November 30, 2004

AIDS and Africa, again

I have written on AIDS and Africa, before, and discussed the horrifying impact of this syndrome on that continent. But, there were a couple of articles this weekend in the NY Times that brought it all back again. A team of reporters spent 5 weeks in Lavumisa, Swaziland, a small town in South Africa. They interviewed scores of residents. The reporters also recorded their observations. The story is hard to put down. But, primarily, it is a newspaper article. This means it has heart rending human suffering details with hard facts about the impact on the society. I am interested in the facts, here, although I read the human suffering details in the article and found them quite moving. No, my interest is primarily in the huge dislocative effects on society writ large. The disease is destroying society and in Africa and turning the clock back on decades of social and economic progress. As the article asks:

Epidemics typically single out the aged and young - the weak, not those at society's core. So what happens to a society when its fulcrum - its mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses, farm workers, bookkeepers, cooks, clerks - die in their prime?

No one will be able to forecast with any great degree of certainty how this will play out, but we can extract some nuggets from the article just the same, which I do in the extended entry:

Across the region, AIDS has reduced life expectancy to levels not seen since the 1800's. In six sub-Saharan nations, the United Nations estimates, the average child born today will not live to 40.

Here in Swaziland, a kingdom about the size of New Jersey with one million people tucked into South Africa's northeast corner, two in five adults are infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Life expectancy now averages 34.4 years, the fourth lowest on earth. Fifteen years ago, it stood at 55. By 2010, experts predict, it will be 30.

Today, Lavumisa's schools are collapsing. Crime is climbing. Medical clinics are jammed. Family assets are sold to fend off hunger. The sick are dying, sometimes alone, because they are too many, and the caretakers are too few. Much of this is occurring because adults whose labors once fed children and paid school fees and sustained families are dead.

At Lavumisa Primary School, a beige L-shaped building of concrete classrooms clumped around a red dirt yard, enrollment has fallen nearly 9 percent in five years, to 494 students, as children drop out to support families. One in three students has lost at least one parent.

Mr. Shiba can state that at the beginning of this year, Ndabazezwe High had 40 students who had lost at least one parent. Nine months later, there were 73, 20 of whom had lost both father and mother, nearly all of whom are desperately poor. A decade ago, Mr. Shiba said, the school had perhaps five orphans, none of them needy.

Both the primary and the high school are staggering under the burden of feeding and educating a growing army of orphans who, by and large, cannot pay the school fees. The state has pledged to pay to educate orphans, but so far it has picked up but half the Lavumisa primary-school fees. Mr. Shiba said the high school was getting a mere $15 of the $100 a year it costs to educate each orphan.

Ndabazezwe High School is now deeply in debt by Swazi standards. It owes $275 for electricity; $200 for water; $260 for books and hundreds more for office equipment. The security guards have not been paid in two months. Borrowed money bought the woodworking and home-economics materials needed for final exams. Even school lunches are hit-or-miss.

Mr. Shiba and Stephen Nxumalo, the headmaster at Lavumisa Primary, reluctantly intend to carry out a resolution adopted in May by the nation's main teachers' organization. Starting in January, students who do not pay their fees - currently about 100 in the primary school, 258 in the high school - will be barred from classes.

When a family loses a parent to AIDS, public health experts here say, the household production of maize quickly falls by half; the number of livestock owned by nearly a third. It is the equivalent of draining the bank account.

Lavumisa and other towns like it are windows into the crisis that has beset Swaziland. AIDS kills an estimated 50 people here and H.I.V. infects 55 more each day, erasing hard-won economic gains of the last 20 years, according to the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

"It is the most efficient impoverishing agent you can find; it just sucks out the resources," said Dr. Derek von Wissell, who directs Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on H.I.V./AIDS, the agency charged with stemming the epidemic.

Until the late 1990's, when AIDS began to hit with force, Swaziland seemed a society on its way up, making strides in health care, education and income. No more.

Economic growth and agricultural production have slowed. School enrollment is down. Poverty, malnutrition and infant mortality are up. By 2010, the United Nations forecasts, children who have lost one parent or both will account for up to 15 percent of Swaziland's one million people.

The adult H.I.V. infection rate, 38.8 percent, now tops Botswana's as the world's highest. The death rate has doubled in just seven years.

"Swaziland is frankly beyond the threshold of what we thought could happen," said Duncan Earle of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who oversees $48 million in AIDS-related grants to the kingdom. "Ten years ago, we thought the peak infection rate would be 20 to 25 percent. This stretches the imagination."

A long-promised flood of antiretroviral drugs financed by the Global Fund and other donors could help stem the carnage. But like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, Swaziland is starting slowly. Only about 4,000 of the 26,000 who need drugs get them. Perhaps 8,000 will have them by the end of 2005.

In 16 months, the Global Fund has disbursed $5.1 million in AIDS grants to Swaziland. Yet not until this month did the overwhelmed Health Ministry hire its first two doctors to work on H.I.V. programs. Some $2.8 million earmarked for orphans' education is locked in the Treasury, even as the government this year spent $600,000 on the king's 36th birthday party.

To the United Nations envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, it is hard to fathom the consequences awaiting a nation with a vanishing middle generation.

"I resist an apocalyptic scenario," Mr. Lewis said. "But I have to admit, in the middle of the night I ask myself: 'How are these societies going to survive?' "

Virtually all the Swazis dying today were infected in the 1990's, when the infection rate was far lower than it is today. Those who are just now infected will not fall gravely ill until about 2012 - a tidal wave of illness and death that is still eight years away.

How Lavumisa and other similar towns will cope with that is anyone's guess. "Nobody has ever walked that road," Dr. von Wissell said. "Nobody."

I think we can all agree that there are certain horrible issues we can draw from the above quotes.

One, if the next generation is not educated, if they cannot go to school, there is limited hope for the future of that country. Where are the next doctors to come from? Or teachers? Or computer programmers? Or engineers? Or even bureaucrats to administer the foreign aid programs?

Two, as the family structure breaks down, and there is no mention, I note, of any organized religion, who is going to teach the tradtional morals and values to the next generation? This has long term society altering consequences, too.

Three, what happens to the economy. People are growing less corn and thus have less to sell. They will then have less money to spend on goods and services. They move to a barter system, perhaps. There are no taxes paid to the government on that system! How can the government run programs to help the people with no tax base?

Four, crime has picked up already. Who is paying the police to combat that? How are they paying them?

Five, how can this country ever attract foreign investment if you need to hire three people for every job because two of them are going to die?

Six, how much worse can it get?

The NY Times also, in the Week in Review section, ran another piece about Africa and AIDS and this one just infuriated me. Here was the offending bit of politcally correct, don't blame the victim, it isn't their fault, it is all down the racism bit:

The troubles are easy to enumerate: perhaps one million South Africans already dead from AIDS, from four to five million people infected with H.I.V., a tiny fraction of those receiving antiretroviral medication, and women now about three times more likely than men to become infected. A report issued last week by the United Nations said women now account for 60 percent of all infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

The sexual behavior - unprotected sex with multiple partners in sordid settings - is less easy to elucidate. This is post-apartheid sex, as dictated by lingering poverty, violence, the vulnerability of young black women with scant prospects, and the prevalence of migrant black male laborers uprooted from wives and homes.

In places like Guguletu, where unemployment is about 60 percent, it is clear enough that the fight against AIDS in Africa is also a fight against the continent's painful legacy of exploitation, racism, corruption and waste. Medicines help, but they resemble armored divisions in the fight against terrorism: they will win some important victories, but they will not take you to the root of the problem.

I have a problem with the bit I bolded above. I think and believe that AIDS is a problem that can be fought with a little piece of latex, among other things. Use a condom. Control your risk. Failure to do so is a personal choice at the end of the day. It cannot be a legacy of racism or exploitation or corruption. Unless it was rape, you make the choice about what goes into your body and whether you are protected. To write otherwise, absolves the actor of all personal responsibility for their choices. I hate that. It seems more racist to me than anything else because it removes the human element. I believe that people can make choices and that they must. Otherwise, as we have talked about before, Africa will be a dead zone. No one can seriously want that.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:40 AM | Comments (3)

Architecture Today -- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to Expand

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, one of my favorite small jewel like museums has announced (pdf) a major new expansion, complete with celebrity architect, Renzo Piano.

The museum is a Venetian gothic palace and one of the best buildings in Boston.



Renzo Piano is known for some of the most important museum buildings, such as:

*the Centre Pompidou in Paris (although I think that was with Rogers from London)


*Chicago Institute of Art expansion


*Morgan Library Expansion. The Morgan Library is the most interesting to me because you can really see how he integrates the addition into the existing historic structure.



I don't know if we can get a sense of how he will do it here, but I really hope it will be a sensitive treatment.

The Gardner, by the way, is also well known for the robbery that took place there in 1990:

stole three Rembrandts, including the Dutch artist's only seascape, "Storm on the Sea of Galilee."

It was one of several works the thieves savagely cut to release it from its frame, leaving ragged edges of the canvas behind in otherwise empty frames, which continue to hang in the museum to this day.

Also taken from that room was "The Concert" by Vermeer, as well as a Chinese bronze beaker located near the Rembrandt.

The thieves also apparently tried to steal a fourth Rembrandt but were unsuccessful.

"They tried to pry the wooden frame," explained Prouty during a recent interview in his Boston office.

Nearby, they also made off with "Landscape with an Obelisk," an oil painting by Govaert Flinck that was until recently attributed to Rembrandt, Flinck's mentor.

On the other side of the floor, the thieves went into the Short Gallery and ripped five Degas sketches from the wall. Feet away a bronze eagle that adorned the top of a Napoleonic flag was also pillaged.

A Manet portrait, located in the museum's Blue Room on the first floor, capped off the list of works the thieves stole.

Left off that list above, from the CNN article, was a splendid Rembrandt self portrait.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:04 AM | Comments (1)

November 29, 2004

Jim's Tribute to R&H

Go see, and sing to yourself, Jim's tribute to Rodgers & Hammerstein. Hilarious.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

Splain me the Eco-System, will ya?

How does the Eco-System work? Anybody know? My eco-system ranking bounces all over the place. It reached the dizzying heights the other day of 106 links only to drop, for no apparent reason, to 60 links, in one swell foop. How does it work? How does it calculate links and so on?

I'm tempted to pull it off my blog entirely.

Any thoughts?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:51 AM | Comments (5)

CLE Day here!

Today is the day I push to complete the remaining *cough* 10 hours of Continuing Legal Education. Streaming video is my friend under these circumstances. I can sit here, blog a little, learn a little, clean my desk, etc.

For your information, because I know you care, here are the following classes I'm taking today (and maybe tomorrow morning):

*Evidence & Objections: Laying Foundations for Introducing and Raising and Rebutting Evidence (2 hours)

*The Irving Younger CLE Series: Hearsay (Younger was a legend of the trial bar) (3.5 hours)

*Inadvertent Disclosure: I Didn't Mean to Read It, I Forgot What It Said - Can I Stay in the Case? (2 hours of ethics credit)

*What Every Lawyer Should Know About LLCs and LLPs (4 hours)

Can you feel the excitement? Is it crackling over your internet connection?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:30 AM | Comments (2)


The place to go to follow the election crisis in Ukraine is to King's blog: SCSU Scholars. King worked in Ukraine and brings a terrific focus to the crisis. Very good stuff, indeed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

Zimbabwe: New Oppressive Measures

I never lack for material on Zimbabwe. I know it may not be a matter of great interest to many of my visitors (I can tell by the lack of comments), but it is of great interest to me. Mugabe, the dictator-in-chief of Zimbabwe, has introduced new legislation to curb critics by providing for jail time of up to 20 years if you "publish or communicate a falsehood".

The latest law, which comes among a rush of new Bills, ahead of elections next March, makes it an offence to publish or communicate "to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention of realising that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety or, adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe: or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service," that person "shall be guilty of publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the State and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both."

Critics have condemned the slack phrasing of the bill. "The question of what is a falsehood will depend on which judge hears the case," said Beatrice Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer.

Mr Coltart said one clause in the new bill also makes it an offence for any citizen, either in Zimbabwe or outside the country to make an "abusive, indecent or obscene statement" about President Robert Mugabe, "even if it is a true statement", he said.

Let's be clear about how bad this law is.

David Coltart, legal secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: "The section relating to crimes against the state in this bill embodies the most fascist legislation this country has known, far worse than the most draconian laws passed by the Smith regime. The sentence of up to 20 years amounts to a death sentence in Zimbabwe's prisons."


I assume that stories like this, about children forced into prostitution, will be called "falsehoods". Put the situation into context:

Food shortages in Bulawayo have claimed the lives of more than 160 people in the past year, according to Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, the city's mayor and a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Although the government announced a "record harvest" in May and ordered the World Food Programme to stop distributing aid, a Zimbabwe parliamentary committee gave warning this month that the country would run out of food before April.

Mr Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms have led to the collapse of a once-thriving agricultural economy. Zimbabwe used to be able to export food to drought-stricken neighbours in southern Africa. Now, the plight of its people is worsened by the spread of Aids - at least one in three of Zimbabwe's population is HIV positive. Despite the terrible risks, Linguile and hundreds of other girls who sell their bodies are prepared to have unprotected sex to make more money.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:35 AM | Comments (1)

November 27, 2004

More Adventures with the Boy Child

I was right. Slowing down to take things in at the pace of a 21 month old is good for the soul, even if it is bad for the back. And arms.

I carted the young master off to Gotham today. We took the 8:56 train in this morning to get up to the Museum of Natural History. We had no car seat with us so we took the bus up and a bus over. He seemed to enjoy it very much. The train ride was interesting. I reckon he has never heard the word "motherfu**er" quite so much or said with such varying degrees of admiration or affection. It got to the point where I was seriously considering asking the guy to tone his language down, but I was not inclined to get into an argument about it, especially since my son doesn't even talk yet. I also venture to guess that this would be the first time the boy has had the pleasure of the word "ni**er", and no, it wasn't from me (in case you were wondering).

It was a beautiful day in the City. The kind of day that made me sorry I ever moved out. If we were better dressed, I would have taken the boy to brunch.

The musuem was relatively crowded. But, for some reason, the butterfly exhibit was empty. We were there with maybe only 5 or 6 other people. The volunteers had time to show us all kinds of different butterflies. There were about 500 of them flying around in there with us. One of them landed on me. It was beautiful and when it closed its wings, it looked exactly like a leaf. Amazing natural camoflage. The boy kepy running around and pointing at them so I'm pretty sure he was engaged, and that's all I wanted.

I then took him to see the hall of the mammals. He kept running around the elephants, pointing up at them and saying, "Bah!!" Bah is his word for any animal and every animal, fish included. He was adorable.

I got him home in time for lunch (barely) and down for a nap a little late. I know he was tired today because at bedtime tonight, we went down like a stone.

One final thought in this disorganized and disconnected post, taking care of one child is so easy. I kind of forgot that.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:13 PM | Comments (7)

Songs of Yore, when sex only cost $50

Riding in the car tonight, listening to some lame radio station do a less lame holiday weekend music countdown of the top 100 or maybe even 500 best dance songs, when I was confronted by the music of Tone Loc. Remember him? Who can forget the immortal words of Funky, Cold Medina? I mean, besides me. They played Wild Thing. I quote the relevant bits:

Doin' a little show at the local discotheque

This fine youg chick was on my jack so I say what the heck

She want to come on stage and do her little dance

So I said chill for now but maybe later you'll get your chance

So when the show was finished I took her around the way

And what do you know she was good to go without a word to say

We was all alone and she said "Tone let me tell you one thing
I need $50 to make you holler I get paid to do the wild thing"

Say what
Yo love you must be kidding
You're walkin' babe
Just break out of here
Hasta la vista baby

I'm glad Tone took the higher moral road here. Besides, who knows what you could catch from some skanky ho charging $50 to do the wild thing.

I wonder, idly, what ever happened to Tone? Or Young MC, for that matter, who collaborated with Tone. Young MC, you may recall, had the Econ degree from USC and gave us Bust a Move. I loved that one. Or, Off to the Principal's Office I go. I can quote that one from memory ("a nurses late pass like a gun on my hip. . ."). This was before rap got kind of ugly and there was no place left anymore for Young or Tone.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:01 PM | Comments (2)

November 26, 2004

Just lost a huge post -- click here for replacement post

I just lost a huge post that took me over 45 minutes to write. I am way too frustrated to recommence.

So, something different.

The Bronx Zoo was great fun. It was seriously empty. We were among the only ones in the parking lot when we arrived. We saw the bird house, the monkey house, the Congo exhibit, Tiger Mountain (damn, that was exceptionally cool), and the sea lions. The Boy Child had, I think, a very good time. Although he kept trying to ditch his mittens when he thought I wasn't looking. And he needed them, since it did not get above 44 degrees in the sun while we were there. The tigers were really the coolest. We were able to get right up to the glass in the stroller and this 8 foot tiger, he was enormous, came right up to the glass to examine my son. They just stared at each other for awhile until the tiger decided, I guess, that he would not be able to eat the boy. The boy seemed to be rendered speechless by this enormous tiger head a scant couple of inches away from his own. I don't blame him. I was a bit speechless myself.

Coming back from the zoo, we stopped off in Scarsdale to visit Zachy's, a well known wine store in the region. With the wife away, I decided to treat myself to a bottle of 18 year old Scotch whisky on the grounds that either I will get the job in Miami and will want to celebrate or I won't and I deserve some consolation. Poor reasoning, really, but what the hell. I am almost out and that is not acceptable. We do not live in Scarsdale and I'm glad. Why? How often do you see an Aston Martin parked outside the supermarket? Not very, I bet. Scarsdale sees them all the time. I turned from examining that to see the Mercedes G55, you know, the really ugly super expensive truck. It was being driven, and I use that word loosely, by a woman who held a cell phone to her ear with one hand (illegal in NY, by the way) and a half eaten apple in the other hand. I thought, wow, it is true. The rich really are different. They can drive with no hands.

May I speak about the boy child for a moment? Oh. My. God. What a beautiful little creature he is. He is like pure sunshine. Nary a cry or a whine the whole day. Laughter more often than any other noise. He pulls my head to his chest to cuddle me and makes these happy little cooing sounds. I can't wait for him to get up from his nap to go play, again. We are going out to dinner tonight with my parents and I am a little sorry it won't be just the two of us, but how can I keep such joy to myself? He needs to be shared a little bit, I think.

After he goes to bed tonight, it will be more Whisky (one glass) and a Bruce Lee film I have not seen in many years.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I think we are going to head off to NY City and go visit the Museum of Natural History. I think he'll like the train in. There is a live butterfly exhibit and I hope he will find that compelling. If not, the City is a big place and we will find plenty to do, I bet.

Maybe, tomorrow morning, before he wakes, I will try to recreate my post on Pensions, Demographics and Immigration. A serious topic and I am plenty steamed that it just went POOF.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:29 PM | Comments (6)

Thanksgiving: Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting

Everybody was kung-fu fighting

Those cats were fast as lightning

In fact it was a little bit frightning

But they fought with expert timing

Ok, that was afterwards. After we had a very nice visit with my parents, and ate a bit too much, and watched the kids run around, and had pleasant conversation, and bid goodbye to the wife and Girl Child as they left to go to Norway. Then the Boy Child, two semi-eligible bachelors if there ever were any, came home for a little dinner for him, a bath, and then he was asleep before I was down the stairs. No nap for him, you see. In fact, as I was holding him to give him a good night kiss (one kiss was happily accepted), he then tried to throw himself from my arms into his crib. For 21 months, that is tired.

Then came the kung fu fighting! It was a totally selfish way to spend an evening. Pretty much perfect. I lit a fire and turned off the lights in the living room. I poured a glass of MacCallan 12 year old Scotch Whisky with a little bit of water and settled in to watch Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon which I had never seen before.

First, a question: why is bad to drink alone, again? I know that I must have known the reason for this at some point, but I can't seem to recall. I don't think I've ever gotten drunk alone. But a drink by myself? Wonderful and self indulgent and probably no worse than having a soda. No, a good glass of Whisky takes a rather long time to drink (at least, it takes me a long time) and is a nice experience on a number of levels. I like the idea of it, first of all. There is just something intangible about the idea of having a Whisky -- some combination of romantic notions I can't possibly distill here. I like the taste. I like the physical warming as it slides down. And having one by my lonesome is second best (sometimes better) than having one with a friend over an interesting conversation. No, I think that there should be more drinking alone, not less!

Anyway, the film was not quite as great as I had hoped it would be. I have a weakness for the Kung Fu classics. I used to go down to Chinatown to the all-day kung fu movie theater and spend an afternoon watching them. I don't know if that theater is still there, but it was a fun way to kill an afternoon. I think my favorite actor right now is Jet Li. I love his movies and his martial arts are first rate. My favorite was Fists of Legend. It has the best fight scenes I've ever seen and great production values. Tiger / Dragon was no Fists of Legend. It had some decent fight scenes but seemed to think that dramatic cut aways and lots of flying around was a good substitute for a well crafted fight. It ain't.

Anyway, must dash as the Boy Child is stirring after his short 12.5 hours of sleep and I have diapers to change, breakfast to fix, and a trip to the Bronx Zoo to plan.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:09 AM | Comments (3)

November 24, 2004

Thanksgiving Weekend: Just the Boys

I have already, recently, done a post in which I set forth several things for which I was thankful and why and I don't think the subject bears revisiting so soon. No, instead of that, I will go on a bit about how I plan to spend my Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.

We are going to my parent's house for Thanksgiving dinner, well, lunch this year instead of dinner. One nice thing that we do, and I assume we are not alone in this, is we go around the table and talk about what we are thankful for this year, what we are giving thanks for. I always enjoy that. We also have a tradition that we created after my mother had a stroke about 9 years ago. She was in the hospital and not able to join us, so it was just my dad, my wife and me. My sister was in Florida. None of the three of us particularly like turkey, as heretical as that may sound. My father had recently started a subscription to Cooks Illustrated, an excellent magazine, by the way, and had read about dry aging your own prime rib and slow cooking it at 200 degrees for something like six hours. So we 86'ed the turkey and made that instead. It was sublime. And that has become our Thanksgiving meal. Email me if you want the recipe and I'll send it to you. We also use the fabulous meat as an excuse to break out a really good bottle of wine, something far beyond the ordinary every day plonk. The meat deserves it, you know.

Then, at 4:00, my wife and the Girl Child depart for Norway. I am already missing my daughter and I told her that last night. She said that it would be ok and that I could call her in Norway to talk. But there is a silver lining in my little cloud -- ITS BOYS WEEKEND! The Boy Child and I are together for the whole weekend! I can see it now, sports on tv, cigars, scotch, chili, etc. Oh, wait, I forgot. He's only 21 months old. We can't have the cigars. But we can have chili because we discovered last night that he likes my super strong chili. Attaboy!

I am really looking forward to this weekend with him. I feel like it will be a great opportunity to get to know him better since his sister will not be around. It will also force me to slow down and do things at more of a 21 month old pace. This is a good thing. I could use the rest.

And then, when he goes to sleep, the evenings are mine! All mine!!! I can stay up and read, or rent all of the Christopher Guest movies, or run a little tasting test on the various single malts I have, or whatever. It will be pure freedom, constrained only by the need to stay within hearing reach of his monitor. You know, I might even try to get a little exercise. Naw, now why would I want to spoil a perfectly good weekend with something silly like that?

I like the freedom of being alone, of not having my wife around. You know why? The only reason it is enjoyable? Because it is limited in time. If she were gone for a long period, it would not be a treat, but a horrible disconnect. I would hate that, have hated it. How can I sleep, among other things? No, I will enjoy my little freedom as the compensation I get for worrying about my wife and daughter while they are away from me.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving with much to give thanks about!

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:35 AM | Comments (10)

Service Providers and Flash

Simon had an amusing post today about a visit to a pet behaviourist who recommended drugging dogs. Simon laughed alone in the room. I'd have joined him in laughing. But that's not why I reference his post. No, it was the description of the vet that got to me. Simon describes him as "an Armani-suited, Cartier-glasses, Rolex watch wearing man".

That description got me to thinking about service providers. Broadly, people you pay to preform services as opposed to providing you with goods. By way of example, I mean lawyers, doctors, plumbers, dentists, and accountants. Vets, too, I suppose. I am a service provider as a lawyer. As a service provider, the last thing I want to do is to dress as if my client is paying me too much. This would make any client suspicious about the fees. Why is this guy so flashy with my money? That is not to say that you should not dress successfully, because you should. If you look like a loser, you will also turn clients off. No, the watchword here is: Discrete.

Be discrete in your appearance if you are a service provider. I am a timepiece slut. I love watches and I like to dress well. I do not wear Armani, however, or any other brand that is going to be instantly recognizable. I do not own a Rolex nor a Cartier. Nor would I wear a watch that would be instantly known to my client. In fact, I wear an IWC. Bet you haven't heard of them, have you? IWC is a very fine Swiss watch maker and this watch is a thing of beauty. But a client isn't going to look at it and say, that's where my fees are going? Nope. I think it is not a good business decision to force a client to think like that.

In fact, I'll give you an example. Shortly after we moved into our new house, my wife arranged for someone to come by with cases of fabric to give us an estimate on drapes/curtains. For some reason, these things cost more than their equivalent weight in diamonds. After the affable Rolex-wearing salesman made his pitch, he told us, in an effort to pressure us to commit, that he was so busy that he had to buy that Cadillac parked outside our house because he was spending so much time in the car and what did we think of that. I looked at the car and his watch and said, "I think it tells me that you are charging me too much for these curtains". And that was that.

Finally, I would consider it poor judgment to hire someone who thought it showed good judgment to overpay for a Rolex. If it were a Patek, on the other hand. . .

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:01 AM | Comments (2)

November 23, 2004

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause is a legal concept that you find in tort cases and in securities fraud. It is a requirement that there be a causal link between the wrong alleged and the damage caused. It is sometimes thought of as the "but for" test. But for the actions of the defendant, plaintiff would not have been damaged. Here is a not very illuminating definition.

In any event, I saw in the New York Law Journal today, a story about proximate cause that really caught my eye. I quote (because I don't know how long that link will be good for):

A piece of grilled shrimp flung playfully by a Japanese hibachi chef toward a tableside diner is being blamed for causing the man's death.

Making a proximate-cause argument, the lawyer for the deceased man's estate has alleged that the man's reflexive response -- to duck away from the flying food -- caused a neck injury that required surgery.

Complications from that first operation necessitated a second procedure. Five months later, Jerry Colaitis of Old Brookville, N.Y., was dead of an illness that his family claims was proximately caused by the injury.

But for the food-flinging incident at the Benihana restaurant in Munsey Park, N.Y., Colaitis would still be alive, attorney Andre Ferenzo asserts.

"They set in motion a sequence of events," he said.

Alleging wrongful death, Colaitis' estate is seeking $10 million in damages. The complaint includes claims for pain and suffering and loss of consortium.

Benihana has denied all of the complaint's material allegations. In other papers filed with the court, defense attorney Andrew B. Kaufman also questioned whether Colaitis was trying to avoid the flying shrimp or catch it in his mouth.

* * *

When the chef flipped a piece of shrimp at Colaitis, he allegedly ducked away, injuring two vertebra in his neck. Doctors reportedly told Colaitis that if he did not have corrective surgery, another injury to the same disks might leave him paralyzed.

The first operation was in June 2001, six months after the Benihana dinner. A second procedure was performed two weeks later.

In succeeding months Colaitis developed a high fever and problems with his breathing and memory. He died in a hospital five months after the second surgery, on Nov. 22, 2001.

A contributing cause of his death, Ferenzo said, was a blood-borne infection. Justice Mahon's decision also listed respiratory failure and renal failure as causes of death.

Neither side has sought to add the doctors or hospital where the surgery occurred, New York University Medical Center, to the case. Colaitis died at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn.

Arguing for partial summary judgment, defendant's attorney Kaufman challenged the plaintiff's ability to prove proximate cause. In court papers, he said that Benihana cannot be liable for Colaitis' death because of a break in the chain of causation between the first or second procedures and his death five months later.

"Essentially, as the plaintiff's decedent died of an unidentifiable medical condition, the plaintiff will be unable to establish that any alleged negligence by Benihana proximately caused his demise," Kaufman wrote.

In denying defendant's motion, Justice Mahon held that whether the tableside events caused Colaitis' death would best be resolved at trial.

I think that the defendant has a pretty good argument here and I am shocked that no one has brought the hospital in. Unless, of course, he did not die from any malpractice. I don't know about this one. Interesting issue.


Thanks so much for the link from Robert at the Llama Butchers! After you linked, Robert, I went ahead and did a little legal research (2 minutes and 40 seconds, according to Westlaw, actually), and I include below a discussion of the concept of proximate cause from a very recent opinion. So, click on Extended Entry if you want to see what the Hon. Herbert Kramer has to say about the concept in connection with a case involving Philip Morris, cigarettes, and the issue of comparative fault. The case is called, FRANKSON v. PHILIP MORRIS INCORPORATED, 4 Misc.3d 1002(A), 2004 WL 1433008 (Sup. Ct. Kings Co. June 24, 2004).

Proximate Cause

"The concept of proximate cause, or more appropriately legal cause, has proven to be an elusive one, incapable of being precisely defined to cover all situations ... Depending on the nature of the case, a variety of factors may be relevant in assessing legal cause." Derdiarian v. Felix Constr Co, 51 N.Y.2d 308, 314-315 (1980) Nonetheless, all a plaintiff need show is that the **4 defendant's conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury. Nallan v. Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 50 N.Y.2d 507, 520(1980)("It is plaintiff's burden to show that defendant's conduct was a substantial causative factor in the sequence of events that led to ... injury.")This showing need not eliminate every other factor that may have contributed to the cause of the injury. Galioto v. Lakeside Hospital, 123 A.D.2d 421, 422 (2d Dept.1986). ("It is well settled law that in order for a plaintiff to recover damages, a defendant's negligence need not be the sole cause of the injury; it need only have been a substantial factor in bringing the injury about.".)

"Proximate cause serves a somewhat different role in products liability cases than in ordinary negligence actions. To establish proximate cause in a products liability case, a plaintiff must show that the defect in the product was a substantial factor in causing the injury. [The] causal connection [is] not automatically severed by ... intervening conduct unless that conduct was, as a matter of law, extraordinary under the circumstances, not foreseeable in the normal course of events or independent of or far removed from [the defendant-manufacturer's ] conduct." Nutting v. Ford Motor Co., 180 A.D.2d 122, 131(3d Dept.1992). In Nutting, the driver continued to knowingly use a car whose engine had stalling problems.. A fatal accident occurred when this car drifted into the path of an oncoming vehicle as the driver was attempting to cope with the stalled engine. Nonetheless, the Court declined to find, as a matter of law, that the driver's failure to correct the problem broke the chain of causation, but rather held that such conduct is relevant to issues of intervening cause and apportionment of fault. Id.

The chain of causal connection is, indeed, sturdy and not readily susceptible to disruption by intervening conduct. In one recent instance, a drunk driver drove his car off an exit ramp at thirty five miles an hour, straight into a utility pole. According to the Court of Appeals, plaintiff's decedent's conduct did not affect the auto manufacturer's duty to "produce a product that does not unreasonably enhance or aggravate a user's injuries." Alami v. Volkswagen of America Inc., 97 N.Y.2d 281, 287(2002). Since Volkswagen did not even contest the expert's findings with respect to the crash worthiness of the vehicle, The Alami Court strongly disagreed with the Appellate Division's determination that intoxication was, as a matter of law, the "sole proximate cause" of the accident and decedent's injuries and reversed. The dissent, vigorously protesting, pointed out that this case falls squarely within the preclusion doctrine of Barker v. Kallash, 63 N.Y.2d (1984) and Manning v. Brown, 91 N.Y.2d 116 (1997), which denies judicial relief to those injured in the course of committing a serious criminal act and does not permit the apportionment of fault between the parties.

*3 As the discussion above demonstrates, where fault on the part of the plaintiff is implicated, the only time that fault is relevant exclusively to proximate cause and not to an assessment of comparative fault is where, as a matter of law, that fault is the sole proximate cause of the harm or where because of a legal impediment, plaintiff's fault cannot be considered unless it is shoe horned into the case by being characterized as the sole proximate cause of the injury. [FN8] As one commentator aptly noted, the sole proximate cause defense does little more than divert the jury's attention from the ultimate issue of the defendant's relative fault." John G. Phillips, The Sole Proximate Cause "Defense"; A Misfit in the World of Contribution and Comparative Negligence, 22 S.Ill. U.L.J. 1, 2(Fall, 1997).

FN8. We see this in cases decided under the Labor Law where defendants are strictly liable and plaintiff's contributory fault cannot be considered in assessing damages. To avoid the unjust result that flows in the wake of this doctrinaire approach, the courts have found negligent plaintiffs to have been the sole proximate cause of the harm. Weininger v. Hagedorn, 91 N.Y.2d 958(1998); Corrado v. Allied Builders, Inc., 186 Misc.2d 780(Sup Court, N.Y. Co., 2000)(reviewing the record on appeal in Weininger observing that Weininger had misused the ladder by standing on its cross bar.)

This Court agrees.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:43 PM | Comments (6)

Thanksgiving Day Travel Advice

I watched, on my trip back from Ft. Lauderdale last night, Best of Show. There was advice given in that film which ought to apply to anyone driving for Thanksgiving and I reproduce it for you all here:

If you get tired, pull over.

If you get hungry, eat something.

I loved that. Just try to remember that, y'all, as you are driving to Mom's for Thanksgiving.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:32 PM | Comments (3)

Back from the Interview

Before you ask, I have no idea how it went. I was asked, at the conclusion, how much time I'd need before I could start if they made me an offer. I read nothing into that anymore. I simply told them, in response, that I would be on the next plane down the day after it was professionally prudent for me to have wrapped up everything at my firm and not leave anyone hanging. I also told them I really wanted this job and if offered it would take it.

Thank you all very much for your comments wishing me luck. I really appreciated them all!

By the way, did I mention that the job would mean we'd have to move to Miami?

Let me share with you some random observations I made during the one day trip down and back:

*Church Signs on I-95

I saw an excellent church sign off of I-95. It read as follows:


Sign courtesy of Church Sign Generator, one of my favorite sites, by the way.

All that was missing from the sign was something like, "limited appearance only", or, "half price off for sinners special on Fridays ", or, "catch him next week at the Aventura Mall". In any event, I was tickled.

*Airport Check in:

I was asked by the very nice woman at Jet Blue, to check and see if I was carrying any of the items on her list in my briefcase. I read it carefully and confirmed that I was not carrying in my briefcase, inter alia, any guns, ammunition, 4 lbs of dry ice, or an electric wheel chair and I requested clarification as to what a "wet cell" battery was. She didn't know either but she giggled, which was sweet. I am kind of a flirt, I have to admit.

*Jet Blue directv thing is cool.

VH1Classics allowed me to reacquaint myself with such talented bands as Animotion and Berlin ("The Metro", great 80's pop angst with heavy keyboard use). The music of my youth is now on VH1Classics. Classics. Sheesh. No further comment. Although, here are the lyrics to "The Metro":

I'm alone sitting with my empty glass my four walls follow me through my past I was on a Paris train I emerged in London rain and you were waiting there swimming through apologies

I remember searching for the perfect words
I was hoping you might change your mind
I remember a soldier sleeping next to me
riding on the Metro

You wore white
smiling as you took my hand
so removed
we spoke of wintertime in France
minutes passed with shallow words
years have passed and still the hurt
I can see you now
smiling as I pulled away

I remember the letter wrinkled in my hand
"I'll love you always" filled my eyes
I remember a night we walked along the Seine
riding on the Metro

I remember a feeling coming over me
the soldier turned, then looked away
I remember hating you for loving me
riding on the Metro

I'm alone
sitting with my BROKEN glass
my four walls
follow me through my past
I was on a Paris train
I emerged in London rain
and you were waiting there
swimming through apologies(sorry)

I remember searching for the perfect words
I was hoping you might change your mind
I remember a soldier sleeping next to me
riding on the Metro

*Taxi to/from Miami from Ft. Lauderdale airport cost $150 dollars.
Cost of JetBlue ticket back to NY: $148.

How is this possible, that it costs more to fly down the Eastern Seaboard than it does to take a taxi to/from some 30 miles each way? How can JetBlue stay in business? Or is it that the taxis are charging too much?

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:17 PM | Comments (9)

November 21, 2004

Expect a quiet Monday here

I will be out of the office tomorrow with no access to computers and no chance to blog (I expect). While I'm gone, I recommend browsing through my set of links under "Daily (practically) Reads". There are some first rate writers represented there.

Psst, don't tell anyone, but I am off for a job interview. Keep your fingers crossed and wish me whatever you are inclined to wish me. I am, truth be told, a bit nervous. Perhaps not nervous, just scared about being disappointed if I don't get the offer. That may be it, really. Of course, I am also apprehensive about the consequences of getting an offer, but that's another story. The only way I know how to deal with that kind of nervousness is through preparation. I think I am prepared. I have probably spent over 15 hours preparing for it. I have reviewed my resume, the summary I have made of every interesting case I have ever worked on, re-read my writing samples, re-read the published opinions judges have rendered in cases in which I am counsel of record, read everything I could find on the internet about the organization and the person I will be meeting with, and am close to ready. I have my best suit back from the cleaners and my shoes are shined. Now, just fingers crossed, deep breath, and into the breach.

See you all on Tuesday.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:19 AM | Comments (10)

Ode to the Greasy Spoon

I love greasy spoons, road side restaurants, barbeque shacks, cafes, diners, and all manner of holes in the wall. My wife parts company with me on this but, as in so many things, is still willing to indulge me from time to time. She's nice like that.

I like being able to see my breakfast being cooked before me, the bottomless cup of coffee, the home made (sometimes) pies, the french fries with gravy, and the milk shakes often made with great care, or at least, carefully enough that no cigarette ash falls in. Good enough for me, certainly. I like that you can get breakfast anytime you want and that you can almost always find meatloaf and lumpy mashed potatoes. I like the way these places smell, generally but not always. I like that they are usually owner operated and often with more than a little pride. I do not, however, feel the need to go out and start one of my own, though.

However, were I rich, I mean filthy hedge fund rich, I would go here and buy one to have moved to my country property (I don't have one of those either, of course, but that is a mere detail in this little fantasy) to join the other buildings (there will be other buildings, certainly). Then, like Marie Antoinette, I could play at having a diner. I think that would be great fun.

Or, if I were Google IPO rich, I could buy a totally new one for $150,000. Comes fully equiped. That could be nice.

I also like diner slang. Here, from the same place where you can go buy your very own diner, is a lexicon of diner slang so you can talk the talk. I extract some of my favorites:

whiskey down: Rye toast, the 'down' part probably comes from the action of pushing down the handle on the toaster Shingle with a shimmy and a shake: Buttered toast with jam or jelly, hence the reference to 'shake'. Wreck ‘em: Scrambled eggs

Fry two, let the sun shine: 2 fried eggs with unbroken yolks

Flop two: Two fried eggs over easy

Customer will take a chance: Hash

Sweep the kitchen or
Sweepings, or
Clean up the kitchen
: A plate of hash

Mystery in the alley: A side order of hash

Chewed with Fine Breath: Hamburger with onions

Two cows, make them cry: Two hamburgers with onions

Burn one; take it through the garden and pin a rose on it: Hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion

When I strike it rich one day (don't hold your breath, ok?), you are all invited over to my little Trianon fake-diner for ice cream sodas and "GAC"s (grilled cheese sandwiches)!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

The Girl Child, last night

The Girl Child, all of 3 and 3/4, continues to amuse and delight us.

She summoned me from the dinner table last night with the call to arms:

Hey, baby, let's go to Vegas!

Don't ask. I have no idea where she gets this from.

Then, she asked my wife about my mother's brothers. They had the following conversation:

GC: How many brothers does Nana have?

W: Two.

GC: What are their names?

W: Uncle Steve and Uncle Eric.

GC: Where do they live?

W: California.

GC: Oh. All uncles live in California, but then they get over it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:47 AM | Comments (0)

Some Fascinating Passings: R.I.P.

As you may know, I make a point of reading the obituaries at the Telegraph on line. English obituary writing is superb. They are mini-biographies, generally written about people I've never heard of before. Oftentimes, you read about people who did terribly important things during WW II. That generation is passing, you know. Here are two people, in extended entry below, who I thought were fascinating.

Click below for more.

Peter Twinn

Peter Twinn, who has died aged 88, was the first mathematician recruited as an Enigma cipher-breaker into the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS) before the Second World War; later he was credited with being the first British cryptographer to break an Enigma cipher, something that always embarrassed him and led him to dismiss its significance.

The Enigma machine had a keyboard into which the message was typed. Each letter then passed through a series of rotating wheels until the enciphered letter appeared on a "lampboard" above the machine. The British codebreakers had devised systems to break the cipher, but could not work out which letter on the keyboard was wired to which letter on the initial part of the encipherment mechanism.

Twinn said: "Our ordinary alphabet has them in a certain order, but the Germans aren't idiots. When they have the perfect safeguard to introduce to their machine, to jumble it all up would be the sensible thing."

Fortunately, in July 1939, Polish codebreakers, who had managed to break the Enigma ciphers but were now struggling, invited the British to a conference near Warsaw to discuss techniques that could be used to break the ciphers. They told Knox that the Germans had not, in fact, jumbled up the letters. They had wired A to A, B to B and so on, something the British had never thought possible.

"I know in retrospect it sounds daft," Twinn said. "It was such an obvious thing to do, rather a silly thing, that nobody, not Dilly Knox, not Alan Turing, ever thought it worthwhile trying."

When Knox came back, he went immediately on leave, so it fell to Twinn to try out the Polish technique. "The first thing I did when he was on leave was to see if it worked in the machine, and, of course, lo and behold, it did."

It was later pointed out to Twinn that this was the first time that any Wehrmacht Enigma cipher was broken in Britain, but he dismissed it as of no consequence: "It was a trifling exercise, but I repeat for the umpteenth time, no credit to me."

When the codebreakers moved to Bletchley Park, Twinn worked with Knox on Enigma research in the cottage next to the main house before helping Turing to set up the Hut 4 team, which broke the German naval Enigma.

In October 1941, Knox broke the Abwehr Enigma, allowing the codebreakers to ensure that the Germans believed the Double-Cross deception organised by MI5 and MI6. But he soon fell ill with cancer, and Twinn took charge of the Abwehr Enigma section in early 1942.

Its work was of particular importance during the Fortitude deception operation that helped to ensure the success of the D-Day landings.

He subsequently became Secretary of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. During this period, he developed an interest in entomology, gaining a PhD in the subject from London University.

His doctorate was on the jumping mechanism of the click beetle, which he studied using the ultra-high-speed cameras available at Farnborough.

On one occasion, while attempting to collect click beetles at the edge of the Farnborough runway, he was arrested by an MoD police officer who was highly embarrassed to discover that his prisoner was in fact the RAE Secretary.

In 1999 Twinn published, with PT Harding, a study of the distribution of the longhorn beetle, A Provisional Atlas of the Longhorn Beetle (Coleoptera Cerambycidae) of Britain; it records the present and past distribution of 63 species and is to be found on the desks of many entomologists.

The second one is a Polish air force general.

General Stanislaw Skalski

General Stanislaw Skalski, who has died aged 89, was Poland's most successful fighter pilot, credited with destroying at least 22 enemy aircraft and damaging others; he was decorated for gallantry four times by the British and six times by the Polish government in exile.

After escaping from Poland following the German occupation in September 1939, Skalski reached England and was commissioned in the RAF. After a period of inactivity with a fighter squadron in the north of England, he joined No 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain in August 1940.

Flying Hurricanes from Gravesend, the squadron had seen much action, and Skalski soon claimed his first victory when he shot down a Heinkel on August 30. The next day he shot down an Me 109 fighter and destroyed two more on September 2.

Three days later he took off to attack a large bomber force approaching Kent, and sent a Heinkel down in flames before attacking an Me 109. After hitting the German fighter, he watched the pilot bale out before climbing to attack another Me 109, which he destroyed over Canterbury.

As he turned away, Skalski was himself attacked and his Hurricane set on fire. He baled out and was admitted to Herne Bay hospital, where he remained for six weeks receiving treatment for serious burns. Anxious to return to combat, he discharged himself at the end of October and returned to No 501.

Stanislaw Skalski was born on October 27 1915 at the village of Kodyn, north of the Russian city of Odessa. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, his father sent him and his mother to Zbaraz, near Lvov.

After attending school in Dubno, Stanislaw learnt to fly gliders in 1934, and the following year he qualified on powered aircraft. He now decided to become a military pilot, and entered the cadet school at Deblin in 1936; he completed his training in October 1938, graduating as an officer.

Skalski was assigned to the 4th Air Regiment at Torun, where he joined No 142 Eskadra, the "Flying Ducks", to fly PZL fighters. Following the German invasion of Poland on September 1 1939, Skalski and his squadron were in action immediately. He claimed his first victory on the opening day, and by the fifth day he had destroyed four German bombers, to become the only Polish ace of the short campaign. As Polish resistance collapsed, the remnants of his squadron escaped to Romania. He eventually made his way to the Mediterranean, where he boarded a boat for England, arriving in January 1940.

For his deeds during the Battle of Britain, Skalski was awarded Poland's highest decoration for gallantry, the Virtuti Militari. In March 1941 he was posted to No 306 (Torun) Polish squadron flying Spitfires, and during the summer of 1941 he was to claim another five victories on sweeps over northern France.

Following these successes, he was invested with the Polish Cross of Valour, to which he would eventually add three bars, and in September he was awarded the DFC. In March 1942 he joined No 316 Squadron and soon accounted for a FW 190 fighter. He was promoted to squadron leader and given command of No 317 Squadron, which he led during the combined operations at Dieppe when his pilots destroyed seven German aircraft. For his "excellent leadership" he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

After two years' constant fighting, Skalski was rested in November 1942, when he became the chief flying instructor at a Spitfire training unit. Determined to return to a fighting unit, he became leader of the newly-created Polish Fighting Team (PFT) of volunteers in January 1943. Popularly known as "Skalski's Circus", the elite team numbered 15 of the best Polish fighter pilots. They left for North Africa a month later when they were attached to No 145 Squadron. Flying the latest Spitfire Mk IX aircraft from Bu Grara in the Western Desert, the team claimed its first victory on March 28 when Skalski and his wingman each shot down a Junkers 88 bomber.

Over the next few days, Skalski shot down two Me 109 fighters and damaged a third; and by May 13, when the final German forces in Tunisia surrendered, his Polish pilots had destroyed 30 enemy aircraft. In July, Skalski took command of No 601 Squadron at Luqa, Malta, shortly before moving to Sicily. He was only the second Pole to be given command of a RAF squadron. Soon after receiving a second Bar to his DFC in October, he was promoted to be the Wing Leader of No 131 Polish Wing at Northolt. In April 1944 he moved to command No 133 Wing, which had recently re-equipped with the Mustang fighter. In May he was awarded the Virtuti Militari for the second time.

Skalski led his three squadrons on long-range bomber escort missions, often escorting bombers of the USAAF to targets as far as Hamburg. Then, with D-Day imminent, the squadrons began dive-bombing sorties against targets in northern France. On June 24 he chased two Me 109s over Rouen, causing them to collide without firing a shot. They were his final claims, and he ended the war as Poland's highest-scoring fighter pilot. In September his operational flying career was over and he was awarded the DSO. After spending six months in the United States, he returned to become wing commander operations at HQ No 11 Group.

At the end of the war Skalski was offered a commission in the RAF, but he decided to return to Poland in June 1947. Initially, he served at the headquarters of the Soviet-dominated Polish Air Force, but, following increasing tension between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers, he was arrested in June 1948 and charged with espionage and treason;- a fate that befell many of his ex-RAF Polish colleagues. In 1949, after a series of cruel interrogations, he was condemned to death and spent the next six years awaiting execution. Eventually, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was finally released in 1956 after eight years in prison.

On his release, Skalski was re-admitted to the Air Force, an offer he accepted with some hesitation. He flew the Soviet-built MIG fighters, and in 1972 he ended a distinguished career with the rank of general. He became the President of the Polish Aero Club before retiring to Warsaw, where he led a lonely life.

Skalski was remembered as a great individualist and man of action. One of his pilots described him as "an eagle in the air, he was a great commander and a brilliant leader and we would follow him to hell if necessary".

On the ground he could be stubborn, and he held strong opinions which did not always accord with those of his superiors; but his fighting qualities and courage were never in doubt.

He made numerous visits to England, and attended the unveiling in June 1994 of a memorial to No 133 Wing at the site of their former airfield at Coolham in Sussex. In September 2000, he joined fellow veterans at the National Memorial to "The Few" at Capel le Ferne to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain; he insisted on sitting with his surviving friends from No 501 Squadron.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:43 AM | Comments (3)

November 19, 2004

The Antidote for Evil

Yesterday, I posted about evil and a couple of other things. Today, I experienced the antithesis of evil: children.

My wife and I were the designated Shabbat parents at the nursery school this morning. We brought two loaves of challah, a book, and a CD. We got to sit at the head of the table with the Girl Child. I also, in a multicultural twist at the Jewish preschool, sat next to a very non-Jewish Korean boy. My wife lit the candles and we all said the prayers over the bread, the wine (grape juice), and the candles. The children sang a song. After the celebration, I sat in a rocking chair and, in honor of the Girl Child's other heritage, read a story to the class. I read: Hiccup: The Seasick Viking.

Reading to a class of three year olds was the most pure fun I have had in a really long time. And I gave it a full, dramatic recitation, with different voices for every character and I certainly sang the song in the book to the best of my limited abilities.

My wife then explained the CD we brought with us and the children all danced to Norwegian children's music. The Girl Child grabbed another girl, held hands, and jumped about the place -- when she wasn't dancing with her mother, that is.

It was pure, unalloyed joy and the pleasure was exquisite.

So, the anti-evil? The beauty of a child's smile.

Have a great weekend, y'all!

If you need me, I regret to report that I expect to be at the office all weekend.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:02 PM | Comments (6)

November 18, 2004

A Ramble: Evil Times

Are you a chatter? Do you tend to chat with strangers? Invite, from time to time, conversation with people you don't otherwise know but with whom you are sharing some common experience, be it waiting for a late train or stuck on line at the bank? I am mostly that kind of person. My wife is not, probably. I think she is little bit shy while I am not. This may explain why I have a blog and she does not. I think that this is a trait shared by most bloggers.

Yesterday, I had a chat with another lawyer. He wanted an extension of time, his second, so that he could move to dismiss my complaint against his client. I was basically agreeable to extending his time but insisted, to his great surprise, that he take a longer time than he had asked for. I explained that his date would inevitably involve him working over Thanksgiving weekend and that this particular fight, just being about money, is not worth it. I insisted he take a later date. After that, we got to chatting and I learned that both of his parents had been at Aushwitz. Both. Parents. His mother and his father were concentration camp survivors.

I was floored. I have met camp survivors before, but not many of them. I have been on a tour of a concentration camp before, a topic, if anyone is interested, for another post. You see these people, these survivors and you know you are in the presense of something extraordinary. These people did not survive some stupid television show. They survived evil.

Parenthetical: Evil is a concept that has fallen out of favor since, for the multiculturalists and relativists, it requires taking a firm comparative stand and making a value judgment. I am comfortable doing that and saying that certain cultural practices are not just different, they are flat out evil or wrong. Clipping off a baby girl's clitoris is just flat out wrong. Exterminating the Jews of Europe or engaging in genocide in Rawanda is evil. Stalin? Evil. These are not hard judgement calls to make. Don't shirk from making them just because others say you cannot sit in judgment on other people and their specific cultural practices. You are a human being and thus, you can. Endof Paranthetical.

These survivors looked evil in the face and, by luck or grace of God or pure strengh of will, or a combination of all of the foregoing, walked away. This attorney's parents walked away, found love, and made a family. They left the camps and made two sons, one a lawyer and one a diplomat. They made a success in this country. I am awed by people like this. I don't know, and hope never, ever, to have to find out, if I have the inner fortitude that these people had to survive.

His parents bear tattoos of their death camp numbers on their arms. They can never forget. So long as they live, we can never forget.

Evil still walks the earth. It paused in Beslan, a name I do not have to look up to check the spelling on. It lingers in Israel with the death of every Jewish child shot while hiding under the beds by brave Islamic terrorists who regard each death as a brave act, worthy of great celebration in the streets of Palestine. Can you doubt, really, that this is evil? I cannot. And I despair. I despair as the world press lionizes the life of Arafat, the world's oldest terrorist, without taking note of his crimes against humanity. I worry that it has become safe to hate Jews. Again. This is an ever present thought in my mind. It lingers in the background. It comes to the fore sometimes when I look at my children and wonder, did I do them any favors by converting them to Judaism? Have I just painted targets on their backs? This is an intensely and deeply held fear. I don't have an answer to this question and I hope I never do.

This was a major ramble today and I would never have gone down this path if I had not stopped to chat with this other attorney. I would never have learned about his parents if I was not a chatter and I would have missed the opportunity to reflect on it. I'm glad I took a moment to chat with him. You never know what comes out of a random chat.

Disclaimer: As with all of my rambles, this is stream of consciousness and I have not and will not re-read to edit. You take it as it comes with these. Also, this does not constitute an offer to buy or sell securities. Finally, smoking is probably bad for you.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:07 AM | Comments (16)

Recent Read

I have been reading this week a slim memoir by Richard Pipes, entitled: Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger. This was a fabulous read. Dr. Pipes has had a fascinating life and he breaks it down into three periods: 1, his escape from Poland during WW II and almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis followed by his acclimation to the US and earning a Ph.D. at Harvard; 2, his time as a prof. at Harvard during the Golden Years of the 50's and 60's; and, 3, his service at the National Security Counsel under Pres. Reagan. Of the three periods, only #2 is kind of boring.

Period 1: Escape from Warsaw. This was particularly interesting for me as all of my Polish family who didn't immigrate to the United States were killed during the Holocaust and it was compelling to read about the journey of a family who was luckier or had more foresight than my own. You felt as if the Pipes family was absolutely one step ahead of the Fascist bureacracy the whole way but just barely. As if they were closing the back door to the house as the Fascists were coming in the front door. It felt that close. I also enjoyed Pipes' descriptions of his first college days in the US and how he acclimated to America.

Period 3: Life with the NSC. Pipes was a Soviet specialist and very critical both of the Soviet Union (he was called one of the great Cold Warriors) and of detente and the scholarly / diplomatic class that was build up with a vested interest in business as usual with the Soviets. He and Reagan shared the view that business with the Soviets was a moral issue and the Soviet system was inherently corrupt. He provided, it appears, a lot of the theoretical support for Reagan's positions on arms control and countering Soviet actions with decisive responses. Pipes was the one who pushed for sanctions during the Solidarity crackdown in Poland, for instance. Absolutely fascinating reading and I just wish there was more of it. Pipes paints Haig as a freak, by the way, who Reagan detested and he has few if any nice things to say about Nancy.

Upshot? Go and read this. I think you'll enjoy it. I picked it up at the library but intend to buy a copy for my father in law as a gift.

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

NY Crime

I was flipping though the Daily News yesterday when a small item caught my attention. Two Bonnie and Clyde wannabes stuck up a local bank. No one got hurt and it looked like the two evil criminal geniuses were going to get away clean. Then, they had a small mishap. The driver of the get away car crashed into another car. Their luck gets worse. The car they hit? A NY City Police patrol car. The thieves were arrested and carted off to jail. They take a dim view of bank robbery in NY, I believe. From the car, the police recovered the $750 stolen from the bank and two crack pipes.

Is there any clearer indication that drugs are bad and make you stupid? Crack, I assume, has fogged their minds so badly that they risk hefty jail time for a couple of rolls of quarters and eroded their driving skills so totally that they crash into the police. No, if they were not using drugs I bet they could have stolen a lot more money by working on Wall Street.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2004

Unintended Irony File

Overheard while getting lunch today. One young woman to another. Accent, pure Queens.

Everyone hates her. She's so condescending. [pause] You know, she talks down to everyone.

You just cannot make this stuff up.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:10 PM | Comments (6)

Zimbabwe, yet again

I know that most of the world is uncaring about Zimbabwe. It is certainly not a hot topic among the blogs. However, and knowing even that it will not particularly draw a lot of comments, I feel compelled by my sense of outrage to write about recent events in Zimbabwe where Mugabe has suspended the country's constitution.

Mugabe is tightening his grip on this poor country. He has "suspended Zimbabwe's constitution to drive a batch of repressive new laws through parliament".

The key provisions will ban any foreign funded human rights organizations from operating in the country, will prohibit any foreign-funded organisation from providing any kind of voter education (cause it is easier to repress people if they are kept stupid), will create a "Zimbabwe Electoral Commission", composed of 5 commissionsers all appointed by Mugabe, to run elections, and, for the first time, members of the Zimbabwe National Army, the police and prison services will be permitted to serve as election officials.

This is a recipe for disaster and for further consolidation of power. I feel quite bad for the people of Zimbabwe.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2004

The Empty Suit

I walked away from buying a new suit today. It was a lovely suit, dark blue with pin stripes, double vented in the back and it fit me splendidly. It was a Cerruti suit, reduced from $1,600 to $495. Quite a reduction but the store lost its lease and is closing. I was all set to buy it and it was going to be the first new suit I have bought in several years. I've lost quite a bit of weight lately and was thinking it might be time to make an addition to the wardrobe. I was very excited about it. Then I noticed that the suit was made of 92% wool and 8% polyester. $495 for a suit that was not pure wool? Are they serious? I flatly refused to buy it at that point. They tried to explain that these suits sold very well and that the 8% was used to keep the suit from wrinkling. So what? Polyester does not breathe that well and even 8% was too much for me. Am I too fussy? Maybe. I am certainly particular and I made the mistake once before not paying close enough attention to the fabric of a jacket. That was a good mistake since I now pay better attention.

This was just the suit that got away.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:04 PM | Comments (12)

New Museum of Modern Art

This weekend, my wife and I stayed over in NYC. From our room, we had the following view of the new and improved MOMA:


It was a nice view of the museum prior to its reopening.

It was also quite nice to have an adut only evening away.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:26 AM | Comments (5)

Munch Museum Robbery: Update

Well, the paintings are still missing, the criminals are still unidentified, the museum is still closed, and there is nothing new out there in the media.

Oh, wait. I forgot. There is something. A brilliant new plan by a Norwegian city councilor who thinks that the best way to prevent thefts in the future is to make the plans of the museum a state secret. I shit you not. This is the best they appear to have come up with. Can you say, collapse of Western Civilization?

No word on what this will mean for the thousands of people who have innocently picked up maps to the galleries during their visits. Perhaps they will have to return them or face prosecution.

My favorite part of the plan?

If the complete plans for the city hall cannot be made secret then Horntvedt will try to at least classify certain parts of the building.

No word on whether this means that the lavatories will be marked with signs. I mean, gee, you never know.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2004

From the mouths of babes: what love is

I was awakened this morning at 6:38 when I heard my bed room door creak open oh so gently and two little blue eyes peeked around the door frame. She was clutching her little blue blanket that is a must-sleep and, noticing I was awake, she came happily into the room to climb into bed with my wife (still sleeping) and me. We cuddled for almost a half and hour, very quietly. A half an hour of no movement is an eternity for a child. I lay my hand on her little chest and felt her heart beat. Children's hearts beat very fast as if, even in repose, they are in a hurry. I took her hand to put it on her chest and to see if she could feel her heart too and this is what she said to me:

Pappa, when hearts fall in love, they get all warm and fuzzy.

I never thought about it like that but I don't think I could have said it any better.

Here's wishing you all lots of warm and fuzzy.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:28 PM | Comments (8)

November 12, 2004

Time Suck of the Day

Been awhile since I've done one of these. But today is a gray, rainy, gloomy day here in NYC and the heat is too high in my office and I'm sleepy and lacking in motivation to do anything substantive. So, I give you the time suck of the day with a word of caution, if you like games like Boggle, you could spend lots and lots of time playing this game:


Posted by Random Penseur at 03:10 PM | Comments (2)

Lawyer Humor (for lawyers, by lawyers)

These deposition excerpts courtesy of the blog Margi turned me onto some time ago. Thanks, Margi! I thought they were very funny.

The following exchanges were in depositions of bitterly contested divorce suits:

Q. Isn't it a fact that you have been running around with another woman?

A. Yes, it is, but you can't prove it!


Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in New York?

A. I refuse to answer that question.

Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in Chicago?

A. I refuse to answer that question.

Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in Miami?

A. No.


Q. Isn't it true that on the night of June 11, in a prune orchard at such and such a location, you had relations with Mr. Blank on the back of his motorcycle?

(there was a complete sentence for about three minutes; then the wife replied.)

A. What was that date again?


Q. What was the nature of your acquaintance?

A. Oh, there wasn't no nature to it, nothing like that, at all. No nature to it. We were just friends, that's all.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:42 PM | Comments (1)

I have to learn to watch my mouth better

We had our parent/teacher conference last night with the Girl Child's pre-school teachers. We send her only 3 days a week and all but one of the other children go 5 days a week. We thought that the other 2 days would be good for other things, seeing her grandmother, playdates, etc. Her teachers all had very nice, albeit not very specific, things to say about her: she listens well; plays well with the others; wants to do and does everything they ask of her; and, is just a pleasure to have around. But I could sense an implicit criticism about our decision to have her there for only three days a week. So I finally asked, did they think we should have had her there for all five days? And the head teacher kinds of looks away, and looks back, and purses her lips and blows a stream of air out and says:

Teacher: Do you want an honest answer?

Me: No, lie to me.

Fortunately, she laughed. I really have to learn to watch my mouth.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:31 PM | Comments (6)

What College means . . .

As some you may know, I am the Interview Chair for the Alumni Admissions group of my north-eastern liberal arts university. As such, I supervise the assignment of interviews, conduct some myself, and basically make sure that the several hundred or more applicants from NYC get interviews if they want them. In this capacity, I am forced to reflect on the position that College has in the American iconographic landscape. I am not going to post about that here. No, instead, I refer you to John's essays about Dartmouth. Fabulous stuff, as you'd expect from John. An example from an off hand remark about admission:

[N]ot to mention the cost of the adolescence spent in gamesmanship, artful maneuver, and self-denial that led to admission in the first place.

Isn't that just brilliant?

Also, I learned a new word from his post: synecdoche. Defined as follows at

syn·ec·do·che: n. A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing made from it (as steel for sword).

[Middle English synodoches, from Medieval Latin synodoche, alteration of Latin synecdoch, from Greek sunekdokh, from sunekdekhesthai, to take on a share of : sun-, syn- + ekdekhesthai, to understand (ek-, out of; see eghs in Indo-European Roots + dekhesthai, to take; see dek- in Indo-European Roots).]

I love learning new words. Thanks, John!

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2004

Interesting Trivia: Origin of Two Expressions

I was perusing the history section of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst website (don't ask) and I came across the following little nugget that I thought might be of interest:

Two expressions from the old RMA [Royal Military Academy] passed into the language. "Talking Shop", meaning "to discuss subjects not understood by others", derives from the RMA being commonly known as "The Shop", as its first building was a converted workshop in Woolwich Arsenal. "Snooker", the table-top game, was invented by a former cadet of the RMA, where the members of the junior intake were known as "snookers", from a corruption of "les neux" (the new guys).


Isn't that cool?

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:00 PM | Comments (5)

The Anti-Rant

I've seen a lot of rants recently. A lot of people are seriously pissed off and are venting on their blogs. Fair enough. Vent away. If it is entertaining and well written, I will read it. However, it can be tiresome. Anger is fatiguing, after all. And so I give you the anti-rant. A random list of things for which I am grateful if not downright happy.

My Anti-Rant:

I am grateful that the recent presidential election, despite the bitterness with which it was conducted, did not descend into a pit of acrimonious litigation which might have torn the Republic apart.

I am thankful that my family is healthy.

I am grateful, enormously, for every little kiss and I love you my daughter gives to me.

I am also equally grateful every time my 20 month old son calls, "Ba Ba" and holds his arms up to me.

I am grateful for the smell of Johnson's baby shampoo on the hair of children.

I am thankful we have enough money to not worry about putting food on the table or clothing the children. The rest is details.

I am happy that my wife, my childhood sweetheart, loves me and trusts me and, I think, would pack up the family and move with me almost anywhere I wanted to go.

I am grateful that my grandfather just celebrated his 90th birthday and is in excellent health.

I am grateful for the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform.

I am thankful that I live in the United States of America and that my ancestors sought it out as a beacon of hope and the land of opportunity and better things for their children.

I am happy that winter is almost upon us. It is glorious to walk to the train in the morning as the cold cuts through you and makes you feel clean and alive.

I have a lot to be grateful for, thankful for, and happy about. This list is woefully incomplete, but it is a start.

I hope you all can write a similar list, too.

Here endeth the anti-rant.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:28 AM | Comments (6)

Thank You for my Freedoms

Last night, I attended a ceremony to present a wreath in honor of Veterans' Day. I had to attend since I helped organize it. We had the ceremony right before the Marine Corps Birthday Dinner that we also organized. It was well attended and we had a Lieutenant General from the Marines as our guest of honor. He spoke both at the dinner, which I did not stay for, and at our wreath ceremony. He spoke of the importance of veterans and of the "steely-eyed" men and women who are serving now.

As many of you may know, Veterans' Day started as Armistice day. It was the 11th minute, of the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month that the guns of the Great War stopped firing. That was the war to end all wars. Or so we thought. It was certainly horrific.

So, today, give thanks.

After the ceremony ended, I walked up to an older man. Must have been in his late sixties or early seventies. He had a chestful of medals on the left breast of his tuxedo jacket. I held out my hand to him and I said the following:

"Thank you for your service. I am not staying for the dinner tonight because I have to go home and read stories and bathe my children. Thank you for all you've done in the past so that I can enjoy this now." And I shook his hand.

He looked startled and then genuinely pleased. He shook my hand back and smiled and thanked me for thanking him.

And I went home and read stories to my children, secure in the knowledge that there are brave men and women out there making it possible for me to enjoy my freedom.

Thank you to all veterans.

My thanks and gratitude would be incomplete, I feel, if I did not also thank the families of the veterans. Those men and women who keep the family together while their soldier goes off to fight. They are mostly unsung, these home bound warriors, but they deserve our thanks no less and have suffered their loved one's absence in ways we may not fully comprehend. Thank you.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2004

Stupid Celebrity Quote of the Day

From the NY Post today:

Ethan Hawke satirized New York's over- demanding parents Monday when he out lined his plans for Maya, 6, his daughter with Uma Thurman. "I've already started compiling her reading list," the sometime novelist told the audience at the Glamour Women of the Year awards at the Ameri can Museum of Natural History. "It starts with the Hans Christian Andersen in the original Dutch (emphasis added), because that's important. Then there's Homer and she'll go straight into the complete collected works of Judy Blume, because as any man knows, there's no better guide to the teen woman than 'Deenie.' "

Dutch, you nincompoop? Dutch? Try Danish. Hans Christian Andersen wrote in Danish. You know, Ethan, Danish is not just something you eat with your coffee.

On that note, I leave you with the statue of the Little Mermaid from Copenhagen (you know, in Denmark?):


Posted by Random Penseur at 01:52 PM | Comments (6)

No Jews in Oslo commemoration of Kristallnacht?

I read here of the enormous irony in that Jews carrying visible signs of Jewish symbols were excluded from marching to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht in Oslo. How can this be?

Andrew Sullivan covers this as well.


There is a lot of information going around that Jews were not excluded from the march. Indeed, someone left a very long comment to that effect (by pasting and cutting another's words). Instead, I refer you to the following for more information: here, here, and here

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:09 AM | Comments (5)

Continuing Legal Education

NY State, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that I must accomplish 24 hour credits of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in order to renew my license to practice law every two years. It is a self reporting system. Theoretically, they can audit you but I've never heard of it happening. No matter, I will comply because I can't actually contemplate signing my name to a false affirmation that I did comply. And if I could contemplate doing so, no amount of CLE is going to make a difference. Certainly not the 4 hours of ethics. I figure that if you make a knowingly false affirmation, you are beyond the help 4 hours of ethics can provide.

One nice thing is that I can do it by way of streaming video over the internet. I am picking among the following interesting (said with no irony at all, that's how pathetic I am) looking classes:

*Evidence and Objections: Laying Foundations for Introducing and Raising and Rebutting Evidence

*Credibility and Cross Examination by Irving Younger (A giant of the trial bar)

*Hearsay (also by Younger)

*Nuts and Bolts of New York Appellate Practice

*Summary Judgment in New York: A Review

*Avoiding Professional Malpractice

There are also some good bankruptcy programs on asset protection.

I look back on this list and I weep with the knowledge that I am actually looking forward to a little evidence refresher. How reduced I have become.

Still, as for a bright spot, at least I am not in Minnesota, where:

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued an order making ethics and diversity training mandatory for Minnesota attorneys. As of July 1, 1996, lawyers licensed in Minnesota are required to take three hours of ethics courses and two hours of elimination of bias training as part of the 45 credit requirement to keep their attorney licenses up to date.

The University of Minnesota allows you to meet this requirement with this kind of silly course:

ENGL 3741: Literacy and Cultural Diversity 4 credits

Meets CLE req of Citizenship/Publ Ethics Theme; meets CLE req of Cultural Diversity Theme

Description: Through reading, writing, and community action, this course examines the function and variety of literacies in contemporary U.S. culture. Readings in literary, sociological and pedagogical theory, imaginative literature, autobiographies and memoirs, will engage students with the idea of literacy. By working in community organizations, students will enter into the complex practices of literacy among young school students or adult learners, with long-time citizens as well as newly arrived residents from Africa, Mexico, South Asia, and elsewhere. Reading across history and culture, but with a special emphasis on the vexed case of U.S. literacy, we will think about inscription and exclusion, the politics of power and knowledge, institutions and disciplines of literacy and literature, about race and schooling, about migration and disapora [Ed. comment: SIC!!! This is so stupid that they cannot even spell DIASPORA. It's DIASPORA, you idiot!!! There, I feel better now and return you to the course description], and about the possibilities for renewed and revolutionary literacies. Readings may include works by Paulo Freire, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Franz Kafka, Frederick Douglass, Zitkala Sa, Nuruddin Farah, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Myung Mi Kim, Anne Fadiman. As part of the course, students commit to 2 hours a week of literacy work (broadly defined) in a local community organization. A one-day literacy training session, usually scheduled for a Saturday early in the semester, along with a variety of on-site trainings, will help students prepare for their community work.

Class Time: In addition to course work, a 2 hr/week service commitment off-campus

Work Load: Assignments will include a reading and reflection journal, a literacy autobiography, several short writing assignments, an in-class presentation, and a final project.

I'm sure that the clients of Minnesota are better served by lawyers who can fight their way successfully through bull shite like this. 100% sure, I am.

As this blogger points out, the real problem is that there is really only one stream of ideology that qualifies for inclusion in this curriculum. Guess which one? If you guessed conservative, you're wrong! The lawyers in Minnesota have tried to litigate this requirement and lost.

I guess I'm grateful for the small favor that if I have to take CLE, at least I can pick professionally useful classes and am not required to pay someone for the privilege of brainwashing.

Back to evidence!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:29 AM | Comments (2)

Word for the day

Last night, while reading bed time stories to the Girl Child, she stumped me. She asked me how to say "clam" in French. I could not remember at all. So I looked it up this morning when I got to work in my handy Larousse. In French, clam is palourde. And now I know exactly why I could not remember this word last night. I never knew it before.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:14 AM | Comments (4)

The Babe's Bat: First Homerun

This was truly cool. Last night, I saw the bat used by Babe Ruth to hit the first home run in the new Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923.


For baseball fans, this doesn't get much cooler. For Yankees fans, it is nice to know that he hit that home run against the Red Sox.

The bat is being auctioned off at Sotheby's. Here's a press release about the sale.

I also got to see the first Mickey Mantel major league home run ball and a very cool Ty Cobb bat. I was a little surprised that the Ty Cobb bat did not have any blood or human hair on it, considering what I've read of Mr. Cobb's temper over the years.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2004

Which Monty Python character are you?

You are a cardinal! You love to try & get others into trouble, even if you have to make up lies...NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!
You are a cardinal! You love to try & get others
into trouble, even if you have to make up
lies...NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!

What Monty Python Sketch Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks Margi!

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:41 PM | Comments (5)

PG Wodehouse

Thanks to Mark for the Random PG Wodehouse Quote Generator from which I take the following:

I was sauntering on the river bank with a girl named something that has slipped my mind, when there was a sound of barking and a large hefty dog came galloping up, full of beans and buck and obviously intent on mayhem. And I was just commending my soul to God and feeling that this was where the old flannel trousers got about thirty bobs worth of value bitten out of them, when the girl, waiting till she saw the whites of its eyes, with extraordinary presence of mind opened a coloured Japanese umbrella in the animal's face. Upon which it did three back somersaults and retired into private life.

I don't know what it means, really, but it did speak to me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:31 PM | Comments (3)

Just the boys

It is just going to be me and my son for Thanksgiving this year. Thanksgiving is not that far away. My wife is jetting off to Norway for her sister's wedding and has decided to take the Girl Child with her. I am more than a little disappointed. I had thought it was going to be just me and the kids all by ourselves for four days and I was delighted. I love having the kids to myself and I am surprised to discover that I am really going to miss having my daughter around. So much so that I want to tell my wife not to take her. But I'm not going to do that.

Instead, I'm focusing on how much fun it will be to have the Boy Child all to myself for four days. I don't really know him as well as I do the Girl Child or as well as I ought to and this should prove to be a golden opportunity to get to know him a bit better. I have not yet formulated any plans or come up with any activities for us to do, but I certainly want to do something fun just for him. Maybe I'll take him to a children's museum or something like that. I hope we both have a good time together. He's only 20 months and really doesn't talk at all yet beyond 2 or 3 words. That can cut down on the possibility of long chats, you see. Still, all in all, this will give him a lot of 100% attention, the kind of attention he can't quite get when the Girl Child is up and running around as she demands quite a lot of attention.

I remember, hazily, last Thanksgiving. We were about to start a trial. I was working around the clock and took that Thursday off. I took the Girl Child to the park to play. We were the only ones there. It was deeply satisfying to be there with her.

The Girl Child is not taking my work schedule (weekends, early mornings, late nights) very well. She keeps asking me when I am going to be taking care of her again. It makes me very sad. I am torn. If circumstances permitted, I'd like to stay home and take care of her full time. I am a reluctant lawyer these days.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:55 PM | Comments (4)

November 08, 2004


I had the weekend off for the first time in some weeks now. It was glorious. My wife asked me last night what my favorite moment was and I really didn't have one. I told her that it was made up of many small pleasures and that while none of them may have stood out as particularly worthy of an extended memory, in totality, they gave me a lot of pleasure. I did run some errands this weekend: hardware store; supermarket; back again to the hardware store; and the gas station. And I cooked. A lot. I made gallons of soup, a vat of chili, and I roasted a turkey breast. Kosher turkey breast, while more expensive, is cleary the way to go. My wife deemed it the only acceptable turkey breast she had ever eaten. I also did some neglected house things, like throwing out rotted pumpkins, etc.

I did steal a little time for myself, about 10 minutes. I went and sat by the ocean. There was no one else around and it was very windy. I tried to sit there and let the salt breeze blow some of my cobwebs out. I was sad because I realized that while I had been at work, I missed the peak of the leaf change. The glorious reds and yellows and oranges that make the trees look like they are ablaze. I got a little too cold, inappropriately dressed, and went home to play with the kids.

One errand I ran this weekend got me to thinking about the concept of roots. We are a peripatetic society, or so it seems from my perch. I've lived in a couple of different states and cities and even countries. Americans, as a group, cherish their freedom to relocate as they chase the next big opportunity from state to state, region to region. And as they do, the concept of roots becomes harder to define.

For some of us, roots can be about big things. For my wife, it means that in her ancestral city, there are a couple of streets named for her family. For others, it means that significant cultural institutions are named for their family, college buildings or libraries. Others have Mayflower roots or have joined various heraldic-type societies like the Daughters of the American Revolution. There are few people who have roots like that, I think.

No, for the majority of us, roots may mean that our families have lived in a place for many generations. And as we move, roots become the place where our children went to school and grew up. As we become more mobile, it seems to me that it roots become more and more shallow and easier to put down. They become a collections of firsts. This was the first town our child was born in, the first town I was promoted to vice president in, the first town I got involved in a political campaign. So that roots become easier to pull up when you move and easier to recreate when you stop moving. And I think it is no accident that I use children in so many of my examples. Children give us roots and a place in a community that we not feel when we were younger and had less of a permanent place in it.

It may be that as you associate roots with the first time kind of experience, or even roots that simply reflect your attachment to place that it becomes harder to accept change in the physical place. As things in the physical get torn down and rebuilt or as stores go out of business, we find it harder to accept that change. What do you mean that diner closed? It's been there forever! I dislike that kind of change, even though I understand it. For instance, the cider mill in Armonk is gone. It was part of my childhood and I looked forward to sharing that with my children.

I navigate my way around Westchester, to my wife's amusement, by disappeared landmarks. I navigate a landscape inhabited sometimes only by my memory. I superimpose my map over the real topography and who is to say which one is real? Especially when my reference points are shared by someone on the other end of the telephone and we agree on a set of directions by reference to long gone places. We share the same map. We share each other's roots, a common touchstone of experience and place. Even if that place is gone.

Maybe that's what they mean when they say you can never go home again. Maybe home has changed because your roots are gone or because the roots you take with you exist only in your mind. Beats me. I just know that I agree.

Roots are not just about places, though. They are also about people. For instance, I consciously sought them out this weekend. I demanded continuity. It was my daughter's first dentist appointment. She was such a champ. After the hygienist finished, she asked me if I wanted the dentist or his associate to perform the examination and I told her that I wanted the dentist because, with this examination, he would be treating four generations of the same family. My grandfather, my mother, me, and my daughter. She was surprised to hear that. I guess it is pretty uncommon but I liked it. It gave me a feeling of connectedness, of continuity.

Roots are also about connections, about the seamless way that people interact and cross groups. About board memberships and friendships. I guess what I'm trying to say is that roots are about networks. About knowing people who can and will help you, whether from church or temple or school or professional association or clubs. These relationships are about roots. And they are not moveable. They are place specific. They may assist you with an introduction in a new place, but they won't really do more than that.

Anyway, let me leave my extended meditation with the interaction between the Girl Child and the Dentist on Saturday.

D: How old are you?

GC: I'm 3 and three quarters.

D: [Visably amused] Is that older than three and a half?

GC: Yes.

D: And when do you turn four?

GC: On my birthday. In January. January 12.

D: [Looks at me, smiles, looks back down at her] You are so cute I could just eat you right up.

GC: Oh, no, I don't taste very good.

D: That's not what your grandmother says!

GC: [Very earnestly] Oh, she's just kidding!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:47 AM | Comments (5)

November 05, 2004

1st day of trial over

The first day of trial has finished. In preparing for this and attending the first day, we have billed over 400 hours of time. Is it any wonder that high stakes ($30 million in asserted liability) corporate litigation is too expensive for ordinary civilians to conduct on anything but a contingency fee basis?

In any event, the judge has great animus for our client and, by extension, us. This is the same judge I got in a fight with before (here for story). She is hypertechnical, snide, rude, and not too swift. She is creating an appealable record. In other words, she is making errors with her evidentiary rulings. This is the kind of thing that an appellate court can seize on to reverse a final determination. As for snide, she actually over-ruled an objection by saying, "maybe I'm just not as smart as you are". Astonishing sarcasm from the bench.

I think that generally there has been an irretriveable breakdown in the civil relationship between the bar and the bench. Judges and lawyers are just downright more hostile and mean to each other. I really don't know why. I suppose I have some guesses, but there really is no excuse at the end of the day. Moreover, judges who are rude are abusing their position, I feel.

Trial is an odd thing. Its billed as a search for truth. Its more like a formalistic dance between skilled lawyers who try to thread their way through, or impede their opponent from doing so, a complex thicket of evidentiary rules designed to protect the fact finder from unreliable information. The Rules of Evidence are fascinating, archaic, and a trap for the unwary. We're pretty good on them at my office and can often use them to trip up the other side. The judge has an obligation to follow them but only if you call the correct rule to his/her attention at the correct time. This is a situation of make the correct objection in a timely manner or have it be deemed waived. Once the information is in evidence, and thus been accepted as reliable, you can argue from it to your heart's content. This includes, by the way, documentary evidence.

All documents are, by their nature, out of court statements usually offered to prove the truth of the matter they assert. Thus, classic hearsay. Sometimes more than that. Sometimes the document may also report on what someone else says. Say its a memorandum of a telephone conversation. Then the memo is hearsay and contains hearsay within hearsay, or double hearsay. You need an exception, and there are a lot, to each level of the hearsay objection or else the document isn't coming in. At another trial some time ago, I made the hearsay within hearsay objection and kept out of evidence a whole series of memoranda and caused opposing counsel to actually get so angry that he began jumping up and down. It was . . . sublime. In fact, that lawyer then complained to the judge that he let in all of my similar documents and the judge responded that the fellow didn't object at the time and he was not now, at the end of trial, going to revisit every one of his evidentiary rulings. A very satisfying moment, indeed.

So, maybe trial isn't really a search for truth but a search for reliable information upon which a fact finder can make factual findings based on, among other things, the credibility of the source of the reliable information. Plaintiff is still putting on its case here and the fact finder, in this case it is the judge, is judging the credibility of plaintiff's witnesses. By and large, so far, they look credible. We'll see what happens when we reconvene next month. Next month, you may ask yourselves? Yes. It is a bench trial so it goes in dribs and drabs, starts and fits, whenever the judge has an odd bit in her calendar and can fit us in. Then we do post-trial briefs, proposed findings of facts, post-trial motions, etc. and she makes her decisions.

It was a long day and has been a long couple of weeks.

Yesterday was also my wedding anniversary. I called my wife to wish her a happy anniversary and said, has it really been 11 years? And she said, yes, and they have been the happiest 3 years of my life. Zing!

I was on the 8:40 train home last night (early for this week, actually) and it broke down in Pelham. They evacuated the whole thing and, happily, had another train to us in less than 15 minutes but it was not fun there for awhile.

I am off to the wine store shortly to buy something fun to drink. Tonight, we light a fire in the fire place, drink wine, and put on the first episode of To Serve Them All My Days. I cannot wait.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:33 PM | Comments (8)

November 04, 2004

They pull you back in

Hi, all,

If silence is golden, this blog is bling.

Trial starts today at 2:00 in New York State Supreme Court, New York County. I have been billing 12-14 hours a day. My kids know me only as a voice on the telephone at this point.

In the midst of all this craziness, I have been invited for a job interview doing something really cool. I can't say much about it at this point other than that it is prosecutorial in nature and would involve lots of trial time. I interview just before Thanksgiving.

So, Bush, huh? I expected it. I voted for him. I did not expect my vote for Bush in NY to matter and of course it did not. As I said all along, I needed a good reason to switch Presidents in the middle of a war and John Kerry never gave me that reason. Simple as that.

Anyway, wish me luck on the trial. We've actually managed to construct a defense and, if we're right, we defeat a claim for $30 million. That. Would. Be. Sweet. Besides, I would also like to stick it to the other side who, in a short time, I've come to dislike (but that's almost always the case in litigation).

Thanks to everyone who left me happy birthday wishes. I appreciated and enjoyed all of my virtual birthday cards, I just have not had time to reply individually and I'm veyr sorry about that.

Pax tibi.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:46 AM | Comments (7)

November 01, 2004

My Master Card, non-birthday phone call

I have a friend. He is my oldest friend. We have been friends since we were 2 years old. He lives in Europe now and has for some years. He just, out of the blue, called to chat. He did not remember that it was my birthday. Again. This is the third time, at least, that I can recall him doing this. Once, he called to quiz me on 80's movie trivia because he was in Germany and no one he knew there could answer any of his questions. This year, he called just to chat and catch up.

Cost of the phone call: $10?
Time spent chatting before reminding him that its my birthday: 20 minutes
Reminding him that its my birthday during the call: Priceless.

I love these calls. I'm still smiling as I write this.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:18 AM | Comments (9)

Today in History: My Birthday Edition

Today, November 1st:


*1500 Benvenuto Cellini a fascinating charactor of the Renaissance. He was a sculptor, goldsmith, assassin, and writer: "Much of Cellini's notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562, which were published posthumously under the title The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. As noted by one biographer, 'His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence.'"

*1871 Stephen Crane US, novelist and poet, known best for the Red Badge of Courage. But he also wrote Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets (1893), his first book, about a girl from the slums and he moved to the slums to live in order to write about it. He was also a well known war correspondent.

*1902 Nordahl Grieg, a fascinating person, was a Norwegian poet, dramatist, newspaper man, and novelist. He was an anti-fascist at a time when that was not popular and served with the Norwegian Goverment in exile in England during WW II. He died during a bombing run over Berlin in 1943.

*1942 Larry Flynt magazine publisher (Hustler). Heh.

*1961 Mags Furuholmen Norway, from the band Aha (I'm sure you are all singing, "Take on Me")

*1963 Rick Allen Def Leppard drummer.

*1967 ME! "I was born a small, black child in Mississippi." Quote?


Ok, there was a lot of interesting stuff that happened today and I regret that I lack the time to do my usual history links to it all but I want to put it out there anyway.

*79 Pompei buried by Mt Vesuvius
*1210 King John of England begins imprisoning Jews
*1512 Michelangelo's paintings on ceiling of Sistine Chapel, 1st exhibited
*1604 William Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello" 1st presented
*1611 Shakespeare's romantic comedy "The Tempest" 1st presented
*1755 Lisbon earthquake kills more than 50,000
*1765 Stamp Act went into effect in the British colonies
*1776 Mission San Juan Capistrano founded in California
*1894 Vaccine for diphtheria announced by Dr Roux of Paris
*1922 Ottoman Empire abolished
*1950 Puerto Rican nationalists try to kill President Truman at the Blair House
*1952 Fusion occurred for the 1st time on Earth
*1956 Nagy government of Hungary withdraws from Warsaw Pact

My wife gave me, last night, a very cool gift. She gave me the entire DVD collection of the Masterpiece Theater presentation of: To Serve Them All My Days. I loved this when I saw it 20 some years ago and it remains one of my favorite books. Thanks, honey!!!!

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