Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A few posts, not much sleep

Here are a few threads I've commented in over at Alas. One involves the impact of small advantages (a cartoon) and another involves cartoon wives at home (another cartoon). They are sorta related (at least my comments are).

The third thread is new and is about left-wing activism and shades of grey.

I leave them here without comment - mostly because all of my writing energy (what little there is of it) has gone there for the moment.

I'm rather tired - not much sleep - my wife is in Florida for a professional conference, so I've been alone with the two-month-old and my two-year-old since Sunday afternoon. Well, except when there's been a sitter over or day care during the day Monday and today. What is hardest is the night. My baby boy was up at 5 this morning and never really went back to sleep. He wanted a fresh diaper, a bottle, and then to be held. But then that left my toddler daughter alone in bed and when she figured that out she wanted to be with me, too. It is rather hard to hold them both. I need a nap.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I'm Just Saying...

I'm not saying that the police officers who were acquitted today in this shooting were guilty or not guilty - I don't really know the details beyond what is written in the article (and I find it generally irrepsonsible to opine on such things without sufficient information).

All I know is, beyond any doubt, had those three shooters not been police officers, and instead they were just ordinary Joes claiming self-defense because they thought the deceased had had a gun, all three of them would have been charged and convicted by the judge in this bench trial of second degree murder.

Instead, they get much lighter charges and then they got acquitted on top of that. Which annoys me more for the double standard on credibility given to police officers, which I think is horribly misplaced, particularly after you see incidents such as this, where a police officer baldly lies in court - I somehow doubt that magically the only time this ever happened just happened to be the one time a teenager happened to record a police interrogation on the sly. Officially, police officers are accorded no more credibility than any other witness. In practice, their word is basically gold and if you are ever in a case where it is your word versus that of a police officer, you will lose unless you have outside evidence to back it up. Sadly, that is not all that often.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Frisky Dingo

Just in case anybody cares, Frisky Dingo is hilarious. I learned about the show in a little blurb in Entertainment Weekly - it sounded like the sort of thing I might like, so I bought season one on DVD and just watched it. Great stuff. Apparently the creators have made other shows as well, but I don't really know anything about them.

Oh, and be sure not to miss this year's Ninja Parade.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Silly Checklist

I'm posting this mostly out of a lack of ambition to post a few other things that will take a bit more effort. In other words, this is more for curiosity/fun than anything substantive.

I got this from Chickpea's place. Here's the checklist, with bold for those that applied to me, and commentary on them all.

When you were in college:
If your father went to college, take a step forward.
If your father finished college

My father not only went to college, he has three post-bachelors degrees, including a JD, an MBA, and a MS in Computer Engineering. I just have a JD and I doubt I'll get anything else.

If your mother went to college
If your mother finished college

My mother also has a Masters. And it should be mentioned that both of my parents came from dirt-poor families. My dad's parents were divorced, his dad was in the military. My mother's mother was a school teacher (until they fired her when she had kids) and her father was an iron ore miner. They basically clawed their way into the middle class through education.

If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
As noted above, my father has a JD, though that was a second (or possibly third) career for him.

If you were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
I'm just assuming this to be the case. Probably most of my school was middle class.

If you had a computer at home
If you had your own computer at home

Technically yes, but it was a POS - my parents didn't get a really decent computer until after I left for school. Which I always thought was pathetic since my dad was at one time a computer engineer.

If you had more than 50 books at home
If you had more than 500 books at home

There are so many bookcases in my parent's house, it is ridiculous. I myself probably own over 3000 books now. That is definitely an infection.

If were read children’s books by a parent
I don't recall specifically, but I'm going to assume yes.

If you ever had lessons of any kind
If you had more than two kinds of lessons
I had swimming lessons. That's it. I don't know if that really counts for this - I would hope most everyone gets taught to swim.

If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
You could probably find examples in the media of positive and negatives for every ethnicity imaginable now, so this seems a rather limited question.

If you had a credit card with your name on it
I did not get my first card until in College. I still have it.

If you have less than $5000 in student loans
My parents were wise enough to scrimp and save and so they had money for college for me. It probably helped that I was seven years younger than my older sister (giving more of a break between college) and also that my parents had me when they were older than average (so they had better income than if they had had me sooner). This has been a big boon for me - it is probably the reason I have never, ever been in debt my whole life. Probably part of that is habits learned from them as well, but habits or not, school is damn expensive. For law school, I managed to get a full ride scholarship, so I did not have to pay for that either (my parents would not have helped with that). But that was a second career and I was working full time while in school, so I did have income (as it turned out, more than I have now as a lawyer).

If you have no student loans (see above)

If you went to a private high school

Nope. I didn't even know what schools in my area were private.

If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor

I acted as a private tutor in college, but never had one myself. Never went to camp.

If you have been to Europe
I have only been there once, and I wonder if this is less significant if it was mostly to visit my grandfather, who lives over there, and whom I've only seen that one time.

If your family vacations involved staying at hotels
My parents wouldn't be caught dead camping.

If all of your clothing has been new and bought at the mall

If your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
More handmedowns! I had two handmedown cars before I got a real job and bought my own.

If there was original art in your house
The only art that I can recall was from street artists in France, and I don't think this is what this question is getting at.

If you had a phone in your room
If you had your own room

If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Nope, but then, I have always been a multiple-choice-test-taking-ninja, so I really didn't need to. (Any lawyers out there who could see my LSAT score and my Bar Exam score would probably weep)

If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV in your room in High School

If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College

Never even knew what such a thing was at that time.

If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
On several occasions.

If you ever went on a cruise with your family
Still never been on a cruise.

If your parents took you to museums and art galleries
I love museums - though this one I do wonder about, since most musuems are cheap or free to get into - how is this "privileged"?

If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
My mother made damn sure I knew how much things cost, at least generally. Probably in part because she came from such a poor family.

In the end, what I get from this list is that I grew up solidly middle class and that now I'm solidly middle class. Not really a surprise or a revelation. One tends to end up in the same class you are born into. But obviously there is mobility. My parents were born lower class and made themselves middle class, which they then passed on to me and my sister. I'm middle class and I hope my kids will be. I'll probably never be anything but middle class. Though losing a job and a medical problem could easily knock me down to lower class, as it has with so many. I try to put insurance in place against that ever happening, especially now that I have kids, but when things go to hell, often there's not a lot you can do about it.

I really don't have any thoughts on this beyond what I've said. I think what benefited me the most (and as Chickpea and Apostate pointed out in their own cases) was that I had sensible parents who passed that sensibility on to me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Angry Beyond Words (again)

From This American Life. This administration needs to be simply locked up from top to bottom.

Don't feed them after midnight!

Or in my case, don't feed the toddler after eight o'clock! My wife, who is obsessive in her concern about how much sleep our toddler gets (she's now 2 years 8 months old) worries when she does not get to bed by ten o'clock at night. I, too, would like her to settle down and sleep by then, but I don't consider it a world-ending disaster if she's up a bit past that. That said, one thing that I think would really help would be not giving our daughter food after eight o'clock at night. Particularly when it is sugary stuff such as fresh fruit or juice. That just makes her wired and revving to go. If she's thirsty, I say give her water. Giving her sugar is not going to facilitate sleep. If she is a bit hungry, all the better, that will give her less energy to fight sleepiness.

I just post this now to vent - my wife is concerned about bed time but still gives sugar late, sometimes right up to just before ten o'clock. I'm trying to work on this. Part of the problem is that another obsession she has is whether or not both children get enough to eat. Our two month-old has been eating like a six month-old, 32 ounces a day since he was only a few weeks old (when 24 ounces would be more appropriate) and yet she was still concerned he wasn't eating enough. I can assure everyone that neither of my children are starving.

I won't even get into my wife's obsession with cold - (ok, I lied, I'm getting into it) I think it is partly a Russian thing, where they think that cold causes diseases to a ridiculous extent. Today I had to fight to get out the door with our two year old to take her to day care without putting on a second coat because the first coat was not enough. After all, it was 65 degrees outside and will be 75 today - and what if she went outside in the morning??

I'm Excited that Today has Finally Come!

Yes, April 22nd is finally here! I'm so excited! I know you are too! After all of the hoola and sniping and meaningless media stories, we finally get to experience the day of truth! Yes, it is Earth Day! Ahem. Ok, so there's also something else going on today. Some sort of "primary" in some state that starts with a "p". And ok, this is the real reason I'm thrilled this day is here - because I have a small hope that maybe today, finally, this will finally all be over with. If Clinton does not win by a huge margin, she's done. The delegate math makes her done a long time ago, but this would seal the deal. Sadly, if she does win big, she's still done by the delegate math, but the pain of the primary will continue. I'm mostly tuning it out - I'm not really watching any news on TV at all and I only hear bits and pieces through the internet blogs and such that I read. Of course, much of the blogsphere isn't all that better than the MSM - apparently, half of the Democratic primary voters are misogynist pigs and the other half are racist-assholes. Or something like that. Please shoot me now.

So my dream is that I'll wake up tomorrow morning to see a Clinton concession speech. Then I'll happily watch the news for a day before turning it all off again until after the November election to avoid the new round of bullshit that pretends to be important media coverage.

UNRELATED NOTE: This is apparently my 300th blog post. Do I get a cookie? I was going to say something with the 100th, but then forgot, then with the 200th, then I forgot. I guess it really is meaningless except to show that I have thought of bullshit to spew into the blogsphere at least 300 times (not counting all of the comments I have left here and elsewhere in blogtopia). So happy 300th post to me. I'll have chocolate chip, thanks.

Capitalism, Free Markets, and Doing Good

I think all three of those concepts: Capitalism, Free Markets, and Doing Good, are related in the sense that I think to do really well (when you start with nothing) you really need to do good. This essay got me thinking about that in particular. I think Graham makes some very good points that explain not only why startups do good but why long established mega-corporations don't.

The basic point is that when you have nothing and are just establishing yourself, you really have nothing but your reputation and what you actually provide to your customers. So if you are not on the up and up and not producing something people actually need, you will not succeed - and if you are, you will. Further, that the drive to do something people need is what creates success more than just a bare desire to make money. Or, as Graham notes, it is the attitude that you will produce it, regardless of backing, that provides the drive to complete a project that would otherwise have been abandoned.

This also explains why large institutions are often so corrupt - they don't need to be good anymore to keep on making money, so they stop being good and just get greedy. Even if this causes damage, size keeps things afloat (as the executives loot the company). Of course, they may eventually collapse as innovation elsewhere allows people to stop being abused and get their products and services elsewhere from a company "doing good" - though I'm sure this can be delayed through manipulations of the market (many of which are illegal) and through actually rewriting the laws and getting the government to do their dirty work for them. Which is why I generally distrust both government and large corporations - they are both corrputed by their power and they are also full of all of the same sort of bullshit you see infecting all large, powerful organizations.

I think this can be mitigated both by better regulation, less government power generally, but with more transparency, both in government and in corporations. It is harder to get away with certain things when the light of day shines on what you do.

Also everyone: Be Good.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Class Action Lawsuits

Though I'm a lawyer, I don't claim to be an expert on class action lawsuits, but I've read plenty of complaints about them (usually from Republican circles). The complaints generally allege that class actions are somehow frivolous ways for lawyers to get huge, undeserved legal fees while giving consumers token coupons that are basically worthless as part of a class action settlement.

I'll address each one of those complaints in turn.

First, the notion that somehow class actions are generally frivolous. Any discussion of "frivolous" lawsuits should begin with a discussion of the fact that actually filing a friviolous lawsuit - heck, just a frivolous notion within a legitimate lawsuit - opens a lawyer, his or her law firm, and even the client, to sanctions and penalties. It could be argued that the sanctions aren't levied often enough, but the threat of them is there. More to the point, any filing that is truly frivolous also doesn't have a chance in hell of actually going anywhere. The court will rule against it, and in the off chance there is an idiotic judge who does not, it will be quickly reversed on appeal. Simply put - filing a frivolous motion of any kind has a whole lot of downside with not really much in the way of upside. Even if it is just dismissed, you'll very likely have pissed off the judge, or at least lowered the judge's estimation of your abilities, making it less likely the judge will look kindly on even a more legimate motion.

Beyond that, one has to wonder about those who call class actions with settlements frivolous. It is true that sometimes it is cheaper and easier to settle to make a complainant go away than it is to go to trial and win, but the aggregate costs of most class actions are so high that one would think it would always be much cheaper to go to trial if the suit is so weak as to be frivolous. In other words, it is not very likely that a class action suit where there has been a settlement was frivolous - just the opposite, in fact. So claims of frivoloty about such suits are bullshit, plain and simple.

Second, there is the notion of huge, undeserved legal fees for lawyers in class action suits. It is true that lawyers typically get anywhere between 30 and 40% of a suit that is done on contingency. But keep in mind that there is also the chance that they will lose and then get nothing. What it means is that the lawyer or law firm assumes the risk of the lawsuit. What is great about this is that it allows even people with no money to get top-flight legal representation that can go toe to toe with the richest of tortfeasors. Were this not the case, one could stomp all over the propety rights of those with no money with wild abandon without any fear of being taken to account over it. With this system, even the mightiest of billion dollar corporations still needs to worry about not injuring even the most poor among us (though for various reasons, they still have less to fear about injuring the poor than the well-off, but that is a digression I'll leave alone for now).

I call this an unambiguous good that makes our society a whole lot safer than those societies without such a system. There's a reason that when some minor disaster happens in the US, you see minimal deaths and injuries but that in some other nations, such things cause thousands or even millions of deaths. Class action lawsuits are a small but significant part of that.

Dealing with the second part of the lawyer fees - whether they are "deserved" - I say that they clearly are. Were it not for those fees, as noted above, the poor could be trod upon with impunity (as it is, they still often are, but it would be much much worse without this). Putting together a class action suit is hard work that requires specialized lawyers with years of experience and also requires spending a lot of cash upfront on the part of the law firm. Only a large, rich law firm can handle class action suits for that reason. Veteran lawyers with highly specialized skills are needed. They don't come cheap, for good reason. They work hard, working long hours, sometimes for years, and all with the chance that in the end, they will get nothing. So the winning cases not only have to pay them for their time for those cases, they also have to cover all of the money spent on losing cases or on cases that, despite winning, still did not cover the cost of their actual time spent. In short, they deserve every penny - they work hard for it. Which brings us to the next point.

Third, there is the notion that these suits are scams because after paying all of those legal fees, the actual consumers (who can number in the hundreds, thousands, or even millions, depending on the suit) often don't get much more than a coupon or something that seems somewhat worthless. But this is overlooking some very important points. First, lawsuits are meant to make plaintiffs whole. Which means that they are meant to restore a plaintiff (monetarily) to where they would be if they hadn't been cheated out of money (or otherwise damaged) in the first place. So in many cases, where there is a class action, there might only have been a small amount of damage to each individual consumer - so the coupon really does make them whole. (And more on that later). But not all class actions result in coupons. I've been a member of class action suits - probably at least a half dozen of them. And I did not get just coupons or peanuts from them. Several netted me about $50. One, involving my title company (for my home mortgage) resulted in around $300. Not exactly chump change.

But consider this. Even if all consumers get is a coupon for ten dollars off some product, or something else of negligible value, this still matters. Because if class actions were limited to cases where each individual consumer (and there could be millions as noted above) got a significant amount of settlement money, you'd essentially be granting a license to steal. Because then all companies would have to do is come up with scams that cheat consumers out of only an amount equal to or less than the threshhold amount for class action suits. It might not seem like much, but when multiplied by ten million consumers, it can really add up. Say the threshhold is $100 - that is a license to find a way to steal $99 from each consumer, and if you have in excess of ten million consumers that you get this from, then that's a billion dollars you just made - and all without fear of any lawsuit forcing you to pay it back. Because though each consumer could still sue you individually, even for $99, it isn't worth the time, hassle, and cost of a lawsuit to get it back. Hell, unless it is thousands of dollars, it isn't worth it. (True, there is small claims court, but even that isn't worth the time and hassle if the amount is that small - for some, it already costs more than $99 just to take time off work for a day to go to court).

So without class action suits, this sort of theft would be entirely unchecked. Thus, you should take satisfaction even with a dollar coupon payout from a class action suit - because you will have been a party to preventing a company from getting away with such a scam. That, I think, is the primary benefit of class action lawsuits - it allows claims that would otherwise never be made because they are of too low a value to support a lawsuit to come to fruition because, in the aggregate, they matter.

I just wish that these simple points of refutation would be brought out every single time a bullshit complaint about class action suits is trotted out of the GOP talking point box. I know I'm dreaming (given the right-wing stranglehold on the MSM) but I think it is good to dream.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Legal Shake-Down Rebuffed

I found the letter posted in this article to be highly entertaining reading. The letter is from the CEO of a small company that produces audio cables that was given a patent "shake-down" letter from Monster Cable asking him to "cease and desist" basically all operations of his company on rather flimsy claims of patent infringement. But really, the letter speaks for itself, so I highly recommend reading it. (h/t to McCardle)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in Twenty Words or Less...

From a post by Barefoot Bum: "There are those who would argue this sort of meritocracy directly and explicitly, notably Ayn Rand, gleefully contemplating the fall of civilization when a few thousand rich bastards exempt themselves from human society."

I just love quotes that so succinctly sum up a particular notion.

Rob Lowe's Nanny

First, I just have to say, I really couldn't care less whether or not these allegations in either direction are true. The only reason I read the article and watched the video was to satisfy my curiosity about the nanny's credibility as a witness. I often read transcripts of trials but seldom see them (or even video of them) and I'm always curious about the difference between how a witness comes across in text and how they come across live. So I read the article, then I watched the video.

My take on it - from the article, I really didn't have any take - I really didn't get any sense one way or the other, but watching the video, I didn't believe a word the former nanny said. She seemed like she was smiling or smirking, like she hit the jackpot. Or maybe she just seemed smug. Maybe that was nervousness in front of the camera. I don't pretend to be an expert on reading people. I'm probably pretty bad at it, to tell the truth. But in this case, if I were on a jury and I had to judge credibility (as I'd have to as a juror) she'd be losing this suit. Maybe she'll be different in deposition or on the stand. This after all was a rather limited viewing opportunity.

So I'm curious - anyone else get that sense from the video? Again, I really don't care about the underlying case. I'm just curious from the perspective of witness credibility. After watching the video, all I could think of was that I'm watching someone who was trying to cash in. Her demeanor just did not seem to match her alleged story of fear and abuse for seven years.

(And I also wonder, if what she said was true, why she did not seek to press criminal charges. But that is a separate issue from judging her demeanor. While one could say that she was intimidated and afraid to do so, that just does not make sense given that she's filed a civil suit.)

The link to the article and the video in question is here.

God Damnit!

I've always thought it silly that "God Damnit" is censored on regular TV - I mean, you can say "god" on TV and you can say "damnit" on TV, so why not both together?

Then I eventually figured out that the reason it is considered so bad is because of the religious nature of it - and we all know that religious people deserve special rights and consideration because they are better than the nonreligious... ahem. Once I figured that out, I no longer considered it a swear word (phrase, really) at all.

Why am I discussing this now? Because yesterday, I got to day care after work and one of the caregivers told me in a somewhat grave tone that my daughter "said a bad word" today. To be fair, they didn't make a huge deal out of it. What I was thinking when she said this was, "oh, I hope she didn't say shit or fuck." But I had to know, so I asked, "what did she say and when did she say it?" I wanted to know the context. In my view, context appropriate swears are no problem at all.

So she told me that my daughter said, "god damnit" and that she said it when they were putting toys into a bin and my daugther missed the bin and the toy hit the floor. "Ok, then," I thought to myself, "context appropriate." I didn't say this, of course.

Later, when we were in the car driving home, as I thought about it, and pictured it in my head, I couldn't help laughing outloud. A lot. My daughter saw this and had no idea what I was laughing about, but she just had to laugh too, so we laughed all the rest of the way home.

Now, I don't want my daughter to swear all the time nor am I particularly thrilled that she swore in day care. But at least it was context appropriate. She learned it from me, of course. And my wife. It is probably what I say when I try to put something somewhere and miss. I actually heard my daughter say it before, when she was trying to put something on the shelf in the shower and missed, and she said in her cute two-year-old voice, "god-damn-nit." I may even have avoided laughing at that time.

Swearing is an important part of language, a part we all need to learn. I think she's doing just fine with it. Maybe I'm also a bit tickled at the thought of my daughter saying that because I'm an atheist and it is a Christian day care center. That has concerns all its own that I'll eventually have to deal with and probably will write about more later, though in the end, I figure she might as well get exposed (and innoculated) now. It ought to be interesting when my daughter finally asks me about this "god" and "Jesus" stuff and I tell her the truth, that they are imaginary friends for adults. What a conversation that will be, god damnit!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Democrats Eat Their Young

That's a phrase I've heard before. I vaguely remember hearing it for the first time many years ago, and I've forgotten exactly where I heard it. This current primary process makes me think of it now again.

Hillary appears to be using some very Karl Rovesque types of tactics recently, things that may hurt Obama not just now, but in the general election. Then again, this may also help to make certain types of attacks "old news" by then. The whole Wright thing, stupid as it was, is now basically yesterday's news. If McCain tries to revive it in the general, there might be a big yawn about it - the news cycle has already moved on to something else. Of course, the MSM basically worships McCain, giving him a free pass on everything, and that will be a problem in the general election, but I still think McCain will likely ultimately lose.

That said, Democrats seem to eat their young. I say that because it is in stark contrast to the Republican Commandment that "Thou shalt not say anything bad about a fellow Republican". Not that this is consistently followed, but I think the general authoritarian nature of the rank and file GOP leads to a much more unified party. Look at Congress. The GOP votes as a block. The Dems split on almost every vote. This means that for any Dem policy to really get implemented, you need to have a massive Dem majority, the likes of which has not been seen in decades.

The whole 'sexism' vs 'racism' thing between Clinton and Obama (and even moreso between their respective followers) is also a "young eating" moment. Comparing oppressions is just plain stupid. Yes, there's been sexism against Clinton. So? What the heck did you expect? Is this a surprise? Is this a shock? Guess what - sexism will NEVER be eliminated, because there will always be at least some people who are sexist. Success can't be really be measured by its elimination, for that reason. You measure sucess by when, despite the existence of sexism, women win elections, women get on boards, women succeed just as well as men. That sort of success isn't erased if, at a company run by a women with half women executives, some annoyed middle manager whispers "bitch" under his breath when his female boss is out of earshot. Because guess what? That middle manager would probably have some other nasty thing under his breath even with a male boss. Having bad things to say about the boss didn't start with women in the workplace. It won't end with them, either. But then, who cares if you're the boss?

I do admit, though it saddens me, I also see a little bit of poetic justice in the 'racism' vs 'sexism' sniping going on in the Democratic ranks right now in that the same sort of bullshit "reasoning" used against non-syncophants in general when discussions of racism or sexism take place on certain left-wing blogs is now being turned inward - and so all of those people who are usually on the sending side of that bullshit are now on the recieving end of it - and they are all finding that they do not particularly like being on the receiving end. Maybe they'll learn something from it. Maybe this will mostly die down once there is a nominee picked. I hope so. I certainly don't want a President McCain. I've gotten so sick of the noise I really don't pay any attention to the "race" in the media anymore. I read blogs and such that focus on other things, and so I hear snippets, like the latest thing, something about "bitterness" that I assume is just bullshit so I ignore it. Really, I just want the race to be over so I can see who won and move on. I don't expect to actually learn anything useful about any of the candidates from the media at this point. More to the point, I already know I'll be pulling the 'D' lever in November, so there's really no point in paying attention to any of the noise now.

Either Obama or Clinton will be fine as president. They'll certainly be way better than McCain. Mathematically, there's almost no way Clinton gets the nomination, so even that race, I'm not all that concerned about, and even if I were, paying attention to every last detail of the campaigns won't change anything. I've got better things to do than pay attention to the trivial minutae that passes for campaign reporting. Ooooo, Obama said something not so nice. Or Clinton said something mean and Rovian. So what? I don't care what they say. It is all just nonsense anyway - as if anything said on the campaign trail really means anything. Those trying to parse out words at campaign stops as if they really matter are rather pathetic, in the end, because governing is a far different thing than campaign bullshit (at least, it should be).

I just hope that Democrats don't eat their young and hand the presidency to McCain. You think Obama or Clinton is throwing you under the bus? How, exactly does throwing the whole Country under the "Straighttalk Express" fix that? Ugh.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Twig Blights are Cool

Maybe it is just because I really like the small figures, but Twig Blights are COOL. I just felt like saying that this morning. Anyone who has the figures and used them to play the Sunless Citadel knows what I'm talking about...


Stuff like this is just depressing. I sometimes think the only way we'll ever have a truly decent news channel is if some altruistic billionaire sets up a trust to support a news network (at a loss) that actually hires reporters to do real news and then lets loose with it. Sadly, I almost think there'd also have to be a budget to deal with all of the shit that would come from the establishment trying to destroy such a network, were it ever to exist. The powers that be guard their power jealously.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Evil, -isms, and Role Playing Games

This ought to be a fun post, combining the discussion of the nature of evil, the nature of -isms (racism, sexism, ismism), and how one can see aspects of both while playing Dungeons and Dragons. I've been thinking about this for some time as things percolated through my toddler/baby/sickness addled brain.

First, we need to separate out the hate from the isms. One can be -ist without hating. A lot of it can just come from ignorance or an unquestioning adherence to traditional gender roles, for instance, in the case of sexism. One can act racist or sexist without having any feelings of hatred at all. Which perhaps is where some get the idea that they aren't racist because they don't hate people of other races or they aren't sexist because they genuinely do not hate women. This, ironically, is probably reinforced by the left-wing extremists who label every sexist a misogynist, or every racist a hater of whatever race is relevant - which is clearly absurd on its face and just makes any sane, rational person less likely to really listen to what is being said. (For example, it is sexist to think that only men should be firefighters - but you can have that opinion without actually having anything against women, certainly without any hatred. I suspect very few people actually hate an entire gender).

On the flip side of the coin, it is possible (however unlikely) that someone who actually hates women doesn't actually do anything sexist.

Now that that's out of the way, the real fun thought experiment begins. Perhaps it is even possible that people who do or say sexist things aren't actually sexist (or racist or whatever-ist) and those things were said for other motives entirely. I thought about this when the whole Michael Richards flap was on about his use of the n-word against hecklers. Maybe he is a racist, but I wondered, what if the hecklers had been different people - what language would he have used? Did it reflect a desire to hurt them by going for a vulnerable spot more than any racist motive? I mean, where there are racist words out there that are particularly hurtful to use, and your goal is to hurt, then those would be the words to use. One could argue that any use of those words, no matter how mad you are or how much you want to hurt someone as an individual (verbally) are racist - and there is a certain logic to that. I have been culturally conditioned to basically never use the n-word, no matter how mad I may be. On the other hand, not everyone is conditioned the same as me.

Back to Richards - if one is mad and wants to hurt someone verbally, one picks words that one thinks will hurt the most. When you know almost nothing about someone, the only words that you know for sure that can do that would be related to what you can physically see about them - their race, gender, body type, general appearance, etc. If the hecklers were fat and he made disparaging coments about their weight, is that because he hates fat people or has something against fat people, or is it because that's just the easiest jab one can make under the circumstances?

How does all of this tie into gaming? With a quote from a friend I played with for many years, call him Dirk. Another friend also played. This other friend, call him Jake. This was back in college. Jake made a rather "interesting" character - he was actually secretly a necromancer who liked to have "pets" (undead animated small animals) - you could say we all shared in a sick sense of humor. Of course, his alignment was also, to put it bluntly, evil. And he acted that way in terms of the offhand comments he would make, in character, while we played. Of course, Dirk had no idea about Jake's characters alignment. Which led to the great quote, after several sessions with this character. Dirk was complaining about some of the things Jake said or did in session (mostly on-the-side stuff, so not really disruptive - that's a whole 'nother thread about the best way to play a game in harmony). After Dirk complained, Jake responded by telling him about why his character did what he did - his alignment, and so on, and Dirk replied, "I didn't know he was evil, I just thought he was being an asshole!" And that quote has stuck with me ever since.

And so that sort of sums up my thoughts on evil and isms and gaming. Maybe sometimes when people do things that look like isms, they are just being an asshole - going for the obvious, vulnerable spots. Not that this excuses it, but it is an interesting thing to keep in mind. The reason this is important is because if you just label them as an 'ism' you are really missing the point - the problem in such cases isn't an -ism, it is being an asshole. Which means the solution isn't getting rid of -isms - assholes can always find another way to be an asshole - what is important is - try not to be an asshole, and don't put up with those who are!

Thus endeth my musing.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

BSG Musing

Did anyone notice that Sam's right eye was the one that signaled to the cylon raider that he was one of the five - I ask this because it is Tigh's right eye that was taken by the cylons and then, to just pile on the speculation, when Tigh has the imagined assassination of Adama, he shoots Adama right through Adama's right eye. That's an awful lot of right eye coincidences...

But it could be simply that - coincidences.

Food for thought!

Housework and a Missing Variable

This recent study purports to indicate that getting married adds housework for women but saves it for men. Which is not surprising. It also indicates that when there are more than three children, married women do a lot more housework than men and men do a lot less. But what is not indicated is rather important - I think the missing variable here is whether the increased housework is because a spouse is stay-at-home. Women are still more likely than men to be the stay-at-home spouse.

Presumably, when one spouse stays home, that spouse will do additional housework - that's part of the "benefit" of staying home - you don't need to hire someone else to take care of things around the house - or have less need for it - if one person is home all day, particularly when at least some of the kids are also gone during the day at school. You also have less money when only one parent works, so you'd be less able to hire additional help. I mention this in relation to the study because I have to bet that if you have more than three kids, someone is staying home with them, because the cost of daycare and other things gets so high that unless you make a very high salary, it is cheaper to stay home. I'm a lawyer and I make a reasonably decent salary and I hit the break-even point with just two kids. With three, I'd actually lose money by working at my current salary when you factor in the cost of daycare and the marriage penalty. My wife makes double what I make, so with three kids, I'd definitely be staying home. As it is, with two kids, I may be home for a while after my current job expires.

One other comment I just had to make after reading that article - my wife generates far more housework for me than I have ever made for her. I used to do all of the laundry. She does some of it now simply because she generates so much of it and is home all day with the newborn - we seem to average two loads a day, sometimes three. Most of it probably unnecessary. Generally, I come home after work now to find a load in the washer and a load in the dryer and I usually end up being the one to empty them and then fold and put the clothes away. There are also usually piles of dirty dishes, enough that I wonder if there was a party or something because my wife has the special talent of generating at least four times the dirty dishes of your average person, and helps my daughter do the same. In sum, my wife staying home right now (on maternity leave) is actually increasing the amount of housework I have to do and I'm the one going to work. I'll be so relieved when she starts back to work again - less work for me!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Battlestar Galactica Kicks Frakking Ass

I'm getting over being sick and miserable all weekend. I'm still somewhat miserable. I'm at work and my car had to be taken in this morning. So I'm going to be out $500 on that. Gotta love Mondays. But frak all that. BSG Season Four started Friday, and it was awesome! I just had to share something positive. Now I just need to survive long enough at work to get my car, pick up my daughter, and get home.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Is this odd?

Ok, so this thread really, in the end, isn't so odd at all.

Is it really so important to be outraged that you have to come up with the flimsiest of excuses? It doesn't help one's cause to cry wolf all of the time. I don't doubt that there is still plenty of sexism out there, but posts like this complaint about "oddities" make me seriously doubt the individual complaints of sexism coming from the author of the post. Why sacrifice credibility just for the chance to be outraged? Maybe those who post there have an illusion of credibility created by like-minded people filling their comment sections with echo chambers of agreement.

In other posts, while I may not agree 100% with the author, at least I can see where he or she might have a point or a valid concern. With this, though, it is just nonsense. Perhaps that's why there's such the strong reaction to what I said - how dare I inject data in the way of a good dose of outrage? I don't know. It reminds me of something I heard in law school: If the facts are on your side, pound on the facts; if the law is on your side, pound on the law; if neither are on your side, pound on the table! It sounds to me like there's a lot of table pounding going on.

Comments, anyone? Beyond telling me I'm crazy to keep on reading stuff like at that blog? I'm trying to figure out why I still read them. Maybe because I think the right-wing extremists are just beyond any reason, so I don't bother to read or comment (though I have on occasion), but I somehow think, since I'm closer to the progressive side, if I read left-wing extremists, they must be more reasonable because we agree. I know that really isn't true - because the reason one thinks something is just as important - is more important - than what one thinks. I'm not a rigid ideology kind of person. Oh well. Back to the grind.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jury Nullification: The Law's Dirty Little Secret

First, a few articles on the subject. And what happened in practice to this guy. I'm sure one could find many more articles with a simple google search.

In a nutshell, Jury Nullification is the inherent power of any jury to decide a defendant is not guilty even if they conclude that factually, defendant broke the law charged (factually beyond a reasonable doubt). Reasons for this could be mercy, or a disagreement with the law, or a disagreement with the law's enforcement in that particular case. Though motivation really is irrelevant. The fact is, once the jury votes "not guilty," regardless of the reason, that's it - the defendant goes free and cannot be retried because of double jeopardy.

But here's the catch - you can't admit in advance that is what you intend to do. And sometimes they will try and root out a juror who might do this, either through voire dire or, as was indicated in one of the articles I linked, if a jury member brings it to the attention of the judge and then the judge kicks you out.

So it is a power that everyone has as a juror that almost no one is aware of. It used to be that juries could be told about this, but no more. I think that is wrong. I think the ultimate check on government power, at least when it comes to criminal laws, is juries. But they can't be if they are shackled by a judge that won't let a juror vote his or her conscience on the actual legitimacy of the law being enforced.

One way around this would be to publicize, outside of courts, jury nullification, so juries go in knowing about it. Of course, if you are on a jury, you still can't tell other jurors about it or you risk getting pulled from the jury. Which is too bad. Because some laws are so stupid they should not be enforced, ever. It would be a wonderful check on the government and on out of control prosecutors (who have WAY too much power). So let's use it. Tell everyone you know about it. And tell them to keep mum about it when actually in court. It probably won't have a huge effect, but it might have an effect for individuals here and there who would otherwise be crushed under the weight of our prosecutorial-happy, everything-is-illegal legal system.

Hungry Baby

I'll say this for my baby boy - he's a hungry bugger. He's almost six weeks old now, and already he's eating 30-32 ounces of milk a day. I bet he's over ten pounds by now, but I won't know for sure until we get him weighed at his next doctor's appointment in about two weeks. Now if only he'd sleep more...

Jury Nullification

See post below - I just added it, but started it days ago, and now it shows up rather further down the page...

A Link Lawyers will Love

Here's a link to a site that includes interviews from Bryan Garner with Supreme Court Justices about brief writing. While non-lawyers may yawn, and even certain lawyers may yawn, for a research attorney like me, who does almost nothing but write briefs, this is giddy-excitement-inducing stuff.

Oh, and this reminds me - I keep meaning to mention that if anyone has any legal trivia they'd like to know from me, feel free to ask. I can't be anyone's attorney here, and so this can't really be official legal advice, but if there's any "trivia" anyone is curious about, I'll do my best to whet your appetite. And now the legal disclaimer - it is not intended to be legal advice - if you need that, you need to go get yourself a lawyer. This is for entertainment purposes only. Heh.