June 30, 2004

We have a winner

All the hard work over the weekend paid off today in spades as the judge granted my motion in full after a good 45 minute oral argument. I completely turned her around from the beginning, when she said that she thought we were going to need to hold a hearing to take testimony just like the plaintiff wanted, to the end, when she said, "well, now that we've really parsed the issues it's clear that no hearing is necessary for me to decide this motion". To review, quickly, I moved to disqualify plaintiffs' lawyers on the grounds of a conflict of interest and to compel these lawyers to turn over all of the files they had since because of the conflict there could be no attorney client privilege. Oh yeah, almost forgot, I also moved to have the law firm return to the company all the legal fees they charged for this conflicted and improper representation. We had one session of argument with the judge prior to this and she allowed the other side to submit additional papers. I worked all weekend on the reply papers.

It was about as close to a complete and total victory as you can get. It's nice when the good guys win one.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)

Now I'm really hungry

Did anyone see the NY Times dining section today? Wednesdays are always my favorite newspaper days because the dining section comes out. If you share this interest of mine, I highly recommend checking out Saute Wednesday, a great food website which, among other things, links to practically all of the newspaper food sections around the country and to some international ones as well. Perusing the different sections makes for a fascinating study of regional food differences.

Today's NY Times made me hungry and, at least initially, make me regret my low-carb diet. Why? The recipe for homemade marshmallow sauce and the recipe for homemade butterscotch sauce . They also had hot fudge and other homemade ice cream toppings. I have a weak spot for butterscotch. I don't know how I will pull through without trying this recipe. I include both of these recipes below in case my wife is reading today and feels inspired!

Now, just when I thought the Times was sadistically taunting all of us low carb types with this great ice cream sauce recipe collection, they did publish a marinade for flank steak that I am going to try this weekend. I'll report back if anyone is interested.

Marshmallow Sauce

1 egg white
3/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon gelatin
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

1. Place egg white in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, and set aside. Measure sugar, and set 3 teaspoons aside.

2. Combine remaining sugar and the corn syrup in medium saucepan with 1/4 cup water, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to combine. Cook syrup without stirring until it reaches 240 degrees, using a candy thermometer.

3. As sugar cooks, pour 3/8 cup cold water into small saucepan, and sprinkle gelatin on it. Let stand 5 minutes. Put pan over burner on very low heat, and stir to dissolve. Do not overheat. Leave pan on warm burner.

4. Just before sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees, beat egg white on low speed until foamy. Add 1 teaspoon of reserved sugar and the salt. Increase heat to high, and continue beating, sprinkling with remaining 2 teaspoons, until medium-stiff peaks have formed. With mixer running, pour syrup into egg white. Beat on high speed 2 minutes. Add dissolved gelatin. Beat until fluffy and cool, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla. Sauce will hold at room temperature for 4 hours. After refrigeration, sauce may be heated over a double boiler until lukewarm, and beaten in a standing mixer until fluffy.
Yield: 4 cups.

Butterscotch Sauce
3 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons dark rum.

1. Pour cream into a large saucepan, and bring to a simmer over low heat. Pull saucepan almost off burner, and reduce cream until thickened and measures about 2 1/2 cups, whisking frequently, 30 minutes. Pour hot cream into 4-cup glass measurer, and set aside.

2. In the same saucepan, melt butter over low heat until foamy. Add sugars and corn syrup, and stir with wooden spoon until melted and bubbly, about 1 minute. Pour cream into saucepan, whisking constantly, until sugars have dissolved completely and sauce is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Add salt, vanilla and rum. Serve warm. To reheat sauce, warm in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Do not boil.
Yield: 3 cups.

Grilled Flank Steak
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 pound flank steak.

1. In small bowl, whisk together bourbon, soy sauce and half a cup of water to make a marinade. Pour marinade into a gallon-size self-sealing food storage bag. Put steak in bag, and turn it over several times so that the entire cut is coated. Marinate in refrigerator 2 hours, turning steak once after an hour. Pour off marinade and blot steak dry with paper towels.

2. Prepare a fire in the grill. When flames have subsided and coals are glowing, grill steak 4 minutes on one side for rare, 5 minutes for medium rare. Turn steak, and grill 3 or 4 minutes more, to taste.

3. Transfer steak to a cutting board, lightly cover with aluminum foil, and let rest 5 minutes. Slice steak crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices.

Yield: 6 servings.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:25 AM | Comments (0)

Ethics Czar?

I saw someone reading a newspaper on the train this morning and the headline caught my eye: Soon-to-be-governor names special ethics czar. What is an ethics czar? I don't approve of the use of the word czar by our government. The definition from dictionary.com includes, besides the Emperor of Russia, the following: "A person having great power; an autocrat". I don't know when this first started, this trend towards naming government officials after the title once held by Peter the Great, but I don't care for it. How is an autocrat, no matter who styles him that, compatible with our system of representative government? It ain't. It's silly and I wish they'd stop naming people czar.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2004

[the sound of crickets chirping]

I know it's been mighty quiet today, but I've been in and out of the office all day. A breakfast meeting with someone who is becoming a new friend, I think. That's awfully nice. He's a little younger than I am but has led quite an interesting life -- government agent to B-school to the brave world of venture cap investing. It's exciting to make new friends and I think it happens less and less often as we get older. Friendships form from shared interests or shared experiences and, as you get older, I think you may become less open to all of these things and more focused on your home and home life. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about this tendency in his brilliant book, "Democracy in America". He thought that we as Americans had a tendency to withdraw into our little fortresses and hold off the outside world. Personally, I think he was projecting a bit from his experiences growing up in France where the motto might as well be: "Strong fences make for good neighbors". Although, that didn't work as well as they liked, of course, with the strongest fence they ever built -- the Maginot Line (caution, this link is to a real Time Suck of the Day site). He also thought that community democracy as practiced through the concept of "self interest properly understood" was the only saving grace which could pull us out of our caves. I love Tocqueville. I think he was a genius. He was also only 26 when he wrote that book. I felt quite depressed when I got to 26 and had not managed an equivalent accomplishment.

Someone wrote that you should never apologize for not blogging. I don't really understand why that would be, but so be it. I'm not apologizing for not blogging today. Instead, I regret that I was not able to blog. I was thinking about it while I was waiting for the judge to call our case in the bankruptcy court today and I was looking around the courtroom trying to imagine the interior lives of the other people. This, to some extent, is a reflection of my interior life. I have to think everyone has one. I just don't know how rich it is. Do they reflect on things as they happen? Do they question their observations? Or is it all one long variation of reality television for them? Something not at all like "all the worlds a stage and I am just a player" because they remain too passive and don't even rise to the level of a player? You follow me, right? I suppose everyone has dreams, but do they critically examine their dreams or are the dreams just disconnected images of nice cars and swish clothes purchased with that lucky lottery ticket? What were the people in court thinking about today? Their dry cleaning? The next case? It's a total mystery to me. I'm glad I have this, though. It makes me happy to write and happy to reflect. It forces a discipline on my own meandering process of reflection which I think can only redound to my benefit. It's also a creative outlet in a career where creative writing takes a mighty big back seat to persuasive writing.

I mentioned in a comment that I'd post an example of a snarky line I included in a brief this weekend. It was in reference to a motion I was working on -- and am going to argue to the court tomorrow -- to disqualify opposing counsel on the grounds that they are engaged in a conflicted representation, having represented my client in the very recent past and are now suing my client. As Canadian counsel asked me, are you allowed to do that in NY because we certainly can't in Canada? No, I told him, we cannot either. In the affirmation in opposition put in by opposing counsel, she discusses how she met her current client, the plaintiff, in connection with the representation of a another client seeking capital financing which that client unsuccessfully pursued through the plaintiff. It occurred to me that opposing counsel just violated another disciplinary rule by disclosing without permission, confidential information concerning the representation of a prior client. Look at it like this, would you like your lawyer putting into publically filed documents that you Mr. Joe Smith had been turned down for a mortgage and credit cards? This was the equivalent, it seemed to me. She had also revealed client confidences of my client in her papers. So, I referred the court to this gratuitous piece of information, and asked, "Has this law firm ever met a client confidence it felt compelled to keep?" There, you just read a lot of text to get to one snarky line. I hope it was not a disappointment.

Wish me luck for argument tomorrow. I feel very good about it now. That could change in a heartbeat tomorrow.

The title is meant as a reference to the sound you might have heard if you pulled up the blog today and found. . .nothing. At least, until now.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:41 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2004

The Power of a kind word

Sorry so quiet today. Not feeling the blogging mojo so much, I guess. I was here all weekend working on a reply to papers I was served with at 4:45 on Friday evening. (Go ahead, you know you want to say it: prick!) I put in two over ten hour days this weekend and have it totally turned around on my honorable adversary (read: the prick). I sent my draft papers in reply (a memorandum of law, an affirmation for me to sign, and an affidavit for the client) to my client for his review and comments and he called me and said:

"You know, when we spoke on Friday after you saw their papers, you sounded kind of glum and when I read their papers I thought we had a real problem. Well, I read your reply and I cannot believe how you turned it around in just two days. You did a great job, I'm really impressed."

And just like that, the tiredness fell away and I was re-charged and re-energized to fight the good fight.

A little appreciation, and a kind word, can go a looooong way (I type this as I am still drinking from Saturday's open can of Diet Coke and not even minding it much).

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

Today in History

Today in history is full of interesting things. In:

*1778 Mary Ludwig Hayes "Molly Pitcher" aids American patriots
*1820 Tomato is proven nonpoisonous
*1838 Britain's Queen Victoria crowned in Westminster Abbey
*1905 Russian sailors mutiny aboard the battleship "Potemkin"

And, I must confess I did not know this and am struck by the coincidence, if it was,

*1914 Assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, in Sarajevo by a Serbian Nationalist,Gavrilo Princip. This incident precipitated a war with Serbia, eventually starting WW I (note, they just found the pistol used in that assassination)


*1919 Treaty of Versailles ending WW I signed

In between the assassination and the treaty, a grand total of:

*65,038,810 people were mobolized;
*8,538,315 of whom were killed;
*21,219,452 of whom were wounded;
*7,750,919 of whom were taken prisoner or were missing; and,
*37,508,686 of whom constitute total casualties.
*57.6% of those mobilized were casualties.

source for above figures.

Is it no wonder that it was called the War to End All Wars?

* * *

Finally, and on a lighter note, we have some birthdays:

*1577 Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish Baroque painter (Circumcision)
*1712 Jean Jacques Rousseau, social contractor (Confessions)
*1902 Richard Rodgers, composer (Rodgers & Hammerstein) who I mentioned here before.
*1926 Mel Brooks comedian/actor/director (Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs)
*1946 Gilda Radner, comedienne (SNL-Baba Wawa)
*1966 John Cusack actor (Stand By Me, Sure Thing, Better Off Dead)

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2004

Two funny things from teh girl child tonight

1. As we were discussing an upcoming event, I asked, rhetorically, "If not now, when?" only to hear from the girl child -- "Thursday". It's as good an answer as any.

2. The doorbell rang and it was the local Democratic Party chief looking for the previous owners of our house. My daughter and I answered the door. I explained that the previous owners had moved and he looked at us and said to my daughter, "so, are you a democrat?" And my little 3 1/2 year old looked back at him and just said, "no". He was nonplussed and that ended the conversation. I swear I did not coach her before hand and I managed not to laugh. But I did find it very funny.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

Declaration of Independence Exhibit

There is a very interesting looking exhibit at the NY Public Library, main branch at 41st and Fifth, on the Declaration of Independence. The Library is displaying the copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson's hand, several other landmark versions of the document, early newspaper printings, and a letter from Benjamin Franklin to George Washington. This handwritten copy by Thomas Jefferson is one of only two complete copies known to be in existence. I'm going to definitely get over to check it out. Anyone want to come see it with me?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

My problem with gay pride parades

It's probably not what you think. The Gay Pride Parade is going on right outside my office and the music totally rocks. I LOVE the gay house/dance music. Seriously, I go buy the Gay Pride CD every year down in Chelsea. How the hell do these people expect me to be able to concentrate on the memorandum of law I am drafting for submission to the Court on Tuesday (for argument on Wednesday) with this excellent, get up out of seat and dance, music pounding away just steps from my building? The music is killing my concentration! And it makes me want to get down there, join in, cheer, and "stand by my man"!!!

Let's hear it for gay marriage! All of you other Republicans who want to join me on this issue, come on out of your closets, so to speak!

Update: Now, I wanna be, a macho man.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2004


I have big plans tonight. We are keeping the kids up late and taking them over for a beach bonfire and s'mores party. My daughter has never had one but grasped the concept immediately upon explanation. I told her that you take graham crackers and chocolate and marshmallows and you melt them. And she chimed in, "and then you eat it, right?" She is very excited. And she should be. We will, of course, have to restrain the boy child in a stroller during the bonfire as it seems like a less than ideal time to teach him the old, fire-hot lesson. Sounds like fun, no? I also think it sounds like something right out of the 1950's, but that's ok. I like the idea of wholesome and old fashioned.

And you can't beat the beauty of sugar-rush, past their bedtime, over stimulated whining. And I mean me, of course.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:35 PM | Comments (0)

Thoughts about Detroit

My post below, with the great pictures of the Old Penn Station in NY, got me to thinking back to the days when I used to spend weeks at a time in Detroit, MI on depositions. While taking taxi rides to and from airport, I would pass the time looking out the window for snipers. And that's when I saw this building, Detroit's Abandoned Michigan Central Station. It sits all by itself with nothing around it. It is a magnificent looking structure. You should check out the pictures in the link. Here is an old postcard of the building. And here is another excellent site with two fascinating photo essays, one called either Joy Road or Easter and the other the Detroit Train Station. Detroit was a very scary place. We spent very little time outside in the city itself. We'd go from hotel to office and back and eat all of our meals at the hotel. A large part of the time there, we stayed at the Detroit Athletic Club, which was this magnificent palace, as you can see from the link.

There was one day, however, when I had nothing to do and so I took myself off to the Detroit Institute of Art. Remember, if you will, that Detroit had a lot of money at one point and citizens who wanted Detroit to be able to hold its head up high in comparison to Chicago, for instance. Result? The DIA. This was a nice collection, as I recall some almost 10 years later. The real treasure there is Rivera Court , a series of murals painted by Diego Rivera showing the industrial process of the creation of cars. I could not find a link to Rivera Court at the DIE site and have, instead, linked to the museum store. But I did find this cool photo archive of Rivera at the DIE with views of him creating and showing his murals.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

Architecture -- today in history

Today is the anniversary of the murder, in 1906, of architect Stanford White. White, the most prominent architect of his day, was shot in Madison Square Garden, which he designed, by Harry Thaw. Thaw was the playboy / jealous husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a dancer. Let's look back, shall we?

This website has a rather long and detailed account of the murder. White was a notorious womanizer. Thaw was the son of a mining and rail road baron from Pittsburgh and was the heir apparent to that fortune. Thaw was also considered to be mentally unstable for most of his life. The trial that followed the murder was dubbed the "trial of the century" and the court-room was packed. I suppose it was the OJ trial of its day. There were fantastic allegations of drugged champagne, girls swinging on velvet swings, illicit sex (and isn't that the best kind?), and other scandalous and shocking revelations about high society. Thaw got off on insanity grounds. The movie, Ragtime, was based on these events.

One site has eleven of the great Stanford White buildings online, if you are curious.

White's firm designed the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station in New York, pictures of which can be found here. As you can see from the photos, it was magnificent. It was torn down in 1963. The destruction of Penn Station led to the formation of the historical preservation movement in NY and was directly responsible for the creation of the Landmarks Commission.

P.S. While poking around, I came across this link to Lands End, a White house for sale on the Gold Coast of Long Island.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:01 AM | Comments (0)

Today in history, Military History

On this day in …

* 1876, Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana;

* 1942, some 1,000 British Royal Air Force bombers raided Bremen, Germany, during World War II; and,

* 1950, war broke out in Korea as forces from the communist North invaded the South.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

Quite a car

I saw an Aston Martin Vanquish this morning tooling down Madison Avenue. It made my head spin around. I did not drool, however. I have some pride, you know. Still, this is quite a piece of machinery. If you are curious, the cheapest one they list under their certified pre-owned program was just below pounds sterling 120,000. The thing is, I bet it actually costs a lot more than that in England because I suspect taxes on beasts like this are quite high.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

50 great novels?

I came across a very interesting post about 50 Great Novels at the site, a fistful of euros. I was struck by how few of the authors I knew. The list was compiled by a large German newspaper and many of the authors are German, of course. Still, it was a thoughtful post and an interesting insight into another culture's view of great literature. I recommend going to check it out.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

More Architecture and More Archeology

This morning's reading was a veritable trove of good stuff today. Ok, two articles may not make a trove, but why quibble on such a beautiful morning?

The famous horde of Bactrian gold has been brought back out of hiding in Afghanistan. In the late 70's, a joint team of Russian and Afghani archaeologists discovered "20,600 pieces of gold jewelry, funeral ornaments and personal belongings from 2,000-year-old burial mounds". Everyone thought that this gold was lost under the Taliban, who had a habit of destroying the Afghani past and heritage. You can see a picture here of how beautiful the workmanship was.

As for architecture, we travel now to Ohio, to see an entire community of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired houses. I'd never heard of this community before, but you should follow the link and check out the pictures. I gather that the Ohio community was an offshoot of the one Utopian Community that FLW himself planned in Pleasantville, NY. Here and here are some other links to information about the Westchester community.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

Look. See.

What's the difference? The difference is being open and willing to become engaged by what you are looking at it. Most of the time, we look but don't see. Last night, coming home on the train, I saw. It just lasted a moment, but I saw. I'll try to describe what I saw.

I was on the train. We had passed over the bridge going from Manhattan to the Bronx and were entering this little canyon where the tracks are depressed and the walls on either side are high. I happened to look up out of the window for a moment and I saw a building, all alone, with nothing else around it. It was silhouetted against the sky. It was brick painted a tan or beige color, probably about 8 stories high, maybe 10. It was at an angle to me so that I was looking at its corner. And it was set against the sky, all alone. The sky was like thirty different shades of blue, streaked by some small clouds floating here and there. All of those shades of blue melded together into a blue that was achingly perfect and made more perfect by the small imperfections of the clouds. And this building thrust itself up against this perfect sky and looked, maybe because of the position of the angle or because of the juxtaposition of the three basic colors, two dimensional. It was like a painting.

The train moved on and it was evanescent. I think I gasped quietly at the perfection of that moment. I hope I conveyed it here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

The youngest member of the NY Bar

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the youngest member of the New York Bar, my daughter, aged three and a half. Last night, I came home to hear that she had behaved very, very poorly. I told her that I was sad to hear that she had done all of these things and asked for an explanation. She said the following in reply to me: "First, you were at work so how do you know what I did?"

Something along the lines of, "you can't prove a thing, counselor". I'm so proud. Sort of.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)

"A Global Power Shift in the Making"

This article, A Global Power Shift in the Making, caught my eye today. Most of the time, I think that I have been more concerned about the threat to our way of life posed by the Islamisist movement and the idea of global economic realignment has been flying a bit under the radar for me. This article brought it out into the open for me very well by examining growth rates and Asia-specific tensions. I had all of the pieces floating around in my head, but the author brought them all together for me. I don't know that I agree with all of his assertions, but it is a thoughtful and interesting essay. Let me know what you think.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

Tiny New York

I was looking for a little something on Sniffen Court here in NYC and I came across this link to Forgotten Alleys in New York. Sniffen Court is a cool little enclave of buildings in the East 30's. When I went through the places they listed, I noticed that they left out Pomander Walk, so I did a quick search and found this link from the same site which has a picture of Pomander Walk. I loved Pomander Walk when we lived on the Upper West Side. The neighborhood was a bit dodgy then but it seemed like such a romantic place to live.

P.S. Here's a link to an apartment for sale on Pomander Walk.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

Odd historical artifact turns up

This is just sort of a weird historical footnote that people might find interesting. The pistol used to assassinate Arch-Duke Ferdinand has been found in Austria. As you all know, this killing was the spark that started WW I.

I didn't know it was missing in the first place.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

Tell me he's kidding

This website has to be a joke, right? He's not serious, is he? He's counting down to her 18th birthday? Why?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)

Archeological find in Norway

They have dug up some interesting artifacts in Stavanger. The find includes Women's jewelry, a spinning wheel, a bowl-shaped silver-plated bronze buckle, and an amber pearl. Amber is something that you see a lot of coming from the Baltic region so this would be an indication of trade patterns, perhaps.

The oddest statement was made concerning a piece of stiffened pine resin which the project leader speculates was used as chewing gum: "All of us have tried to chew on stiffened pine resin at one time or another". All of us? We have? I must have been absent that day.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2004

Showcase of new blogs

Simon is running a Showcase of New Blogs. People are being invited to send him posts from blogs which are under three months old for his consideration. My blog is young enough to qualify. I thought I'd ask my readers to send him a post that they particularly liked, assuming there are any, because I'm not sure I can choose. If you'd like to, pick the link and send it as follows:


If you want to submit a post please title the email "Showcase entry" and include the following information in the email:

1. Your blog's name and URL
2. Your post's title and permalink
3. An excerpt or precis of the post for me to put up here to tempt people to read and link to your site.
4. Your name and a contact email address (for verification purposes only)

If there are particular requests you have, please include it in the email and I will do my best to accomodate them. Please try and include all this information as I don't have the time to go hunting for it.

The email address is simon[at]showcase[dot]mu[dot]nu
Thanks, in advance, to anyone who wants to submit anything to Simon from my blog.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

Three other articles from the NY Times today

Three other articles caught my attention today and I wanted to share them with you.

The first was about a young man who came here from Vietnam with nothing, got a job in a hardware store, put himself through Hunter College with a 3.96 GPA and is headed off to a doctoral program at Harvard in September. This was the American story and illustrates why we are still a draw for so many in the world. It is still true that you can realize your ambitions in America. It made me happy to see that what worked for my family is working for his.

The second story is about the other side of immigration. It is about the women who cook for illegal Mexican immigrants on Long Island. The women provide these men with a taste of home and a shoulder to cry on as the men, packed three to a bedroom and a dozen to a house, chase their piece of the American dream. The difference between these men and the young Vietnamese boy above? Education and language skills. The drive to succeed is the same.

Finally, this story made me very sad and I decided not to ever buy an SUV. A man in Long Island ran over and killed his 2 year old daughter on Father's Day. He didn't see her behind the SUV. The article says these accidents are more common with SUV's than with other cars. I wonder how this man will live with himself or whether he will commit suicide. The guilt and grief must be more than any one person can stand.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:09 AM | Comments (0)

Bad bosses

There was an interesting article in the NY Times today about bullying bosses. Have you ever had a boss who was a bully ("BB")? I have. I still do, in fact. My BB is named Stinky, because he is English and he doesn't always wash enough. So if you get real close to him at depositions, for instance, it'll break your concentration. Stinky is a bully. One associate who used to work here, and that reminds me that I owe her a call, used to throw up in the morning before coming to work on the days that she had to work with Stinky. On the days I worked with him, in the beginning, I used to come home from work, take a beer out of the fridge, sit down in the big, black comfy chair and not speak for about 20 minutes or so. Not one word until I was able to let the bad place go. I've seen three other associates quit rather than continue to work with him.

One associate, R, liked it. He became a mini-Stinky until the other associates practically slapped him upside the head. The article discusses this phenomenon, too.

The article also says that there is insufficient data about workers confronting their BB's. Well, I confronted him a couple of times. The first was in the beginning when he told me that I seemed to have a problem with his criticism and I told him that I did not have a problem being criticized, but the "manner in which he did it was positively lacerating". With that, he turned and walked out of my office and did not speak again to me for weeks. It was bliss. I'm still not sure why that was such a horrible thing to say, but it worked.

Stinky has class problems. He brought them with him from the England in the early 60's where he grew up in a large Irish-Catholic family in London when, I bet, it wasn't so easy to be Irish-Catholic in England. He claims to have no class problems at all. Untrue. Let me give you an example. I said something to him, not that long ago, and said, "that was not criticism" and he snorted and said, "how could it be? You are an associate and I am a partner, you couldn't criticize me". See what I mean? That's a social position/class issue in my mind.

Stinky also has this faux-hail-fellow-well-met persona. You never know if he's actually angry with you or just in a good mood. That keeps you off balance and guessing.

I dislike working with him and I hate reporting to him when I have to. He is one of the big reasons I don't think I want to become a partner here.

I'm not taking this much further today down memory lane with him because almost none of them are good.

Have any of you had BB experiences? I bet you have.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)


Envy is an ugly and destructive emotion. Most of the time I am free of it. One person, upon reading this post of mine from yesterday asked why I was envious of my friend. So, I went back to re-read my post to see if I did convey envy. I don't think I did. Was it a model of clarity? No and I acknowledge that at the end. I do not envy my friend his success. He has worked very, very hard for it and made sacrifices I would be unwilling to make. Indeed, I turned down a job offer doing criminal fraud prosecutions for the Department of Justice, pretty close to my dream position, because travel would have been a minimum of 50% of the time. That price was too high for me to pay and that sacrifice of never seeing my children was too great to make. He's paying that price every day.

So, no envy here. I instead am using my friend's career as a yard stick to measure my own against and I felt that it comes up a bit short. I think that my friend seems to have more options than I do right now. As I said, I'm feeling a bit trapped at the moment. This happens periodically and probably means that I need a vacation.

Still, there was a job opening I saw yesterday for my wife's skill set in New Zealand and I have to admit that I asked her to apply. . .

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004

The Shizzolator

This was funny. Go here and type in a url, like maybe a blog address, and check it out as Snoop'll "traaanslate it from tha shizzle to da shiznit". Official government websites come across as interesting, too. Hat tip to Amber who left us this little offering while she recharges on a short vacation. Thanks, Amber!

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:34 PM | Comments (0)

Cool concept

Came across an interesting article on Jewish World Review today, which I though I'd share with you. It's about how to get deals in new computer equipment. Among the helpful suggestions was this little gem, a listing of the websites which aggregate the special promotional codes used at various websites. If you don't feel like following the link, here it is:

Secret codes. Most online merchants provide an opportunity during the checkout process to enter a promotional code. Type it in and your total amount is automatically reduced, or you might get free shipping. Think of these codes as you would a coupon or gift certificate.

Getting those promotional codes is easy so long as you know where to look. Here are some Web sites that list codes and online coupons:

*Hot Deals Web


These sites get the codes from retailers looking for free advertising. Promotional codes are distributed by the retailers to improve sales. Many regular customers of these stores get the codes by e-mail or regular mail. The retailers hope that by stealthily "leaking" promotional codes, their marketing efforts will expand as recipients pass the information on to friends. Tip: These companies are going to add your e-mail address to marketing lists. If you don't want to end up with a lot of junk e-mail, create a new, free e-mail account at www.yahoo.com or www.hotmail.com that you use when visiting these sites.

By the way, Jewish World Review is an interesting website/news letter. It collects and publishes interesting essays on current affairs and politics. It has a conservative bent. It's a daily glance for me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

Life's progression

If you read below, you'll see that I had a lengthy dinner with a dear, old friend Friday night. It got me thinking about the progression of life, about our movement through things. Up to now, most of our progress has been about preparation. We've been to school and maybe taken graduate degrees. We've studied, we've trained, and we've spent the first 21 years or so of our lives doing it. Then, we were set free to wreak havoc on the workforce, to find our way. To apply our training and our studies. To learn to live on our own. The living on our own part is interesting to me, too, because for the first couple of years it feels like you're playing house. That continues for years.

This is the growing process, post school. This is what we are probably at the end of now. I say probably because it will be only with the benefit of hindsight that I will be able to say whether I had it right or whether I was just being self-importantly pretentious. Probably a combination of the two.

Are you happy about where you are in the progression? I feel as if I am not nearly accomplished enough. I read today in the NY Law Journal that Columbia University Law School has appointed a new dean to head up the place. He's 35. One year younger than me. Ouch. Things like that make me reevaluate my own progression and I am not thrilled with how I am measuring up of late. I'm feeling a bit stuck. Stuck in NY, stuck in my job, stuck in my career. I think I'd like an adventure. Indeed, I encouraged my wife to post for a job in San Francisco, even though I am not admitted in California.

My old friend also makes me feel stuck. He's lived all over Europe practicing law. I feel as if he too is doing more and more varied interesting things than I am. I want a change.

Sometimes, by the way, it can be hard to perform this type of analysis. I'll share a little story with you by way of explanation. My wife and I were at a dinner on Thursday night and someone said that they thought I looked a good ten years younger than I really am. I was surprised by this and asked my wife about it later. She said that she couldn't really judge because to her I always kind of look 17. So, it can be difficult to use the people around you as a mirror.

Sorry about the rambling nature of this post. I guess my thoughts are not too well organized on this topic. That means I'll probably come back to it, but I did want to at least start the conversation. Have to start somewhere, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

Today in History

The Constitution of the United States of America came into effect today in 1788 as the 9th State, New Hampshire, ratified it. Cool, huh?

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

Cute turn of phrase

My daughter mangled a turn of phrase Saturday night. She wanted another cashew before being packed off to bed. She looked at me and said, "Can I have another one for the street?" That was much cuter than, "one for the road".

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

Old friends

My wife and I met a dear old friend for drinks and dinner on Friday night. I have known B (my friend's initial) since we were about two years old. Longer, in other words, than I have known my sister. His father was a Norwegian diplomat and his mother is the person who introduced me to my wife. It's been about a year since I last saw him. He lives in Vienna, Austria now and is a lawyer for a multi-national American company. He travels too much, I think, but he enjoys the work. I'll have to share some of his stories about Moscow.

This is a unique friendship for me. We've lived apart more than we've lived together. There were some years together in Boston and later in NY. We were never living in Europe at the same time. But it never mattered. This is the type of cliche friendship where it seems like yesterday even if it was more than a year. We've gotten better about staying in touch together as we've gotten older and the one time it was ever awkward was when we once let it go for seven or eight years before seeing each other again. That awkwardness probably lasted for all of a half an hour. This time was no different. There was no pause, no problem, we just picked it right back up from where we were last time. The comfort derived from such an encounter, when you have shared experiences and shared memories with another dearly loved person dating back more than 30 years must be the psychic equivalent of slipping into a warm and gravity free bath. You are comforted and upheld and relieved of all stress. You know that there is probably nothing you can say to offend this person or make him think less of you. You have the ultimate security leavened with about a million old stories that you and he can pull out, and retell, and savor again. Sure, the fish may get bigger in the retelling, but you still recognize it. We've also lived through a lot of bad times together and supported each other through them. We even went through puberty together. We had the life altering conversations that you have to have with these kinds of friends. We've lived together a couple of times. Hell, he even moved in with us once or twice when relationships went bad.

We laughed and ate and drank through at least two sittings at this restaurant on Friday. It was bliss. It's always this way when we get together. We hung out for five hours together. You know what? Not enough time. Never is, really.

I miss him already.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

While you wait

While I keep you waiting for something substantive, I give you this Ugly Pregnant Prom Dress to marvel at. It was emailed to me by a friend who takes great delight in such perversities.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2004

Today in History

Interesting fact. Today, in 1815, the battle of Waterloo was fought. An interesting link can be found here, where you can see the Turner painting of the battle and, if you scroll down, a great description of the battle. Here is another description of the battle which, while the author describes it as slimmed down, is relatively comprehensive.

By the way, also today, in 1812, the U.S. declared war against Great Britain in the War of 1812.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

Unemployed prostitutes in Norway

Too much supply and not enough demand for prostitutes in Norway cause them to take it on the road. What's the problem? Cheaper imported woman from the former Eastern-bloc countries are pricing the Norwegian prostitutes out of the market. Interesting application of market force.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

Too pissed off to post

Sorry to all of you who dropped by yesterday looking for something new. I was too pissed off to post yesterday after oral argument in front of a judge who was not prepared to the argument. As it turns out, it wasn't entirely her fault, as the clerk stamped over the front of my motion and obscured a portion of the relief I'd requested. It started out like this:

Court: Mr. RP, I don't understand why you think you are entitled to get all of the files and papers from the other law firm.

Me: Because the Court of Appeals says I am, your Honor. (For you non-NY lawyer types, the Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state).

It sort of went downhill from there until she figured out that she had not known what I was asking for in my motion.

Before that, though, the attorney for the plaintiff pretty much lied to the Court about the extent of his firm's activities. This was a motion to disqualify his firm from continuing to represent the plaintiff against the defendant because this firm had represented both parties at one point. That's a big no. In any event, my opponent way underplayed what they had done for my client.

At the time my opponent was speaking, the court room was fairly noisy as the attorneys who were waiting their turn for argument were chatting. When my opponent finished, I got to go. I may have been a little more dramatic, but I had outrage on my side. When I finished my presentation, I noticed that you could hear a pin drop in the court room.

Unfortunately, she gave the other side extra time to brief the issues. I, of course, get extra time to reply. And that is why I was so pissed. This should have just been submitted. The other side should not have been given another bite at that apple.

That said, an older lawyer once warned me that you should be extra cautious when a judge grants all of your smaller applications leading up to an ultimate resolution. He or she may just be creating an appeal proof record. I hope that is what is happening here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

Great lyricists

In honor of the birthday, today in 1913, of Sammy Cahn lyricist (3 Coins in a Fountain), I thought I might list a few of my favorite lyricists. I have a lot of them. I am a great fan of the golden age of Broadway and I can sing along to most of the musicals. The old musicals, not the new ones. So, who makes my list?

*Johnny Mercer, of course
*Irving Berlin
*Cole Porter
*Frank Loesser
*Ira and George Gershwin
*Lorenz Hart
*Oscar Hammerstein
*Stephen Sondheim
*Alan Jay Lerner
*Jerome Kern
*Harold Arlen
*Richard Rodgers
*George M. Cohan

Ella Fitzgerald does songbooks of many of the above. I love all of them unreservedly.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2004

Comments and Civility

I received an off topic comment from Ivan last night which I thought merited a longer response than normal. He noticed that I had posted a comment on another website, where he had also commented, and he asks: "Is it just me or is the average level of discourse extremely acrimonious [on that site]? Yours and Erins are light years ahead in civility imho."

First, thank you for your comment, the compliment, and for putting me in Erin's company.

Civility has gone by the boards in some of what passes for web based discourse. Too many people take shelter in their anonymity and snipe away. Happily that has not occurred here or on Erin's board, as Ivan points out. Why is that? Beats me. I feel fortunate in the people who choose to come to read my offerings leave comments that are well written and thoughtful. No one here, yet, has left a comment for the purpose of trying to show just how much smarter he or she is than me or the other readers. That kind of person is a bore. So far, no bores here. They do exist on other boards. In fact, some of you may remember that I got banned from another blog for disagreeing with the author. I did it politely but even polite disagreement was too much for that fragile soul and she banned me. I blogged about that experience here. I welcome people to disagree with me but my momma raised me right, even if it almost killed her, and I doubt that I'd tolerate people attacking each other or being rude here.

Finally, when I leave comments on other people's boards, I try to re-read the comment before I post it. I often go back and tone things down. Maybe that's all that's needed on that other site. Or, maybe, people are too busy trying to impress each other.

Either way, I'm grateful and thankful for the intelligent readers who visit and comment here. Thanks!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

Some words to contemplate

Today, in 1858, after being chosen as the Republican candidate for the upcoming U.S. Senate election, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech: "A house divided against itself cannot stand".

I reproduce here, some of what he said, because I find it moving and rousing and beautiful and because there is still something we can learn from it today. This is the conclusion of the speech:

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by, its own undoubted friends-those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work-who do care for the result. Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong. We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us. Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy. Did we brave all them to falter now?-now, when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail-if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the victory is sure to come.

I am struck by the parallels to the current war on terror. We need the same national cohesion and steadfastness of purpose Lincoln called for so that, for us, victory is sure to come. I hope we can find it somewhere.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

A gift

I have received a very nice gift from Catherine at unrequited narcissism (thanks again, Catherine!). She passed along to me an invitation to establish a GMail account. This is the email service that Google has just started. If you'd care to email me there, the address is "randomjd at gmail dot com". I'm curious to see how the thing works. The premise is that Google will provide you with 1000 MB of space in return for which you agree to accept that their computers will scan your incoming email and, based on word recognition, place advertisements for you to read along the margin when you open that email. Privacy advocates are, as expected, in quite a snit. I have no problem with it since I consider email to be the electronic equivalent of a postcard anyway. By which I mean, everyone can read your email just like everyone can read the back of the postcard. Your employer probably does or at least can do it. So, if you don't want your email coming back to haunt you, treat it like a postcard and put nothing that could embarrass you on it.

And as one my clients can't seem to learn, don't send drunken emails to your former employer telling them, in detail, what you perceive their sexual inadequacies to be. Friends don't let friends write drunk.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

A guilty pleasure read

I just whipped through The Devil Wears Prada. I was curious about it and it was about $7 at Costco. I was willing to take a chance for $7 since you pay more than that in NYC to go to the movies. This was not a good book. It was not well written. It did not sketch a reasonably good explanation for how the protagonist let herself become so totally submerged to the point where her ego became almost zilch. In fact, almost none of the characters were well developed. If you don't know about the book, it's a thinly veiled fictional account of the time the author spent as the personal assistant to Anna Wintour at Vogue. (Another excuse for reading this, by the way, is that I represent a former employee of Vogue in litigation with the publication and its corporate parent). So, basically, the book as a book really sucked.

That said, it was an amusing, light, easy read and a perfect guilty pleasure. Take it to the beach. If it gets wet, no big loss.

If you're still reading, let me give you a link to a very interesting review of the book that I found from the National Review. It contains a great little dig at the NY Times for savaging the book based on at least one totally self-interested reviewer.

UPDATE: John Bruce kindly points out that the National Review link doesn't work. Let me instead give you this link to a Google search which should bring up, as the first result, the National Review article which you can go to from the Google search page.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

Happy Bloomsday!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the travels of Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's famous work, Ulysses. It will be celebrated at Symphony Space and if you happen to be in NY and can get up there, it looks like it will be a lot of fun as more than 100 actors read selections from Ulysses, including performances by Frank McCourt, Malachy McCourt, Stephen Colbert and Fionnula Flanagan as Molly Bloom.

Sadly, I will slave away here and miss it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)


I came across a startling assertion in the NY Times last night on my way home from work and I have not been able to get it out of my mind. Let me put it in context first, I'm sure you are all aware that China is in the midst of a super hot economic boom. Not news to anybody following the papers, right? In fact, all of the discussion of late has been about how China is going to try to slow the expansion down, to create a soft landing without bringing the whole thing down like a pack of cards. As I said, I've been aware of this been perhaps did not fully understand the significance of the boom. That changed last night. The article in the Times was about the building of a new opera house, or something like it, and the reporter noted that since 2000, floor space in China has doubled. This was without reference to any statistic or any support, but, taking it at face value anyway, this is staggering! I cannot really wrap my mind around it. They doubled the size of the entire built environment in 3.5 years! Can anyone really comprehend the significance of that? No wonder they want to cool things down. How can anything continue at that pace?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Magna Carta

I want to chat about Magna Carta (the Great Charter), signed today in 1215 by King John at Runnymede. Well, I did want to chat about it, but I don't think I can improve much on what the British Library has to say about it:

Magna Carta is often thought of as the corner-stone of liberty and the chief defence against arbitrary and unjust rule in England. In fact it contains few sweeping statements of principle, but is a series of concessions wrung from the unwilling King John by his rebellious barons in 1215. However, Magna Carta established for the first time a very significant constitutional principle, namely that the power of the king could be limited by a written grant.

King John's unsuccessful attempts to defend his dominions in Normandy and much of western France led to oppressive demands on his subjects. Taxes were extortionate; reprisals against defaulters were ruthless, and John's administration of justice was considered capricious. In January 1215 a group of barons demanded a charter of liberties as a safeguard against the King's arbitrary behaviour. The barons took up arms against John and captured London in May 1215.

By 10 June both parties met and held negotiations at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames. The concessions made by King John were outlined in a document known as the 'Articles of the Barons', to which the King's great seal was attached, and on 19 June the barons renewed their oaths of allegiance to the King. Meanwhile the royal chancery produced a formal royal grant, based on the agreements reached at Runnymede, which became known as Magna Carta (Latin for the 'Great Charter').

I would like to add this, though. Prior to the signature of this document, it was understood that the Kings ruled by divine right given from God. Upon the signature of the Magna Carta, the divine right of Kings was curtailed by Man. The significance of this development cannot be overstated and should be evident to all.

While you are at the British Library web site, assuming you've followed the link, I highly recommend taking a moment and exploring the treasures of the British Library. There are some fascinating things there.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

Time Suck of the Day

Been awhile since I posted a good time suck, but I give you the Postmodernism Essay Generator. It will give you a different postmodern essay filled with the finest in scholarly gobbledygook with every visit or every time you hit refresh.

Jut think, you may get a gem like this:

If one examines the pretextual paradigm of discourse, one is faced with a choice: either reject the posttextual paradigm of reality or conclude that reality is unattainable, given that Debord's essay on the pretextual paradigm of discourse is invalid. However, the subject is contextualised into a capitalist materialism that includes consciousness as a whole. The characteristic theme of Bailey's[1] analysis of neostructuralist depatriarchialism is not discourse, but subdiscourse. From "Expressions of Futility: Dialectic narrative, feminism and the pretextual paradigm of discourse", by Hans Tilton and Stefan D. de Selby.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

Elevator etiquette

Up and down all day long in a small cabinet the size of two or three old fashioned telephone booths. If you are lucky, you have the place to yourself for the trip. If not lucky, you've caught the local on the way down and it feels as if you've stopped on every floor for someone to get on or for someone to hold the door open until it buzzes while they're waiting for their friend to catch up.

What button is worn down to the plastic cover on an elevator in NY? The "close door" button. Not the open door, the close. In fact, you regularly hit the close door button before you push your desired floor button. Helps to keep the rif-raf out, don't you know.

What happens if you end up in the local -- crowded or otherwise? The etiquette is interesting. First, the make up of the cabin helps determine the etiquette. Perhaps your fellow travelers include the nice woman from the African country UN Mission a couple of floors up. Well, then you chat with her in French. You discuss only the weather. Nothing more, nothing less. You hope you do not see her more than once in a day. If you do see her, hope that the weather has changed in the meantime. Maybe the elevator contains the mailman or the FEDEX guy. These guys you say hello to. You know them and it's important to be friendly. To them, a quick word about sports is in order.

Then you may have a cabin filled with strangers. What do you do then? Again, while it depends on the kind of stranger, you can't go wrong following the general Urinal Rule. Men will be familiar with this rule. The Urinal Rule means you look only down or up and never to the side. Translated for the elevator, you look only at the floor indicator as it changes or down at your watch or keys or shoes. No eye contact. Do not check out the young woman no matter how little clothing she may be fashionably almost wearing. Not polite and probably even vaguely threatening to her when she's locked up with you in that small space. Try to tune out other people's cell phone calls or conversations. The exception is the messenger. The messenger always wants to talk. Maybe he doesn't get a lot of human interaction. Whatever the explanation, he'll want to pass the time of the ride in conversation of sorts. Indulge him. It's safer that way.

The thing I've noticed the most though is that when strangers are thrust into close proximity with each other in a confined spot like an elevator cabin in a big city, mostly, they all pretend that no one else is in there with them. They pretend so hard, that they are clearly acknowledging the other people.

It's odd. But at least, usually, it smells better that the urinal.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

Mural desecrated in France

A mural, painted by Jewish children deported by the Nazis during WW II was desecrated in France. This makes me sad. First, the Nazis took these children from their parents and sent them to a transit camp. While at the camp, I gather, the children painted a mural. They made a record of their existence on this planet. They set their hands to the wall with paint so the world could remain, however mute, a witness to their suffering. Then, I assume, they were killed. The mural remained. The French put up bars around it to preserve it. Then someone came along and, again I am assuming, motivated by hatred tried to wipe out the memory of their lives and their passing. This person killed them again, it seems to me. What else can you call the attempted eradication of memory? Murder by proxy. Denial that these children existed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:06 PM | Comments (0)

Borrowed time in Spain

Borrowed time in the botellon, by Michael Carlin, a Fulbright Scholar living in Spain is a rather savage indictment of Spain, Spanish society, and the Spanish response to the tragedy of 3/11. At heart, his view is that another 3/11 is inevitable and that Spain, such as it is, is rotting from within. I don't have enough background to know whether I agree, but I thought it was an interesting read.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

This day in history

Usually, when you and the radio come into contact, it's by way of you turning on the radio and tuning into a particular station or even program. It's not usually because someone calls you on the phone, from the radio station, to request that you listen to that station. I just got a call from Z-100 to tell me that if I listen and hear a certain song it could be worth $1000 to me. I explained that I was at work and not really able to listen to her station and she thanked me and got off in a hurry. I mean, she'd have to be in a hurry, wouldn't she? She must have over 7 million other New Yorkers to call to beg to tune in.

How crappy does a radio station have to be if they call you and ask you to listen?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:23 PM | Comments (0)

Duke of Devonshire

In the spirit of the truly random, I share with you a few things which happened today in history:

*1623 1st breach-of-promise lawsuit: Rev Gerville Pooley, Va files against Cicely Jordan. He loses
*1642 1st compulsory education law in America passed by Massachusetts
*1775 US Army founded
*1777 Continental Congress adopts Stars & Stripes replacing Grand Union flag
*1801 Benedict Arnold dies in London
*1834 Sandpaper patented by Isaac Fischer Jr, Springfield, Vermont
*1850 Fire destroys part of SF
*1876 1st player to hit for the cycle (George Hall, Phila Athletics)
*1900 Hawaiian Republic becomes the US Territory of Hawaii
*1923 Pres Harding is 1st US president to use radio, dedicating the Francis Scott Key memorial in Baltimore
*1940 Auschwitz, largest of the Nazi concentration camps, was first opened near Krakow, Poland. Before its liberation by the Allies in 1945, over 3 million Jews would be exterminated there.
*1940 German forces occupied Paris during WW II
*1942 Walt Disney's "Bambi" is released
*1944 1st B-29 raid against mainland Japan
*1951 1st commercial computer, UNIVAC 1, enters service at Census Bureau
*1952 Keel laid for 1st nuclear powered sub the Nautilus
*1953 Elvis Presley graduates from LC Humes High School in Memphis, Tenn
*1961 Boy George O'Dowd was born (Culture Club)

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:28 AM | Comments (0)

How shall I put this?

I hope you all had nice weekends. The weather here in NY was beautiful -- high 70's and barely a cloud in the sky. It was perfect. Marred only by the slight runny nose the boy child had. Slight runny nose for the little portable germ warfare factory translates into near death experience for me. I have a sore throat, runny nose, head ache, extreme tiredness and am whiny and feeling sorry for myself. The boy, of course, seems fine.

We had a mini reunion this weekend. All four of us who lived together in college for all four years got together this weekend at my house. R has moved himself out to the middle of Indiana where, for like six bucks and a collection of old bottle tops, got 14 acres of land and build himself a palace of a house. He came for the weekend without wife or children. M lives in New Jersey in a very tony suburb. He came with wife and two children. We took them all to the beach to watch the kids run around and ooh and aah over the dead jellyfish.

It was interesting to see how, 15 years after graduation, my friends have changed. None of the important things have changed. They are both the same fundamentally decent guys they always were. R has become more satisfied with himself. He is a lawyer in a small city in Indiana and does mostly personal injury work, not the kind of work that is necessarily intellectually stimulating. Also, living in a smaller more homogeneous place has left him without any of the daily challenges to his world view and value system that life in NY throws at you where you may have a dozen different languages and cultures in your face on any given day. He's happy, I think I'd find it stultifying. He showed us a video of the house though and that was like a playhouse gone wild: 6500 sq. ft., a wine cellar, an office with a smoke eater for his cigars, a fire pole down from his office to the second floor, a gym, a full bar next to the entertainment center with a massive big screen television. And I swear, in comparison to NY, he got the thing built in exchange for three packs of chewing gum.

M is someone I see regularly, actually. Not as regularly as I'd like, but still regularly. He's an up and coming executive type at a major life insurance company. His wife is charming and their kids are beautiful and smart. He works too hard but he's got the whole package. He is also the nicest guy I've ever known.

After the beach, we all adjourned to my house for the kids to nap together and the adults to drink some wine. At least we managed to drink the wine. The two little girls played in my daughter's room instead of napping. I believe that copious amounts of old Easter candy were consumed. Wrappers were discovered later. But they got along like two peas in a pod, which augurs well for future time together. I really wanted them to get along. It makes things easier for us all.

We all went out for an early dinner. Indian food is not readily available in R's corner of the world. My daughter fell and cut her lip during dinner. She was very brave and let me hold and ice cube to it to cut the swelling down. Then she noticed that she had gotten blood all over her shirt. She wanted to get down off my lap then and go show "Mr. R" and M her shirt. For some reason, she decided that R should be called Mr. R. Maybe because he's over 6 foot 5 inches tall. Either way, she walked over and stood between R and M and showed them her shirt and they made all of the appropriate noises about how brave she was and she just stood there and gleamed. It was an interesting and kind of odd feeling watching these two guys, people I've known in all sorts of stupid situations, interact with my daughter. It was kind of surreal. But very sweet.

Eventually, of course, all tired children melted down, we cut things short, over tipped and left.

Other than being sick today, it was a nice weekend all around.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2004

Celebrity Assistants

I was reading the Atlantic over lunch today and came upon Mark Steyn's piece on the death of the Duke of Devonshire. Apparently the Duke came up against the Inland Revenue Service in the matter of some death taxes (80% of the value of the estate) and he fobbed them off for 17 years. Why, you may ask, did it take 17 years to close this estate? Because the Duke noted how long it took the Inland Revenue people to answer his letters. He then adjusted his calendar by taking the same amount of time to send his reply but subtracting one day from that period. Genius. Pure genius.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)

How shall I put this?

Was I ethnically insensitive today when I laughed out loud while walking past the Polish Consulate upon spying a young woman who, after exiting the consulate and while chatting on her cell phone, put a cigarette to her lips and promptly lit the filter? Was I engaging in the worst kind of ethnic bad joke propagation? Or am I doing that now?

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

I read the following article

I read the following article in the NY Times some days ago about celebrity assistants and was immediately reminded of P.G. Wodehouse's fictional Club for Gentlemen's Gentlemen: The Junior Ganymede. The big difference is that the members of the Junior Ganymede were required to jot down embarrassing details about their employers and the Celebrity Assistants' Association would never tolerate such indiscretion. Or so they say.

I do love P.G.'s books and short stories.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

Big, strong and frail

I heard on the radio this morning that Sammy Sosa, the mighty home run slugger for the Chicago Cubs, has been out of the lineup since last month with a strained ligament in his back. He's not expected back in anytime soon. Ever see a picture of this guy? He's huge and very powerful looking.

Then the DJ told us how Sammy hurt himself. He pulled that ligament in his back while sneezing. That must have been one hell of a sneeze, huh?

Good to see all that strength training doesn't come at the expense of stretching and flexibility.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:47 AM | Comments (0)

EU, USA and the growing economic gap

Came across this article about the growing gap between the EU and the US economies. It references a Swedish study which has some fairly startling results. Apparently, according to the study, "Europeans are at a level of prosperity on par with states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia", not exactly the leading US economic powerhouses among states.

This leads to the question, also posed by Robert Kagan in his book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, which was an expansion of his essay here, if you don't feel like buying the whole book, which is: Can Europe afford to play the heavyweight in international affairs? Mississippi certainly cannot.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

Warning: sad artlice link

This was a beautiful story about a dying young man and the relationships he formed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

The Berkeley Intafada?

This was an interesting and thought provoking look at anti-Semitism on the UC Berkeley campus: The Berkeley Intifada.

I would consider reading that in conjunction with this article, which is a long piece from the NY Observer about the rise of modern anti-Semitism. This is a very well written and terribly sobering piece.

You may ask yourself, why should I care about this? You may think, I'm neither Jewish nor Israeli and it's a world away. Someone much more clever than I once said that the Jews are like the canary in the coal mine for the world. When the atmosphere turns poisonous for the Jews, it's only a matter of time for everyone else.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2004

Talk to the animals. . .

Every dog owner already knew this, but, according to the NY Times, Research Shows Dogs Can Comprehend Words. Hell, our old dog could understand commands in English, French and Norwegian. The only command I wished I had ever changed to another language, though, was: "Don't hump the guests!" That one, our un-neutered beast, only understood in English and we usually had to give it before the unfortunate guest knew what the dog was thinking. We could discern a certain twinkle in his eyes when he looked at certain guests. . .

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

Fun with telephone sales calls

The phone rang through here at the office so I picked it up:

Her: May I speak to John?

Me: Who may I say is calling?

Her: Donna with Opinion Marketing Research.

Me: Please hold.

Me: John, do you want to talk to Donna with Opinion Marketing Research?

John: No. Tell her that if she wants my opinion on an issue, she should call my wife [delivered in joking tone].

Me: Donna? I'm sorry, but John says that if you'd like his opinion, you need to call his wife.

Her: Oh. [silence for a second]. Does his wife make the decisions regarding the company's telecommunications needs?

Me: Most probably. Have a nice day. [hangs up].

Was that as funny to you as it was to me? Or do I need to get out more?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

vocabulary test

I took this vocabulary test that I saw at a small victory while on a conference call yesterday. It was kind of fun. Beware though, my wife tried to access it and her corporate overlords had blocked that site.

Curious about my score? 167/200.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

And by the way. . .

Since I've managed to mention Norway in every single post I've put up today, I suppose I ought to say that yesterday was the day in 1940 when Norway officially surrendered to the Nazis.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

Sperm Delivery Service in Norway

This is too funny. Apparently, in Bergen, Norway, you can call up and have sperm delivered to your door. The sperm was donated by local donors in Bergen. To think, who needs bars anymore to find an anonymous sperm donor?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:03 AM | Comments (1)

Ever try learning a language by yourself?

I am trying to fill in a gap, one of many gaps, in my education by teaching myself Latin. I have a textbook, Wheelock's, and am trying to make my way through it. This is really the first time I've ever tried to teach myself a another language. I speak French fluently. In fact, I had a very nice conversation in French last week on the train with a French woman who was surprised to learn that I was an American. I offer that as proof that I can actually parlez-vous, so to speak. I can also speak Norwegian, probably to any three year old in Norway. I learned Norwegian from my wife, from classes at the Norwegian Seaman's Church, and from language immersion weekends. Those were easy compared to Latin.

I think part of the problem is that I have no teacher to push me. I have to be totally self-motivated. That is both good and bad. Good in the sense that I am in no hurry and can take my time. Bad in the sense that I have no one to schedule how fast I should be learning or to explain the more difficult material (almost everything, by the way!). Also, I have time problems. I figure that I can get maybe an hour a day to myself. This time is spent on the train. Not optimal for learning -- hard to spread out when all you can occupy is one seat and hard to write when the train is moving. Also, I am usually pretty beat when the time comes to hit the train and lately I have been sleeping on the way home. That cuts my time, too.

Have any of you studied Latin? Can you offer any encouragement? Or suggestions?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

Seal hunting for Tourists

As Aftenposten makes clear, it is now possible for a tourist to go seal hunting in Norway. The bill has cleared the Norwegian Storting (legislature) and foreigners can now take part in what was once an exclusive pass time for Norwegians. But wait, first you need to pass a shooting test, so don't run out to your travel agents immediately. I thought clubbing was the preferred method, not shooting.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004


Is everyone else following the fascinating events taking place in Zimbabwe? The NY Times carried an article today, buried in the middle of the paper, entitled Zimbabwe Announces a New Plan to Seize Land.

A little background, from memory, is in order. Forgive me if I make any mistakes, but this is all from memory.

Mugabe is killing if not already killed his country. He, in order to correct what he perceived to be inequities in land distribution and the legacies of White rule, nationalized many farms. The plan was to give them out to landless peasant types to farm. The result was that most of the farms seized were given to high ranking government and party figures, including, in one memorable instance, Mugabe's wife.

So what happened and why is it interesting to me? It's interesting to me because for over four years now, I've read good British reporting detailing the step by step collapse of civilization as we understand it in Zimbabwe. It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

First, the land distribution scheme destroyed the economy. All of the main exports from Zimbabwe were agricultural based. Cut flowers, tobacco and beef were high in that list. These things require expertise to grow for international markets. The ability to produce these things was destroyed as the farmers who could do it were terrorized into leaving their land. Result? No hard currency for Zimbabwe. As the NY Times reports today, inflation is at 620%! Can you even imagine that? As the agricultural sector collapsed, so did the chemical and machine sectors.

Second, as the economy spun out of control, Mugabe faced political pressure for reform from an opposition party and from the newspapers. Result? Beat and jail the opposition. Kill the ones you can't intimidate. Shut down the newspapers and pack the courts and threaten the judges if the editors are stupid enough to sue. Bring out the army if people protest. Create youth wings of your political parties and use them to commit acts of political violence. So, political freedom disappears at the same time that prices go up by 620%.

Third, I am stunned still by the refusal of South Africa to criticize Mugabe. M'bake won't do it and he won't permit it. All in the name of African solidarity against former colonialism. Meanwhile, the hospitals in Zimbabwe have no money for supplies and all the nurses and doctors are leaving to go to Canada. That is coming close to criminal behavior by South Africa, in my opinion.

Fourth, international political pressure fails. The only countries willing to pressure Zimbabwe in public are England and the United States. Of course, there is the Commonwealth which has either excluded Zimbabwe or criticized Zimbabwe thus causing Mugabe to resign from the Commonwealth. Either way, lots of nice words and nothing done about it. Well, nothing accomplished. I do seem to recall that Britain offered to pay for the land taken by farmers to allow Zimbabwe to buy it, but that came to nothing and the terror and violence against the white farmers continued.

So, here we are today. Zimbabwe on the brink of total meltdown and the government acts swiftly and decisively to preempt the crisis. How, you may ask? Well, first, "Zimbabwe's government says its economic problems have nothing to do with the land seizures and can be laid to drought and a Western plot to restore colonial rule." Did you get that? The government is the victim of an evil conspriacy and the weather. So, clearly the best thing to do is to nationalize all the remaining land.

The "government planned to take control of remaining farmland, abolishing all deeds, and turn it back to farmers under 99-year leases. Leases on wildlife conservancies would be limited to 25 years, he said, because that land is considered more valuable than farmland".

May I point out that nationalization and collectivization of farm land in the Soviet Union was a stunning triumph for the State Planning School of Economic Thought?

Here is a further complication, by the way. No deeds to the property mean no one will lend to the farmer. No title, no collateral, no lending. Simple, no?

"At present, none of those awarded portions of seized white commercial farms have title to their lands. Those peasants' inability to raise money to begin commercial farming on their own has been blamed by some for the nation's dismal harvests over the last three years." There is a fascinating book about the role property rights and of title to land in economic development by Hernando De Soto called, The Mystery of Capital.

Of course, there is another, even more sinister explanation for this move by the governing party. "The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, expressed concern that state ownership of all land would merely give the government another means to exert control over the population."

Why don't more people seem to care about Zimbabwe?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

More historical fiction

Erin O'Connor, over at Critical Mass (a daily read for me), has taken up the torch on the reading list that I started below and pulled in some really great comments and made some very interesting looking recommendations herself. Thanks, Erin, for your kind recognition and for more than tripling my summer reading list!

I'm going to add four more suggestions here:

One, the books of Allan Mallinson, serving Brigadier General in her Majesty's Calvary. His first book, A Close Run Thing, is a good place to start. Basically, Gen. Mallinson tries to do for the Calvary during the Napoleonic wars what O'Brian did for the Navy. Not as well done as O'Brian, but highly diverting. Side note, as a result of these books and their covers, my daughter believed until very recently that any man on a horse was a "Dragoon".

Second, I really enjoyed the Walking Drum, by Louis L'Amour. I don't know how good the history really is, but it's a great read.

Alexandre Dumas. Read him in French if you can. If you can't, no matter, the Three Musketeers is still one of my all time favorite pieces of historical fiction.

Finally, another straight history recommendation: Low Life : Lures and Snares of Old New York, by Luc Sante. This is a terrifically readable book about the Lower East Side of New York and the criminals, swindlers, con-men, and prostitutes who lived there.

Happy reading!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)

Summer in the City, etc.

It's going into the 90's today in NYC but the weatherman claimed that with the humidity, it will feel like over 100. As Mark Twain said, everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it. Well, I'm going to do something about it. I'm going to offer a hot weather tip I garnered from years of living in Louisiana. Wear undershirts men! Seems counterintuitive, right? Get hot, take off clothes, not put them on. That's the impulse, right? I tried this with great skepticism in New Orleans when I was urged to by a friend and native. He was right. A nice cotton undershirt will help keep you cooler. And you thought your mother was a nag for always telling you to dress in layers, right? You owe her an apology. Probably for a lot of reasons!

Another thing about summer in the city. In the residential neighborhoods, when liquids drip on you, most of the time that's not someone emptying a bed pan out the window. No, it's what I like to think of as "building spit". It's the discharge as the window AC units suck humidity out of the apartments and spit it on you as you go walking along. Not pleasant, but not as disgusting as you might initially think.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

Comments down?

It appears that my comments boards are down. I hope that doesn't inconvenience anyone. In the meantime, feel free to use my email address if you feel pressed to express yourself! Thanks and sorry!

9:30 a.m. and comments seem to be back.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:49 AM | Comments (0)

"Reeks of late nights and youthful indiscretions"

I liked that phrase a lot. I read it this morning in the NY Times in a restaurant review. The reviewer was describing a dish that went by her on the way to another table. But it got me thinking, what foods do I associate with late nights and youthful indiscretions?

* 3 a.m., French Fries with gravy at a diner.

* Pizza from the place on the corner that used to stay open until 5 a.m. At that time of night, all pizza is good pizza.

* Texas Fries. These were served at a long gone and much lamented 24 hour joint near where I grew up. They were chili cheese fries with minced raw onion on top. It is the taste of heaven.

* Couscous with as much Harissa as you could stand to make up for the night before.

* I-Hop. That's all, just I-Hop.

* The famed Lucky Dog of New Orleans purchased and consumed on the street between bars.

* Long, still drunk, dim sum breakfasts.

* And the ever popular, cold, leftover pizza the next day.

* Whatever you raided from the vending machine in college as you stayed up all night to debate whatever issues impassioned you at that time.

I'm certain there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind immediately.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:44 AM | Comments (0)

Another amusing cell

If you've read some of my other posts, you may know how much I love to overhear cell phone conversations on the street. Last night's call was a good one. I overheard this very handsome young man, in a beautiful suit, earnestly updating his friend as to the new developments in his life. This budding young Master of the Universe (remember that phrase?) says to his friend: "So, did I tell you? I'm learning Farsi". I don't know why it amused me so much, but it did and I share it with you.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2004

History Recommendations

Jester asked me for some history recommendations after reading my post below about the decline in teaching of history in schools. After some thought, and after looking through my book shelves, I decided to make the following recommendations. It was fun to take a tour back through the book shelves. I have a lot of books, most of them I love. I eliminated some of the more obscure things, like The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire (Regents Studies in Medieval Culture), and tried to think of a good selection of well written works which did not require a lot of background to enjoy. I could put up many more books and I realize, as I review this that I am leaving many of my favorites out. Perhaps I'll revisit the subject if people find it interesting but I must call a halt to this post now. I hope you enjoy this post, it took me a rather long time to put up.

I include not just straight history, but biography and historical fiction as well. Biography is history and should be thought of as such, it seems to me. Biographers always put their subjects into historical context and, by concentrating on one key figure, provide a good focal point to view an era. I also like historical fiction because much of the good stuff is based on fairly rigorous research and can be a great entree into an area for someone who is seeking an introduction. But, more below.


Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950, by Martin Russ. This is riveting, can't put it down kind of stuff. 12,000 U.S. Marines were trapped during the Korean War by 60,000 Chinese troops and conducted a fighting retreat. It's a brilliant book.

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Anybody read Kim, by Kipling? Fabulous book and it got me interested in this period. The struggle between Russia and Great Britain for India, played out all over the region. This is a great book about this period. This topic has become more relevant considering how much strife in the world is currently traceable to this region. I also, in the same vein, recommend: Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia.

The First World War, by Keegan. Keegan is one of the foremost military historians writing today. This is a great book which takes you from the start to the end. This was one of the most important world events of the last century and gives the reader a greater understanding of what followed.

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943, by Antony Beevor. This reads like fiction, it's so well written. This was the ultimate armed conflict between two morally corrupt ideologies, fought in the streets and gutters of a destroyed city. Also great information about the cult of the sniper. Highly readable.

Six Days of War : June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael Oren. The author had access to archives in Egypt, the US, and Russia. He interviewed former Israeli and Egyptian soldiers. This is riveting, can't put it down history. It also helps explain the roots of the current situation in the Middle East. This is very topical.

Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to the Early Sixteenth Century, by Mary Hollingsworth. This was a great read, although it may be out of print. Basically, it suggests that the role of patronage was under-credited with respect to the Renaissance. The painters and sculptors needed patrons who could afford the art and were willing to collaborate in the creative process. Esoteric but enjoyable.

Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Enigma Re-Examined, by John Prevas. Where did Hannibal cross the Alps to strike at Italy and Rome? How did he do it? Prevas claims to have figured it out. It's a terrific little book.

John Julius Norwich is one of my favorite authors and I'd send you out to check out at least two of his works. A History of Venice was originally two volumes when published in England but one volume here in the States. Another great read. The history of the rise of the Republic is fascinating and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I think that study is what led Norwich to write the three volume series on the Byzantine Empire. This is another great contribution to a poorly understood, at least by me, era.

The Pity of It All: A History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933, by Amos Elon. I never realized the incredible contributions the Jews made to German society and culture before I read this book. Jewish integration makes what followed all the more incomprehensible. A sad but fascinating book.

Carnage and Culture : Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power, by Victor Davis Hanson. This is a very interesting and timely book about what makes the West special in terms of civic virtues and economics. It details the critical battles and gives terrific historical background in chapters devoted to each battle. A wonderful survey.

Now, a little lighter history. The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn. When baseball was an art and writing about it a game. This is about the mid-20th-century Brooklyn Dodgers and how Kahn grew up while following them around and writing about it.


Cicero, by Anthony Everitt. I read this one over Christmas vacation last year by the pool. Another terrific read. Gives a lot of detail about the history of the Republic and the rise of Caesar and Marc Antony. Cicero was considered Rome's greatest orator.

Lafayette, by Unger was a very readable biography of an important figure in both the American and French Revolutions. Not too many people spanned both. One of the things from this I was surprised by was learning how close a thing the American Revolution really was to failure. They don't teach you that in school.

John Adams, by David McCullough is another revolutionary war figure biography. This was a long book but it never dragged. It won a Pulitzer Prize. Adams was an American hero and I recommend the book.

A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century, by Witold Rybczynski. Olmsted was the first great landscape architect in the US and this is a terrific read. A little obscure for some, but a good look at the building of Central Park in NY. I enjoyed it a lot.


The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, details the battle of Gettysburg and specifically Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, whose 20th Maine regiment of volunteers held the Union's left flank on the second day of the battle at Little Round Top.

Gates of Fire : An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, by Steven Pressfield is a novel about the battle where 300 Spartan knights and their allies kept some 10,000 Persian invaders at bay. This is hard to put down.

Sharpe's Eagle, by Cornwell. This is the first of the series. I've read them all. They deal with the exploits of an officer in the 95th Rifles during the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe was raised from the ranks. Cornwell ends each book with a nice historical essay about the events which inspired the book. Warning: highly addictive series.

Master and Commander is the first of the Patrick O'Brian series about the Napoleonic War and the Royal Navy. These are the equivalent of literary crack. Don't pick these up unless you are prepared to lose a lot of time. My wife hates it when I re-read this series, which I've done about five times. All twenty books. It may be time again soon, come to think of it.

Dark Star, by Alan Furst is gripping. Most of Furst's work is set in the period just before the start of WW II and he evokes a time now long gone and made more poignant by knowing that it was on the edge of extinction. All of his book are fantastic and I await the next one with keen anticipation.

Happy reading, Jester (and anyone else who might enjoy the above)!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

Those Scary Highways

We took the kids to visit some of friends of ours who live in a really charming little town called Katonah. As an aside, one of the places I keep meaning to visit in Katonah is the John Jay Homestead, the farm John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, retired to at the conclusion of his long and distinguished public service.

Anyway, we're on the road, I-684, on the way home when I spy in front of us the thing which scares me the most on the highway: a church van. I see the church van and I am convinced we are only seconds away from a dramatic disaster or explosion. I am somewhat serious. It seems that I regularly read about accidents involving church vans. These accidents almost all involve fatalities. Why are they in so many accidents? Well, perhaps the driver is not a trained bus driver. Or perhaps it's the condition of the vehicle. This one was no winner. It was a late model van and it looked like it was held together by prayer. I accelerated quickly to pass it. I wanted my family no where near it when the inevitable accident occurred. Inside the van, I could see singing and clapping. Some of them waved. That just made me more nervous and I hit the pedal harder.

Irrational? Maybe. But I know I breathed a sigh of relief when we got past that van.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:57 AM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2004

Fox News Item

Someone in my office called the following item from Fox News to my attention. I am appalled. A lawyer in Oregon is planning, in defense of his client, to introduce an expert witness to testify that the reason that the defendant "whipped and broke his [two year old] son's neck and ribs [is] because he suffers from post-traumatic slave syndrome." Evidently there is some "academic" out there who, in the words of Fox News, "claims that because African Americans never got a chance to heal from slavery and still face racism, oppression and societal inequality, they suffer from multigenerational trauma."

Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like a crock of sh*t? Seriously, it seems to me that makes us all prisoners of our ancestral past to the point where each of us can disclaim responsibility for our actions based on some historical slight. No matter how long ago. Hopefully the judge will think this is a crock, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)


Buzz has at least two meanings in this post.

The first meaning is derived from the fact that I have been running all morning. I have that lethal combination of caffeine plus adrenaline. I am buzzing, almost physically vibrating. I've had meetings, phone calls, and written snide and nasty letters to those who deserve snide and nasty. I have been Mr. Productive. I've also gotten nothing off of my to do list -- all of these things are from new problems! I am, I must admit, a little bummed about all of this fabulous effort I've put forth today and I have nothing really tangible to show for it. That's buzz one.

Buzz #2 refers to the word on the street about someone. There is good buzz about me, I guess, as I got a nibble on some new business today. I also got new business thrown my way on Friday. Just when it is clear that I can barely handle everything I have on my plate now, my new business possibilities are set to full steam ahead. Soon, it may very well be that there will be people, including partners, servicing the business I am bringing in. This would be odd. I am merely a senior associate and I will, for all intents and purposes, have partners reporting to me on business I generated. But I did have a partner come into my office today, sit down, and ask me if I'm free for lunch tomorrow or the next day to go over the details of one of the cases I've just brought in that he's been asked to do some work on. It just goes to show, the old law firm golden rule is still in existence: he who has the gold makes the rules. I suppose I don't really care what they call me here, associate or counsel or partner, as long as I keep bringing in the business then I will have de facto control over the economics of the situation.

Anyway, back to work.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)


I got a request to explain a couple of games I mentioned in an earlier post. If you don't play pool, you may not have heard of them. I assume everyone has heard of nine-ball, eight-ball, and straight pool.

Cowboy is a game apart and the link will take you to the rules. What may not be clear from the link is that this is a combination of pool and billiards. The pool part is sinking balls to score a particular number value. When you hit a particular number, you switch to billiards, or what the link calls carom shots. A carom shot is when the cue ball strikes two balls in the order you called them in. You then win by scratching off the one ball. That means you have to pocket the cue ball after the cue ball has made contact with the one. Also, the balls traditionally used in cowboy are much bigger and heavier than the typical pool balls. This makes it harder to score because you have less margin for error around the pockets. It is a very challenging and fun game. You can lose hours on this one.

The rules to Cut-throat can be found at that link. Basically, you divide the balls into three groups of five. One group is taken by each player. The person who breaks chooses first. The object is to shoot at the other groups and hope you can sink them before they sink your group. The last one with a ball on the table wins. This is a very social game and involves all sorts of conspiracies as you make alliances with other players and then break them.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:36 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2004

92 days? Is that all?

According to a copy of Philadelphia magazine, which I purchased last week, there are only 92 days of Summer. That does not seem like nearly enough days. This last Winter was so brutal that 92 days, especially rainy days like today, barely seems like sufficient compensation. 92 days. That's it. I never quantified it before. But, all of a sudden, I think it's too little and it's going to fly by. Remember how when you were a kid and Summer dragged along, nice and slow, and it seemed like school was never going to start again? Remember those hot days when you'd stick to the fake leather in the car? And ice cream was the best thing ever after swimming? Of course, that was the Summer before lyme's disease, before not putting sun screen on a kid was child abuse, and when all you had to worry about was whether you could stay up late enough to try to catch lightening bugs in the yard before your parents made you go to bed.

I also have fond memories of going with my father to the last of the old fashioned soda fountains in Westchester when I was a kid. They made the best root beer floats ever. I still have quite a weakness for the root beet float.

Anyway, I am trying so hard to focus on the unlimited opportunities of 92 days, rather than how few days there really are.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

Random Capitalization

We were riding home on the train together, my wife and I, after a lovely Friday night out. We had cocktails, shot a little pool with another friend, and had a great dinner. Cut Throat is a terrific game to play with three people. Although, my favorite game is probably Cowboy. Ever play that? If not, leave a comment and I'll explain it.

On the train, my wife looked at the back of her ticket and informed me that she loved random capitalization because you could usually use it to figure out what other people made acronyms from in other lines of work. For example, Off Peak Train, she reasoned, must be abbreviated by the letters OPT by the railroad workers. I thought that was an interesting thought which she wouldn't mind me sharing.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2004

Unprofessional Email address

I just happened to come across an email address for a lawyer in way, way, upstate NY. Almost Canada, practically. It started with: always golfing, followed by the email provider service. Can you imagine a less professional image to share with a client? I will be golfing instead of attending to your problems.

That said, if I was a country lawyer, I'd have a sign to hang on my door: Gone Fishin'. A little legal work followed by a lot of fly fishing.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:13 PM | Comments (0)

Reading the Iliad

May I direct your attention to a very interesting project that Amanda is running? She is a classics professor and is sponsoring an online reading group to re-read the Iliad. She went to see the movie, Troy, and left thinking that not one single person associated with the film ever read the book! So, she started an online reading group to re-read this classic. She is posting: back ground information to put the epic in context; guided reading questions; and, hosting discussions on her comment boards. It is an extremely cool thing to do and I, for one, am very grateful that she is willing to volunteer her expertise. I admit to having fallen a bit behind, and I plead the all the normal quotidian pressures, but I am still enjoying it very much and plan to catch up this weekend. Go check it out. And then go either buy a translation or borrow a copy from the library!

Thanks, Amanda!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

Joyce Kilmer

How many of you remember Joyce Kilmer, the poet? I came across a very nice article about him that I recommend if you have a moment. He was much more than just the guy who wrote about trees.

I don't know abou the rest of you, but there is not enough poetry in my life.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

Latin thought for the day

How many times have you heard a politician accused of being a hypocrite? I believe that this is an accusation I may have even heard levied at our current President. Well, guess what, it ain't nothing new in politics. I translated the following line from my Latin book:

"Fortunam et vitam antiquae patriae saepe laudas sed recusas." -- Horace.

Roughly, and for me, all Latin translations are rough:

"You often praise the fortune and way of life of the old fatherland, but you reject them."

In other words, while you praise the virtues of yore and the old fashioned life style, you don't live your own life like that. Sound familiar? Sound like, you talk the talk but you don't walk the walk? Interesting, I think, to see the same charges levied by Horace that you see repeated today. La plus ca change, etc.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

Warning: Sad

There was an article in the NY Times this morning about the opening of the new Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Westchester County. The beginning of the article, describing how this new hospital came about and why it was named after Maria, made me terribly sad.

The parents of the dead girl, Brenda and John Fareri of Greenwich, Conn., helped build the new hospital after they found the existing pediatric department lacking in accommodations for anxious families.

When 13-year-old Maria was dying of a rare case of bat rabies in 1995, the couple felt she received top-flight care. But there was no way for them to sleep in her room, no place to shower, nowhere to share a cuddle.

"It was very difficult because she asked me to lie in bed with her, but her bed was too small," Mrs. Fareri said during a tour of the hospital earlier in the week. That moment of closeness "got taken away," she said. "So you would never want to think that that could happen to another family."

Holy sh*t. All that dying little girl wanted was her mother to lie in bed with her and she couldn't. If that does not touch you, deep, deep down inside . . .

I read this at around 5:00 this morning. Why was I up so early? My daughter woke me at 4:15 because she "needed an extra hug and a kiss". I gave it to her, of course, but was not thrilled to have that sleep snatched away. I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to go back to sleep. So I went downstairs and rode the recumbent stationary bike with the newspaper and kind of grumbled to myself about being awakened so early.

I bet Mrs. Fareri would give everything she owns to have traded places with me this morning at 4:15. I don't mind being up so early any more today.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:57 AM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2004

Damn lies and statistics

According to my little site meters, if my average number of daily unique visitors stop by today, I will hit and surpass 1000 visitors. I think that's really very cool. Seems like a milestone, of sorts, and I wanted to mark it. In the period since I started this blog, I've put up 149 posts and almost 30,000 words. I think I must be neglecting my day job!

Thanks for stopping by and reading the output of my fevered little brain.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:43 AM | Comments (0)

End of History?

I read two interesting posts the other day. The first, at Joanne Jacob's site, concerned how teaching about WWII has ceased to be about the war and is only about social history, including, inter alia, our crimes against the Japanese interned in California. The second, at Erin O'Connor's blog, Critical Mass, discussed how the teaching of history has suffered as schools concentrate on reading and math in the elementary schools to the exclusion of social studies.

Are we at the end of history? Or at least teaching about history?

I have no clear recollections of what I was taught in school about WWII history because I was largely self-taught. I devoured every book I could find in the school library on the topic in middle school and continued reading well into college. Any holes I had were self-filled.

History is not only critically important but it appears to be both undertaught and also the prisoner of ideological constraints. If we spend all our time in the class room learning about our horrid treatment of Japanese/Americans, we miss out on the good and the great that we as a country accomplished in WWII. The good and the great needs to be acknowledged so we don't raise a generation of children who think that the US is the greatest terrorist state or who think that calling for a "million Mogadishus" is civilized criticism of US foreign policy. After all, how do we know where we are going if we don't know how we got here?

That said, kids need to be able to read to learn about history. Math is obviously terribly important, too. The emphasis on these subjects, to the exclusion of history, in order to push up test scores, concerns me greatly though. The effects of a lack of historical knowledge will be seen as a cascade, it seems to me. Kids will be less prepared in history in high school and thus, probably, less prepared to do advanced work in college. They will be less prepared and less able to challenge historical error and deliberate distortion. In short, they will be less able to act as responsible citizens. That is probably my biggest fear. I hope I'm over-reacting.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

Cultural explanation for achievement gap?

A press release from Penn State recently came to my attention. It seeks to explain, in part, why black children are performing less well on achievement tests in schools than white children.

Parenthetically, I think that the achievement gap is an issue that should concern us all. We as a society need to encourage all of our children to reach their highest potential because we all benefit.

The explanation tendered by Penn State is certainly controversial. It suggests that the answer is to be found in black v. white family dynamics: "recent research points to differences between African-American and White family interaction when children are very young."

According to the study, the problem is that there is a major difference in how often black parents speak to their children and how often they vary their vocabulary. I don't know where or how these figures were obtained, and you'll notice that all of a sudden the press release stops breaking the figures out in terms of race and uses socio-economic class instead, but: "[b]y the age of three, professional parents had spoken an estimated 35 million words to their children, working- and middle-class had spoken about 20 million words, and lower-class parents had only spoken about 10 million words."

The release picks back up on the racial difference later on: "'By 18 to 20 months, the vocabulary growth trajectories of the children of professional parents had already accelerated beyond those of other children,' Farkas adds. According to his research, there seems to be both a social class, and controlling for class, a Black-White difference in children's oral vocabulary growth from infancy to adolescence. Preschool vocabulary knowledge is a strong predictor of reading performance in early elementary school, and early elementary reading performance is a strong predictor of later school performance generally."

The study found that "greater verbal interaction between parents and young children improves students' performance on standardized tests". In other words, if you talk to your children a lot, and use a varied vocabulary, you are likely to have children who do better in school than their peers who did not have the benefit of the same interaction.

The study offers no explanation for how or why black family dynamics are different from white family dynamics. I know very little about family sociology. But, I wonder, did the authors control for whether the families they studied were single parent families? I understand, anecdotally from the NY Times over the years, that there are more single parent households among black families than white families. If this is wrong, feel free to correct me. If so, that would automatically halve the number of adults around to speak to the children. Further, a single mother (or father) is going to have less energy to spend with a child to begin with. Also, the more children you have the less time you can spend with any single child. Did the study look at multiple children families? Would that make a difference?

I spoke to my daughter, my first born, a lot. With both of my children, I use adult vocabulary and try to vary my vocabulary as possible. I do this partly because I love the English language and delight in its rich vocabulary, partly because I abhor baby talk in adults, and partly because I like nothing more than delivering a good monologue! My wife loves to tell the story of how she came out of the shower one morning to find me and the then under three month old daughter on the bed discussing evolution with me saying to my daughter: "vestigial, can you say vestigial?" Before she could speak, I treated her to the monologues on some of the following subjects: the rise of the merchant class in mediaeval Europe; social stratification in feudal Japan; and, the differences between English and French Renaissance landscape architecture. That last one, delivered while my little one was in the baby bjorn and we were standing in front of a florist's window looking at topiary garnered more than a few quizzical looks from passers-by. According to this press release, I have been doing exactly the right thing. My wife does the same thing, only she does it in Norwegian.

So, where am I going with all this? I'm going here: all the money in the world spent improving schools and paying teachers more and wiring schools up to the internet won't significantly overcome a lack of sustained, intelligent parental attention. You can pass all of the No Child Left Behind laws you want, but if you don't fix the problem at home, you may not be able to help the child catch up. We need these children to catch up, if for no other reason than the selfish reason that they will be paying our social security and pensions. But it sounds like first, we need to fix the family. How do you do that? I have no idea. Do you?

By the way, feel free to comment on this. I'm very curious about your reaction to this press release and this post.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2004


Ever been to Poughkeepsie before? It's upstate NY. A Judge of the Bankruptcy Court sits there and I've got to go tomorrow for a hearing. It's pretty much a whole day adventure.

I am posting about this, not because I assume you are interested in my little travels, but because you may not be from NY and you may think that NY State is one big burnt out section of the South Bronx, repeated ad infinitum up to the Canadian border. It isn't.

Poughkeepsie is located in Dutchess County, a beautiful part of the State including some of the Hudson River Valley. The beauty of the Hudson River Valley inspired an entire school of painters in the 1800's. Frederick Church's home, Olana, while not in Dutchess County, is a grand place to visit if you want to learn more about that school of painters.

But, you may ask, what to do in Poughkeepsie when not attending hearings at the Bankruptcy Court? Well, Vassar College is there. If I have time, I'm going to nip over there to see the exhibit on Renaissance print making. The campus of Vassar is one of the most beautiful college campuses I've ever visited and I hope I get some time to walk around there. I may bring a change of clothes, come to think of it, so I am not imprisoned in my suit and tie all day.

But what about food? Surely, you ask, there is nowhere worth eating when you get that far from civilization? Well, among other things, you can eat at the Culinary Institute of America's restaurants. The CIA has trained some of America's top chefs and it's a short drive from Poughkeepsie in Hyde Park. Hyde Park is also home to FDR Museum and Presidential Library, the Vanderbilt Museum and House (a stunning house with exceptional Hudson River Views) and, just down the road in Rhinebeck, is the Old Rhinebeck aerodrome where you can see historic planes and other vehicles from the 1900-1935 era. After the planes and museums, you could also pop in to stay the night at the Beekman Arms, which claims to be the oldest operating inn in the country. I've had brunch there and at least can vouch for the brunch if not for the historical claims they make.

Upstate New York is beautiful. If I had more time before today's deposition, I'd post more about this terrific area. Hope it inspires you to travel there!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The last military leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising gave an interview on Polish television. It was published and translated by Chrenkoff. This is a strong voice, to borrow a favorite expression of the far left, for freedom and justice. Mr. Edelman is a realist. Go and read it. You know you want to.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:24 AM | Comments (0)

New Viking Ship

I hope I'm not the only one who thinks that a new Viking Ship excavation is a really interesting occurrence. Because that would be sad.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

Different Kind of Matchmaking

We have a live in nanny who takes care of our children because my wife and I both work full time. She is a lovely 19 year old young woman from Utah. She is also a twin. She misses her twin and her twin misses her. Her twin has decided that she wants to come out to be a nanny, too. Enter me, stage right. I have a train buddy and he and his wife recently had their second child and he told me that they were thinking about getting a live in nanny. They bought a new house with more room and his wife also works full time. I told him about my nanny and her sister. I passed along phone numbers and talked to him about our experiences and, voila, the twin arrives to begin work on July 15. I wish everything were this easy.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2004

Sorry so quiet today

I've spent most of my day in deposition listening to a witness lie and perjure herself. The Court Reporter and the Videographer all agree that she was not telling the truth, that she was slimy, and that she was not reliable. She found out for the first time that the IRS had tax liens against her and her husband during the deposition on Friday and claimed, today, that she did not discuss that fact with her husband over the weekend. Credible? Hardly. We're taking the husband tomorrow. That's going to be very interesting. I can't wait to take this one to trial.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

Blind date success?

Buddy just reported in from his weekend. Success? I think so. Dinner and movie went well. They had a good time. And not only did they discuss getting together again, she actually called him last night to confirm their plans!

I am getting the warm, self-congratulatory glow that comes from the feeling that you did a good deed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:47 AM | Comments (0)

Actually, it appers that the social welfare state has some limits

There may be some limits after all, despite what I wrote about below. A man claimed too much in benefits and was prosecuted. He was not convicted. Why? Too dyslexic to understand, perhaps. However, it does appear from this that you can't just claim for whatever you want and keep it, regardless of your situation or income level.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)

Gotta love the social welfare state

According to Aftenposten, the biggest Norwegian daily newspaper, a family has won compensation from the local welfare authorities to help pay for the effects of their 11 year old son's chronic bed wetting. They had to go to court to get it, but they are going to receive something like $1,100 a year. The article doesn't address this, but I imagine that they are also going to get their lawyer fees and court costs paid as well. The social welfare state will pay for just about anything, I think. Can you even imagine making an application for something like this?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:50 AM | Comments (0)