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Posts Tagged ‘Fun with Words’

Indeed I am Curmudgeonly…

The AgeAnalyzer will take a look at you blog and, using unknown and probably arbitrary parameters, guesstimate the age of the blogger. Try it, it’s fun!

Several people (indicating that more than one person reads my blog – yay!) have described my writing style as “curmudgeonly.” I doubt I am (or will ever be) up to a Scott Greenfield-level of curmudgeonliness, but I take it as a high compliment.

Imagine my (somewhat) surprise when AgeAnalyzer told me this:

I’m 37 years old as I sit writing this. Yet AgeAnalyzer identifies my writing with someone in an age bracket just below my parents. They think I have 12-28 years more relevant life experience and wisdom than I do.

How does that make me feel?

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I maintain my faith in humanity – for now

Illustration by Ravenscraft Graphics, Photo by Wayne Slezak PhotographyThe American Bar Association has published its 5th Annual Blawg 100 list, naming its picks for the one hundred best blogs dealing with legal issues. (Law + blog = blawg. Get it? Ha!)

For the fifth straight year, I am not on the list.

This gives me reason to believe that the American Bar Association knows what it is doing and is an excellent judge of blog quality.

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Celebrating a Year of Censorship and Attempted Censorship!

This monkey wonders why people are such asshats to one another...The always-intriguing and entertaining Popehat has put out his nominees for the “Censorious Asshat of the Year,” and the field is indeed proud. I am of course reblogging this for reas0ns, but I invite my reader(s) to take a look at the whole list and marvel at the human capacity for inanity.

To those who would use our hallowed legal system to try to quiet the voices of  those who would dare to hurt their fee-fees, intentionally or not, I simply have this to say:

Photo credit: The Thinker… by law_keven on Flickr.

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I’ve got 72 problems, but a lack of topics to blog about ain’t one.

First, I should apologize for that horrendous appropriation of a hip hop lyric.

Second, I apologize for what is about to become a “why I haven’t been blogging” blog post, one of the more obnoxious cop-outs of the written word.

I’ve previously noted that I have embarked on a new journey of discovery as a freelance writer, spending a good chunk of my time as a “ghost blogger” for a legal marketing company. After a long day’s blogging, my brain is pretty mushy. It’s also generally easier to post things to my Tumblr blog and pretend that I’m being original.

Today, I carved out some time to do a bit of personal blogging, because:

a) It’s partly how I got this professional legal blogging gig in the first place, and it’s really something I should keep up with;

2) It keeps me sane;

C) It feeds my narcissistic need to see my name in print;

iv) I can’t write about topics like animal rights porn anywhere else; and

qq) Did I mention it keeps me sane?

Now then, WordPress has this handy feature called “Press This” that lets me put a button on the dash of my browser (Firefox at the moment) to bookmark stories for later blogging inspiration. Today I decided to tackle a few of the drafts I’ve saved since I discovered that feature back in August.

I had 84 “drafts” saved. I do not want to write that many posts, particularly on things that seemed like a good idea when it was still 100+ degrees outside and Texas was still on fire. So I took it upon myself to thin the herd, removing drafts that have become obsolete, drafts that no longer sound that interesting, and drafts that are somehow incomprehensible to me, even though I’m the one that wrote them (it happens).

Even after a good, hard winnowing, I still have 72 drafts sitting there. And here I am writing about those 72 drafts instead of just writing the dang posts. I guess that means I have 73 drafts. Sweet Jeebus, blogging is awesomely meta.

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A Wisconsin professor had best make peace with his dear and fluffy lord

I have one viable claim to hipsterdom: I was into “Firefly” before it was cool.

I watched the show obsessively in the fall of 2002. I evangelized for it. I yelled at people who dared to doubt its awesomeness. I wrote letters to Fox urging them to give the show a fair shake. I mourned–O, how I mourned!–when the show came to its ignominious end (oddly enough, by showing the very first episode last).

Several years later, when the DVD allowed the multitudes of people who either didn’t know about the show in 2002 or had better things to do on a Friday night in 2002 and couldn’t work a VCR to discover the show anew, I was there to say “I told you so.” When a surge of popular support and demand led to the 2005 release of Serenity, the feature film follow-up to the TV series, I was out front to see it, to marvel at the power of fans, and (SPOILERS AHEAD) to mourn Book and Wash.

“Firefly” lives on in many ways, even if Joss Whedon’s subsequent projects haven’t been quite as compelling (although I am a big Dr. Horrible fan). The career of Summer Glau as the go-to strange, smart, unsettlingly hot guest actress on various shows (most recently “Alphas”) is but one of the testaments of “Firefly.” It has also left a lasting impact on my vocabulary (“shiny”) and left us many, many excellent quotes.

And that’s where I am no longer content to say that haters gotta hate.

That’s where the tribulations of University of Wisconsin-Stout theater professor James Miller enter the picture. Professor Miller’s tale threatens so many of the things I hold dear in life: satire, snark, free expression, generous use of move and TV quotes, pushing both buttons and envelopes, and so forth. To understand Professor James Miller, though, you must first understand Captain Malcolm Reynolds.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds, or “Mal” to those who know him (he doesn’t really have friends per se) is a fictional character portrayed by actor Nathan Fillion, but not a soul has seen an episode of “Firefly” and not wanted to hang out with Mal. He fought on the losing side of a mid-26th-century civil war waged across an entire solar system. Afterwards, he bought a spaceship (a Firefly-class cruiser) and travels the ‘Verse. If you have a job, he and his crew will take it. They don’t much care what it is.

Malcolm Reynolds, via io9 (Fair Use applies)

I'm shaking in my shoes. How about you? (via io9)

Mal left us with quite a few classics of television philosophy before they took the sky from him. Chief among those is this exchange with a new passenger on his ship:

Simon: I’m trying to put this as delicately as I can…how do I know you won’t kill me in my sleep?
Mal: You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.

See, it’s an expression of honor. Mal wants Simon to know that, even though Mal doesn’t like Simon, Simon is part of his crew. As such, Mal will protect him, fight for him, and never, ever betray him. (Part of the story is that Simon has a hefty price on his head as a fugitive from the government, and has to stay hidden and on the run. Simon is extremely nonviolent. Mal offers him safe haven.)

Not everyone sees the quote that way, of course. Specifically, Lisa Walter, UW-Stout’s chief of police/director of parking services, found a poster on Professor Miller’s office door displaying that Malcolm Reynolds quote to be unacceptably threatening for an academic environment. So she took it down, and then notified Professor Miller. She told him that “it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.” She further warned him that future postings in a similar vein could lead to a charge of disorderly conduct.

Seriously.

I was not able to locate any examples of UW-Stout faculty or staff getting into criminal trouble for being a Roberta Flack fan, but it is possible that it could happen using Chief Walters’ standard.

Professor Miller, not being one to go quietly, put up a new poster stating his thoughts on the dangers of fascism and its possible effects on the skull and brain. Of course, UW-Stout administration, having spent the past several years developing an immunity to irony, found this poster comparably objectionable, somehow concluding that Professor Miller was encouraging fascist violence.

The matter went up the chain of command, all the way to the university chancellor. Surely the highest echelons of university power could see this for the overblown clusterf*** that it was, and cooler heads could prevail, right?

Via The Daily Caller (Fair Use applies)

Apparently this is an actual call to arms or something (via The Daily Caller)

If you think that’s where this story is going, you must be new to my blog. I deal in stupid stuff.

Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen had this to say:

[W]e…have the responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind—both direct and implied. It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence.  That is why they were removed.

This was not an act of censorship.  This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.

So a quote identifying all the reasons why a fictional character won’t kill you, along with an obviously-stylized bit of satirical protest, constitutes “an implied threat of violence”? Is the administration honestly worried that Professor Miller might come to school with a gun and only shoot people who are similarly armed, awake, and facing him? Or that he might don a helmet and beat stick figures with a baton? Have universities become so teacuppish that students cannot handle this level of non-threats?

I weep for the future. I weep for the students of UW-Stout who have to get an education and plan for a future in such a colossally cowardly institution. I weep for the cancellation of “Firefly” (and no, Fox, I am never letting that go, dammit.)

I end with the remainder of that exchange between Mal and Simon:

Simon: Are you always this sentimental?
Mal: I had a good day.
Simon: You had the Alliance on you, criminals and savages… half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded including yourself, and you’re harboring known fugitives.
Mal: We’re still flying.
Simon: That’s not much.
Mal: It’s enough.

Extra reading on this topic:
College professor threatened with criminal charges for Firefly quote, io9, September 26, 2011
I Swear By My Pretty Floral Bonnet, I Will Censor You, Popehat, September 26, 2011
Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen Vigilant Against Threat of Satire, Figurative Speech, Hurt Feelings, Popehat, September 28, 2011
Banned posters rile ‘Firefly’ TV show fans against UW-Stout, Pioneer Press, September 29, 2011

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I rule the world of appellate Twitter haiku!

I have been writing haiku for fun and to annoy my fellow man since I learned of the medium in middle school. A few weeks ago I wrote up a few legal haikus in response to a contest hosted by the Texas Bar Appellate Law Section. I am proud to say that my poetic and legal creative powers have now received their due recognition. I didn’t win anything tangible, but receiving an honorable mention from a group of people I mostly don’t know, in a state bar section to which I don’t belong, in an area of law I have never practiced, is all the victory I need. At least where legal haiku is concerned.

Check me out on page 2:

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In praise of Austin’s cleverly snarky jurists

The Honorable Sam Sparks

It is unwise to anger Judge Sam Sparks

Law is a conservative profession, in that it is rarely given to huge leaps of fancy or whimsy. English common law has given us a system based on precedent, where the challenges and disputes of the present are resolved using the solutions of the past. Innovation comes slowly, and the writing tends to be both precise and ponderous. No one reads legal briefs or law journals for the lulz.

Every so often, though, a judge comes along who challenges the notion of a staid, unflappable jurist. Today, I take a moment to salute the Honorable Sam Sparks, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. (Full disclosure: I am licensed to practice in the Western District of Texas, I think, but I do not have any cases in Judge Sparks’ court and do not intend to file any. Therefore, there is really no need for full disclosure. Never mind.)

Lawyers who practice in federal court in Austin generally know that Judge Sparks does not abide tomfoolery in his courtroom. Despite conventional wisdom, every so often lawyers who should really know better decide to bring questionable motions in his court, and his responses and resulting orders ought to be forever recorded in the annals of legal history.

Above the Law, as with so many stories, has a good overview of some Sparks gems. In 2004 he compared bickering lawyers to kindergarteners, and in 2007 he issued an order in rhyming couplets, complete with this conclusion:

There will be a hearing with pablum to eat

And a very cool cell where you can meet

AND WORK OUT YOUR INFANTILE PROBLEM WITH THE DEPOSITION.

My personal favorite story out of his courtroom comes from recent news and involves litigation over Texas’ new ultrasound-before-abortion law. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in federal court in June seeking to block the new law from taking effect (read the original complaint). The defendants in the case are the individuals and agencies that will be charged with enforcing the new law: David Lakey, M.D., Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services; Mari Robinson, Executive Director of the Texas Medical Board; and David Escamilla, County Attorney for Travis County. Seems pretty straightforward–group opposes a new law, so sues the state officials in charge of enacting it–and uncontroversial, at least procedurally, right?

Oh, silly, silly reader(s)….

Have you forgotten that this is Texas?

Not content to allow this lawsuit to proceed in the same fashion as any other lawsuit filed in America, the two sponsors of the bill, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, asked leave of the court to file amicus briefs supporting the law. On August 9, 2011, Judge Sparks said no (PDF):

Both parties in this case are well-represented by competent and diligent counsel, and neither they nor this Court needs assistance from Senator Patrick or Representative Miller–particularly when much of their “assistance” is nothing more than thinly-veiled rhetoric. This is a federal lawsuit about the constitutionality of a statute, not a soapbox for politicians or a sounding board for public opinion. The Court is confident counsel in this case can protect their clients’ interests all by themselves.

Judge Sparks did not even have to make that rhyme to make it sting. A mere three days later, on August 12, he similarly rejected an attempt by other Texas legislators to intervene in the case (PDF):

[C]ounsel for the parties are more than capable of advocating for their clients’ positions without outside input. This is especially true where, as here, that input comes in the form of, among other things, commentary by legislators on “the clear legislative intent of H.B. 15′s severability clause.”

If the severability clause is as clear as the Representatives indicate, their interpretive assistance will not be required. And if it is not, it would be unhelpful, if not improper, for the Court to look to statements made by a subset of the Legislature, in a document prepared for the purposes of litigation, to determine legislative intent. (Citations omitted)

Thankfully, that put an end to the chicanery, and the case has been able to proceed according to normal court procedures. Just kidding! San Antonio attorney Allan Parker, president of the Justice Foundation (I’m not linking to them) also requested leave to intervene in the case, and he decided to do a little show and tell with his motion (specifically a picture of a “first-trimester aborted child” according to his own list of exhibits.) On August 23, Judge Sparks took his polite gloves off and went right to it (PDF, of course):

The Court has already turned down two extremely tempting offers to transform this case from a boring old federal lawsuit into an exciting, politically-charged media circus. As any competent attorney could have predicted, the Court declines the latest invitation as well.

However, the Court is forced to conclude Allan E. Parker, Jr., the attorney whose signature appears on this motion, is anything but competent. A competent attorney would not have filed this motion in the first place; if he did, he certainly would not have attached exhibits that are both highly prejudicial and legally irrelevant; and if he foolishly did both things, he surely would not be so unprofessional as to file such exhibits unsealed. A competent attorney who did these things would be deliberately disrespecting this Court and knowingly shirking his professional responsibilties, offenses for which he would be lucky to retain his bar card, much less an intact bank balance.

House of detention, photo by Jascha Hoste

Not pictured: the actual holding cell at the federal courthouse (photo by Jascha Hoste)

I have no involvement in this case at all, and yet my stomach did a few lurches reading that part of the order because I can imagine the horror of having a federal judge that mad at me, and the possible implications of that. Yes, Judge Sparks called the man incompetent, and he did it a lot. Moral of the story: if you come into Judge Sparks’ courtroom with weak arguments that he has already dismissed, you will not leave with your dignity. You might not leave with your bar card. You might not leave as financially whole as when you arrived. You might not leave at all.

Okay, that last part was an exaggeration. You’ll get to leave eventually.

This week, we have a different case (h/t Mike Johnson), involving two attorneys who may have just done something really dumb, or may have had the misfortune of doing something kind of dumb with a judge fresh off of his Allan Parker-fueled disdain for shenanigans in his courtroom. Either way, the hammer dropped on attorneys Jonathan L. Woods and Travis Barton, who have been invited ordered to attend Judge Sparks’ “kindergarten party” on September 1 in his courtroom, covering topics such as how to properly plan and schedule depositions and how not to waste a federal court’s time for being “unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student.”

Courts have a pretty specific purpose, and they have limited resources to achieve that purpose. The purpose is to resolve disputes, and to do so as efficiently as possible. Many Austin lawyers have horror stories about Judge Sparks (and no, I’m not telling any here),  but I applaud the effort to keep idiocy out of the courtroom, and to do it with some flair. I salute Judge Sparks and his brand of don’t-*******-with-me-in-my-courtroom jurisprudence.

That said, I know full well that if I ever argued a case in his courtroom, he would eat me for breakfast and use my bones for toothpicks at lunch. And I’m okay with that.

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Oh, frack

A while back I wrote a juvenile post about fracking and my love of Battlestar Galactica.

In that same spirit, the following is presented sans excessive commentary, to let the absurdity sink in (h/t Shawn M. French):

R.I.P. Talisman Terry.

The “friendly Fracosaurus” featured in a 24-page coloring book by Talisman Energy that explained the controversial process of extracting gas from rock formations will no longer be distributed by the company, a spokeswoman told FoxNews.com.

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Talisman Energy USA Inc., said the coloring book, “Talisman Terry’s Energy Adventure,” was created in 2009 by staff at Talisman’s headquarters in Calgary, Canada, as a giveaway for county fairs and other community events along the Pennsylvania-New York border. It’s unclear exactly how many were produced and distributed, she said.

Despite no complaints from the public — only from “the media,” Cox said — the company decided to stop using the publication within the past month.

Yes, Talisman Energy published a fracking coloring book, with a fracking mascot. And because of all the fracking controversy with the fracking-obsessed media, they had to stop publishing it. I guess they’ll just focus on fracking from now on.

Okay, I’m done. Please go on about your day.

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“‘Wacky’ does not a successful libel lawsuit make.”

From the Wikimedia Commons

Did the astronauts of Apollo 17 take this photo, or was it Photoshopped using 1972-era technology? (Hint: the first option is correct.)

From the annals of silly lawsuit history comes the case of Bill Kaysing versus Jim Lovell, circa 1997. A handy timeline of the case is here.

You may Know Jim Lovell as the commander of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission, who was later played by Tom Hanks in the movie of the same name.

Bill Kaysing was a purveyor of moon hoax theories, and is often credited as starting the moon landing conspiracy movement. He was the author of books like We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.

In 1996, after an encounter with Kaysing and some correspondence, Lovell was quoted in an article by Rafer Guzmán in Metro, a weekly Silicon Valley-area newspaper:

Speaking from his office in Illinois, Lovell said of Kaysing: “The guy is wacky. His position makes me feel angry. We spent a lot of time getting ready to go to the moon. We spent a lot of money, we took great risks, and it’s something everybody in this country should be proud of. His problem is, he saw that movie Capricorn One and now he thinks that’s really the way it goes.”

Eager to defend his legacy of bravely standing up to mountains of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, sued Lovell for libel on August 29, 1996, specifically for calling him “wacky.”

Keep in mind that truth is a defense to defamation.

Kaysing, who wrote a book called We Never Went to the Moon, filed what amounts to a nuisance suit against the astronaut last year following a Metro article in which Lovell called the writer “wacky.” Legal experts who were contacted agree that calling someone “wacky” does not a successful libel suit make. If anything, Kaysing’s wild accusation that Lovell is a liar who participated in a government conspiracy to fool the public is more harsh than being called wacky. (Source)

I don’t see how one can argue that calling a person “wacky” is anything other than a statement of opinion. I also don’t see how it is any worse than what Kaysing said about Lovell in the same article:

Kaysing considers Lovell almost a comedian. “He’s essentially a sort of comic Manchurian Candidate,” he says. “He’s been either brainwashed, hypnotized, programmed or whatever to present this spurious story of having gone to the moon.”

Is it defamatory to say someone has been brainwashed? Not particularly. Nor is it defamatory to call someone “wacky.” Fortunately a judge agreed and dismissed the suit on September 25, 1997.

It makes for a fun example of the limits of using the courts to fix your public image. If someone says you are wacky, demonstrate how they are wrong (if you can), or determine if you really are wacky and try to fix it. If you are a conspiracy theorist, public opprobrium from an establishment figure like an astronaut ought to boost your image among the conspiracy-minded. Unless someone has said something blatantly and demonstrably false that has harmed you, don’t ask the courts to fix it for you. Even then, it’s a tough row to hoe.

Bill Kaysing passed away in 2005. Since a deceased person has no cause of action for defamation, let me just say this: the guy was wacky. Wacky, wacky, wacky. He was also absurd, bugged out, crazy, daft, deranged, dotty, foolish, harebrained, idiotic, loony, nutty, odd, and silly. (Yes, I borrowed Eric Turkewitz’s thesaurus).

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Tweeting briefs, haiku edition

The State Bar of Texas Appellate Section is hosting a “Twitter Brief Competition” in preparation for its annual meeting in September. It’s exactly what it sounds like: craft an appellate argument in 140 characters or less.

Be honest, this is the moment the legal profession has been dreaming of. No more verbose jargon! No more impenetrable legalese! An end to “heretofore” and “thereunder”! Short prepositions only!

But seriously, it seems like some lawyers might have an edge in this competition. Section co-chair Anne Johnson seems to agree:

“My initial observations is we may see some generational differences,” Johnson says. She explains: “People who are used to posting on Twitter are going to have an advantage.” There’s another commonality among many competing Tweets so far: They focus on a “theme of waiver,” Johnson says. For example: “Honorable court, the claim has been waived. Respectfully submitted, appellee,” says Johnson, adding: “That’s an argument that is pretty simple and can be said pretty quickly.”

Personally, I would prefer to see an appellate haiku competition. Here are a few of my own:

The appellee lacked

Standing to sue, and venue

Was improper too.

The First Amendment

Dictates dismissal of this

Meritless action.

Appellee tried this

Once before, and did not win:

Res judicata.

This Court can review

Just abuse of discretion.

No de novo here.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see if practicing law by Twitter catches on.

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