as ideological, as calculating, as any senator's choice not to vote in favor of that nominee's confirmation could possibly be.

That doesn't mean, however, that a party's members are duty-bound to pull out the stops in an effort to blackball every single nominee of whom the majority of the party disapproves on moral or political grounds. Want to see the whole system grind to a halt? That's a good way; we've already been flirting with it this year, with the whole filibuster fight and the president's tendency to pick the most patently offensive and unqualified people for positions of national and international consequence.

Which returns me to the sense I -- and historically, the Senate -- derive from the phrase "advice and consent." The relevant constitutional provision provides:

"[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court . . . ." (United States Const. Art. II, Sec. 2, cl. 2.)

First, let's assume for argument's sake that we all share a basic understanding of the meaning of "advice" in this context and skip to "consent." In its noun form, which plainly is the form directly in play in the above usage ("with the . . . Consent"), "consent" means "Acceptance or approval of what is planned or done by another; acquiescence." Notice that two of three substantive words in the definition suggest something divergent from "approval." Particularly suggestive is the post-semi-colon "acquiescence," which militates rather strongly against a strong reading of the disjunctive reference to "approval." Approval itself may be understood in various ways. Substantive approval, of course, suggests an actual meeting of the minds or concurrence; ministerial approval, however, can mean many things, perhaps in its weakest form alluding to something very like a rubber stamp -- i.e., an acknowldgment of conduct in conformity with a mandate or an otherwise acceptable practice.

Lindsay, however, seems to think that disapproval is reason enough not to vote to confirm. Were this the case, we'd have hundreds of spots on the federal bench open at any moment, and quite possibly a seat or two on the Supreme Court vacant to boot. The system, in its every construct, is so plainly built on the notion of compromise that an argument for such uncompromising behavior threatens its daily function. But compromise doesn't mean we always end up with vanilla, the least common denominator, nor should it: there are incident benefits to being the party in power, and as someone with clear party sympathy I wouldn't have it any other way. Unfortunately, that means eating it a bit when one's party is in the minority. Roberts may be eating it "a bit" for the left, but he's a poised and able legal thinker who incurred absolutely no dissent from the left when, only four years ago, he was confirmed to the second most important court in the land, the D.C. circuit court.

The filibuster is a fantastic defense mechanism, and I would be appalled to see it abolished. But it's one thing to use every arrow in the quiver against a Bork, whose approach to constitutional interpretation was outlandishly marginal and indefensibly radical (even couched in the fascinatingly robust intellectual rationale he provided and still argues for from time to time), and something else entirely to act as though a minority party can realistically expect to get a representative of that party's ideology into a position within what amounts to a spoils system. The reality is this: just as Democrats tend to get judges with democratic sympathies onto the courts when they are in power, so shall Republicans have their way when they are in power, at least up to a point.

Although I am not done looking at Roberts, and hardly am prepared to endorse him specifically, I am concerned about the hazard to democrats as a group and the system as a whole of adopting a scorched earth approach to the Supreme Court nomination process. If it were possible or defensible for the minority party to knock out jurists based on their positions even when either moderate or plainly undeveloped, simply because they reflected some ideas consonant with the other side's philosophy, who knows how many irascible and tendentious jurists, liberal and conservative, never would have made it to the high court, leaving United States law, constitutional and otherwise, more anemic for their absences. Not to mention justices like Blackmun and Souter and Kennedy, who with time and the luxury of lifetime tenure have adjusted their views in accord with their evolving moral and legal commitments.

Democratic senators who truly believe Judge Roberts is unqualified should vote their consciences. Senators who wish to gain insight into what makes Judge Roberts tick, and what principles animate his jurisprudence, should ask him the hard questions during the impending hearings. And Judge Roberts should make every effort to provide candid, illuminating answers to those crucial questions. When all is said and done, however, senators with no more robust reason to refuse to consent to Judge Roberts' nomination than that he was hand-picked by a Republican president should suck it up, remember that this too shall pass, and acquiesce to the nomination at the last, when vigorous inquiry has revealed him to be a qualified, even-handed judge with whom the left happens to disagree on some important issues.

I whole-heartedly believe that the real fight is going to be over the next vacancy, to which I fully expect Bush to appoint a far more contentious nominee. The poise and gentility the democrats bring to Judge Roberts' hearings will pay dividends then, when the dems can honestly say they only endeavor to foil the prerogatives of the party in power when faced with an untenable situation. If this confirmation gets out of hand, the GOP is going to absolutely kill the left in the press, and a party already weak in number will be further diminished in the public eye, an unfortunate result should it obtain.

The point of the process, traditionally understood, is to ensure the appointment of a qualified and worthy jurist. If one's definition of "qualified and worthy" entails ideological commitments identical to one's own, then any sense of objective meaning as to qualified and worthy is shot to hell. Furthermore, it's more or less categorically at odds with the whole idea of lifetime tenure and the independent judiciary. What's independent about demanding that each seat be filled with like-minded automata?

Again, this is not an endorsement of Roberts. Rather, it is a rejection of the archly partisan process for which Majikthise argues under the evocative title, "Discipline and Punish."

Pittsblog and the Madisonian

And while I'm at it, I just discovered care of WoJo / Grabass! that Pitt Law Prof. Michael Madison, Moon's former teacher (who gave Moon a very good grade in Intellectual Property), maintains not one but two blogs!!! I'll be keeping an eye on these, and blogrolling them when I get the chance.

Pittsburgh Blogfest 3

I've been meaning to post this for a while. "Wojo," who contributes to Grabass! and also administers Pittsburgh Webloggers, is hosting / coordinating / promoting / wearing a funny hat in support of Pittsburgh Blogfest 3, a gathering of local blog personalities as follows:

WHEN: Thursday, August 11th 2005, 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM and beyond!

WHERE: Finnegan's Wake (near PNC Park, 20 General Robinson St., North Shore, 412-325-2601), in the Pub Room

WHO: All of you bloggers!

R.S.V.P. requested to blogfest (AT) closkey [DOT] com

Will Moon make an appearance? Perhaps. Will you know it's him if he does? That remains to be seen.

John Roberts, Come On Down!!!

Perhaps I'll have more to say about Bush's nomination of the Honorable John Roberts to serve as the new associate justice of the United States Supreme Court in the coming days, weeks, months, not to mention in the years that follow (since I imagine, ultimately, he will be confirmed), but for now, simply because I am coming from a position of relative ignorance and because educating myself is going to take a while, but in countervailing deference to the possibility that some of you actually come here to see what I think when notable things happen in the law, my research has started, and will continue to refer to, the Supreme Court Nomination Blog. Their write-up of John Roberts, with a host of useful links, can be found here. I note as well that my favorite Volokh conspirator is enthusiastically on board.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Heedless Violence -- It's Not Just for Kids Anymore!

A handful of you may recall that the Columbine massacre occurred in a little Denver suburb named, aptly enough, Littleton. I only hold on to this detail because my college freshman-year roommate and good friend grew up there.

Well, apparently it's something in the water, because Littleton's congressman, Tom Tancredo (R -- well, duh), just made clear that, should Islamic fundamentalists detonate a nuke against the United States, one solution would be to "take out" Muslim holy sites, including Mecca.

Sometimes I chide myself for thinking the people elected to national office in this country are basically high school jocks and bullies who grew up, sort of, to have lots of friends in the right places. Then someone says something this inane, and I want to suspend him without pay for six weeks. Surely this is as bad as Kenny Rogers treating a reporter's camera like a soccer ball; and during the 20 games he'll serve a suspension, he'll forfeit more money than Tancredo makes in a year.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Zulieka Unpregnant!!!

Bb, pseudonymously Zulita, has arrived! In the last year, I've become an increasingly faithful reader of Zulieka's weblog, following along with the trials and tribulations of her complicated relationship with Zulieta's father and others, her nearly weightless pregnancy, and her fascinating, often sublime thoughts on the little girl growing inside her, and on the event of her pregnancy in itself. It's been a wild, and entrancing journey, as seductive in its contours as Zulieka is in hers, with and without child.

As did most of her readers, I imagine, I suspected that she had given birth this week. On the 11th, she mentioned early contractions, and then she disappeared. Daily, I checked her site for word, and with each passing day I became more certain that Bb was here, there, somewhere in Zulieka's arms in an unidentified corner of the midwest.

I'm almost alarmingly pleased that everything went well for this woman I neither do, nor ever will know. But then perhaps in counterpoint to the Richard Powers commonplace I posted below, this is an exemplum of the way the internet brings people together, however circumscribed or disguised. On the 13th, I imagine, thousands of children were born in the United States, and many more thousands around the world. None were born to the people I know in meatspace, but one was born to a virtual friend, and that's one more than I'd otherwise be able to vicariously enjoy.

So here I am, sweaty mid-apartment-cleaning of a Sunday, and I pause to raise a raw organic carrot and a tall glass of blessedly cool water to Zulieka, Zulita, and Freddy: Congratulations and Godspeed. I've no doubt that Zulita is blessed in every way. And of course thanks are due to Zulieka for sharing her journey through her pregnancy; one can only hope that amid the rigors of parenthood, she will find the time and energy to continue to bring us along as she begins the next leg of her travels.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Dave Weighs in on Risk Aversion

For an unforgivable amount of time, I've been meanint to flag an excellent post over at BigBrit regarding rock climbing and risk. Dave writes:

The second event which I got word of yesterday involves a good friend of mine, John. He was climbing out near Yosemite, and, while I won’t go into the details, ended up taking a bad fall, and breaking both his ankles.

As a climber, this rattled me. More so, since I have also broken my ankle climbing, albeit under a much different circumstance. Last weekend, before John took his fall, I was climbing down at the New River Gorge in WV, I lamented to my partner, ‘drew, That “I don’t really enjoy rock climbing any more”

Quite a statement from a guy who, aside from having a basement full of gear, has spent the better part of 3 years recreating in the outdoors, mostly climbing, and spending 2-3 nights a week in the local gym doing the same.

Maybe it was a pre-cursor to Johns fall, but, I don’t think it’s that I dislike climbing now and I didn’t before, but rather that my tolerance for risk has waned.

The first event, omitted here, is the London bombings. Dave knits together beautifully the two things, as beautifully as all of his friends hope John's two broken taluses knit together, and it resonates with me.

I too have been having trouble resuming climbing after effectively quitting last fall. I attribute it to a lot of things, most of which are more about time constraints than reservations about risk. Unlike Dave and John, my only notable injuries from climbing involve a whiplashed neck that's never been entirely right since a nasty fall a year and a half ago, and a dodgy ring finger that has made clear its displeasure at being called upon to hang the better part of my weight fromk its stringy pinch of sinews and tendon. But I do contemplate risk sometimes, more recently in connection with my sometimes dare devilish cycling (a sport dangerous enough to the cautious).

In any event, Dave's post is well worth a read.

Commonplace, Powers

Published in 1995, the following passage strikes me as postively sage, and more than a little prescient.

[T]he longer I lurked, the sadder the holiday became. People who used the web turned strange. In public panels, they disguised their sexes, their ages, their names. They logged on to the electronic fray, adopting every violent persona but their own. They whizzed binary files at each other from across the planet, the same planet where impoverished villages looked upon a ball-point pen with wonder. The web began to seem a vast, silent stock exchange trading in ever more anonymous and hostile pen pals.

The web was a neighborhood more efficiently lonely than the one it replaced. Its solitude was bigger and faster. when relentless intelligence finally completed its program, when the terminal drop box brought the last barefoot, abused child on line and everyone could at last say anything instantly to everyone else in existence, it seemed to me we'd still have nothing to say to each other and many more ways not to say it.

Yet I could not log off. My network sessions, all that fall, grew longer and more frequent. I began to think of myself in the virtual third person, as that disembodied world-web address:

--Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2

Although I'm only 50 pages into the second book of his I've tried, the first I read, Prisoner's Dilemma, was nothing short of amazing -- ambitious, stunningly beautiful, and absolutely beautiful in every way.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


feline she unfurls
to fill a box of sunlight
eclipsing morning

Monday, July 11, 2005

Token Wave at Blogging

The irony inherent in this ought to be self-explanatory.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Pat Robertson -- Slightly to the Left of George Bush

Sarah Vowell Applauds Pat Robertson in the New York Times!! And justifiably so.

[W]hen I spotted Robertson in a lineup of celebrities including Brad Pitt, Bono, George Clooney and the also-never-boring Dennis Hopper, I was delighted to see him. He was in the One Campaign's television ad asking for help in the crusade against poverty, starvation and AIDS in Africa and elsewhere.

In the commercial, Robertson says, "Americans have an unprecedented opportunity," and then Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, of all people, finishes his sentence, concluding that "we can make history."

On a recent "Nightline," Robertson showed up with his new best friend, Clooney. When asked if his group Operation Blessing would promote "the responsible use of condoms" along with abstinence in its AIDS education program in Africa, Robertson answered, "Absolutely." Pat Robertson!

"I just don't think we can close our eyes to human nature," he continued, adding that with regard to teaching proper condom use, "you have to do that, given the magnitude." [emphasis added] I could have hugged him.

Me too, seriously. How sad is it when the same man who considers most of what ill befalls this nation to be retribution for the "sin" of homosexuality is more able to see the writing on the wall than the administration that claims to be the voice of the mainstream of American society.

Seriously. Just sit and think about it. If you need any guidance, read the balance of Vowell's excellent column.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Martha Doesn't Believe in Deterrence

Needless to say, Martha Stewart and her conservative kin are the first to tout the punitive, retributive, and deterrent components to criminal punishment as the first three priorities, with rehabilitation running a distant and winded fourth. Funny, then, that she doesn't consider turnabout fair play.

Martha Stewart says in a new interview that her nickname in prison was M. Diddy, that house arrest is "hideous" and that her prosecution was about bringing her down "to scare other people."

In the interview, Stewart tells Vanity Fair magazine she agrees with those who say her crime -- lying about a personal stock sale -- is far different from massive corporate scandals such as Enron, WorldCom and Tyco.

"Of course that is what it's all about," Vanity Fair quotes Stewart as saying. "Bring 'em down a notch, to scare other people. If Martha can be sent to jail, think hard before you sell that stock."

And how is this different than, say, sentencing someone to death when the alternative is life without the possibility of parole? Once the rehabilitative idea is out the dear, all that remains are punitive, retributive, and deterrent ends. Should Martha not be punished? Should her profit at the expense of those who deal fairly not be answered as would any other variety of theft? Is it so wrong that, as a consequence of her conviction (or, putatively, as a motivation for it) people, especially the people in prominent positions who tend to perpetrate big-time securities fraud, receive the message that they are not above the law? Really, Martha. Or should I say M. Diddy -- What about Kobe? Michael Jackson? Surely their prosecutions were far more circus-like in virtue of their prominence. Would you have it that charges were never brought against them?

I know, I know, a few months in club fed and five months of "house arrest" (during which she can leave for 48 hours per week for work) are truly horrible. But still. How about you cram it.


Gass writes Poetry is, in and out,
a physical carress
and I am tongue-tied,
as incapable of touch
as I am unreceptive,
the words bound up
in the resilient sinews
of doubt and regret
and the vain search
for a fitting figure,
a metaphor encompassing as the sky
and as blue.

Verse of the epic analogy
drains me of the will to decypher;
spoon-fed by a wan hand
I have learned to seek
(guided by love songs
and bland cliches)
the uniform consistency
and flavor of gruel

when it is
the concatenated extension
of the literal
and figurative
that forms the pulsing heart
of lyric expression:

the imposition
of water on air
to form a cloud as singular
as the process is familiar
versus the subordination
of our will to whimsy
to our ardor for order,
patiently sifting data
into arbitrary phyla and families
like rolling the change
that accumulates day upon day
until it would bury us.

Gass again: Poetry is
to bring within about.
To change.

But where within is about
(or, worse, about within),
change unfathomed (and mounting),
our sky is cloudless,
the spoon mercilessly cold
in our mouths,
our sacrament unholy.

Deep Impact

Now, I don't mean to be flippant about what was, by any measure, one of the greater recent successes for the space program, nor do I have any illusions about how much we can learn from this, but does anyone else detect a sort of perverse vibe to the coverage of, and excitement about, our ability to throw something at a comet really really fast?

"Our experiment went very, very well," said co-investigator Pete Schultz of Brown University, who seemed to be brimming with enthusiasm. "We touched a comet and we touched it hard."

Could Vonnegut have said it better? Or Kubrick? Indeed, there's something oddly Strangelovian about the glee evident in the coverage of this event.

Maybe it's a White House plot: after all, if we can hit a comet traveling 23,000 miles per hour at such a great distance, surely it should be no problem to knock down a single, incoming rogue nuke, right? Right? Anyone?

Rules to Live By

Please, for the love of Pete, don't wear heels unless you can walk in them without looking like an ostrich. Seriously. They're sexy and all if you can carry it off, but, just come on already. Have some dignity.

Brought to you by straight male idle streetside mid-day smokers everywhere.

My Office, My Self

Until I contracted to buy a house, I was resolved to decorate my new and bland office to an extent I'd never done before. I intended to hunt back through a half-dozen albums of b/w photography for a series of thematic mini-exhibits; I'd buy eight or ten cheap 4X6 frames, mount them neatly and levelly around my office, and every month, or ever two months, I'd swap out the last batch of photos for a new batch. In this way, I'd bring art and a bit of myself to the office, and I'd engage my new colleagues with something to draw their interest in me and my extra-office activities.

Now, I have a high-ceilinged, three-floored, four-bedroom apartment to decorate. And my b/w photography is the only inexpensive option, at least in the beginning. Granted, I have enough of it to fill both house and office, but I don't necessarily have the time or energy, or even the money for cheap frames. Nor do I really care to spend such a substantial portion of the next four months neatly framing and ordering wall-hangings; there will be quite enough of that in the new house, and I needn't add more.

This is laziness, plain and simple. I could set up my office with one group of photos next weekend, and be done with it. And perhaps I shall. But I'm not holding my breath.

After all, this is the office in which I store Valencia oranges and instant oatmeal packets for days on end, sitting on the desk, inviting my consumption. Finally, the orange ages, and I grow weary of looking at it. I throw it away. Tomorrow, I'll bring in a new valencia orange, like cut flowers, to adorn my desk until its death.

This also is the office in which pens and hi-lighters abruptly jump from my loose grasp and whirl about in mid-air to scar my hands and forearms (and all too often my clothing) with their reds and blues and translucent yellows and oranges. By lunchtime, I look more like a kindergartner with ADD than a prominent young attorney. Or even an unprominent young attorney.

I look like a painter. Or an utter klutz.

To everything except prominent, I plead: Guilty as charged.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Independence Day

Six o'clock approaches and I've done nothing. Nothing. (Nothing.) I waited so long to retrieve my Sunday paper from the porch that it had been stolen. By the time I drank my first cup of coffee I'd already lived, already squandered, a lifetime of morning-feeling, afternoon-occurring moments. A sort of jet lag. A lump. An intransigent woulda-coulda-shoulda laying about like, well, a layabout.

My k button sticks sometimes, even when I haven't touched it. I sometimes worry that I will inadvertantly sign an email "kkk." That could really spoil a good friendship.

I don't know the difference between trap and skeet. But I'm pretty sure that it was the former I agreed last night to go shoot with a couple of friends this evening. I had forgotten entirely about the promise, however, until 5:40 when the phone rings (miraculously, it seems, as I can't imagine who would call) and I espy one of their names on my caller ID.

I laugh into the phone as I answer it, amazed that I have entirely forgotten making, of all things, a shooting date. The voice on the phone says it sounds as though I've just hit a bong. I assure him I have not. I feign indignation I don't feel.

I offer that I am still up to shoot if he can track down our other friend, an inveterate hunter, the only one of us who really has any idea what to do with a lethal weapon, a religious man, a pious man, one on fantastic terms with God but exceedingly poor terms with deer, pheasant, wild turkey, and so on.

He's nowhere to be found. A half-hour later, still vaguely anticipating a follow-up call of one sort or another, I realize that it would be expensive and time-consuming to shoot, while it would be free and easy and solitary (in keeping with the day's theme) to hop on my steed and ride downtown to sample the Three Rivers Regatta. I haven't ridden since last Saturday's Alleycat; I think I've been a bit scared. But of course it's a cooler day today, the sun lies low in the sky, and I am under no obligation to push or ride anywhere in particular.

I call the friend back. I'm riding; I'll pass on the shooting, even if it's in the offing. He sounds disappointed; perhaps he wanted someone around even more clueless than he. I just don't want to shoot things, even inanimate things. I want to ride. I want to be outside. I want to see the parade of horribles lining the rivers as the day nears its end and the Regatta's festivities wind down toward the nightly fireworks show. If there even is one. I really don't know.

I dress, pack a light bag, mount a single water bottle on my frame, give the girl, Sue, a once-over and she looks fine. Helmet, bag, gloves, sunglasses. Down to the street and I swing my leg over the bars, my left foot immediately snapping home into the pedal without a moment's premeditation or searching; I couldn't even have told you where the pedal was yet my foot found it.

It occurs to me to ride through Oakland, down through the Hollow, and to ride the jail trail into town, just for a little variety, but I have a movie to return in Bloomfield, in the other direction. At Dreaming Ant I exchange one pretty good movie for one surely awful action flick, exactly the speed I expect to be operating at by about 10 o'clock. Insipid entertainment for the indolent. An escape from the work-oriented reading which I'll have to do tomorrow, when my apartment will be hotter and most suitable cafes will be closed, if I don't do it today.

Today I haven't read much of anything since I got out of bed. I've watched sporting events on TV I don't care about. I've eaten a mid-afternoon omelet and consumed two heat-of-the-day chalices of strong coffee.

I continue on from Dreaming Ant down Main, and as I near the intersection with Penn Avenue I lazily slide across to the left-side sidewalk to simplify my passage through the intersection. As I slide through the crosswalk, however, it occurs to me to visit my former neighbor who recently moved into a house on Main. I nose down the hill, cross back over to the right side of the street, and focus on resisting Sue's will to sprint down the hill, smoothly fighting the pedals as I move down the steep hill. Her house betrays no sign of current habitation; mail packs her box. Away for the weekend. I continue down the hill to Butler, knees groaning against the strain of resisting the grade.

At the bottom of the hill, I turn left onto Butler. My rides through Lawrenceville have taken on a new sensation since I signed a contract to buy a house there at the end of the week. Late at night I've stalked the house that is almost mine, sliding by it slowly in the early morning hours, contemplating the slivers of light that escape the old-fashioned blinds of the front windows. I observe along Butler bars and cafes and boutiques I never before noticed, but which I imagine I will explore in the coming months, as I acclimate to my new part of town. I'm excited. Exhilerated. Petrified.

I've never ridden this stretch of Butler toward downtown, though by the end of the summer it will constitute my commute to work, whether by bus or bike. Only two months remain to speak to the stunning petite brunette I've been unable to take my eyes off on the 8:32 77D the two or three days of the week that we both end up on it.

New construction is evident everywhere; I believe I am making a sound investment.

Lazily I ride down Penn, surprised at the absence of activity in the Strip District. At the end of Penn, I turn right toward the river then bend left with the road to pass under the shadow of the hulking David L. Lawrence Convention Center. As I escape its darkness, I bear left to climb toward the first of the Sister Bridges. I think it's the Ninth Street Bridge, but I'm no good with their names, and in any event my ignorance doesn't not preclude me from using them. I ride the sidewalk over the river, standing in the pedals to ease my oozing passage, the river flowing beneath me churned to a froth by the many pleasure craft idling up and down the muddy Allegheny.

The sun is bright and pleasant. I'm winded but not tired, sweaty but not flagging. My bag won't stay centered on my back, and my neck is chafing from my constant adjustments of its strap. I can't wait until my custom Timbuk2 arrives next week.

On the far side of the bridge, the Alcoa building to my left and tacky condominiums to my right, I continue to the first road and turn right, quickly bearing onto River Road and reverseing course to join the trail beneath the block of condos, where its paved section begins. I'm barely moving now, just doing the fixed gear equivalent of a coast, legs absently following the bike's easy cadence. The shadows between the buildings and the river cool me, as does the mist from a line of sprinklers on a terrace above the trail, into which I eagerly ride.

There's a slight creak in my bottom bracket from time to time, but the drivetrain otherwise truly is silent. I've allowed my chain to loosen itself over the past forty or fifty miles since I last adjusted it, and it's reached a delicate equilibrium, tense enough to be responsive but loose enough to minimize friction and noise. I feel virtually no vibration in the pedals at any rate of speed or torque; it's fixie nirvana, I pass as silent as a ninja, my breath and the quiet hiss of gravel and dust between the tires and the road the only clues to my existence.

As I cross under the 7th Street and then the Clemente Bridges, the traffic, pedestrians and bicycles, all races and ages, slowly thickens and I slow, sometimes reducing my speed to a crawl as I pull up behind a couple or a family spread unknowingly across the path, leaving me nowhere to pass. Here, the silence of my bike militates against my interests, and I prefer to limp along than disturb anyone by asking them to permit me to pass. Always, sooner or later, they give way, either inadvertantly or upon finally observing me behind them.

Riding under PNC Park, traffic noise now audible from high up on the ft. Duquesne Bridge, motor boats begin to appear to my left, moored against the wall, small and large, many idling for no obvious reason, boats moored to boats moored to boats, three and four wide out into the river, overweight middle-aged women in shorts and bikini tops, skin an angry shade of red tinged with peach and watermelon; I imagine the groans tonight, the skin shrinking from even cold water in the shower tomorrow, the melanoma these washed up sunbunnies invite into bed with them, one big fuck you to biology and mortality, enough Vitamin D to kill a dog. I remind myself that I too failed to apply sunblock; I left the house, however, around 6:30; the sun presents little danger at this hour.

In the middle of the river floats a steep ramp the shape of a free-style skiing launch; I try to imagine who uses this in the water. For reasons that seem obvious, a ramp of that shape would be ungainly, if not lethal, for a water skiier, as it would guide him straigh into the sky as the boat towing him continued up the river. That can't be right. Jet skis, perhaps? That, too, seems unlikely; the ramp does not appear to be sturdy enough for heavy machinery moving fast, and the idea of launching a jet ski straight up into the hazy sky at 30 mph with its driver clinging desperately to this vehicle turned ballistic projectile seems ill-advised as well as profoundly pointless. I've missed the festivities a-river, in any event; all that remains is a small trio of water skiers scooting by the crowd on the point in a lazy pyramid, something that ought to impress me more than it does at this distance, where the three skiers are but insectile silhouettes and their boat fit for a bathtub or a pond rather than the headwaters of the might Ohio.

By now, the thickening crowd has slowed my passage still further. Boats tied to the wall, their many passengers have taken to land with barbecues and canvas folding chairs and coolers. Country music blaring from low-quality, high-distortion stereos and PA's on every third boat agitates what might otherwise be a serene communal event. The air is thick with drunken laughter, twanging music, and shouted banalities.

Passing the fountain beneath PNC Park, I look up to see a half-dozen or so people playing in its waters, ascending its stepped pools, two of them young, attractive women in bikinis more suited to Miami or Los Angeles, one woman's bottom thonging up into her appealing ass; I'm struck by a strange mixture of titillation and offense, as though I care about prurient outfits along the North Shore, as though I'm surprised given what young women wear. I've never been all that concerned about my nudity with new lovers, but I'm quite certain I'll never understand what it is to so utterly reveal oneself in public. Women's swimwear provides only a simulacrum of coverage; my imagination sniffs and turns up its nose in indifference, deprived the task of transforming implication into image or fantasy, and the fantasy itself, so gamely delivered whole, is subsumed utterly by the flashing glare of its obviousness.

As I near one especially large, especially red, especially drunken crowd, caught up behind a slow moving couple left either to jump into the grass or wait, I find myself briefly trackstanding tangentially to the semi-circle of people, their Pittsburgh accents thick, their sunglasses cheap, their hair permed or home-colored or thrusting in various directions in tufted spikes; the man nearest me quips: "Don't fall." I promise to do my best, and finally observing a passage push out of the stand and resume the saddle, smiling unrequited to two other cyclists passing me upright on their cheap, awkward mountain bikes, their khaki-clad oversized asses resting on broad saddles soft like pillows.

Finally, nearing Heinz Field, I find a diminution in the thickness of boats. More or less even with the Point and its alluring fountain, the edge of the river lined with mylar advertising banners from one end of the park to the other, people encrusting the hill behind the marketing and the steps below the fountain, I observe a young couple of perhaps Indian descent, skin reddish-brown, each in black shirts, the girl pretty, trim, fondling in turn a shared digital camera, sitting quietly on the edge of the path, feet dangling above the river, while two small speedboats piloted by orotund men in tank tops idle rocking circles about each other, sharing a faltering conversation over the distance between them I am unable to distinguish. In the shadow of the old bridge pilting, I dismount just behind the pretty couple and unstride Sue, turning and leaning her toward me to rest a moment upon her top tube.

I'm not tired. I'm not especially hot or thirsty. I'm happy to have a little distance between me and the country music throngs. I wonder how they afford these expensive motor boats which I so seldom see on the river. I can't imagine why so many people own such large glorified houseboats. What's the charm? The appeal? Where does the money come from? Do they get people laid? I always imagine that these middle-aged men, often outnumbered on their boats by middle-aged women, or younger women sometimes when their boats are especially ostentatious, are single, divorced, awkwardly host their children every other weekend and for two weeks during the summer. It would explain the shitless teens wearing studded necklaces and bracelets under tousled bleached hair, their boredom manifest in their slow chewing of burgers and dogs, their eyes faraway, scanning the emptiness beyond mothers and fathers and stepparents and uncles for a worthy distraction, their fathers offering them underaged beers in a misguided effort to induce affection.

It's time to go, and so I do, weaving my way back through the crowds, somewhat faster this time, in spite of myself looking up the fountain to once again observe the pretty virtually naked young women sitting now about two-thirds of the way up the fountain, skin whiter than most of the others I've seen, conscious of sun damage and already versed in the lifelong endeavor of faking youth even as their spirits age and become decrepit, their senses of themselves Dorian Grays sneering back at them from bathroom mirrors as their hearts sink.

Clear of the worst of the throng, I pick up the pace, restracing my steps to the Seventh Street Bridge, where I climb up the ramp below the Alcoa building to reach street level. In the shadow of the building an uncommonly dark black man in jeans and a flannel shirt sits looking out over the more quiet stretch of river, toward the Convention Center, where children, one on a skateboard another on a dirtbike, roll back and forth along the concrete boatlanding, climbing the sharp concrete ramps and riding them back down, a passingly dull ballet of youthful ennui.

The bridge is quiet; I pass, on the left sidewalk, a young woman with two men in tow. She looks pretty and aloof; they're frowning and childish, eyeing me suspiciously as I quietly pass. I decline to nod in their direction; already I've had a half-dozen offered greetings ignored, and I'm tired of trying.

How odd that just a few blocks up from the point the city is still, almost tranquil, only a thin trickle of people in twos and threes leaving the Point for dinner, or home, or something else.

I cut across Seventh to Penn gathering speed on the gentle downgrade, and cut a steep left, passing within a couple of feet of the fender of a black car waiting at the red light. No one comes up behind me, and I stay in the center of the lane, indulging the illusion of solitude and power, notwithstanding their internal contradiction. Another left and a right return me to Smallman Street, where a valet leans on a fence in the parking lot across from Eleven, the few cars parked around him testament to that restaurant's ailing fortunes. Outside Lydia's, four oddly well-dressed people in their fifties mill about while one of their number, a handsome women in a cream-colored dress that shines, smokes a long cigarette at the center of triangle of friends dressed in black.

Pulling even with the Cork Factory, I notice that many of the windows have been installed; construction their is swift. I turn left on the street that runs to its downriver corner to examine their progress. As I slow at the building, ease gently over the rough train tracks, and turn right beneath its immensity, I note a white compact car, orange lights mounted to its roof, slowing to observe my passage. A bored security guard. I consider leaving, rather than dealing with the rentacop, but decide I won't be scared away from my curiosity, which required me to ride only on open and public city streets, by someone so bored he'd suspiciously follow a squirrel if he could find one. I turn left around the corner of the building, holding the bars in one easy hand, sitting as upright as Sue's set-up allows, staring skyward up the side of the building, which is less restored in direct proportion to proximity to the river, the builders slowly moving their way around the building. In the street, two bright yellow asbestos storage vessels are fenced in, narrowing the road. At the road's end, I turn about in a disk of pavement, and head back toward Smallman. The security guard, unsurprisingly, is driving down the road toward me. I wave at him as I pass; he waves back. Finally, a returned greeting.

Anticipating my new commute, rather than turning right on 32d Street as I typically do when heading home to Friendship, I stay on Smallman until it ends, step functioning through alleys, conditioned by habit to note old brownstones and For Sale signs, a distracting and occasionally dangerous habit I hope fades as I near my August closing date, finally turning toward Butler just before the Arsenal school building.

The sun is lower now, turning orange, expanding and weakening in a ritual illusion that mimics its eventual demise billions of years hence.

As I follow Butler toward the cemetery and my new home, I realize just how close to the most busy and most valuable part of Lawrenceville it is, and take heart that my money is well spent. Just past the graveyard -- an evocative word, that -- I turn right onto Stanton, lifting out of the saddle to punish my cadence as I climb the steep hill a couple of blocks until I reach my new street. I clear myself by looking over my left shoulder, then turn, eyeing warily the blind curve just above me, worried about the errant car that swings around it too fast; it moves me to accelerate through the turn, so that I can exit Stanton as quickly as possible.

My house, a half-block down, still has a real estate sign in front of it, but of course that's not unusual. I notice flaws in the facade I haven't seen before. A pit sinks my stomach, and my breathing, already slightly elevated by the brief climb up Stanton, quickens. I reach the end of the straight, turn right into another quick climb, and turn right again, against a one-way. Behind what I still struggle to think of as my house, several of the current residents -- renters, musicians, whom I've dubbed Josie and the Pusseycats ever since I walked through the house, picking my way carefully over the tumble of amplifiers and instruments that clogged virtually every room -- are sitting and enjoying the weather, cracking incomprehensible jokes and laughing ingenuously, friendship palpable among them. I feel a pang at, in effect, ousting them from their home. I feel vaguely creepy lurking unseen behind the tall fence. I stand into the pedals and head back toward Stanton.

Stanton is my nadir, a climb I've never attempted but one I'll have to learn if I am to live in sight of it. And this is the first time; it's been an easy ride; to turn it into a bona fides workout, which I need after a week out of the saddle, I must climb and climb and climb. Having only driven a handful of times, knowing as I do only one route through Stanton Heights backstreets to Penn Avenue and home, I'm not entirely sure how much climbing this will involve. Even nearer the blind curve, I gingerly roll across Stanton orthogonally, turning late to parallel the far curb and the wall of Allegheny Cemetery.

Within just a few spins I'm tired; this hill is plainly no joke. It bends left, then right, and reveals yet another bend, and another, ascending mercilessly into Stanton Heights, lined first by rowhouses, then by larger free-standing homes on the left and newer smaller ranches on the right, then finally nothing but stunted faux-tudors on either side. Finally, the hill eases and I crest it, still game for more.

I turn right onto Oranmore, my only certain way of avoiding riding Stanton all the way out to Negley, which is far out of my way. But Oranmore is as steep for a block or so as any hill I've tried astride Sue. Standing up and driving into the hill for everything I'm worth, I'm reminded for the first time on a bike of a weight machine; the up and down motion of my feet grinding out each rotation of my cranks, which propels me forward approximately 16 feet or so per spin, is like something Nautilus might devise, each spin like lifting my weight and then some. By the time I reach the top of the hill, my legs feel hollow.

Then the surprise: on the far side of the sharp hill, Oranmore plunges into a less appealing part of Stanton Heights. As I begin my descent my cranks, as well as my legs, groan as I try to resist Sue's lunging at the thin leash my sinews comprise. For the first time in quite a while, I seriously wonder whether I'll have to resort to my handbrake to control my descent. I resolve not to, inching forward, perplexingly fighting as hard on the downslope as I did climbing Stanton.

As I roll slowly past two little girls playing in a driveway I groan audibly. I immediately hear, for the second time today, "Don't fall." Is there something about me that suggests imminent peril? Do I look that overmatched this afternoon?

Finally, the hill begins to level out, and at the intersection at the bottom I turn left only to be faced with another steep ascent just as rough and slightly longer than the Oranmore climb. Once again, I leave the saddle, and dive into the climb with everything I've got. By the time I reach the top, I've slowed considerably, but I'm in no serious danger of having to quit, something I've yet to do on any hill, not insignificant in a city as hilly as Pittsburgh and a point of tremendous pride.

Finally, I reach the end of the sidestreet, which curves into Mossfield, or something like that, a thoroughfare that races along the upper perimeter of the cemeteray and ultimately shoots out onto Penn just a few blocks from my street. This road, as well, is one I don't remember well. It begins with a gentle descent which intensifies slightly as it goes. Finding myself on the rare unobstructed hill, I let my cadence out to find my current limit. Eventually, I reach a level, somewhere between 150 and 200 rpm, roughly 25 to 35 mph, which has me bobbing awkwardly, if only slightly, in the saddle. There are no parked cars, but certain branches hang low over the shoulder and threaten to rip at my face, perhaps removing glasses or rending skin. I push out into the lane a little, traveling somewhere near the speed limit (which nobody, least of all yours truly, observes on such a wide, uninterrupted street) until I reach a hill. By now the series of climbs and the breathless sprint have just about wiped me out. I crawl up the modest hill ever so slowly, the cemetery's Peace Garden (I think it's called), where young children are buried en masse, to my right, hiding under tiny stones and a proliferation of flowers and mylar balloons and such, in the shadow of a large beneficent Christ figure, arms raised skyward in gentle curves, imploring, comforting. The saddest part of the cemetery, and yet strangely my favorite, the emotion there so much more raw, so much closer to the surface than it is elsewhere among the more statelier graves below, poignant like burial ground should be but so seldom are. Behind the robed Christ figure, the reddening sun prepares to inter itself below the trees that crown the far hill.

I'm nearly home. But now even the shallow climb to Penn Avenue is taxing; I've just about had it. I creep around a car at the intersection, sliding in front of him and looking for an opening. In an hour and a half, I've stepped out of the pedals only once, to take a brief break by the river, and I don't want to step out now: I creep along the line, waiting for one last car to prove that his right turn signal isn't just a feint, and crawl out into the intersection as soon as he commits to the turn.

At home, I unseat myself, astride the bike, and lean on the handlebars for a few minutes. Finally carrying the bike toward the house, I greet warmly my next door neighbor. Face seamed with age, hiding under a capacious house dress of some kind, dyed white hair composed of roughly drawn comicstrip whorls, implication over detailed rendering, she replies: "I was just about to come rescue you." She's smiling friendship. Kindness.

I manage a smile in return, still slightly breathless. "Just composing myself," I way. "I just climbed Stanton. That's rough." I don't know why I say this; although she may know Stanton, I doubt it means much to her as a cyclist's gauntlet.

Still, she nods as though she empathizes, another gentle kindness.

Today, for me, Independence Day came early.

eXTReMe Tracker